The fabric of Britain as we know it is being ripped apart. So much is changing, almost behind our backs, we haven't got time to notice what is happening to us. And it is happening fast.

Friday, 30 December 2011

On The Sixth Day of Xmas, My True Love Gave To Me... A Lifetime of Fuel Poverty

I offered to write this blog based on my personal experience of living in “fuel poverty” and because we are about to have these new “smart meters” fitted.  I wanted the opportunity to explore precisely what a “smart meter” is and how it would impact on our family; hopefully alleviating our personal circumstances. What I found instead, was that we won’t ever lose the designation of “fuel poverty” living in our council flat and that the risks of smart meters currently outweigh any potential benefit they might have. 

The general definition of fuel poverty, the one encouraged by the media, is any household, which spends at least 10% of its income on heating. Whilst this basic definition does make for good headlines, it obscures just how many families are actually living in fuel poverty and how, precisely, we define the term. For once, the government’s definition is by far the best (pdf link)

A household is said to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10% of its income on fuel to maintain a satisfactory heating regime (usually 21 degrees for the main living area, and 18 degrees for other occupied rooms). The “Fuel poverty ratio” is therefore defined as: Fuel poverty ratio = fuel costs (modelled usage x price) ÷ income.

What the government really means is the following factors:
  1. Income Indicators:
    1. Disposable income
    2. Proportion of children, working age adults and pensioners living in households with low incomes (absolute and relative).
    3. Winter fuel payments
    4. Cold weather payments.
  2. Fuel Price Indicators:
    1. Actual expenditure on fuel as a percentage of the total income of the lowest 30% income groups.
    2. Fuel prices
    3. Number of customers on prepayment meters.
    4. Fuel debt.
    5. Customers switching suppliers.
  3.  Housing Indicators:
    1. Energy efficiency of the housing stock of the lowest 30% of income groups.
    2. Occupancy levels
    3. Excess winter deaths
    4. Expenditure on, and number of households helped through Warm Front
    5. Uptake of the Carbon Emission Reduction Target
    6. Local Authority housing investment on energy efficiency improvements. 

Obviously, this can be subsumed into three easier-to-digest points and more media-friendly: “the energy efficiency of the property (and therefore, the energy required to heat and power the home), the cost of energy, and household income”but actually seeing that the government includes “excess winter deaths” is a starker reminder of what society actually means by fuel poverty. It isn’t the inability to keep your living room a constant 21 degrees. It’s the inability to heat your house and the impact that can have on your very survival. It’s also about the failure of society to ensure that housing isn’t damp, poorly insulated with little or no heating.  The cuts to benefits, tax credits and rising unemployment will result in more families living in fuel poverty.  It is the simple formula of decreasing income = increasing fuel poverty.


Under these guidelines, I live in fuel poverty; not because we spend 10% of our income on heating but, rather, because our council house is so badly insulated and draught-proofed that turning the heating on is a waste of energy and money. Instead, I am writing this blog whilst wearing long underwear, two sweaters and a dressing gown and today isn’t particularly cold or windy. 

This is the reality for millions of households across the UK; academic and media discourse on “fuel poverty” simply doesn’t cover the real problems. It doesn’t change the fact that our main source of “heat” is one storage heater in the living room, which hasn’t worked for two years and neither our local council nor our energy provider will take responsibility for it being broken. 

Instead, we use oil radiators that we bought from Amazon in place of the 2 small fan heaters the council grudgingly supplied last winter after 3 weeks of daily complaints. 2 small fan heaters won’t warm up a bathroom, never mind a 2-bed council flat, which has failed every energy inspection going. [On the infrared scanners of our building, every flat turns up bright red. Bright red means we have no energy efficiency whatsoever]. To be fair, we do have panel heaters in the bedroom and if you sit next to them, you can stay warmish but, really, how are 4 people supposed to function if they can’t move more than 5 feet from the radiator without several layers of clothing?

         We are lucky insofar as we can afford to purchase the necessary layers of fleece undergarments and dressing gowns to keep warm. Many of the people living in fuel poverty, including a large number of neighbours on fixed pensions or benefits, have neither the cash nor the resources to keep warm. Warm Front, a government grant program, can help those who live in England and meet the qualifying benefits with purchasing loft insulation, draught proofing, or cavity wall insulation. 

Our flat is built out of cement. There is no way to add cavity wall insulation [and clearly no loft]. We cannot have gas central heating as our building has more floors than legally allowed for gas central heating. We are lucky as we live in Scotland and the Scottish government has, through their devolved powers, created a much stricter definition of fuel poverty [which accounts for the greater numbers of people living in Scotland (pdf) who are classed as living in fuel poverty than in England or Wales] but have also put into place policies for homelessness and fuel poverty which have resulted in our building being signed up for a pilot of a new heating system that should make our flat warmer for less money. 

