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Friday, 11 April 2014
Dumfries Community Cafe, The Usual Place, scoops £1.1 million in lottery funding
The Usual Place, Community Café, has been awarded over one million pounds from Big Lottery Fund Scotland. This is a very exciting new development which will see the old Academy dining hall on the corner of Lovers Walk and Academy Street in Dumfries transformed into a fantastic new venue.
Linda Whitelaw, Director, said, 'The café will have a retail area, exhibition space and accessible meeting rooms. We will host local events and we are keen to be a feature of local festivals and cultural happenings. Without this substantial sum our dream of making this community asset a reality would be difficult, if not impossible.”
Councillor Colin Smyth, Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Economic, Environment and Infrastructure Committee said, 'It's fantastic news that Heather and Linda's hard work is paying off by securing this massive investment from the lottery. I am pleased that our Council has been able to support their exciting plans for the Usual Place which will reinvigorate this building. I am confident that the cafe will contribute to the regeneration of Dumfries town centre.'
'This is a creative approach to regeneration which has already attracted significant new investment and will create nine new jobs, providing training for young people with additional support needs.'
Amy Anne Duffy, 22, from Dumfries said, ‘I have learning disabilities and have been looking for a paid job since I was 18. When Heather and Linda came to talk to young people at the Oasis Centre and I heard about the café, I thought it was a great idea. I think training and working in the café will help me get a paid job and learn about money and other skills for when I have my own house’.
Heather Hall, Director, said “The idea for the café came from seeing how valued and successful similar cafes are across Scotland, including elsewhere in our own region. We wanted to recreate that experience here in Dumfries. We are over the moon that our Big Lottery Fund application has been successful. We could fill a book with the names of people who are supporting us and now we can start to make things happen.”
Big Lottery Fund, Scotland Chair, Maureen McGinn, said: “Today’s funding for the Inspired Community Enterprise Trust in Dumfries and Galloway is one of a number of awards from our Investing in Communities programme which will make a huge difference to the lives of people across Scotland. Providing valuable work experience for young people with additional support needs is a fantastic example of how Big Lottery Fund money supports those most in need and help young people live healthier and happier lives.”
Angus Robertson, Business Advisor from Business Gateway, said, “Heather and Linda came to us when the idea was still very much in the research stage. We embarked on creating a robust business plan. This embraced a sound commercial ethos to secure the overall viability of the project while still providing training and employment opportunities for the young people involved. We are looking forward to seeing the vision come to fruition.”
Helen Turner from The Holywood Trust said, 'We met with Linda and Heather in 2011 and have been pleased to support them develop their plans for ‘The Usual Place’. The café will provide an important opportunity for our young people to get on the employment ladder: developing opportunities for training, work experience, skills development and employment for young people. The whole facility will be a real community asset and a place for everyone to meet, whether for a coffee, a meeting or a function.'
Linda and Heather added, 'The Usual Place Team currently based in and supported by The hub – Your Community Action Centre, in Dumfries, has worked hard with a huge number of local supporters to attract funding from a variety of sources including Dumfries and Galloway Council, NHS Dumfries and Galloway, The People’s Project, Solway Heritage and Dumfries Lions Club.”
Jeremy Brown from Smith Design Associates, Architects, said, ‘We are pleased to have been chosen to develop the plans for The Usual Place and are looking forward to appointing a main contractor very soon to take the build forward.”
Help for those in food poverty
£1 million to support work of emergency food providers as demand soars.
People who have to access Scotland’s foodbanks will receive help through a support package of £1 million over the next two years, the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed today.
Around £500,000 will be given to organisations who work with those in need, and are helping to address the unprecedented demand for foodbanks, through the Scottish Government’s two-year ‘Emergency Food Aid Action Plan.’
£500,000 will also be given to the charity FareShare which redistributes food from supermarkets to communities and charities.
According to The Trussell Trust, the number of people who used foodbanks between April 2013 and February 2014 rose to 56,000, compared to around 4,100 people in that same period in 2010 and 2011.
