Saturday, 27 December 2014

What are we doing to ourselves?

As we head into 2015 we, in the UK, are facing a General Election. I hate to say I am very fearful of what will happen. Faced with the rise of UKIP (UK Independence Party) all the other parties are focusing on the wrong issues as far as I can see. Immigration is NOT the biggest problem the UK is facing. The EU is NOT a threat to our way of life or the cause of masses of people coming in to the country. There are possibly more UK citizens living in other parts of the EU as there are immigrants coming into the UK. And we NEED these people. 300 Polish paramedics are needed by one health authority because they can’t recruit enough staff from home. Others have recruited nurses from Spain and Greece for the same reason.
   David Cameron keeps talking about British Values and Christian Values, without explaining what these are exactly. A vast number of people living in the UK, and I mean born and bred people, do not follow any particular religion to a strong degree. C of E might well be entered on any form that asks for a religion when really ‘none’ would be more appropriate. We are a secular society on the whole, and have always been accepting of people wishing to follow their own faiths. Sadly some of those people don’t appreciate this freedom, but that is another subject entirely.
So what are British Values? Looking after Number One would seem to be the principle of most politicians these days. Only those in work are of consequence, everyone else is a waster and a scrounger. Only home owners count, people who live in rented accommodation are the lowest of the low. They have no entitlement to a comfortable home, to spare rooms even if there is nothing else to rent.
   What no one seems to take into account is that not every graduate, every mortgage holder, every manager, has a safe and secure job. People who have done the same job for twenty years for the council, for instance, are now finding themselves on the scrap heap because cuts to budgets have meant it is cheaper to take on a younger workforce, even if that younger workforce has no idea what it is supposed to be doing.
   Under this last government the ‘jobless’ figures have been falling. But surprisingly tax revenue has not increased. One reason for this is that a large number of those taken out of the jobless figures are working in low paid jobs that are under the tax threshold. Such people have no chance of achieving that dream of owning their own home, if that is their dream.
   Another reason for the discrepancy between those taken off the jobless register and the lack of new tax revenue, could well be because many jobless are now denied benefit because they have failed in some way to meet the targets set for finding a job. Some of the criteria for continuing claiming benefit include: applying for a set number of jobs per week (I think that could be as high as 50, I’m not completely sure), providing proof that this has been done, providing CVs and postage yourself; using a computer to search for and find work whether you have access to one or not; getting a Yellow Pages or Thompson Local and writing to every company listed asking for work; completing a 38 hour week at a designated job if you fail to find something yourself, not matter how far away from your home said job is (up to 90 miles). If a claimant fails in any of these or is late on any number of days, they have their benefit suspended and they are taken off the jobless register.
   Not everyone who is claiming benefit WANTS to be jobless, however there are no jobs available. And if you have to send out applications and CVs how can you afford to pay for the postage and paper? If you have no access to the internet, and many jobcentres no longer provide this, how are you supposed to apply for jobs on-line.
   When David Cameron talks about British Values, is he referring to Victorian Values? That great time when the poor were forced into workhouses when they couldn’t pay their debts? Already homeless shelters are overcrowded and food banks are multiplying around the country. How many people will suffer more severe colds and flu this year because poor diet through the inability to buy decent food has left their bodies weakened?
   The trouble with this country is that those who 'have' don’t realise that the ‘have nots’ really exist. They are an unseen underclass who do not deserve to live. They are beggars, Big Issue sellers, they are not ordinary people trying to live a decent life. But beware. Circumstances can change and before you know it, your job could be gone, your house could be repossessed, or you could need help to pay your rent and wow! you have to pay for that spare bedroom you have been using as a study for the last ten years.      
   According to a newspaper report £3.1bn was spent on Boxing Day. Three point one BILLION pounds. I cannot begin to imagine what those people were lacking in their lives that they had to go out and spend so readily. Great for the traders, though. Bet most of the goods were imported so maybe not so good for the trade balance! Still the Chancellor should be happy, 20% of that will be VAT.

