Ex soldier left relying on foodbanks slams Cameron & Tories for abandoning war veterans #GE2015

Standard

Infantryman Philip Wesley says the PM was happy to send soldiers into battle but has given them nothing back!

A former soldier has launched a stinging attack on David Cameron for failing to support war veterans.

Infantryman Philip Wesley says the PM was “happy” to send soldiers into battle but has given them “nothing back.”

The father-of-one says his life since leaving the Army has been one of food banks, low-paid work, soaring energy bills and expensive housing.

At every turn he has faced difficulties because of the policies of the Conservative-led government , he reveals.

Mr Wesley, 27, served five years in the Army including two tours of Afghanistan.

He had to leave in 2012 to look after his daughter Violet, now three-and-a-half.

On return to his home city of Birmingham, he found it impossible to get a council house for them to live in.

“I was laughed at. I waited two years for social housing.

“In the end the British Legion gave me the money for a deposit so I could rent privately,” he explains.

The problem was the bedroom tax. So many people hit by the bedroom tax had to move out of three-bedroom homes meaning there were not enough two-bed properties available for people such as Philip.

“To be honest with you I was expecting a lot more. I have had help from the British Legion but absolutely nothing from the MoD.

“The main issue for me was housing. I had nowhere to live and I was still at the very bottom of the list.

“There were no two bed homes that were suitable for me. It was crazy.”

His mother who has severe epilepsy has also been hit by the bedroom tax.

Because his house had no central heating he racked up a £700 electricity bill to heat the home for his daughter.

“I was alright, I put on coats but my daughter was cold,” he says matter of factly.

At one point he had to rely on foodbanks to feed his family.

“And that was when I was working,” he said.

“We are supposed to be one of the most developed countries in the world and we have people having to use foodbanks,” he adds in a video made for the Labour Party.

Mr Wesley is now studying for a computing degree at Birmingham Metropolitan University, even though this will cost him £9,000 a year in tuition fees.

While he is full of praise for the support he received from the British Legion, his verdict on Mr Cameron is damning.

“Whenever I hear David Cameron saying anything it makes my blood boil. The only thing David Cameron sees when he looks at the Armed Forces is money and how much it will cost him. It’s just all numbers to him,” he says.

And he says other veterans have experienced similar problems.

“He’s (Cameron) happy to throw us into these wars but we get nothing back. There are people who have done a hell of a lot for their country and I don’t think it’s been rewarded in the slightest,” he says.

In December, Mr Cameron praised the Armed Forces as Britain marked the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

“Everyone in this country is forever in your debt,” he said.

Labour’s Jack Dromey said: “A war hero who fought for his country has been let down by Cameron’s Britain.

“He thought he was returning to a country fit for heroes but at every turn they have made it more difficult for him and his family.

“Labour will abolish the bedroom tax that has hit Philip’s family hard.

“Labour will cut tuition fees by £3,000 so people like Philip can get on and Labour will never let our Armed Forces veteran down in this way.”

Advertisements

The Danczuks, The Dangerous Dogs Act & Those Enduring Myths About Lone Parents #GE2015 #RaceForNumber10

Standard

“In a political arena in which words are carefully chosen, PR narratives carefully designed, and human frailties rarely admitted, the Danczuks stick out.  They both come from broken families, in which dependence on benefits was par for the course.

Karen, one of five children, was the only one to carry on her education after school and says she lives a life that her siblings wouldn’t recognise.”

“Danczuk has been an outspoken critic of politics geared towards the metropolitan elite.  On welfare, he and his wife agree that Labour isn’t tough enough.  “Instead of people being sat around on benefits, if they are capable of work why not have them make a contribution locally and keep them in mind for work,” Simon says. “If you want to call it hard-line, so be it.” ”

“The reason people should listen to them, they say, whether it is on child abuse or the problems of welfare, is that their views come from experience.  “If my mum had been forced to work and not live her life as a single parent on benefits, she would have had a job and friends and a better life, which would have benefited me,” Karen says.”

We’ll keep telling it like it is on welfare, immigration and the liberal elite

Well, Karen, in my experience your kind of subjective approach to policy making leads to Dangerous Dogs Act outcomes.  Personally, speaking, again from experience, I think we have already had quite enough of that sort of ‘informed’ approach to Social Security and Welfare to Work.

Alas, for Simon and Karen, I am not a member of the metropolitan, liberal elite, although I do live in a metropolitan county.  I was, though, Birmingham and Solihull’s lead Employment Service Implementation Manager for New Deal for Lone Parents in 1998 and a deputy Childcare Partnership Manager for the same area in the late 2000s.  I know a fair bit about Children’s Centres, I have worked alongside Gingerbread and the National Council for One Parent Families, I have worked with groups supporting lone parents, groups of lone parents and I have even interviewed a fair few lone parents in my time.  I suspect that gives me as much, if not more insight than the Danczuks into the challenges facing lone parents, but I would not say enough of an insight to be able, on my own, to draft policies addressing those challenges.  I may know most of the questions to ask, but few of the answers to them.  I know my limitations!

In over two decades I only ever came across one person who regarded herself as married to the State.  Frankly, I was gob smacked that anyone would want to be a lone parent until they claimed their State Pension at 60, but this person was very much the exception to the rule.  I did segue into the dependant on the State line on the grounds that surely she would not want to bring up more children on just Income Support.  What about their quality of life?  I say more children as she was in front of me, because her youngest child had reached 16 and so she had no option, but to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance.  She seemed more than a bit put out by the requirement to be both available for and actively seeking work.  She took the line that at 40 or so it was too late to take up employment hence the discussion of possible alternatives to paid work.

Now, Karen and Simon would it really be a good idea to build our party’s (that is Labour’s, by the way, and not ukip’s) policies for lone parents on that interview alone?  You certainly seem to think that your personal experiences are representative evidence of the behaviour of the typical (tabloid) single parent and thus the basis on which to formulate a tougher Social Security regime for lone parents.  Or would it be better to adopt an evidence based approach?  One starting with the facts (listed below) about single parents, courtesy of Gingerbread, an organisation that thinks discussions about lone parents (a very diverse group) should be based on reality and not myths.

