Monday 31 January 2011

Clegg's Mental Health Miracle!

Well, I can't say I've been much more surprised by a government announcement (any government) than I was last night.

According to the Telegraph, in the next few days Nick Clegg will announce that the coalition expect the NHS to "cure" one million mental health patients by the next election!! A Million!!! It's a miracle! Will they use some new, previously undiscovered Amazonian root? Has there been a medical breakthrough in hippo toenail clippings? After all, the coalition hope to include a wide range of mental health conditions, including "eating disorders, self harm, addictions, attention disorders and post natal depression"

And what princely sum have they committed to this revolution? How much do they propose to support this mass "cure" with? £400 Million!! That's £400 for everyone "cured". So just about the cost of, what, 6 one-to-one counselling sessions? A series of group therapy? I know I should be sitting with my head in my hands, but I can't help it! Their obvious delusions and incapability of living anywhere near planet earth leave me a little hysterical. 

In fact, the sad thing is, the basis of these announcements is probably sound. They aim to put mental health issues on an even footing with physical health conditions, removing the stigma so often associated with the former. To show their intent, they will symbolically remove an archaic law that precludes an MP from sitting if he has spent more than 6 months in a mental institution. (No! No! So...many...puns...can't...stop...myself)

They also argue - almost certainly correctly - that mental health conditions need group therapy and one-to-one counselling rather than a lifetime abandoned on drugs such as Prozac. 

They're right to focus on this, right to aim to remove people from medications when their core problems need addressing, right to de-stigmatise, but self harm is on that list!! Eating disorders!! During my last stay in hospital, there was a young girl with an eating disorder - she was an inpatient for all of the six weeks I was in and out myself and needed two staff to guard her permanently, 24 hours a day. She was a danger to herself and others and needed tube feeding. The cost of her treatment was obviously eye-watering - she was getting all the support, counselling and care she could have hoped for, but still she was skeletal, still she thought she was fat and still, she was not at all certain to live. 

However noble the aims, I worry greatly that if a policy sounds too simplistic, then it was probably researched simplistically and is based on simplistic assumptions. That word "cure" too - what were they thinking? Surely very few people who've suffered depression or other mental health problems would consider themselves "cured"? They know that the dark cloud can fall at any time, that there will be good days and bad days, that depression or panic or hopelessness are just a random moment away. "Cure" is worrying, even a little sinister. I can only think they mean to put Soma in the water and be done with it. Even the Telegraph put the word cure in quotation marks, as if to disassociate from it

As a final thought, at a time when economists predict the worst financial conditions for a generation or two, when unemployment is set to rise, homes are predicted to be lost, belts will be tightened and inflation is soaring, is it not rather more likely that mental health issues will increase? Has anyone pointed out to the naively optimistic Mr Clegg that the economic term "Depression" is not entirely coincidental?

Sunday 30 January 2011

You Cannot Break the Broken

"What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?"
Hamlet, Act II Scene II 

There is one thing being terribly sick gives you. Determination. I have fought this system before I was even old enough to know I was fighting. I have fought for my life. I don't exaggerate - the nurse who mistook my stroke for a panic attack, the "doctor" who concluded I was fine hours before my bowel burst, the consultant who caused a massive seizure by refusing to treat an out of control infection. 

All is rotten in the state of healthcare and I will fight until my dying breath to win dignity and respect for those that suffer unimaginable agonies and have to find the strength to fight the very system supposed to save them. 

So how did the fight go this week? Well, it started with the story of Riven Vincent, so desperate for support, demoralised by Cameron's broken promises on long term care, that she could see no alternative but to put her profoundly disabled daughter into care. But it's OK, "Dave" held a press conference and told a load more lies and it all settled down. 

Then disabled people and their supporters held a National Day of Protest. Up and down the country, in their chairs and their hoists, they battled to the ATOS offices to protest the disgrace of "assessments" finding nearly all seriously ill and disabled people able to work. It went totally unreported by the National Media.

Of course, the national media were delighted to jump on these untrue, distorted figures and tell their readers that "94% claiming sickness benefit were skivers just trying it on". I wrote a letter to shame them and hundreds of you emailed it to them. One of the papers simply ended up deleting the letter. Neither replied or retracted their lies.

The Broken of Britain have reported both the Mail and the Express to the Press complaints Commission and has asked the Cabinet Office to investigate a transgression of the Ministerial Code such that 

 "Chris Grayling has breached Section 1.2 d) and i) Section 6.3, and Section 8.4 of the Ministerial Code. Particular attention is drawn to Section 6.3, that : "Official facilities and resources may not be used for the dissemination of material which is essentially party political."  

Finally, heartened by the new Channel Four news programme 10 O Clock Live running an expose of a private company working for the government (SERCO), we asked them to investigate ATOS too. They refused to publish a single one of our pleas. 

On a personal note, I went to see my GP weeping with a sudden onset of what appeared to be gallstones. He sent me home with a confident diagnosis of muscle strain

And today, I have indeed lost all my mirth. Yes, this corrupt corner of the earth does seem to me a sterile promontory. I wish indeed that this too too solid flesh would melt but you pathetic little boys who run my country, remember this. You are fighting a group who know nothing but fighting. We know like no other group that when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions. 

We will keep on telling the country what you are trying to do in their name. We will keep on telling our stories, we will keep on fighting the press, badgering them to care, (when they ought to care already) and we will win. Because all too soon it will be one of their children or mothers or wives abandoned by you and they will wonder how on earth they didn't listen before. 

So, government ministers, opposition benches, media moguls and journalists:

"To thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

Thanks to The Bard, who I'm sure will forgive my plagiarism in an excellent cause. 

Saturday 29 January 2011

Evening doctor.

"Evening Susan." "Evening doctor." (Eyeing each other warily")

He is not my doctor, mine has a day off. This doctor is cruel and dislikes me.

"What seems to be the problem? (As if I don't know, *sardonic eyebrow, smarmy smirk*)

" Well, for three or four days, I've had terible pain in my back. It's got worse and worse until today I had to pull my boy out of school and come to see you immediately. The pain's so intense I can't help crying.  (Tears plopping onto cheek, *don't cry, don't CRY!!!*) It doesn't feel like my normal pain - this is a burning, pain across the entire top right hand side of my body, all of the area beneath my ribcage, around my side and through to my back.

(She's run out of junkie-drops *reaches for prescription pad*)

"Does it say in my notes when I last needed any painkillers?" * Forces him to look it up on the computer to tell me it was nearly four weeks ago*

And that's just under 6 weeks since major bowel surgery. He looks at me as if we are done.

"Can you examine me please?" *Small voice, throw me a crumb here*

Cold stephoscope wearily produced, listens to chest, taps and pushes ribcage front and back.

"Any pain Susan? Here! Or here? Or here? Tippety tap, were done in a snap.

"What do you think is causing the pain doctor?"

*Craving for an opiate hit of course* "Oh, I expect it's just muscular"

"Muscular? It doesn't feel like a muscle"

"Just take the painkillers Susan" *and go, I've got really sick people to see.*

*persistently* "So it can't be an infection anywhere then? or radiating pain from a nasty adhesion?!

"No, no no, just pain. Better soon"
I am dismissed, but I don't want to leave. How did we start speaking different languages? Is there any complaint I could see him for that he didn't conclude was fake? Unlikely. I sigh and pick up my bag.

"What shall I do if it gets worse?"

"Oh, just go to A&E Susan"



My own doctor doesn't treat me like that. My own doctor has read my notes, has seen me have three lots of major bowel surgery. My own doctor knows that if the problem was junkie-drops, I'd have been there long before 4 weeks had passed. My own doctor gets to read the letters from the hospital, my consultants and my discharge letters. Problem is, there are 3 doctors at the practice and soon they will have to decide what treatment I do or don't get. Surely the conversation above shows just why that is a really, really bad idea?

