Community News

East Lothian Council Universal Credit lessons

Midlothian View - 3 hours 14 min ago

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

The UK Government is being urged to learn lessons from the first Scottish pilot of Universal Credit after it was branded an “experiment in cruelty”.

East Lothian became the first local authority area to introduce the digital roll-out of the new welfare payments in March 2016.

Two-and-a-half years on, East Lothian Council is still seeing the fallout, with rent arrears of nearly £1million attributed to the introduction of the new system.

And as Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a backlash from her own MPs over plans to push ahead with introducing the system in England, she has been warned to look at the impact it has had north of the Border.

Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP Group leader in East Lothian, said that lessons had to be learned from the experience in the county.

He said: “It seems clear to me that when you have a pilot and it doesn’t work you don’t just plough on as the Tories have and say it’s OK when everyone knows it is not.

“The lesson the UK Government needs to learn is that when you make cuts on the backs of people and families in greatest need then decent people will always stand up and say it’s time to stop and think again. That is what the Tories must now do.”

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His warning comes as former Prime Minister Sir John Major warned Mrs May that she could face a revolt on the scale witnessed after then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher introduced the poll tax in 1989 and 1990.

Universal Credit replaces six separate benefit payments with one combined amount.

However, delays in system have seen people left for up to two months with no benefits at all as they are switched from the old system to the new payment.

The new payment also sees housing benefit paid to recipients directly instead of to their landlords and many found themselves immediately in rent arrears as their first payments were delayed.

Earlier this year, East Lothian Council said that more than 70 per cent of tenants on the new Universal Credit were in rent arrears, with nearly £1million owed to the local authority.

There were further problems at the start of the financial year in April when tenants were required to inform the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) individually of the council’s rent increase of five per cent, causing even more arrears.

A report to the council earlier this month revealed: “Rent collection was adversely affected in April and May due to Universal Credit claimants having to report their increased housing costs to DWP directly.

“DWP will not accept the new annual rent charge information from a landlord but insist on individual claimants updating their online journal.

“This cannot be done in advance, it must be carried out on the effective date of change.”

When Universal Credit was first introduced in East Lothian as a pilot, then Musselburgh councillor Fraser McAllister described it as an “experiment in cruelty”.

Fellow councillor Mr Currie said that, nearly three years on, that remained an accurate description.

He said: “There is no doubt that the introduction of Universal Credit in East Lothian has had a massive impact both on a human and financial scale.

“So many people not receiving money when they should has left families in poverty far too often. We have seen an increase in the use of foodbanks and massive rent arrears. The fact is that the real purpose of Universal Credit has not been about simplification of benefits but more about cutting of benefits. The UK Government only now are waking up to the reality of the mess they have created.”

The post East Lothian Council Universal Credit lessons appeared first on Midlothian View.

Categories: Community News

Disabled fans to benefit at Penicuik

Midlothian View - 5 hours 10 min ago

Penicuik Athletic, photo by Jim Dick

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Penicuik Athletic is planning to introduce a viewing platform for disabled fans after switching leagues.

The football club moved from the East Region of the Scottish Junior Football Association to the East of Scotland Football League at the start of the season.

They were one of 24 clubs to make the move to the sixth tier of the Scottish football pyramid.

Now the club have applied for planning permission to create new changing facilities, toilets and a raised viewing platform at their ground at Penicuik Park in the town.

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The club currently rent the playing pitch, pavilion and public toilet block at the park from Midlothian Council.

But they said that as part of the football league regulations they now needed to upgrade the facilities on offer.

And it is required to have toilet facilities within the perimeter of the grounds, while the public block lies outside the boundary.

The club have applied for planning permission for a temporary cabin-style facility which would have changing facilities for officials and players, public toilets and a raised viewing platform for disabled fans to access.

The post Disabled fans to benefit at Penicuik appeared first on Midlothian View.

Categories: Community News

Heat or eat

Midlothian View - 10 hours 52 min ago

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Parents of school children face “heat or eat” decisions during the holidays, according to an education chief.

Dr Mary Smith, director of education at Midlothian Council, said that in her local authority alone they had provided 21,000 free meals to children during a summer holiday programme this year.

And she warned that many families faced tough decisions about whether to be warm or fed, particularly in the winter months.

She said: “It is really important that we recognise our youngsters are facing this and know it is ‘heat or eat’, especially coming into winter for some of our families.”

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Dr Smith’s comments came as she reported to the council’s cabinet on work being undertaken to tackle child poverty in the county.

She said that work was being carried out to increase the uptake of free school meals, adding that because younger pupils were entitled to the free meals parents did not register for them and missed out on other benefits such as free uniforms, milk and funding for trips.

Her report added: “Increasing enrolment will benefit children living in poverty and also provides an additional £1,200 of PEF (pupil equity funding) per pupil.”

Dr Smith said that research was being carried out into free school meals which would also look at the way they are perceived and barriers to uptake.

She said: “The findings of this research will inform how we can maximise enrolment and reduce the stigma associated with living in poverty.”

Councillor Jim Muirhead, cabinet spokesperson for education and children’s services, said: “It is ridiculous that in 2018 we are having to do this but it is heartening to see that we are making a lot of good progress in ensuring families are getting what they are entitled to.

“It is important, not knowing what you are entitled to is a real barrier.”

The post Heat or eat appeared first on Midlothian View.

Categories: Community News

Latest milestone for new town reached

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Midlothian Advertiser - 12 hours 15 min ago
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Midlothian Advertiser - 12 hours 18 min ago
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Top marks for Bonnyrigg support centre

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Eskbank author the write tram track

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Viva Las Vegas for pub poker player

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Penicuik foodbank still helping others

Midlothian Advertiser - Fri, 19/10/2018 - 12:08
A foodbank run from a church by a dedicated team of volunteers has provided free bags of food to those in need for more than four years.

MP to pop-in to Newbattle Abbey College for a chat

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Festival is music to our ears

Midlothian Council - Fri, 19/10/2018 - 10:16
Book now for a fantastic evening of entertainment featuring more than 400 of Midlothian’s finest music pupils.

New Dalkeith care home approved

Midlothian Advertiser - Fri, 19/10/2018 - 06:22
A new 83 bed residential care home on Newmills Road in Dalkeith was approved by councillors at last week’s planning committee meeting.

Success on the menu at Newbattle Community Campus Café

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More than 10,000 people have visited the café at the Newbattle Community Campus since it opened in late May.

Midlothian MSP praises river and burn clean-up

Midlothian Advertiser - Fri, 19/10/2018 - 05:57
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Scottish Government Cabinet to meet in Midlothian

Midlothian Advertiser - Thu, 18/10/2018 - 08:00
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What’s on Midlothian

Midlothian Advertiser - Thu, 18/10/2018 - 06:04
Your weekly round-up of what’s on in Midlothian this week features live music and floral art.

Tributes paid to Gorebridge community stalwart

Midlothian Advertiser - Thu, 18/10/2018 - 05:42
Tribute have been paid to Gorebridge community stalwart and environmentalist Jimmy Innes, who passed away last week following a recent illness. He was 87.

Hardengreen drive-thrus’ decision put on hold for now

Midlothian Advertiser - Thu, 18/10/2018 - 05:32
A decision on two new drive-thrus at Hardengreen has been put back a month while the council’s food and drink guidance is agreed.

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