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Belief that cannot stand up to scrutiny or ridicule is a problem for the believer, not those who question it

November 3, 2018 Leave a comment

BeliefLike many people, most of whom remain very quiet and even tight lipped about it, I have a growing difficulty getting my head around the growing fashion for attacks on anyone who questions or ridicules any of a certain set of ideas and beliefs of others, whilst people exercising those same beliefs appear free to inflict them on everyone else, even though they are doing exactly the same thing.

Ask anyone how they would feel about having to keep their own views quiet for fear of being intimidated, ostracised, attacked, having their career destroyed or perhaps a lot worse, and very few will argue the benefits of being in such a perilous situation.

Yet turn that position on its head. Question people with a fixed set of beliefs about how those who don’t share their views should be treated and few of the responses will come out through a mirror which should unquestionably leave the outcome looking exactly the same, albeit in a projected form.

Belief, or what we as individuals voluntarily perceive as the world around us, how it works and the systems we have been conditioned to view as the bedrock that underpins it, is to all intents and purposes, the lifeblood of how the human world operates and functions.

Whether it be the extreme of a religious calling, the fashion trends that we follow, the eating plan that we have adopted or even what forms the basis of our basic road sense as we look to cross in traffic. Our whole experience is underpinned by a series of different beliefs.

Many of these beliefs, such as what happens if we place our hand in a fire are shared.

Others, such as Leaving or Remaining in Europe, what constitutes cruelty in terms of animal welfare, or who is the best film star to have ever lived are very much our own, even though we may appear to share them with others.

The former group, that’s the ‘what happens if we run in front of a car’ type of belief, is a practical, accepted or universally accepted basic truth. One which we will rarely question, and when it is, we would not feel a sense of being put on the spot ourselves or that our own experience is being called into question, because we know it to be true.

We simply have no reason to feel that our views or our integrity are being questioned when it comes to universally accepted basic truths, because we know that to question them is itself based either on ignorance, stupidity, or a reason which once investigated would make sense and never be deserving of a disproportional response.

To be in the latter group however, is to be in possession of beliefs based on our own truths, the sum of our own experiences, and could only ever be arrived at by someone who had walked exactly the same path, had the same conversations, seen the same events, been in the same places at the same times, and interpreted the words, teachings and views of others in precisely the same way as we have ourselves.

Oddly, the reality of the latter set of beliefs in others and what the differences present actually mean are increasingly being overlooked, and considered by a growing number to be of the same value as a universally accepted truth.

They see their own views as being above scrutiny, and of such legitimacy that they must not be questioned by others or ‘non-believers’ on any account.

Reading that back, it sounds more likely that I am writing about the Spanish Inquisition or the logic of the Albigensian Crusade, than I am about the behaviour of the Social Justice brigade or a frightened 21st Century Western Establishment bowing to their every demand, because the prospect of doing otherwise makes them too afraid.

But the transfer of unqualified personal, private belief into the realms of legitimised, common accepted truth is now our dangerous reality. One that we must put in check, before the lack of understanding that underpins it begins to dictate everything in the world around us, how we all behave and everything that we do.

This week we have seen a British Magazine Editor step down for making thoughtless comments in an email about Vegans. Yet another incident which overlooks questions about the role of the accused, the accuser and the ‘court of public opinion’ which has subsequently become involved.

You can be sure there has, is and will be a whole lot more incidents of this kind.

Underlying such events is a commonality of errors. A vein of social misdemeanours and blunders which I am afraid to say have, are and will be at some point committed by us all – often without even a hint of deliberate intent. And none of which we would ourselves be likely to find warranting of any form of punishment or unnecessary trial-by-media of it were just a universally accepted basic truth which was involved.

That some can react so very badly to the direct or indirect questioning of their own beliefs is not itself wrong. But such a level of response to that question, whether it was posed in the form of ridicule, analysis or any other form of scrutiny, does itself ask fundamental questions about how strong or indeed comfortable that individual’s own belief in the subject under question might actually be.

Anything perfect, which cannot be disputed, doesn’t need the protection of any form of belief for it to exist or for it to be maintained.

Belief is what you make it.

Cheltenham & Boots Corner: When things don’t add up, questions need to be asked

November 2, 2018 1 comment

BCWith the Boots corner closure remaining firmly in local minds, the Council attempts to write the concern off as nothing more than the views of a ‘vociferous minority’.

Regrettably, this is how Local Government glosses over disquiet in the UK today and hitting the spot when it comes to overturning undemocratic decisions is a very hard thing to do, as the whole culture has evolved to protect itself.

In reality, even elected Councillors that do have their local communities and constituents at the heart of what they do, can find it an almost impossible task to get the right questions answered, as the system is geared to allow the close-down of unwelcome debate.

That said, persistence is the greatest ally in achieving worthy aims in Government, and if you keep asking questions, and then the questions which then follow any answers that you might get, the right result is far from being impossible – even if it doesn’t arrive within a timescale that you might find comfortable or like.

If I were representing people in Cheltenham right now, there are a number of questions that I would immediately ask. I would anticipate having many more, depending upon the answers I received or found. They would be as follows:-

Why has Boots Corner been closed?

