Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My (revised and re-sent) 'In Work, Better Off?' consultation response

Last-minute Lil strikes again:

Question 1
At the moment, lone parents can get Income
Support until their youngest child is 16.
Is that right or should it stop at a younger age?

My reply to question 1:
It's wrong that it should stop as early as the youngest child's 16th birthday. Young people need their parents to be a constant presence, and accessible to them at any time. This is necessary for them to feel intrinsically secure and happy and therefore healthy, so the benefit should continue at least until the child leaves full-time education. Income support is such a relatively low weekly payment and the children of lone parents, often having only one available parent and often having experienced family disruption, need that remaining parent even more than the children of double parents. Parental care is vital and cannot be adequately replaced by paid staff. Also, lone parents have enough to worry about in fulfilling the duties of two parents, without being thrust into the world of work with all its bureaucracy, uncertainties and complications.

Also, my dictionary's first definition of the word 'work' is as follows: "The application of mental or physical effort to a purpose; the use of energy." Every lone parent I know certainly does this on far more than a full-time basis already. Expecting us to find the extra time to go out to paid employment, when many of us rightly take our parenting duties so seriously is beyond unreasonable. And trying to pretend that what we already do for free doesn't count as 'work' because it's not paid employment is demeaning and insulting.

Question 2
What age should the youngest child be when lone
parents stop getting Income Support?

My reply to question 2:
It should continue for at least as long as the youngest child remains in full-time education.

Question 3
Should we do more to make our support for lone
parents accessible and useful for all groups, such
as parents of disabled children?

My reply to question 3:
Yes, it would be good to offer Income Support to them for as long as they need it too. The value of parenting to a child's sense of security cannot be over-valued, and certainly can't be over-paid. I'd like to see double parented families being given more financial assistance also, so that one parent can afford to stay at home if they wish.

Question 4
At the moment, lone parents are offered more
interviews to help them find work in the 2 years
before they stop getting Income Support.
If Income Support is going to stop earlier, should
we offer other sorts of support? How long should
we offer this for?

My reply to question 4:
You should urgently re-educate your advisors. The last one I saw could not care less about me or anything I wanted to discuss and gave me no useful information. In fact, she denied the existence of this consultation. Why haven't you consulted widely enough, by handing out leaflets about this through your Lone Parent Advisors to give to clients at the compulsory Work-Focused interviews? Most lone parents probably have not been told about this consultation so have had no opportunity to respond. The Lone Parent Advisors could have been asking these questions in the interview and recording the replies for the purposes of this consultation.

Question 5
What sort of extra support should we give lone
parents who move from Income Support to
Jobseeker’s Allowance?
How long should we give them this support?

My reply to question 5:
Income Support is a breadline benefit and no lone parent should ever be trapped in a job they can't give up without losing their house etc. You should therefore keep that funding in place for working lone parents to fall back on permanently and without exception or condition, should the job not work out well for any reason. Every lone parent should at least have the option of putting parenting first and working second, or the current problems we're seeing with depressed and disadvantaged children (highlighted in the recent UNICEF report amongst other places), disaffected youths and mental illness in adults will only exacerbate. People need real homes and families, which contain other people who are actually there.

Question 6
Some people on Jobseeker’s Allowance can say
how many hours per week of work they are looking
for (as long as it is over 16 hours).
Should we allow people to limit their job search in
other ways if we make these changes?

My reply to question 6:
Of course. By all means help them look for work in the time they have available, but do not make assumptions about the time they have available. Home educators like myself, for example, have been told (by the previously mentioned Advisor) that the children will have to attend school instead of being home educated from age 7. This is preposterous and most single parent home educators I know will go without money rather than put their children in school. By home educating on Income Support, I estimate my family's savings to the public purse to be in the region of £14,000 for the year 2008, based on projected costs per school pupil. So if home educating lone parents are bullied into registering their children in schools this will increase costs exponentially to an extent which defies logical explanation. It will actually look like blatant prejudice against home educating single parents, all of whom do an excellent job in often quite difficult circumstances. My oldest son (18) is planning to attend university next year. If he had stayed in school with his deliberately undiagnosed dyslexia, I feel sure he would have been attending one of Her Majesty's prisons instead.

Question 7
How can we show parents that they will be better
off working?

