I find myself unhappy to have to say that, during the past few weeks, I have seen and come across some of the most ignorant and gullible people I have ever met.
Now, I don’t blame them, for want of a better word. After all, we are all only human and I can understand that, if one has little or no experience in something, then there’s going to be naivety, ill-considered opinions, poor judgement and mistakes made due to inexperience.
However, this goes beyond that. It even goes beyond poor character or blinkered vision.
So, what am I talking about?
Well, a few things, actually, but that share a common thread.
First of all there has been David Cameron. He has simply demonstrated such blissful ignorance when it comes to the details of various policies. It is the Government’s lack of insight, consideration and experience that has led to so many so-called U-turns.
Then, there is Coulson. This is yet a further example of Mr Cameron’s poor judgement. He cannot have it both ways; if he was aware, he showed poor character; if he was not, it was poor judgement. The lack of adequate checks also showed gaping holes; he is building quite a history of avoidable mistakes.
When it comes to Government policy details, he simply seems uninterested. But people should be more aware of the details; the Devil is most certainly in the details.
Secondly, I’ll move on to how groups like long-term or severely disabled people living on benefits are now viewed by many people. For the purpose of this blog post, I am sticking to the people who I have met face-to-face personally, despite this being more pervasive on the internet: on social media websites, web forums, chat rooms etc
As an example, I’ve met three people in the past ten days who are convinced that the majority of disabled people claiming benefits are receiving well over £20,000 per annum.
This is simply not true. It is simply not the case.
Of course, we know why they now think like this; we know why they have a figure in their heads; we know why they are now forming opinions such as those I have heard very recently.
The Government, its Press Office and the Media seem to have gone out of their way to highlight and showcase the extreme and untypical cases, where people have been in receipt of the highest levels of benefit.
This has been both misrepresentative and bias on the part of the Government and Media. One can recognize that a Government, in wanting to push through cuts, caps and changes, would obviously want to draw attention to the cheats, scroungers, workshy and those getting perhaps more than they are entitled; it would be paramount in gaining public support.
However, I find it inexcusable that the Media has gone along with this consistently but has failed to be impartial and objective. Not only are the featured cases exceptional, but in many cases some of the facts have been misreported, exaggerated or omitted.
This coverage has flavoured and discoloured many people’s opinions and views. Their views are now based on a bogus premise and their judgement clouded by hyperbole and tall talk.
The most recent example is demonstrated in this news story – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14280849 – which claims that ‘Only 7% of people claiming sickness benefits were unable to do any sort of work, new figures have shown.’
Anyone who thinks that it is possible that only 7% were unable to do any sort of work is clearly unbalanced. Just consider that figure: 7%. 7% is an incredibly low figure and is simply not feasible. Yet, because it is reported in the media, many people will simply believe this, without considering, for example, whether the criteria or tests used were reasonable, fair, comprehensive and medically sound.
When dramatic figures like that are flaunted around, one really has to question the maths and statistics. In turn, it makes the procedures and protocols that the Government and companies use look unreliable and suspect.
My own feeling is that the Government and such companies are very underhand, and I suspect that it is high on their remit to bring these figures down by whatever means necessary.
This is reflected by what disabled people report and by their own experiences.
A recent article also discussed attempted suicides – http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/31/incapacity-benefit-cuts-mental-health
The probability of their being a 93% discrepancy in these figures is laughable. I just hope people realize this and are not taken in by the fact it has been reported from official sources and the likes of the BBC.
Let us not forget that during the 80’s and 90’s, unemployment figures were regularly massaged. But discounting people on training courses from those actively seeking work is very different from putting disabled people in danger by forcing them to try to get work they are incapable of doing.
I would ask how a person with no experience of a rare or very changeable disorder or disability can make an accurate and comprehensive assessment of a person’s ability to work?
There are a countless aspects to disabilities that can be individual and subjective, not least of which is that some conditions and disabilities vary extremely from hour to hour or day-to-day.
I would also point out – something which the Government avoids – that if disabled people are moved from, say, Incapacity Benefit to Jobseeker’s Allowance, that this does not reduce the benefit bill. Far from it, it merely transfers the cost to a different budget; it’s still raining, just a different umbrella.
This is a significant point, as there has been a silent suggestion planted into people’s minds by the Government; that if people are no longer receiving Incapacity Benefit, that they will somehow, mysteriously, suddenly be working.
