Friday 29 July 2011

Service Stations as a Microcosm of Capitalist Sheeple-Herding

I had to go to Addenbroookes Hospital yesterday. Cue the long, boring journey from Sussex to Cambridge, made longer and more boring by the road works that only appear at the start of school holidays.

Most political geeks like me have mini-causes ingrained in us. They achieve absolutely nothing but they make us feel better. I cannot buy a Murdoch paper, I refuse to buy drinks at Starbucks and I never, ever, use Motorway Service Stations.

Yesterday however, I had no choice. Just past Gatwick, I remembered I was supposed to have a a "full bladder" for the particular appointment I was attending and needed to stop to buy some drinks.

Once inside the soul destroying, plastic and chrome cattle shed I made my way past Costa Coffee - £2.69 for a large coffee and around £2 for every cake. Exactly when did we accept paying £2.69 for a cup of coffee? Every member of staff was of ethnic origin, surely not seeing the fruits or these extraordinary prices in their wage packs?

Then on past the "casino". Yes, really, there are mini-casinos to squeeze a few more pointless quid out of people making their way around the country. Makes perfect sense.

My husband decided he wanted a BigMac and queued with all the other economic-sleepwalkers for his bit of cardboard soaked in fat. Their staff too were all black except the two managers who were white and shouting at these minimum-wage slaves as if they were animals.

Finally I got to the "shop" This is not really a shop, it is exploitation in it's purest sense. I picked up a carton of Ribena (Normally 79p) and headed for the till. "£1.35 please" said the man crammed into the space behind the checkout, who was so morbidly obese that his hands morphed with his arms that morphed with his entirely round body.

I couldn't help myself. "£1.35?!?!?!? But that's terrible"

"Not at all" he replied from his dizzying minimum-wage perspective "You're just lazy. If you'd been better prepared, you wouldn't have had to stop here."

I promise this was his answer. To his customer. Who was a little curious about why she should pay double for a product for no good reason.

This blog post formed in my mouth, but I swallowed it whole. I wanted to suggest to him, that someone earning minimum wage might think again about judging his neighbour for not wanting to be exploited and instead, judge the out-of-control excesses of a capitalist system that has made it OK to charge us prices we can't afford.

I wanted to point out that FTSE 100 Executives got 32% pay rises last year, whilst he was almost certainly taking a pay cut due to inflation.

I wanted to point out that the energy companies were all announcing billions in profit in almost the same breath  as raising bills for customers like him by up to 20%.

I wanted to point out that he was working in a "shop" in which he almost certainly could not afford any of the products.

I wanted to point out that the only reason "shops" like the one he was working in could charge such exorbitant prices was because we were a captive market. Without leaving the motorway and risking getting lost, few had any choice but to pay £1.35 for their Ribena or £2.69 for their cup of coffee.

But what was the point? I looked around me. The place was swarming with customers, cheerfully queueing up to be financially-abused. No-one questioned the price of their coffee or bagel or beak-burger. There are always a few old ladies translating the prices into "old money" shocked by the resulting shillings and pence tally, but they are getting rarer, replaced by the generation who have given up.

If, one day, I stop to find coffee has reached £10 a cup, I won't be surprised. There is, after all, only one way to keep shareholders in every increasing profits. I would be less surprised to see people cheerfully paying it. Yet another area of their lives where they know they're being shafted, cheated and mocked, but one they stopped questioning years ago.

I found the whole experience more depressing than reading the Daily Mail. We never stand up to anything any more and in fact we're happy to pay £2.69 for a cup of coffee. We're all middle class now and it makes us feel aspirational and a little spoilt to pay three times as much as we need to for a little slice of acceptance.

Our wages barely pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads, yet we have been sold exploitation in a beautiful box all tied up with the most alluring shiny bow. It happened so long ago, none of us remember what's inside the box any more. We're too distracted by the pretty wrapping.

Thursday 28 July 2011

WARNING : Purnell contagion. Stay in you homes.

I know. It's not an epidemic we thought we'd have to deal with again.

We thought we had become immune.

Sadly, there he was last night on Newsnight, slimmer, but as snake-charmingly mesmeric as ever.

My logical brain shrieked "But listen to what he's not saying" but my media-generation brain shrieked back "But he's saying it so well." The sheer competence and confidence of the man is compelling. He answers questions unflinchingly, still prepared to "think the unthinkable" yet somehow making the unthinkable sound so very reasonable.

A lesson really, in New Labour policy development 2006 - 2010. Think up a really whizzy policy. Only focus on the positives of that policy. If it involves pushing a few thousand souls into poverty and despair, tell people it is all about alleviating poverty. If it attacks single mothers or working women, make sure the interview says how very good it will be for gender equality. If it will disadvantage pensioners, call it the "Fair Deal for Older People"

As we can now see, Cameron has taken the genre and made it his own.

I was shocked after Newsnight last night. I wondered if even I could spend an hour in a room with him debating welfare policy without signing up to some strange cult. I could see clearly how successive politicians might think he was the answer to all their prayers. After I'd stuck forks in my leg to break his spell, I thought of all the people who would be disadvantaged by a contributory based welfare state.

-Women who look after children, therefore not paying in as much as their male counterparts.
-The sick and disabled who became incapacitated at a young age. (note, the poster boy for crip-bashing didn't mention us once)
-Low paid workers when compared to those on higher incomes (of course)

But it's OK, he argued, why should we help all poor children? If their parents show no "responsibility" they should take the consequences. (Which were of course scores of dead children, but see what he did there? Not a peep)

Some already argue that perhaps he has had a Damascan epiphany, mesmerised by his silky charm. I would argue that the Pernicious Mr Purnell has analysed very carefully where the welfare cards are about to fall and ensured that he is the Ace of Spades when they do. Spades. You know, for digging great big holes to hide the "undeserving" in, and bashing the non-compliant over the head with.

He suggested people had fallen out of love with the Welfare state, but could learn to love a "Protection State." Using the model above, it seems that this translates to "Removing protection from those we don't like much" See what he did there?

The Independent and ATOS

I haven't done this for a while, but sometimes there are just so many good things to read, I need to share with you all.

If you missed this from Mark Steel in the Inde, you just have to read it now.

Just in case I haven't been quite scathing or sarcastic enough about the ridiculous nature of ESA, assessments, ATOS and the DWP, Mark fixed that for me!!

Wednesday 27 July 2011

The Magic Mr Potter

I have some wonderful news!

Earlier in the week, a Mr George Potter, Lib Dem, left a comment on my blog asking if I would help with a motion he had tabled for the Lib Dem conference in the Autumn. Here it is :

Policy Motion on Employment Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments  
Conference notes:
a) That the Government has stated an aim to move people off Employment SupportAllowance (ESA) and into work.
b) Work Capability Assessments determining eligibility for ESA are carried out by the private company Atos Healthcare who are paid on a target based system for every claimant assessed fit to be removed from claiming ESA and back into work.
c) 70% of case rejection decisions by Atos assessments which go to appeal are subsequently overturned.
d) The appeal success rate is much higher for claimants with representation than those without.
e) The way in which work capability assessments are conducted has been regularly criticised by Parliamentary Inquiries and by the Tribunal Judiciary.

Conference believes that:
a) It is the duty of a compassionate society and the Government to provide the necessary support for those who are unable to support themselves.
b) The new Assessment procedure is "not fit for purpose".
c) The Work Capability Assessment is inaccurate.
d) Any medical assessments should be carried out by trained medical professionals.
e) Whilst recognising the understandable need to remove false claimants from the system, it is wrong to have a system where the primary focus is on keeping people from claiming the benefit and treating every claimant as a potential fraudster, rather than a focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable get the support they need.
f) A system where 70% of decisions are overturned at appeal is not cost effective due to the high cost of holding appeal tribunals and the associated administration costs.
g) The new Assessment procedure, whereby claimants are assessed by the use of a computer-generated questionnaire in which the Assessor uses a "tick box" technique, does not take into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.

