The reality of welfare reform: “it’s a horror show”

 

Graffiti on a Belfast Dole Office

Graffiti on a Belfast Dole Office

At the NICVA offices along the Duncairn Gardens on Wednesday, an important conference was held to open up debate about the future of welfare reform in Northern Ireland. It was one of those crisp autumn days which one likes to think of as typical of the atmosphere of cool, reasoned thinking. After heated debate over welfare reform and the budget throughout the summer, which seemed to rock the foundations of our devolved political institutions, the conference, titled, “Welfare Reform: The Reality,” created a calmer space outside of the political environment to examine these fraught issues.

It wasn’t lost on the hundreds of people gathered in the room that this conference coincided with the arrival of US envoy Gary Hart, who began meetings with Northern Ireland politicians today in order to help plot a path towards a sustainable resolution on a series of outstanding issues, among which, in addition to the legacy of the Troubles, include welfare and the budget. The talks, a continuation of last years failed Haass-O’Sullivan talks, formed much of the subtext of the day. As some have pointed out already, if the Assembly collapses, welfare reform can be implemented in its entirety, immediately, and without any of the mitigating measures negotiated previously.

To open the day’s proceedings, a video montage was shown, which juxtaposed clips of Prime Minister David Cameron speaking on the necessity of welfare reform and getting people back to work with images of protest and discontent. The video captured the first major theme of the day: the radical disconnect between the policy makers in Westminster and those that suffer the unintended consequences of the coalition Goverment’s reforms. The BBC’s Karen Patterson, who hosted the conference, introduced NICVA Chief Executive, Seamus McAleavey, who in turn welcomed the audience. McAleavey made one very interesting point before he returned to his seat. He said, the problem of welfare reform was “not an issue of the making by the parties in the Northern Ireland Executive. They effectively are left to deal with the issue by a decision that was made by the coalition in Westminster.” This theme, the second major them of the day, returned repeatedly: that the Executive is left to minimise the damage of dysfunctional welfare reforms not of its own creation while at the same time balance its own budget and steer the government out of the red—a task that may prove insurmountable.

Storey, giving one of his first major speeches as a minister, seemed genuinely open to debate and discussion. “The issues that are raised here today will be listened to and will not be ignored,” he told the crowd. “We need to move the debate beyond the financial consequences, and to how to best use the welfare system to tackle poverty and bring people back into employment.” He said that he understood the concerns raised by NICVA and others in the room about the dangers of rolling out welfare reform and how it would affect the most vulnerable in Northern Ireland. Then very soberly, he said, “We are now at the stage where the financial consequences of not doing welfare reform are so high that continuing to simply say no is not an option.  At this point, we should be debating how best to change the social security system in Northern Ireland, rather than refusing to reform the system.”

His speech laid out for the first time in detail the mitigating measures that former DSD Minister, Nelson McCausland, negotiated with the Department for Work and Pensions to help shape how welfare reform could be implemented in Northern Ireland. These mitigating measures include default bi-weekly universal credit payments (they are paid once a month in Britain), flexibility for lone parents (who are often sanctioned for not taking up offers for work in Britain), and direct payments to landlords (in Britain, the benefits recipient is to pay the landlord out of their single monthly payment). He also said he would protect against the worst aspects of the bedroom tax by creating a separate fund of over £17 million for each of the first years of the policy which will be used to protect current tenants from any reductions. Most of this was welcomed by those in attendance.

But the question and answer period that followed the speech was limited to one question, which came from a representative of Tar Isteach, an organisation that provides welfare advice in North Belfast. The woman’s voice, strained with anger, but also laden with grave concern, asked how the minister planned to protect 37 individuals who she works on behalf of, all over the age of 55, whose households will lose £6,000 a year under the current plans, and who have no access to hardship funds. To this the minister attempted to bring the mood back to one of exploration and optimism, but he couldn’t. The tone for the day had been set. The anger, despair, and hopelessness under the surface seeped into the room. Northern Ireland, no matter how you break it down, is facing a welfare disaster when it implements the proposed cuts. The minister apologised for having to leave early, and left to attend meetings elsewhere.

What ensued were three devastating presentations from advice workers from England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, all with a single message: these cuts push people beyond their ability to cope and don’t accomplish what they were set up to do. Steve Cullen from Warrington CAB walked the audience through the guiding principles—simplify an overly complex British welfare system and get people into work—and the intended consequences of the reforms. The reforms are meant to reduce face to face claimant interviews through more online interaction. They’re meant to give more personal responsibility for household finances; increase use of bank accounts and direct debit; draw down benefits fraud and minimise error; and create a system more responsive to up-to-date and accurate personal data. All of this is grounded in the principle DSD Minister Storey had outlined earlier: that we need “a welfare system that promotes personal and social responsibility and which strengthens individuals, families and local communities.”

But the current reforms are not working as intended in Britain. As Warren explained, the unintended consequences of the bedroom tax, universal credit, sanctions and other measures instituted through the reforms are problems such as increased levels of household debt, increased homelessness, decreased levels of household spending, family breakup, domestic abuse, and severe impacts on mental health. In Scotland, said Lynn Williams, the charity sector has seen a rise in the use of food banks, with many people reporting delays in benefits as the main reason for need.

