Energy Usage

As we near the verge of an era where fossil fuels may run out, energy companies tell us that the cost of fuel – especially gas – is likely to only go one way.

However, all governments, including the UK Government, must know and realize that the subsequent increase in bills is unsustainable because people are already unable to pay their bills.

Whilst we have heard talk over the past 20 years about the ‘classless society’ and removing barriers between people from different background, the reality is that middle England is stretched and the gap between the poorest and the middle is wider. Those with the most – millionaire and the financially independent – couldn’t be further removed from most people (99%/1%).

Families with two parents working full-time are finding it hard to make ends meet, and the presence of payday loans etc proves that, for millions of people, their earning alone are not enough.

There are global systematic economic problems, some of which have been created by the greed and corruption of people in companies, banks, government and politics. However, some come down to more fundamental flaws with our type of economics. This has a top-down effect, and we all saw how the false belief in the prosperity of the boom during the noughties led to over-inflated house prices, extortionate rents and high credit spending.

There are, though, problems that are specific to the UK. Though countries share some problems, every country is different and has its own unique financial and economic problems. In the UK, for example, we pride ourselves on our free-for-all NHS (though some might argue otherwise on that point). However, that comes at a cost and this is where the dilemma begins.

I believe that our economic system (and to a degree capitalism) is outmoded. The world has moved on and the population has sky-rocketed. We trade globally and enjoy global communication. We have the ability to send money around the globe at the click of a button and can enjoy video calls/chat with relatives in far away countries via the internet. But although our trading systems, methods and economies have modernised, the underlying foundations were never conceived for such a time.

This has lots of problems and implications but that’s not what I am actually writing about in this post.

One of the problems of Government, I find, is that it is often short-sighted. Their main horizon is their term in office – or possibly two terms. Of course, there are some issues where they have to look beyond that. But overall, this is not the case and it is a fundamental problem of government in my opinion, especially when they fail to plan for growth and sustainability

The same failure of identifying problems and the lack of foresight is occurring with energy companies. Many people in low-paid work or living on benefits (for whatever reasons) simply cannot afford to pay their energy bills. This problem is starting to grow and the energy companies should do something to tackle this now before it gets worse and puts thousands or millions of people into debt.

There is also a problem with the way in which energy is billed for certain people. For example, many severely disabled people HAVE to use more gas and electricity.

This might be because they have extra, special or medical equipment at home, have extra and significant washing to do every day. However, the main reason that many face much higher bills is that they are at home far more than if they were able to work or get out and about. That could be anything from 25-60+ hours more. This is extra usage that they HAVE to use because they are stuck in their homes. They use more because they have to, not through choice.

Now, above this obvious, such as they have to stay warm and eat, extra washing, equipment etc, I also think it would be unreasonable to suggest that someone who is severely disable should just sit at home and do nothing. If their only source of enjoyment is watching television or listening to music or surfing the web, I do not think they should not do those things for fear of a bill being higher.

Severely disabled people, like anyone with a disability, long-term illness or condition, did not choose to be that way.

In many cases I have seen with people this year, their extra usage through disability means that they face bills they simply cannot pay.

They do not get any extra financial help for paying for the extra usage – so where are they supposed to get the money from?

It cannot be right that a severely disabled person, unable to work and struggling on meagre benefits, gets a higher bill than a person earning £60,000 per annum. I have seen this myself this year, with a number of disabled friends.

There are two people I have in mind; one has a disabled daughter too. They spend most days and weeks at home, as getting out is really hard, and also have extra consumption due to some special equipment they have to have at home. They have had extra insulation fitted and have had some changes to their home that their supplier suggested.

The other chap (a now mutual friend, his wife works also) has a family. I am pleased to say they are all fit and well but they are hardly ever at home. He has more children and a much bigger home but because they do not spend as much time at home, their bills are a lot less – almost three times less.

This cannot be right.

I think energy companies need to tackle this problem head on now before prices go up more and the situation gets worse and puts disabled people into a situation where they can neither afford to pay off their debt or usage. Another billing method is needed for this group of people. It cannot be right for these companies to charge severely disabled people for extra usage they have no say in using.

If we step back and consider, what will happen in the future? When prices go up again, who is going to be hit the hardest? Who is going to feel the price increase more? Who is going to be more adversely affected? Who might be potentially put at risk?

Energy companies must have foresight and policy on this. This needs addressing by the energy companies.

 

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Examining Lessons (Not) Learnt

I was somewhat surprised to read about Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, condemning the British education system at the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Not, though, that this is unwarranted; in fact, he made some very good points that should not be forgotten or ignored.

Schmidt’s main point seemed to be on our historical record of innovation in science and engineering and how we have failed (on many occasions) to capitalise on these achievements. He makes some great points – you can see/hear his comments here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/aug/26/eric-schmidt-chairman-google-education

In his comments, he also said how he had been flabbergasted to learn that computer science was not taught as standard in UK schools, despite what he called the “fabulous initiative” in the 1980s when the BBC not only broadcast programmes for children about coding, but shipped over a million BBC Micro computers into schools and homes.

I would have to agree with his comments. I can remember this initiative and how this worked in tandem with the home computer market at the time. In that era, home computers were not just about playing games – and the internet did not even exist. Children (and parents) of that time could also learn how to write and code computer programs – all from the comfort of their homes. This was, at that time, new, fun and exciting – and the only education programme of its kind in the world.

There was significance and real inherent value of having this in schools. One not only learnt about writing computer programs but also the history of computing, which is important. As Eric Schmidt noted, the British invented computers in both concept and practice. He went on to say, “It’s not widely known, but the world’s first office computer was built in 1951 by Lyons’ chain of tea shops. Yet today, none of the world’s leading exponents in these fields are from the UK.”

The course that ran with this schools’ programme was usually a GCSE called ‘Computer Studies’. Schmidt is right; where is this course in our schools today?

This was a course where you learnt how computers worked; how the microprocessor worked; how to design software programs properly; how to analyze problems and use technical diagrams and flowcharts; how computers are used in business and industry; how they affect society and much more.

