Statutory citizens.

It was the queen’s speech today, as it turns out. This happened.

“…the government intends to introduce a legislative bill to place the NCS [National Citizen Service] “on a permanent statutory footing”.”

So. To be honest, I am not terribly surprised. Youth work has been moving slowly in this direction for a long time, putting “stuff” over practice, and numbers over longevity. Just as it is with the employment statistics, it’s not about the quality it’s about the figures. It doesn’t matter if your job is a zero hours job you don’t want, what matters is you got one and you can be added to the employment figures (up by a whole 2,000 people by the way, someone find the party streamers…). And so it is with the National Citizen Service, who boasts with having worked with over 200,000 young people in the few years it’s been running.

Cameron wants this for his legacy. But what about the legacy of the young people? In five years time, will someone who has been on an NCS course be able to say their life has been changed for the better because of it? If we talk to all these 200,000 young people in 2026, how many will be able to say their lives have been improved and made better through being involved? I’ll wager it won’t be many.

We all know this isn’t youth work. It’s prescriptive and it pays absolutely no attention to the needs of the young people it’s working with. For some young people it’ll be a fun summer and a step up on their way into uni. But what about all the other ones who fall off the end once their involvement with NCS finishes? Every professional who works with young people knows young people like this and knows that NCS just will not work for them. It’s short-term work when what’s needed is long-term investment.

And where does this leave youth work? It leaves it unfunded and unappreciated. Money is being thrown towards the NCS, it’ll get more and more difficult to find funding for good, long term youth work projects. There is already a lack of investment in good youth work, now there’s a big shiny government-backed logo standing in the way of youth workers being able to do any kind of good effective practice.

We’re pumping £1.2 billion into something that no-one knows the long-term outcomes for. But then, what does the long-term matter when you’re going to be leaving your post as PM in 2020 anyway.

(also: see In Defence of Youth Work’s post on NCS here)

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More adventures in PIP: the DWP sets you up to fail.

So I’m not one to boast (honest!) but I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent person. I have a Masters degree. I’ve worked in housing and youth work and at various points I’ve worked in a professional capacity with benefits offices, social services and housing organisations. I’ve written benefits forms for almost every benefit there is at one point or another, and I feel pretty confident that I know how the benefits system works.

And I’d like you to bear the above in mind when I say, trying to organise my PIP appeal is not easy.

2016-01-11 12.31.54

The top brown folder is the paperwork I already had. The pile underneath is the “bundle” the DWP sent to me.

My “bundle” arrived in the post a few days ago. This is the pile of paperwork the DWP send you when you say you’re going to a tribunal to challenge their decision. Because the tribunal is handled by the courts, the DWP has to give up any documentation they have for my PIP application so we can look over it and make my case for qualifying for PIP. Firstly let’s cast aside the fact that 99.9% of the 183 pages I was sent I already have. When they say you are sent a bundle that’s literally what you get. A wodge of A4 papers. Consisting of any application forms you’ve done, any supporting documentation you’ve sent, any assessments you’ve had, anything and everything they’ve used to assess your PIP claim.

And that’s it. You’re sent the info and that’s all you have. The rest is up to you.

Luckily, I already know that there are places that have a very high rate of success if you go to them for support with your tribunal. I know that if you have someone representing you at the tribunal you’re more likely to succeed. I know that I could use various local resources – Citizen’s Advice, the local Law Centre etc. – to help me put forward a good case at tribunal and so increase the likelihood of it being successful. I have the knowledge and the ability to be proactive and to go to the right places to get support in doing this. But even with all my background working in this area, I’m still finding it confusing.

I wonder how many claimants who should be receiving PIP stopped at the first refusal letter, because they didn’t know what mandatory reconsideration was and they didn’t have the support to apply for it. I wonder how many found the court form to request a tribunal far too confusing and just couldn’t do it. I wonder how many people on hearing the word “tribunal” were terrified at the thought of having to go to a court and argue their case. And I wonder how many people upon receiving 180-odd pages of meaningless paperwork just felt they couldn’t deal with the stress of it all. I can see why.

I almost feel lucky to be in the position I’m in because I know how to jump through the hoops. The system is set up to fail everyone who isn’t able to do that. This process is designed to confuse. It’s designed to be impenetrable to anyone who doesn’t already have a complex understanding of the benefits system. It’s designed to target those who are most vulnerable, who are struggling the hardest and who need the most help. It’s designed to make them give up.


IDS hates disabled people.

