Sunday, 2 October 2011

How welfare culture evolves (3)

Let's talk "Underbelly"

On mornings before I set out for my stint at the local Citizens Advice Bureau my son often tells me, "Hope you don't get too many benefits cases." Sometimes we even pray at breakfast that I don't get any benefits cases.

He knows how I detest having to deal with benefits clients who say, "I'm entitled to this. Do this for me. NOW."

Yet a month ago I was incensed that a client has had his benefits stopped. This man is a refugee from an African country. He has four young children. He was on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) or unemployment benefit, and therefore housing benefits, and with that, Council Tax benefit.

(Failure to pay Council Tax could land you in court and a hefty fine. Council Tax debt is classified as "priority debt".)

This man, who took care to dress smartly and spoke most politely, decided that he needed to improve his English and signed up for a college course (ESOL Intensive) and did so well that he passed his exams before the end of his course.

This course required him to attend 15 hours of classes a week. Somehow a civil servant at Job Centre Plus decided that 15 was the same as 16 hours (how???). They pressurized him to sign a piece of paper which says he was at college for 16 hours a week.

As a result he was deemed, technically, "unavailable for work". Therefore his JSA was stopped, leading to his Housing Benefits (which pays his rent) and Council Tax benefit being stopped.

With that he would soon get a demand from the council for unpaid Council Tax. Unpaid Council Tax of £200 (say), would become £350 as soon as they pass this on to debt collectors. If still unpaid this man will be taken to a court and another £100 will be added to the debt. You get the picture.

More urgently his landlord was threatening eviction because he has rent arrears.

A man tries to improve his language skills to improve his chances of finding employment and he is penalized. Now it is going to take at least 50-100 civil servant hours, I imagine, to set it right.

Who really benefits from this?

The civil servants, paid by British taxpayers, who are making sure that they still have jobs to go to. Yes, the blundering civil servant would still keep his/her job. The trade unions have made it impossible to sack any one for poor work performance in the civil service.

This is what I mean by the great "underbelly" of the welfare state, civil servants whose strong trade unions are always asking for more money and threatening to go on strike. More on this later.

Back at the ranch (in a manner of speaking, we don't actually live on a ranch), my husband tells me he was in a similar situation many, many years ago and took the relevant government department to the tribunal, and won. They then awarded him a fat cheque for arrears in his benefits.

Husband's defence (and he represented himself): If they could find him a job/apprenticeship in accountancy he would leave the (accountancy) course he was studying to take up the post. As they could not, he was going to improve his chances of becoming an accountant instead of sitting at home to watch TV. (He later had a successful career in finance.)

In other words it was OK for someone to receive JSA and vegetate at home. As soon as they try to improve their employment chances, especially if this took up more than 16 hours a week, they get penalized.

Clever system, innit?

In my husband's case, the benefits he received while studying helped this (once) young man into a job which has made him a net contributor to society. He now pays (too much) tax to support quite a few civil servants.


Back to this great "underbelly" .... When you have a welfare system such as this, you have, at the least:

(A) people on benefits (for reasons beyond their control)
(B) another lot who wants more benefits but who cannot get them (eg wanting more benefits by claiming to be ill, thus excusing them from the hassle of "signing on" every two weeks if on basic unemployment benefits)
(C) one lot in govt offices making sure lot A gets paid
(D) another lot in govt offices making sure that lot B does not get paid more than what they are already getting
(E) the lot in the "helping industry" fighting on behalf of lot B against lot D
(F) yet another lot in govt constantly asking for bits of proof for lack of income (???) or ill-health, just so to ascertain whether those of lots A and B should return/repay benefits already paid out to them.

If lots C, D, E and F all go on strike together tomorrow, what impact would there be on the taxpayer and the economy?

How do lots C to F and their unions add value to my life as a "tax slave"?

In what ways would a country get economically richer, or become spiritually and morally uplifted, by feeding the groups of people D to F?

As we say in Mandarin, the answer is precisely "ji dan" (="egg" => zero).

How welfare culture evolves (2)
How welfare culture evolves

1 comment:

Unknown said...

As you are a volunteer with Citizens Advice Bureau, your view of welfare policies and system is VERY VERY skewed. All these individual cases you have to handle makes you subjective and you don't even realise it. You rather seem to think that you know it all since you're involved in it.

Picture this. There's an elephant and many blindfolded people are touching different parts of the animal. If someone is touching the elephant's trunk, what would he say? If another is touching the ears, what would he say? And so on.

So make an earnest effort, if you will, to see the BIG PICTURE. Get the many many facts to this whole policy and other policies (not an easy task as compared to trying to sort out your individual cases at the bureau) before ranting off these unsubstantiated views.