Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Frontline Foodbank: "Children Excited Over Cereal".

Much has been written about Foodbanks, by statisticians, political writers, academics, and even our PM is rumoured to have made a "secret visit" to one, shamed into this, by constant barracking by the Labour Party in Parliament.

But who are the people the Foodbanks help? What are their stories? Cameron sees the rise of Foodbanks as "Big Society" in action. The opposition see Foodbanks as replacing the role Government should be filling with support services, the social fund and welfare benefits.

My local Foodbank is quite unusual in the fact that it is currently independent. It is run by a very small band of 4 or 5 volunteers who deliver food parcels after work and on weekends. There is no central premises dedicated to the Foodbank currently, although this will change soon due to the high demand. It serves a rural coastal area of N Wales for about 20 miles radius. Many of us who try to help out with donations drop our foodstuffs off with the volunteers who then distribute the food parcels to those in need. Job Centre staff issue vouchers to those in need and they are referred to the volunteers. The volunteers see their help as a "hand up" not a "hand out" but are seeing increasingly DESPARATE  circumstances that will not be stop gapped by 2 or 3 food parcel deliveries but are ongoing.

This week a volunteer had a referral from a mother with 4 children under 16. She had been in work until a recent hysterectomy operation, and after the operation complications set in. She is not able to return to work presently. After paying her rent, utility bills etc she has £30 per week to feed her family and it is not enough. She herself eats one meal every other day, and is now sicker than she was. Her GP referred her to the Foodbank. She told the volunteers she buys big packets of pasta in the pound shop and tins of tomatoes to make a sauce. The children do without breakfast. She also buys tinned stewing steak and a 5lb bag of potatoes which has to last two days for meals. There is no room for fresh fruit. The Foodbank volunteer turned up with a box to last a week, with the promise of further help. The box contained Weetabix and Shredded Wheat cereal. The younger children started dancing around the house singing they were going to have cereal for breakfast the next day. "Heartbreaking" said the volunteer. "Children excited over cereal."

The volunteer who runs the facebook page for the Foodbank put out a request for donations of any pre-cooked food, camping stove equipment, and hot water bottles and a flask. She had turned up with a food parcel for a new mum with a  2 week old baby and her partner, to,find the flat they were living in was barely fit for habitation. The young couple had no cooker or microwave and so the volunteer was going to give them a 2 ring gas camping hob for the night while she tried to source a second hand cooker or microwave. They had no money left for electric and so the volunteer put £5 in the meter. The couples benefits were "being processed" which could mean a delay of up to 6 weeks, and were referred by the Job Centre. Some people donated home cooked meals that could be heated up readily enough, but a fridge was also needed. The wider society rallied round and provided the basics needed for living and the Foodbank helped out the couple until their benefits were sorted out. The Foodbank was the only "stop gap support" service for this young family. There was no other avenue for them to turn to.

A volunteer turned up at a flat of a young man with mental health difficulties. He had been referred by his GP. He was sat in the dark with his coat on as he had run out of electricity weeks earlier. He had a microwave but no cooker. Many volunteers say this is a common problem, that many people in need may only have a microwave oven at best, and no cooker. When they arrive at the address they often find food is only one of the issues; people running out of gas and electric or only being able to have the electric on for three or four days a week is a major concern. Also many people live in the worse privately rented accommodation where unscrupulous landlords, provide accommodation that is not fit for purpose and need extensive repairs. They "hoodwink" "people into believing repairs will be done shortly but never quite get round to doing them. Many people with learning difficulties or who simply do not know their rights, are living in terrible conditions. Foodbank volunteers are then placed in roles of "surrogate social workers" to try and not only fulfil the immediate food need but also get money into electric/gas metres, arrange cooking appliances, and try and get the landlord to repair the property. It is again a role volunteers should not be having to do, but they all say they cannot simply turn their backs on people in huge need.

