Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Ultimate Betrayal ; of Our Disabled Children and their Families

No ones talking about it yet as Universal Credit still seems a long way off for some people. I make it my business to look into what is on the horizon with the DWP as I need to prepare for the next shock my family could face, but more importantly I need to make others aware of what they could be facing also.

Many families with disabled children have at least 1 working parent. My son is autistic aged 14. I work 10 hours a week Self Employed to fit round my caring duties. My husband is also Self Employed, Low Paid and on average works 25 hours a week. We receive Working and Child tax credits to top up the low pay. We obviously do not lead an extravagant lifestyle but we do our best for our 4 sons. As my youngest son is disabled he is able to receive an extra disability element for tax credit purposes.

All disabled children whose parent(s) receive Working Tax Credit currently, get a top up disabled child tax element of £57 per week. This is payable to ALL disabled children regardless of the severity of disability as long as they are in receipt of DLA. Gordon Brown was instrumental in knowing implicitly it costs a lot more to raise a disabled child, and families who are struggling on low pay need  a bit of extra help.

Not so David Cameron and his able henchman Iain Duncan Smith. While millionaires enjoy a  £100,000 tax cut this month, they both believe DISABLED CHILDREN, arguably the most vulnerable section of society should "shoulder some of the burden" - their poor lowly paid mums and dads should be made to "work  a little harder" "strive more" and so no longer receive the £57 extra across the range of disabilities that children may have.

Now the Government have decided in their wisdom there are some children "MORE DESERVINGLY DISABLED" than other children! Under Universal Credit the £57 pw will now only be awarded to children receiving the High Rate component of DLA. Those receiving either the Middle Rate or Low Rate Component will now be reduced to HALF the amount at £28 pw - smacking of being "less disabled" than those on the High Rate. If DLA was a specific amount for a specific condition, this charge at the disabled tax element may have a little justification. But no! It depends on how well you filled in your child's initial DLA claim form! I know of some autistic children with severe autism - 1 receives High Rate Care and High Rate Mobility of DLA, and the other receives Low Rate Care and no mobility. There is no science to it! If your DWP advisor, checks the conditions book , they can then make up their own minds what the award should be taking into account your claim form, which you could have hastily filled in after a night without sleep, or if you are lucky enough your local CAB advisor could have filled it in for you. It's definitely a hit and miss affair!

How dare this Government think that the MOST vulnerable, the MOST deserving, the helpless disabled children of our society should bare ANY burden for the misery inflicted on us by millionaires and "Robber Barons"? And what of their parents? Already struggling with low pay, working to survive and then saving the Government a royal fortune on providing 24/7 care themselves get this kick in the teeth.

And the biggest sickener for me: Knowing that David Cameron himself had a disabled child he claimed DLA for. Damn it man, you know how bloody hard it is don't you to work and care? Or at least your Mrs does! Many people ask how you sleep at night Mr Cameron on a daily basis - I really don't know or care.

But I care passionately about those disabled children and their parents who WON'T be sleeping at night when Universal Credit comes in. These people matter to me : for I am one of them too.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Rural Workers and All Employees need our Help Now!...

I was born in Gloucestershire. My parents lived and worked in Worcester and I lived there for 30 years of my life. We knew the changes of seasons: not by the weather, but from picking seasonal produce and flowers blooming : Strawberries in early June, Blackberries and Potatoes in August, Bluebells down at Bluebell Woods - first week in May. There was no rush to the Garden Centre for Holly at Christmas: it grew in the hedgerows around us. We fished and swam in the river, and could name most of the trees in the shire on sight. Basically I had a "Famous Five" type of outdoor childhood and one I always cherish. Many friends parents, were farm workers, farmers, labourers.

Today, by accident I came across a link at Unions Together who are asking people to email their MP to campaign against the Abolishment of the Agricultural Wages Board. The debate and vote on this abolition is on Tuesday 16th April - the day before Lady Thatchers Funeral. Thus the media and press eyes will not be on this little known debate and vote. It can easily slip through a vote that will wreak havoc, not only on Rural Workers, but has the potential to be the first step on the road to abolishing the Minimum Wage for all.

The Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) sets the Minimum Wage and terms of employment for Agricultural Workers. The Board has the power to set holiday pay and sick pay too. The Lib/Dem MP David Heath (twitter @davidheathmp) is leading the debate to abolish the AWB next Tuesday. Ironically his constituency is the rural Somerton and Frome in the South West - rich farming land. As a Lib/Dem who reportedly strives to support the Low Paid I was more than surprised he is seeking to abolish an organisation that upholds wages for the Low Paid! Ask him yourselves why he is doing this! He has not replied to me to date.

