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Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Universal Credit claimant rolling in [cynical] laughter

Rolling on the Floor Laughing on Microsoft Windows 10 May 2019 Update

I publish the below with the agreement of anonymous sender who is on Universal Credit. But I apologise for his use of spinal condition as a metaphor. I also note that it was my choice to add photographic image.

The blog post below was originally written in response to 'Universal Credit' vs Shared Humanity

Alan Wheatley


A Universal Credit claimant responds to 'Universal Credit vs Shared Humanity' blog piece

Link to Cosmopolitan article on 'negging'
'Negging' image from Cosmopolitan Magazine.
The Guardian linked article links to separate New Stateman article on
"Negging: The anatomy of a new dating trend,"
and Government "dating coach, Ben Bradley MP, negging the voters."
But New Statesman article does not give a photographic image

Your quote from the old Etonian former Barclays Bank Director and post-Communist Eastern European charity maven, Jesse (not the anti-segregationist African-American opera singer*) Norman, reminded me of this:

I can understand that my ad hominem introductory side-swipe may have a stink reminiscent of the type of unpaid intellectual content encouraged by the social media barons so frequently upheld now as purveyors of free speech/wealth creation/democratisation etc, etc, but that's only to recognise what you are engaging in right now. The reductionist revision of human interaction to behaviourist marketing algorithms.

I dare you not to laugh at least once while reading this link; I still can't see the Charles Manson-Beatles reference without giggling. Of course, some readers may not enjoy Ms Hyde's article; it is likely to be beyond the understanding of those lacking in the relevant cultural signifiers, such as the very young, recent inmates to our refugee hostels, people with severe mental health issues, Old Etonians, or frankly anyone whose memory extends to that period between 1948 and 1979 when "democracy" did indicate the will of the people and not a neo-liberal consensus. By which I mean an era when the Thatchers and de Pfieffels didn't need to channel Churchillian spirituality and dreams of glory days gone by...

But if you don't find the article funny, well, I can only try to persuade you to peruse the comments.  In these difficult times I would be hard-pressed to think of any, yes any, ideology that couldn't find some heartwarming comfort in the humanity expressed within.

* I really tried to find a way to lever in a "Jesse with a Y" chromosomal joke, but then I recalled that Jessye Norman died of a tragic spinal injury. Which only shows how cruel life is... she had a spine...

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

'Universal Credit' vs Shared Humanity

(Blog editor's note: I had hoped to use image from

here with caption: "Universal Credit: quasi- or virtual police state," but Blogger is not allowing me to do so. Sorry.)

A Universal Credit claimant has written me in response to the below and yet-to-be-published-in-print letter to Hereford Times:

Subject: Thousands will see five big changes to Universal Credit in November - check now - Birmingham Live 

In reference to the last letter you posted it should be noted that this month sees changes in UC payments that will benefit those also eligible for PIP,  finally stop the punitive reductions for those who are paid weekly or fortnightly and recognises the problems in transitioning from various legacy benefits by (small) financial awards...

Although the article is just over 24 hours old it also seems that Sunak has also now agreed to extend the Covid-19 payment of an extra £90pcm as part of the revised furlough scheme.

As you are aware, as a UC claimant subject to the Benefit Cap due to my rent being fixed just under the pre-2015 LHA/HB maximum I do not receive any extra monies from the DWP at this time. 

Nor do I get any leeway... unlike other renters in my halfway house who are in receipt of legacy benefits and have had no contact or demands from the DWP since last February I am still required to undergo mandatory, sanctionable, telephone or face-to-face interviews to explain my job searches and failure to gain employment.

Quite why my mental health or wellbeing differs from those in almost identical circumstances but on older forms of benefits has yet to be explained.

Subject: Re: Talking Point by Dr Jonathan Godfrey, and MPs explain opposition to Rashford's meal plan

Noting a Resolution Foundation report suggesting that "unemployment among 18 to 29-year-olds could hit 17% by late 2020, and ... the mental health risks linked to lockdown and economic insecurity," Dr Jonathan Godfrey also notes:

"The proportion of adults experiencing poor mental health has increased by 80% among 18 to 29-year-olds compared with a year ago, the biggest increase of any age group." (Talking Point, Oct. 29, 2020, p68)

One 23 year-old apparently not experiencing poor mental health is Marcus Rashford (born 31 Oct. 1997), raised in a very public spirited environment for a life outside football as well as MUFC stardom. Speaking of one of his recent plaudits, Rashford said that he  "had a voice and a platform that could be used to at least ask the questions."(1)

That contrasts heavily with how Universal Credit (UC) claimants are treated. UC’s ‘Claimant Commitment’ and ‘digital by default’ infrastructure micro-manage the lives of claimants and UC functionaries.(2) That makes mutual recognition of a shared humanity extremely difficult: the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) mindset is that the claimant’s low income and not low wages is ‘the problem’. More UC claimants are penalised in the UK and more severely than by Magistrates’ and Sheriff’s courts, with loss of benefit extending to years of what I’d call debt slavery and Law Professor Dr David Webster refers to as ‘Benefit Sanctions: Britain’s secret penal system’.(3)

