Thursday, 26 January 2012

Unhappy capping

So there's all this hoo-ha about the benefit cap of £26 000 and how it's absolutely essential for the nation's financial well-being that we implement this benefit cap as soon as possible to prevent these feckless scroungers bankrupting the country any further.

As I understand, they arrived at the figure of £26 grand as it is the national average salary for 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics. In order to take home £26k you would have to earn £35k gross. (Which is not the national average salary - £26k is.)

To listen to those in Government indignantly bang on about this you would think that people sign on and are given a big wad of cash that adds up to £26k! This is just not the case.

This is a huge deception being played on the British public and it is a pernicious lie, it is a disgraceful sleight of hand on the part of the Government. What they are trying to get us to believe is that "THESE PEOPLE" are taking your money. This is bollocks!

If you are in receipt of benefit this is money to which you are entitled. The Government will ensure that you prove that entitlement several times over before you get any benefit.

Housing is a right. Also, we have no right whatsoever to interfere with people's right to reproduce.

So to return to this benefit cap: First off it is a national cap and does not consider the vast differences in rental costs depending on what part of the country you are living in. The rental cost of housing in London is so much higher than almost anywhere else in the country. London is my part of the UK and that is where I concentrate on. It is also the place where most of the people who are going to be affected by this benefit cap live. It is estimated thet there are 67 000 households who receive this sum due to their circumstances.

A cursory look at two or three estate agent's websites in my part of London and I discover that three and four bedroom properties start at £15 grand a year, most were over £20 grand, so it's very easy to see how a couple with two or three children would hit the £26 grand benefit cap.

So the real problem with the benefit cap is the cost of renting adequate family housing yet with all the fuss this week there has been hardly anyone talking about rent controls. (One exception was David Lammy MP on Question Time last night on the telly.)

As far as I'm concerned the Government are looking at this in a really cock-eyed way and being deliberately disingenuous in the hope that they can play one section of society off against another - the working poor and the unemployed.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Lost generations

Just before Christmas, unemployment in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics hit 2.62 million. This is the highest recorded total since 1994. The unemployment rate in the UK now stands at 8.3%.

Within these statistics, the number of people aged 16-24 years old who are unemployed is now 1.02 million. This means that the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds is 21.9%. That means that over one in five of our young people are NEETs. Not in employment, education or training.

Social commentators talk of a lost generation at times of recession and high unemployment. I heard on the Today programme this morning that unemployment won't peak until sometime in 2013.

It is well known and statistically borne out that if you suffer unemployment when young it drastically increases your your chances of being unemployed later in life.

Two professors in the west country have examined this in detail. Lindsey Macmillan - Centre for Market and Public Organisation in Bristol and Paul Gregg who is professor of economic and social policy at the University of Bath.

If you spend six months unemployed before the age of 23, it is statistically probable that you will spend 20% of your time unemployed five years later and 15% of your time unemployed twelve years later. These figures come from a study of two UK birth cohorts, which track babies born in a particular period for the rest of their lives.

I left school in 1982 - when the recession under the Thatcher government was in full swing and unemployment topped three million.

My first "job", which I didn't especially want and wasn't especially suited to was a YOP scheme as a builder. YOP is an acronym for Youth Opportunity Programme, basically a government job creation scheme and it certainly wasn't an opportunity. Sometime later I did another job as part of a government scheme in a college library which I loved.

It wasn't until I was 21 that I was able to land a proper job and that was a full four years after I finished school. I was only able to secure a job due to the fact I had done a full 12 months as a CSV. As a Community Service Volunteer I was paid £13.75 a week. (I lived in) This was 1985. There followed well over a decade of full employment.

I'm 47 years old, I should have been working for 30 years. When I look back over my life I've been working for 20 plus of those years so I'm living proof that if you experience unemployment when you are young it does blight your life.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Hiccups for the Welfare Reform Bill

On Wednesday this week the Government's Welfare Reform Bill took a kicking in the House of Lords from crossbenchers and Labour peers.

There were three amendments that were passed AGAINST Government proposals. The Welfare Reform Bill is a huge piece of legislation and there is more of it to come. The Government are looking to cut payments of Employment Support Allowance. ESA used to be known as sickness benefit.

This is your caring-sharing coalition government, how could any of us forget - "we are all in this together."? Lady Meacher, the crossbench peer describes the proposals as "crossing the line of British decency."

ESA is a contribution-based benefit. So if you are young and disabled and haven't beeen paying in, ie too young or too disabled to work, the Government are suggesting you won't be entitled to claim ESA because you haven't been paying National Insurance contributions. So an amendment was proposed saying this was wrong and unfair and that young people should still be able to claim ESA regardless. This amendment was passed.

The Government were further proposing that you would only be able to claim ESA for one year and then be means tested as to further entitlement. An amendment was proposed that the time limit should be two years. This amendment was passed.

Under Government proposals relating to ESA, the same rules were to be applied to cancer patients. This was rejected by the Lords and cancer sufferers and stroke victims are to exempted from the time limit altogether to be means tested as to further entitlement.

ESA is subject to what are called Work Capability Assessments - this is essentially a fit-for-work test. These have long been criticised - even by those who devised them.

Here's what one woman, Chris Linacre, had to say to the Guardian when she was turned down for sickness benefits and passed fit for work, in spite of the fact she suffers long-standing spinal problems and arthritis: " I think they (the assessors) expect you to be a Beano cartoon character, complete with ouch bubbles above your head, but people tend to be stoic. I try not to labour the fact that I'm in pain. I wasn't going to tell them that some days I can't even put my knickers on I'm in so much pain." Ms Linacre is now appealing against the decision.

The Government has already said it is to continue with its plans when the bill returns to the Commons in spite of major misgivings expressed in the Lords this week. That remains to be seen as opposition to their plans is growing - people are beginning to see their plans for what they really are: cruel and attacking the rights of people who are not in a position to fight back.

The Children's Commissioner - Maggie Atkinson, has published an assessment of the impact of the Welfare Reform Bill on children's rights. This report says: "We have identified groups of children whose rights may be breached by the implementation of the Bill." The report goes on to say that "there are many areas of risks that are of real concern."

So that's what the Government's Welfare Reform Bill means to two groups of our population: the disabled and children - an attack on their living standards.