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Employment

So, yet again we have a Tory Minister saying something REALLY stupid and angering another group of people from amongst their core supporters. It makes you wonder if they are trying to make the other Parties lives easier for them. Do they care about the people who voted for them? These days it’s looking more and more as if they don’t.

So, who has been saying what and about whom on this occasion?

Who is being ridiculous this time?

Well, it’s an MP called Guy Opperman, talking about women and pensions.

He seems to think that older women, who are being disadvantaged by changes to the age that State pensions start being paid, could mitigate their financial loses by taking up Apprenticeship opportunities instead.

What foolishness is this? Do some of these Ministers just open their mouths and let the words fall out without thinking about what they’re saying first? It certainly seems to be what’s happening.

Just to explain the situation to people who may not know what I’m rabbiting on about this time, changes are being made to British Pension regulations which are designed to equalise when men and women become entitled to their State Pension. It used to be that women received their Pension from the age of 60 whilst men had to wait until they were 65. And this is what’s changing. The State pension age for women is being raised to 65 so that it’s the same for both genders. And there is no real argument about the fairness of this idea. In my opinion it should be the same for both genders. But there is an issue with how it is being implemented.

A group called WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) argues that for women born in the 1950s having no transitional arrangement is unfair and wrong. These women’s pension arrangements and retirement plans and options are being changed without any thought as to how their plans are being changed. Their issue is with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice (1995/2011 Pension Acts), faster than promised (2011 Pension Act), and with no time to make alternative plans. Retirement plans have been shattered with devastating consequences.​ And, Mr Opperman seems to think that women who are being affected adversely by these changes could take up apprenticeships to cover any financial losses they may experience.

I have two things to say about this idea – it’s unfair and it’s unworkable.

It’s unfair because these women have always been told and have believed that they will get to retire, on a full pension, when they are 60 and they have planned for this throughout their working lives. Surely a fairer way to do things would be to have a transitional period? And it’s also unfair on the young people, for whom apprenticeships were originally envisaged, to have these opportunities potentially taken from them by older women. It does not seem right.

But, the unworkable thing is what concerns me more. Exactly how many employers are going to want to take on an apprentice who is scheduled to retire either during or shortly after completing that programme? How many employers are going to want to spend any money whatsoever on training people up who will be leaving almost immediately? And how will women being paid at the pay rate for apprentices help anyway? Has Mr Opperman ever looked at how much money  people would get? Currently, apprentices over 19 and in their first year get £3.50 per hour. £140 for a 40 hour week. Once tax and NI is taken out, how would that mitigate ANYONE’S loses?

I think three things need to happen and need to happen fast. Firstly some sort of transitional arrangement needs to be put in place for the WASPI women. The rug should not be pulled out from under them without something sensible being sorted out. Secondly, and as a byproduct of this discussion,, the Government really does need to look at the rate of pay for all apprentices. £3.50 p/h is little more than save labour. Granted, apprentices need to be trained and, certainly initially, may not be as valuable to the workforce for any business, but wouldn’t a graduated pay scale be better? £3.50 or something similar to start with when a new apprentice starts and learns the basics but, once they have been around for a while, surely they are making money for their employer through the work they do? Surely someone who is halfway through should get some financial recognition for the work they are doing? Employers are earning profits from apprentices and the apprentices are earning peanut. It does not seem right. And thirdly, Government Ministers need to learn to think first before they speak so as not to come up with stupid pronouncements that upset some members of the electorate and serve no useful purpose but to make them appear to be ill informed and cruel. Think first, speak later really should be a maxim all politicians need to remember and consider at all times and should be point one on any briefing paper or induction pack they get when they enter the House for the first time.

Think first, speak later – you know it makes sense.

OK Theresa and Jeremy and Tim and Nicola and Leanne and all the other pavement walking, door knocking, Manifesto-pledging Parliamentary candidates currently pounding our Nations’ streets, I have some questions for you. And, as a disabled person, I’m pretty sure there are many others from my community who have questions for you too. Why are you not speaking to us? Don’t we count? Don’t our votes matter to you? I hope not.