Friday 28 January 2011

ATOS Expose Update

Well, what are we meant to do?

We post perfectly reasonable comments on the 10 O Clock Live comment thread asking them to look into ATOS as they did SERCO and they haven't printed a single comment. Not one.

Ever felt like it's all just one enormous scheme to keep us plebs out of the sweetie shop, peering longingly through the window?

All I can say is send 100, 1000 more. They might not print them but they'll get the message.

ATOS Expose

Just a quick post for all the spoonies and sickies.

I watched the quite excellent 10 O'clock Live last night. How overdue it is. A (very) funny politics show that actually manages to discuss issues seriously - quite a balancing act.

They even have "rants" - quite frankly a job I'm so overqualified for it's embarrassing. My new ambition is to take David Mitchell's slot of rant of the week.

Anyway, the point is, Lauren Laverne had a small slot "outing" SERCO, the company who seems to run just about every government contract that ATOS don't.

They even suggested a bit of direct action - they provided a link to suggesting viewers tell Nick Clegg exactly what they thought of SERCO. You see where I'm going with this don't you?

Yup, there's a comment thread

You know what to do ;)

Anyone who is concerned about ATOS, just click the link above and leave a short comment explaining what ATOS are doing to the sick and disabled, how they are incentivised, how they won the new 3 year contract, the appalling number of sick and disabled people they're finding "Fit For Work", the fact they now get to do it all over again with DLA - whichever point you feel like making. As it's a thread on SERCO, it might be an idea to start with something like "SERCO aren't the only private company acting dubiously in the government's name..." or "Thanks for highlighting this company, another you might be interested in is ATOS origin...." etc. A few simple pleas that they run the feature on ATOS would be great too.

It might be worth checking out ATOS' website - you'll notice there's no immediate information on the ESA or DLA assessments - in fact I couldn't find anything at all, though I only skimmed it. They just seem to be a nice IT company who make and operate systems.

A Channel 4 expose on ATOS, however brief, by a programme who don't give a fig what they say or who they offend could be quite a coup eh guys??

UPDATE - Comments are moderated, but don't worry, they should appear soon enough. If not, don't worry anyway - the moderator will have to read them, and any kind of volume should see them passed on to higher powers.

Thursday 27 January 2011

RIP Jake Shoe

RIP Jake Shoe. 1960 - 2011

Bon viveur, stubborn mule and unrivalled friend. 

A Spoonie who lived every moment until he died. 

"How d'you like them apples?"

Thank you Daily Mail and Express

                                                                                                       27th January 2011

To : Paul Dacre (Editor, Daily Mail)
Email : Tel : 020 7938 6000 The Daily Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street London W8 5TT
        Peter Hill (Editor, Daily Express
Email : Tel : 020 8612 7000 Daily Express, The Northern & Shell Building, Number 10 Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6EN

Dear Sirs,

I wanted to thank you so much for highlighting the disgrace of Incapacity Benefit (Now ESA, 26th Jan 2011)

This is a terrible situation that has been - until now - largely ignored by the UK Media and successive governments, so to see not one, but two national newspapers printing the details on their front pages gave me hope that, at last, something would be done. Thanks to your excellent journalism, the entire country now knows that out of work sickness benefits are effectively a thing of the past in the UK.

As you pointed out, hardly any ESA claimants are being found unable to work. As I believe your excellent newspapers suggested, only 7% - 9% of those previously claiming help are now being considered incapable of any work at all.

At least 10 Million people suffer from a serious illness or disability in the UK. Only one in four of them claim out of work sickness benefits.

Official research figures show that:

300,000 people are diagnosed with Cancer a year
23,000 are Deaf/Blind
19,000 receive dialysis for Kidney Failure
40,000 have suffered a Spinal Injury
8,500 have Cystic Fibrosis
100,000 people have Multiple Sclerosis
180,000 people have Bowel Disease
3.7 Million live with Lung Disease
2.6 Million live with Heart Disease 
640,000 have Schizophrenia 
120,000 people suffer from Parkinson's 

As you can see, these few conditions alone bring us to well over 7 million already, yet only 2.6 million claim any out of work sickness benefits. Even those suffering from these extreme conditions often manage to work or manage alone without help from the taxpayer.

As you, and you alone were willing to point out, to suggest that almost all (91% - 93%) of those listed above can manage employment is ludicrous - even before you were prepared to highlight this atrocity, surely no-one in the country would seriously have put the figures anywhere close to that?

Of course, we all know that some people abuse the system. As a nation, at this difficult time we need to be determined as never before to weed out and punish those who make fraudulent claims and cheat the system. However, if you had paid National Insurance all of your life only to find yourself permanently disabled in a terrible accident or diagnosed with cancer, I'm sure most would hope that there would be some very modest support available. (ESA is less than £400 per month) Many gave their lives in successive wars to ensure that as a country we protected the most basic of human rights - a right to dignity for all - and to remove that right is a frightening echo of the past that most would agree we never thought to see.

Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for exposing this issue and pointing out to your patriotic and reasonable readers that some cuts are simply a cut too far.

On behalf of The Sick and Disabled of Britain
(Sent unsigned to avoid delay)

**If, like me, you want to thank these esteemed publications for finally bringing the horror of ESA and it's private assessors, ATOS, to a wider national audience, then do please use the contact details above and feel free to copy and paste my letter if you wish. 

UPDATE : Broken of Britain have written this genius, legally constructed complaint to the Press Complaints Commission AND to Parliament outlining how Chris Grayling broke three ministerial codes when releasing his press release. Don't you just love em?

Wednesday 26 January 2011

How am I?

Dave keeps nagging me not to forget to mention my health stuff. It is a "Diary" after all, so he tells me.

"But I feel fine" I whined. "There's lots going on in politics and campaigning, I'll write about being a sickie when I feel sickie again."

He gave me a look.

"Hmmmmm. How many times have you had diarrhoea today?"

"Weeell, six or seven?we "

"And what happened yesterday when you took the kids to a supermarket for the first time since your op?"

"Weeell, I couldn't get back to the car and had to sit in McDonalds for an hour and a half."

"And how do you feel today because you overdid it?

"Like I'm made of stiff things and jelly things all at once."

"And how are your legs healing from all those injections?"

"Weeell, I DO get almost constant cramps and unexpected stabbing pains. I can't get down on the floor and if I try I can't get up again, lol"

"Are you sleeping OK?"

"No! You know I never sleep OK, I'm too used to being up all night in pain."

"And where do we get to go on the 14th February, to celebrate Valentine's Day?"

"OK, OK, We take a 260 mile round trip to hospital for a consultant appointment and a bone density scan."

"How long is it since your operation?"

"Ummm... (counts on fingers) 5 weeks"

"Can you walk the boys too and from school yet?"

"Weeell, no-ooo, but..."

"And when will the chemo injections start again?"

"I'm not sure. Soon, but...."

"And what meds are you still taking?

"Weeell, lots, but less than last month!!!

"Right, will you PLEASE blog your version of well? Will you please explain that this frenzied burst of literary outpouring and energy is a Seize-The-Day type of determination, not due to some miracle cure? Will you show people how little un-well people expect and how low the bar of "well" is set? Will you explain that your "well" would definitely see most people calling in sick, unable to get out of bed, let alone go to work?"

"'Kayyyyyy. *said petulantly, scraping one foot on floor, pretending not to hear*

Movement for Change

I read the best bit of Labour news I'd seen for months yesterday. Movement for Change lives on!!!

Movement for Change was a project set up by David Miliband during his bid to be leader and was the first real attempt I've seen in my lifetime to return grass-roots activism to the Labour Party.

