For some kids school holidays mean hunger and isolation


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The school holidays, the best times of your life, right? Maybe not if you’re one of many families struggling to cope with the extra costs of food, activities and childcare. In fact for many families, rather than a summer spent frolicking in the sun, sea and sand, the school holidays are faced with dread.

A lot of this is down to the fact that for around 39 weeks of the year, 14% of children from low income families across England have access to healthy, free school lunches. Some children also have breakfast at school, which has led to the rise of breakfast clubs. But of course for many families, this can stop during the holidays when school food isn’t available.

A recent report from a group of MPs shows that the school holidays are a challenging time for parents – with many families struggling to make ends meet.

This is a time when, for some families, food supplies are compromised – with parents skipping meals to feed their children. Families also often rely on cheap, convenience foods – that are seen as more filling for less money – than healthier options.

Holiday hardships

To help support families during the school holidays, many organisations have introduced holiday clubs. These clubs take place in school and community settings – such as church halls and community centres – to offer meals and activities to families during the school holidays. And our Healthy Living research team have been investigating how these types of holiday clubs make a difference to children and families.

Our research shows that while parents do their best to make sure their children are fed, for some families the food they have available is limited. And within these families, the focus tends to be on making sure children feel full and less about whether the food is healthy.


Holiday clubs are often about so much more than just food. Pexels

We discovered that holiday clubs can help to support families, giving them the chance to have healthy, balanced meals consistently across the school holidays. And that these types of clubs can also save families money by making food at home last longer – reducing the likelihood that families will skip meals.

Access for all

Accepting free food is already something that is stigmatised , but these types of clubs are often seen as a more acceptable way of supporting families. This is because many holiday clubs are open to anyone within their community. And this open access model is highly valued by parents and children alike, as it avoids having to single people out.

This is unlike some sources of food aid, like food banks, where people usually have to be referred by another organisation such as a doctor’s surgery or social services. This need for referral can be difficult because it involves highlighting certain people as vulnerable, which can be off-putting for those needing support.


Holiday clubs can allow children to make new friendships. Pexels.

More than just meals

But not all families attend holiday clubs just to access food. families also go along for the range of activities on offer, which can include sports, crafts and cooking.

During the school holidays, especially the long summer break, parents can struggle to find enough suitable activities to keep their children entertained. Activity and transport costs and safety concerns can also limit the number of activities families have available to them. This can lead to children and parents becoming isolated and less active – which might be why generally children’s fitness levels improve during term time, but then decline during the school holidays.

But by providing families with regular activities, holidays clubs help families to stay active and mix with other people from the local area. This is because, essentially, holiday clubs bring people together – they help children and parents to make new friends and support them to keep in contact with friends they would usually only see around school during term time.

School holidays should be a happy time – giving children a chance to make memories that will last a lifetime – unfortunately though for many families, this is not always the case. But as our research shows, by providing food, fun and friendships, holiday clubs can go some way to help make this happen.


Dave Gibson, veteran campaigner, has died.




It is with deep regret, we have to announce that Barnsley Trades Council Secretary Dave Gibson sadly passed away this afternoon. The work of Barnsley Trades Council will continue in memory of Our Dear Brother Dave. Rest In Peace


From the Barnsley Chronicle:

A PROLIFIC campaigner and trade union activist – who was speaking at a protest in the town centre as recently as Saturday – has died aged 67.

Dave Gibson, of Western Street, Barnsley, had been suffering cancer since March but had told friends at the May Must Go protest in town on Saturday that he had received good news and thought his tumour was reducing. But he rapidly became unwell on Sunday and had emergency surgery, and died on Wednesday.

He was one of the founders of the Freedom Riders campaign to reinstate free train travel for the elderly and disabled. He had also campaigned for Save Our NHS, Stand Up to Racism, and against fracking as well as a host of other causes.

His friend of 40 years George Arthur, a fellow campaigner, said: “Whenever and wherever he saw injustice, Dave wanted to organise resistance against it.”

Dave was secretary of Barnsley Trades Council and had been chairman for many years before that.

The trades council’s next meeting on Wednesday, 5.30pm, at the Civic, will be open to anyone who wants to pay tribute to Dave.


Corbyn’s social media initiative welcome – but enforcement clarification awaited



In an initiative driven by party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has launched a new Social Media Policy document – and it’s one which will be studied eagerly by members who have seen supposed ‘abuse’ weaponised against the Left by Tories, the Labour right and their media supporters when most abuse seems to come from those very quarters.


It’s a document of two distinct halves. One seeks to establish the principles by which Labour members and supporters should seek to conduct their social media interactions – and it’s difficult to find too much to disagree with:


In fact, this blog considers it likely that most members will agree with its assessment that the influence of the Labour leader and his team can be seen very clearly in these principles.

