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Firefighters on strike until 9am

Firefighters have been on the picket lines across the North East. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Firefighters across the region will remain out on strike for another two and a half hours this morning.

They walked out 9am yesterday and will return to work today at 9am.

This is the 48th round of industrial action in a continuing dispute with the government over pension reforms.

Rising funeral costs force families to bury loved ones in garden, MP warns

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck Credit: PA

Rising costs are causing people to hold DIY funerals and bury their loved ones in their back garden, MPs have heard.

South Shields Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck warned people are being forced to sell their possessions or falling into debt by taking out high-interest payday loans to fund a decent send-off for their relatives.

She pressed ministers to tackle "funeral poverty" by holding a UK-wide review of funeral service costs and to reform a Government social fund designed to help low-income households.

She also said funeral directors should also be required to let people know the price of a "simple service" to make it easier for people to choose an affordable service.

Moving a 10-minute rule motion on Funeral Services, Ms Lewell-Buck told MPs that a Royal London report suggested 100,000 of the 500,000 families bereaved each year struggle to afford the cost of a funeral.

She said the problem will get worse as the price of a service accelerates faster than inflation, with the average cost standing at £3,551.

"One woman from my area approached the Citizens Advice Bureau with unmanageable debts.

"She had been unable to get the money together to pay for a headstone for her brother's grave.

"She ended up applying for a payday loan and the cost of repaying this debt had quickly got out of control. Sadly her story is not an isolated one.

"Royal London estimates that 110,000 people are living with funeral debt, with each person owing over £1,300 on average.

"As well as rising debts, we're also seeing people turn to alternatives to the traditional funeral.

"Some are holding do it yourself funerals and even having to bury their relatives in their back garden."

– Emma Lewell-Buck MP, South Shields

Ms Lewell-Buck said the Bill she wishes to bring in has two main objectives: firstly to identify ways of reducing funeral costs by requiring the secretary of state to conduct an over-arching review of funeral affordability in the UK.

And secondly, it would take immediate steps to help hard-pressed households facing funeral poverty via specific measures to reform the funeral payments social fund system by introducing a simple funeral.

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MP calls for funeral costs review

Emma Lewell-Buck MP, South Shields Credit: PA

A Labour MP is calling for a review of the cost of funerals.

The MP for South Shields Emma Lewell-Buck says more than 100,000 families have gone into debt because they couldn't afford to pay for a relative's funeral service.

According to the insurers Royal London, the average cost of a funeral in the North East is £3,064.

She will raise the issue in the House of Commons later.

"I'm pleased to have the chance to raise this important issue in Parliament. People who have lost someone close to them have enough to deal with without worrying about getting into debt as well.

"Everyone has the right to a decent send-off, but funerals are becoming less and less affordable with each passing year."

– Emma Lewell-Buck MP, South Shields

Firefighters walk out for 48th time in pensions row

Firefighters in the North East are on strike again today in the latest round of industrial action in a long-running row with the government over pensions.

It's the 48th time members of the Fire Brigades Union will walk out since the dispute flared last year.

The 24-hour strike starts at 9am.

The union said that after three years of discussions, firefighters still faced a "stark" choice of being sacked or having their pension severely reduced.

Firefighters in Sunderland during a previous strike. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

"Firefighters in England are reluctantly calling further strike action as a direct result of the Westminster government's failure to listen and negotiate over pensions.

"Firefighters are asking the Westminster government to immediately open genuine negotiations to resolve this dispute. They should also hold a House of Commons debate to fully scrutinise the legislation and there should be a parliamentary vote on the regulations.

"We are not going to give up or go away. Firefighters will fight for however long it takes to secure a fair pensions deal. This dispute will not end as long as the regulations remain unchanged."

– Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary

"This strike action is completely unnecessary and we are disappointed by the FBU's decision, which does nothing but damage the good reputation of the fire and rescue service.

"The Government has worked hard to give firefighters one of the most generous pensions in the public sector.

"The scheme that is currently before Parliament provides greater ill-health and death benefits than the Fire Brigades Union's preferred approach and I believe that the approach we are using will be fairer on all, supporting those wishing to work longer - something absolutely essential if the firefighters' pension scheme is to remain sustainable."

– Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt

Blueprint to tackle hunger to be revealed

Leading church figures including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the former Bishop of Durham, will join politicians from across Parliament this morning to launch a blueprint to eliminate hunger

The all party parliamentary group report will set out how to eliminate hunger in Britain by 2020.

18 tonnes of food are stored at Newcastle West End Foodbank, this is only enough to last until Christmas. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The use of emergency food aid in the UK has dramatically increased over the last decade. More than 400 food banks are now in operation with around two opening every week.

Newcastle West End Foodbank helps 4000 people a month, giving out four to five tonnes of food every week. It claims to be the biggest in the country.

North East foodbank welcomes Archbishop's comments

A North East foodbank has welcomed comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has urged the Government and food industry to act to stop food poverty in Britain. The former Bishop of Durham, the Most Reverend Justin Welby was speaking the day before a parliamentary report on hunger in Britain.

Watch Julia Barthram's report with Michael Nixon of Newcastle West End Foodbank.

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Former Bishop of Durham 'shocked' over hunger in UK

The Most Rev Justin Welby Credit: PA

The Archbishop of Canterbury has revealed how he was left more shocked by the plight of Britain's hunger-stricken poor than suffering in African refugee camps.

Food is being wasted at "astonishing" levels across the UK but hunger "stalks large parts" of the country, the Most Rev Justin Welby said. Families are being forced to turn to food banks to make ends despite holding down jobs, he told The Mail on Sunday.

The Archbishop supported food banks in the North East Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Families are being forced to turn to food banks to make ends despite holding down jobs, he told The Mail on Sunday.

The Archbishop's comments come ahead of the publication on Monday of a parliamentary report he has backed that sets out a blueprint to eliminate hunger in Britain by 2020 and urges ministers and the food industry to act.

In the The Mail on Sunday article , he said, although less "serious", the plight of a family who turned to a food bank in Britain had shocked him more than terrible suffering in Africa because it was so unexpected.

Teesside march over benefit cuts

Protest march against austerity measures in Middlesbrough Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Over a hundred people have marched through Middlesbrough to protest against the Government's austerity measures.

The Teesside Solidarity Movement (TSM) and their supporters also held a rally in the town centre.

The marchers claim record numbers of people are having their benefits stopped for questionable reasons.

They say this is the start of a series of protests leading up to the General Election next May.

Middlesbrough austerity march Credit: ITV Tyne Tees
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