About 80,000 people in Yorkshire look set to hit by a “bedroom tax” when the Government’s controversial Welfare Reform Act comes into force this April.
The under-occupancy charge will cut the amount of housing benefit available to households with one or more bedrooms classed as spare under the new rules.
Its supporters say it is unfair for the taxpayer to subside extra rooms when there is a shortage of housing across the country. But its critics insist it will have a devastating impact on vulnerable tenants and local economies.
Approximately two-thirds of people nationally who are hit by the cuts will either be disabled or caring for a disabled person. One of them, Cheryl Guillot, 48, from Holywell Green near Halifax, said she had been left “totally bewildered” by the situation.
Former special constable Cheryl, who is a full-time carer for her disabled son Jordan, faces being forced out of her housing association three-bed bungalow where she has lived for the past 15 years.
She said: “This is the home I thought I would be in for life. I am totally bewildered by the future, I could honestly cry. I’m just so down, I haven’t been sleeping.”
Ms Guillot, whose baby grandson Carson’s ashes were scattered in the garden after he passed away from cot death, said: “I’ve spent hundreds of pounds on my garden. I’ve looked after my home. I wouldn’t have done that if I thought I’d have to leave.”
And she said even if she wanted to move, there are no two-bedroom bungalows nearby and she could be forced to leave the area.
“They say it’s not a tax but they are taxing on the ‘luxury’ of having a box room,” she added.
Ms Guillot stressed she felt the Government seemed to have forgotten about family values and the role of community life. “They say they are trying to free up houses for families, but how can they free up my house before they’ve got me somewhere to go? Children need to know that even when they leave home they’ve got somewhere to come back to in case it goes wrong.”
The charge is designed to increase the supply of available houses but Rob Warm, Yorkshire and Humber lead manager at the National Housing Trust, thinks it will just mean the poor will get poorer.
He said: “The challenge we’ve got right across the region is we haven’t got smaller properties to move people to. We are giving people the choice; have your benefits reduced or move to a small house that doesn’t exist – which isn’t much of a choice really.
“The housing association is going to struggle to find enough one-bedroom properties to fill the need there is undoubtedly going to be.
“The Government is trying to reduce the housing benefit bill, but we think the best way to do that is to try to build more houses because rental costs are so high. There also needs to be some discretion for landlords to decided what is and isn’t a bedroom.”
Under the new rules, all working-age tenants in receipt of housing benefit will be affected by the charge – £14 for one unoccupied room, £25 for two.
The charge applies irrespective of whether the room is occupied on a part-time basis, for instance by a child in the armed forces or university, whether someone is disabled or if foster children sometimes occupy the room. Parents with two children of the same sex under 16 or different sexes under 10 will also be expected to make them share.
The Yorkshire constituency with the largest number of properties affected will be Leeds Central, where about 2,678 households face the charge. Next is Kingston-upon-Hull East with 2,423 households, according to the National Housing Trust.
Hilary Benn, Leeds Central MP and Shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government, said: “These are people’s homes, they have links in the community. Facing people with the choice of either having to cut back on heating or other expenses to cope with the increased rent or up sticks and move somewhere else, I think is profoundly disruptive of family life.
“There are a lot of my constituents who still aren’t aware this is coming, and a number of people will be hit by both the bedroom tax and by the council tax benefit cut, so they will be hit twice over – which is going to make life even more difficult for them.”
In addition to the housing benefit cut, the Government will cut 19 per cent of council tax benefit. Some councils, such as Harrogate Borough Council will fund the reduction from their reserves and not increase bills. Others, such as East Riding Council, will increase the minimum contribution by tenants up to as much as 25 per cent.
A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “It’s not fair people for people to continue to live in homes that are too large for their needs, when in England alone there are around five million people on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded conditions.
“We are giving local authorities an extra £155m this year so that they can help their vulnerable tenants through the housing benefit reform. A further £30m a year will be targeted to disabled people with an adapted property and foster carers.”
The lack of affordable housing across the country has become a toxic political issue since the start of the recession, as the number of new homes being built has declined. Last year, housing charity Shelter calculated that the cost of buying a house had gone up 43 times in the past 40 years. They said if food prices had risen as much housing, a four pint carton of milk would cost £10.45.
Kay Boycott, Shelter’s director of communications, policy and campaigns, said: “This will hit over half a million families in social rented homes which are deemed to have ‘extra’ bedrooms. However, not all of these bedrooms are standing empty.
