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.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Dear Mr Cameron, 

Please stop treating me like an idiot. I know enough NOT to get all snarly at the thought of a family claiming Income Support with 3 or more kids, because I know that many of those people lost work in this recession AFTER the children were born. I know that 25 does not mean you have not contributed, it can mean you have contributed for 9 years!.  I know that Housing benefit provides and emergency net for women (and sometimes men) who are being abused by their partner.  I know that very many people claiming Housing Benefit are employed taxpayers claiming only part of the amount.

I know that the problem with housing benefit is that you (and your predecessors) allowed a situation where someone earning a wage needs state help to cover the rent. That is the big problem here, but you are too cowardly to address that as too many BTL Landlords vote Tory. 

Yours in hope of being treated like an adult,

Peachy, over 25 years old, who left home at 24 and was in Ft work and living with her partner.
'It doesn't affect me' is not the same as 'it isn't wrong'. 

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Thursday, 1 March 2012

We Believe You: Mumsnet Campaign on Sexual Violence

We Believe You is a new campaign being spearheaded by Mumsnet which, simply, is about believing victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence and challenging destructive rape myths. We live in a culture whose default position is to immediately raise the issue of women who lie about rape even though false reporting of rape is generally less than false reporting of most other crimes. 

The statistics on rape in the UK, as outlined by Kat Banyard in The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today, are distressing: 
  • Around 100 000 women a year will be raped in the UK.
  • Fewer than 17% of rapes are perpetrated by strangers.
  • 13% of rapes take place in public spaces. 
  • 2/3 of women who are raped will develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Women raped by their intimate partner are 10 times more likely to be subjected to multiple sexual assaults.  
This works out to one women being raped every 6 minutes in the UK; over a third of these women will go on to be raped again during the following 12 months.

2009 British Government Survey on Rape found that: 
  • 43% of people think a woman should be held (partly) responsible for their rape if they had been flirting with the man 
  • 42% believe that women should be held (partly) responsible for their rape if they had been taking drugs 
  • 36% believe that women should be held (partly) responsible for their rape if they had been drunk 
  •  26% believe that women should be held (partly) responsible for their rape if they were wearing sexy or revealing clothes. 
These statistics alone are terrifying enough but the financial cost of rape and sexual violence in society is immense. We don't factor the financial cost of rape and sexual violence into general discourse but the the base cost is huge in terms of healthcare. Rape and sexual violence can cause physical injuries, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The lasting effects in terms of mental health are equally expensive as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, social phobia, substance abuse, obesity, eating disorders, self harm and suicide. According to Rape Crisis, "the overall cost to society of sexual offences in 2003-04 was estimated at £8.5 billion, with each rape costing over £76,000. Much of this cost is made up of lost output and costs to the health service resulting from long term health issues faced by victims." 

Current cuts to frontline services in the NHS and funding grants available to charities that work with victims means that many more women will not get the support they need. The long-term consequences for women's health is incalculable yet the ConDems are continuing to push through short-sighting cuts to frontline services that put more women, children and men at risk of sexual violence. 

The Mumsnet Campaign won't take into account these financial costs. Instead, it is focussing on the human cost; a cost that continues to be ignored in the destruction of the NHS and our welfare state.

Twitter hashtags: #WeBelieveYou and #WeVote 

Mumsnet Survey on Rape and Sexual Violence

Rape Crisis England and Wales  
  • Freephone: 0808 802 9999 
  • 12-2:30 pm and 7-9:30 pm. 
Find a rape crisis centre near you in England and Wales

Rape Crisis Scotland:  
  • Every day 6pm – 8pm
  •  08088 010302 
Current legal definition of rape: The Sexual Offences Act 2003 (the Act) came into force on the 1st May 2004. The purpose of the Act was to strengthen and modernise the law on sexual offences, whilst improving preventative measures and the protection of individuals from sexual offenders. The Act extends the definition of rape to include the penetration by a penis of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person. 

The 2003 Act also changes the law about consent and belief in consent. The word "consent" in the context of the offence of rape is now defined in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. A person consents if he or she agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. The essence of this definition is the agreement by choice. The law does not require the victim to have resisted physically in order to prove a lack of consent. The question of whether the victim consented is a matter for the jury to decide, although the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) considers this issue very carefully throughout the life of the case. 

What is sexual (indecent) assault? Sexual assault is an act of physical, psychological and emotional violation, in the form of a sexual act, which is inflicted on someone without consent. It can involve forcing or manipulating someone to witness or participate in any sexual acts, apart from penetration of the mouth with the penis, the penetration of anus or vagina (however slight) with any object or the penis, which is rape. 

Further Information:

Guardian: Women's Groups Struggle Among Funding Cuts

Touchstone Blog: Cuts to women's Domestic Violence Services

Cuts Watch 390: 100% Funding cut to Liverpool's Rape Crisis Centres

Women's Views on the News: Funding Cuts to Glasgow's Rape Crisis Centres

End Violence Against Women

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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Nice workfare if you can get it.

We thought you might be interested in this position working nights at Tesco - for your £67 a week JSA, plus travel expenses.

It's one of the 1,400 positions Tesco fills by using staff on 'workfare' schemes - that is, funded by taxpayers. They say that 300 of those obtained paid employment with the company.

Tesco's financial report last year (record profits of £3.5bn) boasted that they made £14,300 profit per employee. With an increasing number of their staff employed without wages, we expect that will increase even more. Lucky old Tesco.

Some people seem unclear about the way these schemes function: There is no job contract.

The employer has a deal with one of the scheme administrators, like A4E who get around £5k for each claimant placed. The claimant is sent on placement by the JobCentrePlus. The claimant doesn't get a choice and their benefits can be stopped if they don't do as they're told.

The employer/provider doesn't get to choose choose who is sent. Their contract is with the agency - to provide the place - and the worker is controlled by the government.

Since the employer doesn't employ the workfarer, employment laws do not apply to the post. With compulsory, indefinite workfare being rolled out for disabled and sick people, this raises concerns about bullying and abuse on placements as well as the obvious dangers to people's health.

