Posts Tagged ‘welfare’

Even before the cuts to benefits and the changes to DLA have taken place, they are having an effect on the people who rely on them. This is one woman’s story.

“It’s not as though I don’t want to work. I find it hard to imagine why anyone would believe that someone would live hand to mouth on benefits, without holidays, much of a social life, new clothes, etc., by choice. Why would I chose to spend time considering whether I can afford to turn the heating on (never mind up), when the temperature outside is minus something?  Why would I chose to debate the relative merits of fresh food versus a £1 ready meal from the bargain freezer shop? If it was a question of choice, I would most definitely have made a different one.

And now it seems that everything is about to get much worse. Changes to income support, incapacity benefit and DLA could well mean that by this time next year I will have even less to live on than now.  Friends and family tell me not to worry.  That the changes are intended to ‘weed out the cheats’ not target people like me. People who are genuinely disabled, genuinely sick. But that is not the impression I get from reading the papers or surfing the internet. No one can guarantee that I can maintain my current position.

So I worry. I lie awake and imagine what might happen if…

I keep applying for jobs.  Any job. Hundreds of jobs. Two interviews, one offer. A ridiculously inappropriate job but I am desperate.

I last less than a week. The physical pain so increased that I sleep downstairs for days, unable to face the prospect of climbing the stairs to my bedroom. My fears increase, my confidence crashes even lower. I am ashamed of my inability to cope with the uncertainties of the job….who is actually in charge? Would I get paid on time? Would I be able to pay my rent?

I am ashamed of my inability to cope.

More job applications.  Even with a degree I can’t get an interview for a part-time job answering the phone because of ‘the high calibre of the applicants’.

My mood begins to swing down into the grey fog that has hovered just over my left shoulder for most of my life. It wraps me in nothing and smothers motivation. All I want to do is sleep. And eat.

Most of the time I can hide from my family and friends. Smiles and chats distract others from the emptiness. I am still functioning. Still going out.  Still fulfilling my obligations. Mostly.

Until today.

When even sitting still seems to require more energy than I can muster. My thoughts dwell constantly on the thought of medicals, reviews, a change to JSA, the loss of DLA, a reduction in Housing Benefit after twelve months, growing dependence on the charity of others. It might not happen.

But it might. It could.

And I am scared.

I feel helpless, vulnerable.

I feel myself sliding further into the fog.

The future looks bleak.”

Today sees the publication of Frank Field’s report on poverty in the UK.  Although it isn’t yet available to read in full as far as I know, its contents have been widely reported in the daily newspapers.  His advice that government should stop trying to boost the income of poor families and freeze child benefit and child tax credits, will no doubt be music to the ears of this ConDem(ned) government. Apparently, income will be redistributed by the improved job prospects of disadvantaged children helped by better public services during the ‘foundation years’ 0 to 3.

The money saved by freezing welfare benefits would be used to improve ante-natel and pre-school care, to finance children’s centres and provide parenting classes throughout school life.

Judging by the current fashion for cutting anything and everything, I can’t see any savings made being re-invested in services.  Cameron and Co. prefer cutting to spending. Sure Start Childrens Centres have been an extremely successful service and are very popular with those that use them. But thanks to the savage cuts in local government finances, many are under threat.  In Stoke-on-Trent, half of the existing centres could be closed. (Check out the campaign to save them, SOCC) Frank Field also believes that private companies should be able to bid to provide Sure Start services.

I am in agreement with much of what the report apparently says.  Poverty, social exclusion, disadvantage, whatever label you wish to use, is much more complicated than simply a lack of money. Poor education,  a restricted paradigm in which no other life can be envisaged and low aspirations, all help to build the walls that trap individuals, families and communities in poverty.  The Guardian quotes Frank Field as saying

“A healthy pregnancy, positive but authoritative parenting, high quality childcare, a positive approach to learning at home and an improvement in parents’ qualifications, can … trump class background and parental income.”

It will take financial investment and plenty of time to make a difference.  But we already knew that. Didn’t we?

I’m not sure that there is anything actually new here. Surely these are the kind of differences, things like Sure Start,  EMA, university outreach programs, cash payments to women during their pregnancies, were designed to make?

Oh! I forgot! They have had to go.

We can’t afford them.

And if that’s the case, what are the odds on more money being spent on increasing services, even it child benefit and child tax credits are frozen?

I worry that this report could lead to disadvantaged families becoming even more disadvantaged, not less so,  with its suggestion to  cut welfare even further than it has already been cut in the recent spending review.  Low income might not be the sole cause of disadvantage, but I believe that it is at the very heart of poverty.

It is very difficult to concentrate on ‘positive parenting’ when the most important thing on your mind is how to keep your children warm, or fed or clothed.

Your education and your future are a long way off when your class mates laugh at you because you don’t have a washing machine to keep your clothes clean or you don’t dress the ‘right’ way, or you stomach grumbles in class because you’re hungry.

With all the current changes to welfare in the pipeline, social mobility is more likely to mean trying to keep a roof over your head rather than improving the life chances of our  countries most vulnerable children.

I’m good at guilt.

Whether as a result of my Catholic upbringing or because of a predisposition caused by  faulty wiring in my brain, guilt is my default setting.  I tell myself that it is a kind of egotism that makes me think that whatever it is must be my fault.  After all, I’m just not that important and my actions and thoughts do not exactly rock the world. I flick mental peanuts at the paranoia that tries to sneak up on me and whisper ‘it’s all your fault’ in my ear whenever I notice its stealthy step.

But as of a today, I have it on the highest authority that it is all my fault after all.  According to the ‘compassionate Tory’, Ian Duncan Smith, I, and everyone else who lives on social security benefits (otherwise known as handouts), are the people (hereafter referred to a scroungers, layabouts and shirkers) largely responsible for the countries current deficit.

‘In remarks that will spark controversy, he became the first cabinet minister to draw a direct link between our economic turmoil and the workless.’
‘BRITAIN’S shirkers’ paradise shame with hordes of work shy benefit claimants was blamed last night for much of our economic mess. ‘
…and so on and so on.
Those of us claiming incapacity benefits came in for particular criticism, because apparently our ‘handout’ is both too generous and too easily claimed by hoardes of workshy shirkers faking disability and illness.
So there it is.
Permission for the general public to blame and castigate the unemployed.
Permission to regard the sick and disabled as the cause of our economic woes.
After all, we live next door and so make a much easier target than some millionaire banker living large on taxpayers handouts in his elegant country mansion.