A Long Week in Politics – A Personal View.

They say that a week is a long time in politics. This last week has surely proved the saying true. Who could have predicted the roller-coaster ride we’ve been on since we cast our votes last week?

One of the things that has emerged throughout the referendum campaign, and since, is that many of the British people don’t understand debate and reasoned argument. Once their stance has been decided, whether through emotion, anger, or some other reason, they will metaphorically stick their fingers in their ears, to save having to listen to the alternative arguments, then shout very loudly so that no one around them can hear those opinions or facts they have rejected. If all else fails, they resort to shouting insults and abuse at anyone who doesn’t agree with them, because they have to be in the right. Unfortunately, it seems that sometimes this approach isn’t just applicable to the general public, some of our politicians are seen to use it, too.

As a writer, I have found it intriguing to watch the responses of the authority figures as the dealt with the result the British people delivered. The EU officials, steely-eyed, challenging ‘well come on then, get it over with’, as though they couldn’t wait to be rid of us. Angela Merkel, looking very weary and worried. The Conservative politicians, who were largely responsible, suddenly very quiet and, after David Cameron announced his resignation, suddenly it seemed that no one wanted to take the next step, no one wanted to go down in history as the person who led Britain out of the European Union. And of course we discovered that no one had a plan. They hadn’t expected to need one. Of course there are some politicians who are ever happy to talk a lot, and were only too happy to fill the void: Nigel Farage, crowing, gloating, even though he’s about to lose his job; Nicola Sturgeon, furious, determined, trying once again to tell Westminster now to do their jobs and threatening action from Scotland if they don’t do as she says; Alex Salmond, back from obscurity to add his comments. But where was George Osborne? It almost turned into a ‘where’s wally’ competition to find the most obscure suggestion of where George was hiding.

And what of our loyal opposition? At a time when the country is gripped by its worst political crisis for many years, they decide the way to deal with it is…to stage a coup, split their party, and try to oust their leader! What planet do they live on?

The rest of the world has watched in astonishment as, in one short week, this once Great Britain has torn itself apart in a tide of in-fighting, xenophobia and, at times, outright racism.

So where does the blame lie?

Obviously, it was David Cameron who set up the referendum to try and settle the divisions in his own party. He was clearly confident that the British people would see the benefits of being part of the EU and support him in laying the argument to rest – after all, they had returned him and his party to power only last year (albeit with a slim majority), when he hadn’t expected to win. Unfortunately, he misread this support. It now seems clear that a substantial number of people only voted Conservative because he had promised a referendum on membership of the EU and because they wanted a chance to escape its clutches. Why? For years the media – particularly the newspapers, have blamed the EU and its regulations for everything they felt was wrong with the country. They have exaggerated the problems way out of proportion and whipped up public opinion to almost hysteria in recent weeks. (It seems that some of the strongest myths about the EU – for example the straight banana story – were, in fact begun by none other than Boris Johnson, when he was working as a journalist, years ago.)

When the date of the referendum was first announced, the Leave campaign was very quick off the mark to try and influence the public and spread their opinions and scare stories, so that by the time the Remain side began to try and counter these stories, it was already too late – a large proportion of the population were no longer prepared to listen to what they saw as excuses. Added to which, every time anyone spoke in public in favour of Remain and present an outline of what might be the consequences of leaving they were shouted down and accused of scaremongering, by the side who had been scaremongering all along!

All through the campaign members of the public asked and almost begged for more facts on which to base their decisions. In the last few weeks there were TV programmes which tried to present some of the facts and possible consequences, but by now many people had switched off mentally from any discussion on the referendum, fed up with hearing all the hype and emotive rants. There were also informative article in some of the more serious newspapers, and online, but most of these seem to have been by-passed by the bulk of the population. It was all too little too late.