Conference calls for:
a) All medical components of Work Capability Assessments to be undertaken by trained professionals.
b) An overhaul of the assessment process moving the focus to ensuring greater accuracy in assessment, a less stressful assessment process and that the disabled get the support they need.
c) Any new or revised assessment process to take into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
d) The replacement of the arbitrary time limit on the length claimants can claim ESA if they are put into the work related activity group with the introduction of a time limit dependent on individual circumstances.
e) The assessment criteria to be made clearer so that claimants and society in general understand what constitutes an illness which is so debilitating as to warrant ESA being paid.
f) The appeal process to be sped up and for all claimants going to appeal to be given access to adequate representation.

I've spoken to George who is as concerned as we are about ESA and the changes due to come into place under the welfare reform bill. We will be working together to raise as much support for the motion as we can and to, hopefully, ensure that the motion passes.

The debate is scheduled for the Sunday of the Lib Dem conference (18th September) and I urge any and all of you with Lib Dem MPs to contact them about this and ask if they would like any further information on the issues surrounding ESA reform.

Today, an article on Lib Dem Voice supports the arguments raised by George and I'm delighted to see this issue gaining momentum amongst their party.

I'll be posting more on this and the steps we can take to support George, but for now, I just wanted to share the great news with you all.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Quick Osborne Excuse Survey

So, what do we think? If growth figures are as bad as expected, which excuse do we think the baby-chancellor will use today? We've had the "Wrong Kind of Snow" and we've had "Too Many Bank Holidays." Suggestions for today have already been posited : "The Japanese Tsunami" and "The Royal Wedding" (though I'm sure he said the Royal Wedding would be good for this quarters growth figures before....)

Here's my top ten suggestions, please vote below and we'll see how accurate we were later.

1) The dog ate my growth

2) Too many people watched The Apprentice instead of setting up their own businesses

3) The ONS refuse to include imaginary growth or money trees in their projections

4) A flock of marauding geese ate all our tax returns

5) The Cheryl Cole brand got tarnished leading to a fall in consumer confidence

6) The weather in May was particularly hot and no-one bought any woolly garments.

7) It's all Rupert Murdoch's fault. (Well, everything else is, it might work Dave?)

8) Aliens in fact landed sometime last May and took over the bodies of the entire front bench. They are secretly working against me to undermine our prosperity.

9) I told my butler to "Keep the Change"

10) I'm just really, really bad at economics and should not have control over my children's piggy banks, never mind the wealth of a nation.

Monday 25 July 2011


Hi guys.

Tomorrow, a terribly damning report will be released on ATOS.

Our phones and emails haven't stopped ringing today with media requests and we simply don't have enough people to cover them all.

Most importantly, ITN want to do a piece for tomorrow on people who've HAD AN ATOS ASSESSMENT AND HAVE GONE ON TO A TRIBUNAL. 

If you have I'm asking you a very big ask. Are you prepared to be interviewed? Will you tell them your story?  Could you cope with TV cameras coming to your home today or tomorrow?

I know it's absolutely terrifying. I understand with all my heart how many of you are so frightened by the DWP and ATOS that you daren't even leave your names when you comment here, but this is a big chance. It is our chance to tell our stories, a chance to show the public how real people are made to suffer every day by these reforms.

If you think you might just be able to do this, please get in touch at and I promise, I will do everything I can to make it as painless as possible.

It means taking a personal risk, but it might also mean that you help to save millions from going through what you had to go through.



Open Letter to Iain Duncan Smith

The day you get that diagnosis is the day the blood runs cold in your veins. Everything stops. Sound is muffled in your ears, shock runs through you and you know in that moment that nothing will ever be the same again.

Life, that always seemed so ordered and full of potential becomes precious. A gift greater than any you ever appreciated. A privilege, not a right. Your own mortality comes crashing in around you, redefining love and hope and dreams for the future. Everything will change forever in that one horrifying moment.

If the unthinkable happens to one you love, the sense of impotence and fear is worse. You want it to be you. You'd give anything to change things around, to take away all the pain and suffering. You want to take on every invasive test, every painful procedure. You want it to be you laying there, pail and weak, vomiting endless traces of chemo or morphine into a grey carboard tray.

You want to be there. All the time. Every minute of every day. You want to protect the person you love most in the world, to fight for them, to arrange the very best care available. Suddenly work and meetings and focus groups are forgotten - irrelevant even - when contrasted with the battle for life.

Money won't save them. It might make things easier, speed up care or assure access to the most innovative treatments, but the battle is yours and yours alone. Together.

You grieve. Grieve for the carefree days, the easy confidence that good health brings. You grieve for the future, so cruelly and randomly threatened. You grieve for the love and support that always came first. You grieve for your children and the spectre that now hangs above their heads every minute of every day. Youngsters become carers and you grieve for the easy innocence they will never know again.

The luckiest of all might be able to leave work that very moment, rush home and gather up family in strong, caring arms. The luckiest will only have to face a battle with the disease now tearing their family apart, with little thought for other practicalities.

Most are not that lucky.

Most will find that just as their world falls apart, they must still pay the mortgage, still feed the children, still keep working hard. They will suffer endless, unimagined agonies as they try to keep all the balls in the air, desperate to fight side by side with their soul mate but unable to do so.

They might lose a wage. Suddenly and without warning their income may half just as they need it most. They may have no choice but to watch in terror as their modest savings drain away, placing fear of poverty side by side with the fear of death.

Is there anything worse? Could there be anything worse than finding your life turned upside down in every area? Job under threat, home at risk, ambitions and dreams destroyed? As your children's faces become etched with fear, do you tell them Mummy will be OK? Do you keep your financial fears to yourself? Do you take on every burden until the pressure gets too much? Do you try to do the work of 10 men? Superman at work, loving support at the hospital bed, devoted father and capable housekeeper? Can you bear the pressure or do you crack yourself?

There is something worse.

Finding that there is no cure.

Finding that there are no magic chemo bullets to stamp out the darkness, no dazzling operations to cut out the contagion. Treatments are patchy - the doctors tell you if you're lucky they can "manage" your condition, but from this day, life will be about survival. Forever.

The treatments won't stop in a month or a year, but they will still make you vomit or send shooting pains through your skull or make you so sensitive to sunlight that you can no longer go outside. No longer take your children to the park or dig sandcastles in the hazy summer sun. They might make you weak, or angry or depressed. They might cause more symptoms than the disease itself, but they keep you alive and "alive" is all those who love you need. Do anything Mummy, but don't die.

The boss who's been so supportive can't support you forever. 6 months, maybe even a year, but in the end, even the most caring boss will have to draw the line. What do you do? Who will care for your family while you work? Is you child old enough to call an ambulance if she has to? Would she know where the special pills are kept in case Mummy won't wake up? Can you teach her your work number or do you fret and worry through every day, never knowing what you will return home to?

Things won't improve. A grey faced doctor might tell you gently that they will only ever get worse. Functions will fail, dignity will crumble, every previously automatic task will need thought and support. There will be wheelchairs or oxygen tanks or feeding tubes. You will have to learn to change incontinence-bags or give injections or rig up sterile feeds. You will have to find money for a hoist or a  voice recognition system.

One day, Mummy might not be able to answer. She may not be able to walk or leave her bed. Birthday parties will have to move upstairs to a fetid room that smells of the end, but you will smile brittle smiles and put up bunting, pretending that nothing has changed. You will all laugh a little too shrilly, jump just a little too nervously, but you will pretend. When the kids are safely tucked up and your partner is finally sleeping a tortured morphine sleep, you will cry great heartwrenching sobs into a cushion so nobody hears.

There are legions of us Iain. Probably millions.  We fight great battles every day. We find resilience and love we never knew existed. We find pride in the face of indignity, hope in the face of despair. Our relationships are tested every day and every day we have to whisper "but I love them". Every day, that love has to win. Every day, love is all we have left to get us through.