The speakers all drew attention to a wider context of a stagnant economy, cuts to public spending, and the rising costs of essentials like gas, electricity and food. They pointed out that neither wages nor social security payments are rising in line with inflation, meaning they have much less to spend every year. And they pointed out that the  majority of people on benefits live in a household where at least one person works full time. The poor, it was emphasised, are working, but they’re not paid enough to meet basic needs. “It sounds like a complete horror show,” Karen Patterson said as Cullen finished his presentation.

Warren made a side comment that I thought stood out. He mentioned our own welfare reform mitigations here in Northern Ireland and lamented that they were unable to negotiate these for England. To me this suggests our politicians have succeeded, to some extent, to resist the worst of the coalition Government’s reforms, and protect Northern Ireland, with all of our unique issues, from even further damage. But Mary McManus, the manager of East Belfast Independent Advice Centre, gave voice to a common feeling in the room as she ended her talk. She said, “Why would you introduce something that’s not working. That causes harm. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Which brings us back to Storey’s argument that we are now at the stage where the financial consequences of not implementing the reforms, because of the penalties we’ll incur, are so high that continuing to simply say no is not an option. Newton Emerson, a critic of the voluntary sector and largely skeptical of measurements of UK poverty,  Tweeted out during the conference:

Emerson has been critical of NICVA claims that welfare reform will take £750m out of the local economy. But as one of the speakers pointed out, there’s another question that needs answering. How has the Treasury calculated its £87m in 2014 and £114m in 2015 fines for not implementing welfare reform? Not even the Secretary of State knows how the fines are calculated.

At the end of the conference, I caught up with McAleavey to see if there was anything to be hopeful about—was there anything other than despair to take away from the day. Northern Ireland, having control of welfare and social security, can make a difference, McAleavey told me. “I think the hope is that the debate around welfare reform, no matter what happens, no matter what the next stages are in Northern Ireland, the debate is going to continue to go on. And it will continue to go on in England, Scotland, and Wales. The social security system will continue to change. And I think there’s a lot there to be argued for that people start changing it to be better. So it will not end, it will not stop just because the government now introduces a certain set of proposals. That can all be changed again in the future.”

[I’ll makes a full recording of the conference available in this post tomorrow, please check back if you are interested]

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  • Metro

    Welfare reform is 40 years overdue. People have become addicted to welfare and there is no doubt this has had the unintended consequence of helping them to become unemployable. There needs to be a move away from giving money away and a real focus on getting people back into work. We all carry the can for people who just refuse to accept that they have to be sustainable on their own without the need for Government. Employment has been created in GB because the safety net has been taken away from those who needed a push into work – the rest need help to become employable, not more welfare.

  • NICVA presents ‘horror show’ presentation on welfare reform – shock.

  • Superfluous

    There are far too many people on benefits who don’t need them, and fraud in the system is rife – single mums living in social housing, with their husbands… who are doing the double/have some level of DLA and are doing a dole drop in someone else’s private house. I’m not some mental Tory who imagines all this stuff – I’m from a working class estate in north Belfast and I see half my bloody family at it.

    The problem of course is once you get into that lifestyle of working the system it’s very tough to get out (finding angles for profit in the benefit system is easier than finding angles for profit in a stagnant economy…) – and employers will know and take advantage of the situation. A close family member told me recently that when discussing her pay rise (slightly above minimum wage) with her boss he dragged her working family tax credits into the conversation, to argue that her total remuneration including benefits justified his miserable pay offer…

    So the state is stepping in and creating huge inefficiencies – a lot of people who don’t need it are taking the piss rather than putting their energies towards actual economic activity, a lot of employers are taking the piss by working benefit payments into how much they can pay someone – the actual bloke who is on his ear and can’t afford to get by is now getting punished because of these inefficiencies.

    Of course I am going to get lambasted for blaming the system, rather than say some banker – but like Unions who kill their own legitimacy in the eyes of employers by protecting the most useless of employees, the benefits system and those who support it need to out their own bad eggs in order to maintain the moral legitimacy of the system. The Tories would have absolutely no public support for their changes right now (and I believe they have lots) if it was only genuinely needy people who were being hurt by the changes.

  • chrisjones2

    “if the Assembly collapses, welfare reform can be implemented in its entirety, immediately, and without any of the mitigating measures negotiated previously”
    ie on the same basis bas the rest of the UK outside Scotland.

    ” a video montage was shown, which juxtaposed clips of Prime Minister David Cameron speaking on the necessity of welfare reform and getting people back to work with images of protest and discontent. ”
    well that set the tone didnt it. Who set this up and presented it? Were they publicly funded?
    ” the damage of dysfunctional welfare reforms …….—a task that may prove insurmountable.”

