Yesterday was manic at the advice bureau, which has to close its face-to-face drop-ins soon due to a drastic drop in funding. The building we now occupy is going to be demolished by the local council. To do what? I don't know.
So I was not happy when our queue was clogged up by people who are fully capable of doing things for themselves: make phone calls, write letters, etc. Instead they came to us expecting us to do this work.
An older man, very fluent in spoken and written language, was in for the third/fourth time, for advice on how to get his Pension Credit which he insisted was underpaid him. He wanted to know whether he should sue the government (Department of Work and Pension) for their tardiness in looking into his appeal.
This is what I had meant in previous posts about 'mission creep'.
Pension Credit is "designed to provide those over qualifying age ... with a minimum level of income and give extra cash to those aged 65 and over with modest incomes who have made savings for their retirement".
This man is not poor. He has assets to the tune of thousands of pounds from the sale of his house. Sure he has spent much of this on a 'medical holiday' (ie going back to India for cheap treatment and care) and repaying a previous mortgage, etc. But he still has capital, quite a lot of it, well above £10,000.
PC is calculated upon the person's savings/capital. He claims that he should be awarded more than £150 PC (a week). Instead, after all the deductions, he only gets £65. He has been fighting for the additional '£90'.
I refused to give Mr G an appointment to see an adviser. He has the means to go to a solicitor.
The point is Mr G is getting more than what a lot of people are getting. (He and his wife have other benefits.) But no, he felt that he was 'entitled' to a much higher PC. If he and Mrs G were destitute we would have bent over backwards to assist him. Not when he has the means to go on 'medical holidays'. Mr G does not need this PC but is expending lots of his energy and the time of civil servants to get his 'entitlement'.
My fellow volunteer was bursting to tell me about her client who faces a bill of £60,000 in overpayment. That means this client has claimed and was given more than £60,000 in error and the government is now clawing it back.
In other circumstances -- if fraud can be proven -- the client might have been taken to court.
When people claim benefits, they are reminded with virtually every letter that they must report 'change of circumstances'. Many pretend to forget or plead ignorance about having to inform the authorities. Clearly because they know that if a change is 'for better', their benefits will be reduced. If in doubt, report, and let the authorities take the responsibility.
For instance if someone who had broken a leg, or claims to have one, gets a huge amount of benefit, and then gets better, he/she is often tempted to keep quiet about their improved health. IF our civil servants are doing their job, these claimants are caught.
This client is 'lucky' it is only a demand for repayment. The newspapers are full of reports about people being jailed for fraud.
Two weeks ago I saw a client who attended in anticipation of changes in the system for advice on how to prepare for them. I like people like this. They bother. They are proactive.
I think the word 'guileless' is good to describe her. She claimed to have some mental health issues. When I explained to her the changes that might affect her in the long run, saying that she might wish to put in effort to get herself mentally back into a condition which makes it possible for her to find work, she said, 'Yes, I want to get well so I can work.'
She said she was not aware of the different benefits she might be eligible for. She takes what is given her. She came across as being a person who is not manipulative.
This is completely opposite to the client I saw earlier who insisted that she cannot work, presumably ever again. The doctor has certified her backache and she thinks she now has a life-long passport to benefits.
This is welfare entitlement.
Welfare should always be a safety net, not a lifestyle choice. But preventing the former from morphing into the latter is almost impossible when the attitude of entitlement has set in.
It was refreshing therefore to read -- briefly -- about the Singapore Budget. Workfare is an interesting concept. It is an incentive to work. But we have to be careful it does not morph into a benefit that subsidizes big businesses.
Which is what minimum wage and Working Tax Credit seem to have become in the UK.
Monday, 11 February 2013
Another letter to Straits Times that did not make the cut pre-Punggol East election, but had been too busy/ill to post:
At Tiong Bahru Primary my Brownie Owls organized a Christian group and we once met at a flat where I saw framed photographs of young people in funny gowns and hats. Someone explained to me they were graduating university.
University? It was a different planet.
Years later I told my mother I worried
about not being able to afford to attend university. She said, “Don’t worry. You could get a scholarship.”
You see, every year at Raffles Girls we were encouraged by reading of sons and daughters of taxi-drivers and housewives winning prestigious scholarships.
I did not get a scholarship. Like most of my mates I was supported by generous family and friends, and worked as a private tutor.
As a research student I became a participant observer in a garment factory. The women on the shopfloor wondered why a ‘da-shuei’ (university) student was working for $9 a day.
One day the best machinist in the factory asked, “Is ‘da-shuei’ the same as ‘zhong-si’”? (Is ‘university’ the same as ‘secondary four’?)
In her world, school did not extend to secondary four and so university, much like secondary four, is a totally different universe.
Clearly, my university world and the world of the factory workers were light years apart. Had no one explained those graduation gowns to me, how different might my life have been?
Some people say that naming top scorers in public examinations would only cause people to think that only the academically inclined are honoured. They have conflated two issues here.
Young people need role models, particularly those from disadvantaged or ‘humble’ backgrounds, to spur them on, as it did me.
Conversely had mum only seen scholarships being awarded to sons and daughters of the rich and powerful, she would not have given me hope.
The other issue is that news blackouts on academic successes are merely treating the symptoms.
If you have (say) cancer, do you want the doctors to only stop the pain, or would you rather they killed the cancer?
So, what has changed in the meritocratic system that has helped people like Chan Chun Seng, Koh Poh Koon and me to get to university?