We pretend the poverty doesn't matter and when faced with life or death, it's funny, but it doesn't seem to matter so much. An afternoon in a park at the beginning of spring, watching the children climb steps to great slide-summits, their joyous eyes flashing in the watery sun is almost too much pleasure to bear. The poignancy of knowing it could always be the last time makes the simplest things precious.

We pretend our ambitions and dreams were not important. Strange, but when your ambition becomes surviving to see your children married, it's true, they don't matter so much.

We pretend we're strong, but we only have the strength we all have, buried deep inside us. We just have to dig deep down to find it. Every day. Forever.


This is why you cannot decide, randomly, that after a year, our families must struggle on alone. A year?? Why Time Limit ESA to a year? Why remove all support from these vulnerable families after one year? Why not 6 months or 3 years or a day? It bears no relationship to the real world, it is policy designed by Dali.

This is why you cannot make us wait 6 months for Disability Living Allowance. Why 6 months? By then we may be bankrupt, we may have lost our homes. We may be dead. The state may end up paying much more through picking up the pieces than in supporting us fairly from day one.

This is why more people must qualify for long term support and go into the Support Group of ESA. Because at the moment, you are failing people with lives like mine. People with Parkinson's and Arthritis and MS. Mothers and sons, daughters and fathers. People with lupus, schizophrenia, bowel disease, kidney failure, epilepsy, personality disorder, heart disease, COPD and thousands of less well known conditions that destroy lives. Countless things as devastating as cancer and some more so.

This is not "welfare." Welfare means to fare well. It is the mark of compassion and evolution in a democratic society. It means no-one should be left in absolute desperation. Your policies are causing this total desperation and I'm sure it is not what you want to do or set out to do.

By all means reform. Goodness knows the system does need to change, but the great myth is that it needs bigger sticks to beat us with and stricter reasons to ensure we do not qualify. Please Iain, listen to me today. You have all beat us hard enough for many years. There is nothing more to squeeze or remove or deny. We live in poverty and uncertainly already, and we have reached a tipping point. Labour's ESA was disastrous enough and already failing. Time limiting, tightening the descriptors yet again and leaving a lengthy qualifying period for DLA is going to cause real hardship and suffering.

Please listen. Please think again.


Please do all you can to help me share this today. You can link to it, share it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. If you have a Conservative MP, then PLEASE can I ask you to send him this today? You can do it in just a few moments here

Thank you. 

Sunday 24 July 2011

ESA is Corrupt - Will we ignore that too?

I don't know if you saw this extraordinary article in the Telegraph, "I'm starting to think That the Left Might Actually be Right" but when right wing journalists start to seriously question free markets and de-regulation, something has shifted seismically in our political landscape.

Before lefties get too excited, I don't think for a moment that scores of Tories are about to start voting Labour. The article is more nuanced than that. It's also brave.

In the last couple of years it's got clearer and clearer that our establishment and the institutions within it have corruption running through them like a stick of Brighton rock. MPs expenses, our media, our police forces, our government, the Football Association, Banking, energy companies, the care service - it's now hard to think of a major institution that hasn't been rocked by scandal or exploitation.

But all too often, we forget why this matters. We get so caught up in the drama of the scandal itself, we forget who it's hurting. More importantly, the solutions rarely seem formed in the real world either and often leave us feeling even more disillusioned than before.

We are told that the MPs expenses scandal was dealt with. Almost any member of the public probably disagrees. Largely, we have no idea what convoluted legal technicalities parliament massaged its own ego with, but we know it hasn't changed anything. Because the public weren't concerned with the technicalities. They wanted to know why MPs earning over 60k a year got so much paid for in the first place. As ever, the media thought we cared about duck houses and second homes when actually we wanted to know why on earth they all get to claim for flat screen tellies and have their monthly food bill paid when the rest of us must pay for these things ourselves?

If parliament think the public are in any way reassured by their fudge, they're wrong. We just knew that it was yet another battle we'd lost, and we sighed another heavy sigh and went back to our resentment.

We are told that the bankers are now "paying their fair share". Again, I challenge our ruling class to find a single member of the public that agrees. The industry that gambled away our money, took stupid risks, influenced the very markets they were supposed to work within and in some cases, cheated people out of billions of pounds are sitting pretty in their Soho bars swilling Crystal and laughing til their sides hurt. This year, bonuses will be 14 billion. Meanwhile we appear to have underwritten their stupidity. While they bray and jeer, hospitals close, police officers and soldiers lose their jobs and disabled people must hand over their meagre support to keep the Range Rovers running.

The public are furious, make no mistake, but with our government complicit, our media corrupt and supportive and our police apparently all tied up in the same stinking mess, we sighed another impotent sigh and accepted what we could never change.

I could go on but you get the gist. Ordinary people up and down the country have known for a long time that they are powerless. Energy companies want to raise their prices by 20%? Well, we just have to pay it then. We have no faith that the regulator or government will stand up for us. Pensions cut? Benefits cut? Nothing you can do.

The phone hacking scandal was a breakthrough. Just for a second or two the scales seemed to fall from our eyes and oh-so-briefly the lid has been lifted on this Pandora's box of decay. The very interconnected nature of the phone hacking scandal showed people how the whole system has broken, not just small elements within it. Even more importantly, it took just a few small voices to make the breakthrough. Tom Watson and Chris Bryant and Hugh Grant and Max Mosely and a handful of others took on the mightiest powers and somehow after years of patient groundwork, they won.

But it was never a secret. Little changed other than the disgusting revelation that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked. Then the stories and testimony of those wronged was suddenly heard. It had been there all along, it had just been denied and covered up by the very people charged with protecting us. Finally David broke through and Goliath toppled, but it was just one small part of the jigsaw.

If you'll forgive the lengthy introduction, I want to relate this to my own battle.

Years ago campaigners told the then Labour government that Employment Support Allowance was wrong. Not just misguided or badly designed but cruelly and inherently wrong. No-one listened.

We told them that it was based on flawed research and assumptions. They ignored us.

We told them people were suffering. Not just a few, but millions of genuinely sick and disabled people. They simply deny it.

We told them too few people qualified. They used the media to discredit us. Endless stories of scroungers and skivers undermined our arguments, denied our evidence and covered up the victims. Despite these stories being found misleading or downright untrue, the PCC left us to fight alone. Huge private businesses were brought in to divert money from those in need to those with influence. They were lauded by those in power, reviled by those they were supposed to serve.

Stories of deaths have surfaced already as a direct result of sickness and disability policy. They are stories of anguish, despair and great hardship, but only the Guardian will print them.

These wonderful work programmes, designed to find us work fail too. Private companies are paid billions to "help us into work" yet their results are abysmal - in some cases just 8% successful, yet we continue to pay them money that could be supporting those who need it. More than that, politicians are content to roll them out across the country, despite the fact they fail.

We write our stories, we appear on TV and radio shows, we write to Ministers and MPs, we blog, we make videos, we forensically analyse every committee and House of Commons vote, but still, the politicians steam-roller through, ignoring, denying and covering up.

We expose a great injustice, they deny it. We produce tables showing how many people are going to be hurt, they discredit them. We try to warn the public that one day it will be them. One day, there will be no safety net at all if someone they love becomes sick or disabled, but the mighty cogs of the establishment grind into action to assure them all is well.

Our own David and Goliath battle will end as all the others. In a year or two, maybe more, the whole ESA house of cards will come crashing down and those in power will feign astonishment. They will say they weren't warned, they will say it was all done with the best intentions. Well they were warned, they just chose to look away. Everything is on record now and in every committee transcript, every edition of Hansard, there will be evidence, presented by me and hundreds like me to prove that we warned them from the start.