“Imagine a dad who has his child to stay once a week, or a young disabled child who needs their own room apart from their brother or sister. They will be penalised for having bedrooms that are really needed. Family finances are already squeezed, and with a shortage of social homes of the right sizes in the right places, it will be very difficult for many to downsize. The result will be people desperately struggling to stay in the family home.”
John Davies, the Leeds chair of the Hands Off Our Homes campaigning group says it is important people stick together to fight any attempt to move them.
He said about 4,900 single people will be affected by the change, but there are not enough one-bedroom properties in the area. “We know a lot of people, especially people with mental health problems, who are very concerned and don’t know what they are going to do when April comes.
“But if people have the strength to stick together then it might give them confidence to say ‘we are not going to move, we are going to stay where we are’.”
Mr Davies said he believes the obsession with property as an asset rather than as a home has led to the housing crisis in the first place. “Social or council housing used to be secure tenancies for life, so a community spirit was built up.
“If you go round the council properties there are, you often sense that people have lived there for a long time and they don’t want to move. They may have taken over tenancy from a parent and to uproot themselves will be a severe encumbrance.
“You’ll also find people have put a lot of money into their homes, presuming they would stay there. They’ve put money into the house, into the garden. A single mother with three grown up children has put thousands of pounds into her house and she does not want to move.
“The danger is whenever your family size changes you’re going to have to change your house, and I can’t think of anything dafter than that.”
Who will be affected?
Bedroom tax will not affect you if there is no Housing Benefit claimed for your household.
Bedroom tax will not affect all Housing Benefit claimants. The Government states that if you or your partner were born before October 5, 1951 you will not be affected.
You will not be affected if you have shared ownership, or if you are a resident of a one-bedroom property. Single people over 16 need a bedroom to themselves, but all couples are expected to share a bedroom. So, a couple without children in a two-bedroom property will judged to be under-occupying one bedroom.
Two children under the age of 10, or two children of the same gender aged 11 to 15, are expected to share one bedroom. The rent eligible to be paid by Housing Benefit will reduce by 14 per cent if one bedroom is under-occupied and reduce by 25 per cent if two or more bedrooms are under-occupied. This is the maximum bedroom tax deduction rate.
End the bankers’ tax dodge -- 24 hours left!
We only have 24 hours before the crucial meeting in Brussels. Join here:
Big banks are hiding billions in tax havens around the world. In just 24 hours, the European Parliament can push through a reform to make them pay their fair share of tax on their already oversized profits -- but to win they need our support. Bankers are using complex accounting tricks to avoid paying tax like the rest of us, and they're not even required to tell us where their money is. But now the European Parliament wants to shine a light onto their tax avoidance. It's a no-brainer reform that expert economists widely support -- but key governments including the UK and Germany are siding with rich bankers to kill the proposal. Negotiations end in just 24 hours time, and allies in Parliament say thatwith massive public support, we can win this landmark reform to end banks' tax dodging. Sign the petition and tell everyone -- if we urgently raise 150,000 signatures from across Europe, MEPs will deliver our message right into tomorrow's crucial meeting.
Gypsies and Irish travellers fight bricks and mortar
Hidden between a set of railways lines in Bow is a small caravan site. Lisa, 25, stands in the door of her caravan:
“Families in tower blocks wouldn’t want their kids growing up on this site. It’s the same with us; we wouldn’t want our kids growing up there”.
Her family will soon have to move out of the site to make way for a Crossrail shaft. But she is lucky. Her family will soon to be able to move to another site.
Thousands of Gypsies and Irish Travellers have been forced to leave caravans and move into bricks and mortar accommodation over the last decades. A minority with a centuries-old London heritage is having its culture silently displaced.
Nobody keeps reliable figures but the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit estimate that there are 30,000 Gypsies and Irish Travellers in London. The population is growing but in the last twenty years the number of caravan sites has reduced by 15 per cent. The London Gypsy and Traveller Unit estimates that four out of five London travellers now live in bricks and mortar accommodation.
The urgency of the problem has been playing out in court as a result of Hackney Council’s ongoing legal campaign against the McDonagh family. The family was evicted from their caravan pitch in 2009 to make way for the Olympics. Since then, they have moved from park to park in a bid to avoid bricks and mortar. The Council is seeking an injunction to stop them staying on any public land in the borough.
A freedom of information request revealed that the council has spent over £200,000 on eviction-related costs.
The Mayor of London has a duty to impose targets for more traveller campsite provision on local authorities in his “London Plan”. In 2008, the Greater London Authority identified a need for 768 new caravan pitches in London. Between 53 and 112 were earmarked for ELL boroughs.
