Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dear Mr Duncan-Smith - So Who will Raise our Children?...

... when a Parent who currently works Part Time is pushed or forced to go Full Time under your plans for Universal Credit?

I hung on your every word Mr Duncan-Smith and that of your ministers at the DWP Questions on January 28th. When asked about Part Time Workers under U Credit you replied "The Department is looking closely at how we can assist people to take more work while on universal credit. We do not have the final results of that...."

Assist. That's fine. I like "Assist". That implies an element of choice for the Part Time Worker. But the more I hear from the Government, the more I am thinking this will be "pushed" or the worse case scenario "forced" into Full Time Work.

Women in particular have historically liked Part Time Work. Whatever the rights and wrongs of equality, historically women have been care givers and homemakers. Women of all classes and more frequently men whose Full Time work has been eroded, are working Part Time and then care giving for children and older relatives and home making. After your part time work has finished, someone has to make the kids tea, do the washing up, wash and iron and other housing chores. Increasingly there are elderly relatives who have to be cared for too.

So under Universal Credit, we will be coerced into going Full Time. My sons are 23, 20, 14 and 13. The youngest is autistic. I worked Full Time in a Call Centre with my eldest two sons, just before Tony Blair came into power when there were no childcare facilities that were subsidised. I worked 10am - 6pm Monday to Friday and out of my £850 monthly take home pay, I paid £270 for my sons to attend an after school club back in 1996. We all arrived home exhausted at 7pm. Tea still had to be made and chores done. I felt I was letting them down, as all they had was a frazzled mother. At the time I was a divorced single mother and had no help as I lived 150 miles away from relatives.

After I had remarried and my youngest son was born and diagnosed with autism, the world turned upside down. Although financially we experienced five years of real struggle, I HAD to stay at home. Why? My youngest son needed my input. He needed a mother there to get him to reach his full potential. It would have been a little easier under the Labour Government and Sure Start to find childcare as we lived at the time in Liverpool, but my disabled son was and is too precious for me not to have given him the most important gift of all: MY TIME.

Indeed with a husband working full time to make ends meet and 4 sons who had after school activities, medical appointments and wanted mum at the school gate, and a home cooked meal to come home to, working any amount back then would have been a real struggle. Lots of women and men do, and have no choice, and I salute them. But due to that early interevention and that full time mothering, my youngest son in particular is thriving. A state run nursery for disabled children intervened when he was 3, and provided early intervention and strategies that I also learnt from and worked with us as parents to find our sons maximum ability. He is now a soon to be 14 year old who has interests in drama and the arts and a sense that with his disability he is an essential human being with worth both to himself and society.

Could my son even think like this if I had worked Full Time from his birth? I think not.

My question is Mr Duncan Smith - Who will Raise our Children if we are not around for a large part of our Children's Day? Note I said "Raise" and not "Look After". I can get next doors 16 year old to baby sit for a few hours. No, who is providing the in depth quality care on a 1-1 that children need? For me more importantly: Who is raising our disabled children?

This week Liz Truss has announced Childcare - Staff ratios will be raised so more nurseries can take more children at lower cost. Cost, Mr Duncan-Smith. Your government is obsessed with Low Quality and Low Cost. Like the two things must go hand in hand, come hell or high water and damn the consequences. Childminders will be allowed  6 children to 1 childminder ratio. What childminder could cope with 6 perfectly "normal" children? what happens if 1 of these children is disabled? Life does not work on stats. No mention is  made of ratios for disabled children. There have been no specialist nursery nurses trained exclusively to deal with a wide range of disabilities. There are no specialist day nurseries that I know who care exclusively for disabled children. Probably due to cost. For disabled children are costly and grow into disabled adults who are costly also and this is frowned upon by Government.

Lastly I would ask you to look at potential future crime figures. If Part Time Workers are pushed into Full Time work and have a number of children - more than one child - and low quality care, and low cost care are the only option, how many of these workers will choose the "No Care" option once children are older? That first year in High School is problematic. Aged 11/12 they think they are older now, but are at that in between age before becoming teenagers. Kids coming home, letting themselves in, getting their own teas perhaps, the dreaded X Box, Facebook etc - it all leads to mischief. Mischief may lead to law breaking. Parental supervision is needed.

So my answer to your rhetoric is to leave parents who currently work Part Time to make their own choice under Universal Credit about their own working arrangements. This stick to beat them into working Full Time will not work in the short term, and will have potentially high costs for society in the long term through increased Crime and Disorder.

And for the record, I have raised and am currently raising 4 sons whom I am proud of. All will be contributing members of society and law abiding citizens. The price I personally paid to make this a fact is by raising them with values and being there for them full time. In the long term it benefits society and saves the Government £s in not having to intervene.