I am totally convinced that ESA and the Work Programmes associated with it will come to be seen as one of the greatest failures of a compassionate, democratic nation that we ever allowed to go unchecked. The news will be crammed  with an endless stream of people who are terribly unwell, dying in poverty and desperation. Today, I am seen as a radical, an eager voice with an axe to grind. In a few years, I and all the others trying to tell this story will briefly be the new Tom Watsons, but by then it will be too late.

I want to stop this now. I want politicians to halt ESA altogether and hold a full inquiry into the statistics, facts and evidence available. I want to convince them to listen now. Just for once, I want them to accept that perhaps those affected by their collusion know what they're talking about. We want to help them, not hamstring them, but we can't help if their arrogance makes them deaf and blind to our concerns.

Our case is building, just as Mr Watson's built. Today, over 270 charities have come together to threaten legal action. A further 50 charities have signed an open letter calling for an end to the defamation sick and disabled people are facing daily from the government through their tame media. Crisis have warned of sick and disabled people facing homelessness. Oxfam have warned of sick and disabled people facing poverty. The Unions have warned of sick and disabled people facing hardship. Scope have warned of a worrying rise in disability hate crime. Bloggers like me have tried to tell our stories honestly to highlight just how dreadful ESA is.

I wonder today if the game is nearly up? Perhaps people simply won't sit back any longer and sigh those sighs of disillusionment. Perhaps they will start to listen before it's too late. Certainly, I see no sign of that in government. When even the Minister for Disabilities, Maria Miller acts as a willing mouthpiece for propaganda and defamation of the very group she is elected to represent and champion, it looks unlikely.

They may not believe me today, but they can listen now or they can wait and deny and ignore until it's too late. They can deal with a shambolic, chaotic ESA today and accept that it was flawed from the start or they can deal with millions of desperate people in a year or two's time.

I imagine we all know which route they will take, but wouldn't it be nice, just for once, if they stopped and listened now. Before too many people got hurt?

Friday 22 July 2011

Chemo-Shots and School Runs

This is another of those "How am I?" posts. The thing is I'm not sure I can even tell any more.

This morning, as we were deep in the "Where's-my-book-bag/I-don't-like-eggs/Will-you-PLEASE-get-dressed zone, there was a knock at the door. It was the nice delivery man who brings my chemo-shots. Not the milkman, or the lovely Mum who takes my 6yr old to school for me, the chemo guy.

With my dressing gown covered in weetabix, I signed the docket, put the syringes in the special fridge and went back to bagging up party-rings for today's end of school party.

Last week, someone innocently commented that I must have to be very careful what I eat. "Oh, not really." I replied breezily. That night I couldn't stop chuckling. There are hundreds of things I can't eat. There are times of the day I can't eat. I never eat before an important meeting or appointment in case it means I can't get off the loo to leave the house. I can eat some things once, but know I mustn't push my luck. Some days I can't eat at all. Others, I have to stuff myself silly to get the calories in while the going is good.

This mad nutritional juggling has been part of my life for so long, I've forgotten I even do it. It just is.

Since May, I've had a nasty crohn's flare that sent me running to the doctor for opiates and advice. The crohn's flare meant I had to put my dose of steroids up to sky-high levels, screwing with my immune system. I got a virus. A terrible, flu-like, debilitating virus that lasted for two weeks. Then the virus turned into a chest infection that I couldn't shake off. Through all of this, my rib has popped out of place three times, causing excruciating pain.

If you'd asked me, I'd have said I was fine.

Because I'm not critical. I'm not waiting for surgery, not writhing in pain every moment of every day and night. I'm not vomiting every sip of water or bite of toast I take.

Last week, my 3 year old was struggling with the virus I'd just shaken off. Like any harassed Mum, the world had to stop for endless cuddles and Calpol. There are still school runs for the eldest, dinners to cook, shopping to arrange, appointments to keep and relationships to nurture. But underneath it all, there is always the crohn's.

If I let any of the balls fall, the result is not just a slightly chaotic housework schedule! If I do too much or forget to eat the right food, or can't find time to rest, we all suffer. Once the immediate crises pass, the adrenaline that has to carry me through melts away and slams me into the ground.

I spent a miserable hour on the phone to a friend wondering why I felt so tired. What could be wrong? Why wasn't I recovering like normal? Why did I feel like I just couldn't manage? Why did I want to cry all the time? Was I anaemic? Were my bloods showing disease? Was there yet another sinister underlying cause waiting to rise up and bite me?

That particular day, I'd had to carry 3 yr old home from 6 yr old's school. He just couldn't walk another step and no matter how poorly a Mum might be, no matter how exhausted or weak, you follow the instinct of a million years and pick them up. When I mentioned it to bessie-buddy, she started to laugh.

"So, let me get this straight, hot on the heels of two months of illness, you carry a 15 kg toddler through the park, past the flats, across the road and home? When you got home, you washed up, did dinner, and now you're asking me why you might feel a bit under the weather?"

We laughed, relieved to find the cause of my malaise, but actually, it's not all that funny is it?

An illness like crohn's is a full time job. If I am "fit for work" then I'm sorry to tell the DWP that I already have a full time job and there just isn't time for anything else. I work on staying alive. I've got so good at it, I've largely forgotten I do it, but that IS what I do. Every day. And when I don't I get sick. Horribly, dangerously sick.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Osborne got his one chance - don't give him another

GDP figures will be out any minute now and estimates are dire, ranging from between a -0.2% contraction and a paltry 0.2% growth.

Extraordinary though it may sound, cutting services, freezing benefits and wages, rising unemployment and high inflation is not encouraging anyone to go shopping or invest in their businesses.

I know, it's a mystery! No-one could possibly have predicted that cutting this much during a recession wouldn't work, but there we have it.

Now, other countries that thought austerity would work have simply gone back to their treasuries and drawn up lists of even more eye-watering cuts. Obviously, their plans will work, they can't possibly be wrong! They just need to cut more!! Well, phew.

Weirdly, those cuts haven't worked either and Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland look likely to default.

So, possibly not this quarter, but maybe next George will stand before Parliament, oh so solemnly, and tell us we must cut more. If we don't the deficit will never go down! The markets will hold us to ransom! We'll be doomed I tell you, doomed!

Remember those 40% contingency plans he wanted every department to draw up? Well what do you think they were for? Certainly not an end of year Maths test for civil servants!

Gideon will swear that the only option is to cut an even deeper swathe of destruction through our society and our services - "There is no Alternative" he will wail! The Mail, Telegraph and Times will jump to his aid with earnest assurances of approaching Armageddon and debt-clock front pages. The public may even fall for it again,  paralysed by this manufactured fear.

In welfare, we've already shouldered the worst of the cuts Then, with a gap in the figures, Osborne demanded Duncan-Smith find a few billion more. Today, we are facing 15 BILLION in welfare cuts.

Should Gideon try to persuade us all of that is not enough, that despite leaving old ladies to sit in their own filth, cancer patients left without a hospice, 200,000 dispossessed from their homes and cities, millions unemployed, child care cut and other horrors too numerous to mention we must cut more, we have no choice but to tell him "no".

We cannot, must not and will not allow him to reduce us to a society with no compassion. 

He can achieve this elusive growth by listening to advice from almost any source and stimulating the economy. NOT by following his austerity ideology down a route that could ruin us all.

We've allowed him one attempt to make the impossible possible. He should not get another.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Murdochalypse Theme Tunes

I know you shouldn't laugh at your own jokes, but after much twitter based hilarity, here the theme tunes we think the main protagonists should enter the phone hacking select committee to later. Do listen to all the lyrics, I'm still wiping my eyes....

Rupert Murdoch enters to My Way in a curmudgeon of defiance......

Tom Watson and Chris Bryant enter to The Rocky Theme.....

And last but not least, tomorrow, when Dave makes his statement to the house, we suggest......


Monday 18 July 2011

Could YOU unlock Futures?

