Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...
Chancellor George Osborne has hit back at critics of the Government’s controversial welfare reforms, accusing them of talking “ill-informed rubbish”. In the face of growing pressure from churches, charities and opposition parties, Mr Osborne said suggestions the changes marked the end of the welfare state were “shrill, headline-seeking nonsense”. Speaking at a supermarket distribution centre in Kent, the chancellor warned critics they were “out of touch” with ordinary families whose taxes paid for the benefits system. Labour, however, said millions of low and middle-income families were now paying the price for the failure of the Government’s economic policies. Mr Osborne insisted he was “proud” of the action the Government was taking to inject “common sense” into the system and control the ballooning welfare budget. “Those who campaign against a cap on benefits for families who aren’t working are completely out of touch with how the millions of working families, who pay the taxes to fund these benefits, feel about this,” he said. “With all our welfare changes, we’re simply asking people on benefits to make some of the same choices working families have to make every day.” The chancellor added: “In recent days we have heard a lot of, frankly, ill-informed rubbish about these welfare reforms. Some have said it’s the end of the welfare state. “That is shrill, headline-seeking nonsense. I will tell you what is true. Taxpayers don’t think the welfare state works properly any more.” His speech came as a raft of changes was coming into force including the so-called bedroom tax. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the average family was now £891 a year worse off as a result of the tax and benefit changes made by the coalition since it came to power in 2010, according to figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies. He said: “The benefits bill is rising under this Government because our economy is flatlining, inflation is rising and unemployment is high. The best way to get the benefits bill down is to get our economy growing strongly and get people back to work.”
Labour has “abandoned any pretence of being a party of social justice” after most of its MPs failed to oppose Conservative welfare reforms, the SNP has claimed. Although 48 rebels have defied the party leadership to vote against the Government's welfare reforms, including leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn, most followed Harriet Harman’s demand to abstain in the Commons second reading vote on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Two other of the leadership hopefuls Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper fell into line despite both criticising Ms Harman over the plan. A reasoned amendment outlining concerns about the Welfare Reform and Work Bill tabled by Ms Harman was defeated 308 to 208, majority 100. SNP employment spokeswoman Hannah Bardell said: “The Tories’ cruel welfare cuts damage the working poor and vulnerable people, and had to be opposed. “Labour had the perfect opportunity to join the SNP in a progressive coalition to oppose the Tories - but with some honourable exceptions they sat on their hands. “This disgraceful stance will haunt Labour through next year’s Scottish Parliament election and far beyond. Labour have completely abandoned any pretence of being a party of social justice and progress.” Ms Bardell described the Bill as "Dickensian", warning it would hit working families as well as children and vulnerable people. Ms Harman has insisted her party should not oppose the plans - which cut tax credits, reduce the welfare cap and introduce a "national living wage" - outright because it will not be heard on the issues it has a particular problem with. In senior Labour circles, there was relief that no shadow ministers had joined the revolt, but the Tories said it showed the Opposition had not learned from their general election defeat. Mr Burnham meanwhile made clear that he could continue to lead the fight against the Government's plans if he gained the leadership. A Labour Party spokesman sought to play down the rebellion insisting that it was "no big surprise". "Harriet was clear in the position - that we would abstain - and the majority of Labour MPs did so. However, we always knew that there would be a certain number of people who took a different view," the spokesman said. However Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said that with around a fifth of the parliamentary party voting against the reforms, it was clear Labour had not changed. "Nearly 50 Labour MPs have defied their leadership and opposed our welfare reforms which will move our country from a low wage, high tax and high welfare economy to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare society," he said. "It's clear that Labour are still the same old anti-worker party - just offering more welfare, more borrowing and more taxes." Ms Harman had hoped to use the issue to show that the party had listened to voters' concerns about the high cost of welfare to the taxpayer, but the more triggered a furious reaction across the party. Earlier Mr Burnham issued a letter to Labour MPs explaining why he had decided to vote with the leadership after Ms Harman tabled a "reasoned amendment" which would have denied the Bill a second reading, although he remained deeply unhappy with the legislation. An amendment tabled by Labour former minister Helen Goodman was not selected for debate and vote despite being signed by more than 50 backbenchers. Rebel ringleader Ms Goodman warned the Bill was "obnoxious" and "regressive", highlighting a future limit on tax credits to two children per household as a key failing.
