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Cait Reilly’s heart’s in the right place, but maybe her head isn’t?

January 13, 2012 1 comment
Cait Reilly rails against workfare by taking coalition to court

Anti-worfare protests have appeared all over the UK, but is this part of a something-for-nothing culture?

My dad always had a saying: “If you’re young and a socialist your heart’s in the right place, but if you’re old and still a socialist, you’re head’s in the wrong place.”

When I was young I used to thin this was a simple platitude. I would bring it out at the pub every now and again as an adage, or prove a point, usually getting an appreciative chortle from the crowd.

In it’s most basic context it says that the young, free of any great burdens, are free to pursue ideological concepts. They can moan about the status quo, and rile against the establishment because they have no vested interest in it yet.

Once you hit a certain age you notice that we all need money to live and do the things that we enjoy. The older you get the more money becomes the necessity needed to allow those dependent on you to live and do the things they enjoy. Hence, poor Karl Marx spent most of his life in poverty.

I was a naive teenager once. I don’t say this condescendingly, or patronisingly, I say it with a certain degree of melancholia. While studying philosophy I envisaged a country where communism might work. I agreed with Marx’s idea that capitalism, embodied by private property, separates labour, capital and land, degrading the worker to a commodity to be bought and sold.

But poor Cait Reilly takes the biscuit. Her heart is in the right place as she rails ‘forced labour’, these poor graduates and unemployed people who have to do a few hours a week at Poundland. Marx would be pleased at her stand. But to anyone who has worked at places like Poundland, her stance is naïve, insulting and arrogant.

I may sound very Daily Mail here, but I didn’t languish on benefits waiting for an employer to hire me. I got myself a job that was flexible enough that allowed me to earn enough to take a week off here and there to do what I needed to do.

Benefits are for people who cannot find work. They are not a grant for students who think that after their degree they can sit around being paid by the state to volunteer. If you want a specific job, then yeah, you may have to do voluntary work, but a mature adult works to fund their placements.

At present I study two days a week on my NCTJ. I then work four days a week from either 11 or 12:30 until 9pm in a call centre, so that I can afford my rent, pay my bills and buy food.

But I go through this six days a week rigamarole so that every month I can do a week at a local newspaper. This is the pièce de résistance of my time, where I do the work that I want to do, where I use my philosophy degree, and get a stab at proving myself to editors and staff there that I may be a good employee one day.

So I have very little sympathy with someone who sits at home on the dole (sorry jobseeker’s), paying no rent or bills, and enjoying an perpetual work placement in a museum.

I have stacked shelves, waited tables, folded clothes, swept floors, emptied bins and cold-called hundreds, if not thousands of people. I have also chased shoplifters, been verbally abused (both in person and over the phone) and treated like a slave by employers. And you know what, the only ‘value’ this was to me was that I got paid and I’d eat!

It is insulting that there is such expectation out there, that I don’t need to take any job, because the state will provide for me. It is insulting to everyone who has ever had to take any job because they have mouths to feed. It is insulting to those who have had to do voluntary work in their spare time, giving up much of their social life because of the time they’ve missed work. And it isn’t just insulting to all the people who didn’t either go to university, or get the opportunity to do so, it is arrogant to be so presumptive about your qualities. Get the job, then be smug.

And although I have very strong opinions against Workfare, I do not think it breaches a human right to say you have been on benefits for six months, how about doing a bit of work to earn that?

Yes, there should be a less draconian way of getting able-bodied graduates and the long-term unemployed work experience. Yes, it is almost slave labour, and Marx would turn in his grave at the thought of it. But, guess what, in the real world you have to do things you don’t want to. I work with a considerable number of people who have lost good, well-paid jobs due to the recession. Do they sit about on benefits? Like hell, they have responsibilities. I have colleagues on my course who are having to do their work experience during their holidays because they have jobs and responsibilities.

And to cap it all off she seems to want to claim more money off the government by taking them to court? After living on benefits for over six months, she now wants to take more tax-payers funding as compensation? Is she using her jobseeker’s to pay for her lawyer? Or is it a ‘no win, no fee’ claim?

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Starting university? Here’s how to find the best insurance policy for students

September 22, 2011 1 comment

This is a feature I did for Thisismoney.co.uk, the personal finance website and supplement to the Mail on Sunday. It is, of course, with their kind permission that I reprint it here.

Advice for students on getting the best home insurance policy

Peace of mind: Make sure your insurance covers your possessions such as phones and iPods when you are out and about on campus

The common dorm room has changed since the days when a student would turn up with a few LPs and books, a record player and a government grant.

More and more students have laptops or desktops, smart phones and cameras in order to keep up with the demands of their education.

Criminals know there’s money to be made from this equipment.

Liam Burns, NUS President, comments that because ‘the nature of higher education means students need regular access to expensive equipment such as laptops and cameras’ they advise all students to take ‘precautions against theft and damage’ to gain ‘piece of mind’ and ensure they are not left out of pocket.