Then along comes Covid-19 lockdown and greater universality of low income. Tory Government responds by increasing Universal Credit levels but not the levels of the benefits it is designed to replace.(4)

Against this backdrop and Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals eleigibility to school holidays, Hereford & South Herefordshire MP and First Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman says he “has nothing but respect for Marcus Rashord, both as a footballer and as a campaigner. But it is really important to look beyond the headlines.” (Hereford Times, Oct. 29, 2020, p5)

Yes, indeed it is vital to look beyond the headlines, especially those generated by government press releases, and to consider the differences in ‘authority’ between an Old Etonian MP and a top sportsman who delivered food parcels as a youngster!

Alan Raymond Wheatley, BA Interdisciplinary Studies (Major: Sociology)
(Postal Address and telephone number submitted, too)



Saturday, 31 October 2020

Bliss and the bigger picture

 I saw this at the online publication The Conversation:

In 2011, golfer Rory McIlroy experienced a very public performance meltdown at the prestigious Masters tournament. Later, McIlroy went to Haiti as Unicef ambassador, witnessing the damage caused by the 2010 earthquake which devastated the country.

“You’ve just been in a place where millions of people have no clean water, and millions of kids get no education, and you’re nervous about hitting a golf ball into some water!” he later told sports writer Paul Kimmage. 

 Something the article does not mention is the pressures placed on footballing goalkeepers as 'last line of defence' and the high level of suicides among footballers, particularly goalkeepers.

Friday, 30 October 2020

Poetry for Wellbeing

 Adapted from e-mail sent last night to Hereford Times newspaper:

Dear Letters Editor

Nigel Heath writes: “At the beginning of the lockdown back in March, I decided to write a poem a day as a stay-at-home-challenge….

“There is so much one can say in a poem, perhaps to express joy about some aspect of being out in nature or about something you have found funny or about actually any subject you can think of.” (Letter, Oct. 29, 2020)

Financial and career-ladder immobility lockdown for disadvantaged people has existed long before Covid-19. An ‘Employment Rehabilitation Centre’ (ERC) Social Worker told my parents in 1978, “Yes, Alan [then aged 24] has an academic brain, but he’s too slow to ever gain from further government-funded education and training. It just wouldn’t be worth it. He’ll just have to learn to lower his sights.”

While the system never helped me get sustainable waged work and I was never properly signposted to disability benefit entitlement until 2009 — despite six weeks ‘vocational assessment period’ at ERC three decades earlier! — I got more skilful through self-expression and self-directed learning despite an unfair system, especially as “too many gaps in your employment history” proved a barrier. Yet as I wrote a troubled 21 year old poetic soul on Universal Credit recently, writing for self-expression helps us ‘get a handle on things’ and while it might not make us stars it helps makes us better survivors as we find our own meaning in what we are going through.

In some of my poems, I expressed a deep rage rather than turning that rage inwards against myself with disastrous mental health consequences. I realised in terms of the bigger picture that I was not being punished for “a birth defect”(1) but maltreated.(2)


“NHS Digital’s 2019-20 Mental Health Act statistics report ... states that there were 147.9 Mental Health Act detentions per 100,000 people in the most deprived tenth of areas, while the least deprived areas tenth recorded a rate of 42.8 detentions per 100,000. Data for other areas showed a clear link between deprivation and detention risk.”(3)

I applied skills and understanding to what I was facing. What do Hereford’s Tory MPs apply as elected public servants?

Alan Wheatley


1. ERC Occupational Psychologist to me: “…. birth defect [sic]. There’s nothing more we can do to help you here. You [sic] will be terminated at the end of next week.”
2. Example poem:
They’re Robbing Themselves

Some laws are made behind our backs —
Such as subjecting dole money to income tax.
Do cushioned bureaucrats in Whitehall
Have any love for me at all?

Here am I: long unemployed
‘Twixt them and me an awful void:
On their work they seem to thrive
While the poor are struggling to survive.

What must it take for them to see
That they’re robbing themselves
Of their humanity?

Yet while they make it ever harder
I must pray for them with greater ardour.

Alan the Poet Therapeutic
(c) 1982 by Alan Raymond Wheatley

Mental Health Act detentions three times higher in most than least deprived areas, as race gap widens

Social work leader calls for action to tackle root causes of mental health crisis as annual statistics show clear link between deprivation and risk of detention

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

SMK Campaigner Awards 2020

 Sheila McKechnie Campaigner Awards Ceremony 2020 on youtube

The video is 1:30:36 in full, but you can safely click on to the start point at about the 15:20 mark.

