The number of children in poverty is rocketing. Who is protecting them?

It’s telling that those zealots who want to defend the ‘unborn child’ are complicit in policies that impoverish women and children

Child on council estate
 ‘Avoiding this hypocritical ‘concern for children’ does not require a complex position: a civilised society would give women the choice not to continue with a pregnancy and in turn support a child’s wellbeing if they are born.’ 

One of the most remarkable things that came out of the Irish referendum was the personal testimony of women who had been forced to journey to England for medical care. But some – poor or migrant or disabled women – recounted how even this option wasn’t available to them; unable to travel, they had no choice but to take the gamble of a pill bought from the internet. It’s a striking insight into the black-and-white thinking imposed on pregnancy: women who could not even afford a flight on Ryanair for a safe abortion were somehow expected to be able to afford to feed, house and clothe a child.

Beyond Ireland, this denial of the material reality of raising a child is an ongoing issue – in abortion debates and beyond. Indeed, the same voices so ardently protecting the “unborn child” are often strangely quiet when it comes to support for children once they are outside the womb. This convenient cognitive dissonance has long been a feature of rightwing attitudes: arguing to restrict a woman’s reproductive rights while supporting measures that push children into poverty. (Some British rightwing – often male – journalists couldn’t resist stepping in over the Irish debate too.)

Avoiding this hypocritical “concern for children” does not require a particularly complex position: a civilised society would give women the choice not to continue with a pregnancy and in turn support a child’s wellbeing if they are born. And yet it is a concept with which many still seem to struggle, including our own government. The Conservatives have long positioned themselves as the party of family – from cruel so-called protection of the “traditional family” such as the anti-LGBT Section 28, 30 years old this month, to David Cameron’s pledge to use the family to solve social problems, and 2017’s backbench Manifesto to Strengthen the Family, pitched as Theresa May’s key social narrative.

At the same time, their small-state ideology can make it devastatingly difficult for a low-income parent to look after a child. Look at the controversial “two-child” limit to child tax credits under universal credit (UC). From its inception, it was predicted the policy would lead to hundreds of thousands of additional children living in poverty, but it’s now emerging that some women are even feeling forced to have abortions because they can’t afford to go ahead with the pregnancy. “It wasn’t planned but it was very much wanted. I was crying as they wheeled me in,” one woman told the Mirror this month about her abortion; without the safety net of tax credits, she had no way to afford another baby. Women in Northern Ireland in similar positions have an even more restricted choice: the rape-exemption clause that gives some women on UC a financial reprieve endangers women who haven’t reported their attack to the police (in Northern Ireland, failure to report a crime is an offence) and, as the renewed calls for reproductive rightsin light of the Irish vote has highlighted, Northern Irish women have no legal access to abortion in their own country if they feel they can’t raise a child.

Recent years have in fact seen a determined removal of support from low-income mothers – everything from forcing single parents (90% of whom are women) to look for work once their child turns three or have their benefits sanctioned, to the benefit cap, a policy so regressive it was actually ruled to be unlawful when forced on single parents with toddlers.

Just this week, it came out that a third of low-income families are missing out on state-funded free food vouchers – a scheme designed to help pregnant women and those with young children afford fruit, vegetables and milk.

Much like Sure Start and child tax credits, these vouchers were brought in by a Labour government to reduce inequalities between wealthy and poor children, based on the understanding that if it takes a village to raise a child, it often requires a government to ensure they don’t live in poverty. It’s no coincidence that, as the welfare state has been pulled back, the number of children in poverty is rocketing to record levels.

In the post-crash austerity era, this sense of social solidarity towards children has noticeably lessened. Under each policy to remove state support from parents there’s a lurking narrative that working-class women are “breeding too much” or that low-income children are drains on the “hardworking taxpayer”. (“Why should I pay for someone else to have more kids?” is the rejoinder on most articles advocating child benefits). In the real world, pregnancy is rarely predictable – contraception fails, relationships end, and jobs are lost – and besides, even the most ardent individualist would admit low-income children have done nothing to “deserve” their own poverty.