It was easy to be cynical, but meetings were run by ordinary members and chaired by activists. Politicians might be allowed to speak, but it was a movement for the people. Rallies were energetic, electric even. There seemed to be an enormous untapped need for something that gave people the tools to bring politics back to their own communities. Something that empowered them, that said, "Hey, you do it. You don't need us." Something that helped them go into their own streets and ask what needed changing, then gave them the strategies to get results.

When David didn't win the leadership, there was confusion over the future of M4C, but whoever did win had agreed to address a rally immediately after their Manchester conference speech, and I'd been invited to as a M4C guest. The meeting went ahead, and soon the songs and passionate speeches and testimonials of ordinary activists from up and down the country raised spirits and optimism. About half way through Ed walked in and took a seat with the speakers.

The whole point of M4C is to get results. No flim-flam proposing and seconding motions that stay in a dusty draw. Oh no! M4Cers are trained in negotiating and direct action campaigning - and it's not leftie-softy negotiating either. Well, Ed gave a little speech, then went to sit down, but the speaker stopped him. He asked if Ed would commit there and then to M4C, and if he would meet them within 2 weeks to discuss the future. Seemingly a little bemused, Ed agreed and went to leave. As he swept away with his entourage, the speaker (a low paid worker with a disabled child) called

"Mr Miliband! Mr Miiiiliband! Would you wait please, I haven't finished with you."

Uncertainly, Ed and his entourage hovered by the door as the activist finished a powerful testimonial about his own Movement for Change in his own community. At the end, (visibly shaking but adrenaline pumping) he told Ed he could go. Now that's my kind of politics.

I set up this very blog as my response to M4C. I went to London for the training and spent a few weeks wondering how a sickie like me could best put it into practise. Well, I've written, I've ranted, I've encouraged the sick and disabled to move for change in their own ways. I've had the confidence to send my work to the great and the good and to believe that my opinions are as valid as those of any Labour shadow minister. That's what M4C did. That's what it does. In a few weeks, I hope my site along with other disabled bloggers and campaigners will be running a national campaign, based directly on what I learned through M4C, using all the negotiating skills it provides to get real results.

The Labour Party now asking itself where it went wrong, what lessons it needs to learn, could do worse than consider how it completely dislocated from its own members. Not only its members, but the communities Keir Hardy believed it needed to represent.

I still think there's a total misconception at the heart of the Labour leadership. They appear to believe that rumblings of discontent or howls of outrage come only from militant troublemakers straight out of the 70s. They don't. They come from ordinary members who give up hours, weeks, even months of their time as volunteers, only to be ignored and even insulted when it's time to develop policy or give a TV interview.

I've lost count of the disappointed members who've told me they contacted their MP, or wrote to a particular minister or came up with a great campaign idea, but never had so much as a reply. Ever. How arrogant is it to think you can expect people to work for you with no feedback, no encouragement and no respect? If I became disgusted about anything my own party did, it was this.

It's still happening. The campaign against DLA and ESA cuts is gaining momentum daily. On the internet, it now appears to be the main issue that people are reading about, caring about and discussing.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of activists have spent months writing, emailing, tweeting, Facebooking and phoning Douglas Alexander (previously responsible for shadow DWP) and Ed Miliband. As far as I'm aware not one has had so much as an answer. "Taking time to listen and learn?" Not so much. To use a tired analogy, the disability cuts issue is now like a pressure cooker. If politicians don't act soon, the lid is about to blow off and the embarrassment of ignoring it could be fatal. Meanwhile Ed Miliband visits the offices of ATOS - the very company activists are disgusted with and praises their work!!!

"Listening" means you interact even when you don't like the subject or what you're being told. It means creating a party that represents its members views and not arrogantly assuming that those views are automatically inconsistent with the rest of the country.

If Movement for Change really does go ahead, if it gains the same momentum it gathered during the leadership campaign, if it is allowed to do exactly what it is supposed to - return the Labour Party to it's roots of championing local causes and empowering the voiceless - then it really could be the change Labour is grasping for. Thousands of dispossessed progressives could start to believe that Labour really will become the party of the people again. With 10,000 community leaders up and down the country, it has the power to change not just politics but every community in Britain.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Vindication? Yes. Satisfaction? No.

In case of any confusion this is NOT a good day for Labour.

We don't want to see growth plunge, we don't want to see people losing their jobs and we definitely DON'T EVER want to hear Little-Lord-Osborne utter the dreaded words "We need to do more. We just need more cuts."

Please, take a moment to read this from wiki on the last time we had huge debt and attempted to solve it with austerity and cuts. It led the world to broadly adopt a more Keynesian approach - whilst households should cut back in tough times, governments should not. They should spend where it stimulates growth, always doing the simple sum "If I spend this money, will it come back with interest?" If the answer is "Yes" then government should stimulate the economy and worry about its debt when times are more comfortable.

When a loan to Sheffield Forgemasters would have saved a thriving business and kept hundreds in jobs, then the tax ultimately taken would have far outweighed the original loan, never mind the interest they would also have earned.

When Labour had proposed to spend on repairing and building schools, the construction industry would have received a huge boost too. It's no coincidence that today's figures are so shocking because construction fell by 3.3%. In a quarter!

I'm hearing some fairly respectable commentators argue that these figures are not much to do with Osborne. Certainly they aren't all his measures, but there are factors that he and he alone is responsible for that have led to today's shocking blow to the economy.

1. Optimism. There has been little solid plan for how the coalition would create or support growth in the economy. Cuts were seen as enough and somehow, magically, the Private Sector would pick up the slack. The entire narrative has been of austerity, pain and blame. Business confidence fell sharply in autumn last year and although UK business is sitting on a surplus of over 600 Billion, they don't have enough faith in recovery to spend it. If we, the belt-tighteners can't spend, we really, really need business to.

2. "Efficiency Measures". They're really not. Most government spending was propping something up somewhere or saving more money from being spent elsewhere. The NHS alone is to find 25 Billion in "efficiency savings" and believe me (and the two months or so I just spent in and out of hospital) you don't save that kind of money from bandages and paper clips. Contracts are cut, service providers make redundancies or go bust and staff are cut. That's a lot of people not buying new cars or houses any time soon.

3. Stimulus. Whilst lots of cuts haven't taken place or effect yet, stimulus has often been withdrawn, and if businesses go bust or houses are repossessed or jobs are lost, that's all extra unemployment benefit and housing benefit to pay. What's more, you get less tax coming in, so there's even less money in the "plus" column.

Now, no-one seems to be saying much about the deficit do they? Remember when it was all a politician could talk about? Osborne predicted he would inherit a deficit of 200 Billion. At it's worse it was well above 170 Billion, but due to the stimulus measures Labour put in place, growth was strong and the UK was predicted to grow out of recession faster than any other Euro nation. By the time Osborne took over, it had fallen to just over 150 Billion - nearly 25 Billion in less than a year.

Since Osborne took over, anyone know what the figure is? How much have we saved from all this pain? All these jobs lost or soon to be? As I quoted earlier,
"With three months of the fiscal year remaining, the government may struggle to keep the deficit to the 148.5 billion pounds forecast by the Treasury’s fiscal watchdog in November."
Haven't seen that reported anywhere today, though. Funny.

Talking of reporting, I care about this stuff and had just written about it when the figures came out, but even I was a little mislead by the headlines. "UK growth shrank by 0.5%" Everyone reported.
I took it to mean "Wow, 0.7% last month, less 0.5% today, must mean 0.2% positive growth."
No! take the +0.7% of last quarter and reduce it to -0.5% overall. A contraction of 1.2%!!! That's 4.8% and it's enormous, shocking, frightening.

All those people who were so scared about the debt, the 36.1% who voted Conservative, all 10,726,614 voters (Oh yes, I am being specific) who chose the only party openly saying they would clear the entire deficit - really should have been much, much more frightened of the wrong plan to reduce it. Debt was never the issue. Whether the wrong plan could lead us into depression most certainly was.

