Wednesday 30 October 2013

Kate Green's First Disability Speech

I've just seen Kate Green's first speech as Labour shadow minister for disabled people.

It rocks, and is so different to what we were hearing just two years ago, it's hard to put the two together.

Just one thing. But to me it's a big thing.

When Alf Morris, also Labour and the first minister for disabled people passed his ground breaking legislation, he called it the "chronically sick and disabled people's act."

I've campaigned primarily by trying to re-introduce that original intent back into the narrative. I always, always say "sick and disabled" and it's gives me great pleasure that it has become so universal that even DWP documents and statements now use the phrase. Language matters and if we don't want politicians - and the public - to get away with two dimensional attitudes to disability, we can't use two dimensional definitions.

Otherwise, as I said, it rocks :

"It’s a great pleasure to join Unison here this morning. Earlier this year, I was fortunate to be invited to your equalities conference, and I think I recognise some of the same faces! But I have to tell you this is my very first speech in my new role as shadow minister for disabled people – so I hope you’ll be a little kinder to me – you know so much more than I do, and you will have much more to tell me than I can tell you.

Writing this speech has however been made much easier for me by a very helpful article which was published last week by my predecessor Anne McGuire.

I know Anne is well known to you, and I can imagine there was real dismay when she announced she was stepping down from the frontbench.

She’s been an expert, passionate and committed advocate for the rights of disabled people for many years, she was a highly effective minister when we were in gvt, and I know she’s a very hard act to follow.

I’m very glad to say that she’s also my good friend.

Anne in her article last week wrote that the last three years have been the most threatening for disabled people and their families, and I could not agree more.

After years of progress – under both Tory and Labour governments – the DDA, Making Rights A Reality for Disabled People, the signing of the UN Convention – under the Tory-led coalition it feels we have gone back to the dark ages.

Disabled people have been – I think it’s not an exaggeration to say this – they’ve been vilified, while the support that they rely on has been slashed, without a care for the long term or the human consequences.

According to campaigners, disabled people have been hit 9x as hard as non disabled people by austerity cuts.

And such support as has remained in place is increasingly being confined to the most severely disabled .

Yet such an approach is simply counterproductive.

It will lead to greater isolation, reduced social participation, worse health outcomes, less chance that disabled people will be able to participate economically.

It will pile up costs and anguish for disabled people, their families, communities, and ultimately the public purse.

Yet even as disabled people are taking the hit, every day it seems there’s a drip drip of stories in the media that repeatedly portray them as scroungers, skivers, or frauds.

So I want to say very clearly – what’s being said, insinuated and implied, is wrong, it’s cruel and it’s shameful.

It creates division, and it feeds into quite despicable levels of abuse and violence.

It underlies unacceptable levels of hate crime against disabled people, and we need to call time on it now.

Labour will continue to stand against this, and condemn misleading and inflammatory portrayals of disabled people – and I want to lay down the challenge to government ministers: you should be doing so too.

But while there’s so much for us to be angry about under the present gvt, today I want to think ahead about how Labour would approach disabled people’s rights.

I hope some of you will have contributed to the work that Anne and Liam Byrne set in train to consult widely on what a Labour government could do to make disabled people’s rights a reality.

We’ve asked Sir Bert Massie to chair a taskforce advising us on how we should take our thinking forward in the light of what we’ve been told, and I’m very much looking forward to discussing ideas with Bert and his team.

But, you know, I’m already clear about the guiding principles that we as a Labour government will follow.

Ed Miliband has talked powerfully of how we are a One Nation party.

That means a vision of a better Britain, in which everyone has a stake, everybody plays a part, prosperity’s fairly shared.
And nowhere could our notion of being One Nation be more tested than in the way in which we include disabled people and stand up for their rights.

So every policy Labour develops will be about including, not isolating disabled people.

It will be about respecting them, celebrating the contribution they make, not demeaning and insulting them.

And disabled people themselves will be co-producers in decision-making about them and their lives.

Of course, every individual will face different circumstances, no two disabled people have the same lives or needs.

But we should not be satisfied until every disabled person can achieve their full potential.

Now, we’ve said we will be tough on benefits spending. That doesn’t mean blaming or demonising people, but it does mean being tough on what it is that prevents every disabled person is from participating as they could.

For many, that includes being in work.

And I think we have much more to do to address the disadvantage that disabled people face in the labour market.

Why are disabled people less likely to be in work, to earn less if they are in work, or to progress less than non-disabled people?

What barriers are in their way? And more important, what do we do about it?

I truly believe the gvt has missed a huge trick in its annual reviews of the WCA. It could have taken the opportunity to think big.

But nowhere have ministers asked – what would need to change to enable more disabled people to work and to thrive at work?

Instead they’ve concentrated – crudely – on sorting people into those who can work and those who can’t, and putting more pressure on individuals they think could work.

I simply don’t buy that binary approach. People’s lives are more complicated. Conditions are more nuanced. Work – and contribution – comes in many forms.

So I want to look very hard at all aspects of disabled people’s employment chances, not just go round beating up on Atos (though they deserve some of that), not just a bit of tinkering with the WCA.

I want to see our labour market strategy linked much more closely to our industrial strategy.

And I want us to learn from what were able to try in govt – whether that’s Work Choice, A2W, P2W, NDDP – and take a hard look at what worked and what did not.

On social care, my colleague Liz Kendall and I want a sustainable model that ensures we don’t get into a situation where disabled people end up becoming increasingly dependent for want of often quite small amounts of care.

The government clearly thinks responsibly for caring can be thrown more and more on families.

But that’s not always feasible, it’s not fair, it’s not economically effective, and it’s not what many disabled people want.

We need a system that preserves people’s independence, that is a springboard to their wider participation in society, not a means of putting them out of sight and out of mind.

And on financial support for disabled people, well look, I’ve always known that a secure and decent income is a prerequisite for full social engagement – whether that’s about participating in education, employment, being able to volunteer or participate in community activity, care for your kids, enjoy and live your life.

You know we won’t be able to reverse every benefit cut when we come into government, though we’ve already said we’ll abolish the hated bedroom tax – and 2/3 of those affected by it are disabled people.

But I’ll tell you this: I am all too aware that the cost of living crisis is felt acutely by disabled people, as the extra costs associated with disability pile up.

So it will be my priority to make sure that every measure we announce to address the cost of living crisis that families face under this out of touch, arrogant, millionaires’ gvt – that every one of our policies goes the extra mile to work for disabled people, their families and carers too.

I’m conscious of how much of your time I’m taking. It’s because there is so much I want to say.

So let’s treat this as the start of a conversation, not the end of a speech.

When I heard Anne was standing down, I too was dismayed – but I have to tell you my very next thought was that I passionately wanted her job.

I know how bad things have become in just three short years, but I know we can do so much better for disabled people. I know it can be better than this.

With your support, I very much look forward to getting to grips with the challenge. Please let’s stay in touch.

Response to the Fabians

Kind thanks to the Fabians, who have just published my response to their document on Labour spending priorities after 2015 :

"Last week, eagle-eyed welfare warriors spotted ‘2030 Vision’ by the Fabian Future Spending Choices Commission, an independent analysis of where spending priorities – and indeed cuts – should fall until 2030.