Ms Sturgeon said:
“Today I can announce the Scottish Government will be providing £1 million over the next two years to support work which will help combat food poverty in Scotland.
“One of the most depressing trends over the last few years has been the rapid rise of food poverty in our country.
“More worrying still is the alarmingly high and growing number of children affected by food poverty. It is disturbing to hear of foodbank providers in Glasgow who are having to include nappies in their emergency parcels.
“The only upside to the foodbank story is seeing communities coming together, gathering and distributing food for those in need. It is important that we recognise these people and organisations, including some of our major supermarkets, who are providing this valuable support.
“FareShare are already providing a vital lifeline to thousands of people across Scotland. We want to help them support even more people and make sure those driven to use foodbanks as a result of the UK Government’s welfare reforms are able to access appropriate advice and support.
“Most people recognise that the increase in foodbank use is directly linked to welfare reform and benefit cuts. Only an independent Scotland will have the full powers we need to protect people from poverty and help them fulfil their potential in work and life.”
Carol-Anne Alcorn, FareShare Edinburgh and Cyrenians Interim CEO said:
“FareShare addresses two key issues that face society, food poverty and food waste. Our partnership with the food industry allows us to safely handle surpluses from growers, manufacturers and supermarkets and to get this food to a wide range of Scottish organisations who support those in need.
“This funding will allow us to expand our services and reach. FareShare will now be able to develop regionally and expand beyond Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen.”
Scottish Independent Living Fund
Multi-million pound fund to help disabled people to stay in their own homes.
Thousands of disabled people in Scotland are set to be supported through a new Scottish Independent Living Fund (SILF), Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced today.
The scheme will safe-guard support given to more than 3,000 disabled people across Scotland and will build on existing care through a £5.5 million investment which will re-open it to new users, ensuring its long-term future.
The current UK Government’s support scheme is due to close in June 2015 and has been closed to new users since 2010.
The Scottish Government’s scheme will continue to provide vital everyday assistance to disabled people, allowing them to remain living at home and participate in work, training and education.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
'Everyone should have the same freedom, choice and dignity to live independent lives at home, at work and in the community. Today we are safe guarding that right for the people of Scotland.
“Last year we met with disability groups who asked that a Scottish Independent Living Fund be re-opened to new users, while protecting the packages of existing users.
“We were also asked that we jointly develop the scheme with disabled people on a national basis. We have listened to their views, which is why we are protecting existing users and opening the fund to new users.
“The Scottish system will be run nationally with disabled people at the heart of its decision making.
'We are not only protecting funding packages for existing users, but providing an extra £5.5 million to re-open the fund to those who have not been able to access the current care package since its closure.
“Today’s commitment from the Scottish Government will allow new applicants in the first year to benefit from the funding, giving them a quality of life that everyone should be entitled to.
“There is no doubt that people in Scotland are paying a heavy price for Westminster decisions but we will do all we can to help. However, only in an independent Scotland will we have the full powers we need to protect our most vulnerable people and help them fulfil their potential in work and life.”
Thursday, 10 April 2014
Maria Miller quits as culture secretary after expenses row
Maria Miller has insisted it was her decision to resign as culture secretary amid claims she was forced out by No 10 after a row over her expenses.
She said the row had been an 'enormous distraction' from 'the incredible achievements of this government'.
In the Commons, Labour leader Ed Miliband accused PM David Cameron of having 'undermined trust in politics' with his handling of the row.
Conservative MP Sajid Javid has been named as the new culture secretary.
The MP for Bromsgrove has been promoted from his current role as Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
But Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped Mrs Miller would return to the cabinet 'in due course'.
Mrs Miller was cleared of funding a home for her parents at taxpayers' expense, but was told to repay £5,800 of the expenses she claimed.
The independent parliamentary commissioner for standards had previously recommended she repay £45,000.
But the lower sum was approved by the Commons Standards Committee, which has the final say on whether to accept the commissioner's recommendations - a decision which sparked a backlash across the political spectrum and calls for changes in how complaints against MPs are investigated.
