Calm Down, Dear – and Why I Won’t

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN10 - David Cameron, Le...

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This isn’t really a social work specific lesson although it helps, it’s something that comes in handy in all professions.

You give respect, you receive respect. Sometimes it can be a bit more complex and sometimes you work with people from whom you can never be expected to get that respect back from – because of underlying attitudes or because of personalities but it doesn’t matter too much – water off the back and you continue to treat those whom you come into contact with with respect.

It doesn’t hurt and you have to have a bit of a thick skin.

There are many of these reciprocal ‘lessons’. Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself is one that draws me back to my work, pre-qualification, as a care assistant. Don’t place someone in a care home you wouldn’t be happy to place your parent/child in. That can be more problematic because the supply and demand are not equivalent and sometimes geography limits the choice of residential care settings but I do think it is the best point to start from at the very least.

Provide services that you would want for yourself or your (insert close family/friend) would want. It’s fairly basic stuff.

So I think it indicates some of my discomfort about Cameron’s ‘calm down, dear’ moment in the House of Commons yesterday but more broadly, the level of banter and conviviality in Parliament that seems to replicate an  poor debating society for under 16s in a private school.

Sexist? Probably but did we ever think he was anything but? Intentionally so? No, I don’t think so. It’s the kind of talk and ‘rebuttal’ that comes naturally.

Disrespectful? Absolutely. It was a put down intended to diminish the speaker to whom it was addressed. That is more of my objection. Whether the person he was talking to was male or female, it is the kind of patronising tosh I don’t want to hear from a Prime Minister, although  I do think there is an agenda to diminish the sexist aspect and write off women who may be offended as ‘not being able to take a joke’ which  even further demeans those who might be offended by his comments or worse, use the feminist label to somehow make itself equivalent to having ‘no sense of humour’.

Honestly, if that is the level of humour that I should be chortling about, I’m very happy to be labelled as just ‘not getting it’ in favour of being a very proud feminist.

And how would you react if your manager said that to you? Well, not very positively. I know I wouldn’t.

Perhaps it is the ‘cut and thrust’ of the House of Commons? Lame response. As one of the people who doesn’t necessarily ‘enjoy’ the adversarial and frankly, childish response of our politicians waving and cheering like sheep in a  herd, I find it hard to understand the appeal of this rambunctiousness.  Oh, it’s tradition? Well, change it.

It is an indication that behaviour in the House of Commons follows a clear path from their schooldays. It is an attitude that automatically appeals to a certain type, and yes, a certain ‘class’ of person who feels comfortable in an environment where respect is a far distant imagination.

It is a work environment that encourages pieces like this in the Daily Telegraph. Seriously. Oh, what? I was supposed to find this ignorant and childish ‘blog’ by a major ‘quality’ newspaper which puts a little red ring around the breasts of a female MP and asks readers to ‘guess whose boobs these are?’ funny? Smacks of harassment to me. It actually sickens me.

Yes, sure, say I have ‘no sense of humour’ if that is your recourse but what kind of society condones this as humour? Not one I feel comfortable in and is ‘having a sense of humour’ so important that it can bypass respect, well, I’m happy to lack one.

Cameron talks of jokes and throw-away remarks but what he and the Daily Telegraph display is a lack of respect that he has probably never been party to by virtue of his position. The view of George Osborne laughing heartily at David Cameron’s intensely patronising ‘joke’ makes me realise how detached these politicians are from the reality of life in the UK at the moment.

We get the politicians we deserve though. That’s the tragedy. I just think we can do a whole lot better than these who seem to make a mockery of the political class of which they are members.

Budget 2011 – Reflections

When I go through the budget announcements I think on a couple of parallel lines. As well as the common ‘how am I affected’ line, I try to look at a wider effects of what the respective chancellor is trying to do or say through their budget plans.

For Osborne yesterday, I was distinctly underwhelmed. Not that I ever expected the budget announcement to be anything but irritatingly delivered in his slimy, sneering tones. Oops, did some of my political bias slip out there.

There are some good summaries around. I like this one from the BBC.

My A level Economics doesn’t really qualify me for detailed analysis but I’m always happy to give a point of view.

