Friday 30 March 2012

Fantasy Cabinet

Following a giggly evening on twitter, we all chose cabinet jobs - after all, we couldn't get it more wrong than this shower and the perks are quite good!

If I missed anyone off can you tweet to let me know?

@markmiwordsblog – Health
@MargoJMilne – Health
@suey2y – DWP
@BendyGirl – DWP
@latentexistence – SpAd
@allbigideas – Higher Ed
@narco-sam - HE & Science
@Rickysmum – Chief whip (Free ice cream for all!)
@Rani_kuk – Treasury
@sarahransley – Minister for Culture
@Dochackenbush – Minister for Propaganda
@Susanas4321 – Minister for Disability
@Jules_Clarke – Housing
@Fibro_girl  - Communities and Local Government
@WTBDavidG – Defence
@queerpup – Environment
@Alanmills405 - Education
@Rosiecosy – Transport
@corrisanne – Treasury
@fibro_girl – Communities
@LonAiteWalker - Asylum and Immigration
@StaceyUK - Technology
@Gilby3108 - DEFRA
@Becki_says - Families
@HarrymBarham - Deputy PM
@Ramalina - Welsh Secretary

There was originally a Minister for Cake too and Kaliya really wanted to be Mistress of the Universe, but I gave her Work and Pensions.

It just occurred to me that we still don't have a PM or Deputy PM.....

My Welfare CV

Yesterday, it was reported that Liam Byrne would be stepping down from the shadow cabinet to run for Mayor of Birmingham.

Welfare is a dodgy area for Labour - probably the dodgiest of all. Traditionally, it's a department for hawks, for hardliners and for attack dogs. I don't think anyone would argue that it has gone well for Labour under Mr Byrne. Or Mr Alexander for that matter. Or Purnell.Or Cooper.

Well, I want the job. I won't get it, but here's why I should :

1 - I actually understand Universal Credit. I know who will be winners and who will be losers. I know all the nasty little details that will hurt the "Squeezed Middle" way more than the "Undeserving Poor". I know whether Mr Duncan-Smith can actually deliver it on time and within budget.

2 - I know what the Independent Living Fund is and exactly how many profoundly disabled people are set to lose it or no longer qualify for it at all. Ditto the Severe Disability Premium, the Youth Premium (I must be one of only 4 or 5 who actually understand what this really means, surely?) the CSA changes and the death of the Social Fund

3 - I actually know the difference between the WRAG and Support Group. I know how many people qualify for each - both new and existing claimants. I understand the one year Time Limit and exactly who it will affect. I pointed out that it would only affect working families and that it encourages family breakdown and further benefit dependency.

4 - I know every little fib the Conservatives have used to push their Welfare Reform Bill through Parliament. I know exactly how many times David Cameron has "misled Parliament" at PMQs about welfare policies. I know which vast multinational companies stand to profit from "reforms" and I know very well that the balance of payments to these private companies is totally out of proportion to the "help" the claim to offer. I know that A4E were only 8.06% successful at finding work for disadvantaged jobseekers because I worked the figure out.

5 - I have lots of Lib Dem friends - grassroots and Westminster types - who would love to hear a different narrative from Labour on Welfare. I'm a pragmatist and I've built relationships with anyone willing to judge welfare on evidence rather than ideology.

6 - I know exactly how many "intergenerational workless families" there are (not many) exactly how many people are really "long term unemployed" (way less than you'd think) exactly how many families really get over 100k in benefits (a handful) and how many people stand to lose their homes through the benefit cap.

7 - I understand Personal Independence Payments. I know how many disabled people will lose all of their support and how this will tie into social care support, putting further strain on local authorities. I know what disabled people and their charities really think about PIP and how reform could actually be implemented so that it worked.

8 - OK, I'm a blogger, but I understand politics. I'm a strategist and a pragmatist. I have lived and breathed Labour politics since I was old enough to speak, I've run campaigns, always stood for local council, written election addresses, run voter ID campaigns and achieved swings of over 30% in an area so Conservative you could pin a blue rosette on a sheep and they'd still win. It's not my fault I live in Sussex, therefore never having any possibility of actually getting elected.

9 - I'm a left of centre Blairite! Yep, we exist. And frankly Ed needs as many as he can get. I understand the need for reform of welfare very well. But, I know the difference between "reforms" and "cuts". They are not the same thing. I grew up on a council estate, I went to a rough comprehensive, but I've been to university and, you know, actually had jobs, in the real world and stuff.

10. I have a narrative that could start to rehabilitate Labour on Welfare and a whole raft of policies that sick and disabled people and people living in poverty would actually like, would actually engage with and (whisper it) that might actually work. 

12. I am fluent in "human" (also French and Italian, but that's much less important) and have a whole range of sardonic eyebrows and sharp one liners just waiting to show Grayling, Miller and Duncan-Smith for the fools that they are. I'm dead good on the telly.

13. I scrub up OK in black tights and heels - which seems to be a pre-requisite for 21st Century female political advancement.

But I'll stop on 13. Unluckily for some, it would be unthinkable for a "no-one" like me to get the job. Ed would have to slip me some Ermine, but actually, there's no reason why he couldn't (If it's good enough for Glasman....) The Westminster bubble might actually pop with shock if someone with knowledge, experience, passion and ability got the job over career politicians who have "done their time" on local councils and endless hustings. Shadow Cabinet members have to have a First in compromise, an unshakeable loyalty to the whip and one eye firmly on their careers. I may be wrong about this last bit, but most of the country feels that  this is the case.

But if we really wanted to do politics differently, really wanted to engage with - and even solve - some of society's problems, really wanted to show the public that Westminster isn't some bloated old-boy's club incapable of change, then perhaps my idea isn't so silly after all.

Sadly, I fear we are some centuries away from such radical solutions.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Excellent News!

The Welfare Reform Bill may now be an Act, but the battle only just began.

Following on from the excellent news that Scottish GPs have called for an immediate end to Atos Work Capability Assessments - arguing that they are unsafe for patients - do open this link!!

