Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Desistance - Resistance - Social Value and Redemption

Zarin Sharif 
Start-Up Entrepreneur and Ex-Offender

During the time my head was being burnt out by the council over me setting up a business and trying to work in partnership with them, the Job centre and Probation … I received an email from Olinga about the Social Value Portal.

My initial thought was eh! I read it and thought to myself this is for me. I called Olinga and we had a chat. I don’t think he could believe what he was hearing and we had a laugh about it. From there I thought I’d try to communicate with the council, putting the Social Value Act 2012 in where I can.

I put some representations together in my own words fighting my case to be treated on my own individual merits but the main thing being my social exclusion and my attempts to overcome it. And their obligations in regards to the Social Value Act. And to my amazement it worked and I got a further rent free period. Now I’m on it from every angle.

I like it when they try to dismiss me or palm me off on someone else. It might work with others but not me. Unfortunately. My will to stay out of prison, stop reoffending and lead a law abiding lifestyle is bigger than someone’s efforts trying to mug me off.  As I’m living this experience I can’t believe it’s actually happening. And what worries me is it solely directed at me or is everyone being treated like this? It’s a question nobody wants to answer that’s what makes it all suspect. It’s a horrible feeling.

This is my story. As an offender I achieved a BSc Honours Degree in Social Sciences with Sociology via the Open University. With a couple of years left I wrote a blog for Choice FM for their Peace on the Streets campaign. After my release Choice FM put me in touch with Foundation4Life and I helped them do a few workshops about Gang Culture.

Here’s a few more things I have got up to.  Given a talk at the Centre for Social Justice about my experiences and failings of the criminal justice system. Only ethnic minority drugs representative in the north of England for 18-24 months. Published recently in a Prison Reform Trust and Prison Education Trust consultation Through the Gateway. A Few consultations with Nihal on BBC Asian Network. Since my release I have been trying to engage with my local council’s BME Network and find a way with the local authorities on how I can help. I thought the education I had learnt while studying and experiencing day to day would be of some value. Especially living in a region with high unemployment and crime. Wrong!

My reasons for wanting to work with the BME was because I come from that background and over the years have seen the increase of crime committed from within that group, mainly Pakistani lads. From the off I could see this council guy had an attitude problem and that is where our conflict of interests and personalities started. Mine were and still are for good reasons, I don’t know about him.

Constant rejection and been spoken to like your nothing, isn’t nice, but I put up with it because I know this is what it’s like being an offender. Through the course of time I’ve ended up attending National Treatment Agency substance misuse forums around the northeast of England. Straight away I pointed out there are no ethnic minorities here and the point was picked up. I wasn’t liked there either because of my knowledge and the truth hurts these people when they hear it.

I was sat there amongst the people who used to lock me up and try to govern my life outside in society too and quickly realised how powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands my subject matter expertise I had was. And I become challenging and they couldn’t take it. During my time there I was the most consistent ethnic minority representative there always questioning why there is no BME.

I packed it in when my value to them was £20. And I voluntarily as an ex-offender travelled all around the northeast at a cost to me financially, but never mind my willingness to help, more than anything was it a valuable experience. I got nowhere here but I made a very good attempt to see what was out there. Thinking on my feet I just went for it trying to get on within the framework of the Criminal Justice System. I achieved quite a bit but ultimately I had to find a job. The more I tried I again realised I had too much knowledge but it was the wrong kind.  The truth.

All the time I was trying to make a move on the BME in a positive way because I’m seeing more and more people going to prison from my area and especially amongst the Asians for drugs. Getting nowhere all the time and clearly being discriminated against by prejudices. Every time I tried I’ve walked away wanting to give someone a proper kicking.

And that is how I had my first encounter with local council. My first contact was like a police interview but I knew I could not go to prison for speaking my mind. So we all went for it, them with the formalities of listening and disregarding what you are saying but I was dealing with real facts. Because I’ve been prosecuted quite a few times I know how to build a case and by using my knowledge I quickly got them on the back foot. The problems started after I presented my case and they tried to give the brush off. Quickly I was on the phone quizzing him about his reasons. What a load of crap and I told them not to patronise and lie to me I don’t like it but that didn’t seem to bother them. So as a man they have never encountered before, with my full on rage, I stood up to them and put them on their toes.

Lets go out into the community and gather the facts. And what is a joke as the Freedom of Information manager he tried to tell me the evidence I provided was not credible. When I said it would be good enough in front of a judge, he was wounded. I was on him like a rash telling what is credible evidence and he couldn’t deny it. I’m still waiting for him to reply to my email about it. He knew I was too much for him so he tried palming me off on to his boss and he tried the same. He got a more tailored response but ultimately they are in a corner because I’m dealing in the facts from a broad range of the community and they are relying on what they have been told and know to be a waste of tax payer’s money.

