Sunday, 15 June 2014

Random Thoughts about Random People

Single mother tells me she is worried that by the end of the year when her daughter turns 20, she (meaning the mother) will be losing a range of benefits.

She went on to say, repeatedly, "I'm not having a go at you but" (which means that she was having a go at me as a representative of the 'system', which I am not) "there are all these people coming in and getting all these benefits. What do you expect her to do? Drop out of college? She will have to drop out of college, because I cannot afford the prescription charges, and so forth. It's unfair that there are no benefits for her just because she turns 20."

Hang on a minute, why does she assume that her daughter will need prescription charges? (This is the charge, currently £8 something, that one pays when filling a prescription at the chemist/pharmacist should a doctor thinks medication might help. It's the same charge no matter how dear the actual medication.)

Her 'all these people' obviously refers to the new immigrants.

Aged 20 and still on benefits? (Child Tax Credit and Child Benefits)

Come on, I was earning money to support my family at 18! Why is she here about her daughter any way? Surely her daughter should be the one seeing me to try to sort out her own affairs?

Went to my supervisor who said, well, those are the rules, there is very little we can do. Support for dependent children stop at 20, then they are expected to either work or go to university at which point they could get other benefits (student loans for undergrads and JSA for those 'job-seeking').

Her daughter is late in finishing training because she switched courses after one year. It was a decision she made.

Trying to help her I said, mum could still do some approved work for under 16 hours if she is on ESA (Employment and Support Allowance). In any case this mother was clearly physically fit. She refused to say why she was on ESA and had been on Income Support for such a long time. Was it something mental? She insisted that she was not capable of working.

Her daughter could also do some work during the holidays and weekends. Most young people do, not only for the money but also for the experience. I tried explaining that it would be good for her daughter to gain working experience.

Mother: "But she's working really hard at college."

There is only a six month gap between her birthday and her finishing her college course. Could she not try to build up some savings between now (June) and September (when the new term starts)? What about not having TV for six months? That's saving £12 a month on licence fees.

There are so many ways that mother and daughter could get around this problem, but no, "it is unfair that she does not get any help just because she is 20".

Fact is most of us as parents would simply pull our finger out and do something to support our children's education. We won't go whining about how it is 'unfair'. Life is unfair. Get used to it. It is unfair that having worked and lived here since 1992 I have not received a single penny of benefit. I have been a net giver to British society.

She and her family (she has older children) had been supported for all these years, ESA, CTC, CB, HB/CTR, etc. The family did not have to lift a finger to receive a steady income and a warm home. If they have not learned to do something for themselves -- empower themselves -- during all this time of public support, then the welfare system is not doing its part.

It is simply a culture of dependency that cannot continue.

Woman missed her citizenship ceremony and now she may lose her citizenship. Her husband insisted on speaking on her behalf. I said I would like his wife to speak instead.

He said her English was not so good.

'Not so good' would be an understatement. Or perhaps an overstatement. His wife has virtually zero English. So how on earth did she get her English certificate needed to get citizenship?

Your questions?


We see clients on a 'taxi-rank' system: whoever comes next. We cannot choose our clients. Although lately there have been many Tamil women clients who insisted on seeing our Tamil assessor, which is bad practice.

By sheer coincidence I saw the same Afghani man twice.

The first time he was really angry because he said he waited so long he missed going to the mosque (which was just across the road) to pray. I said it was nearly 3pm and I still had not the time to stop for lunch.

He thought we were useless as I refused to help him fill in some forms to get his son into a secondary school. At such-and-such CAB he said there were people who helped him complete all his forms.

You mean there was no one at the mosque who could help him? No.

I explained that my role was not to fill in forms. He has five children. He would have very many forms to fill in. Then he disclosed that he has English lessons five days a week. I suggested that he got his teacher to help him. Use the form as a practical exercise. I trained to teach English as a Second Language and I know that these are precisely the kind of work that teachers think are worth doing.