However, these fabulous new policies are dependent on the proper implementation by local authorities. In the current upgrade of our new heating system, 15 flats have been left with no heating for months and no one taking responsibility for what is clearly a cock-up of epic proportions [or a level of incompetence generally only seen in sit-coms].

We also don’t meet the guidelines for a “vulnerable” (pdf) household [depending on who actually writes the definition of vulnerable].I would have thought a severely asthmatic child would cut it but she aged out on her 5th birthday [but failed to age out of the asthma clinic at the same time. I’m with her asthma consultant on this and not the civil servant who came up with such an arbitrary number]. 

Technically, I have a disability but it isn’t severe enough to count for purposes of the DLA so I don’t meet the criteria either even though my disability is worsened when my joints are cold, and, let’s face it, in rainy Scotland that’s an all the time occurrence. We are all under the age of retirement so don’t count that way. The guidelines also don’t take into account the very gendered (pdf) nature of poor heating; specifically on post-menopausal women who do not regulate the body temperature as efficiently as other adults.

         Our storage heaters, supposedly the most “energy-efficient and cheap to run” of heating systems are absolutely useless. They presume an adult in the house all day, one who goes to bed at 7 pm, just as the heat starts to fade before recharging over-night. Granted, it is cheaper to store the heat at night but I don’t go to bed at 7 pm and there is no point in having a warm house during the day, as the only occupant is a cat who possesses a fur coat. 

We are not, however, the not-so-proud owners of pre-payment meters: households with prepayment (pdf) meters are more likely live in fuel poverty as those without gas heating.  Prepayment meters have traditionally been installed in houses for debt management; rather than disconnection but they are the most expensive way to manage energy with built-in above-the-odds administration costs and a base price higher than average. Many vulnerable families have shown a preference for pre-payment meters because of the ability to manage energy consumption more effectively but charging these families a higher rate ensures that more families (pdf) with prepayment meters are living in fuel poverty than families not.

At least these old-school prepayment meters did have the safety measure of requiring court orders to be forcibly installed into households while there was also some attempt to hold energy companies liable for providing energy to vulnerable households. The new generation “smart meters” are smart in name-only.

Ignoring the other major problems with smart meters, which includes their susceptibility to cyber-attack (pdf) at an unprecedented scale and the problems with data protection and privacy, the number one problem for consumers is the remote “off” switch which means energy companies can switch customers to prepayment tariffs without the intervention of the courts or any real outside monitoring agency. (pdf)

This assumes that the household is genuinely in arrears and not, as many of us know to our misfortune, that the energy supplier is completely incompetent in terms of actually managing billing and double-checking potential typos where a household ends up with a bill for £456 987 a month. [Or, in my personal case, where the energy supplier had copied the wrong identity numbers on every storage heater in our previous flat wherein I was being charged for the hallway lighting and not my personal consumption. 

It took 3 years and 17 phones calls to Scottish Power to sort this out. In the end, I got a thank you card, another 4 years down the line, for bringing this “minor fault” to their attention].The secondary purposes of smart meters, and ones I have yet to hear mentioned in our council communications concerning their installation in our flat includes “supporting interruptible tariffs and implementing rolling power cuts (pdf) at times of supply shortage."

What this actually means is that it allows energy companies more freedom to charge customers variable rates without too much intervention. Rolling power-cuts are self-explanatory in their problems.

I am so incensed by the failure of our council to adequately explain what these “smart meters” really do [and the not insignificant fact that I don’t trust my local council to plant a tree without cocking it up spectacularly], I think its more appropriate to quote  [and paraphrase some of the answers of Mumsnetter Tianc, who has read all of these documents]:

1) Smart Meters will have an In-Home Display (IHD) so the consumer can easily see how much power they are consuming.
a.       The technology already exists, is a lot cheaper and lacks the evil “off-switch.”
2.  Smart Meters will probably create a record of your power usage at half-hourly intervals:
a.       Why do we need this information and who does it actually benefit? It’s not the consumer in terms of “accurate monthly bills” so what are the real implications for privacy and personal security?
3.  Power companies claim Smart Meters will help them manage three specific pressures:
a.       Power companies and DECC would like to curb total consumer demand for power. Smart Meters are unnecessary to do this (although accurate monthly billing would help)
b.      Electricity companies would like to smooth loads by shifting demand way from peak times. Half-hourly Smart Meters might enable them to influence consumers through Time-of-Use tariffs. Smart Meters plus HANs may allow the companies to control switch-off of your appliances.
c.        Apart from Economy 7, the price consumers pay doesn’t directly reflect the wholesale price so electricity suppliers carry risk when they buy. They’d like to shed this risk by passing on price changes, using half-hourly Smart Meter data.

