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Renters Hit Hardest by Cost of Living Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that renters are more likely to be struggling to make ends meet than those with mortgages

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Renters are being hit hardest by the cost of living crisis, new data has revealed, with homeowners more likely to be protected from rising costs.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that a greater percentage of renters (37%) found it “very difficult” or “difficult” to pay their usual household bills compared to a year ago – while the percentage of mortgagors was lower, at 23%. 

Renters are also more likely to have seen their housing costs increase since the cost of living crisis began to bite. 

Between 16 and 27 March 2022, a third (34%) of renters reported that their rent had increased in the previous six months. This was compared with just under a fifth (19%) of those with mortgages who saw their mortgage bills go up. 

Homeowners tend to be more protected from rising housing costs as many will be on fixed-term mortgages or own their homes outright. Renters, meanwhile, are vulnerable to rent hikes from landlords. 

A spokesperson from the union ACORN told Byline Times that, while “the cost of living crisis is affecting everyone, it’s no surprise to see that renters are disproportionately footing the bill".

They said the organisation has seen many more people approaching it due to rent rises in recent months. "Only last week, a member in Manchester reported a rent hike of 33%, but this is far from a unique example," the spokesperson added. "At the same time, wages and housing benefit remain largely stagnant.” 

March 2022 also saw the largest annual increase in private rental prices paid by tenants in the UK since July 201, at 2.4%.

“Unless the Government takes this growing crisis seriously and urgently puts in place measures to safeguard tenants, we will soon see the number of people struggling to pay rent quickly turn into more people being evicted from their homes,” they added.

“Not only is this devastating for an individual renter or a family caught in this situation, but it will also be devastating for wider society due the cost and damage inflicted by the subsequent homelessness crisis.”

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Housing Woes

As rents increase, the quality of housing and rental standards have failed to keep up.

According to data published in 2020 by the housing charity Shelter, private renting is making millions of people ill. Almost half of England’s renters experienced stress or anxiety, and a quarter were made physically sick as a result of their housing. 

In England, the majority of renters have a private rather than social landlord, with more than 4.4 million households renting their home from a private landlord in 2019/20. This equates to just under a fifth of all homes in England. These households represent around 11 million people and the number of people living in rented accommodation has more than doubled since 1997.

Research published by the House of Commons Library found that the private rented sector has the “worst housing conditions” compared to council houses and homes occupied by their owners.

English Housing estimated that, in 2019, 23% of private rentals did not meet the 'decent home standard' – approximately 1.1 million homes. In comparison, 18% of owner-occupied homes and 12% of social-rented homes did.

Privately-rented homes were also more likely to have at least one 'category one hazard' under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System – such as damp and mould growth, unsafe stairs or surfaces, and pests. This can have an impact on health and wellbeing. 

Poor housing costs money. Living in damp, cold or unhealthy conditions can have profound physical and psychological effects on individuals, especially children. One estimate puts the cost of poor housing to the NHS at £1.4 billion per year in England.

A Wider Crisis

Across the board, 87% of adults reported an increase in their cost of living last month – an increase of 25% compared with around 6 in 10 (62%) adults in November 2021. This reflects the rising cost of energy, housing, and food, as inflation hit 6.2% in February. 

Households in the most deprived areas of the UK were more likely to be struggling with costs – with 34% saying it was “difficult” or “very difficult” to pay their usual household bills. This was double the number of people struggling to make ends meet in the least deprived areas, at 17%. 

While the majority are keeping their heads above water, 3% claimed to now be behind on rent or mortgage payments, with nearly half a million people behind on their rent. 

While the proportion of people turning to credit has remained relatively stable – in part because wealthier households have dipped into savings to cover unexpected costs and bills – the picture is very different for those in the most deprived English regions. 

Nearly a quarter (23%) of households in the poorest areas of the country reported that they had borrowed more money than a year ago. They were also more likely to report that they would be unable to save money over the next 12 months – 55% would not be able to save, compared to 34% living in the least deprived areas.  

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Crime and Punishment: Lived Reality is Now Divorced From Electoral Politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/04/2022 - 12:46am in

Sam Bright considers why, after years of stagnating wealth and declining health in Britain, the Conservative Party hasn’t seen its support slump sooner?

An embattled Prime Minister, mass inflation, industrial strife and a stagnating economy. Labour had been in power for the majority of the period since 1964, but economic turbulence and a crisis of leadership – Harold Wilson having been replaced by his Foreign Secretary James Callaghan – brought Labour’s dominance to a halt in 1979, losing comfortably to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party.

The tales of the ‘Winter of Discontent’ have been well rehearsed in popular political history. An economic-industrial crisis precipitated Labour’s demise as an electoral force in the late 1970s and created the conditions for small-state Thatcherism to thrive.

However, this political ritual – whereby the mistreatment of individuals converts to the poor performance of governments at the polling booth – is disappearing in the modern era of British politics.

Indeed, the Conservative Party is set for a battering at the local elections on 5 May, but largely due to the personal offences of the Prime Minister – breaking lockdown and lying about it – rather than the record of his Government. In fact, Johnson has been using the performance of successive Conservative regimes as a crutch. Attempting to focus political attention away from his Downing Street debauchery, the Prime Minister has repeatedly expressed his desire to “get on with the job” and to “deliver on the wishes of the British people”.

This should strike fear into most people – especially those at the bottom of the income scale. The Conservative Party has presided over 12 years of declining health outcomes, economic stagnation and raging inequality – compounded by thousands of mass, avoidable fatalities during the COVID-19. Yet its public support, until the ‘Partygate’ saga, has remained buoyant – winning four elections since 2010 and rarely trailing Labour in the polls.