Ferrari 328 GTShttp2007@flickr

Fuel Duty

This is a purely selfish view and I raise that as an alert that is bound to irritate all my less urban readers but I don’t drive and yes, while I know that everyone doesn’t live in London and not everyone has access to the public transport system I might take for granted and I know fuel costs affect entire supply chains, we still have to account for the environmental and economic damage of our continuing reliance on fossil fuels.

Generally though, I’m fairly indifferent about the ‘headline’ for the budget but I have no doubt that even accounting for the fact that increased VAT will have raised the fuel duty over the 1p reduction which is ‘given back’, it will all make for good, positive headlines for the government.

There is some increase in the tax free car mileage allowance for those who use their cars for work but I pay no attention to these as I don’t drive. I know my transport costs have risen astronomically (thanks Boris) but I guess that will help people that drive. Again.

Income Tax

So the highest 50% tax rate is going to be reviewed? What about ‘we’re all in this together?’. Does that mean while benefits are cut and frozen and  public sector pay (yes, I know, the selfish element again) is frozen and VAT – possibly the most regressive tax in the ‘book’ – is increasing, the government has even considered dropping the 50% tax rate? Incredible. Just a reminder that this is the tax rate for those who earn over £150,000.

Personal tax allowances are going up which is generally good news although as reported the average gain by this will be 90p per week.

Pensions and Pensioners

On a positive note, I do think the idea of a flat rate state pension is good. So many people I come across in my work don’t claim pension credit which they would be entirely entitled to because they feel shamed into living on a pittance by a society that condemns the ‘claim culture’ even for those that desperately need every penny. Taking out the need to make a specific claim could potentially help a lot of people. However this will not affect today’s pensioners, more the shame.  This will take a long time to implement.

Sneakily as well, Osborne has reduced the Winter Fuel Allowance – as the Telegraph notes

Last night, it also emerged that pensioners are to lose out on winter fuel “top-up” payments that help them when bills are rising. This means the over-80s will see their payment reduced from £400 to £300. The allowance paid to the over-60s will drop by £50 to £200.

I haven’t honestly seen much reporting on this. It isn’t as if fuel prices are going down.

Public Sector Workers

Unsurprisingly Osborne bought into Hutton’s report on pensions in the public sector. As a public sector employee, it looks like my pension will be costing 3% more (plus the additional 1% rise in NI contributions that I’ll pay).  It isn’t something I’m overly happy about but it’s not surprising.

Some public sector workers earning below £21,000 will be spared the general pay freezes and receive an ‘uplift’ of £250. I was in favour of this but am disappointed that it only relates to NHS, armed forces, police service, teachers and civil servants but excludes local authority staff such as care workers and support workers.

Inheritance Tax/Charity Breaks

Again, I don’t expect my views to be popular here but Osborne’s provision to allow a tax break for large estates that leave 10% to charity was gormless to say the least. Personally, I think an increase in inheritance tax and yes, a death tax, is an entirely fair and progressive way to reduce some of the inequalities in our society. That won’t win votes though but I do think that there needs to be an examination of how ‘charities’ are defined. As long as Eton College remains a charity, the system of associated tax breaks has to be one that is questionable to say the least.  Did you know the Eton Rowing Club costs £300,000 per year to maintain? And they need charitable funds to help out. Can you imagine now, what £300,000 could do in a deprived area of your choice? How can those charitable donations demand equivalent tax breaks. It is quite sickening.

I missed any reports of anything related to assisting or recognising people with long term illness or disabilities. I didn’t watch the whole speech though. Perhaps I missed it.

Most papers have a ‘winners and losers’ page. It’s worth looking at this one from the Guardian.

Any list that has ‘higher rate taxpayers, drivers of gas guzzlers and people with jobs’ in the ‘winners’ section and ‘people without jobs’ who are going to be subject to the biggest ‘shake-up’ in benefits can’t be healthy and is indicative of the way the country is going.

It would be worth Mr Osborne remembering quite how many ‘people without jobs’ there are – a number that is increasing.