This is hogwash but serves as another example of how some people are easily mislead by the Government.
The reality is that people will not suddenly find work and will simply face an awful experience as a Jobseeker; they will find very hard to deal with Jobcentres and many will see their health deteriorate.
The bottom line, though, is that this policy costs huge sums to implement but does little to reduce the benefit bill; it merely transfers people from one budget to another.
The ignorance and malice flowing through the core of all this is staggering.
This brings me on to my next observation.
In our modern, globalised world, it still surprises me the number of people I meet that seem to have a very limited vista. To me, many people must inhabit another planet because, when they talk to me and I hear their views, it feels like they are talking about a different world completely.
I feel that many people are guilty of living in their own little ‘virtual world’.
Interestingly (at least I think), when it’s a dead-end job or something seen as one of the ‘downs’ of the ups and downs in life, people often refer to their situation as being ‘stuck in a rut’.
Yet, when times are good – when it’s an ‘up’ – many people seem quite happy to potter around in their virtual world, without a thought beyond their personal circumstances or those of their nearest and dearest.
Now, of course, we all take care of ourselves and our own first (or try to); we all, in general, want the best for our children, families and friends. This is not the point I mean.
I believe that many people (and maybe society) have lost their sense of community in many areas.
I also believe that we do not value people as we once did. I don’t see that spirit of watching out for one’s fellow-man/woman. I don’t see that once common streak of humanity and resolve that got people through World War II. I don’t see the concern that we should care for our most vulnerable first or that the needs of the vulnerable should come before personal gain.
There are many, often simple, aspects of life that people find hard to truly grasp, often because they have no personal exposure. (So why do people form opinions about things they know nothing about!??)
For example, many severe and long-term disabled people living on benefits face utility bills two or three times that of what they would pay otherwise. Yet, they receive no benefits or support to pay for these extra costs.
The bills can be higher for many reasons, including being at home when they would otherwise be at work and thus having to use more energy at home; but for the fact they are disabled, these extra costs would not exist.
For some people, equipment, due to a person’s illness, condition or disability is needed at home, which uses extra electricity.
In addition, heating often needs to be on all the time during winter, as many disabled people are very susceptible to cold weather. Some are also susceptible to extreme heat too and as a result extra cooling is necessary during summertime and on very hot days.
Personally, I know people who have a financial shortfall, because of this, each month of £60-£100.
These people have no way to make up that hole; they cannot get extra hours, a second job or do something to improve their job prospects, as they simply are unable to work.
This is a real and growing problem. Some utility companies have had or do have schemes to help people to a degree. However, some companies have stopped this help. This is perhaps, in part, due to the fact that the help in many cases is nowhere near enough or has only been a temporary, part solution, where a full and continuous solution is required.
There are huge economic problems that will not go away or be resolved even when the nation’s borrowing deficit has been reduced and if/when the economy shows more sustainable growth.
One is that, in the UK, the gap between the most wealthy and the poorest is colossal. Such financial disparity in one nation makes living with each other very difficult on so many levels. This can be especially cruel to children and disastrous for the prospects of future generations at the lower end of the spectrum.
The second is that many people seem to have been fooled into thinking that it’s all about low wage levels and the national minimum wage (NMW).
The problem is not the NMW but the cost of living and the chasm between what people on the lowest incomes have and can afford to pay. The fact is that the cost of living is simply beyond the means of people on very low incomes.
I have personally known people who have taken out loans or money on their credit card in order just to pay Council Tax (as they would rather owe them than owe Council Tax). This is also evidenced by all the short-term, pay-day loan companies that are now around and advertising on television (not to mention their APR rates). These schemes, whilst useful, are not a long-term solution. They are also not available to everyone – for example, people living on benefits and those with bad credit. However, disabled people who cannot work on long-term benefits often face much higher utility bills with no assistance available to help pay.
This is evidence that people cannot meet their most essential financial commitments on low pay. This problem is likely to get much worse unless it is addressed. However, Governments are avoiding this, instead offering unreliable figures (often based on manipulated data) and empty promises of their concern and help.
I would ask, do you really believe that someone in Government, earning 64k+ per annum + expenses + other income, truly gives a tuppenny damn about you!?
They may say they care – but that’s easy – anyone can say that! In reality, their words are cheap and feckless.
