Monday, 31 August 2015

Housing the elephant in the room

I had a look at the various manifestos with a focus on housing. There were some interesting ideas on how to make HDB flats affordable.

SDA and SDP separately proposed schemes where flats were sold cheap, repaid in under 20 years and can be sold back to HDB. WP proposed a scheme which pegs debt service ratio to the median household income. Generally it was agreed that it is wrong to factor in the cost of land when pricing new HDB flats.

No party has mentioned the elephant in the room. We do not “own” HDB flats. We rent them on a 99-year lease. Eventually the flats are returned to the HDB, with or without a profit. A bit like the biblical Jubilee, when land is returned to its original owner.

Just for the sake of argument: what would happen if we all withdrew our applications to buy a flat from HDB? What if we simply decided to rent instead of buy?

It is difficult to try to resolve an ostensibly “housing” issue when there are two distinct and opposing conditions to the problem.

Group A consists of (poorer, younger) people who just want to have the certainty of a home to start and build a family or to grow old in. Renting leaves one susceptible to rent rises which might become unaffordable. The only way to gain such security seems to be to acquire an un/affordable HDB flat.

Group B is made up of wily individuals who had bought a flat with as little money as possible and hope to sell it at the biggest profit possible after a shortest period of time.

Group A wants to have low prices in order to buy. Group B wants the prices to rise in order to make a profit. How do you please both these groups?

If the government were to legislate such that property prices come down substantially to help Group A, Group B would feel hard done by. By letting market forces drive up prices to benefit Group B, Group A becomes even more disgruntled.

To complicate matters, members of Group A eventually become part of Group B. The composition of the groups are constantly in flux.

How did HDB and "affordable housing" get into such a conundrum?

Let us go back to first principles. Affordable housing meant moving us from the danger of living in slums after the fire at Bukit Ho Swee and to resolve overcrowding. The government's right to compulsory acquisition of land gave us affordable flats without us worrying about rent rises. We can get on with our lives. We lived in a happy equilibrium for a while.

Somewhere between the "Swiss standard of living" and SG50 owning a flat was no more about providing a family home or security of tenure (or tenancy). Somewhere along the line owning an HDB property became an "investment", a stepping stone to owning an increasingly larger and ultimately a private property.

Somewhere along this same line, some people made a lot of money.

The ultimate HDB betrayal was to let people own both an HDB flat AND a private property at the same time. If you can afford a private property then you no longer need an HDB flat. You either need affordable housing, or you don't. These are mutually exclusive positions.  

There is a third, largely forgotten perspective: pioneer Singaporeans were encouraged to buy homes to sink their roots into our new nation. If you lock yourself into a 30-year mortgage, that means you must grow roots, even if you must work till you drop.

Besides, our property is only worth what a buyer is willing to pay. If HDB manages to house 100% of our population, there will be no demand for flats. No buyers means your HDB property will become worthless. Overnight.

Therefore it is important to keep creating a new pool of home-owners to maintain demand.

Thus, we have somehow managed to create an "aristocracy" based on (HDB) home ownership.

What to do? Maybe we should make it illegal for private home owners to also own an HDB flat. The increase in supply of flats will surely reduce the value of these flats thus pleasing those in Group A.

That will go down well with Group B. Not.

Or we need another paradigm shift: Let us only rent (says she who has never owned any real estate). As ultimately we would need to return our flats to HDB. Why bust a gut just to pretend that we own that property?? Have HDB build lovely flats and offer a rental scale that is inversely proportional to the number of children a family has.

Now that will solve both the housing and fertility problem. Don't say I don't say.

Friday, 28 August 2015

My MP should not be a letter-writer either

[28/08/2015: Uploaded my post on 'mudslinging' late last night, oblivious to what was happening in Singapore. Woke up this morning to learn the latest about fellow social scientist. Susah!]

Journalist Chua Mui Hoong was right to point out Your MP is not the Chief Social Worker. He’s supposed to raise issues and make laws". A Member of Parliament is by definition someone who represents our voice in Parliament.

They and they alone have the privilege of voting within the debating chamber, thus helping to shape laws and policies concerning transport (MRT, taxi fares), the environment (flooding, mosquitoes) and healthcare (Medishield, hospitals), for example, through debating with the government ministers and holding them to account.

Everything else they do is secondary to this task of law-making.

Professional managers can run the town councils. Therapists can listen to your woes. A neighbour can write your letters. Churches, temples, and other voluntary groups are feeding and housing those in need. Social workers can look after dysfunctional families.