I'm not going to spoil the surprise! Just click on the link here :

Happy Easter!!

I am Spartacus and I will see justice xx

Tuesday 27 March 2012

A Not Very Mysterious Medical Mystery

Tricky times to write about abject NHS failures, but that's what I started writing for.

Last May, I posted this : I'd come down with a racking cough, I was exhausted, had fevers, night sweats and had started losing weight. We put it down to my dodgy immunity, arranged some anti-biotics and I carried on. But it came back. And back. And back. And back. The crisis came here when I got rushed into hospital with a raging fever, my face the size of a football and a cough that made me choke, unable to gasp for breath.

Last October, I posted this :
My hubby had :

-Chills that make the bed shake-Breathlessness/Difficulty breathing
-Chest Pains - across whole chest, worse on breathing in
-He is grey with huge black circles under his eyes
-Sweats so bad, the bed is drenched and has to be changed
-Exhaustion - like when you've just had surgery. He's been asleep for the best part of this week

It's never really gone away. He's still getting chest pains, night sweats and has a permanent, racking cough. They said he was "just depressed"

Since New Year, my 7 year old has had a "chest infection" that just won't clear. He got paler and paler, skinnier and skinnier. I wash his bedding every other day as the sheets are often drenched. FINALLY, the local surgery listened to his chest AGAIN "Oh dear, that sounds rather dreadful" and sent him for an X-ray. Guess what? His lungs were badly infected everywhere. they're saying he's had pneumonia. Hubby didn't even get an X-Ray. My X-Rays wouldn't show anything much either way because of the cocophany of immuno-suppressants I take.

Here is the front page of my chemo-shot website : Please note, the following disclaimer is NOT just a standard part of a drug insert warning of every possible side effect under the sun. It is on the front page. In bold type :

"Serious infections have happened in people taking HUMIRA. These serious infections include tuberculosis (TB) and infections caused by viruses, fungi, or bacteria that have spread throughout the body. Some people have died from these infections. Your doctor should test you for TB before starting HUMIRA, and check you closely for signs and symptoms of TB during treatment with HUMIRA. If your doctor feels you are at risk, you may be treated with medicine for TB."

Here's some more info : " In HIV and other immunosuppressed persons, any abnormality may indicate TB or the chest X-ray may even appear entirely normal.[1]"

But what did my local hospital do? Laughed at me, refused to test me for TB, sent me home and then sent me this follow up letter :

..."it may have been suggested while you were an in-patient that we would follow up on your care as an out-patient. We do not feel this is necessary."

So they wouldn't even see me again!!! I've had a persistent cough, weight loss, night sweats and low grade fevers for 10 MONTHS!!! Now, Addenbrookes must do their job instead and have started the drawn out process of trying to arrange tests, scans and specialists from 130 miles away. I weigh 6 stone 6 by the way which makes "weight loss" a little more scary than it would for most people. 

Last week, I started coughing again. Bringing up muck, bubbly little fevers. But hey, I'm fine. Nothing to see here, move along. 

So my question is, would someone please pay me 100k or so a year to be a doctor? Because I'm seriously beginning to wonder exactly what the point of our local lot IS. 

Monday 26 March 2012

RIP Lord Newton (Con) 1937 -2012

In the last 18 months, it has been rare indeed for me to come across a politician of any party who was prepared to speak his or her mind. Truly speak their mind and speak for justice impervious to the Whip.

Lord Antony Harold "Tony" Newton, Baron Newton of Braintree, PC, OBE, DL did just that. 

One of the few Conservative peers to champion the vulnerable throughout the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill, he spoke out on plans to charge destitute mothers or fathers to use the Child Support Agency. Because of his determination, many thousands of parents, at their lowest ebb, facing the darkest of times, will now face a fee of £20 rather than £100 to get justice and security for their children.

He spoke out for disabled children, tried to save the social fund and opposed cutting legal aid for welfare cases. Very few others challenged their own government in this way. 

He leant on one arm when speaking - a technique I note David Cameron adopts at the despatch box. His wise words drew many a debate back into focus and whilst he by no means opposed the entire bill, that balance added integrity when he did. 

His rather sharp rebukes were offered with gentlemanly humour and decades of experience. As a previous Minister for Disabled people, he knew very well why Disability Living Allowance had been introduced and how it was designed to provide for the extra costs of disability -  regardless of means or employment status. 

He had a rather grumpy air, a dismissal of pomp and hypocrisy - from any party - that breathed life into the stuffy chamber. 

There were few in the House like "Tony" Newton. I am Spartacus, and I thank you. 

May your memory somehow influence today's inheritors of your legacy. They needed you more than they knew. 

RIP Lord Newton, (29 August 1937 – 25 March 2012

Friday 23 March 2012

Scottish GPs call for Immediate end to "Fit for Work" tests

Some good news for us all to share! Please feel free to share this as widely as possible. If you'd like to take any action, and you live in England, Northern Ireland or Wales, do consider sending this to your own GP with a short request that he or she considers pressing for similar action.

You might also like to send the press release to the GMC here urging them to take similar measures.

If you use twitter, we'll be using the hashtags #Braveheart and #GPs as we Retweet articles about this.


John McArdle                         0777 831 6875            

Scotland’s GP’s call for an end to controversial ‘fit for work’ tick-box tests carried out by French IT company ‘with immediate effect’

Scotland’s GP’s have today called to an end to the Government’s controversial computer-based ‘Work Capability Assessments’ carried out by French IT multinational Atos Origin for the DWP with ‘'immediate effect’:
60 Lothian: That this conference, in respect of Work Capability Assessments (WCA) as performed by ATOS Healthcare, believes that:
i. the inadequate computer-based assessments that are used have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long term sick and disabled persons
ii. the WCA should end with immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society

The Scottish-based disability rights and advocacy group Black Triangle was instrumental in getting the motion tabled at the Scottish Local Medical Committee’s (SLMC) conference at Clydebank.