The initiative successfully brought together schools, education, television and business on a national scale. Together with Acorn Computers Ltd, over a million computers were shipped to schools and homes. The BBC Microcomputer was quite expensive to buy and Acorn reacted to this (plus due to competition from home computer rival Sinclair) by selling a ‘cut-down’ version, called the Electron. The Electron was cheaper but, significantly, came with the same computer programming language that children up and down the country were learning. This initiative was exciting, inspiring and opened otherwise locked doors for many children.

Acorn also developed the ARM processor, which was the first RISC processor available in a low-cost PC. ARM was then founded as a spin-off from Acorn and Apple, after the two companies started collaborating on the ARM processor as part of the development of Apple’s Newton computer system. The ARM processor, though, is a computer chip that is more important than most realize. Did you know : about 98% of the more than 1bn mobile phones sold each year use at least one ARM processor?

Yet, why does it feel as if the Brits have had little to do with this? Where is our global presence? Where is our stamp on this? How could we have dropped the ball?

In 2008, the 10 billionth processor chip based on ARM’s designs was shipped. This year (2011), Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, announced plans to base the next generation of Microsoft’s Windows operating system on microchips designed by ARM. Until now, Microsoft’s PC software had been based on chips designed by Intel in the U.S.

It seems that we started something great in our schools, something that grew global; yet, we failed to reap the benefits or sustain this as a British invention and export.

Schmidt also commented: “Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage,” he said.

On this, I have to agree also. The courses “these days” have such ambiguous and cryptic names, such as “ICT” – names where it is as clear as dishwater what has actually been taught and what someone who holds such a qualification knows and can do.

Of course, learning how to use common and office software (such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Access, Powerpoint etc) is also very important. I wonder, though, how deep these courses are and then, in turn, how useful an average school leaver could be to an employer. From what I have seen, I do not believe they are deep enough and should include some more advanced areas, as well as the basics. I do not think we set our sights high enough; we should raise our expectations and provide more inspiration to school pupils – that they deserve better; that they can do better and better themselves.

I completely agree with Eric Schmidt; computer science should be taught in schools by default – and that does not mean learning how to do a mail-merge in Microsoft Word or set up the most basic of databases using Microsoft Access.

Computer science is an area we used to treat as significant and influential in the education of our children and future of our nation; we must return to that position again.

It is astounding that this is not a fundamental key part of the standard curriculum. With the advent of the internet, global e-commerce, websites and social networking, it should go without saying that children are not only taught how to use software but also how it is designed and made, and how the underlying technologies work. In the very least, if not a subject taught in its own right, Computer Science should be an integral part of the Science curriculum.

Schmidt made reference to a comment made by Lord Sugar in an episode of the BBC’s The Apprentice show – Lord Sugar’s comment was something along the lines of “engineers are no good for business”.

Schmidt’s own success flies in the face of this notion. However, it does not stop there. Consider other successful businessmen who began as ‘engineers’. For example, Bill Gates. He didn’t do too badly for himself. There are many more examples.

The irony is that, whilst Lord Sugar has been successful in business, his own accomplishments in the world of computers would not have been possible but for the fact that other people, such as Bill Gates, were businessmen as well as engineers and programmers.

I do not think these irresponsible and brash comments that Lord Sugar made are helpful. Such comments are negative and do not inspire young people. In fact, it may well deter people and only adds to the negative, false assumption that, if you have a scientific or engineer’s mind, you will not be successful in business. This is rubbish and history has shown this. The reality is, we need more of these minds in business. (As I recall, Lord Sugar also contradicted himself on The Apprentice, by making such comments and then going into business with Tom, himself more an inventor/designer/engineer than natural businessman).

Currently, I feel a real sense of negativity when it comes to the education of the next generation in the UK. The current government is out-of-touch. We are in desperate need of some passion, positivity and inspiration in our education system.

I fear that many your families feel a sense of disillusionment over the future, especially for their children. We have all seen what has happened to economies around the globe and, by and large, I think we all know that in the UK, the gap between the richest and poorest is huge.

It is hard for young people to be or remain positive with the few choices many face. On the one hand, they know it is very hard (if not impossible for many) to get a good job at 16. GCSEs are simply not enough anymore for many jobs, careers or employers. Yet, many young people are now faced with the prospect of not being able to go to college to take ‘A’-levels or vocational courses, simply due to the costs.

The next dilemma after that is whether to try to go to university or look for a job at 18. It is very hard – we have seen this from the sheer number of unemployed graduates. If one does decide to go to university, there is also the huge debt; for many people, just the prospect of this debt is enough to deter them.

This is a terrible situation and does nothing to encourage children or help our children reach their potential. It also does not help in narrowing the gap between the richest and poorest. We may be excluding some of the best minds from the education they deserve, denying them the education and future to which they should be entitled.

The lack of the courses we need and the standard of education we need at GCSE and ‘A’ level both need to be addressed. We should expect and command more from the British education system. The current situation is intolerable.

There has been some talk (hardly debate, though) about recent ‘A’-level papers being diluted in comparison to older ones. It is hard for me to be certain on this – though they are obviously different because of changes over the years. However, personally, I can recall taking my ‘A’-levels and I would be lying if I said that the questions in the sample ‘A’-level paper I saw from a couple of years ago were as difficult as those in the exams I sat.

I have some serious doubts over the modular GCSE courses that pupils now sit in many schools. While the principle of breaking the subject down into modules and tackling them in units is sound, it strikes me that there is not enough time or depth given to each unit. For example, when it comes to Algebra, some pupils may find this harder than others, and therefore require more teaching and learning time than allocated. The current systems does not allow for this, which means that some pupils may potentially not get the grades that they could achieve.

Another serious issue I have with the modular courses is that exams occur in Year 10 without sufficient prior preparation. This is at a critical age, especially for boys, as they mature later than girls. The difference between a 13/14 and 15/16-year-old pupil can be quite important. If your birthday is at the end of August, that make you the youngest in the school year; however, it your birthday is in September, you are the oldest. At that age, that difference of a year can also make a big difference. I think the structure of modular GCSE exams needs to be refined and should be preceded by a primer.

