Tag Archives: memes

On Builders and Anti-immigration Bile

So there’s another copy & paste meme doing the rounds on Facebook. This one:

Just been talking to a guy who works at the DHSS call centre. He was saying that he had a 52 year old self employed builder who has never claimed before but has had no work, rang up asking for some help and all he could offer him was the payment of his national health stamp.The next phone call he received was from a Somali immigrant who couldn’t speak English and required a translator with 7 children and another on the way complaining that her £40,000 a year benefits was not enough to live on !
He also stated that they had been receiving phone calls from Bulgaria and Romania with reference to benefits available in preparation for the window that will be opening soon here in the UK.
I am not a racist and support my own charity in Africa but something is seriously wrong with our system, there are many of us out there who have invested in our nation and asked for nothing in return and when you hear things like this it’s like your own government is slapping you in the face.If you agree with me please share…

Like most of these, this is a load of claptrap and I think it’s worth going into some detail about why. Taking this a sentence at a time:

“Just been talking to a guy who works at the DHSS call centre.”

DHSS? That was abolished in 1988. Notice that it’s “a guy”. No names, no locations. I’m going to suggest that this “guy” doesn’t actually exist. If he does, he’s been working for a government department that ceased to exist 25 years ago. Nice work if you can get it.

“He was saying that he had a 52 year old self employed builder who has never claimed before but has had no work, rang up asking for some help and all he could offer him was the payment of his national health stamp.”

First of all, under the Data Protection Act, call centre staff are not allowed to discuss individual cases. Maybe our non-existent “guy” didn’t give a name because he’d be sacked? If our 52 year old builder had no work, he would have been referred to Job Centre Plus for an assessment or advised to check online to see what he might be entitled to. National Health stamps were abolished in 1948, and stamp-based National Insurance contributions went out in 1975. I know some people sometimes use the old terms, but our 52 year old would have been 14 when they ceased.

I draw attention to the language used because this is a meme that someone has come up with to wind people up. Using obsolete terms like “DHSS” and “national health stamp” gives it a bit of a homely feel, like someone’s grown up with the system. It’s back to false dilemmas again unfortunately. I know whoever came up with this wants to put across the idea that someone who’s paid into the system all their life doesn’t get anything back because asylum seekers are taking it all for themselves. This is not true though. The asylum support budget is separate from the DWP social security budget and the amount of support asylum seekers can get is pretty tiny. Asylum seekers are a handy scapegoat, but the real reason it’s difficult to get anything out is government policies designed to hector and patronise people who have the audacity to try to claim. Basically, it’s the old workhouse test.

How much would an unemployed self-employed builder actually get? We need to make a few assumptions:

  • He was born on 1st Jan 1961
  • He is up to date with NI contributions
  • He lives alone with no children
  • He is fully able-bodied and receives no disability benefits
  • He has less than £16,000 in savings
  • He has no other income and has not claimed any other benefits
  • His rent is £500/month from a private landlord and has no underoccupied bedrooms
  • He lives in Leeds

Plugging these details into the DWP benefits advisor, we get:

  • Contribution-based JSA of £71.70 a week. After 6 months, it switches to income-based JSA. The overall amount is the same, but any income other than JSA is deducted.

The Leeds City Council benefits calculator adds:

  • Housing benefit of £115.38/week (but a lot of private landlords have “No DSS” rules)
  • The meme originated before council tax benefit was abolished, so that would have been paid in full. These days it’s been replaced by an inferior council tax support system, where (in Leeds) you have to pay 19% of the full amount

If someone has assets of more than £16,000, they are not entitled to anything. The idea being that if you have money saved for a rainy day, you are expected to use it when the rain comes.

“The next phone call he received was from a Somali immigrant who couldn’t speak English and required a translator with 7 children and another on the way complaining that her £40,000 a year benefits was not enough to live on !”

I bet that was a fun call. “Hello. I don’t speak English” “But you just did.” I’m not sure what this is about. If the Somali immigrant hadn’t had some sort of grant of residency, their contact would have been with the UK Borders Agency or its predecessors (the Immigration & Nationality Directorate or the National Asylum Support Service depending on when this meme was drawn up). They certainly wouldn’t have contacted the DHSS, or even the DWP.