Economics for Sickies 4

Any minute now we're going to get the growth figures - how much GDP has risen in the last three months. Gross Domestic Product. GDP. How much we all produced, bought etc together as a country.

Since the coalition came to power we've seen 1.1% growth in July (multiply this by the 4 quarters of the year, and it would have meant  annual growth of 4.4%! Osborne hadn't affected the economy at all at this point - none of his policies or cuts had come into effect and many of the Labour stimulus plans were still in place. Changes in the economy are a bit like turning a battleship - nothing takes effect for months if not years.

The next figure was 0.7% (annualised this would still have meant 2.8% which is pretty health growth too.) This figure was higher than expected and came as a bit of a shock to economists. Today we get the results from the last 3 months of the year and if you listen carefully this morning, you can hear the sound of politicians clucking. "Oh it was the snow/it was lack of confidence/it was a slow Xmas." I do hope you won't believe a word of it.

Like a stuck record, many of us have predicted pretty confidently, that Q2 2011 would see the UK back in recession. It's not really until then that little-lord Osborne will be the true creator of the economic situation we experience. The cuts will be biting, unemployment will be up (government own figures) and we will officially be sucking growth out of the economy rather than injecting support for it in. 

Predictions for today's GDP figure range from 0.1% (flirting with recession like Jordan at a nightclub after 17 slammers) to .7% (all ticketyboo) I'll predict 0.2% (annualised this would mean growth of 0.8%. With inflation at 4% ish, this is not good.

Why? Because the economy has to grow to pay for everything. Improved health care, higher population, more pensioners. High inflation means that "things" cost more. If the cost of a £1 loaf of bread goes up by 4% it then costs £1.04. Trouble is, with growth of just 0.8% £1 of your wages is only worth 1.00.8p. Effectively, you're feeling a recession whatever the official figures say.

I wonder what excuses they'll use in April when the 1st quarter results are due? Leaves on the track? Labour are secretly stashing money under their mattresses? Ireland/Greece/Spain are dragging us down?

It won't be any of these things. When people lose their jobs, you have to pay them unemployment benefits. When you cut elderly care, patients spend longer in hospital, costing much more. When you cut loans to businesses, they go bust - no growth from them any more. When people's homes are repossessed the government have to house them, another drain on our finances.

In the last few months of a Labour government, before the May election, stimulus measure had reduced the annual deficit prediction from well over 170 Billion to around 150 Billion. What is it predicted to be today?

"With three months of the fiscal year remaining, the government may struggle to keep the deficit to the 148.5 billion pounds forecast by the Treasury’s fiscal watchdog in November. "

Geddit? Austerity doesn't work repeat 100 times, austerity doesn't work, austerity doesn't work.... Hasn't worked in Portugal, certainly hasn't worked in Ireland, didn't work in the 30s won't work now. 
We all feel the pain, nothing gets better anyway. 

I know you still probably don't believe me. When we see a real probability of recession you might start to wonder, but it would be lovely if everyone woke up today, did the slappy forehead thing and said "Now I see. Let's sack this lot pronto."

Sickies Bit

The astonishment sickies feel when they hear all three political parties, the Conservatives, LibDems and Labour defending the totally indefensible - basically ending the right to almost any kind of Social Security if you get sick - they just can't understand it. When Ed Miliband visited ATOS offices in Scotland a few days ago, praising the very company that are charged with finding 91% of the long term sick and 20% of the more physically disabled fit to work, jaws drop in confusion. 

Well, think about this for a second. People are living longer. They need pensions and elderly care and extra NHS care. 
People are having fewer children (who's job it is to create the money to pay for pensions etc through the tax they pay while they are of working age)
The NHS needs to do ever more and costs ever more.

So what can we no longer afford? Something has to give? If we have to take a really tough decision about who we can afford to provide support to and who we can't, it can't be pensioners can it? You can't stop sending people to school!!

One might think we can't stop caring for transplant patients and cancer victims and those fading rapidly from terrible pain and disease, but apparently we can. We can and we are. It started under Labour with ESA, now Osborne has taken away the principle that if you paid into the system through NI you get a modest stipend if you find yourself too sick or disabled to work, by now limiting support to one year. I'm not a conspiracist or even much of a drama queen, but it really does look as though there is a political consensus that we just can't afford to look after the sick and disabled any more. Families and friends will have to pick up the slack and if they don't? Well God help us all. 

Update : Spot on!! 0.2%. On reflection perhaps I shouldn't be pleased about my accuracy :(
Update 2 : In my shock, I failed to notice it's worse than I thought! Growth wasn't half a % lower than last quarter, oh no. It FELL by 0.5%!! One more quarter of that and it's double dip. Quick go buy plasma screens and holidays. Oh I forgot, we can't. Osborne is tightening our belts.....

If I Could Talk..

I read this yesterday :

Every now and then, I read something that makes all the noise go away, stops me in my tracks for a minute and I hope whoever wrote this doesn't mind if I print the whole text:

A Year in the Life of a Scrounger

"Imagine that you’re put into a minibus one day and moved to a new house, in a new town where you don’t know anyone. Sometimes strange things like this happen to you, so you wait quietly for a while, and hope that it will start to make sense.

In your old house you sometimes went out for walks, so you knew that there was a garden outside with plants to smell, then a park with ropes and bars that you could touch. There were some shops and a library where you could meet new people and sometimes buy sweets.

You wait for days in your new house for someone to take you for a walk, but it never happens. You don’t understand where you are. You don’t know if the park and the shops are still nearby.

All of your friends have disappeared, and the people who look after you now don’t understand you. They’re busy, they put your bed supports in the wrong place because they’re in a rush and they haven’t been properly trained, so your arm goes numb and you get a rash on your face from dribbling. You can’t see very well, so you like to be warned before anything happens. But most of these new people never remember to touch your arms and talk to you before undressing you. Having your clothes suddenly tugged at makes you jump, so you start to feel nervous all the time. You never get to choose your favourite fleecy jumper by smiling when you touch it. You miss the people from your old house, who had more time, who talked to you before helping you move.

You don’t like the food here either, it seems as if someone different is helping you every day, and they shove the spoon into your mouth without touching it to your lip first. There isn’t time to smell the food before it’s in your mouth, so you don’t know what it is, even whether it’s sweet or savoury. Once it was very hot and burnt your tongue. You start to refuse food and to be sick after meals. You’re hungry, lonely and scared, so you cry a lot.

No one here has time to find out what music you like, someone sticks on a loud annoying CD, the same one, over and over again, and it gives you a headache, and no one ever dances or sings along with you. Because you cry so much now no one thinks to check if your pad needs changing, unless there’s a smell. You’re used to having your pad changed and sitting on the toilet after lunch, and could control your bladder, some of the time. No one knows that here, and you forget that you could ever do that.

Only one person helps to change you now, instead of two, and that means things don’t get done the proper way. Your leg got twisted, your arms get banged and you start to feel scared of the bathroom. While your leg was still hurting your physio session before bed made you scream, and now there isn’t any physio any more. Your toes curl up tighter and the muscles change shape. Your boots aren’t comfortable and your skin gets itchy. You can’t support yourself at all for transfers now.

At your old house you could communicate: through touch, through rhythm, through objects of reference that meant ‘bathroom’, ‘bed’ or ‘mealtime’. It was all written down in a little book by one of your friends there, and they showed it to you and read it aloud, and they gave you the bag with your objects of reference in to hold, so that you’d feel safe about coming here. But that book got lost on the first day, and nobody here knows how to talk to you, or how to listen, and they don’t have time to find out. They think your objects of reference are toys, so they got mixed in with everyone else’s stuff, and you’re forgetting what they meant.

