Two stories, one theme: The Welfare State

English: A typical credit card terminal that i...
English: A typical credit card terminal that is still popular today. visanet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

BBC News – Benefits changes: Universal Credit system warning

via BBC News – Benefits changes: Universal Credit system warning.

The ‘magic’ of Paralympics 2012 has already evaporated

I am sorry to say, but my cynicism proved correct! Not even a day after the Closing Ceremony, and here are major concerns from charities involved with the most vulnerable people (disabled people included) who risk being harmed through further changes to the Benefits System in the UK. So, Sir Philip Craven, what say you to the way disabled people are viewed now?

When major changes to the distribution of the funding we (as I include myself in this) rely on for mere survival is being carried out in such a way to risk further harm, and yes to some of the athletes too. At least to those who are unable to work, as Disability Living Allowance, (soon to be PIP) isn’t included in Universal Credit, and so for the moment those athletes who earn a decent wage wouldn’t be affected by this. Depends whether they earn their full income, or if the state tops it up or not, as I think they’d be affected by the changes.

The idea is all well and good, but any idea of a “Universal Credit” is just what it says on the tin, i.e. a one sit fits all approach, worrying charities that people with specific circumstances will lose out. I would wholeheardely agree with their concerns. It is a nice but will not work in practice, as Gingerbread (who work with single parents, state in the article.

There are so many other issues. Even if the IT system is ready in time, and even if people can access it, can access their payments and that part of system works fluently for those who have the IT skills there are still other issues. For example Citizens Advice Beurea warn

the Universal Credit system “risks causing difficulties to the 8.5 million people who have never used the internet and a further 14.5 million who have virtually no ICT skills”.

Oh. my. Goodness. Given that this alone presents a massive challenge and it is by no means the singular problem with the proposals, Ian Duncan Smith should be called to adress people’s concerns. There so many other flaws in the proposed system. Really too many to state and full discuss here. Please read the article for yourself.

Regarding my cynicism I refer to a discussion I had with two friends last night, which is appropriate to include here. I’m afraid to say we weren’t swayed by the “isn’t everything wonderful” attitude of Messers Coe and Craven. 

One final word about paralympics 2012 The speakers did not half talk a lot of nonsense. Lord Seb Coes gems of wisdom included the lines: ”we will never think of sport the same way, and we will never think of disability the same way..” How is he so convinced that years of discrimination and so on has been turned around in te course of a mere 11 days. He’d have to start by changing goenments attitudes to both disability and to disaled people. Another man with high expectations of disabiled people is Sir Philip Craven who talked about a small boy who had been reading Treasure Island with his mother, who asked him about the main character, expecting her son to sy the man was a “pirate, instead he said “athlete” The implications of this, is to assume that all who are disabled in some way are ‘athletes’, or can become athletes which is far from the case.

He also committed a further gaffe , which to me was worse than the first, as he claimed the magic of the Paralympic  Games would last  for an eternity, what a lot of RUBBISH!! Sorry to sound particularly Bible bashing, but he really has not thought this one through.My thoughts seemed to be echoed by my friends, including Partakers_Dave  and, and Pam who said she was “worried that such amazing feats will be expected of all disabled [people]in a way that will be even more disabling”.

Disabled people are made to feel the truth of this already as we’re expected to be ‘superhuman’ when, what for some of us are  ‘superhuman feats’ like being able to work, find and maintain a job is expected of all of us who are out of a job, whatever the reason may be even if we cannot look for a job due to being sick, disabled, or both, never mind having the energy or resources to be a full-time athlete or attempt similarly great things.