Shame on Workshy Stay At Home Mums!

Before you vent a spleen, the headline is very much tongue in cheek. It refers of course to David Cameron’s attack on stay at home mums not deserving childcare support as they “don’t work as hard, or try to get ahead as the rest of us.” Just how outrageous and provocative is that? More evidence that the Tories prefer the divide and rule tactic. Up until now, its been the unemployed against the employed, welfare claimant against non-claimant, rich against poor. Now Cameron is trying to pitch working mums against non-working mums? Beggars belief.

The government clearly sees it as a black and white issue regarding mums going back to work. It isn’t. The early years are crucial in any child’s development. Its a time where mums – or dads – should be able to be at home as much as possible with their children, not dump them off with a childminder for hours every day as soon as they can – because the pressure is on many to do so. Financial pressures force many back to work, having people work extra hours just for the childcare – where’s the point in that? Then there’s this government’s obsession with getting people into non-existent jobs, no matter what the cost is to family life. They’re of the view that money is the most important thing in everyone’s life. Its not.

I think of our own experience. When Jane had Matthew, we made the decision that despite losing a wage, Jane would stay at home with Matthew (her choice) as she had left her previous job thanks to them forcing her out (more-or-less) after they’d piled pressure on her while pregnant, not carrying out a risk assessment – which all led to a miscarriage. After being off sick for months, she packed it in. (PS, it was Greggs, a pox on their pies!) I was (and am) in a fulltime job, so that made the decision as to who would work and who would stay at home easier. But because this country values slaving away at work as being far more important that the welfare of children, things were tight. I suspect it was Tax Credits that kept us afloat at the time. This was all before we had the diagnosis for Matthew & Daniel that they were on the Autism Spectrum. They’re entitled to DLA, which means their is much less pressure on Jane regarding work. She can be there for them all the time. Matthew can’t cope with school lunches, so needs to come home at lunchtime. In many ways, they are reassured by their mum being available for them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The government doesn’t see it like that of course. As soon as possible, mum should return to work! Special needs children in particular benefit so much from one of their parents not working. Its crucial for their development and security that they know mum or dad will be there. And what about the more severely disabled children? Are parents meant to seek professional specialised childcare to enable them to go to work? At what cost to the state? Surely paying a parent to stay at home to look after the welfare of their own children is much more cost effective. It leaves jobs open for those who REALLY need them.

As for Dave’ assertion that stay at home mums don’t work as hard as the rest of us, is he trying to be deliberately insulting? When Jane worked as a manager at Greggs (spit) she would often see 70 hour weeks. Now? A 14 – 16 hour day is normal as Matthew can be up as early as 5am (or sometimes earlier) and Daniel can be agitated at bedtime meaning in him not settling down until 9pm. Add in the washing, cleaning, cooking and a thousand other household tasks EVERY DAY, that’s 98 to 112 hours A WEEK. Doesn’t work hard? Pull the other one Dave.

Its time that stay at home mums (or dads) got some recognition and help to allow them to be at home for their children – should they wish to do so – to reduce the pressure to get back to work. Surely our children deserve better?

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DLA – My Experience Claiming for a Child with Autism.

Its highly topical at the moment. The welfare system is being reformed, and by reformed I mean its being made harder for legitimate claimants to claim for benefits. There’s a misconception that all you need to put your hand out, and you are quids in! I’m fairly sure that anyone with that view obviously hasn’t had to claim for anything at all.

My tale begins with our son being diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The thought on claiming for anything hadn’t even occurred to us. It was hard enough to take in the fact that we’d been landed with this bombshell. Fortunately for us our Health Visitor – kept in the loop thanks to details of Matthew’s case being passed onto his GP – was on the ball. She came round to see Matthew and asked if we were claiming Disability Living Allowance. As I say, the idea hadn’t even occurred. Going off on a tangent, how many other parents suddenly becoming the parent of a child with a very special need don’t even think on claiming for something to which they would most likely be entitled to?

Our Health Visitor gave us great advice on the sort of things to included in the claim. Lots of the advice related to things we hadn’t had the chance to think about. Simple things like taking a bus. How would Matthew cope if, for example, a bus that wasn’t ours went past the stop without stopping? It would almost certainly result in a tantrum. The National Autistic Society website was a fantastic resource. I’d gathered all the advice I needed, requested a claim form from the DWP. Now it was time to make a claim!