Incidentally, Karen is Simon’s second wife and he had two children with his first partner so I guess he knows a bit about making lone parent families (see fourth bullet point in the list below), if nothing else about them.  A policy of tough on lone parents, but not tough on those who put many in that position, eh, Simon?  And what happened to sticking with one’s husband or wife through thick and thin until death do you part, eh, Simon?  Surely, a big problem is the ease with which one may get divorced, eh, Simon?  Now is it not the liberal elite which was responsible for making divorce easier, eh, Simon?  Shame on you Simon, a working class boy, for allowing yourself to be seduced from the path of righteousness into the path of divorce.

Simon, some days I wish I had been born a decade or so earlier than I was so I might enjoy the experience of living through the 1960s first hand.  I get the distinct impression that you (like Farage, Howard and Blair) wish that decade had never happened.  Well it did, get over it and move on.  And, I have no problem with your divorce or the divorce laws, but I do with your hypocrisy.

Roy Jenkins was a real Socialist when it came to addressing the social issues of the 1960s.  He saw through Parliament, when Home Secretary, the permanent abolition of hanging, the relaxation of the licensing laws, the ending of theatre censorship and introduced a ground breaking Race Relations Bill.  He secured government time to ensure the passage of Private Members’ Bills on both homosexuality, finally legalising it and abortion.  He ended flogging in prisons.

In 1976 he told the Police Federation conference that for many prisoners, prison did not work.  He urged them to look at the evidence and to recognise how little the widespread use of prison reduces crime or deals effectively with the individuals concerned.  Faced with concerted booing, he gave his hostile audience a lecture on democracy.  The rule of law in a democratic society did not mean our pet prejudices, but the rule of Parliament as applied by the courts.  One cannot have a rule of law while dismissing with disparagement Parliament, the courts and those who practise in them.  The job of the police and that of the Home Secretary, he told them, is to apply the law as it is and not to decry it.

Roy Jenkins was one of the most reforming Home Secretaries of all time.  He was in favour of evidence based policy.  I understand you think people like me are in the wrong party, because we are proud not only of his bringing in such liberal legislation, but because we want to do more?  That our liberal tendencies makes us less socialist than you?  Personally, I think you would be more at home in ukip with its net curtain twitching, back to the 1950s, knee jerk attitudes than in a party which is at its best when it bases policy on evidence not anecdote.  Evidence, Karen, tinged with more than just a little empathy for those worse off than ourselves.

And now for those facts about single parents

There are 2 million single parents in Britain today (1) – they make up a quarter of families with children, a figure which has remained consistent for the past decade (2)

Less than 2 per cent of single parents are teenagers (3)

The median age of single parents is 38.1 (4)

Around half of single parents had their children within marriage – 49 per cent are separated from marriage, divorced or widowed (5)

63.4 per cent of single parents are in work, up 19.6 percentage points since 1996 (6)

The employment rate for single parents varies depending on the age of their youngest child.  Once their children are 12 or over, single parents’ employment rate is similar to, or higher than, the employment rate for mothers in couples (71 per cent of single parents whose child is 11-15 are in work) (7)

Who are single parents?

There are 3 million children living in a single parent household (23% per cent of all dependent children) (8)

Around 8 per cent of single parents (186,000) are fathers (9)

The average duration of single parenthood is around 5 years (10)

Only 6.5 per cent of all births are registered alone, and 10 per cent are registered to two parents who live apart (11)

Single fathers are more likely to be widowed than single mothers (12 per cent of single fathers are widowed, compared with 5 per cent of single mothers), and their children tend to be older (12)

Just under half of couples divorcing in 2009 had at least one child aged under 16.  Over a fifth (21 per cent) of the children in 2009 were under five and 63 per cent were under eleven (13)

The proportion of single parent families has increased since the 1970s, but it hasn’t changed much in the last ten years

In 1971 just 8 per cent of families with children were single parent families (14)

In 1998 24 per cent of families with children were single parent families (15)

In 2011 26 per cent of families with children were single parent families (16)

Single parent families and poverty:

Children in single parent families are nearly twice as likely as children in couple families to live in relative poverty.  Over four in every 10 (42 per cent) children in single parent families are poor, compared to just over two in 10 (23 per cent) of children in couple families (17)

Paid work is not a guaranteed route out of poverty for single parent families; the poverty rate for children in single parent families where the parent works part-time is 30 per cent, and 22 per cent where the parent works full-time (18).

The median weekly income for working single parent families doing 16 hours a week or more is £337, compared with £491 for couple families with one worker and £700 where both parents work (19)

43 per cent of single parents are social housing tenants compared to 12 per cent of couples (20)

71 per cent of all single parent renters receive housing benefit compared to 25 per cent of all couple renters (21)

Single parent households are the most likely to be in arrears on one or more household bills, mortgage or non-mortgage borrowing commitment (31 per cent) (22)

38 per cent of single parents said that money always runs out before the end of the week/month compared to 19 per cent of couples (23)

63 per cent of single parents have no savings compared to 34 per cent of couples (24)

Work and childcare

Where single parents are not working, this is often because there are health issues that make work difficult: 33 per cent of unemployed single parents have a disability or long-standing illness (25) and 34 per cent have a child with a disability (26)

Over half of single parents are in work (59.2 per cent), up 14.5 percentage points since 1997.  In the same period, the employment rate of mothers in couples has risen three percentage points to 71 per cent (27)

Single parents rely heavily on informal childcare.  Of those using childcare, 46 per cent said it was informal. (28)  For single parents working 16 hours a week or more 34 per cent had a childcare arrangement with the child’s grandparents, and 17 per cent had an arrangement with their ex-partner (29)

Working single parents paying for childcare are much more likely than working couples paying for childcare to find it difficult to meet childcare costs (32% compared to 22% of couples where one partner is in work, and 20% of couples where both work) (30)

Child maintenance

Only two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent (31)

For all those with an agreement for child maintenance (both through the CSA and private arrangement) the median weekly amount received is £46 per family (32)

The average amount of child maintenance liable to be paid through the CSA is currently £33.50 per week (£22.50 if all cases with a weekly assessment of zero are included in the average). (33)  Among parents with care in receipt of income-related benefits, the average amount is £23 (excluding cases with a weekly assessment of zero) (34)

Of single parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA, 40 per cent receive less than £10 per week, 38 per cent receive between £10 and £50 per week and 22 per cent receive more than £50 per week (35)

Family life

At least 9 per cent of single parents share the care of their child equally, or nearly equally, with the other parent (36)

The majority of children have face to face contact with their other parent.  71 per cent of resident parents said that their child had direct contact with the other parent (37)