The facts are that we live in a Capitalist country; our national economy and finances are based upon Capitalism and the competitive, free market.
This means, basically, that if you want to earn more, it is down to you, the individual, to improve your position in the job market, either by doing more hours, taking a second job, improving your skills and qualifications to have better prospects or get a better paid job – or possibly starting a business of your own.
So, in reality, whatever MPs and ministers might say, their showing of concern for the low-paid and NMW is somewhat insulting, far from benevolent and quite hypocritical.
Of course, as an individual, you are not forced to do this if you do not choose to (or cannot be bothered). However, the onus, in a competitive free market, is on you.
But there’s a problem – and anyone who has had the misfortune to be unemployed for a long period, or made redundant after many years of working in one job or for one company, will know this.
First of all, if you have come from a well-paid job, you somehow have to go from earning, for example, £37k per annum to living on £67.50 per week. I think the gap in the figures speak for themselves and are self-evident. I think upon seeing those figures, people can work out the major financial problems and knock-on effect, not least of which can be huge debt.
Secondly, if you want to get on a training course to retrain to do something, it’s simply not possible in many areas. This is usually because there is no funding for such training but it can also be that there is no appropriate training in that area.
I spoke with a friend who runs a company a few weeks ago and he echoed many people’s thoughts on this.
The training that is often available to ‘Jobseekers’ is frequently poor quality and always very limited.
Many people and companies believe that, whilst essential, basic training and education courses (which are designed to help people with basic literacy, numeracy and ICT) are vital, they are also used to manipulate figures. In other words, one, technically, cannot be counted as a ‘Jobseeker’ if you are on a training course. I am not sure about this, personally, although when I have asked questions on this, I have had vague replies from various agency staff.
We obviously need such courses. However, as my friend agreed, this is not enough alone for that person to be considered a viable candidate or competitive. Moreover, these qualities and skills are fast becoming basic prerequisites for new jobs.
Over and above that, just to be considered for jobs, people need experience and job exposure; they need, in many jobs, a specific level of education; they need, in some jobs, professional qualifications or accreditation. Furthermore, they need to demonstrate self-motivation, self-confidence, reliability, good communication skills and the ability to work with other people.
The job market is a competitive free market and everyone has to sell themselves.
This is where there is an immense void.
The Government’s bombast has left many people thinking or saying that people should just ‘go out and get a job’, as if there are jobs for everyone and that this is something one can get as easily as a tin of soup from the local supermarket.
This is nonsense. Just on this point, one set of local Jobcentre figures showed over 20,000 Jobseekers but only around 400 jobs that month. This ratio is not uncommon and the fact is, even if the number was 4000 jobs and they somehow all got filled, that still leaves 16,000! If you think about it, 4000 jobs sounds a lot; it’s a high number. Given this, it’s very hard to see how David Cameron’s words about ‘the jobs are out there’ bears any likeness to the real world.
In certain sectors, such as bar work, rates have been driven down by an influx of immigrants who have been happy to work for the lowest wages. However, as people from overseas get used to personal UK expenditure levels, they are now beginning to see that they cannot afford to live on such wages.
My friend told me of how, when we last recruited for a vacancy, the company received over 150 applications – for one job. So, people are applying for jobs.
However, he went on to tell me that they could only consider people with appropriate qualifications and training, relevant experience, a good work history and good references. He said that, as a business we can simply no longer afford to train people from the ground up and that, with so many applicants, they have choice from which to pick the best candidate for the job, even if it means paying a bit more in terms of a wage or salary.
He has been surprised for some time that so many of the applicants met that criteria – and many, of course, were already in work and simply looking to change job.
Over 40 people met the company’s criteria and it was, apparently, a time-consuming and difficult process getting that down to a final shortlist of five.
However, none of this should not be surprising, if one considers the number of graduates and experienced people who are out of work.
For people, though, who have been unemployed for a long time (for whatever reasons) or that have been made redundant later on in their career, especially in areas of work that are not so in demand nowadays, for these people, it can be very hard to even get into that ‘circle’ where they can compete.
This is where one of the biggest problems lies. We must invest in appropriate and relevant training if we ever want to really get the unemployment figures down. If we want a modern approach that is sustainable and imbued with longevity, then we need a system that empowers people and moves with the times.