4.  The Smart Grid is intended be an end-to-end control system, where power to individual devices and sockets in your smart house can be remotely controlled from the other end of the network by you, the power companies or third parties.
a.   A Smart Grid is a control system allowing appliances in your house to be remotely controlled by you, the power companies and anyone who can gain access to the Smart Grid. The power companies plan to use this to switch off your appliances at peak times, because this is cheaper and on, the face of it, more energy efficient that providing adequate peak supply.
b.   Smart Grids are a massive new vulnerability in critical infrastructure. They are profoundly vulnerable to hacking at all levels, from script kiddies to hostile states. They are also vulnerable to software error and failure of multiple apps to interoperate smoothly. The consequences of a software failure or attack or could be anything from your house burning down to sudden, catastrophic failure of critical national infrastructure.

This brilliant thread, which became a Mumsnet Classic, is a much funnier example of the general incompetence of energy suppliers. 

The conclusion here is pretty simple: 

1) cuts to benefits are going to result in more families living in fuel poverty 

 2) smart meters won’t help alleviate fuel property; in fact they are most likely going to make it worse [and that’s ignoring the whole cyber-attack issue which has me contemplating purchasing a Yurt somewhere warm]. 

The fuel poverty that already exists in the UK is utterly shameful but it will only get worse as energy companies get richer by increasing the prices and household incomes drop dramatically. 

Smart metering only gives energy companies more power to hurt vulnerable families economically. It doesn’t alleviate fuel poverty and it certainly doesn’t make it easier for consumers to cut their energy bills [cyber-attacks certainly won’t help the financial stability of consumers and rolling power-outages will effect vulnerable families more dramatically].

So, we are now stuck in a situation where more vulnerable people will have to make the choice between heating their homes and buying food; a pattern already emerging in our council flats as elderly residents are very concerned about the billing of our new “smart-meters” and are choosing not to turn on their heat at all. How many other vulnerable families will be making this choice this year as their tax credits, DLA, and other benefits are cut.

Of course, the new ConDems aren’t willing to recognise the actual reality of the lives of those living in fuel poverty [after all cutting DLA will dramatically impact those living in fuel poverty]; they have commissioned a report in 2010 which may redefine fuel poverty,  conveniently decreasing the actual number of people living in fuel poverty but doesn’t appearing to address the effect that their own cuts will have on families.

Granted this report, entitled Fuel Poverty: The Problem and Its Measurement, does acknowledge that fuel poverty is real and that it has severe negative impact on the health and well-being of the residents of the UK but it is also quite obviously a defence of the cuts to the most vulnerable and not a policy on increasing assistance. Apparently we have more “excess winter deaths” than other countries with colder climates; I’m not entirely sure we should be celebrating a decrease from 40 000 deaths in the 1970s to 27 000 deaths now. 

27 000 people dying each year simply because of “winter” is simply disgraceful. Personally, I worry about my neighbours surviving more than I care about the deficit. This is the consequence of the cuts: the very real harm to very real people that the ConDems are glossing over in favour of tax cuts for their wealthy friends.


For Help with Fuel Poverty:

For Further Information on Fuel Poverty:

Back to top

On The Fifth Day of Xmas, My True Love Gave to Me... 5 Gold Rings

Gold rings? Perhaps platinum rings embedded with priceless diamonds would be a more appropriate analogy when talking about the Olympics.

Picture Credit 

Not that I am against the Olympic games - I think that they are a great opportunity for the country, but for once I must (with gritted teeth) agree with the Daily Mail who wrote earlier this month about the rising costs of the games.

Last week, the Games were going to need 10,000 guards. This week, the figure has been revised to 23,000. Once again, never mind. Let’s throw money at the problem. We are going to spend an extra £271 million to resolve the matter. That’s £21,000 per extra guard. Not bad for a fortnight’s work. That’s more than some soldiers in  Helmand get in a year

I admit to nodding along as Robert Hardman pointed out the excesses of the games. £80 million for the opening and closing ceremonies - an obscene amount of money that all the goodwill and positive marketing for UK cannot justify.

Part of the UK's winning bid was the promise that the British public would be inspired to do more sport, and that particularly the youth of Britain would benefit from the Olympic bid.

That seems as far fetched now as the idea that the games would cost just £2.9 billion.

The number of people playing sport three times or more a week has increased since 2007/08 by only 111,800  to 6.92m . The aim made be the previous government of encouraging a million new sports participants has been dropped. In fact, the number of people doing no exercise at all has risen to 57.8% of the population.

More worrying, is the downward trend amongst children but are we really surprised about this? With over 60% of funding for school sports being cut by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, is it any wonder than children and young adults are doing less sport?

While the press and politicians bemoan the obesity crisis of UK children, the incredibly popular School Sports Partnerships have seen their funding of £162 million withdrawn. (remember the £80m for the opening and closing ceremonies?)

Tessa Jowell stated earlier this month,

We welcome today’s focus on schools and the Olympics, but urge Michael Gove to rethink his decision to significantly cut funding to school sports. School Sports Partnerships were at the forefront of ensuring that the second key Olympic legacy pledge – to transform a generation of young people through sport – was met. 
“Instead, this out of touch Coalition have failed to recognise that SSPs were internationally acclaimed and were one of the reasons why between 2002 and 2010 the number of young people doing at least two or more hours of sport per week rose from 25 per cent to 90 per cent. The drop off since the Tory-led Government abolished the scheme has been extremely worrying.”