    Who says they are dysfunctional? The welfare state is bloated and deeply unfair to those who work. It needs restructured

    “We are now at the stage where the financial consequences of not doing welfare reform are so high that continuing to simply say no is not an option. ”
    I will bet that bucket of cold reality went down well with this audience
    “The woman’s voice, strained with anger, but also laden with grave concern, asked how the minister planned to protect 37 individuals who she works on behalf of, all over the age of 55, whose households will lose £6,000 a year under the current plans, and who have no access to hardship funds. To this the minister attempted to bring the mood back to one of exploration and optimism, but he couldn’t. The tone for the day had been set. The anger, despair, and hopelessness under the surface seeped into the room. Northern Ireland, no matter how you break it down, is facing a welfare disaster when it implements the proposed cuts.”
    Perhaps we should cut her organisations funding and use it to pay them more?

    What ensued were three devastating presentations from advice workers from England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, all with a single message: these cuts push people beyond their ability to cope and don’t accomplish what they were set up to do.

    Ah all that devastation again!!!

    As Warren explained, the unintended consequences of the bedroom tax, universal credit, sanctions and other measures instituted through the reforms are problems such as increased levels of household debt, increased homelessness, decreased levels of household spending, family breakup, domestic abuse, and severe impacts on mental health.

    Where is the objective evidence for this?

    “In Scotland, said Lynn Williams, the charity sector has seen a rise in the use of food banks, with many people reporting delays in benefits as the main reason for need.”

    When you offer free food people take it up

    “It sounds like a complete horror show,”

    Yes Karen. No wonder the minister left early with this wingefest So what we had was a collection of community rights welfare and social workers almost all paid from public funds and with not a single positive idea or alternative among them. Perhaps that is why we are where we are.

    More more more is not an answer

  • Metro

    I was waiting for a torrent of abuse when I posted earlier – quite the opposite! I think NICVA and its CEO (they need a new CEO) have finally “jumped the shark” on this issue and can’t be seen as credible any more. It acts like a union for anyone and everyone who thinks Government should just keep throwing money at everything. It’s the voice of a sector that in many cases is so dependent on Government cash it can’t even carry out its own challenge function, in case it loses its funding

  • Stan McGlone

    I grew up in a working class area and the vast amount of young girls who have multiple kids to different fathers just so they can stay on income support is beyond shocking. Near all have no qualifications, no skills and no future but they know that they can sit on the bru for their entire life. I believe these people should be cut off and forced to do something.

  • Morpheus

    Of course there are those who abuse the system but that is because the system is not robust enough to catch those intent on defrauding it. There should be robust checks and balances to ensure that only those who need help get help – checks and balances which obviously need reinforcing judging from your anecdotes – but to suggest that fraud is rife in Northern Ireland is simply not based in reality.

    The DSD’s own figures estimated fraud at £19m in 2011, £19m out of the total budget of £7,954m allocated to social protection in the same period. From September 2011 to September 2012 there were 592 convictions for fraud in Northern Ireland – 592 out of tens of thousand claiming benefits – totalling £4.5m which may have accumulated over a number of years.

    It is still £19m and 592 convictions too high but the evidence suggests that fraud in Northern Ireland is not ‘rife’. I suggest we look at the evidence rather than anecdotes.

    As an FYI on your last line:

    “”The demographic that will be the most seriously affected is not the scroungers, even though they do not really exist, or the unemployed; it is low-paid working families with children”
    M. Copeland, UUP, September 2014

  • Mister_Joe

    Would you care to offer some evidence for this “vast” thing rather than just offering your prejudice? I think you are just shedding a vast amount of bullsh!t from your rear end.

  • chrisjones2

    Your figures are only for detected fraud …not the undetected

  • chrisjones2

    Have a look at parts of the Woodvale and its equivalents across the peace line. Adult literacy around 60% – that means 40% unemployable from the day they leave school and many have no desire to be employed. The sate provides far more than they can aspire to earn

  • chrisjones2

    On their website they have around 32 sleek well groomed and intelligent looking staff. Who pays for all this? Lets guess!!!

  • Mister_Joe

    Vast:
    adjective:
    ▸extremely large

    Provided by McMillan dictionary

  • Morpheus

    I agree that they need a new CEO – his ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ quote in an interview with Nolan was incredibly damaging to the validity of the report. Lisa McElherron has her finger on the pulse and would be an excellent candidate.

    That said, NICVA commissioned Professors Fothergill and Beatty from Sheffield Hallam University to create the report so I am not sure how NICVA ‘jumped the shark’ on this issue. NICVA still stand over their £750m per year figure.

    They say that £490m (per year) worth of cuts have been implemented by Westminster through changes to Incapacity Benefit, Tax Credits, Child benefit and that a further £268m (per year) will be cut through the implementation of The Welfare Reform Bill, currently at Consideration stage at Stormont. So when complete, Welfare Reform in it’s entirety will result in £758m worth of cuts every year or as the NICVA clarification statement says:

    “In simple terms, without welfare reform there would be an extra £750m on top of the welfare budget.”

  • Morpheus

    OK, give me the verified figures for undetected fraud

  • Mister_Joe

    So, illiteracy turns people into welfare frauds. Do you have any “evidence” for that besides your undoubtedly smug superior attitude?

  • Metro

    All good questions. I think they need to see the economic upside of welfare reform as well as the cost – more people will be in jobs and will be in a position to contribute to society and themselves, which can only help to develop a more positive identity for themselves and their communities.