What does a Somali immigrant get then? Taking these assumptions:

  • She is single with 7 kids, all under 18
  • She has no assets or access to accommodation
  • She has applied for political asylum but it has not been granted yet

The family will get their support from the UK Border Agency, and they will get:

  • Accommodation with water and fuel bills paid. They will not get to choose where in the UK it will be. The costs will be paid direct to the landlord and utility companies. As the claim for asylum progresses, they will probably be expected to move several times
  • £43.94/week cash, which has to cover the whole family (as far as I can tell, but this is not very clear)
  • £3/week on top for any children under 3
  • A payment of £300 when one child is born. This is only paid once regardless of how many children they give birth to
  • The local authority has an obligation to ensure any children are educated, so they will be given a school place, and reasons of public health mean they will have access to medical care

Note that asylum seekers are banned from working, so this is all they get. That accounts for about £2,500 so I’m not sure where the remaining £37,500 came from.

In a property only occupied by asylum seekers, the property owner has to pay council tax.

Supposing the family has been granted asylum. What then? If they have been granted temporary leave to enter/remain in the UK and recognised as a refugee they can claim social security on the same basis as the 52 year old builder. Temporary leave to remain normally lasts for 5 years when it is reviewed and you can apply for indefinite leave to remain.There is also discretionary leave to remain, which lasts for up to 3 years and has much stricter rules about whether you can apply for indefinite leave. You are not recognised as a refugee if this happens.

I put in some sample values on the DWP benefits advisor (She was born on 1st Jan 1980, her kids were each born on 1st Jan 2012-2006 and she pays £100/week for council accommodation) and got:

  • £376.04/week child tax credit
  • £100/week housing benefit
  • £100.70/week child benefit

That’s a total of £576.74/week or £29,990.48 a year. £5,200 of that will be paid direct to the council as housing benefit, so that’s £24,790.48 cash a year they get. Still not £40,000/year. Anyone with leave to remain or British citizenship would be entitled to this, even our builder if he had the same circumstances.

“He also stated that they had been receiving phone calls from Bulgaria and Romania with reference to benefits available in preparation for the window that will be opening soon here in the UK.”

What happens when the “window” opens is that from 1st Jan 2014 people from Bulgaria and Romania will be entitled to apply for jobs in the UK in the same way as other EEA nationals. Would it be wrong to point out here that it means people from the UK can now work in Romania and Bulgaria if they wanted to? People from the EU can claim JSA for up to 6 months on the same basis as UK residents (including being required to sign on, being patronized by Iain Duncan Smith and all the rest) but they cannot claim contributory benefits like child benefit unless they’ve made enough contributions and pass a residency test, and they can only claim in-work benefits like tax credits if they’ve got a job. There is no entitlement to council housing, not even for UK citizens.

“I am not a racist and support my own charity in Africa but something is seriously wrong with our system”

Sounds like someone doesn’t understand what “racist” means. It isn’t just about calling people from Africa silly names. Whipping up hysteria against people from abroad based on incorrect information counts as well. I also daresay that the “system” that is seriously wrong is the education system of the person who originated this meme. Finding out a few facts shows that the social security system isn’t quite as bad as these memes make it appear. Good for you if you support a charity in Africa, but which one is it? There are lots of them, not all humanitarian ones. It is possible to support an African charity while having a prejudice towards people from other countries, so one doesn’t disprove the other. And how does this fit with the Somali immigrant with 7 kids anyway?

“There are many of us out there who have invested in our nation and asked for nothing in return and when you hear things like this it’s like your own government is slapping you in the face”

You say you’ve invested in “our nation”. OK, what have you invested? Be specific. You feel like your government is slapping you in the face because you’ve heard a load of untruths from someone who probably doesn’t exist? You’re weird.

“If you agree with me please share…”

Is there something you can do if you can show that the meme is a load of old pony? Maybe share this blog post, or just disprove things with facts.

So, to summarize, we have someone from a non-existent organization trying to put out a load of anti-immigration hysteria based on things that are either inaccurate or untrue. It would save a lot of time if people just got to the point and said “I don’t like people from country X”. Copying & pasting memes that you vaguely agree with is easy, but it never hurts to challenge them and see how accurate they are. As with my earlier post about a family of former asylum seekers being given the rent on a £2m house while a stock photo of a pensioner struggles on a state pension, it’s a classic divide and conquer technique. Our builder can claim benefits at the same time as people from Bulgaria apply for the kind of jobs that he might not want to do. It isn’t either/or.