Slightly less free of difficulty is the ‘National Executive Committee statement’ section. There is little to object to in statements such as:

A starting point for all our actions as members of a party and a movement is to treat all people with dignity and respect. This applies to all our dealings with people, offline and online.

Everyone should feel able to take part in discussion about our party, country and world. We want to maximise this debate, including critical discussion, as long as it does not result in the exclusion of others.

Harassment, intimidation, hateful language and bullying are never acceptable, nor is any form of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

However, where it deals with enforcement and discipline the document is more problematic:

Any member found in breach of the above policies will be dealt with according to the rules and procedures of the Labour Party.

There are at least three reasons for this.

Firstly, the word ‘any’ above will be welcomed by left-wing members but regarded with extreme suspicion. There is an absolute conviction among many members that over the almost two years since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, his supporters have been penalised for the most trivial reasons – but his opponents have been able to say whatever they wish with impunity.

That includes many ‘moderate'(!) MPs, with even the party’s deputy leader referring to pro-Corbyn members as ‘rabble’, ‘Trots’ and ‘entryists’, with ‘dogs’ and worse used unpunished by others.

If this policy is to be embraced as meaningful, it is essential that it is applied sensibly and, most of all, fairly, with right-wing abuse (far more common in spite of the media’s attempts to portray otherwise) disciplined as strictly as anything from the Left.

Secondly, the policy does not give any definition of ‘abuse’ (or of ‘trolling’) . Given the undoubted tendency of some right-wingers, safe – up to now – in the knowledge that their own actions were immune to censure by a largely right-leaning bureaucracy, to provoke, for example via the above-mentioned and certainly abusive ‘dogs’, ‘rabble‘ and worse in the hope of eliciting an angry reaction, clear guidance on what is or is not abuse is highly important.

The pattern of provocation-reaction-accusation was illustrated with wonderful succinctness last week by one Twitter user:


There will be nods of recognition by most SKWAWKBOX readers at this pithy encapsulation of the problems both of fairness and clarity described above.

The final and even more crucial question is this: how is the party going to enforce the rules and identify breaches?

Recent guidance issued by General Secretary Iain McNicol, revealed exclusively by the SKWAWKBOX, informed party staff that trawling members’ social media for disciplinary purposes constitutes a breach of the Data Protection Act (DPA), as indeed it does.

That being so, how is the party going to legally know what members are saying, let alone judge whether it constitutes abuse?

By its very definition, the ‘Social Media Policy’ covers online behaviour. Equally by definition, that means any abuse or alleged abuse is going to be in the very social media feeds that party staff and officers cannot ‘trawl’ without either breaching the DPA or obtaining the specific permission of each member to use her/his social media posts for the disciplinary purposes.

In other words, each member would have to say ‘Ok, you can use my social media to potentially suspend or expel me’.

The SKWAWKBOX has asked Labour’s HQ for clarification of how it envisages enforcing the rules and principles contained in the new policy, but no answer has been provided so far.

Welcome as the new policy initiative will be to the vast majority, for the peace of mind of members still twitchy about the perceived abuse of social media in the purges associated with the 2015 and 2016 leadership contests, that answer is absolutely essential.


Sheffield devo hits latest setback as plans are put on hold until September


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A decision on Sheffield City Region’s devolution deal will be put on hold until September, the authority has today [19th July] announced.

The action was taken as leaders from Barnsley and Doncaster said they wanted to consider their position and whether there were other options to pursue with regards to a devolution deal for the region.

At a meeting of the CA yesterday, Cllr Sir Steve Houghton also said he would temporarily step down from his post as chair of Sheffield CR to avoid any possible conflict of interests with Barnsley, where he is a councillor.

He said that he wanted to look into a “Yorkshire model, a Greater Yorkshire model, an urban Yorkshire model and a South West Yorkshire model.”

Sir Steve also added that there was a lot of information that was confusing the members of his authority, and that further clarity was needed before a decision was finalised.

Sir Nigel Knowles, chair of Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said: “In Sheffield City Region it is our aim to build a centre of business excellence and a super connected city region.

“We’re delivering on this objective with 37,000 additional jobs and growth focused on high value manufacturing and engineering jobs.”

But Sir Nigel added that the LEP remained focused on economic growth and jobs in Sheffield City Region.

“We are committed to the principle that devolution will help us fulfil our economic potential and that this must happen as soon as possible,” he said.

“This was the message that private sector LEP Board members made emphatically at the LEP Board meeting yesterday. Ultimately, implementing the devolution deal is not a LEP decision and it is the four councils in South Yorkshire that must decide.”

