All Our Welfare: A new way forward

An end to ‘their’ welfare reform and a vision of taking forward our own welfare as service users

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of welfare reform or heavy end services like the psychiatric and criminal justice system or residential ‘services’, is unlikely to need telling that policies that are supposedly meant to have a positive or ‘rehabilitative’ purpose, can be a lot more ambiguous, not to say unpleasant.

Social policy imposed from above

Some social policy student text books still talk about social policy as if it was something that was there simply to improve people’s lives. Unfortunately, from the Victorian poor law, through the eugenics movement, Hitler’s Aktion T4 programme which murdered many disabled people, more recent schemes to sterilize people with learning difficulties, right down to our own current so-called ‘welfare reform’ policies, associated with rising levels of suicide, mental distress, homelessness and poverty, we know that social policy can serve negative as well as positive purposes.

A revolution in development

But if such ‘welfare reform’ can be seen as one kind of revolution, another has also been developing over the years. This has been a revolution from the bottom-up, in which people on the receiving end of social policy, including some of the most disadvantaged and marginalized people, have played the lead role. And it is time that this revolution was granted the greater visibility it warrants, although so far, as a discipline, social policy has paid only limited attention to it.

It is a non-violent revolution; a humanizing revolution; a revolution which has determinedly sought to connect the personal with the political and make us all rethink what we mean by social policy and a truly universalist and progressive welfare state.

The emergence of welfare service user movements

This is the revolution whose green shoots first began to appear in the late 1960s, which developed in the 1970s and 1980s and is now a truly global development, with its own movements, organisations, histories, cultures, literature, projects, knowledge, research and pioneers. This is a revolution built from the grassroots by disabled people, mental health service users, older people, people with long term conditions, people with learning difficulties, children and young people brought up in state care and many more. These movements have developed their own ‘user led organisations’; their own ideas and theories for change, improvement and securing people’s equal rights and needs – in all their diversity.

Moving to real involvement in social policy

This isn’t the kind of revolution that makes front page headlines, but it has and continues to lead to fundamental change for all people. And it has had fundamental implications for social policy. Historically social policy has tended to be policy which one group of people have shaped for another – with those on the receiving end often having little chance to be involved in the process or to shape it as they would want to see it. Although overshadowed with rhetoric and false promises, what is fundamentally different about social policy now is that service users and their organisations have put down a marker that they want and should be involved in changes and policies that impact on them. We certainly aren’t there yet, but this is one genie which I believe it will be impossible to put back in the bottle, however much resistance and attempts at subversion it encounters.

Participatory social policy for the future

And it is being part of this movement that has led me to write All Our Welfare, which I think I can honestly described as the first such detailed attempt to offer a vision of a future welfare state/social policy that builds on what many service user movements and organisations have highlighted and already achieved. This is a welfare state not based on paternalism as it was post-war, or on a deregulated market – as current policymakers are pushing for it to be, but a sustainable, environmentally positive, life enhancing, participatory social policy that seriously addresses diversity- in its construction, in its operation and in its provision. This is a welfare state that crucially draws fully and equally on the wisdom of people who ‘know what it is really like’ from their own 24/7 experience.

In the book I have tried to explore the old and the new welfare state from the perspectives of those on the receiving end, including my own and that of my family and countless other service users. I have drawn on the experiential knowledge of service users, treating it as having equal value to traditional ‘expert’ or ‘professional’ knowledge. But most important I have sought to set out in detail how we might have a participatory social policy; what it would look like and why ultimately it would be better, truly economical in a real sense and better for us all and our planet.

I hope that this book is the beginning of a discussion. All comments, ideas, suggestions, improvements will be gratefully received. Thank you.