Whilst it sounds like the answer should be obvious, it isn’t. BUT it is in the interests of the Council and/or whoever benefits from the closure for members of the Public to think that it is. Be sure not to fall into the trap of reading or listening to opinion, such as the article in last Sunday’s Observer, which framed the whole issue as being about pollution. That is just a useful excuse that takes the debate in a very different direction and is designed to make the real issues subservient to those that are in vogue.

Who or what is the driving force behind the change?

Is it the whole Council? Is it one of the Political Groups? Is it Officers? Were there Consultants involved? If there were Consultants involved, who paid the bill and what was the Brief?

What is their reasoning and motivation for the change?

Why now? What do the changes to Boots Corner really achieve? Is the reasoning given the full story, or is there more that we should know?

Who are the real beneficiaries?

Who stands to benefit from the changes at Boots Corner? What will those benefits be? What evidence was used to suggest that these results would be achieved? What modeling was used? What real-life examples were used and how do they relate to the very idiosyncratic nature of Cheltenham’s Road Plan?

What else is happening which is related?

There’s no such thing as coincidence. What else is happening on the same timeline as the changes to Boots Corner? What bigger Strategy is at work?

How did the Council reach the conclusion that the change was necessary?

What was the process within the Council that led to the decision to make the changes at Boots Corner? What is the chronology and timeline of the events that led to it? Who was involved in the process? What influence did each of the Parties involved have?

What evidence or tests being met will confirm the change as permanent?

The changes have been portrayed as being temporary or as a trial. What evidence will be used to decide if the changes at Boots Corner should become permanent? How have those levels been defined? Who has defined them? Who will write up the final Report, Conclusions and table the Proposal for the Council to decide?

What has been used as the basis of those tests?

Where did the ideas or methods come from which have been used to define these tests?

What has changed?

What has changed since the last time the Council and/or other Local Authorities considered closing Boots Corner and decided not to?

What is the long term Strategy?

 Is the closure of Boots Corner part of a much bigger plan? Does the Council intend to pedestrianise the whole of the High Street and Centre of Cheltenham? Is there something on the horizon that isn’t Publicly known?

What consultation with the Public has taken place?

Did a Public Consultation take place? If so, how was it carried out? What questions were asked? Who took part? How many people took part? What were their responses? What questions were raised? How were those questions answered?

What consultation with local businesses has taken place?

Did a Consultation with businesses take part? If so, how was it carried out? What questions were asked? Who took part? How many businesses took part? What were their responses? What questions were raised? How were these questions answered?

What consultation with Developers and Landlords has taken place?

Were Developers and Landlords consulted? What role did they play? What influence did hey have?

What influence has the arrival of the John Lewis store had on Boots Corner and other changes to the Town Centre Traffic system?

Has the arrival of the John Lewis store and its opening this Autumn had any influence on the Council’s decision making? If so, how?

Who designed the current plan?

Who designed the revised traffic and/or road plan to facilitate the Boots Corner closure? What modeling did they use? Why was that modeling considered appropriate as the basis for the changes?

What work was undertaken on traffic displacement modeling?

What work was undertaken on traffic displacement modeling? (Literally, what were the recognisable alternatives for drivers?) Where are the plans and figures showing where the traffic would go when Boots Corner was closed? How do the Council know what alternatives people who used to drive through Boots Corner to access the North of the Town Centre and beyond would use?

What steps were taken in response to the traffic displacement modeling before Boots Corner was closed on 28th June 2018?

What steps were taken to address the impact of the traffic re-routing which was going to take place after the Boots Corner closure BEFORE it actually took place in late June?

All of this information should be available in the Public Realm, but it is far from an exhaustive list of questions, and I am sure that many more would arise as you go along.

The primary sources of information should be the Minutes of the Meetings of the Full Council and also any of the Council’s Committees which have been working on or ‘overseeing’ the Boots Corner changes.

This is where all of the decision making, the reasoning and the evidence that supported it should be open to Public view.

If not, Freedom of Information Requests (FOI) should enable access to anything else that isn’t disclosed because it has taken place outside of Public Meetings.

Please Remember: The Boots Corner Closure is a matter of everyday Public concern. As such, legitimate questions should always be answered when asked or presented appropriately. If the Council and any party involved has been fair, balanced and done everything properly to ensure that the best interests of local people, businesses and anyone it has a duty of care to are served, they will have nothing to hide and everyone working on their behalf will be as open and helpful as they can be. They certainly wouldn’t need to rely on or have reason to resort to ridicule or any other form of personal attack as part of their response – whatever the medium.

Dear Cheltenham, a Petition to stop the Borough’s ridiculous changes at Boots Corner is a great start. But if you really want to make the Council think again, start HERE

October 13, 2018 Leave a comment

 

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For me, one of the most challenging and frustrating experiences of being a Local Councillor, was talking to people I represented who had genuine grievances and reasons for stopping a poor policy from going ahead, who couldn’t understand why the Council wasn’t listening and basically didn’t care either.

Please believe me when I say that the only way to really have any chance of understanding what is wrong with Government and the Public Sector, is to experience it from within.

Even then, it is essential not be taken in by anyone who tells you that ‘this is just the way that things work’. It isn’t.

But most people who enter as Officers or newly elected Councillors with high ideals and aspirations for doing something good, simply accept everything that they are told and quickly become part of the problem too.

