updated: Sunday, 30 October, 2005
An examination of Britain's "improved" state welfare system
Special report 2 by site editor Keith Harris — report one follows below
If Baron William Henry Beveridge was alive today he might well possibly consider emigrating from the United Kingdom. It would most certainly have been impossible for him to envisage just how disjointed his idealistic work to form a welfare state would become by 2005—just 63 years on from the publication of the Beveridge Plan, which formed the bedrock from which Britain’s existing social security system evolved.
With the current welfare system now in place for fewer years than the span of one person’s working lifetime from birth to retirement, one commentator found it necessary to observe:"The welfare state has caused tens of thousands to live deprived and even depraved lives, and has undermined (the) decency and kindness which first inspired it"
I have always called a spade a spade and in this article intend not to deviate from that perspective. What happened to me prior to the matters related below is not particularly germaine either to the content or thrust of this article. Information relating to my past is however freely available at this website.
In 1995, following a difficult time in my life, I quit my relatively well paid and responsible job as a chief reporter in southern England and quit the UK for the Republic of Ireland. I had no particular connection with Ireland that I was aware of—it just happened to be a place I had never previously visited and I felt that I needed to break away and take stock of my life.
Whilst living in Ireland I undertook some work as an instructor in journalism and later worked for a time as a literacy tutor with NALA, the National Adult Literacy Agency, helping adults with literacy difficulties. I was also working at a special after school centre for children deemed to have differing home problems and as a result related learning difficulties.
In 1997 circumstances arose that led to my being awarded a disability allowance and being registered as a disabled person in Ireland. With the help of a friend, I found a small one-room self-contained flat in the centre of Limerick city and, using the weekly money provided by my allowance and some extra cash that came in through pension related savings, I set up this website. I also resumed my work as a freelance journalist, though not at anywhere near as grand a scale as I had operated in the UK, where I also ran my own freelance news provision agency.
In 2005 my ex-wife invited me to return to and live back at my former family home in Essex, England and on the 1st June I relocated back to my home country, moving my PC equipment and my few other belongings and transferring the operation of this website to my new home. While still in Ireland I had first checked with the UK welfare offices to confirm my eligibility to retain an allowance in the UK and had been assured that there would be no problem.
Despite this, on arrival in the UK I experienced enormous difficulty in establishing my allowance claim. To then make matters worse, my ex-wife proved insincere towards me and just five weeks after I arrived in the UK, having left a settled life of my own behind in Ireland, she made me homeless by ordering me out of the home.Were it not for the goodwill of a family of German friends who took me into their home to help me out, I would have been on the streets and would have lost all I had worked hard to achieve with this website over a period of more than seven years.“If one country could be said to have influenced Britain in the formation of its social policies in the late 19th century, that country would be Germany. It is difficult now to envisage the dramatic impact on the Victorian mind of the rapid unification of Germany under the leadership of Prussia. France, Britain’s main European rival for 250 years yet so effortlessly dismissed on the battlefield of Sedan in 1870, was now dominated with condescending ease by its dynamic neighbour. There was a new kid on the block, and his every movement was watched both eagerly and anxiously.”
In addition, my personal allowance in Ireland was €157 a week, or £107.81. On top of that I received an additional winter fuel allowance of €20 a month and my weekly rent allowance, which covered all but €15 of my weekly rent. I was also granted a free television license and the monthly phone line rental charges were covered by my disability allowance with payments made direct to the phone company.
Being in receipt of a disability allowance also entitled me to free travel on public rail or bus transport anywhere in Ireland.
It is now the end of October 2005 as I add these words to this article and my claim has still not been resolved in any manner. For reasons only known to bureaucracy, my case papers were forwarded by the UK social security system to Ireland, as the Irish authorities were those deemed ‘competent’ to decide on the validity of my claim.
And when confirmation of my interim award of Income Support arrived in the post—granted to me while I am awaiting the outcome of my incapacity allowance claim—this is what I read.