    It’s great to be debating this though, which hasn’t happened in the mainstream media – welfare reform is a good idea. I don’t think stigmatising people on welfare is right, I think we should help and keep helping them to get employment – we have sure start, we have help with training and development, we have social housing – all the things that many don’t have support with when they have to pay childcare, pay a mortgage etc, but still manage to work. When it pays more not to work is when you realise you have to change the system.

    I think there is also a major issue about lack of educational attainment as well. Whose fault is that? Certainly the parents – many of whom are not educated themselves – but also this is evidence of state failure. If the private sector was running schools with low levels of outputs around literacy, numeracy and GCSE etc they would lose the contract – what are we doing about challenging schools to do better?

  • Morpheus

    I agree, welfare reform is a good idea and it could be a force for good if handled correctly but to me this has not been handled well at all. Not even close.

    Simplifying the system is a good thing, ensuring that the system is robust enough to ensure that only those who need help get help is a good thing, making fair and equitable cuts across the board to get the deficit down is a good thing, getting people back to work is a good thing…but currently we can tick none of those boxes.

    An objective it to get people back to work. In NI right now there over 55,000 on the unemployment register and 3000 advertised positions on Recruit NI. What work are they supposed to go to?

    An objective is to simplfy the system. Evidence from all over the UK given at the conference yesterday shows that people are not seeing this simplification and are really suffering. Not the ‘scroungers’ – working families with children are really suffering.

    Making fair and equitable cuts is an epic fail. We are talking about taking money from those who can least afford it while the difference between the tax that should be paid in the UK if the tax system worked as parliament and HMRC intended, and the amount actually paid – topped £119bn in 2013-14.

    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/uk-tax-gap-widens-austerity-lack-avoidance-law-1466606

    If our leaders said “OK guys, we need to get the deficit down to an acceptable level but the interest alone is crippling us so we need to make changes to the welfare system. It will cost us £XXXm per year, it will have a, b and c impact on the people of Northern Ireland but we are going to do d, e and f to mitigate the loss” then that would be fine. We would know where we stand and we would know there’s a plan in place. But no, that’s too much to ask. The First Minister of NI had the audacity to say that he has no idea what the impact will be on the people he has been elected to represent. That is simply not acceptable.

    We are being fined for not implementing a system which is in completed disarray in GB

    “As of last month, 11,070 households were receiving universal credit. The policy in GB is clearly failing, and I see nothing to reinforce the view that it will do anything other than fail here. DWP is 986,740 short of the original target of moving one million people to universal credit by April. In fact, Iain Duncan Smith also missed his own revised and much downgraded target of 184,000. Given that there are currently 11,000 claimants, welfare reform is not working well there either.”
    M Copeland, UUP, Sept. 2014

    We have a Welfare Reform Bill that has been sitting at Consideration Stage for 22 months with no sign of debate at Stormont.

    And even if they do debate it it doesn’t matter what they decide because it is happening anyway.

    The whole thing is a mess.

  • Old Mortality

    With the possible exception of the minister this discussion appears to have been confined to people who think the only desirable reform of the welfare system is to pay more generous benefits. Did anyone suggest any alternative approaches to reform? No, we just have to maintain the pretence that social security recipients are all completely deserving of their meagre handouts and anyone who mentions mega-tellys deserves a collective sneer.

  • Superfluous

    Anecdotal as it is, it is still surrounding me and I feel well placed to judge it, more so than the guilt-ridden middle classes. But if you want some stats, I come from the New Lodge – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Lodge,_Belfast “70.8% of the local school population are entitled to free school meals” so a majority of people I grew up around are on benefits. These are my friends and relatives and believe me I am aware of the amount of different angles that are being exploited. £19m is quite simply a joke figure, I think I could name about a dozen people who are conservatively taking about £100k of that between them.

  • Metro

    Most policies fail through implementation problems, but that doesn’t mean the policy is wrong. I get the mismatch you highlight in terms of jobs available v those seeking work, but does that mean people just sit and do nothing – the labour market is larger than NI. It’s not just about “getting on your bike” but if you wanted to do something with your life, would you not move to where there is work rather than sit on benefits? Easy for me to say I know, but that’s what I did and I know many others who do the same – many of my peers live here but work in London four days a week.

    Also current vacancy information is hard to reconcile – see labour market stats – http://www.detini.gov.uk/labour_market_report_-_august_2014__final_-2.pdf?rev=0

  • Niall Chapman

    Sorry to rain on the benefits bashing parade but

    •In 2010/11 – benefit fraud was estimated at £3.4bn – 2.2% of total benefit expenditure (£154bn)

    in contrast there was
    ◦£70 billion of tax evasion,
    ◦£25 billion tax avoidance
    ◦£25 billion of unpaid tax
    So given the proportion of work being done to combat benefits cheats and the money being spent on welfare reform, couldnt that money be better spent on tax reform and combating tax evasion, it would clearly return more revenue than the current strategy

  • Niall Chapman

    In 2010/11 – benefit fraud was estimated at £3.4bn – 2.2% of total benefit expenditure (£154bn)

    in contrast there was
    ◦£70 billion of tax evasion,
    ◦£25 billion tax avoidance
    ◦£25 billion of unpaid tax
    So given the proportion of work being done to combat benefits cheats and the money being spent on welfare reform, couldnt that money be better spent on tax reform and combating tax evasion, it would clearly return more revenue than the current strategy

  • Morpheus

    How many of those people you grew up around are fraudulently claiming? They could all be claiming fraudulently for all I know (and for all you know) but that means that among people you know in New Lodge fraud is rife. The DSD figures seem to show that in the vast majority of cases in Northern Ireland payments are genuine.

