Wednesday 20 January 2010

Failing to Scrounge from the State

I read a lot about benefit fraudsters in the mainstream press but there is another cohort of individuals of whom most people have no awareness of and they are those young people that find accessing state benefits to be an almost insurmountable task. Today, I deal with two such individuals.

Gavin, twenty three, is today being evicted, or in the jargon of the supported housing sector ‘having his licence to occupy terminated.’ The reason for Gavin’s eviction is that he has significant rent arrears. He has no valid excuse for this debt and has accrued it due to being too lazy to access state benefits to which he is legally entitled. Whether ethically he should be entitled to these benefits is another matter. He has come to the office to express his indignation and to convey how unjustly he feels he is being treated.

“I really don’t understand why I am being asked to leave here. I paid my rent when I was working so I don’t know what the big deal is,” he remarked.

“Gavin, Gavin,” I sigh with despondent resignation, “ twenty three, and you still don’t know how the real world functions. You haven’t worked for a year and a half and even when you did it was only part-time. During that period you only paid some of your rent some of the time,” I reminded him.

“Yeah, I had a limited income so Housing Benefit should have paid the rest.”

“First of all though Gavin you needed to actually apply for that benefit in order for them to pay it. The money doesn’t just magically appear in our account. The council don’t hire psychics that can tell who is entitled to housing benefit, how much they are entitled to and to whom it has to be paid. You actually have to do something to get it.“

“It’s not really my fault, my keyworker let me down she should have reminded me, besides I did fill in the Housing Benefit form when I was working,”

“Gavin, it was actually your keyworker at the time that filled in the form for you and constantly reminded you to submit it along with all the required documentation. I have evidence of this in your support plan as we are required to write down every mundane detail of assistance and advice we give to you. The issue wasn’t that the Housing Benefit form wasn’t filled in, but that you gave them none of the additional documentation that they needed in order to pay you for that period and without all the required documents your application at that time was never processed. Anyway, since you were sacked you did get your Housing Benefit sorted, but not for the period you were working and this is where a large portion of your arrears comes from. However, more recently you have been accruing arrears in that you haven’t been paying the seven pounds fifty of your rent that isn’t covered by Housing Benefit but should be paid out of your Jobseeker’s Allowance.”

“But Im not getting Jobseeker’s Allowance, they keep messing me around,” he whines, self pityingly.

“Yes, I’m well aware of that you are not in receipt of JSA but remind me why did you lose your Jobseeker’s Allowance again? Oh yes, that’s right, it’s because you constantly failed to turn up to sign on as you prioritized sleeping until the afternoon over getting free money to ensure you had somewhere to live. So, instead of complaining of being messed around by the Job Centre you need to look at what you have failed to do and that is sign your name one morning every two weeks on a piece of paper. ”

“Well, I don’t actually need Jobseeker’s Allowance as my girlfriend comes around to visit every evening and she always brings food so I never go hungry and she buys me cigarettes as well. Besides, Im going to get a job.”

“Gavin, but you need JSA to ensure that all of your rent is paid. What is it about the concept of paying rent that you seem to fail to grasp? I’m also curious as how you will be successful in your quest for and maintaining of employment when you can’t even successfully scrounge from the state. In fact, you are failing to even be on the dole so how you could hold down a job is anyone’s guess. Anyway, all of this is irrelevant now as you are being evicted today. If you could just ensure that your room is clean before you go as we have someone moving in to it next week.”

“I ain’t fu**ing cleaning it, sure that’s what the cleaner is paid for.”

“No, he is hired to clean the communal areas and take out your rubbish but not clean your room.”

Neither of which a cleaner should be doing but I can see why Gavin has this expectancy. The state has fostered this expectation that others are there to serve him whether it be in the form of a keyworker sorting out his benefits or a cleaner charged with clearing up the detritus of his chaotic lifestyle.