One thing I did notice throughout this experience was the similarities in their attitudes as to what I come across and other inmates too.  The way they think they can talk to you and get away with it. It’s the one thing I always question and nobody seems to answer. Is it me you talk to like this or is it everyone else too? Straight on from that I’ve got other targets to meet and that is me getting off this unemployment lark.

Multi agency. But the brains behind it are the Job Centre/DWP and NOMS (National Offender Management Service).  In situation like this it is easy to see why it’s just easier to offend or carry on reoffending. It’s the way the abuse of power by the system is bullying you into submission and the way it makes you feel.  Knowledge is power in this experience and I keep a record by sending emails and keeping my offender manager informed. All the time people think they can brush me off but is this happening to other people?

I’m always out and about and am quizzing people and they too are experiencing this. Is this for real? I’m going to give you another example. I’m currently starting a small business. Between Probation and the Job Centre they put me in touch with a local charity. Since the beginning of the year I’ve put together a model of a sustainable business using most of my skills and references supplied by some well known business men in the area. The support given to me by my family, friends, associates and others has been more than appreciated. The time had come last week for me to hand in and get the help needed to finish the business plan for consideration. I was excited, buzzing and all that.

Then the guy working for the charity went into this rant about this personal grievance at work and that I should not submit my business plan through his works but somewhere else. My phone went off and it was one of the local colleges wanting to work with me on a project to help enhance the employment chances of students. I’m trying to tell him I need to put this in the plan too but somehow he’s on the phone to a secretary at work trying to somehow get some sort of message across to me. I walked off.

And again find myself in another complaint process asking is it me or everyone else too. Now I’ve got the Job Centre and Probation trying to distance themselves from this latest scenario. Leading me down the garden path and clearly in some cases being discriminatory because of my past. But their biggest fear my knowledge about my civil rights.

And again I have to do business with the council and they have already got their own perceptions about me. But they are not viewing me for my individual merits for individual situations. They have already painted a picture of me. But when I’m trying to do some good it hurts so I just stand up for myself and challenge when I have to.

I’m learning fast and am putting up a good fight to the opposition. About 4-6 weeks ago I was appointed some sort of business help from my Council. Have gone through the lip service and know there is nothing down for me really. But let’s go for it. The council official lets say trying to work with only works part time, 3 hours a week. How am I or anybody else supposed to work with in my experience with an answer machine, emails around working hours, support, advice and so on. And her holidays. I end up going down there and speak to her boss and caught him out straight away. I took a McKenzie witness with me. The guy was wounded but it didn’t stop him from trying it on.

I’ve come at a bad time, everyone is on holiday and unfortunately blah blah blah. Then starts telling me about hard done by he is and has only had 7 days holiday this year. I jumped up and said to him “do I look like a f*****g agony aunt to you?”. The witness started laughing, he didn’t know what to say.

What I can’t get my head around now is what is this 3 hour a week person who spends more time on holiday than at work is bringing to the citizens of the city? The cost to my life is more than what they can contemplate or are prepared to consider. Their proven lazy attitude towards everything I’ve tried is relentlessly a daily battle. But if this is how they are treating the whole of this community it seriously needs questioning. The consequences to this which I have pointed out to the Job Centre, probation, charity and not the council yet because I’m doing that through the Social Value Portal.

Here is the consequences of their actions. Crime, offending and reoffending. Substance misuse. Drugs misuse. Domestic violence. Further unemployment. Homelessness. Divorce. Suicide. These are some of the battles people are forced into or even choose as the way out. I don’t know what the numbers are involved, it happens. Is this how cheap some of us are and is it right for it to be normal practice because I’m proving it. Help!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Two Futures of Work

By Tom Lloyd
Visiting Fellow to Northampton Business School

Two contemporaneous, but very different arguments about the future of work are struggling for ascendancy.

The first is the ‘opportunity’ argument, which sees new technology as offering not only greater efficiency, but also much more choice in the way we work, and how much, and how long we work. It loosens the bonds that have hitherto tied us to organisations, workplaces, fixed hours, and careers devoted to climbing hierarchies. It makes labour markets more efficient, and purges them of prejudices that have reserved almost all of the power in organisations and most of the wealth they create for white males.

The ‘opportunity’ argument foresees re-configurations of work, and re-assignments of roles and responsibilities that will reduce the sacrifices, in terms of work-life balance, that people have had to make until now for fulfilling careers.

