The Meandering Social Worker

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Archive for the tag “austerity”

Does the suit and tie matter?

Poor old David Cameron’s the butt of a few jokes at the moment, for his comment about Corbyn’s dress sense.  But he got it wrong.  He told a man to do up his tie when that man’s tie was perfectly neat and fastened at the time of the jibe. The comment showed Cameron’s prejudice and fear. And although not a standard suit, Corbyn’s jacket and trousers were a perfectly acceptable alternative.  In a world where few people have jobs that require the wearing of a suit and tie, the comment also made Cameron look a bit out of touch.

I feel a little sorry for Cameron (hear me out). He’s clearly not the brightest of his bunch – average yes but not the brightest. I also don’t think he’s as evil as some of his colleagues appear to be. He’s had a privileged upbringing and knows nothing of the experience of the majority, and he hasn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of having the genuine charisma that enables him to put a smile on the face of a woman who has just lost everything in a flood by putting his arm around her shoulders and singing happy birthday to her. He genuinely doesn’t understand why he’s not winning the popularity stakes. And I think he really believes he’s trying to do the best for the country and the people; he’s just seeing everything through his own privileged lens and is not able to see or understand the real impact of Tory policies. He doesn’t know how to handle Jeremy Corbyn and he’s out of his depth. He’s tried to imitate Corbyn’s personable videos and just looks wooden. He can’t speak off script, as Jeremy can, and this foolish comment about Corbyn’s attire proves it. The more I look at Cameron the more I think he’s just a puppet, a front man.

It’s the evil ones behind Cameron that are dangerous – and the reason we need to get this bunch of Tories out. The commentaries on Cameron’s slipped mask of geniality (in ridiculing Corbyn for his dress sense and showing up his privileged background and lack of understanding) are a lighthearted diversion but let’s not get distracted from what else is going on – Tory cuts to the poor, disadvantaged, sick, disabled and elderly; rising poverty, dependence on foodbanks and homelessness; privatisation of the NHS, education (aka academies) and increasingly Social Services. And now there is an EU referendum coming up.

Whatever your view of Britain’s EU membership, be aware that Brexit is also a backdoor vote for the devolution of Scotland and the break up of the UK – if the UK votes for Brexit then Scotland will demand another referendum and almost certainly opt for independence so they can rejoin the EU. The OUTers talk of making new trading partners but who is out there to welcome li’l ole England to trade, and don’t think the EU will not beat us with the biggest stick it can find if we vote out of the club.

The official Labour line is to vote to stay IN albeit for different reasons to the Tory party – worker’s rights, human rights and employment protection for starters. What they don’t add is that the EU is also one of our few protections against our own (current) despotic government. While the EU is a cumbersome, often fragmented, and sometimes laughable institution, on balance I believe we are better off staying in than leaving. At 15 I was too young to vote in the 1970’s referendum but I would have voted to have stayed out if I had had the chance. And until fairly recently I remained an ardent Eurosceptic. Forty years on and we live in a very different world: a globalised society unimaginable to us in the 1970’s and one that’s changing faster every day.  As we think about what to vote, let’s ask the question the old indigenous tribal leaders used to ask: what best serves the interests of this and tomorrow’s generations?

So, let’s enjoy for a moment the discomfiture of a Prime Minister who doesn’t get it and has made a foolish comment as a result, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger issues at hand.

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The destabilisation of society

The current UK government are marching forward in their dismantling of social support networks, while increasing the pressure on the poorest, the most vulnerable, the disabled.  Vast swathes of society are being crushed – how long before this reaches the point of the destabilisation of our society?

In today’s Guardian respected academic Ray Jones writes on the privatisation of child protection social work.   Elderly care and children’s residential care have long been taken over by the private sector.  Some local authority social work is already contracted out to small independent social work companies.  It won’t take much to extend this to more ‘front line’ roles.  Social workers take note.

It doesn’t need any referencing to know that our education system is well underway to being privatised through PFIs, Academies, Free Schools.  It doesn’t need any referencing to know that our NHS is being back-door privatised, this hits the news headlines so often.

In the meantime the impact of cuts are being felt, and felt hard.