Another thing that has emerged through this exercise is the continuing influence of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, and particularly her view that there was ‘no such thing as society’ it was ‘every man for himself’.  (This apparently worked so well that much later when David Cameron spoke of the ‘Big Society’ no one knew what he was talking about.) In interviews on how they were making/ had made their decision on how to vote, most people spoke of how it would affect them personally, or at most their children/grandchildren. Some spoke of not being able to get doctor’s appointments, or places in schools, but it was still very personal. Very few people seemed to be looking at the bigger picture, of how it would affect us all as a society – because most seem to have forgotten, or in the case of younger people, never learned what ‘society’ is – and that is Thatcher’s legacy.

The current turmoil in the Labour Party also ties in with this theory. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) politicians who have rebelled, appear to be largely career politicians who believe that their jobs and opinions are more important than those of the public they were elected to represent. They claim the party cannot win an election with Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, when in actual fact, the reverse is more likely true. They totally ignore the thousands of people who not only joined the Labour Party to vote Corbyn into the leadership, but also all who have joined (or re-joined) since and all the crowd who gathered outside parliament in his support at the very time they were telling him they had no confidence in him. Who do they think is going to vote for them? They have exposed themselves as being self-seeking and out of touch with public opinion just as much as the Tories, more anxious to preserve their cosy way of life than represent the public as they were elected tp do. They need to be taught a brutal lesson.

Of course we all know the real reason for this attempted coup. We’ve known it was coming for months. It is an attempt to control and cover up some of the findings in the imminent publication of the Chilcot Report on the Iraq war. Many of the coup’s leaders are likely to be implicated in this report. They also want to avoid action being taken against their leader at the time, Tony Blair, who stands to be the most damned by the report. Well, I’m afraid that if it is found that Tony Blair committed crimes, he should pay the price, just the same as anyone else would. And that goes for any other politician who commits crimes, too. No one is above the law.

The British public have shown they are tired of corruption, cover-ups and dishonest career politicians, whether that be connected to the EU, phone-hacking, expenses scandals, alleged paedophilia rings, or covering up illegal wars. They want a different kind of politics. More honest, serious, sober, caring, concentrating on getting the job done rather than playing to the media. In the last few years television coverage has allowed us to see inside the parliaments of several other countries as they dealt with problems. Nowhere else appears to engage in the showmanship, yah-boo, schoolboy-style jibing and hollering of the House of Commons. In the 21st century it is an irrelevant anachronism. Why is it allowed to continue? Politicians who have grown used to dealing in this way clearly don’t understand that Jeremy Corby represents a different kind of politics, and a form of politics that the public is crying out for. The politics of honest debate, sober discussions, and above all a politics that cares about and looks after the weakest in our society.

The Conservatives came to power promising to ‘fix broken Britain’, instead, they have caused the deepest divisions in our society in living memory. This in turn has caused frustrated pockets of communities to seek someone to blame, attacking the disabled, foreign worker, and anyone else who looks different and so might be a threat to them. Many people living at the lower levels of society are now terrified of the future, of how they are to find the basics of life, how they are to survive. To these people, Jeremy Corbyn is a beacon of hope – the only beacon of hope in what has become a frightening and uncertain future.

However, there is also one good thing that has emerged during this last week. It is the growing re-discovery of people-power. Some have realised for the first time that their vote does count for something, others are discovering that that there is a way to show self-centred politicians what they think of them and their opinions and perhaps though this they are beginning to rediscover that such a thing as ‘Society’ does exist after all.

It looks like we’re going to need a more caring society to survive in a post-EU Britain.

 

Who Is A Pensioner and How Should We Treat Them?

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 License: CC 3.0 Attribution/BYCG

 This year there have been several incidents among my family and friends which, taken together, have caused me to be more observant and more thoughtful about how the elderly are treated, the attitudes towards them and the perceptions of what they are able to do and what is appropriate ‘at their age.’

In the last twenty or so years there has been a big general shift in the way the elderly are treated – mostly because of the need to adjust as a country to deal with the increasing numbers of elderly people.  The move towards keeping the elderly in their own homes for as long as possible is much better for them, but there is also less social stigma attached to families placing an elderly relation in a care home – or indeed the elderly themselves declining to go into a home to be looked after, if they prefer (and can afford to pay). However, the system is still developing and does not move smoothly in all areas at all times – as the many scandals still being uncovered, testify.