The big picture is once the Government has abolished the AWB - they can set about dismantling the Minimum Wage - not just for Rural Workers but for us all! They have 2 years until a General Election to do so, which is time enough.

People working in the countryside face challenges many of us take for granted. It simply costs far more than living in towns - Housing,Food, Fuel, Transport Costs are a lot higher. The wages are pretty low now - abolish the very organisation that protects them and they are left to the mercy of the Government, who lets face it are slashing costs/welfare for every vulnerable group in the UK. Far from a Minimum Wage to protect we should be campaigning for a Living Wage for all! On a recent Countryfile programme on BBC Hill Farmers were said to earn between £8k -£14k per year - hardly a fortune! With the March weather and snow recently,many Farmers and Farms will fold. Abolishing the AWB is "another brick in the wall" for them.

Many rural workers live in "Tied Housing". Not only will they be fearful for wages - they may lose the roof over their heads far quicker with no protection from the AWB. Young people, already forced from the villages of their birth due to cost, will desert the Agricultural Industry even more, where wages are poorer than currently and the future so bleak, thus exasperating the increasingly elderly population of Farmers and Farm Workers.

Another side effect of the abolition of the AWB could have sinister connotations. As we all know many Romanian and Bulgarian Immigrants will arrive in the UK in 2014. Herefordshire has already seen a huge increase in immigrants coming to take up seasonal work picking the produce of the countryside. While Immigrants may be quite happy to work for less than the Minimu Wage as it is more than they get in their home country, British Workers will not. Racial Tensions may occur if British Workers feel Immigrants are working for less than the going rate - and rightly so. British Workers will feel they are being priced out of their own jobs and homes and thus the tranquil countryside becomes a hotbed of racial tension and distrust.

 I sincerely hope Mary Creagh MP the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stands up in the HoC next Tuesday and fights for the livelihoods and jobs of these Agricultural Workers. If the Government win, they will attempt to abolish the Minimum Wage for all.

On the same day next Tuesday April 16th, the HoC will also debate the "Shares for Rights" they wish employees to exchange in future. In a survey only 1% of Employers are keen on a legislation that will see employees trade their right to strike, or appeal etc for shares in a company. This again is an attempt to erode workers rights by bribing them basically! At a time when belonging to a Trade Union is near criminal in Coalition Eyes, again we cannot allow an unmandated Government to push through legislation that would see employees rights back in the Dark Ages. I have already seen major retailers on the new Retail Park in my town take on young people under 18 on two counts : their Minimum Wage is cheaper than those over 18, and these young people, on the whole do not know their rights, as they have been brought up in an era where Unions have been pushed to one side and to be a member of one is only for those who are politically motivated.

The Government wish to see this band of 16+s brought up in an era where the Employer is Omnipotent and Workfare widely spread and accepted by all.

I hope those who both care about Agricultural Workers, the Minimum Wage, and Employees Rights make as much noise as possible before April 16th on Twitter, Facebook and by emailing their MPs before the debates. You can find me on twitter @PinkWaferBelle - Bernadette Horton

Once these rights have been voted on and agreed by a majority in the HoC by a Government with no 
mandate to act: there will be no going back and these rights will be lost forever. I am trying to do my bit. Will you do yours?

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Come and Walk with me - On the Frontline Of Austerity.

As you may already know from my campaigning, my husband and I are both Self Employed and Low Paid.We have 4 sons: 3 still living at home, the youngest is autistic. While I see many families better off than we are: there are thousands for whom real grinding poverty is a 365 days 24/7 reality.

Let's talk about the children .Our kids. Already Government rhetoric is ramping up and hardening for anyone who dares to have more than 2 children. Last time I looked I thought we lived in the UK not China! It is deemed "reckless" to have more than 2, and there is every indication if a Tory Government is elected in 2015, Child Benefit will be curtailed to 2 children only. It must be because of those fantastically  high figures of ooh 180 families in the UK who have 10+ kids!

I have a friend with 3 children between 7-15. She and her husband lost their jobs last autumn. Both are looking for work daily. After having seen life as employed people she tells me of life now.

"I just feel terrible for the kids. There are no treats. For example, when they come home from school with a party invitation, I have to decline, because we can't afford the birthday present for the birthday child. And I mean something for less than £3. It's embarrassing. It costs £2.50 per child to go swimming at the local pool, that's out of our reach now. And as for school trips, my kids are now in a majority of the class who don't go on them as we can't afford to.