We are at the point in which it is not rare to hear of infants living in B&Bssleeping on cardboard, or even scrambling for food in school bins. If the ongoing debate over abortion rights teaches us anything, it’s that there are no shortage of voices content to defend the “unborn”. It’s a shame few are willing to give the same care to those children who are already here. HEAR HEAR!!!



Universal Credit: ‘No practical alternative’ to the system despite myriad problems, says report

Universal Credit: What is it, how was it supposed to improve the benefits system and why is it so controversial? ‘No practical alternative’ to the system despite myriad problems, says report

Campaigners from DPAC block the road near Parliament to demand the government scrap Universal Credit 

Universal Credit (UC) was introduced in 2013 in an attempt to simplify the welfare system by ‘rolling’ six means-tested benefits and tax credits into a single monthly payment – but has been increasingly criticised in recent years.

It was back in the spotlight this week after the High Court ruled that the government department overseeing the implementation of UC, the Department for Work and Pensions, had unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men who had their benefits significantly reduced under the system.

When UC was first announced in 2010, then-work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith claimed combining child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance and working tax credit would replace a “complex, outdated and wildly expensive system.”

But critics say changes which were meant to deal with unnecessary bureaucracy and expense have so far only made matters worse. UC currently costs £699 per claim, which is four times the amount the government intends to spend when the systems are fully developed.

The government says that UC will bring the economy a return of £34bn over 10 years.

This week, a National Audit Office report concluded that UC has been too slow in its introduction, causes unnecessary hardship and is not providing value for money. Yet because of the determination with which the Department for Work and Pensions has driven the programme forward despite its issues, the report said there is “no practical alternative to continuing with Universal Credit.”

The criticism follows warnings from several non-governmental organisations. Last year, the UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, reported that demand for food parcels in areas where UC has been rolled out increased by an average of 30 per cent from April to November, compared with 12 per cent in areas still using the old system. Hardship was triggered by the six-week wait time for claimants moving to UC.

A report from the left-wing think-tank, the Smith Institute, said this wait contributed to growing rent arrears between 2016 and 2017 in the London boroughs of Southwark and Croydon. The findings showed the 94 per cent increase in referrals to a food bank was “mainly due to welfare reform and universal credit.”

This means councils have to divert money to help those affected by UC. In December, shadow employment minister Margaret Greenwood claimed FOI requests showed assets were used for additional rent support, increased staff and work with local food banks and Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.

The switch to UC could affect claimants’ ability to even find a home, too. The National Landlords Association has warned delays in rent payment mean that private landlords are refusing to take UC tenants.

There have been amendments to the system from the government, but these are limited. In October 2017, UC helpline fees were waived after Labour challenged Prime Minister Theresa May over its 55p-per-minute charge.

Then, in his November 2017 budget, chancellor Philip Hammond announced that £1.5bn would be spent on reducing waiting periods from six to five weeks and promised the elimination of the seven-day waiting period in which applicants are prevented from lodging a claim after being made redundant. Mr Hammond also insisted that any household needing an advance would be able access a full month’s payment within five days of applying.

This helped some of those facing immediate financial struggles – but advance payments have to be repaid out of later instalments and those who aren’t used to digital technology can find it difficult to apply for.

Though roll-out was slowed down to implement those changes, in May it emerged that one in five have their applications for benefits declined because the system’s complexity leaves them falling foul of the application process. Just two months before, an internal government report revealed there was no evidence that more people would be helped into work or that an online service could be successfully implemented on a national level.

Harsher sanctions, which reduce or stop benefits for those who don’t do enough to look for work, turn up late to appointments or don’t take part in employment or training schemes, are difficult for those with busy schedules. Low-paid workers are expected to look for more hours or take on extra jobs as a condition of wage top-ups. On top of that, they must report to regular jobcentre appointments to verify their efforts

Despite its setbacks, the government is still committed to UC. The work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, says: “Universal Credit lies at the heart of our priority to help people improve their lives, with more people moving into employment and staying in work longer than compared to the previous system.”

Last week, Ms McVey introduced a scheme called “transitional protection” to ensure that claimants who move to UC won’t have their benefits reduced if their circumstances are unchanged and those who receive less are eligible for a cash top-up. The timing of the new policy was too late to prevent Ms McVey’s department from an embarrassing defeat in the High Court this week, though.