Misconceptions

Although most of the situations I have witnessed are on the charitable side towards the elderly, there have also been occasions where people have been unhelpful or appeared vaguely frightened about contact with an elderly person. There have also been some misconceptions:

Wheeled walking aid = likely dementia sufferer.

The evidence of a ‘wheely walker,’ as we call them in our family, means simply that the person has some balance problems, and the walker is to stop them falling over when out and about. They are usually perfectly sound of mind, especially if out on their own, and these walkers may be needed at any age – not just pensioners. Sufferers of certain illnesses and conditions such as MS may need a walking stick or wheely walker to help with balance, and MS is usually discovered when the person is only in their thirties. There may also be cases where someone needs temporary help while recovering from surgery and ‘finding their feet’ again.So we shouldn’t make snap judgements

People in their eighties should be content to stay at home at night.

An elderly lady I know, after a significant time in hospital followed by a spell of recuperation in a care home returned home to pick up her life. As she lives alone, carers were assigned to go and help twice a day. However, she was greeted with some astonishment when she asked to cancel the evening carer once a fortnight so she could go out and meet a group of friends in a nearby town. The assumption was that at her age she shouldn’t want to go out at night. But why not?

She books a taxi to transport her from door to door and because she has used the same company for several years, she and the driver tend to ‘set the world to rights’ in discussion as they travel. The small group she meets is fairly mixed in age range and their discussions exercise her mind. Sometimes she is also given something to think about at home afterwards. The staff at the venue also know her and chat to her. All in all she finds a lot of mental stimulation from attending, which keeps her topped up until the next time. In the winter, this is often the only time she leaves the house and so she really looks forward to it.

Grey hair = bus pass user.

This one is common among bus drivers, and to be fair, perhaps they are only playing safe. Perhaps it is also many people these days choose to dye their hair to cover up the grey, but it’s not everyone that can afford to do so in these difficult times, and some prefer to age naturally by letting the grey appear as it will. There is no defined age when hair turns grey, it can actually happen at any time of life, and so it could be taken as an insult to be taken for a pensioner when you are nowhere near pension age. As the retirement age is pushed back, for everyone to work longer, this is likely to happen more and more. Increasing numbers of ‘working age’ people will have grey hair long before they can claim their pensions.

Care and Institutionalisation

We are all familiar with the old image of care homes. Elderly people sitting in a circle of easy chairs nodding off in boredom. Fortunately, most care homes are no longer like that, and some go to great lengths to provide mental stimulation and varied activities for those well enough to take advantage of them. Unfortunately, there are still some homes where the elderly are left sitting alone in their room all day, with nothing to do, which is even worse than sitting together in a communal room with nothing to do.

There is also a problem of lack of mental stimulation in hospitals, among the elderly. Now we all know that the NHS is always short of money and the staff are overstretched, but mental health and physical health are not totally detached from each other. If an elderly person is left sitting in a chair, staring into space, hour after hour, day after day, even the most strong-willed person could lose the drive and will-power necessary to fight their illness.

A younger person would be far less likely to be treated like this, so why do we expect it of the elderly? Just because they look frail doesn’t mean their minds cannot be still sharp and very active. This is how patients become institutionalised. It may make them easier for staff to handle, but it’s not good for their well-being, or their recovery.

When an elderly person goes home after a prolonged stay in hospital carers are often sent to help for at least a few weeks to make sure they can cope. The job of the short-term care team is to help and encourage the person to do things for themselves and make the necessary adjustments to take back control of their lives. If it is then felt that the person still needs help on a daily basis, a long-term care team is assigned to go in and do whatever is necessary, for an allotted time, for up to four times a day, although most only need help twice a day. If the difficulty is borderline, the elderly person can begin to feel they have to wait for the carer and give up trying to do things for themselves.

Finding a Balance

The carers I have met have been pleasant and generally efficient at their work, but some of the elderly are very independent and not ready to admit they need help, they can feel resentment at the ‘intrusion’ into their homes and their lives. Finding the balance between helping a person remain independent for as long as possible and taking their independence away can be a very fine line.