Today’s news is the latest in a number of setbacks for the deal. Last month, two lower-tier councils decided to pull out of future proceedings, prompting Sir Steve to say that “the city region now need to take the time to consider fully the next steps in the city region’s devolution journey”.

And in March, PSE revealed that papers from the CA showed how rebooting the deal would cost an additional £100,000 to launch another public consultation.

Before that, following a legal challenge against the plans that looked like it could stop the deal in its tracks, it was found that a different consultation on devolution would cost local taxpayers over half a million pounds.


‘Rogue Organisation’ HS2 Ltd Fiddle Forbidden Redundancy Payments.


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Today, (Wednesday 19th 2017), the Auditor General Amyas Morse will express his concerns with the annual accounts of HS2 Ltd, with specific reference to a redundancy scheme which offered departing staff payments significantly above what had been agreed to by Government.

HS2 Ltd, which in 2015 was revealed to have 46 staff earning more than the Prime Minister and is exempt from the restrictions of the public sector pay cap, made redundancy payments of £2.76m in the last financial year, £1.76m of which compromised of “unapproved enhancements”, which had been expressly forbidden by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Although HS2 Ltd have been continuously taking on staff, the redundancies happened because many staff did not want to leave London when their jobs were relocated to Birmingham, something which goes some way to undermining the claim from HS2 Ltd that the project will ‘rebalance the economy’ away from the capital.

HS2 Ltd got around rules which cap redundancy payments to civil servants at £95,000 by allowing those leaving HS2 Ltd to go on paid ‘gardening leave’, on full pay after they had effectively left the organisation, with some staff receiving as much as £200,000.

When in March 2016 the Department for Transport told HS2 Ltd that all redundancy payouts should be the standard statutory basis of one week’s pay for every year worked, the then Chief Executive Simon Kirby went directly to Chris Grayling in an attempt to get this ruling overturned, but Mr Grayling backed up what the DfT had said, that only statutory payments should be made available. However, it seems HS2 Ltd completely ignored what they had been told by two different levels of their own management, and made the enhanced payments anyway.

According to the National Audit Office “A senior official at the department [for transport] instructed a senior official at HS2 Ltd that no enhancements would be approved” but the NAO has “not seen any evidence that this instruction was passed on within the company.”

This is not the first time the National Audit Office has raised significant concerns about HS2.

  • In May 2013, they commented that there was a lack of clarity around the objectives of HS2, the strategic case was underdeveloped, and there was limited evidence supporting the passenger forecasts and the rationale for building HS2 of capacity shortages on existing lines.
  • In October 2014, they said a ‘lack of common sense’ and ‘unrealistic analysis’ had led to an overstating of the HS2 business case by 86%.
  • In June 2016 they concluded that HS2 had ‘unrealistic timescales’, that £7bn of cuts had to be found to bring it in on budget, and that HS2 had not passed did not pass review point 1 (which it was meant to have had to pass to be allowed to continue) owing to concerns about cost and schedule.

Joe Rukin, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager responded;

“Right from the start HS2 have been running their own gravy train so it’s no surprise that they have acted as a law unto themselves and it is absolutely clear that this is a rogue organisation within government. This shows that the whole project is being run with a blatant disregard for taxpayers’ money and with no probity. At a time when we supposedly have no money for the public sector workers everyone knows we need, this is beyond disgraceful.”

Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 added;

“While the government claim they have no money for ordinary public sector workers, the amount HS2 Ltd decide they are willing to pay former HS2 staff is obscene.  The average payment is twice the typical UK salary.  HS2 has always been about jobs for the boys, being paid for by the British taxpayer.”


Government failures force people seeking protection into unbearable poverty, new research reveals


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New research by Refugee Action shows that a failure by the Home Office to follow its own guidance for supporting those seeking asylum in Britain is making vulnerable people homeless and leaving them unable to feed their families.

The report – based on analysis of more than 300 cases – shows some of the most vulnerable people seeking protection are being wrongly denied assistance or are suffering long delays to get the support they are entitled to.

Every day Refugee Action sees people who have fled conflicts and persecution enduring extreme poverty. Many haven’t eaten a proper meal in weeks and are living on the streets of our towns and cities.

Through nearly 40 in-depth interviews, Refugee Action heard shocking accounts of the stress, anxiety and hopelessness felt by families left without support, including women who had attempted to take their own lives and young people receiving counselling after contemplating suicide.

Squalid living conditions are causing children to become ill, others are being bullied for smelling because their parents are forced to send them to school in dirty clothes. One family was forced to sleep on the floor of their one-room apartment for months to avoid bedbugs.