A working couple, parents to three children under 10, in low paid Carers jobs in an old people's home were referred to the Foodbank by a volunteer who had overheard their plight whilst talking to them as they themselves volunteered at their children's local sports club. Their rent had gone up by £120 a month and so after bills and rent payments they had between £25-30 per week left to feed the family. The children were taking 1 sandwich each to school for lunch with a bottle of tap water and nothing else. Teachers had noticed the children were hungry in school and so had urged the family to get in
touch with the Foodbank. The family felt ashamed to ask for help as they were both in work, and thought volunteers would "judge" them on how they manage their finances. After a Foodbank volunteer had a quiet word with them, advising there was no shame in receiving a food parcel, they were delighted to be helped out with general foodstuffs and enough lunch food for the children at school. The volunteer said she was annoyed as those on low pay are not able to receive free school meals for their children: only those who are unemployed or on income support receive this help. She says parents on low pay ought to receive this help for children's school meals.

However, far from people needing one, two or three food parcels before they got back on their feet, volunteers are finding that due to low pay and soaring food, fuel, rent, transport costs, families need constant help, which will not be viable to maintain in the long run: nor should it be viable to do so long term. The huge array of "add on problems" are  particularly worrying as food is just the primary problem for many. Education on household cooking is another major problem. Volunteers often turn up with pasta, pasta sauces, potatoes,vegetables, meat, and fruit, but many people simply look at the parcel in bewilderment as they have never been taught how to cook a basic meal like spaghetti bolognese or chilli con carne and rice or a stew for example. Many volunteers kindly take the time to cook a meal from scratch to show the person how to cook a basic meal that is nutritious and filling.

While Foodbanks look like they are here to stay for a good many years, the Government and the state cannot simply shove huge caring responsibilities onto the shoulders of volunteers under the umbrella of "Big Society". The Government have a duty to care for the vulnerable in society and address the issues urgently as to why Foodbanks are seeing people in work come to them for help in droves. It is not right and cannot be sustained. Foodbanks opening at the rate of 3 per week across the UK should be the Governments national shame: not ours.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Update : Vincent has a New Job!

....Just a quick update for those who have followed my 20 year old son, Vincent's struggle to get a new job after he was laid off from his seasonal employment last November.

Vincent badgered his Job Centre Advisor into putting him on a course. The course he wanted to go on is for a a qualification as a LifeGuard, that is essential for anyone applying for that kind of job. Because Vincent had only been unemployed for less than 3 months, these courses are only available for the long term unemployed: something I vehemently disagree with. If young people under 25, who have previously been employed in some capacity, then become unemployed, give them every help they need to get a new job, the minute they walk through the Job Centre door, virtual or otherwise.

Why wait until these young people have been unemployed for over a year before offering help with courses? Just because the long term unemployed look bad on governmental stats, does that mean that the newly unemployed should languish before given assistance?

Vincent's Job Centre Advisor took a different view and asked permission to put him on a LifeGuards course that would give him the qualification he needs for that type of job. He could see my son was keen to get back into work, after knowing he had applied for some 50+ jobs doing anything from cleaning to stacking shelves, to a teaching assistant's post. The advisor gave him a precious chance and my son heard from word of mouth that a local caravan park who own various parks throughout the area were looking for Full Time, Permanent Lifeguards. He went for interview explaining his course finishes at the end of this month, and he has been taken on, the minute his course is finished. The job also pays a Living Wage - a huge bonus. He is borrowing his step-dads mountain bike, and biking to the two sites he will work at.

Vincent has asked me to highlight a few things on his behalf. If he had not pestered the Job Centre Advisor he would not have been put on a course. How many other young people simply do not ask, as they are told these courses are for long term unemployed only? Vincent would also like to thank his Job Centre Advisor. How many advisors would simply have turned down his request for a course at the first time of asking? Discretion was used; "a rule was bent a little" and this has resulted in a Full Time job being landed. Why not change the rules completely?

Vincent is still angry that his search for part time work on the new retail park in the town was fruitless, and that employers seemed to be interested in Under 18 year olds due to the  fact they are paid the very  lowest minimum wage. He feels all workers aged 16-21 should be on a flat rate minimum wage at £6.19, if not a Living Wage, as every worker is expected to do the job to a high standard, regardless of age.

Lastly he has been chuffed with the many comments of congratulations I have received on twitter which I have passed on to him and he thanks everyone that has commented.

