Thursday, 25 March 2010

Call that a Budget?

As you are aware yesterday was Budget Day for the UK and probably one of the most important days of the last thirteen years for the Labour Government. Yes – it truly was a make or break day and I am sorry to say everything broke for them.

In light of the current economic situation, the vast debts Britain currently has and the prediction that by 2015 the country will be in the red to the tune of £1.4trillion, I for one, was hoping for a show of strength, for Alistair Darling to finally show us the plans the Labour Government have for steering us out of the recession and into more stability. Unfortunately what they gave us was a Budget with more potholes than our roads!

No surprise that Alistair Darling hit the usual money-grabbers such fuel, alcohol and cigarettes (luckily I don’t drive, smoke or drink Cider) as you can always depend on them to be at the forefront of any Government’s stealth tax plans but the real shocker was how badly the figures seemed to add up.

One example of this is the plans to abolish Stamp Duty for first-time buyers up to purchases of £250,000 and the respective introduction of a new 5% tax for homes sold for £1million. On the face of it this can only be good news can’t it? – surely it’s going to kick-start the property market? No – when you look a little deeper the expected figures are miles apart with the expected Stamp Duty break costing £550million by 2012 and the expected income from the “Mansion Tax” only generating some £390million – leaving us with a colossal shortfall.

For the small business owner like myself the figures are still as frightening and I can still see no long term strategy in place to assist me in keeping my business up and running. Yes, the Chancellor did announce a £2.5billion package and around 500,000 companies may benefit from a one year reduction in business rates but the increase in Employers’ National Insurance rates in 2011 will costs companies around £10billion.

Tax for the hardworking ordinary people also took an indirect hit. Whilst there was no tax increase, and for small things we have to be grateful, Darling did freeze the threshold levels. In real terms when this is related to the current rate of inflation of 3.7%, the Government will still manage to raise some £2.2 billion from us.

As I sit here pondering over the finer details of yesterday’s Budget, I shake my head in dismay. There are no positives here, there are no long term solutions here and there is no light shining at the end of the tunnel here. Darling and Brown have tried to temporarily fix the pot-holes and tried to keep the staunch Labour voters on board for the election but this budget had more water leaks than many of the London roads. Labour may well have hammered the final nail into the coffin – we will have to wait until May to see the real reaction from the voters.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Jobs Assistant

From my own personal experiences, I know just how difficult it can be for disabled people to secure meaningful employment. Unfortunately there is a long held myth that disabled people cannot or do not wish to work. In truth it is the exact opposite – many disabled people can and do wish to work. Unfortunately finding meaningful employment within mainstream society can prove extremely frustrating.

I see two main barriers for employment opportunities:- know-how and attitude. Let me explain......

Know-how – Many disabled people do not know where to source employment opportunities and many of the traditional methods such as Job Centres and Employment Agencies do not have the know-how to support them fully in their quest for employment. Now don’t get me wrong, I am sure these organisations do try to help but they do not understand how to provide the correct support and in many cases disabled people are merely encouraged to contact one of the many disability organisations for assistance. In turn, these organisations are inundated with potential candidates and their resources are stretched to the limits.

Attitude – As I have already stated, there is a long held myth concerning disabled people and employment and this misguided myth is, to this day, the main barrier for disabled people seeking employment. In addition, many potential employers are misguided in their attitudes as to what is involved in employing disabled people. Many see a disabled applicant and their first thoughts run along the lines of “we are going to have to make changes – how much is that going to cost the company” or “that person has a disability, so will probably need a lot of time off for sickness”. There is a need within the UK to re-educate employers. Whilst some changes may be necessary, it does not mean that there is a financial implication – it may just mean adapting the work patterns i.e. allowing flexible working hours etc and if there are financial implications, there may well be grants available that can assist with this. As for sickness, there is strong evidence to show that disabled people tend to take less sickness than non-disabled colleagues!

My company employs a number of disabled professionals and it was with this in mind that I began to consider what real opportunities there were for others seeking employment. Unfortunately, with all the best will in the world I cannot employ everyone! After careful consideration an idea formulated in my mind - why not set up an employment agency for disabled people. The idea took on a life of its own and in a very short timescale, I was able to set up a social enterprise called The Jobs Assistant which had a very successful launch in January 2010.

Since its launch The Jobs Assistant team have been busy putting in place the mechanisms that, I hope, will ensure its success. Contacts have been made with both applicants, partners and potential employers and we are still working steadily through these. The team are now entering the second phase of its launch – creating a strong presence in the marketplace.

To this end, I am delighted that The Jobs Assistant will be taking part in the Routes to Work event taking place on Tuesday 23rd March 2010 at the Europa Gallery, Sutton Central Library, St. Nicholas Way, Sutton, Surrey SM1 1EA.

This event will provide an opportunity for The Jobs Assistant to strengthen its presence in the marketplace, publicise our services and generally meet valuable contacts.

The Jobs Assistant team would welcome the opportunity to meet with you if you are planning to attend this event.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Assisted Suicide - New Guidelines

I have written a number of times over the past year regarding the issue of assisted suicide. This emotive topic always raises a number of opinions and whether you agree or disagree, I feel that having a clear understanding of the implications, particularly for the loved ones left behind, is long overdue. Therefore, like many others, I was pleased to see that clearer guidelines have now been set out and loved ones will know those implications which may impact on them.

For those who choose assisted suicide it has been a difficult decision as to whether they involve loved ones or not out of fear of prosecution. This fear has now been somewhat removed by the guidelines – helping a loved one to commit suicide out of compassion will no longer result in prosecution.

The Law Lords requested that guidelines be drawn up following their ruling last summer in the case of Debbie Purdy, who campaigned for dignity-in-dying (she had asked the courts for guidance on whether her husband would be prosecuted if he travelled to the Dignitas Clinic in Zurich with her). The guidelines set out by Keir Starmer effectively means the law will turn a blind eye to assisted suicide.

Mr Starmer said yesterday that mercy killing remains murder and that all cases where someone is suspected of assisting a suicide will be fully investigated.

‘The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim,’ he added. The policy does not change the law on assisted suicide. It does not open the door for euthanasia. It does not override the will of Parliament. What it does do is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not.’

However, the guidelines are not supported by many and some Disability charities are concerned that the guidelines could be used to pressure the vulnerable into death.

Richard Hawkes, of Scope, said: ‘We understand that assisted suicide is a complex and emotional issue. However, we do not support any weakening of the protection offered under the law on assisted suicide, which is exactly what these new guidelines do. Many disabled people are frightened by the consequences of these new guidelines and with good reason. There is a real danger these changes will result in disabled people being pressured to end their lives.’

I do agree with Richard Hawkes and I certainly feel that the guidelines should not be used as a tick box. Each case still needs to be handled with sensitivity but investigated to the fullest.