Thursday, 28 October 2010

Life in the hostel

"There hasn't been a murder here for ages."

John (not his real name), who has lived here a good while longer than I have, trots this phrase out like he's talking about the weather. It's true, there's been the odd dead body but nobody got murdered. I've been here five years and a bit and I know of four corpses found on the premises, but no murders.

John has got huge muscly arms and tattoos all the way up his neck, as well as all the other places you'd expect. He looks like he could snap you in two. As far as I know, he hasn't killed anybody but there are people here who have. All sorts live here. I often read about ne'er do wells who share my address: in the weekly local paper, every Thursday, in the library over the road. This sometimes involves selling crack, or stabbing someone but there have been folk who have committed sex crimes.

Mostly there are three ways of coming to live here; just out of nick, just out of the local loony bin, or knocked back by the council. There are other folk; the very recently separated, even the odd tourist. I'm sure that statistically it shortens your life expectancy, living here.

I always said I'd stay here because it was a sure fire way of getting moved into social housing. I guess I can kiss that one goodbye now, thanks to our all-singing, all-dancing coalition Government.

There are 33 boroughs in London and I suppose there are places just like the place I live in, in every borough. The people that run my place have another one in the market, less than half-a-mile away, that's much, much worse than where I live. More junkies, more cockroaches, more grief generally, to the extent that if things go a bit wrong here, but not wrong enough for them to kick you out, they threaten you: "Any more trouble out of you and we'll move you to the market!"

It works both ways, the people in the market get told that if they keep their nose clean and up to date with their rent, (surcharge) "we might let you move over to ..............road."

There are umpteen stories I could tell you about this place, but let's leave that to another day.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

"Back from the brink" or should that be over the precipice?

The headline quote is from George Osborne and apologies for the cheap pun but it was a gift.

So we had the Comprehensive Spending Review yesterday which, to you and I, is known as "the cuts". We are going to have at least four years of these cuts.

This prospect makes me think of the eighties. I reached working age in 1982, I remember the eighties well. England was a miserable place. In large swathes of the country, thousands of people were out of work. It seemed that wherever you went you always found loads of places boarded up and shut down. Life struck me as bleak throughout most of that time. I'm worried these cuts will be worse.

I'm not planning to write an exhaustive study of what played out Wednesday 20 September. If you wish to read such a thing I'm sure you know where you can find it. But I want to comment on what I saw and heard and some of the implications I think it may have for those in receipt of benefit.

The cuts to the welfare budget have gone up twice since George Osborne's emergency budget in June. If you remember, he said he was going to cut £11 billion. On 9 September he announced a further £4 billion, by yesterday he announced in the Commons the total cuts to the welfare budget had risen to a total of £18 billion. Of this £18 billion, £2.5 billion is the cuts in child benefit announced a couple of weeks ago.

The contrast in the reactions to these different cuts has been startling:
  • Take £2.5 billion in Child Benefit off some fairly well-off folk (one parent earning over £44k). Reaction: General uproar in the House, lots of disapproving muttering in the press.
  • Take £15.5 billion of the poor, disabled and the out of work. Reaction: no-one bats an eyelid.

It is so difficult to find hard information right now. This will only appear over the coming weeks. I think a whole lot of people will be in for an almighty shock come next April. Here are just four shocks I noticed.

1. Anybody who is on long-term sick pay will lose a third of their money and be moved onto Job Seekers Allowance after twelve months.

2. My local MP, Meg Hillier, says anybody on Housing Benefit will see it cut by 10% after twelve months. There are a lot of worried people talking in the press about people being forced to move further out of London to cheaper areas.

3. Another implication for Housing Benefit claimants is that single people under the age of 35 won't be able to claim Housing Benefit for anything other than shared housing. So, if you work as a civil servant, are 30 years old, and live in social housing and the Government puts you out of work - for instance - is the Government saying you're going to lose your flat?

4. Future social housing tenants will be asked to pay rents at a rate of 80% of private rents in the area. Tessa Jowell, a South London MP, said on BBC London TV news (Oct 20), "This is the end of social Housing in London."

The implications of these vicious cuts are huge and very frightening for so many on benefits. None of us can know for sure what the ramifications will be.

Yesterday there was no mention of the VAT increase coming in January. Nor was much made of local government cuts. The suggestion yesterday was that these would come in as 26% over four years. This works out as 6.5% annually, so that's more cuts we will suffer.

The one cheery fact I learnt yesterday was that these cuts are the worst cuts since 1976, not since the second world war as had earlier been believed.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Future Jobs Fund and the careless adviser

My jobcentre adviser is someone I wish I never met. Pushy, impatient and stuck up. Through my adviser I have occasionally been forwarded to various different FJF (Future Job Fund) jobs. FJF jobs offer community-focused jobs specifically targeted at young people. It’s a minimum of 25 hours a week, with a contract of six months and paid at national minimum wage.

One of the things I hate is I can only access the FJF jobs through my adviser. This means I can't access them through the Internet or though the jobcentre's job search machines. There are times when I go to the jobcentre to see my adviser to get an update on jobs and I'm told “We don’t have any jobs for you this week. See you next time.” They don’t care about their clients.

I want an alternative way to access available FJF jobs other than through my jobcentre adviser who rarely updates me. My adviser gets frustrated when I take my time going through the vacancy list. There is no rush. I made myself crystal clear about the jobs that interest me, yet I’m being forwarded for jobs that my adviser wants me to do.

Sometimes I get an interview. The interviewer expects me to have some company knowledge. This is when I have asked my adviser for additional information about the company and the sort of the questions I may get asked at the interview. Didn’t get anything back. From my point of view it seems that my jobcentre adviser doesn’t want to do the job. It’s like they love seeing me back there at the jobcentre week in, week out.

In May 2010 they began to cut the FJF programme from a couple of organisations and the number is increasing. According to statistics this was the most progressive employment scheme in the generation. This offers people from the ages of 18-24 a chance for a real job in a real working environment.

My brother who is 19 years old currently has a job which is an FJF job is a community arts worker. He tells me he enjoys his work, meeting new people and learning tons of new things everyday. Also adding "it's difficult enough as it is for people my age to find work, stopping the FJF programme just makes it harder for young people to get into employment."

Those who have not worked before or getting back into employment have a chance to train and also put something more on their CV and they are taking that away.