Friday 22 May 2009

Addicted to Idleness

I did my last couple of shifts this week at the Refuge Day Centre for Young Homeless People who are in fact not homeless. From now on, I will solely be subjected to abuse and ingratitude from the same ilk, but only in the state funded sector as opposed to the charity sector. Anyway, last Wednesday I penned the piece below to highlight how lucrative the welfare state can be for certain individuals.

Last year, a national newspaper highlighted the fact that there are over one hundred thousand drug addicts and alcoholics receiving lucrative state benefits. This group can be broken down in to two types, those who are still actively indulging in their addiction and those that have abstained but through having damaged their health are able to continue to claim benefits. Many of this latter category are well able to work. The degree to which they have damaged their health varies amongst individuals.

Several service users at the refuge are young alcoholics or addicts feeding their addiction with the help of the state. I will have an illuminating chat with one today.

It’s Wednesday evening and I have started the weekly budget cookery workshop. Only the same two people ever turn up for this. This further highlights the fact that none of our clients are that hard up, otherwise why would they:

(a) turn their nose up at a free freshly cooked meal
(b) not want to learn to cook good quality food on a shoestring budget

One of the two regulars is Patrick. He’s twenty-four and on the face of it is pleasant enough. Unlike many of the others, he has realised it’s much easier to keep sponging off people if you are nice to them. However, when he doesn’t get exactly what he thinks he is entitled to he can get a bit obstreperous, but overall he’s an affable enough chap.

I ask him a few things about himself.

“Where are you living Patrick?”

“One of the council’s supported housing projects in the city centre”

“Do you like it there?”

“I mean I would rather my own flat, but I’ve got a nice big room there. I’ve got my TV, stereo, dvd collection. It’s clean and warm. So it will do for now”

It actually sounds a lot better than a few of the flat shares I’ve been in down through the years.

In time he will get his own flat, courtesy of the state. He will have to wait a few years for it due to the long queues for social housing. However, his alcohol and drug induced health problems could well see him given priority over more deserving decent working class people who pay into the system. Many addicts and alcoholics are given social housing as a priority above other groups of people. The council may deem him as a priority status due to his self inflicted illnesses or he may get a flat or more long term secure accommodation with a government funded housing association.

“How do you pay for it?”

“Housing benefit.”

I refrain from pointing out to Patrick that that’s not how he pays his rent, but rather it’s how working people pay his rent in the form of taxes. I want to get as much information out of him about how he funds his drug and alcohol dependent lifestyle. If I was to start moralizing him now on the immorality of funding his idle, drug fuelled existence at the expense of the working population he might become reticent or what’s more likely is that he would tell me to f**k off.

I am aware that addicts and alcoholics can avail of benefits, but at this point in time I have no idea of just how much they can receive. I am about to learn that it depends on the individual’s circumstances.

“Are you on jobseekers allowance as well?”

“No I’m on income support and disability living allowance. I’m on the highest rate of the income support due to my disability. I basically damaged my pancreas and liver whilst I was drinking quite heavily and taking heroin a few years ago.”

“So how much do you get a week between the two payments?”

“About £200.”

“That’s not bad for doing nothing is it?”

“No you’re right there. I don’t even have to pay any bills because the housing benefit paid to the hostel covers council tax, electricity, heating the lot. I mean if I worked in an average job I wouldn’t even come out with that a week. And then I eat here or the other centre so I don’t really have to spend any money on food.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician or accountant to work out that Patrick’s £200 a week is basically disposable income. How many hard working people have anything like that to spend on their leisure each week?

“So between housing benefit, income support and disability living allowance you are receiving just shy of £300 a week. God you are better of than me and I’m employed.”

“Do you drink a lot of that money?”

“ No I can’t really drink the way I used to due to the damage that I’ve done myself, but I have a few cans most days as well as the methadone I take, but I am on the lowest dose of methadone one can take so it doesn’t really affect me.”

The taxpayer also funds his methadone treatment.

Anyway, whilst I’m cooking him his dinner, we have a chat about drugs and addiction in general. He is convinced that he no longer has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Despite being on methadone and drinking every day. He only has a few cans most days. A few being at least three but as many as seven, indeed for Patrick it’s an improvement he used to put away bottles of spirits most days a few years ago.
Generally, three to seven cans a day would make someone a heavy drinker as opposed to an alcoholic, although they could well develop a serious problem if they continue with this level of consumption.

However, Patrick mixes his alcohol with methadone thus magnifying the effect of each drug. Plus, he’s a bit partial to the benzodiazepine family of drugs, particularly valium, so he tells me.

“I suffer badly from anxiety and where as I used to get really drunk or take heroin now I just order valium from the internet. It’s so cheap as well. I can get hundreds for next to nothing. If you need any I will show you where to get them.”

“I’m fine Patrick, thanks anyway.”

I think if I wasn’t leaving this job I’d be tempted to put in an order.