One last point on this relates to homework. I do not think there is enough emphasis on homework and on educating pupils on their responsibilities. I believe we need to also educate more on such things as the ‘work ethic’, self-confidence, communication skills and on why it is important to be self-motivated. I think, sometimes, it is easy to blame teachers or parents when in fact there are other aspects – the children, the government, political will, money, resources, the curriculum, teaching methods and the education system itself.

In the fast-paced modern world, where children grow up surrounded by consumerism, material possessions and the expectation of instant gratification, there is a need for people, society and our systems to adapt to this and keep up. As part of this, we have to adapt our understanding and see life and the world as our children do; their perspective and perceptions are much different to ours.

However, understanding this does not mean, for example, making exams too easy or trying to let one’s children grow up in a naive bubble. If children are not prepared for real life and the real world of work, they are bound to find it much harder. For example, not having to work or do chores at home in order to earn pocket-money could lead to an expectation of getting something for nothing.

One of the things I have noticed is that some people simply do not want to make an effort. I do not believe this is a global problem – and I think it is something prevalent more so in the UK than anywhere. Whether it’s through laziness, a sense of hopelessness or something else, we must work to improve matters. Children should not grow up believing they cannot change or shape their future; too many people seem to think ‘effort’ = ‘hassle’.

In his comments, Schmidt also said the UK needed to bring art and science back together, as it had in the “glory days of the Victorian era” when Lewis Carroll wrote one of the classic fairy tales, Alice in Wonderland, and was also a mathematics tutor at Oxford.

I cannot help but agree strongly yet again. Our education system seems fragmented, multi-tiered, with options not open to everyone. The system has become dull, basic, motionless and too focussed on education for vocation. We need education that is panoptic, exciting and inspiring, with pervasive and innovative school programmes like the computer studies course mentioned above from the 1980s.

I would ask that readers look/listen to the comments Schmidt made, as all of his comments are backed up by facts and I feel he hit the nail on the head with his analysis and advice.

I believe, at the moment, that our education system (not teachers) is failing our children. It is not poor but we need innovative improvements if we are to enable people to reach their potential.

We cannot permit the education system to deteriorate, let down our children and jeopardise their future.

Just as Britain’s technology innovators have to learn lessons from dropping the ball in the past, so too our children need lessons to learn for the future.

Related Links:

Guardian Story : http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/aug/26/eric-schmidt-chairman-google-education
Acorn Computers Ltd : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acorn_Computers
Micro Men : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_Men
ARM : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARM_Holdings
BBC Piece : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14683133

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

The Fog of Oblivion

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.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Who Benefits?

I am, personally, repulsed by David Cameron’s welfare reforms, benefit cuts and housing benefit caps. I simply cannot understand how any caring, humane human could possibly support and agree with such policies.

I must make it clear that I say this not because of any political motivation or affiliation, but through both personal experience and that of others I have met this year. I am very concerned and I think that any welfare reforms, caps and cuts should not hurt those people in our country who we should so vehemently protect, support and help. I would be saying the same if Labour or any other party was in power.

I think on the part of Cameron, IDS, Lord Freud, Maria Miller et al – as people in government – to know the details and to have read, in full, the impact analysis and assessments and then to still proceed has shown poor judgement.

For me, it does say something about the make-up of these people, irrespective of politics. Now, that is just my view of them and it may not be the case – they may not appreciate the impact (some would say that just shows ignorance) – but it is the impression and perception with which many people are left to consider.

I am disappointed, in general, that more MPs (of any persuasion) have not done or said more; it is certainly not down to not enough people writing to their MPs.

I am not opposed to the idea of reforming the welfare system; it is in need of modernising and I believe savings could be made by doing so. However, I cannot support the proposed changes as they will hurt the most vulnerable the most – which is exactly the opposite of what a welfare system should do.

I am all for rooting out those that are genuine ‘scroungers’ or ‘workshy’ but NOT at the expense of thousands of genuine disabled people and children.

The Welfare Reform Bill is also ridiculous in nature; the premise that people shall have to fall neatly into boxes or pigeon-holes is simply unrealistic and unworkable.

For example, as anyone with children will know, as children grow, their needs change. So, where two brothers may share a bedroom when they are young and not separated by many years, this is not appropriate when the gap is larger or where both are older.

I should not need to spell out the obvious but a 15/16-year-old boy is not just a boy but also a young man. That person, by 15, has a life of their own, their own hobbies, pastimes and interests, friends they want to invite over, a need for ‘their own space’ and possibly GCSE work that means they need their own room and workspace. It is also impractical to share for more simple reasons where a younger brother has to go to bed earlier.

Of course not all families, people and children are the same, but just because a situation does not affect one adversely does not negate this or mean that is the case for everyone.  It’s obvious, but people are different and children, especially, can have varying needs. There are far more complicated but still common scenarios too, which I shall come back to in a while.

As time progresses and the 15-year-old gets older and leaves school, perhaps to go to college, university or work, they may move out temporarily on numerous occasions. Under the Welfare Reform Bill, parents would be expected to not be under-occupied. This would mean moving. However, this is simply ridiculous and unworkable. Children often do come and go from living at the home of parents and one of the most comforting things for a child to know is that,  if they fall on hard times (unemployment, divorce, illness, disability), they are always welcome back with mum and dad. This is just a part of life and to not recognise this in the Welfare Reform Bill is to not recognise families and our way of life.

The welfare reforms and changes cover a wide spread of areas and people, including Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Housing Benefit (HB), Local Housing Allowance (LHA), Incapacity Benefit etc.

However, disturbingly, they all share a common thread viz., that disabled people and vulnerable groups will be hit the hardest.

Benefits such as those above are supposed to be there to help people – particularly those who need help the most. They should be part of a framework that empowers people and aims to make life easier for those whose days are dominated by illness, disability, poverty and pain.

I think that would sound reasonable to most people….would you agree?

Yet these reforms are, in their very nature, diametrically opposed to that end.

There are many areas of the UK where private rental market rates are very high and fluctuate. In these areas, reforms will exclude many homes, as the actual rents are much higher than what would be payable via housing benefit with the new local housing allowance levels.

The Government argue, with little conviction, that they hope to influence market rates. This is absolute nonsense, as a market would not bear this. Overall, if landlords cannot get the money they want or need with tenants via housing benefit, they will simply not rent to them anymore. They will just find other tenants who can pay what they are asking.

