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….