All Our Welfare: Towards participatory social policy

Find out more at:

http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781447328940

 Sign up to get Policy Press’s Newsletter and get 35% discount on All Our Welfare

#Allourwelfare

Advertisements

Negotiating today’s welfare system demands superhuman skills

In my last blog (January 17th 2016) I raised the growing concern that the welfare state is being restructured by policymakers to be an organization to deny people support rather than to offer it to them. Everything is about testing, rationing, excluding. You have to prove you are facing the most extreme problems, in the most disastrous circumstances to be seen as entitled to anything.

But this is only half of the story. If you have to present yourself as the epitome of disaster, failure, pathology and hopelessness; unable to do this, incapable of doing that, then you have to have at the same time human skills to an almost superhuman degree, in order to get what you may actually be entitled to. Let me explain.

The Barriers that face you

To qualify for help in the real world of 2016 UK neoliberal human services and welfare reform, you have to have the ability to negotiate the massively increased barriers and obstacles that seem deliberately to have been put in your way. In my last blog, I referred to systems of testing and assessment, but the process begins much sooner than that.

The skills they demand

Lets go through some of the difficulties imposed that require the determination of Robert the Bruce and the intellectual abilities of a MENSA member to cope with.

First if you need help or support, you have to have a sense or realization that this is the case. You may know only too well that you are facing difficulties, but that doesn’t mean you know something should be done about it. And sadly increasingly often, governments aren’t anxious to tell you, so there may be little information letting you know about what you are entitled to and encouraging you to claim accordingly. The times when you need outside help are often times of loss, crisis and isolation, when there may also be fewer people close to you to advise you. So first there are many obstacles in the way of the unwary, leaving them without any idea that they may have a right to some official help.

But let’s imagine you get past this. Then we are talking about embarking on the process of securing that help. Simple it definitely ain’t. Complicated it certainly is. And there is no consistency in the process. So, for example, a claim for Universal Credit can only be completed on line. One for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) can only be started on the phone. For Attendance Allowance, you can download a form or complete on-line. If you are seeking Employment Support Allowance (ESA), you can get the form on the phone or you can fill it in on the phone. When you phone the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), it can take ages to get through, you can expect to hear ‘this is a free call but you may be charged by your mobile company’. As spending cuts bite, the DWP is an increasingly creaky organization, taking ages to do anything, sometimes losing things, when they may tell you they never received them.

The forms

All these forms I’ve talked about are big forms. Housing Benefit forms are really big; the form for Pension Credit ‘does your head in’, as one social worker put it to me. We are not really talking about forms here – in the strict meaning of the term. We are really talking more about completing a life history, an autobiography or a novella. Life may be unraveling around you, but these are certainly not tasks for the faint hearted

All these processes can be described quite quickly here, but they aren’t quite so simple to undertake, if, for example, you aren’t computerate or on-line, if the phone frightens you, if the form frightens you, if the on-line form chooses not to work as it is meant to, or if you are left holding on the phone for ages to get through. With housing benefit, even if you have successfully downloaded the form and claimed on line, you then have either to take a whole set of proofs to the local office or scan and upload them. If you need social care, you can phone through and then you have to go through the whole rationing business with a system that is in chronic crisis and extremely underfunded. Good luck with it!

No wonder that so many people at this stage decide to give up and not even proceed with their claims for help and support. The DWP have a script with a declaration at the end where you have to confirm that you have not knowingly given false information – to do so is a criminal offence. There’s a frightener if you are not at your best and one hundred per cent sure you are getting everything right and remembering everything accurately. As benefits experts have long argued from the evidence, the real issue has never been benefits abuse, it is many people not getting their entitlement and feeling forced to give up the struggle.

