It is a description that was commonplace around our way when I was growing up.

My grandparents were fond of saying: “He’s all mouth and trousers” to provide a less than flattering summing up of a local politician who wasn’t anywhere near as good as he thought he was.

Although it has its origins in the North of England, this particular putdown was popular in South Wales during the 1970s and early 80s as well.

It is a phrase that has come back into my head in recent times, most recently when I received a missive from No.10 Downing Street in response to a petition I signed calling for greater recognition and support for carers in the UK.

The official response can be found here, but I decided to carry it in all its superficial splendour anyway:

We have listened to those who took the time to send responses to our proposals in the Green Paper ‘No one written off’. In the recently published White Paper ‘Raising expectations and increasing support: reforming welfare for the future’ we stated that we will not move existing groups from Income Support (IS) to a modified Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) until we have a clear and detailed plan setting out how we will reform the benefit system over the longer term. We will though take powers that enable the abolition of IS at a later date.

The proposal in ‘No one written off’ was to abolish IS, when resources allow, and move existing customers who do not migrate to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to JSA. The main groups affected by this proposed move would be lone parents with a child under the age of 7 and carers.

Recognising that these groups have responsibilities that take priority over job seeking, the proposal was to modify JSA so as to mirror the level of conditionality that is currently applied within IS. As benefit rates are also identical in JSA, the only actual change for both groups would be the name of their benefit.

Throughout the consultation period we received many responses from carers and their representatives opposing any move to JSA. Some of these were based on a misunderstanding of the proposal: some people thought we intended to move carers from Carer’s Allowance, which is not the case, whilst others thought they would be subject to the full job seeking requirements of JSA. A common thread running through the majority of responses was that the name of JSA itself was an insult to carers and suggested that their caring role is not work.

We recognise the important contribution that carers make to society and respect the work that they do. Moving to a modified JSA was not intended to suggest that caring is not work. The needs of carers will be central to our consideration of the future reform of the benefits system. We will ensure that proposals for a future system of support make appropriate provision for carers and fit well with the outcome of the Department of Health review of the care and support system.

The response is a supreme example of the art of saying a lot, without actually saying anything.

It is also further proof, if any were really needed, that this Government is best described as “all mouth and trousers”.

It looks good, it says the right things, but there is no substance to the style. The carefully constructed sentences are empty in meaning.

This response – and others I’ve seen – also raises another question.

What is the point of signing such e-petitions?

I can’t help thinking that this innovative use of technology is merely yet another example of a Government that is all mouth and trousers.

Along with the now almost ubiquitous Facebook group, viral campaigns and use of other online tools, I’m struggling to see the value of e-petitions.

They succeed in raising awareness, but how long does that last? This week it is an appeal for financial help to save Jaguar Land Rover, next week it is a campaign to give the Scrabulous replacement on Facebook a better name than Lexulous.

I might sound a little cynical.

Damn right I’m cynical.

And annoyed.

Not to mention frustrated and angry.

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12 responses »

  1. Rosemary says:

    Hi Paul,

    So much of what you have said is true especially about the usefulness of such petitions.However,this exercise did raise awareness and also Carer Watch have made some excellent contacts with various other groups including those for elderly/disabled.

    This is not the end of it though,just the beginning.Our response to the White Paper ………….

    Carer Watch would like to thank all those who supported our petition http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/caringiswork which closed on the 14th November 2008 with 1763 signatories.The petition called on the Prime Minister “to withdraw the proposal in the Welfare Reform Green Paper to transfer carers on Carers Allowance and Income Support to Job Seekers Allowance and to recognise carers valuable ‘social input’ by keeping carer benefits separate from the rest of the benefits system’

    Although we have not yet received an official reply to our petition, responding to objections from carers, the Government have now withdrawn their proposal to move carers on income support to job seekers allowance. On 10th December the Government issued The White Paper, ‘Raising expectation & increasing support’, stating “we have amended our proposal and will not move carers from Income Support until we have a clear and detailed plan setting out how we will reform the benefits system over the longer term”

    Whilst Carer Watch welcome the fact that the Government has listened to carers and acknowledged that job seekers allowance is not an appropriate benefit for them, we remain concerned about the effects of the White Paper proposals on vulnerable members of society including many of our carees. We are also concerned that at the launch of the White Paper, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions James Purnell said that he wanted more debate about how carers might fit into a single benefit for all working age people (SWAB).

    Carer Watch do not believe that carers should be included in a SWAB. We believe that carers’ valuable ‘social input’ should be recognised by keeping carer benefits separate from the rest of the benefit system. Carers have to provide a minimum of 35 hours a week care in order to qualify for Carers Allowance; care that would otherwise have to be provided by state-funded social care staff at a considerably higher cost to the taxpayer. Without carers our NHS and Social care system would collapse.

    Despite warm words from politicians praising the ‘amazing work’ that carers do, the reality is that the Government does not value carers or caring. Carers Allowance is the lowest earnings replacement benefit at just £50.55 a week. A recent study by Carers UK shows that three quarters of carers struggle to pay essential bills and more than half of them are in debt. Delaying dealing with carer benefits will impose further hardship on present and future carers.

    We believe that the Government should act now to fully recognise the work carers do in supporting the whole of society and protect carers from becoming impoverished by rewarding carers in real personal financial terms.

