A look at ‘Caring for our future : reforming care and support’

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A rapid chase through the Care White Paper

The government published it’s long overdue Care White Paper yesterday. There’s been time for a significant amount of coverage to push through to the media and I don’t want to repeat information that’s out there but rather provide a response/analysis from where I am and where I see it. There is a good summary on Community Care though.

It’s a hotch potch of a document. The words are pretty but there’s an underlying tone of ‘saving taxpayers money’ which shines through from every good intentioned statement. Saving money isn’t a bad thing but I wonder how much the intention is to change the way the market in care is delivered in line with the NHS Bill and how much is to actually change the philosophy behind the process of care. I doubt the government’s good intentions.

The White Paper divides into eight chapters. So I’ll follow that pattern in my review of them.

Chap 1: The Case for Change

Here, the paper itself sets out the current difficulties in the system as it is at present which is reactive to crisis rather than focused on prevention. I can’t help feeling a little cynical in noting even the current system wasn’t intended to be this way, but has developed as such due to the pressures on funding.  The government line is to prove the point about crisis response but that’s not really been the agenda all the time.

Believe it or not, there was a time we met ‘low’ needs and while accepting there is a financial limit, the demonisation of the system is hardly a true reflection of what was envisaged and more should be learnt about the ways that systems imposed develop into a ‘race to the bottom’.

So the paper suggests that the answers will be found by providing more services sooner in the process of ageing or a disabling condition.  We will have more support for carers and will be promoting communities to provide support within themselves.

People need more information, without doubt, and that will be provided. That’s hardly revolutionary but too much has been down to local differences – the old ‘postcode lottery’ arguments. This will be clarified so people can move around the country and know what they will be able to expect.

Interesting that the ‘opportunities from reform’ all seem to revolve around financial benefits. It’s a valid benefit and opportunity but an interesting angle so

‘Promoting people’s wellbeing and independence’ will ‘limit future demand for care and support and help to ensure taxpayers’ money is used for effectively’.

Support for carers will enable them to ‘remain in the workplace’ which will ‘support economic growth’. So THAT’S why they are so keen to support carers – don’t want anyone to think that ‘caring’ without pay for a family member isn’t a valid and essential economic contributor.

and ‘Supporting businesses to grow’ – which is maybe what choice is all about.

I’m not against these agendas but I think the framing in economic terms is very very interesting.

Chap 2: Our vision for care and support

Understandably and quite rightly there is a high proportion of ‘control’ wanting to be distributed from top down to users in this section of the White Paper which is all well and good. It’s been (rightly) the movement of travel and needs to go further. As someone who works with people who have not been able to benefit fully from the ‘choice and control’ agenda, I was particularly looking for things that would help and support the people that I work with here.

There’s a lot of focus on promoting communities in being active and enabling to those living in them. There’s a need to promote better information streams – quite rightly – the system is enormously complex and I spot a little line on page 19 about ‘supporting the transformation of the social work profession’.

So the role and place of the local authority to provide care and support will be changing as it says

‘instead of purchasing and providing care and support, authorities will increasingly be expected to take a leadership role in a local area’. That should be interesting.

Chap 3 ‘I am supported to maintain my independence for as long as possible”

So in looking at prevention of isolation and needs the White Paper turns to communities to look for support, quite rightly. There’s a lot of potential here and social isolation is specifically targeted with some wonderful local models explained in terms of the way they work with isolated people to bring them into communities.

Not everyone wants to be a part of a community and there are some people communities tend to be less eager to support but it’s a great initiative for some people and there will be a lovely new Outcome Framework which will identify measures of loneliness for us to work on while local authorities managers and accountants look at ways they can meet targets at low or no cost.

Commissioners will be ‘encouraged’ (whatever that means) to draw on community support networks rather than moving people into ‘formal’ services. I read that along the lines of finding services that are provided at low or no cost but perhaps I’m a cynic.

There’s a line here too about social work pilot schemes which will  ‘liberate’ (I’m VERY suspicious of the word ‘liberate’) social workers from case management. It looks like a push towards more community based social work but I have some concerns. Firstly, case management is only bad if it is implemented badly as a process rather than as a collaboration. Poor case management can have an enormously detrimental effect on someone.

I’m not convinced by social work pilots but will wait for the outcomes of these pilots to see before I make a final judgement. I like the idea of more community work but am worried at what cost it may come in terms of privatising delivery of service and moving responsibilities for provision away from a democratic mandate.

