Future

Yesterday, I wrote specifically about my reactions to the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) without a lot of reference to other commentators. This was intentional as I wanted to spew out my initial thoughts pretty much freeform.

Today some of the dust has settled and a lot more commentary has been shaped and published and I wanted to focus more solidly on the way in which I see the developments and announcements specifically in the areas that I know most about and what impact I see the changes in social work in particular.

My experience is wholly in adult services. I started my working life in the voluntary sector working with adults with learning disabilities. Post-qualification, I have worked with adults with physical disabilities of working age as well as older adults and am currently placed within mental health services so I will focus on the areas I know, possibly to the detriment of children’s’ services but, of course, I welcome comments from those with more experience in that area.

The most notable and obvious/immediate change will be the reduction in funding for local authorities and the removal of ring-fencing. Community Care carries a statement by Paul Burstow, explaining that

“There is no justification for local authorities to slash and burn or for local authorities to tighten eligibility as far as the settlement goes.”

He points to the additional £1 billion to be focused on social care – remember, the other £1 billion is coming from the NHS budget.

However the removal of ringfencing and the costs of an ageing population make this a very vacuous statement. Last night, on Channel 4 News, the Leader of Westminster Council said he would be raising the criteria – tightening eligibility criteria (see the link at 3.37).

The removal of ringfencing of budgets and the massive hit that local authorities will be taking will mean that the bare minimum of services will be provided. Anyone who thinks these stories about wonderfully creative individual budgets will be sorely fooled. Charges for services will increase. Directly provided services will disappear by the wayside.

I’m not overly hopeful.

As for the place of social work departments, I refer to the beginning of the clip above.

Westminster and Lambeth are looking at merging services and departments across neighbouring borough. It’s happening across London. That’s where the job cuts will come in and social services will not be as ‘immune’ as we thought we might be.

The problem is that cuts have already been made. Any further cuts are absolutely at the front-line.

The stigmatisation of disabled adults continues. The Independent Living Fund is on its last legs. Many disabled adults rely heavily on this money to provide for a better quality of life that would have been provided solely depending on local authority’s increasingly tightening criteria. I think this can’t go without a fight as this is A LOT of support for some of the most dependent adults who are able to gain measures of independence through this scheme is looking like it will be lost.

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I wrote about changes to the ESA  (Employment and Support Allowance) yesterday and it reflects the perfidious nature of the cuts and a wholesale stigmatisation of disability and inability to work (which the government seems to want to link with unwillingness to work).

Perhaps one of the more staggeringly mealy-mouthed changes was the removal of DLA mobility from people who are in residential care. These really are the most dependent people.

I can’t say it any better than this Bendygirl at Benefit Scrounging Scum.

I urge you to go and watch the video message she has recorded for David Cameron in response to this.

Additional costs, if the standard of life for those with this benefit is to be maintained, will be pushed to local authorities by profit-making care homes and it doesn’t look like they’ll be any funding to plug this gap. This is callous in the extreme.

And finally housing.

Housing, housing. It sometimes feels like it is the bane of my life. Housing issues affect everyone in social services – adults and children alike. Housing always comes up. Poor housing = poor outcomes.

Where is the housing going to come from? Capital spending will be down. Councils will be able to charge more for new tenancies but that will be taken out of housing benefit which will be subject to the ‘benefits cap’. A fully subsidised rent on housing benefit would therefore leave more of the ‘capped income’ for other living expenses  but if housing is going to take out a larger chunk of this ‘capped amount’  because of higher rents – it is giving with one hand and taking away with another (housing benefits would be claimed for the higher rates of rent) but it would also decrease the amount of ‘universal benefit’ allowed to meet the cap.

So the effect I see within the local authority I work in? Pooled services, job losses, higher work pressures, higher caseloads, fewer resources, pushing more to informal carers and that’s if I have a job.

But it isn’t me that I’m concerned about. It is the nature of the NHS and the welfare state in this country and the social fabric and general tenets of social justice that I see being torn apart.

We must hold this government to account and keep fighting for the social justice that brought us into this profession in the first place.

This is why social workers must politicise. We cannot remain neutral as these changes take place. We are obliged to stand by a code of practice and we need to advocate and speak on behalf of those who rely on us for support.

Perhaps the profession’s failing has been its willingness to stand idle as the changes in social policy crept up on us. We need a voice, we need to shout and we need to vocalise some of the voices that can’t be heard so clearly.

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!

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!