65 per cent of those with contact said this included overnight stays, usually at least monthly (38)

Only 20 per cent of all resident parents say that their child has no contact with their other parent (39).  Of these, 63 per cent said there had been no contact since the parental relationship ended (40)

Parental separation by itself is not considered predictive of poor outcomes in children (41)  Parental conflict has been identified as a key mediating variable in producing negative outcomes in children.  A comparison between couple families experiencing high levels of conflict with single parent families found that children fared less well in conflicted couple families, demonstrating that family functioning has a greater impact than family structure in contributing to child outcomes (42)

Parental separation and the resulting single parent status often leads to financial hardship.  That resulting poverty may be a significant factor in explaining poorer child outcomes rather than family structure (43)

References

    1. Families and households 2014, Office for National Statistics, 2015
    2. Families and households 2014, Office for National Statistics, 2015
    3. Figure produced for Gingerbread by the Fertility and Family Analysis Unit, Office of National Statistic and derived from the Annual Population Survey (APS), (Labour Force Survey plus boost), 2009 data
    4. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    5. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    6. Working and Workless Households, 2014, Table P. Office for National Statistics, October 2014
    7. Families with children in Britain: Findings from the 2008 Families and children study (FACS), Table 3.2. Department for Work and Pensions, 2010
    8. Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2009/10, Table 4.1ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2011
    9. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    10. Leaving Lone Parenthood: Analysis of the repartnering patterns of lone mothers in the U.K. Skew, A., Berrington, A., Falkingham, J. 2008, on data from 2005
    11. Derived from Households and Families, Social Trends 41, Table 6 & 7. ONS, 2011. Data from 2009
    12. Analysis of Labour Force Survey data from June 2006 produced for Gingerbread by ONS
    13. Divorces in England and Wales 2009. ONS Statistical Bulletin, February 2011
    14. General Household Survey 2007, Table 3.6. ONS, 2009
    15. General Lifestyle Survey, 2009, Table 3.6. ONS, 2011
    16. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    17. Households below average income (HBAI): 1994/95 to 2012/13,Table 4.14ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2014
    18. Households below average income (HBAI): 1994/95 to 2012/13,Table 4.14ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2014
    19. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 6.3. DWP, 2010
    20. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 9.1. DWP, 2010
    21. English Housing Survey, Household Report 2009 – 10, Table 3.6. Department for Communities and Local Government, 2011
    22. Wealth in Great Britain. Main Results from the Wealth and Assets Survey 2006/08, p.108. ONS, 2009
    23. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 8.8. DWP, 2010
    24. Family Resource Survey UK, 2008-2009, Table 4.10. Department for Work and Pensions, 2010
    25. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 3.2. DWP, 2010
    26. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 12.5. DWP, 2010
    27. Working and Workless Households, 2012, Table P. ONS Statistical Bulletin, August 2012
    28. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 16.5. DWP, 2010
    29. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 16.1. DWP, 2010
    30. Childcare and early years survey of parents 2009, p.83. NatCen/Department for Education, 2010. Research Report DFE-RR054
    31. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 15.1. DWP, 2010
    32. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 15.4b. DWP, 2010
    33. Child Support Agency national statistics, June 2011. CMEC/DWP, 2011
    34. Parliamentary Question, Hansard 24/03/2011, col 1242W
    35. PQ response to Karen Buck, March 2011, Letter from Stephen Geraghty (CMEC), 17/3/11 Col 566W
    36. Problematic contact after separation and divorce. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2008
    37. I’m not saying it was easy…Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
    38. I’m not saying it was easy…Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
    39. Problematic contact after separation and divorce. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2008
    40. I’m not saying it was easy . . . Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
    41. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009
    42. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009
    43. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009

#DWP #WOW To Use Fraud Staff To Harass People Off #ESA In #Birmingham #IDS

Standard

An informed source within the geographical area of DWP, wherein I used to work, recently informed me that fraud staff were being redeployed to conduct robust interviews with people claiming Employment and Support Allowance.

Yesterday, I was Tweeted a link to this website and specifically this post:

“DWP management target disabled  benefit claimants.

Over the next 24 hours DWP management will ‘invite’ close on 2,000 benefit claimants from Birmingham to attend interviews, with a goal of getting at least 10% off the benefit register.

The group of benefit claimants being targeted are in the majority waiting for assessments to decide if they are able to be deemed ‘fit for work’. (The assessment formerly and controversially run by ATOS). Those waiting assessments are often disabled or vulnerable adults.

The ‘invitation’ letter issued makes no suggestion that the attendance to these interviews is purely voluntary, indeed DWP staff in Birmingham (and Central England) have been advised verbally and by email from management to keep it to themselves that attendance to these interviews is not mandatory. One manager in a city based office was overheard saying that the way to deal with these claimants is to ‘hassle, hassle them off benefit’.

Andrew Lloyd, PCS Midlands regional secretary that represents DWP staff said, “It is outrageous that the DWP are duping the most vulnerable by issuing this letter, and then worse still setting a target to get those off benefits, it could be argued that this approach is unlawful. Our members are totally opposed to this approach but are faced with inferred disciplinary action unless they act upon these targets.”

[Press Release from PCS Union on 14th November 2014]”

Where did I use to work?  Birmingham!

Does #MichaelWhite, #Guardian Know What Grown-up Migration Debate Would Look Like? #RochesterandStrood

Standard

“Downing Street is seeking to respond to the threat from the right from Ukip.  But Cameron also wants to show Tory Eurosceptics he is serious about reform.  They have said in recent weeks that the plan to crack down on benefit tourism showed No 10 was not serious about introducing major reforms because there is relatively little evidence of benefit abuse by EU citizens.”

Barroso warns Cameron that arbitrary migration cap would breach EU law

(Guardian, Sunday 19th October, 2014)

Michael White of the Guardian thinks thatPaul Collier, a distinguished Oxford professor of public policy, a weighty, progressive intellectual of international repute, author of Exodus,” “has thought about” migration “harder than most of us.”

White refers to this article by Collier as an example of Collier’s weighty pondering.  Pondering that at one point refers to assimilation and at a later point, integration.  White may be unaware that these are two very different concepts, not in any way interchangeable and that assimilation is something for which the BNP calls and which, since Doncaster (see ‘Culture’), ukip is demanding too.  I would expect Collier to know the difference and know just how inflammatory calls for assimilation happen to be.

