Benefit Reform

I did promise to the delight of you all I'm sure to have a go at David Cameron's plans to have a go at the folk on Incapacity Benefit. Truly there is no issue to make you feel more like a drunk talking to themselves than ranting about benefit reform.

Based on my own eavesdropping and being collared at bus stops most peoples attitude to state benefits is that they should be done away with unless they or one of their family is stuck. If one challenges them by asking what should be done about the genuinely disabled they backtrack, splutter and tell you about their neighbour who sells tea towels at the market and gets everything going to justify their previous zero benefits position.

To clarify my own position. I am a wicked believer in society, community and helping one's fellow man when he's in the soup but underpinned with values of personal responsibility and self-reliance. How I arrived at a position so at odds with my personality is a mystery but there it is. However the current benefit system utterly fails to promote these any of these virtues which is one of the many good reasons for it to be reformed.

However we should keep the extent of benefit fraud in perspective. Rejoice! It's not as bad as you think. In my view the main problem is the inherent waste in the system.

Take for example one of my clients, an immigrant from Pakistan who is desperate to find work. Until arriving in Britain he worked, whether in the family business from early childhood to carpentry later on. His English is pretty poor but he is physically fit and keen as mustard. He felt his poor English and difficulties with written English would prevent him finding a job, so with a head full of silly ideas about hand ups as opposed to hand outs he asked his local Job Centre if they would lend him money to buy English tuition. The Job Centre correctly informed him that as he'd not been unemployed for six months he was not eligible for any loans and that it didn't matter anyway because if he was still unemployed in six months time they'd be able to get him English classes and help to find work. He then explained that he felt ashamed of 'begging' and asked if they knew of anyone who would help him with English in exchange for work. They told him this was impossible and suggested he look for work in the Indian restaurant trade- something he'd had no previous experience of. Within about fifteen minutes of speaking to me and with no great effort on my part, I got him a place on a church run free English course and organised additional free tuition. I also enrolled him on a work shadowing project for skilled manual workers.

That was just short of three months ago. He is now earning enough stacking shelves to support his family, he continues to take English tuition, his English is a lot better and he is working towards self-employment so that he can work in his trade and he no longer claims Jobseekers Allowance. I again stress that I did not go out my way for this man, undertook no special research or made any exceptional attempt to help him, yet by taking his desire to find work seriously and taking into account that as a Catholic he'd left his country because of Muslim persecution he might not be made terribly welcome in Glasgow's Muslim dominated 'Indian' restaurant trade, he was able to find work. There is no real reason that DWP staff could not have done this instead if the government were really serious about getting people into to work, racial integration and helping people. No flashy initiatives or changes in legislation are required.

Moving on to disability benefits. Again no great change in legislation is required just a change in policy and practice. I will keep saying this until someone listens but if DWP doctors carried out proper medicals we'd be laughing. Similarly if the DWP stopped calling people for medicals who have conditions that deteriorate or do not improve we'd save a bundle.

However if we're hell bent on changing legislation we could remove the inbuilt disincentive to work removed from the system. Someone who is forced to stop work through ill health will eventually receive contributions based Incapacity Benefit once their contractual sick pay then Statutory Sick Pay has run out. Someone who has never worked will go straight onto Income Support/ Incapacity Credits. The difference is that the person on contributory Incapacity Benefit will have to pay some rent and council tax, pay for their prescriptions and be ineligible for Community Care Grants, Direct Deductions for fuel arrears and Budgeting Loans. Oh and if they happen to be buying their home -repossession beckons unless their lender is willing to wait until they qualify for a small amount of help with the interest. This is in direct contrast to the claimant who has never worked who has access to all of the above (except mortgage help for 26 weeks).

None of the proposed reforms either from Labour or the Tories seem to acknowledge that genuine claimants exist, nor show any real desire to reward work. Instead we are left with politicians taking advantage of public misconceptions about the benefit system to push through lazy, shallow, ineffective and pointless legislation. Well I say pointless the real point is of course to make a bunch of effete wankers look butch in The Sun.

If we wanted to get really radical we could take steps to let folk know that their horizons are much larger than their scheme, that with a bit of effort they could achieve a lot more than living off the state. This could be partly achieved by a proper education system. I was recently chatting to an utterly disillusioned teacher who was pulled up for using her blackboard too much. Apparently 'today's children' respond better to interactive learning and she should be using her 'smartboard' to convey the same information she'd put up on the blackboard. Her school then realised they hadn't budgeted for the £200 a go light bulbs required to power the thing and requested that teachers split the lesson between the 'smartboard' and the blackboard. The woman I spoke to has been a teacher for 32 years with an unblemished record. She loves teaching and working with the children. All she asks is to left to get on with teaching.

