Tag Archives: welfare

The Pursuit of Happyness

My thoughts on the 2007 film

Will Smith is very engaging and sympathetic, but my critique is of the world he enters – and that it is never really critiqued by the film.

In passing, it does throw up that a homeless woman has more chance of getting a bed for the night, though I’d like to add that both men and women need shelter, whether or not they have a child with them.

I thought that the way the church he slept at handled the “we’re full” tonight was about as tactful as the end of Bugs Bunny cartoons – that’s all folks. No more, you need to leave. And yet the real Chris Gardner, whose story this is, is grateful and asked that the real pastor re-enact his role.

The US tax system is disgusting – that money can be taken without notice or discussion direct from your bank if they believe that you have underpaid. The IRS seem to have no thought for what money they leave you with. This was directly responsible for putting Chris and son on the streets.

The carparking fine system is likewise a disgrace, that holds you in prison overnight, jeopardising job and the safety of children. Is this person dangerous? Is this money so urgently and truly needed? And then to threaten social services on you for being a bad parent!!

The behaviour of landlords was also abyssal. I wish in the film that Chris had tried to explain his circs to his, rather than just fob off yet another rent request and keep walking. But twice he is without home and without notice: he finds a new lock and his things outside, not even a letter. That is illegal – you have to serve notice and go through the courts where I live. Their lack of compassion from landlords shows why so many face homelessness.

It also shows why you need to keep railway stations open at night, and how all night trains also serve a purpose. And it shows that all kinds of people can face homelessness, in case one has a stereotype and belief about who’s deserving of help (an attitude I reject).

It shows how some people make a living through selling unnecessary objects, and how that selling enough of something to live off can be very hard.

But then Chris graduates to more selling of unnecessary objects – financial packages. I was saddened that his impetus to join the world of stockbrokers was seeing a flash car. As a poor person, I could understand his thinking – what would it take to stop this struggle, and what do people who don’t struggle do for a job? But the car lure felt shallow, and stock brokerage not the aspiration that his partner assumes— “Why didn’t you just say astronaut?” she sneers when she hears.

I thought that the film would criticise the stock brokerage entry scheme – that a ‘lucky’ handful of hopefuls work 6 months unpaid, but only one gets a job at the end of it. They’re abused – being asked to lend to (and sometimes pay for) their overpaid superiors run, errands they daren’t say no to, work ridiculously stressful days, always trying to increase productivity and beat their colleagues. I did not admire Chris for saying that he worked out that not drinking water and hanging up the phone between calls gave him an advantage. All jobs need breaks – yes to the bathroom to, and to drink. It should never be an advantage to overwork, go without, to be pressed to maximum.

I really wanted Chris to be offered the position at the end, but I also really wanted him to say no. I wanted him to have learned that happyness is not found managing fiscal portfolios, nor in the harsh competitive and abusive world of glass towers. It’s not even just found in family bonds.

The title cards at the end disappointed me – for this was not my idea of reaching happyness, and I’d like to think, not the sort that Lincoln meant when he wrote the quote that the film’s title comes from.

I watched the extras to see if the real Chris had anything better to say. He did say that though the world presented this as a rags to riches tale, he saw it as one of parental love, but even that didn’t entirely endear and soften me. Making it in the financial world wasn’t my idea of achievement. Although I was glad to see that he uses his wealth to help others, I am unsure of the true worthiness of spreading capitalist ideas to new counties and generations.

It felt a little like the oft mentioned Rubik’s Cube (there’s a whole featurette on it) and those medical instruments Chris sells – not that useful, just an end in itself. And whereas those cube competitions don’t harm anyone, the economic markets do, and so does the unspoken message from the film that success in them is something to aspire to.

I would be more concerned about reforming the tax office, shelters, parking fees procedures, landlords, and the abuses of internships than linking this story to the American dream. I am all for coming through, overcoming odds, seeing determination rewarded, supporting love – all things I hoped for when I chose the film. But I want to see more Lincoln, less Lehman in the outcome.

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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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A political triptych

I’ve promised to post on various things but think I can squeeze many of my recent political thoughts into one piece.