    Regardless, as I said earlier, there are those who exploit the system but that is because the system is not robust enough to prevent it. But let’s not try to kid ourselves that Welfare Reform is about fraud prevention.

  • Morpheus

    Again, I am not arguing that the rationale behind the Welfare Reform policy is wrong – cutting the deficit to manageable levels is paramount – but how it has been implemented has been shambolic at best. Taking money from those who can least afford it – remember now, working families with children will be hardest hit – forcing them to food banks while the number of UK millionaires has increased by over 44,000 in 2014 alone is not the way to go about it.

    Think about it – we are being fined for not implementing a ‘system’ that is in complete disarray in GB, massively missing its targets, causing untold misery and contributing to the number of working families resorting to food banks for survival. Does that sound like a good approach?

    Closing the loopholes which prevent hundreds of billions from going into the UK coffers while investing in job creation and making sure the welfare system is robust enough to ensure that only those who need help get help – ie. sharing the burden across society – is a much more pragmatic approach.

  • mickfealty

    Erm, people. I’m all up for challenging consensuses, but if you want to run straight into the man with little regard for the ball you’ll find yourself off here pdq!

    Morpheus, you and I have had words before about this little vendetta thing you’ve got going there!!

  • jimmy no job

    nice pic. check out the unemployed people behind it for some answers http://www.pprproject.org/right-to-work-right-to-welfare

  • barnshee

    “but also this is evidence of state failure. If the private sector was running schools with low levels of outputs around literacy, numeracy and GCSE etc they would lose the contract – what are we doing about challenging schools to do better?”

    Yea the state done it ( or is that not done it) wee jonnie was let down by er everybody else

    Le vieux canard again— In my short ( thank ****) teaching career blaming the teacher/school was quite popular. It was easily shot down by

    1 Defensive record keeping -wee jonnie`s homework record
    and behaviour in class anyone?

    AND

    2 the GIANT killer— pointing out that a proportion of the cohort wee jonnie`s was in, had the same teacher, sat in the same class was given the same tuition- and somehow managed to perform very well.

    They wereprobably sprinkled with fairy dust by someone

  • Metro

    Again, wouldn’t disagree – we need to do all of this – but it’s not choosing one over the other.

    Also, tax avoidance is legal – the system is the problem and nobody pays tax they don’t have to pay – so it isn’t quite the same thing. Reducing tax avoidance should be possible. Tackling welfare reform will have such positive benefits across communities and societies.

    A dependency culture just encourages a form of “learned helplessness” that stifles a sense of self and identity, impacts on health and mental health and permeates through generations in terms of a lack of self worth. Welfare is central to this and can impact on so many other areas positively.

  • Morpheus

    No, NICVA brought together speakers from other parts of the UK to discuss the impact of Welfare Reform on the people who live/work in their regions.

  • Metro

    Sorry, noted

  • Metro

    I think NICVA’s main objective is to sustain itself..

  • Morpheus

    I would suggest that if NICVA’s main objective was to maintain government payments then I don’t think a report like this is the way to go about it, do you?

  • Metro

    The capitalist system will always create a divergence of wealth, but if wealth is to be redistributed properly the system should work. The more millionaires the better, as long as they are employing people and paying taxes. But when paying taxes, there is a social contract that includes the notion that the people who benefit from the tax redistribution are being given it in a way that minimises, rather than maximises, their dependency on the state.

    It creates in many ways a “central plan” which (Cue Hayek quote – if socialists still quote Marx, allow my own capitalist indulgence) : “means that the economic problem is to be solved by the community instead of by the individual.. Since under modern conditions we are for almost everything dependent on means which our fellow men provide, economic planning would involve the direction of almost the whole or our life. There is hardly an aspect of it, from our primary needs to our relations with our family and friends, from the nature of our work to the use of our leisure, over which the planner would not exercise his “conscious control”. This sounds like a dystopian nightmare, but it is prevalent and it is a result of welfare derived dependency.

    I should get out more..

  • chrisjones2

    Dont be stupid. There arent any. And the civil service always like to suppress them as they show up poor controls so its dont look dont find

  • chrisjones2

    No ..it helps make them unemployable and encourages a life o comfortable hopelessness

    The biggest poverty is poverty of ambition

  • Metro

    This thread has been full of really good arguments and discussion – both sides are here, which is really positive. As I said in an earlier post, you don’t get both sides in mainstream media

  • Metro

    I didn’t say they are good at it! I remember they did a report showing just how big the third sector levels of employment were – to show how important it was – and it just frightened people when they realised how bloated it had become

  • chrisjones2

    Who paid for it all. As reported it was a wingefest with no ideas and an underpinning ethos that we should just pay more

    Did you hear the Mayor of Calais’s evidence to the HO Select Committee on immigration?

