Originally posted on The poor side of life:
Today was our usual Thursday afternoon outside the Jobcentre. The rain kept off and everyone was still in a fairly good mood. It had been a good weekend at the Manchester demonstrations and our visit from Natalie Bennett had given everyone a good morale boost. And quite rightly so, they deserved it. The team are amazing.
Not long after most of our regular attendees had arrived I received a telephone call. It was from a claimant at Ashton Jobcentre. They were panicking and I could hear them crying. I asked what was wrong and they said that they had received a letter stating that they had to attend a work programme course in a different town too far away to walk and they didn’t have enough bus fare to get there. They didn’t know how to get there.
I asked them if they could meet me outside the Jobcentre which…
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You don’t know me, but I’ve taken a keen interest in your work over the years. I didn’t manage to catch your speech on Tuesday but the reaction on social media suggested that you made some characteristically callous comments about disabled people (presumably to rapturous applause).
I read your speech when I got home and, to be honest, the premise seemed fairly straightforward: you believe that it is not the role of the state to lift, or keep, people out of poverty; the only appropriate tool to ensure a good life is individual hard work.
With that in mind I’d like you to meet Michael, a 27-year-old man with severe autism.
Michael lives in a residential care centre in Ayrshire, 40 miles away from his family. He has a bedroom with an ensuite, and shares a kitchen and lounge with other service users who also live in the unit (it would be an insult to call it a home).
Though he used to enjoy a range of educational activities which improved his quality of life these have been discontinued due to funding problems rooted in your government’s austerity agenda.
Michael cannot read, write or speak and, although he is capable of communicating with those who know him (at least on a basic level), he spends a great deal of his time frustrated at his inability to express himself.
Sometimes, depending on a range of largely uncontrollable factors, this frustration manifests itself in violent outbursts during which Michael may injure himself or his staff.
In addition to his autism, Michael also suffers from a number of health problems including epilepsy – as a consequence he has little, if any, privacy.
To be clear, no amount of ‘support’ will ever change these simple facts.
Having read your speech on Tuesday I spent much of the evening trying to imagine the sort of job that Michael could do in order to deserve a life free from poverty and its associated consequences (such as an earlier death).
Eventually, just when I was about to give up, it hit me – there is something that Michael could do, a role perfectly suited to both his abilities and his situation.
Michael, it turns out, would make an excellent scapegoat.
In this role Michael could help you to convince the people of Britain that their problems are caused by people who are disabled, low-paid, young or foreign, thus allowing your government to go about its business of protecting those who are actually to blame.
It’s perfect really, and wouldn’t even involve any expensive training or set-up costs – just a bit of casual demonisation from a failing minister looking to build a legacy on a pile of shattered lives.
The thing is, Iain, I get it: in a world – your world – where humans are separated into black and white, scroungers and strivers, Michael is the former. He is a burden on society, an unproductive unit, a red mark on the balance sheet.
Reduced to a statistic, Michael is simply a problem; to you, it would be better if he didn’t exist at all.
But he is not just a statistic, and he does exist.
Michael is my brother.
So while you have spent the last 23 years ‘serving’ as an MP, enjoying an outrageous salary and taxpayer-funded breakfasts (at £39 a go), I’ve seen my brother’s physical and mental health decline.
While you have been living like a Lord in your father-in-law’s countryside mansion my brother has been trapped in a care setting which – despite the best efforts of his fantastic staff – fails to meet his needs.
While your government has ensured that the richest in society continue to get richer, Michael’s quality of life has steadily declined.
If there is a silver lining it is this: at least Michael does not understand that those running the country simply don’t care about him.
Of course, you will say that your reforms are not intended for people like Michael, that only those who can work but choose not to will be caught up in the maelstrom of shame, bureaucracy, contempt and incompetence which has defined the last five years for vulnerable people up and down this country.
In reality – as you must surely know – the decisions you have made in recent years have brought misery to people who benefitted the least from the pre-recession boom years and who bear no responsibility for the economic crash of 2008.
Disabled people have, for example, been worst affected by the bedroom tax, while the introduction of Universal Credit could end up costing families with disabled children £1,400 a year.
On top of this, research by Inclusion Scotland has shown that disabled people and their families are suffering “stress, fear and isolation” as a result of your welfare reforms.
But, of course, none of this matters to you because disabled people like my brother are the easiest of targets and, in the splendid isolation of your privileged life, you are never likely to come face-to-face with the human cost of your political choices.
So, again, I’d like you to meet Michael. I’d like you to spend a whole day with him, to at least try to understand what life is like for someone in his situation and to see just how hollow the ‘all in it together’ rhetoric really is.
Finally, I’d like you to look me in the eye and tell me that it is not the role of the state to ensure that my brother has a life worth living.
A normal, compassionate human being would never be able to do it; I suspect that you just might.
A MAN whose behaviour resulted in ambulance and police officers being called to Redruth Job Centre has claimed that the government’s failure to pay him job seekers allowance has left him starving.
Last Wednesday police were alerted to an incident at the job centre where a man became aggressive at staff in the building.
The man, 59-year-old former lorry driver Phillip Heath, says his frustrations were born out of the fact that he was told by staff that he had to use a computer to claim job seekers allowance.
“I’ve spoken to the Redruth job centre several times and each time I was told that to claim job seekers allowance I have to have the internet and an email address.
“As far as I’m concerned you might as well go and throw a computer in Stithians Dam as I have no interest whatsoever in learning to use one.