Re the justice secretary wanting to give the Court of Human Rights less power – I found that a frightening manipulative speech designed to get the people to give away their right to a court higher than our own country’s. The Rule of Law is supposed to be an equaliser, but it is not in practice because

-law is not made or influenced by most ordinary people

-ordinary people need professional assistance to use the law

-the cost of this is beyond most peoples means, because we pay our lawyers and judges comparatively too much and cut out legal aid. I am so glad to hear of an unprecedented walk out by lawyers today about that – some of them are on the people’s side! or are they… is it more about wanting their proper (ie extortionately high) pay for legal aid work than truly wanting a justice system that’s fair and open to all?

We need a system where we are involved in decision making and where law is affordable and not influenced by politicians and businesses serving their own agenda. And we most certainly need a court beyond our supreme court!

The other big thing wrong with our society is capitalism. I read a book about philanthrocapitalism – an oxymoron! because these big businesses and bosses who claim to care and want to sort out the world’s problems have only one way of solving them: imposing their system on the poor and others who don’t fit, and getting community groups like churches and charities to become like them. Their whole language is about venture, human capital!! and growth… and growth is the key to doing just the opposite. Unlike nature, greed knows no sensible cut off. The only thing we should grow without limit is spiritual and personal development, and that in short would be growing in wisdom and love. If you stopped the need to grow business and constantly improve on last year’s profits, you would find the pivot of the world’s problems was destroyed and you’d be in a place to truly stop them.

The biggest problem, at its fulcrum, is imbalance of power and resources, and the need for growth and the insecurity of the powerful which causes it to look after its own needs and placate or control everyone who is other. It’s not just the environment which suffers from the need for more, it’s people too. If we ceased growth for growth’s sake and the need to always get something back (the basis of debt, which is worth a post in itself) then we would be moving away from this harmful model.

The final piece of today’s trilogy is the news from the lovely Mr Osborne about Britain having further cuts to its welfare budget. Even his critics are trying to run the same ship on the same wind, and what’s really needed is to rebuild the boat. I am angry that no politician from one of the main parties is questioning why the people are paying for the government’s borrowing. why is the deficit really our problem? and it’s especially not the poorest’s. The whole nature of what is work and that our worth comes from the being part of that narrow definition needs to be questioned too. And of course, the cuts are coming out of the same greed powered, oligarchical, plutocratical growth based opaque system.

Yes, the world can be changed and no it’s not too complex or naïve to do. People saying otherwise are helping the system continue, whether they mean to or not. What does evil need… good people to do nothing (Edmund Burke). And for the belief that change is too great and is not my problem. Well it isn’t and it is.

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Launch the G but promote Hope not Hopi

I was going to congratulate the Guardian, a paper which has sometimes annoyed me for its snobbery and anti Royalist views, for its courage in standing alone amongst the British papers and covering  PRISM and Tempora. I was going to say how I was saddened by the tone the Independent is taking and how it no longer lives up to its name. I was impressed by today’s Guardian for citing quality papers around the world on its stance of printing Snowden’s revelation, and their reaction to all the other British papers attacking the Guardian for doing so. No other British paper or magazine was cited. I was about to say how I wish there was a “G” to rival the i, a mini version of the Guardian, and how I am sorry there are no comparable British newspapers.

And then I read today’s Hopi Sen article on welfare and I wondered which website I was on. Did my hand slip and I typed “Torygraph” instead of Guardian? The majority of the comments – and there are many, already over 200 – showed that Hopi is not the voice of the newspaper’s readership or the public, despite what he claimed. He tries to present his ideas as unarguable. His words both frightened and angered me.  Interventions….! He clearly has no idea, and neither has the comment poster who thinks that long term unemployment is about a lack in social skills, education, mental health and drugs. The jobseeking system is about pigeonholing, drop down menus, and is ignorant that lots of people who are healthy and intelligent do not meet it. It cares little about matching people to appropriate jobs, and I have met many graduates (even PhD holders) who found themselves offered silly, inappropriate roles that would not benefit them or the company. There are some very capable literate people who struggle to work enough to be self sufficient. One comment poster said that Tories don’t empathise with there being no jobs because they’d create ones for themselves by starting a business. Yes, create your own job in principle – but this involves money, and if you do not have it – and the right support – it is very very hard to do. It’s made worse by most of us having less money to spend so that new businesses they may not be sustainable. And the self made rich are often the hardest on claimants and the ones whose empires crush others and push round the capitalist wheel.