Immediate post-CSR thoughts

I listened to Osborne’s statement and my very brief (pending actually proper reading of the document) thoughts are as follows:-

-£2 billion more to be pushed into social care. £1 billion to be provided through the NHS. Not really sure how that will work in practice  but I suspect that there will be a number of issues at stake. Eligibility criteria are already being squeezed so this funding will likely go to the very sickest people who are unable to manage most of their own personal care for themselves.

Good, it’s extra money but will leave a large gap with those who don’t meet the increasingly high criteria.

There was talk about an expansion of personal budgets covering people with chronic health needs. I’d be interested in what that actually means, particularly if money is to come from the NHS.

– ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) – a time-limit (12 months) of eligibility for those in the ‘work-related activity group’. This, I’m concerned about. Of course, it probably needs more than precursory glances for me to more fully understand but introducing limits means that it is an arbitrary decision about when someone who is sick or disabled is able to return to work without a medical check or verification. Just a date.

– DLA – cut (or rather ‘realignment’) for those in residential care.

– Housing – I was most surprised by the move to pay housing benefit for a room in a shared house for single people up to 35.

I think the housing changes need more consideration to be honest but they frankly frighten me. People are going to increasingly be shepherded into particular areas of the country thus restricting ability to find work for a start. Housing benefit to be cut across the board by 10% which, combined with a benefits cap may make some parts of the country out of bounds to those who cannot afford to live there.

– The budget for the NHS has been ringfenced but I do wonder how much money it will take to reorganise. Again.

– local authority budgets have taken one hell of a beating. I worry about that.

Two other quick thoughts

490,000 are a lot of jobs to be going. I can’t see them being absorbed by natural wastage or by the private sector.

Every time I hear Osborne or Cameron say ‘We’re all in this together’ I actually want to punch them. We aren’t all in this together.

Now, I’m off to read the 104 page document. I’ll try and compile a more measured analysis within 24 hours!

Pre-CSR Rumblings

So the day of the statement on the Comprehensive Spending Review has arrived. It seems that this moment has almost been worked up into a frenzy by politicians and our own managers in extremis.

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‘We’ll know better what’s happening after the 20th’ has been muttered across corridors throughout the public sector as if all will be revealed. And perhaps it will be.

So much seems to have leaked out though that we have been well-insulated for an expectation for the worse. Personally, I don’t doubt that the final leak, Danny Alexander’s photographed document which speaks of up to 490,000 jobs going in the public sector was not a gaffe really but an intentional leak to prepare the public, through the media for some of the worst news. Perhaps I’m overly cynical and it was a genuine error but I think the way that this review and statement and worse, the military review was leakier than a colander, initiates a certain amount of cynicism.

Last week, I attended a training course with social workers from across a few different boroughs. While we were having lunch, someone was railing not on the usual line about how everyone hates social workers, but rather, with a new slant that everyone hates public sector workers. We nodded sympathetically. I think it’s an interesting leap out of some of the usual self-absorption and pity that follows groups of social workers like a mini-rain cloud over our collective heads that now we were able to look beyond that and identify with the public sector workforce as a whole.

I personally haven’t felt that. Possibly because about 90% of my friends work in the public sector so there isn’t much hatred to express but there is a general dichotomy growing within the country that wages spent on public services must be bad.

Of course, we know (because we’ve been brainwashed into the narrative) that debt is bad – national debt, that is because the 00s were all about telling us to borrow up to the max and beyond – so  must be repaid as quickly as possible.

Highest costs are in personnel of course so it makes sense on this logic that jobs will be cut but there is no doubt that the front-line will be absolutely affected.

The spending in the NHS has been protected and increased in real terms. I’m a little dubious about this to be honest. I work in a team and an organisation that is cutting back very real services and working with a fair few vacancies that will not be filled. Other teams around my borough have been told that posts will be eliminated and from what I hear this is fairly standard.

The money will probably be lost in meeting additional costs to cover a generally ageing and more depressed society who are becoming more obese and suffering from greater poverty. The additional money will be pushed into things like cancer treatments – and don’t get me wrong, having lost both of my parents prematurely to cancer, I have all the sympathy in the world for pushing cancer treatments but there is an element of ‘playing to the crowds’ about this. Funding cancer treatments is always going to be positive. Pushing money into acute mental health services, less likely.