I would advise those thinking of getting into the youtube video that the output is very loud, especially if you are listening via headphones. Thus it would be best if you turn the volume slide on your computer down quite low, like this:


Youtube volume control is at bottom left of online video

Main contents headings:

  • SMK National Campaigner Awards 2020 virtual ceremony. Do you want to feel inspired? Introduction
  • Best Digital Campaign
  • Best Use of Law
  • Best Consumer Campaign
  • Best Coalition
  • Amplifying Unheard Voices
  • Tweets about the award ceremony
  • Message from Gordon Brown as founder-sponsor of Sheila McKechnie Foundation
  • Best Community Campaign
  • David & Goliath
  • Young Persons Award
  • Outstanding Leadership
  • Long-Term Achievement Award


Outlining by Alan Wheatley

Neoliberal timeline: food poverty UK

On Wednesday, Oct 21, “a majority of MPs [including Herefordshire’s MPs] voted against [the ‘sticking plaster’ of] directly funding free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021,”(1) and yet on Wednesday, Oct 14, the Express had written, “Benefits are important to millions of people right across the country. However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is set to take action which could mean the bank accounts and social media of claimants are monitored” (2).

All very convenient at this time for a vindictive government that penalises poor people while such monitoring goes against the General Data Protection Register (an EU regulation) and non-declaration of income can be regarded as a claimant’s DIY ‘sticking plaster’ in desperate times. I offer the following timeline to outline what neoliberal government does not want us to know.

In November 2006, welfare rights adviser Neil Bateman reported on the impact of 21m phone calls (44% of all incoming calls to Jobcentre Plus helplines) going unanswered in 2004-5 (“Delays in processing claims and changes of circumstances – six weeks is common – leaving people destitute….”);(3) and in May 2007 of a rise in charities providing food to poor families [under Tony ‘Tea with Margaret Thatcher’ Blair’s government].(4)

In October 2007, David Cameron as Leader of the Opposition ignored the destitution caused by Jobcentre Plus failings and declared that ‘tougher sanctions’ against benefit claimants’ would help create a fairer economy.(5)

Post 2010 General Election and during David Cameron’s national leadership, and Universal Credit’s statutory delays, how did ‘tougher sanctions’ impact on society? In January 2015, Glasgow U. Law Professor Dr David Webster reported that:

  • Sanctions imposed on benefit claimants by the DWP exceed the number of fines imposed by the courts
  • sanctioned claimants are treated much worse than those fined in the courts with much harsher penalties
  • decisions are made by officials who have no independent responsibility to act lawfully; since the Social Security Act 1998 they have been mere agents of the Secretary of State
  • ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ is a major barrier to tribunal justice. 

He concluded:

“Sanctions undermine physical and mental health, cause hardship for family and friends, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to Food Banks and payday lenders, and to crime. They also often make it harder to look for work. Taking these negatives into account, they cannot be justified.

“Benefit sanctions are an amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system, but lacks its safeguards. It is time for everyone concerned for the rights of the citizen to demand their abolition.”(6)

Now, Charlie Spring in the November-December 2020 issue of New Internationalist magazine reports: “[T]he UK has long seen patchworked food assistance, especially within faith communities. But foodbank provision rose steeply following the recession of 2008 and the austerity that followed. In 2011 major food-aid network The Trussel Trust reported nearly 130,000 instances of people receiving food. By 2015 this had jumped to 1.1 million and by March 2020, the annual figure sat at 1.9 million.”(7)

What will News Forwards from Alan Wheatley readers do about these injustices? What drove Florence Nightingale to accomplish what she did? She answered quite simply, “Rage.”(8)

Driven by rage and love

Alan Wheatley


  7. New Internationalist magazine November-December 2020 issue print edition is available through good newsagents and/or by subscription via

Monday, 26 October 2020

Parliamentary constituents making news


They Work For You website notes how MPs voted
TheyWorkForYou website record of how our MPs voted on
Free school Meals During School Holidays

Letter to Hereford Times

Daily Mirror reports that a Lancashire shop has banned the local Tory MP after he voted against free school meals, while Yorkshire Live reports that Rishi Sunak and all Tory MPs have been banned from a North Yorkshire pub for the same stance against poor families.(1)(2)

What actions will Hereford Times readers take against Herefordshire MPs Jesse Norman and Bill Wiggin for also helping defeat the extension of free school meals, particularly as Jesse Norman is First Secretary of the Treasury and Bill Wiggin has links with offshore finance?(3)

In 2017, Bill Wiggin responded to "a front page story in the Hereford Times outlining his position as managing director of an offshore financial company by stating that the article was 'not news'."(3)

As the Daily Mirror and YorkshireLive stories emphasise, constituents can help to make the news, whereas my experience of Jesse Norman MP is that he tends to 'note' my views while voting against them, and the top-ups to Bill Wiggin's basic MP salary could pay for several school meals.

Alan Wheatley