Okay, I really have reached the end of my tattered patience. I WAS going to post a thoughtful piece about the market clearing rate/efficiency wages and the Conservative MP who told the commons recently that disabled people are not as productive as their ‘normal’ colleagues and therefore ought to be free to accept less than the minimum wage to improve their chances of being hired, but why waste my time? I’m obviously being unreasonable to expect the same rate of pay for doing the same work.
Latest news from the Department for Work and Pensions is not much brighter with the announcement of a national fraud hit-squad trawling the country postcode by postcode…
Fraud investigators are launching a door-to-door blitz to catch couples who rake in extra benefits by falsely claiming to live apart. The taskforce hopes to save the taxpayer £100million by interviewing every claimant in high-risk postcode areas.
Their main targets are parents who say they live alone while in fact cohabiting with their partner or husband.
Officials from the Department from Work and Pensions and Revenue and Customs will check benefit payments, bank accounts, tax credits and any outside earnings. They will also work with councils to check residential addresses.
Meanwhile someone who claimed government support to rent accommodation from a landlord who was in fact their partner returns to the House of Commons after an entire week’s suspension. The Financial Times says that David Laws is Not Above the Law but I’d beg to differ. As someone on benefits I’d rightly be gaoled for doing what he did – and in fact the local council actually lie-detectored me a couple of a months ago just in case I was doing just that (sorry, but it turns out that SkepticLawyer and I are just good friends). True, the results of this bogus technology are actually no better than chance but that’s not the point.
The first principle of the rule of law – as I keep being told – is “treat like cases alike”. I have complained privately for several years that we’re turning into an “exceptional” society (common standards of behaviour no longer seem to apply because OUR case is always “exceptional”) but in this case I’m not sure if the message is that Laws is too “exceptional” to lose or that the source of my income means I’m an “exception” to fair treatment.
As you can see from the earlier news story, all it takes is living in the wrong postcode for the government to be empowered to examine my bank account and the implication seems to be that the goal of this new taskforce is to eventually work its way across the entire country so no one on any benefits can reasonably expect their financial records to be private, the same way that families who can’t afford private education can’t be sure that the local council won’t set up a surveillance operation outside their home because they might be gaming the catchment areas.
And back onto disability issues, even the Supreme Court has decided that those who can’t afford private night care can be reasonably expected to deliberately soil themselves and wait until morning rather than unreasonably expect their local authority to pay for care assistance at night. So I guess that rather makes it official – the only rights you actually have in this country (including basic dignity) are the ones you can pay for.
Being British used to mean you could expect general basic levels of life, liberty and well being. This wasn’t mandated by a written constitution in the American style but had persisted by common cultural agreement right up until this century. Habeas Corpus meant you couldn’t be summarily detained or held incommunicado by government or royal authority and legal tradition almost as long meant you couldn’t be put to torture for a confession either. Every citizen had identical legal rights even if their personal finances didn’t always guarantee them identical standards of legal representation. These rights were suspended alongside Habeas Corpus in the last decade as an anti-terror measure. No I’m not trying to argue that welfare is “a right” – sorry student protestors but education isn’t either, they’re both privileges – just that the most important identifying feature of a “right” was that it applied to everyone regardless of their economic performance. It was the basis of our stakeholding in what David Cameron now calls the “Big Society”.
So what exactly do I have to do in order to reclaim what I once assumed to be the natural inheritance of my citizenship? Response from the left and most anti-capitalists is simply “be rich”, but I’m trying to be a bit more nuanced and specific plus I’m in favour of the free market. The same way capitalism can’t see your colour (just your balance sheet) in a free market I’m free to ‘get the hell out of dodge’ by fair means, or increasingly foul. Yes, I am thinking of MPs using public money to profit from the booming UK property market and ‘flipping’ residence to dodge capital gains tax while they were at it. Chris Bryant MP, the current commons scourge of Rupert Murdoch is almost certainly right that the media has no place snooping on his social networking or financial arrangements, but it is apparently fine for a government department or local authority to do that to me. There’s a reasonable justification because my rent is being underwritten by a government allowance (just like his).
So here’s my idea: I quit.
I want nothing more to do with your shoddy system and quite frankly after the names people like me have been called for the past 18 months, I now feel that I owe you precisely nothing. Zip. Zero. The big goose egg. I used to feel that I should be contributing whatever social capital I can in lieu of the financial capital I lack, but I’m afraid any goodwill that had been generated by the benefits I was entitled receive all these years has rather been offset by the name calling. I owe Britain nothing. It’s every woman for herself.
