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News round-up 26/9: Debate over universal benefits

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Your daily media round up of all the key stories affecting local government

Universal benefits

The Daily Telegraph reports that deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said yesterday that better-off pensioners should be stripped of tax-payer funded benefits. Free television licences, winter fuel payments and free bus passes for everyone was “increasingly difficult to explain” and well-off pensioners should help to “make ends meet,” the paper says.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont also signalled a major policy shift as she moved the party away from universal free public services and talked about an end to a “something for nothing” culture, the Scotsman reports. Ms Lamont used a keynote speech in Edinburgh to launch a new policy commission that will look at ending free university tuition, free prescriptions and the council tax freeze.

Speaking on the Today Programme, Conservative MP Mark Reckless said that it was right to protect pensioners’ benefits. Mr Reckless said the costs of introducing a wealth tax for pensioners would be “enormous” and greater than any revenue it would generate. He added that pensioners had suffered as their incomes from investments had reduced. Pensioners’ benefits should not be means tested, he continued, and the introduction of a wealth tax would reduce the incentive for people to save for their retirement. Labour MP Frank Field said that a new contract with voters was required to demonstrate the cost of future spending. The welfare state should be funded by contributions, he continued, and this might solve the larger fiscal problem. Mr Field thought that benefits should be limited by age, rather than being means tested.

 

Children’s services

The Times reports that the number of adoptions jumped by 12% last year, with 3,450 children in care finding permanent new families. The figures released by the Department for Education show that “sweeping reforms to the system” which had been “gripped by bureaucracy and inertia” were already bearing fruit.

To read LGC’s report on how the figures show the growing number of children taken into care, click here.

Meanwhile, MPs have summoned a chief constable to explain his force’s apparent failings during a ten-year child-sex scandal exposed by The Times. David Crompton, of South Yorkshire Police, will appear before the Commons home affairs select committee to face questions about the extensive use and sale for sex of young teenage girls by organised networks of men. Confidential documents revealed that for more than ten years police and social services held detailed knowledge about numerous victims and offenders in the town of Rotherham. Rarely was effective action taken to protect children. Keith Vaz, the select committee chairman, said the paper’s revelations “suggest an unwillingness to get to the bottom of what appears to be a pattern of offending which has developed over years and which no one has wanted to challenge. Agencies and organisations with a duty to protect these young girls were allegedly not doing what is expected of them. I shall be asking the Chief Constable what action he is taking to ensure these people are brought to justice”.

   

Social care

The UK’s economy is losing more than £5bn a year as a result of a growing crisis in social care funding, aggravated by the government’s austerity measures, writes the Independent. The paper says that people are giving up £4bn in pay because they are being forced to leave work to care for elderly or disabled relative, and the Treasury is losing a further £1bn of taxes they otherwise would have paid. The extent of the losses to the economy was disclosed in a report from Age UK and Carers UK, building on work by the London School of Economics.

The Independent reports that Hillingdon LBC has threatened to withdraw a family’s housing benefit shortly after the council was forced to pay out damages to a father after his autistic son was illegally removed from his care. Linda Sanders, Hillingdon’s director of social care, health and housing, said the change in housing benefit was “in no way” related to the high profile court case.

 

Finance

In a column in the Guardian, Simon Jenkins writes that introducing a “mansion” band to council tax bands would be “fair and effective” but that the Liberal Democrats do not “go for it” because they have “no guts.”

 

Alcohol

The Guardian reports on a co-ordinated campaign in Ipswich to stop the sale of “super-strength” alcohol. It says the ‘Reducing the Strength’ campaign is backed by NHS Suffolk, Suffolk police, Ipswich BC and Suffolk CC and is “believed to be the first of its kind in Britain.”

 

Education

Schools caught up in the GCSE grade-fixing scandal have been told resits will not be included in the official exam performance league tables due out next year, the Independent reports.

The Independent says education secretary Michael Gove is set to annoy many after he appointed a controversial professor as adviser who rubbished regeneration and economic policies outside of the south of England. Dr Tim Leunig, who will now assist Mr Gove in his reforms of the education system, was co-author of a 2008 report which appeared to suggest abandoning cities such as Liverpool, Bradford, Sunderland and Hull to permanent economic decline.

 

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