Poverty (Bradford)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:01 pm on 18th December 1987.

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Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West 1:01 pm, 18th December 1987

By any yardstick, Bradford is revealed as a city of past prosperity and present poverty. Deprivation and disadvantage are acute and, in many ways, are becoming more serious. Any reduction in unemployment is always welcome. However, in Bradford unemployment represents a deep social and economic scar. Men and women who want to work and know that they could help in doing the important work that needs to be done in Bradford are denied their right to work. There are more than 25,000 men and women without work. That represents 12 in every 100 people of working age. A total of 21 in every 100 16 to 19-year-olds —nearly 4,000 of our youngsters—are unemployed.

In Bradford, West, my constituency, unemployment is the highest in the city, at nearly 17 per cent. In University ward, also part of my constituency, unemployment rises to 29 per cent. and youth unemployment soars to 70 per cent. That is undoubtedly a reflection of the many difficulties that black and Asian youngsters have in securing employment.

Bradford council has published an important review of the link between poverty, health and disadvantage. An earlier report said: Poverty is no longer confined to individuals and small pockets in the district. It is affecting whole communities, and affecting them selectively … Parts of the District are becoming virtually 'poverty zones' with few working people, low incomes and many dependants while other parts are remaining relatively prosperous. Many people are existing in unrelieved, grinding poverty. They now represent a sullen and hostile subculture that is largely becoming alienated from the rest of the community. Bradford is facing a housing crisis. The city's director of housing in a letter to me this month commented on the Government's latest housing proposals. He said: I am deeply concerned at the possible implications for housing in Bradford. There are some 2,700 houses in multiple occupation —homes for 20,000 people. Most are in disrepair and lack fire safety measures and amenities and most do not have planning approval. There are 7,600 people on the council waiting list and since 1968 some 8,000 council homes have been sold. Some 33,000 homes are defective. Bradford has the highest rate of overcrowding in west Yorkshire and there are more than 1,500 homeless people. There are nearly 34,000 housing benefit claimants in the private sector and 25,700 in the public sector, which represents about one third of all households in the city. In a report to the council last month, the director of housing said: Our problems have been and will continue to be depressed incomes and depressed house prices arising from the depressed economy. Some 118 schools were built before 1914, which represents 40 per cent. of all schools in the city. In almost half of the district's schools, 30 per cent. of the pupils are entitled to free school meals. In 23 schools more than 60 per cent. of their pupils take free school meals. The council estimates that next April 6,000 children in the city will lose the discretionary free school meal that they have hitherto been taking.

The infant mortality rate in Bradford is twice the national average. There are 30,000 children under the age of five years but only 500 public nursery places.

Bradford is known as low-pay city and west Yorkshire suffers from being the lowest paid region in Britain. Men and women in full-time employment in Bradford receive appallingly low wages. More than half of all full-time women workers and three quarters of part-time women workers are low paid. Nationally, two thirds of all low-paid workers are women. Some 5·5 million adult women —one quarter of the work force—are earning less than the decency threshold. They will be expected to pay the same poll tax as someone who may be earning more in a month than they earn in a year.

The poll tax—the Tory tax—will have a devastating effect on Bradford. It has been estimated that, if it had to be paid this year, the poll tax would mean that everyone over 18 years of age in Bradford would have to pay £238. More than 209,000 citizens in Bradford would lose as a result of the poll tax, and 113,000 of those—41 per cent. — will be paying an extra £100 in poll tax compared with their current rates payments.

In the inner-city wards, which are represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) and Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who are here today, 90 per cent. of the constituents would lose under the poll tax; 65 per cent would be losing more than £100. In University ward, to which I referred earlier, 94 per cent. of my constituents would be losing under the poll tax and 82 per cent. would be losing more than £100.

The number of people over the age of 85 years in Bradford is estimated to be due to increase by 28 per cent. in the next 10 years. The number of elderly of ethnic minority origin will increase nearly fivefold over the same period. Yet in October the chair of Bradford social services committee wrote to the Secretary of State for Social Services about Bradford's 49 per cent. reduction in block allocation. Councillor John Godward said that there was continuing serious concern about the inadequate level of the capital allocation being made for Bradford, and that it was enduring serious social problems, especially in the care of the very elderly.

Last month Bradford launched a campaign against the cold and distributed up to 10,000 easy-to-read thermometers to vulnerable elderly people, along with help packs that could save lives in emergencies. Yet this week, an Energy Minister, who no doubt glides from comfortable centrally heated home to well heated lavish office and to this place by chauffeur-driven car, had the effrontery to tell me in reply to a parliamentary question that the average increase in a pensioner's expenditure to meet next year's electricity price increase would be no more than 30p or 35p per week.