Now, Patrick is only one of hundreds of thousands of addicts being funded by the taxpayer. What’s more is that Patrick is far from immobile and is more than capable of doing a variety of jobs. The state needs to find ways to force Patrick in to some kind of productive activity instead of subsidising his addictive habits at the expense of the rest of society. Not only is the taxpayer being fleeced but also Patrick is being robbed of opportunities for self-improvement.

Are you one of the people in Britain that scrapes by, on or below the average salary? Are you one of the millions paying off a recently acquired mortgage at seven times your salary for an overpriced property or perhaps you can’t even afford to do this? Are you one of the working class families that find it hard to make ends meet each week? Are you a member of the middle class that worked so hard to get where you are today and who pay a significant portion of your salary to the state?

The next time you are stuck in horrific traffic as you commute to or from work, or are watching the clock as you trudge through your tedious working day, just think of Patrick and the hundred or so thousand like him sitting around drinking lager and popping pills at your expense.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Excuses, Excuses

In the past couple of years there have been numerous publicised cases of feral teenagers murdering adults. Last week there was the murder of a big issue seller, a few weeks earlier we read of this, and there was Gary Newlove. There have been other horrific murders that ddn't get as much media coverage. These are not isolated incidents but part of a trend of increased brutality and savagery amongst a minority of our young people. Primarily, this violence is directed at other young people but if any adult dares stand ground against the feral underclass then they too may become the next victim.

In the work I do I deal with violence regularly, but usually on a lesser scale. Thankfully, I've only had direct experience of one killing so far. One young lad I worked with, a loveable rogue, was brutally slain by a friend of his at a party. He was stabbed in the head as he slept. A colleague of mine worked at a project in the south where several residents were involved in what is called "tramp bashing", the youths took crowbars and repeatedly beat a homeless man asleep in a bus shelter. He was left for dead. They filmed the incident on their phones.

Now, perhaps like many of my colleagues in Supported Housing and Residential Children's Care you find yourself musing over the possible reasons for this disturbing trend of muderous violence amongst a minority of our young. However, unlike most of the people working in the aforementioned sectors you will have postulated common sense theories such as a lack of discipline, the complete abdication of adult authority, an emasculated police force, poor parenting, an intrusive welfare state, i.e the actual reasons.

In my industry, my colleagues tend to make excuses on behalf of young people's anti-social behaviour. This doesn't help the young person as it removes personal responsibility and choice. Here are a few of my favourites I've heard over the years from various men with beards in loose-fitting wooley jumpers and middle class tofu munching dread-locked ladies in sandals:

·“They are from a rough background/ rough estate and this has led them in to crime”

i.e. it’s not their fault they robbed your house they were brought up that way.

If their parents and family circle failed to instil in them the difference between right and wrong it is then up to the wider society to do so, this was traditionally done by punishing young criminals. Punitive measures are eschewed nowadays in favour of “prevention”. Preventative measures include things like DJ courses, excursions, and counsellors. Another way of putting it is the young criminal is rewarded for crime in the hope he wont re-offend. Some people call this bribery, I am one of those people. These reward schemes for young criminals are adminstered by local youth offending teams. This approach doesn't work. Look at the re-offending rates amongst young offenders. More about this at a later stage. This particular excuse is extremely prejudicial of people from working class estates and fails to expalin why the majority of people from these neighbourhoods do not get involved in crime. This theory is really a middle class socialist's patronising prejudice of the working class, the majority of whom are decent law abiding citizens. The people who promulgate this theory don't recognise this prejudice. In their minds they are being altruistic and compassionate. They air their views weekly in the Guardian's Society section.

· “They have no where to go. There aren’t enough youth clubs and services for young people in the area so they end up in trouble as a result of boredom.”

This is an excuse you will hear all the time in the social sector as well as in the media. I even heard someone being interviewed on TV lately stating that the teenage stabbings and shootings currently blighting the country are partially as a result of young people having nowhere to go and no services available to them. Now, maybe I was just imagining it the other evening but I could have sworn I passed by a skateboard park, a football pitch, a swimming pool and a Youth club on the train, all in the same neighbourhood, and an under deprived neighbourhood for that matter.

Besides, when has boredom become an excuse to stab other teenagers to death or beat homeless people with crowbars? I remember being bored as an integral part of adolescence. In the many evenings I spent stupified with boredom on street corners neither my friends nor I ever pondered stabbing each other or hitting passers by with bricks to pass the time.

·“They are poor but live in a materialistic and consumer driven society and they are unable to achieve the same levels of wealth as others due to inequality and a poor education so they turn to crime in order to prescribe to the norms of the materialistic culture in which they live.”

I’ve heard this nonsense off several colleagues down through the years. I also vaguely remember reading a theory formulated by a Sociologist during my degree that blamed the rest of society for criminal behaviour. I don’t buy in to this theory at all for several reasons. The first one is that the “poor” with whom I work are not poor at all. They may be relatively poor compared to someone earning the average salary in the UK, but our residents that don’t work have free spacious bedsits with central heating and all their bills paid for by the state as well as other benefits.

