Friday 11 January 2013

Value Range

A new mural in Bethany Baptist Church created by Hafal Blaenau Gwent

The National Lottery announced this week that it is giving Hafal £280,000 towards development of a Recovery Centre - a pioneering new venture which we have been planning for a while. The idea is to put our money (and the Lottery's) where our mouth is by developing a progressive new facility, registered as a hospital, where patients with high needs can get better quickly and stay better, breaking the cycle of relapse and readmission. Early days but the soundings we have taken with consultants and commissioners have been really positive so we will get started in earnest now. More on this in due course.

Meanwhile Hafal's Members are deeply concerned about changes in the benefits system. The ongoing anxieties about assessment are being compounded by the news that many benefits are being "capped" with just 1% rises over three years - which in reality means a reduction of perhaps 5% over that time.

The bare figures don't look all that dramatic but the problem is worse than it seems. People on low incomes have very limited control over outgoings, seeing most of their cash disappear inexorably and unavoidably on bills for rent, heat, light, etc, leaving a precious few pounds for food and going about their business. So if out of, say, £100 worth of benefits you might have £20 to play with then a 5% reduction means you've got just £15 instead, a very big difference indeed.

I don't know where Iain Duncan Smith does his shopping but I invite him to visit Tesco and fill his basket judiciously with the following:

1 sliced white loaf
1 litre skimmed milk
80 tea bags
1 kilo potatoes
3 cans baked beans
1 tin tomatoes
566g fresh chicken
1 tin cat food

If he has been really careful to choose the "value range" options he will be asked for £4.87 at the till - and then he could reflect that what is in his basket is how much he is taking away for every £100 worth of affected benefits like ESA (the cap doesn't apply to disability-specific benefits). I'm not saying here whether he's right or wrong to reduce benefits but it is right to reflect on what the policy means in real terms.

Incidentally the only item on the shopping list which I wouldn't be quite happy with is the value range tea bags - cheap at 27p but personally I would splash out on Glengettie (the famous Welsh tea grown I believe on the warm, south-facing slopes of the Preseli Mountains) or PG Tips. Cheap tea bags can be disappointing, though certainly preferable to posh teas like Earl Grey, "English Breakfast", etc which just taste like dish-water. Anything on the end of a string is particularly to be avoided.