Here is an astounding statistic, from that press release:

Only 7% of children in UK are privately educated, but they make up 50% of Olympic medal winners.

We have to teach children when they are young about the importance of exercise and keeping fit. There is no point in lecturing them about this but when it comes to actually encouraging them to do sport saying, "You will have to ask your Mum and Dad if you can go to private sport lessons".

In times like these, when everyone is counting their pennies, many families just cannot afford after school clubs and lessons.  At an average of £5 a session for private lessons, the after-school swimming, gymnastics, judo or ballet lessons are falling victim of the credit crunch.

The cuts to publicly funded clubs and societies mean that there is little alternative. Public leisure centres around the country are searching for funding alternatives in the wake of the cuts to council budgets.

These cuts, like many other current "savings", are very short-sighted. The short term benefits for the economy are more than outweighed (no pun intended) by the long term consequences of a generation of unfit kids. The health costs to the children are bad enough - diabetes, heart issues, joint problems, without considering the financial costs to our already beleaguered NHS.

Unhealthy children grow into unhealthy adults. We must encourage children to lead healthy lifestyles, and give them the opportunity to take part in sports.

When we look at successful sporting nations, one thing is clear. The countries that encourage their children from an early age to take up sporting activities are always at the top of the medal tables. It is not just a moment on national pride, but a reflection of the importance that physical fitness has in the society.

For the good of our children, we must invest in their future health and fitness. Not just those children whose parents can afford private education and private sports lessons, but all children. Regardless of the wealth of their parents.

The Olympics of 2012 may well be a success for the nation, but what of the potential Olympians of 2020?

**** UPDATE *** 

Jeremy Hunt has stated that Britain will not host "Austerity Olympics". 

Jeremy Hunt believes that hosting the Games is an “incredible stroke of luck” during the global economic crisis as it will provide a “huge plus sign” for the struggling British economy. He also says demonstrators will be tolerated as long as their protests are legitimate and lawful.
 Mr Hunt says voters will never forgive the Government if it does not “make the most” of an unprecedented opportunity. “You can take two attitudes to the Olympics,” he says. “You can say: these are times of austerity and therefore we should pare them down as much as possible. Or, you can say: because these are times of austerity we need to do everything we possibly can to harness the opportunity of the Olympics.
“We’re going to be the centre of global attention and it will be the first time that we’ve had a major sporting event that’s watched live by half the world’s population. People would not forgive us if we didn’t make the absolute most of this moment.
“This is going to be an incredible expression of Britain’s culture, Britain’s history and Britain’s creativity. So, we decided that the sensible thing to do is to make sure that we finance it properly.”

It is difficult not to make use of rhyming slang. 
Yes, the Olympics are a great thing for Britain but do we really need to make them ostentatious. Everyone in the world knows we are going through tough times. It all screams of the old Scottish saying "Fur coat and nae knickers". 
We don't need to pretend we are doing great, there is no shame in saying that if we had hosted the Olympics eight years ago, that we would have put on the greatest show on earth.
At a time when people are being made homeless, when disabled children are having their services cut, when unemployment is soaring, and set to go even higher. Can we afford this? Absolutely not. 
The government is not saying what the extra £41m for the opening ceremony is being spent on exactly, only that it should be more "spectacular". 
What would you rather the government spent that £41m on? I could think of quite a few things. 

Tweet us using #austerityolympics and #frothers 

Back to top

Thursday, 29 December 2011

On The Fourth Day of Xmas, My True Love Gave to Me... Four Grades of Unemployment

The unemployment statistics show a rise of 128,000, in the three months to October, meaning a total of 2.51 million people are officially unemployed in this country. 

That is 8.3%, with dramatically bigger rises in London and the North East.  But do people know what the statistics actually mean?  

Employment and Support Allowance is the controversial replacement for Incapacity benefit, brought in by the Labour government in 2008 for new claimants, and gradually extended to all Incapacity Benefit claimants.  

After the first 13 weeks of the claim, the claimant is reassessed,  then put in one of three categories - fit for work (at which point they must find a job or migrate to jobseekers allowance), Work Related Activity group (or WRA) and support group.  Only 7% of claims are awarded support group status - ie judged completely incapable of work (although, as we have seen on Frothers, many of these decisions are reversed on appeal).

 17% of ESA claimants are placed in the WRA group.  This amounts to over 400,000 people who are judged to be fit for work if appropriate adjustments are made, or in the near future.  These people are required to attend work focused interviews where they will discuss how they will get back into work, and can have their benefits docked if they fail to attend. 

These are the people who were described as “work-shy scroungers” in certain papers when the latest set of ESA claimant data was released.  Yet they are not included in the latest unemployment statistics.