To make sure I got everything down, I decided to draft each section in word so I could put in all my additional comments as supplementary sheets. The advice of the NAS was to be as detailed as possible. If anyone is in a similar position, don’t tell them about what an “average” day is like with your autistic child. Think about what its like when it’s as bad as it can get. Don’t say he/she can manage round a supermarket. Tell them you have to consider leaving your child at home because you can’t bear the stress that going down the frozen aisle, your little one may go into meltdown and lay screaming and kicking on the floor while you have to stand and endure the stares of other shoppers. Think of what its like when your child wakes in the night in terror, waking up the entire house at 3am with their screaming. Think of what its like to take almost an hour to get them dressed each and every day. Just think of how drained and exhausted you are every day trying to cope with an autistic child. Just remember, parents of “normal” children don’t have these problems.

If anyone making a claim for their disabled child think it’s just a case of saying “He’s autistic, can I have DLA now?” drop that idea at the outset. It’s a draining and time-consuming process. We all need to focus on the positives for our child. Yes, they are autistic, but what can they do? What do they achieve? None of that when claiming DLA. The constant focus is on the negative. Page after page is all about what your child can’t do. They can’t dress themselves, they need constant supervision in the bathroom, they need help eating.

The detail needed, whilst perhaps in someway understandable, but seriously, asking how many minutes it takes to wash, how long they are disturbed for at night. It goes on and on. You just have to compartmentalise your child’s life and think clearly what a difference having an autistic child makes to your life. As I say, and autistic child isn’t a “normal” child. It’s surprising how much extra time you take with everyday activities. Try cooking a meal whilst trying to supervise an autistic four-year old who’s a danger to himself and see how long it takes.

Ultimately in took about a week to make sure I’d got it right, and had it detailed sufficiently. The submission from me alone ran to 10,000 words. That wasn’t the end of it though. After the claim had been submitted, the DWP needed a school report. We decided to speak to the nursery teacher, as we’d had no report of them struggling with Matthew. I didn’t see the point of the school report considering he was at home 21.5 hours out of every day. The problems were all ours. Astonishingly his teacher asked what we wanted to the money for! Honestly, I think that’s our business. But then again, most don’t realise DLA is to enable claimants to live as independently as possible. It has allowed us to make sure Matthew’s mum can stay at home and give Matthew the care and supervision he so badly needs. To many, it’s a god-send.

Ultimately we got a call from the DWP to say we’d been awarded higher rate care component. The only disappointment was that the claim period was for 1 year. A call to the DWP to try to ascertain if this was normal for a child yielded nothing. The NAS did think that it might be that they couldn’t assess a mobility component until Matthew was five. In July last year we were advised to submit yet another claim to the DWP. Incredibly we had to do it all over again within a year of the original claim. Fortunately nothing had changed for Matthew. If anything were we discovering more things he couldn’t do. We took the Health Visitor’s advice on the mobility side. Getting Matthew from A to B regularly involves going via C, D and E! Despite the claim not being officially due for review until September, the DWP called in August to say Matthew was getting higher rate care and lower rate mobility until October 2013.

Things have changed since then and his review will be dreaded and will be highly stressful. But, somehow we negotiated a claim process designed to deter claimants, and had come out the other side with the chance of giving Matthew the help he so badly needs.

Bedrooms vs Mansions

Back in the General Election campaign in 2010, David Cameron announced should they win the election (which they didn’t), the Tories would govern in the national interest, and not in the interests of the Tory Party. Well, the PM’s pandering to the Tory Party’s Eurosceptic right to maintain his waning control over his Parliamentary party. But it’s the Tories welfare and taxation policy making that gives the game away on how they’re not interested on governing for the good of all in the UK. Its mansions vs bedrooms.

Housing Benefit is regularly attacked by Tories and their media friends as being a “sponger’s delight.” Paid to people who lie in until midday, then play on their x-boxes on widescreen TVs. The truth is different of course. The majority of HB claimants are in work, and are the “strivers” the PM likes to laud these days. Claimants are likely to have been in their current home for a number of years, and are close to family, friends, and work. Housing Benefit will allow them to remain close to work letting them contribute to the economy.

Then there is families of disabled children, and the disabled themselves. Circumstances beyond their control mean that they may need a bigger house than otherwise may be the case. Again, Housing Benefit means that they can afford to have an extra bedroom that allows them to receive therapy and have care provided to them in the home, which in many cases would greatly lessen the anxiety suffered by many disabled people. The disabled, particularly those with mental health issues (I speak from experience, having two children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder) will have built up a strong local support network over a number of years which allows them to live an independent as possible life. It allows them to live, period.

