Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More nonsense about the Work-Shy

I guess I'm letting myself get a bit wound up by things in the news in order to get back to writing regularly.

Another problematic BBC News article UK needs to adopt tough US stance on earning welfare - another opinionated assertion posing as a news headline. From the main site, this was linked to as simply Workshy Britons. The article itself neither explains why the UK needs to adopt a tougher stance, nor does it demonstrate that there are any work-shy Britons.

Lawrie Mead, a US academic, visits Liverpool and laments how unemployed people feel entitled to having enough money to stay warm and have something to eat. Some telling sentences are

“One initial surprise was that the city did not appear down-at-heel.”

“The parents and children I encountered in Anfield seemed to me upbeat and well-organised. The community did not manifest the deeper disarray that one often encounters in poor areas in America.”

Thing is, being unemployed in the UK is a very different thing to being unemployed in the US. People are impoverished, but most people are not made desperate. The UK welfare state has been historically based on the idea that everyone pays into an insurance scheme and when someone does fall on hard times and need to claim from it, they do not have to give up their self-respect. Benefits are relatively generous and things like the National Health Service means that people don't so easily fall through the cracks. The vast majority of people who claim benefits work most of their lives and claim only briefly before returning to work. Just now, there are a lot of hard-working people on benefits because jobs are being lost all the time. These people do not need to be made to earn benefits – they already did. They simply need to be supported until such a time that they can earn a living and recommence paying into the pot

Another reason why impoverished parts of the country aren't so bad as impoverished parts of the US is that we have a minimum wage. It is illegal to employ people for less than £5.93 an hour (for those over 21). So if people are to work for their benefits, they cannot be expected to work more than 11 hours a week. That's just over two hours a day for the highest rate of Job Seekers Allowance.

But the biggest practical problem for getting unemployed people to work for their benefits is that there is no work. If the state had work that needed doing, it would surely employ peopl? . Unless of course the plan is to save the state money by first cutting public sector jobs, then forcing all these newly unemployed folk to work for illegally low pay under the guise of giving the work-shy incentives to work... well, it's a plan, I guess. Mead continues

“More important is the fact that many people still believe in entitlement - this is the idea that you have a right to get benefits if you qualify under the income rules, and you should not have to work for them.”

But you do. As a British citizen, you do have this right. Just as you have a right to claim on your car insurance if you have a bump. Everyone is entitled to claim benefits when they are out of work.

Something that really bugs me about the recent rhetoric around benefits is that there are lots of different ways in which the welfare state can work. There are lots of ways in which things could be reformed, made fairer, where we could guard against fraud and abuse and so on. There are even some ways in which costs could be cut.

But the principles underlining the benefits system are fundamentally fair. It is not a charity pot. The people of this country are not divided into hard-working tax-payers and work-shy layabouts. And just now, when more and more tax-payers are needing to claim from the pot – our pot - this rhetoric is particularly insulting.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

ADHD and DLA Fraud

cross-posted at Where's the Benefit?

There's an article on the BBC News website is entitled Unscrupulous parents seek ADHD diagnosis for benefits

The evidence for this assertion is that two anonymous headteachers claim this to be the case.
"Susan" has asked to remain anonymous, because she knows what she says is controversial and does not want to stigmatise the parents of every child with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Not sure how anonymous sources make any difference to the stigmatising effect of the article. ADHD is already a massively stigmatised condition. Many people, including teachers, are sceptical as to whether the condition isn't simply a way for bad parents to excuse the bad behaviour of their children. I have heard it theorised that ADHD is a problem caused by middle class parents who aren't prepared to smack their children and demand a label when their children struggle at school, or that ADHD is a problem caused by working class parents who feed their children junk food and abandon them to the television. Bringing benefit fraud into this can only add to the stigma.

Psychiatric diagnoses with subjective criteria are always tricky and identifying abnormality in children's behaviour is particularly fraught, so there are bound to be misdiagnoses. But for children with these impairments, attempting to navigate the world and an inflexible education system, a diagnosis of ADHD can be a tremendous gateway, not to extra cash for their parents, but to proper treatment and the help they need to succeed. DLA can be used to buy time, peace, practical adjustments and special arrangments so that these children and their families can have as full and normal life as possible. Which in turn promotes normal development.

Their anonymous source continues
"Every child I have on medication, we are asked to fill part of the forms that they [parents] submit as benefit claimants, to verify they have ADHD, so it goes hand-in-hand."
As the article later points out, both NICE and the Royal College of Psychiatrist believe that Ritalin should only be prescribed to chlidren with severe behavioural problems. Therefore, it follows, those families whose children are actually prescribed Ritalin are likely to be in greastest need for help.