Fellow Frother MmeLindor has blogged more on the Tesco job at

There are currently 8 job seekers for every job. Obviously, these schemes take vacancies off the market - why pay wages, when you can get the taxpayer to provide staff for free?

Read our first post about workfare here - take a look at the readers' comments. Find out more at

Mainstream retailers using workfare staff include:
Miss Selfridge
Dorothy Perkins
BHSMarks & Spencer
Holland & Barrett
Royal Mail (pilot scheme)
Burger King
Pizza Hut
Greggs the bakers
Booker Wholesale
WH Smith

Retailers who don't use workfarers:
The Co-op & Co-operative group
John Lewis & Waitrose
99p Stores has withdrawn
Waterstones has withdrawn
TKMaxx has withdrawn
Sainsbury's has withdrawn
Poundland has withdrawn
Superdrug say they will withdraw
Matalan has suspended its involvement
Argos has suspended its involvement
Greggs is reviewing its involvement
Tesco has altered the terms of its involvement

The Independent, 18th Feb 2012
The Independent, 24th Feb 2012
BBC, 24th Feb 2012

Tesco, Sept 2011 (Note dress code) 5 wanted

What can I do?

Boycott the companies exploiting staff on benefits.

Sign this petition:

Tweet your objections here:

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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Save Our Free Health Service

We have until the 16th May to petition the Government to drop their Health Bill and call for a re-think.

For clues as to where the Health Bill will lead us in its present form, watch this Panorama report on America's underclass. Most ended up on the streets due to healthcare costs.

Add your name to the Health Bill petition here:

Please share this link as widely as possible:-

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Thursday, 2 February 2012

Here's to hoping you never get sick or lose your job...

It's hard to know what to write today.

Yesterday was a day of opportunity, a chance to put the odious Welfare Reform Bill a little bit to rights with 7 small amendments proposed by the House of Lords. Yes, each one reduced the amount of total savings projected in upfront terms - but long term the opportunities they provided disabled people, single parents and the unemployed in expensive areas would have saved a lot more. Instead, Financial Privilege has been used and abused to ignore the expert opinions provided by the House of Lords

Three concessions have been offered to the Welfare Reform Bill by the government as follows:

• Families affected by the £26,000 welfare cap will be given at least nine months "grace period" to adapt to the loss of benefits, by finding a job or moving house.

• A discretionary fund will be established for local authorities to use in "difficult cases" - such ensuring a family is not forced to move when a child is at a critical stage in its schooling.

• The lowest income single parents seeking support from the Child Support Agency will not be charged a fee (the current plan proposes a £50 fee for parents on out of work benefits)

@BendyGirl said the rest best, and we will leave it to her: The Death of Decency

#Frothers will keep running and campaigning - keep following for more updates on changes to Britain's Welfare State.

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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Welfare Reform Bill - The Last Stand

Here's where we are at the end of the House of Lords debates over the Welfare Reform Bill.

Amendment 1: Setting Lower Rate DLA for children at no less than 2/3rds the rate for Higher Rate claimants.

Amendment 12: Protecting housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have un-needed spare rooms

Amendment 36a: Protecting young disabled people's eligibility for contributory Employment Support Allowance (ESA)

Amendment 38: Raising to 24 months the proposed 12-month limit on claiming contributory ESA.

Amendment 38a: Exempting cancer patients from the contributory ESA limits

Amendment 59: Excluding child benefit from the £26,000 household benefit cap.

Amendment 62c: Dropping the proposal to charge single parents for using the Child Support Agency.

Tomorrow is the day that Ian Duncan Smith is threatening to push through the Welfare Reform Bill without the above amendments - fought hard for by charities, campaigners, the House of Lords and all of us - these amendments might help save homes and keep people with disabilities and children just that bit further away from poverty.

I think a lot of us would rather see the whole bill chucked out - even with the amendments there are going to be some very vulnerable people stuck in extremely tough situations, but if the amendments are all we can have let the House of Commons know they must take them.

What can we do now?

It's too late for letter writing, but it's a good moment to get on Twitter! You can see the list of Labour MPs on Twitter, Liberal Democrats on Twitter as well as Other parties on Twitter and if you're feeling optimistic (remember a few Conservative Lord's have rebelled already, particularly around the CSA changes) Conservatives on Twitter

You can use the hashtags #wrb #frothers and for disability news #spartacusreport

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Saturday, 28 January 2012

YAY! I'm going to be cured!

That's right! I'm going to be cured with a stroke of a pen! I'll get right out of my wheelchair and be the same as everyone else!

Yes, with a stroke of a pen, someone is going to cure what even science cannot cure. Damn lazy doctors, why did they not think of that?

Under the proposed PIP (Personal Independent Payment) rules, wheelchair users will no longer be entitled to help as, apparently, a wheelchair means we no longer have any moblity problems.

This is despite the fact that NHS wheelchairs are not up to the job. I was informed by WCS that their concern is not how you mange outdoors; they only need to make sure you can wheel around indoors.

To catch a train we have to give 24 hrs notice and we can only catch the train at the time we have booked it for (freedom of choice, anyone?)

So if we miss the train we could be stuck as they do not have to put us on it. Oh, and no arriving last minute: we're expected to be there 30 mins early.
Article: Telegraph
Trains often have 1, maybe 2, wheelchair spaces on them. So if another one is there - or bikes or luggage or a pram - chances are you'll be dumped between carriages.

And don't forget, not all train stations are accessible.
We'd better avoid mentioning London Underground.

Buses? Well, that depends. Are they accessible everywhere? Answer is no.

Do they have a ramp and, if they have, will it always work or will the driver be willing to get out of his seat to lower it? Answer: no. (Spotting the theme yet?)
Cartoon: Crippen
Will we try to board the bus and find out we can't because of a buggy? Answer: YES.

Cars:  When your legs don't work this tend to cause problems with driving (check out next time what people do with those pesky leg things in a car.)

So, often, mobility allowance goes towards an adapted car with hand controls to avoid the above issues.