As a society, we need to think hard about who we judge to be ‘old’ and not write people off too early. Grey hair doesn’t mean a person is incapable of working efficiently. But we also need to continue developing the care system for the genuinely elderly with their needs at the centre – and be prepared to listen to their comments and complaints. Don’t brush them aside just because they are old and infirm, be prepared to help them continue to do as much as they can for as long as they can. After all, it’s their life and we will be in their situation one day. Think carefully about how you would want to be treated at their age.

What do you think?

Why Work Doesn’t Pay / Too Poor to Get a Job

Jobcentre - Berwick

There has recently been a lot of talk about making work pay but most of the speakers and indeed the media reporters seem to miss the biggest reason why work doesn’t pay.

When someone is working part-time and claiming benefits to top up their income they are only allowed to keep £5 of their earnings before the benefits are withdrawn pound for pound. To my knowledge, this amount has not changed since at least 1983 and probably much earlier. Presumably this was originally intended to cover their travel costs to and from work, but 1983 was 30 YEARS AGO. How much have bus fares risen in the last 30 years?

This now means they are not even allowed to work one hour at minimum wage before their benefit is clawed back, yet they are expected to be prepared to travel for up to an hour and a half for work. The costs of travelling such a distance could take most of their wages, let alone the pittance they are allowed to gain, and leave them well out of pocket.

I can understand that as travel costs are variable they are seen as the responsibility of the employee, but come on, why would anyone in their right minds take a job that will leave them drastically worse off due to transport costs?

George Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith & Co. in their ivory towers don’t seem to realise that it costs money – and often quite a big percentage of benefit money to travel to a job – as they swan around in their cars. Perhaps they think we lesser mortals can sprout wings and fly to our places of work.

Unless and until the issue of transport costs is taken into consideration alongside benefit withdrawal rates it is never going to pay to work part-time, yet at the moment part-time is all many people can find. This can sometimes be a stepping stone to full-time work, depending on the company, but not if you can’t afford to start work in the first place!

Why are there so many part-time jobs?

Of course there are all sorts of explanations for part-time work being offered, keeping costs down, targeting the work force numbers to the busy times, etc. However, there is also a new excuse. Since the employers share of pension contributions for their employees has risen and become compulsory for certain levels of work, it has become more cost effective to businesses to cut all hours to part-time, below the thresh-hold where they have to pay the compulsory contributions. Two part-timers may now be working the hours that used to be one full-time post, but the employer avoids paying the pension contribution.

This isn’t helping employees build up their pension-pot but many employers don’t care about that, as long as they keep their costs down. With the current government threatening to sanction part-time workers for not working enough hours, once again the workers are being penalised for the actions of their bosses.

See also: Has Capitalism Gone Too Far?

Too Poor to Get a Job?

Cutbacks have consequences – especially for the poor. Is this present government, in its relentless attack on the poorest in society, shooting itself in the foot when it comes to the stated aim of trying to get people back to work?

If someone has been out of work for a long time and dependent on benefits they are less likely to be able to afford:

  • Suitable clothes for the working environment
  • Regular haircuts
  • Suitable footwear for work
  • Travel costs
  • All sorts of extra expenses connected with working

Work would also leave them much less time for making the economies that may still be needed in low-wage Britain.

If the unemployed/ under-employed are too poor to be able to present themselves properly at interview, they are unlikely to be offered the job in many instances – especially if it is a customer-facing job.

If the person concerned is in receipt of jobseekers allowance, they may be given enough money to enable them to travel to interview, (or at least that used to be the case, if it hasn’t been another victim of the cuts) but if they are offered a job at a distance from home, how doe they pay for their travel costs until their first monthly pay? In some cases, I have known the first pay packet to be simply a token amount and there was a wait of seven weeks before the first full pay was received. How is anyone supposed to survive that long?