There is an unpleasant element of greed with some landlords. There is nothing wrong with making a profit – and even a healthy profit. There are, though, in some areas, family properties on the market with outrageous levels of rent, far in excess of what is reasonable. In this sense, there is a problem.

However, I do not believe for one second that the Government genuinely believes that these measures will bring the cost of renting down. The Government are just spinning a line and telling people what they think they want to hear.

I have come across people already who are having to look for a new home due to the caps. However, it seems even council staff are agreeing that, in difficult situations, there are no suitable properties or accommodation on the 40th percentile, never mind the 30th percentile.

The Media is very powerful and Government uses this to its advantage. Sometimes, just telling people what they want to hear or using distraction is enough to squash unwanted public debate.

I am concerned for all those affected by these changes. However, there are two particular areas that I find expressly abhorrent.

The first is the possibility of people losing part or all of their Disability Living Allowance (DLA). This is vital money for many people. Let’s remember, also, that we’re not talking about hundreds of pounds every week. By today’s standards, it is a very small amount that people have to stretch a long way.

But it is vital money, used for both personal care and mobility. Many people already have to put some of their DLA towards making up a rent difference or basic necessities that would be otherwise unaffordable.

Lots of disabled people also have extra costs that they would otherwise not have but for their disability. These costs fall outside the brackets of personal care and mobility but they often have to use some or all of their DLA for such items. This includes some medical items that are not available on the NHS.

How can any respectable, reasonable person want to take this away from people who need this relatively small amount of money so gravely?

The second specific area is related to Housing Benefit (HB), Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and families.

The LHA rates and HB/LHA mean that, for example, if you have three children and two adults that you would only be entitled to a 3 bedroom house.

The reforms take no account of families with disabilities and how it affects their home or home life.

There are many families that need, for example, a 4 bedroom house because a child cannot safely share a bedroom with another child.

This could be down to the nature of a disability or illness, its symptoms and/or knock-on effects. These can be things that occur every night – e.g., severe bed-wetting, fits, insomnia, pain, broken sleep patterns, panic attacks, sickness etc

There might also be medical equipment, other equipment and/or medication that has to be in the bedroom, which would make it impossible and very dangerous to have another child share the room.

Would one put a child in that situation?

Personally, I see this as a form of disabled discrimination. Discrimination is not just about not treating disabled people less favourably than others. It’s also about accommodating their additional needs because of disability – because but for the fact they have that disability, they would not have those extra needs or requirements.

There are many families where there is a disabled parent and disabled child. Often where the other parent is fit and healthy, they become the full-time, 24-7 carer. This means they cannot take on a  job or any work and thus there circumstances, through no fault of their own, have limited their income and opportunities. They become, through no fault of their own, stuck in a rut and trapped, with only benefits on which to rely.

Imagine a mum, mother to three children, all the usual household chores and jobs to attend to, but not being able to get any help from dad because he is unable.

There’s all those usual chores but then also having to be a full-time carer to a disabled husband and disabled son. That’s 7 days a week, any and all hours of the day and night, no holidays, no salary – just unrelenting work and care.

People living daily in these very difficult situations have enough pain and anguish; the reforms do nothing to help.

I consider the reforms to also be neglectful when it comes to situations as described above. We are supposed to be a developed nation; a compassionate and reasonable people; a civilized society – to potentially force a child to share a bedroom when that could be unhealthy, inappropriate, unsafe or dangerous is unforgivable.

If a parent was to expose a child to danger on a regular basis, this would be considered child neglect or child abuse. How can this be ratified in Government policy? And of all things, in welfare reform?

There is also wider impact for families. That does not mean that all families will be adversely affected. However, if you have, for example, more than 5 children, spread across the age spectrum, you don’t need more than a bit of basic maths and logic to figure out what size of property is needed.

Moreover, for families, housing is far more than just bricks, windows and doors. For all of us, we need to feel a house is a home – but it is so vital for family life. Housing needs to be more than just ‘a house’.

“Being housed” is a somewhat disengaged and matter-of-fact term that is far removed from what it actually means to people in reality.

In reality, being housed is about finding and getting a home.

A home is not just a house, bungalow or flat; having or making a ‘home’ is more than the building of bricks or buying a settee, cooker or plasma TVs.

‘Home’ is also a concept – an abstract bond that helps bind and keep people and families together. When one thinks of going home, one does not imagine cold images of bricks, doors and windows. Rather, people think of that warm, abstract ‘space’ – a space full of history and memories; a space where we can all be ourselves; a space where one can truly relax; a space shared with loved ones, family and friends.

For parents, it is the space where one brings up their children. That space includes the family’s relatives and friends who live nearby. That space includes the friendships and bonds that children create and need with their own friends. That space includes help and support from the local community, neighbours and friends. That space includes the local shops, local schools and the familiarization children and teenagers have with their teachers and local community. That space includes GPs knowing local patients and their history well. That space includes so much more. This Government has not considered ‘that space’, but ‘that space’ is vital and something we should all defend and protect for one another.

The Government talked of the ‘Big Society’ philosophy. However, the evidence so far bears little resemblance to this. Putting people in a situation where they have no choice but to move out of a community, away from family and friends, schools, GPs, support groups, support services etc is a contradiction to their patter.

The evidence is in the Welfare Reform Bill. This shows in black and white what the Government is doing.

These days, we all know that houses can be built in what seems like no time at all. But to build a home, form lasting ties and friendships, and become a part of a community takes much longer.

Of course, most people will have a need or desire to move from time to time but this is at one’s discretion and out of choice. Even when people downsize because they want or have to save money and reduce housework (often after children have left home or in retirement), they usually have a choice in what type and size property they will move into, where and when.

The way the Welfare Reform Bill, debates and discussions have been carried out, one would think they are talking about finding the most cost-effective way to store stock in a warehouse, rather than people, their lives and their homes.

The options open to people who might have to move due to under-occupancy under the proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill are limited. In fact, for many people the options are not choices.

For example, in a situation when a family receiving Housing Benefit (HB) sees a room freed up if their son or daughter has gone to university, the family would see a drop in their HB and would either have to (a) take in a lodger; (b) downsize or (c) pay the difference.