A lot of the report is good. I agree with the emphasis on early intervention, prevention and efficiency savings. But in a sense, they are political memes as ethereal as the more left-leaning ideas of clamping down on tax avoidance, scrapping trident and taxing the rich.

For instance, just how much more “efficient” can an NHS already facing £20bn of “efficiency savings” really get? Prevention is absolutely a better option than reactionary ‘cures’ but as we’ve seen with mental health treatment and early intervention, the up-front costs are rarely budgeted for.

It is encouraging that ‘2030 Vision’ states:

“In the long term, freezing spending as a share of national income will only be achieved by reducing the generosity of entitlements or abandoning universal provision in pensions and public services, which we do not think is desirable. In the next parliament ministers may need to consider reducing social security entitlements further but the acceptable room for manoeuvre is limited, as we do not support measures that will reduce living standards for low income households nor make deep inroads into universal provision.”

Also encouraging is that the report recommends a 1 per cent increase in overall spending. However, as it makes clear, even an increase in spending will still lead to cuts as upward pressures on the NHS and pensions will swallow the bulk of any increase.

But the part that seemed totally without thought, logic or imagination was the section on social security spending. In fact, it lacked compassion in a manner almost identical to that of the present government.

The report made no reference to the great social damage unfolding in Britain today because of this government’s welfare reforms. We simply cannot look at welfare cuts without accepting the enormous pressure they place on other services, such as the NHS and social care.

This government have just confirmed the cavalier slashing of the mobility threshold for disability benefits (DLA/PIP) from 50 metres to 20 metres following a last-minute consultation (won partly by the threat of legal action).

As a result, over half a million people will become housebound and no longer able to travel independently. And as funding shortages and the increased demand from an ageing population prevent social care services meeting “moderate” care needs, disabled people’s needs will rise to “substantial” or “critical”, putting more strain on local authorities and health services.

Disability cannot be airbrushed away. Barriers created by people’s impairments and by an unequal and inaccessible society still exist. The cost does not disappear, it simply shifts, from benefits to social care and from social care to health.

Reversing the cuts in this area must be factored into future spending choices or the results will simply be disastrous, costing so much more than they will ever save. How did the commission not know this?

The Labour Party have already pledged to scrap the Bedroom Tax, but the one year time limit on sickness benefits for those who may have paid into the system all of their lives must also be reversed, or at least follow Labour policy of a minimum of 2 years. 94 per cent of people who become too ill to work drop their claims within two years, so this would avoid suffering and injustice.

And as an absolute minimum, any future Labour government must pledge to again pay ESA for those awaiting mandatory reconsideration. This cost is not great, but leaving people without support for an indefinite period should shame a wealthy nation. These changes will cost around £4bn, but if not undertaken will only cost more from other departmental budgets.

However, the Fabians report suggests:

“We are not making specific recommendations but have identified around £5bn of cuts which we think could be contemplated if a reduction in social security entitlements does become necessary. These include means-testing winter fuel payments and free TV licences; extending recent disability benefit reforms to older people; and treating certain disability benefits as taxable income.”

I would like to specifically ask the commission how many sick or disabled people they spoke to and from what organisations? Evidence was submitted across 8 separate hearings, given by two or three experts in each field. Not one was a disability expert.

Firstly, let’s look at the practical considerations. Not only do those suggestions assume that another £5bn can come almost exclusively from sick and disabled people already facing devastating cuts of £28bn over this parliament, but they also fall almost entirely on pensioners. Even the coalition has not dared to roll any of their reforms out to pensioners. Can you begin to imagine the fallout?

What’s more, it suggests extending a reform (PIP) that is already certain to fail. The commission should have known that the assessments for PIP are catastrophic.

But economically, almost all of the coalition welfare reforms cost more than they save. The room for total redistribution of the spend on services and support is vast. It’s hard to say how much money Iain Duncan Smith is wasting or has already wasted on the disastrous universal credit, the failing work programme and soaring tribunal costs for incorrect Atos decisions, but £5bn is a conservative estimate.

We must start to be brave and innovative. We must take this money away from corporate “providers” failing in their duties and put it directly into the hands of individuals to control and direct their own work support, rehabilitation, treatment and social care.

If these changes are not made, we will pay just the same – probably more – but we will pay over and over in endless crises and failure.

Finally! What will Labour do for Sick and Disabled People?

Do you remember Ed Miliband's "I met a man speech"? Or Liam Byrne's "Strivers V Skivers"? How could we forget the workfare debacle?

Just how many times have we slammed our heads into the desk in despair, wondering if they actually live on the same planet as us mere mortals?

Before we can expect policies from Labour on "welfare", first we have to see they get it. Do they really see what's so horrifically wrong with this whole system? Do they truly accept it? Do they still think WCAs are the right thing or do they accept that they're fundamentally flawed, that tinkering around the edges is not an option?

In their hearts, is a system of punitive sanctions and cruel tricks still necessary? Do they still doubt and judge us as they did in power? Or have 3 years of constituent's tears and suffering thawed their resolve?

You might remember that during my conference speech, I referred to a document, Making Rights a Reality, the Labour response to a year long consultation up and down the country asking sick and disabled people and their carers what is wrong with the system as it stands.

I've read many "listening exercises" and usually there's nothing even vaguely controversial in them. They simply "listen" to the bits the politicians want to hear.

Well, here is the document, released at last.

The first section recounts the problems in the system as we reported them. I don't think much is left out.

The second section suggests ways forward if Labour regain power and would involve totally fundamental reform of the system. Far from tinkering around the edges, it suggests root and branch reform that would fundamentally change the entire nature of our social security provision for people with disabilites or long term illnesses.

When I first saw the document, we were asked what we thought. I said this :

"If the INTENT has truly changed. If we have truly persuaded you to approach the whole system differently, from judgement to trust, from sanctions to incentive, then I think this document and the suggestions within it are incredible. If we've truly persuaded ALL of the party that we need support not penalties, inspiration not punishment, then this is more radical than I ever dared hope for. But it's all about INTENT. Do you truly believe now that helping us to the best of your ability will create a more efficient, cost effective system? Because unless we've truly won your hearts and minds, unless we've truly persuaded you, this will fail as abjectly as ESA and PIP."

So, here it is. This document is a blueprint for our futures, it will affect our lives fundamentally if Labour regain power. I really hope you read it all. I think I may have given up hope that Labour were listening at all at times. I think I'd stopped believing they could hear us. This document gave me hope. I hope it gives you some hope too. Hope that they did hear us and hope that they might continue to.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

One Life - 125 Clicks

Dear, dear friends. What remarkable people you are. You, many of whom have so little but care so much. I can hardly believe that as I type this, a total of £1,632 has been donated to a stranger, someone you don't even know, just because I said how much they needed you.

Days like today are what keep me going. And I feel a great sense of hope. I see how much so many of you want to DO something. Do practical things that make a difference, even if just in one life.

You can still donate here until midnight on Friday.

Anyway, the following is very, very, painful to read. It's a thank you blog the person sent me and asked if I would post to you all. *TRIGGER WARNING* for some, but this IS the reality of why I asked you. This is the desperation this person has felt for so, so, long . It's the desperation so many feel.

