The title says it all. A somewhat un-sexy subject, but one very much in the news at the moment, and in the days to come. This week, two stories really affected me for two reasons, first, interest the arguments involved, and secondly, because both may have a direct impact on me in the future.
The first: Welfare ‘credit-cards’
This is one that sounds simple. A good idea in theory to some; much loathed and feared by others. This week in the Guardian I read an argument for and one against against the introduction of benefit payments by ‘credit-card’. In conjunction with universal credit, these cards would contain all of a person’s benefit payments on my card, in my case at the moment, Employment and Support allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Every-time I bought something, it would show up on the card. What about places that don’t take cards?
Another concern for me, is that as each transaction could be itemized as on a bank statement, there is the potential that someone could see all of my transactions, and potentially make decisions on whether purchases were necessary or not, and if that was someone with the authority to do so, potentially limit my spending. This is a fear expressed by both Ally Fogg in his article for the Guardian this week, and by Tentacle Sixteen in his blog post. Items such as Sky TV are as luxuries to many, for the likes of myself, these things are a lifeline I can ill afford to lose. I spend much of my time indoors, and so spend a long time using wireless internet making purchases I would be unable to do in person for all sorts of reasons including, lack of energy, not enough care time to have someone with me, an inaccessible shop (Hobbycraft for one…). There is the updating of this blog, and so on, including social media. Not to mention the articles I write, between other things, which give me a purpose, and something meaningful to talk about when friends or others ask me what I fill my time with. Again, this to me is a lifeline. I very much rely on my friends. I have basic television and broadband subscription but spend more on telephone and mobile (I’m sure you’ll understand why, if you’re a regular reader…!)
Also, what about larger purchases? This laptop is dying, as is my ‘spare’ wheelchair. Both are very much necessities It is already hard to save up for these things, as savings are penalized if above a certain level. When DLA is replaced by PIP of course it may become impossible to make those savings in the first place. Who’s to say what is and is not necessities If the washing machine, a smaller model to fit under lower work-tops and three times the price (at least) of an ordinary machine, bye-bye new laptop and essential assistive software.
Next we come to a thorny issue, which I have already touched on: privacy. Will all the purchases be visible by another person, and what if the card is lost or stolen and accessed by another. What about the risk of fraud too, if only a pin number is necessary. It will, according to some, also identify benefit claimants as such, many already under pressure from increased discrimination as it is. Claudia Wood, also writing for the Guardian this week, takes a different view and argues cards would cut, not increase this stigma.
For a fuller discussion of the issues at stake, visit Tentacle Sixteen’s blog post, and or the Guardian articles from this week, which I have linked to, above.
Story Two: The ‘Bedroom Tax’
ITV news last night (Fri 1st Feb) featured this issue and spoke to a number of claimants as they expressed their fears better than I can. It refers to Housing Benefit claimants considered to have at least one more bedroom than they need. Money is deducted from their benefits as a result, about £14-18 a week or £600 a year.Some of the people being hit really are most vulnerable and ought to be protected, such as Claire. She has severe cerebral palsy, requires round the clock care, and has constant spasms, requiring her partner to sleep in the room next door, enabling him to be fresh enough to care for her the next day.
However, as Claire says, they will be forced to share a bedroom again. This has increased her partner’s migraines, rendering him unable to care for her, and them having to pay out for more care, relief carers for Claire which the couple can ill afford. Given the government’s attitude on similar issues, I find it difficult to believe they would realise the enormity and impact of such a situation. The government reply to this, was it’s tough, but tough decisions have to be made, and people should just get on with it. Sounds a valid argument, but yet more pressure heaped on the heads of people all read pressed in on every side. Remember the ‘compassionate conservatism’ mentioned by ‘Dave’ at the Conservative Party Conference in 2012??!
This is not a situation that now affects me, however, were I to need live in care in the future, on an ad-hoc basis, or be married and have a partner/carer unable to sleep because he’s being hit and kicked, or affected by problems with my bag, it doesn’t bear thinking about! My heart goes out to Claire and her partner. I just hope this Government sees sense before it is too late.