Health and Wealth

The UK has suffered one of the worst health and economic responses to COVID in the Western world – second only to the United States in the fall in overall life expectancy during the pandemic, among 20 comparable countries.

The pandemic “further exposed” health inequalities in Britain and “amplified them,” according to public health expert Sir Michael Marmot, who has tracked differences in health outcomes between the richest and poorest regions and individuals for more than a decade.

In 2020, for example, Sir Michael released a new report, evaluating how the past decade of Conservative rule had impacted health inequalities. According to Sir Michael, since 2010, Government spending on the key social determinants of health had fallen, and the funding was allocated in a less equitable way.

In particular, Sir Michael ascribed declining health outcomes to the Government’s ‘austerity’ programme – which sought to radically curb state spending. “Austerity will cast a long shadow over the lives of the children born and growing up under its effects,” Marmot wrote – adding that “Austerity has taken its toll... From rising child poverty and the closure of children’s centres to declines in education funding, an increase in precarious work and zero hours contracts, to a housing affordability crisis and a rise in homelessness, to people with insufficient money to lead a healthy life and resorting to food banks in large numbers, to ignored communities with poor conditions and little reason for hope.”

The Northern Health Science Alliance confirms these findings – highlighting that from 2012-14 to 2016-18, almost half of local authorities in the north experienced a fall in life expectancy among men, women or both. Byline Times has further calculated that healthy life expectancy fell in 80% of ‘Red Wall’ areas for either men or women from 2009-11 to 2017-19. So, while men in some parts of Blackpool are expected to live for 68.3 years, the life expectancy for men in the wealthiest areas of Kensington and Chelsea in London is 95.3 years.

“Put simply, if health has stopped improving it is a sign that society has stopped improving,” Marmot wrote.

Yet, in 2019, many deprived communities voted for the Conservative Party – some for the first time in decades – effectively rewarding the Government for shortening their lives.

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Meanwhile, declining health has been accompanied by stagnating wealth. In the 15 years from 2007 to 2022, wages are expected to have risen by just 9% (the worst rate on record) – or basically nothing, if inflation is taken into account. During the previous 15 years, wages rose by 50%.

And while wages have risen notably during the early months of this year, high inflation is now consuming any growth in earnings enjoyed by workers.

This stagnation is a byproduct of sluggish increases in economic output and productivity in recent times. The UK logged “dreadful productivity performance” from 2008 to 2018, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Over that period, productivity per hour grew by just 0.3% a year against a historical trend of 2%.

A similar trend materialised during the Coronavirus pandemic. While Boris Johnson now claims that the UK has the fastest growth rate in the G7, he fails to note that we had the second weakest economic performance in the group during the pandemic. In effect, the UK economy is just making up lost ground.

The Importance of Accountability

Abuses of power – either through corruption, authoritarianism or mere incompetence – must be punished at the ballot box, or else abuse is embedded in the system. If political parties are able to avoid accountability for ruining lives, causing mass deprivation and poor health, there is nothing to prevent them from repeating their abuses.

This is especially the case in the UK, where democracy is underpinned by vague, unwritten conventions that concentrate power in Downing Street and demand a sense of duty and morality from those in charge – ideals that are not common among wrongdoers.

The separation between lived experience and political outcomes is also directly witnessed in the calibre and content of our current Government – or the lack of these qualities.

Parliament is coming to the end of its session with the Government failing to pass scores of new, planned legislation. More occupied with culture wars than the finer details of public policy, Johnson’s administration is effectively incapacitated – unable or unwilling to pass any legislation that doesn’t serve its divide-and-rule agenda.

Take ‘levelling up’ – the Government’s flagship domestic policy, that promises to rebalance the economy and erode entrenched inequalities between different parts of the country. The Government released its white paper on the subject in February – more than two years after the 2019 General Election – while only four of the 12 levelling up missions contained in the document will have a measurable impact on regional inequality, according to the Institute for Government.

While cabinets throughout history have been sculpted by political considerations – rewarding the loyal and satisfying internal party factions – Johnson’s Government does seem to be keenly suffering from a brain drain, with positions awarded to the dutiful over the deserving.

This is a symptom of our political climate, in which perception is far more important to election results than lived reality. As we have witnessed in recent years, politicians and their assets in the media are forced to concoct ever-more lurid ways to distract voters and distort the truth, in their efforts to cling on to power.

Public service has been supplanted by self-service, and the masses have toiled while the Tories continue to prosper.

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Male, Pale and Colonial: Russell Group Universities Dominated by Named Buildings Reflective of a Bygone Era

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/04/2022 - 8:30pm in

Max Colbert investigates the backgrounds of those commemorated on leading university campuses

The overwhelming majority of Russell Group university buildings named after prominent individuals are named after white men, with several of these individuals having links to colonialism and the slave trade, the Byline Intelligence Team has found.

On Russell Group university campuses, 87% of named buildings are named after men (86% of whom are/were white British) and just 13% are named after women (94% of whom are/were white British). In total, 87.5% of named campus buildings are named after white Brits.

An investigation also found that 43% of these named individuals held a title – such as a knighthood or a peerage – and that of these only 11.8% are women (nearly one-third of this figure comprises three female monarchs named multiple times across several institutions).

The findings come from an assessment of all named buildings across 19 of the 24 universities in the Russell Group, with the remaining five institutions failing to respond to requests for information. The figures also don’t include statues in or around the buildings, or certain rooms within buildings named after different individuals.

