Saturday, 17 March 2012

All In It Together?

Meet Sue. Sue lives in Greater Manchester with husband Dave and teenage children John and Marie.
Dave has multiple sclerosis, a long term, and ultimately potentially terminal  illness, and hasn’t worked for five years. He receives Disability Living Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (which used to be called Incapacity Benefit) which form a big part of the family’s income.  He needs a lot of looking after, and taking to numerous medical appointments, which Sue does, willingly.

Two days a week, Dave goes to a day centre, which means that Sue is able to work. She works for her local council as a Home Support Worker, earning £8.15 per hr. She works for 16 hours a week, and can therefore claim Working Tax Credit, which is a big help.

Marie is still at school. She’s bright, and her parents would like her stay on and perhaps go on to university.

John left school last year, and hasn’t been able to find work, although he’s keen and willing to work.

At the last election, Sue was disillusioned with Labour, and for the first time in her life voted Conservative.

Since the Coalition Government came to power, her life has changed:

  • The day centre Dave goes to is threatened with closure because of cuts to council budgets. Sue is starting to look round, but if she can’t find some alternative provision, she’ll have to give up work. She won’t be able to claim Jobseeker Allowance because she won’t be available for work. She doesn’t know how they’d cope without her money.
  • Sue is about to lose her Working Tax Credit because the rules are changing, and it will only be available to people who work a minimum of 24 hours a week. Even if she could find care for Dave, there are no extra hours available at work because budgets are so tight.
  • Sue pays into her occupational pension scheme. She can’t really afford the contributions, but is trying to ‘do the right thing’ and provide for her retirement. She’s coming to terms with the fact that she’s going to have to work for longer to get less pension, and doesn’t understand how this can be called ‘gold plated’. At current rates, her pension will be just over £5,000 a year.
  • Marie is saying she’s going to leave school. She had been hoping to help her parents out by getting an Education Maintenance  Allowance, but this was scrapped. She’s also very anxious about the idea of coming out of university with debts of over £30,000. She needs books for school, but she knows her parents can’t afford them. She planned to go her local library, but found its opening hours have been halved.
  • John spent a useful six months with the council under the Future Jobs Fund, getting some valuable training. They would have offered him a job, but their budget was cut. Now he’s been told that if he doesn’t take unpaid work in a supermarket his benefits will be stopped.
  • Dave has recently had a review of his ESA, which concluded that he would be capable of some sort of light work. Even if there were jobs, Dave doesn’t see how he could work, and is lodging an appeal. He has read that 40% of people who appeal are successful, which makes him wonder how good the assessment can be. He thought of asking the CAB for advice, but the local branch had its grant cut, had to reduce its opening hours, and has a three month waiting list. He is also anxious about government plans to change DLA - he can't believe it will be a change for the better. Dave is fed up with press reports demonising people who get disability benefits as  'scroungers'

This morning, Sue has read that the government wants to end national pay scales and cut the pay of public sector workers in poorer areas. Apparently her £8.15 an hour is stopping local private sector employers from recruiting high quality workers, even though the jobs page in the local paper has virtually no vacancies.

In the same paper, Sue read about:

  • Plans to cut the top rate of tax for people earning more than £150,000 because it’s a disincentive to them making even more money
  • Senior civil servants using private companies to reduce their tax bill
  • Big companies being let off millions of pounds of tax
  • Boardroom pay rocketing
  • Millions being paid out in bonuses to bank executives, even those losing money and refusing to lend to small businesses

Sue remembers that David Cameron and his chums said we were ‘all in this together’. She’s finding that increasingly difficult to believe.