However if he was really stuck he could come back the following week and I will -- with the permission of my manager, as this is not within my role description -- try my best to help him.

I also made other suggestions as to how his family, in particular his wife, would do well to try to learn as much English as possible. There are libraries. Borrow CDs. Do not watch TV. Listen to the radio. Read books. He listened with intent. His eyes said he was really keen to learn.

He did not come back the following week for help with the forms. Good. That means he was able to find help.

But he was back last week with another issue. He was smiling.

I said you must have thought it was a bit 'off' that this little Chinese woman was telling him, a grown Muslim man, what to do. He smiled and said, 'yes!' But he also realised that what I said was helpful.

Again we could not actually help with his current problem. I did manage to show him how to make an online appointment at the local government office and briefed him as to what he needed to say to the officers there. It transpires that he was really keen for his daughters to have a good education. Good for him, I thought.

Yesterday I met him in town, wife and two children in tow. He recognized me and stopped me and smiled and was really friendly. I asked vaguely if everything was OK. He replied vaguely that everything was. I smiled to his wife, who looked really nervous, and went on my way.

I could have got very upset with his whining about his missing his Friday prayers the first time. But now I hope and pray I have made a start in getting him to help himself and family, and in particular his wife and daughters, to become a net contributor to British society.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Dare to be a Daniel

Two weeks ago the following was the Bible reading at church. When the reader came to the first part marked in red, I had a 'naughty' thought:

Daniel 4  

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of a Tree

King Nebuchadnezzar,
To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth:
May you prosper greatly!
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
How great are his signs,
    how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
    his dominion endures from generation to generation.
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me.
[Were all the 'wise men' really unable to interpret the dream or were they, as civil servants, too afraid to tell the truth about what it means? The reading continues:]
Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)
I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. 10 These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
13 “In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. 14 He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
“‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.
17 “‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’
18 “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”

Daniel Interprets the Dream

19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”

[Daniel was 'terrified'. Does he want to be the bearer of bad news? I also like the way he said, 'I really wish this was not intended for you, but .... ]

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds 22 Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.
23 “Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’
24 “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.

[Daniel, like some sort of 'outside' management consultant, not only identified the problem. He also proposed a solution. Look what happened a year later. King Neb forgot about this dream and returned to feeling smug.]


The Dream Is Fulfilled

28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

[However, there was good news for Nebuchadnezzar when the 'seven times' was over ....]

34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
    his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: “What have you done?”
36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

For me, what was amazing was that the speaker echoed my very thoughts in his sermon.
May God bless all those who read his word.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Does she have to pay?

[Dated on 23rd September 2013, but I'm only just publishing this.]

My mum has trouble paying the heating.

My mum HAD some trouble paying the heating, but we're not behind now.

Is there any financial help we can get?

Lady phones up first saying that mum has debt, but no, not really.

Me: Does she work?

Caller: 10 hours a week.

Me: She could try to find more work.

Caller interprets into East European language to her mum. I did not understand, but clearly her mum was not pleased.

Caller: She's worried that if they cut off her heating. Her cousin lives here with three children.

Me: Has she other benefits?

Caller: Only Housing Benefit.

Me: How much is getting?

Caller: £1020, but our rent is £1800.

Me: How many rooms do you have?

Caller: Three.

Me: She's likely to be done for fraud if she lets her cousin live there when she's on Housing Benefit.

Caller: O, the Council knows. We have reported change of circumstances.

Me: But she's not owing heating bills?

Caller: No, not now, but she's afraid that she can't pay.

Me: OK, I'm not sure if there's anything else we can do, apart from trying to work more hours.

Caller: Really, what you're telling me is irrelevant and you are upsetting my mother.

I took advice from supervisor.

Me: My supervisor said you could use this online calculator to find out whether she is getting all the benefits.

Caller: I want to talk to your supervisor.

Me: I have spoken to her and this is what she says. Check this out on xxxxx, and then if you have debts, we can help you restructure it.

Caller: What does that mean?