How much the law says you need to live on: £56.20
And so I now write the following:
Basic Average weekly living costs
Food Shopping £30
Left for emergency requirements: £1.60
“The NHS is the jewel in the crown of the British Welfare State, but it only arrived relatively late upon the scene (1948). The origins of the Welfare State go back to the late Victorian era and the desire to provide cheap housing for the poor, the best healthcare for all and pensions which made satisfactory provision for a comfortable retirement.”
http://www.la-articles.org.uk/ws.htmand finally:Sunday, October 30, 2005
“The aim of state welfare was to remove divisions in society. Ironically, the effect has been to make those divisions more visible. Nothing is clearer in the UK today than the accommodation gap between the homeowner and the tenant in public housing. Nothing is more poignant than the difference between the pensioner who uses an ample private pension to spend the winter months in Spain, and the pensioner dependent on state benefits alone to fund the winter fuel bills.”
An examination of Britain's "improved" state welfare system
Special report 1 by site editor Keith HarrisWhen I returned to the UK in June 2005 after 10 years of living in Ireland and one year spent in the USA from 1995 to 1996, I was feeling happy at the prospect of living back in the country of my birth and was looking forwards to settling back into a life. I had been invited to return to my family home to again be with my 16-year-old son, my 20 and 21-year-old daughters and my stepson, all of whom I had not seen since 1989, and their mother, my former wife.
I had been on a medically awarded disability allowance for almost six years in Ireland, due to back problems and other health issues. I had worked as a teacher for a time, working with 8–12 year-olds, and for a time led an introductory course on journalism. On making inquiries from Ireland before my departure for the UK I was led to believe it would be a relatively simple matter to reinstate my allowance, in the UK called an incapacity allowance.
As I had very little money in Ireland to afford the relocation, my former wife and her brother funded my return, my brother-in-law driving his jeep from Sussex to Essex to collect my former wife, then driving on to Holyhead, crossing to Ireland on the ferry and then driving across Ireland to Limerick where I was living in a small bedsit. After loading my belongings into the jeep, we drove back to Dublin, I said cheerio to Ireland and after crossing on the ferry we arrived at my former wife’s council house home in Basildon, Essex at about 3am. I had lived there many years before for several years before my then wife decided to up and leave, after we had all moved from Brighton in a bid to improve our lives through what I considered might be better job prospects closer to London.
I had a little cash saved for basic necessities and it was not until Tuesday 7 June that I was in a position to attend the local JobCentre and register a new claim. I arranged for the benefit payments to go directly into my former wife’s bank account as I had no account in the UK, and the system required all recipients to have a bank or post office account, else receipt of payments became ludicrously complex. My former wife had already registered me with the local council as a joint tenant at the property. As she was already in receipt of Income Support benefits and we were cohabiting, the system required that she close her claim and I make a new claim for us both, which would include my own claim for incapacity allowance.
The real problems were just about to begin. Having arrived from Ireland, my claim papers were sent on to the Income Support’s “overseas department” supposedly to verify that I was entitled to any benefits at all. This lead to a substantial delay in the processing of my claim, and in fact I later informed by another JobCentre that they believed it was wholly unnecessary for my paperwork to have been sent to the overseas department at all. I began to unearth a catalogue of confusion in which the right hand of the system not only completely failed to see what it’s left hand was doing—it failed to see that it even had a left hand at all.
After one week I learned that my claim had not been processed at all, my former wife’s claim had been terminated because I had lodged a new claim, and we were without incoming money apart from her family allowance, which was nowhere near enough to feed and keep our family for the coming week.
We returned to the JobCentre on the following Tuesday, to be then told that we needed to return on the Thursday for an interview regarding the claim and that I must provide a medical certificate, even though it was clearly impossible at such short notice for a doctor to properly examine me and return any meaningful analysis of my medical condition. We duly returned, taking a medical certificate I had obtained from the doctor’s I had registered with in my new location after he heard my story and needs. I was then informed that the only cash I could get for myself and our family was a crisis loan, so we made the application at about 11am. At 5pm we were given the outcome of our application and told we were entitled to £5 to last our family until the next Tuesday.
