It is fairly easy to be gloomy at this time of the year. The nights have drawn in, and the last bank holiday was almost three months ago. Christmas feels a long way off. Reading national newspapers or watching the news brings little cheer.
Good news stories are presented, in a way that seems designed to downplay any hope that might be derived from them. Good news is buried beneath a collective depression and pessimism.
We are told that unemployment is soaring and yet there are over 2.5 million more people in work than in 1997. Unemployment, despite the recession, is below the European average and below the United States and Canada.
We are told that nearly a million people under 25 years of age are unemployed, but this figure is inflated, as it includes over 250,000 full time students. In fact, there are more 18-24 year-olds in work now than in 1997. Long-term youth unemployment is far lower than in previous recessions.
I realise that statistics are not much comfort to anyone who is unemployed and struggling to find work, but, frankly, if we are fed pessimism and hopelessness and told things are worse than they actually are, then our get up and go gets up and goes.
So in this week’s column I want to talk about a little more of the good news that we might have missed.
Some of you may have missed news stories about the Government's Health
Guarantees. The NHS has made enormous progress over the last 12 years. Waiting times are the shortest since records began; three million more operations are carried out each year and there are 100 new or refurbished hospitals in the country.
But this is not a time for complacency. From 1 April 2010, patients will have legally-enforcable rights, designed to minimise waiting times. Patients will have the legal right to see a specialist within two weeks, if their GP suspects they have cancer. Ever-reducing waiting times, and these new guarantees, are really important if we are going to beat cancer locally.
But the missed “good news” is not just about health. There is more money for hard pressed families – up an average of £20 per week. From 2 November, income from Child Benefit will not count when calculating entitlement to Housing and Council Tax Benefit. This will mean many more low income families become eligible for Housing and Council Tax Benefit. If you think you might qualify, get assessed as quickly as possible and make sure you are not missing out.
And to try and encourage people, especially pensioners, to apply for the money, we are changing the name. The Council Tax Benefit will now be called the Council Tax Rebate. The British Legion asked for the name change, as they hope it will increase take-up among their more elderly members. The Government was happy to oblige.