Tag Archives: benefits

I, Elspeth Blake

No, that’s not my surname. You’ll have worked out real one by now. But I’m showing solidarity with the film I’ve just seen – I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s latest instalment in the Cathy Come Home mould. More humorous I think than that 1960s docudrama, but I hope that this feature film has the same social impact.

I noted that this film about the welfare system chooses to base its story in an inner city, round a manually skilled older man with a medical condition, and a single mum. People we can feel truly on side with without any controversy.

But they’re not the only examples of those hit by state support’s cruelties.

These issues are found in the country too, and with people you might not guess. I’ve been in rooms where we talk about ‘the poor’ as those out there, statistics in particular postcodes. But they were in the room too. I was one of them.

Katie in the film takes 2 years to get a real home – and nowhere near the place she’s from. If you’re not in the vulnerable group of old or young, ill or disabled or with children, support of any kind can be even harder to get.

What struck me is the coldness of the system, the attempt at breaking you or resocialising you. Not just you the claimant, but those behind the desk.

Those in officialdom have lost their humanity.

They need to regain it – their ability to think, to feel, to question. This film is a good start.

I’ve often said that those in various corporate roles don’t understand any other kind of work and are almost robotic in their adherence to rules and shocking in their stupidity.

Are they chosen for those qualities or do they come after the years of employment in government offices? They are removed from the public – call centres, automated phone messages, PO box addresses, the internet with preset answer boxes that won’t send until you put in what they want. Quite often these decision makers (‘adjudicator’ was thought too big a word by the DWP, though it remains in the tax office and ombudsman) are also unnamed, as are trustees of grants for those in need, such as Charis – who have no understanding of the grace of their name. As I pointed out.

I have my own story to tell, but I don’t yet feel ready to tell it here. Of course, I have another which I have told. I also began a TV series script on a comedic satire on the world of work. My Near Professor Sally Gababa is in a different situation to Ken Loach’s Daniel and Katie – an academic misfit of middle years without children or illness, or not one that’s understood – which makes her life such a struggle.

I still recall the name of the jobcentre staff I lampoon.

I do remember nice ones too, and I’m glad that I, Daniel Blake shows one. There are those that helped make the film.

Rather than feeling depressed, I felt energised: The people on the street in solidarity with Daniel when he sprays his appeal on the wall. The packed cinema. And whether those people me had ever suffered what Daniel had – and you can’t tell or guess demographics – they came. They saw. And they clapped. They’re on side.

We need a system that’s likewise, where appeals are not rigged (read PHSO – the true story for more on that), where citizenship doesn’t have to be earned in narrow ways, where we’re not valued for the taxable income we generate. Where we’re not to fit drop down menus and preset boxes. Where, as one staff said to me of my claim, we make free use of the form. Where staff too are not faceless and also support us instead of being a mindless, soulless bullying chain. Where we’re not graded on a point system, where we’re not intimidated and intruded into.

I like the idea of citizenship being about grace, not earning. It’s the theology I have and it’s also the society I believe in. Even those who support Citizens’ Income sometimes talk about deserving – ie fitting their patterns. But I want a world where ‘paying your way’ and rejecting charity are no longer signs of dignity and worthiness; where we don’t have to put our time into categories of work and leisure, living to do the former to deserve a little of the latter. Where we’re not justifying ourselves and our existence to another who won’t be challenged.

“I, Daniel, Elspeth, [your name]” is a statement of individuality, of personhood. As Daniel says, we are not a government given number or term for those who need to use the system; we are ourselves, and we are worthy.

And we look to those who really drain resources, and that’s not those at the benefit queue, but quite the other end of society. There’s far worse handouts and passive income (benefit claiming is not passive) than the dole.

Daniel Blake didn’t tell me anything much new. If you don’t know about the system, go and see it. If you’re in it, go. And if you judge those in it, go. And if you work in it, go.

But let there be a discussion that is wider than just the issues of the film and those I can touch on here. And let there be, as with Cathy Come Home, the sea change that is needed.

