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Pick Up Thy Soapbox and Walk

According to a university study, women who wear skirts in the office are perceived as more confident and higher earning than their trouser wearing counterparts. Almost 100 women were made directors of top companies in 2011. Lord Davies’ report told the Government to tell businesses that 25% of their directors have to be women by 2015.

I’m depressed by all this. Also by the ridiculous radio and TV ads for Lemsip and Boots which infer that men are weak creatures who are unable to struggle on given the merest hint of a sniffle (and in the case of Lemsip, are unable to look after their own children if their partner falls ill, meaning she has to struggle bravely on). I cannot do justice to a description of how incandescently cross hearing this dross at 6.40am this morning made me. There was rage. And I don’t even have children. Or a cold.

It’s like all these ‘Women in Industry’ awards. They also make me see varying shades of red. Oh, well done, you’re a laydee. Now, haven’t you got lovely shiny hair and an ability to be nice to clients? Just scribble your name there, petal, and we’ll pop you up for an award. I am making a sweeping generalization here but they make my teeth itch. If there was a ‘Men in Industry’ awards there would be an outcry.

I want to go out and conduct my own survey which reveals men should wear skirts to be taken seriously in the office. Throw in a painful pair of heels and we’ll soon see who’s left standing at the end of a long day.

We’re in 2012, not 1220. Let’s stop martyring ourselves, or allowing ourselves to be martyred, whether in adverts or in the office or in the home.Women sat around doing their work - click for photo credit

The Government Didn’t Inhale DLA … And Other Lies

When the government proposed to change the benefit system, from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment, a consultation period was begun.

The government itself has a code of practice for consultations, that it has quite clearly broken. It was two weeks shorter than recommended and took place over the Christmas holidays of 2010/2011. It was also not completed by the time the Welfare Bill was presented to Parliament, so it is clear that it was not taken fully into account.

This was not simply asking a bunch of people, this was a consultation based on the answers from 523 groups – local authorities, national charities, legal groups, user led organisations, health care professionals and businesses.

The government claims that the proposed changes to DLA to PIP has the support of a wide range of the public, and that they have consulted disability campaigners and charities.

It is a bit reminiscent of the old, “I did not inhale” excuse.

We consulted, but we did not listen.Raised hands, voting

Since the government was not willing to use the responses gathered during the consultation period, a group of campaigners decided to do so. They raised the funding through donations and requested the documents needed through the Freedom of Information Act.

What a surprise it was for them to read the statement from  London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson:

The Mayor would call for the Government to retain the (current) three-month qualifying period, as the increase to six months will mean that people with fluctuating conditions have increased difficulty meeting the qualifying period.

People with fluctuating conditions face the same barriers that all disabled face in relation to higher costs of living, and DLA is essential to maintain a decent quality of life.
The Government proposes imposing penalties if disabled people do not inform the Government of changes in their circumstances.
 ‘However, the overall fraud rate for DLA is less than 0.5 per cent. For those with fluctuating conditions, asking them to report every change to their condition would prove very stressful.

Further, the campaigners found that the other respondents were almost unanimous in their response to some points, and that

  • 74% of respondents were against the proposals but open to discussion
  • 19% had mixed views, agreeing with parts of the proposal
  •  Only 7% supported them fully.

Several points were raised by many respondents, including that the government’s motivation in proposing these reforms were perceived to be a saving 20% of disability benefits. When the overall fraud rate of DLA being estimated at 0,5%, surely it is clear that this will cut benefits from those who need it.

So why was the bill allowed to go ahead, with the government asserting that the proposals were supported by disabled groups?

Please read the Spartacus Report and pass it on to your friends and family (although I expect they will read about it in the newspapers).

I would like to point out several issues  that are often misunderstood by the general public.

1. DLA is an in work benefit. It aims to assist the disabled person in his or her daily life and often provides the means for them to be able to work

2. DLA is a highly efficient benefit, in that it saves the tax payer money. For every disabled person who is able to work because of the support, the country “earn” taxes.

3. DLA is not given out easily. It is a long and difficult process, and even someone as ill as Sue Marsh can fail to be awarded DLA

4. DLA does not automatically mean that the recipient gets a “free car”. Those on DLA who are awarded the higher mobility component of DLA. No matter what the Daily Mail tells you.