This is despite legislation setting out the Home Office’s duty to prevent people seeking asylum falling into destitution and hardship while their claims are processed, an often lengthy period when the vast majority of people have no right to work.

The charity’s research is based on analysis of more than 300 cases involving applications for asylum support between January 2016 and March 2017. The study of these files from services that support people seeking asylum in Manchester and London shows:

• Individuals and families at risk of homelessness and with no means of supporting themselves are waiting an average of nearly two months (58 days) for housing and the small amount of money (just £5.28 a day) they are entitled to for essential living costs, including food, clothing and transport. This is known as Section 95 support.

• Some face far longer delays – one man from Eritrea was left without this basic allowance for almost 10 months (308 days) and was granted refugee status before he was granted asylum support. During this time he and his wife struggled to feed their young child and baby, and could not afford to heat their home during the winter months.

• More than half of people in crisis, who are in desperate need of a roof over their head and a proper meal, had their application for emergency, or Section 98, support refused. But the vast majority (92%) of these applications were approved shortly afterwards when people challenged the decision, causing unnecessary stress and uncertainty for people in precarious situations.

• Individuals and families being left for more than a month in unsuitable, temporary accommodation, with children unable to attend school and vulnerable people left without legal advice or access to a GP.

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, says:

“Our research exposes the appalling treatment of families and individuals who have escaped war and persecution abroad, only to be badly let down here in Britain.

“The failure of the Home Office to follow their own policies has frequently left people homeless, and unable to feed themselves and their families.

“The Government must take urgent action to prevent some of the most vulnerable people in our society slipping through the cracks of the system.”

Refugee Action is calling on the Government to:

• Urgently recommit to applying their existing policy and guidance consistently in all cases, including making decisions on support as quickly as possible.

• Put into practice a transparent approach to decision-making on asylum support, within three months. This should include releasing detailed statistics on support decisions and ensuring it is publicly monitoring meaningful indicators of success.

• Give those seeking sanctuary the right to work, bringing the UK into line with most European countries. This would mean people seeking asylum would no longer be forced to rely solely on state support to survive.



The full report, Slipping through the cracks: how Britain’s asylum support system fails the most vulnerable, can be read here.

The figures: Refugee Action analysed 315 cases involving applications and decisions made for asylum support between January 2016 and March 2017.

This includes 237 case files from Refugee Action’s asylum crisis projects in London and Manchester, and 78 from Asylum Support Housing Advice, a Manchester-based voluntary organisation.

The figures in the report relating to section 98 applications for emergency, short-term support are based on 88 cases.

Those relating to section 95 applications for longer-term asylum support are based on a total of 163 cases. These include 109 cases from Manchester and 19 from London that Refugee Action worked on and 35 from ASHA.

Of Refugee Action’s 128 cases, 107 applied for both subsistence (£5.28 a day for essential living costs such as food and travel) and accommodation.

Of ASHA’s 35 cases, eight applied for subsistence only support.


Beware ‘cashless’ society


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Is cashless just too easy? Will we pay the price?

By Joy Johnson

Unite’s annual political school in Durham, in the week of the inspirational Miners’ Gala, was one of the best that I had attended.

It’s an intense three days. This year was no different in that respect, but we were carried along by the infectious atmosphere of those taking part. There was a tremendous range of speakers among which were the newly elected Battersea MP, Marsha de Cordova who had a 10 per cent swing in the last general election and Laura Pidcock, newly elected MP for North West Durham.

We also heard from Dr Stephan Nolan, economist with Trademark who spoke on ‘The Nature of the Political Economy’.   It was a cracking lecture laying out the stark realities of today’s economy.  I was particularly struck by his analysis of the cashless society the pace of which is gathering speed at an alarming rate. Anyone who thinks this is just progress should think again.

Have you seen that cinema advert that shows us how we can make our life even more easy if we went cashless? The run up for a movie to start is the ideal captive, targeted audience for advertising.

Waiting for Baby Driver (great movie by the way) we were treated to the latest bit of manipulative public relations in the banks and internet giants’ determination to wipe out cash.

A young woman, to an upbeat backing sound track, flits through shops, tubes, and taxis on her happy jaunt as she tap, tap, taps her way to her final fling with friends.

I bet you never realised that life was so much harder when you had to delve into your handbag scrabbling for a purse or trying to find your wallet and then having to remember your pin’s four digits?

Neither I guess did you realise that life would come to a juddering halt because you are holding up the queue as you count out money?

That’s another advert I saw, this time on the internet.  The queue is flowing in the self-service cafeteria until some Luddite counts out money causing a pile up.