For me, I have a son with a smile back on his face; he is looking forward to the challenges of the new job and getting back into the world of work. I overheard him on the phone to one of his mates last night "No one LIKES being on the dole, its a stigma, everyone looks at you and thinks you're a scrounger, but its not like that, I met loads of people in the Job Centre who just want a job - any job."

And that's the bottom line in Austerity UK.. the vast majority want to work.The Government need to see what is actually going on in the real world, and not keep rolling out their right-wing rhetoric.

Monday, 18 February 2013

A Tale of 3 Austerities.....

.... So what does Austerity mean to different people in society? Depending on people's income levels the things we have to cut back on in Austerity UK will differ surely?

I live on the North Wales coast in a diverse town, with quite a wide class and income divide. Literally the people who live on the hillside in the wealthy "upper" part of the town are the solicitors, doctors, lawyers, teachers and then the town spills down the hillside to the flat coast with a council estate inbetween and general semi detached residential homes and roads. I also know a wide variety of people through my voluntary work in the town, and I have found that through some conversations austerity varies wildly depending on who you are talking to.

I have taken a cross reference from 3 austerities and their effects on these families. You may think some of what is written is not austerity at all, you may be angered that what is classed as austerity to one is not what you are experiencing at all. All deserve to be aired. I shall start with myself and my family.

We are a family of 6: husband, wife and 4 sons, although one son has moved out. We bought our own home some years ago on the coast in more plentiful times. Its a 1930's semi detached in a road that could be replicated commonly across the UK. Its worth about £130k in N Wales: closer to £700k+ if we lived in London no doubt. Life has always been a struggle since our youngest son was diagnosed as autistic and caring duties took over from career/job progression. He is the centre of what we plan for the present and the future, and rightly so.

I first noted us cutting back significantly in about 2008. We always enjoyed a 2 week UK summer holiday, replacing items when they had worn out readily enough, sending the boys on school trips and buying sporting equipment when needed. Our third son Joe, a talented cricketer, has represented Wales at national level and this took a lot of money, travel, time and support to enable him to compete. Funnily enough, although there were 6 mouths to feed, and growing lads, food was never an issue to me. We could always manage the weekly food shop which has always been around the £150 a week mark.The mortgage has always been paid and all bills up to date. We have a 3 piece suite on credit, but that's all.

Since 2008, my husbands self employment has suffered. He is a DJ and cricket coach. Pubs and clubs have shut down ; the smoking ban hit all entertainers in the pub industry very hard, as pub footfall fell significantly and so pubs/social clubs did not want entertainment as often as they once had. We had to make cuts and decisions as to what more we could do to boost income. In the last few years my heart sinks when we get the "school trip" letter. As our third son Joe is doing GCSE French this year, we allowed him to go on the 4 day trip to Paris last October and scrimped the £300 trip cost plus spending money as we thought it would benefit him most as it was educational. It was a huge expense to find.  He has stopped playing for Wales at national level this year as all the matches are based in S Wales and the extreme South of England. He now just plays regionally and to be honest the relief on our finances is welcome.

The outside of the house wants painting: it will have to wait, not a priority. We desperately need new carpet throughout, but we are not prepared to put that on credit, so it will have to wait. The boys ask for the latest gadgets; ipads, new mobile phones etc and we say they have to wait as we do not have that type of money. You then get the refrain"John in my class has an ipad and his parents don't work." I even found myself against all my socialist principles shouting back "Well John's parents don't have this mortgage round their necks like we do!" I found myself envying those on housing benefit, until I sat my boys down and explained social housing, private housing and the dreaded Bedroom Tax. I am ashamed that I succombed to the very thing the Government want: Setting the working classes against each other; the politics of envy. The same goes for day trips and meals out- these have gone and have been cut. My youngest son wanted to start Drama School classes at Christmas. The cost is £100 per month. Luckily as he is autistic and our income is low, the Family Fund stepped in and have given him a grant for 6 months worth of classes. A huge help and we will struggle again to make sure he is able to attend, as he gets so much out of these classes, any sacrifice is worth it to send him there. Through my self employment as an avon rep, I and my customers collect tins, and long life food for our Foodbank. Normally I was able to put by many items on my shopping list as Foodbank donations. Since Christmas I have only been able to donate one bagful of tins, and these were all the value ranges. Personally I hate donating the value brands, as I feel people using the Foodbank should be eating foods, that I would wish to eat, not being grateful for value brands of supermarkets. However, I am increasingly using the value brands myself within my family, and therfore cannot afford to donate the better brands to the foodbank.