Black and ethnic minority students made up 21.1% of all 18-year-old applicants to Russell Group universities in 2017.

A lack of representation in academia stretches across the board, encompassing societies, curricula, faculties, and representation via memorialisation.

Recent research conducted by the Higher Education Statistics Agency has shown that fewer than 1% of professors at UK universities are black – just 155 professors out of 22,810.

London Metropolitan University academic Sofia Akel told iNews in February that “lack of representation is not just about the number of us in these spaces, it also means the lack of our voices, knowledge, works and histories in the curriculum itself”.

There is also a stark lack of diversity represented in postgraduate studies, with the UK Council for Graduate Education highlighting a growth rate for black and ethnic minority postgrad researchers of just 0.13% between 2016/17 and 2018/19.

Buildings with the names of philanthropic donors make up 15.7% of the named buildings featured across the campuses, although many requests for information about donations and their links to buildings were refused, so this figure is likely to be much higher.

The vast majority of buildings named after individuals have been done so in commemoration of the significant achievements they have made in their chosen fields, often contributing to areas of scientific discovery, engineering, or furthering important social causes.

Sheffield University, for example, houses the Amy Johnson Building – named after the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, who studied at the university. Oxford is home to the Anna Watts Building – in honour of Professor Watts, an expert in the study of the violent dynamic events that occur on neutron stars. Glasgow features the James McCune Smith Learning hub – named after the famous physician and prominent member of the Scottish and English 1800s abolitionist movement, and the first African American to be awarded a medical degree.

However, there are several instances of institutions commemorating people linked to the slave trade, tobacco industry, or who have similarly questionable histories. This investigation has identified a number of buildings named after people with colonial links.

Bristol University, for instance, has several buildings with links to colonialism. One is Goldney Hall – bought and named by Thomas Goldney II in the 17th Century, prior its purchase by the university. Goldney and his son were both linked to the triangular slave trade through manillas produced by their ironworks. The university – located in the city famous for the recent toppling of a statue of slave-trader Edward Colston – also features the Wills Memorial Building, named for Henry Overton Wills, of the Imperial Tobacco manufacturing company, which in 2017 also faced a petition from the student body to be renamed due to Overton’s alleged links to the slave trade.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “Research led by Olivette Otele, the University’s Professor of History of Slavery and Memory of Enslavement, will inform a review of relevant university building names and the university logo to ensure they reflect the university’s vision and values. This will include consultation with staff, students and the wider public. More information on this will be shared in the coming months.”

Liverpool University similarly hosts the Leverhulme Building – named after Lord William Hesketh Lever, manufacturer of Sunlight Soap whose firm was associated with forced labour and using palm oil produced in British west African colonies. In 2020, Liverpool also agreed to change the name of a building named after William Gladstone, because of his anti-abolitionist stance and links to slave ownership.

A Liverpool University spokesperson said: “We recognise that slavery and colonialism are intrinsically linked to the history of the city of Liverpool, and that the historic wealth of families and businesses in the city – including some who will have contributed to the University – will have benefitted from this.

"The university is very conscious of this history, and we have therefore put a number of initiatives in place to educate and advance knowledge both in relation to historical and contemporary slavery – and our relationship to these as an institution.

“Furthermore, we are continuing to research the naming of our assets (including buildings, lecture theatres seminar and meeting rooms, academic posts, scholarships and bursaries).”

The Macfarlane Observatory in Glasgow University is also named after Alexander MacFarlane – a merchant slave-owner in Kingston, Jamaica, who bequeathed instruments to the institution upon his death in 1755. 

Patriarchitecture

There is a national debate underway about the figures commemorated by public institutions.

A 2021 investigation into Imperial College London’s colonial past made several recommendations to this effect, urging the university to remove from statues and buildings the names of scientists whose work advocated eugenics.

In 2020, Edinburgh renamed its David Hume Tower over the philosopher’s “comments on matters of race”. In the wake of the dramatic sinking of the Colston statue in Bristol, anti-racism campaigners also launched the crowdfunded ‘Topple The Racists’ interactive map, which features the names of other prominent colonial figures and their placements on memorials and statues across the country. 

In addition to the colonial history of many of the buildings, and their lack of representation of black and ethnic minority individuals, women, and working-class people, recent years have also seen instances of buildings being named after individuals who have given large cash donations – sparking protests from student bodies.

In Oxford, the Sackler Library is probably the most glaring instance, with the student union unanimously passing a motion to remove the name. The billionaire Sackler family, which has donated £11 million to Oxford, own Purdue Pharma – which introduced and marketed the opioid painkiller OxyContin in America, contributing to a crisis of opiate use which has claimed more than 535,000 lives since 1999.

Facing around 3,000 lawsuits, Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019, but not before Sackler family members took more than $10 billion from the firm. Many institutions across the country are now revisiting their association with the Sackler family as a result. 

But the Sacklers aren’t alone. Oxford itself also houses the Said Business School, named after Wafic Said – a Conservative donor who came to prominence as a ‘fixer’ who helped to facilitate the al-Yamamah arms deal between Margaret Thatcher’s administration and the Saudi Government in the 1980s: the largest arms deal in UK history at the time.

Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government is similarly of note – financed by Russian billionaire Leonard Blavatnik, who donated £75 million to the school. The deal at the time prompted Professor of Government and Public Policy Bo Rothstein to resign his position – referencing the donations made by Blavatnik to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

In the 10-year-period leading up to 2017, more than two-thirds of all millionaire philanthropic donations – £4.8 billion – went into higher eduction, with half of this figure going to Oxford and Cambridge alone. During the same period, British millionaires gave £1 billion to the arts and only £222 million to alleviating poverty. 