Still penalised for working

Part of the government’s thinking on Universal Credit (UC) was that being paid monthly would supposedly make the transition between unemployment and work easier, but if that monthly UC payment is not enough to cover the travel expenses as well as everything else, people will fall behind with other bills, because they are taking a job.

 The more the income of the poor is reduced, the less the chances they will be able to obtain or keep a job.  If the government goes ahead and sanctions part-time workers for not working enough hours, even through their housing benefit, they may find some people will be too poor to attend their work, as the natural inclination may be to shift money around to keep a roof over their heads, which may in turn leave no money for travel to work. If they go without food to find the fares, they may not be in a fit state to work – especially if they operate machinery or drive as part of their job.

If the most of the country – including many children – can see the problems that are likely to occur with the proposed plans, why can these idiots in government not recognise them?

At one time Iain Duncan Smith talked about allowing benefit claimants to be able to keep more of their benefits – up to 35 per cent. That made sense to many people who have been there in that situation. However, this has not been mentioned for quite some time. It seems that George Osborne has not only over-ruled Iain Duncan Smith on certain points (or so it is rumoured) but has virtually taken over his job. Is it just me, or is the expression on George’s face, when he makes these announcements about cuts and sanctions, becoming increasingly fanatical?

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, when in office, were always very cautious about the possibility of creating an underclass in our society that might rise up and cause trouble. The current government seem to have made it their number one priority to turn all the lower classes into starving peasants and slaves, grovelling for food and shelter.

No wonder they want to take us out of the jurisdiction of the European Human Rights Act. They clearly don’t believe the poor deserve any human rights. Voters beware! (And don’t trust UKIP either, as they are even further to the right than this shower.)

What do you think?

Does Anyone Respect Intellectual Copyright These Days?

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Some years ago, a writer friend of mine entered a short story competition run by a publisher of children’s books. The story she submitted had previously been sent to a radio station which was, at that time, regularly reading short stories on air, but this didn’t appear to clash with the competition rules. Her story didn’t win anything in the competition.

Not very long afterwards there was a children’s book published with a VERY similar storyline and (surprise, surprise,) the publisher was none other but the one who had run the competition. The characters had been altered just enough to make a difference and the credit was all given to the well-connected illustrator, who had also produced a suitable story about how he had come up with the idea. That book has since sold millions of copies, world-wide. Was it really just a coincidence?

My friend has no children of her own, she was unaware of the book until another friend told her (and I was present on that occasion). Her own records show she sent the story to the radio station several years before the book was published, and so I am convinced that the original story was hers. The publisher clearly had the opportunity to read her work before the book was published. Unfortunately my friend was not in a financial position to challenge the copyright.

Incidents like this make you wonder, how many other times this has happened with writing competitions? How many publishers exploit competitions and writers this way?

I’m afraid the incident put me off entering competitions, especially when I heard that several years later my friend had another idea stolen by entering a competition. This time the organisers were a respected writer’s organisation and she had been planning to attend their conference, where the stories were to be judged. Unfortunately, she fell ill and had to cancel her trip. Some time later, she discovered that someone in the admin staff of the organisation had apparently submitted her story under their own name and won awards for it.

There have been several high-profile copyright cases over the years, not only in writing, but also in music. The trouble is that it is very difficult for a small-time writer or musician to fight a copyright case through the courts, even if they dare risk the financial implications, and so some unscrupulous people take advantage of this situation. Some claim there is no copyright on ideas, but the difference between an idea and a piece of intellectual work can be a fine line.

The problem is not just confined to competitions either. Submissions to magazines and newspapers are also easily exploited. I too, have had the experience of a carefully-crafted piece of writing published under someone else’s name. I complained, and had a correction and apology printed in the following issue, but these are always small and not easy to spot. The damage has already been done – and the results linger for all time in archives, with the retraction easily missed.

Now we have the age of the internet, copyright theft is rife. It is so easy to cut and paste. If this is only for personal use/ study purposes, authors might not mind, but if someone is republishing the work, virtually untouched, under their own name, that is a different matter.

Photographs and images are just as much, if not more vulnerable on the web. Not everyone bothers to check if the picture they want to use is royalty-free, or has a creative commons licence. They just post whatever they want to post.