   And meanwhile those on benefit will have to decide whether to spend what they have left after the bedroom tax has been deducted on heating, food or printing more CVs. (Keeping in mind that printing ink is THE most expensive commodity on the planet!)

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Electronic Signing

Unless you look at the BBC news red button or news app, or are claiming job seekers allowance you probably won’t know anything about this.
   The BBC reported on the 24th October that the government is investing in a digital revamp of the UK’s jobcentres.
   Instead of signing a piece of paper given to the claimant by a human being, the unemployed will in future have to sign a digital pad to make their claim.
   The report makes this sound like it is something that will happen in the future but it is happening now.
   Not every jobcentre has the digital pad yet, but the idea of getting help there is a thing of the past. I have heard of a recent claimant being told the jobcentre was only there for people to sign on. People are expected to look on-line themselves to find jobs. Gone are the podiums that had the jobs listed, gone are the people you could take the details to for further information. Gone are the public-access phones.
   The BBC report states that this system is being tested at London Bridge Jobcentre, but it is also being used at other Jobcentres around the country. There will be PC workstations and free wi-fi but no one to offer help, just monitors to make sure clients are not misusing the machines for other things.
   The report goes on to comment on the issue of hacking but I think the concerns should go further than this. There are several things that worry me. While I am a fan of technology, quick to use new things, I have ebook readers and tablets as well as a smart phone, we haven’t got to the stage yet where everyone is competent with technology. I have worked all my life with new gadgets moving from a manual typewriter through to the latest laptops. But if I were a cleaner, shopworker or a computer-phobe I might well find using a PC workstation totally daunting, especially with no help available.
   Another concern is not just hacking but system failure. Computer systems fail and crash all the time. Ask anyone who has tried to use an ATM and found the entire network has crashed. I have been without a phone all day today because the computerised digital booster I need has failed and no one seems to know why. Ask anyone who uses a computer regularly and they will relate times when systems have failed. What contingency plans are there in place for failure?
   But ignoring all the glitches and hiccups there might be, there is one fundamental thing that this digital technology will never match. Human contact. Jobcentre staff may not be the most welcoming of people, but they do at least interact with clients, even if only for a few minutes. For some people this human contact is very important.
   The other thing is, with these machines replacing people that means Jobcentre staff may well find themselves on the other side of the desk, signing on. Where are the jobs for these people? The Government is boasting about getting the jobless figures down, but what will happen to those who lose out to digital technology? Is this where the £2m savings per year is coming from?  Anyone who has to sign on will tell you staff has been cut dramatically since this last government took office; some of the jobs sub-contracted out to private firms who get paid for filling positions. Sounds a bit like sacking Peter to pay Paul to me. I would love to know if these contracts come in cheaper than paying civil servants to man the Jobcentres, especially as I doubt the veracity of some of these firms. I heard of at least one case where an offer of an interview was classed as a successful application even though the applicant couldn’t make the interview let alone managed to get the job.
   So what do you think? Is it ok for Jobcentres to be run by robots?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Smoke and Mirrors