This may be why student insurance deals are popping up all over the web. So how do you decide which one to choose?

For those who choose to buy insurance, there are two options to consider: whether to extend your existing contents insurance or to buy a stand-alone policy.

 Using your existing contents insurance

Some home insurance brokers will offer student cover within their comprehensive or platinum packages, so it is worth talking to your or your parents’ provider first as you may already be covered.

If this is not the case, then there is the possibility of covering your possessions as an add-on to an existing policy.

Phil Paterson-Fox, head of home insurance at price comparison website Gocompare.com, says ‘it is well worth checking the cover available as it can mean you avoid doubling-up on cover.’   

However, he adds that ‘it is important that you check the policy terms and the exclusions.’ Some insurers have been known to only cover one student as part of their premium or comprehensive policies, so if you have siblings heading off to university make sure to find out exactly how far your cover stretches.

In 2009 Direct Line published information for students wanting to cover their kit. Parents who already have insurance with them could insure any number of children going off to university to the tune of £5,000 with the same full-cover protection offered to their own home.

Getting a tailor-made policy

The other option is to go through an independent student provider, to get a tailor-made policy. There are now loads of websites that offer specialist student insurance:  Cover4Students.com, Saxon and Endsleigh to name the big three.

These all have options to build your own policy, starting from £18 with Endsleigh, through to over £30 with Saxon, underwritten by Aviva, for their Student Shield policy cover.

Endsleigh is recommended by the National Union of Students (NUS) on their website.

All policies cover accidental loss or damage to your property while in your accommodation. But be careful to read the small print because the cheapest deals tend to leave out the very items you most want to cover, like laptops and cameras.

Different add-ons can be purchased to extend the cover to your person during term time, and while travelling to and from university at the start of term.

Know the terms and conditions

One of the main problems with both of these options is that the small print and exclusions may render your policy invalid if you don’t follow them carefully.

For example, if you leave your door unlocked or a window open, the policy that you so carefully crafted could be nul-and-void.

Phil from Gocompare.com advises ‘having a good look at your existing home cover and comparing it with policies specifically designed for students.’ 

He admits that there is ‘good value cover available’ but it always comes with restrictions and exclusions, so be careful.

Although student policies are advertised as uniquely catering to those at university, they may not be the best solution.

Martin Lewis, of Moneysavingexpert.com, warns students not to get bogged down by the ‘student specialists’. He advises parents and students to not ‘think only companies that advertise to student provide for students.

‘There are certainly peculiarities to being a student, but it’s a home insurance policy. The fact that you’re a student is mostly irrelevant.’

He adds, ‘Don’t narrow yourself to the student specialists unless you need to because of peculiarities of circumstance. Make sure your policy is right, and it covers you.’

Gocompare.com has published a list of tips for getting the best policy for you or your child’s time at university.

Student Home Insurance Dos and Don’ts

  • Never assume that you are automatically covered by your family home insurance policy, which may have restrictions outside the room or property. Make sure you check these details in the terms and conditions because it you could unwittingly invalidate your policy.
  • Always make sure your insurance covers what you actually own: the cheapest policies might not cover bikes, musical instruments or personal damages, and especially expensive items will need to be listed separately to make sure they are fully covered.
  • Watch your excess fees. While cover4students.com has an excess of £10 for their basic cover, Saxon charges a £55 excess for its Student Shield protection. Make sure you will be able to afford the excesses and that you know you are comfortable with them.
  • Always make sure you know exactly when your policy is valid to and from. Some insurers like Endsleigh will only provide stand-alone insurance during term-time, so make sure that if you are staying over the holidays that your cover is staying with you.
  • Don’t forget that although your insurer can replace your laptop and iPod, they cannot replace any of the data and files stored on it. It is always worth backing-up your files and important details in case the worst should happen.
  • Shop around, and never go for the cheapest option without making sure it covers everything you need it to cover. There’s no point having insurance cover up to £10,000 if it doesn’t cover your laptop, and the rest of your possessions are only worth £100!
  • The best method of protecting your property is to make sure you never leave any of your valuables visible in your room or vehicle, keep the door locked where possible, and use a property registrar like Immobilise.com to keep a register of all your items, so if they are stolen or lost, you can forward the exact details to your broker and the police.

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-2038483/Starting-university-Heres-best-insurance-policy-students.html#ixzz1YgrlHlcw

More Students Working Could Impact on the Student Experience

A little publicised but extremely relevant report has managed to slide through most of the UK’s media, yet it’s findings could have a massive impact on the future of English higher education policy.

The report in question is: The Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) Futuretrack Stage 3 report. This is a study following the 2006 cohort of 130,000 UCAS applicants from when they sent off their application until they enter their first job. The report is a fascinating source of information concerning the behaviour, expectations, aspirations, obstacles and feelings of a whole generation of students, and yet it has barely been mentioned in the media or in government press releases.