  • Morpheus

    Wingefest? I suggest that you watch the fecking thing before coming out with absurd, ill-informed statements like that.

  • Morpheus

    So fraud in ‘rife’ in Northern Ireland but there are no figures whatsoever to back that up in any way whatsoever – gotcha.

    Good grief

  • Morpheus

    You miss my point on the increased number of millionaires. If the ‘haves’ are going one way and the ‘have nots’ are going the other then it leads to a very unbalanced and inequitable society. If there were more millionaires and the standard of living of the minions was also going up then that’s great, that’s what we should be aiming for but that is not the reality – far from it.

    I am not arguing that it should be possible to maximize one’s dependency on the state. I think that the system should help those who need it and be robust enough to weed out those who don’t – people like those who worked at Gallaghers for example should not be stigmatized and painted with the same brush as those on ‘Benefits Street’. They deserve our help and the system should be so that they get the help they need until they get back into work again and can begin to contribute again.

    ““The True Measure of Any Society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” – Ghandi

    At the minute, by taking from those who can least afford it while allowing big business to walk away from their responsibility to help then in the UK that’s an epic fail.

  • Stan McGlone

    I grew up with it and lived in the area in which we all witnessed it. Nothing about being a snob. It is a fact of life in many housing estates. From Larne to Shankill to Poleglass. Anybody who works in the bru knows it and will see it on a daily basis to those who work for social services within deprived areas. You want evidence, then go live in those areas.

  • chrisjones2

    Where were the new ideas? Read the summary above.

    Winge winge winge More more more

    Lets be clear _ I want people now forced tro depend on welfare to have better lives but the best way to deliver that is productive work not more welfare

  • Stan McGlone

    Why mention the word fraud. For many stuck in the benefit trap it is not fraud it is simply their life of expecting the tax payer to fund their life from 18 years old to whenever.

  • chrisjones2

    Now now…dont frighten the middle classes and SDLP voters

  • Morpheus

    It isn’t covered in the mainstream because it has inexplicable boiled down to a Green V. Orange issue when in reality this will affect us all regardless of creed, colour or race.

    There’s a lot of “A says this” then “B says A is wrong” and “A says that they disagree with B’s analysis” and so on.

  • Metro

    Much like all of the political discourse here, poisoned by green v orange..

  • Metro

    I thought they were the School teachers, Doctors and Lawyers party – hence the acronym, would they stoop to work in the third sector…?

  • Metro

    Morpheus we don’t disagree, but we can’t keep providing perverse incentives not to work. The “hit” should be on those who actually don’t need any help but get it – those who still take child benefit, tax credits when they don’t really need it, subsidised travel for all older people and prescriptions for everyone. Support needs to be targeted and not create a perverse incentive not to work.

  • Niall Chapman

    You use the phrase “A dependency culture” as if the practice of benefits fraud is rife throughout society, the vast majority of people only use the welfare system when they need it, most people will only use it when they have family difficulty or are made redundant or sacked from their workplace, that is why it needs to be maintaned so that it can be used by everyone at a certain point if necessary, the people who are scorned for using the benefits system to their advantage are no different from you or me, just people who may not have been as lucky in life, either in opportunity or intelligence, so I don’t even have any qualms with people taking advantage of it if they have not had the opportunities that others have had, and as you say “tax avoidance is legal” so is playing the benefits system to the best of you’re advantage

  • Morpheus

    What are you waffling about man?

    I watched the thing live, it was a group of professionals from across the UK explaining the impact of Welfare Reform on the people in their respective regions. It was most assuredly not a ‘wingefest’. What ‘ideas’ were you expecting?

  • Reader

    Niall Chapman: £25 billion tax avoidance
    Oi – that’s my ISAs you’re talking about there…

  • chrisjones2

    For many years NCIS reported zero fraud – right through most of the troubles. Then they had to be dragged screaming to the truth. Now they report what they can get away with

    Interestingly many of the figures quoted above for the UK are only a little more than the level of tax credit fraud reported by the NAO.

    Like in many other areas. Dont ask, Dont tell. Dont look under the stones and there isnt a problem

  • chrisjones2

    Its not just fraud. You seem trapped in the dependency culture too. Its about a lack of ambition to get off benefit – and acceptance that its a valid and real way of life

  • Metro

    Niall I wish that were true. That said, I suspect the vast majority of people on welfare would love to work, but the system itself has encouraged their dependency. Tax avoidance is legal, benefits system fraud isn’t. I agree it’s a safety net – one that is sorely needed at times for people – but if you take that to its logical conclusion, access to services such as social housing should be for a short period only, to avoid dependency. I would support that type of approach fully. The system creates the dependency and learned helplessness prevails – why wouldn’t you take free money? I am not scorning anyone for rational behaviour, just saying that the system needs to change to avoid these perverse incentives that exist not to find work

  • Morpheus

    So what are you basing your opinion on?

