Friday, 5 February 2010

Virgin ™ Queen

Patriotism runs through the British people like blood - or as the word Blackpool runs through seaside rock. Sometimes I miss it because I’m a pig and a pessimist about the welfare state’s bureaucracy.

Lorraine is smart and very knowledgeable about the benefits laws and rules and works two steps above me in the welfare hierarchy.

She’s also about half my age, half my body weight and as cute and as small as a sugar mouse.

And there’s the problem, I think. She has an infectious giggle (infectious like the Black Death) and resembles one of those fluffy office bunnies that the, um, maturer women of firmer figure and unfulfilled or unfulfilling ambitions love to dislike. If you didn’t know her for the benefits regulations wizard that she is and met her at a party or something you’d think: senior stylist at Toni & Guy, or guess her to be the Lancôme agent at Boots.

(Fear not for my marital fidelity here, gentle reader; Mrs. Northwester sits as close to me in all her Valkyrie charm as Lorraine does and herself outshines the rest of Womankind as the Sun does all the other stars.)

So I’m guessing that it’s mostly the avuncularity that comes with middle age that makes me think Lorraine’s just too cute for words. And I’m a pig; remember that.

But Lorraine has the heart of Elizabeth I.

It was like this at the office a week or so ago.

There were these two benefits advice cases: each concerned young people on whose behalf a parent was trying to get more payments out of the system for their offspring, and each was running into difficulties because their adult child was incommunicado one way or another.

Now the Data Protection Act, strange to tell, informs and constrains all that we do regarding inquiries and appeals about benefits claims. We just can’t talk to any third party about a person’s claim (even by as much as admitting that such as claim even exists) without a claimant’s written permission in advance or their verbal authorization if they are present there with their case worker/parent/prison officer.

And sometimes the law and the regulations require us to actually have information - often written and signed for - from the claimants themselves, or benefits just can’t be paid.

Most third parties don’t understand this. Most of them don’t even live in a world where abstract principles such as the law of the land apply to their own interests or desires, and therefore anyone who obstructs them when seeking what they want is an affront to their human dignity and some kind of bureaucratic bully. They don’t know the law and don’t care about it because ‘their money’ is involved here. But they do know their rights. Parents, friends, previously undeclared ‘partners,’ landlords and some ‘case workers’ who turn out to be nursing home cleaners trying to help some granny out, waste about half our phone time trying to negotiate or bluster out of us exceptions to the rules of confidentiality.

Prize Number One went to the mother of a jailbird trying to persuade us that he had been still officially the resident of accommodation for which benefit should be paid for a period during which he had been in prison. There are circumstances when the system is obliged to provide help with rent for those on remand or in prison on short sentences, and Mrs. A (Miss A in all probability) wanted to persuade us that for a certain period last year he had been ‘resident’ for benefits purposes, and thus that he should have help with his rent for that time – money that in all probability the highly suspect landlord should have no right to and thus which we should not advise The Housing to hand over as benefit payments. It looked exactly like a scam. Young Mr. A, however, was in prison again, and unable to tell us there and then that it’s okay to talk to Mum, and likely too lazy (and too unconcerned about what might become of his flat and possessions whilst he was Inside – the State will provide) to write to us any time soon at all, if ever. If he even could read and write. He’d never worked in his life and had been ‘in trouble’ ever since at the age of sixteen truancy metamorphosed itself into Not In Employment, Education or Training.

But we are supposed to help when we can (it says it right there on our contracts and a tiny percentage of us don’t even object to the system sending tax money to criminals and their families,) and so a number of senior benefits advisers and managers spent some considerable time trying to persuade the incandescent and Infinitely Entitled ‘Mrs’. A to persuade the thieving little scrote to Put It In Writing, and we’d see what we can do.

Benefits bureaucrat time spend / wasted on this oxygen thief, his pullulating family and the landlordly parasite? Maybe six hours. Six hours wasted when we could have been detecting and correcting overpayments caused by fraud and error, or helping pensioners actually get what they had earned and saved and were taxed to receive, or people who really do have debilitating illnesses or injuries rather than employment-absolving ‘depression’ or ‘panic attacks.’

Prize Number Two was actually a sad case.

Young Mr. B was unable to come to the phone at all, and we needed confirmation from him about something to authorize help with rent for a similar early period. Dad wasn’t getting it either. Poor chap, he was trying to keep the lad from getting into debt and plain couldn’t see why his own say-so shouldn’t be enough to put the story straight and thus send the money on its way to fill a hole in Mr. B’s bank account. When you work all your life to support your family it’s not obvious to you why The Social can’t just recognise your integrity and truthfulness as you’ve always proved such by doing the job in all weathers come what may.

Same rules apply – no ‘okay’ in writing or in person from the customer and we can’t discuss it, full stop, and thus can’t explain just why the boy should write to us or phone ASAP. This is not merely a ‘detail’ or a ‘bureaucratic roadblock’: it’s Mr. B’s legal right not to have his parents pry into his finances without his say-so. We’d written to Mr. B at his new residence via a mailing address in Hampshire and though I expected the inquiry to be passed to him soon, I simply did not expect him to be free for a phone conversation in which we could explain the counter-intuitive point that we needed him to understand so he’d give us the information to prove he qualified for retrospective help with his rent.

It was frustrating. I wanted to help, and those around me wanted to help, but we couldn’t see a way around the confidentiality issue at that point. But Lorraine could, and she explained how we could get the job done without breaking the law or paying unjustified benefits. I won’t go into the details of our workaround which was boring, but the job was done.

Up jumped Lorraine with her idea, like an HMV Spitfire pilot and for all the world a Size Six Britannia: all elaborate summer holiday plans, boy band gossip…and patriotic indignation.

‘It’s not fair to do everything for someone in jail and then we can’t help someone who’s gone to fight for his country.’

In my opinion, the welfare state for working age ‘customers’ should be third or a quarter of its current size, but if anyone ever does decide to cut it down to non-insane proportions in terms of funding, entitlement and personnel, I hope they don’t start this bleach-blonde Boadicea.

Maybe they should start with a pig.

Picture from here.


James Higham said...

Nice profile - intrigued already:

She’s also about half my age, half my body weight and as cute and as small as a sugar mouse.

And there’s the problem, I think. She has an infectious giggle (infectious like the Black Death) and resembles one of those fluffy office bunnies that the, um, maturer women of firmer figure and unfulfilled or unfulfilling ambitions love to dislike.

North Northwester said...

She's fine...and much married. And probably votes Labour despite it all, and for the few good and still honourable old reasons there once were to do so, I'd guess.


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