I cannot see option ‘a’ appealing to many people, especially couples and families.

For those having no choice but to downsize (due to not having the income to pay the difference for an extra room, for example), what happens when their son or daughter wants to come back for the summer or return home after university?

In this common scenario with a son or daughter coming home, the family would again qualify for more HB and a house with more bedrooms. So they could move again. But then what happens when it’s the next term at university or the son or daughter moves into their own place? Then the HB goes down again. Are we really expecting people and families to move around like this all the time?

Where are all these houses coming from? Who is paying for all of this moving and relocating? What happens in situations where there is no suitable housing? Many areas do not have suitable social housing or properties on the 40th percentile – so finding something below that is impossible.

This is ridiculous, destructive, costly and unworkable – and is something that will affect millions of families in the UK.

For the Government to know this and continue anyway is an indictment of their egotism, elitism and attitude. They would not entertain the idea of living that way – so why should they expect you to?

Throughout life, people have different, unpredictable, subjective and changeable personal and family circumstances. People do not fall neatly into pigeon-holes – nor do they seek to. People cannot be expected to leave their friends, relatives, neighbours, communities and lives just to move house in order to meet criteria. This is a naive, damaging and foolish premise of the Welfare Reform Bill.

One then also has to wonder about the complexities and extra costs of someone disabled having to move or downsize. Many disabled people depend upon their local community, support groups and nearby relatives and friends for daily help. Many also need an extra room or space due to disability. The impact on such people could be devastating and could force some into nursing care homes. That would inflict a significant cost to the nation. Likewise, for those who need adaptations, this could also lead to extra, very high costs that the State would have to meet. Adaptations can run into tens of thousands of pounds.

I think the lack of media coverage on these matters is contemptible and deplorable. You can, however, see the evidence for yourself via these links whilst valid  (advise using Microsoft Internet Explorer to view):

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=9128

There is a plethora of practical, circumstantial and other valid reasons why it would be impractical, unsuitable or unsafe for a family to have to downsize or live in a house with too few bedrooms. One in particular does concern me greatly.

I am concerned how children’s education could be affected. If I had a child that was studying for lots of GCSEs, doing well, often doing homework late into the night, how could he/she share with a younger child who is disabled and goes to bed much earlier? It is just not feasible.

How will this help children develop and bring children out of poverty?

What baffles me is that the welfare reforms do not consider everyday situations, exceptional situations or extreme situations. They just do not make sense, yet people seem to just carry on regardless. I find it bewildering.

The Government tries to distract the public with cases of ‘benefit cheats’ and silly stories. And, to some extent, this distraction works. The public’s view and perception therefore becomes skewed and blighted. Of course, cheats etc do exist but that does not negate the genuine cases. These are real people.

The reality is that genuine, sincere, good people could be hurt by these policies.

This is not to say reforms are not necessary at all. However, reforms should be well-considered, not ill-considered; they should be thought-through, including evaluations of knock-on costs . They should be refined, adjusted and amendments should be made where appropriate. Why would a government have impact assessments from experienced, relevant sources if they do not debate them, listen or take heed?

We have seen this evidenced several times already by the Government in other areas, where they have been forced to listen. They called it ‘listening’; the reality is they did not listen or take notice the first time and they did not think policies through. They got it wrong. I don’t like the phrase ‘u-turn’ – but so many of them is evidence that the Government’s approach to devising policies has been shallow, flawed and blinkered.

For each of these areas, where was the investigation and gathering of information and data that would be needed to even begin to establish the needs and requirements? Where was the analysis and debate on the needs and requirements? How was policy devised? How were the needs and requirements translated into policy details if the needs were never identified properly? Where was the investigation into the feasibility of detailed proposed solutions? And the associated costs? Consideration of secondary, knock-on and long-term costs? Critical path analysis of the policies’ implementation management and general ongoing management? To me, their approach to making policies has seemed very shallow and puerile, and there has not been adequate deliberation of the details.

I apologize for getting off the topic a little, though it is related.

If people are made homeless, this costs the nation and taxpayer far more in the long run. Increased homelessness costs the nation in support and places more burden on the NHS, which also means more costs. It’s also something we, as a nation, should not wish to advocate.

If a disabled person can no longer afford their rent due to Housing Benefit LHA caps, the cost of care to the nation and taxpayer is significantly higher if that person has to move into, for example, a nursing home.

Similarly, if they have to move, only the nation can afford to foot the bill for the changes and adjustments that will undoubtedly be needed at the new property. This is a far higher cost and burden than the cost of the benefits to that person – let alone the savings via cuts and caps.

There are lots of examples I could cite where the policies just do not make sense and have little or no financial credibility.

Because the policies have not been considered properly and thoroughly, there are going to be huge knock-on costs that the Government has failed to identify.  Holes will also appear over time that the Government will have to fill, which will be further costs that were not ascertained originally.

Tough times or not, we should not be treating people with disabilities or long-term illnesses in this way.

I think it is important to remember that it is not all about the money.  We should not discriminate and we should stand up and protect the most vulnerable – which should also include the elderly.

I hear too much from the Government and Media that represents this country as though we are just a ‘nation of taxpayers’. How did we arrive at accepting this kind of thinking? We are a nation of citizens; of individuals; of people.

To be fair, this year the Government and Media have leaned more towards portraying all people on benefits as cheats or scroungers. This misrepresents the disabled and long-term ill up and down the UK.

Despite what you see on TV or read in the papers, many thousands of disabled people work. They are taxpayers too. And, I am also not forgetting pensioners.

Many disabled (and long-term ill) are forced out of work and onto benefits as a result of their disability, condition or disease getting worse.

Up until that time, they have paid their dues and taxes.

But after that point, it can be an awful downturn. Many do end up exhausting their savings, having to downsize and eventually move into rental properties, using money from their house to pay for their rent and care. Wives, husbands, children or others become carers, reducing or removing their ability to work and earn. In the worst cases, one can lose everything and end up dependent upon benefits and the kind care of family and friends. I have personally met a few people who have gone through this and it is devastating.