The irony is, it’s private businesses, large and small, in the form of those whose staff receive tax credits due to low wages who are the real beneficiaries of the welfare benefits system.  Private landlords might feel the impact of cuts if tenants default on their rent and they have to go through evictions processes, but until now they too have been beneficiaries of the benefits system.

Local authority housing tenants are to lose their right to a home for life, having their tenancies reviewed at least every five years and facing the possibility of eviction if they are deemed not sufficiently in need of social housing, dependent on an income based means test with no apparent consideration for social or family needs, the availability of private rented housing, or the stress and disruption forced moves will cause.  What incentive does that give to take care of or improve your home or your community?  What opportunity does that give for ‘estates’ to mature and provide a secure base for younger families? For those who do remain in social housing, rent caps will be removed for anyone earning above a certain level, increasing their rents to the same as the private sector in their area. What incentives do either of these measures give to people to get work or promotion if it means potentially losing their home or having their rent massively increased?

Instead of having the desired effect of motivation into work, benefit sanctions, alongside insecure job contracts, zero hours contracts, enforced part time working, threats to cut tax credits before implementation of a ‘living wage’, have seen a rise in mental health problems, avoidable deaths, poverty, food banks, and local authorities having to provide pauper funerals as well as a rise in the use of S.17 (CA’89) funding to make up the shortfalls caused by cuts in welfare benefits and sanctions.

In the autumn Spending Review, following sustained political pressures, George Osbourne made a great show of reversing planned cuts to tax credits in advance of the implementation of a new ‘living wage’, but still hit the poor and vulnerable with other cuts such as to housing benefits such that some suggest they will be even worse off than if the cuts to tax credits had gone ahead.

In true Tory style, instead of recognising that government policies and cuts are causing the problems they are trying to ‘cure’, the government have continued to blame the poor for their own plight, and, in the March 2015 Budget, introduced CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) as a condition for continuing to receive benefits while job hunting.

What all this represents is a worrying move away from personal individualisation and a forced conforming to what is considered by the government as a desired ‘norm’.  This in turn is reminiscent of what happened in Germany under the Nazis leading up to the start of the Second World War.

This in a climate where the police have only just staved off crippling budget cuts, which will undoubtedly resurface again later.  Then, if they succumb to the pattern so far, once the police have been incapacitated by budget cuts and privatised as underperforming, there will only be the Army left to deal with a destabilised society.

 

References and other things:

Nudging the disabled into work

How cuts to local councils will affect you

Rise in S.17 spending due to welfare cuts

Coasting schools likely to lead to rise in academies

Tenants in England spend half their pay on rent

Outsourcing child protection

Austerity bites

Community Care have reported a 20% rise in funding from the S.17 budget (an emergency fund available to Social Services to support children in need under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989).

This is clear evidence of the rise in poverty and social deprivation since the introduction of cuts to welfare benefits and the rise in sanctions introduced under the previous (coalition) government.

There is clearly a worrying trend here, but it is also evident that while savings appear to have been made by the government in one area of expenditure, there have been consequential rising costs in another.  It is with huge relief that George Osborne has, in today’s financial statement, withdrawn the proposed swinging cuts to Tax Credits, or at least to allow rising wages under the new ‘living wage’ to come into effect first.

Just imagine how much greater the impact would have been on local authority budgets if it were not for food banks.  But food banks cannot fill the whole gap – nappies, travel, clothing, including school uniforms, toiletries and other essential household items, or cash for electric and gas meters, are not covered.

Picking up these costs is still cheaper for the local authority than taking a child into foster care – which they would have to do if the alternative is that the child is being classified as physically neglected because the parent cannot adequately feed or clothe their child.

I’ll say no more – for social workers reading this I’m merely teaching my grandmother to suck eggs – and anyway, the article says it all better than I can.

Embracing Austerity

Spend less on what we don’t need, pay off debts so we’re not making obscene interest payments and hey presto we’re all better off.  It’s been the message of money and debt management websites, books and TV programmes for years.  Now, the government have got a hold of the idea and we are all living under ‘austerity measures’.  So how do we apply it to our own lives?