Over the Summer, talking to people whose lives have Cheltenham at their very centre, I again saw one of those massive issues coming into view. A completely unnecessary ‘created’ problem that makes sense to nobody who exists in the ‘real world’ outside of our own version of the Local Government system.

I’ve experienced the Boots Corner travesty first hand. I have had to make the same detours as you probably have done yourself and know that this whole project is benefiting nobody or nothing other than the ego’s of the people who dreamed this foolishness up.

I’ve already given my view on the whole thing here a couple of weeks ago. And whilst it is great to see Cheltenham’s MP Alex Chalk talking openly about how unwanted the Scheme is and a Change.org Petition now in place, we should all be under no illusion about how entrenched the mentality of those responsible for the Boots Corner fiasco is now likely to be.

If you want the Boots Corner plan overturned, the road reopened to all traffic and no more ridiculous schemes like this one to simply arrive without genuine consultation, there is only one thing that you can now really do.

You have to work to change the whole Council and replace them with people who have the same interest in what’s truly beneficial for the people in Cheltenham. That’s getting people elected as Councillors,  who put Cheltenham before themselves and any Political Party they might represent. People who have the same real-world view as you.

If one person is prepared to stand in the next Local Elections within each Cheltenham Borough Council Ward, take Party Politics out of the equation and then start working as a representative for something better for the People and Businesses of Cheltenham, we might all be surprised just how quickly the Campaign to overturn this stupidity will start to gain results.

Don’t be fooled by thinking that the Elections don’t matter in Cheltenham because they are a long way off. It doesn’t matter because it’s the cumulative effect of the work and effort talking to people, knocking on doors and getting real people engaged that will grow the very best fruit.

It is important that you or anyone prepared to do the work necessary to represent a Ward as a Councillor are committed enough to be ‘in it to win it’.

You must also be prepared to do everything that it will take to see this Campaign through until Boots Corner is fully reopened, normal traffic is flowing and the target result is achieved.

Being told that the Borough Council is prepared to change its mind will not be enough. Like politicians generally, Councils have a habit of quietly changing their mind as soon as any noise goes quiet.

To be sure of success, Boots Corner must be fully open before you can think about whether you then want to stop campaigning for what’s best for Cheltenham.

Being a Councillor or even taking on the responsibility of working to get elected as a Local Councillor isn’t for everyone. There’s a lot to think about before anyone can decide.

If you want to run a successful Campaign and then be a good Councillor too, it is essential that you know, understand and are fully committed to what you are getting yourself into.

I’m not making the suggestion lightly. I’ve been an Officer within a Local Authority, a Councillor and Senior Member of another.

I’m putting this on the table for people who live and run Businesses within the Boundary of Cheltenham Borough itself. Local people who are eligible to become a Candidate and are motivated to represent the real views of the people and businesses of this great Town.

What I can do to help you is offer you the benefit of my experience, through advice and suggestions.

I can provide you with direction and a guide to what you need to think about. An outline of the reality of what it takes to get elected and everything that you will find when you are successful – which you can be if you are ready to do all that it will take.

How to get Elected is available to read FREE on a guide-to-area Website, and a page-list-based Blogsite which is also FREE for you to use.

If you want to read How to get Elected on your Kindle, it is available from Amazon too.

 

 

 

 

The Welfare covenant is broken and Universal Credit is not the answer when it already creates victims

October 12, 2018 Leave a comment

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It is regrettably all too easy for some to overlook the realities of life for others when  everything is going well and there is no need to look to anyone else for help.

Sadly, this is not the case for many. At one time or another during our lifetimes, there is every chance that we will need a safety net in place for when plans don’t work out quite as we thought they might, and we find ourselves in need of money, food, clothing, transport, warmth and maybe even a home.

State provision of such a safety net within a civilised society is not only right. It is also necessary when government is convened, managed and operated with the greater good, benefits and consequences for all are firmly in mind.

However, our Welfare and Benefits system has and is being continually abused.

It is being misused by those seeking help. But it is also being mis-purposed by those who have been given the responsibility in Government for providing that help on behalf of us all.

The Welfare covenant between those helping and those seeking help has been broken. And for the benefits system to work beneficially again for all, there must now be a new way of thinking.

No form of Government provision can truly be beneficial to all if victims have been created of any kind.

Universal Credit has therefore proven itself flawed before it has even began operating fully.

With many struggling recipients identified already, we should all be asking questions about the many more who are yet to come and the consequences that will surely follow.

This doesn’t mean that the system we have had until now is good. That it is working. Or that we should just stay tied to the same old thing.

We shouldn’t, because the current DWP Benefits regime really isn’t working for anybody, and we are all in desperate need of a solution which really can be seen and experienced as a ‘win-win’.

Now before we get lost completely with how Politicians are getting Benefits and Welfare wrong, there must also be an acceptance on the part of us all of what it is fair to expect to receive, how we receive it, and under what circumstances that help will actually come from the State if we should ever find ourselves in the position where we genuinely need it.

As we look at what is really wrong with the system as it is, we must also understand and accept that if the Law allows certain types of behaviours to exist, it is inevitable that there will be people who will employ them.

It doesn’t make their behaviour right. Their actions are not inevitable. Everyone has free will and can choose how to behave, even when a rule covering that action or behaviour may appear to be absent.