Dr. Stephen Carty who works as a GP in the Leith area of Edinburgh and who is an active member of the campaign said:

“I welcome the support of the Scottish LMC conference on this matter.
This sends a ray of hope to some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society.
It also sends a clear message to other representative bodies including the General Medical Council (GMC) of the significant concerns shared by many GPs across the country.”

He said that “In my opinion the current contractual arrangements between the DWP and General Practice are unsustainable. The WCA as performed by ATOS is not an effective or safe method of determining "fitness to work" and this must be addressed.”

He continued: “All doctors are duty bound by the GMC to report any system or process that may be harmful to patients. The WCA is a harmful process. Scottish GPs have spoken: the GMC cannot remain silent on this matter any longer”

John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle said:

“The scandal of these assessments has gone on far too long. As a grassroots disabled people’s organisation we are over the moon that Scotland’s GP’s have spoken out so clearly and unequivocally in their condemnation. Our GP’s recognise the severe and avoidable damage that is being done to sick and disabled people through this brutal, draconian and profoundly unjust testing regime as they see it every single day. It must be halted now – ‘with immediate effect’.- before any further harm results and whilst the GMC launches a thorough investigation. They can no longer remain silent. They must act. ”

Thursday 22 March 2012

Just why DID Osborne cut pensions?

I was in that big London yesterday, so for the first time for as long as I can remember I didn't watch the budget.

I got back to my hotel , checked twitter and blow me down if George Gideon Osborne hadn't shafted pensioners! A #Grannypolltax according to twitter.

Now this is a sore point for disability campaigners. Kaliya and I often say "Damn their evil genius - as long as the pensioners are airbrushed from "welfare" no-one gives a damn".

The internet lit up with confused political editors "WHY?" They asked? Why did Gideon cut the 50p tax rate for millionaires and pay for it out of the pockets of "Decent Middle Class Pensioners"???"

Why indeed.

There is only one possible reason.

Gideon is in big trouble.

Many of us know this already and have been perplexed about why the media - so certain austerity would work - have given our baby chancellor such an easy ride. Debt is exploding (it will rise by over 150 billion MORE than he had predicted.)

Last month the deficit ROSE by 15 billion - compared to 8.8 Billion in the same month last year.

The welfare bill has RISEN by over 12 Billion since he took over at the Treasury. Yep, all this tough talk and eye-wateringly tough action crushing the very poorest and most disabled in our society has simply plugged the gap left by the rising unemployment benefits bill - youth unemployment for instance is now at the highest level since records began.

Growth, originally predicted to be over 2% came in at a pathetic 0.8%, whilst the Eurozone and US look well on the road to recovery.

I even spent most of last week asking Conservatives for signs that Osborne's plan was working. Not one replied.

So Gideon needs to find more money. And we all need to hurt more. Well, most of us. Not millionaires, obviously, they will get 40 thousand pounds a year, every year, MORE to spend.

Here's the key thing to remember : As you get older, you get more likely to vote Conservative. Every opinion poll since the dawn of time shows that a majority of over 60s will vote Tory. At the moment, they are the only age group saying that more will vote Conservative than Labour. This usually means one thing : Tories never, ever, shaft pensioners.

But he did. Because he's desperate.

As for the reaction today on all the front pages, something much, much more important has happened.

There is only one thing keeping polls close, only one thing separating the Tories from a 10 point clobbering : The economy. Gideon is seen as rather clever, a good strategist. He has set many a trap for the Labour front bench to walk into. He has saved the Tories at several key points. The public still overwhelmingly trusted them more than Labour on the economy.

He has consistently shown that despite howls of leftie rage, he understands his grassroots and can appeal to enough floating voters to keep the party ticking over.

Until yesterday.

This morning sees the Telegraph howling with disgust, the Mail and the Sun mocking his stupidity with dripping scorn. Will he recover? Will this simply be a minor budget blip, too far from the next election to make a difference? Or will today be the day the Conservatives lose their deadliest weapon?

It's too soon to tell, but surely, yesterday was as damaging for Gideon as Gordon Brown's 10p tax disaster? If it turns out to be Gideon's poll tax moment, then the outlook just got a lot brighter for those of us who don't believe in the growth fairy.

Click here for a montage of today's appalling front pages


As a final point, our trustafarian millionaire chancellor suggested that he will have to find a further 10 billion from the welfare budget. I have a message for him. "You can't, silly boy"

But then, there's no such word as can't is there? So here's another message "If you do George, tens of thousands of our most vulnerable children, pensioners and disabled people will die. That is not hyperbole. And I will make sure that you can never hide from it, every day, for the rest of your life."

Tuesday 20 March 2012

The Politics of Fetish

Oh for goodness sake.

The latest ICM poll has the Tories in the lead. By 3 POINTS!!

OK, it's the only one, OK, it's probably an outlier** but ICM are by far the most accurate pollster for a long while now. They got the 2010 election result spot on and consistently polled most accurately during the campaign.

George *whiplash* Osborne with his leather knickerbockers and gimp mask just keeps sticking it to us.

"Kerchush - there goes the NHS, Snap! There goes the welfare state, Bend over while I cut your child benefit, tax credits, disability support, minimum wage AND give my city buddies on 150k a tax cut"

"You love it, you know you do, Do you want more? I can privatise the roads, *Aaaagh* the air *Ouch* your children *Kerchush*. I can make you redundant and you'll still want me, you minxes. It's hurting isn't it? You like that don't you?"

Mystifyingly, the polls also shows that people absolutely detest this government's policies. For instance, 67% oppose dropping the 50p rate of tax for those earning 150k or more.

You Gov show the Government have an approval rating of -25!! Yes, that's minus 25. We can get more information from the You Gov polling. People think Cameron is doing badly as a Prime Minister (51% v 42%) They think the coalition is working badly (57% v 34%) They think the coalition is bad for them personally (54% v 21%)

Wait for this one..... 72% think the UK economy is foobahed. Just 4% think it's looking good. 52% think the economic outlook will get worse too - only 10% have faith that Gideon Lovelace can sort things out.

So to conclude, the public think the Tories are hopelessly out of touch, will make the economy worse, aren't cutting fairly and won't improve their lives. But they'll still vote for them!!