I do like the idea of connecting care homes with their local areas. That is enormously positive and where I’ve seen it happen locally, it has made a big difference. It does seem like a lot of ‘use volunteers’ as the answer to problems but honestly, that’s not a bad thing where there are volunteers. I just wonder if all communities will be as engaged and where there is such a great reliance on community to provide support, what will be done in those areas that aren’t as supportive.

As regards housing, there will be significant investments in housing for older and disabled people. I hope this will encompass people in mental health services and is not limited to those with physical  health needs. There is a muddle over extra-care sheltered accommodation which is described as a way to meet low level needs but also as an alternative to residential care. Oh, I mean a ‘cost effective’ alternative to residential care. Missed the key point there.

Chap 4 ‘I understand how care and support works and what my entitlements and responsibilities are’

Information, information, information. It’s crucial in order to make choices and the government sets out ways, particularly websites, that will provide more information about services and facilities to all rather than just those eligible for them.

Interestingly the NHS 111 number will roll out support for social care. I wonder how this will work as a national helpline when provisioning is so different locally and there will be an extension of services like NHS Direct and NHS Choices into the social care sphere. Look forward to seeing that. I genuinely hope it works.

Local authorities will also be obliged to provide more information online but also in other formats, to those looking at services and providers but it looks like there is intended to be a default move online for many access points – including self assessments online as ‘they provide a better customer experience’. I wonder how this marries with the issues around the digital divide. There will be paper and telephone options available at least.

There will be a national eligibility framework and it seems (although this will only be confirmed later) that it may well be set at ‘substantial’ under current FACS guidelines although there will be a move to a new framework of assessment and eligibility.

People will also  have more options about who assesses them.

‘Our ambition is for many more providers to offer assessment services’. Good business opportunities there and a role for the social work pilot schemes.

Carers will have an entitlement to assessment (which exists) and to the provision of services (which doesn’t at present). I’m glad to see that.

Chapter 5 ‘I am happy with the quality of my care and support’

There’s an interesting diagram on this chapter on page 38 with circles of ‘roles and responsibilities in care and support’ around the ‘service users and carers’ at the centre, with Government, Commissioners, Providers and CQC around them. Interesting that there is no place for social workers. I expect we come into ‘commissioners’ but sad that the profession doesn’t seem to have a place around this diagram and is not even mentioned.

There is talk of better regulation by the CQC with inspections annually (scandalous that they were ever anything but in my view).

Looks like they’ll be a return to some kind of rating system too. Strange that just disappeared.

Statutory Safeguarding Adults Boards will be convened by local authorities with police and NHS organisations inputting to them. There will be further consultation on powers to access someone who might be at risk of abuse or neglect.  Personally, I’d like to have seen more on safeguarding.

Commissioning on quality is emphasised (good) and there seems to be a desire to look at some kind of outcome model to judge this. There’s also an acknolwedgement of the failing of some private care homes such as Southern Cross and

‘Local authorities have a duty to provide accommodation to anyone – publicly or self-funded – who has an urgent need for care which is not otherwise available’ and noone will be left homeless if a provider were to fail.

I don’t doubt that would be the case anyway but more public protection for private companies failing can only lead to additional costs.

Chapter 6 ‘I know that the person giving me care and support will treat me with dignity and respect’.

Here there’s an emphasis on building skills in the social care sector. I don’t believe people go into this field of work to be oppressive or uncaring but the system dictates it and a bullying workplace leads to poor and dangerous service delivery to people who have higher needs.

The government claims to be committed to the plans of the Social Work Reform Board and that the College of Social Work will play a heavy role in improving standards of education and training in social work in universities.

The White Paper supports the position of Principal Social Workers in Adult Services and part of that role will be coordinating feedback from frontline practitioners. I look forward to having one locally as I have a lot to feedback.

Chapter 7 ‘I am in control of my care and support’

Ah, personalisation, that bittersweet word which means everything and nothing. Everyone entitled to care and support will have a personal budget – I genuinely thought that was already on track and didn’t think it was anything new. And look

‘We will push further with our ambition to support as many people as possible to enjoy the benefits of a direct payment’.

I hope that support is extensive and looks beyond the current models which have served some exceptionally well but many others very very poorly.