Me: We'll see who you are owing money to, and we'll see what your income and expenditure are. We then say, perhaps your mum could pay £5 a month until her debt is clear.

Caller: Has she got to pay it?

Me: Of course.

Caller: But this is not useful. We need help.

Me: I am trying to help. You said she is not really owing money any more.

Caller: She is. She's paying a little amount.

Me: How much and who is she owing?

Caller: I don't know. She has not got all the information.

Me: Then you must help her collect all this information and if she wants us to help her, we can help her.

Caller: You know, what you said earlier about her having to work longer hours is not nice because she is 56.

Me: (I heard 66.) How old did you say she is?

Caller: Fifty-six.

Me: I'm 56 [well, nearly]

Caller: But it's different. You speak English. She does not. She feels ashamed that after seven years here she still does not speak English. You know it's hard for old people to learn, not like me, I can learn it .... [on and on she went]

Me: Does she have debts? If she does, email or call us, and we'll arrange debt advice.

Caller: You know, my mum is so depressed she was trying to kill herself. If you don't help her, we're afraid she might ....

Me: Has she seen her GP?

Caller: Yes, but ... maybe it would be helpful to get her counselling.

Me: [thinking how to give her counselling when she does not speak English in an English speaking country] I am sorry to hear that, but you must make sure that the GP knows.

And on and on she went, not letting me get off the phone.

Caller: Just one minute?

Me: What is it about? You know what you have to do.

Caller: Just one minute. What is your name?

Me: [gave her my name, spelt it for her]. I'm a volunteer here, like many of the people here.

Caller: What's your extension number?

Me: What do you mean extension number?

Caller: An extension number is the line we can call directly.

Me: I don't have an extension number. I only do this Monday afternoons.

She finally hung up.

Then I learned that she rang up almost immediately and spoke to another volunteer demanding an appointment. Now she definitely has debts. Colleague spoke to supervisor and said, she does have debt we could try to apply for a grant.

Colleague: 'Grant'. That was what she was after.

The caller had wanted to be given 'free money' in the first place. Which explains why her mum was not pleased to be told she could work more hours, and her attempt at emotional blackmail about her mum trying to kill herself and all that.

Why should these people who never paid tax in this country be given £12000 a year of housing benefit in the first place? And to treat volunteers at an organization trying to help others?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Thoughts about Mother

I do believe it is 'Mothers' Day' in most parts of the world this weekend. Us here in Britain celebrated 'Mothering Sunday' some weeks ago, before Easter. (This weekend is important because we have Eurovision!)

My thoughts had been on a viral video, the one exalting 'being mum' as the 'toughest job in the world'.

Of course full-time mums love it, but then the criticisms quickly rolled in: what about the full-time dad? Or working mums? Are you telling me that being a full-time mum is more difficult than juggling a paid job and motherhood*?

Some feminist commentators of course jumped in to say that to put the full-time mother on the pedestal is a step back in the feminist struggle. How DARE you even suggest that after all the sacrifices made by women to give women the right to education and work that we should dignify a video which celebrates the work that mothers do AT HOME?

I don't want to write a long essay on this. I can only speak from my personal experience, just as every other mother (or father) would speak from their personal experience.

I had been in a job where I worked from 8.30am (or earlier) to whenever. There were days when I was at the office for so much of the day that I never saw the sun. This is Singapore, mind you: twelve hours of glorious sunshine every day of the year.

One day when I left work, unusually, before 6.30pm, I found myself thinking: O wow! The sun is still up and I have finished for the day. It was a treat.

Then I chose to be a stay-at-home mother. Probably the biggest mistake of my life.

Probably the biggest mistake of my life? (question mark).

Check back with me in seven years' time as I do not have the verdict for now. (The 'jury is still out', as they say.) But there were days when I used to yearn for those exhilarating days back at the office.

Not because of the tedium of 'housework' (cleaning, ironing, etc). I have outsourced much of this work. But the role of the mother is unrelenting, full on, day in and day out, often unchanging, ad nauseum and it often seemed ad infinitum.