Much has been made of the leak yesterday about the housing budgets being cut. This is scandalous in my opinion. Anyone who has spent a day in a social services department will know the impact that poor housing has on the well-being of a person and their family. I could write reams and reams solely about personal battles with particular housing departments – but it wouldn’t be terribly exciting and actually, I’ve come across some much more pleasant housing officers more recently (they still can’t help, they are just more polite about it).

Turning on housing to make cuts seems to be just building up problems and difficulties for future years and generations. I have seen some of the cruelty and greed of private landlords on a number of occasions when their tenants have needs related to disabilities – when they have stopped working and they think they can get higher prices by forcing people out by refusing all adaptations –  issues that have had to be picked up by social housing and have been. Perhaps it would be different if I worked in a area that did not command incredible rental costs due to the central London location but housing – and secure and stable housing – is so vitally important to mental and physical wellbeing that cuts, cuts, cuts may well lead to excessive future costs.

My concerns are not solely about cuts that have to be made. There’s an understanding that cuts would have happened in any case, that jobs would have been lost in the public sector regardless –  but this seems to be a government with a trigger happy glee about targetting some of the most vulnerable in society.

We know the welfare benefits will be slashed. I would keep an eye out for announcements on DLA (Disability Living Allowance) and AA (Attendance Allowance) – which the general narrative seems to be confusing fatally with ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) and Incapacity Benefit. DLA and AA are currently non-means tested. They absolutely need to remain non-means tested. I have a sinking feeling that may not be the case in the future but I really really really hope I’m wrong on that. That’s something I would march to parliament about.

My other concern remains and I know this is hopeless, about local authority budgets being slashed by capping council tax charges but more, by pushing more costs away from central government and onto local authorities. The ILF (Independent living fund) which assists in the funding of care packages for those adults of working age with the highest needs in matching the local authority support pound for pound, has already frozen new claims. This is going to place an enormous cost burden back onto local authorities.

Over at the Guardian, Patrick Butler has set up a new Cuts Blog set up which will follow future developments and their effects. I can’t say it’s likely to be cheery reading but as a document in social policy, it may well be interesting to see the changes emerge as they are happening.

Today, Community Care are also running live coverage from midday.

I’ll be following the announcements as closely as I can today – I’m not at work so will be watching  but at 6am I have a bitter taste in my mouth.

Chasing Cheats

Osborne’s new policy plan, is outlined in the ‘News of the World’ today. Alas, the News of the World is behind a ‘paywall’ so I can’t either read the article directly nor link to it but helpfully, the BBC carries the main thrust

In an interview with the News of the World, Mr Osborne compared welfare cheats to muggers robbing taxpayers of their hard-earned money.

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Actually, this sentence and this presumption by the rather supercilious Osborne, angers me. There is no comparison with ‘muggers’. As a ‘hard-working taxpayer’ – actually, the sticks in the throat somewhat – I think Osborne is treading on very dangerous ground here.

It’s lazy politics by Osborne and the government. Find someone that all the constituent and empowered (middle class) voters can rail against and create a common enemy.

The problem is that the narratives of Osborne become blurred. One moment he is talking about ‘benefits lifestyle’ the next about ‘benefits cheats’. It isn’t a massive leap from one to the other, he says by implication and thus manages to tar a whole swathe of the population with the brush that allows other, more fortunate people, to heap scorn on those who may be wholly entitled to the benefits that they are claiming.

I’m of course, not defending ‘benefits cheats’ but for me the danger is in the blurring of the lines that Osborne is drawing.

The Guardian breaks down some of the figures

Of the £5.2bn lost each year, fraud accounts for just £1.5bn across benefits and tax credits. In addition, £1.1bn of losses occurs from official error, and a further £1.1bn from customer error.

Yes, £1.5bn is a lot of money but it’s almost half of what is lost through non-criminal errors both on the part of the tax office and customers (who are, remember, hard-working taxpayers).

It is the split between the ‘tax-payers’ and ‘scroungers’ to create social tension that I object to and one we should be very mindful of. This is a cruel government rhetoric that sets up some of the most vulnerable people as the ‘bogey man’ figure for those who are more fortunate to sneer at.