There is a financial cost here for which, at least initially, the country must recognize and pay.
If ‘taxpayers’ really want to see unemployment figures and the cost of Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support to come down and also profess to support keeping things that way, then they must accept the country has to invest in quality training schemes that are appropriate and relevant to modern business and industry.
It is vital to remember that there are people trying to get work but that, if they are never really on a level playing field because they lack modern skills or relevant training, then life can get very frustrating and depressing. People like this should not be made to feel bad or demonized by the Government and Media polluting people’s opinions.
As an example, the local Jobcentre has over 1,500 people in June that were refused training as a result of no funding and a lack of courses. How must each of those people feel? They are trying their best, doing what they can with very limited resources; it really is kicking a person whilst they are down.
I have two specific examples and I am hoping to post links to blogs that they intend to write in the near future.
One person local to me wishes to retrain as a software developer/programmer. He was made redundant twice in 15 years. The first time around, the skills in his trade were no longer needed by his employer, and a few people were made redundant. On the second occasion, the company was facing financial problems due to a downturn in sales, mostly attributed to the economy. So, he’s worked hard all this life, paid his taxes and done nothing wrong himself.
He has been approaching companies for over 18 months. He was told that, without relevant qualifications, training, skills or experience, he would find it very hard to get a job in the industry, as it is a saturated market and heavily competitive, with graduates and experienced applicants from within the UK and overseas. This is not unlike many other sectors.
He has tried to get funding for courses and training but has had no success. He did take GCSEs at a local college, gaining 7, As & Bs. However, there are no relevant ‘A’ levels or vocational courses at the college (and he was told there is no funding for them anyway!)
A number of companies have told him that if he can gain some further education or training and demonstrate relevant skills, he may be able to get a ‘Junior Programmer’ role or work placement. However, he has no money to purchase a computer and has struggled to find a way to raise the cash, as he himself has a £50 shortfall on his monthly outgoings. With recent changes to the Housing Benefit caps, on his new flat, this has now risen to £75 per month shortfall.
As a tangential question, how are people supposed to concentrate on trying to find work, improve their chances, concentrate on any training, learn new skills, apply for jobs and attend interview when they have to deal with such basic survival problems daily? At the moment people are more concerned with trying to minimize or deal with debt that is being forced upon them and keep a roof over their heads.
Some companies he has seen have been forthcoming and flexible in trying to help but the onus is still on the applicant to get some skills, training or qualifications; applicants need to be competitive and employers need some way of seeing and even measuring this.
With the advised required training that has been suggested by several companies, the total cost for his training just to make him have a competitive chance is thousands and thousands of pounds.
This is money he does not have and has no means to get or make. This is where the right kind of training programmes would make a massive difference. The key is to empower people – to enable them to be competitive.
It is the old phrase – ‘I don’t want a handout – I want a hand up.’ Everybody is different and some people need a little more help than others in order to flourish. After all, we are all human and have different circumstances.
So some might need just help up one rung of the ladder; for others they might need help up a couple. The problem at the moment is that, for many people, there simply is no ladder.
The money has to come from the Government, though there is also scope for the private sector to do more. However, the Government, I think on balance, has to take the lead.
One needs to remember that just getting training does not equal or mean a person is guaranteed of getting a job; that is how difficult the marketplace can be. However, it does give people a real chance by empowering them and allowing them to actually stand in contention for jobs against other applicants.
This can be applied in many areas of work – how would someone on £67 per week fund cross-training to work in engineering, aviation, finance – or become a doctor or teacher? (You need higher qualifications as prerequisite for many of these.) It is also very hard to start a business of your own these days, even when one has savings or some investment.
It is far easier to get another job when already in work than it is to when you are not. ‘Taxpayers’, as David Cameron seems to pander to, must remember that prospective employees must be employable – something which is far more than just ‘showing willing’, which is what many people seem to believe (wrongly) is the problem.
Insofar as tackling those that are lazy and ‘workshy’, cutting benefits will not work. It leads to homelessness and health problems, which puts a massive strain on the nation’s support systems and NHS. In turn, this costs significantly more.
In the 80’s & 90’s, we had a culture of families growing up in Bed & Breakfasts due to lack of available housing and benefit rates that did not come close to market prices.