And then there is the whole music download argument that has rumbled on for many years…

Today’s young people have grown up with the internet, with such a wide range of content being so freely available with a few clicks of the mouse. They take it all fro granted and many don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to download/ share anything they want – for free. If they are asked to pay, they expect the charge to be a pittance – a token amount. After all, it’s out there on the internet, why should they pay to save it? What difference between that and other content given away for free?

The problem lies in what they don’t see. Behind all these items there are wordsmiths, researcher, artists, musicians, photographers, etc., working hard to produce the content, which can take many hours to create and seconds to be stolen. Yes, stolen. Copyright theft is just like any other kind of theft. Many of the people who produce this kind of work are depending on it for at least part of their living expenses. When it is stolen they are not paid.

If creative people cannot be paid for their work, they will either take it somewhere else, where they will be paid, or else they will stop producing it. The quality of new material would then gradually deteriorate. After all, why put time and effort into something if there’s no reward at the end?

Those who expect to be able to download anything for free from the internet, should ask themselves how they would feel if they were suddenly expected to carry on doing their own job without a wage at the end of the month. It’s the same thing, only creative people often don’t have the luxury of monthly pay.

Why is there such disrespect for intellectual property in this day and age? How much of it is because of the development of the internet – and information overload?

Perhaps the world-wide-web has made creative content seem more ethereal, so that consumers are less able to judge its worth because it’s no longer tangible. When music was sold on records or discs or tapes, when writing was in books and artwork hung on walls, they were tangible products and their value was, perhaps, more easily assessed. How come these same products are now worth so much less when published in a different way? The value is not only in the physical production costs, intellectual time is also a valid production cost.

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Publishers who take the work of an unknown author and publish a version as someone else’s work could be shooting themselves in the foot. If a person’s work is good enough to publish, it is good enough to publish under their own name. If they can come up with a good story once, maybe they could do it again and again, like my friend, and if given a contract, could earn the publisher more money over time. Instead, any further ideas may be kept from public view – even eventually destroyed – because someone treated the author and their work with contempt.

Writers who deliberately steal from other writers are not really writers at all.

What do you think?

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Jobcentre - Berwick

Politicians, economists and economic reporters in the media are always talking about the peaks and troughs in our economy and the cycles of boom and bust. Each time the economic plans falter and unemployment rises, there is great worry about youth unemployment and a ‘lost generation’ who are never able to take the first steps on a career path because of the lack of jobs. But then politics move on and when the recovery begins, all the media comments are angled to promote optimism and confidence in the economy at last.

The politicians are keen to take the credit for sorting out the problems and setting the country on its feet again. But what happens to all those young people who couldn’t step onto the career ladder? No one mentions them again.

Many people will generally assume that when more jobs become available, this lost tribe will find something they can do to earn a living, even if it is not what they expected. This is what we’re supposed to think. Successive governments have also come up with their own ‘schemes’ to ‘help’ these people into work, and maybe a few are helped this way. But for many who have had experience of some of these initiatives, they are nothing but a farce, a way of manipulating the employment figures to make them look better than they really are and providing the participating businesses with a few months of free labour.

Every decade seems to bring some sort of recession and employment problems, for whatever reason, and it isn’t just school-leavers who are affected. Those who worked hard at school and gained the qualifications to go to University can also be caught up in a lost generation if they happen to be leaving education at the wrong time. Politicians and those who work in education often speak as though a qualification or degree is a passport to prosperity, but in the real world, even a degree is not enough any more. Vocational qualifications and experience are also needed to land a well-paid job. In many areas you also need your own car.

Unless a graduate has parents wealthy enough to provide them with a car and support them through two or three unpaid internships, they can still have little chance of landing a decent job. A graduate forced to sign on for Jobseekers Allowance at the end of their degree will probably have little chance of progressing. If they take an unpaid internship to gain relevant experience, their benefits are likely to be stopped as they are deemed to have made themselves ‘unavailable for work’ (i.e. unavailable for low-level work).  Then what are they supposed to live on? Jobcentres are not set up to deal with graduates and their staff often don’t know what to do with claimants with higher qualifications.

