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  • Whiterock Wales

Who really gets the benefit?

I read a letter in the Evening Post last week from someone appalled that Employment Minister Ian Duncan Smith is planning to further extend the waiting time for people to claim benefits from the current two week wait to five.

How on earth, asked the writer, could people on low wages who've lost their job be expected make ends meet for that long. It's a fair question.

I do occasional consultancy work with voluntary and so-called third sector groups.

Their caseload shows that unemployment is more likely to hit people already on low incomes or zero hours contracts. They're also more prone to look to payday lenders and loan sharks as a solution.

As a society we've managed to develop a oddly polarised attitude towards the welfare state. For example, we want everyone to have the best possible medical treatment when they fall ill.

Yet somehow we're uncomfortable with people being able to claim state benefits to make up for loss of income while incapacitated.

A benefits advisor at Maggie's Centre once told me how people suffering from cancer sometimes felt almost demonised for claiming support payments.

I've been following a blog written by a former acquaintance who recently lost his wife to a debilitating condition.

He gave up his successful architectural business when it became obvious that she needed full-time care. Somehow he always failed to qualify for support either because he had savings or they lived in the wrong area.

One of the low points was when his bedridden wife was summoned to an interview to assess her fitness to work. She died a month later.

A few weeks after the funeral he decided to pick up the threads and visited his local JobCentre with a view to returning to work. The same barriers went up. This time he was too old and over-qualified.

Dispirited and feeling pretty worthless, he sat on the wall outside the building in despair. Just then a car pulled up and a chap shouted through the window: "I'm paying tax so you can sit on that ******* wall all day. Get a job you lazy ****."

Yes, there are widespread abuses. Over the years I've sat in tribunals where people have invented children as dependents, dishonestly claimed to have chronic illnesses and charged their live-in granny a full commercial rent so that they can pocket the housing benefit.

I've been confronted by individuals demanding a council house because they've decided to stop making payments on a unaffordable mortgage for a house in negative equity.

Calls for welfare reform mean widely different things to different people. Some want better focussed arrangements that boost self-esteem. Others want an end to what they see as a 'scroungers charter'. Neither is likely to be satisfied soon.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee heard earlier this month that officials in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and National Audit Office cannot agree on details of a key report looking into the government's Welfare to Work Programme.

A separate committee looking at the disability benefits system has called for a "fundamental redesign" because of what they regard as serious flaws in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) process.

You could reasonably ask that if Parliament can't manage to sort it out then what chance do the rest of us have.

For myself, I find myself thinking about something I was recently told which is that the total reported amount of benefit fraud in the UK comes to less than three percent of the estimated corporation tax left unpaid by major companies.

Sometimes you have to wonder who is really getting most benefit out of the state?


Questions and Answers

A survey dropped into my inbox the other day asking for opinions on a range of future planning legislation. Among the questions was whether I thought the proposal to merge national parks in Wales was a good idea.

To be honest, I haven't given the idea much consideration. After some reflection I clicked 'undecided'. Another series of questions then popped up asking if I thought I had enough information on the issue.

Normal people would probably find this irritating. Nerds like me on the other hand tend to appreciate surveys designed by other nerds who try to establish if they are getting an informed opinion.

There are too many electronic surveys out there which pose simplistic yes or no questions.

This might suit newspapers, pressure groups and political parties with an axe to grind but the less thought that goes into a survey, the less the quality of the outcome.

Look at election turnouts and most referendums and you'll find that it's the undecided — or rather those who feel unaffected — that are in the majority. Taking the trouble to find out why can often pay dividends.


Make your views known

Figures which came out last week showed the UK economy back on the mend. Worryingly however, growth was mostly in the service industries such as banking, retail, transport and communications.

Manufacturing and construction sectors went in the other direction.

More to the point, the price of an economic claw back is a sustained cutback on public sector jobs and services.

Swansea Council faces a 4.5 per cent cut in Welsh Government funding which means something like £70 million being stripped out of budgets over the next three years.

I really don't know how some key services will survive.

The local authority will soon be asking businesses and residents to come forward with suggestions on what should be a priority and what should be scaled back.

It may feel a bit like helping to design the club that will later be used to beat you over the head, but my advice is to have your say nevertheless. You might not get another chance.

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