Only your honourable Member of Parliament can reflect what you, his constituent, feel within the hallowed walls of the House of Parliament.

I am not an MP but I have run the equivalent of Meet-the-People Sessions (called “surgeries” in Britain) at my advice charity for five years. Clients have told me about her incontinence, his piles and a husband’s impotence, usually within the context of “how do I get more benefits?”. At every session I deal with families facing eviction and individuals owing enormous amounts of debt with debt collectors knocking on their doors.

Contrary to what a minister had said recently, I (and about 25,000 others) do this without being paid. (I was, for a year, employed to ensure minimum service on the London Minimum Wage and then Living Wage.) I am neither wealthy (compared to this minister) nor corrupt (compared to this minister). (Oops! Nearly risked my being sued.)

One of my most memorable clients ranted, “I called those people so many times and they never answer. You people call and they will talk to you.” How is it that civil servants (“those people”), paid by my taxes, are not answering this man’s queries on the phone? Why are they withholding information about himself from him? Why does he need us (“you people”), unpaid volunteers, to phone or write a letter on his behalf just to get a response? Is this acceptable in a First World democracy?

Considering GE2015: Why do we still need MPs to write letters on our behalf?

My late father often had to go to the letter-writer at Ann Siang Hill whenever he needed to send news back to China. Immediately post-1965, many constituents needed their MPs to write letters in English. Fifty years on, most of us can either write our own, or turn to adult children and grandchildren.
Letter writers


According to Mr K Mahbubani, the “Singapore population is one of the best educated populations”. If this is so, why do we need MPs to write letters to HDB, for example, for grants to fix a leaky ceiling? Can the highly-paid civil servants at HDB not decide whether an application is legitimate?

Singaporeans have told me that sometimes, like my British client, they do not get a response at all from certain government departments. So they trot down to the MPS. The MP writes. Hey presto! The civil servant replies. Job done.

Why should the interference of an MP -- of whatever party -- make a difference?

I can think of two reasons.

The first is our civil servants are lazy and useless (in which case they should be sacked). Considering how they are often rewarded with bonus payments, this cannot be the case.

The second is, for some reason, there have been inefficiencies designed (yes, deliberately engineered) into the process so that the wheels would only turn when oiled by an MP’s intervention.

Such a system forces a voter to seek the help of an MP. Is this an example of a “patron-client relationship”? The politically “superior” can (be seen to) dispense favour to the “inferior”, making the “inferior” indebted (ie obligated) to the “superior”. Of course the favour will be called in at some point (ie at General Election). This, however, is not the same as corruption or bribery.

I suspect and hope that this practice will be phased out once we have more opposition MPs in office.

MPs should not be doing the work of the civil servants whether at a local (town council) or national level. We do not pay MPs $16,000 (how much?!!) to be a letter-writer. We need a separation -- clear blue water -- between the legislative (Parliament) and the executive (Civil Service).

When you cast your vote, think whether you are choosing an effective letter-writer or a law-maker who would diligently represent your views in Parliament by the way he/she votes on legislative matters.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Mudslinging makes potatoes grow (repost)

[28/08/2015: Uploaded my post on 'mudslinging' late last night, oblivious to what was happening in Singapore. Woke up this morning to learn the latest about fellow social scientist. Susah!]

I am plagiarising myself here. I first posted this on 24th April 2011.

In my view there was too much "mudslinging" at the last GE. I hope that we have matured a bit and will use less of this strategy and argue on points that matter. I would like politicians to inspire me, enthuse me with their vision of where they wish to take us in the next 30 years.

Talking about SG100 is, to me, a bit premature. Five years are too short. Short-termism -- where politicians hand out freebies and promise the electorate even more goodies, and neglecting to fix the systems that need fixing -- in British politics has run everything Britons are proud of (eg National Health Service, pension provision, social care) very nearly into the ground.

I think striving for positive change (eg class size, National Service, CPF) within a generation is much more do-able. Just think, there is now a whole generation of young Singaporeans who were brought up by foreign maids, and they probably expect their own children to be brought up the same way.

==== [from previous post then ...]
The potatoes in my garden are going berserk. [I grow these in potato bags, not in the ground.] Every time I see new leaves I cover them with compost (as per instructions).

If I put compost on it last thing at night, new growth appears the following morning. If I cover it with compost in the morning, the leaves break through again by the end of the day.

New leaves appear despite the compost. Or is it because of the compost?