Treasury scepticism and disorganisation surrounding the roll-out mean the programme is already at least five years behind schedule. However, the government maintains that it expects UC to cover some 7 million citizens by 2022.

While some preliminary issues with UC have been improved, there is still much to be addressed about the increased hardships facing its claimants and its haphazard implementation.



Government’s flagship programme to help jobless young people has no idea where 15,000 people have gone because it keeps no records

Another DWP piss-up-in-a-brewery

Exclusive: Youth Obligation branded a ‘dead duck’ after minister admits he has no idea if it is helping youngsters into work – because no data is kept

More than 15,000 youngsters have left the scheme but there is no information available about what they are doing now (File photo)

Thousands of jobless young people are feared to have dropped off a flagship government scheme without finding work or training and without any information on their subsequent movements. Ministers are facing accusations that the Youth Obligation programme is a “dead duck” after admitting they have no idea if it is helping youngsters into work because no data is kept.

A total of 24,600 have joined the programme since its launch last year, but only 9,300 remain – which means 15,300 youngsters have left, with no information available about what they are doing now.

There is also growing alarm that Youth Obligation is operating in only a few parts of the country, leaving jobless youngsters elsewhere with no focused government support. Just £9.4m was spent on the scheme in 2017-18, compared with around £500m spent on the Work Programme which preceded it, albeit for all age groups.

Stephen Timms, a Labour MP who uncovered the failure to monitor the scheme, told The Independent: “It is shocking, the government is failing to address a serious problem. “It is extraordinarily negligent not to collect the data for the programme. Without it, the government will have no idea if it is succeeding or failing.”

The Employment Related Services Organisation (ERSA), which represents groups providing support for the unemployed, described the situation as “bizarre”. “The government has no idea whether its ‘flagship’ Youth Obligation scheme is either steaming ahead or a dead duck,” said Kirsty McHugh, the ERSA’s chief executive.

“With Brexit on the horizon, skills shortages looming and increasing concern about the impacts of automation and the gig economy, it seems bizarre. Every young person deserves the best chance of success in life.” The revelation is the latest evidence that the government is breaking its promises of “intensive support” to help young people achieve their potential.

In May, The Independent revealed how research had calculated that 480,000 16 to 24-year-olds had “fallen off the government radar” altogether. They are refusing to go to jobcentres because they lack the necessary documents, or they “fear being treated badly” – because of the threat of sanctions – leaving them with no state help to survive and find work.

The Youth Obligation scheme, introduced in April 2017, promised intensive help from specialist jobcentre advisers to help 18 to 21-year-olds put together applications and perform well in interviews. It is intended to lead to apprenticeships, traineeships or work placements. If after six months someone has refused to accept any of those, they can be stripped of their benefit.

The scheme followed the scrapping of the controversial Work Programme, which failed to deliver better results in getting the long-term jobless into work by outsourcing contracts to private firms.


Mr Timms, a former minister, said that under the Work Programme contractors were paid fully only if they could prove they had succeeded in putting people into secure jobs. Yet, the Department for Work and Pensions told Mr Timms it was unable to provide any results for the Youth Obligation scheme because it “would incur disproportionate cost”.

The DWP did not dispute that it was IT weaknesses within universal credit [YOU THINK] that prevented it tracking people on the scheme. Mr Timms tabled a parliamentary question asking how many claimants on the Youth Obligation offer since April 2017 have moved into employment lasting over six months?

In reply, Alok Sharma, the work minister, said: “To answer this would require identifying which claimants have ended their Youth Obligation support programme journey, and then match this with records from HM Revenue & Customs to determine their employment status over the subsequent six months. Therefore, providing this information would incur disproportionate cost.”

In separate answers, Mr Sharma disclosed that 24,600 young people have joined the Youth Obligation since it got underway in April 2017, of whom 9,300 remained by February 2018. But he added: “It is not possible to say how many of them have subsequently gone on to (a) an apprenticeship (b) a traineeship and (c) a work placement without checking individual records, which would incur disproportionate cost.”