When it come to attitudes towards Social Security, Collier says, “As to diversity, it involves a trade-off: as it increases, variety is enhanced but cohesion reduced.  Variety is good but, unfortunately, as cohesion erodes voters become less willing to support generous welfare programmes.

There is a universal psychological tendency for inconvenient truths to be denigrated, and this is certainly inconvenient for the left. But it is not speculation: I describe some of the supporting research in my book Exodus, and rigorous new experimental research by the Oxford political scientists Sergi Pardos and Jordi Muñoz finds that immigration has just this effect, especially on benefits that are targeted at the poor.”

Firstly, when was there a time in the last forty years or so that the United Kingdom has had “generous welfare programmes”?  Moreover, this is not the United States of America, we do not have welfare programmes.  The word programme is used in the UK in connection with back to work support, for example the fatally flawed Work Programme.

Secondly, attitude surveys going back 30 yerars show that voters have, starting then, become less tolerant of recipients of what many, like the Daily Mail, parts of ukip and IDS, believe to be generous welfare hand outs.  Bizarrely, some of those holding those views are themselves long term beneficiaries of Social Security.  Was there a lot of (im)migration going on in the early 1980s or was Mrs Thatcher ramping up the rhetoric against people signing on?

Thirdly, where is this law of nature that says as diversity increases, variety is enhanced, but cohesion reduced?  Does that not suppose that there was cohesion at the outset?  For the record, for reasons more than simply their discriminatory attitudes, me and mine have precious little in common with ukip’s supporters, except where we were born.  We would, regardless of their views about migration and their attidudes towards the presence of locally born ‘foreigners’, still not be cohering with this group.  We are, for example, opposed to foxhunting.  Bearing the latter in mind, may I observe that I find ukip’s support, from top to bottom, to be unspeakable?  They are a pack of economic and social Luddites.  Let me be frank, I find it hard not to think about them, in the way that they think about migrants, as much as I try not so to do.

As an aside, are migrants from other European Union countries remaining in the United Kingdom indefinitely?  We are using the words, migration and immigration, as meaning the same thing, but an immigrant is someone who arrives with the intention of staying.  Surely we should be using migrant to describe people who behave like migratory birds do?  Surely that is surely a grown up way to debate this issue?  Collier, as shown above, uses the word immigration.  Migrant is, in the mouths of some, becoming anyone who is not white British, period.

White says that, “Unlike most of us, Collier even has a practical remedy for David Cameron as he makes a poor fist of trying to slow down inward migration from Eastern Europe without overtaking Angela Merkel’s patience or the limited imagination of rules-bound Brussels apparatchiks. As another Labour MP whispered to me during the Eastleigh by-election, one reason why would-be migrants of the poorer kind risk freezing at Calais is that Britain’s welfare payments are not all determined by past contributions: “We could change that without EU permission.” ” Collier actually says, “Perhaps it is that, unlike in the rest of Europe, access to our welfare system is not determined by past contributions.”  in other words, Collier has no evidence for his ‘solution’, but White turns it into one!

We may, of course, change how one becomes eligible for Social Security payments without EU permission.  The Coalition started a major round of doing just that on coming to power.  Those changes apply to all seeking to claim, regardless of country of origin.  One might think that Collier and White (sounds like a 1950s department store) had not heard of Personal Independence Payments and Universal Credit.

White should perhaps check Collier’s weighty article of 16th March, 2012, “My fiscal nightmares” wherein Collier says, “A prudent government protects the balance sheet while running a large fiscal deficit. It does so by drastically changing the composition of public spending. Public consumption is massively reduced, concentrating on components that commit spending far into the future. The top priority is therefore to reduce entitlement spending: benefits and pensions.”

Is the current debate providing Collier with cover for arguing again for his top priority?  Collier also buys into the idea that the UK faced, in 2012, the same position as Greece.  I beg to differ and I have got Robert Skidelsky, Professor of Political Economy at Warwick University and the author of the definitive biography of John Maynard Keynes, on my side:

“The national debt is a burden on future generations: This fallacy is repeated so often that it has entered the collective unconscious. The argument is that if the current generation spends more than it earns, the next generation will be forced to earn more than it spends to pay for it.

But this ignores the fact that holders of the very same debt will be among the supposedly burdened future generations. Suppose my children have to pay off the debt to you that I incurred. They will be worse off. But you will be better off. This may be bad for the distribution of wealth and income, because it will enrich the creditor at the expense of the debtor, but there will be no net burden on future generations.

The principle is exactly the same when the holders of the national debt are foreigners (as with Greece), though the political opposition to repayment will be much greater.”

Post-crash economics: some common fallacies about austerity

As we hold our own debt, we have a vested interest in not calling it in lest we bring down our economy, down around our ears.  I am assuming Collier is not necessarily a Keynesian when it comes to National Debt?

Whatever else Collier may be, he seems to know as much about Social Security systems both here and elsewhere in Europe as the Mayor of Calais.  You may still be able to claim some benefits if you travel or move abroad, or if you are already living abroad.  What you’re entitled to depends on where you are going and how long for.  This is where you, as a United Kingdom citizen, can claim benefits:

European Economic Area (EEA) countries

The following countries have benefits arrangements with the UK:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden

Switzerland is not a member of the EEA but is treated as an EEA country for certain benefits.

Other countries with UK benefits arrangements

The following countries have social security agreements with the UK:

  • Barbados
  • Bermuda
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Canada
  • Channel Islands
  • Macedonia
  • Israel
  • Jamaica
  • Kosovo
  • Mauritius
  • Montenegro
  • New Zealand
  • the Philippines
  • Serbia
  • Turkey
  • USA

Let us not forget moving or retiring abroad and, of course that you have the right to live and work in any European Economic Area (EEA) country, if you are a UK citizen.

For the record, Collier and White, no one is assessed for entitlement to tax credits on the basis of National Insurance Contributions, regardless of where they come from within the EEA, including the UK.

I have already written in some depth about the Social Security contributory principle here so please treat that post as an addendum to this one.  I would add that making changes to our own systems in order to seek to deny non contributory Social Security to migrants would be costly, particularly if the aim were to run, for example, three types of Jobseeker’s Allowance (Contribution Based, Income Based and Migrant Income/Contribution Based) alongside each other.  There would be even greater potential for under and over payments and, arguably more potential for fraud amongst people receiving MICB JSA.  Not forgetting, of course, that JSAPS and ESAPs are sinking as Universal Credit grinds to a halt on the slipway.