I won’t mention the ignorant way that advocacy is included in the White Paper which evidences a lack of knowledge by those who wrote the paper but will merely reference Martin Coyle’s (from Action for Advocacy) blogpost which says it all.

There’s some more in this section about integration between health and social care which is becoming more distant in practice rather than more evident.  Use of the term ‘care coordination’ is confusing as it is a generally used term in mental health services and has different technical meaning to the way it is used in the White Paper in terms of physical health. That has already caused us many confusing conversations locally as to someone having two care coordinators – one for physical health and one for mental health – which kind of proves the point about duplicating work and having unfathomable systems. The terms should really be clarified and separated if necessary.

Chapter 8 ‘Making it Happen’

A draft bill was published alongside the White Paper. I haven’t read it yet. I wonder that some organisations seem to have thrown their lot in wholeheartedly with the government which makes me a little nervous. I want to support positive change but I don’t want to be blinded by good intentions and words that lead to little that changes the lives of those who have the most need for support.

Interestingly the ‘financial context’ is stuck at the back of the White Paper like a growing tumour. There are mealy mouthed words about the government putting money into social care but while taking away in the other hand, from local government, they have contributed directly to the ‘crisis management’ only model that they criticise.

Conclusion

I see little if anything revolutionary in this paper. I see nothing that explains a change in the direction of travel and means of delivering social care. I see some positive signs and some acknowledgement of difficulties but we were moving down the path of personalisation at a rate that it could only continue. While there was mention of personal budgets for residential care, I saw nothing about ISFs and developing ways of promoting choice for those who are excluded from communities and who may lack capacity. I saw nothing about changing legislative frameworks. I saw a lot of gaps, not least, the massive funding gap.

Nice words though, fluffy and helpful and a lot of the language of ‘choice’ (where possible), ‘community’ (where free) and ‘market’.

These things are always filled with the right words. I think a lot of opportunity to restructure and rethink adult social care has been lost although there are some springs of hope – there aren’t by any means enough.

Pic by wintersoul1 at Flickr

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Welfare – A Review of Cameron’s Speech

Prime Minister David Cameron
Cameron announced a raft of changes to the welfare system yesterday in a speech in Kent.  His plan to cut back on ‘welfare’ made me angry for a number of reasons but I thought I’d look through the text of the speech itself to comment. So here is the text – with some coments.

On my first night as Prime Minister, I said we would build a more responsible society.Where we back those who work hard and do the right thing.

See that – linking work with ‘the right thing’. What about those who cannot work or are not able to work? Is ‘work’ inherently more valuable that other activities that we might to which would otherwise further the society we live in.

Where we look after the elderly and frail.

Well, he isn’t doing very well at that, is he? The Social Care White Paper has been delayed and there have been excessive cuts in social care services locally as LA budgets have been slashed. And no proposals to tackle the funding gap in social care.

Where – as I put it – those who can, should; and those who can’t, we will always help.

Who is the ‘we’ here? If it’s social care and falls to local government you can forget it because of the slashing in local government.

Building that society is simply not possible without radically reforming welfare.Today, almost one pound in every three spent by the Government goes on welfare.

I think it’s deceptive to lump ‘welfare’ into one pot and criticise. Welfare is the net that holds up some of the most vulnerable in society. Criticising welfare en masse is an explanation of his lack of understanding of what it actually is.

In a world of fierce competitiveness – a world where no-one is owed a living – we need to have a welfare system that the country can properly afford.The system we inherited was not only unaffordable.It also trapped people in poverty and encouraged irresponsibility. So we set to work.

By all means change the system, but play the policy not the people. We deserve more.

In two years, Iain Duncan Smith has driven forward welfare reform on a scale and with a determination not seen since World War Two.He is a great, reforming Minister, with a passion and commitment that shine through.And he is delivering remarkable results:Over 400,000 more people in work than in 2010.

Bleurgh. Duncan Smith is anything but a ‘great minister’.

Tens of thousands of claimants of incapacity benefits re-assessed, and found ready for work.

At what cost? Is this a success when the process of assessment is so poor? Appeals are frequently won. The assessments can’t actually be that good. Why privatise the reassessments rather than relying on consultants/GPs/health professionals? In order to achieve desired results.

We’ve established the biggest-ever Work Programme – and we’re well on our way to getting 100,000 people into jobs.We’ve helped tens of thousands of young people find real work experience

For free – replacing otherwise paid jobs?