What I want to know, exactly, is what the political big-wigs and hard-hitters and movers and shakers in this country can offer to us? What promises can you give to all of us. What promises or pledges will you make to us? According to all the statistics I have been able to find, there are around 12-13 million disabled people in this country, what are you going to do to our lives any better for us? Are you totally disregarding the collective power and magnitude of disabled people’s votes and the votes of our families and friends? I hope not. Do you really think you can continue to either demonise us or watch others doing the demonising without us noticing? I hope not. Are you going to continue putting our needs to the back of the queue? I hope not. Are you going to go on ignoring us? I hope not.

Well, here are my questions at any rate.

We are told that Social care in this country is in crisis. That there is not enough money to pay home-carers and unpaid carers a decent wage or benefit that reflects what they do to support and enable us. What are you going to do about it? We are the net users of that care, what are you planning on doing to alleviate the situation and ensure that we get the care we want and need to allow us to live our lives to the full?

What are you going to do?

Many of us need to use aids and adaptations in our daily lives such as hoists and wheelchairs and hearing aids and aids for people with visual impairments. What are you going to do so that we can all get the best equipment we need to live without having to fight for every nut, bolt, screw, , plug, cable and electronic component?

What are you going to do?

Then there is the constant battle to find a home, a place to live which can cater for our access needs and accommodate us properly and in comfort. It’s often one of the greatest obstacles we face but one where we appear to get little or no help in getting what we need. What are you going to do to ensure that there are houses and flats and bungalows available which allow us to live in the community with our families, alongside our friends and neighbours without having to fight for funding for alterations and adaptations?

What are you going to do?

How are you proposing that your party will ensure that disabled children and young people can receive the education they need and deserve alongside their non-disabled compatriots? How are you going to try to ensure that they can all study together and not be segregated due to an impairment meaning the school or college is physically inaccessible for all?

What are you going to do?

Everyone falls sick at some point in their lifetime, what are you going to do to ensure that everyone can access the healthcare we all need and not find it being rationed according to how much we need it and how expensive it is? How are you going to give us access to the doctors and specialists and the nursing professionals we need in our hospitals? Are you going to ensure that these professionals receive salaries that reflect their skills and dedication? Are you going to make sure that they have working conditions such as hours and breaks that allow them to do their jobs to the best of their ability and not want to leave?

What are you going to do.

Then there the employment thing. We are told that everyone must work and get a job. What are you going to do to ensure that disabled people who can work get the support they need to do so safely and successfully and that those that can’t work due to their impairments are not demonised and punished for daring to be sick and disabled. Many of us would like to have the opportunity to do something, however small, what are you going to do to help us? How are you going to promote disability in the workplace so that those of us who can work and want to work get the support we need and the opportunity to do so?

What are you going to do?

Talk to us and tell us how you are going to help and support us. Why should we vote for you and your party as opposed to the other parties and their candidates? What are you going to do that will make a difference for us? Don’t write off 13 million potential voters. Please talk to us and tell us what you’re going to do to help us. If you want my vote give me a reason to put my cross next to your name on the ballot paper. What difference are you going to make to my life? Why should I vote for you, please tell me.

What are you going to do?

I think I’m supposed to be grateful.

I think all of us disabled, and older people are supposed to say ‘Thank you’ to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, for his much flaunted, much hyped boost of £2bn for Social Care in yesterday’s Spring Budget.

Well then.

Here goes…

Thank you Mr Hammond, you are so beneficent and generous.

Sure, £2bn is an awful lot of money, and, with any luck it, at least some of should help ease the Care Crisis we currently have in this country, but it can only help if it actually filters down to the people it’s supposed to be helping. My major concern is that it will be shared out amongst all the Social Services Departments, nationwide, and will just vanish into their usual, annual Social Care black hole. We, the older and disabled people who are the ones who are supposed to reap the benefit will probably get to see little, if any, of it at all.

As someone who is in receipt of Social Care, there I three places I can think of straight off where that £2bn could make a real difference if it was spent properly.

First of all, I would like to see the money being put towards ending the farce of the fifteen minute care-call. How can anyone in their right mind think that fifteen minutes is long enough to provide any form of meaningful care for a disabled or older person? It’s barely long enough to make a sandwich or boil a kettle for a cup of tea, let alone help a frail person access the toilet, get them dressed or undressed, make sure they’re comfortable and safe, cook a light meal and help them eat it, if they need help, make a bed and do a little light housework.