I have spoken to Michael White via Twitter about means testing the free bus passes for old people.  He was waxing lyrical about means testing entitlement to the pass saving money, apart from the fact he had no evidence from a Social and Economic Cost Benefit Allowance to prove his point, he was blithely unaware of the costs involved in means testing.  Costs that would have to be offset against any savings.  He nearly went all Mcvey over me, along the lines of when she said that, although the bedroom tax was not saving money, it was a matter of principle to carry on with it.

Collier says, “The economic consequences of a” migration “pause would be negligible as long as students were exempted.”  Unsurprisingly, someone nestling in the groves of academe does not want those groves denied of any income, whether home grown or from abroad.  Good to see though that Collier, like I, value students from abroad studying here, but I expect that we will reap significant benefits from their, hopefully, happy time here at some future date and not in the here and now.  Where is Collier’s evidence, given his concern with the here and now, that migrant students are a benefit to UK plc whilst studying here? More of a benefit, say, than migrants working and paying Income Tax and National Insurance whilst they work here?

Also, I have news for Collier and White, there is, once again, a skills shortage in the construction industry:

Bricklayers’ boom highlights ‘skills timebomb’ in UK construction industry

SMEs: is enough being done to tackle the UK’s skills shortage?

Skills shortage fears temper surge in UK construction

Construction sector skills shortage blamed for holding back housebuilding

Kipper Williams on the construction skills shortage

I would like to make a couple of points with regards to the first two articles.  “As builders take on new work, a shortage of skilled tradespeople has allowed subcontractors to ramp up their hourly rates” (first article).  The Polish plumber and his friend, the bricklayer will be stepping in to take up some of the slack, one presumes.  A colleague of mine in the mid 2000s had an uncle working in the building industry in the east of England.  His relative said that the British bricklayers were good, they could put up a brick wall, leaving a space for a gate, perfectly well.  The Poles were better, they could build a brick arch over the gap between the two walls.  The British had been trained by the UK taxpayer to NVQ2 and the poles to NVQ3 by the Polish taxpayer.

Did ukip have to import that out of work Irish actor to appear in a poster, posing as a bricklayer, because British bricklayers did not share ukip’s stance and/or were too busy?  If you are a bricklayer and out of work at this time may I suggest, tactfully, that it is because no one thinks you are employable?  Moreover, that if there were no migrants you would still be at the back of the queue? I would go so far as to say that there is an overlap between that tiny minority of UK residents defrauding the UK Social Security system and ukip’s unemployed supporters.  They have been presenting themselves at the door during party canvassing exercises in the same way they used to down at the Jobcentre.  We know who you are, chaps, because some of you are the real (not Daily Mail) scroungers we used to sanction back in the day.  There is a certain irony in that ukip, one group of whose supporters favour going further thah IDS, is being supported by another group that would be the main target of their version of the War on Welfare!

Colier says, “It would be salutary for business to find that it had to train the existing workforce rather than poach trained workers from poorer countries: what is good for business is not necessarily good for the rest of us.”  Good to know he remembers some basic labour market economics, except British companies have a century old tradition (pre dating our entry into the EU) of poaching from each other.  In addition, Enoch Powell, when Minister of Health in the late 1950s was actively recruiting medical staff from the Caribbean to work in the NHS.  And, London Transport recruited Afro-Caribbean people to work on the Underground and the buses.

Amusingly, Collier, desirous of reducing migration to save the public finances, forgets that too often employers expect the taxpayer to train their existing workforce.  Meanwhile, whilst we await the Second Coming of Learning and Development and many British companies renouncing their devotion to ‘tried and tested’ Anglo Saxon business methods, the cost of building projects, many funded by the taxpayer will rise and rise.  And that is without factoring in the labour market impact of major construction projects like HS2.  And, every time we go into a recession, the first thing businesses usually cut is their learning and development budgets.

“The skills shortage problem is not unique to the UK.  Federation of Small Businesses national chairman, John Allan, says, “Many businesses across Europe are struggling to fill vacancies with appropriately trained staff.  The problem can’t be addressed until the education system does a better job of preparing young people for the world of work.” ” (second article).  Translation, there are increasing  job opportunities opening up for UK residents elsewhere in the EEA.  As an aside, I must find the Guardian article, wherein a careers adviser of 30 year’s standing remarked that employers at the start of his career had been saying, “The problem can’t be addressed until the education system does a better job of preparing young people for the world of work!”  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, Collier and White?

Michael, I am up for a grown-up debate on migration.  May be we may have one when you stop throwing out lines like, “Neither the right’s “crowding out” complaint about competition for low-skilled jobs (my Labour friend’s complaint too), nor the left’s “good for growth and tax receipts” scenario – shared by the City and big business – has much real evidence to support it.”  Comment is free, but facts are sacred, but not to the point where they must never be deployed, surely?  Where is your evidence to disprove either or both assertions?

Back in 2005, well before all this talk of swamping kicked in, there were 600 Cuban nurses working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.  Why?  Because of the demographic time bomb.  An aging population means an aging workforce.  ukip’s pensioner supporters are going to need to accept the fact that a migrant may be the only person available to clean up their sick in their care home? We are not talking about people elbowing others out of the way for jobs.  After all, migrants are rarely of pension age so they will in part compensate for the fall in the number of people in the working age population and, by paying tax, contribute towards the cost of the pensions of elderly people, including ukip supporting pensioners.

Collier of course says, “There is a good case for confronting their delusions and racism, and countering the misleading drizzle of anti-immigrant anecdotes, but this would not make them accepting of continued high immigration.”  How about, no migrant, no pension?  I think that might be the kind of sound bite that would hit home on the doorstep.

I was at a meeting with the QE Human Resources staff about six or so years ago.  A senior nurse recruiter said we have projected that very soon the NHS will need to recruit 50% of all school leavers to maintain its current staffing level.  Recessions come, recessions go and demographic changes remain relatively unaffected.  Of coursed, tightening public sector pension entitlement and raising the state pension age may go some way to responding to this issue.  however, actuaries have predicted that for every year working over 60, teachers reduce their life expectancy.  If they retire at 65 they run a significant risk of dying within a year.  I suspect neither Collier nor White expect to find themselves working to a point where it affects their life expectancy in such a dramatic way.