Why the “Asylum seeker gets £2m house while pensioner starves on £6K a year” meme is total bollocks

There’s one of those “share this photo” memes doing the rounds on Facebook where someone has put a stock photo of someone with wrinkled hands holding some coins next to a Daily Mail story about a family from Somalia, and added some inflammatory text suggesting that all pensioners get £6K a year while asylum seekers are given free houses. Like this:

Before going into the details, this is a classic example of a false dilemma or false dichotomy. It isn’t a case of state pensions or support for asylum seekers but not both. I could as easily do a different one where a very rich pensioner sponges off the tax payer while someone who just wants a better life after being persecuted is forced to live in a cardboard box.

Leaving aside the “generic pensioner”, it’s worth reading the original story at the Daily Mail to find out the facts of this case. It was published in 2010 so it’s rather old now, and it mentions certain key points that the meme image does not:

  • The story begins “A family of former asylum-seekers from Somalia” (my emphasis). In other words, they aren’t asylum seekers. They have been granted asylum. As such they are entitled to all the same rights and benefits as our “generic pensioner”, including being able to apply for council housing if they want to. As the story admits, “Rules allow anyone who is eligible for housing benefit to claim for a private property in any part of the country they wish.”
  • They were not “given” the house. It is rented and paid for through housing benefit. The rent may be high, but that’s down to the landlord deciding to charge that much and to allow it to be let out to housing benefit claimants. A lot of landlords are very strict about “no DSS”. As the story says, “The current housing benefit system was overhauled by the last government in April 2008. Labour Ministers introduced new caps on the amount claimants could receive, depending on the size and location of the property. But instead of bringing costs down, the new system encouraged many landlords to raise rents to the level of the maximum allowable”. In other words, not the family’s fault
  • The family were granted asylum in 1999 and the mother has never worked since then. Could it be because asylum seekers are banned from working and she had a large family to look after once it was granted? I don’t know why the father lost his job as a bus driver but the story does admit that he’s trying to find another one and doing training to help him do so

So there. The story isn’t as straightforward as it looks. It has two main points: standard Daily Mail rhetoric against foreign people, and blaming housing benefit claimants for the decisions of landlords. The first is as much a feature of the Mail as Page 3 is of the Sun, and the second could be dealt with if we had proper rent controls that applied to everyone whether or not housing benefit was involved. Benefit caps and bedroom taxes are popular with the tabloids but they aren’t the right way to reduce the housing benefit bill.

What support do asylum seekers get then? The UK Border Agency website has a list:

  • Accommodation including utility bills is provided, but there’s no choice about where it is and it will be in Scotland, Wales or the North of England. It will not be in London or the South. There are also strict rules about what behaviour is expected
  • A cash payment of about £40 a week is made to cover all other living expenses
  • Asylum seekers are banned from working. If their case takes more than 12 months, they are allowed to apply for permission to work, but there are strict rules about what they can do. Begging is illegal
  • Health care and education for children under 18 is provided. This isn’t just to be nice: if someone comes from a country where there might be diseases like yellow fever, typhoid, you want to make sure they aren’t infectious. Apart from a few exceptions, all immigrants wanting to stay for 6 months or more are required to have a health check before being allowed entry, regardless of who they are. Local authorities have a legal duty to make sure all children below a certain age are educated and school is the usual way to do this

Asylum and immigration are often confused. However an asylum seeker is someone who flees their country to escape persecution while an immigrant is someone who enters the country for other reasons. While asylum seekers should seek refuge in the nearest safe country, often they make arrangements to escape without knowing or caring where they’ll end up. They don’t just seek asylum in the UK: a quick Google suggest almost everywhere has people claiming political asylum. However a story about Somali asylum seekers claiming refuge in, for example, Kenya isn’t exactly going to be headline news in the rightwing UK tabloids. Kenyan treatment of asylum seekers isn’t exactly pleasant so it’s not surprising people go elsewhere.

Houses meme

Inspired by a post by oldbloke

1. Go to http://www.rightmove.co.uk (or some other property site of your choice)
2. Enter the first bit of your postcode, or the area where you live
3. Pick the most expensive house there that you’d like to buy if money was no object
4. Post a link to it below (use http://tinyurl.com or http://bit.ly to shorten it if it’s a really long link)
5. Post these instructions on your blog if you can be bothered

It’s Saturday night and I’m bored so I thought I’d start this one and see what happens.