My reply to question 7:
You can't, because they won't! Most will be worse off in every sense, including financially.

Question 8
Should there be any extra support for lone parents
who move onto other types of benefits like
Employment and Support Allowance?

My reply to question 8:
Income Support is a breadline benefit and no lone parent should ever be trapped in a job they can't give up without losing their house etc. You should therefore keep that funding in place for working lone parents to fall back on permanently and without exception or condition, should the job not work out well for any reason. Income Support should be always available for any lone parent who needs it to keep their home and pay their basic bills. Also, I think you should also not attempt to confuse or mitigate these issues by using words like 'support' (which is optional) instead of using words like 'force', 'compel' and 'coerce', which are all far more accurate descriptions of your proposals.

Question 9
We have made childcare better and given people
the right to ask to do their work hours in a way that
fits their life.
What extra support should we give lone parents to
help them into work and support them in their

My reply to question 9:
Why pay strangers to do the work of parents? It's madness. The care provided can never be as good as parental care, simply because the paid staff have no parental love for these poor children. Money is no substitute for love. This fact is plainly obvious but appears to be being recklessly ignored, with dire consequences for our nation. Curricula, inspection mechanisms, criteria and tick box-oriented methods of childcare are no substitute for love either. The benefits of adequate, full-time parental care cannot be over-estimated.

Question 10
What more could we do to help poor working
families to earn more?

My reply to question 10:
Increase the national minimum wage to a decent amount and free up the planning restriction laws so that people can afford housing. Spend money on solar panels and wind turbines for anyone who wants them so that we're not all dependent on the extortionate utility companies and stop charging council tax, full stop! It adds insult to injury to bill people for council tax that they can't afford when everyone can see the councils just wasting the money on nonsense which doesn't need funding. Let's all spend less, then nobody has to worry about earning so much.

Question 11
What more could we do to help ethnic minority
women, including Pakistani and Bangladeshi
women to get work?

My reply to question 11:
Do they want work? Do they need work? Who is going to look after their children? Paid strangers again, I suppose. See my answer to question 9. Why would this be any different for Pakistani or Bangladeshi families? It seems odd that you single them out with a special question.

Question 12
Are we right to ask people who have been on
benefits the longest to do more to find work in
return for extra support?

My reply to question 12:

Question 13
Are there any groups or situations where we
should not ask people to do more or where we
should not offer more support?

My reply to question 13:
You seem to have a strange understanding of the term 'offering support'. If it involves any kind of compulsion, it can't really be called 'offering support' can it? You should call it coercion instead of support, because that's what it is. And yes, you should not ask any parents to do more in terms of earning money. Instead, you should appreciate the parenting work they do and stop pretending it doesn't exist or doesn't count for anything.

Question 14
Is it right for us to offer support in different stages
and in a set order?

My reply to question 14:
See my answer above, re: your use of the term 'offering support'. And no, you should *offer* the same *support* to everyone - meaning, just run a job centre in which you advertise jobs for people to apply for if they wish.

Question 15
Should some people be helped or made to move
to the Gateway stage more quickly than others?
Should we look at people’s needs and the work
they have done in the past? Which groups of
people should be helped quickly?

My reply to question 15:
You seem to have a strange understanding of the term 'be helped'. If it involves any kind of compulsion, it can't really be called 'being helped' can it? You should call it coercion instead of help, because that's what it is. Are you trying to change the meaning of these words? And no, you should *help* everyone equally - meaning, run a job centre in which you advertise jobs for people to apply for if they wish. Singling out this group or that group is likely to create resentment between the various groups and this will look quite deliberate on your part. You are already being widely accused of adopting 'divide and conquer' strategies and such an approach can only add strength to such accusations.

Question 16
Should we make people do some work experience
if they have not got a job after extra help from
another service?
How can we make sure that the work experience
will be useful?

My reply to question 16:
Of course not. That would be state-sponsored slavery. And work experience is only useful if people actually, honestly, really do voluntarily WANT to do it. We do not need an authoritarian, slave-driving, family-busting government. In order to have a healthy society we need a benevolent government, please. Ideally one that works for the majority of its citizens and not the various global business conglomerates by which this one currently seems to be employed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Plans and preparations, both sensible and silly

I'm writing a book at the moment, so consequently my blogging output has suffered. After spending two hours a day at the keyboard typing in the early mornings while the children sleep, I'm pretty much all typed out for the rest of the day! And today I'm going to put time aside to respond to some government consultations, although the sun is shining and enticing me outside.