If the system doesn’t accommodate for the misuse of Beneficiaries and those affected, it is the people who are responsible for its design and implementation who are equally responsible for identifying what is wrong, putting it right and ensuring that either good or bad, nobody who should be receiving help gets missed or is able to slip in between.

Why the benefits system isn’t working, isn’t simply about something structural, the technology used or the people who administer or receive Benefits of any kind.

Like most policy failures today, it is a combination of factors which are not being considered. Many of them overlooked for the cause of political expediency, or because their place and influences sit outside of the specific or central theme – in this case the Benefits regime.

The real cost of a Basic Standard of Living is not understood by Government

The greatest injustice visited upon the unemployed, is the Government and DWP assertion that in 2018, one person can live on a basic income of £73.10 per week.

They can’t.

And when the Government itself has set the Minimum Wage at £7.83 per hour, which at a 40 hour week would be the same as £313.20, who exactly do they think is going to step in and replace what for some will be the destitution-busting £240.10 per week which sits so ominously in between?

Yes, there are many other Benefits other than and beyond the scope of Jobseekers Allowance.

But Universal Credit is being sold as a method of simplification by rolling everything into one, when the true aim of saving money will not stop a similar way of allocating money to the very same things from then existing, just under the umbrella of being just one application.

Government must provide a Basic Standard of Living income to those who qualify and need it.

If it is too expensive to do so, those in Government would do well by beginning to ask themselves the question ‘why?’

Government has surrendered responsibility for setting the prices of goods and services essential to a Basic Standard of Living to the private sector

Sadly, little attention is paid to the elephant in the Benefits room. That being the escalating prices of goods and services which provide for everyone’s basic needs in life.

That’s food, clothing, accommodation, transport and utilities.

Not First Class or on the upper side of ‘Taste the Difference’.

Just the stuff that anyone would need to be kept fed, clothed, warm, able to get themselves to a job and home again, and knowing that at night they will have a roof over their head.

Control of all of these goods and services is now completely under the infuence of commercial interests which have money as their one and only god.

Free Marketeers and Neo-Liberals will tell you that the Markets will look after everything when they are completely free to do as they choose. They don’t, they won’t and they will continue to do everything to make profit from every opportunity, for as long as they are gifted with the freedom to choose by gutless Government. Government filled with Politicians who see ethical intervention in the Markets and Financial Sector as a problem because they believe that they have too much to lose by doing so.

No service which is essential to the public good should be placed in private hands or under the undue influence of any self-serving cause.

No food supply essential to basic, healthy survival should be subject to the whimsy of the Markets where multiple traders, agents and handlers are seeking to add one profit margin on top of another, just on one item supplied within any one producer-to-plate supply chain alone.

If the Government genuinely wants the Benefits system to work, it has to find an effective way of controlling these two essential areas of daily life so that once a system that does work has been identified and implemented, it is then not rendered useless by private interest, based on nothing but profit.

We are culturally conditioned to assume that all Benefits Claimants are in some way bad

Mud sticks, as anyone who spends any time on social media or reading the news will know.

But the phenomenon of people assuming the worst of others based on the first story they are told is nothing new. And when it comes to the unemployed, being work shy is basically the accepted view.

The truth is not as straightforward and anyone at any stage of their career can find themselves out of work and having to ‘sign on’ in order to get help.

The problem with the ‘accepted truth’, is that the system itself, both mechanically and culturally treats everyone who comes through the Jobcentre door as if they don’t want to work, cannot be trusted in any way and that they all fit into the same mould as each other.

This approach overlooks the fact that people find themselves knocking on the door of the Jobcentre and the administrative centres of the DWP for very different reasons.

Some are poorly educated. Others have grown up in conditions that reinforce a world view that this is all they are worth. But there are others too who have landed themselves with significant debt to gain degrees that have proven to be of no use. People suffering illness and mental health problems which restrict the work that they can do. And even highly experienced and very well-educated professionals who cannot provide anything like as simple an explanation for what life has put them through.

Sit in a Jobcentre for long enough and you will hear claimants complain about having to wait for the money they are entitled to. You will see others lose their rag because they have not conformed to the regulations that they are supposed to. You will also witness the presence of so many security guards, it clearly suggests that behaviour of this kind is not only possible, but actually the expected constantly and all of the time.

But not all Benefits Claimants are a burden. Many want to work. But they are branded as ‘no-hopers’, instead of gaining the help and support which reflects them individually.

It is little wonder that those outside of the expereince of having a ‘down period’ in their lives take what they have for granted. Then look on and see all these people as being worthless and occupants of society’s bin.

Taking this approach is little more than deliberately setting up Benefit Claimants to fail.

It is not the action of a Government which respects and fully fulfils its role as the representative body of a civilised society. Nor is it illustrative of a Civil Service which is fully considerate of its role.

We can hardly expect the general population to think differently when the system so demeans.

A significant element of Claimants consider themselves entitled to what they receive

Because the system has been so poorly thought through and has not evolved positively in a way that sees its role strategically and as a way to raise expectation from the ground level upwards, it encourages the belief that it can be used as a substitute for real life. For not taking part. For resenting the success of others and as such seeing Benefits as an entitlement or a worthy redistribution of wealth from others.