I would like to have shared some of this with the Guardian website itself, but this paragraph in the terms and conditions precluded me:

“You or the owner of the content still own the copyright in the content sent to us, but by submitting content to us, you are granting us an unconditional, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully transferable, perpetual worldwide licence to use, publish and/or transmit, and to authorise third-parties to use, publish and/or transmit your content in any format and on any platform, either now known or hereinafter invented.”

This all too common phrase  regarding reader comments and other submissions should be as illegal as industrial snooping and forced labour.

Why not say – the content’s yours but you give us the right to publish it on any of our sites, but you can delete it. And we will Not sell or pass it on?

Taking people’s work without pay is the bottom line of much of our welfare issues, for too many of us do not get rewarded for what we do – hence my campaign against use of  internships and volunteers. The issue of big companies imposing their values on the public and taking away their rights and ownership is behind many major imbalances in this world which urgently needs addressing.

I’d like to think that the Guardian led the way on that, as it has on other recent issues.

PS Why ask for letter writer’s address and phone no for verification – isn’t that the kind of snooping the paper rallies against?!

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Elspeth on Elections – Council 2013

My analysis (yes I’ve had an extra day) is quite different from any local and national paper I’ve read – and it’s not all about a leader whose name recalls a Count Duckula Episode*

The English county election results this week have been exaggerated by the press. They all focus on UKIP, blurring the overall picture. A letter to the Independent said that the press’s coverage of the Purple Party caused their profile to be raised and helped them win votes – why couldn’t they have focussed on other parties, particularly the Green one? And what might our outcome have been then?

The i helpfully published a nifty before and after map of all the counties going to the vote, with statistics about changes (which didn’t add up and some misprints). It was clear that UKIP actually lost seats and its entire presence in places where it once held them – Bristol, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire. Leics is not +2 for UKIP – it’s merely maintained its 2 seats; Staffs lost one seat.

 UKIP won no overall control of any council and in all cases was considerably under the minimum seats needed to do so, even where they came second (eg Norfolk, Lincs, Kent – were a third of the requirement, c15 to 40+). Mostly UKIP came 3rd-5th place winning only 2-4 seats, and did not feature everywhere – there’s none in the North save North Yorks, or in Bristol, or Essex, where other parties grew (see below). 

I suspect that disaffected Tory voters would feel uncomfortable choosing a left wing party and there is, save the BNP (who lost its council seat) but one for them to pick; and nor would they want to choose the other half of the coalition, the Yellows.

I picked a couple of counties to analyse in detail (from their own council interactive websites), and found that only a few actual UKIP seats had been won, and that these had been Purple previously. I also noted that it happened in areas where only red, blue and purple stood – I don’t remember any Greens or independents or small parties candidates in anywhere UKIP were most successful.

The Greens have long been in my view the 4th party (which reminds me of the AA advert that called themselves the 4th emergency service). They held on to their presence in all of their councils bar Cambs, doubled their number in Bristol and Worcestershire, and introduced themselves in Essex, Warwickshire, Cornwall. They lost a couple from their hotbed in Norwich, but gained back the seat held on to by defecting local leader. But the Greens put up only a small proportion of seats – whereas UKIP were widely represented.

I also see a welcome rise in independent candidates; already the majority in Cornwall and Anglesey (the only non English election); they are now top on the Isle of Wight, 2nd in County Durham still by a large margin (though smaller than it was), North Yorkshire; and sizable in Lincolnshire above the Lib Dems, although coming 4th overall. 

I note a huge loss for the two parties in government, both in seats and county favourites which I’d like to think shows disillusion with them. I am glad that the colour of the political map has changed – there are three red counties instead of one, 10 less blue and 12 (not 4) not being under no overall control – which is how I would like to see politics done. 

I am concerned that UKIP has been chosen (note I do not spell it the annoying Guardian way) by several as its protest vote, I’d like to think, hoping it took seats from Tories and Lib Dems whilst not swapping them for a recent government which frustrated even its own supporters. As I said above, there was not always anyone else to tick beside. And I think that’s why 70+% once again did not vote. Do they feel all parties are bad, none are different, that their voice won’t be heard, whoever’s in power? 