5. DLA recipients “pay” for their car using their benefit payments. So a person who has the highest possible award would pay half their DLA benefit toward a leased car. Only 30% of those eligible for a car take one.

If the government were more honest, both about the recipients of benefits not being lazy scroungers, and the response of those who replied to the consultation, I very much doubt that they would have been able to bring the Welfare Bill as far as they have.

And where the hell is our opposition party in all of this?

Why is it left to campaigners who struggle with their own disabilities and have to raise money on social networking websites to fund and produce this report?

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Why are non paying parents not given a rougher ride?

It was announced yesterday that the government plan to scrap the (toothless) Child Support Agency and replace it with the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission will bring with it new powers to deduct child maintenance directly from non resident payers’ pay packets.

Now, before we all get too excited (and by “we” I’m talking about the many thousands of lone parents who receive little or no child maintenance) a quick delve into the proposals and remit of this new agency reveal some worrying changes. More about that later.

I have a very personal interest in the way our society deals with parents who do not provide financial support for their children, mainly because I am one of the majority. Yes. Stop and read that last line again. It is estimated that three out of five resident parents receive no financial support from the non resident parent.

I have two children and I divorced my husband, due to unreasonable behaviour, back in 2005. I have never received a single, solitary penny in support. For years I decided that this was OK, and I didn’t want to “rock the boat”. The reasons that I didn’t turn to the CSA years ago are many and after speaking to other people, I find that my experience is not unusual.

Fear

Much better to be poor but safe

The fear of reprisals – either physical (Parents who have fled abusive relationships are often terrified of any contact with an abusive partner) or emotional (Refusal to maintain contact with the children after a claim has been lodged).

I don’t want disagreements over everything from haircuts to holidays

Fear of Control – There are many women (because, come on, let’s be honest, 90% of lone parents with residency are women) who suffer financial control within their relationships. Women are more likely to be primary care givers and therefore not working. During my conversations with other people in my situation the number of people who are relieved that they do not have to account for every pound they spend on their children to the non resident parent was shocking.

Frustration

What’s the point? All that hassle for £2.50 per week?”

The endless battle to force a non payer to actually face up to their responsibilities can drive many claimants to distraction. On a personal level I find it infuriating that the father of my children has refused to answer any of the letters sent out by the CSA and has, as usual, buried his head in the sand as far as this whole matter is concerned. I’m tired of phoning the agency, only to be told that he has not responded and that another letter will be sent. I am only 3 months into the process and I cannot imagine how it feels to be 3 years in and still without any financial benefit.

Karma

“They’re the ones missing out and Karma is a bitch”

This is the constant, heartbreaking, cry of many of us. We tell ourselves and one another, that there is a divine force at work, one that will settle our scores and make things equitable in the end. Of course, it’s a lie. A necessary one, a lie that helps us to cope with the day to day struggles, but is it a damaging one? I believe so – this belief weakens us and encourages passivity. Karma won’t pay that electricity bill this month will it?

The Children Will Know

One day the children will know all that you did for them and all that he didn’t

Well, no, actually. Thank you very much. I don’t want my children to hate their father – how damaging is that to their psyche? I want their father to be forced to pay. It is, after all, the very least he could do.

I finally batted away these fears and “reasons” in August of this year. Six years after my divorce and 8 years since my final separation.

I have now been awarded a payment of £40 per week for my two children. This works out at £2.85 per day, per child. Just about enough to provide them with an evening meal every day, however I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of awards are in the region of £5 per week. That’s a whole 71 pence per day. Of course, he hasn’t paid anything and is now £440.00 in arrears. When I contacted the CSA to find out the status of my claim, I was informed that they are unable to start further proceedings until the arrears total £500.00 or 13 weeks of non payment. That’s just great for those who are truly impoverished and are relying on child support just to pay for food.

There’s something very wrong here, and I’m starting to wonder why our society puts more effort and vigour in chasing parking fines than it does for non payment of child support. I’m starting to wonder why there is a blanket acceptance that this is “just the way it is”. I’m starting to wonder why there are high profile campaigns for fathers who want to fight to see their children (Fathers For Justice for example) but nothing for those women who are on their uppers trying to provide for their children.

