Latest News in the Community

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The latest headlines this week concerning communities in the UK.

EU Countries Oppose Plan for Tighter Criminal Checks at UK Border

A new UK scheme to increase the amount of criminal information circulated across borders is facing significant opposition from other EU countries, The Telegraph has reported.criminal-checks-uk-border

The international scheme was established in June last year by UK Home Secretary Theresa May, who wanted to tighten criminal record checks between states within the EU for purposes of security. SOMEC, as it is named (Serious Offending by Mobile European Criminals), would help prevent convicted criminals in other countries from making their way into the UK covertly.

However, the idea has been met with uncertainty by other EU member states, with officials saying they do not perceive offenders who move across borders as “a huge problem”, according to an internal document.

The update, from a project meeting held in October last year, said:

[quote]Issue raised that many in offender management don’t regard mobile offenders as a huge problem at present. Though this may come more to the forefront in coming years.”[/quote]

SOMEC has been able to use several past cases as reason for its cause, concerning numerous offenders who came to Britain who had criminal records in their home countries, going on to commit further serious crimes.

Among these crimes have been murder, rape and paedophilia.

In many of these cases, violent criminals made the decision to go and live in another country so that they would not face the same “formal scrutiny and oversight of their actions” as they would in their home state.

Other reasons for EU leaders responding conversely to SOMEC involved matters of privacy, with some countries being concerned about “oppressive government surveillance”.

An Extra 200,000 Pensioners will Get Help With Energy Bills

The government has announced this week that an extra 200,000 pensioners across the UK will receive help with their energy bills this winter, under what is known as the Warm Home Discount.

pensions-credit-ukThe discount is paid for by the Big Six energy companies – British Gas, Scottish Gas, Scottish Southern Energy (SSE), nPower, EON and EDF – and will now cover £140 per household. First introduced in 2011, the Warm Home Discount helps vulnerable people pay for all the heating they need and has now been expanded to include those receive Pension Credit as well.

However, for the discount to be applied to their energy bill, claimants will need to either be receiving Pension Credit or contact their energy supplier directly. Those who fail to do so could be missing out on valuable savings.

According to Age UK, this is a problem for the hundreds of thousands of elderly people who do not claim pension credit, as a third of those eligible do not claim it.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director, said:

[quote]Clearly much more must be done to encourage these older people who need extra help the most to claim everything they are entitled to, so they don’t have to struggle through the winter.”[/quote]

DWP has admitted that only 1.4 million pensioners of the eligible 1.7 million are expected to claim the Warm Home Discount. However, a government spokesperson argued that many do not wish to claim benefits ‘on principle’.

Meanwhile DWP minister Steve Webb said:

[quote]As we approach winter, no one should have to go without heating because they can’t afford to pay the bills.”[/quote]

Payday Lenders are Symptom, Not Cause, of Austerity Britain, Critics Say

Payday lenders are not a cause of austerity Britain, but merely a symptom, according to economic analysts and commentators.

In an article by the Guardian’s Alex Andreou, he explains why firms like Wonga are simply the ‘soft target’ when it comes to austerity, given room to operate by the oppressive nature of the UK economy.

Andreou writes:

[quote]It would be a mistake to let [Wonga] distract from other, more structural and deeply entrenched issues. Just like foodbank use, it is austerity policies that create demand for payday loans, not their availability.”[/quote]Wonga's website

Over the past few years, payday lenders like Wonga and QuickQuid have received veracious criticism from the public, the media and the government regarding claims of unethical and irresponsible lending. Just this month, Wonga chairman Andy Haste made the decision to write off over £220 million worth of loans to 330,000 borrowers, following pressure from government and debt charities.

However, one debt charity called StepChange argued that payday loans simply help impoverished people who are already “in a hole” simply “dig the hole deeper”. Recent evidence from the US showed that four out of five payday loans are renewals or ‘rollovers’.

Those looking to borrow money are encouraged to shop around for much more lucrative alternatives to payday loans. These include going to an employer for an advance; asking friends or family for help; getting a budgeting loan from your one’s local social fund or get a low-interest loan from a local credit union.

Brain-Damaged Epilepsy-Sufferer Hangs Self After DWP Threatens to Cut Benefits

A epilepsy sufferer who suffered brain damage as a baby and was unable to work has hanged himself after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) threatened to stop his Employment and Support Allowance payments.

Trevor Drakard, 50 years old, was told he had to attend a work-related activity group and make himself available for work, despite having regular epilepsy attacks in which he would often black out and sometimes injure himself on furniture.DWP department for work and pensions universal credit

Since being diagnosed with epilepsy when he was just six years old, Mr. Drakard suffered countless severe attacks throughout his life, during which he would fall ‘like a tree’ to the ground. According to his parents Doreen and Tom Drakard, 80 and 86, Trevor never went more than 10 days without having an attack.

However, this was not enough for chiefs at DWP, who told Mr. Drakard he would need to attend a job interview and make himself available for work if he wanted to continue receiving payments. Mr. Drakard had written a heartfelt note to the DWP, explaining he was not able to work and asking them not to cut his payments. Despite this, they demanded evidence of all of Mr. Drakard’s medical history, including records of when and where he was admitted to hospital following an attack.

According to his mother, Mr. Drakard had had so many attacks in his life that it was impossible to collect the evidence needed within the one month frame given by DWP. It was only when his parents went to their son’s home for him to sign the letter of appeal they had been working on the night before that they found his body hanging dead from the ceiling.

They say there is ‘no doubt whatsoever’ that the benefit changes caused Trevor’s suicide.

[quote]”He had panicked because of the benefit changes – there is no doubt that is why he did it.

Trevor did not know from day to day whether he was going to take a fit, so this just stressed him even more. He was worried about taking a job in case he had attacks.”[/quote]

Labour MP Julie Elliot said:

[quote]Sadly, the removal of benefits to genuinely sick people is becoming all too common.

The system is not fit for purpose – the Government needs to act now to stop any more tragedies causing unnecessary hardship to people.”[/quote]

Councils Face Slashing Emergency Welfare Due to Government Funding Cuts

Approximately one in six local councils across the UK are facing ditching their emergency welfare schemes due to potential Government funding cuts of up to £175 million a year.

The social funding, which helps to support welfare schemes for society’s most vulnerable, faces elimination on the basis that local authorities are ‘adequately funded’ to provide welfare support without specific grant funding after April 2015, according to a DWP report. A DWP spokesman says that regardless of the outcome, the Government is still expecting local authorities to ‘act responsibly’ in the provision of welfare services.

111123-N-HW977-185Currently, these welfare schemes offer assistance to tens of thousands of people needing financial help, and can include victims of domestic violence; care-leavers; homeless people and low-income families in crisis.

If councils are forced to scale back or cut these welfare schemes altogether, many will be forced to turn to food banks, payday lenders and loan sharks for help instead. Campaigners say that it may also lead to costlier interventions further down the line, such as child protection or homelessness.