Outdoors, we all know that the world or even the UK is exactly flat and smooth! Level footpaths everywhere, with proper dropped kerbs, no?

Answer: the only flat smooth surfaces are inside shopping centres. But you've got to get there first (see above.)

Indoors, now: you want to try something? Sit on a computer chair and ask someone to tie your legs together. Without moving them at all or putting them down, get onto your couch. Don't bum shuffle or wiggle; that's cheating! I can see you!

Now try repeating it back from the couch. This is the time when you pray your neighbour can't peep through your window; they might think you've got into bondage ... if they blush next time you see them, you'll know they peeked.

If you mastered that one, now on the chair again grab hoover with both hands and hoover - well, the 1m reach in front of you because it is kinda tricky to move when you need both hands to do that, but both hands are holding the hoover (throwing it doesn't get the floor clean!)
Phew! After that you need a coffee or something! Pick kettle up in hand - uh, oh, only one hand to get around - fill it with water, balance carefully, turn on kettle.

Back to tap. Empty cup. Well, that's easy. Fill cup with boiling water ... one hand thing again, try moving carefully, spill hot water down self, argh!

Great. Not only does your neighbour think you're indulging in afternoon bondage, now you look like you wet yourself.

Bugger it. Grab bottle of wine, stay still, open said bottle, have a drink and be grateful you don't have mobility problems!

Now that's my light-hearted look and I haven't even covered what it is really like ... but do you still think the new PIP proposals and cuts to DLA are fair?

Looks like Maxine won't get ESA ;)


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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Civil Disobedience, Anyone?

An huge amount of modern protest is about writing letters and emails, and informing uninformed.

However, there is still a place for a good old fashioned picket or act of civil disobedience - it makes headlines and if #frothers came together to do anything it was to make sure people knew what was going on to the welfare state we're so proud of.

Feeling fiesty?

Message from the Invisible wants you in central London for an active protest:

On Saturday 28th January in central London, a group of disabled, sick and elderly people are going to engage in a daring and disruptive act of civil disobedience, and they’ve asked for our support.

Read more about the details (including accessibility information) here

Got big ideas?

Or if you think you've got the answer to reforming the welfare state in a more fair way, it's your last chance to sign up for Benefits Camp which happens on the 3rd of February you can either attend in person or online, places are still available and a representative of the Department of Work and Pensions who worked on the Welfare Reform Bill.

Need a reminder why?

Read the analysis of the effects of PIP on disabled people based on the Department of Work and Pensions own documents and examples.

Need a summary? If you lose your leg you probably STILL won't qualify for a mobility car.


That's what I said.

We still need your letters and emails...

This time we need you to focus on MPs - the final reading of the welfare reform bill is in the House of Lords on 31st January, then returns to the House of Commons the very next day - February 1st.

Let your MP now you support the changes to the welfare reform bill and why, as well as that they need to vote it through to keep your support. Write To Them

#frothers #wrb #spartacusreport

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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The last day of welfare reform @UKHouseOfLords

Today's debates cover scrapping the Social Care Fund Read here about why it will cause Britain's poorest people to spiral into debt or here about people who have used the social fund in the past and how they spent the money.

As well as the changes from CSA to CMEC find out about how this will lead to LESS absent parents paying their fair share and why #frothers support Gingerbread's campaign to have this stopped.

Keep up to date

Via the House of Lords today, at their live video stream. Or if you'd like an important bits as-it-happens text version you can follow at the Guradian's live welfare reform bill blog

According to the live blog, the key votes today are likely to take place around 5.30pm (the one on the social fund) and 6.45pm (the one on the Child Support Agency).

Keep up the pressure

Keep tweeting, hashtags #frothers #wrb.

Remember many MPs and Lords have twitter accounts, and you can tweet the House of Lords directly @UKHouseOfLords

Lord Mackay has tabled an amendment for CMEC charges to be waved for parents who no choice but to use the service, let the House of Lords know you expect them to vote this through, as well as to save the Social Fund.

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House of Lords Debates Child Maintenance Reforms.

Today the House of Lords is considering changes to the Child support Agency. Frother HuntyCat has already covered the changes to the CSA here. I would just like to highlight the statement by the charitable organization Gingerbread who support single parents.

The failure to ensure that non-resident parent’s financially support their children is directly responsible for large numbers of children living in poverty. The changes to the CSA will just push further lone parent families into poverty.

Government child maintenance charging plans under fire

Plans to charge single parents to use the future CSA, including up to 12% of any maintenance collected by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission are set to be challenged by a senior Conservative Peer next week on the final day of the Welfare Reform Bill’s Report Stage.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who as Margaret Thatcher’s Lord Chancellor introduced the Child Support Act 1991, has tabled an amendment that would exempt from the charges those parents who have no alternative but to use the statutory maintenance service, because private arrangements are not possible or appropriate. The amendment is due to go to a vote on Wednesday 25th January.

The amendment would prevent the Government imposing the following charges on parents who turn to the statutory maintenance service because, without its help, their children would not receive fair and regular child maintenance:

• An up-front application charge levied on the applicant (overwhelmingly ‘parents with care’, around 97% of whom are mothers) in order to use the future new Agency. The Government is discussing a charge of 100 or £50 for an applicant on benefits.

• A ‘collection charge’ taken by the Agency from each maintenance payment it collects, in the range of 7-12% of the payment, before the money is passed on for the child/children.

There is a further ‘collection surcharge’ which the Government proposes to levy on the ‘non-resident parent’, additional to actual maintenance due, in the range 15-20% of the maintenance liability, where the Agency has to step in to collect the maintenance to ensure it gets paid. This would not be affected by the amendment.
Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said:

“We are very grateful to Lord Mackay for taking up this vital issue in the Lords, and the indications of support he has received so far show the high level of cross-party concern at the government’s proposals.