Now me working Part Time, isn't that a price worth paying Mr Duncan-Smith?

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Oh we do like to Work beside the Seaside....

....  as long as that work is Part Time, Temporary, Seasonal, and Zero Hours Contracted.

As I have stated in my previous blog post I live with my husband and have 4 sons aged 13-23. Three of the boys still live at home which is Prestatyn, N Wales; a small seaside town of approximately 21,000 which is four miles from our larger neighbour,and one of the most deprived towns in Wales, Rhyl.

This post focuses on my second son, Vincent who is a few months short of his 21st birthday. He gained 9 A-C G.C.S.E's went to college and then a year in decided A levels were not for him and quit (much to my dismay). He gained work immediately at our local holiday resort Pontin's and spent a happy 9 months working as a shop assistant on site. He knew the work was zero hours contracted and seasonal, and was duly laid off on January 2nd until the start of March when the season restarted. he signed on for JSA over the winter, but the advisors at the Job Centre did not bother much with him as they knew he would be re-employed for Pontins at the beginning of  March.

Although not ideal, he is a young man finding his feet in the world of work and "doing the right thing" by Mr Cameron's standards - staying at home with his parents, paying us a small bit for his keep, and going out with his friends as young people do. I always have found it ironic that those young people who do find work but live at home with parents, are not able to claim any kind of Housing Benefit to help out with the rent payments. Parents are expected to provide a roof over our adult children's heads. If he had moved out to a shared house he would have been able to claim Housing Benefit as he is on a minimum wage... But those are the rules. Even low income parents such as ourselves foot the rent bill with a small contribution from our adult children.

How delighted was Vincent when a vacancy occurred within Pontins for a Warehouse Supervisor last May in time for his 20th birthday. He applied, and even though several senior HR bosses had their doubts due to his age, he was given the job and they duly decided to pay him the adult 21+ minimum wage for the job. In September 2012 Pontins advised they were refurbishing over the winter and all staff would be laid off from November  to March 2013. There was no recourse as Seasonal, Zero Contract Employees have no recourse and so it was back on JSA. Initially he found 4 weeks work in a local Cheese Factory on a Production Line, but this work was Seasonal and Temporary. Interestingly only 3 workers on the production line were British, the rest were Polish. He became friendly with some of the Poles who literally move from factory to factory, from temporary work to temporary work in order to eek out a living. But you have to have a driving license as the factories can be anything over a 50 mile radius of rural North Wales.

Vincent agrees it is a plus that instead of phoning for an appointment with a Job Centre advisor, he is able to make an initial claim and appointment online. The Job Centre then calls you within 3 days to agree an appointment date. However, he acknowledges that for anyone without easy access to a computer, a phone option should also still be widely available so people have the choice of contact.

At his first outing to the Job Centre which is located in Rhyl, 4 miles away and at a cost of £3.10 on the train ( bus prices are exceedingly high in N Wales and the train is the least expensive public transport option) Vincent arrived armed with his CV and details of jobs he was already applying for. Quite rightly so, the Job Centre advisors do actually try to put effort into finding work for 16-24 year olds. Once various forms had been filled in, the advisor asked Vincent about whether he knew the shop websites to look at when applying for the new jobs that were coming up on Prestatyn's new retail park in March. A narrative of the conversation below:

V : yes, I have already applied to Tesco, Next and River Island
Advisor: I can send you the email links to their websites.
V; No it's ok thanks as I already have the website addresses as I had to apply for the jobs on the shops own websites
Advisor : But it's probably better I send you the website links anyway
V: But I already have them as I have already applied
Advisor: But it's my job to send them to you anyway and the computer is advising me to send them to you
V: They won't be any use to me because I know them! ( getting a bit hot under the collar now!)
Advisor : Well I'll email them anyway.
V: Ok if it makes the Job Centre happy, but it's a complete waste of time!

He was also asked to go to a workshop to make a CV. Vincent showed the advisor his CV that he has added to and updated over the past 3 years. He was told it was no use as it " isn't one of the Job Centre Template CV's". When Vincent again said it was wasting his time to make a new Job Centre templated CV when he had a perfectly good CV he was told that if he DID NOT change to the Job Centre template he may have his JSA stopped! He was also advised to log on to Universal Jobmatch, the Governments new JobSearch website 3 times a week. Vincent told the advisor he logs in Twice A DAY, as job vacancies are updated sometimes hourly as they become available. For example, a 7 hours per week Boots job was advertised at 10am one day. Boots had so many applicants the job was taken down at 4pm the same day.