Reformed and reduced the extent of tax credits. Tightened up housing allowances.

So people are pushed out of their local areas.

Capped benefits so that in general, no one can claim more than the average family earns.

Without consideration of family size.

And we’ve laid the foundation for Universal Credit.This has the potential to be one of the most significant reforms for a generation.Ending the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays.

The logic is there but diminished by the actual lack of jobs and disconnect between size of family and average income.

What Iain Duncan Smith has achieved over the past two years.Refusing to accept the status quo, turning around huge numbers of lives is truly remarkable.But the job we have set ourselves, of building a welfare system that truly works – that supports the responsible society – that job is not yet complete.So today I want to talk not just about what we’ve done, but where we go from here.

I’m going to skip the next part of his speech for reasons of time and space – it also contains the only part of the speech I actually agree with. I prefer non-means tested pensions which are £140 per week – however if you think about needing to save money – some of the winter fuel allowances seem to be obvious targets. Funny how Cameron here remembers his election promise while conveniently forgetting his ‘no top down reorganisation of the NHS promise’.

I’m baffled by his claim that DLA claimants do not need to provide medical evidence because that doesn’t link in with my own experience of DLA forms. You have to give details of your GP/Consultant – if the DWP doesn’t actually CHECK up on those then surely that’s not the fault of the claimant. Maybe, you know, it would actually be cheaper to check with involved medical professionals rather than engage a private company to ‘assess’ claims.

Interesting that by starting with an attack on ‘workshy’, Cameron tackles in the first part of his speech, pensions and DLA. DLA is not a non-working benefit. Sometimes that gets muddied but it is a benefit which pays/compensates for additional costs in someone’s life due to disabilities WHETHER THEY ARE WORKING OR NOT.

Then Cameron plays his favourite game of ‘divide and rule’ playing on the baser nature of jealousy of our compatriots.

Take a couple living outside London.He’s a hospital porter, she’s a care-worker.They’re both working full-time and together they take home £24,000 after tax.They’d love to start having children – and they know they’d get some help from the state if they did so.But with the mortgage and the bills to pay, they feel they should keep saving up for a few more years.

But the couple down the road, who have four children, haven’t worked for a number of years.Each week they get £112 in income support, £61 in child benefit, £217 in tax credits and £141 in housing benefit – more than £27,000 a year.Even after the £26,000 benefit cap is introduced, they’ll still take home more than their neighbours who go out to work every day.

Can we really say that’s fair?

Firstly, I  had to chuckle wryly at Cameron’s example. I wonder if he is tackling the issue of those ‘fat cat’ public sector pensions and pay freezes as he attacks the low paid public sector workers.

But as for his example? Firstly targeting the family ‘with four children’ to make his point leaves a bitter taste. Why should the income of a childless couple need to be equivalent to a family with four children who will obviously need more to survive? It is a game of jealousy and numbers. We can’t know the histories and lives of the ‘couple with four children’ to make rash judgements about their lives.  Is this ‘fair’? Well, maybe I’m alone in thinking that actually it might be but it isn’t my place to judge.

He shares some other examples about housing allowances and cost of housing in London – to which I say that destroying local communities in the south east due to housing costs will be equally damaging in the long run in terms of accessing familial support.  He goes on

What these examples show is that we have, in some ways, created a welfare gap in this country between those living long-term in the welfare system and those outside it.

Those within it grow up with a series of expectations: you can have a home of your own, the state will support you whatever decisions you make, you will always be able to take out no matter what you put in.

What like..  trust fund kids? I despise a cabinet of millionaires who have never understood the need to exist on benefits and who imagine that somehow this is a great life to lead, attack ‘entitlement’ of those who need to claim them.

Then he goes on to some of the ‘problems’.

Why does the single mother get the council house straightaway when the hard-working couple have been waiting for years?

Because governments and local councils wanted to make sure children got a decent start in life, so mothers were given priority for council housing.

Well yes, exactly – and how is that a bad thing?

Why has it become acceptable for many people to choose a life on benefits?Because governments wanted to give people dignity while they are unemployed – and while this is clearly important, it led us to the wrong places

I don’t think it has ever been acceptable but it has become necessary. It makes me wonder if Cameron actually knows how much Job Seekers Allowance is. It doesn’t allow a great deal of dignity.