The Benefits system only works for those who surrender themselves completely to it, leaving no incentive to escape and provide us all with that so far mythical ‘win-win’

Because the Benefits system has been so poorly thought through and has not evolved positively in a way that sees its role strategically as a way to raise expectation from the ground level upwards, it encourages the belief that it can be used as a substitute for real life. For not taking part. For resenting the success of others and as such seeing Benefits as an entitlement or a worthy redistribution of wealth from others.

The Benefits system only works for those who surrender themselves completely to it. It  leaves no incentive for Beneficiaries to escape and benefit anyone but themselves.

With restrictions placed upon how many hours a Claimant can work without losing Benefits, and the process of reinstatement being long and arduous – even before Universal Credit begins, there is zero in terms of incentive for people to take on more hours and work towards self-sufficiency.

Because the 6 Benefits together are so very complicated for one person to qualify for already, the further any Claimant journeys into this portfolio of direct and indirect income streams the less and less likely they are then to leave.

We can only ask ourselves the question if we were to find ourselves in the very same position. When everything is taken care of already, what serious advantage is there to be gained by going out and working for a wage which might never come to anything near the total that becoming subservient to the system and therefore being a Benefits slave can achieve?

Again, we cannot blame people for responding this way when the system itself not only allows but facilitates behaviour of this kind.

Help should always be given to those that need it.

For those who currently choose to be beholden to the system, there must be a process of incentives which doesn’t leave them without all the basic essentials.

It must also encourage them and accept and appreciate that they have responsibility for themselves as well as the wider community. A community which is ready to help, but is itself entitled to see those who voluntarily choose a life on Benefits as a drain on resources that we desperately need focused to provide other Public Services and that they are as such disadvantaging others on little more than a whim.

As taxpayers, we are effectively subsidising the employers of low paid workers by providing the in work benefits which allow them to survive

I have already mentioned what it costs to live and the need for a basic standard of living above.

Yet the conversation and discussion needs to go even further than the power of commercial interests over the essential goods and services for life.

The debate and the action that follows also needs to recognise the role which our Government is playing in keeping wages low and propagating a system where profit margins for large companies are exploding, whilst the millions of people on low incomes are now being farmed for the debt they have to carry, just to survive.

The money that lower income workers receive is in many cases too much to allow them to be on additional Benefits, yet not enough to allow them to be self sufficient. It keeps them ‘functioning’ at the behest of others, somewhere within the ‘in between’.

If we could freeze the prices of goods and services right now, so that they no longer rise, and we could focus in on what it actually costs a normal person on their own to live, self sufficiently, to feed, clothe and take care of themselves, put something by, have a holiday, a realistic pension and have a life which reason would tell us would make a normal person happy, we can soon begin to see the disparity between where wages sit and where right now, in these ‘static’ circumstances they would need to be.

At £10.20 per hour in London and £8.75 per hour outside, without the help of Government with Housing Benefit and Tax Credits too, even the Living Wage Foundations advisory level for a basic income doesn’t come close to what self sufficiency – that’s what complete independence from Government support –  would actually require.

Such a reality where Government support for the growth of small business is concerned alone would probably make the whole thing more palatable.

But the real beneficiaries of this State-sponsored in-work poverty are the big Companies making significant levels of profit that would in reality only dip slightly if they were to pay wages to front-line staff which would allow those employees to function within the overpriced society which their Employers have helped to create.

That this situation has been allowed to exist is beyond questionable.

That successive Governments of all kinds have allowed a situation to exist where the Taxpayer is paying over the odds for products in services in their face value alone is simply wrong.

That customers are then paying again to subsidise the wages of the staff serving them would be funny, if its implications and the reality which surrounds it not so very serious indeed.

This whole process has only been possible because Government has either borrowed incredible amounts of money, or has cut other and arguably more essential Public Services in order to allow them to provide this massive giveaway. A free-for-all that has broken the Country financially and is one of the key reasons why unfettered immigration of low skilled workers from Europe has been possible. Itself an issue which is seen by many Remainers as key to the majority vote for the UK to leave the European Union and the one which they are still obsessively attempting to resolve.

There would be some sweet irony in this if this financial mismanagement had really been helping people and UK communities, rather than being overtly beneficial to commercial interests, private profit and yes, the EU all along.

But there hasn’t, and in terms of management of expectation, this and previous Governments would appear to have hamstrung any future Government which wants to take a stand and do the right thing.

Be that as it may. Doing the right thing, is the only way that all of this is going to end up working right for everyone involved.

The solution

Like almost everything that Government and Politics touches, the key to delivering change in the Benefits and Welfare system is thinking differently.

And it’s the thinking and ideas at the top of British Politics which needs to change first before it can change anywhere else.

The responsibility of Government

Before the Benefits problem can be fixed, the understanding of what the problem actually is, must be broadened to include the wide range of factors which feed and influence the issues which those claiming Benefits experience.

Right now, there is an obsession on the part of decision makers. One which leads them only to attempt to address the effects of any problem, rather than to tackle each and every one of the causes.

Until all of the causes of problems are addressed, the Benefits system will only ever work temporarily at best, until those factors which are outside of the scope of that consideration inevitably change and then exert their negative influence once again.

A Basic Standard of Living level or the real Living Wage will only be achieved and maintained when all contributing factors fall within the reasoned influence of non-idealistic Government that considers the consequences of policy making upon ALL.

