Category Archives: politics

Unemployment – the tip of the iceberg

Busting a groove here after a looooong absence to point people towards today’s Guardian Reality Check on unemployment stats. They’ve totted up those who want to work full time but who aren’t on Job Seeker’s Allowance for whatever reason, and added it to the enormous already figure of 2.67 million unemployed.

It makes 6.9 million unemployed people.

That’s 10% of the UK population, or just under.

There are 476,000 vacancies.

This means there are 14.5 people available for every job.

And yet the government continues with it’s narrative that all unemployed people need to do is try to get into work a bit harder and stop being lazy. It’s time to ask them to read us a different bedtime story, because that fairytale is just not cutting it anymore.

Yay! Now we can really fuck over the poor!

The Tory’s desire to screw employees is really gathering momentum. Not only are they making it fair to essentially discriminate, harass and otherwise behave badly towards employees with less than 2 year’s service, they are now charging employees to take their employers to court on day 731.

Now, I would be fine. If I had put up with the bullying or sexual harassment or whatever for 2 years, I could pay the £250 to lodge a claim and the £1,000 to have it heard in front of a tribunal. But I doubt anyone working on minimum wage could. I mean, it’s probably a moot point because they’d be fired on day 729 before their rights kicked in just so the employer wouldn’t have to deal with it, but still.

The unions have pointed out that as many tribunals for unfair dismissal also contain an element of discrimination claims in them, which can be lodged from day 1 with an employer, this will affect very very few claims. Which is both good and bad. Because now employees who are treated badly are going to be looking to make a discrimination connection to be able to make a free and timely claim, and this means our employers may be called more racist, sexist and bigoted than they really are.

A lose/lose situation all round then. Thanks Tories!

Choice paradox

I’m writing this already angry as I’m in my first day of going cold turkey on the cigarettes for the second time in 2 years, so forgive me if I rage.

Today the government ‘announced’ how many people are on incapacity benefit and its successor because of drug and alcohol addiction or obesity. It didn’t announce how many are claiming this benefit because of learning difficulties, or because of back pain – that doesn’t grab headlines. Picking on alkies, druggies and fatties is fair game for the media and the public and the government knows it. Check out this Cameron quote:

“We are finding a large number of people who are on incapacity benefit because of drink problems, alcohol problems or problems with weight and diet. And I think a lot of people who pay their taxes and work hard will think: ‘That’s not what I pay my taxes for. I pay my taxes for people who are incapacitated through no fault of their own.”

How nice of him to anticipate what tax payers may think so they can make his argument for him. He can’t come out and say that people with severe issues with drugs, alcohol and obesity aren’t going to be given any money, because then people might complain about the extra number of homeless that could create, or the further burden on over-stretched families. Oh, but he’ll listen to the hoards of Daily Mail readers saying that these people choose to be this way and so they, the honest and never-ill taxpayers,  shouldn’t have to support their lifestyle.

Really? A choice, really? You think alcoholics choose to be alcoholics? You think that anyone chooses to become secretive, bloated, paranoid, unemployed,, friendless and with no family becuase it’s so much fun and they get at most £94.25 a week?

And drug addicts choose to be addicts, not users, right? You think people choose septicemia, visible track marks, a constant worry about supply, worry about police raids, blackouts and potential overdose because it’s such a happy lifestyle?

You think people choose to be 500lbs (35.7 stone) with diabetes, heart disease, breathing issues, skin infections and the constant judgement and disgust of other people because hey, fat people are always jolly!

If people chose to be those things in the first place, if it was that easy as to be a choice, like I choose to put on red shoes and I choose to take the Tube today, then it would be as easy to unchoose it. To not choose it in the first place. To choose to be a recovering addict. and yet. The facts remain that breaking addiction is one of the hardest things to do. Because you’re a fucking addict.