“Giving at scale by the super-wealthy has done little to redistribute wealth from rich to poor, helping perpetuate social inequalities rather than remedying them,” a 2021 study from the universities of Newcastle and Bath found.

While the push to address a lack of diversity in public spaces, especially places of learning, has to be multi-faceted, a good starting point is often to recognise that an issue exists, and to begin to remedy it. While women make up between 45% and 65% of intake for most Russell Group institutions, and non-white undergraduates comprise of between 20% and 40% in most instances, these figures are not reflected in the architecture of campus buildings. 

It is a form of under-representation that can often be overlooked by some, but seen as a form of damaging ‘Patriarchitecture’ by others, who believe that learning spaces should aim to better reflect the achievements of campus communities – something that, both at home and abroad, is starting to happen more and more frequently. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Drop in Life Expectancy Due to Poor Pandemic Management ‘Chilling’, Says Sir Michael Marmot

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/04/2022 - 6:45pm in

New research shows that England and Wales saw the biggest reduction in life expectancy after the US between 2019-21, while the life expectancy of the poorest continues to drop

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Overall life expectancy in England and Wales fell by 0.93 years during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, research from the United States has found. 

The report comes as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its data on life expectancy inequality, with men from the most deprived areas in England living 9.7 years fewer than their wealthier peers. For women, the gap between the richest and poorest was 7.9 years.

The US research looked at the change in life expectancy between 2019 and 2021, or during the first two years of the pandemic, comparing the United States with 19 peer countries. 

While the US experienced much larger declines in life expectancy than its economic peers, England and Wales saw the second biggest decrease. Life expectancy dropped during the pandemic from 81.71 years in 2019 to 80.43 in 2020 and 80.78 in 2021.

In Northern Ireland, the drop was from 80.92 years in 2019 to 79.83 in 2020 and 79.99 in 2021. Scotland, which has the lowest life expectancy in the UK, saw a change from 79.29 years in 2019 to 78.29 in 2020 and 78.43 in 2021.

In contrast, Norway, South Korea and New Zealand saw life expectancy increase during the time period.

The authors explained that “estimates of life expectancy help one compare how different countries have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, author of both Fair Society, Healthy Lives (The Marmot Review) and Health Equity in England: the Marmot Review 10 Years On, told Byline Times that “prior to the pandemic, health in England was in a poor state, relative to other rich countries", but after 2010, "life expectancy improvement slowed markedly, health inequalities increased, and health of people living in the most deprived areas got worse". 

“The pandemic further exposed these health inequalities and amplified them," he said. "Poor management of the pandemic meant a bigger drop in life expectancy in England, in 2020, than was seen in other countries that managed the pandemic better.”

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Life Expectancy Inequality

While the US research reveals an overall decrease in life expectancy over the pandemic, the latest Office for National Statistics data shows that the health gap between rich and poor is growing.

A report on 'Health State Life Expectancies by National Deprivation Deciles in England' exposes how those living in the poorest regions of England die far younger than their wealthier peers – and have fewer healthy years. 

The ONS found that there have been “statistically significant increases” in the inequality in life expectancy, with men and women living in the most deprived areas of England seeing a significant decrease in life expectancy between 2015 to 2017 and 2018 to 2020. 

Those living in the most deprived areas saw the largest reduction in life expectancy. 

“These latest figures from ONS are a continuation of the trends”, said Sir Michael Marmot. “Between 2015-17 and 2018-20, life expectancy did not improve for men, overall, and actually declined for the most deprived 40% of the population. Among women, similarly, life expectancy declined for the most deprived 40% of the population, but there was some improvement for those living in less deprived areas.”

Men in the most deprived areas can now expect to live 9.7 years fewer than men in the least deprived regions – 73.5 years compared to 83.2 years. Women living in the most deprived areas have a life expectancy of 78.3 years, while wealthy women can expect to live until their mid-80s (86.3 years).

The gap between healthy life expectancy is even more concerning.

While women in wealthy regions on average enjoy good health until they are 70.7 years old; for women in the most deprived areas, healthy life expectancy is 51.9 years. This means that they endure poor health for an additional 20 years than their richer peers.

For men, the gap was 52.3 years to 70.5 years. Because people living in the most deprived areas die sooner, they spend a greater proportion of their life in poor health. 

​​As such, in 2018 to 2020, women living in the most deprived areas were expected to live less than two-thirds (66.3%) of their lives in good general health, compared with more than four-fifths (82.0%) in the least deprived areas.

Across all income groups there has been a decline in disability-free life expectancy – the time spent living without disability. 

Male disability-free life expectancy at birth in the most deprived areas was 17.6 years fewer than in the least deprived areas in 2018 to 2020. There were significant decreases in female disability-free life expectancy at birth in both deprived and less deprived areas between 2015 to 2017 and 2018 to 2020.

The data, Sir Michael Marmot said, is “chilling”.

Overall, he told Byline Times, “the figures are really shocking. They are telling us a great deal about how well society is functioning. If health is getting worse, then society’s needs are not being met”.

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Talking About My Generation: How the Conservative Party has Punished Young People

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/04/2022 - 8:00pm in

From mental health services to tuition fees, the Government has damaged the welfare and prosperity of the next generation, says Daisy Steinhardt

The Government is decades into its war on young people. Disinterest in providing for the needs of children and young adults is endemic among an establishment that seemingly has zero interest in providing younger generations with financial or institutional support.

