Monday, 25 March 2013

Self Employed and Universal Credit: Demonisation Begins

...And so it has come to pass. The DWP have published "Guidelines" - information on how the Self Employed who currently claim Working Tax Credits will be treated under Universal Credit - the shiny new 6 Benefits-In-One flagship policy of Iain Duncan-Smith.

You can find the new guidelines here:

The first thing I noted was how under the previous Labour government and even initially under the Coalition Government the Low Paid Self Employed or Employed worker was seen as "striving" "doing the right thing" and trying to work their way in a low paid job. However the emphasis and language has shifted dramatically! No longer is it enough to work in a low paid Self Employed capacity, a new stringent set of regulations in order to claim Universal Credit, is about to come into force in 2013, with emphasis on "sanctions" if you do not comply on time.

The Self Employed have always sent in tax returns with income made on a once yearly basis. Not under Universal Credit. Those who need to claim the Working or Child Tax Elements perhaps, or/and the Housing Benefit element or more of the 6 benefits encompassed under Universal Credit must report monthly with paperwork so income can be scrutinised closely. Appointments will be made at Job Centres/HMRC offices much the same as the unemployed currently: a Gateway Interview will be made to discuss your Self Employment and appointments made on a recurring monthly basis. For those in rural/coastal areas it is a trek to the nearest Job Centre, and your time could be better used in finding more work quite frankly,or chasing up paperwork. Failure to report on time and sanctions will be made. Failure to report within a month and Universal Credit will be terminated!

There is also a presumption that you must work a 35 hour week and make minimum wage to be "gainfully self employed" as the DWP put it. Carers who claim Carers Allowance are exempt, but others are not. Time limits will be set to bump up your hours/pay until you are "gainfully self employed" or your Self Employment will be terminated and the DWP will force you to seek paid employment - a subtle term to transfer you onto JobSeekers Allowance/Income Support until you have a paid job.

So what are the likely outcomes/consequences? I can see many women in particular being disproportionately hit. I for example, am an Avon rep. I get commission on my sales once every 3 weeks. To get £500 of sales I receive £80-£100 of commission earnt- nowhere near minimum wage. There are many women in Betterware and Kleeneze reps jobs who fit their work around caring for young children etc but who desparately want  to retain a small degree of independence, and feel valued in the work they do. There are those who are writers, sculptors or seasonal workers like Gardeners who have erratic low pay also. The outcome will be these people will be forced to close down as Self Employed and seek paid employment. Those who have "done the right thing" and registered with HMRC as a Self Employed Rep for example will be tempted not to register as Self Employed and try to get away with earning a small pittance "on the side" - in fact HMRC has recently offered an amnesty to Avon Reps as this situation of Non Registering was rife!

The Unemployment stats are bound to rise, if the low paid Self Employed are then transferred to JSA until they get paid employment. I have been told from a source that the main targets of the DWP are immigrants who have become Self Employed selling the BIg Issue or betting a reps job like Avon, and have then be able to be eligible  for the more generous tax credits than if they were on JSA/Income Support. However, even looking at it from the DWP viewpoint when they transfer those not "gainfully self employed" their net will close long standing small sole traders down too, especially those in the creative arts type trades.

There are devils advocates out there who have said "Well you are claiming benefit- shouldn't the taxpayer ensure you are looking for more hours/increased pay?" Fair comment I say if we were not in the middle of a toxic storm of austerity. But many of us Low Paid Self Employed are contributing to society in many ways. Shouldn't we be rewarded for our efforts instead of facing the "stick of sanctions"?

The Conservative Party: always been the Party of the Small Business, the Sole Trader, the Party as Mr Cameron tells us daily "of those who want to get on and work hard" . Under Thatcher the Self Employed Low Paid were the very sector of the electorate she targeted to enable those to buy their council home! Seems the Self Employed Low Paid Workers are now to be demonised alongside the Unemployed, Disabled, Sick, and Young, Mums, Dads.. The list is longer every day!

Mark Hoban - Minister of DWP said on 21st January 2013

..."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".

So onto the Labour Party: no news yet on how they will tackle/oppose these swingeing attacks on Self Employed Low Paid Workers. Mr Miliband has spoken out about the loss of Working Tax Credit Cuts this April and the loss of those tax credits against the tax cuts for Millionaires and rightly so! Now the Labour Party need to act to defend us.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

In Pain. Ill, frightened..The Night Cameron's NHS failed me.

A fortnight ago  had begun with a tickly throat nothing more, but by 10pm I was being rushed by my husband to A+E.