An addict is very different ot a recreational user or even someone with a dependency. Addicts have different brain chemistry, deteriorated impulse control, and a physical dependency on the drug to feel and operate as ‘normal’. This isn’t some drunken lager lout getting to bevvied up one night and signing off on benefits the next day. This is someone who actively has to stop the brain and their body from needing – not in ‘I need a holiday’ kinda way but in a ‘I need air’ way – that substance. It takes time, therapy, sometimes other medication. It needs compassion.

And for those tiny percentage of claimants who are obese (it’s 0.1% of the total. 0.1%)? Many, many illnesses cause obesity, include hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, PCOS, and depression, and some medications can cause obesity. And yes, a lot of people are obese because they like fatty food and don’t move round enough. and this in turn can cause depression and more eating and breaking that cycle is just as hard as breaking an addiciton. But really, you’re going get all up on your high horse because 0.1% of claimants are obese?

These things, alcoholism, drug addiction, obesity – these aren’t choices. No one chooses that life. That lifestyle is something I wouldn’t wish on my bitterest enemy. So how dare you say that it’s a choice, and try to make it so that the baying public calls to get their incapacity benefit taken away. How dare you say that these alcoholics should be searching for work when it’s highly unlikely they’ll be able to keep down a job even if they are offered one? (Of course, some do, and some drug addicts have 9-5 jobs. Well done. They can cope. these people can’t.)

Can they physically work? No. Then they get incapacity benefit. That’s the only choice we have in a society that gives a shit about others.

No rights – no extra mile

What the shit, Vince Cable? Why have you turned to the Dark Side? Not content with seeing Murdoch get his grubby hands over the whole of Sky, Vince has now confirmed that businesses with less than 10 employees are exempt from giving flexible working hours and the right to train to those staff. What’s next, not giving maternity or paternity leave? I know some ‘leaders’ are pushing to not employ women that might be fertile.

Look, I get it. I get that when you are in a small business, regulation and employee rights can cause you stress and in some cases, prevent you from doing business. On the other hand, SUCK IT UP. You run a business, you have to think of the people who are helping you to succeed in that business. It’s a bit like when you here large companies call their people ‘their greatest asset’ like they are a chair or something – but fundamentally, it’s true. People are the business, not the infrastructure, or the tech or even the documents. People are the ones with the knowledge and the committment to doing that company’s aims.

So the idea that you won’t train the people that do your work, or you won’t give them the ability to pick their child up from school, or even, if the Tories/FSB get their way, not giving parents time to bond with their child and set it up for life, is pretty much shooting yourself in the foot. Because these people, with their knowledge and expertise and experience, will leave. And go to another place that gives them these rights.

Well, in theory. The issue is that with huge unemployment, people may be too scared to move. It might be easy to find people to take their place. At the very least, you may get younger people with no kids and no plans for kids, although they might need some of that training you’re refusing to give.

It just makes no long term sense. To get the best from people, to gain their loyalty and trust, to get them to go that extra mile, you have to treat them with respect and acknowledge that they have rights. Without this, your turnover is going to be higher and you’ll get people who do the bare minimum, because if you aren’t giving them anything above a salary, they won’t give you anything extra either. And that’s just plain stupid. A bit like these plans.

Wolf at the Door

Alison Wolf has published her report into further education and it’s pretty refreshing. Not only does she criticise FE institutions for piling on a load of qualifications that don’t mean anything in real ‘job’ terms because they get paid by how many qualifications they put students through, she also focuses on apprenticeships and how useful they can be to both employer and teenager.

There’s a couple of things that seem a bit odd – the removal of the work experience requirement between the ages of 14 and 16 because of lack of placements appears to me to have another solution – make businesses offer placements – and asking kids of 14 to make the life-altering choice of whether they continue in academia or go to a technical school is quite pressured. Who the hell knows what they want at 14? What if they haven’t been taught the thing that they might be amazing at, like philosophy or psychology? Do they risk being labeled a thicko if they choose the technical school because they want to be a social worker? And isn’t academia kinda about academia rather than getting a job?