Michael, Collier is proposing that we engage in managing decline rather than take advantage of the benefits to UK plc of exploiting the opportunities presented by free movement of labour.  Opportunities for jobseekers happy to work abroad and vice versa.

By the way, Michael, that graduate you mentioned herein, “At one point in those 17 years a Labour MP, now dead, said to me: ”How can my young, unskilled constituents hope to compete for jobs with bilingual and highly-motivated foreign graduates?” It was a good point and I think of it every time I buy a beer or a coffee from one of those young graduates.”  Was he or she fluent in English?  Does it follow that he or she is at least bilingual?  That lots of tourists come to London (and Birmingham) and that having skilled, versatile staff who speak good English is good for the tourist industry (and UK plc)?  And if tourism spend increases then jobs growth results?  Have either you or Collier heard of the Multiplier Effect (see page 58)?  Incidentally, I am a Treasury standard Green Book Appraiser.

Might it not be a bad idea, if we helped “those (stereotypical) young, unskilled constituents to learn” a few other languages so they might look for work elsewhere in the EU?  Also, Michael, most employers do not look for vocational qualifications before recruiting so perhaps we should not be so quick to describe these stereotypes as lacking in soft skills?  And while we are on the subject of Europe, business and jobs why not read this post.

May be I am getting a bit cynical, but Paul Collier seems to be setting out to follow the trail blazed by Goodwin and Ford of Revolt on the Right Fame.  What they know about psephology and political campaigning, he seems to know about labour market economics and the UK Social Security system, but they are still making a mint out of ukip (and migration).  Migration is certainly improving the income of some people!

ukip Out To Worsen Conditions Of Temporary (Farm) Workers!

Migrants Price Local People Out Of Agricultural Jobs?

#ukip Out To Worsen Conditions Of UK Born Temporary (Farm) Workers! #GE2015 #RaceForNumber10

Standard

In his often-quoted speech in 1909 on Second Reading of the Bill (that became the Trade Boards Act 1909), Winston Churchill, then President of the Board of Trade, explained that the Boards were necessary to ensure that workers received a living wage in industries where the bargaining strength of employers greatly outweighed that of employees:

“It is a serious national evil that any class of His Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions. It was formerly supposed that the working of the laws of supply and demand would naturally regulate or eliminate that evil ……………. Where in the great staple trades in the country you have a powerful organisation on both sides, where you have responsible leaders able to bind their constituents to their decision, where that organisation is conjoint with an automatic scale of wages or arrangements for avoiding a deadlock by means of arbitration, there you have a healthy bargaining which increases the competitive power of the industry, enforces a progressive standard of life and the productive scale, and continually weaves capital and labour more closely together. But where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad, and the bad employer is undercut by the worst; the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes the trade up as a second string, his feebleness and ignorance generally renders the worker an easy prey to the tyranny of the masters and middle-men, only a step higher up the ladder than the worker, and held in the same relentless grip of forces – where those conditions prevail you have not a condition of progress, but a condition of progressive degeneration.”

The 1909 Act was the first national minimum wage legislation in Britain.  Churchill’s Boards were superseded by Wages Councils established under the Wages Council Act 1945.  Legislation introduced by a Liberal Government, built upon by a Labour Government leading to, amongst other things, the Agricultural Wages Act 1948.  The Wages Councils consisted of representatives from both sides of industry, together with independent members. They had the power to set detailed minimum rates of pay, including shift premia, for different age groups and types of worker as well as complex holiday entitlements relating to length of service.

At their peak, in 1953, (under a Conservative Government headed by Winston Churchill) there were 66 Wages Councils, covering about 3.5 million workers.

In March 1985, the Conservative Government, as part of its policy of deregulating the labour market, published a Consultation Paper which proposed that the Wages Councils should either be abolished altogether or radically reformed. There was considerable opposition to outright abolition, from employers as well as employees, and the Government opted for radical reform.

The Wages Act 1986 preserved the 26 Councils (down from 27 in 1981) then in existence but prevented any new ones from being established. It removed young workers under the age of 21 from the scope of the Wages Councils altogether and ended the Councils’ power to set minimum holiday entitlements, separate pay rates for different occupations, and premium rates for unsocial hours or shift work. As a result, Wages Councils were only able to set a minimum hourly basic rate; a minimum overtime rate; the number of hours after which overtime must be paid; and a daily limit on the amount an employer could charge for any living accommodation he provided. Employers who failed to pay these rates were liable to a fine and for arrears of wages underpaid. The law was enforced by Wages Inspectors employed by the Department of Employment, but their numbers were cut during the 1980s and early 1990s and they adopted a policy of ensuring that minimum rates were paid by persuasion rather than coercion. Prosecution was rare, despite many instances of underpayment.

In December 1988, the Government once again issued a Consultation Paper which suggested that the Councils should be abolished. The response did not reveal enormous support for abolition even from employers’ organisations; and, in March 1990, Michael Howard, then Secretary of State for Employment, announced that he had decided not to proceed with abolition “for the present”.

It remained Conservative policy that Wages Councils should have “no permanent place in the labour market.”  Although the Conservative Manifesto for the 1992 Election did not mention abolition, the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill, published on 5 November 1992, contained legislation repealing the Wages Councils altogether. Section 35 of the Act, which abolished the Councils, came into effect on 30 August 1993.

The only remaining area in which a minimum wage was enshrined in law after 30 August 1993 was agriculture. The Agricultural Wages Board, as indicated above, was established under separate legislation, the Agricultural Wages Act 1948. The government had considered abolishing this too, but, in the face of opposition from both sides of the agricultural industry, it backed down.

William Waldegrave, Secretary of State for Agriculture, announcing this decision, said, “It is clear from the responses to consultation that there is wide acceptance, from both sides of the agricultural industry of the present arrangements. We do not therefore currently intend to change the existing statutory framework. However, since the Government believe that statutory wage fixing arrangements can introduce flexibilities which prevent rather than encourage job creation, we shall continue to keep the future existence of the AWB under close review.”

After the Wages Councils were abolished, there was growing evidence of jobs being offered below the old minimum rates and little evidence of increased employment in the deregulated industries. For example, a Low Pay Network study, “After the Safety Net”, analysed almost 6,000 jobs offered at Jobcentres in the catering, retailing, clothing manufacturing and hairdressing sectors in April and May 1994. Over a third of the jobs on offer paid less than the old Wages Council rate uprated by inflation. In retailing, the figure was over 50%. The network also found a net loss of 18,000 jobs recorded in the retail and catering sectors between September 1993 and March 1994, despite the removal of minimum wages.

