Thursday 27 June 2013

The Cruelty in Osborne's CSR

Something happened during Osborne's Comprehensive Spending Review yesterday.

It took a while to sink in, as these things often do.

But a government who had previously at least paid lip service to "protecting the most vulnerable" clearly couldn't bring themselves to pretend any longer that we're "All in it together".

Firstly, the overall welfare spending cap. What does this mean? (And remember, this is Labour policy too :( )

By including "Disability Benefits" This government of the privileged elite broke any remaining link between social security and need. Let's remember for a moment. Disability Living Allowance (currently being replaced with Personal Independence Payments or PIPs) Is a NON-MEANS TESTED benefit, paid to cover the EXTRA costs of disability. Based on an assessment of NEED, anyone with a significant illness or disability that limits their ability to take part in society on the same basis as anyone else is entitled to claim.

You may be in work or out of work, rich or poor, DLA is based on none of that.

For the sake of tax, DLA is not counted. For the sake of housing benefit or tax credit, DLA is not counted. It is an entirely independent amount to cover - let's say it again - the EXTRA costs faced by sick or disabled people.

Make no mistake. Including disability benefits in the overall welfare spending cap ends any pretence that the cross party support for DLA and a non-means tested disability benefit, still exists.

It will mean that entitlement to sickness or disability support is based on COST not NEED. It will break an agreement that has held for decades. It will mean there is no longer any guarantee that NEED will lead to an award.

And the second mean, nasty little detail : Making anyone who becomes unemployed wait 7 days before they can "sign on" for unemployment benefit.

Oh sure, if you live in a stately home, sit in line for a baronetcy and expect a £30 million inheritance, this might make perfect sense.

But who claims "The Dole" or "Job seekers allowance" (JSA) as it's been known for some time? Not bankers or lawyers or MPs.

In reality, there is a cohort of workers, trapped in a cycle of poorly paid, low skilled work, zero hour contracts and few if any employee rights. They tend to work for 3 months here, 6 months there before work that may be seasonal or cyclical rejects them back to the jobcentre. There is no ability to save or work their way up. They tend to live hand to mouth, payday to payday. When the contract ends, there is nothing in reserve.

Waiting 7 days, means 7 days without food. 7 days without nappies. 7 days without rent. 7 days without heating or lighting. And that's just 7 days before you can APPLY. It might be 3 or 4 weeks before you actually see any money.

Sure, if you earned 40k or even 80k you can manage for a bit. You probably got redundancy. You might have a network of contacts who can suggest a new job. You don't tend to be knocking at the jobcentre door at 9am on a Monday morning.

No, it's only those in the most desperate need who are forced into "signing on". Only those who can't find other work. Making them wait 7 days won't suddenly magic up a job. It won't suddenly make people more resourceful and determined. The threat of imminent starvation tends to make people fairly resourceful and determined in the first place.

This won't affect those the government assure us have been "languishing on benefits" uninterested in work. Nope, they'll already be claiming.

It will only affect those who really need help. All poxy £60-odd quid a week of it.

If anything proves how little this government know about the people who's lives they're playing with it is this mean, nasty, ill thought through, cruel little policy. It will help no-one and hurt those who until moments ago were working. Or in government speak, "doing the right thing"

It will starve their children, push their mothers and fathers to foodbanks and charity, force proud men and women to beg.

Sorry, but there's only really one word. You utter bastards.

Friday 21 June 2013

The Revelation Period

*Caution : This article contains language some readers may find offensive. However, language evolves for a reason. Believe me, I find the issues it raises more offensive*
Also : TRIGGER for some

You must excuse my history. Most of it comes through the prism of Shakespeare and my literature degree. So, for me, history is : The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Romantics and The Restoration.

Lately, I very often find myself wondering how history will remember and reflect on Britain - and of course the wider world - at the turn of this 3rd millennium.

Every generation thinks themselves the best, the most modern, the most advanced or enlightened. As human beings, unable to comprehend what we have yet to discover, we believe we've reached the pinnacle of what humans may achieve. Of course each generation, dripping with arrogance and youth are wrong, we know almost nothing.

There seems to be little doubt that we are on the brink of - probably already living through - one of the greatest periods of flux the world has ever known. 