Unemployment is down again, so the government would like us to believe. Or at least the number claiming Job Seekers Allowance has fallen to its lowest level for several years.
    Sadly a fall in JSA claimants doesn't necessarily mean more people in work. It could just as well mean more people claiming other benefits or living in dire poverty, struggling to pay for food, rent, bedroom tax and fuel.
    A growing number of people are working for themselves. Good for them, less helpful for those who don't have the skills needed to work for themselves. And how will the HMRC keep track of all these people? Will they eventually lose out because the self-employed don't pay as much tax as those on PAYE. I'm not saying the self-employed will deliberately cheat the tax man but there are things they can claim for than if they are simply employed by someone else.
    The government boasts of training schemes for young unemployed but some of these make more money for the companies running the schemes than helping the young unemployed who quite simply don't want to work. I have heard of schemes that send youngsters to companies for training without any prior knowledge of what they need to do, ie lads sent to work as mechanics when they know nothing to start with and have no interest in being a mechanic. No doubt the majority youngsters do want to have a job and earn their own money, but for those forced to go on training schemes or lose benefit are not always pointed in the right direction but they magically disappear from unemployment statistics.
     Older people are safe, though aren't they?
     Don't be so sure. Older people are becoming a liability, they cost more to employ and know their rights! In some companies older people are being made compulsorily redundant and replaced with younger, cheaper, employees, often with no idea of what the job involves.
     How can this be when the retirement age is being raised? What is going to happen to these people in their fifties with no chance of finding a new job to take them to retirement?  

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Lost Identity

Not so long ago I saw an item of news which said Canada was introducing a gender neutral word to add to he and she. Shock, horror, disgusting, was the reaction from one Facebook friend, but it this so surprising?
    Since the 1960s women have been seeking equality. Equal pay for the same job as men, equal rights to apply for the same jobs as men. All fully supported by most people but  has this led to a loss of identity for women.
    At one time girls wore dresses, had long hair and went to work in shops, offices, as nurses or teachers. Women were NEVER seen drunk in public, or at least not very often. I'm not saying women didn't drink, but they were more discrete if they did.
    Boys, on the other hand, always had short hair, wore trousers, played football and made new friend by fighting them. Men were the bread winners, the defenders of their families and country, they swore like troopers but never in front of women or children. They did physically demanding jobs, miners, steel workers, ship builders and those who had received better education went into banking, law or medicine. These lists are a bit sterotypical but you get the picture. People knew what was expected of them and where they fitted into society.
    This may not be an ideal situation. Class and sex discrimination certainly isn't tolerated in the second decade of the 21st century. But have we taken things a bit too far?
     The first confusion arises when children are still quite young. Girls no longer only wear dresses. Boys don't necessarily have short hair. It's a matter of choice and I have no problem with that. But we cannot get away from the fact that deep down in our psyche if you see a child with long hair you expect it to be a girl and if it is wearing trousers it should be a boy. A flaw in our identification programming maybe, but it is there in our subconscious and subconscious is hard to over-rule.
     So how has that progressed into adolescence and adulthood?
     There are a growing number of people who are unsure of where they belong on the gender scale. Nature has made them physically one thing, but society which now says you can do whatever you like, whatever gender you are, has created a sense of 'who am I?' For although we are told we can do anything, we are still expected to fit into 'type' for our physical gender.
      This had led to people feeling they have been classified as the wrong gender, but maybe this is what the Canadians have accepted as 'Gender Neutral'. Is it time to simply accept people as people, not men or women? Should we now avoid expecting the people around us to fit into a one category or another? How this bodes for the future of the human race which depends on the balance of the sexes to ensure continuation, I have no idea, but this could well be the result of the 'equality of the sexes' for what does that mean other than everyone is the same?