The mortgage is becoming a real struggle, but the irony is that if we sold the house, it would cost us more to rent another house, so our priority is keeping the family home, we all feel happiest in, come hell or high water.

I asked myself and others in this blog post one question: What makes you happy in Austerity UK?
My answer: The time when we have a bit extra to do a bigger shop, and the cupboards are full with food. Feeding my family, keeping this roof over our heads is my priority. I feel sad just reading this over.

Joanne and her husband James live in a large detached house with a lot of land in the "upper" part of the town. Both are self employed business people and have one son who attends private school. I speak to her often through my voluntary work. The business they are in, is suffering hugely as it concerns luxury goods, that people are not buying in the abundance they once did. Her priority is keeping her son at private school, as he has a close circle of firends and is a teenager. She feels if she had to move him to a state school, he would be like a fish out of water. She has a love of antiques, that she has curbed in order to fund the school fees. She also tells me of very expensive school trips abroad; a recent one to Madagascar cost her £3.5k for the trip alone, but she believes these educational trips are worth it for her son's life experiences. The family has on average 4 foreign holidays a year: ski-ing in February half term, a luxury long haul holiday to USA or similar for 3 weeks in the summer, an October half term week in Spain, and a Christmas trip for more ski-ing etc.

Joanne has cut back on the half term holidays and remains at home this year, she tells me. She regularly does her food shopping at M+S and also buys her own clothes from M+S. This year, she is shopping for basics at Aldi, and just buying her meat, and things Aldi do not do, at M+S. Her son's clothes are still designer lables as she refuses to pass on austerity to him as much as possible. While she and her husband do not eat out as often as they used to, she also refuses to limit her son's days out with friends to theme parks and the like as "the recession is not his fault". She voted Conservative at the 2010 election, but feels that although she is "conservative to the core" she is troubled by the amount of austerity inflicted on the middle classes by the coalition and feels they are "hitting their own voters".

I posed the question: What makes you happy in Austerity UK? She answered "Knowing I have paid another terms school fees".

Linda lives with her partner Steve in a one bedroomed flat on one of the main arterial roads leading out of town. Linda is disabled and has had various health problems with her weight and diabetes, and has mobility difficulties. Steve has had mental health issues and alcohol problems all his life. Both are currently unemployed. Steve has a daughter from a previous marriage. Both he and Linda were living until recently in a 2 bedroomed flat in town, as Steve's daughter stayed with them at weekends. Due to the Bedroom Tax, they could not afford to stay in the 2 bedroomed flat, and so managed to find what basically is little more than a couple of  attic rooms at the top of a shared house, converted into flats. They receive Housing Benefit to pay their rent, which is paid directly to their Landlord. Lesiure Time is spent doing voluntary work, which is where I know them from, and it gives them purpose and a sense of belonging. Steve had a major breakdown at Christmas and was hospitalised and is now in recovery.

Linda shops on a daily basis, both to get her herself outdoors and because they do not know from day to day what money they can spend on food. She admits she has to buy food that is as cheap as possible, and filling. Nutrition plays no part in her choices. She rarely buys meat as it is too expensive. She battles daily with Steve over finances as his alcoholism means he would blow all their money on alchohol if it was left to him. Linda hates having to give him a daily allowance for booze, but has little choice as it is an adddiction for Steve. She does not want him to pester his elderly mother for money if she refuses to give him money. She says "He will get money for alcohol from anyone/anywhere if he has to". She always has at least one or two days a week with no electricity, as it runs out before their next benefit is paid. Her biggest worry is when Universal Credit comes in and Housing Benefit is paid monthy to her and Steve, not to the landlord. She already knows she could be in rent arrears from Month 1, as either Steve's alcohol dependency, the luxury of being able to afford more electricity or more and better food will prove a bigger temptation than paying the rent. There are no meals or days out, and holidays are a distant dream. She says she has 2 luxuries: a pay as you go mobile phone and she smokes when she gets paid on benefit day. She has 2 grand-daughters and she would love to be able to buy them a few toys or clothes but cannot.