My cousin’s wife is disabled and works in the IT sector as contract software developer. She is angered and disappointed by the Government’s portrayal of disabled people. As she pointed out to me, she earns £45 per hour now and came from a very poor background, getting to where she has through hard work and merit. But she has had her own experiences of discrimination in the work place. However, she feels the Government have done nothing to empower people. As she put it to me, if I can do it, there is nothing stopping other people who are fit and able improving their earning potential and getting a better job. It’s often that, in different areas, jobs or training don’t exist, training is not affordable or people do not want to change what they do for a living.

She went on to say that, eventually, her condition will get worse and she will be forced to give up work altogether. It might be in 2 years time or 5 years time but it will happen. She is fully aware that she could go from where she is now to having to rely on benefits; savings and investments only go so far or last so long.

She also mentioned that compared to the £49 per week her friend receives on DLA, that she does not see how her friend is expected to have any less. She feels embarrassed and guilty when she meets with her now; that she earns in an hour what her friend receives in a week.

In all of this, it’s easy to forget that many long-term disabled and ill people do not get to enjoy things that, in general, fit and healthy people take for granted. This might be, as just a few examples (as there are simply too many), not being able to see, hear, talk, walk – or any in combination. It could mean that they don’t get to play with their children as they might otherwise, or see them grow up. It could mean that they are unable to cook or eat for themselves;  or unable to go out to places with friends and family. Of course, it’s not the same for all – but it is for many. For some, for example, holidays are difficult or even impossible.

People with long-term disabilities and/or illnesses did not ask for them; it was never something they chose.

It’s not all about money; people in these situations are often stripped of elemental and intrinsic things, through disability or illness, that most people take for granted.

These are things that people in general take for granted but that, over and above money, make for a good quality of life. I think some people also forget that many are also often in severe pain daily, have very hard daily lives and may also need medication (which can itself cause problems). I don’t think we need to throw more problems at them.

I very much sympathize with people working on low earnings or the national minimum wage. I know and understand how hard it can be and have family and friends in that boat.

However, I do not believe that one negates the other. In addition, many disabled/long-term ill who cannot work have costs they have to meet that only exist due to disability. These are often (shockingly) high, not met by any specific benefit and these people do not have the choice of looking for work or a higher paid job. In general, these extra costs are not expenses that fit and healthy people have to meet.

In families with a disabled parent and disabled child, the costs can be extreme and even hopelessly high. Again, it’s not the same for all. However, such families do not deserve to have more taken away. They should not bear so much of the cuts. They do not deserve to be put in a position, through no choice or doing of their own, where they may face more debt, risk homelessness or where their health or condition may suffer. Such results only lead to more costs for the country.

I think it’s worth pointing out too that, whilst the Government is trying to push these cuts and caps on the most needy, they do not themselves do their bit. Cameron’s words were “we’re in this together”. Hmmn. Yet there are very wealthy and millionaire ministers and MPs that continue to take their £64k+ per annum salary and claim huge expenses.  The disabled and long-term ill cannot claim the expenses they incur due to disability etc. Please – let’s not be naive or hoodwinked into thinking that MPs and the Government are somehow being altruistic in this.

The unhappy truth is starting to get across to people, though, and people are starting to see things for what they are really.  The Government will be forced to fight for its controversial housing benefit reforms in court, after a child poverty charity won the right to challenge their legality. You can read more here:

http://carerwatch.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/charity-wins-fight-to-take-government-to-court-over-benefit-reforms-inside-housing/

I would ask people not to just take what they see on the TV news or what they read in the paper on face value. If you have no personal experience, find out for yourself, find people and talk to them. Find out the truth for yourself.

Of course, not everyone will be affected severely but our concern should be focussed on those who will.

There are many issues that disabled people and children often face in trying to just live as normally as the next man or woman.

However, legislation cannot do the single most important thing that needs to be achieved in order to reduce the discrimination and persecution of disabled people, the elderly and vulnerable groups.

Legislation cannot alter peoples’ attitudes or their misconceptions about disability, religion, race and culture or indeed sex (in terms of sexual discrimination – which is still as much of a problem in some areas as it always has been).

That is the real challenge. That will take longer but this Welfare Reform Bill is a big step backwards.

 

Please help by signing this e-petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968 – thank you.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Shocking Experiences – Where are We Going?

During this last week, I’ve had chance to catch up with a friend of mine who is very upset and ‘in a bad way’. He’s disabled and has been trying, for several months, to sort out some problems with his benefits. During our conversations, I told him about the blog I started and also (mentioning no names) about some of the candid and shocking stories I have read on the internet and in e-mails that have been sent to me. I have now received hundreds – thank you to all that emailed me. I would strongly encourage people to tell their stories and make use of the internet, social networking websites, forums and blogs.

It’s my firm belief that word-of-mouth as just as powerful now as it ever was – if not even more so with the advent of the internet. As such, I think the more people’s real life stories and examples are spread and shared, the more people shall see the truth of what is happening.

My friend was happy for me to share his experiences, as he would like people to know about what has been happening to him and how disabled people are being treated.

He used to receive DLA. However, after he did not receive his notification letter requesting that he attends his regular 18-month evaluation review (despite the misleading information peddled by the Government), his DLA stopped. He was subsequently told that he would have to re-apply with a new application. After weeks of filling-in forms, writing, calls, he then faced a 10 week wait before being told he was not entitled to anything.

This was unbelievable; since the time of his first application, both his disability and general health and deteriorated. Previously, he had been on the middle rate.

He was then told that he could ‘appeal’ and did so promptly. He has since waited another 10 weeks, despite numerous letters and calls.  In all this time, he has received no DLA.

This has obviously had a dramatic impact on his already-limited personal finances. However, it has also meant that he has been unable to attend some medical appointments. This is because some of the patient transport services have been cut in his area. He therefore has to make his own way there. He used part of his DLA to pay for disabled-friendly taxis to and from the hospital and clinic but now simply does not have that money. His own doctor has said his health is suffering because of this.

DLA also offered him a chance to see friends and have some independence. Since the DLA was stopped, he has not seen some of his friends and family since last spring (2010). This has really diminished his quality of life and he feels harassed and discriminated against.