Our previous Project Manager, Tessa, now the Area Manager, is in the building and wishes Gavin good luck in his future.I turn to Brendan, my fellow disillusioned colleague and state, “he sure is going to need as much luck as he can get to steer him through life because he won’t be able to rely on self discipline, a strong work ethic or aspiration despite the state spending thousands of pounds trying to instill him with the skills to be independent.”

Five minutes after getting rid of Gavin, Kenny, 21, knocks on the office door. He too is failing to successfully scrounge from the state. I’ve seen slugs with more get up and go. Soon, his ex-girlfriend with whom he has a fractious relationship, will be bearing him a child. There are similar scenarios throughout the project and indeed up and down the country ensuring that Britain has yet another generation of employment and education averse youngsters to take the place of today’s underclass when they go to the great Burberry factory in the sky. He seeks my sage advice in relation to benefits.

“Any chance you could help me think of an excuse to tell the Job Centre why I’ve missed signing on?”

Is being a toe-rag an excuse or is it a reason? I ponder. I’m in no mood for him and I’m not employed to lie for him so I tell him exactly what is on my mind, well with some modification.

“Go away Kenny. I’m not paid to lie for you and besides if you can’t even manage to sign on once every two weeks to get free money without it turning in to a drama what hope is there for you in life,”

Kenny shuffles off swearing under his breath as he goes. He isn’t used to such straight talk, even from me. I was a bit more forthright than usual. In fact, were he to fill in a complaint form I could get in trouble as such direct talking could be interpreted as “oppressive” language, in the terminology of the social sector, and as such could be detrimental to his self-esteem. Well, as far as I’m concerned if you are sitting around on your arse 24/7 and making no efforts to do anything constructive and can’t even manage to draw the dole then you should have very low self-esteem. The only things that Kenny has contributed to society are several bouts of chlamydia and a child he will soon abandon. I know it’s not much in fashion these days but just the smallest amount of shame can be a great motivator to change and regulator of one’s behaviour.


halojones-fan said...

At least there's some benefit to all the bureaucratic have a nice, written, objective record of all your attempts to help these wastrels. Nobody can say that you didn't try--although of course they're going to.

Anonymous said...

A perfect example of why the modern approach to the sorts of people Winston works with doesn't work.

An expectation that everything should be done for them - same in Schools too :(

Nelly said...

You tell it like it is - honestly, when one of your infrequent posts turns up on Google Reader I am pleased. I know I'll be reading something real and true.

Merlin said...

Right. First off - I haven't been on this blog for months (& March 09 was the last time I posted) but I need a rant & this is the best place to do it. Because God knows I can't do it at work. And God knows those around me outside work are sick of hearing it.

I'm supposed to work to reduce dependency. I can't be more specific than that. But the agencies I work with, and even some of my own colleagues, just don't fecking get it. I spend ages pointing out that it is not my role to wipe peoples &rses (figuratively) & help them avoid the consequences of their own life choices. There ARE agencies that do that (more's the pity), but not mine. And my God the grief I get for this. And that's without saying what I could never say. "This person did this knowing that it was wrong & knowing that they would gain a material advantage when the social services cavalry came riding in to put things right for them".

I believe passionately... I'll say that again... I believe passionately in helping out those who have had a sh!tty deck of cards dealt. It's a real buzz to see someone, especially a youngster, get themselves together and know that you've played a big part in it. That happens when you create chances and opportunities for people and they take them while you gradually withdraw support. Then you watch them take bigger and bigger steps. Great stuff. I love it. Some of the kids I've worked with? They've had such cr&p home life & can't-be-&rsed, drug-addled half-parenting that all the statistics say they're fecked from the word "go". Then they surprise you by bucking the odds & getting a life together for themselves. Doesn't happen often enough, but when it does you shout "WAHEY!".

In contrast, you have the likes of your Rachel, Mr Smith, but more infuriating, those older than her. Who are ADULTS for feck's sake. And I watch thousands of pounds being squandered on propping up each individual unit of failure (or "household". Ha ha). If, occasionaly, I point out to colleagues that, hey - actions have consequences & rights carry responsibilities, it's as if I I'd spat in the font of Westminster Abbey.