This week, information was revealed about the expenditure figures for the social fund. That fund is in two parts, grants and loans, and replaces the existing single payments scheme. Unlike the present system of grants, new loans must be repaid by those receiving them through their weekly benefits. The expenditure figures show that there will be a shift of resources from areas such as Bradford to the more prosperous areas in the south-east and East Anglia. That is a dramatic and substantal shift.

In recent years the poor people of Bradford have depended to a great extent upon single payments. However, changes in the regulations have led to a substantial reduction in the number of payments made. In 1985–86 48,000 payments were made, but this year just 5,000 have been made. I have received figures showing the amount of resources received from the Government for single payments covering the three Bradford DHSS offices. Those figures show that, between 1984–87, more than £10 million was paid by the Government to meet claims for single payments at those offices—£4 million to the Bradford, east office, £2·7 million to the Bradford, south office, and £3·7 million to the Bradford, west office.

However, it is clear from the social fund figures published this week that, although expenditure for 1986–87 amounted to more than £3 million, the expenditure for the current year has been savagely reduced to £500,000. Indeed, we are aware that the allocated social fund expenditure for 1988–89 will be £1·7 million. Therefore, when all the figures are swept away and the statistics put to one side it means that some of the poorest people in Bradford, many struggling to bring up families, will face acute hardship and will be robbed of about £2 million.

Therefore, our hard-pressed local economy, with depressed demand for goods and services, shops closing down because of lack of business, firms going bankrupt and new businesses finding it extremely difficult to start off, will lose almost £2 million that would otherwise have been spent by the poor people directly in the city to help themselves and the business community.

I was recently informed by the Bradford citizens advice bureau that there had been two recent cases when the DHSS had refused a lump sum urgent needs payment to buy a cooker on the grounds that the claimants could buy hot food with their personal allowances. I was so concerned about that that I tabled a written question and the Minister who is to reply to today's debate replied: The Department's staff are instructed to advise claimants of refusal of a single payment for a cooker by the issue of a special form (Form BO3D). This gives a general explanation of the reasons for refusal, explains the right of appeal to an independent tribunal and refers to the Citizens' Advice Bureau and the local law centre as sources of help and advice in appealing. It also offers a more detailed explanation of the decision if the claimant requests it."—[Official Report, 14 December 1987; Vol. 124, c. 403–4.] There are many problems involved in such an approach. One of them is that, because of the enormous pressure of work faced by the Bradford citizens advice bureau, it has had to reduce its opening hours from 30 to 20 a week. The manager of the unit, Shirley Ginever, in a recent letter to me — copied to the chief executive of Bradford council—was extremely concerned about this and desperately anxious to try to increase resources to enable more staff to devote more time to the problems of the poor, who are facing acute hardship in our city. She said: I would add that the Debt Counselling Unit of the bureau is also under great strain. In anticipation of the increase in demands particularly regarding housing debt, after April 1988, we are trying to raise funds to open a housing debtline telephone consultancy service for statutory and voluntary agencies and the public to use". I say to the Minister, who, in parliamentary replies, freely advises people facing difficulties to go to citizens advice bureaux, that he should ensure that sufficient resources are provided for the citizens advice bureaux in Bradford and in other cities throughout the country to enable them to deliver their advice.

On 15 January, at Bradford university, a conference is being organised, entitled, "A Hole in the Safety Net?—Responses to the Social Fund". The conference material states: In April 1988 the second part of the social fund will come into operation, replacing supplementary benefits single payments with a discretionary system of primarily repayable loans. Its introduction, along with other recent and current changes in social security benefits, represents a dramatic contraction of the rights and living standards of claimants". That is absolutely right, and it is right that the conference should be concerned.

One of the nastier aspects of the Social Security Act 1986, which comes into force next April, will mean that claimants who are refused their applications for cookers and other urgent personal needs will have no right of appeal. The existing right is inadequate. When I passed on to Shirley Ginever of the CAB the Minister's reply about two claimants who had experienced refusal, she made the point — rightly — that the current waiting period for appeals is seven months. That is to be contrasted with the position after next April, when the right of appeal will be swept completely away.

There will be a series of reviews, but what point is there in administrative review when every DHSS office in Bradford and the rest of the country will be cash-limited? They will allocate less and less money on a monthly basis, and the social fund manager will be held responsible for ensuring that the allocation that each office receives is not overspent. What purpose is there in reviews being made to line management of DHSS offices—even if they were to find in favour of the claimant— when the social fund manager will say, "Hold on a minute—the money is nearly overspent for this month. We cannot grant this application from a claimant who has been refused."

We are now beginning to see the full implications of the Social Security Act 1986, which was passed well before the last general election. The Government did not want the public to see the true implications that that nasty measure would have for them. In Bradford and many other cities, it will mean that people suffering from acute hardship—men and women struggling to bring up families—will not be living, they will merely be existing. Their needs will not be met, because the Government have directed that far less money shall be spent than was the case in the past. That is a public scandal, which will do grievous damage to my hard-pressed, poor city of Bradford.