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Why we need Citizen’s Income

This was offered to the Citizen’s Income Trust  for their newsletter – but ironically, was withdrawn because they wanted to take the copyright without fee for unpaid reproduction.  One of my greatest bugbears – and manifesto points – is that too many are asked to work for free. We have work we value and expect to pay for, and things that are “lifestyle choices”, “for the love of it”, “community spirited”. Often the latter are creative, spiritual, helping endeavours – values we ought to want to endorse in our society of money exchange.

Here’s the article in support of Citizen’s Income (CI):

I’ve found that means tested government support doesn’t understand the unconventional – the ad hoc, the artists, the writers who have to work at long projects but don’t make money constantly. They don’t understand lack of contracts, time sheets, wageslips. They expect work to be all profit focussed and very tangible and narrowly defined. They know many self employed people can’t prove their hour-to-hour activities. They don’t understand the importance of networking. They don’t understand the sense of averaging changing income for assessment purposes.

I can illustrate that last point with shocking outcomes, though it is more about housing benefit than CI – evictions, suspensions – suffered by people I know.

It often feels as if they hope we’ll conform or die on the streets. None of us should do either. I shan’t.

I believe that working tax credits and benefits and ombudsmen to be in collusion, and not a just accountable open system.

I believe passionately that our worth is not measured by the taxable income we generate or our compliance and conventionality. I detest the anti benefits mindset that despises those who cannot support themselves in this expensive oligarchy.

CI is the Green Party’s best policy and I was dismayed by the Guardian’s recent attack – strategically stupid when Green Party supporters make up many of its readers. They could have used that space for CI profile raising in a positive way. CI needs to not be a pipe dream sometime but something that comes into force very soon, instead of Universal Credit. It would mean that no-one falls out of the bottom – I know that the circs I’ve heard about where people are left without income are common and that appeals are overwhelmed by complaints. A CI type system gives people choice. It recognises diversity. And it supports, not badgers the people – Citizens’ Income recognises our worth and part in this country.

However…the Citizen Income Trust’s website contains ideas that I am not happy with, about the Beveridge report and the ethos behind welfare. Labour is well named and it’s why I don’t support that party. It seems much of welfare is about socialisation into a particular work ethic, making sure we need and want to work.

No spiritual catechism or tenet would agree with the presumption that we are here to work – especially in the tax-generating, conformist (to government) manner that has become approved in Western society. It is not the point of human life and what really matters. I’d like my epitaph to be far more than ‘worked hard, claimed little, owned lots, owed nothing’. I think CI can help support people to live more freely than our current welfare.

Life is about living abundantly. That was a Jesus paraphrase, not a politician.

 

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Creative Maladjustment Week

This is based on a Martin Luther King speech who said “Here is a list of horrible things in our world which I’m glad to be maladjusted to, and I won’t be changing that”. He resisted being “normal” as officially defined (especially by psychiatry) and said we need a new group to improve our world, the creatively maladjusted. This international week celebrates that spirit, and here’s its website.

Here’s what I am proud to be maladjusted to:

– Benefits claimant hating, as incited by media and certain political parties; the belief that your worth comes from how much taxable income you generate

– Banks that can create theoretical money and make actual debts to chase you for, even or especially when you’re poor, and cause global crises that others both suffer and pay for

– a health system that’s as much about supply and demand and control as it really is about wellness, and which sees other forms of healing – often older and more universal – as a threat to be derided and blocked; a system that can make decisions on your behalf for ‘your good’ which affect your life and body and mind

– a world where governments and corporations try to own and control people and pry and don’t treat people as people and where other forms of life are only given value by what they profit other humans

– a world where we have judgment and fear, not acceptance, towards those who are different from us, whether that be due to nationhood, skin colour, beliefs, sexuality, gender, bodily ability

– a world where we are disseminated to and encouraged to ridicule or silence those who don’t agree with and expose and question the beliefs that those in control would like us to absorb

– a world of secrecy and control of the few, often masquerading as a people led open advanced society

– invasive customs control based on exaggerated threats; wars on terror justified through fear but which really have some hidden benefit for the few whilst causing more terror for those who we claim to protect

And campaigns to glorify and justify war, past and present

You know my flags by now – justice and liberty for all! And most important – Love.