I wouldn't dream of making any comment about this at all.......

Whose future could you unlock?

Doctors/UK wide

(including Brighton, Canterbury, Chatham, Portsmouth, Southampton and Truro)

Mon-Fri, 37 hours or part-time.

Up to £60k pa depending on experience and location.

Disability assessment is changing. As part of the UK’s leading disability assessment team, you could make the difference that gives someone on incapacity benefit a brighter future.
At Atos Healthcare, we’re seeking full-time, part-time and sessional doctors to carry out independent medical assessment services on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.
Using your strong clinical and people skills, you’ll carry out medical assessments that help the DWP make informed decisions about disability benefit claims. It’s a vitally important role that aims to change lives for the better.
You’ll need full GMC registration*, a valid ‘Licence to Practise’ and, ideally, at least 3 years’ post-registration general medical experience.
In return, you’ll receive excellent training plus highly competitive benefits. What’s more, you can work regular hours without the inconvenience of shifts, nights or compulsory weekends.

To find out how you could make a real difference, visit

Find out more at Call us on 020 7830 4660 or

Open Day: Birmingham 14th July – 3:00pm-8:00pm

Please call or email the recruitment team to register your interest in attending the event.
Atos Healthcare does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, colour, sex, age, disability or sexual orientation. All recruitment decisions are made on the basis of qualifications, skills, knowledge and experience and relevant business requirements. Successful candidates will undergo a Criminal Record Bureau check and a Security Clearance check. *We cannot accept applications from individuals with conditions, restrictions and/or undertakings imposed by the GMC. However, this requirement will not apply if related to health or disability. Candidates with a minimum of 2 years general medical experience will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Another way to work

Dave's gone where?

In the middle of, well, what do we call it?

The Fall of Corruption? Murdochalypse?

Cameron has gone to Africa! Yes really, Africa!

Almost as soon as Sir Paul Stephenson, Chief Commissioner of the Met stepped down yesterday, the heat seemed to switch to Dave. Where was he? No-one had heard from him for too long it seemed. Was he hiding in a wardrobe with Osborne asked some? Had they actually fled the country some days ago, knowing the game was up, with fake passports and suitcases stuffed with cash? Did the new resignation and the arrest of Rebekah Brooks mean Dave could be in real trouble? The Telegraph, the Mail, both ran devastating stories on Dave and for a few hours everything was about Cameron. For the first time, people seemed to be really questioning his leadership.

This morning however, in the middle of this great battle between David and Goliath, right bang in the middle of the greatest challenge to power & corruption for a generation, as the most senior linchpins of our ruling class fall like nine-pins, Dave's gone to Africa! On a trade mission. With 25 wealthy businessmen. To bring a little more noble, selfless capitalism to a continent ravaged by famine.

If he wants to make things worse, all I can think of is that he actually takes Murdoch with him and tries to set up a new branch of the News of the World in Abuja.

Whoever's advising him needs a nice lie down in a dark room. It's obviously all been too much. I can already hear Miliband asking oh-so-earnestly whether it might have been a better response to stay and clean up the mess in his own backyard before taking 25 businessmen on a trade jolly.

Friday 15 July 2011

BREAKING NEWS!! DWP delay welfare reform bill over concerns

This just in from the Disability Alliance

I'm sure they won't mind me posting it in full :

Government delays Welfare Reform Bill

15 July 2011
The Government has been forced to delay the 2nd Reading of the flagship Bill in the Lords due to peers' concerns over the people affected.
DWP is suggesting other business has blocked progress but the surprise postponement till September from Tues will also give the Government time to lobby peers and answer the queries raised in DA's legal challenge.

This is wonderful, surprising, startling news!!! I need a little lie down before I say any more, but remember this - if it gives the government more time to lobby, it gives us more time too :)))

Last Chance to have your say on Welfare Reform for US!

A while ago, I ran an enormously successful consultation on Welfare Reform asking for those affected to suggest ways the system might work better for them.

What is currently wrong? What stops you from working? Is there any kind of work you could do? What support would you need to do it? Is it there at the moment? HOW could you work? Are there other working models that might suit you or your condition better?

If you haven't currently taken part, please do. I will be writing up a paper over the weekend that aims to bring all of your suggestions together and outline a totally new approach to welfare provision for sick and disabled people.

If there's anything you want included, then speak now!

Please share this with anyone you think might want to take part. 

Where is the Power?

It strikes me as interesting that all around the world, people are holding their governments to account, challenging the unfettered political support for "free markets" that they feel have created inequality and impotence and are finally rising up against oppressive regimes. Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Greece, Spain, Portugal and others are not giving their political representatives an easy ride.

Here in the UK however, (and it would seem soon in the US,) we have first had to bring down a force so corrupt, so powerful and so all-pervading that it rendered even politicians impotent.

Here in the so called "free world" we must first wrestle freedom from our own unelected media dictator before we can even start to address the problems we face politically.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Will the phone hacking review deal with Media Bias?

After 2 weeks of extraordinary events surrounding our media, our police and our politicians, yesterday saw Rupert Murdoch withdraw his offer for BSKYB. He did it under enormous pressure, surely not out of the goodness of his heart?

He did it because it became clearer and clearer that his empire was in danger. Certainly there was the threat of contagion to his other UK holdings, but senators and journalists in the US were starting to question whether vicitms of 9/11 had had their phones hacked by News International too and the crisis shifted from a problem to a potential disaster.

There could have been no more astonishing conclusion than 6 UK political parties coming together unanimously in parliament to oppose the BSKYB bid and call for a full, judge-led enquiry. It was a mannerly affair, a consensual, constructive debate.

Nonetheless, just how far do politicians want this enquiry to go? Just how much power do they want the media to lose and by proxy, how much power are they prepared to see slip away themselves? Are they really ready to give up on the symbiotic relationship that has served them or destroyed them? Are they really united in their desire to root out corruption and bias wherever it was allowed to multiply? I suggest from the reaction to Gordon Brown's speech in Parliament yesterday that they are not.

I've read the transcript of Brown's speech very carefully - several times over. He maintains that he has evidence to back up all of his claims - the problem is they were claims that went to the very heart of government - both his and our current coalition. It was uncomfortable evidence that suggests successive governments have been all but blackmailed by the press in order to push certain policy agendas in exchange for favour.

Anyone who finds this surprising or shocking must live in a different world to me. Anyone fighting any kind of injustice in society, probably has their own views on the influence of the media, but overwhelmingly we speak of "policy designed for the Daily Mail" and "Murdoch's smear campaigns." If the Tory MPs screaming so distastefully at an ex-prime minister yesterday don't think that the judicial review needs to look into these issues, then I doubt their commitment to really addressing alleged media corruption.

I've never understood why we allow our print media to support a particular political viewpoint. Why is it that just before an election, our media line up in their separate camps and decide to tell us who to vote for? If there is a point of law I'm unaware of, perhaps someone will enlighten me, but just how is it in the public interest to seek to influence the outcome of general elections? Why do we need them to tell us what to do? Why must we learn of policy through their prism, why may we not be allowed to decide for ourselves?

An even more uncomfortable truth - and the truth that I believe Tory MPs found so unpalatable yesterday - is that our press, allowed to favour or destroy - are overwhelmingly right wing.

They always have been, this is not a new phenomenon. The Zimoniev letter was a forgery from 1924, printed by the Daily Mail just four days before a general election, claiming that the then Labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald was a communist. Labour lost the election before anyone could prove the letter a fake. This is nothing new, Margaret Thatcher courted the media just as Blair and Brown had to. To win, to stay relevant, to share policy, any political party had to dance with the media devils - until yesterday, they had little choice.

Through history however, Labour have had few media friends. Is this because the "public" don't share Labour values or because the staggeringly wealthy handful of men who own our media do not? Apart from a few early Blair years, the Labour party has overwhelmingly had to fight media bias to get any kind of message in front of the public. Conservatives love to dispute this, but the facts speak for themselves.