The Youth Obligation scheme is being introduced gradually, alongside the controversial new benefit universal credit, which means it has only reached around 300 jobcentres out of more than 5,000.

Mr Timms added: “For the first time for two decades, when we still have relatively high levels of youth unemployment, the government has no initiative covering the whole country.” He also stressed the need to monitor “progression”, warning: “Young people’s jobs are often temporary, low-paid and part-time. The government has to find a way to enable them to progress into permanent, better-paid, full-time employment.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “More than 24,000 young people have started our programme, which consists of a host of proven methods to help individuals into work, like support to access training, develop a CV and meet employers. “We do not ask participants to declare their employment status after leaving the programme.”

The spokesperson also said that, even in areas not reached by the Youth Obligation scheme, young people did receive advice from jobcentre staff on training and work experience opportunities.


TELL ME SUMMAT I DON’T KNOW: Theresa May is both a coward and a horrible person

I’m not trying to suggest May is in the same league as a Kim Jong-un, or a Bashar al-Assad, but her rap sheet is rapidly lengthening. Consider the tone of the country since she took office, and the sheer nastiness that some of her friends and colleagues indulge in


In the wake of the events of the last week, here’s a question for you. Is Theresa May:

A) a coward
B) a bad person
C) both

I know, I know. Right now lots of you are saying something like: “Isn’t it obvious? C, C, C.” I feel it incumbent upon me, however, to justify such an accusation as opposed to simply throwing it out Daily Mail- or Twitter-style. There’s a little too much of the latter around, as I’ll touch on when we come to “B”.

In the case of “A” I might simply point to the way the compromise agreed with rebel Tories over the EU Withdrawal Bill was trampled over as soon as the party’s pitchfork-wielding Brexiteer zealots got within earshot of Number 10.

But I also want to highlight something that May says a lot that is both deeply mendacious and pathetically craven. A variation on it was heard at the press conference she held as the latest G7 get-together was wrapping up, when most of the attention was focused on Donald Trump’s latest hissy fit.

This is the version on May’s Twitter feed: “We will deliver on the will of the British people and get the best Brexit deal for our country – securing the greatest possible access to European markets, boosting free trade with countries across the world, and delivering control over our borders, laws and money. It is the people of this country who have voted to leave the European Union and we will deliver…”

It is blatantly dishonest because what she is “delivering” is not the will of the “British people” at all.  Some 52 per cent of them who expressed a preference in a referendum voted to leave the EU, about 37 per cent of the electorate.

If you’re being charitable it is the will of a minority of the British people. If we’re being honest, however, it’s very much the will of the extremists in her own party, and that of Vladimir Putin and various hard-right-wing press barons.

But it’s worse than that: in making that statement she is seeking to avoid taking any responsibility for her actions. May is supposed to be a leader, the prime minister of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. This is her government’s central policy. It is her party’s project. And yet she’s saying: “This one’s on you.”


Is it just me or could that not come in very handy when it all goes wrong and, as someone else is trying to pick up the pieces, she’s fielding offers for the memoirs ex-prime minsters like to write to influence the verdict of history and fatten their pension pots.

That, I believe, deals with A. For B (and thus C) I think you need to hold me to a higher burden of proof because it’s a more serious charge.

I’m also bearing in mind a course I took with Adam Raphael, the former political editor of The Observer, while at City University’s journalism school.

Even 25 years ago he was moved to voice concerns about the tone of political coverage, so goodness knows what he thinks now.

He also expressed the view that most MPs work hard and try to do their best, or words to that effect. It was a long time ago now, but what he said stuck with me, and, as a result, I thought very carefully before writing this.

On the other hand, it can’t be escaped that politics does attract some people who are very bad. Just take a look around the world.

I’m not trying to suggest May is in the same league as a Kim Jong-un, or a Bashar al-Assad. But her rap sheet is rapidly lengthening.

Consider the tone of the country since she took office, and the sheer nastiness that some of her friends and colleagues indulge in. While I was writing this, the news broke that a private member’s bill to make the practice of upskirting a specific criminal offence was killed by one of those pitchfork wielders, the deeply repellent Christopher Chope.

