Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Grants for parks

Run-down parks in England are to be regenerated thanks to almost £24m in lottery grants. The 12 awards include cash for two cemeteries in Coventry and on the Isle of Wight. A spokesman for the Heritage Lottery and Big lottery funds said it would allow the parks, many of them in some of the UK's most deprived communities, to be "transformed".

ONS reveals the share of tax and benefits for rich and poor

Over half (51.5%) of British households received more in benefit from the State than they pay in taxes, according to the ONS, while the richest fifth of Britons pay 43.7% of the nation's tax. The richest fifth of households had an average income of £80,800 in 2013/14 before taxes or benefit from welfare and public services while the poorest fifth had £5,500. But after tax and benefit is taken into account, the figures change to £60,000 and £15,500 respectively. The poorest fifth of households paid 37.8% of their income in taxes last year, while the richest fifth paid 34.8%. In the first year of the coalition the figures were 38.2% and 33.6% respectively. Chris Leslie, Labour’s shadow Chancellor, said the figures show the Chancellor should not reduce the top rate of tax or reduce tax credits for working people. Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, added: “There can be no argument for reducing taxes for the richest when they are already contributing a smaller share of their income than the poorest.” The median disposable income of retired households was 7.3%, or £1,400, higher in real terms in 2013-14 than before the start of the economic downturn, while the disposable income of non-retired households was 5.5%, or £1,600, lower.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Child poverty rising

Leading charities are warning that child poverty is on course for the biggest rise in a generation, reversing the steady improvements of the last two decades. Calculations from the IFS have suggested that progress between the late 1990s and 2010 has been reversed and that the number of children living in relative poverty rose from 2.3m in 2013 to 2.6m 2014. The introduction of the bedroom tax and cuts in benefits between 2013 and last year are blamed for fuelling the rise, and the Child Poverty Action Group has warned that the problem looks certain to grow for several more years with the government committed to a further £12bn of benefit cuts.

The Observer

Conservatives agree £12bn cuts plan

George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith have agreed a plan to cut benefits spending by £12bn a year. In an article for the Times, the chancellor and the work and pensions secretary pledge to tackle the “damaging culture of welfare dependency” and say they will outline their plans for cuts to working-age benefits in the budget on July 8 and the Whitehall spending review in the autumn. They state: “This government was elected with a mandate to implement further savings from the £220bn welfare budget. For a start, we will reduce the benefit cap and have made clear that we believe we need to make significant savings from other working-age benefits… As before, all our reforms will have these central aims: to ensure the welfare system promotes work and personal responsibility, while putting expenditure on a sustainable footing.” The announcement comes the day after tens of thousands of anti-austerity protesters took to the streets nationwide.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Business rates could lead to 80,000 shop closures

The retail industry has warned that over 80,000 shops face closure by 2017 unless the Government drastically overhauls the business rates tax system. The findings are the result of a comprehensive study of the tax by the British Retail Consortium, based on retailers not renewing their leases on the 60% of high street stores that will see their rental agreement expire by 2017. Business rates are estimated to bring in £28bn for the Treasury this year, but there are growing concerns about the burden of the levy and that it disproportionately punishes retailers with shops across the country.

Residents become planners

Ross Clark in the Times looks at how neighbourhood plans can give small communities the chance to decide where houses are built. He notes that so far, 67 communities have produced neighbourhood plans that have reached the referendum stage, and every one of them has been agreed, with an average “yes” vote of 88%.

Food charities expect busy summer

Food charities across Britain are warning of a busy summer ahead as a result of rising childcare costs, low wages and the impact of the Government's welfare reforms. The Trussell Trust has already fed 585,229 people in the six months to March 2015, up 7% from the same period a year earlier. David McAuley, chief executive, said: "We expect an increase in need, particularly towards the end of summer… Low income and benefit delays remain major causes of clients referred for emergency food banks." Increasing childcare costs have also been cited as a problem. Stephen Dunmore, chief executive at the Family and Childcare Trust, said: "With holiday childcare costs rising by 23% in England in the five years until 2014, we think it is likely that costs will go up again this year. We are equally concerned about the availability of holiday childcare. New research by the Family and Childcare Trust shows that 39 local authorities across England and Wales have reported a shortage of holiday childcare."

The Independent on Sunday

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Labour pledges to scrap GCSEs

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has confirmed that Labour would scrap GCSEs within a decade and replace them with a diploma that spans academic and vocational learning. Mr Hunt said that it no longer made sense to have exams at 16 when teenagers were required to stay in full-time education or training until the age of 18.

Tory MP calls for review of “Bedroom Tax”

Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski has written to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, warning that the “Bedroom Tax” is affecting some people unfairly and that it should be subjected to a "root and branch" review. Mr Kawczynski said he wanted to ensure that: "People who are genuinely very vulnerable and cannot make the changes that have been required are not discriminated against". 
Daily Mirror, 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

MPs to get 10% pay rise

Following recommendations from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, MPs annual salaries are to increase 10% from £67,000 to £74,000. Many papers suggest that such an increase is hard to justify as the rest of the public sector has endured a 1% pay cap since 2010 and cuts have been felt across the sector. Mark Serwotka of the PCS union said: "It would be grossly hypocritical for any MP who voted for years of pay cuts to accept a 10% increase," while the TaxPayers Alliance said ministers should not be “divorced” from wage restraint. Downing Street said that the prime minister "does not agree" with the proposed increase but the Times says Mr Cameron seems unlikely to overrule the decision he had called “simply unacceptable.”
  Evening Standard, 

Education bill may see 1,000 schools become academies

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has said that the government’s education bill, published today, will "sweep away bureaucratic and legal" barriers preventing the government taking over struggling schools and turning them into academies “from the first day we spot failure." The bill will see every school in England rated inadequate by Ofsted turned into an academy, meaning one thousand schools could face having their management replaced and sponsors introduced based on Department of Education estimates. It is said that new powers will prevent campaigners from obstructing takeovers, a move that Ms Morgan says will stop the efforts of “those who put ideological objections above the best interests of children."

Monday, 1 June 2015

Heatwave warning

A new government report warns that extreme summer temperatures will, in five years' time, cause the deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year. The new Heatwave Plan for England comes as the Meteorological Office starts 24-hour monitoring for signs of a heatwave.
The Independent on Sunday,  

IDS mulls child benefit cuts

The Sunday Times reports that Iain Duncan Smith has instructed civil servants to draw up plans for fresh reductions in child and housing benefit as the government seeks a further £12bn in welfare savings. The paper says the work and pensions secretary has asked officials to "model" the effects of several different cuts ahead of the budget on July 8, when the chancellor, George Osborne, will present the details. The proposals include plans to cap the number of children for which child benefit is paid to two which would save around £1bn a year. A cap at three children, favoured by some in the Treasury, will also be considered.

The Sunday Times,