In the Blue corner, we have The Daily Mail, The Sun, The News of the World, The Times, Sky News, The Telegraph & The Express. In the Red corner, we have The Mirror and The Guardian. It is telling that those on the right often complain about bias in the Independent and the BBC too - presumably so startled by a balanced view that even that seems too far from the right wing placebo they are used to? Is it any coincidence that it is the Guardian who have fought almost single-handedly to bring phone-hacking to light?

It will always suit the right to have a "cosy" relationship with the press, who, largely share their agenda. It will never, ever be "cosy" for those on the left.

Oh my! But this is not popular at all! This is "partisan" this is just "sour grapes" from a tribal leftie. If there is a bias in our press, then we are to battle it selflessly, accept the will of a "free" market. Convenient isn't it when you stand to benefit from that very bias! Labour tried for decades to win without the right wing press and history shows us overwhelmingly that it just can't be done. It was after all "The Sun Wot Won It" in 92.

Labour undoubtedly tried to play the Tories at their own game between 97 and 2010 and it was often horrible to watch, but did I think there was any alternative? Did I think we could stay in power without Murdoch or Associated News? No. Did we start to design policy with these publications in mind? Overwhelmingly I believe the answer is yes. Is it the way we should go forward, just because it's always been done that way? I see no good reason why we should.

If I had any say over this enquiry, I would be asking for political bias to be considered. I would ask if it were possible to stop our media from "choosing sides" in a general election and wondering if the same standards could be applied to print journalism as are applied to television journalism. I suppose the answer will be a big fat laugh. Cries of "It doesn't work that way" "restricting a free press" "it could never be done" will be trotted out.

Still, I live in hope. Last week, few would have predicted we would be where we are today. Surely it is possible for once to question whether a few powerful men should get to influence how we vote? However, without the will of politicians to make it happen it will be conveniently tucked away in the box marked "not in our interests". Why would Conservatives want to give up a system that has largely kept them in power all through history? What on earth would persuade them to alter a system of power and influence so keen to support them? Only pressure, public desire and total independence from this far reaching judicial enquiry into phone hacking.

I won't hold my breath.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Welfare Reform that MUST not go ahead

Next week will see the 2nd reading of the Welfare Reform Bill in the Lords (19th July). It will be interesting to see who is speaking for, who against, how much cross party support or oppositions there is and just how likely we are to achieve amendments to the bill. 

Whilst some of the bill might be helpful, I want to be very clear today about which parts sick and disabled campaigners feel are unacceptable :

1) Removing Disability Living Allowance mobility payments from adults in residential care. 
An adult who needs to live in residential care will have extensive needs and are often amongst the most severely disabled. The mobility component of DLA afforded them their only freedom, allowing them to choose to fund a power wheelchair otherwise unavailable on the NHS, or to pay for taxis or transport to get out now and then. Taking this away would leave the most vulnerable disabled people effectively housebound. There is no support for this change anywhere - charities, independent benefit reports and even the government's own advisers have called for this to be removed from the bill

2) Scrapping DLA entirely and replacing it with Personal Independent Payments (PIPs).
DLA is a very effective benefit with fraud rates of less than 1% (DWP own figures) It is already incredibly hard to claim and the qualification criteria are very narrow. The government have announced that DLA claimants will also soon face assessment and that the overall number of claimants will be reduced by at least 20%. The government's own advisory committee concluded that they could find no justification for this reform and have asked for clarification from the government.
If a benefit is already very efficient, yet a government announce a 20% cull before a single assessment has even taken place, we conclude it can only be a cost cutting measure that will ignore genuine need. 

3) Time limiting Employment Support Allowance (ESA, previously Incapacity Benefit) to 1 Year
Many people who need to claim ESA have "long term variable" or chronic illnesses such as MS, Parkinson's, Bowel Disease, Leukaemia or severe Mental Illness. These conditions often do not go away after a year and sadly, often get worse over time. A high percentage of those with these conditions are being found "fit for work" under ESA but after 1 year, if they have a working partner, they will receive no state assistance whatsoever. All of their benefit will be stopped, a loss of just under £5000 a year. 

4) ATOS assessments are "unfit for purpose" and a better way of assessing need must be implemented. ATOS are the private company charged with assessing over 1.5 million sick and disabled people during this parliament.
-They do not need to use trained medical experts.
-Up to 40% of rejected claims are going to appeal with up to 70% of those decisions being overturned.
-Assessments are humiliating and degrading causing great anxiety to those genuinely in need.
-Just 7% of claimants are being found unfit to work.
-Testimony from Consultants and GPs is often ignored entirely.
-People are dying before lengthy appeals can be heard.
-Even the professor who designed these assessments calls them a "complete mess"
-The descriptors exclude many serious, long term conditions or disabilities.

There are other problems with the bill - capping housing benefit; re-classifying "mobility" so that those who use their wheelchairs too efficiently can be classed as "fully mobile"; removing an age related payment fromESA; scrapping the Independent Living Fund; cutting community care provision; cutting the Access to Work programme and many more - all of which will hurt sick and disabled people disproportionately, but the four points above MUST be addressed before the Welfare Reform Bill is passed.

They are causing or will cause real hardship.
They will not achieve savings as pressures will only be shifted to the NHS or social care provision.
They will increase homelessness, mental illness and poverty amongst this most vulnerable group of all
They will leave many in genuine need without support
They reduce the independence, standard of life and dignity of those we have a basic duty to protect.

Again, please share this by using the Facebook and Twitter buttons on this site. If you know any members of the Lords, then please send it to them too - we must tell as many people as we can before the bill becomes law.

Thank You.

Please don't leave help just out of reach for those who need it most.

Guest Post - The Begging Letter

I had to cross post this by Duesexmacintosh which originally appeared here

"Okay, I really have reached the end of my tattered patience. I WAS going to post a thoughtful piece about the market clearing rate/efficiency wages and the Conservative MP who told the commons recently thatdisabled people are not as productive as their ‘normal’ colleagues and therefore ought to be free to accept less than the minimum wage to improve their chances of being hired, but why waste my time? I’m obviously being unreasonable to expect the same rate of pay for doing the same work.

Latest news from the Department for Work and Pensions is not much brighter with the announcement of a national fraud hit-squad trawling the country postcode by postcode

Fraud investigators are launching a door-to-door blitz to catch couples who rake in extra benefits by falsely claiming to live apart. The taskforce hopes to save the taxpayer £100million by interviewing every claimant in high-risk postcode areas.

Their main targets are parents who say they live alone while in fact cohabiting with their partner or husband.

Officials from the Department from Work and Pensions and Revenue and Customs will check benefit payments, bank accounts, tax credits and any outside earnings. They will also work with councils to check residential addresses.

Meanwhile someone who claimed government support to rent accommodation from a landlord who was in fact their partner returns to the House of Commons after an entire week’s suspension. The Financial Times says that David Laws is Not Above the Law but I’d beg to differ. As someone on benefits I’d rightly be gaoled for doing what he did – and in fact the local council actually lie-detectored me a couple of a months ago just in case I was doing just that (sorry, but it turns out that SkepticLawyer and I are just good friends). True, the results of this bogus technology are actually no better than chance but that’s not the point.

The first principle of the rule of law – as I keep being told – is “treat like cases alike”. I have complained privately for several years that we’re turning into an “exceptional” society (common standards of behaviour no longer seem to apply because OUR case is always “exceptional”) but in this case I’m not sure if the message is that Laws is too “exceptional” to lose or that the source of my income means I’m an “exception” to fair treatment.

As you can see from the earlier news story, all it takes is living in the wrong postcode for the government to be empowered to examine my bank account and the implication seems to be that the goal of this new taskforce is to eventually work its way across the entire country so no one on any benefits can reasonably expect their financial records to be private, the same way that families who can’t afford private education can’t be sure that the local council won’t set up a surveillance operation outside their home because they might be gaming the catchment areas.