“Unemployed” people are jobless, have been actively seeking work in the past four weeks and are available to start work in the next two weeks; or they are out of work, have found a job, and are waiting to start it in the next two weeks. 

As ESA claimants in the work related activity group are not required to actively seek work, only prepare to seek work, they are not counted.  Yet they are legally required to prepare for work.  So, which are they?  

Are they incapable of work, and so not included in unemployment statistics, just the“economically inactive” group (more on which later), or are they able to prepare for work, as they are legally required to do?  This may sound like a dry statistical question, but those 400,000 people in the WRA group are facing uncertainty about their lives - the status is causing confusion and anger amongst some of the most vulnerable sectors of society.

The Economically Inactive group is, by the most up to date statistics, 23% of the population.  These are people who are without paid work, but are not classed as unemployed.  They may be sick or disabled, carers or not seeking work for some other reason.  This does not mean that they don’t wish to work, only that they are not counted as seeking work.  They may in fact be looking for a job, but unable to start in the next two weeks due to other responsibilities.  They may wish to work, but are prevented by disability or high costs of childcare.  Or they may be stay at home parents or carers.  Of course, some will be rich kids living off trust finds, but somehow I doubt that counts for 23% of the population.

Another group to consider is those who are in part time work, but are looking for full time work.  This figure increased by 70,000 in three months to reach 1.28 million, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1992.  Here are more people who are looking for work, but unable to find it, and are not included on the unemployment statistics.  Workers on low wages are still entitled to many income related benefits, and can even sometimes receive more in welfare benefits than someone out of work.  Many part time jobs are unreliable and low paid, yet the workers are not counted in the unemployment statistics. 

In many ways, these can be the most exposed to the twists and turns of the economy, as they face placing new or changed claims if they lose the jobs they do have, but are without the small security that having an established claim can provide.  They find themselves without enough work, but not “unemployed enough” to become a target for the limited amount of work finding schemes that are available.

The unemployment statistics may be awful, but they hide an even more shocking truth.  There are simply not enough jobs in this country, and the statistics show more than we are being led to believe.

We have four groups not included in unemployment statistics:

- the unemployed (about 2.64 million)
- those in Work Related Activity schemes (400,000 people)
- economically inactive (9.33 million)
- part-time workers, looking for full-time work (1.28 million) 

Of those four groups, only the first - the 8.3% of the population (or 2.64 million) are reflected in government unemployment figures. And that figure is estimated to rise in the next year, peaking at an estimated 2.85 million in 2013.

120,000 jobs lost in the public sector, and too few jobs in the private sector. Yet the government still insists that their plan is working, that the employment market is stabilising.

More annoying than that is the comment by Shadow Work and Pensions Minister, Ian Austin who stated that it was, "crystal clear that this government is failing to get people off benefits and into work".

That was a cheap shot, Mr Austin. Try bashing the ConDem government for their policies, instead of the benefit claimants, many of whom would dearly love to have a job.

In some sectors there are over 40 applicants for every job. The politicians on both sides of the spectrum need to accept that most people want to work, there are simply not enough jobs out there.

By Alicia Duffy and MmeLindor

Back to top

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me ... Three Lifelines Cut

I'm 36 years old, married with 2 children and I'm disabled.

Photo: John Rowley/
I have Herniated Discs, Degenerative Disc Disease, Facet Joint Syndrome and other illnesses that are yet to be diagnosed. I had a second MRI scan this week, following a series of losing consciousness and a constant tingling/loss of feeling in my left arm. I'm on heavy duty pain medication (MST morphine and Oramorph), as well as anti-depressants just to get me through the day.

I am unable to work due to my back problems and also the fact that I am a full-time carer for my disabled son, who will be 3 years old next May. He requires round-the-clock care but ’isn't disabled enough' to get more than 3 hours maximum of respite each week. Or none at all if, like this week, his support worker is ill. He struggles with change and wouldn't like a replacement so it's better that he goes without that care this week.

He goes to nursery for 4 hours a week, 2 separate sessions, but I have to go with him to care for him at both of those sessions. I have to walk with a stick to steady me when I'm out, or use his pushchair for support.

David Cameron with son Ivan.
Photo: Roger Taylor/Rex Features
We are currently in receipt of the highest level of DLA: my son for the care component, and mine is for the mobility component. My son also has issues with mobility but is too young to claim for any help yet. He has to wear specially made shoes, Piedro Boots, which we get for free, on NHS prescription. For now at least.

He has a heart condition (Teratology of Fallot) that was once life threatening before his first round of emergency heart surgery; bilateral glue ear; Pierre Robin sequence and we are awaiting further test results to look at his shoulders and neck. He has a narrowed airway and is fed by NG tube.

We also get Tax Credits. My husband has his own business but doesn't pay himself a wage.