The interest rates on student loan debt for those earning under £41,930 is set to rise from 1.5% to 9% from September if the Government chooses not to intervene, new data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows. For those earning over that amount, the rates will increase from 4.5% to 12%.

If this alone isn't enough to deter young people from pursuing higher education, there are also new changes to loan repayment schemes for people beginning undergraduate degrees in 2023-24. Under this change, the repayment term after graduation will rise from 30 years to 40. The Treasury is now set to gain an estimated additional £600 million from student loans that would otherwise have expired after 30 years. 

Data from the National Office for Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of suicides among full-time students in England in 2019 was 174, up from 127 in 2017 and 154 in 2018. The dataset states that the ONS is “currently undertaking work to develop a robust method for understanding the risk of suicide among certain kinds of students”. Despite this assurance, a 2021 Freedom of Information request to the ONS asking for 2020 figures on the same dataset was denied on the grounds that “public authorities are not obligated to create information in order to respond to requests”.

Blatant disregard for young people is by no means exclusive to those pursuing higher education.

In 2017, after years of austerity cuts imposed by successive Conservative-led governments, a-third of NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMs) teams faced cuts or closures. As a direct result, the current average waiting time for young people to access CAHMs services is 15 weeks for an initial appointment and 54 to begin treatment. The only alternative to this lengthy waiting time is private mental health treatment, which many cannot afford. 

A report from Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee last December provided recommendations to the Government on the funding of young people’s mental health – including setting up a Cabinet sub-committee to bring together Government departments, local governing bodies and the healthcare system, in order to respond to the diverse nature of mental health care needs in young people.

Of the 25 recommendations, only three have been accepted in full by the Government, one of which is “subject to future funding decisions”. The Government’s official response is littered with examples of actions that have previously been taken to improve access to mental health services for young people – rather than assessing the state of the sector now, and what may be done to improve it.

Law-Breakers

As Maheen Behrana has written in these pages, the Government’s indifference to young people is part of its 'culture war' – the pitting of different groups against one another for cynical political purposes.

Four Nottingham Trent University students made national headlines in October 2020 after being fined £10,000 each for hosting a house party during the Coronavirus lockdown. All four were suspended from the university.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, attended at least six of 12 events during lockdown, now being investigated by police – most notably his own birthday party at which he was “ambushed by a cake”, according to one of his MPs.

Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are among those to have been issued with fixed penalty notices for breaking lockdown rules, amounting to just £50 each. Both have remained in post in the two highest offices of the land, without the imminent threat of suspension.

A few students being stupid and reckless, meanwhile, face years of debt and public shame – under laws put in place by the same Government ministers who broke them. Few Conservative politicians called for these students, and others in a similar position, to be given a second chance.

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The most recent large-scale protests against the Government’s treatment of young people came in 2010 and 2011 when student anger peaked at the Coalition Government’s proposed increase in university tuition fees and cuts to means-based educational support.

The Metropolitan Police’s response of kettling the protestors – encircling them in a huddle for nearly 10 hours at temperatures reaching almost freezing – was reported in the Telegraph as a firm and effective response to a “serious threat to public order”.

Then Prime Minister David Cameron described the protests as “extremely serious” and the actions of the student protestors as “unacceptable”. He too praised the police response. Boris Johnson in his position as Mayor of London stated that the protests were “intolerable” and that all those involved would be “pursued and face the full force of the law”.

The framing of these protests as riots by both the right-wing press and the Government helped to cultivate the national image of young people as violent, immoral and therefore implicitly deserving of the extortionate financial burden placed upon them.

The Government has failed and continues to fail the young people of the UK. It has decided that we are not electorally important and are therefore worthy of demonisation and contempt. The Conservative Party’s record will live long in our memories.

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Rishi Sunak’s Plan to Soften Blow of Universal Credit Cut has been a £1 Billion Bust

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/04/2022 - 7:30pm in

Nic Murray explores the Chancellor’s under-funded and misjudged scheme to help deprived families make ends meet

“Is that it?” came a heckle from the Labour frontbench. The response could have been used to describe any number of his policies, but the exasperation on this occasion was directed at what the Chancellor had just announced in his Spring Statement.

The Household Support Fund, an emergency pot of funding for local authorities to help residents with essential costs, due to wind down on 1 April, was to be given an extra £500 million to run until September.    

First launched a week before the removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift late last year, it was clear the fund – initially resourced with £500 million – was barely a sticking plaster, aimed more at placating Conservatives ahead of its annual conference than helping the 500,000 swept into poverty as a result of the Universal Credit cut.

According to the Government, the fund was supposed to “be distributed by councils in England to directly help those who need it most" and it would be "distributed through small payments to support vulnerable households meet daily needs such as food, clothing, and utilities”.

At the time, the Household Support Fund was estimated to, on average, to replace less than 18p for every £1 cut from Universal Credit. New figures provided to Byline Times show how far short the scheme is falling, with tens of thousands of people across England lucky to get even that. 

Data obtained by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request indicates that, by January, halfway through the fund’s original duration – before the cost of living crisis truly began to bite – one in five applications to the fund were not being approved.

Of the 95 English county councils and unitary authorities open for applications to the fund that responded to Byline Times' request, a total of 174,000 applications were received, 22% of which had not been approved.

Brent Council, a third of whose residents are living in poverty, only approved 35% of the 1,182 applications made to its funding pot. For Blackpool, one of the most deprived areas in the country, this figure was a staggering 12%.      