The other less optimistic, but, allegedly, more realistic argument about the future of work is the ‘threat’ argument. We’re living in a fool’s paradise, according to this view, if we think we can take our noses from the grindstone and re-arrange work patterns in ways that suit us more, and suit organisations less. At a time when Far Eastern people, in particular, are out-working and out-studying us and so poised to ‘eat our lunch’, as New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, puts it, we simply can’t afford to burden ourselves with such self-indulgent notions.

As Amy Chua warned us, in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin, 2011) the economic future belongs to the industrious and diligent. If our children don’t study until midnight, and we don’t work till we drop, we’re going to lose the world economic war, and our living standards will plummet.

According to this view, seeking a ‘better’ balance than the market produces between assignments of power and influence, and work and home life is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The modern world is intensely competitive. The only societies than can be expected to prosper are those with a strong work ethic.

So which argument is right? Time will tell, but my money is on the ‘opportunity’ argument, for two reasons.

First, the new work patterns that are emerging as people choose to work less, strike a different balance between work and home life, share jobs, retire early, or gradually (what Garrick Fraser, calls the ‘glide path’ http://executivealumni.com), will lead to better allocations of human resources, and make is easier for ability and talent to move to higher value uses.

Second, as the excellent Simon Kuper has pointed out (‘What are we working for?’, Financial Times, February 15/16, 2014), the current debate about the future of work in western economies is a sign of affluence, not of decadence. Working less and more flexibly is the reward for economic success, not a herald of economic failure. It is what economic growth is for. As Asians approach western living standards, they will choose to work less and more flexibly just as we have done.

We’re adaptable creatures. When we’re poor, we dedicate all of our energy, time and ability to escaping poverty. When we’ve succeeded we find we have more choice, and some of us choose to work less.

Find a short biography of Tom Lloyd's on the CCEG website HERE, along with his professional blog on business and management.

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[The views and opinions expressed in this blogs by guests or members of the CCEG are those of the author, and not of the CCEG or the University of Northampton Business School]

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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Immigration is a Good Thing

By Tom Lloyd
Visiting Fellow to Northampton Business School

If people were beating a path to your company’s door it would be a cause for celebration. More sales, more profit, and a higher share price. What’s not to like?

When people beat a path to our country’s door, a growing number of Britons turn to those who promise to stem the inflow. They fear that immigrants will steal their jobs and, by adding to the burden of welfare, increase taxation.

But all academic studies of the economic impact of immigrants show we are much better off with immigrants, than without them. A 2010 Brookings Institution survey of the academic literature found that ‘immigrants raise the overall standard of living ..... by boosting wages and lowering prices.’

They enlarge the economy and by making some businesses viable that would probably have failed without them, they create new jobs, and increase employment opportunities for everyone.

It is generally accepted that high-skilled immigrants increase the rate of company formation and innovation. Studies have shown that immigrants are more likely than native-borns to obtain patents for product and process inventions. High-skilled immigrants also bring to their host economies valuable knowledge of foreign markets, and cultures.

Although it is not so widely accepted, low-skilled immigrants also strengthen the economy.

Because they are younger, and more mobile than native-born workers they improve the efficiency of the labour market, and the problems caused by labour immobility, such as lower economic growth and the UK’s serious regional economic imbalances.

And, far from adding to it, immigrants actually ease the so-called ‘welfare burden’ in two ways.

First, because they are relatively young they impose no additional age-related welfare costs, and so help to defuse the ‘demographic time-bomb’ associated with the withdrawal of the baby-boomers from the workforce. Without tax-paying immigrants, the British pensions burden would soon become economically intolerable.
Second, because the marginal, per capita cost of welfare falls, as the population expands.

In other words, relatively young immigrants are likely to increase tax revenues more than they increase welfare costs. They have been shown by study, after study to deliver substantial net benefits to our economy.

It is, therefore, to be deeply regretted that demands for controls and ‘caps’ on immigration are likely to play a key role in shaping Britain’s political landscape over the next few years. All parties are committed, in one way or another, to respond positively to the apparent compulsion of a minority of members of native-born ethnic groups to harm themselves economically.

I’m not so na├»ve as to suppose there’s anything rational about the anti-immigration political groundswell. But it is one of the great tragedies of our age that the emotional responses of many native-born Britons to immigration do not include pride in the fact that people from other countries are attracted by the British qualities of stability, tolerance and liberalism, and the British principles of fair play and equality before the law.

The problems caused by tensions between ethnic groups are commonly attributed to immigration, but have little directly to do with the new immigration that ‘caps’ are designed to control. Instead of pandering to, and seeking votes from, irrational fears about rates of immigration, politicians would serve their constituents better if they lauded the economic benefits of immigration, and suggested that new immigrants enrich and add ‘hybrid vigour’ to our culture.

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[The views and opinions expressed in this blogs by guests or members of the CCEG are those of the author, and not of the CCEG or the University of Northampton Business School]

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