Only of course, there are only 328,000 people on DLA under the age of 16, including all those with mobility and special care needs, whereas there are many more children taking Ritalin (I can't find a figure that agrees, but somewhere past half a million). Ritalin prescription and DLA do not go hand in hand.

Then finally,
Abuse of the Disability Living Allowance by parents is one reason the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is discussing reform.
No, it's not. It has been said before, but it has to be said again and again, DLA fraud is reckoned to stand at 0.5%. There are only 328,000 people under 16 claiming DLA, including all those children with mobility and special care needs. Presuming that fraud is as common amongst parents and guardians claiming for their children than amongst adults claiming for themselves – which seems extremely unlikely given the much stricter criteria for under 16s – then that's about 1600 cases in the country. The DWP are not reforming anything for the sake of 1600 fraudulent parents.

This article rattled me because it is such weak reporting and by the BBC, from whom I'd expect better. Disability fraud and the urgent need for reform has become a bandwagon, where an argument is built up around the word of anonymous sources who have no expertise beyond their anecdotal experience. Because there must be fraud. There must be massive fraud or else the government wouldn't be able to justify the cuts and increased stress and scrutiny in store for everyone on disability benefits.

The website article relates to a radio piece on this matter at 9pm tonight (Sunday, 6 February) on BBC Radio 5 Live. No, me neither.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Muscular Liberalism and Stories About Islam

"Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism." - David Cameron, speaking about Islamic extremism at the Munich Security Conference.
Liberalism is jolly hard work. It means arguing for a society in which, inevitably, sooner or later, you will hear something that upsets or offends you, or a false statement on a subject that matters. People will behave in ways that unsetttle you, and yet you have to keep fighting for their right to do so. When I hear a phrase like muscular liberalism from a serving politician, I would expect something like some adjustments to our recent terrorism laws which criminalise various non-violent behaviours and allow police tremendous powers to interfere in the lives of those who come under suspicion.

No such luck...
“We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries. We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism - against people at home and abroad. Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are certainly, in some cases, part of the problem.”
Cameron spoke to the EU in Munich today about Islamic Extremism and the failure of multiculturalism, the day after the anti-Islamic English Defence League took to the streets of Luton. The timing was appalling, but the rhetoric was worse.
“So when a white person holds objectionable views - racism, for example - we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn't white, we've been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.”
Common narratives around race, religion and immigration are extraordinarily dangerous. We like stories. We also like simplicity, irony, colour-coding, heroes and villains. So stories about the way things are that appeal tend to stick better than stories which are true.

Privileged groups have been using the “one rule for them, another rule for us” complaint forever. I daresay a Pharoah once complained, “When a Hebrew kills an Egyptian overseer, he gets a burning bush and a pat on the back. But when an upstanding Egyptian accidentally drops a few thousand babies in the Nile and enslaves their parents, God goes and sends ten bloody plagues! It's political correctness gone mad!”

And it is blatantly untrue. There may be some people who imagine that outrageous views held by a member of a minority are somehow okay, or even part of their culture and therefore worthy of respect. But a Muslim only needs to moan about Western culture as much as the average pub bore and there is mass media coverage. Anjem Choudary, who appears to represent nobody but himself, is rarely out of the news. Yesterday, two Muslims made the national news by silently abstaining from a standing ovation for a man who had won the George Cross (please don't make me link, it was in the Daily Star).

It's almost a shame that the story isn't true, because it would make some sort of sense. Like Jack Straw's comments about sexually frustrated single Asian young men preying on white girls because Asian girls are sexually unavailable. Would make some sort of sense if it wasn't for the fact that the Asian men recently prosecuted for abusing young women and children were married, in their late twenties and anyway, rape has little to do with sexually frustation. But these stories have great appeal, they make some kind of sense of something in equal parts complex and horrible. But they do so at the cost of a scapegoat, at the cost of these communities who are always being spoken about in the third person.

We cannot ignore crimes committed by anybody, and terrorism is a very serious crime. But I think that as white folk, we have a greater responsibility to confront white voices who preach hatred and falsehood (and thus, provoke hate in others) than we do to confront non-white haters. We're the majority, we have the privilege and these people frequently claim to speak for our interests. And it's a very watered-down, cowardly liberalism that resorts to banning individuals who only want to speak. Even if what they have to say is as vile as vile can be.

This is a bit of a ramble but I've been struggling and I went and pressed publish by accident again half way through - so folks on feed-readers already got a preview.