  • chrisjones2

    I through it was Social Workers

  • Metro

    Agree. Working creates a new identity, a new sense of purpose and a greater sense of contributing to family and community. Without those messages getting through to people in areas where there are few working role models, the system needs to change.

  • Niall Chapman

    More of a realisation that there are no jobs or job creation to be precise, to quote the graffiti: “5,000 jobs created each year, 125,000 people out of work”
    This is a bit off topic but I am always seeing marijauna seizures worth x amount of millions by the PSNI, I live in Catalunya, where everyone can legally grow 3 plants, and some associations have opened where you can smoke marijauna legally (only on the premises). Its laws like these that need to be changed so that new business can be created, where people who normally wouldnt be enterprising can get creative without the threat of massive tax or arrest

  • Metro

    I’m in!

  • Niall Chapman

    As I’m Trending on Twitter said, it would mean drugs are controlled and taxed, and criminals would not profit, some criminals may even take up the enterprise themselves and therefore no longer be criminals

  • chrisjones2

    Bitter bitter experience when I turn over stones

  • chrisjones2

    Ok so whjat positive suggetsion did they make otehr than not changing benefits?

  • chrisjones2

    PS perhaps you should get out more. Did all those years in the Matrix teach you nothing?

  • Morpheus

    AGAIN, it was a group of professionals from across the UK explaining the impact of Welfare Reform on the people in their respective regions. No brainstorming, no spitballing, no focus groups, what ideas were you expecting?

  • Morpheus

    There’s no need for you to be worrying about that now is there?

  • Morpheus

    So it’s backed up with nothing – quelle surpprise

  • Niall Chapman

    I agree, but as regards social housing it needs to be built on a much larger scale, obviously on a first come first serve and needs based system, but many families with 2 incomes and kids should have long term access to it as well, many people cannot afford private housing and the rental prices in Belfast now are extortionate.

  • barnshee

    ” I don’t even have any qualms with people taking advantage of it if they have not had the opportunities that others have had”

    We have had almost seventy years of the “welfare state” with free education -often in your chosen religious grouping coupled with a free health service— perhaps you could identify the “opportunities” not available to all?

    (Yea I know some people are richer than others -it cannot make them cleverer or more hard working than others)

  • barnshee

    “but also this is evidence of state failure. If the private sector was running schools with low levels of outputs around literacy, numeracy and GCSE etc they would lose the contract – what are we doing about challenging schools to do better?”

    Ah le vieux canard reappears— its the schools/state fault wee Jimmy/Sean was let down by the system. Funny that Billy/Brendan in the same class taught by same teacher to same syllabus has done quite well

    Clearly someone sprinkled them with fairy dust when no one was looking could have nothing to do with Jimmy/Sean’s behaviour . cognitive ability and application

  • Niall Chapman

    Well given the higher proportion of working class people from Nationalist areas attending Higher education than working class people from Unionist areas attending higher education, its quite clear that some people in society have greater availability to education, not due to neglect of their communities but dependance on the government, which is what Catholic maintained schools and the community could not rely on.
    All im really trying to say is that some people do slip through the cracks no matter how much potential they have, so the safety net shouldnt be just for people who have lost jobs after working for 40 years, but also for people who dont have the same intelligence or percieved intelligence (after obtaining qualifications) of others to obtain jobs

  • Morpheus

    You sassy old git – #LoveIt!

  • barnshee

    ” some people in society have greater availability to education” ??

    Some people have greater access to education ?

    Catholic maintained schools are not funded by the taxpayer? news to me

  • barnshee

    “An objective it to get people back to work. In NI right now there over 55,000 on the unemployment register and 3000 advertised positions on Recruit NI. What work are they supposed to go to?”

    Its a cruel lesson— society/the welfare state have produced a surplus of labour in N Ireland – the surplus— in a civilised society has to be supported — it is indeed a mess

  • Metro

    Please use the entire quote not a selective part of it. The problem starts in the family no doubt, and the responsibility is there too, but there are some bad schools, that’s my point

  • Niall Chapman

    Yes, I did mean greater availabilty of education, of course Catholic schools are funded by the taxpayer but for the the majority of the last century they clearly had an ethos that centred around education as an escape from poverty, not an ethos of “you dont need an education, you can get a job with your Da in the shipyard or with your uncle in Shorts” that is what the Catholic maintained schools could not rely on

  • Metro

    If you got rid of social housing for long term tenants, it would create a stronger incentive for the private sector to build more houses and rents would come down. Government failure in housing impacts on the ability of the market to do its job – match supply and demand at the right price

  • SeaanUiNeill

    What an excellent suggestion ITOT, and a possible answer to our governmants inability to persuade their financiers to fund welfare, as you so wisely say. Taxing burgularly, since it’s been virtually decriminalised, would bring in some shekels also! Recognising the financial benefits of local internet fraud so that profits can be included in tax returns would help to, and if the more interprizing people traffickers and organised prostitution concerns could be offered a free hand, perhaps even some Invest NI help and advice, then their incomes might also become taxable, to the benefit of all.