At your old house you liked jokes. You had friends who told jokes by tapping a rhythm then changing it. You told jokes by dropping an object and laughing while someone stamped around your chair moaning and groaning to pick it up. You liked words like “moaning and groaning” and you recognised your favourite poems, joining in with the chorus. But now you can’t do these things. You can’t tap rhythms by yourself, or remember a poem in your head, and no one can appreciate a joke all by themselves. You’re so bored that you start to hurt yourself by hitting your head a lot more often, just to feel something, to see little flashes of light and hear the thud, just to get a few seconds of attention.

You had a life. You had friends, dignity, health, music and dancing, the outdoors, language and poetry, and lots of laughter. Now that’s gone. You don’t know that you’re one of hundreds of people that this happened to in 2011. Some, like you, were moved from care homes where they’d lived for years to cheaper, private, care homes with inadequate staffing levels. Some left their parents’ homes because their Mums and Dads received less and less support until they reached the point where they couldn’t go on any more. Some left long term loving Foster Carers for the same reasons. Some lived where they’d always lived, but had their mobility allowance cut, saw one-to-one time disappear, and lost friends through a rising staff turnover rate.

You can’t come together with these other people and make your needs known as a group, and you don’t understand why this has happened to you. You can’t start an online petition or a facebook group, call a meeting, lobby your MP and march on Westminster waving placards.

And that’s precisely why this is happening to you. Your voice is the hardest to hear, to most people it sounds like meaningless noise, random crying and shouting. That’s why you’re the first to feel what the cuts really mean, that they mean poverty, social exclusion, inadequate medical provision, increased inequality and silencing the voices of the vulnerable. It’s ok for you to feel that, because you don’t understand why and you can’t tell anyone how. You’re a ‘scrounger’, a ‘drain’ on a public purse that isn’t bottomless, you somehow caused the deficit and you’re going to pay for it.

That’s unless hundreds of other people shout with you. Unless hundreds of people get involved whocan start online petitions and facebook groups, call meetings, lobby MPs and march on Westminster, heckle at public meetings, hand out leaflets in the streets, write to their local papers, and demand that human rights are upheld. If that happens then life might get better again, you might leave the house again, meet new friends, even learn some new poems, next year.
In fact, a person with profound and multiple learning disabilities would be lucky to have their needs so well met even before the cuts are made. But things are going to get a lot worse for most people. The PMLD network have some good resources on general advocacy, but we need to find a way to advocate as a whole community for the rights of all people with PMLD. This is an issue that affects us all. Not just because anyone might in the future acquire a disability at any level of severity, or have a disabled child (or niece, nephew, or grandchild), but because it’s so simply a matter of human rights and justice.

Monday 24 January 2011

A Silent Protest

Up and down the country today, protest groups, concerned activists, sick and disabled people have been protesting outside the offices of ATOS against the disgrace of ESA and DLA cuts. As yet I've seen nothing at all on the national news about this, despite the internet being literally drenched with coverage. 

An able-bodied friend recently pointed out that until disabled people chained themselves to Osborne's legs or dragged themselves from their wheelchairs and hauled themselves arm over arm past Maria Miller (Conservative Minister for Disabilities) and the entire BBC news team, sick and disabled people would remain the untold story. 

He's right of course, and once again, this triggered a little thought that has been niggling at me for months : Could our greatest challenges now present our greatest opportunity?

Just imagine for a moment, hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people wheeling themselves, dragging themselves, limping and stumbling with gritted-teeth-determination through the sharp, cold London morning. Imagine them doing it without making a sound. “The Silent Protest” of a group with no voice.

A “march” if you like, but by a group who it costs so dearly, the country couldn’t fail to sit up and take notice. Armed with their oxygen tanks, their callipers as shields, armies of the deaf, regiments of the blind. A raw intake of willing warriors. 

It doesn’t matter how long it takes to march. Do you remember the story of the soldier, Phil Packer who took 26 days to complete the London Marathon? He raised nearly £1 million for Help For Heroes. Despite suffering a spinal cord injury in Iraq, he had a point to make, and nothing, nothing could have made it any more forcefully than showing people the effort it took him to get through that 26.6 mile course. (I don’t suggest a marathon though, obviously!)

Of course most disabled people, by definition can't go to rallies or march with placards. Some can't even leave their homes and others are incapable of understanding what is being done in their names.

I have been dreaming of a solution. If you’re too physically disabled to leave the house, if your mental health problems made it impossible, if you’re too frightened to attend and be labelled a "cheat" or too sick, then you could send a representative. We could ask friends or carers or loved ones if they would go for us. They must wear all black and if possible carry a banner saying “*** has MS” or “***is too frightened to march”. Or “***is having dialysis” etc. As these black clad, able-bodied shadows joined the disabled marchers they would only highlight just how voiceless we are as a group.

Right now, there may be nothing to lose. Since the CSR, sick and disabled people face losing almost everything anyway.  Politicians and trolls can say that if a few hundred of us make the trip, then we can make it to work, but they can’t say it about a million. Or two. Or three. 

Now, an event like this costs a lot of money. It needs armies of physically able volunteers and wealthy friends with deep pockets. It needs iron will and determination from people who realise that “This could be me”. These days, it needs a sprinkle of stardust and celebrity supporters, as well as some prominent political allies. Well, lucky old coalition! The sick and disabled have none of those things. 

But ideas can become campaigns and campaigns can attract powerful friends and friends can ensure humanity triumphs when we most need it to. Every anti-cuts group and disabled charity and loyal activist and progressive campaigner would need to come together, take a little of the strength they were so lucky to be born with and lend it to the weakest. 

National Day of Protest

Today is a big day for the sick and disabled.

It is the second National Day of Protest against the cuts sick and disabled people now face.

The emphasis is on ATOS Origin, the company responsible for the astonishingly unsuitable medical testing of disability and sickness benefits. At their headquarters in London, Triton Square, and at offices in Edinburgh, Leeds, Tyneside and Burnley, sick, disabled and able-bodied protesters will raise awareness about exactly why the system was not fit for purpose before the Conservative-led coalition ever came to power and simply cannot take any more strain. ATOS uses "medical professionals" to assess whether someone is sick enough or disabled enough to receive state support, but they aren't doctors or nurses. They are paid on results, incentivised to find us miraculously fit for work. The assessments are demeaning and frightening too, and sick and disabled people find them so distressing that some are even forced to consider taking their own lives.

Perhaps David Cameron and George Osborne will be more concerned about the protests planned in Gloucestershire or Hastings or Islington. When Sussex and the Shires stand with Glasgow and Birmingham, the public start to realise that something must really be wrong. Hastings plan to lay a trail of red drops, all the way to London and the breadth of the protests show that this isn't a minority problem - it's affecting millions of people from all backgrounds, all colours and all creeds in every town and village of the UK.

As with One Month Before Heartbreak The internet will be awash with bloggers and linkers and tweeters and Facebookers telling the world their messages, so do please join in even if you just send this article to three friends - you will be making an enormous difference to how these cuts are perceived and getting the protests in front of a wider audience.

If you need a little inspiration, then please watch this on YouTube : "Danny's Speech, Brassed Off, 1996"

If you watch nothing else today, then click on the link above - just a moment away from the kitten that can count or the bloke who can put his legs up his nose. You see, we've been here before. We don't have the luxury of saying, "Oh well, they'll be fine, they'll get through, we all just need to tighten our belts" because sick and disabled people often can't get through. They can't get out to protest and they wouldn't have the energy even if they did. If the miners were broken men in the 80s, then imagine how those who can't physically fight will be affected as they are targeted in the same way in 2011?

For those who can get to a protest today, thank you. For every person there today, there are 10, 50, maybe a thousand people at home, willing you on and manning the keyboards. If the recently departed Pete Postlethwaite from the tremendous clip above is watching, then I think he would be willing you on too.