 My mum lives locally. The kids go round to her house for tea twice a week: nothing wrong in that you say:but it's out of necessity not because they're visiting their Gran. We can't afford to feed them 7 days a week and so she helps out, Either that or we will have to ask for help from the FoodBank. The difference between being employed and unemployed is that there is no room in the budget for anything other than bills and food costs kept to a minimum. School Uniform is a nightmare. I try and put away £2 per week towards it. I am not saying for one minute, that we should be entitled to a high standard of living whilst on benefit, but this is not living. It is just about existing and the existence is even hanging by a thread. It is like being on a never -ending production line of poverty. We need jobs - anything will do - and we need them now."

For me, I am finding the "extra's" increasingly difficult to find. There is a £350 France Trip my third son would like to go on, but I have had to say no this year. The Family Fund have paid 6 months worth of Drama School fees for my autistic son: a huge outlet for him and he has progressed so much I would hate these Saturday mornings to end but it is a £100 per month expense and the remaining 6 months will be  paid for from his DLA. We will do anything to make sure these continue. Teenagers clothes are pricey. While designer tags are out of reach, it is still a hard task to kit the boys out. Matalan have come into their own, but clothes have gone up in price hugely over the past few years! Trainers are a nightmare too and I bargain hunt on eBay for the labels at reduced prices.

People take for granted, eating out occasionally, a cinema trip, bowling night. All these have been lessened considerably. Whilst  many class mates jetted off for Easter,  that is beyond our reach. My youngest son was 14 a few days ago. We managed a lunch out for 4 of us at a set price carvery and some ice creams at a local nature reserve village. As he is autistic a box of retro sweets as a present was his only wish and he was delighted with it. But his brother's birthday is next month and he wanted 5 friends to go Paintballing. The cost is £30 for each child and we cannot afford to do that. But I feel guilty this is beyond our reach, and guilty again when I think of families visiting Foodbanks who would think this treat an absolutely dire waste of money whilst people are going hungry. I am angry that "work" is getting us by, but no more than that.

 My son will be 16 in 2 years time and will face a transfer from DLA -PIP. Will he be "autistic" enough to get the standard care rate even? Will his means of support to a life as an independent disabled adult be stopped before it has begun? Horrifyingly will he have to become MORE dependent on us as parents just because the state recognises him as an adult at 16 and not 18?

My third son is a talented cricketer and has played for Wales since he was 11. Cricket is a hugely expensive sport especially at National level as Wales are based in Cardiff : a 3.5 hour trip from us in N Wales. He is  friends with an 18 year old lad with some learning difficulties at our local cricket club. They both play senior cricket on the weekend and I have given the other lad my son's old cricket equipment he has grown out of, as this lad is painfully thin for his age. I volunteer my help for admin in the club and the first thing this lad says is: "I can't afford to sign on with the club this year as I cannot afford the subscription fees" (£75 per yr and £30 for students/unwaged) I always waive the fees for him, but then he cannot afford to pay the £7 cricket tea fees on the weekend either or a contribution for the minibus hire for away matches. He pretends he does not want to eat, in order to avoid payment so the club subsidises him. The senior lads 18+ always stop off for a pint on the way home from away games : he has no money but feels ashamed when other lads offer to buy him a drink. He cannot participate in this sport without 100% help from others. It is wrong!

Finally I know a local couple in their late 40's. The male has an alcohol problem and is recurrently in and out of hospital. His partner is disabled and has the added onus of coping with his addiction. They lived in a 2 bedroom flat but have now had to move 20 miles away to privately rent a 1 bedroom flat due to the Bedroom Tax. Last week they ran out of food and reluctantly walked 4 miles to a Foodbank for help. The rent on the 1 bed flat was more than the rent on the 2 bedroomed previous flat and is being paid for by Housing Benefit. Not a saving by the Government but an extra cost! Who benefited from it? Not the couple or the Government! Three months ago he was found by police after threatening to commit suicide through both his addiction and the sheer despair of what he termed "existing" not living.

This is what poverty and Low Pay in Austerity UK is about: Exisiting and Getting By. It comes to a terrible point when some cannot afford food, and a feeling of guilt as a parent when school trips are denied and new trainers a burden to provide. You feel a personal failure. I am ANGRY at how both Jobseekers and the Low paid are becoming increasingly marginalised by the Government, both in rhetoric and perception in the media. The Government are about to embark on unchartered waters by taking on the Low Paid Workers who are "not striving enough" to increase their hours and pay and so the Government think sanctions or even a termination of Tax Credits is the answer.

I am ready and waiting for the fight Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg. Come and take me on!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Low Paid - The Government says It's Your Turn Now... face the threat and assault of Tax Credit Cuts and Sanctions.