“They aren’t listening to me, all I hear is computer, computer, computer and I haven’t been paid since September 4. I can fix a car and am a very hands-on guy, but don’t even know how to turn on a computer.
“I’ve barely had anything to eat for 12 days. If a person has a pet they get prosecuted if they don’t look after it but the government are starving me and doing nothing about it.
“Redruth Job Centre has nothing in writing saying that I have to use a computer.”
Mr Heath was originally signed off sick following a heart attack 12 months ago, but despite a note from his doctor saying that he shouldn’t be allowed back to work, a Department of Work and Pensions medical assessment declared him fit to work and as a result made him to turn to applying for job seekers allowance to get by.
During the fracas at the job centre Mr Heath was spoken to by police and then tended to by the ambulance service when he complained of chest pains before being taken home.
A Police spokesman said: “A man became aggressive in Redruth Job Centre, at around 12.30 on Wednesday September 30.
“Both police and ambulance attended due to concerns over his health.
“Paramedics gave him the once over, but there was no need for him to go hospital so police took the man back home and gave him some words of advice.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions has said that there are advisors at the job centre to help with the online side of job seekers applications and that the matter is now one for the police to deal with.
Readers, as promised in the last post on this blog, in this post I am going to link to some of my favourite poems that I have written myself.
Sadly I haven’t had, and nor will I get, the time to write anything original today. However I do hope you enjoy these, and do feel free to share the links anywhere you like with the hashtag #NationalPoetryDay.
- One Look At The Chair
- I Know Why The Disabled Child Learns
- Twas One Day After Heartbreak
- A Prayer For DisAbled Angels
- Special Mothers
Readers, today is National Poetry Day in the UK.
I’m a bit of a poet myself, so I am going to link you to some of my original poetry in the next post.
Sadly, I haven’t been able to write anything original in time for today. However, campaigner and actress Liz Carr shared this wonderful poem online yesterday.
It took thoughts out of my mind, words out of my mouth and feelings out of my heart when it comes to all my friends with disabilities, and their families.
Readers, there seems to be no better day to share it with you, so without further prose, and with many thanks, I hand you over to Sue Napolitano:
Needing Disabled People
I need you like I need
The comfort of a warm bath
For my aching bones,
The homeliness of tea and scones
On a rainy day,
The sting of a dip in the sea
On a hot one.
You know how life knocks me about,
You know what it takes to keep bobbing up
You know how tired its possible to get.
You know because
You live there too.
I need you because,
In a world of denial,
You give me back to myself,
With you I can speak the unspeakable,
Laugh at the unfunny,
Be deadly serious.
Together we are not scared of truths
Together we can plan the impossible,
Spin fantasies today
And make them happen tomorrow.
I leave you with my bones polished and new,
I take a blessing for my body,
I go breathing clean air,
Thinking clear thoughts,
Owning my strength.
I need you.
— Sue Napolitano
A press release:
The Guide Dogs charity has today released an emotional ‘moving neon artwork’ telling the story of Becky who lost her sight as a teenager. As her eye sight deteriorated, Becky, from Liverpool, became more and more isolated, but everything changed when she met her guide dog Hattie.
This inspiring short film is released to coincide with this year’s Guide Dogs Week (3-11 October), celebrating the amazing difference that guide dogs like Hattie make to the lives of thousands of people in the UK. The Guide Dogs Week theme is ‘Let’s Glow’ – a tribute to the famous neon guide dog harness.
The video concept is based on Becky’s experience of losing her sight and how Hattie has helped to turn her life around. As Becky tells her story in her own words, dancers move in the dark to form shapes representing her story with flashes of neon colour appearing.
Speaking about how her guide dog changed her life Becky says:
“Before I got Hattie I didn’t have much confidence and I could barely face going out alone.
“She’s changed all of that and I now have the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want. That might not sound like a big deal to some people but for me it’s been life-changing.
“I don’t share my story very often, but this was a really nice way to share it in a positive way. I hope people also join in and glow for Guide Dogs this week so that the charity can continue their invaluable work and help other people like me regain their freedom.”
This Guide Dogs Week please watch and share this inspirational story: youtu.be/CA-QQOtMzZY
A 10-year-old boy who has jaw cancer and needs urgent surgery has vanished, a High Court judge has said.
Mr Justice Mostyn said the boy, who has not been identified, is Polish and could be in Poland with his parents, whom he urged to comply with doctors.
Details of the case emerged in a ruling following hearings in the Family Division of the High Court in London.
A doctor has told the judge the boy will die a “brutal and agonising death” if a tumour is not removed “very soon”.
Mr Justice Mostyn said the boy, who had lived in England with his parents for two years, was at risk of “serious harm” and the risk was growing each day.
An NHS trust with responsibility for the boy’s care had asked the judge to rule that specialists could perform surgery.
The boy’s parents preferred to treat him with “Chinese medicine”, doctors said.
The judge said there was evidence the boy had left his home with his mother two weeks ago, and that the boy’s father had boarded a ferry bound for France in the past few days.
Mr Justice Mostyn stated: “I give full weight to the wishes of (the boy) as well as those of his parents.
“It is a strong thing for me, a stranger, to disagree with and override the wishes of (the boy) and his parents.
“But I have absolutely no doubt that (the boy) must be given the chance, a very good chance, of a long and fulfilling life rather than suffering, quite soon, a ghastly, agonising, death.”
Mr Justice Mostyn said he had made an order saying efforts should be made to find the boy.
The Polish embassy in London was being alerted, he added.
The judge referred to the boy and his parents by initials only and did not name the NHS trust.