One Month Before Heartbreak

Posted: January 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

1 Month Before Heartbreak – a blogswarm to raise awareness of governments plans to reform DLA. Well more than reform, abolish and replace with something called a PiP which would have no mobility component and the same kind of discredited testing for eligibility that is used for ESA claimants. More money for Atos, less money for the sick and disabled.

 

I didn’t think that I would get involved.  Not that I didn’t want to. Just that I wasn’t sure that I had anything else left to say.

Or maybe I just didn’t have the energy left to say it.

Or maybe I thought that I somehow deserved the opprobrium of the public…

…and the Sun…

… And the Daily Mail…

…And politicians.

After all I haven’t worked for several years and I claim Income Support and DLA. Not Incapacity Benefit, but Income support on the grounds of incapacity. I was self-employed when I became ill, so with time out in education and to have children, I did not have enough contributions despite having done some kind of work or another since the age of fourteen.

Claiming Income Support makes me even less ‘deserving’ in they eyes of some.

Then there is  DLA. I am not a wheelchair user, I’m not blind or deaf, but I do have a ‘bad back’ (Spondylolytic Spondylolisthesis). Which is, of course,  a synonym for ‘benefit cheat’. I also have osteoarthritis (but as someone recently said to me ‘doesn’t everyone over 50?’) and a mood disorder which has been translated over the years by various people as ‘self indulgent’, ‘hysterical’, being ‘highly strung’, ‘making everything about me’ and of course the ever popular ‘refusing to pull myself together and think positively.’

I walk with a stick. I take pain killers.  I can’t take anti-inflamatories because of other medications I take since almost dying after routine surgery four years ago. So pain is frequently a problem. Today its been my ankles and my left little finger.  To complain of pain in ones little finger sounds so trivial, but believe me its excruciating!

For the same reasons I can’t take antidepressants and the medication I do take can make me feel sleepy and slightly … ‘not with it’.

I began this blog with such enthusiasm.  I was going to post two or three times a week, keep up to date with all the political shananigans and report them to the hundreds  of readers I would no doubt soon have collected…

Then one morning I woke up and I couldn’t find the energy to post. The effort of ‘pulling myself together’ each day left me exhausted. Anxiety, that horrible feeling in the pit of ones stomach that I hadn’t felt for a while was back with a vengeance. There were so many things to be afraid of…

Migration onto ESA, it’s going to happen to me. Even the thought of the forms and the interview and knowing just knowing that they will decide I’m a fraud. Lazy. Should be working. Had made a life style choice. Squeezes my stomach until I feel sick and makes my heart thud in my throat.  What will happen?  How will I manage? What about my Housing Benefit? What if I can’t find a job? Well, the miracle would be finding one! In a city with high unemployment 53 year old women with a history of physical and mental health issues is no exactly the top of anyones  Most Desired Employee list.

Losing my DLA. I get the lowest rate for care and mobility but it makes such a difference. It helps to pay for taxi’s when pain makes waiting at a bus stop untenable. It buys ready meals for those days when I can’t find the energy or the motivation to cook a meal. Other small things that add up to making life a little bit easier.

I am afraid.

I am tired.

But I’ve blogged my bit for the blogswarm.

 

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Even before the cuts to benefits and the changes to DLA have taken place, they are having an effect on the people who rely on them. This is one woman’s story.

“It’s not as though I don’t want to work. I find it hard to imagine why anyone would believe that someone would live hand to mouth on benefits, without holidays, much of a social life, new clothes, etc., by choice. Why would I chose to spend time considering whether I can afford to turn the heating on (never mind up), when the temperature outside is minus something?  Why would I chose to debate the relative merits of fresh food versus a £1 ready meal from the bargain freezer shop? If it was a question of choice, I would most definitely have made a different one.

And now it seems that everything is about to get much worse. Changes to income support, incapacity benefit and DLA could well mean that by this time next year I will have even less to live on than now.  Friends and family tell me not to worry.  That the changes are intended to ‘weed out the cheats’ not target people like me. People who are genuinely disabled, genuinely sick. But that is not the impression I get from reading the papers or surfing the internet. No one can guarantee that I can maintain my current position.