You can give a drug addict more money in benefits, but that’s unlikely to help them out of poverty; indeed it could perpetuate their addiction.

You can pump more cash into chaotic homes, but if the parents are still neglectful and the kids are still playing truant, they’re going to stay poor in the most important senses of the word.So this government is challenging the old narrow view that the key to beating poverty is simply income re-distribution.

Interesting that a government of the right is suddenly interested in how money is being spent. I despise the connection made between neglectful parenting and poverty. Poverty may be more than income redistribution but Poverty is NOT bad parenting. I could make a cheap jibe about leaving a kid in a pub but that would be a low blow. What is inherently damaging is the way Cameron makes these links without thought which will no doubt, increase stigma.

Then then he says

For example, the state spends almost £2billion a year on housing benefit for under-25s.There are currently 210,000 people aged 16-24 who are social housing tenants.Some of these young people will genuinely have nowhere else to live – but many will.And this is happening when there is a growing phenomenon of young people living with their parents into their 30s because they can’t afford their own place – almost 3 million between the ages of 20 and 34.

While for many others, it’s a trip to the council where they can get housing benefit at 18 or 19 – even if they’re not actively seeking work.Again, I want to stress that a lot of these young people will genuinely need a roof over their head.Like those leaving foster care, or those with a terrible, destructive home life and we must always be there for them.But there are many who will have a parental home and somewhere to stay – they just want more independence.

Cameron’s stated intention to cut access to housing benefit for under 25s is deeply retrograde. Yes, people can stay at home and honestly, a lot of people who have supportive parents in the same area where they work/study probably do  but this is a dangerous line to cross from his world of happy Chipping Norton families. Is there going to be an expectation on parents to support children to 25? How will this impact on poverty rates and access to jobs. How can a young person ‘get on their bike’ and get a job if they have no access to accommodation – because local housing allowance is an ‘in work’ benefit.

I’m skipping through the last part of the speech with one exception. This little nugget.

There are more than 150,000 people who have been claiming Income Support for over a year who have 3 or more children and 57,000 who have 4 or more children.

The bigger picture is that today, one in six children in Britain is living in a workless household – one of the highest rates in Europe.

Quite simply, we have been encouraging working-age people to have children and not work, when we should be enabling working-age people to work and have children.

Seriously if Cameron thinks people have children to have benefits, he might be reading the Sun too much. Why should we stigmatise larger families? They will be the people paying for our future?.

There’s more than I’ve been able to cover but I think we can see the way of movement of Cameron and his Conservative-led government.

We need to challenge the government and press narrative which stigmatises people who need to rely on welfare because actually, it does create a better society.

What damages is stigmatisation and expectation of support where none exist.

What grates is a speech about ‘entitlement’ from an Old Etonian.

No, he can’t help his background, of course not, but he plays easy games in attacking poverty while not showing any evidence of understanding it beyond anecdote and games of jealousy with what your neighbour might be getting.

But benefit reform in general is popular with the public. I see it as a genuine social work role to advocate and fight for those whom I work with who are stigmatised by the government narratives.

It damages and must be challenged.

Pic by Prime Minister’s Office – Flickr

What makes residential care good?

I was asked this morning on Twitter what I felt made a ‘good care’ in a residential home. Sometimes it’s hard to elaborate in 140 characters so thought it would be useful to explain my thoughts in a little longer form.

I’ve worked in social care for a number of years, either as a care worker/support worker in a couple of residential homes (and as a ‘bank’ carer in even more) and as a social worker in adult and mental health services.

I’ve been into a lot of residential care homes and I’ve seen massively varying standards  from the home the time I left a home with such heavy concerns that I left a message for the CQC inspector on my way back to the office to the homes I would both be happy to live in myself and would be happy for any of my family members needing care to move into immediately.

So how do I judge what is ‘good’ (and these aren’t necessarily in order!) – especially in the time limited fashion that often involves me walking in and out in an afternoon.

Culture – which can be hard to quantify but you know it when you see it. From the decor and the welcome you receive when you walk in or when you call on the phone to the small interactions you might see in the lounge area and the amount and type of items you might see. Is the lounge empty except for a few paperbacks that look untouched and are mostly large saga-type romances with little variety? Are the (as there was in a home I went to earlier this week) lines of VHS videos stacked up next to the TV? (without a video recorder, incidently)? These things show care, or lack of it to the details.