Other groups caught up in these ‘lost generations’ scenarios are women returners and mature students. Taking a career break for any reason may be seen as risky these days, but more commonplace in the past when child care facilities and jobs tailored around working mothers were like gold. Mature students clearly have some initiative to work hard and better themselves, after perhaps being unable or prevented from gaining their qualifications earlier in their life. These groups are equally as much at a career crossroad as the school-leavers and graduates, but much less acknowledged.

All of these groups of people have the potential to be left behind when the economy moves on again and if they still haven’t found their niche by the time the economy dips again, their voices will be swamped by the new wave of unemployed, making it even harder for them to compete for the remaining jobs. Outside the major cities and the south-east this is likely to be even worse.

Both of the most recent governments have brought up, and complained about, the parts of the country where there are families of sometimes three generations where no one works. These seem to be mostly in the old industrial areas where the jobs wiped out by Margaret Thatcher’s policies in the 1980s have never been adequately replaced. Even where some new jobs have been created, there are in restricted numbers. There may also be public transport issues in these areas, so that it would be impossible to travel to where the new work has been set up. Predominantly though, it is the same ‘lost generation’ problem, where there are wholesale local redundancies from the area’s main source of employment shutting down. The principle is the same, though the workers may be of widely differing ages, they are still effectively a ‘lost generation’ who may, in this case, never find work again.

Taking all these strands into consideration, and the number of ‘downturns’ we have had in this country since the 1960s, (How many have there been? I’ve lost count.) perhaps it is more amazing that the successive governments are still surprised at the existence of clusters of long-term unemployed. Especially the Conservatives, who seem to have deliberate policies of wiping out the jobs of the less-well-off, whenever they are in power.

These are the people who become the hard-core at the centre of the unemployment figures – not necessarily through their own fault, but because they become trapped by the systems and economic problems caused by those at the top. They are then unable to find a way out of that trap when the economy starts to recover.

Arrogant politicians think they know all about the long-term unemployed when they know nothing, and deal with it by increasing the ‘stick’ and reducing the ‘carrot’ but this may only make things worse. It is possible to be too poor to get a job.

The government needs to stop dictating to the unemployed and blaming them for being unemployed. It needs to START LISTENING – REALLY LISTENING, to what the barriers to work really are, instead of deciding for themselves what they think those barriers are – they are NOT always to do with literacy, numeracy or ignorance. They may be different in different parts of the country, but unless these real problems are addressed, as opposed to the imagined, top-down versions, these poor, people trapped in a cycle of despair are never going to find the help they really need to climb out of the hole into which their lives have been pushed.

What do you think?

See also:

https://wendybscott.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/could-this-be-the-future-for-berwick/

https://wendybscott.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/are-modern-customer-service-methods-making-life-easier-for-pick-pockets/

http://wendybellscott.hubpages.com/hub/Where-is-Berwick-upon-Tweed

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ImageA personal view of the changes in customer service in shops and the possible consequences.

The Old Days

Maybe I’m showing my age, but when I first worked in a shop as a Saturday girl, tills were big old-fashioned things with buttons. Electronic cash registers (tills) were in their infancy and may have been around in the cities and some other chain stores, but the one where I worked was not upgraded until later.

We used mental arithmetic to add up the customer’s bill as we served them and rang the total through the till. If they paid with a note and needed change, we put the not on the ledge of the till (to be able to check what they had given us) and beginning with the total that showed on the display, we counted the change into our own hand up to the value of the note. We may then have put the note away and counted the change back into the customer’s hand so that we both knew it was right. (Sometimes we might leave the note on the ledge until the change was paid. Counters were much wider then where I worked, and angled. It would have been almost impossible for a customer to seize the money from the till.)

Image In my first full-time shop job I graduated onto the early electronic tills with push buttons. It added up the amount for us, but still used the same principle as the last figure shown on the display was still the total.