Not all local authorities require direct applications from individuals. Some have automatically targeted funding towards households that already received support such as free school meals or council tax reductions. However, millions already miss out on this support, and are likely to be left out again.

For those required to apply, the fund is often a last resort, but one that requires applications to meet unspecified levels of ‘deservingness’ when competing against hundreds of others for already insufficient funding.

“I have £4.01 in my bank to last until 21 April,” Ashleigh in Liverpool told Byline Times. “Never asked them for anything before, applied and was rejected and told I could appeal, asked what I was rejected for so I could appeal against it and was told that they don’t give a reason.” 

Less than one in five local authorities operate their own local welfare assistance scheme, research in 2021 by End Furniture Poverty found, leaving many rushing to establish eligibility criteria. While some have used their discretion generously, such as Newham, by ensuring those with no recourse to public funds were eligible, others have replicated the most discriminatory aspects of the benefits system. 

Applicants in Preston, for instance, are required to submit two months of bank statements with no signs of ‘irresponsible’ spending. Meanwhile, in the City of London, any financial support comes with a stipulation that individuals must also show proof of receiving debt advice. Both frame the problem as one of individual choice – rather than an inability to make ends meet in a climate in which energy bills are rising 17 times faster than benefits.

Austerity Reborn

For those who have been lucky enough to have their applications approved, there is no guarantee that even accessing this support will be easy.

Janina told Byline Times that Ashfield District Council approved her application but that her internet was down for a couple of days, which meant that the vouchers sent to her expired two days later.

"I was hardly given the best chance to access it," she said. "I simply don’t know how I’m going to manage. As things are, I stay in my bedroom most of the time so that I can use an electric blanket when I’m cold.”

Plenty of people in local government feel that those on both sides of the Household Support Fund are being let down.

“The Government hasn’t properly involved local government in the shaping of the guidance so that we can then go ahead and deliver it effectively from day one,” Ian, head of a district council in the Midlands, told this newspaper.

“There is a danger they are setting local government up for failure in two ways – one by failing to deliver what we’ve been asked to do, and second at the end of the process as the Government isn’t going to carry on giving us some extra money to dole out.”

Rather than distributing necessary financial support through a social security system already set up to target those most in need, the fund places the administrative burden on local authorities – many of which have chosen to direct much of this to local ‘delivery partners’, adding another layer of administrative cost.

By the time it reaches individuals in need, not only has the total amount been depleted, it may not even come in the form of financial aid. FOI responses showed that at least £2.7 million has already been given directly to food banks across England. Kensington and Chelsea was the largest donator, directing £200,000 of its £1.8 million funding total to local food banks.  

Ultimately, slashing welfare funding accompanied by piecemeal increases to pots of local authority funding is a path well-worn by the Conservative Party over its 12 years in power.

The Welfare Reform Act 2012 – which introduced Universal Credit and the ‘Bedroom Tax’ – abolished the £732 million a year Social Fund, providing just £170 million for local welfare assistance in its place.

Meanwhile, former Chancellor George Osborne’s three-year freeze on Local Housing Allowance in 2015 – part of a raft of £4 billion worth of cuts to the welfare budget which put more than a million families at risk of homelessness – was accompanied by just an extra £170 million per year to the Discretionary Housing Payment. 

In the current political climate, this austerity is taking place while households face the largest fall in real-term incomes since the 1970s – delivered by a Chancellor whose approval rating is currently in free-fall, in part due to his piecemeal approach to tackling the cost of living crisis. 

Current guidance issued to local authorities stipulates that they must “reference that the grant is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions or the UK Government in any publicity material”.

The Household Support Fund may be funded by the Government, but only with the same amount of cash that it allocated in the Spring Statement to "increasing DWP’s capacity to detect fraud and error" – highlighting just how inadequate the scheme truly is. 

Almost a month on from Rishi Sunak's announcement, the latest guidance for local authorities is still in draft format – leaving many in the dark. For Ian, one question is particularly pressing: “This fund only runs until September. So what’s the answer for next winter’s fuel bill?”

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North Loses Out as Government Replaces EU ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/04/2022 - 7:04pm in

Sam Bright and Tom Robinson calculate the reductions in UK regional development spending, compared to the equivalent EU scheme

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A UK Government fund designed to replace EU regional development grants will leave the north of England tens of millions of pounds worse off while maintaining or even increasing funding to wealthier southern areas, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

Oxfordshire will receive a 12% funding boost, funding for Hampshire and west Surrey will remain the same, while Berkshire faces a cut of just 4%. Meanwhile, Leeds will see a funding cut of 43%, Manchester 35%, Liverpool 34%, and the north-east of England 37% overall.

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the largest per-person recipient of EU funding in England, also face a cut of 38%, from £214.4 million during the last three years of the EU fund to the £132 million planned for the next three years of the UK Government scheme.

The Shared Prosperity Fund, part of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda – intended to reduce the disparities between different parts of the UK – will hand out £2.6 billion over the next three years, falling significantly short of the £1.5 billion per year the UK received from the EU to help its most deprived areas.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto promised “at a minimum” to match EU funding post-Brexit.

Under EU rules, funds were allocated according to an area’s deprivation in relation to the EU average. The new rules attempt to replicate this model, but also guarantee a minimum of £1 million for every borough and/or district in England.

The fund’s spending allocation has also ignited a row between the UK’s devolved nations and Westminster.