And back onto disability issues, even the Supreme Court has decided that those who can’t afford private night care can be reasonably expected to deliberately soil themselves and wait until morning rather than unreasonably expect their local authority to pay for care assistance at night. So I guess that rather makes it official – the only rights you actually have in this country (including basic dignity) are the ones you can pay for.

Being British used to mean you could expect general basic levels of life, liberty and well being. This wasn’t mandated by a written constitution in the American style but had persisted by common cultural agreement right up until this century. Habeas Corpus meant you couldn’t be summarily detained or held incommunicado by government or royal authority and legal tradition almost as long meant you couldn’t be put to torture for a confession either. Every citizen had identical legal rights even if their personal finances didn’t always guarantee them identical standards of legal representation. These rights were suspended alongside Habeas Corpus in the last decade as an anti-terror measure. No I’m not trying to argue that welfare is “a right” – sorry student protestors but education isn’t either, they’re both privileges – just that the most important identifying feature of a “right” was that it applied to everyone regardless of their economic performance. It was the basis of our stakeholding in what David Cameron now calls the “Big Society”.

So what exactly do I have to do in order to reclaim what I once assumed to be the natural inheritance of my citizenship? Response from the left and most anti-capitalists is simply “be rich”, but I’m trying to be a bit more nuanced and specific plus I’m in favour of the free market. The same way capitalism can’t see your colour (just your balance sheet) in a free market I’m free to ‘get the hell out of dodge’ by fair means, or increasingly foul. Yes, I am thinking of MPs using public money to profit from the booming UK property market and ‘flipping’ residence to dodge capital gains tax while they were at it. Chris Bryant MP, the current commons scourge of Rupert Murdoch is almost certainly right that the media has no place snooping on his social networking or financial arrangements, but it is apparently fine for a government department or local authority to do that to me. There’s a reasonable justification because my rent is being underwritten by a government allowance (just like his).

So here’s my idea: I quit.

I want nothing more to do with your shoddy system and quite frankly after the names people like me have been called for the past 18 months, I now feel that I owe you precisely nothing. Zip. Zero. The big goose egg. I used to feel that I should be contributing whatever social capital I can in lieu of the financial capital I lack, but I’m afraid any goodwill that had been generated by the benefits I was entitled receive all these years has rather been offset by the name calling. I owe Britain nothing. It’s every woman for herself.

Now before my mother gets all excited reading this, that does not mean that I am returning to Australia. Unless you can drive you can’t get around properly over there so it’s just not practical, plus it’s too bloody hot. And I do still live in Edinburgh which has views that are tough to beat. But even so, I’m moving to a croft in Shetland.

Not tomorrow, obviously, but I’m going to move to Shetland and buy a home (the other idea was migrating to a distant corner of New Zealand and buying a dairy farm but the Kiwis won’t let me in because I’m disabled). An additional perk is that Scots Law means you have ‘dominum’ over your property with full-on castle doctrine/get off my lawn style rights, none of this feudal model of leasing it from ultimate crown ownership nonsense. I have an idea for a business that will probably be within the limits of my disability (I wont know for sure until I try) and with the normal caveat of the one in three failure rate in first three years of operation, might even provide enough income to free me from benefits entirely. The only problem is that the whole system is such a hash, I’m going to be a bit busy fighting the DWP for the next five years for my share of the tattered scraps of disability benefits that remain to actually do anything really productive towards this goal. That’s unless I get some kind of Head Start.

Now interestingly in the new privatised Work Programme devised by Ian Duncan Smith, a private company like Ingeus (tenders vary regionally) will get a healthy bounty of £14,000 for placing a long-term Incapacity Benefit claimant such as myself in a job and keeping me in it for a year. Personally I’d rather claim that money myself as I have economic self-improvement ideas a bit more advanced than subsidised shelf-stacking in Poundland and £14,000 would be a nice healthy deposit on the croft (not a huge chunk given the overheated price of British property in even the remotest of isles, but certainly a start). There is also the small issue that since the collapse of the credit bubble, people who aren’t working can effectively no longer qualify for credit so a business loan won’t be the answer. I realise that I’m seen as a bad risk but realistically, there’s no proof that ‘successful’ Work Program participants will be removed from the benefits system entirely either if they’ve been farmed out to minimum-wage jobs by the private providers. They could still qualify for housing our council tax benefits or an income top-up via tax credits because of low wages or be forced out of work by their health and be back onto benefits entirely again in another couple of years, leaving the tax-payer £14,000 out of pocket despite scriptural levels of belief in the efficacy of financial incentives (apparently they only work on corporations).

So why can’t I get a piece of my own action? At the moment I’m writing up a business plan and when it’s complete I will be making a formal application to the DWP to do just that AND will be expecting to get a damn good reason alongside their response of ‘no’. You see, I know that it’s one rule for the companies and another for the claimants and I’m paranoid enough to believe that the only way to avoid the massive economic misery this government seems intent on inflicting is to start working on achieving post-apocalyptic levels of financial independence right now. Unfortunately because I’m disabled, I can’t just go out and get a job. My problem is not lack of motivation (thanks anyway, DWP) I’m simply not well enough to work full time and don’t currently live anywhere I could achieve subsistence by drastically reducing my living costs for food and power etc. by growing/generating my own. [On a croft in Shetland, however...]

Well the government keeps saying that we should count on the charitable sector to step into the gap where government provision of welfare and services have been withdrawn, so this is me sticking my hat out, readers.

This is a begging letter asking you for money. I’m looking for someone (or a group of someones) to start by donating £2000 via to establish a Disabled Person’s Trust with the purpose of buying and developing a croft in Shetland. This will route the establishment money direct to my lawyers (SkepticLawyer & LegalEagle) who will be the trustees so I don’t get the opportunity to blow it on a Bang & Olufsen television or something. I don’t think I would because I have much better plans for it, but I make no guarantees. [I'd suggest making the reference "DEM's DOMINIUM" to keep it seperate from donations to the Skepticlawyer blog itself]. £2000 is what it will cost for a scottish law firm to draw up the Trust Deed.

After that I’ll be trying to raise up to £250,000 for land and business development all of which will be donated directly to the trust (because apparently, people on benefits are all obsessed with consumer electronics – despite the fact I don’t even HAVE a TV at the moment) and only released at the discretion of the Trustees.

Pride is for people who can afford choice. Nor am I “exceptionally” worthy either – there are many deserving causes out there and I can personally recommend Dogs for the Disabled in the UK or Assistance Dogs Australia or another of the excellent Guide Dog training charities in your area. You might like my business plan and think it’s seriously worth a punt to make it happen (copies of what I have so far are available by emailing a request to – though keep in mind I’m still researching at the moment) or you might just want to say “up yours” to The Man. Your motivations for giving are your business, I just need your money.

Please give what you want to"

Sunday 10 July 2011

Surely it's the Daily Mail's turn now?

It's been an exhilarating week.

One of those moments where people come together to fight a common enemy, where it feels like for once, things might actually change. One by one, politicians, journalists, activists and celebrities got bold as they saw a chance to finally oppose the power that is Murdoch. They realised there would never be a better chance.

But don't worry, it would appear normal service has resumed. Today, politicians are happily blaming the "other lot" for not acting sooner, journos are using the scandal to smear whichever politician/paper they dislike the most, activists are using it to give their tribe a boost and I would imagine, Murdoch is sighing a big sigh of relief today.

However, a quick word of warning to those who might be tempted to think this didn't really mean much. As the extraordinarily out of touch John Rentoul implies in the Inde or Simon Jenkins on Sky News who tried to remind us that "no-one had died"

Well, I dispute that. The News of the World - but also The Daily Mail, The Express and the Sun have been peddling their nasty garbage for years. Emboldened as time went on by an almost total lack of regulation and meek, pocket-politicians they have lied and cheated and created division and fear at every opportunity.