It’s a well-known piece of trivia that Ian Duncan Smith does not like disabled people. He actively puts forward policies that ruin lives – the Bedroom Tax, the “fit for work” tests to name but a couple. However he’s now decided to come out and be completely truthful about how he feels about sick and disabled people. 

He feels they deserve to live in poverty.

Disabled people should have to work their way out poverty and not simply be taken out of it by state financial assistance, Iain Duncan Smith has said.

The Work and Pensions Secretary said it was not the role of government to pay the disabled enough to stop them being poor and that the correct way to escape poverty was by working.

This is a HUGE attack on disabled people. This is the Work and Pensions Secretary saying “you deserve this”. Saying “you are lesser than everyone else because you cannot work”.

“We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.”

This is IDS creating a “them and us” situation. “We” are the taxpayers, “we” are the hard workers, “we” are worthwhile, productive people. “You” live off our dime, and “you” are getting handouts from our pockets. “You” need to work harder, because the reason you’re in the situation you are is because of your own personal failing.

Showing an enormous ignorance about disability, IDS is suggesting that disabled people don’t work because they are not encouraged to, because they are not inspired to, because “…when the system makes doctors ask a simplistic question: are you too sick to work at all? If the answer is yes, they’re signed off work – perhaps for ever.” 

(IDS has clearly never tried to sign off sick…)

These statements are ignorant at best and dangerously damaging at worse. He the person who is in charge of ensuring disabled people are able to live by providing enough for us to do so, he is the one holding the purse strings. Disabled people who ARE able to work need so much more help and support – they need MORE money. And those who cannot? Should not live in poverty just because they are in a situation that they have absolutely no control over.


Budget Day: The cold, hard numbers of rich and poor Britain.

My favourite little factoid about the House of Commons has to do with Budget Day, and it’s this:

“Members may not eat or drink in the chamber; the exception to this rule is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who may have an alcoholic beverage while delivering the Budget statement” (Wikipedia)

Today, it may be the rest of us that need the alcohol.

In 2008, the British government approved a rescue package to British banks. The banks had lowered their credit standards, given out more money and brought in profit for their shareholders. Then the housing bubble went pop. The greed of bankers and shareholders who wanted to lend out more money to bring in more profit, meant that the returns weren’t coming back in. And the banks were running out of money.

The rescue package in 2008 consisted of the UK government giving £500 billion to UK banks, to get them out of their financial hole.

£500,000,000,000 is what it look like when you write it out. It’s a whole load of zeros. Let’s look at another number that has a lot of zeros.

£16,000,000,000. That’s sixteen billion. Which is the amount the banks paid out in bonuses the year they received the bailout.

How about another number.

£50,000,000,000. Fifty billion. That’s how much the government gave to the banks in 2009, for the second bailout.

Another number?

£93,000,000,000. Ninety-three billion. The amount handed to businesses in subsidies and tax breaks.

One more.

£12,000,000,000. Twelve billion. The amount Osborne is expected to cut from the welfare bill before 2017. The money that goes to the poorest people in society.

Because when you’ve given £516 billion to the banks to fix their mistake, and £93 billion to businesses to make sure they’re alright, someone has to foot the bill. And the people footing the bill are the people who never had any money in the first place.

More numbers? Alright then.

£20,000. Twenty thousand. The amount of money a family outside London is expected to live on. (Here’s a previous blog post about how that pans out)

3,500,000. Three and a half million. The number of children in the UK living in poverty.

1,084,604. One million, eighty four thousand, six hundred and four. The number of people who had to receive emergency food and support from the Trussell Trust food banks in 2014-15.

15,955. Fifteen thousand, nine hundred and ninety five. The number of benefits sanctions in the FIRST THREE MONTHS of 2014.

One final one? Gladly:

0. Zero. The number of British bankers who have faced any criminal charges for their reckless lending.


The Tory’s slash and burn budget cuts: next week is going to hurt.

We’re two months in to a Tory government, and the gloves are coming off. There’s a budget in less than a week and I can’t decide if the news stories that have appeared over the last couple of days are to gently ease us in to the horror, or if they’re cleverly designed to turn the country on those in poverty so when the budget comes they can say “Yeah, those workless, they’re the cause of all this country’s problems!”.

I plan to write a more detailed post for budget day. But this part couldn’t wait.

Let’s look at some of the news stories from the past few days:

This has been happening for years. The government has been scapegoating people in poverty and saying “it’s your fault the country has no money”. But the stories are coming thick and fast, the cuts are becoming more brutal and next week’s budget is going to hurt. A lot.


Boiling point: when marching isn’t enough.