A health boss in Fife has suggested the Scottish Government reverses Tory welfare cuts amid evidence the country is losing its fight against child poverty. Dr Margaret Hannah, director of public health at NHS Fife, said that progress has “levelled off” and there is now the prospect of relative poverty “getting worse again”. Giving evidence to Holyrood’s social security committee, she linked that trend with welfare reforms. “We know there have been a lot of changes in welfare and tax credit reforms etc,” she told MSPs. “I mean the extent to which those can be reversed is a political decision.” On child benefit, she added: “It seems a fairly obvious measure, but if you could add to the child benefit level - and it’s been stated in one of the responses to your consultation - £5 a week that would lift 30,000 children out of poverty a year. “So there are some simple things that can be done around fiscal measures, benefit measures.” Senior Dundee and Fife council officers and NHS directors were giving evidence on the child poverty bill, which is making its way through Holyrood. The bill introduces targets enshrined in law as part of a bid to tackle child poverty. The Conservatives - and Scottish leader Ruth Davidson - have come under fresh criticism in recent weeks for their two-child tax credit cap, which incorporates the so-called rape clause. Ministers in Scotland now have control over about 15% of welfare and have the power to create new benefits or top-up existing ones. There are 35,323 youngsters growing up poor in Tayside and Fife, according to End Child Poverty figures, with Dundee having the worst poverty rate of the four local authorities.
The Government's so-called "bedroom tax" is a "shocking" policy in need of being scrapped, an international investigator has said. A United Nations official charged with examining the policy introduced earlier this year to reduce the number of social tenants under-occupying their accommodation said anecdotal evidence during her fact-finding visit to Britain has raised concerns about the happiness of those affected by the welfare reform measure. Raquel Rolnik a United Nations ‘special rapporteur on adequate housing’ said Britain was failing to provide sufficient quantities of affordable social housing. She said: "My immediate recommendation is that the bedroom tax is abolished. I was very shocked to hear how many people feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why being so vulnerable they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis." Under the Government's welfare reform, social tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit reduced since April. Ministers say it tackles an unfair "spare room subsidy" not available to private-sector renters and suggest it will save around £500 million annually as part of the deficit-reduction strategy. But it has sparked protests across the country with critics claiming it is forcing families into poverty and will increase the benefit bill by pushing people into the private sector. This week, The Courier revealed how the policy could be undermined after people in Fife successfully appealed against cuts in their benefit when a QC ruled some rooms were too small to be classed as bedrooms. Ms Rolnik's unprecedented visit at the invitation of the Government has taken in trips to London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester where she has spoken to people on housing estates and at food banks. She said some tenants were contemplating suicide due to the changes, adding that the bedroom tax could constitute a breach of human rights laws. Ms Rolnik's final report will be presented in Geneva to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014.
Chancellor George Osborne has linked the case of child killer Mick Philpott to the need for reform of the benefits system, questioning why taxpayers were funding "lifestyles like that". Mr Osborne, who has been leading the Government's defence of its sweeping welfare changes, stressed that Philpott was responsible for his "absolutely horrendous" crimes. But he said there was a "question for government and for society" about the benefits that allowed Philpott to live the way he did. Philpott, who was jailed for life with a minimum term of 15 years for killing six of his children, lived in a council house in Derby, claimed thousands of pounds in benefit and refused to get a job. When asked on a visit to Derby if the Philpotts were a product of Britain's benefit system, Mr Osborne said: "Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes, these are crimes that have shocked the nation. The courts are responsible for sentencing. "But I think there is a question for government and for society about the welfare state, and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state, subsidising lifestyles like that. And I think that debate needs to be had." Critics have attacked the Government's wholesale changes to the welfare system which enter into force this month. Earlier this week the Chancellor hit back at opponents of the changes, accusing them of talking "ill-informed rubbish". In the face of growing pressure from churches, charities and opposition parties, Mr Osborne said suggestions the changes marked the end of the welfare state were "shrill, headline-seeking nonsense". With the Government keen to reduce the welfare bill a raft of changes are being introduced this month, including an average £14-a-week cut in housing benefit for council tenants deemed to have a spare room - dubbed the "bedroom tax" by opponents. Wider welfare and tax changes will also see council tax benefit funding cut, and working-age benefits and tax credit rises pegged at 1% - well below inflation - for three years. Disability living allowance (DLA) is being replaced by the personal independence payment (PIP), while trials are due to begin in four London boroughs of a £500-a-week cap on household benefits, and of the new Universal Credit system.
