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Benefits changes and no jobs?

Iain Duncan Smith describes welfare reform as his “mission”. But it is a mission which he is now having to pursue in the teeth of an economic blizzard blowing the other way, reports the BBC.

The problem is the lack of jobs for people to take up. A situation only likely to get worse as public sector job cuts begin to bite and more graduates come on to the labour market.

So to find out just how just tough it is to find work, I went with the work and pensions secretary on a visit to the Walthamstow Jobcentre Plus, in north-east London.

What quickly became clear was that the people here were hardly the workshy or unemployable.

Many were skilled workers, with good employment records, decent CVs and little, if any, previous experience of unemployment.

Robert, a carpenter, tells Mr Duncan Smith, that in 25 years he has never known it so difficult to find work, vacancies, he says, are often filled before he has even been able to apply for them.

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Budget meeting interrupted by protests

Demonstrators stormed the council chamber as Leeds city councillors met to thrash out a £90m cuts programme, reports the BBC.

Dozens of protesters waving placards and chanting forced the meeting at Leeds Civic Hall to be delayed by 90 minutes.

The council’s savings proposals include the cutting of 3,000 jobs as well as closing day care facilities, leisure centres and a homeless centre.

Police were called to clear the protesters from the building.

A police spokesman said: “Officers dispersed people who were in the chamber. It all passed peacefully.”

The budget proposals were approved after councillors at the Labour-run authority reconvened.

Labour councillor Richard Lewis said: “The councillors were scattered to different rooms. The police removed the protesters and after 90 minutes we met again and approved the budget.”

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More women in boardrooms

Firms have been told to more than double the number of women on their boards by 2015, or face government measures, reports the BBC.

Former minister Lord Davies of Abersoch has urged FTSE 350 companies to boost the percentage of women at the board table to 25% by 2015.

But he stopped short of imposing quotas, unless voluntary measures fail.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) said the news would be welcomed by “nervous businesses”.

Lord Davies called on chairmen to announce in the next six months their goals “to ensure that more talented and gifted women” get top jobs.

“Currently 18 FTSE 100 companies have no female directors at all and nearly half of all FTSE 250 companies do not have a woman in the boardroom,” he said.

“Radical change is needed in the mindset of the business community if we are to implement the scale of change that is needed.”

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ASDA’s bonus for all

Asda ‘s 145,000 full-time workers will share a record bonus pot of £27m in recognition of the supermarket chain’s performance in 2010, reports the BBC.

Staff will be entitled to a bonus of up to £350, although around 20,000 will receive higher amounts – so-called “super-bonuses” of £437 – for meeting internal performance targets.

The total pot is almost £1m bigger than last year.

Asda helped boost US parent Wal-Mart’s international sales by 9% last year.

The world’s biggest retailer said underlying sales were still falling in its US heartland.

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National Union of Students president to stand down

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, announced he would not be seeking re-election, reports the Telegraph.

The announcement comes after Porter has faced growing opposition from more militant sections of the student protest movement, which have called on the NUS to take a more radical stance against Government education spending cuts and increases in tuition fees.

At a recent tuition fee rally Porter had to be led to safety by police following angry scenes.

Mr Porter described recent criticism of his response to the fees protests as ”baggage” which he feared could stop the NUS from carrying out its role of representing the majority of students.

He said was ”immensely proud” of what the union has achieved this year, but that a ”fresh start” is needed.

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Shuffling coast guard jobs is a dangerous affair

Humber Coastguard is asking people to attend a public meeting over planned cuts to the service, which they fear would put lives at risk, reports the BBC.

The government’s modernisation plans include reducing the number of coastguard bases from 18 to eight and the number of jobs from 491 to 248.

Six of the centres, including Humber, which are now manned 24/7 would only be staffed during daylight hours.

Coastguards in Humber said the plans were “seriously flawed”.

Paul Chapman, of Humber Coastguard’s Watch Office, said: “We at Humber Coastguard believe that the modernisation plans are seriously flawed, and are concerned for the safety implications to the mariner and coastal user in our area of operation – the River Humber to the Scottish Border.”