I also get Carers’ Allowance for looking after our son for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year. I do all of his NG tube changes, order all of our medication, feed sets, liaise with all of the Health Care Professionals that are involved with his care. At the last count we were almost at 30.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if we lost our DLA or Tax Credit payments, even part of either, we'd be in trouble.

We can only just scrape through after all of the bills are paid.

I can't work. I can't sit for longer than 20 minutes, nor stand for more than a few minutes at a time.

So, what should I be doing?
Sending my son to work with my husband because he's not got a 'proper job' has he? He works for himself, from home. So should I go out and get a full time job, stop claiming for the benefits we are currently entitled to and then there wouldn't be a problem, would there?

Should I just stop caring for him so that he ends up in residential care? That way I can't scrounge off the tax payers: I can't claim benefits for him if I'm not caring for him, can I?

And what should I do about my own claims?
Perhaps I should just load myself up on pain meds and find myself a job. Any job. That way, when The Powers That Be stop my benefits, tell me that I'm not disabled enough to claim any more, send me for medicals that prove nothing at all, make me attend interviews and make me actively seek work....... that way the cuts won't matter to me.

What about the Children's Community Nurse who comes to see my son every two weeks? The SALT who comes every month? What about my Blue Badge? Are the government planning to do more rigorous tests to tell whether or not you actually qualify for it or if in actual fact, I can stagger to the shop which I want to go in, from the arse end of nowhere because there's no parking?

We go to the SureStart Stay and Play session in our village every single Thursday morning. Going there has played a huge role in my son’s development as he is approximately 18 months Globally Developmentally Delayed. He has learned to listen, to sit and to see that there are other children around who he can play with if he wants to.
Not only that, I have made three very close friends just by going there. Life as a parent can be lonely enough when you are on your own or your partner works. Being disabled and a carer as well, I’ve found it hard to get out and meet people, let alone forge friendships.
SureStart has been a life line for me and many of the other mums in the village.
It would be a crying shame to see the service taken away.

If I lose my DLA, Tax Credits and Carers’ Allowance, I will lose my home.

What exactly is it, that this Government wants me to do?

By Mouseface, guest blogger.

More information:

Think tank Demos has produced a report detailing the effects of cuts on real British households with disabilities, including an elderly couple facing eviction from their draughty home. You can download it here

If you still can't quite believe the viciousness of what's to come, read Zoe Williams's strong 7th Dec. article in the Guardian and follow her links..

What can I do?

Nothing seems to be working so far. Please sign Pat's Petition on our Petitions page. Use the Write To Them box (to the right of this page) to email your MP, Lords and MEPs. Please check with charities, unions and local support groups for protest actions you can join.

Back to top

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

On The Second Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me... Two Turtle Doves, and a Coalition Gov

When the Conservatives and Lib Dems entered into the first British coalition government since Lloyd George, the British public held their breath.

Would the junior partner, the Liberal Democrats be able to hold their own against the mighty Conservative party?

Would the turtle doves, Dave and Nick, reign in harmony or would their political differences tear them apart?

Pic Credit

The turtle doves are often said to represent love and loss. Since the General Election in May 2010, the coalition partners have seen the initial infatuation fade. The reality of political wrangling reveals that, while the coalition is important, the loyalties to their parties are the deciding factor.

David Cameron is riding high on the British approval ratings, since the EU veto. Clegg, who hummed and hawed, before finally criticising his Prime Minister's actions, has sunken so far in public opinion, that is difficult to imagine him recovering.

Just after the General Election last year, I wrote on my blog about the Hung Parliament and the British angst over a coalition government. Sadly, my prediction was right - Clegg accepted Cameron's offer, but Electoral Reform is further away now than ever.

What of the other electoral promises that the Liberal Democrats made in their manifesto? The EU, Tuition Fees, banking bonuses, capital gains tax - you can check the Coalition Pledge Tracker to see where the Lib Dems won their fights. And where they lost.

Nick and Dave are walking a tightrope. They have to appease their voters enough to be re-elected but still score political points against the other parties. Obviously this means that the easiest way to do this is to bash their common enemy, the Labour Party.

Liberal Democrat voters have been left reeling by their party's consensus to the cuts. Many voters thought that by voting Lib Dems that they could soften the blow somewhat, and are now surprised and angry that their party is not doing more to oppose the worst. Or maybe they are, and the cuts would have been even worse - although it is hard to imagine how that would be.

The cosy coalition of the early days, where Nick Clegg and David Cameron presented a united front to the press, that is well gone. It remains to be seen if Nick and the Lib Dems will continue to bite their tongues and accept the humiliations and setbacks inflicted upon them by the Conservatives.

Love and Loss - at present it seems like the Lib Dems have lost the love and the trust of their voters.

Back to top

Monday, 26 December 2011

On The First Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me... A Useless Labour Party

 Joe White walked into the kitchen on Christmas Eve and found his mother sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands.

"What's the matter, Mum?" the teenager frowned and sat down next to her.

