Friday, September 02, 2011

Parents who (don't) try: Three cases

On Thursday mornings before I set out for my stint at the local CAB my son often tells me, "Hope you don't get too many benefits cases."

He knows how I detest having to deal with benefits clients who say, "I'm entitled to this. Do this for me. NOW."

Today I was incensed that a client has had his benefits stopped. This man is a refugee from an African country. He has four young children. He was on unemployment benefits and housing benefits because of that.

He decided that he needed to improve his English and signed up for a college course (ESOL Intensive) and did so well that he passed his exams before the end of his course. However as a result of the 15 hours he was studying, plus some mistake made by some civil servant (who turned this into 16 hours), he was deemed "unavailable for work" and therefore his JSA was stopped, leading to his Housing Benefits (which pays his rent) being stopped as well.

Now his landlord is threatening eviction because he has insufficient funds to pay his rent.

A man tries to improve his language skills to improve his chances of finding employment and he is penalized. Now it is going to take at least 50-100 civil servant hours, I imagine, to set it right.

Who really benefits from this? The civil servants, paid by your and my taxes, who are making sure that they still have jobs to go to.

Then my husband tells me he was in a similar situation many, many years ago and took the council (or relevant government department) to the tribunal and won. They then awarded him a fat cheque for arrears in his benefits.

His defence: If they could find him a job he would leave the (accountancy) course he was studying to take up the post. As they could not, he was going to improve his chances of being an accountant instead of sitting at home to watch TV. (He later had a successful career in finance.)

In other words it was OK for someone to receive JSA and vegetate at home. As soon as they try to improve their employment chances they get penalized.

Clever system, innit?

Case 2. Mother with four young children, running wild. A fellow volunteer was trying to help the mother but the children were taking turns to be difficult. The oldest, about eight years old, was trying, but failed, to keep control.

Our reception room was empty. I told the five-year-old to sit on one chair. I told the four-year-old to sit on another chair in another corner. I told the oldest responsible sister to sit in another corner.

I gave the two younger ones colourful brochures. Obviously they could not read. I told them to "count the pages, count the different colours" on the brochures. I told them that their bottoms must remain on the chairs as their mother was being helped. I left them with no adult supervision.

A few minutes later I checked and the five-year-old was kneeling in front of it. At least he had not moved alway from the chair. I told him to get back on, and he did, unhappily. He complained that his older sister was not counting.

I retorted with I had not told her to count, did I? Older sister said she would like to read the brochure he was holding. Told five-year-old to walk over to older sister if he wished to, and give her his brochure. He did and came back to his own chair and climbed back onto it. I gave him another brochure.

I went into the interviewing room twice (when the other volunteer was out) to tell the mother that her children were sitting still and quietly, and that they would be telling her "numbers" when she goes out.

"Thanks," she said with a big smile. She looked very tired. I felt really sorry for her.

The last time I looked in before I left (to tend to my own child) after having left the children on their own, the children were all in their chairs.

I wonder if these children have ever had an adult speak so sternly to them.

Case 3. GP waiting room with my son. GP running very late. Mum with two daughters and a young son came in. We had no peace from that moment on.

At no time did the mum attempt to get her son (maybe two and a half) to sit down or behave. It was the older girl who tried to control him. They kept laughing at the things he did.

I imagine what a terror this young boy would be at school. He did not understand boundaries and the mother did not even act when he was in danger. My son nearly knocked him over when he opened the door but I saw at the last moment through the glass panel that the little boy was on the other side.

I said to little boy as I left, "Perhaps it is bottom on chair time?" The mother glared at me.

Outside my son said, "Mum, you should have let me open the door onto him. It might have been better for all present."

I think my son was right.

But what can you do for families where, culturally, the male child is obviously venerated? How soon before this boy would be bullying his older sisters? How soon before he would be making unreasonable demands and know that he could get away with it because he is THE boy in the family?