Politicians simply do not understand the power they have to change things. They do not see the scope of their roles and they have no appreciation of the influence that they could really have if they were to put the interests of ALL the people who have elected them first, rather than themselves, their Political Parties and whatever ideas or interests sit around that self-serving mix.

It will not matter how simple or complicated existing of new systems like Universal Credit might be. If they fail to consider and be considered as part of the bigger picture, they will always fail – and our Politicians have both the ability and responsibility to ensure that this is no longer the case.

It is their choice to now decide and it is their choice which must come first.

The responsibility – and acceptance of Claimants and Beneficiaries

For any solution to gain traction, it is also vital that ‘being down in your luck’ is accepted as a normal part of life, rather than being a condition which renders any of us as being sub-standard to it – the position under which Benefit Claimants are often perceived.

Those claiming Benefits fall into two predominant groups. Those who are or should be  temporary claimants and are able and willing to work. And those who are longer-term or permanent claimants who are unable or unlikely to be able to consider working again because of disability, illness, or other genuine debilitating circumstances.

All of us as beneficiaries must accept that there is and never has been a magic money tree of any kind. That the support that is given can only be provided through the act of others contributing through taxation on earnings, whether they themselves earn little or some extraordinary figure that might blow our minds.

Whilst it may currently behave as if it is, and some Politicians continue to seek election on the basis of perpetuating this myth, Government and the Public Sector is not a separate and ‘benevolent’ entity which doles out cash to Welfare recipients on the basis of being kind.

Government exists to represent the best interests of ALL British people. Government is there to help us all to succeed in whatever way that might be possible for us as individuals. And on  behalf of us all, it is there to help and provide support to those of us who cannot do so, in such ways that we may never feel like an after thought or something that others have in some way been left behind.

Government is the formal community power which represents and is therefore ‘for all of us’.

Those of us receiving help should therefore be mindful that the help we receive comes from the people next door, up the street and across our Cities and Towns.

As recipients, we are not ‘entitled’ to anything. It is simply that looking after those in genuine need is the basis upon which our civilised society can be found.

 

 

 

 

 

Improving Social Mobility is about addressing the way decision makers think, not about academic education alone

October 8, 2018 1 comment

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The three key misunderstandings and fallacious barriers to Social Mobility are:

  • That Social Mobility issues only affect young people who are in career development years
  • That the only way to improve Social Mobilty is through ensuring that everyone achieves a ‘full’ academic education and that the attainment of degrees is key
  • That Social Mobility issues relate to the achievement, progress or outlook of the individual and nobody else

With one evolution of the Social Mobility Commission having resigned because of lack of Government support and another now appointed in the image of all the same Establishment ideas, the key issues underpinning lack of progress in tackling the barriers to Social Mobility are still being overlooked and this travesty is set to continue further still.

As is often the case when a cause is given a label, the Social Mobility problem is an issue which has become closely aligned with just one interpretation of its cause. This closes down debate and dialogue about the much wider range of issues which attribute to reducing opportunities. It also excludes consideration of a wider malaise and certainly overlooks the real impact on not only the individuals affected themselves, but also upon the wider community as a whole.

Yes, many young people are overlooked because of the start they had in life. The place in which they lived. The schools which they did and did not attend. The qualifications which they did or didn’t gain.

But the reality is that it is a very long list of factors which prevent any one person from progressing.

The interpretation of someones validity on the road to progress and passing these barriers is not simply restricted to that of employers, educators or any of the external gatekeepers of opportunity.

No. The perception of not being good enough to overcome any barrier to Social Mobility can be that of the individual all on their own.

The obstruction to unhindered Social Mobility, is the many prejudices which are not and cannot be managed by regulation or by the methods of review and reform which have become the cultural norm in this Country.

In a society which has learned to make effect synonymous with cause, we overlook the real causes of societal problems and as such have no way to address the consequential effects.

The social justice warriors, the politically correct, the rights lobby and liberal left all congratulate themselves on the strangle hold of regulation which decades of manipulation and social engineering have helped them impose.

Yet the rules which govern Equality of Opportunity in their purest sense have actually made prejudices easier to employ.

Only now, beyond the scope of the processes which assure us that prejudices have been all but removed, they are less likely to be evidenced and hide in plain sight.

Yes, we have regulation against gender and sex discrimination. Race discrimination. Disabilities discrimination, Religion, Age and sexual orientation too.

But in creating these frameworks or safety notes, the idealistic engineers of this ill-considered social plan have provided the perfect opportunity for people to surrender ethical responsibility to being seen to adhere to the set of rules which now exist. They have been given a set of pillars that once worshipped, allow them to do whatever they want to by behaving in ways which legitimately go around these rules or sit somewhere in the spaces in between.

We now not only have a situation where decision makers can quietly be racist, sexist, or are allowed to quietly indulge any other prejudice we might not collectively like. They can continue to do so unimpeded.

The consequences of this ‘big vision’ engineering project create many other problems too. Problems which include disadvantaging the already disadvantaged and building barriers to progress which the very same people will now never cross.

And guess what. Yes. We find again that achievements exist only for the same few to easily win all over again.

Take for example the assault on the education system that the Blair Government undertook, with the overt aim of giving everyone the opportunity to gain a degree.

The result has been the commercialisation of the further and higher education system, leading to the prioritisation of winning fees, rather than focusing on the quality and commercial durability of the education provided. Running education as a business has almost certainly put its future in serious doubt.

