About time too: the government backs down over Universal Credit helpline charges

The Prime Minister last week (18/10/17) confirmed today that all charges to the Universal Credit helpline will be ended and that the helpline will be a Freephone number.  About time, too.  The decision to charge the poorest of the poor up to 55p per minute shows what an ugly mind set exists in the Department of Work and Pensions and amongst those Ministers responsible, including those who defended this nasty, mean spirited charge as recently as last week.

Yet the government presses on regardless with the roll out of Universal Credit in spite of all the evidence that exists to show hardship being caused, and the rising level of arrears.

It won’t be long before the government will have to climb down, but the longer they persist and defend this policy, the more humiliating the climb down will be, and Mrs May’s government, as with Mrs Thatcher and the Poll Tax, might leave the climb down too late.

I have posted a Vlog on the politics of Universal Credit (posted before the decision to introduce a Freephone was announced).


One of David Cameron’s legacies is increasing rates of alcohol-related deaths

(This item first appeared in the Brighton Argus on 7th October 2017)

Research from the Foundation for Liver Research has found that there has been a 17% increase in liver-related hospital admissions since 2010/11. Alcohol-related liver disease now accounts for 60% of all liver disease and 84% of liver-related deaths.

Over the next five years, according to the Foundation, there will be 63,000 deaths and 4.2 million hospital admissions, costing £17 billion, unless current tends are reversed.

The Foundation has called for the tougher regulation of alcohol marketing and advertising, and for off-licence hours to be restricted to 10am to 10pm

David Cameron

Introducing a minimum unit cost of 50p would save 3,393 lives a year and reduce the cost of alcohol-related problems by £9.7 billion.

David Cameron, when Prime Minister, initially said he would support a minimum unit cost for alcohol, only to do a U-turn when lobbied by the alcohol industry. Back in 2013 I wrote:

David Cameron was in favour of a minimum unit price but appears to have been persuaded by others to go silent on the matter. I am sure that, when presented with the case for a minimum unit price by someone like Dr Sarah Wollaston (a Conservative MP and former GP), he will see the moral, economic and health case, and act accordingly. Politicians often worry about their legacy. David Cameron has the opportunity to have a legacy that includes saving thousands of lives.

Cameron tragically wasn’t persuaded by Dr Wollaston.  His U-turn and his failure to act when he had the chance and power to do so, has created a legacy. Iraq is Blair’s legacy; increasing alcohol-related deaths is one of Cameron’s.

With colleagues like that …..

I was speaking to a colleague about media work. He said he didn’t mind public speaking at all but hated hearing himself on radio or television, which is why he avoided it.

I said it was common for people to feel that way and I, too, do not like hearing my voice. He responded, a bit too quickly: “Neither do we!”.

With colleagues like that…

BHT is seeking two new members for our Board. Could it be you?

Brighton Housing Trust is seeking two new members to join our Board of Management as part of our Board member succession planning process. We are looking for applications from people who have a background in finance and/or housing to succeed two existing members who will be stepping down at the end of 2018.

The Chair of the BHT Board, Joan Mortimer, said: “Our Board members have an important part to play in the life of the organisation and in steering its future.  It is an exciting time to be on the Board as we are in a relatively strong position with ambitious plans for the future.

“While being a Board member is a non-executive appointment, Board members have many opportunities to learn about the work of our wonderful projects, meet our inspiring staff teams, and meet some of the people who live in our homes and who use our services.

“We do need all Board members to make a minimum commitment of preparing for and attending four Board meetings and four committee meetings each year, as well as strategic planning days.

“I have been on the Board since 2011 and am constantly amazed and inspired at the range and quality of the services BHT provides and the profound difference BHT makes to the lives of our tenants and other clients.”

Anyone interested in applying to become a Board member should email  BHT’s Company Secretary, Catherine Bridger, or phone her on 01273 645431.  Further information can also be found on the BHT website.

Catherine said: “We are fortunate to have an existing Board that brings strength in depth.  This round of recruitment focuses on replacing the experience and expertise of two Board members who are likely to stand down at the end of 2018.

“As a separate exercise, we are to recruit a tenant and another current or former client who will bring lived experience to the work of the Board”.

An open evening for potential Board members is planned for Wednesday 11th October, and the closing date for expressions of interest is 18th October 2017.  Again, please contact Catherine for further information.

BHT’s Immigration and Asylum Service receives rating of excellence

Brighton Housing Trust’s (BHT) Immigration and Asylum Service has received an ‘Excellent’ rating from their latest Peer Review, an audit carried out by the Legal Aid Agency every three years.

The Immigration and Asylum Service provides support within Brighton and Hove and the surrounding area giving advice and representation, under the Legal Help scheme, in particular areas of immigration and asylum law.

Suzanne Hennell, Senior Advice Manager at BHT said:  “I am extremely proud of the team’s achievements.  This gives the team valued recognition for all their invaluable work to the local community.

The Immigration Legal Service is only able to assist people whose cases fulfill the criteria for Legal Help under the Legal Aid Agency contract.

I hate graffiti be it tagging or so-called street art. They deface Brighton and Hove

(This item first appeared in the Brighton Argus on Monday, 4th September 2017)

At Brighton Pride this year I wanted to stand out from the crowd. Amongst all the exotic and, sometimes, erotic outfits, I was determined to be noticed. So I went dressed, uniquely, as a boring middle aged man.

Colleagues told me that I carried off the look effortlessly, as if I lived the life of a boring middle aged man every day.

It is with this persona that I write the following: I hate graffiti, especially mindless, destructive tagging. Some shallow individual with obviously no life, in a pathetic attempt to be noticed, creeps around town spraying tags that are neither artful nor edifying. It puts private individuals, the council, charities and businesses to unnecessary expense.

The Brighton Argus ran a front page feature this week on one tagger. I suspect this recognition will have brought some satisfaction to the criminal concerned (damage to property is a crime).

While middle class Brighton might decry tagging, it has a contradictory and permissive attitude to so-called street art and I see very little difference between this and night time tagging. Both deface buildings and public places. While the artistic merit of street art might be one up from tagging, it does nothing for me.

There are some exceptions – an art project on hoardings around building sites, for example. Yet most ‘legitimate’ street art is itself no more than elaborate tagging and I am sure it offends more people than just me.

Your Country Needs You! Actually, it’s BHT who needs you.

Well, perhaps not your country but Brighton Housing Trust does need you!

We want as large a group as possible to run the Brighton Half Marathon next year (Sunday 25th February) to raise money to support the services BHT provides to homeless people in Brighton and Hove.

So far, seven people have signed up but we want more! In fact, we want you….!

There are so many benefits of signing up, including:

  • Group motivation and support to exercise over the long winter months
  • Stretching your comfort zone and feeling a real sense of achievement whether you consider yourself to be a runner or not
  • Organised and ad-hoc training runs in really dodgy and therefore very exciting weather conditions
  • Raising money for the organisation we are proud to work for
  • A free BHT T-shirt (!) and other goodies (tbc!)

Click here for more details about the Half Marathon itsel

For your part, you will need to train and then run the Half Marathon, and we need you to raise as much money as you can.  We can advise you how to set up a JustGiving page. We don’t have any funded places so you will have to pay to register (approx. £40).

Get in touch with my colleague Sharon Munnings if you’re interested in this very exciting opportunity. You could make a difference to the lives of homeless people in our city.