Luckily one of my madder thoughts about funding lone parents (sharing resource revenue) was gently but sensibly laid to rest by someone last night, when they asked me which of our country's remaining natural resources I was proposing to share? Hmmm... good point. Back to the drawing board, then. I guess I won't bother including that idea in my consultation response...

Today's other, more realistic plan is to install our first rainwater harvesting system. That possibly sounds quite grand (or at least a bit technical), but between you and me it's a piece of troughing, a downpipe and a water butt all connected to our newly-fixed garage roof. Someone else was telling me today that it's possible to install a mini water turbine in the downpipe from which to charge a battery also though, which really would be impressive, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Educationally (as if a rainwater harvesting system wasn't that!) we've been trundling autonomously along. Lyddie's doing lots of reading, writing and number stuff as well as the usual prolific quantities of artwork. For someone who freely confesses to not 'getting' the concept of art for art's sake, I seem to somehow manage to produce amazingly arty children! This is not deliberate, I assure you.

The teens have been busy rearranging their banking facilities and college courses and building hobbit holes, respectively. Everyone's also done a lot on the garage, about which I probably will blog pictures elsewhere at some point. Essentially, we had to make it wind and rain-proof before winter and I think we've finally achieved that - or we hopefully will have by the end of today.

I've also got a PC to set up in the dining room. I went down to Tom's basement earlier to collect all the parts I needed for it and thoroughly enjoyed being able to find everything after our recent clear-out down there. It's like an equipment library now, or the equivalent of a sweet shop for computer parts! I strolled around filling a laundry basket from the various organised boxes saying, "I'll have one of those, and one of those..." I'm not sure if Tom appreciates it quite so much, but at least the system works.

Also, we have Hallowe'en preparations underway. Zara's attending a party involving the ubiquitous dressing-up and Lyddie has been scaring herself by seeing ghosts in the stairs. There have been lots of deep discussions about the reasons and history of the feast.

Oh, and we've got the car to fix today as well! I'm hoping the problem is only a disintegrating rubber washer on the oil filler cap, rather than something more serious - and expensive. I'll change it for a new one and we'll see.

And the baby is very close to taking her first steps. Is there a government-prescribed curriculum box I'm supposed to tick for that? *Rolls eyes..* It's autonomous walking: I don't care what they say.

Onwards and onwards... ;-)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Do you believe in government consultations?

Unlike fairies at the bottom of the garden, we can be quite sure they do exist, but are the responses acted upon, or ignored?

According to this story, 70% of parents responding did not want the law to be changed in relation to smacking and because of this response the law will not be changed.

I wonder if the 900+ responses to the recent consultation about home education will be given the same weight. I do hope so. If our views really are taken properly into account on that issue I will then be more inclined to feel safely confident about the process of government consultations and will also go to the bottom of our garden to peer closely for signs of those fairies.

Meanwhile, while we wait for a delayed period of time for those responses to be processed, there's at least one other underway to which I will submit a response.

This is the question of whether lone parents should continue to be eligible for Income Support payments [opens pdf]. For more details on how to easily respond to this consultation please see this post on the Stories From the Playground blog. You might also consider contributing to the blog, if you have anything to recount about your child's experiences in the school system.

I would be happier about the effectiveness of the lone parent consultation if it cast its net wider as regards informing people of its existence. It would have been a simple matter for DWP lone parent advisors to have passed an informative leaflet on the matter to all lone parent 'clients' as they attended their regular compulsory Work-Focused Interviews, but this was not done as far as I know, for reasons best known to DWP.

The closing date for the consultation about lone parents is 31st October.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Parenting teens

Me: "Zara, you worry me a bit sometimes."

Zara: "Ah well. It keeps you on your toes."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Yes, we're Simming again!


We do lots of other things here besides playing computer games, I promise you, but Lyddie is very much into The Sims again at the moment, so I thought I'd blog something about this.

