Tag Archives: politics

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.

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.

The £400,000 myth

This has been bugging me for ages. Every time a politician talks about tuition fees in a positive way, they roll out the ‘a graduate earns over £400,000 more than a school leaver during their career‘ fact. Except it’s not a fact, it’s complete fiction. In fact, it’s old fiction – it was abandoned in 2002 after the DfES reviewed the figure and came back with a smaller sum of £120,000 before tax, while PWC found it to be £160,000. (Someone tell Michael Gove).

And even this is dodgy. It completely depends on what you study and choose to do. PWC found that doctors and dentists earn £340,000 more than the average earner in Britain, while arts and humanities graduates earn £34,000 more. A later study from Warwick found that arts student’s earn less than £3,000 over their career than those who do not go to university.

The other issue is that those arts and humanities that rack up £27,000 of tuition fee debt and over £10,000 of living expenses through loans means that even if PWC is right and they earn £34,000 more than the average earner, they’ll still be worse off.

So if arts and humanities graduates don’t earn more than school leavers, why do they go to university? Well, as I’ve said before, there are plenty of careers that erroneously require a degree. Trying to get experience in media, PR, publishing, HR, IT, management or admin without a degree is bloody hard, all with no real reason. So we are funneled into going to university to get us ‘good’ careers which we wouldn’t be able to get without a degree – but don’t actually earn us anything more.

And there’s the core of education – to learn, not necessarily to get a job. What is wrong with exploring and learning and coming to grips with who you are – after all, our brains don’t stop developing until we are 25 (some say 30)? Surely we want people to think, to know more, to interact with people from varied cultures to create a better, more advanced society. Isn’t that what university provides? Why isn’t that a good thing?

And why is no politician addressing those issues instead of wheeling out disproved ‘facts’ over and over again?

Baby, baby, where did our jobs go?

According to the Office of National Statistics, we have 1.47million people on Jobseeker’s Allowance, 2.6million claiming Incapacity Benefit and 467,000 vacancies.

Does anyone notice the disparity?

That’s 3,603,000 people unable to find a job. Now, this number obviously doesn’t take into account the people that don’t claim either of those benefits and instead manage to live off some other form of funds, and it doesn’t take into account those that will be unable to work in their entire lives (as some on IB will be able to go back to work). So it could change a little.

But when Mr. Osborne talks about “if someone believes that living on benefits is a lifestyle choice, then we need to make them think again” he really is not doing the math. When Cameron mentions people who are “sitting on their sofas waiting for their benefits to arrive” I want to ask him ‘who the hell are you talking about?’

There are more than 3 and a half million people out there who are unable to get a job because there isn’t a job for them. This is not about skills. This is not about education. This is about the cold hard fact that there are simply not enough jobs to go around.

So of course people will need benefits. And the number will only increase with more redundancies heading our way. I am hoping that perhaps Osborne et al will use the benefit cuts to help grow the economy, but I somehow doubt that. Instead, it appears to be cuts all round – people in the public sector losing jobs, then private sector companies losing contracts and laying people off, then people giving less to charity and so the ‘Big Society’ falling on its face.

(Not that that won’t happen anyway. What a joke of a policy. I don’t want to run my own school or fire brigade. I want to do my job and eat food and look after my cats and contribute to the economy through culture and shopping. If I wanted to run a damn school I would have become a teacher. And what about the people who have kids to look after? Like they want to go to a bloody neighbourhood watch meeting after spending an hour putting two kids to bed. Tory idiots. Anyway.)

The only way out of this mess seems to be trying to grow the private sector. Hard to do when banks won’t lend money to entrepreneurs, contracts are being cancelled and firms and companies are downsizing right, left and centre. Nothing the Tories have said have seemed to tackle this problem practically, which worries the hell out of me.

The only other solution is an epidemic that wipes out a few million people. Hardly ideal. But at the end of the day, someone needs to wake up and realise we have more people than jobs, and since we can’t cull people (though I believe they are trying, what with the cuts to benefits and probable rise in homelessness), then we need to create jobs.