Linda has been forced to contact the foodbank which is 5 miles away from our town, twice since Christmas, and was ashamed to do so, as she simply ran out of food and had gone hungry for 2 days. She finds supporting Steve is a constant strain upon her and her health and has threatened to leave him. Steve admits his addiction and mental health problems get the better of him and he has threatened to commit suicide on a few occasions.

On asking the question: What makes you happy in Austerity UK? Linda replied "Going to bed and knowing I have enough money for food for the following day."

Big differences in austerity are obviously relative to your income, but what differences they are in Austerity UK today.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Women v Austerity.. This Time It's Personal!

I like men. I live in a household where I have brought up 4 sons and am married to a very supportive man, so you could say I know a fair bit about men. However, I am devoting this blog post to women and how austerity measures seem to be punishing us. I would go as far to say some of the austerity measures are AIMED at us particularly and want to explore my theory a little further...

I suppose the cutting of Universal Child Benefit was the big one! It didn't matter whether you were Ms Bloggs or Mrs Huntingdon-Smythe, you received child benefit for the children you were raising. Nice and easy - we all knew where we stood. True, while I and many others paid for clothes, shoes, football boots and School Dinners, Mrs Huntingdon-Smythe was buying the odd antique here and there or paying for Junior Huntingdon-Smythe to go ski-ing at half term. It didn't seem to matter too much as we were pretty content with the Universality of the benefit. The real beauty of it was that it was paid directly to Mum. It was paid to us so we could benefit the children we bore. Then the coalition Government decided that fair enough perhaps Mrs Huntingdon-Smythe did not need child benefit as her and her husband both earned in excess of £60k each. But then things got nasty when Ms Bloggs who had raised 2 of her children  given up her career while her partner earned a middle-ish income. Bang! Like a puff of smoke she was also deemed not to need her child benefit and that was cut. There was also sheer bewilderment with an opting in and out of the benefit. If you continue to receive it, HMRC  will then hit Ms Bloggs with a £2k plus tax bill next year. Not all people affected received notification of the change and so have no idea what they are supposed to do. But this child benefit cut has directly taken the money away from the mother to decide how to spend it on her child/children.

The next attack being hurriedly swept in with only 2 months to go until April, is the news that over 10,000 Carers will see their already paltry sum of £58.45 be savagely cut. This is because of the move of disabled people from DLA- PIP. PIP is already being seen as having far too narrow descriptors in order to receive the Enhanced Rate of Care or the Standard Rate; same for mobility. Under DLA if a person receives Middle or High Rate Care they are entitled to a Carer who is then able to claim the Carers Allowance as some small reward for looking after disabled people 35+ hours a week. With the move to PIP thousands of disabled people will be deemed not eligible for the Enhanced Care Rate , thus losing their right to a Carer who can claim Carers Allowance. As a result this will either leave the diabled person without a Carer, or more likely Carers will go on to care 24/7 for the disabled person with no financial benefit however small.

Women make up the majority of Carers in the UK for disabled people - the latest stats indicate 58% of carers are women. By taking away even a small financial award for the excruciating, often mundane, 24/7 with no respite, work of caring for disabled people, this Government are indicating a contempt for women and all carers that beggars belief. The cost in the long run to the NHS and Social Services will increase as Carers break under the pressure and suffer poverty themselves as a result.

Universal Credit is another attack on the independence of women. Couples will receive one payment, once a month to one person in the couple. If the male partner receives the credit, the woman will be forced to ask for money. Research has also indicated children get the most care when the financial affairs are  handled by the major care giver. Although this person can be either male or female, in the majority of cases it is the mother who provides the majority of the care. More worryingly, if the woman is in a controlling or abusive relationship, she will be left financially adrift, and this will have deep effects on any children. If a lone parent mother moves into a relationship, she may well end up losing access to money for her children. Again even in the happiest of relationships, there will be tension in the household over who controls the Universal Credit part of the finances.