Monday, 2 June 2014

Holidays for All

Someone posted on Facebook that they had seen a newspaper report which claimed Hindus and Muslims wanted an official Bank Holiday in the UK. I didn't see the report myself so can't comment on it. In my view all Bank Holidays in the UK should be scrapped. Especially the two in May. I know many businesses rely on bank holidays to boost trade but that is the point. Christmas and Easter have become nothing more than an opportunity for retailers to cash in on trade and the other holidays are only a holiday for the people who don't have to work to provide the entertainment for those visitors who sit for hours in traffic jams to reach places that are over-crowded and over-priced because it is a bank holiday.
    In parts of the UK where there are already large numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and other groups,  people already get together to celebrate their particular religious highlights. Living in the middle of the country as I do, surrounded by every faith imaginable, the local news is always full of stories about Diwali, Eid, Chinese New Year and other things. There was a big parade of Sikhs last year, I apologise, I can't remember what the festival was called. I think, possibly, what these people want, more than a bank holiday, is the chance to have a day off work without being penalised. (This is a whole different story. With the number of people in the UK being forced to work zero hours contracts, paid holidays are quickly being lost left, right and centre).
    A number of commentators on Facebook objected to this idea, saying that England (or Britain, if you want to include Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is a Christian country and shouldn't give holidays to other faiths.
    Why not?  Let's first look at the derivation of the word holiday. Originally it meant Holy Day. Other faiths can have Holy Days as well as Christianity. No one is saying the whole country will have to take the day off, but I bet many people would; and the shops, funfairs and seaside resorts would not object to the income coming in from the non-religious holiday makers.
    We are a Christian country, cry the detractors. Yes, we claim to be. But that doesn't mean we should deny other faiths the right to celebrate their own religion in their own way because above all we are a TOLERANT country. By giving people the freedom to practise their own way we lessen the chance of setting one group against another.
    Christians don't get the same rights in other countries! Sadly this is true. But that doesn't mean we have to be like those other countries and unfairly treat people. We are BETTER than that.
    I can't profess to agreeing with some of the teachings of Islam. But I can see why some people are radicalised by it. Often they are young and disaffected by things that have happened around them. Lack of work may often be the case, lack of understanding or being inspired by speeches of radical preachers is another. Can anyone honestly say they haven't listened to someone who had inspired them to do something? But that aside most Muslims are just ordinary people wanting to get on with their lives in peace. The problems are the fanatics.
    I would say Islam is stuck in the past, where Christians were in the middle ages. They are not the only people who have kept women separate from men. The Greeks did it, the Jews did it, and even Christians did it at some point. For a long, long time women were expected to keep their heads covered. The sight of a beautiful woman with lustrous hair could incite lustful thoughts in a man. Seems more like a problem the men have to control if you ask me.  Even when I was young and went to church, women had to cover their heads to enter church. In some places I think they still do. When I was at school boys and girls had separate playgrounds and usually sat on opposite sides of the classroom. The girls were far too sensible to want to sit next to a smelly boy!
    Are we still a Christian country? Most people would put Cof E on a form if asked for a religion, but judging by the appalling knowledge of some younger quiz contestants I don't think many actually practise any sort of religion these days. And what is Christianity? There are many sects and subdivisions of this faith and surprisingly they don't all follow the same path! Some don't even celebrate Christmas, which to me, is the defining thing of a Christian. Sadly Christmas has become more about family get-togethers (I've no objection to that, but why only at Christmas), presents, eating and drinking than celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. And I'm not sure what the majority of the country think about Easter!
     And at what cost have we become a Christian country? The religion was originally forced on the population at the expense of other pagan religions of the time. For centuries people were forced to go to church and listen to mass in a language they didn't understand. Similarity there to being forced to learn the Quran (don't know if that is spelt correctly, there seem to be many different spellings) in Arabic even when you speak another language. And since that time there have been many splits with each giving a different interpretation to the words in the Bible. Even the Bible itself is contradictory. The Old Testament is as much a part of Christian teachings as the New and yet in the Old Testament you are taught An Eye For An Eye, and in the New, Turn The Other Cheek. How is anyone supposed to make sense of that?    
    England has always been a diverse nation with mixed nationalities and religions. Most merge into the population without being noticed because their skin is white. I have always said that if Germans were black I would be mulato because my paternal grandparents were German.
    I grew up in London in an area full of Orthodox Jews. I can't remember if the shops were closed on Saturdays. Probably, in the early days. But they did shut for their own special days. We never objected.
    So the argument that other faiths should not get a special day does not really ring true for me. Let them have whatever they need. Just so long as it's not compulsory for everyone to join in. I would happily see the end to all Bank Holidays!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Gambling Technology