If you didn't know, The Sims are little simulated people, living simulated lives. You build simulated houses for them, which you then have great fun decorating and furnishing before you move them in. After that they can have jobs, relationships, friendships, babies, hobbies, cars, swimming pools, staff, bankrupcies, repossessions, social workers, dogs, cats and now even snow. Snow!

And we have this fabulous add-on which enables them to be self-sufficient, which as you can imagine is my Sim paradise.

Lyddie loves to play, and....

Let your eyes glaze over here if you don't want to read the EduBlurb...

... it's improving her spelling (got to type Motherload to get a free 1000 $imoleans, and characters' names etc); and her reading: because you need to read the messages to know what's going on; and her skill with numbers because you need to know what things cost and whether you can afford them. Or whether you need to send your little Sim out to work, if you're not cheating.

EduBlurb ends

If Lyddie doesn't take good care of her Sims: by providing them with all of their living requirements, like food, hygiene, comfort and company, they become ill and eventually die, if the problem isn't remedied. It's easy to see if they're not happy because the little floaty diamond above their heads goes from green to yellow, then orange and finally red. Green means healthy and red is dead, basically. So - oh, a bit more EduBlurb I'm afraid. I can't help it, my mind just works that way ok? - she's learning what people need. As if she couldn't learn that from just living... but I suppose it's set out a bit more clearly in little computer-simulated simple people and you could argue that they're a bit safer to experiment on than real people.

In fact, you could argue about the subject of children playing on and learning (or not) from computer games for a long time. I'm up for the debate if anyone else is.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Home ed meetings

Our weekly meetings are great, just now. For the past 5 years we've had the use of an old gymnasium, which probably sounds better than it is because there's no actual gym equipment in it, but it's a big space and it's indoors and above all else, it's free of charge! This means we don't need to worry about keeping accounts or charging subs and we can run the meetings in a very relaxed sort of way.

Activities there vary according to who's attending and what they like doing. Just now it's very sports-oriented. It occured to me last week that it's a bit like being in a nice, friendly school playground at breaktime, but with the addition of parents! We run the meetings in a free-range way, so nobody is coerced to do anything they don't want to do and in fact nobody organises activities as such - they just evolve.

There are basketball and badminton nets, which are both used well. Some families have also been bringing long skipping ropes and group skipping games have been taking place. Sometimes people bring paper, pens, paints, toys, boardgames and anything else they fancy doing. As part of the group's kit we also own a huge activity parachute which is making an appearance on a weekly basis these days.

Generally it's an opportunity to relax and socialise, both for children and parents. We've never needed to impose rules and the meetings are usually peaceful. It's just a nice way to spend a couple of hours every week. I'm very glad of our weekly home ed meetings.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Home education, single parenthood and availability for work.

I am a single parent. I home educate my children. I am therefore not available to go out to work.

The government is trying to assert that I am, because it has put funding into extended schooling and childcare places in Children's Centres.

But Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states:

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable -to his age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

and I don't know of a school that will provide my children with an education that is either full-time, efficient or suitable to their ages, aptitudes or abilities. The education I provide them with complies perfectly with Section 7. If I was to put my children in school I would be in breach of Section 7.

The DWP consultation "In Work, Better Off" makes the following completely false assumptions:

  1. The only kind of work that has any value, or is even worthy of the word 'work' is the paid variety. This is not true: having some people stay at home and caring for their family is equally, if not more valuable and necessary to the health and wellbeing of our nation.

  2. Children are just as happy with any old adult as with their parent. And even that they thrive better away from their parents. Absolute tosh. Children gain essential emotional nourishment and security from being with 'good enough' parents which they don't gain from spending time with other people.

  3. Working for 16 hours a week and claiming WFTC makes single parents better off. This is not true in many cases. Actually, the financial difference is usually negligible and quickly spent on facilitating the work - e.g., paying for travel, or clothing, or compensatory treats.

  4. Economies can and should be made to constantly grow and never allowed to decline. I disagree: this is an unrealistic and potentially disastrous stance. Even if we do ever achieve the brutally unrealistic goal of full employment there will come a time when people have simply bought enough stuff and no more superfluous jobs or goods can be created or sold. What happens then?