The committee also criticised her 'attitude' during the investigation, which it ruled was a breach of the parliamentary code of conduct.
Mrs Miller apologised in the Commons, but was criticised for the brevity of the statement she made.
David Cameron's official spokesman said the PM and Mrs Miller discussed her future on Tuesday night and her resignation was confirmed on Wednesday morning.
In a TV interview, she dismissed speculation that she had been pushed into resigning by Downing Street, saying: 'I take full responsibility for my decision to resign. I think it's the right thing to do.'
She continued: 'I was cleared of the central allegation made about me by a Labour MP.
'I hoped that I could stay, but it has become clear to me over the last few days that this has become an enormous distraction, and it's not right that I'm detracting from the incredible achievements of this government.
'I continue to support, obviously, my colleagues here in Parliament, the government, and above all the prime minister.'
At Mr Cameron's weekly Commons question session, Mr Miliband said: 'The reason the public was so appalled was that if it had happened in any other business, there would have been no question of them staying in their job.'
He asked of the PM: 'Why was he the last person in the country to realise her position was untenable?'
The Labour leader concluded: 'His failure, even now, to recognise what went wrong has undermined trust not only in his government but in politics.'
But Mr Cameron accused him of 'playing politics' and 'jumping on a bandwagon,' asking why he had not called for Mrs Miller's resignation when she was still in her job.
The prime minister invited the opposition leader to join him and other party leaders and work out 'what can we do to put beyond doubt that this is a good and honest Parliament, with hardworking people' in it.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said he was 'saddened' by Mrs Miller's resignation.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'She has done some brave and right things, not least that equal marriage is now on the statute book.'
Mr Gove, a former journalist, said he 'would not criticise the press', but said: 'Over the course of the a last couple of days the pressure on Maria Miller grew more intense.
'Some of the criticism directed at her had been very personal, and it must have been hurtful,' he continued.
He also commended Mr Cameron's defence of Mrs Miller, arguing that his 'loyalty, that desire to think the best of those who work with him, is a virtue'.
'I don't think his judgement has been flawed,' he said.
'The prime minister's attitude throughout has been governed by the basic human decency that is his hallmark.'
Labour MP John Mann, whose complaint sparked the investigation into Mrs Miller's expenses, welcomed her resignation.
'My reaction is it's about time too... Maria Miller should have resigned immediately and when she didn't resign, David Cameron should have shown a bit of leadership and he should have sacked her,' he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
'There is a difference between loyalty and blind loyalty,' he continued later.
Labour MP John Mann said Maria Miller should have resigned 'days ago'
Voters were 'incandescent' about Mrs Miller's expenses claims and Mr Cameron's 'failure to act' had been 'incomprehensible to most people', Mr Mann said.
'There's a word missing in British politics these days and that's honour, and I would define honour as: if you've done something wrong, as a cabinet minister, you resign - and if you don't resign you get sacked.'
In her resignation letter to the prime minister, Mrs Miller said she was 'immensely proud' of her work in cabinet, including 'putting in place the legislation to enable all couples to have the opportunity to marry regardless of their sexuality'.
She also acknowledged that her role in 'implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson on the future of media regulation, following the phone hacking scandals, would always be controversial for the press'.
The prime minister said he was sorry to receive Mrs Miller's resignation but accepted her decision.
'I think it is important to be clear that the Committee on Standards cleared you of the unfounded allegations made against you, a point which has been lost in much of the comment in recent days,' he wrote.
DWP target mental health claimants for ESA sanctions
A staggering six out of ten employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants hit with a sanction are people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty, according DWP figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The proportion has rocketed from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 to a massive 58% in 2013. The statistics prove that sanctions are now overwhelmingly aimed at the most vulnerable individuals by a government department which relies on a policy of institutional discrimination to cut benefits costs.
Sanctions of £71.70 a week are handed out when ESA claimants in the work-related activity group are forced onto the work programme and then fail to meet mandatory conditions imposed on them by private sector companies.
However, for a claimant to get into the work-related activity group on mental health grounds, they need to score a minimum of 15 points.