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn definitely needs to go towards this.

Secondly, the paltry amount Home Care workers get paid needs to be addressed.

When I was in receipt of Agency Care, via my Local Authority, the workers were receiving little more than the minimum wage, indeed, in some instances it seemed as if they were even getting less than that. I now get my care through a scheme called ‘Direct Payments’ whereby my Local Authority pays the amount they would have spent on Agency Care directly to me and I get to employ and pay for my own carers. In theory, this is a great plan and, for many, it works well but it is impossible to offer a decent wage for the work that needs to be done and therefore, get the most suitable carers. The amount I get, for example, allows me to offer an hourly rate of just £9.40, before tax and NI, hardly a fortune, especially when you consider the level of personal care I am expecting those workers to undertake.  I would dearly like to be able to offer more but, as someone with no private income whatsoever to fall back on apart from my Welfare Benefits, I am stuck with just the funding my Social Services Department allows me every month for my long-suffering and excellent carers. Hardly enough at all.

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn needs to go towards this.

Then thirdly, there’s something which doesn’t affect me personally as yet. The amount that is available for both short, and long-term, residential Care Home accommodation. How can we expect older and disabled people to receive good quality, dedicated care when they need intesive care or can no longer live in their own home, if the amount Residential Homes are given for each resident’s care package is so small? We can’t

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn needs to go towards this.

What I really want to see most after yesterday’s display of Governmental generosity would be a completely new Care Strategy for our country. There needs to be meaningful consultation with the Care providers, the medical profession and carers themselves, both Home Care and Care Home agencies and workers and the Care Recipients, namely all the older and disabled people who need help to live in comfort and with dignity. We need to be assured that any extra or new funding is being spent wisely and well and is contributing towards the wellbeing of those who need it most.  

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn definitely needs to go towards this.

I am completely and utterly fed up.

Why can’t the DWP just leave me alone.

I have received yet another lengthy form from them which I have to read, complete and return, by the beginning of April.

This time it’s for a ‘Capability for Work Assessment’.

Its not the first Government form I have had to complete recently either. I had to deal with a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) form only last month after they decided that I, alongside many, many other disabled people, needed to be transferred from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which I have been receiving since 1998, to the new PIP Benefit instead. It’s not even as if completing either of these forms will give me any more money, the amounts will remain at exactly the same, pitifully small, levels. We never get any type of pay rise whatsoever.

And, as far as my impairment is concerned anyway, there has been no miracle cure either. No improvement, no divine intervention and no miracle medical advance in the past quarter of a century. My Multiple Sclerosis hasn’t got any better during the intervening years between diagnosis and now, it has only got worse. Thirty years on and it has only ever deteriorated.

But, despite this lack of movement, I still have to go through the form filling merry-go-round all over again.

What a complete waste of my time, their time, my ink, their ink, reams of their paper and their postage.

It’s not as if they’re short forms either. They expect me to write a novel, citing chapter and verse, excruciating detail after excruciating detail, about my condition and how it affects me on a day to day basis for every single question and there are an awful lot of questions. The new form is twenty-three pages long, the PIP form was much longer. I even have to give full contact details for my GP, my specialist nurse and my Consultant so they can all be sent a form to complete too where they will be asked to confirm that I’m not lying, exaggerating my condition or trying to cheat the system.  

I realise and fully acknowledge that the Government needs to make sure that the Taxpayer’s money is spent properly and wisely and that the people who are in receipt of Welfare Benefits are actually entitled to the money they are claiming but, for a disabled person diagnosed with a well-known and well-documented, degenerative condition which is never going to improve, however much the DWP, and I would like it, is, in my opinion, pointless.

I am now restricted to my bed most of the time, only able to get up for, at most, one day at a time from 10am until 8pm and then needing 3 or 4 days recovery in bed afterwards before I can do it again. I cannot get out of bed or dress myself without help from two trained carers. I need to be washed and dressed by someone and then hoisted from my bed and put into my wheelchair for the short periods when I do get up.