See Research Note 92/75 on “Wages Councils”, Research Note 92/95 on the “Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill 1992/3” and Research Paper 95/7 “A Minimum Wage”.

Between 1993 and the introduction of the NMW, only the AWB set pay rates for any group of workers in the UK work force.  The NMW when enacted covered many more workers than the Wages Councils, but did not replace the AWB which continued to set rates above those set by the NMW.

Of course, ukip, unlike all the other major political parties has yet to commit to increases in the National Minimum Wage and/or call for employers to pay the Living Wage.  In fact, ukip has yet to say whether or not it stands by its previous view that the NMW should be repealed.

ukip has said it will repeal the Agency Workers Directive (see Employment and Small Businesses) that, enacted in UK law as the Agency Workers Regulations 2010, seeks to level the playing field between temporary/agency workers and permanent employees.

I guess ukip thinks all the working people for whom they claim to speak, including agricultural workers, are in permanent employment?  In addition, on taking power, ukip would review all legislation and regulations from the EU and remove those which hamper British prosperity and competitiveness (see Protecting Jobs and Increasing Prosperity).

Given ukip’s commitment to repeal the Agency Workers Directive, is it not reasonable to assume that other employment legislation, including Health and Safety laws will be repealed so as not to hamper British prosperity and competitiveness?

Check out my next blog post to learn why I have made particular reference above to the Agricultural Wages Board!

PS Municipal regulation of wage levels began in some towns in 1524 and I do not think, were he alive today, that Churchill would be a member of ukip.

#WOW #ukip Supports #BenefitCap? Why? #GE2015 #ESA #WCA #JSA #PIP #DLA #IS #BedroomTax #ThanetSouth

Standard

“UKIP supports a simplified, streamlined welfare system and a benefit cap.”

Welfare and Childcare

ukip says, “More detailed announcements will be made in the run up to the 2015 General Election.”

Will those detailed announcements clarify if these policy ideas are no longer under serious consideration?

“Roll the mass of existing benefits into simpler categories, while ensuring every UK citizen receives a simple, non-means tested ‘Basic Cash Benefit’ (BCB)

Roll key benefits – such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit and Student Maintenance Grant – into a single, flat-rate BCB set at the same weekly rate as Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support.  For students, the BCB will be termed ‘Student Vouchers’ or ‘Training Vouchers’

Allow part-time and temporary workers to continue claiming BCB until their wages reach UKIP’s proposed £11,500 personal allowance so they can take jobs without being heavily penalised by the system

Merge Child Benefit, the Child Trust Fund, Child Tax Credits and the Education Maintenance Allowance into an enhanced Child Benefit, payable for each of the first three children in a family (as of October 2014 now only the first two children in a family)

Merge Early Years’ Funding, Sure Start, the childcare element of Working Tax Credit and the tax relief on Employer Nursery Vouchers into a flat-rate, non-means tested ‘Nursery Voucher’ to cover approximately half the cost of a full-time nursery place.”

From Welfare to Workfare
A Welfare Policy for an Independent Britain
A Policy Statement
January 2010

Up until now ukip has kept under tight wraps any suggestion that these policy ideas are, at least, not still under serious consideration.  A policy to oppose (not repeal) the Bedroom Tax and some vague assertions do not a comprehensive Social Security policy make.  In addition, the simplistic Income Tax cut for people on the National Minimum Wage (earning more than their current Income Tax Allowance), that ukip thinks will benefit all those in that position, is a clear sign that ukip has next to no understanding about how our tax and Social Security systems interact, often to the disadvantage of those in work on low incomes.  Often, people in work have to claim Social Security to even receive the same level of income as they would if they were not in work.

ukip’s enthusiasm for non means tested payments would mean more higher income taxpayers having a much bigger share of the Social Security budget than now and some of those on lower incomes receiving a great deal less than they currently do, both directly and indirectly.  Even David Cameron would be eligible to receive a BCB.

I take it no one in ukip has heard of ESA?  That its recipients are split into two groups and that, under these proposals, those entering the Support Group in the future would be receiving less money than those in the group now.  I am assuming that they would not apply their proposed changes retrospectively.

ukip needs to learn that a policy to oppose (not repeal) the Bedroom Tax will be perceived as no more than a cynical ploy to garner votes unless ukip comes up with more detailed Social Security policy than in is contained in its Doncaster statements.  In addition, am I right to think that this statement is a bit ambiguous:

“UKIP opposes the bedroom tax because it operates unfairly, penalising those who are unable to find alternative accommodation and taking insufficient account of the needs of families and the disabled.”

and that, if the tax were operated fairly (in ukip’s opinion) then ukip’s opposition to the tax would turn into support?

I mean why not just say ukip would repeal the Bedroom Tax (full stop)?

Oh (and before I forget) I hope ukip now understands the widespread opposition to Workfare, that 50% of people in receipt of Housing Benefit are in work, that most of the other claimants are pensioners and people on ESA and that the money for Council Tax Benefit is only ring-fenced for pensioners.

“Require those on benefits – starting with Housing and Council Tax Benefit recipients in private rented homes – to take part in council-run local community projects called ‘Workfare’ schemes. The schemes will be in addition to council jobs”

One might almost think that ukip’s Social Security ‘experts’ are not as expert as they think and have possibly never had recourse to claim Social Security.  If they want to design a new system to help people to move from Social Security into paid work, may I suggest they Google Benefit Trap?  It is obvious they and their supporters have not heard of the trap, given their touching faith in the idea that cutting the Income Tax paid by those on the National Minimum Wage will make all of those currently paying Income Tax no worse off than they are now, if not better.

I have news for ukip, not even Iain Duncan Smith would touch your Social Security ideas with a barge pole and that really is saying something!

Digging Behind the Facade of #BenefitsStreet 2 #GE2015! #RaceForNumber10

Standard

I read Zoe William’s perceptive piece about this subject with interest and it got me musing about how I (and others) would approach an analysis of  Kingston Road in Stockton-on-Tees and flesh out some possible proposals to improve the life chances of the residents.  I am, of course, assuming that they need such help, but for the sake of the following, I will make that assumption.