Why is this? What could it possibly be?

Well, effectively, it's Ed. And Labour generally. However much the public hate the Tories, however useless they think they are, they think Labour - and I'm sorry, but specifically Ed - is worse. Particularly on the economy. Despite no evidence at all to the contrary, the public still believe "It's all Labour's fault".

Ed's approval ratings are -45!!! Yep, minus 45. To put this in perspective, Clegg's are -46. Progress (Blairite think tank) had yet another self-flagellation session, erm, conference thingy last week, whining at their belly buttons that Labour had to face their mistakes, (again) how awfully, awfully dreadful and wrong we got everything, (again) how out-of-touch blah blah zzzzzzzz...... *Kerchush, beat me some George, please, I like it. I'm a victim, I love being a victim, ooooooh George do it again, I feel so cheap, so worthless*

This should be the easiest period in opposition any opposition ever opposed!!! 

Sheesh, it's like Cameron's butler brings Ed easy win's on a silver platter every morning and Ed says "Erm, not this morning thanks Jeeves" *Ed rushes off to fetish cupboard, checks handcuffs, sighs with relief and a shiver of pleasure*

Surely.... surely's time to admit that whatever *strategy* (snigger) plan it is you think you came up with, it's definitely hurting, but certainly not working?


**An outlier is a poll which seems to buck the trend of other polling, often because of a freak sample that just wasn't very random or some other anomaly.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

"Another Brown Envelope arrived today. It's clearly marked from the Department. My neighbours might have seen, but I think I got it in time. It told me I cost too much. They're stopping my money next month. I am a Useless Eater. What will become of me?

They "assessed" me. Forced me to strip, made me touch my toes. It hurt, pain ripping through me. He never looked at me, said the pain didn't matter. He asked if I ever watched the TV. I didn't know how to answer? Was this a new trick? There have been so many. I nodded. He spat the question again "Answer me please". I said I did. The room was small, airless, cameras watched from every angle, moving as I tried to move. Grills at the windows. Grills at the doors. One time, I had to climb a flight of stairs. When I couldn't they stopped my money.

That brown envelope said I could work. They have work programmes now. We work for free, they make us. I don't know when it will end - perhaps it won't You can see my ribs, count them as I bend to reach the lowest shelves. I ate on Monday. Or was it Tuesday? I forget. The Minister said work frees us.

The letters. The endless brown envelopes, The logo makes my heart beat faster. I feel sick, terrified to open each one. The lawyers write to me, the advisers, the courts, the Department, the Providers. I don't understand them all but they never stop, they keep writing until you give up, until you are too worn down.

I saw a paper today. I didn't mean to. There, on the front page, the Department caught someone like me Outside. What was she thinking?  Fool. She must have got the new directive? She must know we are not welcome Outside now? Perhaps she stopped opening the Brown Envelopes. I tried that once, but they sent someone to my house. Said I'd get no money at all for 2 weeks. The food ran out after 4 days. I always open the Brown Envelopes now. Eventually.

The paper called us cheats again. Scroungers, shirkers, we are "mugging the state". Every day, there on the front page. They print a telephone number. They get people to call it if they suspect a Useless Eater. Neighbours must report us now. The Department can follow you, take pictures, go through your bins. Check your bank accounts.

They say we're getting ID cards now. They'll list our defects. We must produce them if anyone asks. If a snarling, sneering bulldog of a man attacks me in the street, I must show him my card. The Department said it would make them stop, but sometimes it just makes the beating worse. Sometimes more join in when they see my Useless Eater ID. Another reason not to risk Outside.

I used to use a wheelchair, but it broke and the Department said I couldn't have another. Just as well I suppose. It makes things Outside worse. They said we couldn't afford it. I have to use nappies if I can't get to the toilet now, now one comes to help me get there any more. I live in one room now, use the walls and furniture to get about. It's easier, and saves on heating. The pills are in the drawer. I pretended to take them, but saved them up. The woman who came to change my bed and give me a bath used to make sure I took them, but she doesn't come any more. The Department say I don't need to wash below my waist. I've got lots of pills now. I think I've got enough.

The Department say I have to move. Well, I only use one room now anyway.  There aren't many places Useless Eaters like me can go these days. Just the area beyond the river, on the edge of town, where it's cheaper. There are lots of us there. You can tell, because the curtains stay drawn. There is no bus. Another Department stopped them. It's far from the hospital now they've closed the one I used to go to. They stopped my drugs too, but it's OK, because I've got mine, safe in the drawer. They said it wouldn't apply to us, but it does.

I wonder where it will all end? I can't possibly imagine. Can't imagine things getting worse than they are now. I heard that some tried to protest, took to the streets! Outside! All around the world, they say! The police sprayed gas in their faces, hurled them back with water cannon. Closed their internet sites down so they couldn't tell anyone. Arrested some.  One got dragged backwards, tipped out of his wheelchair . I suppose that's why no-one really knows what is happening to us. I suppose they couldn't do all this if they did? Could they?

Where will it end? Will it end?

Saturday 17 March 2012

Calling ALL lefties : Pooh or get off the Pot!

Before I start this article, I you haven't really read my blog much, you may not leave a comment calling me a tribal flag waving Labour floozy.

Because I have earned a big old badge that says "When Labour is wrong I will scream about it even louder you."

So now we've got that out of the way, let's also take it as read that Iraq, PFI, and civil liberties did not go awfully well, OK?

But I've read some comments so ridiculous lately, I have to wonder if these people are still living on the same planet as me.

Example 1 : "All that money Labour spent on the NHS went on lightbulbs, pot plants and new carpets"

Huh? Do you REALLY think that, or did the Telegraph tell you to?

The money paid for nurses and doctors and midwives and MRI scanners and getting waiting lists to an all time low and a 2 week cancer guarantee and improved it’s approval rating from the 40%s to the 80%s and made it the most efficient health service in the world. And equitable!! – did you know that? We have the most equitable health service in the world totally unrelated to ability to pay.