MPs from her own party have been threatened with physical violence and death, not for seeking to overturn the referendum result, despite the way their actions have been characterised by the Brexit press, but simply for daring to oppose the extreme form of it she has chosen to pursue.

I would argue that she has set the stage for the dog whistle incitements to violence published by certain newspapers, and the Twitter storms that follow in their wake, with the threats and warnings she issues just about every time there is a crunch vote that looks as if it might not go her way.

Want more? How about the “hostile environment” migration policy she pursued at the Home Office. It led to the Windrush scandal in which British citizens were threatened with deportation. Meanwhile, a growing number of people who have lived here for years, worked here, contributed to our society, and paid taxes, are being treated disgracefully when they seek the citizenship or permanent residence that ought to be theirs.

Oh, and Grenfell. Let’s not forget Grenfell, an avoidable tragedy on her watch for which nobody has been called to account. No, she did not cause it. But despite repeated promises, there are still two families yet to be housed, and even minor concessions have had to be dragged kicking and screaming out of her government, a point made by Labour MP David Lammy in an interview with PoliticsHome.

In it he also highlighted the “shrill, pernicious and nasty Little England mentality” that has seeped into the mainstream and flourished on her watch.

Racists, thugs and trolls have felt validated, and have emerged blinking into the sunlight. The face May’s Britain is presenting to the world, and to the mirror, is bigoted, and bitter.

One is left wondering what happened to those “British values” of fair play and decency we’re always being told about. Under this prime minster they are being throttled. She should be held to account for that. So yes, all those who answered “it’s obvious – C!” at the start, I think I’ve provided sufficient evidence to justify that.

I could have added a lot more, but it’d take a book to fit it all in.


Esther McVey just dropped a DWP bomb on parliament then ran off for the weekend

Esther McVey just dropped a DWP bomb on parliament then ran off for the weekend

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has had quite a week, lurching from one crisis to the next. And on Friday 15 June, the secretary of state for work and pensions, Esther McVey, topped it all off by dropping a crucial written statement on parliament. She then effectively ran off for the weekend.

Another day, another DWP scandal

As The Canary previously reported, judges forced the DWP to admit it had been incorrectly interpreting its own guidelines for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The department’s climb-down was in relation to two court cases where it had previously denied two disabled people PIP. This was on the basis they did not meet some of its criteria for the “daily living” component of the benefit.

After tribunals disagreed and told the DWP it must give the two claimants PIP, the department was going to appeal. But on 30 May, it told law firm Garden Court North Chambers it was withdrawing the appeals. The DWP also said it will be reviewing all PIP claims this may affect. It basically got it wrong.

Anger in parliament

During an angry parliamentary exchange on Monday 4 June, Labour’s Debbie Abrahams and others probed McVey as to how many people could be affected by this latest scandal. A previous case where the DWP was forced to admit it had been interpreting the PIP guidelines wrong left it reviewing 1.6 million peoples’ claims.

McVey repeatedly deflected MP’s questions, prompting anger from opposition benches. But on Friday, she made an admission.


In a written statement, she said:

Last week I came to the House to answer an Urgent Question regarding two PIP appeals… (known as AN and JM) that I had withdrawn. I was unable to comment on a related case that was pending an appeal… (known as LB) as it concerned ongoing litigation…

The LB case involved [pdf, p1] the same part of PIP regulations as the AN and JM cases. McVey said the DWP had decided not to appeal the LB case. This meant she could now reveal how many people the DWP’s rule misinterpretation could affect.

She said:

My Department has now begun work to apply the law as stated… We expect that around 1,000 claimants will be affected.

Drop and run

McVey’s written response left Abrahams unimpressed:

This is good news for around 1,000 disabled people. But what the DWP won’t be reviewing is all the people it has previously said didn’t qualify for PIP. Some of these claims may have been denied because the DWP misrepresented its own rules.

As The Canary exclusively reported, we now know that around 381,000 disabled people who previously received Disability Living Allowance (DLA) were reassessed as not needing PIP. Overall, between April 2013 and April 2018, the DWP told [pdf, p3]some 1.4 million people they didn’t qualify for PIP. So, for the sake of those affected, we must find out how many of these were because the DWP got its own rules wrong.