The majority of them have TVs, microwaves, toasters, DVD players, video game boxes of one sort or another and enough cheap processed food to live on. Somehow, many of them also have money to spend on illegal substances and cheap beer. Now, compare this kind of “poverty” to that described by George Orwell in “The Road to Wigan Pier.” In this book Orwell vividly describes the abject poverty experienced by people in Wigan and the north of England during the nineteen thirties. The poor of this era regularly went without sufficient food, shared one outdoor toilet with several other houses, had no access to a health service, no welfare state and even worse there wasn’t a playstation, cheap lager or bag of skunkweed in sight. How would so many of today’s ‘poor’ have coped in those days I wonder?

Friday 1 May 2009

Profligate Waste and Resident Involvement Nonsense

The country is now indebted to the tune of well over a trillion pound, an unprecedented level of debt, and an enormous burden on children yet to be born. Now, with all this borrowing one would like to think that the money is going to be used wisely and on services that most reasonable people would agree are worthy and essential to the functioning of society. I'll leave it to you, the reader, to decide whether the following scenario is worthy of having a penny of public money spent on it.

A few months back I had a placement for a few weeks at a large supported housing unit with about forty residents. Quite a few agency staff had been drafted in, mostly to update files and get paperwork in order as most of the previous staff team, who had almost all been sacked, were too busy drinking with the residents to bother with the paperwork.

Writing 'support' plans that explain to members of the underclass how to go about signing on and how not to knock up your on-off girlfriend and her best friend is a thankless and soul destroying task and would lead the most virtuous to seek solace in the bottle. Socialising with residents is a massive no-no (why would anyone want to?) and having sex with them is most definitely out of the question but that didn't stop the security guard or a particular female member of staff, both now sacked. That's a whole other story.

Anyway, for the couple of weeks that I was working there, myself and my colleagues were meeting with the residents and updating their 'support' plans, as there was an imminent inspection from Supporting People (a regulatory branch of the Department of Communities and Local Government that allocate grants that keep these projects functioning).

Besides the team of six agency support workers, there was another team of three administrative staff and also three managers, all overseeing that the signatures were in the right place and that the sheets were dated and numbered correctly and that the proper cover sheets were in place in any given resident's 'support' plan. In terms of salary expenditure for all these staff, you would be looking in the region of £200-300,000 for the year. Money that could be better spent elsewhere. Pick your cause.

Meanwhile, whilst we were in the office ticking boxes and managers checked that we had ticked the right boxes so that external state bureaucrats would be happy that the right boxes were ticked, the residents were in their state sponsored bedsits getting high, drinking, missing appointments at the jobcentre, fighting and impregnating each other. It is like this in most large supported housing projects for 16-25 year olds, despite all the wonderful, expensive and well documented 'support' they get.

Now, the criteria by which the Department of Communities and Local Government evaluate supported housing projects is known as the Quality Assessment Framework or QAF as we call it in the industry. The QAF consists of many ridiculous 'performance indicators', the most ludicrous being an insistence that residents be involved in the running of the service. This can be evidenced by allowing residents to interview new staff, sit in on staff reviews, make suggestions on rules, organise events and so on. This all sounds great but you have to remember that the majority of people we deal with are dissolute and feckless individuals and giving them the impression that they have power is a recipe for disaster(Later posts will show why).

In order to evidence that the residents are involved in the running of the service I've been asked to help facilitate a meeting with them to listen to their ideas. At this meeting one of the things the residents are asked by a Senior Manager is what activities could the project provide for them to make their lives more fun. Is being drunk at noon, having multiple sexual partners and smoking joints first thing in the morning not enough fun for them?

By the end of the meeting the manager has committed to a Karaoke night and the purchasing of a communal Nintendo Wii video game. This meeting took place during the day when these young adults should have been working or training and not being interviewed by an agent of the nanny state which is now so over reaching it is even involved in helping people organise their recreational activities.

Many large supported housing projects employ what is called a Resident or Client Involvement Officer whose job is solely to bribe and coerce residents in to being involved in running the service so as to comply with the QAF. This post usually commands a salary of between £25-30k. And in the words of one Resident Involvment Officer I spoke to last year, "Any in house activity that the residents help organise is evidence of compliance with the QAF in relation to resident involvement. Last week in my project I helped the residents organise a DVD night and it was a great success. Mind you I had to put on some free soft drinks and Pizza to get a fair few residents to attend."

Of course he had to entice them out of their pot filled dens with free food. They all have TVs and DVDs in their rooms but by getting a few residents to stick up a few posters advertising a prosaic activity like watching a film he is able to tick a box entitled 'resident involvement'. It all helps to keep the funds flowing in to the project and keep the Resident Involvment Officer in a job. Nice work if you can get it and nice to know that some of the exorbitant public debt is being spent on such laudable and worthwhile initiatives.

I now await the usual comments from the Guardianista brigade telling me how worthwhile all this 'support' is.