“The government’s plans to charge parents to use the Child Support Agency (CSA) in order to ‘incentivise’ them to instead make private arrangements. But in reality most single parents go to the CSA as a last resort - when they have to, not because they want to. If a child’s other parent simply won’t respond or refuses to pay, these government proposals will penalise the parent with main care and her children. That’s plainly unfair.“

“Single parents tell us that for many families these charges would mean going without basics like school uniforms, pulling children out of activities like sport or music, or even turning off the heating.

“We fully support efforts to help separated parents work together to deal with the financial, emotional and practical consequences of separation. But the government needs to realise that in very many cases that isn’t possible, and if charges are introduced then it will be children who lose out.”

Today a briefing has been sent to Peers supporting Lord Mackay’s amendment from a range of family and children’s charities and organisations concerned about child poverty including Gingerbread, Oxfam, the Mothers’ Union, the Children’s Society, and Child Poverty Action Group [2].

In a survey of their members, Gingerbread found that almost half (46%) of those using the CSA would not be able to afford the proposed fees, and almost three-quarters (72%) of those parents said they would have to go without maintenance altogether as a result [3]. Child maintenance made up 20% of household income for the lowest single parents, and was mostly spent on essentials such as food, children’s clothes, and school costs such as uniforms and trips [4].

further notes and references are available here at Gingerbread

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The Shocking Truth About David Cameron

Suddenly it all becomes clear......

David Cameron is in fact Iggle Piggle....

How on earth did we miss this before?

Tory Colours? Tick

Vacant look? Tick

Not making any sense? Tick

No wonder this country is in trouble!

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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Do We Give £26,000 a Year To The Undeserving Poor?

The Undeserving Poor are work-shy scroungers. They get paid more than the average family income to have dozens of kids and live with them in vast sprawling flats in Chelsea smoking fags and watching Sky on their flat screen tellies.

Or are they?

Yesterday it was decided in the House of Lords that the undeserving poor is anyone who recieves more than £26k in benefits. There are certain exclusions but probably not the ones you'd expect.

Nobody with any bit of humanity in their bones wants the deserving poor to be hurt by benefit cuts. They want the elderly and the disabled, and their carers to be protected. They certainly don't want those who do the right thing and get a job - the working poor to be hurt. At the moment anyone can lose their job without warning and it is taking 12mths or more to get another job, so protection for those recently unemployed and working hard to find work again would be sensible as well.

On the face of it, £26k is a lot of money. A single person with no additional responsibilties or circumstances would have to earn around 34k a year to take home 26k. If you earn less than that - as most of us do, the average individual wage is around £22k before tax, and the average family net income (after tax and plus benefits) is also around £26k.

£26k sounds like a huge amount, are there really people who can't survive on £500 a week and why should a family with nobody working get that much for free?

In the end, it's almost always because of how much rent they have to pay. Even not very nice parts of London and the South East have extremely high rents, more than £1000 per month is the norm. Families with low incomes receive Housing Benefit payments to cover their rent, because wages are so low 1 in 8 recipients of housing benefit IS working, which just shows how much of an impact housing prices are having on everybody living in these areas.

After Rent and Council Tax families in expensive areas are not being given any more to live on pw than families living anywhere else in the country.

If you are unemployed you will be paid a fixed sum based on the number of bedrooms you are calculated to need (how many children and adults are living together - children and couples are expected to share) and then, in the future, given a figure that would completely pay the rent for the cheapest 30% of the available market. If you can't find anything that cheap you will have to top up your rent payments yourself out of your other benefits. This situation is extremely common as this 30% figure includes social housing whose rents are deliberately significantly lower than private market rate, these council flats and houses are usually inaccessible to all but those in the most dire circumstances due to the chronic shortage of stock, a situation set to get worse. Also included but unavailable are the thousands of Buy To Let properties whose owners mortgage agreements exclude Housing Benefit claimants.

A London School of Economics blogger shows how quickly just the rental cost for a cheap property in London can spiral a household's finances towards that magiv £500pm figure.

"£392.31 for rent (the allowable rent for Tolworth, typical of a cheaper property)
£39.06 for council tax (Kingston Council, Band E)
£28.18 for gas and electricity (DECC English average + 20% for large family, in 2011 £s
£7.21 for water (OfWAT UK average + 20% for large family)
£6.00 for telephone/broadband - the cheapest BT anytime package

Starting from £500 means that you have £26.23 per week left over for the family, which is 62p per person per day to the nearest penny.

We can argue over these exact figures. Clearly the family could choose to be cold, or to shower infrequently to save money. But against that, private rented housing is typically less well insulated, the family are at home every day, so energy bills may be larger still. I have not included a mobile phone, or any calls to mobile phones, or to 08 numbers not included in the basic package.

In any case, even after rent and council tax, the family has only £1.64 per person per day to live on. No alternative figures will make any difference: this is simply not a living income for a family with four children in private rented accommodation in a cheap part of outer London"

In a Mumsnet discussion, TheHumanCatapult got curious about what happens to normal working families living in such expensive areas, and what would happen if they were to lose their job:

"Out of curiosity, I did a Turn2Us calculation for a 35-year-old couple with a SAHM and five children (all healthy, no childcare) living somewhere like Wandsworth in a mortgaged home. My fictional man earns £35k and pays £150 a month to his pension plan.

They were entitled to just over £11k in benefits. So, although his take-home pay was slightly over £22k, the state tops him up to £34k net. This is bizarre because it shows the government accepts his family needs £34k but seems to think the same family will need £8k less than that if he loses his job or gets injured - £667 a month less? They'll lose their home."

Now that child Benefit has been excluded from the cap they would have their 26k capped benefits topped up to 31k, but this would still leave them £250 per month less to live on.

But! I hear you say He's only just lost his job, surely they won't have to live with the cap straight away?

Well, actually no. Despite Ian Duncan Smith heavily implying that this would be the case 6 months breathing room to give families a chance to find a job wasn't added to the welfare reform bill. The cap will apply straight away.

Surely they can still move house and go somewhere cheaper though?

Yes, they could. But they probably won't.