In the meantime, McVey and her department are becoming more embattled by the day.

Get Involved!

A landlord calls James O’Brien with a heartbreaking update about a tenant on Universal Credit

A landlord calls James O’Brien with a heartbreaking update about a tenant on Universal Credit

Last October, a landlord called LBC and spoke to presenter James O’Brien about a tenant who was waiting for his Universal Credit payment. This Friday, he called againto give him an update on the situation. The man in question killed himself.

The Canary recently reported on the benefit’s major failings. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to support vulnerable claimants and has underestimated the hardship Universal Credit is causing. 10,000 people have waited five months or longer for their payment.

A heartbreaking story

Dan rents out homes to many tenants who are benefit claimants. O’Brien asked Dan if the situation with Universal Credit was improving. Dan explained that from his perspective, it seems to be getting worse. His tenants don’t have enough money for food. Financial difficulties have also been fuelling their mental health issues. And updating O’Brien on one tenant he mentioned last year, Dan said:

Unfortunately, the chap who I previously spoke about, he killed himself in our apartment. About two weeks after, there was a payment made to him.

He was known to the local authorities. His mental health was getting worse due to the fact that he couldn’t afford to do anything.

The mental health impact of Universal Credit 

People on Twitter shared O’Brien’s upset about the tragedy, as well as stories of people struggling under the benefits system. One user, who works in mental health, tweeted:

As The Canary previously reported, the roll-out of Universal Credit has sent claimants into desperate situations as they go without payment.

The Mental Health Foundation notes how the implementation of Universal Credit is worsening claimant’s mental health issues. The charity states:

Living in a climate of fear whereby loss of money is a constant threat hanging over your head is likely to lead to poor mental wellbeing. Increased use of sanctions will further exacerbate already challenging circumstances for some of the most vulnerable in society.

Information obtained by Mental Health Foundation Scotland suggests that there have been an increasing number of phone calls to the Department of Work and Pensions from those who identified as being at risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts as a result of the sanctions being forced on them or changes to their benefits. The impact of UC is a real public health concern.

Asides from sanctions, other financial pressures exist within the UC structure. On average, there is a full six-week waiting and assessment period before the first UC payment is made.

The roll-out of Universal Credit is leaving vulnerable people insecure when it should really add security to their lives. The welfare system is driving debtworsening poverty, and leaving people feeling suicidal. It’s becoming clearer every day that Universal Credit just isn’t working. We can’t afford to lose any more lives to this broken system.

Get Involved!

– If you want to speak to someone about any of these issues, contact the Samaritans by phoning 116 123 or by emailing


Government welfare reforms slammed by spending watchdog

I am am an avid supporter of Charlotte Hughes and her helpers, who help victims of the DWP outside Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre. This is her latest blog about her experiences outside Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre.

It’s not an illness if I can’t see it. Want to know what Universal Credit is like?

Here she is click here being interviewed by channel 4 about helping victims of the DWP and Universal credit

Charlotte Hughes

The government’s flagship welfare programme may never deliver value for money, according to a damning report by the public spending watchdog. The National Audit Office said that universal credit might end up costing more than the benefit system it was designed to replace, while leaving many of the most vulnerable claimants in hardship, waiting months for payments.

source channel 4


Tory MP who blocked private bill to outlaw upskirting has sponsored 47 private bills himself

It really makes you wonder about the morals of a ‘man’ that would do such a thing.

Pride's Purge

The right-wing press, including the BBC, have been desperately trying to spin and excuse the inexcusable actions of Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope – who has blocked bills to outlaw upskirting and attacks on police dogs and horses – by claiming he is against ALL private members’ bills as a point of principle.

This is what is known technically in journalism and media circles as ‘a lie’.

Because if he is so against private members’ bills in principle, then why has Chope himself  sponsored a private members’ bill to make Brexit a bank hoilday?

And how come he has also personally sponsored a private members’ bill to force NHS patients to pay for treatment:

The truth is that Chope has himself sponsored as many as 47 of his own private members’ bills.

His other private biills include ones to limit severance payments by public bodies to their staff; privatise…

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