I’ve been baking my own bread. In the temperate clime here it takes a long time for bread dough to proof (ferment and rise). But when it has risen to the right size, it takes but a few minutes to bake, and then soon we can tuck into delicious warm bread.

When it’s the season for potatoes to grow, nothing would stop it once it finds moist, fertile ground.

Fed with alternative views via the internet and watered by rising dissatisfaction, the political ground in Singapore is fertile for opposition growth.

The ruling party might dig up the dirt and heap it on the opposition. But mudslinging and dirt (as compost is but organic material that has rotted down) only promote even greater growth.

I don’t have to remind you that potatoes grow underground.

As the opposition has been biding its time, proving (pun intended) itself to be worthy (or not, as the case might be), so too like bread, it would not take too long for it to be ready to form a government, or at least that alternative voice so necessary to provide checks and balances.

Wishing you, my beloved Singapore, the wonderful aroma that promises the delight of freshly baked bread. Soon.

P.S. I hope I get to vote this time.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

SMRT/Gracious Fellow Travellers

Unlike a former classmate who can afford to jet across the world -- First Class -- at the drop of a hat, my visits to Singapore are few and far between.

The upside is I notice the changes. I guess this is a bit like what the anthropologist would call "making the familiar strange".

My husband and I have noticed how people are much better at letting passengers off the trains, for example. We dutifully stand where the marks are, wait till most have disembarked before pushing our way in.

An old Singaporean woman who had become a British citizen went back to visit Singapore some years back. She insisted on her return that "there are no old people in Singapore".

She was staying at an Orchard Road hotel and she said she could not see one person with a walking stick or in a wheelchair. Conclusion: there were no old people in Singapore.

Well, I have had so many people offer up their seats to me on the trains (both in Singapore and Bangkok) that I figure I must look REALLY OLD.

I put it down to my carefully cultivated grey hair. It has never touched hair dye.

It used to be when I see people with grey hair coming up the bus or train I would offer them my seat. These days I have to be careful that people who appear to be older than me (wrinkles, gait, manner of dress, eg) but with hair a uniform jet black (or brown) colour may not actually be old.

Going by hair colour, my friend was right, there are no old people in Singapore.

Do I offer these people who seem old, but who have less grey hair than I do, my seat? What do I do if someone offers me a priority seat?

So I just want to record my thanks to the many foreign workers (they seemed foreign in complexion and manner of dress), young students and National Service men (in uniform) who have offered me their seats on the trains.

My principle is that I will always accept their offer. If I declined their offer they might become less willing to offer the next person their seat, and this next person might really need that seat. The exception is when I only have just one stop to go. In which case I would explain this to the kind person.

As for Indian workers in Singapore I noticed, too, when trudging through Little India one hot afternoon, that not once did I hear someone (foreign or otherwise) in Little India say, "Excuse me, excuse me" (or the Singapore equivalent which sounds something like "kills me") in trying to get past us on the five foot ways. It seemed like everyone fell in behind us (ambling tourists) and waited patiently till we got to a point where they could -- quietly -- pass us.

And it was also reassuring to see how people in wheelchairs (usually propelled by a diminutive foreign-looking person) can travel in buses and trains, and fellow travellers did not grudge them that space and time.

It did give me hope that Singapore (comprising locals and guest workers) is becoming a much more gracious place to live.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

GE15: Singlish good, English bad

[Single Mother watch]


So, the gauntlet has been thrown down. SG is up for grabs.

Trawling through some of the GE15 posts and videos I cannot help but notice that numerous comments have been made about the (British, clipped, etc) accent of a certain candidate.

In other videos other candidates spoke in perfectly grammatical English, also with a slightly "foreign" accent.

The last time I had anything published in the MSM and my blog about Singlish I was taken to task by Singlish supporters on some FB page. I don't know how far -- if at all -- that debate has moved on. At the recent SG50, I see that Singlish was being celebrated.

Was this a real recognition of Singlish as part of the Singapore identity or an acquiescence on the part of the G (previously known as “gahman”, I assume)?

I do not remember -- ever -- hearing the late great Mr Lee speak Singlish in public. His was a beautiful, carefully enunciated English, precise and crisp. A British accent? Maybe.

That is why I chuckled when ESM Goh said in Mr Lee’s eulogy: “But I believe Mr Lee would say, ‘What to do? This is life.’”

Mr Lee definitely, double-confirm, would not have said, “What to do?” Maybe “What can I do?” or even “What shall I do?” but definitely, definitely not “What to do?”