The SNP hopes to use its "magical omnipotent power" to defeat the Government's welfare reforms after becoming the "saviours of the English foxes". Pete Wishart said he hoped he could ensure the "callous" Welfare Reform and Work Bill "miraculously disappears" simply by announcing the SNP intends to vote on it, in the wake of the Government's retreat on fox hunting changes. The SNP's Commons leader also urged Labour to help his party stop the welfare measures announced in the Budget, which included limiting tax credits to two children and a further reduction in the benefit cap. Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman has called for her party not to oppose all of the planned welfare cuts, which has triggered 40 MPs to table a Commons amendment aiming to scupper the entire package. Speaking during business questions, Mr Wishart told Commons Leader Chris Grayling: "It seems like there's an almost magical omnipotent power to the Scottish National Party just now. "As soon as we announced our intention to exercise our democratic rights in this House and vote on a measure announced in the business statement it miraculously disappears. "Such is this omnipotence that we're seemingly credited for the election result in England, the near-death of the Liberal Democrats, the crisis in the Labour Party and now we're the saviours of the English foxes. "Now I'm going to try my arm and see if I can test this omnipotence a little bit further because I'm going to announce to you today that the Scottish National Party fully intends to vote on the Welfare Reform Bill. "Let's see if we can get that to miraculously disappear and we could do a job for the poor, the most marginal and vulnerable in society and protect them from this callous Bill that the Tories intend to bring forward. "We can't leave it to the Labour Party, we just can't - I have no idea what they're going to do on Monday and I hope they join us in the lobby and vote against this callous Bill but I have my doubts when I look round at my honourable colleagues in the Labour Party. "I just hope they do the right thing." He also wished Mr Grayling an enjoyable break during the summer recess, adding: "But come back, drop your (English votes for English laws) plans and I'm sure we'll get on just famously." Mr Grayling replied: "Maybe over the summer, as you relax on the beach, wherever you are, you might consider whether you really want to pursue the policy of reversing of what you rightly said to the McKay Commission when you give evidence to it, about the need for the Scottish National Party to stay outside matters that don't affect them. "It's been a policy of principle for your party over many years and I think it's a shame you have walked away from the principle. "If anybody is U-turning at the moment, it's you. You are a man of principle, I'm sure you will reflect again and perhaps take a different approach in the future." On the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, Mr Grayling disagreed with the SNP and said it would deliver measures for working people. He said he believed it attracted the support of workers in Scotland who want to "see a welfare system that is fair", particularly from those who pay for it.
A video guide has been released to help Fifers get to grips with welfare reform. Launched by Fife Council, the video is aimed at supporting those who claim benefits through the widespread changes to be introduced in April. It explains all the main changes in simple terms, including what is going to happen to housing benefit, council tax benefit and disability living allowance. It also explains the new benefits cap and universal credit, which means all benefits will be paid to one person in the household in a single monthly payment. According to the UK Government, the shake-up is necessary to help people move into work and protect the most vulnerable. However, the changes have proved controversial. https://www.youtube.com/embed/Cn-ZssCEaiU?rel=0 Concerns include the impact of the so-called “bedroom tax” on disabled and vulnerable social tenants, and the potential for housing associations to see an increase in rent arrears. Around 40,000 people in Fife are receiving benefits. The council believes welfare reform could see up to £40 million lost from the local economy. Depute council leader David Ross said: “Welfare reform will affect around one in six working-age people in Fife, but, unfortunately, because the changes are so wide-ranging and complex, many of those people don’t know they will be affected, or are confused about what it means for them. “As a council, we want to support them through the reforms, so we’ve created this video to simplify the changes and help people understand how they might be affected. “This video is just one of a number of ways we’re supporting people. We will also have a welfare reform hotline up and running shortly to direct people to the help they need and we will let everyone know when that is set up.” “In the meantime, if you think you will be affected and do have concerns, watch the video. And for lots more information on welfare reform, benefits and getting back to work, go to fifedirect.org.uk/welfarereform, or seek advice from your DWP welfare benefits advisor.”