One Life – 125 clicks.

"I have lost count of the number of times I have done this. This desperate act of lining up the tablets, wondering if death will hurt more than life.

The times I have turned my face to the wall, staring into the blackness, hearing the screams of tormented souls inside my head.

The terror of sleep, the shear damnedness of waking to a life that had no meaning.

What is it that gives life meaning?

Is it worth? I feel worthless. I have no worth. I have no place in a society that asks and judges on what you can give, and cares not for what you need.

Is it happiness? Happiness has eluded me for many years, sometimes there are tiny moments, sunshine breaking through the black clouds, but these are fleeting moments, dead before they have time to grow.

Is it love? Does love give meaning to life? How many things are more beautiful for being shared? How many things are more bearable because someone listened, held your hand, wrapped their arms around you and promised that it would be ok.

Today, for me, people offered love.

That love said “Let me help, let me shoulder some of your burdens, let me take away some of your worries, let me – because I want to”.

Today 125 strangers clicked, 125 people took a small piece of my worries and made them vanish.

125 people cared, 125 people believed I was worth saving, 125 people offered unconditional love.

I'm still alone, I'm still ill, and it may take a huge amount of time to resolve all my problems, but I have 125 reasons to put the tablets back in the drawer and believe that one day the sun will shine again.

Saying “Thank you” will never be enough, but its all I have to give. 

Thanks, and the promise that I will continue to give as much as I can to prevent other people reaching for the tablets and turning their faces to the wall."

A Friend in Crisis - Please Help

Regular readers will know that I'm positively squeamish when it comes to money.

The only time I've EVER asked for your support was to produce Spartacus Report, and even then, I was loathe to take any personal support from the fund.

I won't take money from unions or think tanks and certainly not corporate monoliths or political organisations as I feel I would never be truly able to say what I really need to say again. Regularly, kind supporters message me privately and offer to pay a little money to me monthly to support my work, but though I must have spent thousands of pounds of my own money traipsing across the country to represent the sick and disabled, I'm happy to do it if I can. Sometimes, a nasty little troll pops up to say I'm only in it for the money and Dave and I laugh cynical laughs - If only they knew!!

But once, when I was in a truly desperate state, a friend (Fiona Nicholson, I am forever in your debt and will never forget your kindneess) rose up and helped me. I was in hospital after the intense work of Spartacus Report, nearly bankrupt, fighting my DLA appeal and my car blew up on the way to Cambridge when Dave tried to bring the kids for a visit. On the same day, my laptop got drowned in a sea of liquid feed and I was cut off. I moaned about it a bit on twitter, then went offline for the day. When I came back, nearly £1000 had been donated to fix the car and get a new laptop. It was the single most miraculous day of my life.

Not just the money, though it was incredible, but to know so many cared and wanted to help in any small way they could.

So with all of this in mind, you know I would never ask for your help unless the situation was desperate.

Well, today, I'm faced with a desperate situation. One of the people who works most closely with me is in a terrible mess. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that none of my work would have been possible without this person. They get none of the glory, work endlessly in the background and few of you would know them if I said their name. But this person works tirelessly, day and night, producing faultless research. They are always there when I need a quote or reference, they are always there when I need support.

But this person is in the middle of a mental health breakdown. Their DLA has been stopped through an admin error, their housing is unstable and this person is on the very edge. They are hungry and hopeless. They have no-one but us. I'm truly frightened that we will lose them if something isn't done soon.

Like me, this person needs to know we care. They need to know that what they've done is every bit as vital as those more in the public eye like myself. They need help and whilst I can't wave magic wands, I can use this blog and the great support and care you've always shown me to help them.

So for just the second time since I started this blog, I'm asking you to help. Please, DON'T give more than you can afford, but if you can donate any small amount towards a crisis fund for this person, you might just save a life. A precious, brave, wonderful life. I realise I'm not even telling you who they are (it would be too much for the person) and I'm asking you to trust me when I say how vital this is.

I can't lose them. We need this person so much and it would be a crime if she wasn't standing beside me when we finally win.



Update : I'm astonished! We hit the target in just under 2 hours!!! Your generosity has inspired me more than you could ever know. Several people have said to me that they want to donate on Friday, so I'll keep the fund running until midnight on Friday. Crisis is as crisis does and I set the £1000 target with no idea how people would react. Anything still donated will see this person through until their DLA and housing problems are sorted out, so do please keep donating and a million thank yous xxxx

John Major cusses IDS

Bet you never guessed it'd be John Major riding one of those white chargers towards us eh?

"Iain Duncan Smith is trying to reform benefits. I truly wish him well. But it is enormously complicated and unless he is very lucky, which he may not be, or a genius, which the last time I looked wasunproven, he may get some of it wrong. I hope Iain is wise enough to listen to a wide range of opinion because some of his critics will be right. If he listens only to the bean-counters and to cheerleaders concerned only with abuse of the system then he will fail."

More in this Telegraph article, but I had to share that quote with you all. 

I especially love the bit about IDS being a genius being "unproven". What a delicately crafted jibe. 

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Government Cheat. Again.

Imagine if just days after they were (almost) elected, the government had announced they were going to scrap state pensions. Instead, they were going to replace pensions with Personal Retirement Payments. BUT, in the process 20% of existing pensioners would lose their pensions altogether. That's one in five no longer eligible. Overnight, just like that.

Imagine pensioners fought the changes through parliament and the Lords and WON, but the governemnt just went ahead anyway.

But then, as if that wasn't bad enough, imagine that just as they announced their final plans, they'd snuck a new change in at the last minute without asking anyone. Imagine that not only would 1 in 5 pensioners lose their entire income straight away, but they were also going to raise the retirement age to 104!! A 60% change with no warning at all!

Imagine pensioners took legal action and forced them to consult on raising the retirement age so drastically and unrealistically, but even when EVERYONE opposed it, the government just said "Meh, Oh well, we're going to do it anyway"

Well, the country would think the government had finally tipped over the edge into delusion wouldn't they? The Daily Mail would have geriatric armies with pitchforks razing parlaiment to the ground!! I imagine there would be a vote of no confidence in the government by about midday.

Yet, this is EXACTLY what they've done to sick and disabled people.

Firstly, with no warning, nothing in either manifesto, they abolished Disability Living Allowance and replaced it with Personal Independence Payments, announcing a 1 in 5 cut in existing cases.

Sick and Disabled people fought the changes with everything they had, but the government just ignored them.

Just like raising the retirement age to 104 would be a 60% increase overnight, so the government have slashed the distance you can walk before qualifying for assistance with getting about from 50 mtrs to 20 mtrs. A 60% reduction!!! Few people will qualify now, just as few would qualify for a pension at 104.

Yet no-one says a word. The media don't listen, the public don't get to hear about it and far from pitchforks at dawn, the Daily Mail actually lead the charge against us. I haven't actually see this huge announcement on the mainstream news at all.

I watched a programme hosted by Stephen Fry the other night on homophobia. It struck me how casually homophobic some nations were, how instituionalised the homophobia and therefore how practically impossible it was for homosexuals to be heard or to report crimes against them. They were dismissed as "attention seeking" "corrupting" and even "ill". They couldn't tell their real stories, and no-one would listen to them if they did.