No more debt

Makes sense doesn’t it.  No more debt means no ridiculous interest payments to banks and other lenders.  Especially if you’ve got a mortgage.

Of course if we all paid off all our debts the banks
wouldn’t be able to earn the interest we pay them and
there would be a big risk to the banking system,
possibly leading to collapse.

Wouldn’t it be great though.  All that extra money to ourselves.  Or perhaps we could work less hours as we wouldn’t need to earn so much, and spend the time with our families (rather like they do in more community based cultures such as in much of South America).

Actually, that was the vision at the beginning of the
technological era, that we could use technology to
give us more leisure time. Instead a consumerist
society has been created to replace that ideal.

And working less hours would mean paying less in
income tax and National Insurance contributions
to fund government services.

But in order to pay off all that debt we need to do something else first.

Spend less

That’s not so easy if you are already on the breadline but let’s just humour the idea for now.  After all, the present (Conservative) government believes we can live on less money (cuts to benefits including tax credits before the introduction of the new ‘living’ wage, sanctions and the six week wait for benefits proposed under the new Universal Credit).  But, back to humouring the idea: spend less in order to put the money saved towards paying off those debts.

Apply the principles of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair, Remake.  Got a closet full of clothes?  You don’t really need to buy more from the big expensive High Street stores.  There’s lots of alternatives: keep wearing what you’ve got, especially if it’s in good condition; hold a swap party and change your once loved gear for someone else’s once loved gear; got no family or friends for a swap party – check out the charity shops or boot fairs; get clever with your hands and learn to sew again.  Waste not want not. Cut your coat according to your cloth. Etc.

 Not only will you save money but this will reduce the
amount of taxes (VAT) you pay, which will reduce
the government’s revenue to pay for public services.

The High Street stores, many of whom are notorious
for not paying taxes on their profits, will lose money
and they might have to reduce the amount some
of them donate to the Conservative Party.

Get savvy with your neighbours and colleagues.  Develop your community.  Maybe you can share garden and household tools and equipment.  Maybe you could barter a bit of labour in the garden in exchange for a cooked meal, help with the ironing, or a lift somewhere.  Every little helps as a certain large store is keen to promote.

May undercut genuine small traders as well as big
stores but will also reduce the amount of money
changing hands and the amount of taxes being paid
into the government to provide for public services.

Give up what you don’t need.  Don’t buy what you don’t need.  Do you really need that new ornament or nik-nak, do you really need to replace that perfectly good item because you’d like a different colour.  It’s just falling for the whims of the advertisers who aim to get more of your money out of you by promoting ‘fashions’.  Before you buy something quickly calculate how many hours of work you will have to do to pay for it – base your figures on what you earn after tax and National Insurance, not before it – you might not want it so much after all.

Listen to the advertisers – spend your way to happiness, ignore
that feeling of being let down when the debts pile up, spend  some
more, no matter that your stress will eventually cause other health
problems that put pressure on the public services – just make
sure you buy stuff on which you pay taxes. That makes up for
the taxes the big companies don’t pay on their profits.

There is a whole minimalist movement growing, all about how to live with less ‘stuff’ in our lives.  All sorts of figures have been bandied around over the years but a common one is that we only wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time.  Recent stories suggest the same is true of children and the number of their toys they play with, reinforced by the current Ikea Christmas video (you can watch this at the end of this blog).  We have yards and attics and garages bulging with ‘stuff’ we don’t use, but which all requires energy to maintain and store it, on top of the financial cost of bigger homes in which to store it, the money needed to buy it in the first place and the time cost of earning the money int he first place.  Sell it, make space, don’t replace it, get somewhere smaller and cheaper to live.  The best value is in quality not quantity.

Selling stuff on second hand generally doesn’t attract VAT
for the government to use on providing public services.

Some things we still need to spend money on.  We still need to pay out to live somewhere, through rent if we’re not lucky enough to have paid off a mortgage or have some other rent free arrangement, as well as gas and electric for heating and cooking, council tax and water supplies.  If we can reduce these costs all well and good, but not everyone can.  Economies on food, toiletries and general household goods, are only realistic for those who are not already in poverty.

The government still stands to get a fair amount
from us in taxes from our rent, utilities and some foods,
which will help provide for public services.