Exactly how many times and in how many ways do I have to tell the DWP that I cannot walk, cannot stand, cannot move from one chair to another unaided, am doubly incontinent, have a catheter, and have to use an electric wheelchair. I cannot write with a pen or pencil, lift a carton containing a pint of liquid, put something in my top pocket, fold a letter and put it into an envelope  or even move an empty box  without help.

Why can’t they just leave those of us with a life-long, incurable, degenerative impairment, such as MS, alone, once we’ve told them about our condition and the affect it has upon us. Do they think we need to be continually reminded of the effects of our conditions?  No matter how many times they ask, and regardless of the never-ending avalanche of paper they keep sending me, when will they realise I am not going to get better and that having to complete form after form is not going to help.

I would dearly love to be able to get up and go out to work but it’s not going to happen. All these endless forms do is make me feel depressed and distressed thanks to being constantly badgered and reminded what I can no longer do and what I am unlikely to ever be able to do again. They don’t ‘incentivise’ me at all so stop trying. Read my responses on both this, and the previous form you sent to me, make a note of them and then employ a little bit of common sense before you try asking me again. I’m stuck with this disease until the day I die and I don’t need you to keep reminding me. I am well aware of that fact without your havy-handed and insensative intervention.

I have only one further thing I want to say to you on this subject and I would be grateful if you listened for once.

Please leave me alone…

I want a job.

I really want a job.

The Government would be so happy if I could come off benefits and get a job.

I would be so happy if I could come off benefits and get  job.

There is only one impediment to this laudable ambition of theirs, and mine – I am severely disabled and stuck in bed most of the time, so, I am not able to go out to work, the work would have to come to me.

And this, apparently, is a major and seemingly insurmountable stumbling block.

But why? What’s the problem? Why can’t the work come to me? In this wonderfully technological day and age, with computers, video conferencing, telephone conferencing, Sype, the internet and even that strange new invention called the telephone, why do I have to go to a specific location, such as an office, city, or even country, in order to work? Is it really necessary for me to leave my home at all?

To be honest, that, as far as I am concerned anyway, is so last century. The experience I have and the roles I am qualified and extremely familiar with in a workplace can easily be done without having to move location at all. I am happy to admit that there are many, many jobs where the employee does have to be in a specific building or town or workplace in order to do what they are trained to do, such as a doctor, a bus driver, a postman, a prison officer, a supermarket cashier, a chef but, equally, there are many, many  roles which can be done from just about anywhere and no-one would know any difference.

Take me, for example. I, like many people, have the transferable skills which would allow me to be able to work, in my chosen profession, from anywhere. I’m not anything special or important or awe-inspiring, I have around twenty-five years experience in providing advice and information, on a variety of subjects, to disabled and older people. I did, or do this, by phone, email or in the form of advice leaflets, information sheets, magazines and current awareness bulletins which I have written, edited and published for national and regional organisations and charities in my area. And that’s it. That’s me. That’s what I do. But for some reason, all the employers who are looking for people who can do what I do, would want me to travel to them to do it.

Why?

In my last paid employment I was taking details of clients’ legal problems and booking them an appointment for a telephone advice session with a lawyer. Either that, or referring them elsewhere that may be more suitable for their needs or sending them an information leaflet that would, hopefully, answer their question. Nothing more complicated than that. So, what was there  which meant I had to travel to the other side of London on a noisy, smelly, crowded bus every day at crack-of-stupid in the morning and then fight my way back home again on the same buses, exhaused and frustrated in the evening? I have no idea. I could have done the exactly the same thing from the comfort of my living room and no-one would have been able to tell unless I felt the need to let them know.

And I’m not just guessing, I know this, from personal experience. At one point during my employment with the company I had to have an operation, which necessitated a lengthy recovery period. Essentially, my brain and abilities were unaffected, I just had to be careful and wait for the wound to heal and for the stitches to be removed. That was it. I wasn’t sick, just incapacitated. So, I had to stay home. And I was so bored and so fed up and I felt so useless. In desperation, I had a chat with my boss and, because he was forward thinking and had also had problems finding someone who could cover for me whilst I recuperated, we implemented a system whereby my office phone was linked to my home phone and the client database and advice rota were linked to my home computer and bingo, I could  continue with my work, uninterrupted. If someone rang in I would take the details of the issue, make notes about their case on our system, check the availability of our legal professionals and book an appointment for the client to get the advice they needed. Not only that, but I was able to undertake research for advice leaflets, write articles for the magazines I was responsible for and send the copy to the printer for publication and distribution. And, I didn’t have to move a muscle.