I heard on the news today that Councils are to be given the power to control the number of betting shops on the High Street. Probably good news but I wonder how relevant this is in today's world.
    Is anything being done to control on-line gambling? Every evening there are constant advertisements promoting bingo and casino sites offering top-ups if you sign up and deposit so much.
    I've never gambled on-line. I don't gamble full stop. Never even bought a lottery ticket. But I have spent hours playing games either on-line or on my computer and I know how addictive they can be. I don't know how much it costs to play a game of bingo on-line, but I bet it doesn't take very long and you are soon tempted to play again, and again and again.
    How many people are sitting in front of their computers for far too long every day hoping for that jackpot?The prizes sound fantastic, but do the players realise how many other people are playing? One advert said there was a large pot and everyone would win - yeah, probably a couple of quid at the most by the time that pot was divided down to all the players.
    Once again, technology has shot ahead of legislation. Technology means you can take your casino with you everywhere you go. You don't even have to wait until you get home before you start playing. Is this good? If nothing else there should be restrictions on the number of advertisements that are put out on television.
    Has anyone done an investigation into the habits of on-line gamblers to see if this IS getting to be a problem? Maybe I'm being too pessimistic. Maybe players know when to stop. Maybe people are not running up huge bills to pay for the nightly fix of bingo or casino games on their computers, tablets or phones. I certainly hope not, but I fear these sites are going to be a far bigger problem than gaming machines in betting offices. Let's face it, you have to GO somewhere to get to a betting office. If you have the technology you could lose a fortune right in your own front room.


Saturday, 29 March 2014

Burgeoning Profits = Burgeoning Waitslines

It’s official, as a nation we are getting fatter and being overweight is becoming the norm.
The government is now thinking about taxing sugar in processed food. They seem to be missing the point. The truth is there is too much food available.
Since the provision of food has become big business run by huge nationwide firms instead of small shops providing for the local community, profits have become the main factor. It’s no longer a matter of each shopkeeper making a living, it’s big business that needs to make enough money to employ staff, maintain huge shops and make profits for their shareholders.
I hate it when older people say ‘when I was a kid…’ but when I was a kid shopping for food was done on a daily basis. And that’s not because my mum didn’t work, she did. And shops were shut by six pm at the latest. Frozen food consisted of peas and fish fingers. Shop bought cake was a treat.
These days there is more food on offer than can ever be eaten. And we are constantly under pressure to go shopping and buy more. BOGOF offers are not so prevalent these days, but there are other deals tempting the shopper to buy things they don’t really need. Walk into any supermarket and you will be confronted with ‘special offers’ which aren’t always so special. Next time you see a ‘buy two for £x’ check out how much it would cost to buy the larger size in the first place. You’d be surprised at how often it is cheaper.
But this blog isn’t about marketing ploys it’s about eating too much.
Why do people eat too much? Possibly it starts when Mum tells her kids ‘no pudding if you don’t finish your dinner.’ Or maybe it’s not refusing that second helping for fear of offending your host. The more you eat the bigger your stomach gets and the bigger your stomach gets the more you need to eat to fill it.
Government ministers blame processed food for people getting heavier. I would take this with a pinch of salt (another bad thing if you have too much). Many of the people I know who I would consider overweight would not touch a ready-meal with a barge-pole. They like cooking. And they like eating what they cook.
Things that were once considered a treat are now a daily ‘must have.’ Multi packs of crisps and chocolate, every meal ending with a pudding, something that was once reserved for Sunday only.
I’m not sure if all the TV shows promoting cooking have a detrimental effect on the nation’s eating habits. Personally the last time I watched a TV chef was when the Galloping Gourmet was on. I try to spend the minimum amount of time in the kitchen. Food is to keep the body going. It’s not a daily gastronomic event.  
So how do we start losing those excess pounds? I’ve never had to try so maybe I don’t really know but the following ideas seem simple enough.
Smaller portions, served on smaller plates to convince yourself you are having more than you are.
Avoid second helpings. If there is food left over save it for tomorrow, or freeze it for another day.
Cut down on the number of courses at each meal.
Don’t snack between meals.
You may feel hungry for a while, but believe me, no one is going to die of starvation in this country. Not unless you are suffering from government welfare cuts but that is a whole different blog.

