Robert Hampton

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8th January 2013

Net Disbenefit
Posted by at 10.08pm | Politics | 1 response

When your own Government department admits that proposed benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest, maybe it’s time for a rethink.

Britain’s poorest households will be hit hardest by government plans to limit rises in working-age benefits to 1% in a bid to save £3.1bn by 2016, according to a Whitehall assessment rushed out shortly before MPs debated a controversial welfare bill.

There’s little doubt in my mind that the coalition government is making Britain a colder, more cruel place to live. I try to console myself with the thought that this will be a one-term government and 2015 will bring some semblance of sanity. I’m concerned, however, that by then the damage to the welfare state will be irreperable. I’m also worried that the electorate may actually be fooled by Cameron and Co’s soundbites and support their “strivers v skivers” nonsense.

I hate that particular soundbite, which seeks to portray anyone claiming any sort of state benefit as a scrounger who needs to be given a kick up the arse and stand on their own two feet (unless their legs have been amputated, but they’ve probably still been passed as fit for work by ATOS anyway). This “lazy dolescum” argument seems based entirely on the tabloid stories which surface every so often, about families on benefits who go on expensive holidays and have plasma screen TVs in their living rooms. Undoubtedly there are people who are playing the system, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Most people use state benefits for their intended purpose: as a safety net, to ensure a minimum standard of living.

Now, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers seek to remove that safety net. Get out there and work (even if it’s for free in Poundland). Never mind that there are no jobs – we’ve just arranged free bus travel for the jobless (of course, since last year’s cut in bus subsidy there may not be a bus any more)!

Look across the pond to America, which has long championed self-reliance and small government. The extreme example came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where some truly vicious pundits said that anyone stranded in lawless New Orleans only had themselves to blame. Those left behind were mostly poor, went the logic. If they had been well-off, they could have transported themselves away easily. The lesson? You should never rely on Government to help you, ever, and if you’re in poverty – for whatever reason – tough.

At the time I laughed and felt grateful that rhetoric like that would be completely out of place here. Now, however, I worry that we might be heading in that direction. Are we going back to Dickensian days of workhouses and the poor living on the streets? Maybe not to that extreme, but a similar attitude towards the poor seems to be taking hold.

I still have misgivings about Labour – I’d like to see a full apology for the Iraq mess, and the authoritarian streak that brought us ID cards and DNA databases is still there, I think. I also worry that they may go for the populist approach in the next general election by adopting similar “tough on scroungers” rhetoric. But they can’t possibly be worse than the Tories – many of whom have no understanding of what it is like to be poor and struggling to make ends meet.

1st December 2012

Compassionate Conservatism

A report in the Guardian which made me angry:-

Wayne Blackburn was born unlucky – his mother’s umbilical cord got wrapped around his neck, starving his brain of oxygen. Now his legs don’t work.

He’s no scrounger, he says. Until 2009, Blackburn, from Nelson, Lancashire, was in work. After marrying his girlfriend he wanted to provide for her so he took a job in retail that involved being on his feet.

“For a time I was quite successful at it,” he says. “[But] it made me a lot worse. I did that for just under two years.” Though he would like to return to a job, Blackburn says he is in the worst physical condition he has ever been and is permanently dosed on multiple painkillers.

Without any physical examination, Blackburn says, the Department for Work and Pensions put him on employment support allowance (ESA) and in the work-related activity group (WRAG), for those soon to be back in employment.

In just a few days, Blackburn may be forced to work without pay whether he likes it or not.

On Monday, the government will allow private back-to-work companies and jobcentre case managers to force Blackburn and more than 300,000 sick and disabled welfare claimants into unpaid work experience for an unspecified length of time.

Read the rest of the article to discover how the Government’s brave war on easy targets shows no signs of abating, it seems.

Happy Christmas everybody!

23rd January 2012

Poverty stricken

If you think benefits claimants are worthless scroungers, perhaps you should take a look at this article, published in the Guardian last week. You will be introduced to Thomas Bebb, a Liverpool man who wants to work but has been unable to find a new job since being made redundant by the council in a round of spending cuts last November.

He gets Jobseeker’s Allowance, but thanks to a crisis loan repayment and card debt (his bank refused an overdraft but happily offered him a credit card), he is left with just £20 a week to live on after utility bills are paid. He has plunged into a world far away from the £2,000 plasma TVs and massive houses that the Daily Mail pretends all benefit claimants get:

He goes once a fortnight to one of two local shops that offer heavily discounted food – packets of buy-one-get-one-free frozen burgers for a pound, two-for-£1 ice-cream tubs for his younger children who stay with him at the weekend, a bag of frozen chips, which, if he rations it correctly, he can get four meals out of. When that runs out he eats rice and pasta which he gets for 25p a pack at Tesco. “Sometimes you have to eat crap.”

Bebb looks healthy, but admits he sometimes feels wobbly when he does the 45-minute walk to the job centre (a £3.80 day bus pass is usually unaffordable), because he hasn’t eaten enough. “Sometimes I’ve had to stop because I’ve had the shakes, dizzy.”

Should we expect the Old Etonian Prime Minister and his cabinet cronies to understand any of this? Mr Bebb knows the answer to that question:

“If the prime minister can go out and spend £100 a night for his dinner and I don’t get that a fortnight, where’s the justice in that?”

21st November 2007

Schadenfreude
Posted by at 10.20pm | In the News, Politics | No responses

If there’s one entertaining thing about the benefits data cockup, it was watching useless Labour minister Alastair Darling having to come clean about the whole mess in Parliament.

Here’s the video. Listen out for the gasps of astonishment from the assembled MPs, which start at about the 2 minute mark.