I expressed utter disbelief but we decided to wait the hour we were told it would take to ‘process’ the practically worthless cheque. Just before 6pm the JobCentre manager approached us and profusely apologising explained that a mistake had been made and in fact we were entitled to £163. Eventually we received the cheque together with a bus travel pass to the late opening post office at Tesco’s, as the main post office in town had closed.
I was entitled to two weeks outstanding benefit and assumed that this payment covered that period, but I was wrong. It was a payment to cover the coming two weeks, and so one week later we were again desperately short of money. If it was not for the goodwill of a friend in Ireland who wired me some cash, we would have again been in extreme difficulty the following week.
By Tuesday 5 July, I learned that my incapacity benefit claim was still being reviewed and that I had been awarded income support benefits for the interim period. Things now took a turn for the much worse. My relationship with my former wife had turned sour, perhaps as a result of the stress from our financial situation, but I have no wish to go into those matters now. Suffice to say that on the day that the first payment went into my former wife’s bank on 5 July, she left home that same morning, telling me she was going shopping, and I later received a message relayed to me from her that she required me to leave the home ‘immediately’, despite my having nowhere to go, all my property being at the home and myself with absolutely no money. She declined to even make available to me the money she had that was rightfully mine from my claim. That was the last I saw of her before leaving. That said, the thrust of this article is not about my relationship with my former wife, its is about what I regard as the absolutely appalling treatment I have since received as a registered disabled person on my return to the UK.
Through my former sister-in-law, I was able to arrange a stay of execution on my expulsion from the home and was given until the Sunday to leave. Again thanks to the help of my brother-in-law, I left on Thursday 7 July, having said sad farewells once again to my daughters and son and late on the Thursday evening, the day of the London bombings, I arrived at the home of some good friends in Eastbourne, who had without hesitation offered their help on hearing of my plight. After telephoning the Eastbourne JobCentre at the earliest opportunity, I was given an interview on Tuesday 12 June, and after traveling in to the town centre from the edge of town was then told that no interviews for emergency payments could be arranged until the following day.
It appears that the welfare system of today takes it for granted that everybody has a telephone and that transport, or the cash for it, is not a problem, as certain aspects of the benefits process can only be conducted by telephone, or if you do not have sufficient cash to use public phones you must get to the JobCentre where you can use a free telephone. If you happen to live several miles from the JobCentre, nobody cares if you do not have the transport or means to travel back and forth and back and forth. Again, it would have proved next to impossible for me to arrange and attend the necessary interviews were it not for the goodwill and help of the friends who had given me a roof over my head in my emergency situation and who drove me the several miles to the JobCentre. Eventually I was given an emergency payment of £43, to keep me for the week.
My friends were required to leave their Eastbourne home on 18 July as the landlord sought repossession, and had arranged to move to a property in Braintree, Essex. They had already agreed that I could move to the new location with them and remain until I was able to re-establish myself again with my own place. I was able to assist them with their packing and by driving the 7.5tonne lorry they hired for the move.
Because of the process of moving, I was not able to set an appointment at the JobCentre in Braintree until Thursday, 21 July, where the problems restarted all over again. The person interviewing me seemed unwilling to accept what I said about my having made a claim in Basildon and the resulting complications and simply insisted that I had to make a new claim regardless and that nothing would be done anyway unless I provided a new medical certificate, as the previous one had expired on 12 July. She could offer no meaningful answers when I said that I was not registered with a local GP nor could I readily register as a temporary resident, and that my GP in Basildon didn’t even know me, but had provided the original medical certificate as an emergency measure, based on the strength of what I had told him and shown him in the medical documents I had brought with me from Ireland.
This is not Catch 22, it is Catch 44 — an intolerable situation made worse by ignorant bureaucracy. I spent most of the day walking between the doctor’s surgery and the JobCentre then just hanging around awaiting the next stage in the JobCentre process—getting the necessary papers from them for me to open a post office account for, as they said, they would not pay anyone without either a bank account or similar.
Then it was a further application to determine my eligibility for an emergency ‘crisis loan’, followed by more waiting to hear of the decision then more waiting still for the cheque to be issued, and then £42 to last me the week. Only when I read the small print on the leaflet that I was given relating to the crisis loan did I learn about the existence of a “community support grant”, designed to help people in an emergency predicament. Given my circumstances, why did nobody explain about this grant to me?