I’ve seen little focus on the silent majority in news reports. I feel that having to pick this or that and not being able to say none of the above or suggest anything else makes voting very limited, especially with first past the post voting system that favours the two original parties. 

I am dismayed by the presumption (which I do not fully believe) that all these purple crosses mean that the public want more severely right wing policies. When it’s already so right wing it’s farcical, if it weren’t so dangerous and frightening; when you wouldn’t believe it if you put it in fiction – some are asking or harder welfare rules (how could there be?!), and tougher stances on immigration. 

I read UKIP’s policies as I am a fair minded person – as I did for 9 parties, not keen that they should plant cookies and think I am in any way a supporter. The “milder BNP” epithet still stands. Some of their tax ideas were interesting, but badly put with poor sentences (now I feel I’ve set myself up!). I definitely detected a Thatcherite “everyone pays the same” over income tax – something which lost her even staunch Blue sympathisers. And as for Trident… I wondered if I were reading an anti Green party parody instead of a serious manifesto. 

What I do hear is that racism should not be linked to national pride or wanting a sense of identity. It is true that we have lost our sense and right of being a distinct nation apart from our Celtic neighbours, who have gathered more strength in that. I have heard the comment that it’s racist to be an area where there’s no other nationalities and ethnicities – but that seems to be reverse racism, attributing judgement and narrowness, as if positive discrimination is to be applied to where people live. We should never feel awkward, discriminatory or lesser for having more indigenous people than not.   

But UKIP and its cousins (BNP,  English Democrats) are linking multiculturalism to our problems, making outsiders causes to be repatriated rather than seeing them as potentially enriching, although this is crude and unrepresentative to say that the above sentence encapsulates their policies. Remember the freedom we’d like to move abroad, especially if we needed refuge. 

The work ethic that the right wing wants clashes with what they say about foreigners. They want us to get any job and work hard, but they’re cross when immigrants do it instead of original peoples; and don’t see that the very work ethic they wish to promote to benefit claimants creates a culture of poor working conditions, even kinds of slavery. No, getting round minimum wage and working an unhealthy amount of hours is not acceptable, and if one person accepts a bully’s terms, so will the next… And life is not about toil and the taxable income you generate, or submission to hierarchy…

 

I am glad the ruling parties have a message that people are turning from them. I am glad there is more shared power and co-operation (what I’d hoped from the 2010 general elections) in the county councils. I am glad more independents are gaining voices.

I’m alarmed that several have chosen to vote for a further right wing party, and that (looking at comments online) that some do support harsher regimes (which don’t affect them, of course).

But I am sorry that we have a system where so many don’t feel it’s worth their while going to the booths – and that’s the statistic that should speak the most. It’s what can’t be said in a ballot box that really counts.

 

* a 1990s cartoon:  episode No Sax Please, We’re Egyptian  “I am the One they call Nigel”

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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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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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Dickens’ Christmas Carol

I feel sorry for Scrooge.

His workspace is intruded on by presumptive, manipulative money grabbers.

Christmas cheer is an irritating concept and to many, salutations can be cloying, especially if said without meaning, and if your season is anything but merry.

Scrooge, as the Muppets point out, is alone and has been for many years. It is pointed out that he thinks of no-one, but who thinks of him? His partner is long dead and he since youth has never had any of the romantic kind; friendless, his business is all he has to focus on.

His cruelty is stuff of pantomimes, throwing people out of homes and jobs at Christmas and almost relishing it.

I enjoyed the insight into Scrooge’s past – a lonely boy sent to school by a volatile father. What really turned him so nasty?  Love of money does not seem suffice.

Scrooge makes an interesting point: he gives to a system – why should he give again to charity canvassers? Does he mean through taxes, or is he referring to private gifts?

Such an attitude to workhouses and prisons for the poor is not at all far from government and right wing thinking – work or starve… it is very close to how we think about animals, including those in ‘rescue shelters’. It is frightening that an old story often filmed, dramatised and even Muppetised feels so fresh.