I feel we are meant to applaud Mr Osborne for ‘saving’ our money from fraudsters. It’s way too easy to make a comparison with tax evasion and the government barely sets a good example by appointing Philip Green to advise them, and Lord Ashcroft to bankroll their election campaign.

Osborne intends to appoint a ‘hit squads’ of 200 people to check and investigate all benefit claims in areas of high fraud.

The government will be sending ‘taskforces’ into areas of high claims and check every claim made.

The money will be saved, no doubt, but I expect it will be saved by people who are wholly entitled to benefits being too terrified to claim all that they might be entitled to for the general climate of hatred spewed out towards benefit claimants – people that the nation and yes, hard-working tax-payers should be supporting.

This is a circular argument but it is hard to move away from the debate and discourse created around the issue of those who need support from the state and there is no question that it is going to get nastier.

We need to look to the past and what has created this ‘benefits culture’ and it is a clear line drawn from the steps of a 10 Downing Street occupied by Margaret Thatcher that we see the trail. It was her government that pursued a policy of shifting the long term unemployed to incapacity benefit in the first place to artificially reduce the headline unemployment figures.

As Alastair Darling stated in Parliament back in 2001

The total case load of incapacity benefit is far too high, and to a large extent that is because a very large number of people went on to the then invalidity benefit in the 1980s. The problem was that those people were given no help or advice to return to work; the then Tory Government simply dumped them on that benefit to disguise unemployment.

Of course there was time to redraw the lines and the last government attempted to do that by introducing the ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) in lieu of Incapacity Benefit. Now, believe me, I have many issues with the ways the tests for ESA have been carried out, particularly as regards people with ‘invisible’ disabilities, most notably mental health difficulties but there is nothing wrong in principle in judging people by capabilities rather than disabilities, indeed, it is a good move.

But away from ESA/Incapacity Benefit and back to Osborne’s proposals – he offers a ‘name and shame’ initiative for those ‘caught’ as benefit cheats. To be honest, I thought that was happening when court cases are reported in local newspapers anyway. I don’t understand the purpose of this. It doesn’t seem to be about shame as I really don’t think shame will ever be a deterrent if people feel they can ‘get away with it’.

What I think it is, is an effort to make all those ‘hard-working taxpayers’ feel just a little bit better about ourselves knowing that the evil benefit cheaters are going to be caught. It smacks of plain and unadulterated spite.

And the government would do well to remember that even people who live on benefits pay taxes – especially worth noting as the VAT rate is due to rise and it is exactly those people who have the lowest incomes that will be most affected.

So bearing in mind that we are all tax-payers to some degree, is it the ‘hard-working’ that Osborne is appealing to? Who is to say that someone who doesn’t have a job isn’t ‘hard-working’? Ah, I think that would be Mr Osborne who seems to be floating through life with all the advantages of birth. Quite ironic then, but terrifyingly inevitable that he should be turning on those with none of his natural advantages gained merely through accident of birth and creating a national figure of distain.

For no doubt, this attack is not only on ‘benefit cheats’  but it links in with the general discourse which stigmatises all benefit claimants.

Peter Beresford wrote a piece in the Guardian earlier this week about the government’s current ‘divide and rule’ policy of creating gaps in the social fabric and increasingly making distinctions between ‘hard-working taxpayers’ and ‘benefits claimants’.

Divide and rule, us and them, haves and have-nots, honest and dishonest, good and bad. The dichotomies are being very carefully drawn. The government wants us, the employed, the middle classes to view benefits claimants as ‘the other’. Programmes like ‘Saints and Scroungers’ buy into this process.

The problem is that job cuts and a shrinking economy will push more of the ‘haves’ into the ‘have-nots’.

While this particular policy, although pernicious, isn’t one that can be challenged. Of course people who break the law should be pursued and caught – the constant chipping away of the dignity of those who do need assistance needs to be challenged and challenged frequently.