So why do we still have this preoccupation with having to work from somewhere special? Surely, having employees who work from home is beneficial to both employees and employers alike. Employees can work for anyone, anywhere, and so, can look for the job that is best for them, regardless, without having to move and the employer doesn’t have to pay for premises or heating or lighting or equipment for an expensive office building. Just make sure that employees have the things they may need to be able to work from home such as a computer, internet access and a phone line. Not only that, but they can employ anyone, from anywhere. They can employ the best possible person for the job regardless of where they are.     

It doesn’t sound too complicated to me.

I feel that we need to have a complete rethink about work and what work actually means in this country. We are in the technologically advanced, twenty-first century, not still stuck in the Victorian or Edwardian era. Why can’t employers, next time someone resigns or retires and leaves their business, look at the tasks that need to be done and really consider whether those tasks have to be done from an expensive office or if they can be undertaken by someone working remotely, from their own home? Adverts could be placed online, interviews could conducted by conference call and work could be done from anywhere. Bosses could check work is being done by looking at output and not by staring across their desk at  someone sitting at another desk on the other side of the room. Workers could feel trusted and valued. No-one needs to actually go or be anywhere. Happy employers, happy employees. What’s so bad about that? Telephonists answering the phone in their PJs? What’s the issue? The phone is being ansered regardless. Why not try it and see what happens?

Oh, and, if there are any amazing employers reading this, who would be happy to take a risk and employ a remote Advice and Information Officer, hiya! I’m here and waiting for your call!

Come on Bosses, take a step into the twenty-first century, be brave and go for it, you know it makes sense!

Yesterday, yet another library in my Borough, the London Borough of Lambeth, was closed. Parents and toddlers coming for their weekly story-telling afternoon were turned away, doors were padlocked to keep both staff and customers out, shelves were cleared and removal vans were sent in to remove both furniture and assets. Today I am seeing pictures of packing crates in empty rooms and uniformed security guards patrolling the premises and hearing tragic tales of other local libraries nationwide being striped of their staff, their stock and their identity.

Why?

What is it about Libraries, their history, their function, their unique position in society, their unquestionable importance, that my local Council, and indeed, other Councils don’t seem to understand? Libraries were set up to be free, public repositories of knowledge not, as Lambeth seems to think, a simple bookshelf in a church hall, surgery or gym which is what they are proposing that we should have.  This wanton destruction of our precious facilities, our heritage, our children and grandchildren’s futures has to stop now, before it’s too late and the situation cannot be reversed.

The heart is being ripped out of our communities and it can’t be allowed to continue.

According to figures I have seen in the last couple of days regarding council spending, I understand that during the last financial year over £13million of our Council Tax in my area was spent on ‘Corporate Office Accommodation’, whatever that might be, whilst only a miserly £57,000 was invested in library provision Boroughwide. £57,000 invested in one of the greatest information resources we have in the area. £57,000 invested in our young people’s future. In a Borough with a total population of around 316,000 people that amounts to just £5.58 for each man, woman and child. Not even the price of your average cut-price paperback.

Well, forgive me, but that just doesn’t seem right.

I pay my taxes for services and facilities that will benefit everyone not just a select coterie at the top. Services that will benefit, not just me, but my children, my future grandchildren, my neighbours, my neighbours’ children and grandchildren and my entire community. I don’t pay my taxes for unused empty buildings and city centre office blocks. I want value for the many for my money, not perks for the few but that’s not what I’m getting.

And I can look at what’s happening from a different angle, through different eyes. I am not just a local resident and taxpayer, I am also a trained librarian so I can look at what is happening as a qualified professional, not just as a vociferous and angry service user. I have worked in public libraries, school libraries, university libraries and specialist libraries within national and multinational businesses and corporations.

When I studied for my BA(Hons) in Librarianship in the 1980s, I learnt about the beauty of both language and literature, the wonder of local and national history, the importance of all knowledge and I was taught everything I needed to know about high quality information provision for all. I learnt about storing, guarding, protecting and sharing information and helping others to access that information whenever they needed to. I was not taught how to pack it away and put it into storage, hidden from sight, which is what seems to be happening, not just in Lambeth, but throughout the country.