When one's children are very young, there is a danger of the mother's thinking turning to mush.

I envied my husband. At least he had the time during the two hours he takes to travel to and from work to read the newspapers. There were days I only wanted to have space, but couldn't.

Probably too much information here, but it will be nice to be able to go to the loo and lock the door, so that your toddler wouldn't traipse in after you and bombard you with questions about 'What are you doing?'.

I envied my husband. At least if his staff were uncooperative or plain rebellious he could tell them off, reason with them, sack them. Even if bosses are being unfair, you could turn to independent adjudicators for help to decide what is and is not fair.

With a child, what? He's screaming, hitting, biting. You have to remain cool.

I envied my husband. He could sleep through the night (before he was overtaken by his current illness). Mothers are like SAS soldiers, some people think. We sleep with one ear open. I could tell when my child was not well just by listening to the way he slept, with or without the baby monitor.

So I am the one who gets up, check him, medicate him, sponge him, clean up after him, whatever.

Did I wish that I was a working mum instead? Yes. The plan was that I returned to work, but that plan fell through because of circumstances and we just had to adjust our plans accordingly.

Sure, when children start school, we do not parent 24/7 as in their pre-school days. Do those who work think that this is 'gift time', 'down time', 'tai tai time'?

For some mothers, perhaps. I seemed to be perpetually planning and organizing family stuff, the little things, the 'non-important' things, like getting uniforms ready, the sports gear cleaned, getting people in to repair this, waiting for the engineer to sort out that.

Nobody even stops to think what would happen if the washing is not done, the cooker is not repaired, the grass is not cut, the bins are not emptied, etc. etc.

Yet because I was not in 'paid work', I had a great sense of guilt, and I plodded on.

If I had been able to find a job that allowed me to work school hours, I would have. The opportunities to spend time with other adults would be mentally stimulating.

As it was I was only able to volunteer in the community, doing very responsible but unpaid work. And no money. (I also have a little business, but that is more to engage the brain and make a difference rather than to make money.)

So please do not diss those mothers who either chose, or had, to stay at home due to family circumstances.

*I know many mums who confessed to choosing work so that they did not have to look after their children full-time. For these, being a working mum is the easier option. Other mothers want to stay at home but need to work.

We are all trying to do our best and it does nothing for one section of the 'sisterhood' to accuse another for being anti-feminist or simply not doing their bit.

Would I have done it differently? Was staying home the biggest mistake of my life?

My son was perfectly happy that I was always home for him. That was the pattern he was comfortable with. However I sensed recently that he had become just a teensy bit embarrassed that his mum does not have a 'real' job, as in a paying job, like the mums of most of his mates.

Getting a paying job after more than ten years is an uphill task. After many, many disappointments (and that is another story) I had finally landed a part-time job, paying very little, but which I enjoy. It lets me use my brains.

Our family is what it is now because of what we decided to do. I see many clients who had become single parents on the flimsiest of excuses. I am almost certain that, had I been in a paid job outside the home, my husband and I would have split up by now given all the physical and emotional challenges that we faced, and our son would not be the very happy teenager he is now.

This is not to say that I am such a wonderful person. Please. It is very difficult to be a stay-at-home parent if one's spouse is not very supportive. It is so easy to start belittling the stay-at-home spouse, making him/her feel second-best, or to take for granted the hundreds of tasks one quietly completes day after day after day.

Every family has its issues (家家有本難念的經). Sometimes it's money, sometimes it's health, relationships, etc. As a couple we struggled with our issues and did what -- at that point -- we thought was best for the whole family.

So, let us not judge. Some stay-at-home mothers (and fathers) DO have the toughest job -- in relation to what they cannot do or what they prefer to do, or what they are gifted to do. If we merely adopt our own experience as the default and correct position, we will never agree with anyone else who has/had to live life from a different position.

Be ye kind, one to another.

This weekend, be kind especially to your mum.