The throat had turned into gasping for breath, hacking repeated cough, high temperature and the straw that broke the camel's back - hallucinations. In a space of a few hours I had declined so rapidly, my husband would hear no more protestation and decided to drive me the 7 miles to hospital. On arrival he found a wheelchair and wheeled me from the car to the reception and booked me in. I could not hold my head up and lolled to one side in the chair. The triage nurse assessed me and queried pneumonia. I was then told I would have to wait for the medical doc, but the waiting room was not ideal for me so I was put in a nurses meeting room within A +E.

I was wheeled past a corridor full of sick people on trollies, past the packed waiting room and the cubicles (all full) and into the nurses meeting room. A healthcare assistant brought me some water and then scurried away. My husband asked a passing nurse whether there was anywhere I could lie down as I was in danger of falling out if the wheelchair as I could not hold my head up and was lolling to one side. She said everywhere was full, but she would see how long I had to wait to see the doctor as she could see I was very ill. My husband then asked for a pillow to support me, but was told there were none available, but perhaps a rolled up blanket may help?

My husband became increasingly worried as my breathing and coughing were worsening. I hardly knew what was going on around me, I just felt so very ill. The nurse came back and said it may take "some time" to be seen. She put her arm around my shoulder, and said "I know you are very ill and this isn't right. I'll do my best to get you seen ASAP."

My husband found out (and note this was a mid week Wednesday, not a weekend) that there were 4 doctors in the department, 2nurses and 1 healthcare assistant. Staff were overrun with sheer numbers of people to treat, and there were simply not enough of them to cope.

I was seen 2 hours after admission. The doctor apologised for the room they had to use temporarily. It was a store room with boxes in, with a makeshift treatment bed installed and no heating. It felt very cold but as my temperature was high, I did not care. The doctor made routine investigations and said I needed an X-ray but the X Ray department was "down"currently, as this would show up pneumonia for definite. He then gave us a frank appraisal of the current situation within the hospital.

"The hospital is full. There are no beds currently. It's midnight and I fear that if you were to wait for a bed, you would be here all night in a chair until the day staff come on shift. I can give you the antibiotics needed, but to be frank you will be better off in your own bed at home than waiting here. Should you worsen anymore then please come back, but some antibiotics may make a difference in next 48 hours."

As often happens, our son was returning from a school trip to London and my husband had to leave me to pick him up from school and return him home. A 45 minute dash until he could return to me at the hospital. He had asked the doctor for someone to keep an eye on me until he returned.

I waited for a nurse to return with the antibiotics and she said they needed the room so could I wait in the foyer. I replied I could not get up and walk as I was very weak. She said she did not have the time to wheel me into the foyer, so I would have to walk as best I could. I don't even remember walking to the hospital foyer. Just blurred visions of people passing by. I managed to get there and waited for my husband to return. A couple of teenagers asked me if I was alright as I was slumped in the chair. My husband returned and he later said he was so shocked and angry that I was dumped in a chair by the front door, that words failed him.

I returned home and battled through the next few days. I saw a practice GP and my husband related the hospital experience and the GP agreed it was totally unacceptable. "You should still be in hospital now" . The GP also said to hear the hospital was full mid week was a worry. I have now battled through the last fortnight. I returned and saw my GP yesterday who said he had heard people were being sent to Shrewsbury hospital some 50ish miles away. He said the situation for patients" was intolerable and was falling far below acceptable standards of care." I am now having further blood tests next week as I am still experiencing poor energy levels and feel very weak.

Staff in hospitals CARE Mr Cameron and Mr Hunt. There are not enough of them to cope. Wards have been shut. There are not enough beds to cope. Staff are doing their best in impossible circumstances with poor resources, yet Mr Hunt demoralises them on a daily basis, akin to IDS with his constant barracking of job seekers. I live in rural North Wales. It is hard enough with hospitals already few and far between, without thinking in future we have to travel to England for most healthcare. An elderly neighbour has been told her spinal op will be done in Staffordshire over 100 miles away. How are relatives supposed to visit their sick mother? It is in another country, miles away from her support network!

You are creating an NHS that frightened, ill people cannot recognise or understand. We all know you want to privatise the entire thing.We know that you want to create a ghetto system of care for those who cannot afford private health insurance, but hey it does not affect your sort Dave so us working classes can suffer!

I needed the NHS a fortnight ago desparately, but I was met by Cameron's version of the NHS, a 1984 Orwellian nightmare. If Labour and Andy Burnham gain power in 2015 will there be an NHS left to save?