I watch legions of sick and disabled people try to tell the public every day what is really going on here in the UK and I watch how casually they are ignored. How ingrained the belief that "We wouldn't do that here in the UK" or that we're just a special interest group making a lot of noise.

It chills me. Just like many pensioners, not all sick and disabled people can simply go and earn more money. Just like pensioners, they paid tax and national insurance believing if they became sick or disabled, they would be entitled to support.

And just like pensions, disability support used to enjoy great cross party and public support.

Who knows, maybe, just maybe no-one would listen to the pensioners either. Nothing would surprise me any more.

Saturday 19 October 2013

I Introduce : The new Minister NOT for Disabilities. RIP Alf Morris

Aha! We have the first jewelled utterances from the new Disability Minister, Mike Penning. Except he isn't called the Minister for Disabled People any more. In the Daily Mail of course. Where else?

I'm sure it will surprise no-one to know that this government who have set about demolishing or undermining every single support and service sick and disabled people rely on, have abolished the role of a dedicated minister. He is "Minister of State for Work and Pensions" and hisrole only includes the issues of sick or disabled people.

This is the first time since 1974 that we have not had a minister soley focussed on the rights and inclusion of sick and disabled people. In 1970, Alf Morris (Labour) successfully introduced the Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act, the first in the world to recognise and give rights to people with disabilities. In 1974 he became the first Minister for the Disabled anywhere in the world. In 1991 he introduced a Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. (Wikipedia

Well, I say the first time, but in effect, Maria Miller singularly failed to champion the causes of sick and disabled members of society in any way at all. Esther McVey did little more, though at least she had the decency to mention access and transport issues here and there.

Both accepted the role and stood by silently as sick and disabled people saw a shocking 28 Billion stripped from their incomes and services. A full Fifth of the entire deficit reduction plan. This is the biggest single assault on the lives of those with disabilities in memory. They accepted their roles as members of a DWP team, not as independent ministers in place to challenge and inspire society to be inclusive, whilst challenging ministers to follow their duties under UK and international law to ensure basic human rights for those born to face great challenges.

They both accepted the poison chalice and both kept quiet. They were both promoted for their willingness to walk on by on the other side. They both lied repeatedly. Just search "Personal Independence Payments" here  They both knew the details and have as many desperate constituents as any other MP.

Now we have Mike Penning, who in his first interview for the Daily Mail here : claims that it is "morally wrong" for people with cerebral palsy or motor neurone disease to get "welfare payments" for life. Wrong for people undergoing dialysis every day. Wrong for people on chemotherapy. He claims that it is "morally wrong" for people with quadriplegia or Alzheimers or Parkinson's to get "welfare payments" for life.

Oh of course, he doesn't tell you that in the article! That would be shocking. No, he makes these claims because

"Only 6 per cent of new disability benefit claimants have a face-to-face assessment with a medic, it has been revealed."

I'll leave others to rebutt the half-truths, mistakes and outright lies in his article - they'll do it much better than me and I can feel the deferred glow of a thousands heated keyboards smoking as we speak. 

But it's very important that the public know that what Mr Penning fails to mention is that the ONLY way someone can qualify for Disability Living Allowance at present on a paper assessment alone, is if their impairments and diagnoses are so significant, their medical evidence so strong, written by the GPs and Consultants that know them best that a Department of Work and Pensions own decision maker, has no doubt of a genuine claim and which rate it is appropriate to award. 

They know that the conditions I list above and hundreds more will never get better. Many will only get worse. They know that it is a non-sensical waste of taxpayers money to insist that a non-verbal young man who will never walk or feed himself is put through the unnecessary trauma of attending a face to face assessment with someone they have never met. They know that the impairment will always mean that the individual will need our care and that life will always be more expensive for them than someone living without an impairment. 

That's why they make the decision to only see people when more information is required, or a face to face assessment might be helpful in complicated cases. 

I wonder if faced with this new information, the tax-payer might actually agree, that it's efficient to assess the people you need to assess and make the process as stress free and uncomplicated as you can for those who clearly qualify? 

As the article states, the replacement for DLA, PIP is about to be rolled out. An incomprehensible 1 in 5 people will lose the support they need to get out of bed in the morning or get dressed or leave their homes. 1 in 5!! 

If you were part of a government about to attempt to slash vital support so vastly, you'd need a pretty good line wouldn't you? How would you even begin to convince the public that you're right?

The only way is to imply that that 20% of all people in the UK relying on us to help them to live with the dignity we take for granted, don't need us any more. It's to imply millions didn't really need the help anyway. No-one checked them, they could be saying anything! "Not seen by a doctor" implies they have nothing wrong with them, perhaps no diagnosis. But the headline refers to a benefits doctor not a GP or consultant. 

You convince the public, just as you did with those who were too ill to work, that someone's getting an easy ride, taking something for nothing. Taking them for mugs. All those people with Alzheimers and breast cancer, and kidney failure and severe brain damage. 

And don't you have to be a pretty special kind of soul to make that argument knowingly? Aware that misrepresenting the people you will harm is the only way to get things done?

**UPDATE Thanks to FOIs from Jayne Linney, and quick linkage from @Hossylass Caroline Richardson and Anita Bellows from DPAC (@anitabellows12) here are the figures Mike Penning refers to at the top of P6

As you can see, "Medical Examination Report is the 6% figure of those who were actually seen face to face by a DWP engaged assessor. 40% GP, 10% on the claim form they submitted alone, and 45% on "other evidence" perhaps a community psychiatric team or a consultant. 

Friday 18 October 2013

If only I was wrong

I just have to have a rant. The pain is too great. The shame, the disgust, the impotent misery.

Do you remember how hard I fought the 365 day time limit on sickness benefits? (ESA) The government didn't care if people with conditions like cancer or parkinson's or kidney failure got better, they didn't care if they'd found work. They just took every penny of support away after 1 year if they were in the WRAG.

If they had a working partner, the government argued they had "other means of support". Do you know how much that partner had to earn? Just £7,500 per year. Could you support a disabled husband or wife on £7,500 per year?

Do you know how many??? 700,000 people. 700,000 lives, real lives just like yours! Three-quarters of a million people. 7 TIMES this Glastonbury crowd.

And you know what? We won the argument. The Lords agreed with us. They amended the welfare reform bill to say that support should be for "a MINIMUM of 2 years". But this government just ignored it and refused to listen. Effectively, that negates the point of a second chamber in our lawmaking at all and turned this government into a dictatorship. Be very afraid. If you're not, you should be.

And now, today, every day, I get emails or messages from people affected. They are confused. The government don't explain to them this will happen, or if they do, not adequately. They have no idea. They're still sick, they haven't and couldn't find work. But they lose everything. £4,661 per year, 3 TIMES as much as higher earners lose in child support.

They are losing their homes, losing their hope, losing their pride. They cannot understand. "How did this happen?" They ask me. "The doctor said I have 18 months to live, how can this be?" They ask me. I mumble that I watched our politicians, here in the UK, in 2011 argue over HOW terminally ill you had to be to qualify. 6 months. That's it. More than that and off you go to the jobcentre.