But these are essentially subjective questions. Each teenager is going to be different, and I like that she has recommended that people can go to the higher education they felt they missed out on later in life if they change their mind.

I also agree that English and Maths should be studied for as long as possible – but probably not in an academic way. English and Maths GCSE are, quite frankly, of no real use in the ‘real world’ – yes, reading is awesome and should be encouraged, and yes, ratios and fractions are handy for simple things like cooking, but not many people need algebra in their daily routine. Do you need to know about Sine and Cosine in your day job? I know that I use some stuff I learned in English GCSE in my day job, but I work in communications and I need to know about language – and even I don’t say Caesura, I say pause in the speech, because that’s more understandable.

What they should be taught, as these are life skills, are mental arithmatic – how to calculate the tip on a bill, what it means if you’re getting something for 20% off – and spelling and grammar, because if one more person uses ‘you’re’ instead of ‘your’, I might flip out. Spelling and grammar not only gives others a better impression of you, they make what you say more understandable, and they create less work for me! I think grammar should be compulsory until they can write an essay using the correct forms of its and it’s.

But I digress, for I  am a bit crazy about grammar. Sorting out the technical and vocational further education in this country seems emminently sensible, as we need highly skilled plumbers, electricians, engineers, carpenters and metalworkers. We also need social workers, nurses, teaching assistants and hairdressers. And teenagers need jobs. It makes sense to give young people the skills they need to supply us with services we need, because that’s how the world works. They get paid, we get nice hair and cupboards, and thus the world keeps turning. Academia is not for everyone – I bloody hated it, apart from the leisure time in which to drink, but what I wanted to do wasn’t technical or a vocation, so off I had to go to Uni.

I just really hope this doesn’t lead to a whole bunch of Tories like this one, sniggering about how they don’t need the French of Moliere, they need the French of business. What a fucking wanker.

The invisible man(ager)

David Cameron, by all accounts, takes a pretty hands-off approach to leading his party, his coalition government and by extension, the country. He’s had to re-affirm that he’s even in charge because he’s not in the country. Which I thought was a bit odd. I mean, as anyone who’s worked in a giant global corporation knows, just because your manager may be in a different country, doesn’t mean he’s not your boss.

Technology has of course made this easier. Cameron reminded us that in the age where you have Blackberrys, email and social media, you don’t really leave work when you leave work. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I don’t read work email or answers work calls after a certain time of day, because it would encroach on my personal life. I expect others to feel the same so I don’t make those calls either, but I know several people who simply can’t not answer an email, even when on holiday on a beach in the Caribbean. These people are mostly senior leaders, so perhaps if I ever want to reach those lofty heights, I should start being more contactable – but I’d rather have my leisure time than money.

I would expect the leader of the country to be the same as those Crackberry addicts – always checking (or at least having minions to check) your email, making sure memos and reports are timely and on my desk or in my briefcase, that messages are returned and calls are made. I don’t think it’s a huge leap to believe that when Cameron is trolling the Middle East for more money, he’s also keeping an eye on anything important kicking off in this country.

But, and here’s the big but, he might be in charge but to many of his ministers and direct reports, out of sight, out of mind. It seems that while he’s away, it’s less the mice will play and more the mice will relax, not pay attention to some memos and then realise they have two crises on their hands at the same time and panic. It’s a bit galling (or gauling) when the French beat you to evacuating your people from a rioting country.

Is this Cameron’s fault? There’s a lot of finger pointing and apologies being made, and while we’re slow at getting people out of Libya, we are doing it now. I take the rare move of defending the government when I hear those holiday makers saying that the government didn’t tell them if and when to leave the country. I’m sorry, there’s gunfire and bombs and mercenaries roaming the streets, and you have to have your government several thousand miles away make the decision to leave for you? Fuck off and use your common sense. Flights have been cancelled since Tuesday but this has been going on for over a week.