**If you want to read testimonials from the sick and disabled and learn more about why ATOS and politicians are making a dreadful mistake over ESA and DLA, please do take a few minutes to read some of their powerful stories by clicking on the One Month Before Heartbreak link.


Sunday 23 January 2011

A Tale of Two Villages

I just went to visit my Mum and Dad. They still live in the same house I grew up in, surrounded by many of the same neighbours, using the same hairdresser, the same village store and the same butcher that they always used.

The house is in a nice little village in Sussex - hardly the badlands. I'm sure there are some official figures, somewhere that show the residents are in some upper quartile of the blah blah earnings blah with high housing demand and above average blah.

But figures never tell the full story do they?

In the optimistic wave of post war improvements of the late 40s and 50s, the village went from a few genteel rectories and Georgian piles to become one of the largest villages in the country. Streets of social housing appeared - built sturdily around nice village greens with horse chestnuts and elm trees to climb.

These were joined in the 60s and 70s by a maze of less aesthetic boxes, but were quickly crammed with eager residents. The streets I grew up in were equally populated by the "worthy (read working) poor" and total scallies. Ducking and diving was a way of life, fights broke out over wheel hubs and abandoned mattresses, and street parties held us all together with trestle tables and community spirit.

But scallies many were. If Shameless could ever have been set in the South East (?) It would have been filmed on our estate. My school was rougher than a cat's tongue and I think more 13 & 14 year old girls got pregnant than took their GCSEs.

I knew a boy who had his own car and the boot was crammed with knives and nunchuks and scary looking  spinning orbs set with blades. Another boy I knew shared joints with his 10 year old brother. Many went to prison and others disappeared.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, most didn't have much and we were usually only a dodgy look or a knocked pint away from violence. Nothing much has changed. I'll take you to my old local if you like, it's an eye opener I tell you. Actually I probably ought to take David Cameron and George Osborne - firstly because they might learn something, and secondly because I'd love to see them that scared.

When we arrived, there was a parish magazine laying on my Mum's coffee table. Like many others, the village has held together so successfully over the years, only because Cameron's Big society was already alive and kicking. Church groups ran the local youth group with just a little state assistance, elderly ladies ran flower shows and fetes - the neighbours still mow my (now elderly) parent's lawns every week and look in daily to check my Dad hasn't had a fall. Charity collections and stunts can be so regular that it's easy to forget if you're donating for the new playground or the teenage "Extreme Wheels Ramp" or a new roof for the village hall.

And I quote from the magazine :

"It's crunch time for our village Youth Centre after some 70 years of operating, the County Council looks set to pull the plug and close the facility in March 2011 as part of its cost-cutting/savings measures. This alongside the proposed closure of the Youth Wing in the next village, sadly looks like a broadside attack on our rural villages and our youngsters.

It seems the decision has been taken by WSCC to make some 2m of savings on the Youth Service"

It concludes with a weak appeal to the Big Society. "Will you save it yourselves?"

Maybe they will, but they can't save everything, and it's clear that there just aren't enough hours in the day. The church groups, the home-care volunteers, the willing-mowers and neighbourhood watchers are finally starting to realise that if they want the dog-pooh picked up or the youth centre to stay open or the sick to be cared for then they need to do even more. Cuts are no longer something that will happen "to them" they are becoming something that will happen "to us".

My laid back, non-political husband wondered if closing Youth Groups was altogether a good idea at a time police numbers are to be slashed and schools are being cut back. If you want to explain to your elderly, Telegraph reading neighbour or boss why some cuts might be a slash too far, then surely that innocent question is a good start?

Young people with nowhere to go, tricky home-lives and little educational aspiration will soon be vandalising slides and smashing windows and daubing filth on pristine sheds. If we tell them they're worth nothing to us, they will become their own caricature. Before you can say ASBO, that previously concerned community becomes torn apart, fighting against one another, no longer pulling together.

Some cuts save nothing. They just open up a whole hornets nest of trouble.

Calamity Clegg

Just watched Clegg on Marr.

Apparently, we're just too stupid to really understand why raising tuition fees from 3k to 9k will cost students less than "under Labour"

We're too slow to have yet made the mental transition from majority government to coalition, we're still adjusting it seems.

We just don't have the sense to realise that he wasn't elected. He lost. (Actually I had grasped that bit CC)

If we only had the intelligence to see the brilliance of pupil premiums and higher tax thresholds, we wouldn't keep harping on about silly, prosaic things like rising unemployment, falling growth and soaring inflation.

We're way too ill-informed to have noticed that Clegg's Liberals had planned Lansley's NHS reforms all along.

We were also totally gullible to believe that Labour too, protected the poorest students from paying tuition fees or paying back student loans until their incomes reached a certain level.

Even Coulson is just misunderstood, and if we weren't so keen to victimise his new bessie-mate Dave, We'd see that clearly. (Twitch, twitch, adjusts nicotine patch)

So it's all our fault, now I get it. If only we could scale the dizzying heights of his intelligence, achieve his zen like clarity of vision and think with his razor sharp ability, we wouldn't be so mis-informed and naive.

I might start a game online. Give Clegg a policy and watch him defend it - anything'll do, shutting down all schools, staffing hospitals with 5 year olds, changing police uniforms to red spotty boxers and ponchos - actually I wonder if Tory HQ are secretly playing this game already? Perhaps after a weary day of axe-wielding, Dodger Osborne relaxes by dreaming up hilarious policies for Calamity Clegg to support on national TV?

"Dave, Dave, listen to this one - let's get him to say all baby kittens need to be culled. Ooh, wait, no, let's make it pandas, people really like pandas."

And off he trudges, twitching above that one eye a little, desperate for a Marlboro, explaining why pandas just weren't an efficient use of oxygen any more and if Labour hadn't done so much selfish breathing, all the pandas would be saved.

Bet he can't wait for the next election. At last he'll be able to revert to the LibDem comfort zone of promising free sweets for all under 15s, a cure for malaria and well, no more bad things anywhere ever again.

And if we don't believe him next time, we were just never clever enough to fully appreciate his vision of true genius. Obviously.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Week in Scrounger Land

And what a week!!

With the stunning success of One Month Before Heartbreak, Alan Johnson resigning, Coulson finally releasing his grip on No10 and Blair at the Chilcot enquiry, (again) there are lots of cyber warriors with very sore fingers.

To save you the effort, here are links to my recent favourite Diary of A Benefit Scrounger offerings. Thanks you all SOOOO much for your support and remember, please keep tweeting, sharing, posting, linking, writing to MPS and telling friends. We're on the verge of a breakthrough and together, we really can make people listen. The story of a family crushed by cuts to sickness and disability benefits. Possibly the most harrowing One Month Before Heartbreak post. A vulnerable woman who sees no option but suicide. An appeal to the newspapers and TV to help the cause of the sickest and most vulnerable. Why I grab every moment of life I can Sick and Disabled people have no-one in politics fighting for them at all. Where do you stand on the Vulnerability Spectrum? Leaning towards Gandhi or Jeremy Clarkson? Will the able-bodied stand for us? And finally, to make you chuckle, some advice on trolls for sick & disabled bloggers

Friday 21 January 2011

Blair Blah.

When I thought about writing publicly, I only made one rule : Say what you think honestly. Never consider if it will be too controversial, or too unpalatable, or too taboo.

I have a feeling this one might not go down awfully well though. On the day Blair appears before Chilcot again I just can't bear the howls of outraged guff to go totally unchallenged. Wouldn't be democratic would it?

Firstly, Iraq. #iraqenquiry is now averaging 0.87 tweets a second on Twitter - what do these Tweeps honestly expect to hear? More to the point, is there anything they can possibly say that hasn't already been tweeted, blogged, posted and debated ad nauseum? Oh yes, of course, this morning is the moment when Blair will finally announce he is in fact more evil than Mugabe and had a cunning plan for world domination since he was three years old. It says a lot about the debate on this issue that most anti-war, anti-Blair people wouldn't disagree with either of those statements.