But in a stroke, the government will turn those lives into absolute chaos. The “Bedroom Tax” – the government may deny it is a tax, but the name has stuck – will blight lives. Government advice for claimants to find additional hours at work (which would be mitigated by a further reduction in means tested Housing Benefit) to offset the reduction in Housing Benefit due to the Bedroom Tax is ridiculous to start with. Just where are these hours? Where’s the extra work? The bottom line is that it will mean thousands of claimants face a stark choice. Remain where they are, unable to pay their rent, ending up being evicted, leaving Local Authorities to pick up the tab when they present as homeless, or be forced to move, perhaps a considerable distance from their present home.

The impact will be tremendous. Tenants with mental health issues rely on their support networks for help. Those on the autistic spectrum, who need a settled routine with no unexpected deviations from routine, could face an uncertain future being forced to move home. It could be devastating. Carers in particular will be expected to pick up the pieces, and people who are already very vulnerable will be made even more vulnerable be a government who is supposed to be helping them. It will tear children away from friends, people away from family. All to save a few million pounds. People affected by this “tax” may well ask, why them.

Of course, Iain Duncan Smith is revelling in it. His angry denunciation of detractors to his hatchet job on the most vulnerable gives his particular game away. No Tory MP is standing up to object to this assault on the vulnerable. But, raise the issue of an alternative to these inequitable cuts, stand back and wait for Tory MPs to explode. The “Mansion Tax” seems a reasonable way to ensure those most able to bear the brunt of cuts and/or tax increases to pay their way. Osborne’s cuts are falling squarely on those least able to afford it. But the howls of opposition to it from government benches are shrill in their angst.

How is it fair that someone living in the same house for 20+ years is thrown out of their house thanks to a cut that they can’t afford to bear, while another living in a house with more bedrooms they need (Lord Freud and his eight bedrooms?) bears little of the hardship the government’s austerity measures are bringing? In the interests of fairness, the “Bedroom Tax” should be halted before it does tremendous damage, and the “Mansion Tax” needs implementing without delay. Of course, this would mean the government looking after all, and not just their own. Over to you Mr Cameron.

Working for what?

Times are hard. Unemployment is high, despite government statistics. Its easy to massage figures it seems, and one of the government’s favourite methods is the much maligned Workfare. IDS is vitriolic in signing its praises, but given his increasingly critical rhetoric towards those not fortunate enough to have a job, it seems to have nothing to do with increasing employment, and everything to do with fixing the stats. Given how the mainstream media aren’t keen on doing any real work to get to the truth, the headline unemployment figures go unchallenged. Who cares that a Jobseekers Allowance claimant is still out of work – they are on workfare, forced into slave labour, so that’s one more off the stats.

This week’s publicised court case brought it into sharp focus, and continued to show Iain Duncan Smith’s disdain for the unemployed, and it seems, the courts. The legality of workfare has been brought into question. Its morality – of which there is none – has always been evident. But it can’t been seen as fare to force a JSA claimant into work that they’re not getting paid for. If its a job that needs doing, take them off JSA and pay them a living wage. The Welfare State is there to protect us should the worst come to the worst. Despite the misinformation in the Daily Mail, not working isn’t a lifestyle choice. I recall being unemployed. I hated the perceived stigma of going into the Job Centre to “sign on”, I hated having hardly any money, I hated seeing people have things I couldn’t. I was delighted to finally get paid employment.

Now, it seems that odds are stacked against the jobseeker. They are being castigated for the pure misfortune of losing their job. That can happen to anyone through no fault of their own (HMV, Blockbuster anyone?) But if losing their income wasn’t enough, if having to live on £71 a week (without the benefit of having a grocery allowance, second home allowance, expenses claims running to tens of thousands), they are being threatened with having that meagre allowance removed should they refuse to partake in what is essentially slave labour. It now seems that its not enough if claimants are already engaged in unpaid voluntary work that is relevant to their qualifications (surely making entry to the labour market more likely for them.) Apparently, they must engage in work that will have little relevance to their qualifications and experience. Could it be that a JSA claimant engaging in voluntary work that isn’t arranged through workfare isn’t helping government statistics? It seems IDS has given the game away. A JSA claimant is essentially working for nothing, but is criticised. What’s the difference between that and unpaid workfare labour? None!

The scheme has nothing to recommend it to JSA claimants, but everything to recommend it to private sector organisations, notably the supermarket giants. Why pay staff a living wage, when they can sack them to be replaced by free labour provided by the government. Argument is that it will make them more employable, while the truth is any company will just wait for more unpaid labour to be supplied, increasing corporate profits at taxpayer’s expense. Workers in paid employment are at increasing risk of being fired because their employer knows they can be replaced free of charge.

The bottom line is if companies have jobs going, then by all means target JSA claimants, but if the government wants to reduce the benefits paid to the claimants, then they should be paid to do the work they are being “employed” to do. But I’d not expect any decency from a government that sees statistics as being a greater priority than people.