This ended up costing the country billions in the medium-term, thanks to costs of all the knock-on effects. For example, both children’s health and education suffered, which put extra strain on the NHS. Many people also believe this was a significant factor in the culture of families who have 2 or 3 generations growing up and living on benefits.
If we go back to that, we will again be responsible for cultivating the same dreadful and very costly outcome for our children and future generations. This was a lesson learned and accepted, so why do it again?
This is happening again. The Government’s changes to Housing Benefit cap levels are forcing people and families into B&Bs, as their Housing Benefit is no longer enough to pay for a home. It is also forcing people and families out of areas where they have always lived; away from family and friends.
There are three areas where is going to be very costly. Firstly, our children shall suffer; having to leave their schools, their friends, their relatives. Children, parents and grandparents alike will be devastated. This is just inhumane and parents often depend on local support (e.g. child minder, grandparents, family) for temporary, part-time or full-time work.
Secondly, disabled people and long-term ill people who depend and need support from local friends, family, services and carers will suffer greatly. Many move into areas where carers are available – what will they do? The knock on costs here could much more severe than merely financial.
Thirdly, if people or families are forced to move further out-of-town, their job prospects will suffer as living further afield from a potential employer is not an advantage and there are transportation costs to consider for interviews, for example. If any of these costs are met by the taxpayer – either through a person being unemployed longer than they might be otherwise or because of transport costs – then the costs will far outweigh the savings.
Some people would argue that moving people into areas that are cheaper to live, where it is harder to get work, will significantly increase the burden to the state. Certainly, if one is a scrounger and lazy, the Government has just gifted them a justifiable excuse.
There are, undoubtedly, people who would spend all efforts to not work. I think it would be silly and unrealistic to consider that any Government could stop this totally.
However, I feel there is also an underclass of people who feel let down and betrayed by the country and Government. Whilst I do see similar things in some other countries, what I am referring to, I think, is UK-specific.
Children that have grown up in the UK under poverty can end up leading comparatively polarized lives, of equally contrasting quality. Of course, on the full-scale, there’s always the ‘ones in between’; but, by and large, they are the ones who can manage, that do okay and survive and thus are not the priority group that need the most help.
Some find something within themselves and go on to great things, starting from nothing, from scratch, all on their own merit. To those people, you have my greatest admiration; to overcome adversity and poverty is a truly admirable and deserving achievement.
However, for many others, there is often no way out of poverty. In situations where there is very bad poverty, parental neglect, growing up with crime and street gangs, health problems, drugs, disabilities – in these situations, the people and families need more help and support, especially from local family, friends, services etc. They need it now more than ever, at a time when the Government is trying to take from those that have the least.
In these situations, people are already at their lowest. They will have very low self-esteem, little self-respect and little self-confidence. Some may suffer from depression and related conditions. This is just wrong; children should not have to suffer from depression because of this.
In some situations, where there is a disabled parent, a child may have to take on some carer responsibilities. This is not unusual but in the face of a deluge of other problems, children cannot be expected to cope with so much.
We cannot go on pretending to be unaware or with blatant disregard; we should not abide the avaricious and grin and bear it. There comes a point when leaving it to someone else befalls upon you.
We must make changes to how we live our lives for the sake of our children and future generations. The events around the world and in various economies are indicators that this is overdue. We, nowadays, trade across the world in a global village, yet still maintain disparate national economies. I believe this to be a paradox; as the world becomes more integrated through technology and entwined with international trade, so our own economies become can be more influenced and shaped.
We need to narrow the gap between the richest and poorest, between the bloated and the broke. We must begin to start building bridges – not just here but between the working and the workless; between organisations and the out-of-work. We must strive to build bridges that bring disabled people closer to independence; bridges that bring wealth creation and wealth distribution together.
We must also make training, education and learning something we accept as a positive thing that is ongoing and done to better ourselves, not just our work prospects. In the modern world, it is part of life that no longer just restricted to school, college or university.
There are many areas where such bridges need building; we need ties and relationships to bring people (and businesses) closer together and prevent these gaps widening further and fragmenting. It is because people are so far removed from others that we can find such ill-feeling so quickly against others; for example, against the poorest, disabled people and people existing on benefits.
These transitions require huge changes in our attitudes – not just as UK citizens but as people. This is but the tip of the iceberg. However, these are changes, I feel, that are going to be necessary for the future economy of our children’s generation to stand a chance of success.