Have those behind our current welfare system tried to live for a full week on just £42? To feed yourself, pay rent or lodging, do your washing etc etc? I have worked as a senior and chief reporter for UK newspapers for many years and have traveled as a civilian aid worker to central Bosnia during the war in 1995 to deliver Christmas cheer to war orphaned youngsters. So far on my return to the UK, I have found the welfare system I am forced to rely on at present woefully inadequate both in its operational structure and in its actual provision of assistance to those in need of it.
Being homeless, yet with important property to keep, I explored, or I should say tried to explore, what avenues might be open to me to sort myself out with a new home as a registered disabled person (albeit in Ireland—but then EU rules stipulate that reciprocating countries recognise such circumstances—and England has a reciprocal arrangement with the Republic of Ireland).
On asking at the Braintree JobCentre how I might acquire the money to resettle and pay such things as rent or board and lodging, I was told that the local council’s housing benefits section deals with such matters. My claim papers had included a council tax application form which I had filled in but nowhere in it was there anywhere I could include details of how much board etc.
On ringing the council’s housing benefits I was politely told that I must pay by board and lodging etc out of my weekly income support allowance. So, I called the overseas branch and was told that there was no reason for them to have received my incapacity allowance to begin and that a should speak again to the Braintree JobCentre. The Braintree JobCentre told me to contact Basildon JobCentre as my claim had been registered there and so Braintree should not deal with it.
The Basildon JobCentre said my claim should be sent to Braintree as I was living there. So again I called the overseas section who said they would call the Basildon and the Braintree offices and tell them that my claim should be sent to Braintree or how could I be expected to travel the 40 miles or so to Basildon every time I needed to attend the JobCentre offices? They also said that they would call me back to confirm what was being done. By the end of the day, now a Friday, they had not called me. Again, how in God’s name is anyone supposed to manage this out of a mere £42 a week? Who are these faceless people who made up the rules for Britain’s new, so-called improved state welfare system, and from which dark recess of human indifference did they emerge?
Understand that this is not a swipe at those working the system but it is a severe rebuke of those who drew up its operational format. It amply demonstrates that Britain is fast developing into a state run by the well off and wealthy for the well off and wealthy and if you are not in that position then God help you.
I was required to apply for two further crisis loans from Braintree JobCentre and, by the fourth week, when an Income Support payment was finally authorised into my new post office account whilst I was still awaiting the outcome of my claim for incapacity benefit, I received the statutory letter informing me:
The weekly amount that the law says you require to live on ... £56
The weekly amount we will deduct for your crisis loan £12
I was being asked to repay the loan I had been granted whilst with my former wife in Basildon—even though I had not received one penny of the money. Complaints made to the office dealing with crisis loans brought nothing further than bureaucratic gobbledygook and a leaflet stating that there was no avenue of lawful complaint regarding the money stopped from any benefits to repay such loans.
As the weeks rolled by, the amount taken from my weekly benefit was reduced to a little over £8, but by the end of October I had still not cleared the loans, themselves made necessary by a system that failed to provide an allowance to which I am quite clearly entitled.
And it is now the end of October and I am still living out of a suitcase at the home of my good German friends. They have taken the trouble to erect a temporary bed in their small living room, tucked away behind the sofa, making the room even smaller.
The family I am staying with receive working tax credits and are trying to succeed with an Internet based translation agency they have set up. They have two sons at school and the father takes on some temporary menial factory work during the week in an effort to boost the household income.
Because I am living at the house and the family also receive housing benefit, £7.40 is deducted each week from their housing benefit. I repay this to them each week from my own diminished benefit, leaving me less than sufficient money to live out each week.
This means that it is impossible for me to leave and find a place of my own to live. I approached Braintree Council for help with accommodation but was only told that no help was available as I had no ‘links’ with the area.
I am still awaiting any meaningful response to a similar request to Basildon Council, where my son and daughters still live and have lived for the past 18 years, so I do have links with that region.