"Rights". Ha ha. Yea. Wish I had a tenner for every time I heard that word in a two hour meeting last week. Then I could have that boat I'd like to buy. I sailed dangerously close to the wind when I suggested that I, e.g., have a right to go potholing without a back-up battery, spare food, first aid, survival equipment, etc. But if I get into trouble, I have to acknowledge that I am now responsible for the consequences of the exercise of my "right". It's not Cave Rescue's fault if they can't save me.

Feck it. I'll exercise my right not to bother having any insurance on the house. I can be secure in the knowledge that, should a storm peel off part of my roof, a wealthy benefactor will step in to ensure that I don't suffer from the elements merely for exercising my "rights". Yea. Sure. Course I can.

I try to reduce dependency whilst other agencies - and we're all funded from the same pot - work to increase it.

You observe correctly that we are now training the replacement army who will step in when the current Kappa / Burberry / whatever-clad legion of zombies retires.

We are, I fear, in deep doo-doos.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is new to me - people so witless and lazy they cannot even be bothered chasing up their generous state "entitlements".

It's obvious, though, what is required - the government needs to employ more public servants whose job it will be to assist people like Gavin and Kenny in handling all those tiresome benefit forms. I'm sure that's just round the corner.....

Tobias said...

I agree 100% with Nelly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Winston, what a great birthday present! I remember my time working in supported housing and leaving quite quickly knowing I was becoming part of the problem not the solution.

WinstonSmith33 said...

Spot on Merlin. Great comment.

Barking Spider said...

I really is something when they can no longer get their acts together enough to be feckless....I didn't think there was a level beneath feckless! Labour have once more achieved the impossible, Winston....unbelievale!

English Pensioner said...

Why weren't they taught at school how to fill in these forms. Blame our teachers for yet something else and extend the syllabus!
Whoops, I forgot, silly me, they didn't have someone to take them to school and guide them to their desk!

Anonymous said...

Can I thank Winston for giving me the first belly laugh I have had in a while - by sending these awful wasters off to the 'great Burberry factory in the sky.' Absolutely genius.

Keep making us laugh [and at times groan] Winston..


S Brown said...

Excellent post Winston. Your posts are always essential reading. Keep up the good work and try not to let the (little) bastards grind you down too much!

Anonymous said...

What actually happens once Gavin is turfed out does he have to go off and search for somewhere to live himself or is he just being shuffled off to another set of sheltered housing?

WinstonSmith33 said...

Gavin went back to his Mother's. He could have tried to get in to another supported housing scheme but if he had said he lived with us they would have been in touch and we would have told them of his off the scale level of fecklessness in relation to debt and rent and they wouldnt have taken him.

Barry said...

What would happen to him if he didn't have his mother to go to though? I suppose the council would have to find him somewhere.

Like when you hear about some neighbours from hell being evicted you know they are just going to be rehoused next to some other poor bugger.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I work in a related capacity over here in the States, and I can tell you this - reading Winston's excellent posts, I suspect strongly that we're about five years behind the UK curve on this sort of thing.

I've thought several times about printing out this blog, walking into the boss's office and screaming, "SEE?! SEE?! This way lies madness, man! This is what we're headed for!"

Of course, in the event that I did such a thing, I would quickly regret the relative parsimony of the US welfare system compared to that of the UK, as I would be fired on the spot.

Merlin said...

"we would have told them of his off the scale level of fecklessness in relation to debt and rent and they wouldnt have taken him".

Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that on my patch. That's why we get overflow here from more "together" areas like yours. Here, if Gavin had gone to supported housing run by a different agency (six social landlords operate in my area), there'd be a 50 / 50 chance that the prospective new housing provider wouldn't even approach Gavin's previous provider. Too busy. Understaffed. Whatever. If they did, there'd be a fair chance (30 - 70 on) that no data-sharing agreement existed between the two landlords & without authority for disclosure included in the application form - which, as you know, can substitute to a limited degree for info-sharing agreements - there would be no way forward. And homelessness trumps all, eh? So Gavin would be back in accomodation & coasting his way to his next posession order. And Gavin is a fairly low-impact pain-in-the-&rse; the same dysfunctional system also ensures unlimited second chances for drug dealers & violent scrotebags.

