OVER the last few weeks I have been contacted by residents in increasingly desperate situations, distressed, with nowhere else to turn. At my surgeries, I have witnessed people who are unable to buy basics like food, or milk or nappies for their baby, trapped in a circle of poverty, getting into debt to feed their children.
It is 2016. People are working harder than ever, yet this is the reality for those in our city who have been affected by the Concentrix scandal.
Concentrix, part of a multi-billion pound US business services company, contracted by the Government to investigate fraud and error detection, hit the headlines last month after falsely withholding Child Tax Credits, resulting in thousands of people on low incomes seeing their Tax Credits suddenly stopped.
In York we have seen examples of the sloppy administration by Concentrix, where those living in Joseph Rowntree housing have been accused of having Joseph Rowntree living with them, and as a result, their benefits stopped with immediate effect. To add to the distress for those dealing with the false allegations made against them, there was no way of correcting errors, since Concentrix did not answer their phones.
At the break of the scandal Labour called on the Government to give account of the situation. The Minister promised that HMRC advisers would sort out the cases of those affected within 48 hours. Concentrix has since lost its pay-by-results Government contract, however the 2 days turn-around, as promised, is now 2 weeks, as cut back HMRC staff struggle to cope with the volume.
This week, Labour will raise this again in Parliament, and meanwhile my office is working tirelessly to assist those affected. If this has impacted on you, please don’t delay in getting in touch.
Coinciding with the Concentrix scandal, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have recently released an in-depth study ‘UK Poverty: Causes, Costs and Solutions’, which highlights the levels of poverty in society today. The report shows that 13.5m people are living in poverty, including 1.6m pensioners and a rapidly rising number of children, currently 3.9m. It also identifies the causes of poverty, which York’s high cost of living, including the costs of housing, with a low wage economy, creates an environment where too many people in the city are having to struggle to get through the week with not enough resources.
It is therefore shocking, that last week the Tory-led Coalition Council, in response to the Tory’s disastrous Housing and Planning Act, is now planning to sell our council housing stock. It is estimated that about 1000 homes in York will have to be sold, while 1,600 people remain on the Council’s housing waiting list. The Council Leaders should be refusing to push forward with these plans but instead, complicit as ever, are seeking to use the local plan to build homes for the super-rich, on York’s brownfield sites.
Political choices create inequality and that is why politics is so important. Labour has real solutions to the crisis facing Britain today, starting with building the housing so desperately needed. Labour will not stand by whilst inequality grows in our city and our nation.
Labour will continue to speak up for the many, not the few. As must ensure access to opportunity and a good quality of life for everyone in our city.
This blog originally appeared in The Press on 22nd October 2016