Problems

The problems began when the shops started installing tills that calculated the change for the assistant – which seemed to grow alongside the use of calculators in schools. It makes me feel really ancient to say this, but there were no such things as electronic calculators when I was at school. I can imagine here some younger readers wondering how on earth we managed in such dark ages. The fact is that we were taught to work things out in our heads and made to practice these skills over and over until it was second nature – for homework and in class. There may be mutterings here about how hard life must have been back then, but those of us who learned this way still have those skills. We could – and did – work through power cuts when electronic tills were out of action. Now shops have to close if the power fails.

I gave up working in shops some years ago because I began to struggle with these new-fangled tills and found myself giving the wrong change because my brain still interpreted the displayed final figure as the total rather than the change due. This system also makes the double checks much harder – or impossible if the shop is busy. It’s the wrong way round to count the change to the customer.

ImageFor a time I worked alone, in a small shop, and ignored the display, by taking the total from the receipt, I was able to count the change in the old way and found the customers appreciated it because they could see it was right.

The Modern Way

The modern way of customer service seems to mean taking the change figure from the display and thrusting it at the customer – sometimes without a word and as though it’s a hot potato – then expecting them to move on straight away and make way for the next person. Change is usually wrapped up inside a five or ten-pound note and/or the receipt. It is impossible to check whether it is right and some assistants give hostile looks it you don’t immediately move on – even completing the packing up of your goods bought has to be done at a scramble sometimes.

 Image

Most women prefer to keep their money and cards inside a purse, and the purse inside a handbag, or sometimes hidden at the bottom of a shopping bag, to keep it safe. Now, it has become almost impossible to do this, as you end up juggling. Even if you’ve managed to pack the shopping as it passed through the checkout, you take a note from your purse to pay and stand with purse in hand to put the change away. Then the assistant plonks the receipt and five/ten-pound note on your hand and puts the change on top… and suddenly you are stuck. The logical way to put the change away safely would be to put the note in its compartment and the put the coins away in theirs, but you don’t have a free hand to sort it – it can be difficult to even open your purse and then the coins are in the way of sliding the note(s) into place. (With the old counting back method, the notes ended up on top – easier to deal with.) Also, you don’t have a free hand to pick up the shopping and move. Even if you manage to put the change away, somehow there is no time to also put your purse away safely.

(From the looks on the faces of some young assistants I’ve dealt with, they don’t understand the situation they’ve created, they just expect you to disappear.)

So what usually happens these days, is that I put my purse away while the assistant finds the change and shove the change hurriedly in a pocket and as I grab my shopping and go. Then I have to either find a quiet and relatively safe place to sort it out, or more likely sort it out at the checkout of the next shop. Meanwhile, that change is in a vulnerable place.

Berwick High Street

Berwick High Street

Berwick is a place where you usually feel relatively safe from the threat of pickpockets, but thefts from pockets and handbags in busy places, in broad daylight, seem to be rising. A few days ago, a five-pound note disappeared from my cardigan pocket between Gregg’s the Bakers at the bottom of the High Street and the checkout of the Co-op, just off the top of that street. In theory, it could have potentially fallen out, but this is unlikely as it was wrapped around coins and they were all that remained when I looked for it.

To some people five pounds is chicken-feed, but to anyone on a low-income or on benefits, it could be a very big chunk of their week’s budget to lose. In fact, in the current economic climate it could mean a person having to go without food for several days.

Deterioration

My point is that if customer service in shops hadn’t deteriorated, as it has since the introduction of more sophisticated tills. If shop assistants allowed customers enough time to put their change/cards/purses away safely before expecting them to leave, there would be less notes/ cards in pockets for the opportunist thieves to take.

It is, of course, possible that the thieves are starving and desperate themselves. But if the poor are now stealing from each other, it’s a very sad reflection on the current state of our society.

What do you think?

 

See also:

https://wendybscott.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/could-this-be-the-future-for-berwick/

http://wendybellscott.hubpages.com/hub/Where-is-Berwick-upon-Tweed

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wendy-Bell-Scott/294979647247820