Dickens’ Christmas Carol feels very apt this year especially. It is easy to update Scrooge. But he seems more complex than the villain who has given his name to meanness, who goes from hard master to a giddy weak character, enjoying silly games. His is not a religious conversion and if he finds a true meaning in Christmas it is a surfacey one, having little to do with the Nativity and more to do with fear of death, loneliness and being reviled. He gives into Christmas by buying large carnivorous gifts, joining in party games, and smirking benignly at all he meets, by making a large donation to the poor, and drinking. That sounds like commercial festivities rather than anything profound.

Scrooge is a charismatic man, who we enjoy booing but don’t really hate, although our modern real Scrooges incite a different reaction.

It is right that a change of heart is what Scrooge most needs and an understanding of what people really think and what his decisions do to poorer people. But the twee, unspiritual end of conforming to a false jollity is not a satisfactory wrap. What then instead? Perhaps a question for the Occupy camps as well as the literary adapters and analysts.

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Hatred of housing benefit claimants

I am incensed by another example of irresponsible, crowd whipping reporting from my local rag. Archant owns most local rags in England now, and has been behind other thoughtlessness in the same group of papers about overweight campaigns (see next blog) and got a man reburgled due to describing his home in such detail and the ripeness of the opportunity at his secluded, treasure ridden abode. Mostly I find the headlines so incendiary in their mix of rustic low brow and propaganda that I rarely read it. I could give other examples from around the country, including the way that this journalism monopoliser treats its staff.

A front page headline of a multiple million pound housing benefit overpayment is designed to make those not in the welfare system angry, saying that the overpayment is not only caused by deliberate fraud but those who fail their responsibility to tell the council of changes of circumstances. Reading on – as far as I could bear – it is clearly meant to couple this large figure with all the anger the public feels about the recession and the cuts in Britain. It lists other local amenities being lost due to the cuts, as if it is housing benefit claimants’ fault, saying that the council’s announcement has come against a ‘backdrop’ of all the other suffering.

I would like to remind what that backdrop really is. It’s worldwide greed and disproportionate power and wealth, forgetting what it really is to be human. Our governments and banking systems, along with others, are the manifestation of this.

The next day, the sister paper also carried an article. It revealed that it had (mis)used the freedom of information act to find this out.

On one page, the opinion is clearly against cuts and for caring and being humane. Yet on another, we get this contradictory message. The council is quoted to say that most people on HB actually need it, but the last word of the article makes clear what the paper and journalist thinks – that our council’s deficit is due to wasted welfare.

It is actually evil to lay such problems at the feet of those too poor to be able to pay their own way in a society of ever rising costs and make them the scapegoat. Estate agents forever pushing prices up, insurance companies making legally sanctioned money through fear, large newspaper groups who buy up independents, and councils who not only unquestioningly conformed to the cuts they were given from their capital but have implemented them in a thoughtless and underhand way – these would be fairer groups to cast aspersions on.

I would also like to inform – without causing personal embarrassment or scrutiny for those concerned – that this particular council is 6-7 weeks behind with housing benefit changes of circumstances. It then freezes the money whilst it investigates, leaving many claimants in the high risk of getting evicted. I found one who actually had been, due to the severe underpayment due to the council not making a change of circs in the opposite direction. In April, HB cuts were brought in nationally and without warning to individuals that meant most claimants are now not having their full rent covered. Yet claimants are meant to declare and lose any extra money they earn.

Is it any wonder if some claimants do not declare? Honesty should never make one worse off, and neither should working.

The problem is also that in a target driven office with the fear of job loss that claims are not being handled properly and that is why overpayments occur. More staff, better treated and with less pressure would alleviate this.

People on welfare are among the very vulnerable most affected by cuts, while council chiefs earn high salaries and government ministers who have no idea about what it’s like to be on low or no income make emotive statements and making cutting – in all ways – decisions affecting these people’s lives. (I have already the response of a chief minister about this matter, most unsatisfactory).

This same council has been one of the worst I’ve lived under, failing to deal with many aspects of its role, including regularly missing bin collections – one of its most simple functions.

I wrote before about Welfare here (https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/the-truth-about-benefits) and it remains something I care about, as does our right to speak out without being silenced or punished and our right to remaining private.

This is also a call for responsible journalism who should be a voice for the people, not a right wing rag to incite anger against those who need support.

Strangely enough, this leads nicely into my post on Dickens…

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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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