Nick Palmer writes: Two hot issues this time – welfare reform and the potential use of former pets as laboratory animals. And the return of the anecdote, this time not so much a funny story as an odd dilemma.
1. Welfare reform – current and future?
The press has been dominated for days (outside the sports pages!) by leaks about David Cameron’s proposed welfare changes: notably removal of housing benefit from the young, and from larger families, and wider reductions in any case. The odd thing is that none of this is actually going to happen for the foreseeable future – what Mr Cameron is talking about is what he might do if re-elected in 2015. Isn’t it a bit early to be fighting the next election campaign, and wouldn’t it be better if he got on with governing better now?
That said, many people don’t realise the drastic effect of the changes that are already happening. One constituent is looking after a relative with cerebral palsy. He gets respite care in a day centre three days a week, for which she pays £27 plus £5.day for transport: this gives him a change and her a breathing space. This is now going up to £192 plus transport, an increase of 700%. As a result, it’s completely unaffordable, and consequently she’s not going to be able to keep looking after him, as the burden of doing it 7/24 is just too much. So he will be going into full-time care – which, of course, will cost the authorities much more.
Is this an extreme case? Yes – just as the families highlighted in the press with 12 kids and 200 fags a day are an extreme case. The reality is that most people receiving support are somewhere in between, and while it ought to be possible to get more or them back into work in good economic conditions, it really isn’t realistic at the moment.
There are two separate issues here which we shouldn’t confuse. One is the prevention of fraud and the encouragement to work where it’s possible. We should all support that. The other is cutting the lifeline of genuinely disabled or simply poor people already close to the breadline. It’s not easy in the current climate to oppose welfare cuts because many people do associate them with cracking down on fraud, but really the way to combat fraud is not less support but more careful checks.
We need an intelligent debate about these issues, and I’d like to see the media giving representative coverage to people currently getting help – not just the extreme cases, but typical ones – so that people could judge better what is fair and what isn’t.
2. Should former pets be allowed to be used for experiments?
I try not to mix my current job as BUAV Director of Policy with my Broxtowe email updates, but you might want to consider supporting our current campaign: to maintain the ban on the use of stray former pets in laboratory experiments.
The position, briefly, is that there is an EU-wide directive on treatment of laboratory animals, which is a mixed bag – in some respects it’s an improvement (more transparency than we currently have in Britain), in others a step backwards. As usual, the UK has a one-off option to maintain stricter
restrictions if we want to, but if we agree to a relaxation we can’t later go back to a ban.
You can see the issue explained well here (up to July 2):
(move the slider to 44 minutes in – it’s a 6-minute slot). They did a long interview with me but just used a snippet.
The Government’s position is that they `cannot currently envisage’ approving such tests, so they say that abolishing the ban can’t do any harm – but, to put it delicately, we can all think of occasions under every Government where something was `not currently envisaged’, and yet a year or
two later happened anyway. Since there is no current demand from the research community for tests on former pets, it’s puzzling that Ministers want to open up the possibility.
If you’d like the government to maintain the ban, please write to Lynne Featherstone, the Minister at the Home Office who is responsible. The Home Office email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
The BUAV works to phase out all animal testing, of course, but it’s probably true to say that most people would see it as a particular betrayal of the trust that pets have acquired in humans if they end up being subjected to experiments in a cage. We have other issues with the Government’s implementation of the Directive too – for instance, that repeated unavoidable electric shocks to
`induce learned helplessness’, explicitly envisaged as legal but `severe’ by the Directive, are not being ruled out.
We are urging MPs to support an Early Day Motion calling for at least a full debate, since the Government is planning to push the legislation through without a debate in the Commons. Details of the EDM are at http://tinyurl.com/testingedm . Anna Soubry doesn’t normally sign EDMs, but perhaps you could ask her to raise the issue informally with the Minister.
As usual, I would like to ask you to phrase your emails with restraint – it’s easy for people to get carried away on these emotive issues, but it’s more effective if we argue our case (for or against) calmly and rationally. Note this is not particularly a partisan issue – the Minister is a LibDem, but so
is the author of the EDM opposing the policy.
3. In defence of David Cameron (and others)
I’m conscious that I tend to be critical of the Government in my emails, and I’m sure you discount some of it as party prejudice. But we should draw the line at some things. The constant harping on about where he went to school, what his former girlfriends thought of him and, yes, whether he’s eaten many pasties is both irrelevant and unfair. Few people are responsible for where they
went to school; equally few, perhaps, have had an absolutely perfect life that the media couldn’t find fault with in retrospect. If every Prime Minister is put under the microscope to this extent, we will reduce the supply of capable people who want to be Prime Minister. Let’s just criticise what we don’t like about Cameron’s policies, and leave his private life alone.
4. Should constituency MPs take sides?
One of the most satisfying parts of being an MP is that you can help people who are being pushed around in their everyday lives – it’s surprising how often it makes a difference if their MP weighs in, if only because a complex case that people have been putting aside finally gets looked at. But what would you have done in the following case?
I was approached by a woman constituent who said that her former husband was refusing to pay child support regularly. The Child Support Agency seemed to be dragging their feet. Could I nudge them to pursue the case more energetically?
I said yes, I’d write to say she was dissatisfied and ask them to review the case, and I did. A month passed. Then I had another surgery, and a man asked me for help. The Child Support Agency was making his life a misery, he said: he wasn’t being allowed to see his children as had been promised in the divorce, and yet he was being pressed for more and more money for their support. Wasn’t
I said hang on a moment, and checked the file. Yes, same case. Now what? I couldn’t tell him that I’d seen her, as that would breach confidentiality. I couldn’t turn him away, since that would be taking sides in a case where I had no way of telling where the rights and wrongs were. But I couldn’t support both at once…or could I?
What I did was this: I told him that I couldn’t take sides, since in theory his former wife “might” also approach me and it wasn’t up to me to judge. But if either side in a case felt they weren’t getting a fair hearing, I’d be glad to ask the CSA to review the case. Would he summarise what he’d told me in writing, and I’d pass it on to the CSA for review? He said yes, and that’s what I did.
What happened? I never heard further from either side. Perhaps some sort of balance of justice was found. I’d like to think so. But perhaps they just both gave up on me, or on the CSA?
As always, feedback welcome. And if you know others who might like to get these discussions and updates, please forward it and encourage them to contact me if they’d like to subscribe.
Best regards, Nick