How much longer?

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How much longer?

First posted on May 16, 2013

I look to the mainstream media for some honest reporting and perspective – Ha!

I look to the Opposition for some counter-arguments, some persuasive alternatives – Ha!

And I look to the Government – yeah, that body of representatives whose wages we pay to manage our common affairs and interests on our behalf. That bunch of cretins who fought tooth and nail for the chance to be in charge and will no doubt convince themselves to try again in 2015. Ha!

For how much longer do the good people of this country have to bang on about the need for repairs and new infrastructure? I shan’t patronise with a list, for it is endless – and the number of people ready, willing and able to participate in such large and essential projects is also becoming endless. But you don’t need me to explain about the scourge of unemployment, the reasons for underemployment, the plight of our untrained and despondent youth, the complete and utter waste of brain and brawn…

How many times do the good citizens of this country need to suggest the lowering of house prices – both for sale and rent? How many times do we need to explain that the landlords are the rentiers; that the surveyors and mortgage companies determine what a property is worth?

How many people need to be made homeless before it’s acknowledged that there are not enough affordable houses? How much longer will the Government get away with this bedroom tax abomination, given that for many, that bedroom is not an extra room at all and in light of there being no alternative housing for those who would be happy to downsize?

For how much longer are the lucky employers of this country going to have their wages bill subsidised by the government in the form of tax credits? For how much longer will the taxpayers put up with their hard-earned contributions going to this curious and very uncapitalist subsidisation of wages?

When is someone going to say that paying some poor sop a pittance to look after someone else’s kid so the parent can go and work for another pittance is just plain crazy and mostly serves a cold and futile ideology? Where on earth did this obsession come from that every single adult must work in some governmentally recognised capacity for it to even be considered a worthwhile occupation?

When is someone going to tell that Iain Dontcare Smith that a few disabled people aren’t going to save the economy by being made to work at some meaningless job which still requires loads of government subsidy because employers tend to have to be blackmailed into employing them? Whose needs is IDS serving?

When is someone going to ram this empty but plainly loaded “make work pay” phrase up the ivory towers of these disingenuous MPs? We all know it’s not about getting a wage you can live on, but about reducing benefits to a level on which you obviously can’t. Given the magnificent economic incompetence of this Coalition, this is a nasty attitude at best.

But then, when is the good British public going to tell this government that all their welfare reforms are cruel, given the economic climate? That if you want to weed out the genuinely feckless or lazy, you have to provide a climate in which they become self-evident rather than merely accused as such by carping government ministers and high-horsed media stenographers. Apparently “welfare’ shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice” but who is in charge and who hasn’t provided any real alternatives? When will the public ask whose “choice” it actually is?

When will the good people remind this government and media that Brits are perfectly happy to do the jobs immigrants do, that it’s not the nature of the job but the deliberately low wages these jobs come with? When will the public realise that it’s only possible to live on such poor wages when you’re single and prepared to share your accommodation with 20 other people because you imagine and hope that this will be temporary? When will government and media acknowledge that it is policy and slack stewardship which create the climate possible for both immigrants and British citizens to be exploited and undercut in their wages, working conditions and accommodation?

And when, oh when will the good people of this country stop blaming immigrants and Europe for all the ills which plague this nation? When will it realise that Europe doesn’t just hand down some edict which can’t be questioned or modified – that governments are largely free to interpret most EU guidelines in their own ways and that that is exactly what they do. It’s called expedient political gaming when a government claims its hands are tied by Europe.

When are the good people going to tell this government that they know who makes the rules by which HMRC must operate? The likes of Amazon and Google are doing what any business would be sensible to do: maximising their profits and paying out as little in tax and other overheads as they can get away with. Who sets the rules? Who decides what ‘evasion’ is and what is ‘avoidance’?

When are the good people of this country going to rail at the government for its bigotry and ineptitude? When are the rational citizens going to declare war on short-sighted, ignorant, crass and divisive policies?