Filling in the forms

Then there is completing the form. Not so easy if English is not your first language or you are a refugee and have little English (Yes I know Mr Cameron thinks you should learn English but that may take more than a day or two!!). But there is more to it than this. It is also about knowing how to complete such forms. While right-wing media, politicians and associated think tanks seem to conceive of most people facing hardship, as combat trained in the arts of dishonesty, deviousness, misrepresentation and other forms of dependency-related skullduggery, the reality is most people determinedly seek to tell the absolute truth and minimize their difficulties, when they fill in the forms. They don’t want to exaggerate, come across as seeking ‘charity’ or as minimizing their abilities and efforts. Big mistake. Truth is that it is a very bad idea to present things as how they may be on a very good day, when you can perhaps do a little more. Or to suggest that you can walk more than a few steps, when that actually entails pain, real difficulty and risk.

What is really required is a story of epic proportions to convince the system’s arbiters of your helplessness. The whole tenor of the process is to emphasise inability, incapacity and inadequacy – and if you don’t do that, as most people are reluctant to, then you may well seriously reduce your chances of getting the help you really need and are entitled to. This is in appalling contrast to the thinking underpinning the social model of disability developed by the disabled people’s movement. Here instead of having to show how incapable you are in order to get help, the idea is to ensure that people have the support they need to live their lives as fully and on as equal terms as non-disabled people. It is support to enable, not support that stigmatises and segregates people as ‘hopeless cases’.

Finally, if you have managed to negotiate this whole process and then you are denied help or pressured into seeking employment, when this clearly wouldn’t be appropriate or possible, you will have rights to contest such a decision. That means you have got to write an appeal on the right form, demonstrating a reasonable standard of literacy, familiarity with English and collecting the necessary evidence. Many people who make such appeals are successful, so arbitrary are current UK welfare systems and decision-making processes. But of course very many people are too fearful to make such appeals or do not have the technical skills and expertise to present them as is needed.

What happened to advocacy?

Which of course brings us to advocacy. Once upon a time you might have been able to enlist help to secure the benefits you needed. But as things have got much tougher, there is actually much less of that help available. If ever there were a time when advocacy were needed to ensure people their rights and entitlements, when the welfare system puts more and more barriers in their way, then it is now. But of course another casualty of neoliberal welfare and the cuts that go with it, is such advocacy. There is less and less independent advocacy available, fewer social workers, less funding for user led and voluntary organisations that would and could help people – who more and more are left adrift on their own.

So as has been said, while to qualify for help you have to seem as incompetent, dependent and pathetic as possible, to negotiate the system you need as big a range of skills as ever TV’s The Apprentice would appear to demand. Getting and living on welfare benefits, truth to tell, is a job of work in itself. This is an indictment of our policymakers, our welfare system and our social services. If the UK is to continue to claim it is a wealthy and civilized society, this will have to ,change. But few people who know the system or are at the mercy of it are holding their breath.

 

A New welfare state To Deny Help?

Before you get on a bus or train you always check where it is going. If only we did the same thing with our politicians and politics. Unfortunately that didn’t seem to be the case with last May’s election, when a government was elected committed to taking us all in a direction few would actually seem to want to go – towards the dismantling of the welfare state. What cutting the welfare state means is not making life harder for a few ‘layabouts’ and ‘scroungers’ as we are told. It actually means things like getting rid of the NHS, undermining meaningful pensions for older people, support for our children, including disabled children, and social care for when we get older. And judging from what is now happening, this is the path our government is determinedly set upon.

We need to be clear about this. Just because the government denies it, we should be wary of believing it isn’t true. Just because we haven’t got there yet, doesn’t mean that this isn’t where we will all end up. Take housing for example. Now even a couple with middle class jobs and incomes can’t afford to own a home in London and instead are having to rent poor quality, over-priced, insecure accommodation. People who have worked all their lives are now being treated as if they are unwilling to work when they become disabled. Having completely undermined our pension system, successive governments have forced people to think of buying to rent as a helpful alternative to a proper pension system – and already many are discovering it isn’t. And so on. This is hardly the ‘home owning’ democracy that Mrs Thatcher promised and Mr Cameron pretends he is working towards. This is a world of increasing personal and social insecurity and uncertainty – a return to pre-war, pre-welfare state days.