In light of recent events, namely the tripling of university tuition fees, the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and the massive cuts to university funding, this report should have been drawn upon, even if only to be used by the press to tear holes in the governments proposals. But news of Futuretrack has been scant on the ground.

The report is important for four reasons:

  • It tells us that on average more students are likely to be in employment in their last year of university than in their first;
  • That the number of hours they were doing paid work – on average – has increased;
  • It outlines students reasons for undertaking more work;
  • And it reinforces the idea that undertaking paid employment can have a on a students social life, economic situation and their expected results.

The fact that more students on average are forced in to paid employment by their third and final year of uni is ambiguous. Obviously when students first arrive at university they have a large student loan, a varying concept of the value of money and no links to local employers. As they go through university more will naturally pick up jobs. But the fact that third year is the most important should mean that more students should be leaving employment to concentrate on their finals. Futuretrack shows this is not the case, with both male and female students showing a tendency to be working almost four hours more a week in their final year. The main reasons given for this were to pay for increasing living and leisure costs or to get the necessary work experience for a foot in the door to a relevant employment sector.

This on it’s own is sad – it shows that the value of an academic education has been replaced by the business model of relevant experience driving the employment sector. Obviously students are heeding the message and fear that they may be left behind because others who do have the necessary work experience will have an advantage. However this is contradicted by institutions like Oxford and Cambridge, and other Russell Group universities who tell their students not to work. Students leaving these esteemed institutions are less likely to have trouble finding work than those who did get relevant work experience whilst at university, despite the fact that they may have little no work experience. It seems the business and university models of how best to get that first job are at odds.

The most interesting part of the study was the idea that students working can have an educational and socio-economic impact on their future. Although the report admits it is too early to investigate actual positive and negative effects, it does state that: “Students working long hours were more likely to be dissatisfied with various aspects of their courses, to predict lower grades for themselves than those who worked less and to participate in less other extra-curricular activities.”

Taking this altogether, it seems that students from the elite universities, which have more ways of raising money and supporting their students so they need not work, and can therefore get better grades. One would think that those who had worked would naturally have gained the experience to match the higher grades of these institutions, but no. It seems that getting relevant work experience only makes a difference if you are competing for a job with someone not from a Russell Group university. Sadly this has always been the case, so why do I grumble now?

I grumble now because with university fees set to triple a much wider gap is going to open between those institutions that can afford to support their students and those who can’t. It is my humble opinion, along with Higher Education Policy Institutes (HEPI) that very soon all the universities will be charging £9,000. The scheme has been set up as a market, and as such many universities will aim to match the highest fees to keep up with their competitors. There has been a lot of research on the governments claims of how a market driven higher education sector will improve participation, be more progressive and save the tax-payer money. Most notably by the HEPI, who said the plans had some “hugely optimistic assumptions”; and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) who reported that the plans could be “too complicated.” As Professor Roger Black, co-director of the Centre of Higher Education Research Development (CHERD) pointed out on Tuesday, proponents of the plans are falling back on the claim that increasing fees will improve quality by making universities improve standards or lose business. As he goes on to say, when picking their institutions, “it is prestige that is usually chosen, which has little or nothing to do with quality. In short, far from being an indicator of quality, price is a substitute for it.”

In this case, those students who fall into a similar demographic to those who now work because of fear of debt will be in even less of a bargaining position when looking for their first job. Under the new system I can see a lower tier where the final year students all have jobs, due to the massive rise in living expenses and fear of debt, whilst top institutions can help struggling students and very few of them take on gainful employment.

The last thing I want to touch is how these finding impact on the student experience. A few lines here and there in the media have mentioned how tripling fees will only fill the void left by cuts in public sector funding. What hasn’t received much press is how raising tuition fees will change the university experience. With fees tripling, but no improvement in education standards, it seems a bit rich to ask students to pay through the nose for the same system their predecessors paid only a fraction of the costs for, and our present politicians paid absolutely nothing for. If fees hikes are here to stay – and it looks like they are – then something has to be done by the government to improve the quality of education, which sadly wont be done because they would have to use some the funding they are desperate to save. When I approached AMOSSHE – the body responsible for the student experience – for a comment back in November, they politely refused. This implies to me that although students will be paying more, the standards will remain the same.

It is a scary time for students, and with private companies beginning to charge over £300 per week for student accommodation in London (I know Unite charges £100+ a week in Bristol, well above the usual cost of a private flat) the increase in the cost of living is going to hit students hard.

All this would be very sad, and really would take the value out of the educational experience itself, putting the value instead on the establishment in question. I feel this violates the raison d’etre of the UK’s higher education system, and would be a tragedy if it indeed came to this. If it matters more which institution you got your degree from, than the grade, or whether you have relevant work experience, then it will be a very sad day for the academic future of our country. As Brown says in the article mentioned above: “the new regime poses a real threat to quality assurance. We now face an increase in both state and market regulation, which will almost certainly increase compliance costs without any corresponding gains in quality.”