Firstly, I would look up the data in the public domain on the area.  I stress in the public domain as such data is usually beyond contention and gathered in a consistent way.  These are some of the data sets which I would look up:

LLSOA data is the lowest level to which one may go for data of this type without recourse to a house to house survey.  The over-riding concern with small data areas is to avoid identifying individuals and their families.  Where such a risk exists either that geographical level is not published or the data is modified.  Of course, survey data should be anonymised and handled extremely carefully to avoid any breach of the Data Protection Act.

The various data sets (including Mosaic) create a picture of the area, mostly in figures and provide a baseline against which to measure future interventions.  I am going to employ some jargon, so if there is anything that does need clarifying then please leave me a comment and I will get back to you.

At this point, I must stress that we are now data rich, but information poor.  We are like GCHQ, overwhelmed with the results of our eavesdropping and unsure what is significant and what is not.  However, unlike GCHQ, we are not having to make decisions about significance in real time and as more data continuously comes in.  We may take our time and use the Census data and other sources to formulate some tentative theories and possibly identify areas in which to build on existing activities and/or initiate new areas of activity.

We now need to test the data, any theories and possible solutions against the situation on the ground.  We need to talk with all the stakeholders, public, private, the voluntary and community sector, elected representatives, community activists and, of course, the residents.  We need to adopt a Chatham House Rules approach.  We want to hear the unvarnished truth.  We do not want to hear the official line or people telling us what they think we want to hear.  Public meetings, focus groups, surveys and questionnaires all have their value.  However, when it comes to talking with and listening to the residents then interviewing a representative sample of the people of the area is essential.  A White Dee would have something to contribute, but not as a cuckoo.

We now match objective data with subjective data to create a picture of how an area stands at the moment.  Going forward, we will need to routinely revisit this approach to see how interventions are working.  Ideally, we need to get direct input, if not management from those whom the interventions are designed to help.  A mixture of buy in, inclusion, community cohesion and capacity building.  Ideally, once the focus on the area has ended we want sustainable improvements managed as much as possible by the local community.

Were one putting together a television programme one could follow this process and, arguably, present a more balanced picture than currently seems to be happening.  One’s representative sample could become case studies for the programme.  But we are not looking to make Cathy Come Home these days, are we?

I think it appropriate now to turn to this extract from Ms William’s article:

Kieran Smith, the series producer, spoke to me before I visited: “Generally speaking, there might be one or two people who would rather we weren’t there. But we haven’t faced massive opposition. Alex Cunningham [the local MP] has very publicly pronounced against us from a position of no knowledge. Politicians who they’ve never seen on Kingston Road. To put it bluntly, what MPs want is for you to tell a story about the amazing investment that’s happened in their city. Which is fine, but don’t try and stop people who haven’t seen that investment … Don’t try to silence them because they don’t fit your picture.”

I would like to unpack this fascinating set of comments uttered by a parachutist after a commando raid on Kingston Road.  “Generally speaking”, I have no hard evidence, but as I have a vested interest in the making of this programme, I will put a positive spin on how welcome we are.  “But we haven’t faced massive opposition”, we have faced opposition, but Mr Smith has no idea how to measure it.  For the record, I suspect that a few people may have spoken on behalf of a larger group.  Also, if you are facing intrusions of this nature, you might sensibly keep your head down until the media circus has gone away.

Alex Cunningham [the local MP] has very publicly pronounced against us from a position of no knowledge.”  This is the second set of programmes in this occasional series, is it not?  Heaven forfend that the MP might be standing up for his constituents, given the mainly negative reactions to the first series?

“Politicians who they’ve never seen on Kingston Road.”  Who is they?  Evidence, please, for this very specific accusation?  Alex Cunningham holds regular surgeries in his constituency.  In addition, his constituents may contact him by telephone or by posting a message on his website.  He is also on Twitter and Facebook.  One wonders how many residents of Kingston Road have contacted him about housing issues, Social Security problems, noisy neighbours, delayed passport applications and so on.  Mr Cunningham is not an untypical MP with regard to this level of accessibility.

Mr Smith referred to politicians, though, did he not?  There are two Councillors representing the Ward of Stockton Town Centre, Paul Kirton and David Coleman.  Both Cllr Kirton and Cllr Coleman hold surgeries.

“To put it bluntly, what MPs want is for you to tell a story about the amazing investment that’s happened in their city.”  Again, representing the interests of their constituents?  Not running them down and reducing their opportunities to better themselves?  You would be a very poor MP (and possibly a one term one) if you did otherwise!

“Which is fine, but don’t try and stop people who haven’t seen that investment … Don’t try to silence them because they don’t fit your picture” or your programme?  I am afraid I do not know Stockton on Tees very well, but going by the Local Authority data snapshot it is mostly a little below the comparative regional and Great Britain data.  I think people will have seen any investment in Stockton on Tees.  It is usually capital, particularly shiny new buildings and refurbished old ones, rather than revenue investment.

The questions that usually require addressing in areas like Kingston Road are:

  • Have the residents seen any personal benefit from the investment?
  • Have there been no positive changes resulting from it as far as the residents are concerned?
  • Do they link any beneficial developments in their lives with the investment and so on?

There is a strong case for arguing that economic regeneration has not benefited the least well off and has overshadowed the necessary social regeneration that should have accompanied it.  In short, investment in Stockton on Tees may have created vacancies, but not necessarily for the residents of places like Kingston Road, because they were not given the support to make it possible to apply, let alone secure, the new jobs being created.  Some of that support is not directly connected with moving closer to the labour market.  Of course, these are assumptions and need testing against the the situation on Kingston Road, both perceived and real.  As one of my colleagues used to say, perception is so often reality.

Mr Smith might reflect on the fact that programmes like his, conveying the opinions of cuckoos do nothing for most of the residents of places like Kingston Road.  How many people are worse off on James Turner Street as a result of the first series of Benefits Street?  There is such a thing as negative post code discrimination, particularly when residents of that area are applying for jobs.

White Dee has seemingly done nicely out of her involvement with the programme, but at whose (ongoing) expense?  Her neighbours and many others across the country barely surviving on low incomes?  Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”.  Perhaps he should have said an average of 15 minutes?

White Dee has had more than her fair share of fame and now epitomises a variation on the American Dream.  Hard work, keeping your nose clean and your self respect no longer matter, because next year, Rodders, we may be celebrities!  We should, though, feel a little concern for Ms Dee, the media build you up, then you get boring and so to cure that, they tear you down.  They have done it to quite a few people from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ and show no signs of refraining from doing so any time soon.