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Could Tory Welfare Policies ever Work?....

... If they were viewed through Socialist eyes? My family and I live in the real world. We struggle with self employment, unemployment, and schooling between us all. We live in an ordinary semi-detached house that we struggled like hell to get a mortgage for. Just old fashioned working class people. As a Socialist, I cannot comprehend voting Conservative, but it occurred to me I could set myself a scenario of thinking like a Tory on policy, but then resolving the policy to work in the real world with real humanitarian solutions.

Welfare Reform: Mr Duncan-Smith's ideas are that work should pay more than welfare benefits, and that people should be accountable for their own budgets and finances as they move from unemployment into the world of work. Young people especially may lack work experience, so it is essential that while unemployed, young people are offered work experience to encounter conditions and skills needed to gain employment. Disability in itself is not a barrier to work, but disabled people should have access to support to get them into employment. Those too disabled to work will be exempt and the safety net of our welfare state will step in to support this group.

Read that paragraph again. If I had never heard of Mr Duncan-Smith or known of his politics, that paragraph would read quite reasonably well to most people. Work SHOULD pay more than being on  Unemployment/Job Seekers benefit, otherwise there is no point in working.  My solution to the Problem: Full Time Permanent Work on a Living Wage should be made available for those able to do it, and Part Time Work available for those with caring responsibilities who can fit their caring duties around Part Time employment. The sad reality though is that ANY work is scarce. The sensible thing to have done would have been to lobby employers first into providing more Full Time positions, cut the red tape to make it attractive to employers to employ people Full Time and find out what it is that makes Full Time Permanent Positions currently unattractive to employers. Perhaps offer employers a "carrot" in the form of some kind of subsidy to employ Full Timers. Working Together with Employers to find the heart of the problem to providing Full Time Permanent Work is key to the future of both unemployed and employed workers. Full Time Permanent Positions are currently unfashionable for Employers. Why? We need to root out the reasons and come up with solutions.

 Good quality, affordable childcare for parents with able bodied and disabled children should be revisited by the state in the form of the Sure Start Centres set up by the last Labour Government. These should be improved and expanded to include specialist childcare facilities and support for disabled children and their parents. Many parents of disabled children want to work, but there is a total dearth of specialist childcare for disabled children. Also if grandparents are brought into childcare arrangements there should be some kind of financial incentive for them to do so as they are currently providing a whole raft of unpaid, unrewarded childcare services.

For many unemployed and on benefits "getting by" weekly is a big problem. For many workers who are paid monthly, getting to month end is a problem. In the real world we all experience that "3rd week of the month" feeling scrimping to get by. But who says there is a need (either for the unemployed or employed) to be paid on a monthly basis? I know of many employers who still pay workers weekly and fortnightly. Why can't the unemployed and workers have a choice between weekly, fortnightly and monthly pay, thus firmly putting finances and budgeting into the lap of the recipient? Why can't people CHOOSE a solution that is right for them and their circumstances? Budgeting is not confined to those on monthly pay, yet Mr Duncan-Smith is using the "stick" to inform us that monthly pay and the world of work go hand in hand. Wrong! There are those who are vulnerable and need either other people to help manage their finances or are incapable of already managing on a weekly basis. These people need specialist help and advice by Carers, Social Services or Welfare Advisors where finance is just a part of the bigger picture of life maybe with a disability or serious social problems. I receive Working Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits weekly, yet am quite capable of putting money by for monthly direct debits, yet some people choose to pay their bills weekly by other means, and this is right for them. There is no right or wrong way to budget weekly or monthly yet we keep being told monthly is the way to go. It is not.  Choice is the solution and Specialist Help for Vulnerable People made available by support to Citizen's Advice Welfare Workers and Social Services.

Young People aged 16-25 lack work experience and skills to enable them to get into paid employment. I agree! Mr Duncan-Smith's solution is Workfare where unemployed young people have been put on work experience placements for "up to 8 weeks" while (in his own words on 20/2/13) they "earn" their unemployment benefit which is £56.25 for aged 16-24 and £71 for those aged 25+. My solution: Get the major employers round the table. Find out how many new vacancies in specific towns/cities these employers are planning on taking on in any given year for their various departments. Get them to take on unemployed young people on the minimum wage for 8 weeks that the Government will pay half and the employer the other half for. At the end of the 8 weeks, the young person has a GUARANTEED interview for a position thay are most suitable for. If the young person does well at interview they get the job, if they do not they are referred back to the Job Centre with written feedback as to why they are not suitable for the job. This may involve a lack of written or verbal skills for example. The Job Centre Advisor then puts the young person on a suitable course leading to a qualification for the skills they require. Tailor-make courses and work experience around the individual. No use sending say a Science Graduate to stack shelves at Tesco. No use sending someone with limited educational skills to do marketing at Marks and Spencer. Fit the person to the work experience/course; then you will get the right candidates into the jobs they are most suited for.