  • Rapunsell

    Given the figures quoted in respect of the numbers unemployed and the jobs available – and surely its likely to get worse – as public sector workers are made redundant and the attendant decrease in spending has a knock on effect – one solution here has to be government funded compulsory employment schemes on at least minimum wage – as an alternative to benefits. Lets be real – the private sector in NI is never going to take up the slack and for many people won’t be an option anyway
    We had the ACE schemes in the past – but what about mass mobilisation of people for useful work to benefit themselves and wider society – everything from insulating houses , street repairs and cleansing through to more creative initiatives .
    I don’t mean work for benefits – I mean a requirement to work for a decent wage instead of benefits – which should be for those who cant work at all.
    What puzzles me is that a large portion of the welfare bill is seemingly paid to people in work in the form of various tax credits etc. What’s that all about. I’d like a situation where no one in full time employment at least – was entitled to benefits and where employers low wages weren’t subsidised.

  • Reader

    Morpheus: We are being fined for not implementing a system which is in completed disarray in GB
    We aren’t being fined for failing to implement “Universal Credit”, which is clearly only a pilot scheme inflicted on some of the English at the moment.
    We are being fined for failing to implement recent changes to the existing (crappy, clunky) system.

  • Comrade Stalin

    You are entitled to believe that the absence of evidence for a claim automatically means it is false, but that isn’t a good way to look at things.

    Apply some common sense. How on earth can they accurately assess the level of fraud ? By definition we are talking about claims that they do not know are false. And how are they defining fraud ? If a person gets a sick line from the doctor saying they’re too depressed to work, even though they aren’t, is that counted ?

    As with Chris, I know anecdotally of several cases of people gaming the system – a common trick seems to be single parents saying that they don’t know who the child’s father is. Of course it’s an anecdote and proves nothing. But it suggests to me personally that if I come across cases like that without even looking for it, that there is more of it going on than meets the eye.

  • chrisjones2

    Not just that. Lets try

    * fake dla car applications by people who are perfectly able bodied
    * an individual who worked for us for 3 years and was fit and well. He married a woman on DLA and moved in with her and her parents (also on DLA). WIthin 6 months he was on DLA too. Is it infectious?
    * demands for cash in hand from new recruits who are shocked when we refuse to employ them because they are crooks
    * a work experience staff member who tried to fake an accident so they could claim
    * staff who refuse to take on more hours work because their benefits will fall
    * new recruits using multiple addresses – one for work one for the brew drop
    * a new applicant who (literally) ran out the door when he was asked about his (fake) address
    * inability to recruit near the border because so many are all on cash in hand in the south and benefits in the north
    * new recruits who make themselves so utterly utterly useless we have to fire them
    * staff on the run from the CSA

    There are many many good honest and hard working people who see this going on and are disgusted at the actions of this group of scroungers. That is what drives the mistrust

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think Newton is generally critical of publicly funded organizations lobbying and using questionable statistics to try to scare people.

    I still haven’t seen anyone lay out for me exactly what welfare reform will do to families in Northern Ireland. There’s an example up there about a £6000 a year loss, which sounds enormous. I can’t take numbers like that seriously without an explanation of how they are being calculated. And are the families expecting to spend another year claiming welfare ?

  • Surveyor

    All very fine and dandy Chris and you’re entitled to your opinion, but do unemployed people avail of your business and buy things from it? It’s all very well bashing benefit claimants but you’ll still take the money from them regardless.

  • chrisjones2

    I support the unemployed getting benefits and getting help to re skill and get back into work. People need benefits and some will be forced to live on them all their lives through illness etc. heaven help them they need all the support they can get.

    Its the dishonest lying cheating shcroungers I detest

  • chrisjones2

    Agreed …and we do it reasonably civilly

  • barnshee

    “you dont need an education, you can get a job with your Da in the shipyard or with your uncle in Shorts” ”

    Yea I can just see all the prod children in Down Fermanagh -Derry -Antrim -Armagh being told
    “you dont need an education, you can get a job with your Da in the shipyard or with your uncle in Shorts”

    Jausus those uncles must have been busy LOL

  • Niall Chapman

    Given the fact that the lowest performing schools in NI are in east Belfast where the large majority of the poplulation worked in those industries its a valid point, especially since the best performing schools in unionist areas are outside the city

  • Metro

    There is a lot of merit in looking at the whole notion of self worth and identity here. Unionist working class tend to feel they have “lost” things – the shipyard, heavy industry generally. They haven’t found themselves a home in a “post industrial”economy and a “post nationalist” Nationalist / Republican working class feel they have “won” things – fact or perception – and tend to have greater self worth. This, in my view, is reflective of school performance and is reinforced – positively or negatively – by the presence or absence of local role models.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I wonder if offset mortgages are counted too.

  • chrisjones2

    Only sometimes

  • chrisjones2

    Except there aren’t 125000 out of work. Thats a made up figure by the propagandists. The true figure is 55000 and then you have to factor those who are just between jobs etc and unemployed for a few weeks. That takes the long term unemployed down to perhaps 35000

  • Niall Chapman

    An example of the way things are going, a brewery creates 10 jobs and its news: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-foyle-west-29829847