The Scottish Government has claimed that it will receive £337 million less over three years than it would have under the EU. The Welsh Government, meanwhile, has claimed that it is “facing a loss of more than £1 billion in un-replaced funding over the next three years”.

In a written statement, Welsh Minister for the Economy, Vaughan Gething, said: “The Welsh Government proposed an alternative formula which would distribute funding more fairly across Wales according to economic need, but this was rejected by the UK Government.”

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has stated that the UK fund would only match EU funding in 2024/25 – once remaining EU funds had been distributed – noting that previous EU grants had “ramped up and down”.

However, the Financial Times has reported that English regions will receive £78 million less in real terms than under the EU deal, even when the UK Government scheme ramps up in 2024/25.

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Levelling Down

Levelling up is one of the key policy planks of Boris Johnson’s Government, linked to the UK’s departure from the EU.

Brexit has been viewed as a rebellion among former industrial areas in the north of England, the midlands and north Wales – protesting against their relative deprivation compared to more affluent areas of the country, in particular London and other metropolitan hubs.

However, two-and-a-half years after Johnson won the 2019 General Election, there appears to have been little movement on the agenda.

The Government launched its levelling up white paper in February, sketching out the scope of its ambitions. Yet, ministers were criticised at the time for failing to match their grand rhetoric with funding commitments. In a recent report, the Institute for Government think tank concluded that the Government’s 12 levelling up missions – stipulated in the white paper – will not have a positive impact on regional inequality.

The Institute said that “only four of the 12 missions are clear, ambitious and have appropriate metrics – outcomes the Government will measure to demonstrate progress towards its 2030 target”.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has been accused of distributing levelling up funds to further political ends.

Analysing the Government’s four existing levelling up schemes, the Guardian found imbalances and irregularities – not least that Mid Bedfordshire, an area partly represented by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, has received £26.7 million in funds despite being one of the fifth most affluent areas of the country.

Likewise, the constituency represented by Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid will receive £15 million despite being one of the wealthiest areas in England.

This situation appears to have been replicated in the case of the Shared Prosperity Fund, with some Conservative-dominated areas escaping the worst of the Government’s cutbacks. Indeed, Oxfordshire – set to receive a levelling up funding boost – has six parliamentary constituencies, four of which are represented by Conservative MPs.

Raw funding has also been lacking, with Johnson planning to spend less on English regional development than either of his immediate predecessors, Theresa May and David Cameron, according to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

The Byline Intelligence Team recently revealed how the Conservative Government has been encouraging repressive regimes – including Saudi Arabia – to invest in regional development projects in the UK, as a means of furthering the levelling up agenda, and potentially as a way of avoiding central government spending.

“Levelling up is about addressing deep structural challenges over the long-term and the white paper sets out a clear blueprint on how we will reduce regional inequalities,” the Government said, in response to the Institute for Government's levelling up report.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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‘The Return of the State’ is central to addressing inequality 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/04/2022 - 1:19am in

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inequality

PEF council member, Johnna Montgomerie, hosts the digital symposium and KCL’s Politics of Inequality Working Group podcast: Inequality – The Issue of Our Time

The digital symposium was produced throughout the pandemic ‘lockdowns’ as they rolled across the globe in 2020-2021, the purpose was to speak across the silos of academic disciplines to ask what is the state of the art in terms of what is known about inequality? Why is knowing about inequality important? The purpose was to connect academic research to practical, inclusive and innovative solutions to inequality because it is the issue of our time. The Progressive Economy Forum was featured in podcast discussions of the edit collection, The Return of the State: Restructuring Britain for the Common Good (Agenda Press: 2019), by Patrick Allen, Sue Konzelmann, and Jan Toporowski, and Coordinator, James Meadway, contributes to the debates throughout. 

Progressive economic ideas thinks about inequality through the lens of distribution, rather than scarcity. When we think about what is just, we think about who gets what. A distributive paradigm looks at wealth and income levels, material goods and social position to evaluate the wellbeing of society. The term inequality measures the separations between groups within society, either at the national or global level, and asks whether these distributions are just. The digital symposium was a series of dialogues seeking to advance our thinking about what creates inequality as well as our considerations of how inequity touches our lives in really meaningful ways.

PEF Coordinator, Dr James Meadway draws out the distributive paradigm driving contemporary inequality via Piketty’s thesis,  ‘when returns to capital from wealth surpass those from employment, income inequality worsens’ – in order to connect economic ideas to the practical reality. Specifically, that the wealthiest 1% of people globally produce the same emissions as the poorest in the bottom half, over 3 billion people. Thomas Piketty ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ featured prominently in the dialogue because, as Paul Krugman articulated Piketty’s thesis changed the way economists in particular think and talk about wealth and inequality. This very point is discussed with Professor Mike Savage, from the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute, as his newest book, ‘The Return of Inequality’, is considered the sociological reply to the Parisian economist. Savage calls for more iconoclastic thinking around inequality, a recognition that inheritance (via state tax policies tax income compared to wealth) isn’t just about passing on economic resources, but passing on cultural capacities. In recognising this, the true legacies of capitalism can be articulated. Indeed, colonialism is central to configuring global inequality – the historical geographies that inform global hierarchies of states by wealth and GPD. In national domestic economies income and wealth inequality connect to systems of race, gender and class as social stratifications. Combining understandings of the weight of history, with the economic frames of income and wealth, reveals the conditions that create and reproduce inequality between groups.