So I worry. I lie awake and imagine what might happen if…

I keep applying for jobs.  Any job. Hundreds of jobs. Two interviews, one offer. A ridiculously inappropriate job but I am desperate.

I last less than a week. The physical pain so increased that I sleep downstairs for days, unable to face the prospect of climbing the stairs to my bedroom. My fears increase, my confidence crashes even lower. I am ashamed of my inability to cope with the uncertainties of the job….who is actually in charge? Would I get paid on time? Would I be able to pay my rent?

I am ashamed of my inability to cope.

More job applications.  Even with a degree I can’t get an interview for a part-time job answering the phone because of ‘the high calibre of the applicants’.

My mood begins to swing down into the grey fog that has hovered just over my left shoulder for most of my life. It wraps me in nothing and smothers motivation. All I want to do is sleep. And eat.

Most of the time I can hide from my family and friends. Smiles and chats distract others from the emptiness. I am still functioning. Still going out.  Still fulfilling my obligations. Mostly.

Until today.

When even sitting still seems to require more energy than I can muster. My thoughts dwell constantly on the thought of medicals, reviews, a change to JSA, the loss of DLA, a reduction in Housing Benefit after twelve months, growing dependence on the charity of others. It might not happen.

But it might. It could.

And I am scared.

I feel helpless, vulnerable.

I feel myself sliding further into the fog.

The future looks bleak.”

Weekly Round Up

Posted: December 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

A roundup of interesting articles from around the web that you might have missed.

Today sees the publication of Frank Field’s report on poverty in the UK.  Although it isn’t yet available to read in full as far as I know, its contents have been widely reported in the daily newspapers.  His advice that government should stop trying to boost the income of poor families and freeze child benefit and child tax credits, will no doubt be music to the ears of this ConDem(ned) government. Apparently, income will be redistributed by the improved job prospects of disadvantaged children helped by better public services during the ‘foundation years’ 0 to 3.

The money saved by freezing welfare benefits would be used to improve ante-natel and pre-school care, to finance children’s centres and provide parenting classes throughout school life.

Judging by the current fashion for cutting anything and everything, I can’t see any savings made being re-invested in services.  Cameron and Co. prefer cutting to spending. Sure Start Childrens Centres have been an extremely successful service and are very popular with those that use them. But thanks to the savage cuts in local government finances, many are under threat.  In Stoke-on-Trent, half of the existing centres could be closed. (Check out the campaign to save them, SOCC) Frank Field also believes that private companies should be able to bid to provide Sure Start services.

I am in agreement with much of what the report apparently says.  Poverty, social exclusion, disadvantage, whatever label you wish to use, is much more complicated than simply a lack of money. Poor education,  a restricted paradigm in which no other life can be envisaged and low aspirations, all help to build the walls that trap individuals, families and communities in poverty.  The Guardian quotes Frank Field as saying

“A healthy pregnancy, positive but authoritative parenting, high quality childcare, a positive approach to learning at home and an improvement in parents’ qualifications, can … trump class background and parental income.”

It will take financial investment and plenty of time to make a difference.  But we already knew that. Didn’t we?

I’m not sure that there is anything actually new here. Surely these are the kind of differences, things like Sure Start,  EMA, university outreach programs, cash payments to women during their pregnancies, were designed to make?

Oh! I forgot! They have had to go.

We can’t afford them.

And if that’s the case, what are the odds on more money being spent on increasing services, even it child benefit and child tax credits are frozen?

I worry that this report could lead to disadvantaged families becoming even more disadvantaged, not less so,  with its suggestion to  cut welfare even further than it has already been cut in the recent spending review.  Low income might not be the sole cause of disadvantage, but I believe that it is at the very heart of poverty.

It is very difficult to concentrate on ‘positive parenting’ when the most important thing on your mind is how to keep your children warm, or fed or clothed.

Your education and your future are a long way off when your class mates laugh at you because you don’t have a washing machine to keep your clothes clean or you don’t dress the ‘right’ way, or you stomach grumbles in class because you’re hungry.

With all the current changes to welfare in the pipeline, social mobility is more likely to mean trying to keep a roof over your head rather than improving the life chances of our  countries most vulnerable children.

…at least that’s what I thought you did.

