Benefit changes and Suspended Coffee’s 

What an interesting, and productive day I’ve had. Spent with the genuinely fab Chris Robinson I think we have both ‘learned and earned’ so much today….

As Friday’s go, it was a normal start….. Hurrying my youngest three along to get them to school on time (and yes….my daughter isn’t at school, it’s college I know!) It was a ‘drive, drop and go’ as I then went to pick Chris up and head off to Hanley.

We arrived in Hanley in good time for a training session we had agreed to do on benefits. This included PIP (Personal Independence Payments), ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) and the ‘soon to be rolled out in Stoke-on-Trent’ UC (Universal Credit).

We were shown into the training room that was being used by Potteries Gold and I was very pleased to see the delightful Sarah Honeysett who took us through the different benefits. She thoroughly explained the differences between the different criteria for the different benefits and explained the application processes for each.

It was great to have a really interactive session where we could all use our own examples and have potential changes explained – non more so than when Universal Credit comes into force. I think it fair to say that we all expressed our concerns over the introduction of Universal Credit and our discussions raised real doubts around the change from weekly/fortnightly payments of many benefits to the calendar monthly payments that will be made with Universal Credit. This element of the changes made us all question the logistics of many people being unable to budget for really important payments like rent, which will no longer be paid directly to the landlord. One of the issues we spoke about was that because payments will be calendar monthly recipients of Universal Credit will have to work out their rent payments on a 12 months payment basis and not on a 4 weekly cycle, should they pay 4 weeks per benefit payment, at the end of the year they will find themselves 4 weeks in arrears…

Another issue will be that Universal Credit will be paid monthly in arrears. This has a number of effects. Those who live and depend on benefits will suddenly not have a regular payment for possibly 4 or 5 weeks – a number of payments could in effect be missed within that time, which could possibly lead to an increase in short term, high interest loans being taken out and an increase in the use of loan sharks…. The Government will benefit hugely from rolling out Universal Credit, they get to keep the benefit payments and any interest potentially for an extra 5 weeks before supporting many of our most vulnerable and least able to afford residents.

We discussed the issues of ‘mixed age’ couples and the changes they will face. Rather than benefits being based on the older of the couple, with the changes coming forward their benefits will be based on the younger of the couple… This potentially has huge implications to the income they may receive. Currently a single pensioner would be entitled to £151 in Pension and Pension Credit- if that pensioner is living with a ‘non pensioner’ together they will be entitled to £115 between them, as one of them will be deemed to be of ‘working age’. This is hardly promoting people living together…..

I think it fair to say that Councillor Robinson and myself have massive reservations about the changes to the benefit system and the implications for our residents across our City.

We left the training session and headed back to Longton where we wanted to have discussions with the cafés in Longton Market. We had some ideas that were wanted to bounce off the proprietors and gauge their interest. For Chris and I, we couldn’t have been happier with the responses from the cafés – what we went in to ask was if they would be interested and agreeable to starting to provide ‘suspended coffee’s’.

Suspended coffee’s are a simple way of providing a hot drink for someone who isn’t able to afford one. The mechanics of it are simple – I go into a café and say I want 2 coffee’s one for me and one ‘suspended’ – I pay for 2 cups and take the one I want to drink. The café ‘hold’ the suspended coffee until someone goes and asks if they have any suspended coffee’s- they are then given a hot drink which someone has given to them. It’s a simple yet effective initiative.

Chris and I have been working to help the homeless in the City and will try as many initiatives as we can to benefit them – we know that the weather is going to worsen, and the provision of a hot drink can help to keep someone warm and provide some comfort.
   

 If you feel that you can support this initiative, please pay for a suspended coffee, it’s not just Chris and I that will appreciate it….

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Look back in anger, despair, hope – my 2015

Well, those who know me won’t be surprised that I’m sitting here with my double sized ‘Tigger’ mug full of coffee while I muse over the year just ended…

 

Tigger

 
2015 was a year of expectations… We had an election to fight, both national and local. The City Independents released their manifesto and raised a number of questions from some of the Labour members, probably the most frequent being around the proposal for a Tram system – I gave a ‘finger in the air’ response to them based on the system taken forward in Edinburgh…

“Edinburgh’s tram – 14km (8.7miles) with 15 stations is showing as £521million (though delays will create extra interest costs which could push the final bill to over £1billion)

 Construction started in May 2008 and it opened May 2014 


Kidsgrove to Meir (short route) approx 11.5km (7miles
) expectation of 5 or 6 stations Kidsgrove to Meir (extended route) approx 19.5km (12miles) 8 stations (connecting all 6 towns plus Kidsgrove and Meir) 

Costs (v rough estimate) between £427 and £725 million.