Disabled People face a raft of barriers into work: Transport Problems, Accessibility Problems, Expectation by Employers Problems, Varying Degrees of Fluctuating Disability Problems, Confidence and Fear Problems. Each disabled person knows their own capabilities and knows their own limitations. Mr Duncan-Smith and Esther Mcvey assume through their own DWP questions that they know what is best for every disabled person. They do not. The disabled person in conjunction with their GP or other health professional can advise of their own individual barrier to seeking work and advise access to work specialists of what is needed. Employers need re-educating on how a person's disability will affect them on a daily basis at work. Some disabled people will seek Full Time Work but many will seek Part Time Work. Employers need  to see that disabled people need a  serious degree of flexibility to attend health care appointments built into the working week.

Where a GP or health professional KNOWN to the disabled person who has cared for them states that the disabled person is not fit for work, then that professional knows best, and so the welfare state steps in and cares for them through what will be Universal Credit and PIP. If the health care professional diagnoses a life long condition for the disabled person, then the DWP takes this as read and the Disabled Person is not recalled for any further tests etc and is safe and secure in the knowledge the safety net of the Welfare State is there for them. This is the view of a compassionate society. I am not saying for one moment it is a simple solution, but by using a conjunction of the disabled person and a healthcare professional known to them, the limited fraud there is all of 0.5% will be prevented; which is the key rhetoric of this Government and something they are keen to alleviate.

On Housing the Government say there are far too many people living in social housing who are under occupying their homes. They say there are thousands living in cramped overcrowded social housing, while others have one or more spare bedrooms. Their current solution is to cut Housing Benefit Payments from their current level and request that those who wish to remain in their home with 1 or more spare bedrooms pay an excess for those rooms which is on average £14 per week for one excess bedroom. Those who cannot or do not wish to pay will then downsize their house or flat thus freeing up housing for those living in overcrowded conditions.

My Solution: We are living in a time of deep austerity with thousands of construction workers out of work. Can we not build more quality social housing on brownfield sites? Can we not build these 1 and 2 bed properties the Government wish people to move into? Failing this, could the Government look at individual circumstances leaving local authority/Housing Association Housing Officers to use their own discretion and their knowledge of tenants to decide on what is best for that household? Foster children exist in the real world and need their own bedroom, as do servicemen/women serving abroad who then return to their family home. Disabled people may need to sleep on their own or have a carer who is a family member sleep in a spare room and be on call during the night, or have specialist equipment that needs a room to store it in. These scenarios should be exempt from the Bedroom Tax.  Those who experience a death within the household are given 12 months to come to terms with it before paying up or moving home. So completely and utterly wrong in every sense of the word. Who puts a time limit on grief and mourning? Instead again of a "stick" approach the Government could offer a financial "carrot" to older people who may live in a 3 bedroomed council house who could downsize to free up a family home: a choice of options could be arranged for moving the elderly person/people with support from the local authority within their own neighbourhood, but the final choice on moving, should be down to the people concerned not the local authority or housing association.

Those too disabled to work, those deemed too vulnerable by society will be exempt from seeking work and the state will step in and support them. This is what Mr Duncan-Smith says is the right thing to do. In reality the state hounds this group, back and forth- assessment after re-assessment under Employment and Support Allowance and are found fit to work whilst suffering or recovering from cancer for example. People with life long disabilities will be assessed under PIP, and will be reassessed periodically. Why? A double amputee will not grow legs, an autistic person will not be cured, a person with motor neurone disease will get worse. Why hassle these people into being reassessed when they have a lifelong disability? It is unfair and it causes huge amounts of stress for the disabled person and their family. Under DLA these people often received an indefinite or lifelong award. Rightly so. It is the compassionate and right thing to do by any Government. It should be restored now.

It is not beyond the realm of any political party in Government to develop policies that both reward work and at the same time look after the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Our current coalition Government have lost sight that they were elected (although neither party were mandated) by the very people they are now demonising. Many politicians far wiser than myself from times long gone, have commented that the electorate  inflict their distaste for a Government at the ballot box: 2015 is OUR chance to do the right thing.