Moving house will solve the immediate problem (not having enough money to eat) but could lead to a life on benefits, and this is just not something most people want to risk. the vast majority of people in the UK realise that they are better off working, not just for the cash in hand now but for their potential to earn more in the future and don't want to do anything that would risk them becoming long-term unemployed.

At the moment when most people become redundant and jobs are scarce they will look for jobs in a wide area, and if they have to move to wherever they get offered a job. Moving BEFORE you have been offered a job is extremely risky, what if in the cheaper places the reason the rent is cheap is because there are no jobs? Even in reasonably affluent areas like mine 4 pages of job ads in the local paper have become half a page, most either highly specified or potentially dodgy work from home adverts.

According to nomis there are 1.4 million people claiming unemployment benefits, at last count there were 269,089 unfilled job vacancies at the job centre, leaving more than a million people without a chance of finding a job at all.

And that figure doesn't include the several million more people looking to return to work but not claiming benefits, or those already working part time but looking for more hours or a full-time job.

Job seekers would be wise to do whatever they can to make them as attractive as possible to employers, and staying local to high employment areas is a good idea. It's not just that you won't have to delay starting at your new job while you move house (and potentially children's schools etc) but also that jobs are often claimed before they are even advertised, through getting to know local employers, letting them know your skills and that you are available now.

Equally what if you move from area A to area B because it's cheaper, then get a job in area C - moving twice (or more if you are unfortunate enough to be employed by several struggling businesses in a row) in quick succession is extremely expensive, disruptive and potentially impossible if you don't have savings or a kind friend or relative who can loan you money to move house.

To many, getting into debt may seem like a better option than risking moving somewhere new and becoming the long-term unemployed.

Finally - some people really can't move. Just 2 examples:

If you're caring for an elderly relative who lives nearby and couldn't afford to pay for someone to replace you would you want to leave them behind?

Some single parents are subject to court orders that state which school their children can attend, break it and go to jail. Effectively this limits the parents to living in fairly small areas.

Okay, it will be tough for some people, but at least vulnerable people are being protected.


Remeber that list of the deserving poor? You may be interested to learn who hasn't won exemptions to the benefits cap:

Kinship carers: those who foster family members, they save the government huge sums of money by keeping vulnerable children out of care and recieve very little in return - may well be forced to move away from support networks and the Social Services departments supporting the arrangements. Without this help many kinship relationships are at risk of breaking down under both financial and emotional strain. Not protected

Carers for the disabled and elderly: for the princely sum of £55pw, carers save the tax payer thousands of pounds per week by providing the specialist care their relatives need in their own homes 24hrs a day 365 days a year. Not protected

Disabled people who recieve ESA but not DLA: ESA means too disabled too work, DLA is an in and out of work benefit, paid to those with both care and mobility needs at different levels depending on severity. DLA is protected, but those few people in the (admittedly fairly unusual) position of recieving ESA but not DLA not protected

Potentially all disabled people: You see, DLA is excluded, but over the next few years DLA is being replaces with PIP and it hasn't been decided if PIP will be made exempt or not. Disability is expensive - not all treatments and equipment is provided by the NHS, even wheelchairs have to be saved up for and paid for out of personal finances. Adaptions sometimes have to be made to homes, transport is more expensive for those unable to drive or use public transport, this has not been recognised in the plans. Not protected

The working poor: Anyone who recieves Working Tax Credit is exempt from the cap - those already netting £26k in take home pay will still recieve any additional benefits they are entitled to. However, in order to qualify for working tax credit and be considered working you MUST work a minimum number of hours. Currently that figure is 16. It is moving up to 24. That means anyone working part time, at say 20 hours a week is suddenly going to be treated as though they are unemployed even though they ARE working. There are a lot of reasons why someone might only work part time: caring commitments, prohibitive childcare costs, minor disabilities or having your hours cut by an employer in economic trouble. Not protected

Those who have just lost their job but have worked all their lives: could you live on 62p a day? Not protected

What Can I Do?

These agreements have already been passed in the House of Lords, however one amendment was made - that Child Benefit be excluded from the cap. It's not much, but it's an attempt to save tens if not hundreds of thousands of children being pushed into poverty and 20,00 families from becoming homeless

Please Write to your MP and tell them why you support the exclusion of Child Benefit in the cap and if you are unhappy with the Cap in general.

At the moment the government believes that the public supports them, if you don't, let them know!

Don't forget you can tweet many MPs. hashtags #frothers #wrb

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Cuts feed sharks.

Mme Lindor's new blog post sums up why intended changes to the Social Fund will force hard-up Brits into spiralling debt, fuelled by short-term lenders charging up to 4,500% interest.

Picture: Mumsnet

Pay Day Loans, in case you have never come across them, are taken up by people who are unlikely to be awarded credit elsewhere. With incredibly high interest rates - pay-day loans can go from 4,500% with Wonga to 2,500% with Uncle Buck, or 1,200% with Payday UK or 1,700% with Kwik Cash.

No wonder almost half of those who took out a Pay Day Loan reported that their financial situation worsened because of the loan. Interestingly, when I googled Wonga to find out a bit about the company, I discovered that it has £90m of venture capital behind it. So someone is expecting to make shitloads of money from this company.

Please read her post, then write to your MP and the Lords about this ill-planned cut.

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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Hidden Housing Crisis - an impending disaster

There is a crisis in the UK. Not one that the media pays enough attention to but it’s a shocker. Here are the statistics:
Picture: Shelter

1.8 million households on local authority registers
70,000 children spent this Christmas homeless
1.6 million children live in overcrowded, temporary or run down housing.

Consecutive governments have failed to build enough social housing to meet needs. Instead people on low incomes, who should have qualified for social housing, are encouraged to rent privately. They then get housing benefit to meet their private rents.