Would very much depend on routes/ stations / timescales / negotiating costs etc”

The manifesto was interesting, but we still had a budget to approve… Budget meetings were well under way, difficult choices were being put forward, but then I took a phone call that put things into perspective for me….
My beautiful, darling sister had passed away… For 39 years she had raised smiles and spirits. I miss her constantly. I feel cheated. I struggle to deal with this loss.
The weeks that followed Erica’s death were dark and mind numbing and I’m not sure at what point I re-engaged with the election. When I did, I recall constantly being told that Labour would be returned to power in the local elections and that we were hoping for a win nationally… This can only be described as a double fail. 
Locally, we had some huge issues that as a Party, we just don’t seem to be mature enough to discuss and change. Nationally…. we saw Miliband step down as leader, he took responsibility for the failure of the Party to succeed and said that it was time for someone else to take up the mantle, to take our Party forward…

The Labour Leadership challenge started off relatively quietly, no great surprises in names coming forward until the left put forward their candidate, one Jeremy Corbyn…. My interest in the contest was ignited, Corbyn was the change we needed.
The contest grew in interest, and I have to say, along the way I have met and made some fabulous friends, true comrades, real socialists. People who care. Red Labour grew.
Locally I was having my own battle with the Labour group, which led to myself and Councillor Dutton being handed a 6 month suspension from said group…. Unfortunately, Alan felt that he could not remain a member of Labour and joined the City Independent group. A loss to the socialist movement, but maybe change can happen and bring him back at some point…. I remain ostracised by most of the group, but know who I can trust and work with.
The election of Corbyn showed the changes needed by Labour, and that’s not just about moving to the left of the party, it’s about the way in which the Party operates. The Labour Leadership contest was the most democratic election within the Party we have seen, and it was heartening to see that change embraced, I just wish we could replicate it locally.
On a local level, we have taken on a few battles and made a difference, even if it’s only been to raise awareness – the battle for Longton Cottage hospital, the need to retain a fruit and veg stall at the Royal Stoke hospital, the desperate need to open a building over the winter months for the homeless… We’ve seen the national fight for our Trade Unions, Tax Credits and the need to oppose the cruel cuts to welfare…
The run up to Christmas has been long and has shown the true caring, giving nature of the residents of out great City. We have had so many items donated both for those families and individuals who have needed a little extra help to those who need the hand of friendship offering…
We placed over 20 coats out across the City on the 20th December for the homeless to take and make use of… They were well received and an initiative that we will repeat soon, the offering of #BlessedBags is another idea that we will be taking forward again, offering bags with toiletries, socks, snacks, plasters… An offer to the homeless that can help them. 
All in all, 2015 was a tough year, but one that welcomed some huge changes politically. I’ve made some fabulous friendships and retained some that have been incredibly supportive, and I offer my heartfelt thanks for that hand of friendship. Below is a list of those people, not exhaustive, but people who have made a difference:

Tony Walley, Christopher Robinson, Steve Jones, Andrew Buttress, Clare White, Chris Spence, David Williams, Alan Dutton, Joe McClusky, Joe Cairns, Margaret Astle, Duncan Walker, Denise Keen, Brenda Proctor, Fred Hughes, Danny Flynn, Glenn Parkes.

                 A very special thank you to my long suffering family. They provide my rock. Love you all.

The humility of giving….

We have had a very busy few days, and we can’t begin to thank our many wonderful friends and comrades. I’ll apologise now for those I have missed off the mention list, but from the bottom of my heart – thank you. 

Big shout out for Unite Communities Stoke for their continued support in both Longton and Meir, making a big difference to the areas with the surgeries offered. Thank you Duncan Walker, Andy Buttress and Cllr Shaun Pender.

I have to make a special thanks to those, such as Tracey Slack, that I don’t know personally, but have donated and who have helped to make what for many, would have been a difficult time, into an event that will be happier, with gifts, food and company. Something that so many of us take for granted but can be harrowing for others. Very grateful to Denise Keen for all her help assistance and generosity. Geraldine Tatters thoughtfully donated some #BlessedBags which will make a big difference to some of our rough sleepers. #BlessedBags offer toiletries and thermal socks which are passed on to our homeless to help them.

The #DonateACoat that we carried out yesterday (20th Dec) was a huge success, and I’m still collecting coats which will be distributed over the next few days, especially at events planned on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. People have been so generous with both gifts and time and have given us the opportunity to make a difference to many who have so little. I’d like to make a special mention of Steve Jones, Chris Spence and Andrew Buttress.