The role of the state in generating, perpetuating and/or addressing inequality is discussed in terms of how economic ideas are applied in the exercise of public policy. This is the context, the dialogue asked if we change how we think and talk about inequality, what really changes? We can understand inequality in all its guises, we can measure it in all kinds of different ways, we can agree, it’s an urgent economic and social policy, but nothing changes if this knowledge is not put to good use. Fatalism is not an option. We are social beings, the greatest problem solvers on the planet (according to David Attenborough), and we can build a better, more sustainable and equitable way of living. For practical solutions, there are plenty of examples of when inequality was not just a social problem, this suggests that changes in economic ideas that inform public policies can lead to improvement or worsening of inequality. Having established that inequality is not just a personal experience of extreme poverty or exorbitant wealth, we consider how widening inequality impacts political stability and social cohesion. 

The Return of the State, is featured in the symposium discussion on how what starts in the economy as income and wealth inequality radiates outward through society and politics in ways that generate polarization. What effect does inequality have on the balance between the state, the market and society? In turn, what effect can social democracy have on addressing inequality? The discussion begins with a need to stop talking about equality as a playing field. When policy makers frame inequality in this way, they are putting people on opposing teams to compete in a winner takes all game of life. Imagine how much life would improve if governments framed equity as a ‘common good’ or a resource for society to draw on, providing widespread prosperity and cohesion rather than individual gains and division. Where ideas lead, practical solutions follow – so we must change how we think and talk about inequality, the issue of our time. 

PEF Council member, Sue Konzelmann contributes to the symposium by articulating how insecurity-cycles are engrained in economic policies that generate worsening inequality. She explains how historically and geographically different economic policy regimes inform distributive paradigms (who gets’ what) which either worsen or improve inequality. Economic ideas are central to understanding why inequality exists where it does, but also points to what policy levers to pull to promote greater equity in society. Throughout the dialogues the tension between seeing inequality as systemic, rather than an individual or personal (moral) failing, is why the state via public policies is so important in shaping inequality. For instance, the role of the state is seen as central to how finance shapes contemporary inequality. This point is expressed clearly in Lisa Adkins, and Martjin Konings contribution to the dialogue in their discussion of their new book, ‘The Asset Economy’, which articulate how the foundational shift in center of gravity capitalism from a commodities-based economy to an asset-based economy creates a system of ‘lock-in’ via residential housing, which is a key aspect of inequality in urban centers across the globe. In the Asset economy, wealth is accumulated because asset prices increase at a faster rate than wages and consumer prices – having family wealth or inheritance have become more important than income in contributing to financial security through asset ownership. 

PEF Council member, Jan Toporowski, contributes to the dialogues with key reflections on the systems of oppression that underpin asset, income and wealth inequality. Looking historically at industrial feudalism and contemporary financialized capitalism and how these epochs shape the intimacies of life – not simply as labour but also in terms of age, race, gender, and where you live. He articulates the key points where economics meets social configurations of oppression by excluding groups from wealth accumulation via barriers to accessing employment and finance, which are the only routes to holding assets, besides inheritance of course. This reflection summarizes the arc of the dialogue on key fault lines of inequality. For instance, the transformation of residential housing as the site where employment, debt and assets come together and appear in everyday life. The home evolved from a place where people live, into an asset, and then to an asset in which capital gains are expected. Housing has been promoted by governments as a form of welfare, a way of providing for one’s own security and that of your family, central to the narrative of self-reliance above state provision. Mehrsa Baradaran, ‘The Color of Money’ examines how marginalised groups are adversely incorporated into the financial system: “Just as exploitative credit arrangements, like sharecropping were created because of the demand for worldwide cotton, subprime lending was connected to the worldwide demand for mortgage loans. Global capital markets found yield in the cotton produced by sharecroppers and in the interest paid by subprime borrowers. That the black community was exploited in both situations speaks to their lack of wealth, political power and their exclusion from the main channels of financial power.” Having to access financial markets in order to access the basic provisions of life, like housing, is deeply entangled with the discrimination of historically marginalized groups in society. Interestingly, in addition to racial inequalities, this dynamic can also be seen in age-cohorts. For young people, access to family wealth they can use for a down payment on a property gives them a decisive advantage over those without, even if they earn more money. What becomes clear is that whether an asset or a debt, it is the deeper integration of finance into everyday life that shapes the fortunes and misfortunes of society.

In conclusion, many people already recognize inequities in everyday life whether as categories of inequality, such as being poor, experiencing racial or gender discrimination, also inequity can be seen in the differential experiences of climate breakdown or the historical geographies of colonialism. Those least responsible for society’s ills are suffering disproportionately, breeding further division in society. This podcast miniseries articulates why inequality is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century –  it erodes prosperity and destabilises society. Inequality is another word for the serious, deeply unjust, social challenges facing human society which are systemic, woven into the very fabric of daily life. Progressive economics provides a set of economic ideas that can bring greater cohesion to solve collective problems, whether inequality, climate change or the threat of a viral pandemic.

The post ‘The Return of the State’ is central to addressing inequality  appeared first on The Progressive Economy Forum.

Canada’s 2022 federal budget

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/04/2022 - 10:18pm in

Canada’s 2022 federal budget had a very strong housing focus. I’ve written a ‘top 10’ overview of the budget here: https://nickfalvo.ca/canadas-2022-federal-budget-was-a-housing-budget/

Canada’s 2022 federal budget

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/04/2022 - 10:18pm in

Canada’s 2022 federal budget had a very strong housing focus. I’ve written a ‘top 10’ overview of the budget here: https://nickfalvo.ca/canadas-2022-federal-budget-was-a-housing-budget/

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