"This," she said, passing a couple of sheets of paper to him.  It was a credit card bill.  All eight pages of it.  And the total balance was £34,000.  He whistled.

"Blimey, they've messed that up haven't they? Are you going to ring them to find out what's gone wrong?"

"No Joe," Mrs White said slowly.  "It's not incorrect.  That is what we owe.  The interest alone this year is £1,600."

"But you only earn £26,000 don't you?"

"Yes Joe.  We have been somewhat living beyond our means, and it's time to sort it out".

The two of them sat for a while.  Joe taking it in.  His mother thinking.  Then she pulled a sheet of paper towards her and started to write.

"OK Joe.  You are a part of this family too.  Let's have some ideas.  We need to cut back our spending drastically if we are going to pay this off".

"I guess if we tighten our belts for a bit.  Stop eating out quite so much.  Use the money off coupons at the supermarket.  That should do it shouldn't it?" he asked hopefully.

"In a word no.  You see the problem is not just paying the interest off.  It's that we have accumulated another £5,000 in debt this year.  That means our income for the year isn't enough to cover our expenditure by £5,000.  Just to get to the point where we are breaking even, before we even start paying off the annual interest, we need to stop accumulating debt.  That means saving £5,000 this year alone and every year from this point on.  Or, of course, earning an extra £5,000 and using it to break even, before we start paying off the debt."

"£5,000!  Does that mean that you've been earning £26,000, but we've been spending £31,000?"

"It does."

"So what can we cut?"

"Well, I've been looking through our bank statements.  We could stop the digital TV subscription, but that'll only save us £500 for the year.  It's a good start though.  The dance classes for Gemma, and the drumming classes for you will have to stop though I'm afraid"

"WHAT! You can't do that!"  Joe jumped up.  Suddenly it was affecting him and he wasn't happy.

"But Joe, you've had those lessons for years, despite us not being able to truly afford them.  We should never have started them.  Can't you be grateful that you've had the lessons you have and recognise the seriousness of our situation?  If we don't turn it around we'll lose the house."

Joe sat back down.  He was still fuming, but he could see the frustration and fear in his mother's eyes.

"OK Mum.  Whatever it takes.  Let's sort it out"

"Thank you, love" she said.  "It's going to be a difficult road, and it'll take us at least five years to stop accumulating new debt and to start to pay off the £34,000 we already owe.  But we have to work together.  I know your father and I haven't managed it well, and I apologise."

"It's alright" said Joe (he was a very intelligent, kind boy).

"Mum?" he said

"Yes dear?"

"I wonder how common this situation is?  Just think what it would be like if a whole country was in this position."

"Don't be silly Joe"  said Mum.  "A whole country couldn't make the same kind of mistakes we have.  They have governments to manage it all properly.  Now what do you want for tea?"

"Not sure.  What have we got?"

"Not a lot.  It's Christmas though.  Shall we go to that restaurant we like?"

"Yeah. Why not?"

The numbers in this little story are directly proportional to the debt the UK finds itself in.  The total income collected by the Government in 2010-11 was £697 billion,  the UK's average salary of £26,000 represents that income.  On that basis, the UK owes £909billion pounds and so, in Joe's family, they owe £34,000.  Scared yet?

By Yummymummyreally.

Does it help to start apportioning blame to this situation in which our country finds itself?

The Tories blame Labour, Labour blames the cuts, The Green Party blame the Banks/Tories, and blame Labour for not pointing this out earlier. The IMF blames the cuts for the continuing recession, the Daily Mail blames the weather. Now all we need is someone to blame Elvis.

A third of voters still blame Labour for the economic crisis.

This interesting article in the Economist at the beginning of this year, took Miliband to task for trying to deflect the blame onto the Tories and suggest that Labour need to stop looking to the past failures:

This is badly, badly wrong. One of the iron rules of politics is that no opposition ever persuades the public to change their minds about anything. Only governments, or external events, can do that. Oppositions must recognise where the centre-ground is, occupy it to get elected, and then move it in their direction when they are in power.

Does it matter who caused the recession? It is a peculiar human trait to apportion blame, but all the mud-slinging distracts from the more important issues - how to move forward.

This is one of the things that we at Frothers are hoping to highlight.

We need a strong opposition. We need someone to stand up and say, "Right. This just isn't working. We need a new plan".

Traditionally the "opposition" to a Conservative-lead government would be the Labour Party, but they are too self-involved at the moment to get cracking.

It is being left to activists to highlight the concerns that many have about the cuts. Where are the Labour leaders? Why has no one started asking tough questions? And offering detailed alternative plans?

We refer back to our first posts on this blog where we asked about SureStart, DLA, cuts to Credit Tax, to the NHS, to Universal Child Benefit.

Come ON, Labour Party. Get fired up about this. These are the kind of issues that are perfect for a nice ranty press conference.