I’m not looking for answers here. This is just a rant. Like you, I already know what I want most of the solutions to look like.

A Mother’s Work

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A Mother’s Work

First posted on March 24, 2013

This is naturally worded towards the female gender, by virtue of tradition. However, if you are a man with whom any of this resonates, I hope you will consider yourself automatically included where relevant.

A great irony has occurred over the last few decades. Time was that the working mother was frowned upon and her ‘latch-key’ children pitied. Today, societal expectations and governmental policies have instilled a sense of guilt in the woman if she doesn’t want to work while her children are actually children. She is found wanting, accused of not pulling her weight; not showing a good work ethic to her offspring; not contributing to the justification of her monetary worth. Why? Because she makes her children her primary purpose: her occupation – her career? This development is just as insidious and detrimental to the well-being of children, mothers and Community as the spiteful, reverse demonisation of those who worked in the Seventies and Eighties. But for the working mother and particularly the lone parent, her guilt is in the eternal catch-22: that of either spreading herself too thinly, thus feeling inadequate in both spheres of life, or, just as likely, pretty much neglecting one sphere in favour of the pressure from the other.

The accelerating pressures of our lives can have done little to assuage this guilt and yet it has been pushed to one side by the theorists, the Media and consecutive governments who have fallen over themselves to endorse the mythical status of the perfectly accomplished woman: the woman who can do everything and be everything, brilliantly. Really? Isn’t that just crazy talk? I mean: yes, of course women “can have it all” – but surely not all at once? Not successfully?

I’d rather we didn’t insist on mothers being stay-at-home types or force them out to work. One size doesn’t fit all and why would we want it to? That just leads to unhappy, less effective people. And yet this is exactly what our government is achieving. And yet again, it’s the poorest and the least powerful who find themselves without a choice. Yet again the Conservatives, the so-called party of family and strong moral compass, are destroying the very fabric upon which such values are built.

The next generation are the future, the continuum of the human race and your children are your personal legacy. Could there really be any task more worthy or vital? Now, I don’t think it’s wrong to work just because you have children: this isn’t about denigrating working mothers; but neither is it inaccurate to see your parenting as highly valuable work. Wanting to be the default carer and guide for your own children is most certainly notsomething to be ashamed of. After all, they’re not called dependants for nothing. If it doesn’t matter who raises them; if it isn’t healthier to have diversity; if the mother doesn’t know her child best, we might as well just grow them in anonymous incubators, stamp them with a code and send them off to processing plants.

As I’ve written, previously:

Where is the sense in a society that forces single parents out to work for such low wages that they still require top-up benefits so that someone else, who may not be your idea of a suitable surrogate parent and who may not even like the job, can also be paid a pittance to look after your children? The same society which frets about family breakdown, quality time, modern pressures, neglected kids…

[‘Welfare Reform Scapegoats’ http://julijuxtaposed.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/welfare-reform-needs-scapegoats/ ]

I wonder… Wouldn’t that pittance of a wage be better offered directly to the primary care-giver as a modest stipend for not needing all this bitty but generic and expensive childcare? It would give lone parents and low-waged couples, a viable option. It would say that we value not just the child, but the parent too. And the childcare business that survived would probably be of a better, more personal quality. It’s short-sighted to view this as something for nothing. It is not. Society complains constantly about its breakdown; about the poverty that initiates and exacerbates its ills, only to resist the most obvious solution and go for yet another false economy. It’s hang-wringing followed by pettiness, followed by some complicated new policy which is ineffective and always costs more than its budget, followed by more hand-wringing. Well, perhaps some things are worth throwing money at because, at the very least, the alternatives are unthinkable. If it could just be accepted that the Hearth Stone is as essential to Humanity as good planetary stewardship is to Earth’s ecosystem – that would at least be a good start.