Feedback – I listen to people who use the services. Communication can be at different levels and there are sometimes people in care settings who don’t want to be there but often users respond to kindness and listening to the feedback of those who use the services and family/friends who visit is vital to understanding the quality of the service. Of course, it’s useful to read the official reports but they are so rare now and often out of date – while issues around quality of care can change quickly, that we need to look in other areas and understanding how well homes respond to individuals and their needs, wishes and wants is fundamental.

Staff – How am I greeted, that’s one this but more importantly are the interactions I see between staff and residents and not necessarily the residents I’m there to visit. Is there eye contact, is there any touch involved? Are the staff sitting in the lounges responding in conversation rather than requesting things are done/not done? Is there any interaction between residents? How is this facilitated? What is the staff turnover like? I might ask the member of staff showing me round how long they have been working there, do they enjoy it? Often they’ll say yes, anyway, but sometimes you get a glimmer of something else.

Size – I have an issue with stacking up older adults in large residential homes in a way that we wouldn’t in other user groups. We have residential and nursing homes now with 50+, 90+ residents. There can be good care in these places but are they ‘homely’? Are they able to meet individual needs? Or is it a hark back to institutionalisation and long stay hospital type settings. It feels like it is about cost and age discrimination. I would be happy to care delivered in small settings. Large doesn’t necessarily mean bad and small doesn’t necessarily mean good but do we really think there is a justification for 100 bed ‘units’ in the current day. The only justifications are cost and economies of scale. I don’t think that’s good enough.

Individualised responses – are the residents individuals? Can they pursue different activities if they don’t want to sing music hall songs? What if I resident moves in who prefers Led Zeppelin to Knees up Mother Brown (real story, incidently!). What if they wanted to do things or go places that weren’t on the ‘programme’? Yes, individualisation can cost but it doesn’t need to – it can be able to things that don’t necessarily raise a charge. How is this done? I want examples in every home of how individual needs are met.

Those are some of my initial thoughts. I’d welcome thoughts from others about what and how they make judgements about what good care in a residential setting involves.

Thanks for Bill Mumford for inspiring me to write!

Changing Adult Social Care – The Select Committee Reports

Yesterday after collecting both written and verbal evidence, the House of Commons Health Select Committee published their report into Social Care.

It makes very interesting reading and is written accessibly so I would highly recommend that anyone with an interest in this area reads the original but I wanted to pick up on some of the themes myself as there were such crucial issues raised.

The main theme I picked out (and you don’t have to be very astute to click with this one!) is the need for continued work towards integration – not only between health and social care which has become a bit of an old chestnut, but also with social housing.

The figures the report pulls out are that 50% of GP visits and 70% of hospital days are required by older adults as well as half housing association tenancies.
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Benefit Caps and the Politics of Envy

Yesterday the House of Lords debated the government’s flagship policy about imposing a benefits cap of £26,ooo. Iain Duncan-Smith fanfared the populist agenda by rattling on about this being equivalent to a salary (after tax) of £35,ooo and the tired lines about why anyone who doesn’t work should get the equivalent of £35,ooo from ‘state handouts’. While the Lords passed one amendment, the Bill and policy as a whole is flawed.

It’s very easy politics. It appeals to human nature at its most selfish. The simple logical progression.

I work hard. I earn £25,000. Mr Smith next door doesn’t work. He gets £26,000. It’s not fair.

Tying the benefit cap into the national average wage is clever and is nothing to do about economics and everything to do with the psychological weight of envy.

Why should I work, it then follows, if I would get more on ‘benefits’?.

This turns the idea of the welfare state around and but the simplicity of the ‘envy equation’ means that few people look beyond it.

This is crude policy making by people who will never need to bat an eyelid in the direction of subsistence on ‘benefits’ playing their usual ‘divide and rule’ between those who are at the lower and average pay levels in order to distract attention from those at the top end of the ‘haves’ scale including themselves.

So why do I think a benefits cap is unfair? It looks, on the face of it, so obvious.

– It punishes children born into larger families.

Even with the Lords amendment excluding ‘child benefit’ from the capped amount, child benefit rate (£20.30 for first child + £13.40 for subsequent children) doesn’t cover the costs of the child and the particular problem raised is the cost of accommodation and larger families need larger houses.