From the "Arab Spring" to the global crisis of capitalism. From crippling austerity regimes to the erosion of civil rights -of democracy itself -we feel as though we are on the very brink of disaster or epiphany. Certainly I feel as though we are blinking into a new light that is shining on every corrupt corner of the modern lives we thought so advanced, so progressive.

How did we miss so much? When did we stop caring about our own futures, about our country and how it reflects us back onto the world? When did we give up, roll over? When did we decide we could never win and it didn't much matter either way? 

If historians name this period at all, surely it will be "The Revelation"?

Oh, we all knew deep down. We all knew we were discreetly looking away, taking care of our own. We knew there was greed and corruption, but those sofas on the never-never and cheap cardboard "food" made it all so easy. 

Just 13 years into this new millennium, so plated in gold and hopeful opportunity, and the cheap patina has all but worn away. 

For most of those 13 short years - barely a drop in the ocean of time - day after day, month after month, it seems a light has finally started to shine into the darker corners of modern life, exposing almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg of the full extent of the problems we face. For most of us, it's just too much to comprehend. Perhaps that's why so many switched off altogether. 

What can "ordinary" people, like us, do to feed all those poor crying babies we see in the NSPCC and Oxfam ads? To love them and give them a little of the abundance we take for granted? How can we alone  stop wars or expose corporate corruption? We feel powerless, overwhelmed, and so we focus on making our own little lives as good as they can be. It's just too painful to dwell on all the pain and injustice in the world. We feel ashamed if we try.

The thing that shocks me most is the sheer scale of our decay. 

You see, it turns out a group of overpaid, over privileged bankers and traders and business people had been playing poker with everyone's money. Also, they were really, really bad at it. No matter though, the FSA set up to regulate them was a toothless, corrupt, lapdog anyway, so it didn't matter. And they didn't go to prison of course. Nope, they're still sipping a nice crisp glass of Cristal on the terraces of the poor. 

Anyone working in TV or radio, or politics or the catholic church (and probably any other institutions in which the powerful may harm the weak) could fuck children at will if they chose, seemingly with no fear of punishment or exposure. As though they were choosing from a puberty-menu, we now seem to be witnessing the unravelling of schemes so established, so common-place, they had been causing harm, unchecked, for decades

How about the media? They were deleting messages from a dead girl's phone to get their "scoop". Accused of paying off the police, attempting to influence politicians through bribery and blackmail. Lying in endless cruel stories in an attempt to feed the vulnerable to the middle classes.

Priests raping little boys in the vestry. 

MPs, greedy and grasping, abusing their expenses so spectacularly and almost universally, that few of us will ever forget the "duck moat" or the claim for a husband's porn viewing. 

Energy companies charging more & more for fuel, to pad the pockets of shareholders who must, of course, always see a profit. Preferably billions of it. Why waste all those precious 50ps crammed frugally into slots? 

Mobile phone companies charging hundreds or even thousands of pounds to make exactly the same phonecalls abroad as you would at home. 

Payday loan companies breezily charging up to 4000% interest on loans only the most disadvantaged would ever consider. 

Food that is so toxic from processing and additives, padded out with a little horse or insect or offal, we begin to wonder if eating might do us more harm than the starvation it exists to avoid. 

Sick and disabled people sent back a generation on nothing more than the assumptions of the hale, healthy and more able. Juggled by corporate giants, their fate so much less important than the truth.

Politicians, who were never at the top of the honesty tree to begin with, lying daily and with ever growing confidence that "nothing will be done" or assuring us that "something must be done" when we all know clearly that nothing ever will be done. At least not by them. 

Global businesses paying their taxes in pennies that should be pounds. Billions and billions "avoided" perfectly legally by corporate giants while smaller businesses close daily in a futile attempt to compete. 

A housing market grown so bloated that rent now siphons off 40% of what we earn. Landlords who leave properties to crumble, confident they won't be ordered to improve. No cap on what they can charge, an assumption that you will never get your deposit back however you leave the property. A buyers market that can no longer sustain itself, so overpriced, that in many areas you need to earn £80k to get a mortgage on an average family home. Not enough homes and even if there were, nowhere near enough money to pay for them

Hospitals and care homes allowed to abuse the vulnerable or elderly unchecked, often bullying, cruel and inadequate. But that's OK, because the health watchdog was corrupt too and almost never stepped in.

Poor so much poorer, rich so much richer.

Wages consistently falling and falling and falling again, eroding the parts of life we work for. Unless you're a CEO. Or a banker. Or a director. Or a..... you get the idea. The great and the good "invited" to police stations where the rest of us are dragged in chains. 