Claimants are not just layabouts: Shelter's chief executive Campbell Robb explains:

“The vast majority of housing benefit claimants are either pensioners, disabled people, those caring for a relative or hard-working people on low incomes, and only 1 in 8 people who receive housing benefit is unemployed

The much-publicised £400pw cap - which mainly affects large families or renters in expensive areas - is not all that is happening. The housing benefit rates have changed from being calculated on the bottom 50% of rents in a given area to the bottom 30%. This means that all across the UK, in all sized households, tenants face a shortfall between their rent and housing benefit.
Housing benefit is calculated within the Local Housing Allowance rules. Local housing allowance (LHA) rates are used to calculate housing benefit for tenants renting from private landlords. The rates depend on the area in which you are making a claim and are calculated each month. For example, the entitlement on a two bedroom property in Central London will be £290 per week; in Merthyr Cynon it will be a maximum of £80 a week for a two-bed home.

Last year I rented a two bedroom flat in Plymouth. The rent was £550 per month and met by housing benefit.

Now the maximum I would get would be £520 per month - leaving me with a £30 shortfall. A shortfall: when I have 2 kids in a small 2 bed flat a long, long way from London. Believe me, I wasn't living in an exclusive area!

Amidst rising food and fuel prices and other welfare cuts, even a small shortfall can be disastrous to a stretched budget.

The shortfall will vary across the country, if it is large it may mean moving or homelessness.

It is very likely to cause homelessness. Here's why:
  • Their landlord may not drop their rent and they also may not be able to afford the move to somewhere cheaper.
  • Usually renters need to give two months’ notice. Properties let very quickly and landlords won't wait two months, so this entails paying overlapping rents.
  • Also the landlord can legally withhold the deposit until after the tenant has left.
So tenants will have to pay overlapping rents, deposit plus one month’s rent in advance and removal costs. Inevitably this will lead to debt and, eventually, homelessness.

It  has already been estimated that 40,000 families could be made homeless by welfare changes: see this article from Shelter.
If Shelter's right, the changes will cost the nation more.
Temporary accommodation is expensive; it cost £400pw when I was in a council-funded B&B.

Picture: BBC
Many are hoping that the Housing Benefit cuts will be matched with rent cuts. This is unlikely: rents across the nation have been rising due to a high demand for homes – explained here. Landlords won't drop rents if others will be able to afford them. In many towns and cities there will be more claimants than affordable homes. Randeep Ramesh explains in The Guardian:

“It is unlikely that the poor will be able migrate to cheaper parts of the capital: in Newham, east London, there will be twice as many claimants as there are low-cost homes. In Croydon, 17,000 people will be chasing 10,000 properties.

“The effect will be felt not just in south-east England. Before today, Birmingham had more than 37,000 homes with rents affordable on welfare. Now 34,500 housing benefit claimants will be chasing 23,000 low-cost houses, according to the analysis, carried out for the Guardian. On the Mersey, 21,000 people collecting local housing allowance will only be able to afford 12,000 homes in Liverpool.

“Because welfare is set at Westminster, the cuts will also be felt in Scotland. In Glasgow there will be a thousand more benefit recipients than there are properties which can be rented with the government's reduced housing subsidy.”

There has also been a change to the shared room entitlement. Previously if you were under 25 you would only get enough for a bedsit or room in a shared house.  This has changed to under 35. It also applies to people currently living in one bedroom flats.

Using my home town of Plymouth again, just to prove this isn't a London centric issue, I'll examine how this would affect a newly-redundant 30-year-old with no kids, living in a rented one bedroom flat:

Job seeker's allowance is £67.50.

He would have also previously got £92.31 housing benefit for his one bedroom flat but now is only entitled to the £67 sharer's rate.

Total: down from £159.81 to £134.50 a week.

After making up his rent shortfall, he'll have just £42.19 left for food, bills and transport to interviews.

And that's only if he's in a cheap flat, with rent in the bottom 30% of the market ...

Find A Property put an average 1 bed in Plymouth at £109 per week.

Paying average rent, then, he would have £25.50 a week to live on.

He could move to a bedsit if he could find one cheap enough, and afford the move.

I hope this example demonstrates how this reform ruins the safety net for the average working person. If you are young and can afford a one bed flat with your wages, but then need temporary support due to redundancy or sickness, you may not get it. You may be faced with poverty or homelessness or get into massive debt funding a move you can't afford - when all you really needed was a short-term benefit until you find something else.

We all appreciate the peace of mind that an adequate welfare safety net provides. To know if sickness or redundancy hit us we will have a decent home and enough for life's essentials.

These housing benefit reforms, are therefore, an attack on all of us.

By Opinionated Mum.

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Disability Living Allowance - Lords review on Tuesday

What's Disability Living Allowance?

DLA is a payment to help people cope with disabilities. It is not an out-of-work benefit: if you need to use a wheelchair, for example, or someone to help you get out of bed and go to work, it helps towards the cost. If you're working but need expensive medication and/or transport to distant hospital appointments, your DLA softens the cost impact.

How does it work?

The amounts are awarded on a fixed scale according how 'disabled' the government thinks you are; it's not related to the actual costs of the assistance you need. It is, however, a passport or gateway benefit. Getting DLA qualifies you for other help such as a blue badge that lets you park as close as possible to where you need to go, home heating or the scheme that allows claimants to sacrifice part of their DLA and rent an adapted mobility car instead.

What's the problem?

The number of DLA claimants has rocketed from 2.25 million in 2000 to 3.2 million this year. About £12.6 billion is paid out in DLA. The Government has implied this is because of cheating, however the DWP's own fraud team say fewer than 1 out of every 200 claimants is lying. The more likely reason for the increase is that disabled people are expected to fend for themselves more nowadays and also live longer due to medical advances.

Ten years ago, a disabled person might have got a home help from their care team or have been kept in hospital when they couldn't cope. That kind of support has almost vanished, so people look to the benefit to help deal with their disability problems. The passport effect of DLA is important, too - it's often worth more than the benefit itself. The increase is also partly due to rising mental health problems - again, largely thanks to reduced in-patient care, and made worse by widespread problems with stress and depression.

If DLA isn't about unemployment and fraud is tiny, why is it being scrapped?

Two reasons:
  • The DLA 'disability' test is poorly designed, is weighted against people with social and psychiatric problems, and often clumsily executed. Up to 70% of DLA refusals are overturned on appeal to a tribunal.
  • To save money. The Government has stated it wants to save 20% on DLA. Since only half a percent of claims are fake, this means they want to cut 1 in 5 disabled people off from support.