I’m starting to wonder about it all.

Remember at the start of this post I mentioned that there are changes afoot?

One of the changes proposed is that, apart from survivors of domestic violence, the use of the CSA to set maintenance and chase the parent for payment will be chargeable. That’s right, going forward if the non resident parent refuses to pay child maintenance, the parent who is not receiving financial support, will be charged by the agency to force the issue.

You can read more here

So what can we do?

You can start by reading about the campaign by Gingerbread, the wonderful charity which campaigns and gives practical help to single parents and getting involved in anyway you can.

Tyneside #N30 slideshow

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Strikes

A rant about strikes. Or not.

Living in France I know all about strikes. We get them regularly. Now I work in Luxembourg the only effect of strikes I notice is when the cross border commuters can’t get the train so they make the traffic jams even worse.

During my many years in Paris and its surrounding area my life was very regularly disrupted by strikes. Paris isn’t Paris without some protest going on somewhere. Strikes are a nuisance and yes, they are expensive to the local economy.

But we are very lucky to be in a position to complain about strikes. We are very lucky that trade unions are there to protect workers. Can you imagine if there was no way of workers getting their voice heard? If they had no representatives? You don’t have to dig very far back into British history to see what life was like before workers had reps and rights.

Reading the Daily Mail and listening to people rant on the radio you would think that most Brits believe that workers shouldn’t have the right to strike. Which is a very frightening mindset, and if the Tories get wind of that mindset you can expect more attacks on workers’ rights. Remember how Thatcher is best remembered for, other than being a milk snatcher, breaking the unions? Was that a good thing? Read articles like this one by Simon Heffer, and note how in point five he wants to do is abolish the minimum wage for young people. Look at point eight.

Now we are lucky enough that Simon Heffer is not a policy maker in the UK, but there are people in government who think like him. They think that those of us who do the underling work are worthless, and shouldn’t have rights. We have got above our station. Especially those who, God forbid, educate our children and care for our sick..

I am not sure if I agree with the civil service striking over pensions yesterday. I haven’t read enough about it. But before you complain about how your life is being affected by those strikes, please stop and think about what life would be like if we didn’t have the right to strike, and if we didn’t have trade unions. Working hours, maternity leave, the right to paid leave, various equality laws…

Yes strikes are a nuisance. But life without them would be unthinkable.

Philosophy for the Masses

Today is World Philosophy Day, yet most people in the UK have never studied the subject in any way. A movement to change this is gathering speed, with top philosophers and educators campaigning for philosophy and wider reasoning skills to become a central part of the curriculum.

Philosophy is a respected subject in many European schools, with all children in France, Portugal, Spain and Italy studying the subject for at least one year.  Philosophy is also popular in private schools and with home educators in the UK, with many independent schools offering afterschool clubs based on the subject for children as young as seven.   So why is it so absent from most of our education system?

The Philosophy Foundation, an organisation created to promote the teaching and study of philosophy in the UK, has released a set of resources aimed at schools, to help them to introduce the subject into lessons.  Peter Worley, co-founder of the foundation,set out his beliefs in a statement earlier today;

“We need to make Philosophy a regular feature of school life. It’s a shame that young people don’t get the opportunity to engage with some of the great ideas of the past. They still have relevance today and children have their minds stretched by exposure to big ideas, and pick up invaluable thinking skills that can be used in any context.

“The stimulation and intellectual excitement schoolchildren get from Philosophy only underlines the critical gap in our education system we continue to suffer from.”

The joy and satisfaction of considering the “big questions” is something that is being lost, which schools focusing too hard on subjects that can produce measurable results, yet it is notable that you have much better chances of seeing philosophy being taught at a private school, where statistically, the pupils are much more likely to end up in positions of power.  Should it not be a priority for those of us committed to increasing working class representation and social mobility to make sure that our children are given the tools of reasoning and debate that the rich kids get?

I am not advocating an abandonment of the creative and effective parts of the current curriculum – I’m no Gove.  I am however adding my voice to the many that are asking for our children to be given the chance to access the world of skills and knowledge that is currently being kept only for the elite.

We need to teach our children to question and to think about the way our society is structured, and what better way than through philosophy?

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