Here is a big wave of them along with all those other CMs!

 

 

 

 

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Further thoughts on forced labour for claimants

After reading today’s Observer (not my usual paper but more me than most others) I feel I should repost this, as further workfare for jobseekers is being proposed. I’m interested that the Observer‘s view is that it’s a backlash against government reforms not working. Hardly a logical one!

And I’d also like to comment on what I think of employers who are taking on staff without paying them. You don’t need me to spell that out, do you?

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/eco-echo/ – a response to an article in favour of this practice.

See also my thoughts on “Hatred of Housing benefit claimants” and “Government gripes”

 

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Government gripes

What does Royal Mail think it will achieve by raising the price of postage so? If it is already struggling to compete how will this assist it? In my experience delivery is slow and often inaccurate – misdelivered items are regular. In times of cuts, passing one’s own struggles onto the public is immoral and also does not make business sense. it is claimed that too many of us are using other methods to transport things and that RM are not viable – so how is making a radical price increase going to help?

The cuts continue to be ridiculous and eating at those who need the money most. Housing benefit claimants are slashed each year without warning as a kind of warped anniversary present. Just because one has been claiming for a time does not mean you can magically waft in more money at the government’s behest. It’s still a system where it makes claimants worse off for working. These moves are going to make some homeless and make those with a home in very unsuitable living situations. It also passes on the shortfall to landlords, some of whom might do very well for doing very little, but the people really responsible for this so called deficit are not in any way taking any of the strain. They’ve no idea about being poor and now the quite well off are also struggling financially. The Guardian reported that East Cheshire council is paying over £200,000 per year to its top two council leaders – one of whom is off sick. Paying them a more suitable salary would mean alot of people on benefits (as well as all the other axed services and needs) could be paid. Leaders don’t understand the anguish and fear and the spiral they are putting onto people. Or are they like Scrooge, hoping the poorest will just die in the gutter?

We shouldn’t let them.

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Forced Work Experience

I was really sorry when one person used her “ethical business” blogpost in an alternative local magazine as a platform to comment on an unrelated matter. She conflates the benefits of work experience, which she extols, with the government moves to force people on benefits into doing unpaid work.

Her views, especially given the magazine, are old fashioned and disappointing: she sees going to work as learning ‘proper behaviours’ and about bowing to employer expectations – she is an employer. It reminds me of arriving at the bank in Mary Poppins. There’s an implication that these “proper behaviours” are about subservience and conformity, something again I did not expect to have implicitly endorsed in this rag whose echoes are of an ecological, not Torylogical nature.

What the many critics of the government benefit reforms mind is the forced, unpaid labour (which is a form of slavery) which little understands that people and business work best when they are linked by people’s passions and abilities. Few of these schemes are going to put those who aren’t working in a place that helps them find truly suitable paying work – this is about cutting the welfare bill and resocialising claimants to the system.  Why do we believe our value comes from earning and often from something that’s hard and unpleasant, a grind to be endured and whose end is welcomed? Why do we view those who do what they love as lucky at best, or to be scorned as idealistic wasters?

I know a business coach who said to me that for her work, that you love is the only kind there is.

Our problems stem from misplaced values systems and imbalanced power.

I believe that unemployment would be largely solved if everyone got paid for what they do, rather than be made to find employment doing something else. Hence the push towards voluntary work and squeezing out of the welfare system is completely nonsensical and negative. And it is exploitation, not experience.

I would counsel a return to that magazine’s roots – for those who want a better world, often looking to alternative ideologies and spiritualities, and dare to believe that the status quo is not the only or often the best way.

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The Truth about Benefits

I’m really disappointed with my country right now. I’ve been on the official Government Petitions website, and looked up benefits as I feel strongly about the cuts, caps and workfare mentality being introduced.

There are many petitions there about benefits, and most of them do not say what I thought they would. I was actually disgusted by the attitude of the petitions’ authors, so much so that I am posting on it immediately.