    We hope that you will continue to support us:

    http://carerwatchdotcom.myfineforum.org/index.php

    ……..

    I had been checking your blog and noticed it had not been used much in January.I hope it was due to you being busy and nothing more serious.Hope you are both well.

    Rosemary

  2. Paul Groves says:

    Rosemary – Thanks for the info, I’m just feeling very cynical. I’m hoping this is just the beginning.

    It has been a bit quiet on here and its mainly due to work getting in the way. I’ve actually written about it (will post later) and how I’m now working hard to redress the work-life balance again.

  3. Ursula says:

    Paul, I am confused. I thought the expression was: “All mouth and NO trousers”.

    Please complete my education.

    U

  4. Paul Groves says:

    Ursula: I believe that both expressions are acceptable, it just happens I prefer this to this.

    Although, as I understand it, the latter has more of a fighting link – as in “he’s very good at talking a good fight, but couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag”.

  5. dianasmith says:

    Interesting to stumble on this. (Rachel just passed me your details through twitter)

    Caring is a big theme of mine. I am still really finding myself again after 10 years of caring from my mother, who developed dementia in her mid 80s.

    Indirectly this is the reason I am now blogging and twittering!

    I became politically active purely as a result of finding out just how tough this all is.

    There was certainly a time when I could have crawled into my shell, paralysed with anger and just stayed there.

    My MP actually rescues me from this. He was enormously supportive, and we have been working on the whole matter of trying to reform care funding for the last couple of years together.

    He is campaigning for what he calls “welfare state 2” which would really help to deal with some of theses issues. I hope that the green paper will answer at least some of the questions when it comes out this spring. If it doesn’t then that will provide an opportunity to make a fuss!

    I have written a bit about it in section on partnership in http://www.davidkidney.com which is the website I now edit for David.

    Have plenty more to say on it too!

  6. dianasmith says:

    PS . I like your layout here. Just been playing with the appearance of my new blog in wordpress. Like your layout much better!

  7. Paul Groves says:

    Diana: Thanks for stopping by.

    I’m not usually this cynical…hang on, yes I am! But I am usually more constructive and positive about this particular issue – or, at least I try.

    I think my frustration is the result of feeling the Govt has become adept at playing with smoke and mirrors, providing an illusion it is listening and acting without actually doing anything worthwhile.

    Please let me know the link to your blog.

  8. Rosemary says:

    For Diana…

    I did not want to impose on Paul by asking him to pass my email to you.However,if you are willing , I would like to hear about some of the issues you are covering with David. I have read the blog and it looks interesting.

    Let me know how you feel about this and only then I will impose on Paul to pass emails 😛

    Rosemary

  9. dianasmith says:

    Hi Paul.

    Here is the link. The layout will look a bit familiar, but I have just added in the strip of wood from the high house, so it doesn’t look too much like yours!

    http://dianamsmith.wordpress.com/

    This is all a bit new to me as you will see, It could go in lots of different directions. But I like the idea of a lot of people blogging. Far more chance of getting to the bottom of the very real problems people have than leaving it to the press and everyone else! Do you know many more in Staffordshire?

    I have not begun covering the care issue yet, There is so much to say. I have quite a lot of diary material, and probably half a book from the time I was living through it all.

    One document that i think I did put on David’s site was “spreading the risk”, which was the proposal I came up with for providing a fairer financial structure for care funding.

    Will probably start to talk about it a bit once i have had a chance to see the statement.

    You are of course right about the “fogging” on this. I was spitting feathers for a long while, and spent about three months feverishly studying the history of all this. The fact of the matter is that the care crisis has been well known about, but never fully understood, not just for years, but for Decades.

    The history makes interesting reading. In each case where there has been a report, all recommending root and branch reform, they have come out with a “top line” of the most urgent issue. This gets dealt with, the rest gets saved until later!

    No government has wanted to deal with it because it is inevitably going to be painfully expensive. People don’t like that kind of news.

    I had a bit of press coverage on all this when David put on a top level conference at Stafford University, to bring people together to work on this. The press are not always very good on complicated questions, and I am not sure it got us any further!

    Oh well!

  10. dianasmith says:

    Just spotted Rosemary’s comment.

    By all means pass on emails. or contact me through twitter if you like.

    The more people wotking on it the better I reckon.

    I am booked to talk to a load of Staffordshire Clergy about care issues, and how the churches might be more pro-active in November. Long time ahead
    but it might be an opportunitiy to move a few things forward.

  11. Paul Groves says:

    Diana: Thanks for letting me know about the email and the comment.
    There’s plenty of food for thought there.

    The site looks good. The great thing about blogging, Twitter etc is that none of us have really been doing it for that long – OK, some a little longer than others. So it means we’re all in this together, learning as we go along.

    A bit like caring, perhaps?

  12. dianasmith says:

    Hi Paul.
    You might like to see, I have done a blog as a response to the Carer’s strategy out today. http://dianamsmith.wordpress.com/

    Also another article on http://davidkidney.com/

    It is obviously possible to make all this stuff connect. Still trying to work out how.

    One of the twitter contacts I have picked up in Ohio emailed me this map of the networks they are building.

    Looks interesting i thought. http://i-open-education.near-time.net/wiki/i-open-collaborative-communities

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