But what followed was a two-year abdication of the Mayor’s responsibility towards travellers by the newly elected Boris Johnson.
In September 2009, the draft London Plan set a target of 538 pitches. In March 2010, a “minor alteration” reduced the target to 238. In September 2010, a second “minor alteration” scrapped the targets altogether.
Fifty members of the community wrote letters to Boris Johnson protesting against the lack of action on housing. A quarter of whom used the word ‘desperation’.
The Mayor defended the alteration, arguing that: “Detailed targets is not the most effective or fair way to deliver real improvements in the provision of pitches.”
Gill Brown, from the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, argues that the absence of strategic planning across London makes it easy for councils to opt out of building new sites.
She described local councils’ attitude to traveller accommodation as “extremely piecemeal”. She estimates that a third of councils have functioning waiting lists, a third have unclear processes, while the rest have no process at all.
Lewisham no longer has any caravan site whatsoever.
The biggest problem with waiting lists is that there are no new pitches for families to wait for. In fact, none have been built in London since 2010, according to the LGTU’s latest figures.
In South-East London, a woman takes me into her caravan. Its walls are richly decorated with Catholic iconography. In a thick Irish accent she tells me of the government cuts to an Irish Travellers support group based in Southwark.
“They have a cheek to take it away. It is ridiculous,” she says.
I ask her for her name and she refuses.
“If I give you my name I might regret it”.
Archie, who works at the Southwark Travellers Action Group, an advocacy group for Irish travellers in South London, explains why the woman was reluctant to trust me.
“Historically, travellers haven’t been treated well by authorities and find themselves targeted by neighbours and isolated from their families when scattered around in bricks and mortar accommodation.
“Living on sites gives them the family and community support, particularly when it comes to childcare and care for the elderly. It may take generations for trust to build up between travellers, statutory institutions and settled people.”
“This is a very difficult issue, particularly in this economic and political climate. The realist in me can’t see them building any more sites.”
STAG itself is also struggling from the cuts. Southwark Council has removed their local funding so the group has had to halve its workforce. It is now completely reliant on the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.
But in her caravan, the woman keeps hope.
“There’s some good and bad in everyone,” she says. “That’s all nationalities.”
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Neither projectbrainsaver nor hightechheadhelper is any form of organisation, company, profit making group, in fact anything other than an idea or way of looking at things regarding possible other uses of modern technology for personal benefit. Anyone can build any of these possibilities with the right building blocks available in today's market place. Thousands of people have added input into the project over the many years that it has been running.
Child Alerts UK - Central Scotland Police would like to provide the accurate picture of our collective efforts to trace David O'Halloran
We have utilised our own expert search teams, university staff, Mountain Rescue, International Rescue, police helicopter, specialist search dogs and Coastguard to search out from where David was last seen. We have taken expert advice who recommended a 2km search radius from point last seen and as such, almost 6000 homes and businesses in Bridge of Allan, Cornton and Causewayhead have had their gardens checked. We extended our search to a 3km radius. The torrential rain snow and snow melt delayed our water searches, however, our Underwater Search Unit (UWSU) using specialist sonar, assisted by Central Scotland Fire and Rescue and a Coastguard specialist dog have searched the Allanwater and River Forth. Our divers and boat crews have experienced troublesome conditions in the water and we would like to highlight that an inexperienced user of the river may well encounter difficulties which may require our services to assist in such circumstances. We continue to search the River Forth from South Queensferry to the area near the A91 at Springkerse weather and conditions permitting. All of these teams have undertaken their searches in terrible weather conditions and the UWSU have had to break ice in certain areas; the terrain has been challenging and included flat flooded fields, cliffs, wooded areas, populated areas, fast moving river and water courses. We also asked members of the public in these areas to check their outbuildings and land in case David may have taken shelter in a confined space. David was last seen on CCTV stumbling in Henderson Street, Bridge of Allan. The experts we have spoken to consider that he was unlikely to have walked much further given the weather.We would like to reassure that in the strongest terms a robust investigation has taken place and continues to do so in an effort to trace David for his family.
Swaffham II, Norfolk (Sometimes) The public gets what the public wants… Time for Harlech to get with it
The good people of Swaffham liked their first turbine (at the Ecotech Centre) so much that their Town Council asked us to build another one.
And when it hadn’t happened quickly enough for their liking they wrote to us to complain…..we kid you not.
It tickled us, to be nagged by a council to build a windmill.
We were of course happy to oblige, but these things take a little longer than we often hope. In this case the District Council stood in the way and forced an appeal, by public enquiry..! We have no idea why. Then they pulled out at the last minute. Crazy people.