There is a myth being fuelled that people on benefits won’t work. We are told to hate these claimants because these lazy scroungers are sucking out resources from the hardworking rest of us, contributing to the recessional shortages and cuts. If only we could get rid of these clingons, we’d have more public money to go round the rest of us. Ministers tell us of a large annual welfare bill to be incendiary to those whose image of a claimant is the feckless thick drug using jobcentre loiterer.

In my experience, people who claim benefits don’t enjoy doing so. If they could manage another way, they would. They are desperate to be able to have their own income. I think people who think otherwise have never been to a jobcentre or housing benefit call centre. They’ve not had to fill in a huge Incapacity benefit form or attend an invasive medical to see if they are fit for work. They’ve not had to bring in all their wage slips and bank statements for a stranger to peruse and copy. They’ve not had someone aggressively ask why they were unable to actively seek work at the time of their parents’ death. They’ve not felt the powerlessness of sitting in that chair across a corporate desk with security gaurds lurking, while jobs are suggested which show utter ignorance of the signing clerk who doesn’t understand many qualifications or careers. They’ve not spend hours on a phone trying to get through to rude, impervious staff, or had to queue up amongst the ‘feckless’ to get a giro for their hungry family. They’ve not had the dark parrot on their shoulder, asking them was their something else they could have done to get work – even as they lay in bed, or watch a film; asking them to justify why they are going out, fearing what the DWP will say on their next visit, or if they might ring and demand you attend an unsuitable interview or lose your money. It’s not even nice meeting people, being asked that inevitable question, what do you do – only to answer (however elusively or euphemistically) that you’re on benefits. Friends greet with the same sad ‘Any luck this week?’ as if they are an extension of government staff. To claim, you are meant to declare all your activities which really means you justify the interests you have – being treasurer at the sports club, the church, or making cuppas for your local theatre company – all of which might cost you your benefit.

So strangely, most of us are keen not to be in that system.

I consider it something to be proud of that one’s country recognises that their citizens need support sometimes and as a society that we want to help each other out. ‘Society’ and ‘community’ get used regularly, but our neighbourliness is not meant to extend to the undeserving – which often is those the government think are undeserving and so use the media to get the people to agree with them.

Those anti benefits prophets are subscribers to capitalism, for they are propounding the belief that one’s worth is through money – not a very spiritual belief and not a very evolved one. Our worth is not through earning and certainly not how much. I love the many spiritual writers who remind us that  we are ‘human BEINGs’. Money is human created – animal and plants exist without it, as do some human societies. We have made it a necessity and also a shame if we do not have enough of it so that we have to borrow, beg or default on our debts. That’s an unhealthy and corrupt value system.

Our society is also saying: some work is better than none. A right wing minster said that there is greater worth in earning than in not, in any job. As a well paid man doing the job he wants (if he isn’t, he shouldn’t be a servant of the people), this is a hollow speech. Doing a job you hate is more than the 40 hours a week you spend at it – it’s the focus of your life. Why do we expect work to be hard and unpleasant, a grind necessary to exist and have status? I recently spoke with a business counsellor who said that for her – work you want is the only kind there is. It doesn’t make sense, from even the right wing Functionalist sociological perspective, to put ill matched people into work they hate. It benefits no one – for then the employers are getting the wrong staff, staff are ill and depressed, and society is full of sick leave bills – or even hospitals and suicides.

What perhaps the government hates most is those who live outside their system. Perhaps many of us hate that too – and I think it is partly about wishing people to conform and partly resentment that others have the courage and freedom to do what we are not.

I’m also disturbed by the amount of petitions asking foreigners to be repatriated and benefits to be withdrawn from them. My pride in my nationality is not in ostracising others, especially if this might cause them poverty or even harm.

We do need a reform of benefits but we need a system which helps those who need it, and does not penalise for working (as often this makes you worse off), or not having a career path that isn’t on a drop down menu on a civil service computer. The fear, bullying, intrusion and humiliation of the current system with whipped up frenzy about lazy bleeders needs to end. We need this recession as a value reassessment, and to see that the world we’ve created in many countries is about as far from our souls’ calling as it is possible to be. And yes, souls do come into policies and statecraft. Why else would we be here?

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