All of those things improved my life. 
Example 2 : "Labour didn't save for a rainy day. They overspent before the crash, running the highest deficit of all time. Our debt got out of control. 

Simply put, none of this is true. What's more I have absolutely no idea how Osborne et al get away with it. None. Take a little wander around this site : 
Ask what the IMF think, compare Labour's debt/deficit record with the previous Thatcher government (it was better on every count) The Tories backed Labour's plans right up until 2008. Since the coalition came to power, growth has plummeted, unemployment has gone up, welfare bills have risen, debt has gone up, inflation has raged, our credit rating is in jeopardy. I am utterly mystified. Every single indicator has worsened. 

Now, it was far from a perfect world, but during the first 10 years of the Labour government, crime fell by 40% NHS waiting times came down from 18 months to 18 weeks, unemployment was kept low, inflation was kept low, growth was good, a million pensioners were lifted out of poverty with measures such as pension credit, winter fuel payments and free TV licenses. We had more police on the streets, more nurses and doctors on our wards and 200,000 teaching assistants in out classrooms. Labour introduced free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds for the first time. We got Sure Start centres and a minimum wage. We got a strengthened Disability Discrimination Act (DDA, Human Rights legislation (HRA) and Equality laws. We got a peace agreement in Northern Ireland and devolution for Wales and Scotland. Then there was a credit crunch. Led by subprime lending in the US

Since the coalition came to power, Crime has risen, NHS waiting times have risen, A&E waits are longer, there are fewer nurses and fewer midwives. Unemployment has risen, inflation has soared and growth has plummeted. Women are facing 3/4 of all the cuts, disabled people are facing a drop in income that may leave them unable to buy food, people on 43k will lose their child benefit. Frontline police numbers have fallen by some 5,000, legal aid is under threat and training for teaching assistants has been stopped. Sure Start centres are closing, the minimum wage has been frozen for young people, we might as well throw the DDA in the bin and the Conservatives want to scrap the Human rights act and homelessness is rising alarmingly - even here in affluent Sussex. There's still a credit crunch. 

Now, all of that can be proven. You can argue separate points that you don't like so much, but just as an overview, I'm mystified. 

How do the Tories do this? What's more how on earth have they persuaded Liberal Democrats to back them? That this is the right path? I mean you don't have to like Labour even a little bit to have a peek at the US economy following 18 months of Lab/Brown style stimulus and compare it with ours. (Their's is heading for 3% annualised growth, ours is heading for negative numbers and another recession)

Is it our media? Is it some kind of airborne thought control? A drug they are dripping into the water causing amnesia and the ability to think the exact opposite of the truth? Is it apathy? Is it boredom? I just can't fathom it. 

I don't like the current Labour position on welfare, I'm almost constantly head-desking whenever they issue a press statement, I do realise they set a lot of these "reforms" up and I worry about the possibility of an election any time soon - they clearly couldn't run drinkies-in-the-proverbial right now, but on the whole - on the whole - get a grip lefties. 

Start defending our record. Accept the bits we got wrong and move on, but for goodness sake, anyone claiming "They're all the same/Triangulation/They're worse than the Tories/I'll never vote Labour again"
Might want to ask themselves just how long they'd like to keep this cabinet of millionaires.

And just how much we're going to allow them to get wrong before we unite and fight. 

Wednesday 14 March 2012

RIP coalition, the NHS will outlast you all.

I had an odd sleep. You know, one of those nights where you're not quite sure you actually are asleep. My brain kept going over and over the NHS vote in the commons last night. A kaleidoscope of Punch and Judy, outraged lefties, pompous righties and every now and then, a quiet, pleading voice, trying to be heard, perhaps Graheme Morris or Andrew George.

Nonsense! No-one even listened to them. If you weren't making an impassioned speech that mentioned Bevan at least three times or spitting the word "Blairism" across the chamber, you might as well have gone home.

There was something very odd about watching twitter yesterday afternoon as the NHS Drop the Bill debate raged. The NHS supporters who had fought so hard to be heard went though an exact carbon copy of our Welfare Reform Bill angst - disbelief, passion, then as the votes were counted, nail biting followed by despair.

"Where are all the MPs? Disgrace so few attending debate"

"But! But! He's LYING!!!"

"I could kiss *(insert name of hero of the moment)"

"How can this guy be a Lib Dem? How can they do this?"

"This is so undemocratic!! How can they ignore us like this?"

"Vote soon - I can hardly watch"

"Hey!! where are all these MPs coming from? Dragged in just to vote without hearing debate? Shouldn't be allowed!"

"I feel sick - results in 5 minutes"

"Well, that's it then, we lost"

"The Lib Dems didn't even vote for their own amendment!!"

In just over three hours another few thousand hearts broke, another few thousand voters realised just how rotten "democracy" has become.

But, when it was welfare, I don't know, somehow I could kid myself it was just us. We were hardly popular were we? Compared to the Alpha male that is the NHS, trying to save benefits was like trying to make Katie Price demure. No-one really paid attention to our crucial votes, the media overwhelmingly didn't care, the public didn't have a clue what we were really fighting for and the opposition were hiding in a Starbucks muttering "Please don't notice we started all this."

But this was the NHS! These reforms are opposed by so many acronyms, it reads like a tin of alphabetti-spaghetti. 87% of the public think the NHS is awesome (about 1% think benefits are and we're all on them!!) And - crucially - this was the Tories doing all this!!

Now, Tories can kick Welfare til it gasps it's last breath and the crowds will cheer! Oh how they'll cheer! "More Iain! More Dave!" They'll scream.

But the NHS? The issue that made the Tories unelectable for well over a decade? The issue so toxic to Conservatives, Dave had to *Ringfence* the budget and make lots of "I really understand, honest I do" speeches?

So, here's what happens next.

Let's assume the bill passes. Even if it was the most kick-ass, studiously written, comprehensively wonderful bill of all time, the NHS still has to find 20 billion or so in "efficiency savings" *cough, CUTS cough*. Waiting times are rising, standards are falling, wards are closing, midwife numbers are dropping, A&E waiting times are soaring and there are fewer nurses. By 2015, the stats will read like a car crash. And remember, this is without the bill.