Vincent said the whole Job Centre experience is a "tick box" culture. The staff are not trained to get people into work but to come up with obstacles to stop them. He told me of a Job Centre where the assumption is that all 16-24 year olds are barely literate and need workshops to get them to a level to be able to even apply for jobs. He said that while many young people his age may need the extra help, there should not be a "one size fits all" mentality, and those that are able should be assessed accordingly. A disturbing fact is that the Job Centre (and bare in mind Rhyl is a small coastal town) employs Security Guards on the door. Various clients get frustrated at the length of time it takes to process JSA claims, or feel they are not being treated fairly and so "disturbances" break out with regular occurrence; enough for there to be no fewer than 4 Security Guards on the door at Rhyl Job Centre. I can only wonder how many guards are employed in big cities!

Since this first interview he has  signed on for past two months and applied for over 40 jobs that with no exception have been either Part Time, Temporary, Seasonal or Zero Contracted or a combination of them all! No success yet, but he is still very positive. The surprise I found was that when the retail park positions came online from Tesco, Next and Marks and Spencer's they were 95% part time positions and zero contracted. Only a Bakers Job and a couple of positions at River Island were full time.

How have Full Time Jobs been eroded to this degree? Many of the writers and authors of more loftier stats based articles will answer this, but how are young men in particular supposed to " get qualifications, stay at home and study, save for a flat" in Mr Cameron's words and find their way in the world on part time, temporary, unsecure work?

The UNSECURE employment, the feeling that work may last  only 6-12 months, that it is Part Time, does not give the young generation anything to put down roots or give them an incentive to save for a better future. In Prestatyn N Wales, a tiny town with a very low density of business, the unemployment stats for U25 yr old males are 6% while this rises to 22.9% in Rhyl West our neighbours. The answer is to move away to the bigger cities in England across the border, Chester, Manchester and Liverpool, but these have their own unemployment problems currently.

While the Coalition Government continues to erode workers rights and terms of employment, part time, temporary work will continue and become the norm. The Labour Party must be bold, cast off its "red shroud" of running scared of being tagged as pro - Unions, and start talking openly to employers and finding a path for The Living Wage being rolled out nationally, negotiating more rights for workers in Seasonal Work, with the right to be re-employed automatically after a set period of time, and most importantly urging employers to make vacant positions Full Time. The Labour Party themselves were somewhat complicit in allowing firms to themselves see the benefits of employing Part Time Workers, and seeing Full Timers as a millstone for their companies. This has to change or we will have a young generation living with parents for lengthier periods with the only incentive to move out, a costly privately rented flat/house they can never own.

Vincent continues to remain positive, upbeat and truly believes it will only be a short time until he is back into the world of work. Indeed he has 2 interviews coming up for a Teaching Assistants post and a Shop Staff post. He is also thinking of trying "Camp America" as he has considerable experience of looking after his autistic brother and would like to work with children with special needs. He is not in anyway, shape or form "A Shirker".. Just a lad doing the right thing who wants to once again become "A Worker".

Change in employment rights and the availability of Full Time Work has to be tackled now!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

All Part Time Workers are busy Pursuing Hobbies....

... says Mark Hoban alongside his good friend Lord Freud in a speech detailing what the Government propose for Part Time Workers who claim Tax Credits under the dreaded forthcoming Universal Credit - set to be rolled out (IT System dependent) in October 2013.

Mark Hoban states in the Guardian article by Patrick Wintour on 21 January 2013: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/21/universal-credit-benefits-work-longer

..."new demands could also be placed on the self-employed, pointing out that the tax credit system as it stands allowed people to pursue hobbies, earn nothing and subsidise their income through state support "without any expectation that they will increase their earnings and move towards self-sufficiency. This flies in the face of a principled welfare system".

We have become used to the daily beatings of the unemployed, sick, disabled in the media by the Government in many guises - but the new section of society  to beat are now the Part Time Workers both Employed and Self Employed - with and without children to care for.

The premise by Mark Hoban and Lord Freud is that the stick to beat us will be text messages sent to encourage us to increase our Working Hours, alongside monthly reports to the Job Centre to "prove" our income and "prove" we are desparately trying to increase both our hours worked and income gained. Can't do it and our Universal Credit will be cut at will. We are all one step away from turning up at our local Foodbank.

For the Self Employed we have been told under Universal Credit, if the Job Centre Advisor does not think we have been active enough in both increasing hours and income our Tax Credits can be stopped and we can be forced to move from Self Employment to Job Seekers Allowance and forced to get paid employment. Also there is the premise all Self Employed MUST be making minimum wage in their Self Employment or their job is not viable and the Job Centre will find us paid employment.