Welfare Reform Scapegoats

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First posted on February 2, 2013

Welfare Reform Scapegoats

So, there’s not nearly enough work for the employable population and by this, I mean those of working age who are fit, healthy, underemployed or unemployed but available. We have the kinds of unemployment which threaten whole communities and entire generations: mass redundancies and NEETS galore who can’t get a foot on the first rung. Now, most sensible managers, given a choice, would utilise this potentially wonderful source first. But not this Government. Oh no….

Instead, the pillocks at the Top Table seemed to have divined that, lone parents and those whose lives are habitually dictated by a spectrum of physical and mental challenges have too little to do and should be the country’s premier source of fuel as a response to economic malaise.

This relentless and ruthless pursuit of the lone parent and the disabled person, at the same time and in the least conducive of economic climates, smacks of crass stupidity and boorishness. Yes, undoubtedly there is need to reform some aspects of Social Security – and certainly Social Care. Yes, undoubtedly there are cheats – but then, is there a walk or sphere of life where cheats do not exist? It seems beyond the wit of this Government to recognise that, as a result of their economic malfeasance, the economic climate is not currently conducive to their ‘welfare’ reforms. In fact, the timing of them is ignorant & cruel and demonstrates that they either don’t care or don’t know how to encourage a climate in which the whole country can flourish. Surely the financial costs can’t be worsened by a stay of these punishing reforms on those whose daily lives are already prescribed in no small measure – especially when the money “saved” is merely diverted to those who are implementing this ridiculous programme. This Government refutes the bigger, wider, sustainable solutions to this socio-political-economic picture, such as major investments in housing; infrastructure; universally accessible and meaningful education and health/social care provision; and whatever else you are mentally adding, dear Reader. But then, as we know, this cowardly Government hides behind easy scapegoats and superficial thinking.

The current measures are not being implemented to bring independence and autonomy to disadvantaged individuals. Nor are they being enforced because the country’s future and economic prosperity depend on it. This is to satisfy an ideological position informed by a mix of puritanical judgement, fake fatherly concern and that panic that comes with a lack of knowledge and imagination. But there is a fine line between pragmatism and cruelty when it requires the disabled and lone parent to validate their existence because they are deemed to be taking up room and draining resources.

A lone parent is often quite literally alone. You can’t rely indefinitely on goodwill and shared resources. If you are the only parent, with little or no unconditional and immediate support, then you are effectively on-call 24/7 – always. You’re bringing up the next generation, the source of Humanity’s continuum – it’s not a hobby – and, while it certainly isn’t temporary, the years when you have most influence and input might be. When you and, mostly you, alone, are that unconditional constant, the stability in your child’s life, you tend to want it to be you who is available when they are upset, or ill, reticent or just on holiday- not the childminder; not Day Care. That’s the sphere of your life in which you need to be reliable – not the job that pays you so little that you still need government credits.

Where is the sense in a society that forces single parents out to work for such low wages that they still require top-up benefits so that someone else, who may not be your idea of a suitable surrogate parent and who may not even like the job, can also be paid a pittance to look after your children? The same society which frets about family breakdown, quality time, modern pressures, neglected kids…

And if you have physical and or mental challenges that were officially recognised as disabling before the economic meltdown, it has already been accepted in some measure that your ability, capacity and reliability are potential barriers which narrow sharply the types of employment available – especially those jobs which pay sufficiently so as not to need government credit. How do you juggle the household, the personal care and the practical help you require: help that is already not always at a convenient time for you; and make yourself available for work: work that is already scarce for ‘fit’ people and probably doesn’t accommodate your variety of needs? How are employers to be convinced into equipping a workplace for someone who can’t guarantee whether they will manage five minutes or an hour of productive and reliable activity from one day to the next? How do you do said work at all if the journey to the workplace is all you can manage? How do you stop yourself feeling like you might be a patronised and resented token, a nuisance, an inconvenient expense?  How do you let go any dreams you had of forging your own progression as you’re herded from one advisor to another, knowing you could well be parked and still poor – and that this is it – trapped in a system with ever decreasing exits?