Crops grown & destroyed for nothing but subsidies while most of the world starve. 

Wars with ever more dubious justifications.

Whistle-blowers damned, justice-seekers gagged. 

A protest slogan sweeping Europe "Bread, education, freedom" that surely popped up mistakenly from a Victor Hugo novel?

Pension funds raided, entitlements that no longer entitle.

And we KNEW. Really, deep down we did, didn't we? We knew the homes we were buying were overpriced, but you have to have a roof over you head. We knew the food we were eating was probably crap, but they made the crap taste so goooood, we couldn't resist! We knew landlords were ripping us off, but what could be done? We knew MPs were lying and bankers were cooking the books, but impotence is overwhelming when faced with so much to fix. So we carry on, we turn a blind eye, we walk by on the other side. 

Most of these stories rumbled on for years - sometimes even decades - before anyone took notice or seemed to care. For instance, Tom Watson and others tried to expose the phone hacking scandal for nearly a decade, but only when journalists hacked a young, dead, girl's mobile did the country really hear anything but the constant everyday white noise of misery. 

So here we are, at the birth of The Revelation period. I can only hope historians report it more faithfully than any of our here-and-now media. 

Wednesday 19 June 2013

John Pring's Disability News Roundup - Shockers!

Sunday 16 June 2013

And the Drugs don't work, they just make things worse....

*Before I write another word, please be totally aware that I DON'T advocate this for everyone*

Last year was without any doubt the worst year of my life. And believe me, it has some stiff competition.

I tried to go back last night and find a starting point for the awfulness, but horizon-like, it always shifted every time I got close to it.

I had two major operations. One went wrong and led to a battle so dreadful, I thought scriptwriters must be writing my script, Truman Show like. I faced the full force of a hospital scorned.

I had to fight the rejection of my DLA application, right to the brink of tribunal.

I was evicted and had to move.

I had to find an entire new medical team, from scratch on my own, before I croaked.

I fought an entire government who played DIRTY, with reckless and passionate conviction.

I was desperately sick all the time, there were no post-op reprieves or mystery mini-remissions.

My Dad died, who I adored. There were funerals to arrange and long estranged siblings to find a compassionate voice for.

But the very worst thing of all, the thing that made it impossible for me to live, to love, to fight, was medicine.

Over a very long period of time, a chronic illness teaches you sooooo many lessons. You absolutely don't want to learn any of them by the way, so hold the "brave" or "remarkable" loveliness. You aren't given a choice in the daily dose of pain prescribed - medical or social.

At some point, you learn that each and every drug you are given are just flimsy shields against impotence.

Imagine any drug on a set of old fashioned sweet shop scales. On the other side, balancing perfectly, are the side effects that drug will give you. The stronger it is, the heavier the weight must be on the other side.

My crohn's meds increase in strength (and so side effects) from almost-as-healthy-as-cammomile-tea to at-least-it-won't-kill-you-sooner-than-the-crohn's (probably) So do all painkillers, anti-emetics, dietary interventions and treatments.

I'm sort of beyond any of those helping me, so until recently, accepted a world of side effects in exchange for.... well, none of them helped so actually, in exchange for nothing.

One has such a high risk of causing leukaemia, you had to have weekly blood tests. One triggers TB. One is (in drug licencing terms) scarily likely to give you brain tumours. One of the feeds has a 1% per year chance of killing you - cumulatively. Surgery has a 20% risk of killing you (I've had 9, you do the maths.)

But pain meds!!! They're EVIL.

We have to take drugs regularly that are addictive and mind altering, but never become addicted and somehow, remain unaltered.

We must manage like tightrope walkers, focussed and brave.

We must not allow addiction to things that are addictive. We must  only succumb when the pain is at home dental extraction levels. Which means "first stages of labour" and "rugby dislocation" levels must be born knowing there is something in the house that could make it better. But that's not what they're for.

Think about this for a minute. We only have 1) Man made heroin  2) Man made cocaine 3) Uppers 4) Downers 5) Weed 6) Booze available to get any relief from grinding, desperate, unremitting, intolerble pain. Once you're done with paracetamol and Nurofen, that's it, you're done with Mr Nice (**oblique vox-pop reference)

From there up you have 1) Addictive 2) Addictive and damaging 3) Addictive, damaging, and eternal space cadet. 4) Might get you arrested

I was at the "Might not kill you before crohn's does. eternal space cadet" end of the spectrum.