 

I thought that marching, was a long-established custom integral to a democratic society.  You only get to vote now and again but in between you can make your voice heard and your presence felt by marching through town, waving home made banners and chanting.  Then gathering at some central or politically important point to listen to speakers.

Ok, I did sort of realise that in an age of paranoia and surveillance, where spontaneity is suspicious and disagreement frowned upon, there was probably a form to fill in.  After all, whatever you want to do there is always a form to fill in.  I assumed that on top of that, someone nominally ‘in charge’ would have to telephone the police and do them the courtesy of informing them what our friends had planned and where and when we planned to do it.

I had expected problems.  Would I be able to march the whole route?  How long would I have to stand still and how many pain killers would I need to take/have with me?  What would be the best and least physically stressful way for me to carry a placard?  What should I write on it?

I had not expected to find it impossible to organise a march in my home city.  I had imagined the streets ringing to cries of “not one job lost, not one penny cut” accompanying the traditional sounds of Christmas shoppers.

But it was not to be.  Or at least not quite in the way I had envisaged.

On Saturday, December 4th, North Staffs Against the Cuts has organised a demonstration in Hanley to voice the legitimate concerns of Stoke-on-Trent’s citizens and to join their voices to those raised in protest throughout the UK.

But we will not be marching.

Ours will be a static demonstration.  In a car park.  To the side of the Town Hall, opposite the bus station and confined to the hours of 10.30 to 12pm.

Several weeks ago the local police were approached and informed of our intention to march and the preferred route we wished to take.  What followed has all the hallmarks of a slightly sinister comedy sketch. They didn’t like our first choice and suggested an alternative route.  We thought about it, discussed it and agreed that yes, the alternative was satisfactory. Except that now it no longer was.

Acceptable.

To the police.

Who had suggested it in the first place…

eh???

Apparently there were now worries about potential disorder (where did that come from?) and that we might disturb the Christmas shoppers.  Well be can’t have the meaning of Christmas (profit) disturbed now, can we?

From this point on, any route we suggested was met with objections. Organising the demo came to resemble one of those platform games where obstacles are constantly thrown up at random intervals and the player has to quickly circumnavigate them to reach her goal.

We would need a road closure order at a cost of £1,100 pounds and anyway the deadline for applying for one was already past, even if we had had a spare thousand plus quid in our collection bucket.

Then there was public liability insurance at an unspecified cost and don’t forget the barriers to contain the demonstrators and for which we would also be charged.

Thoughts turned to a static protest.  Surely that would raise less objections?

I am ever the opotamist.

We could have our demo, in the place of our choosing as long as no more than 300 people attended.  Now I’m not suggesting that more or less than 300 would turn up. I don’t know.  I’m just puzzled as to how one limits the number of people at a public demonstration?  Set up turnstyles to count the participants?  Make it a ticket only event? Hire bouncers to keep out anyone over the proposed number?

Oh and of course there would be a charge for barriers.

The only place where they would agree to us gathering without charge at this point was a local church yard!

Eventually, a venue for a static protest was agreed. We were home and dry, there couldn’t be anymore obstacles waiting to fly in from the wings.

Could there?

Well, yes, of course there could be….

…timing.

Now the threat of a section 14 notice was being waved about if we didn’t either agree to finish our demonstration by 10.30 am or not start until after 3.30pm!

Or we could of course move the venue yet again to a more out of the way part of town.

Negotiations continued.

1.30 to 3.30 – strictly enforced and numbers no more than 200.

Talk of memorandums of understanding (I still don’t understand any of it).

Alternative venues where we would have no charges, no restrictions and no one would know we were there!

Finally

A compromise.

Lichfield Street car park.

Which is where we will be. Tucked away to the left of the Town Hall. Opposite the Bus Station.

On Saturday the 4th.

With our placards and voices exercising our democratic right to protest…

NORTH STAFFS AGAINST THE CUTS

Join us!

 

 

 

 

I’m good at guilt.

Whether as a result of my Catholic upbringing or because of a predisposition caused by  faulty wiring in my brain, guilt is my default setting.  I tell myself that it is a kind of egotism that makes me think that whatever it is must be my fault.  After all, I’m just not that important and my actions and thoughts do not exactly rock the world. I flick mental peanuts at the paranoia that tries to sneak up on me and whisper ‘it’s all your fault’ in my ear whenever I notice its stealthy step.