It’s a great example of two truisms of wind energy in the UK – firstly that people want wind energy and secondly that planners don’t reflect real public opinion with their decisions. It’s always been thus.
Green electricity is the people’s choice – but the planning system is just plain undemocratic.
Locals sickened by proposed pot changes 33 By Diana Martin, Chatham Daily News Thursday, February 21, 2013 6:51:21 EST PM
A capsule filled with cannabis oil the size of a rice grain has turned Edith Neuts' life around.
The 50-year-old woman was on an 18-pill-a-day cocktail to deal with constant pain, a heart condition, depression, anxiety and high blood pressure.
"It's going on four months now. I've completely weaned myself off painkillers and off anti-depressants," said Neuts. "I am currently weaning myself off the anti-anxiety medication and I'm back to work full time."
Neuts feels the proposed changes to the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) will send her back into a "non-life" because she won't be be able to afford the cannabis oil.
Dave Van Kesteren, MP for Chatham-Kent Essex, said the MMAR program lacks checks and balances to ensure the criminal element isn't using the legalized grow-ops to distribute marijuana.
"Health Canada is studying the effects of how this program has worked. They are looking at having grow-ops that would be controlled," said Van Kesteren. "They would have the proper securities, they'd have the proper licences in place so that we know what's going out, what's being used for medicinal purposes."
Joanne, who wished to withhold her last name, is a licensed grower and user of medicinal marijuana. She fears her prescription will cost upwards of $80 a day if the government switches to corporately run grow-ops.
"My pension is less than what it would cost for me to just get what I need for the month to make the oil," said Joanne. "It's going to make it unaffordable, unaccessible to everyone, because we're all on disability."
Joanne, 56, suffered for 20 years with debilitating arthritis after a lifetime working in a heavy truck manufacturing plant.
A year ago she became licensed to grow her own prescription of medicinal marijuana. Six months ago she started using the oil capsules.
"I don't think I can live without the oil; I don't want to go back that way," she said. "I feel it's important enough to tell people there's a gentle way of getting rid of the pain without having to be on these oxycontin and morphine. People need an option."
Van Kesteren agrees medicinal marijuana is working for some people, but said the government is concerned about the risk to individual growers from groups that would exploit them.
"What are we doing to protect that person even from getting approached by a criminal element saying you are now going to give us eight plants a month?" said Van Kesteren.
Health Canada has opened up public consultations on the matter until the end of March, said Van Kesteren.
"The majority of people I'm convinced are totally legit like Joanne. They're making good use of this and it's making a beneficial impact on their life and making a real change," said Van Kesteren. "Unfortunately, it's gotten a little out of hand and we need to have better control."
He said the changes will be taking place in early 2014.
Joanne hopes the government can find a solution allowing the individual grow-ops to maintain their status alongside the corporately run facilities.
"They need to embrace it, it's here, people want this for their health. This is not about getting high, we're not concerned about that. People are using it for life-altering changes to get a better health," said Joanne. "If they want to have corporations supply it, that's fine but don't take the personal grow licences away. There's room for both."
Zendesk Security Breach Affects Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest
- BY MAT HONAN
- 10:19 PM
Customer service software provider Zendesk announced a security breach that allowed attackers into its system, where they could access data from three customers this week. Wired learned those three clients were Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr.
The San Francisco-based company announced the breach in a blog post published early Thursday night. Tumblr notified affected users in an email at approximately 6:35 p.m. PST; Twitter and Pinterest are expected to do so shortly. Zendesk declined to comment beyond its blog post, titled, appropriately, “We’ve been hacked.” The post reads in part:
We’ve become aware that a hacker accessed our system this week. As soon as we learned of the attack, we patched the vulnerability and closed the access that the hacker had. Our ongoing investigation indicates that the hacker had access to the support information that three of our customers store on our system. We believe that the hacker downloaded email addresses of users who contacted those three customers for support, as well as support email subject lines. We notified our affected customers immediately and are working with them to assist in their response.
Zendesk allows companies to outsource many of their customer service functions to it via software tools. It has more than 25,000 clients, according to its website.
Zendesk noted that a hacker downloaded e-mail addresses of users who contacted those three customers for support, along with the e-mail subject lines. Wired’s source claims some customers also may have had their phone numbers revealed, but no passwords, password hashes, or even encrypted passwords were revealed. Neither Twitter, Pinterest nor Tumblr are aware of any user accounts that were compromised by the attack.