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Human Cost of Cutting Benefits

I hear on the news and see reports about the numbers of people who are no longer on benefits of one kind or another, cutting the welfare budget. There has recently been a TV show which went out to give the impression that all benefit claimants are the lowest of the low and should not be helped. This is not the case by any means.
   I would like to say to the leaders of all parties in the House of Commons  “Wake up to reality. Go out and get a ‘proper’ job and see what it is really like when you can’t find one.”
   I was staggered to hear that half the welfare money goes on paying pensions. So whenever you hear the figures quoted in future remember this. Even though the pension age is being changed, due to the improvement in health this is going to increase even more as the years roll by. I’m looking forward to maybe twenty years of being a pensioner unless I get run down by a bus. As these are very few and far between in the village where I live I think I can avoid that.
   So that is half the welfare budget that cannot be cut and likely to increase because no one would deny pensioners an increase.
   There has ALWAYS been a portion of claimants on benefits who do not truly deserve them. I can remember campaigns to catch benefit cheats way back in the 70s. But the vast majority of claimants are genuine, their is real and it seems to be these honest people who lose out. Jobs have been disappearing from all sectors of society. There has been a decline in heavy industry and mining; computers are taking over in many government departments, cutting the number of staff needed. I must say that this does seem to be more efficient, tax and VAT are worked out instantly for those who need such things, getting a tax disc for your car can be done at an hour to suit you. Staff are still needed to deal with queries and a new set of skills are needed for dealing with software. But what is happening to the people who used to work in these jobs?
   Over the last few years honest, hard-working people have lost their jobs because of the recession. People who have always paid their way have had to claim benefits, maybe for the first time in their lives. Many people who want to work full time can only find part-time work, still having to claim top-up benefits to help them make ends meet.
   The bedroom tax hasn’t helped either. The aim of this tax was to free up larger properties for the people who need them. I would love to know the number of cases where this has happened and also the number of cases where people have gone into debt to pay this simply because there are no smaller properties available for rent and they have no alternative to staying where they are whether they want to or not.
   There has been a clamp down on people claiming disability living allowance. The latest claim form makes it virtually impossible for anyone to qualify for this. “Can you bend down and pick up a large, empty, cardboard box?” “Can you raise your hand to your breast pocket?” “Can you walk the length of two buses?” I know people who can do all these things but they are still suffering in other ways which prevent them from working;  if they could find an employer who would have them. These people are  being taken off the register and left with NO income whatsoever.
   The government claims that  the number of people claiming benefits has fallen, that those seeking job seekers allowance has fallen; but it does not show that those in work has increased by the same amount. It does not reveal that more and more food banks are opening throughout the country to help feed those who cannot afford to buy food for themselves and their families. It does not know the numbers of people who are too proud to go to these and are depending on friends and family to survive; or the numbers of people who are selling their possessions so that they can buy food.
   The latest initiative to be announced is to make sure all claimants have decent literacy skills by offering training. Good idea. But what about all the highly qualified and skilled people who are still looking for a job? The graduates, the trained nurses who have been cut from cash-strapped hospitals.? The unemployed job-centre and benefits staff who have been replaced by companies on contracts from the government to reduced numbers and get paid by results? The postal workers who are being sacked because they don't drive? And next in line - the probation service whose skilled, qualified officers with years of experience and years of training, are to be replaced by people who have completed a short few weeks course? 
      And this is happening in Britain. A supposedly caring and compassionate country. Our politicians should be ashamed of themselves.  Stop the distraction tactics of blaming immigrants for burdening our welfare and help the citizens who need the help.