There are lines, boundaries, constant rules. You live by them, every last neuron is consumed with obsessing over them. There's no space for play dates or seeing friends.

Minute by minute, day after day after day the only question is "Is this enough pain?"

Only when tears trickle involuntarily down my cheeks is it usually "enough".

So then, there's the last stage. The place I found myself lately.

"Give up, take the big pill sitting there now, weighing everything else in your life down."

But for less pain I was suddenly faced with "Exchange your children and your husband and your writing and your friends and your fitness and your dazzle and shine"

And the scales tipped so hard on the side of life, I had to choose that.

So far though, I haven't learnt how you live with the pain, in sharp focus, every day, and always have the strength to face it down.

When I have, I'll let you know.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Winning. Sort of. And why PIP fails us

Some of you might remember that earlier in the year, doctors and surgeons gave me little to be optimistic about, bowel wise.

You may also remember I said, "Stuff that" and decided to do my own thing.

I decided I would get painfully out of bed, however few steps I could stagger at first and try to build up some strength, whilst jiggling my sleepy bowels, milkshake like, into some kind of activity. Hopefully.

Yesterday, after a month or so of determined arse-shifting, I managed to walk a few London blocks to my favourite cafe with the help of my stick and teeth so gritted, casual passers-by may have concluded I had rigor mortis. But I made it. Triumphantly, in the celebratory June sunshine.

I decided I would not live a life reliant on opiates, sweating and itching and vomming my way to a miserable world, where my bed was the centre of everything. I actually had to persuade my doctors to let me cut down so drastically!! After all these years of fighting for adequate pain relief, I now have to fight to shun it. Funny how when doctors run out of ideas, they get so much more prescription-happy - must be a guilt thing.

Now, I just sort of put up with the pain mostly, managing it with the oddest diet/not-eating combo, but it seems to work for me.

Finally, they suggested I be fed through a tube. Now roll me over and call me Alfred, but if I can't eat real, yummy, delicious, tempting, appetising food, what on earth would mean nightly drip-drips of gloopy, synthetic amino-acids would stay down?

I decided I would manage my own diet - but it meant I had to put on as much weight myself as they might have managed with the gloop. Bearing in mind that I disappeared entirely if I turned sideways at that point, and my own children couldn't tell if I was lying in bed or not, I had a long way to go.

Well Hoorah and Huzzah! It's working! I've put on nearly half an agonising stone, I can walk a bit, I'm not spending all day every day in bed bombed out of my head, hating everyone and I'm eating whenever I can.

Now here's the point : (I always get to them in the end) I'm not better.

It still CHUFFIN hurts.

I have the unpleasant habit of vomming mid conversation with absolutely no warning at all.

For everything I manage to get in, 73 x as much seems to come back out (**This is crohn's law)

My legs are quite unhappy about the forced labour and often just say "Nope, I don't think so" and I have to sit on a kerb or post box til they stop sulking.

And did I mention it CHUFFIN hurts?

BUT In DLA/PIP terms, my Herculean effort to be better, to live better, to love better could well mean I would be re-classified as not disabled. By trying harder, I make it LESS likely that I get the support I so desperately need! If I get out of bed at all, my local area believe my needs are not "critical". If I walk more than 20 mtrs, trying desperately not to waste away altogether, I may not qualify. If I eat rather than accepting a permanent feeding tube, no matter how much it costs me, I discard the one automatic qualifier those with bowel disease might rely on.

Remember, I'm not any better. I'm in no way cured. My Drs are still convinced there's no hope for me. I'm in no less pain, I am vomiting just as much. I'm as ill, as disabled, as generally screwed as I was before.

But by trying too hard, by being strong and determined, by doing the best for my children, my husband, my Mum and my friends, I can be cast aside.

THAT'S why Personal Independence Payments are a very silly idea and why Disability Living Allowance was more in tune with real illness, real disabilitty.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Hallelujah! The Miracle of Atos Strikes Again

Every now and then, for a bit of a laugh, I play "Spot the truth" on the @DWPpressoffice twitter account.

It would seem poverty rates came out today and I don't suppose you need me to tell you they've gone up.