Pensions are being reformed. The single tier higher pension will come into being in April 2017.
Some women born between 1952-53 will not be eligible for the single-tier pension since they are due to retire before the new system comes into affect. Men however, because of the difference in retirement ages, will not be effected. Over 430,000 women will be £2,000 worse off than men.

Working mums who also care for a disabled child will be particularly hardest hit. Under plans for Universal Credit, the current disabled child element that is paid under Working Tax Credit, will be cut for all disabled children, other than those children who receive High Rate Care under DLA. This is  currently worth £3015 per yr (£57.89 pw) with an additional severely disabled child element of £1220 per yr.
Under Universal Credit this will be reduced to £30 pw for children who do NOT receive Higher Rate Care. So Mums struggling to juggle work and caring responsibilities could see a double whammy with the disabled child element cuts and Carers Allowance Cuts.

Under Housing Benefit reform and the hated Bedroom Tax women will suffer disproportionately. Many lone parent women will be forced out of their local area and be moving between accomodations. Lone women will be hardest hit by the Bedroom Tax if they are under occupying their homes, and will struggle to access support services that are being cut also. Of course apart from the women it is the children who suffer.

In my local area which has only a small proportion of coastal social housing, the only alternative is private renting. I am already seeing people trying to downsize, but due to the lack of any kind of  affordable property, let alone suitable property it is proving near impossible. A lone parent who has one son only managed to find a 3 bed private rented house in a modest street 3 months ago, now she is at her wits end trying to find a 2 bedroomed property on a Long Let. She does not want her sons schooling to be suffering due to having to move between 6 month lets continuously. Those of us living rurally or by the coast have a real problem with finding suitable property, due to the amount of property available and the high rents involved.

Most worryingly that under Austerity UK, women's refuges are being closed and so there are not nearly enough support services for women fleeing domestic abuse, 401 Sure Start Centres have been closed with more to follow, and Legal Aid is being slashed for women who may need to fight abuse through legal channels.

This Government, more than any previous Government, are directly responsible for moving thousands of women into poverty, towards potentially life-threatening situations, and moving the independence of women back to the 19th century. As the Suffragettes taught us, women are strong and resilient: We must NOT allow this Government to bully us into submission. It would help if the formidable Opposition female MPs spoke out more in the House of Commons consistently on our behalf and forced this Government to look at the impact of its reforms on women in particular. Current soundbites every now and again are not enough. So come on Female Labour MP's- get together and demand action as one voice and badger this Government into a response. We need your help more than ever before. Don't let history tell us, you remained silent while  the UKs women suffered.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Tick Tock - Watch that Clock! Is it Game Over at 21 for Unemployed?

.... I have been blogging about my 2nd son's Vincent's search for work for the past 2.5 months - a lad aged 20 going on 21 in the spring, who becomes seasonally unemployed each winter due to the fact he works for a local Holiday Resort by the coast in N Wales. It's been a bit longer this year as Pontins has been doing a refurb so he has been out of work since late November 2012.

Our town will see a much awaited (has only taken 15 years in planning and developing!) retail park that is due to open in March. There is the promise of 300 jobs with the big name retailers, but as my son can verify there are some sinister things afoot if you are aged 18+ looking for a job in this sector.

I'll start with the minimum wage - a flagship policy the Labour Party can be proud of, a much awaited and heralded wage that protects the low paid. However, probably in order to appease  employers it is not without serious flaws. It segregates workers seriously by age. Age 16-18 you recieve £3.68 ph,
18-21 £4.98 and 21+ £6.19. Shockingly apprentices aged under 19 get £2.68 in their first year.

Vincent was selected to be in the final round of 3 of the major retailers interviews/group days for some of the posts available. Incidentally for one retailer they had over 1000 applicants and whittled these down to 60. One group day stood out. He was in a group of 5 people - he was the only male and the only one aged over 18. The females in the group had no retail experience and asked Vincent to lead the group in their tasks. He told me he was careful to ask everyone for their views as the group were being marked closely with interviewers around the room. One of the females in the group contributed nothing and did not speak at all. They were then led into personal interviews and Vincent was wearing his good suit, shirt and tie and polished shoes. All things I thought were minimal for a job interview. He said only himself and one other male were in what he termed "Interview Wear". Some of the females had jeans and casual tops on. He felt the personal interview went very well and came home and honestly thought he had nailed it. There were 2 Full Time posts and several Part Time posts at 12-16 hours a week. He felt a few of the older females aged 30+ would probably get the Full Time posts as they had considerable experience but he was hopeful of a Part Time Position.