Welfare advisors tell me this is the big issue now, as I argued it would be. People are losing their homes. Homes they cherished and worked for and paid off over decades. People are cold for want of heating, hungry for want of food. And they have conditions you would never, ever, ever, wish for your Mum or your Daughter or your Wife.

I want to cry. I want to give up and accept that politicians are just vile, disgusting excuses for human beings. I don't want to be English, I don't want to be right. How much I wished I was wrong.

But here it is, right before us now. And no-one will care because THEY don't have cancer (yet) And no-one will care becasue THEY don't believe this is really happening (yet) . And no-one will care because the Daily Mail and the Tories and even Labour tell them not to listen to "extremists" like me. (yet)

As the quote goes : "All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing" Well bravo England. Bravo. You have done nothing and evil flourishes.

Recent quote : "I used to be a guy who didn't like claiming and once I was in receipt 6 yrs ago never revised it, as I felt guilty getting it anyhow. But having gone through pure hell in this past year, its only the love for and from my family stopping me doing something stupid, or I may not be here right now typing this"

This is how I feel tonight

"There's a pain that can't be spoken. There's a grief goes on and on. Empty chairs and empty tables....How they sang about tomorrow and tomorrow never came....they could see a world reborn and they rose with voices ringing...I can hear them now....Oh my friends, my friends forgive me, that I live and you are gone. There's a grief that can't be spoken, there's a pain goes on and on...empty chairs and empty tables....Oh my firends, my friends don't ask me what your sacrifice was for, empty chairs and empty tables. Now my friends will sing no more." RIP, my friend, Karen Sherlock, RIP Colin Traynor and so many more.

Monday 14 October 2013

18 months of Labour Welfare policy in 1 Article

As you all know, I was devastated to learn there would be a shadow DWP reshuffle. Most of you disagreed, sure that nothing could be worse than Liam Byrne.

But did you know we are now on our 3rd Labour DWP team now? Oh yes, before there was Liam Byrne, there was Douglas Alexander, a brief and disasterous union. You can see my responses to their first forays into welfare media here and here

But I'm sick and I'm tired. I'm exhausted and so are the legions of welfare warriors who have attempted to spread truth where there is dishonesty and compassion where there is cruelty. There simply isn't time to go through the same well worn stages of misapprehension and mistakes all over again before the 2015 election.

So here, I will attempt to fast forward through the mistakes and betrayals, the misconceptions and the common beliefs in the desperate hope that we can avoid making all the same mistakes AGAIN and just move forward with policy that will not lose us the next general election.

First, the new team will believe that talking tough on welfare will reverse the mistaken public belief that Labour are "soft on scroungers". Oh, the detail might be fine. If you remove your pressure valve and read Rachel Reeves article yesterday dispassionately, there is quite a lot that was good in it. But the tone is all wrong. Let me give you an example. The "jobs guarantee"

Here's what Rachel said : "under Labour the long-term unemployed would not be able to "linger on benefits" for long periods but would have to take up a guaranteed job offer or lose their state support. "Nobody should be under any illusions that they are going to be able to live a life on benefits under a Labour government," she said. "If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits, and that is really important."

Now, she could have said "By cutting back on tax relief for 6 figure pensions, we will ensure that everyone who has been out of work for 2 years or more is guaranteed a paid job at at least minimum wage. We care about long term unemployment and we will never return to growth unless we tackle this issue. Only those who refuse appropriate paid work will lose their benefits" (Note "appropriate, immediately reassuring all those with disabilities that they won't be forced into slave labour they are too unwell to manage)

You see? Exactly the same policy, totally different approach. 

The first tries to out-Tory the Tories, be harder, talk tougher. This way, so the perceived wisdom goes, is the right approach. But it isn't and we can accept that today or wait 6 months, maybe a year. But in the end, Ms Reeves will accept it, just as Liam Byrne finally had.  I have some sympathy - every IPPR/Demos/Policy Exchange/Pollster assures new ministers that this is true, but it isn't.

You see, welfare polling is nowhere near as simple as it first seems. People want "tough" from the Conservatives. They believe it and accept it. But they don't want it from Labour. They don't believe it and "hedging" the message just makes us sound unstrustworthy. 

"But welfare polling is appalling!" I hear you say. Yes, yes it is. There is no question. But the "opinions" are based on lies. Lies fed to the public by both Labour and Tory governments for way too long now. Sure, this is unfortunate for Labour, but there is only one way it will ever change. And that is challenging the myths and breaking the political consensus. So do we re-introduce hanging just because the majority of the public say they want it? Of course not. 

And crucially, how much does it matter? Do people vote in a general election based on welfare policy? No. Emphatically no. In the You Gov tracker on the issues most important to voters, welfare doesn't even figure. Even amongst UKIP voters, it is only the 4th most important issue behind the economy, immigration and Europe. So do Labour plan an election strategy based on their weaknesses or their strengths? 

Well of course the answer is their strengths. The NHS, education, living standards and justice. Labour only win elections when those issues are front and centre. 

But does that mean we don't challenge the Tories at all on welfare? Absolutely not. But it has to be done incredibly carefully and sensitively, with genuine knowledge of the issues.

Here's another example. If I said "The coalition have limited sickness benefits to one year" that wouldn't be true. Instead I have to use this incredibly cumbersome sentence : "The coalition have limited sickness benefits to one year, but only for those who paid into the system or those who have working partners. This policy only punishes those who have "contributed" all their lives. Those who are judged to be too sick to ever work are not affected."

Without all of those caveats, we play IDS game of ignorance. But the caveats are vital. In every welfare phrase, there are caveats. Caveats that protext the most sick or the most disabled or the most unfortunate. You need to learn them all from the start.

People DON'T want people with disabilities to suffer. Poll after poll confirms this. Just 11% want to see disability benefits cut. Yet this government are cutting them by at least 20%. That's 1 in every 5 people with profound disabilities losing everything. 

People DON'T believe that parents of young children should be forced to work. The DON'T believe that pensions are even benefits at all. There are plenty of "welfare" areas that a Labour government can challenge on successfully. If I ask people "Do you want your hard earned tax money supporting scroungers" of course they will reply "NO!" with passion. If I ask "Is there anyone you worry for under the governmnet's welfare reforms" the answer is totally different. We must personalise at every step. 

But the most fruitful is Tory incompetence. Every single welfare "reform" is in chaos. Universal Credit, PIP, ESA, the Work Programme, the Bedroom Tax - it's an absolute disaster and at least one of these will blow up spectacularly in the government's face before 2015. Probably all of them. They have failed totally and utterly and all that has happened is the benefit bill has risen not fallen. As I describe in much more detail here we MUST take the fight to the Tories with passion and belief. They've failed and we have about 18 months left to show the public how badly. 

So when an interviewer asks "Do you support the overall benefit cap" the answer is "Not if it forces 200,000 families from their homes and costs more than it saves". When they say "Ahhh, but so many are festering on benefits long term" you reply that in fact "Long term unemployment is just a tenth of 1% of total government spending. That's one person in every thousand! - hardly the most important issue facing Britain today." If we don't challenge these myths no-one will and the public will of course stay exactly where they are. 