So, almost by definition, many will struggle to cope with regular and punctual attendance at training courses and work-experience placements with strangers in unfamiliar places. Even if they manage to attend they may not succeed in participating to the satisfaction of those running the courses or placements.
A MIND spokesperson told Benefits and Work:
“Based on what we hear from people we represent, these sanctions are often the result of people not being able to engage in a mandated activity because of their mental health problems; people being asked by the DWP to engage in activities that they are not well enough to undertake; and a lack of understanding at the DWP about mental health problems meaning that it is not picked up when someone had 'good cause' to miss an appointment or activity.
“Most people with mental health problems want to work, and given the right support many could. We do not believe that an effective system of support for this group of people involves continually mandating them to undertake activities under the threat of being left with no money.”
Sanctions, particularly in relation to Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), have saved the government huge amounts of money and allowed them to claim that the number of people in receipt of benefits is falling because the economy is recovering.
The statistics above relate to ESA – where ‘only’ around 20,000 claimants a year are currently sanctioned - there are no similar ones for JSA where the numbers are much higher. But many people getting JSA are claimants with mental health conditions who scored just below the 15 point threshold – often because they were wrongly assessed by health professionals with no experience of mental health issues. And it seems exceedingly unlikely that decision making in relation to JSA sanctions is any less harsh than that for ESA.
The DWP, however, have fought hard to prevent any evidence about who is being sanctioned leaking out.
One member of the work and pensions select committee, Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, has been leading the calls for an inquiry into the issue of sanctions. She told Benefits and Work:
'As a member of the work and pensions select committee I've been very concerned about the growing evidence of inappropriate sanctioning and demanded that a second independent inquiry into the issue is established.
'When I made my demands face-to-face with Esther McVey at a Committee session back in November she agreed to set up an independent investigation into the ‘appropriateness of sanctions’ and her offer was welcomed by the Committee in their following report. But, in a deliberate snub to the Committee, the Government have now said they won't set one up.
“My question is this. If sanctions are currently being applied correctly, an independent review will testify to that, so just what are Ministers trying to hide?
“It’s just another example of how Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey are using smoke and mirrors to avoid any criticism about the mess and misery they are creating in the social security system.
“No-one is arguing with the fact that anyone who is on work related benefits should do all they can to find appropriate employment. But there is a growing body of evidence that the way the government is implementing sanctions means vulnerable people are being targeted disproportionately and suffering terribly as a result.
“The last thing Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey want is for that uncomfortable truth to be uncovered by a focussed and independent investigation.”
We asked the DWP Press Office to explain the dramatic rise in the proportion of vulnerable claimants who are subject to ESA sanctions.
After six days of claiming that they were “still looking into your query” and a very ill-tempered phone conversation due to our insistence that we wanted a reply in writing rather than the press office calling us at their convenience to ‘explain’ the issue, we finally got this response:
“It’s only right that people should do everything they can to move off benefits and into work if they are able. Sanctions are only used as a last resort and we have robust procedures in place to protect vulnerable people, with a number of safeguards built into the system.
“Everyone has the right to appeal a sanction decision if they disagree with it.”
So, no denial that the figures were correct and no explanation for this exponential rise in the targeting of claimants with mental health conditions, in spite of the ‘robust procedures’ in place.
Instead, just the same empty reassurances backed by no evidence whatsoever.
So, we’re asking Benefits and Work readers not to let them get away with it this time. The work and pensions committee and the public accounts committee have both expressed concern about sanctioning of benefits claimants.
If your MP is on one of those committees please draw their attention to this article or explain the issue yourself using Write To Them. A list of the committee members is given below, but please don’t contact them if they aren’t your MP – spamming MPs is not going to help at all.
However, even if your MP is not on one of this committees you can still contact them and ask them to ask a DWP minister why they are refusing to hold an inquiry into whether sanctions are being applied fairly in the face of strong evidence that the DWP is pursuing a policy of institutional discrimination.
You can download a copy of the freedom of information response from here.
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