Now before my mother gets all excited reading this, that does not mean that I am returning to Australia. Unless you can drive you can’t get around properly over there so it’s just not practical, plus it’s too bloody hot. And I do still live in Edinburgh which has views that are tough to beat. But even so, I’m moving to a croft in Shetland.
Not tomorrow, obviously, but I’m going to move to Shetland and buy a home (the other idea was migrating to a distant corner of New Zealand and buying a dairy farm but the Kiwis won’t let me in because I’m disabled). An additional perk is that Scots Law means you have ‘dominum’ over your property with full-on castle doctrine/get off my lawn style rights, none of this feudal model of leasing it from ultimate crown ownership nonsense. I have an idea for a business that will probably be within the limits of my disability (I wont know for sure until I try) and with the normal caveat of the one in three failure rate in first three years of operation, might even provide enough income to free me from benefits entirely. The only problem is that the whole system is such a hash, I’m going to be a bit busy fighting the DWP for the next five years for my share of the tattered scraps of disability benefits that remain to actually do anything really productive towards this goal. That’s unless I get some kind of Head Start.
Now interestingly in the new privatised Work Programme devised by Ian Duncan Smith, a private company like Ingeus (tenders vary regionally) will get a healthy bounty of £14,000 for placing a long-term Incapacity Benefit claimant such as myself in a job and keeping me in it for a year. Personally I’d rather claim that money myself as I have economic self-improvement ideas a bit more advanced than subsidised shelf-stacking in Poundland and £14,000 would be a nice healthy deposit on the croft (not a huge chunk given the overheated price of British property in even the remotest of isles, but certainly a start). There is also the small issue that since the collapse of the credit bubble, people who aren’t working can effectively no longer qualify for credit so a business loan won’t be the answer. I realise that I’m seen as a bad risk but realistically, there’s no proof that ‘successful’ Work Program participants will be removed from the benefits system entirely either if they’ve been farmed out to minimum-wage jobs by the private providers. They could still qualify for housing our council tax benefits or an income top-up via tax credits because of low wages or be forced out of work by their health and be back onto benefits entirely again in another couple of years, leaving the tax-payer £14,000 out of pocket despite scriptural levels of belief in the efficacy of financial incentives (apparently they only work on corporations).
So why can’t I get a piece of my own action? At the moment I’m writing up a business plan and when it’s complete I will be making a formal application to the DWP to do just that AND will be expecting to get a damn good reason alongside their response of ‘no’. You see, I know that it’s one rule for the companies and another for the claimants and I’m paranoid enough to believe that the only way to avoid the massive economic misery this government seems intent on inflicting is to start working on achieving post-apocalyptic levels of financial independence right now. Unfortunately because I’m disabled, I can’t just go out and get a job. My problem is not lack of motivation (thanks anyway, DWP) I’m simply not well enough to work full time and don’t currently live anywhere I could achieve subsistence by drastically reducing my living costs for food and power etc. by growing/generating my own. [On a croft in Shetland, however...]
Well the government keeps saying that we should count on the charitable sector to step into the gap where government provision of welfare and services have been withdrawn, so this is me sticking my hat out, readers.
This is a begging letter asking you for money. I’m looking for someone (or a group of someones) to start by donating £2000 via Skepticlawyer.com.au to establish a Disabled Person’s Trust with the purpose of buying and developing a croft in Shetland. This will route the establishment money direct to my lawyers (SkepticLawyer & LegalEagle) who will be the trustees so I don’t get the opportunity to blow it on a Bang & Olufsen television or something. I don’t think I would because I have much better plans for it, but I make no guarantees. [I'd suggest making the reference "DEM's DOMINIUM" to keep it seperate from donations to the Skepticlawyer blog itself]. £2000 is what it will cost for a scottish law firm to draw up the Trust Deed.
After that I’ll be trying to raise up to £250,000 for land and business development all of which will be donated directly to the trust (because apparently, people on benefits are all obsessed with consumer electronics – despite the fact I don’t even HAVE a TV at the moment) and only released at the discretion of the Trustees.
Pride is for people who can afford choice. Nor am I “exceptionally” worthy either – there are many deserving causes out there and I can personally recommend Dogs for the Disabled in the UK or Assistance Dogs Australia or another of the excellent Guide Dog training charities in your area. You might like my business plan and think it’s seriously worth a punt to make it happen (copies of what I have so far are available by emailing a request to firstname.lastname@example.org – though keep in mind I’m still researching at the moment) or you might just want to say “up yours” to The Man. Your motivations for giving are your business, I just need your money.
Please give what you want to.