But for those in this country with friends and family members living out there complaining that they aren’t getting the information and planes should be chartered to get them out sooner, I do think that perhaps his management approach isn’t the best. While I hate micro-managers, you would think that he’d take a greater interest in the welfare of the British people.

The Guardian reports that his managerial style is causing a certain vagueness to descend on Whitehall – a lack of communication perhaps:

“Critics blamed the set-up on Cameron’s hands-off approach, akin to a chairman of the board rather than a chief executive, for the failure to get a grip over Whitehall.”

I personally don’t see a CEO having more hands-on experience than a Chairman, just more visibility, but I do see their point – a vague patriarchal interest in ministerial matters ain’t going to cut it – he needs to know what’s going on, take an active interest and make decisions when it’s necessary. No use sitting back and saying ‘I’m the leader, I do the foreign tours and make the speeches and kiss the babies and meet the Queen and you guys do all the work’, you need to be able to say you know what’s going on and why. We have a fairly inquisitive media and a slightly hostile public, you can’t take the helicopter view all the time as leader, there has to be some substance.

And that’s perhaps the problem. Because when it comes to Cameron, so much of what he says and does seems intangible, all smoke and mirrors. From the fact that the percentage of people who understood the Big Society went down after the re-launch (63% didn’t understand it at the end of January, 72% didn’t understand it mid-February), to his speech mentioning Egypt once and instead focusing on how we should be afraid of Muslims who don’t integrate (terrible speech), he doesn’t seem to have his finger on the pulse. And in today’s tech-heavy, fast-moving society who looks for decisive and informed leadership, that just doesn’t cut it.

729 days of work then fired

Apparently (I say apparently as I found this in the Daily Mail) Cameron is including something a wee bit weird in his ‘Employer’s Charter’ for businesses: the ability to sack people for two years without fear of an unfair dismissal claim.  I say it’s weird because it’s also pretty much redundant for the majority of people.

As it stands, you generally have to have one year of work with an employer under your belt before you take them to an Employment Tribunal. However, you don’t need this if you have been dismissed for an ‘automatically unfair reason’. As Directgov states:

“If your employer dismisses you for exercising or trying to exercise one of your statutory (legal) employment rights you will have been automatically unfairly dismissed.

An employees statutory employment rights include a right to:

  • a written statement of employment particulars
  • an itemised pay statement
  • a minimum notice period
  • maternity, paternity or adoption leave
  • time off for antenatal care
  • parental leave
  • time off for dependants
  • the right to request flexible working arrangements
  • not to be discriminated against because of your gender, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation or age
  • guaranteed pay when work is not available for you
  • time off for public duties (eg jury service)
  • protection against unlawful deductions from wages
  • remuneration during suspension on medical grounds
  • refusing to do shop or betting work on a Sunday
  • making a public interest disclosure or ‘blowing the whistle’ “

That’s quite the list. So why am I making a fuss if this doesn’t seem to affect the majority of people?

Well, what’s interesting about Cameron’s move is the timing: unfair dismissal through being chosen for redundancy, in the middle of industrial disputes and  for trade union reasons will all now be covered by this proposed time extension. So if you even have a nice employer, they can still fire you for being on strike if you have spent 729 days in their company.  If you have spent 729 days with Company A and you join a union, they can fire you and you will not be allowed to say how petty and unfair that is in court. No money, no clearing of your reputation, just fired.

I personally believe that you should be able to take your employer to court from day one. Speaking as a victim of workplace bullying, to the extent that it left me fragile and paranoid, I found it hard to stomach that I couldn’t take them to court after I resigned for constructive dismissal – because I’d worked there for eight months.  It’s not fair – and I like fairness.

Oh, and the thing that I really hate about that article? Is the ‘Whitehall source’ who insinuates that without this, taking on younger people would be hellish as they’d be able to be crap, take time off, be ill and generally mooch off you for years. Have these people never heard of performance management or age discrimination? Clearly they’ve heard of generalisations. Idiots.