Now, you can't strike on benefits. You can't say "Right, that's it, I'm just not claiming your Disability Living Allowance any more" Cos, you know, you'd starve. AND Iain Duncan-Smith would be thrilled which kind of defeats the object. DWP ministers were always pretty safe in the knowledge that they could do what they liked with us.

But you just can't steamroller through changes to the NHS without the staff. Not without the surgeons and the nurses and the GPs and the radiographers and the physios. It can't be done. I'm astonished Dave and George didn't get the memo. They must have been on yet another foreign lobbying trip when civil servants held the "Sacred Cow" seminar.

Joking aside, there is only one possible conclusion. They heard Blair talk of the "scars on his back" from public sector reform, they heard him say he should have gone further and faster, and they made a decision that no matter what happened Lansley's health plans would go ahead. Just like they decided that no matter what happened, Dunky's welfare plans would go ahead. And Gove's Education reform..... and Clarke's Justice reforms..... and Gideon's money tree planting spree....

And the LibDems? Well, they will get the blame, just as they always do. As every Gran dies on a trolley in a corridor, as every bed get's blocked, as every hospital get's sold off to MacDonalds, every classroom is sponsored by Murdoch, every ill or disabled person starves quietly in their unheated home - they will get the blame. "They stood by and let this happen" will ring out across shires and cities alike. I have saved my LibDem hyperbole til now, just in case they redeemed themselves, but this step is the step too far. This of all is the step they can never recover from.

When I remember not to be devastated at the human cost, suffering and horror of a country picked apart, all at once, no stone of major-upheaval left unturned, part of me will sit back for the next year or two and enjoy watching Dave and George, Andrew and Iain squirm.  As the privileged complacency falls away, the out-of-touch arrogance turns to doubt, I will be chuckling in a dark humoured kind of way.

As the little boys in the playground realise their game has gone horribly, horribly wrong it will at least be some small comfort.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

The Cold Hand of Sheer Terror

I went to the Outside today! For fun! To do something nice!

I can't remember the last time that happened. Seriously, I've forgotten.

I went for a lovely lunch with the lovely @bunnyrabble and chatted in a lovely "Cameron's a knobber" kind of way.

My mood driving home was bubbly, delight at a little freedom mixed with a teeny bit of pride that I managed to do a nice thing.

Home with the boys, flumping in a cuddle, I snuck a little look at twitter and found this :

And my heart nearly stopped. My blood ran cold. I literally sat and stared. You know those moments you totally expect but hope will never come?

I've heard about "Personal Budgets" in the NHS and wondered - what if they run out?

I've worried about GP commissioning - what if I need expensive surgery or treatment just before the new financial year?

I've worried about privatisation of the NHS - who but the NHS would treat someone like me?

And today, Tory MP and member of the Commons Health Select Committee (!!!), Chris Skidmore said that research into so-called ‘super-users’ of the NHS – people with chronic conditions who keep readmitting themselves to hospital – has uncovered "the full scale of the problem."

What problem is this?

Ahhh, yes, I am the problem. If £107 a week is considered WAY more than I'm worth in disgusting, selfish state income, just imagine what people like Mr Skidmore might think about the £24,000 per year the NHS spends on my chemo shots! Or the 10s of thousands each of my operations has cost. Of the endless in-patient stays costing that good old fella - the hardworking taxpayer - £500 per day.

Skidmore goes on to say "the figures showed the NHS is failing to tackle problems such  as obesity, diabetes, substance abuse and alcoholism." He said: ‘These figures demonstrate clearly the scale  to which NHS care is being dominated by super-users, usually those with long-term chronic conditions and those involved with substance misuse.

Ahhhh, here we go again. Us "Chronics", the dregs of society, de-classified as "disabled" written out of state support, abandoned and reviled now thrown in the NHS drunk-tank with the Friday night scallies.

Is this the start of a new rhetoric? After all, this is exactly how the ground was prepared for ESA, refusing DLA and cutting social care. This is how we ensured the public wouldn't care even a tiny bit when the sick and disabled were thrown on the scrapheap. Just lump 'em in with the feckless, the unfortunate, the irresponsible, the unwashed, the users, the cheats or the drunks.

Obviously, someone decided alcoholism or substance abuse weren't "real conditions" ages ago and focus groups and think tanks know very well the public will get out the pitchforks at the mere mention of such "types". Chuck any other group into that mix and you can almost guarantee a lack of sympathy.

And the line that really made me scared : "'We must begin to look closer at who exactly is using the NHS rather than allowing its revolving door to continue turning.’

Firstly Mr Skidmore, it's "more closely" and secondly, I don't doubt it for a second. I have expected it from your cruel Government for some time

Well Mr Skidmore, should you ensure that "revolving door" stops turning for people like me, I will die. Simple as that. If you take away my income, I might find kind hearted people to ensure that I can eat, but if you shut that "revolving door" I will die.

There's a word for that Skids. It's a word people don't like. An emotive word. A word that sends a chill down spines, that evokes our very worst human failures through history. A word that conjures dead babies and sinister social engineering.

The word is eugenics.

Taking the wrong path once, (ESA) might be forgiveable, taking it twice might be arrogant (DLA) taking it three times (Denying NHS care) is fascist Mr Skidmore.

Be very, very careful Skiddy Mc-Skids. Unless you are prepared to answer the question - "Who deserves to live"

Image courtesy of @B4dAlbert

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Ability Disabled

I've been trying to pin down a hazy idea that's been floating about in my blog-head for a few weeks now.


People greater and way better informed than me have struggled with definitions of disability for decades, so I won't pretend to analyse social models or medical models or biopsychosocial pseudo-science.

I'm thinking about our lives. And the way that they've changed since around 2008.

I never ever thought of myself as a "scrounger". Far from it. I had a terrible illness that limited my life in thousands of ways. Crucially, I was never given any cause to.

My Blue Badge was the thing that improved my quality of life the most. It literally made the difference between leaving the house and not. If I can park right outside the door of the supermarket or the school or the hospital, I can go, if not, I simply can't manage.