Scotland's new package of powers may not be workable and could require an entirely new method of funding devolved governments, leading academics have warned. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says it is not possible to guarantee the new powers will cause no detriment to Scottish and UK budgets. A new joint paper, co-written by the University of Stirling and the Centre for Constitutional Change, said the Barnett formula that calculates Scotland's share of UK spending should be reformed. This would defy a key recommendation of the Smith Commission that Barnett should be retained - but failure to find an appropriate funding mechanism could cost Scotland a billion pounds a year, IFS said. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has refused to back the Scotland Bill unless it comes with an appropriate funding formula, a stance backed by devolution architect Lord Smith of Kelvin, who said politicians should not sign off the Bill without a working fiscal framework. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, in a report entitled A Fracturing Union? published on Friday, argues the process for determining the fiscal framework is flawed and that its design principles may not be workable and are not mutually compatible. IFS said it is not possible to satisfy all of the Smith Commission's "no detriment" principles. It also claimed that the precise way in which the remaining block grants are calculated and indexed over time could mean differences of over a billion pounds a year in the Scottish Government's budget in the space of a decade or so. If an unreformed Barnett formula remains in place it is impossible to design a system that simultaneously satisfies the Smith Commission's principles that there should be "no detriment as a result of the decision to devolve a power", and that post-devolution changes to a devolved tax in the rest of the UK should not affect the amount of public spending in Scotland, IFS said. David Bell, professor of economics at Stirling University and co-author of the report, said: "The options available for calculating the block grant adjustments and other elements of the fiscal framework will have major effects on the Scottish Government's budget and the fiscal risks and incentives it faces. "These issues should be part of the public and parliamentary debate, as much as the tax and welfare powers set out in the Scotland Bill itself have been." David Phillips, a senior research economist at the IFS and co-author, said: "It may now be time for a more fundamental reassessment of how the devolved governments are financed: including whether the Barnett Formula should be reformed. "Reform of Barnett may remove some of the conflicts between the Smith Commission's principles that we have identified. "The Smith Commission parked these issues to one side by committing to the current Barnett formula. Making the UK's fiscal framework sustainable for the long term may require reopening the debate."
Scotland’s most deprived areas including Dundee will take the biggest financial hit from Westminster welfare reforms, according to a report published today. Research by Professor Christina Beatty and Professor Steve Fothergill, of Sheffield Hallam University, estimated the changes will take more than £1.6 billion a year out of the Scottish economy by 2014/15. That is equivalent to around £480 a year for every working age adult. Dundee is the third worst hit in the country, according to the report compiled for the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, with an average loss of £58 million per year, or £600 per working aged adult. Only Glasgow and Inverclyde will lose more money. Committee convener Michael McMahon MSP said: “We have been hearing during the past year people’s concerns about the reform and to see these numbers in black and white demonstrates just how bleak the picture is.” The research focused on adults of working age as it identified them as the group most affected by welfare reforms. Its conclusion about how much money will be lost from the economy is considerably higher than previous estimates as it takes into account changes to incapacity benefits, tax credits and child benefit. It shows that although child benefit changes affect the largest number of households, the largest financial impact is on those in receipt of incapacity benefits £500m a year and Disability Living Allowance. Overall, the impact in Scotland is roughly in line with the UK as a whole. The north of England and Wales will see bigger losses than north of the border, according to the report. Fife is expected to lose out on £30m per year, or £480 per working aged adult, with Angus £30m or £410 per head. People of working age in Perth and Kinross and Stirling can expect to be on average £380 worse off, as the local authorities lose out by £36m and £22m respectively. Professor Fothergill said: “It is important that the impact on different places is fully exposed because this is a key dimension that is too often overlooked. “The impact on different places is also one of the yardsticks by which the reforms should be judged.” A Government spokesman said:“Around nine out of ten working households will be better off by on average almost £300 a year as a result of changes to the tax and welfare system this month. Raising the personal allowance to £10,000 will have lifted 224,000 people out of income tax in Scotland since 2010. “Our welfare reforms, including reassessing people on Incapacity Benefit, will help people back into work which will benefit the economy more than simply abandoning them to claim benefits year after year. These changes are essential to keep the benefits bill sustainable, so that we can continue to support people when they need it most across the UK.”