Prestatyn is a small seaside town. Many people know each other or know someone through a friend of a friend. The following week Vincent received a rejection email. He was upset, but that quickly turned to bewilderment when via facebook he learnt that indeed the Full Time positions had gone to older people aged 30+ but ALLof the part time posts had gone to females aged 17. One of the females was the non contributor in his group. He could not understand how she had got the job. He did some research and asked round and soon a pattern was emerging. More and more people he knew of his own age who had some experience in retail had not even reached the interview stage, yet Employers were taking on unprecedented numbers of Under 18 year olds. It also emerged that a few retailers who were closing shops in local towns like Rhyl were having to bring existing staff to the retail park  to their new shops and so these "new jobs" did not exist. To further compound matters after I did some research, I ascertained that of these 300 jobs approximately 85% of them are Part Time. Part Time starts from 10 hours pw and seems to average out at around 16 hours in most cases.

Two employers are not advertising jobs at all. One was heavily involved in the WorkFare fiasco. This employer has gone through the Job Centre for recruitment. Vincent asked his Job Centre advisor if he could apply for one of their posts but was told he could not as he was not one of the long term unemployed and these posts were being offered to them only. He was understandably annoyed when he overheard someone nearby being told " they had to apply" for these jobs. The man was not interested so the advisor told him he would fill in the application on his behalf and send it to the employer himself! The man replied that the advisor could do what he liked but he would turn up for the interview as he did'nt want to be sanctioned but he would "make sure" he didn't get the job. Sat in the next seat to him is Vincent who would dearly love that job, but could not apply, as he hadn't been unemployed long enough to fit the criteria for application. There are indeed those who know the system and seek to cheat it, but there are those like my son doing everything possible to get a job and beeing denied open opportunities to apply. WRONG!

The second employer went a different route through the Job Centre and Vincent has applied as they have heavily vetted who is able to apply. Vincent had an interview at the Job Centre and filled in the application form to see if he could be put forward for an actual interview with the firm. He has been put forward and will go to the formal interview next week. Lot of rings to jump through but he has at least succeeded to interview stage.

But after several interviews and getting through to final stages, he feels it is not what he wears, not what he says, not even how he comes across, but his age is holding him back, as from later this spring he is 21 and will be on the adult minimum wage, and employers can make huge savings in employing younger people.

Solution: Get employers round a table. Scrap the Minimum Wage which is tiered and either have a wonderful opportunity in bringing in a Living Wage for all Workers, or scrap this ridiculous tiered system for the Minimum Wage and bring in a flate rate for all Workers at £6.19ph. Whether you are 16, 21 or 45 you are a worker who should be valued for the work you do by your employer. This would end the employers seeking to take advantage of ofering 16-18 year olds a vastly inferior minimum wage. This Government will not entertain it, but the next Labour Government must look into it and "root out" these employers who are taking advantage of the minimum wage age apartheid system we have currently.

Vincent for the record although initially deflated, has irons in the fire. He has been provisionally accepted to go on "Camp America" his seasonal employment starts back in March should he wish to go back, he has an interview for one of the retail park part time positions, and after badgering his Job Centre Advisor he is starting a LifeGuard course on Feb 11th. There are quite a  few pools and jobs available on the coast and places are always looking for qualified lifeguards. As he says, it also looks like he is not wasting his time while being unemployed and he can add the course to his CV. Again these courses are routinely offered to the Long Term Unemployed as these people keep coming up on the stats for the press, yet the newly unemployed are not offered these courses unless they pester a bit. All unemployed people, regardless of how long and how old they are, should be offered courses and help to get back into work immediatley and not just for those whose stats "embarass" the Government of the day.

If any MP influential person reads this blog, please take these points on board and act upon them or we will end up with another young generation on the scrapheap. A Living Wage for all please.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Does it have to be BACC to the Future?...