It’s more than 20 years since Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said, “Banking is necessary. Banks are not.”

In a consumer driven society we are inching to an economy where activity in cash is zero. We lap up all things automatic. Just look at how we queue up to be our own cashier in the supermarket.

Be wary

But we should be wary. Cashless has enormous implications.  Our right to have purchasing power in paper currency is diminished.  Our shopping habits will no longer be private.  As it is when we use search engines one day the next we are targeted with adverts that relate to our searches.

Spending is valued above saving.   Not a lot of point with low interest rates. Yet the future will be worse.   Expect to see fees being imposed on accounts with credit balances.  Expect being charged negative interest rates.   There’s no doubt we are going to end up having to pay for our hard earned cash even if what we are able to save is small.

There will be other consequences. No runs on the bank. We will lose control of our own money.  In an economic crash the banks won’t be bailed out they will be bailed-in.

This is not some worst case scenario scare mongering we’ve seen it in Cyprus when in 2011 it was teetering on the financial cliff edge.

People on lower incomes need an economy that has cash. Not for anything illegal.  They just need cash to exist.

As Dr Nolan argued the banks haven’t changed. The financial institutions haven’t changed.  There is no reason to believe that an economic disaster of the magnitude of 2008 won’t happen again.


All this drive for consumerism is sickening. While writing this I was watching the news with images on our television of dying and suffering people emerging from the rubble of cities in Syria and Iraq – Aleppo, Raqqa and this week, Mosul.

These last few weeks have transformed our political landscape. We have wealth disparity on an enormous scale.   Oxfam recently reported that eight billionaires own the same wealth as the 3.6bn people who form the poorest half of the worlds’ population.  Eight billionaires. It beggars belief.

If ever a political slogan was pitch perfect Labour’s: ‘For the many not the few’ inspired by Shelley, was it.

During the election campaign Jeremy Corbyn armed with a transformative manifesto, a fat cat levy on wages over £350k, return of the 50p tax rate for the richest, £5bn Robin Hood Tax on finance just three policies that would make a difference, was liberated.

Liberated from the Parliamentary Labour Party he went from strength to strength. He defeated Theresa May who not only lost her majority she lost her authority.   Now we have a cabinet in turmoil.

She’s now the beleaguered Prime Minister who will not be the mistress of her fortunes while Jeremy is the Prime Minister in waiting to head up a Labour government in waiting.


I worked at a jobcentre – I’m so sorry for the way we treated you



I was so embarrassed by our badly run service that I had to leave – the people who came in for help deserved better


‘We have to prove to senior managers that our cost is justified by completing as many interviews as possible.’ Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

If you move to the UK and apply for a National Insurance number, it’s likely that you’ll need to go to a Jobcentre Plus for a face-to-face interview. Until recently, I was one of those interviewing officers. I was so embarrassed by how badly run our service is that I had to leave.

My bosses said I should be able to complete the interview in 25 minutes, but I had to collect lots of information from customers. Many of the people I saw only started to learn English and we also had to collect sensitive information, like the dates marriages ended or partners died. I’m sorry that I politely moved you along to the next question while you cried, but I could see my manager listening to our conversation, while checking against the diary to see how we were doing for time.

As my manager subtly reminded us at every weekly meeting, we had to prove to senior managers that our cost was justified by completing as many interviews as possible.

Most of our customers were so happy that they have an interview that they weren’t too bothered if they were seen late. But there were occasions on which people had to sit and wait for more than two hours for an interview. I’m sorry that we didn’t come and tell you we were running behind, already so stretched.

A colleague told me that there used to be fewer interviews booked with more time to do them so we could properly ensure people were safe and their stories added up, but rather than employing more staff this changed when demand kept increasing.

When you book an appointment through our outsourced and overworked call centre, you’re supposed to get a letter in the post confirming it. The letter says that if you need an interpreter, we will provide one. I’m sorry that I used a card with my questions in different languages rather than an over-the-phone interpreter. If we use the service too much, senior managers challenge our use. They accuse us of being carefree with public money and make it clear that it won’t happen on their watch.

When I asked you for your details and your reason for applying for a National Insurance number, I am sorry that I didn’t challenge the private security guard who yelled “for benefits!” from behind me. I did raise it with my manager, who promised something would be done, but it happened again, time after time. I don’t think sorry is good enough, but I hope it’s a start.

Overall, I am sorry that I buckled to pressure from above. Our interview should have taken as long as we needed so I could make sure, above all else, that you were safe. I should have used an interpreter because you should be able to access government services – you’ll soon be paying taxes like everyone else. I should have challenged the remark from the security guard. No one deserves to be treated like that.