It was, for me, a ‘facepalm’ moment, feeling very paiseh that in front of all those dignitaries from around the world, my previous PM said, “What to do?”

(BUT, but I will always respect ESM Goh for giving us the vision for the “Swiss standard of living”. Don’t say I don’t say.)

Honestly, I wonder what Mr Lee would have said about the SG50 Singlish parade.

Back to GE2015: I am afraid that those candidates who speak good grammatical English and have acquired a slight accent due to their having lived and worked abroad for many years might now be painted/portrayed as being not Singaporean enough.

Note, too, that speaking with a, say, British/American/Puerto Rican, accent is not the same as speaking good grammatical English which is not the same as speaking Singlish.

You can’t really speak good Singlish without a particular rise and fall in tone. But you can speak grammatically correct English with its precise vocabulary, understood right around the world, and the accent will vary and it does not matter whether your accent is Dutch, Czech or Urdu.

I have not been able to get rid of my Singapore accent despite having lived in Britain for more than two decades, but that is OK. I don’t particularly want to get rid of my Singapore accent.

However there have been many times when I pronounced words or used sentence structures that my English-speaking colleagues/friends/husband/son could not understand. I have been teased many times for the way I do not speak English properly. I’ve had to change my way of speaking English (with specific focus on consonant clusters) so that I can be understood outside Singapore.

My point is: please do not hold it against those election candidates who speak an English which sounds a bit strange to our Singaporean ears.

Good Singlish might make us sound/look like we are "closer" to the people. Cabinet ministers and other politicians have to interact with their counterparts on a global basis.

Referencing the scenes from Animal Farm where the animals were (initially) chanting "Four legs good, two legs bad", please, hah: It is not a case of “Singlish good, English bad” (which is not to say that bad English is good Singlish, you know what I mean).

Monday, 24 August 2015

SMRT/Signal Failure at Wembley Park

[New post: GE15: Singlish good, English bad]

Three things happened on 11th August 2015 which were sort of related.
  1. Husband came to give me a kiss and my mug of tea in bed (as usual) and said “the Met line is not running”. A signal failure at Wembley Park meant that all trains going east from where we live were … not going east. Husband had to take the overground mainline train, change to an Underground train and then trek across the Thames with thousands of other commuters.
  2. London Underground announced another TWO days of strikes. This was after a strike the week before which had caused a great deal of resentment.
  3. Over in Singapore Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew announced that he was going to be the ‘former’ Transport Minister.
When the recent NS and EW lines died my response was rather uncharitable, “Hello, Singaporeans! It is an old system. Deal with it!” At least it is not being sabotaged by overpaid train drivers and their trade unions holding the commuter to ransom.

We are talking here of Tube drivers who earn £50,000 a year. In comparison a nurse earns £22,000, a policeman £24,000 and a new university lecturer with a PhD starts at around the £30,000 mark. The benefits cap was set at £26,000 a year – the average salary earned by Britons.

Tube drivers also get 43 days of paid leave a year. That is another 0.83 day a week, on top of their two days off every seven days. Effectively Tube drivers work just over four days (4.17 to be exact) out of seven. I hope I have put that £50,000 in perspective.

What I thought most mysterious – and many others have already commented on this – was the number of people coming out of the woodwork to make kind, gracious and some might say cringe-worthy comments about how a wonderful and decent man Mr Lui is and that he should not be blamed for the fallout from all the train failures; failures he had inherited. 

Where was the support when Mr Lui was being ridiculed and castigated by the public in social media? (I must confess that during this period I had, for various reasons, stopped reading Singapore news regularly and had refrained from commenting on it for some time. Let she who is without sin cast the first stone.)

A successful politician does not only need to know how to make astute and often difficult decisions, he/she also needs to be able to convey to the electorate the impetus behind these decisions.

Our pioneer politicians learned as they went along, fuelled by little other than the mission of nation-building. The fire in their belly carried us along. We fell in behind them. (And look where they have brought us.)

As an undergraduate after the post-1984 watershed election I ranted about how the new batch of politicians were merely ‘technocrats’. They had the technical ability to get certain jobs done, but all seemed to have a charisma ‘bypass’, a lobotomy in the personality department, and were not able to enthuse the voters.

With Lui’s generation of politicians they seem to be just very nice scholars who can make things work, but only within very structured environments where the chain of command is very clear-cut. Despite not being shackled by a trade union as with the London Underground, the picture is emerging – or I can only conclude – that Mr Lui was too gentle with the heads that he should have knocked together to make the transport system work.