Is it wrong to be afraid that chains of pen pushers have been given arbitrary powers to play around with and effect control over so many real lives?

[Please do know, dear Reader, that I have experience of both single parenthood and disability and that I am not at all suggesting that lone parents or disabled people should in any way be excluded or discouraged from the workforce. Or that they should be prevented from achieving any degree of personal progress and fulfilment. Not at all. I think anyone, including a lone parent or disabled person who wants to, should be able to contact their not-for-profit jobcentre and obtain generous, competent and useful assistance in entering employment. I also believe in lifelong learning for all, access to retraining and voluntary work that is actually voluntary. But then, I believe in lots of things like that…]

Other julijuxtaposed posts on Think Left:

The Unstately Altar

Cameron and Co

Have You Drawn Your Curtains, Dearie?

Is it really better to lift people out of paying tax?

Moving On

On No Good Authority

Uprise!

A Bold Approach to Childcare

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It’s been estimated that of the people arrested during the recent riots, as many as 30% are under the age of 18.

Not surprisingly then,  there has been a lot of talk recently about good/bad parenting and it seems everyone, no matter what their political persuasion, agrees how important early intervention in childcare is.

Labour can be proud of its record on helping families when it was in power. Its ground-breaking early education and nursery care policies and in particular the Sure Start early intervention programme, could quite rightly claim to be some of Labour’s greatest achievements in government.

Even the present Prime Minister himself  thinks Labour had got it right. In his speech to the Tory conference before the last election, David Cameron said this;

But it’s not just about money. It’s also about emotional support, particularly in those fraught early years before children go to school. Labour understood this and we should acknowledge that. That’s why Sure Start will stay, and we’ll improve it.

So why then did the Tory-led government decide to remove the ring-fence around funding for the Sure Start programme? Did they think the best way to improve the programme was to cut it? If so, the government is obviously an advocate of the ‘we-had-to-destroy-the-town-in-order-to-save-it’ school of logic.

A nationwide survey of Sure Start children’s centre managers, carried out by 4Children and Daycare Trust, found that as many as 250 Sure Start children’s centres are at risk of closing, while thousands are cutting back services and issuing redundancy risk notices.

Other centres are cutting back the services they offer to families and  issuing redundancy notices to staff. As many as 86% of Children’s Centres will have a substantially decreased budget.

According to a shocking report by the Child Poverty Action Group (1), the UK comes 24th out of 29 European countries when ranked according to child well-being and poverty. This puts us below countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Estonia;

Source – Child Poverty Action Group (1)

Recent cuts to benefits and childcare programmes by the present Conservative-led government mean this situation is likely to get worse. It has been estimated that cuts to child benefits in the last budget by the coalition government will affect as many as 1.5 million families and will lead to more babies being born into, and maintained in poverty (2).

What are the problems?

Contrary to right-wing propaganda, the problem is not ‘benefit scroungers’.  58% of children in poverty are in working families, rather than in families who are dependent on benefits (3). The problem is low-wages, which particularly affects working parents. In the UK, there are a growing number of children whose parents are working but are still in poverty.

Despite the previous Labour government’s best efforts, 33% of parents’ income is still being spent on childcare, the highest in the developed world (4);

Source- OECD (4)

Resolving the problem of pre-school childcare provision will go a long way to reducing child poverty in the UK.