How will the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit differ?

  • It's a (somewhat) simplified benefit with only 4 levels of award instead of 11.
  • You will have to have been disabled for 6 months before qualifying, instead of 3.
  • We're told the criteria will change to be less biased against psychiatric & variable conditions.
  • The government will pay out 20% less to help disabled people - taking away £20 for every £100.
  • It will probably be administered by ATOS, who make all the bad decisions on DLA.
  • The appeals process will be more difficult.

So how much will the country save by not helping 1 in 5 disabled people?

  • The Government wants to shave  £2,170 million off the DLA bill
  • It has estimated the implementation cost at £675 million.
  • Even if the cost estimate is accurate (they're usually too low), net savings will be £1,495 million.

Just to remind you, the national deficit is approx 1,000,000 million. The DLA saving represents 0.0015% which looks like a small gain for a lot of human misery.

They claim there's "some evidence" that people getting DLA tend to become unemployed. Their implication is that receiving DLA makes you workshy: I'd say it's more likely that being disabled makes you unemployed.

Why is everyone so worried?

In the process of simplifying the rules several key changes have been made, including treating those who can propel their own wheelchairs as though they have no mobility problems at all this clearly is not true and does not recognise the additional costs to individuals who, for the most part, are unable to use public transport and rely on either adapted mobility cars or taxis.

Another is that needing ongoing assistance or supervision are not mentioned in the drafts. Those caring for people with learning difficulties, disabilities which can flare up at random (like epilepsy), or whose behaviour can be unpredictable and difficult to manage (like Autism) are concerned that they will lose not just DLA but also their Carers Allowance if they are re-classified and deemed fit, a significant loss for those who cannot stay safe in their own homes or go out alone.

Atos's continuing involvement is also very worrying, given their poor record. Amongst many complaints a commentor on a Guardian article about this issue claimed that when they attended an interview with an Atos assessor they refused her request for a female assessor, despite the fact that she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being raped, the interviewer:

"insisted on examining me physically without a chaperone. Despite sobbing and panicking during the exam, he then informed me that because I'd let him touch me, I was obviously lying about being raped and therefore couldn't have any of the mental health issues I said I had because I'd been raped.

I was so distressed I don't really remember getting home and was affected for weeks, having to have my meds increased by the doctor... [I] was so distressed that the receptionist refused to let me travel home alone and called me a cab. I got zero points for mental health and was passed 'fit for work'... Just to top it off, he gave me zero points for physical health as well and I had to appeal, leaving me in a financial black hole for months and very grateful for my overdraft."

Some people, for example those with Autism or those with complex disabilities like deafblindness are likely to struggle to interact with the assessor sufficiently to complete the assesment at all, and should be made exempt from the process. In fact it seems possible that those intending on claiming disability benefits illegally will have an easier time 'faking' infront of an assesor with little in-depth knowledge of many disabilities than a person genuinely suffering but who struggles to communicate this.

Other individuals with lower level needs may still need support - they're not being classed as medically fit, but just fit 'enough' to be denied assistance. This does not recognise the impact that disability has on many people with low-level needs and a low-level payment should remain in order to support them to live and work as normally as possible.

How can you help?

Write to Lib-Dem, Crossbench and non-Conservative Lords and Bishops and let them know you expect their support and to vote for amendements that recognise that disability is complex and those who have disabilities need extra support, you can use all the areas we've picked out from the 'Why are people worried?' section, just some of them, or your own words - the Lords did really well against the ESA changes last week, they can do it again.

Write to your MP! The whole welfare reform bill will be back in the House of Commons soon - tell your MP to agree changes made by the House of Lords. We know the economy isn't in perfect shape, but if cuts need to be made hitting the sick and disabled first is the wrong kind of moral decision - it isn't their fault. Remind them how low the fraud rate of DLA is (just half a percent), and that 20% cuts will harm those who are genuinely disabled.

Sign Pat's Petition! which asks Parliament to have a pause, stop and consider the impact of cuts on disabled people.

And finally... keep tweeting! #Frothers #Spartacusreport #ttd, you can even tweet @UKHouseOfLords!

By Stubbs and Frothingangry

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Friday, 13 January 2012

NHS Funding and its distribution. Where does the money flow?

This post is intended to be a brief introduction to NHS Funding and its distribution.  It attempts to pull together some of the key elements of that regime in an understandable way, so that non-financial readers can understand how the money flows around the system.  

The NHS.  Since it’s inception in 1942 the NHS has never ceased to be an organisation attracting great media interest.  This is in part because it plays such a personal role in all of our lives, being involved at some level from birth to death; in part because it is, depending on your sources at least the seventh largest employers in the world (after the US Department of Defence, Walmart, Chinese Army, and Indian State Railway to name but a few), with one in every 23 workers in England being an employee; and in part because it has always prided itself on its “free at the point of delivery” ethos, achieved through it being funded from the public purse.

Current Revenue Funding.  In 2012-13 the total revenue investment in local NHS services announced on the 14th December 2011, will be £91.6 billion, an increase on the previous year of 2.8%.  Though the NHS can count itself lucky that its funding has increased, it will still have to achieve substantial savings this year to balance its books.  This is because the increased funding that the NHS needs to maintain its current quality is increasing at a higher rate.  A victim of its own success, the NHS is having to treat patients who are living longer and falling victim to more complex illnesses, the population is growing, developments in pharmaceuticals and other technology is costly and of course fuel and transport costs are rising.

Distribution of Funding around the country.  This funding is usually distributed throughout the country to regional commissioning organisations called Primary Care Trusts on the basis of a weighted capitation formula.  In layman’s terms the money is handed out to an area on the basis of its population size and the age and health needs of that population.  It is then weighted to account for regional differences in the costs of providing healthcare.  Total expenditure on healthcare in 2010-11 was £87,608 million, see chart below.