What to do? When you have grown up within a Confucian culture where respect must be accorded to some because of their prior position, what leeway had poor Mr Lui? (I subsequently heard that Mr Lui did not have as many stars on his epaulettes as the people whose heads he should have knocked. Would anyone care to set the record straight?)

The Transport portfolio is now a poisoned chalice. But really, we don’t care. Please do not play-play political football. Commuters simply want a transport system that works, and works reliably.

Is anyone out there, ex-Army, ex-Navy, ex-SS (ie Sheng Siong) or ex-whatever ready to deliver?

Meanwhile, back at the Tube, if I were the Mr Lui-equivalent, I would sack every striking driver and re-hire them on new no-strike terms. They are, after all, running an essential service.

24 August 2015 17.51
BREAKING NEWS - The Tube strike is OFF: Commuters given 11th-hour reprieve from four-day walkout as unions agree deal

As usual, brinkmanship. Or should it be "blinkmanship"? Who blinked first?

NB: RMT sets new walkout dates of September 8 and 10 if no deal is reached

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Our Jubilee year

Something has been nagging me about the "Jubilee" celebrations.

Hence the article Our Jubilee year.


“Jubilee” conjures for me the liberation of slaves, the cancelling of debt, and if I might push the envelope a little, an amnesty for certain categories of offenders.

But how many debts were indeed cancelled, and how many slaves were similarly set free?

Then I found this:

$3.07 million raised for Methodist Welfare Services scheme to help families in debt


A programme initiated by the Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) to aid families struggling with debt has raised a total of $3.07 million, which will go towards helping more than 600 families.

The Getting Out of Debt or Good programme, which was started in January, will ease the burden of these families by between $2,000 and $5,000 each.

"Well done!" to the Methodist church.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Nurturing "Eldercarers"

This letter was published today. It was a letter I literally dashed off in about ten minutes before shooting off to do my volunteering turn:

I lay claim to making up the word "eldercarers". Most young people thinking of a career prefer to work with children. A Sociology classmate who trained in Social Work said working with old people is a dead-end job. There are no positive outcomes. They die.

Such is the bleak reality. But I remind myself, one day I will be old. If I do not set in place a system that will let me age (and die) gracefully, then I have no one else to blame.

So may I also remind all young people that, barring a nuclear disaster or an asteroid striking the earth, we may live till 130 (yes!). Let us watch how we live and treat older people around us, and let us show those even younger than we are how we wish to be treated when we are 129!


It is good news to hear that the Government is investing in the training of "educarers" of pre-schoolers ("Pre-nursery staff get on-job training"; yesterday).
I urge the authorities to also consider a similar training strategy to better equip "eldercarers" in looking after older people.
This need became clear to me when I did research on the elderly in Britain. There is a dire need to grow the ageing care sector in Singapore as well.
We should not leave our elderly to cheap - or free, when a family member is involved - labour when they deserve the best and most dignified care. We need "eldercarers" who understand the specific physiological, emotional and social needs of the elderly.
In turn, these "eldercarers" need a career progression structure that would make this career attractive to young people or to those returning to work.

The Raffles schools

Just for the record, this was published recently:

Uh, I don't write the headlines for these letters.


The Raffles schools were the pinnacle of aspiration for families like mine all across Singapore.
I remember taking the bus to Tiong Bahru Primary School, confident I would be an "RGS girl".
On my first day at Raffles Girls' School (RGS) I was asked by a new schoolmate: "Were you the top girl in your school?"

It transpired that virtually every girl in the room was asked the same question, and the answer was the same: We were the top girls from schools across our island nation.
I had such a great time at RGS.
I studied alongside daughters of hawkers, labourers, civil servants, and so on. I was gobsmacked when some of the girls arrived at school in chauffeur-driven cars.
Within the classroom, however, our family backgrounds did not matter. Of the 40 girls in class, only one had a graduate father.
How may we reverse elitism at Raffles Institution (RI) and RGS ("A hard look at averting elitism"; Wednesday and "RI population less diverse now, say many alumni"; Tuesday)?
In primary schools, one will find naturally gifted children from lower socio-economic backgrounds who may not already be in the gifted education programme.
Sometimes, the parents of such children won't even know that their children are good enough to get into RI/RGS. Sometimes, there are fears that they cannot afford to "keep up" or "fit in".
I suggest the relevant authorities consider "outreach programmes" to nurture these natural talents, engage with their families, reassure them of financial support and prepare them for a time at RI/RGS.
Or invite the top boys and girls in each class or school to sit a special test for RI/RGS. Just make sure that this is a test - unlike the Primary School Leaving Examination - for which they cannot be prepped.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Single Mother watch (Notes to self)

21 August 2015

NB: I plan to keep this post updated on the weird and wonderful single mothers (and fathers) I encounter.