Campaigners have shown repeatedly that public opinion is not set in stone. The Bedroom Tax seemed like a jolly good plan until we repeated endlessly that 400,000 of the 600,000 affected had disabilities, that there simply weren't the homes to move to. PIP was going swimmingly until sick and disabled people pointed out that 4 x Glastonbury crowds would lose the support they relied on to leave their homes or get dressed and feed themselves. Suddenly the government delayed the bulk of the rollout until after 2015, terrified of endless media stories of people with profound disabilities forced into starvation and isolation. 

But we shouldn't be doing this alone. Even when it might not be an obvious "vote winner" an opposition party owes it to the public to speak truth to power. A Labour opposition particularly has the responsibility to do what is right, not always just what seems popular at the time. We are best when we do this. Sadly, think tanks and academics and advisors will be convinced that that means losing votes. We don't have 18 months to convince the new team this is wrong. 

There are more misconceptions - that social media is not representative of "ordinary core voters". As Liam Byrne found over the workfare debacle and many, many other faux pas, it is and it often matters greatly. After 4 days of sustained horror, thousands of lost votes and mainstream coverage springing directly from the online outrage, he finally realised that this just wasn't the way to go. Those that had begun to dare believe Labour could change, were horrified all over again. Delicate trust that had built was demolished and there are only so many times you can get it back. 

Rachael Reeves will almost certainly get a few chances to get this right. But only a few. It won't take long before activists and members up and down the country decide she's just "Liam Byrne with hair" (as one particularly funny tweet put it yeterday) and then it won't matter how far she travels, how good she gets, how accomplished at her brief, no-one will hear a word she says any more. Just as they didn't with Byrne. Even when he got it right, no-one heard him and when he got it wrong they spread it across all media like a virus. 

After realising how disastrous it is to write Daily Mail Articles for the Guardian, the next step (as Byrne could confirm) is trying to write fluffy bunny articles for the Guardian and save the Daily Mail articles for the Daily Mail. That doesn't work either. The same people mistrust us, but now they have proof we really ARE double dealing - "Look they say one thing here and another there" No no no. 

Here's another myth "People have lost faith in the welfare state. Therefore we need to talk tougher and means test as many things as we can. They don't want people getting something for nothing". This is completely wrong too. They may well have lost faith in the welfare state, but as we see around the world, the countries who get tougher and tougher and crack down hardest, lose more and more support for social security (see the US as the Granddaddy of examples here) The countries with the most generous welfare settlements (See Norway and Iceland) have the highest level of public support. 

Means tested benefits are generally hated, universal benefits generally loved. So Disability Living Allowance which ISN'T means tested, is a very popular benefit, Employment Support Allowance which IS means tested is hated and considered to be where all the scroungers lurk. Pensions are universal and everyone adores them - no politician dares to cut them. Jobseekers allowance is means tested and everyone hates it, though anyone can lose their job at any time. Child benefit until recently was non-means tested and no-one ever thought to question receiving it. Ditto maternity or paternity leave. Personally, I have some sympathy for means testing at times, but don't let anyone tell you it's what the public wants. They might say they do but the reality is totally different. 

Yet another step will almost certainly be "saying the right thing in public, then shafting us horribly and quietly behind the scenes" (we're back to the dreadful workfare case again) People WILL notice, they WILL hate you for it and you WON'T get away with it. We live in a world of 24 information freely available to all. There will ALWAYS be an eagle eyed blogger or campaigner who notices you changed the wording/made a dodgy deal/went back on your word etc. 

So. Let's start from the best place we can. If you must talk about welfare never say welfare. Say "social security". If you must talk about social security, talk about the horrors facing people with disabilities, or people desperately searching for work when there are no jobs. Talk about how pensions give us faith in the system and most of all, never open your mouths without reminding the public of the latest Tory "welfare" failure. Over and over and over in a loop, so that there is no-one left who believes the Tories are really doing what they say they're doing, but in fact are simply hurting YOUR Mum or YOUR Dad,  YOUR brother or child. 

And remember. In 97 we won on the NHS. We won because people finally understood that Conservative policies only ever lead to a broken and hopeless Britain. We won on education and compassion and the minimum wage. We won because people believed we would make their lives better. We didn't win by promising to hate the hated and hurt the suffering. We never will. The Tories might, because that's what they do, but we never will. 

By 2015 the sheer numbers involved in this attack on ordinary lives will be the NHS 97 equivalent. Everyone will know someone who has been hurt by these "reforms" An elderly relative left in their own filth for want of care. A friend with cancer who worked for 30 years told she's not entitled to sickness or disability support. A child refused the education they need, a colleague made homeless by the bedroom tax. Even a boss earning plenty who lost his child benefit and had to give up his golf holiday - it all counts. Social Security is for all not just for "scroungers"

We have no choice. We have to get this right NOW. Not next month and certainly not next year. As I'm sure Liam Byrne will gladly confirm. If not, we will be torn apart by our own, already reticent to trust us and return to the ballot box in 2015. We will be torn apart by a Tory press who know we'll never be Iain Duncan-Smith (Why oh why would we ever want to be???) and we'll be torn apart by floating voters who don't really give a damn what we say about "welfare" as long as they worry about putting food on the table, keeping a roof over their heads or getting the kids new school shoes. 

It's a lose lose. Actually, it's a lose, lose, lose, lose, lose. And it doesn't have to be that way. But it means trusting the people who really know, who are living through the hell. The few experts who can bust any myth for you, counter every nasty Tory swipe at compassion. 

And most of all it means realising that everything you thought you knew was wrong and you only have a few short weeks to get it right. 

This isn't about "them" it's about "us" - every last person in the country with a child, every last pensioner, every last person living with an illness or disability and we simply can't afford to get it wrong again. We don't have time. 

Thursday 10 October 2013

Mental Health Stigma - Our Failures Shame us All

I was sent this story this morning. The woman who wrote it had to be braver than you can imagine, just to share it here. But after the vile Sun headlines that upset so many this week (I won't link to it, it only increases the people who will be subjected to it) she felt she couldn't wait any longer to tell her story.

An individual story of pain, yet one of failure that is so common it should shame us all.

"In 2001 my 48 year old father died of secondary cancer the primarycause was a very rare form of kidney cancer.

At the time I was 25 and in a relatively new job 3 months straight out of Uni.

My mum was 42 when he died and considered too young for widows benefit so before we could even bury my dad DWP were already hounding her.

She was allowed two weeks to grieve his passing and then expected to find work despite being a lifetime carer to my dad who was already disabled before the cancer (a lorry fell on his back when he was 17, he was forcibly medically retired by the time he was 25).

Given my job and income at the time I was ready to stay at the family home and declare her my dependent if it got them off her back.

Her then doctor finally came through for her and signed her off as unfit for work. Sadly, by this point a lot of damage had been done and my mum was in and out of hospital for the next 18 months.

I didn't grieve my fathers passing at first because I was too focused on my mum. I was pretty much running on adrenaline.

At the same time one of my colleagues was prompted to be our line manager (LM) and on top of my personal experience was now being bullied by him. Usually in one-to-one meetings away from any witnesses.

At first I didn't even spot the bullying because it was mostly coming from my senior manager who was acting on the malicious lies of my LM. This on top of what I was also dealing with personally.