   
  Chris Robinson and myself have been overwhelmed by the generous community spirit shown by so many which I think shows the real meaning of, not only Christmas, but of humanity and humility. I’d like to thank both Councillors Margaret Astle and Alan Dutton who took time out of their busy schedules to ensure that they passed on coats for our appeal. I’d also like to extend that gratitude to the Council Officers who have likewise taken the time to pass on coats and assisted with the collecting of them.  

Whilst we mostly think of spending time with our loved ones this festive break, let’s not forget those who may not have family, or have no contact with them. 

Offer the hand of friendship. If we have nothing to offer but time, we need to understand the importance of that, to offer someone time may be the most precious gift of all.

The humility of giving….

We have had a very busy few days, and we can’t begin to thank our many wonderful friends and comrades. I’ll apologise now for those I have missed off the mention list, but from the bottom of my heart – thank you. 
Big shout out for Unite Communities Stoke for their continued support in both Longton and Meir, making a big difference to the areas with the surgeries offered. Thank you Duncan Walker, Andy Buttress and Cllr Shaun Pender.
I have to make a special thanks to those, such as Tracey Slack, that I don’t know personally, but have donated and who have helped to make what for many, would have been a difficult time, into an event that will be happier, with gifts, food and company. Something that so many of us take for granted but can be harrowing for others. Very grateful to Denise Keen for all her help assistance and generosity. Geraldine Tatters thoughtfully donated some #BlessedBags which will make a big difference to some of our rough sleepers. #BlessedBags offer toiletries and thermal socks which are passed on to our homeless to help them.
The #DonateACoat that we carried out yesterday (20th Dec) was a huge success, and I’m still collecting coats which will be distributed over the next few days, especially at events planned on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. People have been so generous with both gifts and time and have given us the opportunity to make a difference to many who have so little. I’d like to make a special mention of Steve Jones, Chris Spence and Andrew Buttress.

   

 Chris Robinson and myself have been overwhelmed by the generous community spirit shown by so many which I think shows the real meaning of, not only Christmas, but of humanity and humility. I’d like to thank both Councillors Margaret Astle and Alan Dutton who took time out of their busy schedules to ensure that they passed on coats for our appeal. I’d also like to extend that gratitude to the Council Officers who have likewise taken the time to pass on coats.  
Whilst we mostly think of spending time with our loved ones this festive break, let’s not forget those who may not have family, or have no contact with them. 
Offer the hand of friendship. If we have nothing to offer but time, we need to understand the importance of that, to offer someone time may be the most precious gift of all.

Humanity and homelessness – Part II

Much has changed since I wrote the blog: “Humanity and Homelessness”. As I had said, I had asked for a meeting with the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council and was pleased that that took place within days of my request. 

At the meeting, Councillor Conway gave me the opportunity to put forward my rationale for wanting a building open as soon as possible. He told me of the plans and discussions he had had about this proposal and where, as a council we were. My request was for additional resources to be put into place to push this initiative forward. I was invited to a meeting to discuss buildings that were deemed suitable.

Some of the officers from the Place directorate went through the buildings deemed most suitable and we had a discussion about needs within the building, showers, toilets, safety, how many beds…. In discussion with Councillor Munday we agreed a building and the officers said that they would draw up plans to change the layout to accommodate what we saw as necessary requirements. I was further invited to a multi provider meeting to discuss how we went ahead..

On a very wet and windy evening we sat in the Sky room at the YMCA to discuss how we implemented a winter shelter for the homeless of our City. There were representatives from third sector providers, churches, street pastors, the Police, officers from the council, Councillors James, Munday and Robinson alongside myself…. and Lou Macari.

What was stated at the very start was that we had agreed to open up a winter shelter, and that now we needed everyone’s input to ensure that that happened. The discussions felt at times like we were going round in the proverbial ‘ever decreasing circles’  we took one step forward and two steps back, I raised concerns around some of our practices, raised the issue of the dreadful weather of the previous weekend when we had seen temeratures plummet to -4, snow, wind and rain…. And we have people sleeping out in those conditions.

We then heard an impassioned speech by Lou Macari. Blunt, to the point. He said that he didn’t want to hear about the problems, the issues, the applications, the criteria, the….. What he wanted was a building. To be open. To be available. To be there to offer shelter. 

