Archive | December, 2012

Is the Treasury picking on the poor?

26 Dec

By Chris Hansell

By 38 Degrees, via flickr

By 38 Degrees, via flickr

Are you a striver or a shirker? Do you get up early and put in a hard day’s graft? Or can you be found in your dressing gown watching repeats of Come Dine with me until the sun goes down?

George Osborne’s Autumn Budget Statement has already been picked apart and put back together again. A 1% cap on benefits spending rises until 2015 sits alongside a 1% cut in corporation tax.

Elsewhere the Treasury seems to be trying to cover its mistake from earlier this year of cutting the top rate of income tax to 40p. The threshold for the top rate will be capped to rise at 1% starting in 2014, meaning it will bring more people in to the 40p tax rate.

George Osborne already has a reputation as an old Etonian, but this Autumn Statement has made him almost Dickensian.

“Please, sir, I want some more”

When Iain Duncan Smith snapped at Owen Jones a few weeks ago on Question Time we got a glimpse of what today’s Conservative party really think the poor and out of work are. The Work and Pensions secretary talked of ‘about two and a half million people who were parked, nobody saw them, for over ten years, not working, no hope, no aspiration.’

As Mike Sivier points out at Vox Political Mr Smith’s statements were not entirely accurate. However the statements might tell us what the Tories see when they look at the poor and workless. They will be seeing more and more of them lately, as claimants for jobseekers allowance rose to almost 1.6 million in October.

Signs that unemployment might be easing should also be read with a chunk of scepticism. Speaking to the Telegraph,’ s John Salt said ‘until we see growth in real job creation throughout the year, an underemployment bubble will continue to disguise the true picture of the UK’s labour market’. Mr Salt also highlighted the distortions created by temporary employment around Christmas and the Olympics.

Elsewhere an increasing number of claimants to housing benefit are in work, relying on welfare to pay for excessive rents.

Perhaps surprising is that the social housing sector, which accounts for well over half of the 5.05 million claiming housing benefit, just announced a record surplus of £1.4 billion for 2011/2012.

These profits come at a time when some commentators are claiming housing benefit simply subsidise excessive rents from landlords. With government cutting the social housing grant to landlords and housing benefit to be replaced by the untested universal credit the government is in danger of pricing people out of their homes. Excessive and rising rents are already a problem in parts of the country.

Plans for housing benefits will also affect as many as 380,000 young people who are either in work, looking for work or cannot work.

Like the outraged gentlemen of the Workhouse Board who were appalled by Oliver Twist’s request for a little more, the Chancellor cannot understand why the poor should need so much. The truth is that being poor is not something people chose, but it is a situation this government is making harder to be in.


Britain’s high streets

6 Dec

Today’s blog post is a little different. I’ve covered the state of Britain’s high street using an interactive application called Vuvox. Below is the link to my story as well as some footage recorded for it.

The State of our high streets

Are academies worth the money?

1 Dec

Photo by Cherice, via Flickr

By Chris Hansell

£1 billion is a lot of money. It is past the point for most people to successfully visualise, it’s meaning lost in a cacophony of noughts. As it happens it is also the amount of money the Ministry of Education overspent on their flagship academies programme between 2010 and 2012.

I’ve written about academies before and have my reservations about their benefits. I even discussed it in a light-hearted debate with some of my colleagues.

But my concerns with the policy never anticipated this kind of money mismanagement. With the Guardian reporting an additional £767 million of extra spending up to April 2013 these costs don’t seem to be lowering soon.

The problem is this: academies are not better than state comprehensive schools. In many ways they are more or less the same in terms of pupil achievement. What could warrant so much extra money when it is not leaving pupils with a sounder education?

Some academies have boosted pupil numbers leaving with five GCSEs at grades A to C by 8%. But as Henry Stewart and Melissa Benn of the Local Schools Network point out this figure only represents academies that score below 35% ‘benchmark’. They also reveal that ‘results at non academies below the benchmark also grew by 8%.’

Another key piece of evidence used in support of the academies programme is a piece of research produced by two academics at the London School of Economics. The research found that poorly performing schools turned into academies under the New Labour government improved more over time than similar schools which had not yet converted.

These findings were exploited by the media to such a degree that one of its authors was compelled to write in the Guardian to clarify his work. The academic, Stephen Machin, said ‘our evidence on Labour academies has frequently been marshalled in support of the new academies programme’ but not often with the fact that ‘new academies are rather different.’

In order to cover the overspending the Department for Education has taken money from elsewhere in its own budget. The Independent reports £95 million was taken from a ‘school improvement programme aimed at raising standards’. And this is just one example. Not only is the government overspending on a project that does not seem to improve education, but it is taking money away from other projects that might.

In a recession where we are being asked to grit our teeth and stomach cuts to all sorts of public services shouldn’t our government be more careful about where it puts such a large amount of money?

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