  5. Parents can and should be held responsible for their children's behaviour even though they are obliged to go out to work all day and put their children in school all day. Not true: you can't have it both ways. Either hold parents responsible and enable them to actually raise, monitor and influence their offspring or stop trying to hold parents responsible - at which point our society will be so chaotic and insane that people won't want to live in it.

  6. Neglecting to consult properly on this is OK and nobody will notice or mind. It's not ok. My DWP single parent advisor last week denied the existence of this consultation and told me the change had been decided and was happening, come what may. I know of other single parents who have been told the same thing. DWP staff should be giving all single parents full information about this consultation, including response forms. As far as I know, there are no actual response forms or even clear methods for responding. Complaints are (thankfully) being made to BRE about this, as far as I know.

  7. Forcing this and other similar changes through will generate predictable and desirable results for governments and economies. I strongly disagree. This is an incursion too far.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Etude de Français et d'autres choses

Clearing out the basement, we came across a French newspaper in a box of old computer parts:

So we sat down and translated bits of it, based on my O Level French and a Collins French-English dictionary we have here. We could have used BabelFish, but that would have been too easy! Zara's been wanting to learn French for a while, but not in a classroom or from a textbook so I've been putting bits into conversation as and when I can - she seems to pick it up better that way.

The box of old computer bits came from some of our friends' relatives in France. They had a clear-out of parts and sent them our way, knowing we collect those kinds of things and we're very grateful that they did.

It's rare we've had to spend any money on computer parts - much less computers. Most of us here can build them quite easily - though I keep forgetting how and having to work it out from scratch again! The main problem is compatability. A certain mainboard won't be compatable with various chips and so on. Tom is our resident expert on such matters - he seems to miraculously just know which bits will and won't work together. Here's another part of his room, to illustrate the point ;-)

The result of all this is a networked broadband Internet connection in every room of the house, which has been invaluable from an education point of view. One good way of home-educating a large family on a shoestring budget is to learn to build computers! I do love books:

- but they can't compete with the Internet for sheer volume of information and accessibility.

Lyddie and I have also been working on her reading skill and numbers, but the numberwork seems to come so easily and the reading has hit a plateau. We're just concentrating on 3-letter words. She's got the individual letter sounds sorted out, and can say, for example:

"Ber - i - ner" but putting those sounds together: "B - i - n" to get "Bin" isn't coming yet. I wonder if I'm rushing her somehow, but she regularly asks me to write the words and help her to read them, so I'm not sure. I can't very well say no! The word-writing came from some other (English) newspaper reading we were doing. Well, I was doing it regularly - I like to settle in an armchair with a newspaper for a short time every day - and she would clamber onto my knee and ask me to help her work out what the words in the headlines were saying. This got us talking about the actual stories too, with the associated whys and wherefores, but I said: "Shall we just do shorter words?" because she was struggling with the longer ones. So maybe I did take control of the process there. Hmmm.

Yes, this month's new things for us here are clotheslines running across our bookshelves, pegging up discarded clothes, whichever sums or words we're working on and paintings to dry. It started off just as a place to dry paintings but then became useful in all those other ways. The blackboard seems to be just being used for pictures now:

- our 'sums on the blackboard' phase having passed as quickly as it arrived.

I've also got to quickly write in praise of whiteboards. Just the plain, ordinary, non-electric variety. We invested in a few little ones just to keep around the place and they're great - people seem to like writing on them. There's one for shopping, another for things we want to do. Actually, there are two for things we want to do. And some with fridge poetry words on them, though they've been neglected in favour of the ones with pens.

We've also got hopscotch chalked on the front path. I had a picture of that but can't find it now. Ah well, I'm sure you can imagine it. And made pumpkin pie. Today we're off mushroom and firewood foraging, I think. It feels like that sort of day.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The adventure, the clear-out and the open day

Tom's been away, camping on Hellvelyn (in a change to the original Scotland plan, while we magicked his room from this:

to this:

Which took quite a while!

He enjoyed his trip, though next time says he will be more prepared, take less gear and more money. He did wildcamp most of the way, with only a campsite stay on the last night then a bus ride back to town. He's already planning another trip for the spring.

His comments on the open day were interesting. He was amazed that the other prospective students all turned up with their parents and then asked no questions about the course and showed little interest in it. He's hoping this condition isn't permanent, because it might be a bit offputting if he decides to apply and is successful.