But as of a today, I have it on the highest authority that it is all my fault after all.  According to the ‘compassionate Tory’, Ian Duncan Smith, I, and everyone else who lives on social security benefits (otherwise known as handouts), are the people (hereafter referred to a scroungers, layabouts and shirkers) largely responsible for the countries current deficit.

‘In remarks that will spark controversy, he became the first cabinet minister to draw a direct link between our economic turmoil and the workless.’
‘BRITAIN’S shirkers’ paradise shame with hordes of work shy benefit claimants was blamed last night for much of our economic mess. ‘
…and so on and so on.
Those of us claiming incapacity benefits came in for particular criticism, because apparently our ‘handout’ is both too generous and too easily claimed by hoardes of workshy shirkers faking disability and illness.
So there it is.
Permission for the general public to blame and castigate the unemployed.
Permission to regard the sick and disabled as the cause of our economic woes.
After all, we live next door and so make a much easier target than some millionaire banker living large on taxpayers handouts in his elegant country mansion.

On Saturday I attended a conference in London.  I came across it a week or so ago and on the spur of the moment decided to attend. Somewhere between 1000 and 1400 other people also decided to attend the conference which wa’ organised by the  Coalition of Resistance.

The day was an overwhelming experience.

To start with a criticism, no thought had been given to disabled access when booking the venue. Although I received several apologies for this during the day, along with the explanation that they had not expected so many people, it was the first conference they had organised, everything had been done last minute etc., etc., I would have preferred a building with a lift to the apologies. I was able, with difficulty, to negotiate two flights of stairs up to the workshops I had chosen to attend, but then I’m not in a wheel chair.

DPAC have an excellent blog post on the conference, the author makes many important and relevant points both about the conference and the potential for inclusivity  in the future.

Video’s of many of the speakers can be seen at www.counterfire.org

I will write more when the weather stops interfering so badly with my internet connection!

Posted: November 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

The single is due for release on 12th December 2010 –  Send a message – Make Liar Liar No 1 this Christmas!

I am tired but unable to sleep. The BBC news channel drones on in the corner and one of my cats is curled up on the sofa next to me. Pain keeps me awake.  Anti-inflamatories would help to make pain relief more efficient but unfortunately they would interact with other essential medications, so I have to do without. Hopefully things will settle down soon. I have an early morning dental appointment and as I said, I’m tired.

My eyes closed, sipping hot chocolate, I was not really listening to the television until I heard Ed Milliband’s name and something about the Labour governments failure to reform the benefits system. I rewound the programme and listened more carefully to the interview. He said that there was still a minority of people who ‘refused to work’ and that this ‘hacked people off’.

Here we go again.

A shop worker was telling Milliband that she has to work hard to make ends meet but that someone who has never worked gets ‘everything given to them’.  Someone else talked of a non-working household ‘a few doors up’ where apparently designer clothes and holidays were the norm.

Here we go again.

Sometimes it seems to me that almost everyone I speak to knows someone like that. Someone who whether unemployed or ‘on the sick’ lives a full and worry free life on benefits. I wish they would let me into their secret. The current government and the right-wing press have done an excellent job of promoting this image to the point where ‘scrounger’, ‘unemployed’ and ‘sick’ have become interchangeable words.  Such conversations leave me feeling defensive and ashamed. When I point out to people I know that I am unemployed, I am claiming incapacity, the usual response is “oh but we don’t mean you” as if personal knowledge of me as an individual exempts me from the scorn and disapproval being meted out to ‘the others’.

Yet the majority of those ‘others’ are no different from me. Frustrated by their inability to work, whether because of ill- health, disability or the sheer fact that there are so few jobs and so many people looking for them.  Afraid of a future in which they will be punished for their situation by the reduction or even the removal of benefits. Forced to defend themselves from the constant cries of ……

‘workshy’

‘lazy’

‘benefit cheat!’

Give Ed Milliband his due, he did assert that this was a small minority of claiments. But still he seemed to feel that this small minority should be the focus of  his response on the subject of welfare.

here we go again.

News Watch

Posted: November 25, 2010 in Headlines

Just in from the BBC                                   Tory peer: Cuts make poor ‘breed’