This was published recently: “But I am a single mum!” .

Back at the ranch (the advice charity where I was a volunteer, went on the payroll, made redundant from lack of funding, and now back as volunteer) I was faced with the following two cases. I know a little less about the third case.

Case One
Client's daughter came to see me at advice triage session. Client was claiming loads of benefit as a single mother of four or five children from 2005. The daughter who is in her 20s was the one who came on her behalf. She presented me with a stack of papers about 4.5cm thick.

By the third page it has become clear to me that the case was about Client claiming to be a single mother when in fact she continued to have a relationship with her husband.

How do we know? Client went on to have a new baby after being given her benefits and the baby was registered with the same surname as her other children. They also found evidence that the father had a bank account AND business registered to the same address.

Client and her daughter still insisted that Client was indeed a single parent. They are appealing against the demand for overpayment of benefits that have been claimed fraudulently. I can't wait to find out what the outcome of their tribunal hearing might be. And then, would they be prosecuted in court for benefit fraud?

If I were the Client I will quietly work out a payment arrangement. Sometimes it takes them (theoretically) 93 years to pay off these debts.

Meanwhile the father has now (conveniently?) moved back in with the family and all the benefits are in order.

Case Two
Client attended with her brother because her English was not so good. Client was already given her maximum £26,000 benefit (£500 a week) for herself and four children. She also, ostensibly, also cares for an elderly mother.

Client then took on work as a cleaner for a company for 16 hours a week: six hours on Saturday, and two hours a day Monday to Friday. Her application for Housing Benefit was initially approved, but given the evidence that the company that Client worked for had actually stopped trading during the period of her claim, it was decided that she had worked illegally, and that the 'work' was a ruse to claim additional working tax credit to avoid her benefit cap of £26,000. There is now a demand for £15,000 of overpayment of Housing Benefit and rent arrears.

I was observing her adviser who said she believed her story. We have to, just as lawyers must always believe what the clients tell us. The company had not ceased trading as the authorities said. But there were a number of little details I found astonishing.

(1) She was getting £6.19 an hour. Transport costs to and from work would have cost £2.80. (Maybe she drives. We did not ask.) Would anyone already drawing £26,000 a year actually spend two hours on the bus to work two hours in order to earn £9.50, Mondays to Fridays? Her weekly income from this job was £99.

(2) During these working hours, she had to send two or three children to childcare. This cost, however, was picked up by the taxpayer on the basis that she was getting Working Tax Credit.

(3) Why did she choose to work during the hours her children needed childcare and not when the children were in school?

(4) She already gets "Carers Allowance" for looking after her mother and should be looking after her mother. When the mother suffered a fall. Client left her job suddenly. It shows that she was not fussed one way or another whether she worked.

(5) If the taxpayer were to pick up the cost of childcare and then pay her quite a substantial amount of Working Tax Credit, then Client had nothing to lose. There were no opportunity costs as far as she was concerned, unlike those of us who are not on benefits.

Watch this space.

Case Three
I was manning reception because our volunteer receptionists were not there. There was a client that I knew could not be handled by the triage volunteers so I asked a supervisor to look into it.

Single mother with several children at least one of whom is autistic gets every single benefit you can name, as she rattled it off: Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support, Carers Allowance. Her children get Disability Living Allowance, etc. etc. She showed me a bill of unpaid rent because the council was not giving her Housing Benefit. The landlord is threatening eviction.

It sounded to me -- but I might be wrong -- that Housing Benefit was withheld because she had exceeded her benefit cap threshold. I said, "Madam, just because you don't get HB, it does not mean that you cannot take money from the disability benefits, CTC, etc, to pay at least some rent."

She gave me a strange look.

I mean, £26,000 for not working is not bad money, is it? (I thought.)

Supervisor saw her and I later learned that she was going to make an appointment for Client to see an adviser at one of our other 'outposts', designed for clients with children under five or pregnant. I said to supervisor, "But she does not have children under five!"

Supervisor, "Yes. But she says she is pregnant."

There you go again. Single mother -- from a religious group where they stone women for adultery -- having another baby.