This effects me. I am a Part Time Self Employed Avon Rep (although as Carer for my son I am supposedly exempt from increasing my hours worked) I do not earn minimum wage as I get paid commission every 3 weeks. In order to earn roughly £80-£100 I have to take £500 in sales. In the winter/early spring we are lucky to make £50 in commission. People have no money in their pockets so luxuries like make up, jewellery are the first out of the window. But I enjoy meeting my customers: many are elderly and housebound and I maybe the only person they see in a day so they like to chat when I come round. I also check on their welfare, especially in the winter. My choice, but I am doing my part in the "Big Society" David Cameron is so fond of bigging up.

My husband is a DJ and an ECB Level 2 Cricket Coach for our junior regional side. He works about 25 hours a week. As a DJ his rate of pay has not increased since 2002, the venues are getting fewer due to pubs/clubs closing (will talk more about the No Smoking Ban and Pubs in later blogs) and due to the rural locality of N Wales his cricket coaching just covers expenses - not a lot more. He is needed at home to help care for our autistic son and for the tasks that equate with having 4 sons on top of work.

So I found Mark Hoban's speech particularly insulting, as neither of us "pursues hobbies" courtesy of the state, and although our income is low paid we do not "earn nothing". Perhaps Mr Hoban would like to shadow a family who work Part Time and are in paid employment where hours are unable to be increased, however much they ask as there simply is not the work available.

Come and visit rural, coastal North Wales Mr Hoban. Count the number of Part Time Jobs available in the area, then count the number advertised as Full Time. It won't take you long. What there is available is mostly Part Time, Temporary and Seasonal. Secure Employment in North Wales is a myth, a fairytale story we will pass on to our children one day in the guise of "I remember your Grandad who worked at the coal mine for over 40 years...." This has gone and will not return.

People in this area often have to travel to Chester, Liverpool and Manchester for work - a lot of expense and none of us expect to work on our doorstep, but with the cost of fuel and travel, taking work 25+ miles away has to be factored into the income you receive from that work.

The Part Time Low Paid used to be (to use the hated word) Cameron's "Strivers" - people who manage to get by but also take pride in their work. Now we too are being demonised as "Scroungers" - somehow Mr Hoban would like to see our Full Time Working Neighbour being pitted against us, so we also suffer as being "lazy" "feckless" for as John Redwood said in the Welfare Uprating Debate 21 January "People are CHOOSING to work Part Time". Owen Jones has spoken passionately about how the Government and media are pitting neighbour against neighbour, unemployed v employed, curtains drawn, v curtains open and now Full Time Worker v Part Time Worker. Do not fall for Government and media rhetoric. It is designed to divide society. It is designed to threaten and intimidate. It is quite simply the divisive language of what I call the "Gutter Rich". They may have the power, they may have the money, but their talk and feelings towards their fellow human beings belongs in the Gutter.

All this from a bunch of Government MPs, Lords and advisors who have no idea what is going on in Austerity UK. Enough from me... youngest son is asking his dad to drive him to his Drama Class - let me pause while I "pursue this hobby" of  getting an autistic child ready and into the car.....

Welcome to Mum v Austerity 2013!

It's been a long time coming; an idea that I should blog what is happening in Austerity UK - not from a lofty academic point of view, not from a Left v Right point of view, but from a Mum on the front line with 46 years of experience behind her, a few A Levels, had when we had a decent state education, and a lot of nouse!

Just a little snippet about me: I am a Humanitarian Socialist. I am NOT a "Loony  Left Winger" a "Marxist in Disguise" a "Member of the Hard Left" - I'm just a Socialist who won't look the other way when I see my fellow human beings suffering... and suffering they are in Austerity UK.

I will not be bringing you ideas favoured by other more academic writers, who know a lot more about the idiosyncrasies of all the political parties than I do. What I will be bringing you are real life stories of what is happening on the front line for families in Britain in these times of austerity; some stories will be about what is happening in my own family, my own back yard, and those of my neighbours and friends, stories relayed on Twitter and social media of current times, and stories happening in my region, which is North Wales.

For the record I am Mum to 4 lads aged from 23 down to 13, one of my sons is autistic, I work Part Time due to my caring duties and am Self Employed. Three of my sons live at home and the eldest lives in England with his Girlfriend. I have been married for 14 years, and my husband is also Self Employed Part Time - again down to Caring Duties for our youngest son.

We live in a coastal, rural town in North Wales, which was a move from Liverpool in 2004 due to wanting a better quality of life for our family due to gun crime. I will be blogging about life in N Wales in Austerity UK.

I make no apologies for having, as Nye Bevan once said " a deep burning hatred" of this Coalition Governments policies, as I believe they are creating a Them v Us Society which the Labour Party or any party gaining power in 2015 will find it almost impossible to reverse. For those on the front line of these cuts, austerity is a very real, frightening terror, marked by daily survival - all thoughts of trying to enjoy life are crippled by lack of money, lack of secure employment, dread of the future. This Government are literally responsible for lives being lost, and that is reprehensible.