Could petty interference of this sort be contributing the appalling illiteracy rate? The swathes of children being pointlessly tortured in the name of targets and statistics? 'Today's children' are much the same as the generations that preceded them. What they need is to be taught basic maths and reading and writing. All of which will allow them to attain marketable skills later in life. What many of 'todays children' need in the absence of decent parents equipped to do so is someone taking an interest in their personal development, not writing them off as deprived. Isn't that why people go into teaching? If not don't employ folk devoid of a desire to educate and an interest in their students in the first place. Targets and statistics are no substitute for a good teacher and a reasonable level of inspection. It's easy enough to teach to exams or teach only what meets targets. None of which appear to be producing particularly well educated pupils. Is it any wonder so many of them aspire to nothing more than drug and alcohol induced oblivion and a life on benefits?



BenefitScroungingScum said...

Excellent post! I can't help feeling that overall it's far cheaper and easier to rouse the 'public' into this anger against benefit scroungers by making out it's all fraud and unnecessary than it is to actually address the exact problems you describe. Cynical, me? Never. BG

Anonymous said...

Good post, certainly, but conspicuous by it's absence do you stand of the opinion that some people will just be either a) fleecing the system or b) so far gone that the attitude for change in their life is gone, and that just leaving these people be is the only option?

Changing the system to be more supportive of people that are actually looking for work and to be of "worth" in their own context is not the hard part of reform surely, but rather the challenges come in those that feel they've been pigeon-holed by the system and have no further immediate desire to contest that?

Clairwil said...

Well it seems to be easier than putting their house in order.

Lee Griffin,
Of course people fleece the system. I haven't been able to find any figures on how much is spent on the detection of benefit fraud, nor do I have any knowledge of staffing levels or procedures. However based on experience of representing clients accused of benefit fraud I suspect corners are being cut somewhere. I've represented a fair few people who I believe probably are guilty of fraud but have got away with it because the benefits agency had no proper evidence against them. As I say whether that's just staff incompetence or lack of training, staff and/or resources I have no idea but whatever the cause I'd like the situation rectified. Both to deal properly with fraud and to allow speedy resolution of cases of malicious reporting (something that is also rife-another costly waste of resources).

In terms of the 'too far gone' brigade. If they are claiming ill health then a proper medical would get them off sickness benefits. However this only displaces them (in most cases)on to Jobseekers Allowance which is why I'd like to see a more pro-active approach on the behalf of DWP staff in helping folk find work. Not only would this help disadvantaged claimants who want to work but have problems doing so but it gets rid of the excuses used by the workshy as to why they've not found work. Remember that existing legislation allows for peoples Jobseeker's Allowance to be stopped if the DWP officer has reason to believe that they're not seeking work. For example I had some obvious skiver in my office moaning that he couldn't find a job because he didn't have internet access and didn't know what days jobs were advertised in newspapers. He was able to avoid a benefit sanction because he'd applied for the minimum two jobs a week and it was accepted that he didn't know these things. You and I both know this is nonsense. If when this individual
signed on they'd been given this information and asked to sign an agreement confirming that they'd been given this information and understood it, this excuse would have been removed. As things stand they can use it at every six month review they get and be no further forward.

I'd also like to see the Jobseeker's earnings disregard for folk with under sixteen hours part-time work p/w raised to encourage people to take at least some work whilst looking for full time work. Let's face it someone who's been working part-time for six months is a more attractive prospect to employers than someone who has done nothing at all. In addition incentives to take voluntary work would also be beneficial.

Anonymous said...

I'm 46 years old and have never had a job; merely a series of trainig schemes and workfare placements. I feel totally trapped by the benefits system, especially Housing Benefit and feel that the only way for me to get started on the employment ladder would be the introduction of some sort of citizen's income whereby my minimum benefit levels would be maintained were I to take casual or part-time work...which unfortunately isn't the case at the moment. Last year, for example, I went on a Transitional Labour Market programme and nearly starved and froze to death because I was nearly a month without any money coming in, yet was having to incur all the costs of going out to work (bus fares, new clothes, sandwiches). It was somewhat disheartening.

Clairwil said...

I'm very attracted to the idea of a citizens income, though I'm yet to be convinced it would be an effective replacement for the entire welfare state.

The loss of housing benefit is a huge barrier into work for claimants. That's why I'd like to see the income disregard increased and a one month overlap period to ease the transition from benefits to work.

What happened to you is appalling but I wonder if you got your full entitlement during that time. The DWP are very bad at alerting you to things you can claim and unless you know the system you're likely to miss out.

If you want to email me on clairwil123@hotmail.com with details of the benefits you are currently claiming I can give you an idea of the help available if you find work.

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