Even before the cuts, there is plenty of evidence that the system was failing the lowest income parents. These are the parents most likely to work ‘atypical hours’ such as shift work, evenings and weekend work.
According to the Daycare Trust, a majority of working parents sometimes or always work at times outside the current times of childcare provision on offer (5);

Source: Daycare Trust (5)
Many nursery schools often offer only two daily sessions – often either 9.30am to noon or 13.00 to 15.30 each day – not much use to anyone who works. Unfortunately, the kinds of jobs with atypical hours are more likely to be accessed by low-income parents, the very parents the system should be helping the most.
This could be why as many as 24% of disadvantaged families with 3 year-olds do not take up provision of childcare, even if they are entitled to it for free (6).
This problem is also exacerbated by the fact that many benefits such as working tax credits are unclaimed because many parents do not understand the system or do not know about it. The system is bureaucratic and complicated. Again, the parents most likely to be missing out are the ones on the lowest incomes, the very parents the system is supposed to be helping.
When mothers from families experiencing the highest level of disadvantage asked whether they would prefer to go out to work if they could arrange good quality childcare which was convenient, reliable and affordable, just under two-thirds agreed or agreed strongly, compared with just over a third of mothers from families with no disadvantage. Only 26% of mothers in the most disadvantaged families disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement that they would prefer to go out to work (7).

Public or Private?

Another problem is the rise of corporate childcare provision and its role in the rising costs of childcare. Private, for profit childcare providers rose 7-fold under Labour’s period in office. This has significantly increased the cost of childcare provision to government and local authorities but with a questionable corresponding rise in the quality of provision. In 1997 the corporate share was negligible. Now it is the largest single sector of provision (8);

Under the policies of the present Tory-led government, this is likely to increase even further with the accompanying increase in costs making childcare a luxury out of the reach of many low-income working parents.

According to the Daycare Trust (11), the average yearly expenditure for 25 hours a week nursery care is £5,028 for parents in England, £5,178 for parents in Scotland and £4,723 in Wales.
In London, the average cost for 25 hours nursery care is £6,164 per year. The most expensive nursery was £14,300 per year for 25 hours a week care.

What can be done to meet the challenges?

Stop government cuts to child benefit, childcare and youth programmes which are part of an all-out attack on family and parenting and which can only have a devastating affect on the future of society as a whole.

We should not be afraid to argue for policies which allow women in particular to have children and continue working. Low birth rates in the UK and rising life expectancy mean we are heading for a pension crisis. Encouraging parents, especially women, to work and also to have more children is a necessity if we are to have any hope of mitigating the worst effects of the crisis.

In a cost-benefit report on universal childcare in 2003, PricewaterhouseCoopers stated (9);

Increased employment of women is especially important, not only to support the future welfare state’s finances as the population ages, but also as a remedy for child poverty.

It is also an aid to reducing the gender pay gap and allowing more women to provide for their own old age (so contributing to the solution to current concerns about a possible future pensions crisis).

Flexible and affordable childcare will help to reduce unemployment. 60% of unemployed mothers say unavailability of affordable childcare is the reason they are not working. 47% say they cannot find childcare which covers the times they need to work (5).

Flexible and affordable childcare will help to reduce unemployment. 60% of unemployed mothers say unavailability of affordable childcare is the reason they are not working. 47% say they cannot find childcare which covers the times they need to work (5).
It should also be pointed out that good quality childcare in the home isn’t free either. To families, it costs the wages of a full time person who would be in work if they were not at home caring for the child as well as the educational toys, books and other things which many parents would not be able to afford. There is a cost to the economy too, from lost taxes and wages which could be spent elsewhere in the economy.

Of course, if free pre-school childcare were only a tool to reduce poverty, mitigate anti-social behaviour or as a means to mitigate the pension crisis, it would be unwise if it were not good for the children themselves. Fortunately, all the evidence points otherwise. A major longitudinal study by The Department for Education and Skills (10) identified significant positive effects of early childhood education on children’s development. It shows that better quality, longer duration and more effective pre-school care could
have positive lasting educational and developmental effects (Sammons et. al., 2004)

Conclusions:

1) Funds to Child Benefits, Childcare and Youth Programmes and in particular Children’s Centres should be properly ring-fenced from further cuts. In fact funding should be increased. But how can we afford it in these times of financial crisis? I hear the cry. Well the money is there, if we are willing to get it.  In 2010 local authorities in England spent over £4 billion on provision for under fives in one year. In the UK, bank bonuses were estimated to be as much as 7 billion in 2010 alone (13) . If the extra costs were paid for with a ROBIN HOOD TAX (http://robinhoodtax.org/), a tax on bank profits which would be used to directly fund anti-child poverty schemes in the UK, including childcare provision, then there would be no budget increases at all.  It’s just a matter of priorities.