The e-mail sent by Tumblr states:
Important information regarding your security and privacy
For the last 2.5 years, we’ve used a popular service called Zendesk to store, organize, and answer emails to Tumblr Support. We’ve learned that a security breach at Zendesk has affected Tumblr and two other companies. We are sending this notification to all email addresses that we believe may have been affected by this breach.
This has potentially exposed records of subject lines and, in some cases, email addresses of messages sent to Tumblr Support. While much of this information is innocuous, please take some time today to consider the following:
The subject lines of your emails to Tumblr Support may have included the address of your blog which could potentially allow your blog to be unwillingly associated with your email address.
Any other information included in the subject lines of emails you’ve sent to Tumblr Support may be exposed. We recommend you review any correspondence you’ve addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.
Tumblr will never ask you for your password by email. Emails are easy to fake, and you should be suspicious of unexpected emails you receive.
Your safety is our highest priority. We’re working with law enforcement and Zendesk to better understand this attack. Please monitor your email and Tumblr accounts for suspicious behavior, and notify us immediately if you have any concerns.
The e-mail Pinterest is sending its users reads:
An important notice about security on Pinterest
We recently learned that the vendor we use to answer support requests
and other emails (Zendesk) experienced a security breach.
We’re sending you this email because we received or answered a message from you using Zendesk. Unfortunately your name, email address and subject line of your message were improperly accessed during their security breach. To help keep your account secure, please:
Don’t share your password. We will never send you an email asking for your password. If you get an email like this, please let us know right away.
Beware of suspicious emails. If you get any emails that look like they’re from Pinterest but don’t feel right, please let us know—especially if they include details about your support request.
Use a strong Pinterest password. Hackers can sometimes guess very short passwords with no letters or symbols. If your password is weak, you can create a new one.
We’re really sorry this happened, and we’ll keep working with law enforcement and our vendors to ensure your information is protected.
Twitter’s message to its affected users notes:
Twitter – along with a number of other companies – uses a customer support portal called Zendesk. Zendesk recently blogged about a significant security breach. In order to ensure those who may be impacted by this breach are notified as quickly as possible, we are sending this notification to all email addresses, including this one, that we believe could have been involved.
Zendesk’s breach did not result in the exposure of information such as Twitter account passwords. It may, however, have included contact information you provided when submitting a support request such as an email, phone number, or Twitter username. Further information about the breach can be found in their blog post.
We do not believe you need to take any action at this time but wanted to ensure that you were notified of this incident.
Options Peter Tatchell Say NO to Nigeria's "Jail the Gays" Bill. It proposes one of the most draconian homophobic laws in the world, harsher than the anti-gay bill in Uganda in some respects but without the death penalty. Support Nigerian LGBTIs in the Diaspora. READ & DONATE: http://bit.ly/12BrWx9 The anti-gay bill is coming back to the Nigerian parliament soon. Read the background to the Bill: http://bit.ly/Vz5CjA SIGN the AllOut petition: http://bit.ly/ZFBV1g
Nonprofit ocean protection group Oceana took 1,215 samples of fish from across the United States and genetically tested them in order to bring us the following astonishing facts:
- 59% of the fish labeled “tuna” sold at restaurants and grocery stores in the US is not tuna.
- Sushi restaurants were far more likely to mislabel their fish than grocery stores or other restaurants.
- In Chicago, Austin, New York, and Washington DC, every single sushi restaurant sampled sold mislabeled tuna.
- 84% of fish samples labeled “white tuna” were actually escolar, a fish that can cause prolonged, uncontrollable, oily anal leakage.
- The only fish more likely to be misrepresented than tuna was snapper, which was mislabeled 87% of the time, and was in actuality any of six different species.
If you’ve ever wondered why the sushi in the display case is so affordable, given thedire state of the world’s tuna supply, well, now you know.
One in three women will be a victim of violence – being raped, beaten or abused in her lifetime. In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than learn how to read. It's time to put a stop to this worldwide injustice.
This March, the UN's Commission on the Status of Women will meet to discuss violence against women and girls. Britain's Secretary of State for International Development,Justine Greening, is calling for action:
"This year, the international community has a vital opportunity to tackle this issue once and for all. We owe it to girls and women everywhere to send a clear signal that the world stands with them."
"We must do everything in our power to defend the hard-gained progress on women's rights. We must ensure that the international community agrees a set of global standards to help protect women and girls everywhere from violence."Help us to end violence against women and girls. Tell global leaders it's time to take action. Take the pledge, share it with your friends and let the world know that one in three is one too many.