To this day, he has still not been informed of a decision; he has received nothing.

Now to make life even harder for him, the local council have told him that, due to the Government’s changes to Housing Benefit (HB) and Local Housing Allowance (LHA), he will receive £21 less each week in HB.

However, they did not send him a letter about this until 4 weeks after they had started to pay the lower rate. So, obviously, this would put anyone in this situation in arrears.

This is a major problem for my friend, as he cannot afford it.

Now, £21 pounds may sound like chicken-feed to many people. But to people like my friend, £21 is a lot of money. If a person who only had £10 spare cash per week went into a shop to buy goods, they could not get any more or less in that shop than if a millionaire walked in with £10. But when they leave the shop, the millionaire is still a millionaire; they can go get another £10, £100, £1000 or £10,000. The other person comes out of the shop with nothing more than the goods they could buy for that £10.

It sounds obvious and simple, yet it seems to be a point that people too easily forget when they have money in the bank.

Getting back to my friend… now when I said he cannot afford it, I actually mean that the total money he now receives in benefits is less than what he has to pay out. He had to cut back on basic essentials, including food, after he stopped receiving DLA. Since then, he’s cutback more. His kitchen cupboards and fridge are empty. He cannot afford to get new clothes or basic essentials.

This is simply unacceptable.

He has around £3-4 spare cash each week. £3-4. That’s it. Many people would spend more than that on a light lunch! Can you imagine only have £3-4 spare per week (and with no options to borrow)?

He has been trying to sort the problem out and has been for financial advice. He has been to see his bank, the local CAB, a local charity and a free legal clinic. They have gone through his finances with him and all told him (and provided written documentation showing) that his benefits simply do not meet his basic outgoings.

He lives in a slightly adapted ground-floor one bedroom flat in a block with shared post and facilities. He has looked for somewhere cheaper but has had no success – and the council have told him that where he currently lives is the cheapest place they know of. Even the people at the council have told him his benefits do not meet his basic financial requirements.

It has been weeks and weeks, and as each week passes, so the debt he owes mounts up.

How is he supposed to pay this?

He is unable to work, totally dependent on benefits; his hands are tied – he only gets what he gets.

However, he is not the only one. My friend is a member of a local disability support group. The group has over 500 members. They have confirmed that over 300 of their members are in the same situation, all incurring debt to private landlords. These are all people in the same boat – they are unable to work and only get what they get.

One landlord apparently tried to have a disabled person evicted; however, this was overturned by a Court.

The council have also told my friend that they have nowhere they can house him and that because of his needs, he must have suitable accommodation. There are apparently families that have been waiting to be housed for over a year; they have had to live in bed & breakfasts.

I think it is important to remember that many disabled people face unavoidable extra high expenses that are not paid for by way of any benefit. They have to use what they get, which is often supposed to be used to pay towards personal care and mobility. I think most ‘fit and healthy’ people would be shocked by how much money this can often cost. This is an important point that the Government chooses to overlook and not highlight. It is also something not highlighted enough by the media.

This is a crazy and unsustainable (which getting to be an over-used word). David Cameron, Maria Miller and the Government cannot expect anyone to live on less money than meets their most basic of needs. But to expect this of vulnerable groups, such as people who are disabled and severely disabled is not something I could support as a citizen of any civilized nation. These policies are not British or patriotic. They are an insult to us. And what will people of developed overseas nations think of how we are now treating the most vulnerable in our land? Does the UN know all that is going on here in the UK?

The argument that this policy will drive rental prices down is ludicrous and actually makes no sense.

Firstly, I thought that the rental market was exactly that – a free market, with competition. Surely deliberately interfering with a market place to try influence it or to drive out competition is illegal? How can this be Government policy?

Secondly, in a free market, if private landlords et al cannot command the rents they are looking for from those paid via Housing Benefit, then they will simply stop accepting those tenants. This will drive disabled and vulnerable people into a housing ‘no man’s land’. What is David Cameron thinking?

Lastly, in areas such as where my friend lives, housing prices and rents are rock bottom. The rent levels have no room to fall, as landlords would not be able to make a reasonable profit – so why would they rent out properties?

These policies are so ridiculous; they are unworkable and bereft of basic financial considerations.

How many other people are in this situation across the UK? Multiply the number of people by a rough estimate of their individual debt! Then accumulate week after week! It is madness.

How many families will be put in this situation? And what about the thousands of families with a disabled parent or disabled child – or both?

If the Government succeeds in its financial genocide of the disabled, where will disabled people and families live? They have to live somewhere. Do disabled people not have enough to cope with? A government should support disabled people, not persecute them.

Can you imagine the extra pressures that will be put on the social and care system? There is a shortage of carers already and carers are extremely underpaid and undervalued.

Of course, there are some people who are not genuine. However, it’s important to remember and focus on the fact that most cases are genuine and real. They are real people, with real problems and in genuine pain. It is important to remember that.

Another member of the disabled group I mentioned is a disabled mother. She has a disabled daughter who has done very well in her ‘A’ levels, achieving 2 As and a B. Her daughter would like to go to university but is very concerned about the costs and what might happen in the future. The combination of the cuts and the extra costs of higher education mean that many people from poorer backgrounds and families will not be able to take a degree or higher education course. I think that many more will simply be put off too by this too. This is supported by a more widespread education problem, as highlighted in recent news – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13581215 or http://bit.ly/iO3BR0

What would help people would be real help for the long-term unemployed who are willing and able to work. I have come across many stories of people being long-term unemployed who cannot get the training they need. Quite often, the education and training available can differ greatly depending upon where one lives. If you want people to return to work long-term, then training and education needs to be available and you must allow them to train for what they want to do. People will, ultimately, not stick at a job they hate.

Where my friend lives, unemployment is high because the area has very few employment opportunities and there are only basic education available in English, Maths and Science. Training courses in specific skills and domains should be more widely available to the long-term unemployed. I think, also, that if a person is willing to relocate for work, then there should be a scheme enabling people to do this. This would allow people who live in areas where jobs are few and far between to relocate for a new job.

These measures would be more effective that persecuting vulnerable people and expecting them to somehow live on less money than meets their outgoings. This is another problem that’s in the news – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13498998

And where is Nick Clegg in all of this? How can  he just sit back and let this happen?