I suppose my attitude to Iraq was largely sceptical. "Dubya finishing Daddy's war" was my general feeling. I do however remember thinking that there were worse things one could do than aim to depose evil dictators practising mass genocide. I also remember UN resolution after UN resolution going unenforced as Saddam did exactly what he liked, sniggering from his Dr-No-Bunker or wherever he ran his evil from.

I'm not actually defending the war, but that will go un-noticed. The response is always waaaayyyyy too rabid for discussing facts or opinions. If I dare to mention that some good has almost certainly come from all this too, I will be hung drawn and quartered before you can say "knee-jerk reaction." A bit of Iraqi democracy sneaking through? a little more female emancipation? Don't even go there you disgusting apologist!!

I read a very interesting report once, claiming that more lives had, at that point, been saved in Iraq (from the fall of Saddam and his mass murders and shallow graves) than had been lost through the war. This cheered me and naively, I thought others would enjoy it too. Holy-Moly! The vitriol, the scorn, the determination to ignore everything but dodgy dossiers and dubious oil claims.

Anyway, Iraq, isn't really my thing. Ambivalence sums up my position really. (Duck! Ouch! That one hurt)

For Chilcot zealots, has it ever occurred to you what Maggie might have faced over the Belgrano? Or Eden over Suez or Churchill after WWII...well, and every politician since time began who took his country into any kind of war at all? Honestly, is there a single utopian that believes that all previous wars were just and nothing even vaguely murky happened, ever?

As for Blair the PM, if I have to read one more intelligent, supposedly astute writer telling me he was just a Tory, he ran the most right wing government of all time, he was a compulsive liar, or that he appropriated the Labour Party for his own evil ends, I think my exasperation might floweth-over.

See, I lived through most of the 70s and all of the 80s and 90s, and I remember a Labour Party so split by division, damaged by militancy, and ridiculed by the country, that it was on the verge of never being elected again. The bickering, the in-fighting, the purist adherence to irrelevant dogma - yet somehow, now I'm the only Labour type to remember the collective sigh of enormous relief we felt when Blair came along with his affable ways and public charm and said it was time to win elections again.

I remember the Labour cheers of joy in the commons when the minimum wage went through or nurses salaries were raised, or health budgets were increased, or peace was achieved in Northern Ireland or civil partnerships or winter fuel payments were announced. If it were even possible for the PFI blinkers to slip, I hardly think we can call Blair's government Tory. If indeed there is a Tory government waiting to do any of those things, then even I might vote for them. Honestly, the fascism of all those free museum visits or nursery places rates eh?

The man won three consecutive elections for Labour - three!!! We'd never won two before. He won the biggest majority of all time - twice. He won us the Olympics and saved the NHS. Yes saved it. Bite me.

Of course his biggest crime was making money. And having a wife who dared to be a QC. Both unforgivable crimes, obviously. How dare he make speeches and get paid for them? How dare he buy property and call himself a socialist? And her!! Tut!! QC, married to a PM, 4 kids and she dares to use a hairdresser!!

Don't bother telling me all the "evil" things he did, I'll only ever balance them up with the good and I've heard them all before. Over and over and over until my ears drop off. It's oh-so-British to build someone up, place them on that golden pedestal, only to tear them down. But for Labour members, it's practically a condition of membership.

Of course he got things wrong. He got some things so spectacularly wrong that it is indeed embarrassing - but then so have I. That night in the arse-end of Kent downing tequila slammers springs to mind. Even so, to pretend that Blair wasn't one of the most successful domestic Prime Ministers of all time is just silly. It's like trying to argue that Wayne Rooney is a complete and utter footBALLING failure because England can't win a world cup.

Introducing Signor Cojones

There's a spring in my step this morning - my kids keep telling me to stop singing Porgy and Bess over the Pink Panther.

The Right Honourable Ed Balls MP, Shadow Chancellor. Has a nice ring to it. A pugilistic, defiant ring.
I can't think of anyone I'd prefer to square up to Osborne - to wipe the snivelling, Dickensian, sneer from his doughy face.

For people who don't spend every waking moment following politics, here's my Things-you-might-not-know-about-Ed section :

* Balls is an economist with pretty impeccable credentials.
*If you meet him in the flesh he's surprisingly twinkly, which is irrelevant but nice.
*He also tweets regularly, but usually about baking cakes with the kids and weekends as House-Dad, which is also nice.
*He's a Co-Operative MP and a Fabian, which I'm sure accounts for a degree of our leftie step-springiness too.
*He clearly ponders as you speak to him - and not about tomorrow's debate or his heaving inbox (snigger, you had to allow me at least one "Balls" pun, albeit obtuse) - and responds surprisingly thoughtfully.
*He's the WBA Heavyweight Champion of Westminster, swatting lesser opponents away like parliamentary-bluefly (Do you see what I did there? Do you? Blue-fly, geddit?)
*He's married to Yvette Cooper, who was overwhelmingly the most popular Labour MP in the election of the shadow cabinet. She too is an economist and has a brain the size of a planet and knows a thing or two about feisty.

Still, fond as I am of imparting my bloated sense of omniscience on the great and the good, a little advice for Signor Cojones if I may...... *clears throat officiously*

Can we once and for all nail the clap-trap that this is about
Cuts V No Cuts please?
Instead, I propose we start to talk about
Cuts that Cost money V Cuts that Save money?

Trimming away nonsense procedures and made-up-jobs in the NHS = Saves money.
Cutting the Film Council that made £5 for every £1 it received from the government = Costs money

Simplifying the benefit system = Saves money
Cutting the Independent Living Fund, forcing Disabled from their own homes into residential care = Costs money

Keeping unemployment low = Saves money
Allowing unemployment to rise = Costs money

Cutting tax-avoidance = Saves money
Cutting support for businesses and home-owners Costs money

We absolutely have to get across to people that we understand they want the debt to shrink & the deficit to come down, but arbitrary, zealous slashing won't do that. 27% cuts to council budgets won't do that (you simply try to juggle vital services until you drop them all.) Cutting social care won't do that (costs are just transferred to the NHS) cutting EMAs won't do that (more young people will be abandoned to unemployment) - so many cuts just transfer costs to another department, or even cost more in increased Jobseekers Allowance claims or reduced tax take.

Anyway, that's enough economics from me. Best I stick to policy and strategy ie Cuts that Cost V Cuts that Save, rather than telling Signor Cojones how to add up. He needs no help from me with the maths. Reassuringly, he probably doesn't need much help from me on his plans of attack either, in his official capacity as official Tory-Myth-Destroyer. And as Dave will wearily tell you, I don't say that often.

ESA not the Poor Relation

Just for the record, I wanted to assure readers that ESA reform hasn't been pushed aside to fight the more "worthy" DLA reforms.

The times I've sat at home yelling at the computer or TV, feeling no-one ever spoke out for people who are ill rather than disabled at all. ESA isn't a working benefit. Often those that have to claim it have "hidden disabilities" such as my own. Sufferers of anything progressive or degenerative or long-term-variable may need to claim it. People so ill for so long that they are virtually un-employable may need to claim it. ESA is the most threatened, the most maligned and the most associated with "scroungers."

It's also under threat, but under government reforms, ESA is being ripped apart - only a shell will remain.

So, the consultation on DLA reform is underway and the initial consultation ends on 14th Feb. All heavy artillery is focussed on it as if by collective agreement. But rest assured, ESA reform is atrocious too - in many ways more so and has not been forgotten by the hundreds of disabled groups and bloggers.

"Just dealing with the right flank chaps, then all heavy artillery will be back on the front line."