But a very worrying truth is already apparent about the changes that have been made to the welfare state. It was created to ensure us all security over the course of our lives and to help equalise our opportunities – for ourselves and our children. And it did just that. The nation’s health, housing, education and well-being all improved after the second world war. Lately because of his untimely death, people have been remembering the culture change they associate with David Bowie from the 1970s. But this was really the work of a mood and movements that grew out of the post-war welfare state; to challenge the status quo and discrimination, to value people for who they are and to stop being forced into narrow conformity.

But already even though the welfare state is still here for us to some degree, its role has been significantly changed. If it was once there to help, it is now open to question whether that is how our politicians and policymakers want to see it. Instead their concern increasingly seems to be to disprove that they have to help you. More and more everything seems to be about you having to prove your case, when you need to turn to the welfare state – to nth degree.

You have to present yourself as having the most extreme problems or facing the most extreme situations. Otherwise you can expect to be told you ‘don’t meet the criteria’, ‘you aren’t eligible’, and given chapter and verse on why they don’t have to help you. This applies to accessing sickness and disability benefit, to getting housing support, mental health services, social care for adults or children, continuing care from the NHS, social work support and so on and so on. More and more the system is about ‘testing’, rationing and restricting access and entitlement. Enormous, costly structures have been developed to do this. In the case of social care, the whole system seems more dedicated to denying people support rather than offering it to them, however costly this ends up being in the long run, in terms of undermining preventive policies and pushing costs on to the NHS.

We have been seeing the cruel and arbitrary effects of this new welfare system geared up to not helping in the so-called welfare reform policies which all three major parties have embarked upon. The key element of such welfare reform has been arbitrary processes of ‘testing’ and ‘assessment’ which have been deliberately constructed to debar disabled people and people with long term conditions from the help they clearly need. And this has been documented in more and more research highlighting the large numbers of people who have died shortly after being found ‘fit for work’, as well as the growing numbers of people who have killed themselves when they have been forced off benefits.

Take another issue of increasing concern to more and more people, housing. What used to be a system to ensure decent housing for all, the old council housing system, can now be seen to have been reduced to a marginal policy for people treated as if they were marginal. Take Westminster, one of the richest areas in Britain, where it is now literally a lottery. One of the greatest areas of housing need is for two bedroom flats. In a recent week in Westminster there were no two bedroom flats available from the council in the whole of the borough, although there is a desperate shortage of accommodation. You have to bid to try and get a home. One person in temporary accommodation (placed far outside the borough) bidding for a two-bedroomed flat for them and their disabled child, for example, didn’t even come in the top 40 of nearly 150 people bidding. What chance of them getting rehoused? Virtually nil.

What kind of ‘welfare state’ is this? A badly damaged and excluding one, I would argue. And it is clear that things are only going to get worse as the government talks up ‘austerity’ and cuts social spending. There are terrible truths here which must be told to those with power, however reluctant they may be to hear them.

New Blog coming soon!!

This blog site is all new to me and I feel a bit out of my depth. But I aim to keep at it, improve access and even include photographs and other material.

I plan to offer a new blog soon, so please stay on the look out for it. See you soon I hope. I will trail elsewhere too.

I wonder what issues would most interest you. Please feel free to leave a comment to tell me. I would like this to be a two way platform as much as possible.

all best for now. peter

Notice: the issue of access

I just want to let everyone know that I am aware of the access limitations of this blog site at present. I want to have black text on a white background with a font like Ariel 14 point. I hope that will be ok for more readers.

So this is an apology for the present inadequacy of the text. We are working on this.

However, I am sorry that because of my technical limitations, I don’t know how to sort this out on this site yet. If anyone has any suggestions, these would be very welcome, offered please  in the simplest possible terms.

Meanwhile just to let you know I am aware that this is not a satisfactory situation and I want to make clear first that I am sorry and the aim is to sort it out as quickly as possible. Thanks everyone.