I raised the point of previous work experiences, keeping a shower and wash/dry facility open – not once was that facility damaged or abused. If all we want is to put up barriers, we will never achieve anything. I think we eventually reached a consensus that this absolutely had to happen, the finer detail still needed to be addressed.

The following day, Friday, I spoke briefly to Councillor James and gave my opinion of what the barriers appeared to be and how I thought they should best be addressed. We discussed how they should be taken forward and dealt with. 

On Monday, I met with Councillor Munday and discussed the finer detail of the fit out of the building. He took this to the relevant officers and to their credit within hours we met and had updated plans and were discussing timescales. This is the time for partner organisations to step up to the marque and do their community payback. Some organisations have done just that… a massive thanks to those that have.

Myself and Councillor Robinson are having discussions with officers as to where and why we have people sleeping rough and why they haven’t or don’t access the services the City has in place. Some difficult conversations need to be had, but if we can have a more responsive offer, conversations will be well used.

In essence, I’m pleased that we are going to open a winter shelter, it’s a matter now of how quickly we can implement the running of the shelter and getting the fit out complete. I’ll push as hard as possible for it to be up and running before Christmas and offer my thanks to Councillors James, Munday, Robinson and Wheeldon for their assistance. I’d also like to offer similar thanks to Councillors Watson and Wazir for the positive comments and discussions regarding the proposals.

I’ll keep the option of bringing this story back a third time to update on the opening and running of the shelter…… On another note: on a parallel to this initiative, I along with a number of my Red Labour comrades will be holding an event across the City and Newcastle on Sunday 20th December when we will be tying adults coats to lampposts with a note saying something along the lines of 

If your sleeping out, and need some extra warmth, please take me, I’m not lost. I’m here for you.”

 We would hope that many people across our wonderful, generous City would feel able to join us in donating a coat to someone much less fortunate…. I’m going to produce a tag to go on the coats, and anyone who would like one to attach to a coat can email me and I’ll send one electronically for you to download. 

Email me at:ruth.rosenau@stoke.gov.uk 

Humanity and Homelessness – Part II

Much has changed since I wrote the blog: “Humanity and Homelessness“. As I had said, I had asked for a meeting with the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council and was pleased that that took place within days of my request. 
At the meeting, Councillor Conway gave me the opportunity to put forward my rationale for wanting a building open as soon as possible. He told me of the plans he had had discussions about and where, as a council we were. My request was for additional resources to be put into place to push this initiative forward. I was invited to a meeting to discuss buildings that were deemed suitable.
Some of the officers from the Place directorate went through the buildings deemed most suitable and we had a discussion about needs within the building, showers, toilets, safety, how many beds…. In discussion with Councillor Munday we agreed a building and the officers said that they would draw up plans to change the layout to accommodate what we saw as necessary requirements. I was further invited to a multi provider meeting to discuss how we went ahead..
On a very wet and windy evening we sat in the Sky room at the YMCA to discuss how we implemented a winter shelter for the homeless of our City. There were representatives from third sector providers, churches, street pastors, the Police, officers from the council, Councillors James, Munday and Robinson alongside myself…. and Lou Macari.
What was stated at the very start was that we had agreed to open up a winter shelter, and that now we needed everyone’s input to ensure that that happened. The discussions felt at times like we were going round in the proverbial ‘ever decreasing circles’ we took one step forward and two steps back, I raised concerns around some of our practices, raised the issue of the dreadful weather of the previous weekend when we had seen temeratures plummet to -4, snow, wind and rain…. And we have people sleeping out in those conditions.
We then heard an impassioned speech by Lou Macari. Blunt, to the point. He said that he didn’t want to hear about the problems, the issues, the applications, the criteria, the….. What he wanted was a building. To be open. To be available. To be there to offer shelter. 
I raised the point of previous work experiences, keeping a shower and wash/dry facility open – not once was that facility damaged or abused. If all we want is to put up barriers, we will never achieve anything. I think we eventually reached a consensus that this absolutely had to happen, the finer detail still needed to be addressed.
The following day, Friday, I spoke briefly to Councillor James and gave my opinion of what the barriers appeared to be and how I thought they should best be addressed. We discussed how they should be taken forward and dealt with. 
On Monday, I met with Councillor Munday and discussed the finer detail of the fit out of the building. He took this to the relevant officers and to their credit within hours we met and had updated plans and were discussing timescales. This is the time for partner organisations to step up to the marque and do their community payback. Some organisations have done just that… a massive thanks to those that have.
Myself and Councillor Robinson have had discussions with officers as to where and why we have people sleeping rough and why they haven’t or don’t access the services the City has in place. Some difficult conversations need to be had, but if we can have a more responsive offer, conversations will be well used.
In essence, I’m pleased that we are going to open a winter shelter, it’s a matter now of how quickly we can implement the running of the shelter and getting the fit out complete. I’ll push as hard as possible for it to be up and running before Christmas and offer my thanks to Councillors James, Munday, Robinson and Wheeldon for their assistance. I’d also like to offer similar thanks to Councillors Watson and Wazir for the positive comments and discussions regarding the proposals.
I’ll keep the option of bringing this story back a third time to update on the opening and running of the shelter…… On another note: in parallel with this initiative, I, along with a number of my Red Labour comrades will be holding an event across the City and Newcastle on Sunday 20th December when we will be tying adults coats to lampposts with a note saying something along the lines of:
“If your sleeping out, and need some extra warmth, please take me, I’m not lost. I’m here for you.”