2) Pre-school childcare provision should be flexible enough to enable parents who work irregular hours, weekends, evenings etc to use it. Longer opening hours are needed (minimum 7.00am to 7.00pm) and in certain areas, centres offering a 24-hour childcare service should be considered, if there is the demand from working parents.

3) Free pre-school childcare provision needs to be full-time. The present 15 hours isn’t
enough, a minimum of 25 hours a week needs to be offered and as much as 50 hours could be provided if there was the demand. The provision should also be offered all year round, rising from the present provision of 38 weeks a year.

4) Free pre-school childcare provision should continue to be extended to all 2-year olds.

5) Free pre-school childcare provision should be increased in the public sector, reducing
reliance on the private sector, which will decrease costs and government subsidies to for-profit private companies.

6) Bureaucracy should be simplified. Fewer tax credits forms, more ‘walk-in-and-use’
services, including drop-in crèche facilities which will result in a greater take-up of the
services by low-income parents. Parents also need to be given more and better information about local childcare services that are being provided.

REFERENCES

(1) Child Poverty Action Group – ‘Child Wellbeing and Child Poverty -where the UK stands in the European table’

http://www.cpag.org.uk/info/ChildWellbeingandChildPoverty.pdf

(2) Family Action – ‘Born Broke – the impact of welfare measures announced by the Government on parents with new children.’

http://www.family-action.org.uk/uploads/documents/parents%20with%20new%20children.pdf

(3) Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the New Policy Institute – ‘Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2010’ – Anushree Parekh, Tom MacInnes and Peter Kenway

http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/monitoring-poverty-2010

(4) OECD – Social Policy Division – Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs
– ‘PF3.4: Childcare Support’

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/52/11/42004407.pdf

(5) Daycare Trust – ‘Open all hours? – flexible childcare in the 24/7 era’ – Rosanna Singler

http://www.daycaretrust.org.uk/data/files/atypical_hours_report_final_march_11.pdf

(6) DoE – ‘Towards Universal Early Years Provision: analysis of take-up by disadvantaged
families.’

https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFE-RB066

(7) Dept for Children, Schools & Families – ‘Families Experiencing Multiple Disadvantage
– Their Use of and Views on Childcare Provision’ – Svetlana Speight, Ruth Smith and Eva Lloyd with Cathy Coshall – National Centre for Social Research

http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/RSG/AllRsgPublications/Page21/DCSF-RR191

(8) Penn Helen – University of East London – ‘Childcare Market Management: how the United Kingdom Government has reshaped its role in developing early childhood education and care.’

http://www.uel.ac.uk/icmec/local_artwork/CIEC22007.pdf

(9) PriceWaterhouseCoopers – 2003 – ‘Universal Childcare Provision in the UK –
towards a cost-benefit analysis.’

http://www.pwc.co.uk/pdf/PwC_UCC_Report-Aug_03.pdf

(10) Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Final Report – A Longitudinal Study Funded by the DfES 1997-2004

http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/RRP/u013144/index.shtml

(11) Daycare Trust – Annual Childcare Costs Survey 2010

http://www.daycaretrust.org.uk/pages/rapid-rise-in-childcare-costs-adds-to-family-financewoes.html

(12) DoE – ‘Provision for Children Under Five Years of Age in England: January 2008’

http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000790/index.shtml

(13) Centre for Economics and Business Research.

http://www.cebr.com/wp-content/uploads/London-and-the-City-Prospects-Press-Release-5-October-2010-City-Bonuses.pdf