If we’re going to help the government achieve their austerity goals to eliminate national debt, does that mean we will have to cash in all our Bonds – you know, all that money that’s ours that the government uses and gives us a bit of interest on?

Err, well yes, actually the government will need to give you
all your money back as technically it’s still debt to them.

As individuals it makes sense to cut back on our expenditure to pay off our debts, reduce our taxes, balance our budgets.

It makes sense for the government to ensure that the people
spend as much as possible, because that’s how they get their income,

through taxes.  Taxes are needed to pay for all the ‘social’ services the
people demand: education, police, health, waste collections.

Government Austerity is about cutting expenditure to reduce the national debt. To do this they are reducing the amount paid to the poor in Benefits and the amount their own government departments can spend on providing public services.  To help them do this suggestions come up from time to time, such as everyone having to buy insurance to cover for periods of sickness and unemployment, as well as retirement.  The poorest, who are growing in number, still won’t be able to afford that and they will still need the government to step in and help or be left to starve.  The poor will be poorer and sicker, the more they will need the services of the government.  The more poor people there are the less they will have to spend, the less the government will receive in the taxes it needs to run public services.  In the meantime big companies such as Google and Amazon, Boots and Starbucks, and many more are getting away with paying little or no taxes in the countries where they are operating and generating massive profits.  Until that balance is redressed I have to ask the question:

Can we ever balance the national books this way?

 

Should social workers be political?

There was a time when that question didn’t need to be asked.  Social workers entered the profession knowing that the people they would be working with would, largely, be the poor and dispossessed, forgotten and unloved by society and so by governments.  Standing up for the rights of services users came with the job.  However, coinciding with the encroach of managerialism in the 1990’s so the political desire and muscle of social work has steadily weakened – at least on the front line: academics have, by and large, continued to bang the political drum.

Can it continue this way?  We live in a society where the ruling political class appears to be as far removed as possible from the reality of daily experience of large swathes of society.  It’s not just the traditionally disadvantaged, dispossessed and disaffected who are being impacted on by the austerity measures of UK governments since the global financial crisis of 2008/09.  The number of working poor has risen, dependent on tax credits, while there has been an exponential rise in the use of food banks.  David Cameron’s government squirmed under demands for evidence on the catastrophic impact of benefit sanctions policies, amid mounting anecdotal evidence of real hardship leading to deaths of people with chronic physical and mental health conditions.  Jeremy Corbyn swept into the leadership role of the Labour Party on an anti-austerity ticket, despite complete derision of him and his policies in the popular media.  Labour Party membership has since eclipsed membership of other political parties.  Corbyn has gone on to impress with his calmness, authenticity, and his doggedness at revealing the hypocrisy of government policies.  Regardless of whether you support him or his policies, there is no doubt he is having an impact.

With another financial crash forecast (and the evidence is compelling) the situation can only get worse.  The poor, disadvantaged, dispossed, and disaffected need champions more than ever.  Whether we work among children & families, adult services, with people affected by physical or learning disabilities, or mental health problems, we see the impact of poverty and austerity.  It’s not easy to fight the political fight when you too have been affected by years of managerialism, budget cuts, austerity, and frequently working way more hours than you are paid for, but maybe in the renewed interest in politics there will the re-politicalisation of social work long advocated by the academics.

References:

Tax Credits – there are too many news reports to cite here – however among the most recent has been the vote in the House of Lords which has delayed, for now, the implementation of cuts to tax credits before the implementation of a new national living wage.  George Osborne, responding to the decision in the House of Lords, made it clear that they will be continuing to pursue their policies and will be looking at taking action against the House of Lords to prevent such votes in future.

Labour membership – despite the claims that Jeremy Corbyn was a train crash waiting to happen for the Labour Party, party membership has continued to rise, something that began following their defeat in the May 2015 general election.  This has been reported in several places, including here in the International Business Times.

Benefit Sanctions – among the plethora of online news reports is this article in The Guardian.  It has got so bad that the UN is intending to investigate the UK government over benefit sanctions, as reported here in The Mirror.

Next financial crash – again reported in several places, this article in The Guardian brings the story up to date.

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