We like a good protest. Y’know, as long as it doesn’t get too rowdy. In the last five years I myself have been on two national protests, March for the Alternative and A Future That Works. We stood with thousands of people, waved our signs, shouted some stuff, went to Hyde Park where people said stuff on a stage, we all cheered, we all got on our buses and trains and went home.

The general public like an organised protest. They like it when people march and say “we’re cross!”. They’re not so fond of it when it gets “out of hand”. Case in point: the student protest from a few years ago. The London riots. Maybe it’s because we’re British. We don’t like to make a fuss. We’re good at asking nicely, we don’t like conflict and we tut at people who are too emotive in expressing their anger. We’re less “¡Viva la Revolución!” and more “Down with this sort of thing”.

I find it very difficult to know where to draw the line. The one thing I can categorically say is that while these marches have demonstrated the force of feeling behind the country’s situation, no-one with any clout is taking a blind bit of notice. We are given our allotted space and allotted time to shout and then it’s done. This method is not working.We can gather in London and hear people speak until we’re all collectively blue in the face. Nothing is changing. In fact, it’s getting worse. Which means people are getting angrier, and organised marches are not going to cut it any more.

The news media love a good protest, and they love it when it all kicks off as they have the chance to play the same 5 second loop of someone with a scarf over their face throwing something at a police officer, while talking to experts about how it’s always a few bad ones that ruin it for everyone else and isn’t it a shame. How everyone was having a lovely time until these angry people spoiled it.

Thing is, protests aren’t meant to be a nice day out. A lot of the time they *are*, but they’re meant to convey a nation’s feelings about something they feel is an injustice. They are meant to put pressure on people with power until things change. This isn’t happening. And the worrying thing is, when people feel they aren’t being listened to, they get angrier, and more frustrated. And then when the news media tell them their anger is bad, that they were wrong, then they get even angrier.

I wonder where the boiling point will be. I wonder what happens when you have an angry populace who now figure they’ve got nothing left to lose. Whatever happens, it ain’t gonna be pretty.


Where do we go from here?

The dust is beginning to settle, and everyone’s looking around slightly shell-shocked and wondering where to go and what to do next.

First, take a breath. Also I recommend a cup of coffee. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We have five years to try and get things changed, we can’t all exhaust ourselves in the first two months.

Second, take a look at the #wecantmarch hashtag on Twitter. Sick and disabled people (as well as anyone who, for whatever reason, is unable to physically march) are creating an online space of protest to match the physical movement of people. Feet on the streets is brilliant and a very effective way of showing the strength of anger but not everyone can do it. So what can we do? Here are some ideas.

  • Read. Educate yourself. Learn about poverty, inequality, austerity and injustice. Learn why this is bad, so you can give educated and informed answers to people, as well as yourself. There are so many books out now around these subjects – you may not agree with all of them, but knowing why you disagree with something is just as important. Visit your local library, if you live in Bristol I heartily recommend Books for Amnesty on Gloucester Road as they have an extensive amount of books on these issues for a few quid each. If reading is a problem, have a look through Audible and see what audiobooks you can find. You can also get audiobooks from your library, either in physical form or electronic. Read.
  • Find your interest. We cannot all be experts on everything. The state of the country is complex and brings into play a lot of different issues. While you can be reasonably informed about most of them, you cannot know everything about all of them. Find the issues that you feel most strongly about, or maybe one that you already know about as you’ve worked in the field or studied it before. For me, it’s youth work. I’ve worked as a youth worker for ten years and I’m doing my MA in it – I like to think I know what I’m talking about. Know what your speciality is, and don’t be afraid to link people to other websites of people who have specialities different from your own.
  • Pick your battles. The internet is a busy place. People argue everywhere. You do not have to argue with all of them. We have a limited amount of energy. There will be people who will not listen to your point of view, and to spend time trying to convince them is a waste of your energy. It’s ok to say “I am not getting into this right now, bye.” Also, as a rule, Facebook and Twitter are terrible places for arguments on the internet (with exceptions, of course).
  • Write. This one usually happens on its own after you’ve been doing the above for a while. Writing is a good thing. Sharing information you know, giving a space to put forward a clear argument (rather than trying to do it in 140 characters) and a place to write down the frustrations you feel. It also means you have a space you can point people to when you get into aforementioned Twitter arguments.
  • Do something else. This is important. Campaigning and protesting is essential, especially now, but you have a life and health to think of and they should always come first. Take some time out. Spend an evening watching a film, go for a coffee with a friend, binge-watch some Netflix. Give your brain and soul a break every now and again. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Keep informed, keep active, but most importantly keep safe. Be angry, but look after each other. Be motivated but don’t exhaust yourself. Keep fighting.