  

We would hope that many people across our wonderful, generous City would feel able to join us in donating a coat to someone much less fortunate…. I’m going to produce a tag to go on the coats, and anyone who would like one to attach to a coat can email me and I’ll send one electronically for you to download. 

Email me at:ruth.rosenau@stoke.gov.uk 

Humanity and homelessness

Huge congratulations to Manchester City Council as it prepares to open the first of its empty buildings to be used as overnight shelters for the City’s rough sleepers. Manchester is looking to open these within weeks.

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Homelessness.

Utilising the former Hulme Library buildings and the old Beech Mount Children’s Home these are the first in a series of buildings that will be used to provide shelter to the rough sleepers and homeless across Manchester, the initiative will look to improve the services available to rough sleepers and alleviate the pressure on established bed spaces.

This initiative is about ensuring overnight accommodation is available over the winter months. Manchester is looking at another three buildings which have had a variety of uses. Manchester Council have worked alongside their partners, such as faith groups to create an additional 165 bed spaces for the winter period..

Working alongside homeless organisations rough sleepers and homeless will be referred to the new centres and be helped to access daytime services including medical and mental health support and drug and alcohol services. The City Councils rough sleepers team will have a key role in working with the people staying in the buildings to ensure the proper support is in place and to assist on helping those using the service to hopefully move on to more stable accommodation.

I wrote to the Leader of Stoke-On-Trent City Council Councillor David Conway, to ask if we as a City could follow Manchester’s lead as we rapidly head into winter. We need to be speaking to Manchester to learn from them and to enable us to assist some of the most vulnerable in our City. Within days of starting a petition, we have already received more than 500 signatures – a sign that we do care.

A number of Councillors have already been trying to address some of the issues that rough sleepers face, we have assisted in helping out at Central Hall in Longton to provide breakfasts twice a week and helped to provide sleeping bags, socks, shoes, jackets and warm clothing. We just feel that we need to make more of an effort to help those who have so little and who are at an increased risk during the winter months.

I would like to offer my personal thanks to Councillors Robinson, Wheeldon, Bell and Dodds for their generous contributions to date.

I will keep people informed as to how we take this request forward.

My letter is below:-

Dear Councillor Conway,

Request for use of empty buildings across our City.

Please find below a request by Councillors Chris Robinson, Debbie Wheeldon and myself to make use of empty buildings across the City over the winter period to provide dry evening and overnight accommodation to those enduring homelessness in our City.

We request Stoke on Trent City Council to reduce homelessness across our City, we ask that we scope out our empty buildings and identify those that can be used in a bid to provide winter shelter? We are asking for a provision of ‘evening and overnight’ accommodation during the winter period.

This would provide a boost to the homeless service that our council provides whilst also assisting in reducing the health and associated risks to those enduring homelessness. The benefits of providing this initiative would benefit many of our partners especially those from the health related disciplines.

We are hoping that we would work alongside our many partners, including charities, voluntary sector, businesses, the rough sleeping team and other public services – this would help to ensure that any buildings used are safe and well managed. We would also be asking the supermarkets across our City to make full use of the #wastenotuk initiative by providing their ‘out of date but still edible’ food. Charities would be asked to assist with sleeping bags, warm clothes, hats, gloves, socks, shoes and the like.

We are also requesting that all Councillors are given a report on estimated figures for homelessness across our City and that an explanation of the health and safety risks that homeless people are are exposed to is given alongside those figures.

You may be aware that there is currently a petition requesting that we as a council open buildings for use by the homeless and in only a couple of days we have almost 500 signatures – details below:

Please have a look at this petition, it means a lot to me: https://t.co/TCjTveoGOM via @38_degrees