Archive for February, 2014

Cameron Plumbs New Depths


The disgusting unfairness of the coalition’s welfare reform is now axiomatic. Every time I decide to stop getting angry about it, the bastards propose something even more noisome. Their latest idea is for the DWP to charge a fee if any claimant has the temerity to challenge any decision they disagree with.

Recent figures (according to this week’s Guardian) show 58% of appeals by claimants are successful. Aside from the rank unfairness – how is someone supposed to afford a fee when they’ve had their benefit stopped? – it will also serve to hide widespread incompetance by DWP officers. The department is clearly employing far too many people who don’t know what they’re doing. The tragedy is that these morons have the power to make people destitute. The fee will obviously be a deterrant to appealing, so the inevitable consequance is even more people being unjustly kicked off benefits. Yet another attack on the poor. Makes you proud to be British doesn’t it?

I’d like to think that Labour will oppose this, and should it become law, repeal it should they win in 2015. I won’t hold my breath however.


Diary of a Benefit Striver #3: Punctuality


I’ve always prided myself on my punctuality. I hate being late. Years of relying on public transport have made me something of a stickler for being on time, plus I think it’s only polite. Of course, things beyond my control can always intervene, but that’s life.

When I started signing on again, they made great play that I must be on time. I always am, I thought, with some irritation, I’m not a fool. It’s a shame that injunction doesn’t apply to them. They have never been on time, not once. Hanley Job Centre excelled themselves in incompetence today. I turned up promptly to sign, and had the usual ritual wait at the Welcome Desk. I then had to stand for almost half-an-hour (with at least twenty others) before they got round to calling me. No apology of course, I know better than to expect one.

This simply isn’t good enough. I don’t care if they think we unemployed have nothing better to do with our time, this is incompetence plain and simple. And it’s rude. Just because I’m claiming a benefit doesn’t mean I should be treated without courtesy, dignity or respect. I will be transferring the claim back to Longton Job Centre as soon as I can.

My arrival time: 10.03
Appointment Time: 10.10
Time seen: 10.35
Mins Late: 25

God Save Us From Compassionate Conservatives


I was interested to read recently that Iain Duncan Smith professes himself to be a Christian. Well, based on my understanding of the faith, I don’t see much evidence of it. Perhaps it’s the same sort of Christianity as espoused by Thatcher: the Good Samaritan was only remembered because he was rich.

I imagine he also regards himself as a compassionate Conservative. I’ve always regarded this as a complete oxymoron. Is it compassionate to allow the ultra rich to get even richer, while the incomes of most people stagnate or even contract? Is it compassionate to allow the emergence – for the first time in decades – of a generation that is poorer than its parents? Is it compassionate to demonise large sections of society – the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, immigrants and to promote policies that further impoverish them? Is it compassionate to treat anyone unfortunate enough to have to claim benefits as a work-shy scrounger? Is it compassionate to blame the less well off for their own poverty? The list is endless.

I don’t know which brand of Christianity Mr Duncan Smith follows, but it certainly isn’t one I want anything to do with. That he can so describe himself, without apparent irony, shows just how wide is the disconnect between politicians and the lives most of us lead. They seem to have little or no experience or understanding of “the real world”, the one most of us have to live in. This lack of experience alone should be enough to disqualify them from ever standing for office, let alone wielding power. And as for “compassionate Conservatives”, it would be funny were it not so tragic. How dare these people presume to think they can represent us?

But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 1 John 3:17

Diary of a Benefit Striver #2: Advisor Interview


Two weeks into the claim and I had an interview with the advisor. Hanley Job Centre ran true to form: no-one at the Welcome Desk as usual, then I was directed to the standing area (can’t really call it a seating area when there’s only four seats and at least ten waiting) with others waiting to sign. This turned out to be wrong as I should have been directed to another part of the office. The result was I almost didn’t hear my name being called, which could have had unfortunate consequences. The advisor did at least apologise for the misunderstanding.

The interview followed a similar pattern to those I had last year. All very polite, and with some tips on using the Universal Job Match system, but basically useless. Which just goes to prove that it’s not about “helping you find work”, as help is either not forthcoming, not available or they don’t know how to provide it. The so-called “Job Seeker’s Agreement” is a good example. This is little better than box-ticking: as long as you apply for enough jobs, less questions are asked. Even if you apply for some you have no hope of getting just to make up the numbers. Changes proposed for April 2014 will only make this worse. Incidentally, I don’t yet have a Job-Seeker’s Agreement: each time I’ve visited Hanley, their printers have been offline!

My arrival time: 10.03
Appointment Time: 10.10
Time seen: 10.20
Mins Late: 10

Cornwall Cut Off


The scenic section of railway along the sea wall in Dawlish is justifiably famous. Scenic though it is, it’s also vulnerable to stormy seas. Just how vulnerable was shown this week. During another period of violent weather, the sea wall collapsed, leaving the rails hanging in mid-air. Network Rail estimate that repairs could take several months.

This is not the only section of railway to suffer flood damage this year. However, it is the only railway to run into the south west, so its closure cuts off Cornwall and large parts of Devon from the rest of the rail network. Good rail links are vital to an area’s economy, so the implications of a prolonged closure are serious. 

There used to be two other railways that provided access to the area, but they both closed many years ago. The first of these shut in 1958 and ran between Exeter and Newton Abbot via Chudleigh. It was a single track branch line, with steep gradients and two tunnels. A short section survives for freight trains, between Newton Abbot and Heathfield, but north of there, large parts of the alignment have been lost to new road schemes. I understand parts of it are also prone to flooding as the line followed the river Teign for some of its length.

The other route was longer and ran between Exeter and Plymouth via Okehampton. It passed through some sparsely populated country and also had severe gradients, but was laid out as a main line. This was closed as a though route in 1968, but apart from twenty miles between Meldon and Bere Alston, it still exists. The missing miles are largely intact.

I also understand that the Great Western Railway planned to build a “cut-off” line avoiding Dawlish in the 1930s, and even bought land for the purpose. Unfortunately, thanks to the outbreak of WW2, it never got built.

As I wrote in my essay on the Beeching Report last year, one of the report’s aims was to eliminate what it saw as duplicate routes. The Okehampton line duplicated the current line between Exeter and Plymouth so it had to go. It takes very little hindsight indeed to see this as a very short-sighted move. The vulnerability of the Dawlish line was obvious even then: indeed, the Okehampton line was used to divert mainline trains shortly after it was closed when the line through Dawlish was blocked. 

With the current closure at Dawlish likely to be lengthy, I think it’s time that serious consideration is given to reopening one of the closed lines as a diversionary route. It won’t be cheap, but it’s strategically vital. Set this against the cost of probable future repairs at Dawlish, and the possibility that this line may even have to be abandoned at some point. All the indications seem to suggest that violent, unpredictable weather is likely to be more common in future. There is also the risk of rising sea levels caused by global warming. But we shouldn’t wait until then. An alternative route needs to be planned and built as soon as possible. If we don’t do this, large parts of south west England face being permanently isolated from the rest of the rail network. This will force even more traffic onto the area’s roads with serious consequences for the area’s economy and environment.

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