For me, the most important thing was just to know someone out there cared about what I cared about. Could see the injustice and would speak for me. Well, I do, I can and I will.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Riven Vincent, 1st of Many

See, we haven't been exaggerating, we're not all raging drama-queens. This woman is so ground down, so exhausted, that she feels she has no choice but to put her severely disabled 6 year old daughter into care.

We've all been trying to explain that we're on the brink already. DLA practically impossible to get, ESA slashed, assessments and statements and care applications. Many already living in poverty, the amount judged acceptable for desperately ill people to live on so inadequate that we were experts at austerity long before the credit crunch.

For years and years, successive governments have cut support for the sick or at least made it harder to get the support in the first place. We vocal sickies and carers are shouting now because we simply can't afford to have anything else taken from us. We don't have the energy to fight, but somehow, this time we have to find it or Riven Vincent will be just the first of many, many stories of total desperation.

But do you know why I'm crying as I write this? It's Cameron's response in the Independent.

It implies that this is a one off, that a media friendly bucketload of mock-sympathy will make it all OK. There are Riven Vincents up and down the country saying exactly the same thing. But Mr Cameron doesn't write to them. He doesn't offer his personal attention in a press conference. In fact he's never replied to any of the groups I know of and we certainly didn't hear his "concern" or "understanding" from any of the hundreds of similar stories at One Month Before Heartbreak.

He mentions his son, Ivan, says how he understands because he's been there himself, claims he cares about this very issue. I just tried to lift some quotes from the article for you, but it just breaks me, I just can't read his disgusting dissembling again. You'll have to read it for yourself. Please, if you read my blog or the hundreds springing up like it, don't be fooled. Riven Vincent is just one of tens of thousands, not an isolated, extreme, example. She just happens to be an example Mr Cameron visited personally and promised not to betray. God forbid the Daily Mail should learn the truth.

But when you do, I beg you to remember that any money allocated to social care goes through Local Authority budgets - and these have been slashed up and down the country. Councils will soon have to decide whether they care for a child like Riven's or cut home care for cancer patients. Mr Cameron has made sure it won't be him who makes those kind of decisions.

Over the life of this parliament councils have to make cuts adding up to an impossible 27%. We're about to find out exactly what "impossible decisions" really are.

**Please, tell everyone about Riven Vincent. Tell your friends, your elderly neighbour, your colleagues. Perhaps some good can come from this - perhaps her story can change things before tens of thousands of others get to the same stage.

Labour need Time to develop Policy. But Principles never Change

Sure, it's tough. You get kicked out of power and 5 minutes later people are screaming "Well what would you do? You haven't even got a policy!!" At the same time, they don't actually want you to have a policy yet, it's too soon. If you start spouting policies, the public will think you're arrogant, that you haven't learned anything from your recent defeat.

You need to accept that you made mistakes, but if you're not careful, you spend so much time in humility, it's hard to point out how the "other lot" could be any worse.

Activists sit nervously, wondering "Will there be passion?" Will there be the fire and brimstone they feel? "Who are we now and who will we be?"

That "Who will we be" is the big problem, isn't it? Who will we be?? What on earth is that? A person who has to ask who they will be hasn't a clue who they actually are. Surely nothing has damaged politics more than watching those who appeal to us for trust at the ballot box morph into whichever politically-hollow-chameleon they think we want to see. We've sunk helplessly into a swamp of "Who shall we be" and seem to have almost totally forgotten how to ask who we are.

In a policy vacuum or a period of consultation, it's that "who we are" that can guide opposition. No matter what the government announce, you know in your soul if you support it or not. You can agonise over your own policy positions until the end of time, but in the meantime, principle should fill the gap. Activists know those principles in their DNA. No-one needs to learn them or make sure they are "on message". Best of all, if you oppose on principal, on instinct, the public sense it. These days, they can smell the blood of hypocrisy from 100 miles. If you oppose by focus group and fear of the Daily Mail, they've switched off before you've finished your first sentence.

So, when Lansley announces his chaotic, destructive plans for effectively privatising the NHS, the principles of a universal service, free at the point of use are all you need to defend. You can support that principle violently without yet needing to say what you'd do instead.

When nurses or fire fighters or police officers face redundancies by the tens of thousands, you know that of all the people in society you need to fight for, to speak for, it's them. If you've just spent 13 years in government building up their numbers because the pursuit of excellence in our public services underpin everything you stand for, then the principle will always retain credibility.

When benefit changes mean that hundreds of thousands of the poorest members of society will lose their homes, forced to move away from everything they know and rely on, the principle, stamped indelibly on the back of your membership card, that we "live together freely" tells you all you need to know. When those same reforms threaten to leave paraplegics without wheelchairs or cancer patients without hospice care, then surely that is a direct threat on the ability to "realise our true potential?"

When banks announce £7 billion in bonuses as reward for a system that failed so utterly we will be paying off their greed for generations, "Power, wealth and opportunity" are hardly resting "in the hands of the many not the few." That underlying principle that forged the party and shaped your vision of society gives you the legitimacy to claim "Well, whatever we decide, no party of mine would ever support that."

The problem is that legitimacy isn't it? Labour can only claim those principles if they again hold them dear. One PFI scheme too many, one war too far and those principles are shaken. Suddenly we're worrying more about the "squeezed middle" or the "worthy poor" than the worries that underpin all of our lives

The wealthy and powerful vote Labour too. In fewer numbers, certainly, but still in their hundreds of thousands. Not in self interest, but because they don't want to live in a gilded cage, sitting on a pile of cash while the poor starve and the sick suffer. They vote for the principles on the back of that Labour membership card. As long as the policies eventually reflect those principles, leaders can speak to all of us, not just to the contrived section of society focus groups favour that week - "Alarm clock Britain" "Mondeo Man" or "Worcester Woman." Perhaps most importantly of all, they might begin to speak again for the 35% or 40% of the population who no longer even bother to get up from their sofas and vote for anyone at all. The millions who believe politicians have no principles left.

Principles don't send you careering back to 70s militancy or 80s un-electability - far from it, they adapt to any time, simply underpinning the political compass, uniting a broad church of opinion behind a few unbreakable beliefs. They keep the Blairite and the Union leader fighting together, benefiting from each other's perspectives, safe in the knowledge that whichever policy ends up on the table, they will still be campaigning together to protect those vital principles.

A party that is frightened of it's principles looks hollow and unsure.

When Blair came to power, it was horses for courses. Labour had to finally prove that they could unify, it had to prove that whilst protecting Labour principles, they could slay Tory dragons. It had to shake the long held confidence of the Tories that only they would ever claim to be able to manage crime or inflation. The public wanted a massive reward for the trust they'd shown in allowing Blair not one but two unprecedented landslides. "Govern for us all" they said. Whatever you think of him now, his government achieved some basic principles that Labour had fought for since its birth - a minimum wage, free nursery education, excellence in health care and a passionate commitment to alleviating world poverty.

Ed finds himself leader of a party who lost their way. A party who forgot that whilst we govern for all, we fight for those who cannot fight alone. His great task is to prove that we remember why we exist. All the while there is still inequality, all the time we face exploitation, all the while people suffer injustice or prejudice they need a strong, confident Labour Party to show that their principles can offer the answers.

I don't think anyone wants him to fight Cameron on his own turf, as Cameron fought Blair and Blair fought Major. They want him to claim back the principles we allowed to fall away at times when reading that little membership card would have saved disgrace. Ed is no Cameron. He's inclusive and thoughtful and he's certainly no rudderless autocrat. If he allows our principles to shape his leadership and starts to convince the electorate that he knows instinctively what they are, then focus groups and tabloids start to lose their grip on policy making. I can't think there can be anyone in the UK who wouldn't agree that was long, long overdue.

**For the record, the quote on the back of a Labour membership card reads : "The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone so as to create for each of us, the means to to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."