I also applied to help from Telford Council, where I was born and lived until I was aged about 17. My aged mother now lives alone in her own home in the area, but would not accommodate me at her home due to family difficulties of the past.
However, the fact is that she is now getting on in years and has not close family living nearby to help her. I am the only surviving member of the family now living in the UK and would like to be close enough to help her should that be required.
Telford Council wrote back to me to state that they would need to see a letter from my mother detailing the level of support she would be likely to receive from me. I regard this as an outright insult.
And so the saga continues.
Is this the level of ‘care’ that is practiced in Great Britain today? Is this how the system is being ‘improved’ to assist people in need of help? Is this how disabled persons, many of whom experience difficult in getting work or in earning a sufficient income, treated in the UK?
Watch this space for developments.
Afghanistan | Africa | Albania | Algeria | Andorra | Angola | Anguilla | Antigua | Argentina | Armenia | Aruba | Asia | Australia | Austria | Azerbaijan | Bahamas | Bahrain | Balkans | Bangladesh | Barbados | Belarus | Belgium | Belize | Benin | Bermuda | Bhutan | Bosnia | Bolivia | Botswana | Brazil | Brunei | Bulgaria | Burkina | Burma | Burundi | Cambodia | Cameroon | Canada | Cape Verde | Caribbean | Cayman Islands | Cen African Rep | Chad | Chile | China | Christmas Island | Columbia | Comoros | Congo | Cook Island | Costa Rica | Croatia | Cuba | Cyprus | Czech/Slovakia | Denmark | Djibouti | Dominican Republic | Dubai | East Timor | Ecuador | Egypt | El Salvador | Equatorial Guinea | Eritrea | Estonia | Ethiopia | Europe | Faroe Islands | Fiji | Finland | France | Gabon | Gambia | Georgia | Germany | Ghana | Greece | Greenland | Grenada | Guadeloupe | Guam | Guatemala | Guinea | Guyana | Haiti | Holland | Honduras | Hong Kong | Hungary | Iceland | India | Indonesia | Iran | Iraq | Ireland | Israel | Italy | Ivory Coast | Jamaica | Japan | Jordan | Kazakhstan | Kenya | Kiribati | Korea | Kuwait | Kyrgyzstan | Laos | Latvia | Lebanon | Lesotho | Liberia | Libya | Lietchtenstein | Lithuania | London | Luxembourg | Macau | Macedonia | Madagascar | Malawi | Malaysia | Maldives | Mali | Malta | Marshall Islands | Martinique | Mauritania | Mauritius | Mexico | Micronesia | Moldova | Monaco | Mongolia | Montenegro | Montserrat | Morocco | Mozambique | Namibia | Nauru | New Zealand | Nicaragua | Niue | Niger | Nigeria | Northern Ireland | Norway | Oman | Pakistan | Palau | Palestine | Panama | Paraguay | Peru | Philippines | Pitcairn Islands | Poland | Portugal | Qatar | Romania | Russia | Rwanda | Samoa | San Marino | Sao Tomé | Saudi Arabia | Scandinavia | Senegal | Serbia | Seychelles | Sierra Leone | Singapore | Slovakia | Slovenia | Solomon Islands | Somalia | South Africa | South Americas | Spain | Sri Lanka | St Kitts | St Lucia | St Pierre | St Vincent | Sudan | Suriname | Swaziliand | Sweden | Switzerland | Syria | Taiwan | Tajikistan | Tanzania | Thailand | Tibet | Togo | Tonga | Trinidad | Tunisia | Turkey | Turkmenistan | Turks & Caicos | Tuvalu | Uganda | Ukraine | United Kingdom | United States | Uruguay | Uzbekistan | Vanuatu | Venezuela | Vietnam | Virgin Islands | Walli & Futuna | Yemen | Zambia | Zimbabwe | World
Human Rights | Science | Journalism | Music | Showbiz | Sport | Technology
Clickable News Globe
Privacy | Forum |
Sounds | Links
| Publicity |
On-line Editing | Publish news | Guestbook | Site Status | Site Map