The Welfare Cap

The announcement that Child Benefit would no longer be payable to higher rate tax payers came about five minutes after I pressed ‘publish’ on my post yesterday. For the record, I have no problems with reducing or means-testing child benefit although the method the government have chosen to limit Child Benefit is somewhat curious and I have no doubt that many questions will be asked about its equity in the next few months. The oft-quoted anomalies don’t need to be discussed here but the announcement fits in very well with my own concerns about the spending cuts – namely everything seems to be in panic mode at the moment without wider thoughts about the implications of the cuts.

I have graver concerns about the other parts of the millionaire Osborne’s speech yesterday. He drew wide roars of approval for his idea of capping benefit payments so that no-one would be better off on benefits than they would be in employment which sounds perfectly reasonable, especially as he specifically mentioned the proviso that this might not be the case for a household which has a disabled member.

All sounds very fair but he reverted to the benefits as lifestyle choice rhetoric again. I see this as a specific aim and sound bite to further stigmatise and discriminate against people on the basis of their employment status.

The ‘welfare cap’ is no doubt buying faithful party members but the universal ‘credit’ is going to not only include Jobseekers Allowance, Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit (now that’s scary for people who live in high rent areas) but also Employment and Support Allowance or the old ‘Invalidity Benefit’ – There is no reason to believe that Carer’s Allowance won’t also be included. It is a means-tested benefit and although it is a despicably small amount for what it is, it looks likely it will be a part of this capped, universal credit.

We know there are stories of people with many children living in large houses on hundreds of thousands of pounds of ‘welfare’ payments but that is not the majority experience.

Capping welfare to a specific level raises many concerns, specifically if there is no regional variation. Paying rent in London is going to take up the majority of the capped payment in any circumstances.

I can’t help but see a fundamental change in the fabric of this city when these reforms are ironed out. There will be entire towns that will be out of bounds to people who are claiming benefits because the mere cost of housing benefit will lead to a reduction in the other benefit incomes.

I know there is the argument that those who work have to choose where to live on the basis of cost, of course but we have to remember that not everyone is unemployed as a ‘lifestyle choice’ or is unemployed over the long term. What happens with someone who is made redundant in an ‘expensive’ city and needs some assistance for a few months until they find work in that same ‘expensive’ city? Would they be forced to move away from attachments, social support and familial links? It will be easier for some people than others and shifting unemployment north (because make no mistake, the cheaper moves will be northwards)  – out of the traditional ‘Tory’ areas and into the more traditional Labour strongholds, carries a hint of potential gerrymandering.

I suppose the proof will be in the details but the more I hear, the more the rhetoric of the right sickens me to my stomach.

The announcement of the ‘welfare cap’ seems to be entirely ideologically based. It was specifically to pander to the hard done by middle classes who baulked at the thought of losing their child benefit payments. This is not about cuts, make no mistake there. This is about ideology and forcing people into jobs that don’t exist.

There needs to be a move against the ‘benefits lifestyle choice’ rhetoric because it is untrue and it is unfair. Most anecdotal evidence provided has been either paraded on the front page of the right wing press – and remember, it only makes the front page BECAUSE it is rare. If we all knew real people like that, it wouldn’t actually hit the headlines.

But it feeds into an increasingly fearful societal agenda and narrative that is forming.

I know these posts are somewhat repetitive but I can’t shake the thoughts from my head at the moment and my personal politics drift merrily leftwards. I’m just glad I’ll be on another continent when the Spending Review is announced, it wouldn’t be good for my blood pressure!

Initial Budget Thoughts

Osborne delivered the so-called ‘Austerity Budget’ yesterday. Cuts we were expecting and cuts is what we got although, and there is nothing original in me saying this, the ‘We’re all in the together’ mantra does ring a little hollow when it’s delivered by a multi-millionaire.

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I’d recommend Aethelread’s thoughts on the Budget as well. He has a well-considered piece (and I agree with a lot of what he wrote as well!).

I’ll run over my first thoughts on a few of the areas announced.

VAT Increase to 20%. Both unsurprising and disappointing. VAT is recognised as being the most regressive tax – yes, there are exempted items but that’s hardly an argument in favour of the increase. It is impossible to argue anything other than the fact that those with the lowest incomes will suffer the most from this increase. Yes, it will bring the money in for the government but it hardly rings of the ‘fairness’ that the so-called ‘new’ politics has lauded.

