The Meandering Social Worker

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Archive for the tag “welfare benefits”

Europe: why I’m voting IN

As a lifelong Euro-sceptic it pains me to say this, but come June 23rd I’ll be voting to stay IN the EU.  I was just two years too young to vote in the referendum in 1975, and I recall my dismay at both being unable to vote and the result.  And now I have to make a decision on how to vote, not on what I knew was right then, but on what is right for our country now. And there are many factors to consider.

The economics

I have always known that exiting the EU would lead to a period of economic turmoil as new trade agreements were negotiated and bedded in.  It’s not within the gift of the OUT campaigners to reassure me otherwise, and generally they try to dodge this question.  They point to Norway and Switzerland who have both remained outside the EU but negotiated trade agreements: the IN campaigners point out that those trade agreements are not exactly favourable and Norway at least has said we would be better staying in.  Few people talk of our Commonwealth partners any more. Either way, nobody can really know how easy or difficult it will be, or how long it will really take, to negotiate and build new trading relationships around the world.  But I was always willing to take that risk on the basis that things would eventually settle down. What I know this time around is that I do not trust our current government to have the economic understanding, nor the ability, desire or willingness to understand the needs of the common people, to undertake those negotiations in the best interests of the majority of the population. Austerity, privatisation and selling off the family silver in an ideologically driven laissez faire of economics has left many in a perilous state without any social safety net.  And based on how long it has just taken David Cameron to negotiate a watered down version of what he wanted as a condition for staying in the EU, I don’t hold out much hope for more complex negotiations.  And all of this in a world economic climate where another financial crash is imminently predicted.

Impact on society

Our country is in a highly weakened state.  Our NHS is falling apart at the seams, burdened by insufficient funding to meet the debt repayments of PFI’s (Private Finance Initiatives), the consequence of which is that even more of it is being piecemeal privatised under the provision of the Health & Social Care Act 2012. This is not in the interest of the welfare of the majority of the population.

The mortality rate is rising, particularly among our most vulnerable members of society – the old, the sick, the disabled – as they are finding that health and social care services are no longer available (care packages for vulnerable elderly leaving hospital after a major operation are no longer available in the area where I live – they either have to stay in hospital or pay for private care).  Our social housing is being privatised, with, for the first time since the 1960’s (and the incentive for the now classic film Cathy Come Home), some 50% of people in rented accommodation living in insecure private sector tenancies, while new rules will mean council tenants will be losing their right to lifelong tenancies. The so-called bedroom tax and caps to housing benefits are driving working families out of our cities, breaking up communities and families in the process. The rise in home ownership has stalled and is also dropping for the first time in 60 years.  Today’s young generation will, once again, be ‘generation rent’.

Private companies, such as Virgin Care, are taking over more and more parts of our children’s services.  Independent fostering agencies struggle with keeping costs down but provide an essential proportion of our foster care services.  Elderly care and children’s residential care services have long gone to the private sector.

The problem with privatisation is that it costs more to run services as profits have to be made to cover extra layers of costs in the roles of different companies and their shareholders, and fragmentation of hierarchies means it is impossible to readily identify and correct problems before they have catastrophic implications (as highlighted by Margaret Heffernan in her book Wilful Blindness).  I have seen this personally in the privatisation of social housing and fostering services.  The poor and the taxpayer pay the cost.

The news media is full of stories of the worsening plight of the disabled as they are being pushed into ‘proving’ they cannot work, sometimes even in the face of a diagnosis of a lifelong degenerative condition such as Parkinson’s, and even those quite literally on their deathbeds.  And yet still the present government wants to cut benefits for the working poor and disabled.  As long ago as January 2014 the British government was criticised by Europe for providing too low a rate of Welfare Benefits – things have only got worse since.

Access to legal aid and justice in the courts has been curtailed for the poor by the removal of financial assistance to seek justice.  Court costs to be paid upfront in tribunal cases discourages or even bars many working people from seeking justice in employment law.  The introduction of JobCentre advisers into foodbanks is an indicator of just how mainstream this charity service has become.

