Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Craig's story: A true face of welfare "reform"

During the election I met a young man who I shall call Craig who has learning and physical disabilities. He is very enthusiastic about politics and has kept in touch with me since the election. A few weeks ago we agreed to meet up at dinner time in a local cafe, on the day his ESA was due to be paid into his account.

Just before the allotted time he texted me to say that he would not be able to eat when we met because he had no money. He had been to the bank but there was nothing in his account. A phone call to the DWP had revealed that his ESA has been stopped because they have deemed him capable of work after an assessment. Naturally I said I would pay for him and when we met we talked about his situation.

Craig is currently volunteering part-time at a youth club for children with learning disabilities like him, but has not worked since he left school, he is 22.

Of course he is going to appeal, with the help of his mum who is his carer, but in the meantime he has been obliged to report to the job centre. He has now told me that he has been asked to apply for fifty jobs a day, twenty five by leaving CVs with employers and twenty five online. I cannot believe he has that right, even fifty a week sounds like a lot but that is what he understands (and remember he has learning difficulties).

I very much hope that with the assistance of his Doctor who will provide written evidence of his various conditions, and his Mum, he is able to have his ESA restored. Otherwise I can only see benefit sanctions on the horizon for Craig. How is he supposed to find all of these jobs? And then how he is supposed to apply for them? Will an advisor be made permanently available to him to sit with him in the job centre and help him? He wouldn't be capable of doing it by himself. If he fails to meet these stringent targets - through no fault of his own, all of his benefits will be stopped for three months and ultimately for three years.

Employment opportunities for young men in Thornaby are few and far between at the moment,  and competing with able-bodied people with qualifications will prove nigh on impossible. Even assuming that somehow he could secure work, I cannot see how he could actually perform on a proper and prolonged basis with his disabilities. 

Is Craig really who George Osborne had in his sights when he said

Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits?

Surely it is the job of social campaigners - and the Labour Party - to tell the real stories about benefit recipients, about those whom the safety net protects, rather than vote for reform in a populist way because it is what the public evidently want.

I feel passionately that it is their ignorance of the truth that needs to be changed, not our system of support. I am convinced that the average voter imagines benefits to be paid at a much higher rate than they actually are. We need to educate people, not acquiesce with views based on incorrect assumptions.

I have to admit to becoming yet more despondent as the reality for vulnerable people in this country becomes ever more difficult.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Getting back in the blogging saddle

As a Parliamentary Candidate in my home town in Stockton South, it was not really possible to maintain a blog of social commentary. Candidates are representatives of their party and its manifesto; it is not for them to question the direction of policy but to present it to voters for their examination.
Furthermore, with a fully interactive candidate's website where I could talk about local issues, publish photos and encourage people to sign up for campaigns, I didn't need to run two sites simultaneously with the work involved and the potential confusion that could cause. Consequently I took the decision to suspend the blog during the election.

Now that I am once again free to write about subjects that interest me, I am restarting the blog although entries may be fairly sparse to begin with while I get back into the habit.

I look forward to the opportunity to engage with readers once again.