Eventually my mum met someone and it was shortly after this time that the bullying began to take its toll and the grieving I hadn't done caught up with me.

In the latter part of 2004 I had my first breakdown. I was being bullied on the phone (subsequently developing a phone phobia as a result) and I snapped. I have never cried like that in my life nor
since. I had no control over it and I simply could not make it stop. I was convulsing. I felt the real need to flee and so I did.

I walked out of my job with no intention of ever returning. I'd stopped caring by this point whether I lived or died I couldn't cope any more. Something had snapped in my brain, a flood gate had opened
and there was no stopping the tsunami of mental torture & pain I felt. I was making my way to the multi-storey car park with the intention of jumping off (no suicide guards at the time), I could see very little
because the tears which were practically blinding me and they would not abate. I walked around aimlessly not knowing where I was and not caring about the way people were looking at me. Not one person cared to see if I was alright despite the obvious distress I was in. I managed to get my self very lost into the backstreets and I still could not see well with the flood of tears still streaming down my

At one point I did become aware of where I was and I stopped, brushed away the tears and then entered the building of The Samaritans.

I spent half a day there with them calming me, listening and trying to talk me down out of wanting to end my own life. It is no understatement to say that they saved my life that day.

I eventually went to my mums and spent the day with her. I was not left on my own after that and 9 months later I did manage to return to work.

I received a letter telling me our whole team had been centralised into IT out of education and I'd have a change of senior manager. At this point I thought this was a good thing because at this time I
still didn't know that how my senior manager had been treating me was based on the lies my LM had been feeding him (not that this condones his behaviour either). My LM was a master manipulator and had us all fooled even my colleagues.

With the help of Unison (because after that kind of treatment in the work place you do need a Union) we negotiated the conditions for my return to work and appropriate support.

It was all a wasted exercise. Within two months of returning I was back to being bullied but this time there wasn't the senior manager to hide behind. The bullying was the same as ever but this time direct
from the horses mouth; the LM.

I was still not fully recovered from my last mental health experience and my strength was not fully returned to me so I was more vulnerable this time and it took less time for the second breakdown to inevitably occur.

By 2007 I was again unfit for work. By 2008 ATOS had declared me unfit for work. With the help of my Union we negotiated my contract termination package as my employer stated they needed to replace me and would be terminating my contract.

You'd think with my being made unfit for work and loosing my job the bullying would stop. It did not.

For the whole of 2009 the bullying continued, now online. I bided my time collecting the evidence. Screen grabbing and printing it off to a file waiting for him to slip up and then one day he did, committed fraud by impersonating me. I then went straight to the police. They visited him at Somerset County Hall and gave him a warning.

It will come as no surprise that this is what it took to get the bullying to finally cease after eight years of it.

I still get the odd thing and as recently as last year, a nasty email redirected to me and again using my name fraudulently which I could prove and got the offending email account shut down. Otherwise I don't have much happen and it's not something I spend any amount of time
thinking about.

In between all this happening I was eventually on antidepressants (after the second breakdown). Over the years about 3 different types. Other than 6 therapy sessions I got no other support or treatment.

I begged my doctor for a referral to the NHS partnership for treatment but it was always phone counselling which with my phone phobia (my doctor knew full well of) never happened because of my anxiety with using the phone. I'd get on the CBT list and drop off because my doctor never chased it up or ensured I actually got the treatment. Everything I needed, I was denied.

For four years I was left to rot in my condition. I did the best I could to manage it, but like any ill health you do need medical intervention, there's only so much self medicating or self help you
can do on your own when your condition is severe.

I'd begun developing a form of agoraphobia when I was still in work (stopped going out for lunch, couldn't attend meetings on my own and eventually stopped using the canteen and always ate alone) and being left to rot in that condition as I was, it got severe.

The anxiety got worse as did the depression. After nearly four years and no light at the end of the tunnel I was probably at my worst. I stopped taking care of myself, I rarely ate and I'd stopped taking my
medication because in all the years I'd taken it I wasn't seeing the improvement I'd hoped for (I would like to add that with any medication it's important to get the supporting treatment which I didn't get and likely why on their own the antidepressants didn't work in my case).

The weight gain was also adding to my depression. My family seeing my deteriorating health made an appointment to see my doctor concerned at the way I was being left and how bad I had got. Little did they know that when on my own I was planning to end my life again and spending nearly all my time on suicide usenet groups and researching ways to end my life. I'd even begun writing my note.

One day I had nothing short of an epiphany and one I wish I'd had sooner, but sometimes it's takes going to a certain point in your life to see clearly; getting to the bottom where you either end it or drag
yourself out.

I contacted MIND, informed them of all I'd experienced and how I'd been left for years without proper support or treatment.

Whilst waiting for my assessment from them I took ownership of my health. I went fully vegan and increased foods I knew to be high in amino acids. I stopped researching ways to end my life and instead researched ways to improve my diet and use that as medicine. I lost nearly 5 stone in weight as a result.

In the time that followed I finally got the start of the help I so desperately needed four years before. I moved home, got a change of doctor and instantly got referred to Somerset Partnership for a home

I'd barely begin my journey with them when I was transferred from Incapacity Benefit to the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group) group of ESA. Now I should point out I had a severe phone phobia, agoraphobia, anxiety, depression and remained a suicide risk, but this coalition government were placing people like myself in the work capability group.

So just when my hope had returned that I could focus on getting better I was set back once again by this news.

I wrote straight away to them informing them it was quite impossible to do phone interviews with a phone phobia and that face-to-face interviews were equality out of the question when I could barely leave my home most days let alone travel eight miles on a bus to the local job centre.

To the credit of the lady handling my case she was amazing and supportive, but not typical of that Job Centre from my experience.

She spoke with my care support and even the Job Centre lady said to them I clearly should be in the support group of ESA.

I had eight months of hell from that point fighting the patently wrong decision. They wouldn't revise the decision so I entered the appeal stage expecting to have to go to a tribunal which terrified me given
my agoraphobia.

MIND were still very much in the picture helping me, making sure I had a care plan and putting me in touch with Shelter to help me with my appeal.

I had many interviews with Shelter and they helped me write up my appeal. I'd convinced myself I was looking at loosing everything and was even facing the prospect of being homeless. The thoughts of
suicide returned and hopelessness was creeping back in. I could feel the dark abyss sucking me down and I was back to not eating or sleeping.

I eventually won my appeal without needing a tribunal, but it was eight harrowing months and lot of wasted time that I could have been focusing on making the most out of my treatment as opposed to fighting a system I'd spent more than half my lifetime paying into.

My case, whilst unique to me is not an isolated case. So much time and energy was wasted, years where I could have been given the right support and early treatment that would have given me to the tools to be able to manage my condition and even be back in work. Instead I was left to rot in my condition, getting worse and now it will take as many years to undo all the damage that has been done and still with no guarantees at the end I'll ever be able to work again.

For me personally it's sad to have lost so much time and see my skills wasted. I've worked hard all my life, since I was fourteen and never known anything else. It was so alien for me not to be working.

Now, today the government is still attacking people with mental health as are The Sun. The stigma continues and the support is wanting.