Nonetheless, @DWPpressoffice are valiantly tweeting that some relative poverty levels have gone done and Hallelujah, 100,000 disabled people are no longer living in poverty!!

How can this be? During the single biggest assault on the living standards, security and dignity of disabled people this country has ever known, disability poverty has FALLEN?

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the miracle of Atos!

You see, if you tell hundreds of thousands of people with MS and cancer and Parkinson's and heart failure that Lo! With one wave of the Atos magic wand, kindly supplied by the DWP, they are no longer disabled, then they can't be disabled people living in poverty any more can they?

Nope, they're just, erm, people living in poverty, hence the overall rise.

Cunning little foxes aren't they?

Wednesday 12 June 2013

John Pring's Disability News Roundup

The latest from the tireless John Pring

Sunday 2 June 2013

Oh you don't get out of it that easily IDS

Oh, that's it, it was only a matter of time. Iain Delusional-Smith's spectacularly incompetent "reforms", failing like David Beckham in a molecular science exam, are now being blamed on... Yep, you've guessed it...The Civil Service    

Isn't it convenient? Whenever a minister with about as much grip on reality as a fairy at a magic dust conference has a "big idea", once elected, they skip into Westminster and give the civil servants their orders :

"I want a unicorn, dressed in gossamer, fed on manna, for every household, but they have to be black ones, preferably with pink polka dots and I INSIST it comes in on budget by next Tuesday."

"Er-herm, what IS the budget minister?" risks one brave civil servant. 

"£3.64! And not a penny more!!"

So it is with Delusional-Smith's welfare reforms. 

He went to a council estate once, saw some frightfully poor people and thought he would sort out "welfare" because, well, they couldn't possibly need all that food and warmth and bedrooms and stuff. With his trusty right hand man, Lord Freud, failed investment banker (and yes, related to Sigmund and Lucian), who famously sorted the whole new plan out in 3 weeks, with no knowledge or experience of social security at all, clutching the Daily Mail as their handbook, what could possibly go wrong? 

Universal Credit : Not a bad idea in principal, seeks to combine no fewer than 6 desperately complicated benefits into one simple payment that updates monthly and changes flexibly, in real time. 

Here's the polka-dot-unicorn bit : It all had to be done in 3 years for....wait for it.... 2 Billion pounds. To give you some idea of why this is so very delusional, when Labour tried to design an integrated IT system just for the NHS, they got to £13 billion, were still nowhere near and had to give up. The result? Every IT director and manager associated with the UC project have run away and - I'm not kidding - they're rolling it out MANUALLY on spreadsheets. This is expected to affect 14 MILLION ppl by 2015. Are there enough slates and pieces of chalk in the world? I presume they are working out the real time tax with abacuses. 

But of course, it's the civil servants fault it hasn't happened, nothing at all to do with over-indulged pillocks who have no idea what IT projects cost, especially "real time, integrated" ones. 

And disability. I swear, hand on heart, the whole thing is based on an assumption. No figures, no evidence, just a dearly held Tory belief. The Mail really comes into its own on this one. 

I swear, Delusional-Smith and Lord Fraud (with a little help from purse-strings Osborne) decided one million people with cancer or Parkinson's of cerebral palsy would lose their entire income without doing a single assessment. Moreover, a further half a million would lose the Disability Allowance they rely on to erm, eat and not be housebound. No tests, evidence showing just 27,000 MIGHT be hooky at any one time, stuff it, we just KNOW the real figure is 1,500,000. 

So that too is casually tossed onto the desks of a few civil servants and a boss somewhere at Atos. 

Now, 5 years on, as a succession of dying people lose their livelihoodseven some who are actually already dead, as deaf/blind war veterans with one leg and no arms are found fit for work, as profoundly disabled children, unable to walk, talk or eat see support stripped away, our dynamic duo of uber-elite sofa stuffing blame the admin, the "slow cogs of Westminster" for not being able to walk on water or turn bread into wine. 

Oh no Dunky, Fraudy, you don't get off that lightly. Universal Credit is failing because you make monkeys look away tactfully when you try to think. ESA is failing because you are judgemental, hypocrites. Disability reform has all but stalled because you haven't the first clue what it's like to live in pain or fear every single day, hoping for no more than a little dignity and security. 

"Welfare Reforms" (or "Social Cleansing" depending on your point of view) are failing because you are spectacularly thick, unfeeling dipsticks. 

And we must never, ever let anyone believe differently.