It is a process which has already led hundreds and thousands of hopeful young people to begin professional life in serious debt and with academic qualifications which are to many businesses completely worthless.

Yet the debt-laiden graduates only find out too late that these quack qualifications don’t mean much at all to the world around them once they have left the supposed safety of the academic universe behind.

The world of big business and its new world of ‘created roles and specialisms’ has responded to the glorifying of academic qualification over the benefit of time-served experience by recognising degrees as a standard for anybody worth looking at. Not as a way to recognise specialism in itself. But as a like-for-like replacement in recent years for what would previously have been well illustrated by the attainment of 3 A’Levels, and only a few years before that just 5 GCSE’s.

Not everyone is cut out to be a CEO, Director or even a manager and non-academic people bring value to business which only when added to the contribution of real academics can it add up to a formula which is so much more.

Yet the dangerous mix created by this non-stop meddling has fuelled the entitlement culture. Qualification has become more valuable than experience and experience is not of value to those who have qualifications.

Letters on a CV are seen as more important than attitude, motivation, or the many other life skills which business used to intrinsically value, which they now overlook. The system now unwittingly leads them to place applications from people who would should be the next generation of commercial superstars straight in the bin.

It doesn’t stop there, and within a tick box, risk-averse culture where Recruiters and HR Officers – that’s people who have and never will do these jobs themselves – have overwhelming power over recruitment processes, there is an untamed focus on identifying reasons to not even shortlist candidates – usually because they don’t have a degree.

Good people are now denied jobs where they can thrive and the employers and companies themselves never gain access to the wider pool of candidates where the real benefits of selecting people with the right experience rather than just a paper qualification lies.

The consequences of this social meddling are already far reaching indeed and because the UK could never afford to provide education to 21 years as a standard – which in itself was never needed, it was inevitable that a new form of educational discrimination would introduce itself. And it’s the worst one of all. The preclusion from opportunity for even more young people based simply on cost.

Just in this one example of social meddling focusing on education alone, where impractical idealists have tried to impose a system of restrictions based upon no experience that they have or have in no way never known, we can see how far reaching the impact on consequences of quixotic thinking can be.

This is a pattern which is unfolding itself over and over again within all the areas of our lives where lack of consideration has been applied to the consequences of imposing the ‘consideration’ of rights and ‘positive’ discrimination on a society which will always have its own mind and not the one which political busy-bodies which to create for it.

The barriers to Social Mobility are all about the way that we think.

But the change needed and the tools which will enable us to break down those barriers and make that change will only come when decision makers with the power and therefore the ability to oversee that change go through a voluntary process of accepting that they themselves need to think differently.

That change will come about as a direct result.

That change cannot and never will be imposed.

 

The Principle of Charity is all but forgotten when we hear others, yet we would all prefer to be given the benefit of the doubt ourselves

October 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Context is always at risk of misinterpretation, unless you are one person who knows exactly what you mean.

What we say, what we write or what we do in our interactions with others can always be viewed in at least three ways.

Until very recently, it was usually the third party to any experience or event which would be the best bet on introducing forgiveness and understanding when something was misunderstood or taken badly by either key party, whatever the circumstances happened to be in between.

Not only seeing, but respecting the reality of a bigger picture is something that in conversation, experiences and life in general, older generations once took for granted.

Young people, or ‘millennials’, as our unforgiving media as now branded them, are unlikely to recall the time when there was an alternative, yet unspoken rule. An acceptance that hanging reality upon just a word or a sentence wasn’t an appropriate call.

Communication was a sum game. Understanding something was all about the way that the words are said. Where and when they had been used. The backdrop which stood behind them and a whole picture made up of many different things, which together added up to something different.

The truth is often much greater than the sum of all parts and usually much much more.

Today we experience and endure something completely different. A selective form of deliberate, yet increasingly conditioned non-understanding. A way to make anyone or anything we disagree with well and truly wrong, in an attempt to unwittingly mislead others and influence the way that other people will think.

Culturally we are now attuned to look for anything that’s wrong with any point of a message, no matter how isolated it might be. We do so, rather than hearing and making a conclusion upon the content of all of that message, where determining our interpretation of the outlook or principle, and whether the direction of travel might provide a meaningful level of insight.

This is not even the preserve of the amateur, uneducated or unskilled.

Even writers, journalists and opinionators, the professional wordsmiths are now closed in their reasoning when it comes to studying the words, social media interactions, and interviews of the people that the truly objective would know better than to despise.

They do so not for the measure of the content, but for the mix of words which can be used to wrong the speaker, who will often have blundered into this trap unwittingly, no knowing they have fallen into an elephant trap built with malevolence which will soon revisit them in the form of a very dark surprise.

This habit has already destroyed careers. It has been used to change discourse. To eliminate realities which would benefit us all. It has become little more than a lesson in how to become professionally mean.

The opposite of this behaviour was once known freely as the Principle of Charity. And we would all do well to refresh ourselves with what the Principle of Charity actually means.

For when the time comes that we find ourselves on the receiving end of this cultural malaise which builds its own truth in a place where the genuine story has never been, we may wish that we ourselves could be in receipt of the benefit of the doubt from others. To be understood for what we have offered the world as a whole and honest picture. Rather being the target of someone’s else’s reason for being and becoming the focus which they need to apportion their own blame.