Yes, I can walk. I can just about get round a small supermarket without feeling so exhausted I have to sit on the floor. Before I had the Blue Badge, I regularly had to sit down in a shop and put in an SOS call to my husband.  I became more and more insular, less able to enjoy the things everyone else took for granted.

When I decide to go to a shop or a school concert, I know that the rest of the day will be a write off. How does the act of over-riding my disability affect everything else that I do? My energy and ability are limited (see The Spoon Theory for a wonderful explanation ) and for me, managing my disability means achieving as much as I can, every day, with the limited ability that I have.

I could have given up. Many do. I could have gone to bed and said enough was enough. Given up the daily struggle for a degree of normality.

I could give up on food (it disables me more than anything else) and accept a permanent feeding tube. But I like food. I refuse to give up on something so fundamental, so entwined with social interaction and pleasure, just because it hurts and makes me vomit and keeps me on the loo all day.

I could have chosen not to have children. Some might legitimately argue that I should have done. But imagine the joy I'd have missed? The love that fills the places where pain lurks. The shiny little faces that make me be more, do more every single day. Sometimes (well, often) it's all way too much, but they keep me going, always more important than my various symptoms or dark, dark, days.

I could use a wheelchair, I very often need to. But then I become more disabled. My muscles waste a little more, my heart would get a little weaker, my blood, already sticky with inaction would clot a little easier, potentially bringing on stroke No2.

I could stop bathing or washing my hair or getting myself dressed. Sometimes those simple things take me all day. Sometimes I can't do them at all. But then who am I? What is left?

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) was the extra money to acknowledge all of those things. It meant I could buy food that didn't make me as ill. It meant that I could pay for some help in the bad times. It meant that I could get my children to school in a taxi on days I can't leave the toilet. It meant that I got a Blue Badge.

As we all trawl through the criteria for the new benefit to replace DLA (PIP or Personal Independence Payments) it becomes clearer and clearer that is designed to disable. 

If I can make a simple meal using a microwave, if I can get dressed and wash myself, if I can walk more than 50 metres, whatever it costs me, I am no longer disabled. It no longer matters what those things cost me, their effect is irrelevant. If I can clean up my own incontinence, incontinence is no longer disabling. If I can chew, I am not disabled, never mind the carnage that the transit of that food causes. 

So, if you are disabled - and make no mistake, I mean disabled in any way at all - deaf, blind, paralysed, mentally ill, or if you have a "fluctuating condition" like mine - if you can leave the house, care for yourself in the most basic ways and stumble through a semblance of "life" you will not qualify for PIP. If you give up, stop trying, stop fighting for every minute of every day, you might.

The same is now true of social care. As councils up and down the country attempt to save an eye watering 25% from budgets, "moderate needs" no longer exist. You must simply struggle through "moderate" until the daily effort pushes you towards "critical" Then the skeleton remains of state assistance will pick up the damaged pieces. And those pieces will be more damaged, will cost the NHS more money.

The message on disability is clear and is ringing out loud and true across every town in the country - "Give up, don't fight, don't try to be the best you can be, don't cling to pleasure - it is not for the likes of you.

Don't you dare EVER have good day, take a holiday, and God forbid, throw caution to the wind and risk days of pain for a moment's joy on a water slide. Don't stay active, don't keep your disability at bay for as long as you can. Don't try to avoid costly medical interventions. Don't let your neighbours see you in the garden or hoovering the lounge. Don't cook a beautiful meal, eat microwave meals and be grateful. Don't be so selfish! How DARE you think you deserve a partner or children and if you do, expect that they will become more exhausted, more neglected as they are expected to become "critical" themselves just caring for you.

It is a terrible, sinister shift. Possibly not designed to be so - who knows? I could no longer say for sure if this is utter ignorance and a lack of understanding of disability, or a sinister attempt to ensure that disability becomes more marginalised, less visible and in the end.... well in the end what? What will become of us?

The Government think we will all buckle down and get jobs. I still cannot imagine in any way at all what makes them think we didn't try that already - in some cases, mine included, until it brought us to the very brink of trading our lives for a pay cheque.

We are talking about millions of lives, not just a handful. Half a million people losing DLA - half a million!! Many more losing ESA. Yet more left to sit in their own filth, eating when a neighbour knocks to check, for want of a little social care.

Once again, I ask whether we need to wait for this terrible, inhumane bomb to explode across our news bulletins or whether we think again. Now. Before it is too late.

Monday 5 March 2012

A Busman's Holiday

I did mean to say I was taking a break, but I was a bit too tired to type it properly and, you know, think much.

All the time I was working on the Responsible Reform report, my kids, my husband and I were counting down the days til "Mummy Holiday". I promised faithfully that I would take February off, lock my laptop slavedriver in a cupboard or something and go all Nigella on our neglected home life.

I know this sounds utterly naive, but I honestly thought that I'd be able to turn off the tech on the 10th January, snuggle up under a duvet for a week or so and then fix my broken life. We'd been ignored for so long - in the media, by politicians, by the public - I never once considered that anyone might actually start to pay attention. I never in a million years thought I'd be fielding calls from Newsnight and the BBC. If you'd told me a UK welfare report would trend globally on twitter, I'd have laughed.

Well, that's what happens when complete novices learn as they go along.

So, I'm on holiday! As Kaliya said, it feels like the first week of school holidays! AND I get the added bonus of watching Workfare crumble spectacularly, A4E fall apart at the seams and Chris Grayling stuttering like an indignant toddler caught with his hand in the sweetie jar.

Just for the record, I give ESA about another 4 months before that too collapses, groaning, under the unprecedented incompetence of it's own design. Can't wait, can you?

But last night, tweeting a bit with friends, and reading a few "Save our NHS" articles, I got to thinking about what had made the Spartacus campaign so powerful? What on earth made welfare sexy? And I remembered that it was the personal stories. The One Month Before Heartbreak Twitter campaign and Left out in the Cold. The #fitforwork tag and the #DLAstories.