Stop burrowing your heads in the sand. So things were not great when you handed over to the ConDem goverment. GET OVER IT. Move on.

We don't want the Labour Party to say, "This is bad", we want them to say, "This is bad...  this is why...  this is how it will affect YOU...  this is what we would do instead..."

There is only so much the activists and bloggers can do. Not everyone reads blogs. And the ConDems are winning the press war at the moment, as can be seen by the high approval ratings of both the government and the Prime Minister.

The news of how the cuts will affect everyone in this country needs to get out there, and the Labour Party are the ones to do this.

Give us an opposition party to get behind and support.

We are ready.


Back to top

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

From all the Frothers, published and silent, to all Frothers rich, poor & squeezed-in-the-middle: Happy Christmas.

Happiness is a choice and, luckily, a chicken is still cheap.

Back to top

Friday, 23 December 2011

A Workfare Carol

To the tune of Whilst Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

Whilst mothers watched their babes by night,
In mouldy and damp rooms,
The government announced a plan,
To save the land from doom.

Fear not, said Smith, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind.
You will not starve, if you work hard,
Tho your ESA was declined.

For you, in London town, this day
Will join the Workfare line
A Saviour, which is Poundstretcher,
And this shall be the sign.

The slave labour you there shall find
With no legal recourse,
Will cost you more in fares and hope,
But you'll rejoin the workforce.

Thus spake the ConDem, and forthwith
The mother's toil was set,
The voters praised Ian Duncan Smith,
For reducing the great debt.

All glory be to Cameron,
And to Gideon be peace;
Good William Hague and Nick the Vague,
watch the income gap increase.

Back to top

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Numbers to add up

So let's have a look at what these billions and trillions really mean. Most of us deal in singles and tens, or hundreds and thousands if we're well off. The billions & trillions of George Osborne's world tend not to register with us, except as "a lot".

One million hours ago was Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Long-distance telephone was in use.

One billion hours ago, people (homo sapiens) first walked the earth..

One trillion hours ago, South America was still joined to Africa; mammals began to appear.

One trillion is the amount of pounds we gave to British banks.

That's how much they cocked it up. That's how much Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, thinks we should just forget about and move on ... meanwhile, encouraging us to blame one another and take the punishment.

Barclays chief Bob Diamond - he of the £11.5m pay package - has been saying for the past year that "The time for remorse is over". Our Chancellor, it seems, agrees that multi-millionaires have no need to be sorry while we, the voters who pay his salary, should feel very remorseful. So much so, he's going to make damn sure we do ...

Click to see all
I tried making a chart to show the difference but a trillion is so huge, the other numbers didn't show up; not even the billion. Somebody's done a neat graphic representation here, using $100 notes for size.

The Bank of England put the bailout bill at £1trillion in 2009. There have been further bailouts since then. It's even more now.

£1trn. is £19,608 per UK adult (at 51m. in 2011). That's how much you gave.

Well played, Mr Diamond!
[pic: Daily Mail]
I want to clarify that I don't question the need for this bailout. I think it was a stopgap measure, but that's beside the point. Our economies at present depend on the banking system to 'create' wealth and, since nobody had their eye on the ball at the time, we'd little choice but to keep it in the air after some clumsy fool dropped it.

What I do mind, very much, is being told that I - and my neighbours, my elderly mum, the nephew going debt-ridden to university next year, the niece with a new baby, friends with disabilities and disabled children, the newly redundant and the families in my doctor's waiting room ... being told that WE cost too much and WE are greedy.

I resent being asked to give up the securities our parents fought so hard for, and which we have PAID for. Purely because our governors are blindsided by the wealthy.

Andrew Haldane, of the Bank Of England, said in February 2011 that the cost of the credit insurance we have collectively provided to our banks is worth £100bn a year. He bases this on 2009 figures so, with the way insurance premiums go, it would be worth at least £115bn now. That's roughly the entire cost of the NHS and half the welfare bill.

I mind that this premium is still unpaid, unasked-for and taken completely for granted. This year the big four banks will announce  profits of £24bn. That's not counting the billions of pounds paid in bonuses and bloated pay packages. HSBC will also announce an imminent move to Hong Kong, thus ensuring they'll never have to pay us back.

Recovery of unpaid mega-taxes would generate £95bn for our economy. All the banks, Vodafone, Philip Green and his 'Top Shop' group of companies, Boots, drinks giant Diageo and Tesco are among the worst offenders.  They made their money out of us - and now we're being asked to pay all over again.

Articles worth reading:
There Is An Alternative [PCS]
The Government's Line [UKuncut]
Targets [UKuncut] - These pages explain why they have chosen certain companies for attention.

What can I do?

If you're up for personal action, join UKuncut. Some of their protests are very imaginative and quite funny - it's worth finding their videos on YouTube.

Complain to HMRC by writing a letter online at 38degrees.
Join a Union.  Representing millions of ordinary people, they can and do make a difference.

Back to top

later posts

earlier posts