The Department for Transport has said that improvements in communications and technology will enable a “more effective, efficient coastguard” to emerge.

A public consultation runs until 24 March and a meeting is being held in Bridlington at the Spa from 1900 to 2100 GMT.

The Humber Coastguard has also set up an online petition, which has more than 200 signatures.

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Welfare reforms to be announced

The government is to set out how it intends to overhaul the welfare system to try to make work pay better and to tackle the “benefit culture”. This report from the BBC.

A new “universal credit”, new sanctions for those turning down jobs and a cap on benefits paid to a single family will be among the changes outlined in a welfare reform bill on Thursday.

Current rules “encourage people to act irresponsibly”, David Cameron has said.

Labour back some changes but say help for people to find work is inadequate.

They have criticised the government’s back-to-work programme, a centrepiece of the package, saying thousands of young people are being “betrayed” at a time of record youth unemployment.

‘Better off’
Ministers will explain how they plan to reshape the welfare system to try to ensure people are better off in work than on benefits, to simplify its operation and to help people get jobs.

They say the fact that five million people of working age are on out-of-work benefits, 1.4 million of those for nearly a decade, while unemployment has become entrenched in many communities shows that the current system is not working.

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Police cuts in Hampshire

Hampshire Constabulary is to cut 160 jobs over the next year as part of budget cuts, reports the BBC.

Hampshire Police Authority met earlier to rubber-stamp proposals to save £20m over the next 12 months.

As part of the cuts, 82 police officer posts which are currently vacant will not be filled and 78 full-time backroom staff will also go.

The force’s Chief Constable Alex Marshall said front-line officers would be protected until April 2012.

The force, which employs 6,700 staff, will have a budget of about £314m for the next financial year.

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Tough love for benefit claims

American academic Lawrence Mead gives his view to the BBC on how the UK could benefit from a similar approach to that used by the US to curb benefit reliance.

Recently, I travelled to Liverpool from New York to find out whether welfare reform can succeed in the UK.

Mostly, reform means moving people who live on benefit into jobs. For decades now, governments in Britain have favoured this approach, and the current coalition government does as well.

But little progress has been made.

In Britain, the share of working-aged people who are out of work – over a quarter – is unusually high.
Close to six million people are living on benefits of one kind or another, a tenth of the whole population.

The recession may have caused the numbers of unemployed to grow, but 4.5 million people were living on out-of-work benefits even before the recession.

And the largest number of dependents, 2.6 million, claim to be disabled and are living on incapacity benefit.
Steps have been taken to move all of these groups, as well as lone parents, toward employment, yet dependency on benefits remains high.

In contrast, the US welfare reforms of the 1990s succeeded in cutting the number of people claiming welfare by over two-thirds, and in the state of Wisconsin we reduced the number by 80%.

It was tough love – if people did not work, they lost their benefits.

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Gender equality causes grief for lady golfers

The Equality Act has given women more rights in golf clubs – but many lady golfers have been left out of pocket and out of sorts, reports the Telegraph.

It was meant to put women on a par with men.

Women golfers have long faced restrictions at their local courses on what times they could play and which bars they could drink in. Often they were blocked from becoming club captain.

So when Harriet Harman introduced the Equality Act to give women more rights in work places and social settings, golf clubs were seen as ripe for reform.

But the drive by Labour’s leading feminist seems to have landed in the bunker. Many women golfers say that, following the changes, which have brought an end to men-only tee-off times at many clubs, they now have to pay more for membership.

Although the legislation was passed by Parliament just before last year’s election and came into force in October, many of its effects are only now being felt, with golf clubs forced to rewrite their own rule books.

Mrs Thirde backed the Act but admitted: “Many golf club ladies don’t want equality.

“All they feel the Equality Act does is increase their fees and allow them access to the course at weekends, which they really don’t need.

“I visit an awful lot of clubs talking about the equality issue, and they will say to you ‘women don’t want this.’ ”

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