A first step to resolving this daft situation would be a UK-wide adoption of a common housing list between all social landlords. Once info on past tenancies becomes accessible, the legislative tools already existing (& you will know the applicable acts & supporting case law) would suffice to disqualify the serial w&nkers from even getting their name on the foot of the social housing list.

It might take a couple of years after the introduction of such a system, but the message would soon filter down & a few attitudes would change. The impact would go beyond purely housing-focussed issues and would reduce drug-related crime, anti-social behaviour & all the rest of the rag-tag parcel of civil decay.

A reasonable starting point for a complete agenda of societal reform, perhaps... Trouble is, someone has to have the b&lls to say it at election time. We can dream on.

WinstonSmith33 said...

Thanks Merlin, you speak so much sense and we've had a few residents in our time that have been kicked out of other housing projects. Needless to say they didnt faire much better with us. How could they when the system sustains their inadequacies?

To Barry above. Gavin would be viewed by the council as being 'intentionally homeless' for being evicted from the project. If he hadn't his Mum's to go back to it would be the streets and I would have had no compassion or empathy for him if thats where he ended up. After all we did all we could to help him and all we asked of him was to ensure he accessed the rwquired benefits to pay his rent. If he cant do that he deserves to sleep on the street and I for one couldnt give two damns. Ive overseen the evictions of several Gavin's for similar scenarios interspersed with ASBO type behaviour and I didnt lose a winks sleep over them shivering in a doorway they deserved it.

Barry said...

Winston,Thanks for answering my question. I hope you don't think I am one of those hand wringing "think of the children" types because I'm not. I was just intrested to know how far the state goes with people like this who have wasted every chance they have been given. Though I expect in this day and age even if you listed everything he has been given and still managed to balls it up there would be somebody to tell him it is not his fault and pour out all the usual excuses for him.

Louise said... really don't like these people, do you? Do you get anything positive out of your job at all? Do you meet any clients you actually like? It sounds like a toxic environment. And it doesn't sound as though it's doing you much good.

WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi Louise,

I have nothing personally against many of the people I work with, yes, some of them I dont like on a personal level but that's the same in any environment. However, many of them have their redeeming characteristics. I am above all else in work very professional and though known as a stright talker I deal with people in a polite manner and though at times I can be abrupt in telling people how it it is I am never rude. Believe it or not I have had plenty of laughs with many

Yes, there are some young people in supported housing that get on well but they do so because they want to and the system, apart from giving them a roof over their heads, does nothing to actually help them except waste tax payer's money recording nonsensical 'support' and encouraging indolence and state dependency.

Yes, I do hate this work and am looking for a way out. I will leave it by the end of this year. It is easier said than done. Most of my work experience is in working with the underclass and a Politics Degree and a Politcs related MA are not necessarily a passport to a winning career at least that has been my experience.

Excuse my negativity but it is rooted in frustration. For any of the jobs that actually interest me that I have applied for over the years I haven't received a single interview. So much for education being a passport to success. I came top of my class at University.

Anonymous said...

Winston, sorry for stating the bleeding obvious but didn't you study politics to get into politics. Government is. Apparently screaming for politicions not from eton or oxbridge?

Is that where you want to go?

VanDee said...

Please Winston, PLEASE get into politics.

Judging from this clear-eyed view I'd vote for you, and I suspect many others would too.

(Excellent blog post, but that's stating the obvious.)

LIttle Richardjohn said...

You wouldn't like politics. You wouldn't be able to feel as superior as you do now.
And you'd have to come to terms with some realities about government, as diddy cameron had to today when the University of Bournemouth showed that the welfare state works, and that it is only the government, in the form of those pesky social workers, which protects the most vulnerable in society.

Oswald Bastable said...

Bring back the Workhouse!