Change has the appearance of being hard, where once the first step is taken it becomes easy. Instead of looking for change to come from others, we have to accept that genuine change comes from within.

We can begin by treating each other, as we would wish to be treated ourselves.

It may require a little more thinking, but it soon feels good and we quickly remember that the opportunities are available in every situation where everyone can walk away, having bagged a genuine win.

Cheltenham BC and Boots Corner: Like local government across the UK, officers and councillors aren’t listening to the real boss, and change is well overdue

September 29, 2018 2 comments

Boots Corner

I’ve been out of local government for nearly three and a half years. But I have continued to watch the continuing chain of messes being created within our Gloucestershire Boroughs and Districts. Usually because someone or a very few people with power and with influence have personal ownership of and therefore investment in some ‘great’ idea. Ideas which are nearly always in some way about them, their career, their legacy or future. Wholly impractical ideas which are then misrepresented as being beneficial to the people they are actually responsible to. The people that they all represent.

There is some rich irony in the fact that lessons are never learned by these same people who have responsibilities not only to themselves, their jobs or their Political Parties.

Lessons are there to be taught through everything these public organisations do. They may appear to arrive in different form, but the same mistakes are being made time after time, over and over again.

Planning, for all the questions which surround it’s often arbitrary processes, has regrettably become the most day-to-day example of all that’s wrong in local government.

The Local Planning Process continually demonstrates all that is wrong with the wider system itself. But the problem is only in small part due to laws and regulations, and actually more about the people who manage and implement government processes, their ideas, motives and yes, the ties that bind them to their ‘interpretations’ within the protectionist culture and environment in which they work.

Watching the Boots Corner fiasco unfold over recent months has been like reading a text-book example of what happens when Planners and their Political Masters get things wrong. What people experience when Councils come up with a ‘great idea’ to improve things, but overlook the most important consideration in the room: What the impact and consequences will be for the people and businesses whose interests they are actually paid and elected to look after.

It doesn’t take many conversations with local business people, residents, employees and regular visitors from local feeder Towns to know that these changes at Boots Corner are idealistic at best, but practically awful.

The changes are having an impact not only on the Centre of Cheltenham itself, but are loading traffic onto the already congested main roads around the Town at rush hour, and now jamming back streets and almost certainly creating rat-runs unseen at every opportunity in between.

The change at Boots Corner is unnecessary. It’s not improving the Town Centre and nobody apart from the Planners and whoever on the Council they have convinced of the validity of this Scheme really has any idea what the real benefit of these changes are to anyone using Cheltenham Town Centre.

And that’s right now. Just wait until the long-awaited John Lewis Store opens its doors and visitor numbers really do burst through the lid.

Now don’t let anyone tell you that the Council is not aware of how people feel. If you follow local news, you cannot miss the disquiet that the changes in late June have raised. This is not Nimby-ism. It’s real people voicing genuine concern over the impact of poor decision making which is now having meaningful impact on their everyday lives.

The travesty is that instead of listening, and for fear of admitting being ‘wrong’, the Council is doubling down and now adding oversized flowerpots, cycle racks, benches, a lot of unhelpful white lines and yes, some artificial grass sat on the lump in between.

And there’s unlikely to be any mistake about the drawn-out nature of the timing of additions either.

Why? Well it’s all to give a repetitive sense to us all that this change is permanent. That when they tell us all that the trial was a success, that with hindsight it will feel like its permanence was always inevitable. That there was no option or reason to change their minds at any point in between.

But this simply isn’t true. And any tales you are told about decisions taking a long time to reverse in Council, or that a trial period must be seen through to its end to be valid are disingenuous at best.

There is no inevitability of confirmation for these changes at Boots Corner or indeed permanence of this change. It simply hinges on what the Officers and therefore the Councillors ultimately decide and however they choose to harvest and then interpret their ‘data’.

The fact is the Council could reinstate the pre-June road system within a few days if they really had doing what’s right for Cheltenham, in mind.

However, it is only fair that no Officer or Councillor be singled out and in some way blamed for what is happening in the Centre of Cheltenham right now.

The whole Government system is rotten with a protectionist and self-serving culture, only made worse by the quasi-bankrupt state of the Government and Public Sector, with austerity being a big part of the problem, but a significant way from being the cause.

But this in itself doesn’t mean that Cheltenham and indeed any of our Local Authorities cannot choose to be different.

The Council has the choice to be big about it. To listen. To gain respect from local people and businesses for trying something new but recognising it doesn’t work, for listening AND HEARING what is being said and quickly responding. To be adaptable to changing things that aren’t right and not get hung up at a personal level about what appearing to take a step back might look like.

Decisions are being made big and small within local authorities up and down the Country which have very little to do with with the people. And in case anyone isn’t sure, that’s the boss that Officers and Politicians ALL ultimately work for.

Locally the latest one is Boots Corner. In terms of direction, this one is definitely going the wrong way, and poor decisions which are having a real impact on daily life in Cheltenham are not the kind of change in local government that we all so badly need.

How about surprising us all and doing what’s actually right, rather telling us that’s what you are doing?

 

You can read some more of Adam’s writing about the realities of Local Government and the wider Public Sector here and here.

 

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