If you're a celebrity or politician who's personal life was ripped apart, you will surely be doing everything in your power to keep this story alive? If you're sick or disabled and have endured endless lies about "scroungers" or "cheats" you will be praying that this changes things. If you're a single Mum or someone with skin that isn't white or someone who is gay, there's a fairly good chance today that you're fighting Murdoch in any way you can think of. If you're an innocent man accused of paedophilia who's life was ripped apart by the right wing press I imagine you might be desperate to see change here.

The parents of Milly Dowler, our dead servicemen, the Soham girls and all the others must be hoping very much that press power and corruption is finally addressed once and for all.

There's a saying isn't there? "Be careful who you **** on on the way up...." Could anyone in the history of paybacks have **** on more people or more vulnerable groups than these nasty rags? Will there be many people with the appetite to help out Coulson or Wade or Murdoch? Not out of the goodness of their hearts I imagine.

The News of the World is just a symbol today - possibly even a scapegoat. The Mail and all the others, crushed people's lives just as horrifically, never stopping to care about the fallout they might have caused.

Let's forget the bickering eh? Let's keep the spirit of the last week that led to the closure of the most widely read newspaper in the UK. Let's keep our eye on the ball, forget stupid factionalism, forget tribes and scoring points and just make sure that our newspapers are never given free reign to destroy lives again. Let's turn our heat on the other papers and make it very clear to our politicians and our journalists that we expect them to sort this out. We don't care what "the other lot" did, we just want to change things once and for all.

Friday 8 July 2011

How much power DOES social media have politically?

Lately I have been struggling to convey just how vital I think the surge in social media as a political movement is.

It is democracy in it's purest sense. If enough people feel strongly about something, they are joining together to discuss, plan and take action.

We've seen the enormous pressure that Lansley has faced over his NHS reforms after staggering public reaction online. I don't believe it is a coincidence that Dr Evan Harris, Lib (@DrEvanHarris), the champion of this opposition is also one of the most active and engaged MPs on twitter.

We've seen how groups like the Broken of Britain have shaped the questions asked in parliament through their forensic research and skill in building active supporters through various social media.

We've seen the u-turn on forests following a vast swell of support for the 38 Degrees campaign. The online petition attracted over half a million signatures.

Around the world, we've seen those living in fear under oppressive regimes tweet information they could never have shared with us before. By building support online, many went on to organise protests that involved 100,000s of people in hours.

In the last few days, we've just seen how twitter and Facebook and prominent blogs like Liberal Conspiracy have played a part in forcing major multinational advertisers to pull their support from the News of the World over the phone hacking scandal.

How many of these victories social media can truly claim may be debatable, but what is unquestionable, is that politics seems to be changing almost daily. I don't think politicians are keeping up with the speed, passion and commitment of the social media phenomenon.

After the helplessness and frustration of Iraq and MPs expenses, we were promised a "New Politics" but we were let down spectacularly. The coalition that seemed to offer so much hope gave us VAT rises and tuition fees and tried to privatise our NHS For many, it seems to have been a disappointment too far. People seem determined to make their own "New Politics" and are increasingly leading the way where they feel politicians or media are failing.

When the US stormed Osama Bin Laden's compound, an entirely un-knowing IT consultant (@ReallyVirtual ) tweeted the event live and now has over 90,000 followers.

Tonight, at 9pm, someone claiming to be an ex-News of the World journalist (@ExNOTWJourno) says that he will be releasing a press statement along with 16 other ex-employees of News International. If it is genuine, they will be shaping their own news, uncensored in front of the entire world. He already has over 14,000 followers on twitter.

There has never been a time when ordinary people had this kind of power and I find it thrilling, but it makes me nervous too. I watch Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband suggesting "enquiries" that will undoubtedly take years to come to any conclusion and am more and more convinced that social media will know most of what transpires within months if not weeks. The world has changed and increasingly our established society seems to be left behind.

To ensure that social media does not become the new vigilante, I believe more strongly every day that politicians need to entirely rethink the way parliament and politics works. I think they need to engage as never before and quickly.

What is becoming clearer by the day is that for the first time, both groups have power. At least to some degree.

Osborne's Deep in it Too

Obviously this is a fantastic time to "bury bad news"

Even if unintentional, the News of the World/Murdoch/BSKYB scandal will certainly mean other news is not fully scrutinised at the moment..

Of all the stories however, I don't think we should miss this from

According to NIESR,

"The economic growth slowed to just 0.1 percent in the second quarter of this year, a leading thinktank said on Thursday, suggesting the recovery has all but ground to a halt."

Now, these are not yet the official figures - they will come later in the month. But they are a projection and if they are anywhere close to reality we are in very big trouble indeed.

That would be 3 quarters of flat growth and the deficit reduction figures will be in terrible trouble.

Q22011 is really the first quarter where we can begin to judge Osborne independently, on decisions he, rather than Alistair Darling, made. It will be incredibly hard for Osborne to bluff through with the wrong kind of snow or Easter boosts.

Whatever we miss in the next few weeks, we must not miss this. It is crucial to everything we do in this country over the next few years and if growth remains this weak, I believe we will start to see calls for more cuts from Osborne - just as we have in other austerity nations such as Portugal, Greece and Ireland.

They don't work and they haven't worked in any of those countries, they've just made things worse. We must be clearly aware that any call for more cuts from Osborne are an admission that his plan is failing. We must seriously question his judgement if the NIESR figure is even close to the truth in the way we are now challenging our media.

If we don't, the phone hacking scandal will start to look like tea party compared to our economic scandal.

Thursday 7 July 2011

No Ifs, No Buts Mr Laws, Benefit Fraud is a Crime

Having been found guilty of 6 breaches of Commons Rules and suspended for 7 days, David Laws is back!

"Mr Laws resigned after just 17 days as a cabinet minister, following reports he had claimed about £40,000 to pay rent to his partner, the lobbyist James Lundie. Such payments have been against parliamentary rules since 2006.....a long investigation by the parliamentary standards commissioner had discovered other breaches relating to phone bills and building work."

"A parliamentary committee ruled in May he should apologise to the House of Commons and be suspended for seven days. The suspension began on 7 June."

Nonetheless, he was the economic glue that binds the coalition. The hard-line right-wing Lib Dem who It was thought could bridge the gap between the Osbornes and the Vinces. Without him we got.... well, Danny Alexander and it hasn't been pretty has it?

It's been clear from the first whiff of scandal that the Condems wanted him back and would bring him back as soon as they thought they could get away with it,

"Only a few months ago, David Cameron was expressing impatience at the time the commissioner was taking with his inquiry because he was keen to see Mr Laws back in Government"

but less than a month after his suspension expired? Quietly appearing in the House of Commons in the midst of a huge media scandal that's keeping everyone too busy to notice?

He cheated. He committed benefit fraud.

In fact, the DWP would call him a benefit thief

They are very clear on the matter :

"Deliberately withholding information that affects your claim is stealing. That’s why we are targeting benefit thieves! Those who steal benefits are picking the pockets of law-abiding taxpayers." 

Yet again, we have one rule for them, but entirely another for everyone else. Every time I see Mr Laws sitting in the HoC I will remember that he is a cheat. He was found guilty. But it didn't matter. After all the expenses scandals, after the promises that it would all change, after all that LibDem drivel about a "New Politics" we have to swallow yet another huge hypocrisy pill from politicians. 

And they wonder why no-one likes them, hardly anyone goes out to vote for them and no-one trusts them. 

They've got away with this systemic corruption for so long, they think they always will. "Oh, don't worry, the sheeple won't remember, the sheeple won't care"

I'm not actually sure they have much longer. Lip service will no longer do and too many more of these decisions might bring the whole stinking house of cards tumbling down. Hopefully they'll land on Rupert Murdoch.