We, as people, or "the public" are constantly de-humanised by our political system. Claimants in need are referred to as "Stock", numbers claiming as "flow rates", patients as "clients". We forget all too often WHY we are fighting and who we are fighting for.

So I asked people : Has the NHS ever saved your life? Really think about it? Even if you were immunised, there's a good chance that it did. Nasty broken bones used to kill people, and flu and tonsilitis and even a dog bite. Most of us were born in a hospital if nothing else. Even that nasty chest infection you got last year could have seen you off if it had been left to develop into pneumonia for want of the money to pay for antibiotics.

How many children did your Great-Nan have? How many survived? We can go back you know. We can always undo the great good work we've done over the years to make the UK the most equitable health nation on earth - yes read it again, the UK is the world leader in treating conditions on need, not on the ability to pay. We are the best at something.

Oh, of all people, I know the faults of the NHS. But I'm still here to write about it.

Within minutes, @concrete_sky had suggested a hashtag - #nhssavedmylife - and this morning it was trending No1 in the UK. The stories are heart warming, harrowing and sometimes challenging, but they remind us that come what may, we have something precious that is worth fighting for.

Join the fight, tell your story. If you can say the #nhssavedmylife add your voice.

Let's remind Andrew Lansley why reform must always be responsible. And let's remind him exactly who the NHS is there to serve - the patients.

Thursday 1 March 2012

A Post About Pooh

I know, the Welfare Reform Bill passed.

In a fizzle of shame, it gasped it's way through the Lords last night.

But we always knew it would, so I'm going to talk about pooh.

If you have Crohn's disease, you live in fear of one thing - the Gastro Bug.

My bowel is knackered already. I mean completely and utterly borked. It's had bits lopped off, bit's sliced and stitched, bit's stuck together, bits that just gave up and exploded fairly dramatically, bit's that turned into huge weeping abscesses and bits that sprung holes like a leaky bucket.

Thanks to the NHS, it's been repeatedly fixed, glued, joined, patched and soothed but I haven't got as much left as you lot and I have permanent gastro-enteritis.

Have you had food poisoning? I mean really? Have you spent all night on the toilet groaning, seriously thinking you're going to die? Did you pass out as the clammy sweat of nausea crept through every atom of your body? Did the pain feel like a red hot poker, stabbing through your guts and out through your spine? As the colour drained from your cheeks and you dripped with a shivering, cold, sweat? Did you pull all of your stomach muscles retching endless burning acid into the toilet bowl? Did you break a rib, the spasms of peristalsis racked your body so hard?

You couldn't believe it was possible to feel that ill and keep breathing could you? Come on really think about it! That dodgy curry after the rugby, the shellfish in Marbella, the gastric-flu that kept you in bed for a fortnight?

Well that happened to me when I was about ten and never stopped. Never. Not for a week. At first, I thought it could only be a matter of time - no body could repeatedly go through that endlessly, a horrific, grinding Groundhog Day and survive.

But you know, somehow, it can. I've never worked out how, but even when you want to go to bed and never wake up, when the pain is so bad you can't think, when you can't remember the last time you slept for more than an hour of two, you go on. I went through university and worked for 10 years through that. Every day.

28 years later, I'm slowing down a bit. My body is complaining, I have deficiencies of this and crumbling bits of that. My bones haven't developed properly and already have osteoporosis. My teeth have crumbled away from the steady coating of vomit acid. I can't walk very far or stand up for long or pick up my children - I'm really, really tired.

But some days, if I'm really lucky, once in a blue moon, I might be that fraudster on the water slide, pretending she's disabled. The "cheat" who dared to risk all of the above but still go to London for a day trip or cheer at the sidelines of my little boy's school football tournament. I'll be the one who defiantly hangs on to pleasure when it comes my way - it comes so rarely.

2 days ago, I caught a Gastric Bug. I've been lucky - it's been years, but the particularly snippy diarrhoea and vomiting bug that's putting healthy people in bed for two days has found me.

My bowel is their favourite playing ground of all. They will set up camps in my leaky bits, have parties in the pockets and loops that shouldn't be there. Last night, I broke my personal-best poohing record. My bowels exploded in agony 28 times!! 28!! I have no idea why I started counting, there was a point to it last night, but I've forgotten now. I may as well have cholera now, and I'm off to bed for a bit.

So why the graphic, uncomfortable, faecal, vulnerable post this morning?

Because the Welfare Reform Bill, 2010 passed last night and people like me just lost everything. Regular readers will know, I have been told I don't qualify for DLA and I almost certainly will lose Incapacity Benefit as nothing in the ESA descriptors would mean that I qualify for ESA. Even if I did I will lose it after a year as my husband earns more than £7,500 a year. I'll never qualify for the Long term Support Group because I will never be "completely incapable of any kind of work at all". Also, with a bit of luck, they'll never actually tell me I've only got six months to live, I'll just burst somewhere at some point. So that means I'll never qualify because I'll never be "terminally ill" (Though of course, I will be, potentially, every day.)

People with "moderate needs" like mine - I'll leave you to judge how moderate my disability sounds from the description I just gave above - will no longer qualify for any kind of Social Care. Nor will my children unless I get to the stage where I physically can't get them to school.

I won't qualify for the new PIP - my incontinence is not severe enough to qualify. I was incontinent 7 times last night, cleaned myself up, changed my own clothes. But I did it myself, which means my disability doesn't affect me, according to the new rules.

My husband won't get carer's allowance, we won't qualify for any of the things the Government say are exempting the disabled from the worst of this bill because look! They've de-classified me!! Evil genius isn't it? We won't be able to earn a little more before we lose support because guess what? I'm not disabled now, so I won't qualify for the "help disabled people are getting".

So if you haven't read my blog before, I hope all the talk of pooh didn't make you feel too uncomfortable. But I hope more than anything, that what we just did to compassion, dignity and the lives of sick and disabled people up and down the country makes you feel very uncomfortable indeed.

29th Feb, 2012. The Welfare Reform Bill, 2010, became an Act.

And everything changed.