David Cameron talks about getting the country out of debt. But how many rational people would really consider it reasonable that part of the way to achieve this is to put vulnerable and disabled people INTO debt and possibly homelessness?

I am verysurprised and disappointed in David Cameron; having experienced awful tragedy in his own personal family life, I find it hideous and vulgar that he and his Government could conceive and implement such vile and unethical policies.

David Cameron and Maria Miller should feel embarrassed and ashamed of themselves and their part in this ugly fiasco.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Do we really care?

Upon visiting Twitter this morning, I was greeted with a link about yet another disturbing news story: “Regulator raises elderly care concerns”

The article began by saying how serious concerns had been raised by the NHS care regulator regarding the way some hospitals in England look after elderly patients. It went on to say how three had failed to meet legal standards for giving patients enough food and drink and treating them in a dignified way.

I found this bewildering. You can read the full piece here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13545780

I can remember my grandmother being in a residential and nursing care home. This would be about 1989/1990 (I was much younger then).  It’s a while ago, yet I can still remember talk back then about poor standards in care homes and inadequate treatment of the elderly in hospitals and care homes.

Over the years, there have been numerous stories in the news about the same thing. And each time, we here the same thing, something akin to: “We deeply regret what has happened and have put a programme of new practices and procedures in place to take on board lessons learned and ensure this does not happen again.”

How many times have we heard people say something like that?

In the past, I think we have all taken this with a pinch of salt; the cynic in us has said ‘We’ll believe it when we see it.’

But what was once political or management rhetoric has now changed into cliché; strings of hackneyed phrases that are both insulting to and disbelieved by the General Public.

It’s 22 years since I had my first real-world experience of elderly care in a care home with my grandmother. Through the 1990s and 2000s, we’ve heard stories about serious care problems for the elderly and disabled. So how can we be in 2011, still seeing these news stories like the one today?

We’re not talking rocket science or heavy labour here – it is things like giving a person sufficient food and water, ensuring they are warm, well and happy and treating them like a human being.

Where are all these lessons learned?

Obviously, this ‘bad press’ is necessary to highlight problems; I do feel for the majority of nurses, carers and other care workers out there, though, that do a fantastic job. These people deserve far more respect and credit than they get. I also find carers’ and nurses’ pay to be incommensurate with the requirements and real-life demands of their job.

So the question “Do we really care?” is really one we all have to answer ourselves; each of our own inner voices will give us the true response.

If we take the past 25 years, do we not find it shocking and concerning that we still get these types of stories? That this could still be going on, despite all those reports, new procedures and lessons learned?

We have not just started to have hospitals and care homes – but it does feel that way sometimes when these things keep happening again and again.

I think there are more significant problems that need to be addressed that could translate into real improvements. I’m thinking of things like: better pay for nurses and carers; staffing levels; management that has relevant experience and knows what people have to deal with on-the-ground; appropriate per-person workloads and person-management; sensible limits on the amount of hours one person can work in a given period to avoid fatigue and mistakes; staff monitoring; better training; Government committed to and supporting nurses, carers and the care system for the elderly and disabled…. this list goes on.

I am no expert in this area. My opinion is based on my own personal experiences with friends, my grandmother and mother. I have experienced problems but by and large, the nurses and carers were brilliant and did an excellent job. Where they did fail was down to some of the things I mentioned above, including lack of staff and no financial resources for equipment.

I seem to remember David Cameron mumbling about “no cuts to frontline services”. What about frontline care services?

My mother is in a nursing home now. In her late 20s (before I was born), she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. She did her best to try to carry on as normal throughout my childhood, despite being in extreme pain and difficulty every day.

In 2003, my late father died aged 61 and, sadly, my mother eventually had to go into nursing care, still only in her early 60s.

This year has been distressing. Having seen what the Government are doing to severely disabled people and what they are making them and going to be making them go through is chilling and immoral.

I do not see how one can have a conscience whilst at the same time support or implement such policies.

Their policies in this area make no sense.  They are illogical and paradoxical.  We have a “Minister for Disabled People” – Maria Miller MP – who is supposed to be there to work FOR people but who is actually implementing policies, which her Government devised, that are hurting and adversely affecting the most vulnerable and disabled people in the country.

I would ask, reader, that you take a step back and just consider this. How can this be right? How can this be just? How can we be tolerating this? I would like to ask people to write to David Cameron, to their MPs and to Maria Miller on this issue.

Another very disturbing news item this week is about how a government report on how it is implementing the United Nations disability convention fails to include a single mention of how the coalition’s spending cuts and welfare reforms will undermine disabled people’s rights. You can read the full item here: http://www.bhfederation.org.uk/component/k2/item/1212-government%E2%80%99s-un-report-%E2%80%98wilfully-ignores%E2%80%99-spending-cuts.html

How can we trust David Cameron, Maria Miller and the Government if they fail to tell the truth and disclose facts in a UN report?

You may find this link of interest: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=8387

Maria Miller was shot down in flames – she was challenged on the PIP timeframes, her numbers, her hearsay on the disabled groups she’s “spoken” to.  She was asked for evidence of the disabled groups that agree with PIP.

Maria Miller was also taken down on her comment that Harrington has not enough time to do the reports in 2 years, yet they want to implement 1.8 million assessments in 18 months. It demonstrates well the lack of aptitude and the asinine attitude of an unrealistic, misguided and naive Government.

I think we are starting to see a very disturbing pattern in how elderly and disabled people are treated and viewed.

Quoting the article again:

“In one case, a member of staff at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said they had to prescribe water on medical charts to ensure patients got enough to drink.”

Lest we forget that, we are all potential victims to illness and disability and one day, we are all old.

If we should care more, then that means doing something about it, rather than simply agreeing with the idea. Even if it’s only reposting this blog entry or writing your own, it all helps to raise the debate and interest in this subject.

Thanks for reading.

Links:

If you wish to support these issues, please feel free to link-to, share or re-post this blog.

Please feel free to follow me on Twitter – http://twitter.com/#!/THemingford

Maria Miller – http://www.mariamiller.co.uk/

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized
%d bloggers like this: