Living the third great lie.

The three great lies.
Of course I’ll still love you in the morning.
The cheque is in the post.
I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.

There’s been a bit of a fuss about food banks and why people have to rely on them. But two figures interested me. 34% of food bank clients are ‘experiencing benefits delay’ and 19% need help because they are ‘experiencing changes to their benefits.’
Now I talked to a professional who has to deal with people who are struggling to cope with the benefit system and she just sighed. When I gave her the 34% figure she just said, “They’ll have been ‘sanctioned’.” I asked what that meant and apparently the normal situation is that someone misses an appointment and they are ‘sanctioned’. They don’t get two weeks money. But actually when they turn up to ‘sign on’ or whatever they call it now in two weeks time, they still don’t get money for another fortnight, so a fortnight’s sanction means that you have a month without money. The problem was that even for a professional like her there seems to be no way of getting anything changed, even if the appointment was missed for good reason. Indeed she was talking to a lad who was homeless and looking for accommodation. His landlord had asked him to leave because the rent hadn’t been paid for the last two weeks. Now he has no money, and no one in the office that would pay the rent was available to talk to him. Basically the suspicion is that he’d been asked for more information, hadn’t understood the form and not filled it in properly so they’d just stopped his money. My friend did comment that she picks up a lot of those forms and fills them in for people and she finds them difficult.
Let’s get this straight. We have a bureaucratic system that sends out complicated documentation to people who have complex and chaotic lifestyles and if they don’t cross every t and dot every i just so, then the money is stopped.
Now there’s a lot of fuss about lack of ‘care’ in hospitals. But people are incensed about this because respectable and well paid middle ranking members of the bureaucracy do end up in hospital.
But neither our chattering classes nor our bureaucrats ever expect to end up at the bottom of the heap on benefit, so the total lack of care shown at that level worries them not at all.
I was talking to people, round and about, and it strikes me that a little bit of care would in fact go a long way. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just someone sort of guiding their hands a bit. I remember that one local firm used to have a system where you could put so much a week out of your pay packet into a saving fund. Once it reached a maximum amount, the company paid it out, but you could draw it out at any time. You got building society interest rate and the company borrowed money cheaper than going to the banks so everyone gained. I know a lot of lads who bought their first motorbike or car with cash because of this policy. It’s hardly new, even the Roman army used to keep a proportion of soldiers’ pay back in a compulsory savings account which they got when they were discharged.
But who does help these young people? I know one chap who farmed on the edge of town and a lot of lads would turn up to ‘help’. Once they got useful he used to pay them a nominal amount, which would grow into a proper sum when they actually earned it. Because they were lads who weren’t afraid of work, they pretty soon got real jobs working for highways maintenance firms and suchlike, but would still drop in to help at weekends.
Anyway, initially he’d just given the lads money, but they would ask him to look after it for them. As one said, “If my mother knows I’ve got this, she’ll just spend it on the pop.” So on their kitchen window there was a row of biscuit tins, each with a name on, and the lad could put his money in his jar if he wanted.
Now then, on Friday night he and his wife had been working late, and it was about 9pm when they finished and still hadn’t had their evening meal. So quite literally he emptied his wallet onto the kitchen table, she emptied her purse, and when they added the contents of the kiddies piggybank there was enough for a couple of takeaway pizzas. Agricultural was pretty grim back in the decade between 1995 and 2005.
Next day one of the lads dropped round and after chatting said, “Oh I thought I’d get some money out of my tin.” He had counted out over £200 before they stopped him. “How much have you got there?”
“Oh,” he said. “About £1200.” He’d been putting his pay packets in from his day job, not just his weekend farm work!
Three days later the lady of the house had corralled the owners of the biscuit tins and had taken them, and their tins, into town. She marched them into the building society and stood over them as they started accounts and put the money into them.
Young people always tend to have chaotic lives. It’s part of what being young is about. They don’t need bureaucracy, just someone who will care for them a bit when they need it and stand over them with a stick when they need that.

But then what do I know about it? Ask an expert

As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!”

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6 thoughts on “Living the third great lie.

  1. willmacmillanjones September 13, 2013 at 7:22 pm Reply

    It’s not always those who struggle with forms either, Jim who get badly treated.

    At the time of Nigel Lawson’s second or third recession, my then business failed. The ability of my customers to pay me had been drained by Lawson’s moronic economic policies, and even now I refuse to watch his daughter on TV as I want to throw things at her (Even though she should not be blamed because her father is an idiot.). But when I had followed all my staff through the job centre, and filled in all the forms, I ended up having to put inordinate pressure on the Benefits Office to pay up enough money for me to survive..

    (Actually I rang the office manager, and told him that I had arranged for a friend who was a journalist with the Sun to turn up from London with a photographer and capture images of me and my young son being arrested for shop lifting food from ASDA to avoid starving as their office had not paid me anything in three weeks. Astonishingly, I received an emergency benefit payment 24 hours later, even though I had been three times told that week such a thing was administratively impossible…)

    The system has always worked against those who need it.

    • jwebster2 September 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm Reply

      I think it works actively against those who need it. I know someone who works for a government agency that deals with farmers. The staff working on the site were briefed that they were to assume that farmers were lying and that errors would be assumed to be fraud. Given that there were three farmers’ daughters and a number of farmers’ wives in the group being briefed, it did not go down well. I suspect that it is damn all to do with the party in power. It’s the mindset of the bureaucracy

  2. M T McGuire September 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm Reply

    So true. I graduated into the 1990 recession so after leaving university I couldn’t get anything more than hand to mouth work for two years. Most of my friends were in the same boat.

    We were desperate to work but no-one would have us; ‘no experience’ ‘over qualified’ ah don’t get me started. The dole office where I lived was the biggest shower of gits ever invented. They treated us like pooh and wouldn’t let me sign on at my nearest office (10 minutes away by car, when I could borrow one, 30 by public transport) only the main one (20 minutes by car, when I could borrow one, and one and a half hours on public transport). They seemed to delight in giving me sign on appointments that were as difficult as possible to get to on the bus so they could tell me I was late and that I must piss off.

    They moved offices and lost my forms. They considered this to be my fault. I went to try and discover what happened and the woman interviewing me simply parroted the same paragraph from one of their information booklets again and again. It wasn’t even obliquely answering my questions and she didn’t even deign to say ‘we’ve lost your form, fill in another one’. They were absolute bastards. Don’t lose your job in Worthing… actually, don’t lose your job in West Sussex because just about all of, it in a 50 mile radius or so, has to sign on in Worthing. Really, if you live in Sussex and you lose your job. Move.

    In contrast, I went to be skint in Macclesfield for a month and they were fabulous. The difference was exactly what you say, kindness, guidance, advice… they treated me like a human being.

    It seems to me that with full benefits being worth £25,000 or so, a lot of jobs pay less. The government could save a whole heap of money on full benefits if they introduced a sliding scale and helped those who wanted to work but couldn’t afford to take the jobs they were qualified for. If the Government declared an income of X a living and supplemented anyone earning less than that up to the point where they were earning X. I bet your bottom dollar a whole heap of people who aren’t working now would go back to work, and gladly, because being unemployed, washed up, useless, is soul destroying. It would probably involve payments to more people but cost the tax payer less.

    So, another example. A friend of mine is disabled. She would love to work but being deaf, dyslexic and carrying a back injury it precludes her from a lot of things. She used to be an ICU nurse so she’s pretty smart but she’s lost a lot of confidence and would like to try some volunteer work to see if she can hack it first. She thought she’d try working in a charity shop. But when she looked into it, she found she can’t. Because if she does that, she won’t be ‘available for work’ so she will lose her benefits. So although she’d like to go back to work, the system as it stands discourages her. She daren’t try volunteer work, in case she loses her disability allowance. Surely, that has to be wrong.

    Life is not black and white, there are shades of grey. Accordingly, an on/of digital benefits system like the one we have doesn’t work.



  3. jwebster2 September 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm Reply

    We were talking tonight, because of tax credits, offspring getting university grants, tax and national insurance, at one point I was paying 87p in the pound ‘tax’ on every extra pound I earned. And this was when our income was so low we were getting tax credits!

  4. keirarts September 16, 2013 at 2:52 pm Reply

    Great writing as usual Jim. As you know I’ve had some experience of the job center myself this year. I’m fortunate to only really need the basic £71 and nothing more, plus I get those interviews and the Job center hassles me none. I did run into a chap the other day who was a regular in the shop back in the day when I hadn’t been replaced by machinery and he was having some real problems. Basically he’d had a nervous breakdown some years back followed by several years of alcohol dependency. He has just started training to do voluntary work with CADAS (Cumbria alcohol and drug awareness scheme). As a result he had to attend training every Friday. Well he was also on the god awful A4E scheme where a bunch of people whose only job has ever been telling other people how to get a job, have you sit in a room and look for work, (my laundry list of complaints regarding this firm is epic so i’ll cut it short here) so naturally his training and his A4E clashed. He went down to A4E and explained the situation and thought it was all cleared up. Unfortunately communication between people within the Barrow offices of A4E is dreadful and communication between them and the job center is worse so as a result….SANCTION. I should add I have heard of many such instances.

    The sad fact is I have even applied to work at A4E on the basis that as someone who has conducted recruitment interviews and has SEEN the mistakes people can make when going for work I could offer some good advice. But as with everywhere locally its not what you know but who so as of yet i’ve had no luck. I would certainly like to give them a damned good seminar about communication some time.

    • jwebster2 September 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm Reply

      Hi Keir
      You’re a nicer man than me. I suspect that I would attempt to rectify the A4E situation with a length of four by two and plenty of bad attitude. Now you see why I’ve been self employed all my life 🙂
      But it isn’t as if there is a shortage of decent people recruit into places like that. I suspect that some of the problem is that the ‘senior’ people are not going to hire juniors who make them look bad

      (Not coming across as cynical am I?”

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