Detailed information on the weighted capitation formula can be found within the Department of Health’s leaflet on the subject (7th Ed. Published in March 2011) An interesting point, though by no means the only one, is that it takes into account the number of people ‘registered’ with a GP in that area, so you could argue that area’s with large numbers not registered will suffer from a shortage of funding.

Buying Healthcare.  Once the local Primary Care Trust has it’s funding, it is then responsible for ‘buying’ healthcare services for it’s population.  At the time of writing there are very few Primary Care Trusts still providing any kind of healthcare themselves.  Their main role is to ascertain, through partnership working with Local Authorities, Social Services and other partners such as local police, what healthcare needs the population of that particular area has, to plan and secure those health services and improve the health of their population.  Primary Care Trusts cover populations ranging from approximately 250,000 to 1,000,000 people generally.

Hospitals.  A large proportion of the Primary Care Trust’s funding is therefore spent on what the NHS people refer to as “secondary care acute hospital providers”, or “Acute Trusts”, and what we refer to as ‘the local hospital’.  These are those organisations that we know well.  Surgeons, consultants, paediatricians, A&E departments, they all live here.  It’s the world of ER, Holby City, Grey’s Anatomy, House….you get the idea.

These organisations are still formally part of the ‘NHS’ in that they are statutary bodies with a responsibility to break even, and are non-profit with any suplus being invested back into the organisation.  However, when the government consolidates the ‘NHS’s various separate Financial Accounts to present the Department of Health Annual Report and Accounts, it currently excludes these organisation’s financial positions,(showing only spend given to Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities.) 

Each Hospital ‘Trust’ employs its own staff, much like a subsidiary of a large national company would, whilst still being employees of the larger NHS family. 

The Primary Care Trust pays the Hospital an amount each year calculated by reference to the planned level of activity the Hospital expects for that year and the nationally set price for each piece of activity. (The Payment By Results (PBR) system)

Other Healthcare Providers within the NHS.  Similarly the Primary Care Trusts will be paying other healthcare providing organisations, other ‘secondary care Trusts’, to provide mental health services, learning disability services, health services in prisons, community health services which include more rural district general hospitals, walk in centres, some clinics, health visitors… you get the idea.

Again, these organisations form part of the NHS as a whole.  All of the ‘Trusts’ referred to above, including the Primary Care Trusts themselves are statutory NHS bodies, and as such have a statutory responsibility to break even (i.e. to not make a financial loss!)

In 2010-11 total expenditure by Primary Care Trust's on Hospitals and other Secondary Care Health Care Providers was:  £66,101 million.  The breakdown of areas of that spend is shown in the chart below.

Primary Care.  The Primary Care Trust still needs to buy some other services for its population, and these are known as “primary care contractors”.  Interestingly it appears little known that these are the following:
  • Community pharmacies
  • Dental practices
  • Optometrists and
  • General Practitioner (GP) practices.
None of these form part of the NHS account when consolidated.  None of these are statutory NHS bodies.  They are all private contractors with their own accountants, their own payroll, their own profit and loss account.

They receive their money in a similar way to the other Trusts, in the form of a contract payment, but, unlike a Trust who receive a price per activity, repaying some if they don’t undertake the level of activity they planned, or indeed receiving more money if activity levels suddenly rise above planned levels; these organisations have very different contracts.  Many new Dental contracts are based on activity, and will incur a payment back to the Primary Care Trust if expected activity levels paid for are not reached in the year.  For GP Practices though, a large proportion of their contract payment is a price per patient on their list.  Whether that patient attends the GP practice that year for treatment is immaterial. 

GP Practices.  For GPs this payment is governed by the General Medical Services (GMS) contract, or the Personal Medical Services (PMS) contract, depending on which contract the practice signed up to.  The BMA General Practitioners Committee negotiates the contract on the GPs behalf each year.  Click here for the outcome of the negotiations on amendments to the contractual arrangements from April 2012, and here for more information on primary care overall, and primary medical contracting specifically. 

The contracts currently include payments to cover premises costs and IT costs in full.  This differs from a healthcare providing ‘Trust’ as described above, who will have to cover premises and IT costs out of the fixed  ‘price’ it is paid, thus being at risk from increased rent and rates costs.  Under the GMS and PMS regulations, actual rent and rates costs are reimbursed to GP practices, including a notional rent payment made to practices who already own their own building. 

Part of a GP practice payment is performance based dependent on meeting certain quality levels, indeed, some parts are still activity led, with practices receiving a price per injection for childhood immunisation work, for example.  But, should it cost the practice ‘less’ to provide their service than planned, the resulting profit is theirs to keep, similarly any loss is theirs to manage.

Total payments to primary care providers in 2010-11 reached £21,374 million.  See chart below.

The Future.  The NHS is currently in a period of change.  Primary Care Trusts will cease to exist in April 2013. Subject to the passing of the Health and Social Care Bill, for 2013-14 onwards the NHS Commissioning board will allocate resources to new Clinical Commissioning Groups.  A Clinical Commission Group is a group of existing GP practices.  G P practices have been asked to partner up with other local practices for form groups that will take on the responsibility for commissioning healthcare for the population, previously the role of the Primary Care Trust.

Those against this move argue that this is a conflict of interest.  That GP practices have a vested interest in where and how patients are treated, and moving treatment out of acute Trusts and into GP Practice settings would boost their income, making it difficult for them to judge objectively if the move is clinically advantageous to the patient.  They also argue that the economies of scale that a larger Trust benefits from may be lost, if activity is moved out to separate practices.

Those for the change argue that it is precisely this ‘interest’ that best places the GP to judge the best path of care for patients.  The inclusion of other clinical professionals, such as hospital consultants and community nurses, will help to ensure a balanced view of the patients care is taken into account.

The Health and Social Care Bill is currently making its way through parliament.  Whatever happens, the level of funding available to the NHS remains the same.  Whether the changes create improvements to the efficiency of the NHS, releasing funds to invest in improved care, remains to be seen.

Next Monday, 16th Jan, the Lords will consider major aspects of this Bill.

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