I’m pretty sure we were taught that what local communities wanted and needed and cherished was unfettered access to books and computers and information and space to study with properly qualified, fully committed, professional library staff who knew the local area and what other facilities were available for people to use should they want to. We were not taught to value corporate offices we were unlikely to ever use or see. We were trained to become Library staff who were prepared to invest time and effort in listening to our customer’s questions, finding the answers to those questions and showing people how to do their own research if they wanted to know more. I’m pretty certain we weren’t taught that what local communities wanted most for their money were posh offices with comfy chairs and shiny desks for transient local councillors and overpaid council executives.

How much longer will both Lambeth Council and other Councils continue to forget that local libraries are a valuable resource for everyone, maybe even the most valuable of all resources for so many people within the area?

Residents have been investing in their libraries for decades so please, don’t close them and take them from us. We have needed them in the past, we still need them now and we will continue to need them long into the future.

Don’t take away one of the greatest assets we all have. There must be other, less painful ways to save money. Leave us our libraries and try something else.

What an eventful political week.

Who could have predicted the momentous turn of events we have just witnessed only one, short month ago. Not me, for one. Saying goodbye to David Cameron and his team and hello to Theresa May and her’s is going to change so many things, long-term, for us all.

But, what do I as a disabled person, want to see delivered by the new regime?

Well, for a kick off I want to see an end to all Welfare Benefits sanctions, in particular sanctions which mean that disabled people are left without sufficient money to pay for food and medication and rent and energy costs and transport costs. I would like to see proper Welfare Benefits for disabled people where we didn’t have to continually justify our existence or prove how ill we are at every turn. Applying for Disability Benefits and attending never-ending face-to-face assessments or tribunals is soul-destroying, mentally traumatic and largely unnecessary. I want to see an end to people being punished for the crime of being too sick to work and being awarded benefit levels that allow us to actually live not just subsist. Just because we are either born or become too ill to earn our own livings does not mean we should always be put at the bottom of the heap or made to feel as if we are a burden on our families and society through no fault of our own.

I would like to see physically disabled people being able to access proper equipment based on what we want not what the government deem us as needing. The cheapest option is not always the best option in the long term. Giving us the bare minimum could be counterproductive. Spending a bit more to help us now may well mean less needs to be spent in the long term because our medical conditions might not deteriorate as fast, if at all because we are not having to struggle all the time for everything. There needs to be better provision of proper Mental health care and access to inpatient and outpatient treatment for as long as it needed, not a one size fits all system. Everyone is different and this needs to be recognised. There should also be mandatory mental health first aid training for anyone working with young or vulnerable people and for both physically and mentally disabled people, proper support for the NHS. I would like to see more funding made available for medical research which may lead to a better understanding of disabling conditions, better treatments and possible cures.

Another important consideration for many disabled people is care. I would like to see more money put into support for family carers, support for young carers. There should be mandatory respite care, for all disabled people of at least two weeks, annually allowing both disabled people and their carers a break where they can relax, safe in the knowledge that needs will be met. I would like to see this combined with increased level of social care. I would like to see family carers paid a living wage rather than just receiving the paucity which is Carer’s Allowance. I would like to see proper recognition of the value of family carers and how much money they save the nation. I would also like to see a proper rate of pay for all social carers. Without them and without family carers many more disabled people would need residential care or hospitalisation at a far greater cost to Social Services and NHS budgets.

And then there is transport and transportation costs. I would like to see a version of Taxicard available nationwide. I would like to see more investment in a fully accessible transport network. I would like to see much wider provision of wheelchair accessible transport such as Dial-a-Ride services and wheelchair accessible mini-cabs. Blue badges need to be universal for hospital carparks. There should be free parking or a refund of reasonable travel costs for relatives of people who are long-term in patients in hospitals.

These are only my initial thoughts and things that affect me personally the most but there are so many other things I feel that our new Prime Minister and her Cabinet should tackle that could benefit the lives of disabled and older people nationwide. Education, Transport, Access to Justice, Employment, the list is never ending.

Am I hopeful that we will see any of this?

Frankly, no.