Capital Gains Tax increase I think this could and should have gone further and it demonstrates the lack of influence of the Lib Dems in the so-called ‘coalition’. The increase only affects those who have earnings and income over the higher threshold of £37,400. There is no doubt that the growth in the buy-to-let sector and people wanting to ‘make a killing’ in property led in part to the housing boom that saw prices skyrocket. It seems that those who pay CGT have somehow been subjected to less ‘pain’ than those who generally pay income taxes. Again, it has a vaguely regressive feel to it.

Personal allowance raised This is one of the few pieces of good news that I have seen emerge from the Budget.  It will directly help low earners and bring more people on low incomes out of the taxation regime.

Council Tax frozen This seems like good news but actually it worries me profoundly. My council froze taxes last year and local government is increasingly having more pressures places on it for funding. We are going to see a LOT of pain in local services as a result of this as the money just isn’t there. Savings can be made. Savings will continue to be made. Lets just hope they are made on cutting down on consultancy posts and biscuits in meetings rather than actual services and withdrawing posts in front line teams.

DLA medical assessments Currently DLA forms are horrific. They require a ‘professional’ as a ‘reference’ – GP, Consultant, Social Worker, CPN, OT. I’m not sure what will be achieved by demanding independent medicals apart from a further stigmatising of people who have disabilities and a creation of a great new trade for independent assessors. There seems to be a wish to appeal to the ‘Daily Mail’ contingent who directly relate ‘receiving benefits’ to ‘scroungers’ which provides an oppressive and discriminatory narrative to discussions about assistance for those who have disabilities. DLA in particular is a benefit to recognise the increased costs related directly to having a disability. I truly can’t see a purpose for these assessments except to plant a seed in the ‘general public’s’ collective mind that a lot of people who shouldn’t be receiving the benefit are. My experience is far more in Attendance Allowance (which is a similar benefit at a lower level provided to those over 65)  and to be honest, it is FAR more likely that people who are eligible do not claim than vice versa.

Child Benefit This has been frozen for three years. I can’t understand why it is not means-tested. Anyone who complains that it would be ‘too difficult’ to means-test, I’d argue that the government seems to find ways and means to introduce potentially costly measures such as ‘independent assessors’ for DLA then it can work out a way to means-test child benefit and direct it to those who have the greatest need.

Child Tax Credits Households with incomes over £40,000 will see eligibility for child tax credits fall. I haven’t really paid a great deal of attention to tax credits as, honestly, they seem incredibly complicated to me but I think that £40,000 bar sounds reasonable if cuts have to be made.

Housing Benefits Upper limits introduced to Housing Benefits paid. As someone who lives in London where the housing costs are the highest in the country, I can see these limits leading to an increased ghettoisation of families away from certain parts of the city. One of the joys for me about living in London is the way that there is a juxtaposition of rich and poor in many areas and that may well be a thing of the past. Of course receiving £104,000 in housing benefits in a year seems ridiculous but I suspect that is the exception that turns up on the front page of the The Sun or The Mail rather than the rule. The problem is that in some parts of the country, housing is very expensive. The answer in my very simplistic mind is that more social housing be built and maintained in the public sector as I am not sure I feel comfortable about the buy-to-let landlords growing rich on the back of LHA but no matter, there’s no way that’s going to happen.

All benefits to be cut Linking all benefits to the Consumer Price Index as opposed to the Retail Price Index will see an effective cut across the board to all welfare payments. We’re all in this together, right?

Public Sector Pay Frozen This is one of the ones that hits me directly. I can’t say I’m surprised. I am glad that the lower paid public sector employees have been exempted. To be honest, I can absorb a pay freeze adequately. It doesn’t fill me with joy but it’s better than tying my pay to the Consumer Price Index.

In general, I am left with an uncomfortable feeling that some of those least able to pay might be suffering the most  (VAT) and the way that DLA has been targeted seems to show very little understanding of the needs of those with disabilities other than a wish to appeal to a rabble-rousing press fixated on ‘benefits scrounging’.

But to roll out a well-used cliche, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We’ll see. I have no doubt whatsoever there will be more cuts coming soon.

and I’ll raise a glass of cider to that!

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