The entry level drug was Motorway Cops. We all think we are really good drivers and are glad to see the Police stop the dangerous, irresponsible and illegal road users. I moved on to 24 Hours in A&E, which turned out to focus less on blood, gore and stitching up and more on personal relationships. It is all the stronger for it. Now I’ll watch 999 What’s Your Emergency? 24 Hours in Police Custody, or pretty much anything that fits into the genre.
One of the themes that keeps resurfacing is ‘inappropriate’ use of services and resources. The homeless man who sleeps in the A&E waiting room because it’s warm and open all night. Or the old woman who calls the ambulance because she’s lonely. And then there are the large numbers of people with mental health problems that the police have to deal with.
I know a little about this as my Other Half works in that field. What seems quite clear is that cutbacks to other services are driving more people to rely on the emergency services. At its simplest it’s people who can’t, or don’t want to wait for a week to see their GP going to A&E instead.
At its worst, it’s people who have been repeatedly ‘sanctioned’ – had their benefits suspended – being driven to suicide. I don’t say this lightly, I lost a friend last year. He was sanctioned twice and successfully appealed twice. When he was sanctioned for a third time he gave up and took his own life.
There are hundreds of sanctioning horror stories. The latest I saw this week involved a man who was hospitalised by a serious asthma attack on the day he was supposed to sign on. He produced a letter from his consultant to explain the situation, but he was still sanctioned.
Have the staff at Job Centre Plus (what does the Plus actually mean?) become nastier and more callous? No, they’ve been given targets to issue so many sanctions a week, so any infraction, no matter what the circumstances is met with a sanction.
Apart from setting a tone of shame on unemployment and ill health, I genuinely don’t understand this approach by the government.
Setting aside the issue of zero hours contracts and non-jobs, we have record levels of employment and very low levels of unemployment. There isn’t a need to push people off ‘cosy’ benefits to fill gaps in the workforce.
By the way, there is nothing cosy about benefits. Although the headline benefits haven’t been cut (at least not in cash terms), there has been cut after cut – the bedroom tax, cuts to Council Tax Benefit. Your basic living allowance has to cover more and more.
The problem for the system is that all the money saved from sanctioning benefits and cutting services pushes people into greater and greater crises that spill out and end up with the emergency services having to deal with because there’s no one else left to.
This is not a sensible use of resources, but worse than that it is real people who are suffering needlessly. From any reasonable point of view it is despicable.
I’ll be on back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.