Yes that's right! You the Low Paid Worker who currently claims Working and/or Child Tax Credits to top up your Low Pay. You, the part time supermarket worker,You the Mum juggling childcare and working Part Time, You the Avon/Betterware rep struggling for sales in Austerity UK, You the Dad whose hours have been cut and you can't get a 2nd job because it doesn't fit in with your current jobs shift pattern. Me - Part Time Sales Rep, Self Employed, Low Paid, Mum to Four Sons. Husband also Self Employed - Struggling in 2 Part Time Enterprises to make ends meet.

"No you're wrong!" I hear you say. "George Osborne stood in a warehouse at Morrisons and continuously referred to us as "HardWorking Families" "Getting Up In the Mornings" "Working Hard - Doing the Right Thing"

No more! Not content with hounding the Jobseekers, the Disabled, the People Living in Social Housing with a spare Bedroom - Bedroom Tax - now it's the turn of The Workers, the Low Paid, often Part Time Workers who as Mark Hoban Minister at DWP has accused of "Pursuing Hobbies" whilst not working enough hours to be self sufficient.

This is unprecedented territory for any Government. Up until April 2013, even if we are Low Paid, there is always the knowledge we are supported by a top -up of Tax Credits to acknowledge our "striving". But the Coalition Govwrnment no longer agrees. Now that the assault and demonisation of the Poorest in Society begins in earnest the Government are thirsty for another target, another section of society to ostracise  - The Low Paid Worker.

Whilst I cannot put the phrase "Hard Working Families" into one blog, as many times as George Osborne put into his key note speech at Morrisons I can say "Low Paid Workers" until I am blue in the face! This section of society, Mr Duncan -Smith and co actually WORK! STRIVE! CONTRIBUTE.. The very section of society you previously admired and encouraged.  The very section of society Margaret Thatcher thought so much of, she brought in her hugely popular Right To Buy your Council Home Policy! What has changed?

In the Guardian's article Low Paid to be Pushed into More Hours Patrick Wintour talks of " a new frontier on Welfare" where more frequent interviews at the Job Centre await the Low Paid, scrutinisation of hours worked and an "encouragement to seek more hours" in order to become self sufficient and off Tax Credits  and ultimately Universal Credit. The DWP refer to the Low Paid on Tax Credits as "Working Less than could be reasonably expected".

So the Mum juggling childcare and Part Time Work is "Working Less than is Reasonably Expected". Mr Osborne announced in the budget that in 2015 mums will be given £1200 for childcare expenses. He deliberately EXCLUDED mums on working tax credits - the very people who need childcare help!! So how is Mum with a few kids supposed to increase her hours to become self sufficient when she is denied childcare help? But Mum on £149k is given the £1200 towards childcare? Madness!!

The dad whose hours have been cut. The last time I looked the UK was facing unprecedented austerity. He will be "encouraged" - another way of saying "forced" in DWP speak to increase his hours or get another job paying more or face having his tax credits cut entirely. Result:Unemployed Dad on JSA - another stat, another person to demonise.

This policy along with Bedroom Tax and PIP is another example of a Government policy not thought through at all. It may well save the Government money when people are switched from tax credits to JSA, but it also sends a signal that "working" is not enough anymore. You HAVE to work Full Time as Part Time is "not worthy" anymore. I'd also like the Government to consider that if Mums are "forced" into increasing hours with little or no childcare support who is raising our children?

To this end I am so incensed with Government policy on the Low Paid Workers, that I have started a twitter campaign under the hash tag of #StandUpForTheLowPaid . I am asking each and every Labour MP and also the Green Party and Plaid Cymru as well as Unions like Unite to stand up and speak out for the Low Paid. I am not saying this section of society is more deserving than another section like the Jobseekers or Disabled. In my view we all stand together, unitedly opposed to the  detrimental Welfare Cuts this Government are inflicting on the people least able to carry the burden. Indeed I often use the hastag on Twitter : #CampaignForYourNeighbour as with all the cuts we do not know who the Government is coming for next. We must stand united.

While Millionaires get a £42,000 Tax Cut this month, the Low Paid Worker is getting a Tax Credit Cut or Sanction if he/she is not "striving enough". George Osborne stood up in Morrisons on 2nd April 2013 and DEFENDED the tax cut for the higher paid saying - we do not want the brain-drain of skilled people going out of the UK. Yet Osborne is prepared to throw into poverty the supermarket worker he was talking to!

Join my campaign to bring this into the more mainstream public knowledge.

Tweet/ Email your MP, spread the hash tag #StandUpForTheLowPaid  on Twitter. Spread the news that the Low Paid could face Tax Credit Cuts or Sanctions on your facebook page. We need Low Paid Workers to know what is happening in their name. Contact your union, tell your neighbours, contact your local papers - The Government is about to come for the Low Paid - We need to be ready.

As I have said many times "If we Tolerate this, then Our Children Will Be Next."