They talk about making work pay and then they punish, and penalise.

Demoralising and demeaning people does not motivate or empower people to work.

Give people the support they need as soon as they find themselves out of work or sick, and the difference in getting people to a place fit to work will have lasting benefits for us all.

I've not gone public like this over my experiences before because of the stigma and way I have been treated. For a long time I had to resort to a pseudo name online to be able to even go online because of
the bullying from my ex-LM. I've been called a fake and a scrounger for claiming sickness benefit. So I've been reluctant to openly go public, but you know there comes a time when enough is enough.

1 in 4 people will experience mental illness in the next year and after the horrible headline from The Sun I decided to finally break my silence.

I will have depression for life now, as well as anxiety. It has been a mixture of support from my family, MIND, Shelter (who didn't have enough funding to remain in my town so please donate if you can) and
Somerset Partnership that I've made any progress at all and of course my own self determination.

The government have not supported me, they have not made work pay and they have punished and penalised me, yet in my last employment I was paying forced deductions of approx. £600. I have less than that each month now to 'live' on.

To be labeled by this expenses swindling government a scrounger when I struggle to buy food, to be told I am a something for noting after all the forced deductions I have paid, when ultimately all I wanted was to get better and be financially independent from the state is egregiously insulting to me and others like me.

I didn't choose to go from £2,000 a month to £300 a month. That is not a choice. If I'd had the choice my complaint of bullying and harassment would've been upheld instead of being the pointless lip
service policy it was and I'd still be earning 2K a month. The irony then that my employment was with local government and of all the jobs I've done it was THE worst.

Nobody chooses a life on benefits because it is not life.

Most days I'm afraid to check my bank balance because I can barely live and yet I get more than those on JSA. I've given up everything I can to ensure I eat the right foods to help manage my condition.

I don't have live TV so no TV licence, I don't drink, I don't smoke and I don't drive. I don't have a landline so no broadband. I have a PAYG mobile which I use as a wifi hotspot for my internet. I have done everything humanly possible to keep my outgoings for only the absolute essentials and to support my condition.

I'm currently in arrears with my council tax because I simply don't have enough money each month to pay them even more so now they've doubled my bill since the 20% change.

I've even had a benefit advisor look at ways to help me and she looked at my spreadsheet, admitting there was nothing more I could give up. I was also told I'd be better of stating I spent £27 on Sky than eating healthy (in light of my being a vegan) because they make an allowance for Sky but not for eating healthy (all of which I relayed in a letter to Jamie Oliver after his rant about the eating habits of those on low incomes).

Dealing with mental illness is struggle enough but it is perpetually compounded by not getting the right support and treatment, the right attitude from your own government and the tiny income your given which compounds your ability to cope and manage when you struggle to feed yourself, and pay for only the essentials. I've proved that by giving up everything deemed not essential and still I struggle to manage. 15% of my income goes on gas and electric placing me in fuel poverty the other higher percentage is food.

My aspiration is a simple one to continue getting the treatment and tools I need so I can safely manage my condition and eventually work for myself.

I have a degree in art and my work isn't half bad. I would like one day to work from home using my skills and selling my work online. Had I had treatment sooner I could've been doing all this already and
years ago.

Support & early treatment is everything.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

John Pring's disability news roundup

Tuesday 8 October 2013

INCREDIBLE tool for jobseekers

Last night, one of those rare moments of campaigning joy popped up on my timeline. A guy sanctioned onto a work programme scheme was asked to give a presentation. And BOY does he do us proud!!!

This is the most simple, easy to understand accessible report into just how it feels to be unemployed in this current, toxic climate. I've never read anything so helpful or empowering or which busts the governmnets dreadful myths so clearly.

Copied across from who as so often was first with the news, read this story, be astounded and CLICK IN THE LINK! Be amazed, then share it with absolutely EVERYONE you know who is searching for work or helping others to.

"Theres a massive focus on tiny sections of expenditure by this govt.

And then this happens......

A fella on JSA goes to Jobcentre
Is put on a course.
The course says "Research a subject, and do a presentation to the people on the course"
Now this sounds all fair. However the presentation chosen by Benjamin here was RESEARCH on JSA and Jobcentres. Ironic. No. Brilliant? Yes.

The following I got from Benjamin:
(Dear Jules, Via email )
In June I was forced to go on a course by the Jobcentre as I'd been unemployed for six months. I say forced because if I hadn't gone on the course, they would have sanctioned my benefits. The course wasn't as painful, embarrassing, and demeaning as I expected it to be.. A constituent part of the course was that I had to do a presentation. I decided, given the resources and audience that I'd research the true impact of Job Seekers allowance on society. It busted myths and made people feel a lot better about their situation. When questions pop up, ask yourself those questions. Share it, and ask and show others. The presentation makes a compelling case.

I was happy to keep the presentation to myself and put it away having only shown it to the group. That changed though. The myths need busting, and I'll tell you why. Every time I hear about a bedroom tax suicide, I realise as many people as possible need to see this, to debunk myths. Every time I hear about yet another person dying after being found "fit for work" I realise it needs to be seen. We need to be heard, that's why I need people to see it.

Did I tell you also he showed me MSM emails not wanting to particularly extract info from slides 40ish onward? No? Ah. Thats what they did.they didnt wanna show anyone.

The presentation is in powerpoint.I've hyperlinked it to microsoft on line. There should be no compatibility / viewing problems.

< Click here to see the presentation >

A bit of myth busting eh?

Nice one Benjamin."

Please, share this with all of your networks, MPs, work providers, benefit advisors. You can use the buttons below to RT and share on Facebook or Google. 

Housing Consultation

I know, I know, it's another consultation, but as they say, "Nothing about us without us"

I've copied the below with thanks to Jane Young, do please take the time to take part if you can.

"Accessible housing standards – urgent response needed

by Jane Young

Our friends at Habinteg Housing Association have alerted us to an important Government consultation on housing standards, including accessibility standards, which closes on 22 October. Habinteg is well known for its expertise in building accessible homes; it developed the Lifetime Homes Standard (in which housing is built so that it can be easily adapted for changing needs, especially when occupants become disabled) and both provides and promotes fully wheelchair accessible housing.

As a retired local authority Disability Equality and Access Officer, I have very clear views on the accessibility of new housing; on my patch I pushed for 100% of new housing to be built to at least Lifetime Homes standard, with 10% built to the higher wheelchair access standard. Before I retired, I campaigned hard for the Lifetime Homes standard to be incorporated into the building regulations, to ensure compliance, so I’m pleased the Government is addressing this issue.

Habinteg (and I) take the view that the Lifetime Homes standard, or similar, should be the minimum accessibility standard for all new housing, with a proportion built to the higher, wheelchair accessible standard. However, despite our aging population, the relative inaccessibility of our current housing stock, the chronic shortage of accessible housing and the fact that new housing is expected to last several generations, the Government does not agree. It is therefore vital that as many people as possible, especially those with existing knowledge in this area, respond to the consultation.

Habinteg has provided a wealth of information on the Government’s review, including drafts of their own responses, to help us understand the issues and respond to the consultation. Please do all you can to spread the word and make your own response, however simple, to the consultation."