-Housing

This is one of my chief objections to this policy.  Housing Benefit or Local Housing Allocation (LHA) as it is now known is built into the ‘capped amount’.  The escalation of property prices and the lack of affordable local authority and housing association stock pushes many people into the private sector. The government has already announced plans to increase subsidised rents. Some places (London, for example) cost more to live than other areas.  Houses with more bedrooms cost more to live in than houses with fewer bedrooms. Seems obvious of course but it means for some people the level of the ‘cap’ will be disproportionately spent on rent costs – forcing people and more likely than not, families – and the larger families at that – to poorer (and cheaper – and  more likely Labour..) areas of the country.

Regardless of the exemption of Child Benefit (if that amendment survives) it is the inclusion of LHA which is, in my mind, the really perfidious action of this policy.

I live in London. I work in London. It is expensive to live here. I don’t want my city to be housing only those either who have substantial amounts of money or those in social housing (especially as the stock of social housing is so low).

The obvious thing would be for the government to crack down on landlords who set rental as high as possible for low quality housing in order to benefit from LHA allocations. They are the real scroungers living off the state, in my view. Yes, I feel strongly because I’ve been priced out of many areas of London myself but I don’t play the game the government want me to by blaming the recipients of LHA – rather I blame a spiralling cost of rent and greedy buy-to-let landlords.

Imposing controls on rent would hurt the Tory party faithful. Divide and rule. Divide and rule. See how well the government play the blame game.

Deserving v Undeserving Poor

The game of playing the ‘deserving v undeserving poor’ is one enjoyed by those in politics.  How the politicians love referring to ‘scroungers’ and people who live on benefits in demeaning terms while absolving themselves of any responsibility for an economic malaise which has led to increased job losses and struggles to revive the economy.

It’s all very well imposing sanctions on those who don’t work (actually no it isn’t) but when there isn’t work to be had it’s hard to escape from the vicious cycle. Many people are losing their jobs in this recession and being unable to find other work would force people to claim benefits which they are wholly entitled to but the government wishes to stigmatise everyone who needs to claim a benefit whether due to unemployment, disability or sickness.

Unemployment isn’t a lifestyle choice. It isn’t easy to ‘choose’ employment as even if you desperately want to work, the jobs may not be there.

There are more jobs in the south-east where house prices are higher and fewer jobs in the north where house prices are lower. ‘Getting on your bike’ which is the eternal call of the right-wing is going to be more difficult and potentially create ghettoes of worklessness in the areas of the country with the cheaper housing.

Politics of envy is easy but it is ignoble. By encouraging the population to envy those who have less rather than those who have more (i.e. the class of politicians) they are diverting our attention from the real battles we should be fighting. This isn’t a Conservative (+ LD) v Labour battle as the Labour party has, unfortunately, jumped on the bandwagon to make similar points.

Being popular doesn’t make a policy right. Unfortunately, we get the politicians we elect. And we are seeing the measure of them now. All of them.

Compulsive Hoarding

Last night, I watched a programme on Channel 4 ‘Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder’. I wasn’t planning particularly to sit down and watch it  but I was too curious in the end. While this isn’t a review of the programme, I wanted to write about my experiences of people who become ‘hoarders’.

Trash house, October 2003

I was concerned the programme would evolve into some kind of ‘freak show’ to show the world, with little understanding, how ‘odd’ this phenomenon is. It was more sensitively treated than I expected with the reactions of the neighbours – from horror to help – presenting one of the more interesting aspects.

I’ve seen a fair bit of ‘hoarding’ through my work. I don’t work in a leafy Surrey ‘commuter-belt’ town. I work in an inner city location. Most of the people I work with are older and we come across, what we call ‘Diogenes Syndrome’ relatively frequently although at different levels. Continue reading

Falling through the Gap

Like others, I read with a deep sense of sadness about the deaths by suicide of Mark and Helen Mullins, a couple in Coventry who were struggling against the insurmountable barriers set up by a social services and social security system that seemed to be weighted against them – existing between them only on £57.50 per week due to a set of circumstances that laid to waste the idea of a welfare state that supports those who need support to the extent that they were driven to despair.

However, the overwhelming sadness I felt was not accompanied by surprise that I’ve seen others express. I am shocked that this situation can come to pass in the UK today. Shocked but not surprised. I can see how it happened.
Continue reading