....With a mighty round of thunderous applause, I watched the Welsh Assembly basically stick two fingers up to Mr Gove the Education Minister, and reject all notion of there being a BACC in Wales - EBACC or otherwise and a resounding resolve to stick to GCSES and A Levels in our Principality!

To me, and it does not matter which side of the political divide you stand upon, this is true democracy in action. What may suit Westminster,obviously does not suit Cardiff and having a Labour led Welsh Assembly means that every now and then our elected AM's say No to central government in London.

Mr Gove wants to replace the GCSE with an EBACC. In Wales for many years during the 6th form years where young people take their A Levels, Wales has had the Welsh BACC. It runs alongside A Levels and is a very popular course, but it does not replace the A Level. Now Mr Gove, at an alarmingly indecent pace wishes the EBACC to replace GCSES in swift indecent haste. The EBACC is supposed to be a more rigourous examination, doing away with coursework and bite sized assessments and demanding a one off end of year exam when a pupil's grading will be determined on that exam alone purely. However, bizarrely the EBACC will not contain any of the Arts- eg Drama as the subject is deemed "too soft" by Mr Gove.

My two youngest sons are in Years 10 and 9 and are approaching their 15th and 14th birthdays respectively. Their  HeadTeacher caused something of a stir last year when he said pupils in Years 9 and 10 will select 2 options of subjects in each year for GCSE before the full round of the main GCSES in Maths, English, Science etc in Year 11.

I have 2 very different sons. The elder of the two is a high flying achiever, but has to be motivated and pushed a bit (akin to a lot of teenage lads!). He excels in an examination situation under pressure, but loathes continuous assessment throughout the year. The youngest is autistic, anything bite sized and in small doses is great for him. The pressure and anxiety over an exam is an anathema to him which can result in a "meltdown situation". So I have 2 sons who cope entirely differently with GCSES this year. What suits one child, does not suit the other. My fear with Mr Gove's proposals is that he is shoe horning the EBACC  to fit a certain type of child, risking thousands of other children being lost in the system and thrown onto the scrapheap of life as a result - many of whom will be children with SEN. The GCSE System is far from perfect and perhaps we do need to tweak it by offereing something more to high achievers. But we have the iGCSE to do that surely, but it is hardly being used in state schools and seems to be the preferred option of private independent schools. Therefore there is really no need to scrap the entire system for the EBACC.

Mr Gove accuses Labour of wanting the working class children to be "good with their hands" and nothing else. Wrong! Currently there is a dearth of skilled engineers, mechanics, plumbers, bricklayers etc, as there was when Mrs Thatcher was in power. These skills were rendered "valueless" by the Tories in the 80's. Ed Miliband wants to offer skilled apprenticeships to ALL children so children have a choice. Choice is all important. University is not always the answer and far from the EBACC pushing children into wanting Higher Education, the actual COST OF THE EDUCATION at university is putting off children from all classes apart from the aristocracy! The UK needs skilled people that are good with their hands and good with their brains, and are not devalued but appreciated for their skilled trade.

And what of the arts? What becomes of our future actors, sculptors, artists? Mr Gove does not value the Arts under the EBACC and dismisses them as too soft. My youngest son is currently doing Drama GCSE and has found his niche; is attending a Drama School as well and has ambitions to act. Under the EBACC he would be told to cast off those ambitions and study more academic subjects so as to be a value for society.

Sorry Mr Gove. To have an autistic child with ambition and hopes and dreams like everyone else is proof of the excellent teaching and home input he has received, and you and your Government are not going to take that away from him with your EBACC.

A last few words of advice: Fit the child and his/her abilities/ambitions to the exam, not a one-size-fits-all exam approach as you are hoping to inflict upon the next generation. Take time to discuss, analyse and debate educational advisors opinions, parents opinions and pupils opinions, and then devise an exam system that is fit for purpose for the next generation, and not one that is politically motivated to score points against the opposition of the day.

We don't want to go "BACC to the Future" - we need an all encompassing non political exam system for the next generation that values children from all walks of life. Only then will the UK return to be the educational envy of the rest of the world it once was.