I don’t need to read the reports of an unprecedented rise in foodbanks to know how vital these services have become – in my own area, with a population of c.150,000 there are six foodbanks operating that I personally know of; there may be more.  Foodbanks are legally only allowed to provide tinned and packet goods and long term dependency on them does not leave much scope for healthy eating (in conflict with government targets to get us to eat more healthily).

This is all the result of the policies of our current Conservative government.  There are only two possible brakes that can be put on their continuing with these and even harsher policies – the House of Lords (who are limited by the powers of the House of Commons itself and the threat of being inundated with government sympathisers) and the EU (who have become increasingly alarmed at the impact of Conservative policies).

Scottish Independence

It was clear during the relatively recent Scottish independence referendum that Scotland wanted to remain in the EU.  A split UK vote, with Scottish voters voting to stay in the EU and English voters voting to leave would undoubtedly prompt calls for another Scottish Independence referendum.  The complexities of negotiating their own membership separate from the UK was probably a significant factor in voting choices for a number of Scottish voters.  If the UK has voted to exit the EU then a further Scottish referendum could well produce a different result.  This will cause further chaos as English, Welsh and Northern Irish links with Scotland are untangled alongside the even more complex untangling of UK legislation from EU legislation.

Wars and international relations

No-one can truly predict the future, but one of the OUT arguments is that with Turkey wanting to join the EU and Turkey and Russia on opposing sides in the complex Syrian / ISIS conflict, we, as members of the EU would be drawn into a ware with Russia.  That could happen anyway through NATO.  The OUT campaign talk zenophobically of closing our borders to refugees and asylum seekers, which will not put us on good terms with our European neighbours and does little to accept the reality of the fact that Western interference is what has caused the current crisis (killing despotic leaders thus creating a vacuum to be filled by even more despotic terrorists).  Becoming Little Englanders will not make these problems go away.

Tomorrow’s generation

Finally, what do today’s young people want?  Anyone under 40 has grown up only knowing Britain as part of the EU.  Younger generations are more likely to identify as European.  This is a part of their identity.  Typically, those in their late teens and twenties are the least likely to vote, yet they will be the most affected by this decision.  It’s an old (American) Indian position for the elders to make decisions based on the needs of future generations.

Conclusion

There will be talk of fear and safety versus forging a new brave way ahead.  The latter will feed into the sense of Britishness that has been our history.  But now is not the time to do it.

 

Conservative welfare “reforms” – the sound of one hand clapping

Politics – should social workers be involved in politics? Well, when your government is making policies that make your job even more necessary than ever before, then I think the answer has to be yes. Once again Kitty states the obvious:

“The Conservatives are systematically dismantling the UK’s social security system, not because there is an empirically justifiable reason or economic need to do so, but because the government has purely ideological, anticollectivist prescriptions.”

And the situation is just getting worse. “

Politics and Insights

1022654909“Labour MPs sat perplexed … By cutting housing benefit for the poor, the Government was helping the poor. By causing people to leave their homes, the Government was helping people put a roof over their heads. By appealing the ruling that it discriminated against the vulnerable, the Government was supporting the vulnerable.

Yes, this was a tricky one.” – From an unusually insightful article in the Telegraph about the incoherence of Conservative welfare rhetoric:  How bedroom tax protects the vulnerable.

“Ministers keep using the mantra that their proposals are to protect the most vulnerable when, quite obviously, they are the exact opposite. If implemented their measures would, far from protecting the most vulnerable, directly harm them. Whatever they do in the end, Her Majesty’s Government should stop this 1984 Orwellian-type misuse of language.”  – Lord Bach, discussing the Legal Aid Bill. Source: Hansard, Column 1557, 19 May, 2011.

Conservative…

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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

The new Work and Health Programme: the government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

A well researched look into the government’s pursuit of the sick and disabled to bring them, often in an unrealistic manner, into the workplace.

Source: The new Work and Health Programme: the government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

When did social workers become too afraid to be awkward?

Blair McPherson says social workers have a duty to tell senior managers and politicians the truth about the impact of cuts

Source: When did social workers become too afraid to be awkward?

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