Five words that may haunt this Government?


Not a long sentence, but it just could be a death sentence ?¬† Allow me to explain ūüôā

I am a Local Government worker, and – therefore – one of the group currently being blamed for all of societies ills at present. Like most of my colleagues, I haven’t had a pay rise in over two years, and for a few years before that, the hike was less than inflation. When checking my bank statement and destroying items older than twelve months recently, I noticed that my take-home pay is actually less now than it was then. Not a huge difference, a mere few pounds per month, but LESS.

I have a mortgage, I have dependents. I also have soaring fuel bills, increased Council Tax, 20% VAT, higher food costs, etc., etc., – but you all know that, you have too. Thankfully, I don’t run a car – and I don’t smoke, nor drink a lot. My biggest “vice” is coffee, and that has shot up too!

This whole concept of a “Big Society” and of all mucking in together doesn’t sound too terrible at times. It was what got this nation through World War Two. A sense of fair play, rationing so we all got an equal share – dammit! It was almost Socialism!!

Despite the media obsession that the last government was solely responsible for the deficit, and as a non-Labour party member, even I don’t blame Gordon “if i smile you’ll be scared” Brown for a global collapse that started in the USA. New labour were blind to the failings of an economy built on speculation, but so were Major, Thatcher, Cameron and Clegg – or have we all forgotten that?

The newspapers are hardly unbiased or without their own agenda. Mr Murdoch probably pays less tax on his vast earnings than most of you, and still has the cheek to lecture us about benefit cheats and the like. Tax avoidance is legal, sadly – not for us poor sods on PAYE, but for those who have the resources to act in such a morally corrupt manner. Hell, they even change their nationality often, so how can we take lessons in the “national interest” from a man who has moved from Australian, to British, to American. Next stop, Chinese, Rupert?

No, even though it is painful and difficult; and even though¬†I am an active Trade Unionist, I would happily submit to a pay freeze IF we were all in it together” – but we are not, are we! The bankers, many of whom carry a large responsibility for the crisis, are already paying themselves huge, eye-watering bonuses.

Northern Rock (a wholly state-owned bank) and RBS (I think we own about 80+% of that one?), both of whom made staggering loses again, paid a select few enormous bonuses. Why? To stop them leaving, we are told. Well, if their talent is for making loses and causing chaos, the sooner they bugger off the better, no?

Barclays, who weren’t bailed out directly, but who did draw considerable advantage from fiscal measures and protection afforded to their trading, have a CEO with the gall to tell a Select Committee that the time for blame is over! No it bloody well isn’t pal!

MP’s are complaining about their new expense system, barely a year after many of them were exposed as cheats, fraudsters and spivs. A few have already been convicted and sentenced to jail; a fair few others should have been, but stood down, paid back vast sums claimed for moat cleaning or duck houses, or just plain old greed. No doubt, many of them have traded on their past-lives and now have comfortable jobs and even more comfortable salaries!

We have a Cabinet, I am told, with 22 millionaires in it. How can they understand the effect of their policies upon the mass who see £30,000 as a good annual salary? It is laughable.

If we are all in this together, why aren’t we all hurting to the same degree?

Thanks for listening, and – as ever – be grateful that you can. ūüôā PK


Am I TOO sensitive? Am I f. . . !

Recent events have made me realise, even more, how intolerant a society we are at times.

It has also raised my personal estimation of the long-term disabled to a stratospheric level.

Allow me to elaborate.

Regular readers (both of you!) will – by now – know that I am severely hearing impaired. Whilst having no hearing in my left ear since birth (mine was always a Mono world), I managed to reach the Grand Old Age of 52 before a virus caused the right one to fail. I use a hearing aid, to amplify sound to a level where I can make some sense of it, but – in truth – it isn’t volume alone that is the problem, it is clarity too. No hearing aid can improve that, sadly.

The hearing aid can help, but it also has a negative side. First, it causes “sweatiness” and an increased risk of additional infections. Imagine walking around all day, every day, with your finger in your ear. Not comfortable, is it. Then there is the problem of traffic. I live and work in a large, bustling City – Cardiff. Love it. Wouldn’t want to live anywhere else now. Almost a “local” – after 26 years.

The difficulty is that traffic makes a lot of unpleasant noise; engines revving, squealing brakes, horns and hooters, irate motorists, etc. – anyway, it is not what I want to hear, so¬†I frequently remove my hearing aid when in town. Popping it in to talk in shops or in¬†cafes takes seconds, and¬†I keep it in its neat little case in my top pocket. I have to use my eyes more, because the same traffic I don’t want to hear can also run me over!, but – to date – I have coped.

Yesterday, whilst awaiting a bus to County Hall in Cardiff, I was verbally abused – by a tourist, I think (he had a Tourist map of Cardiff in his hands) – and this reminded me of the other, too many sadly, occasions that I have suffered similar. The incident, in itself was not major; but it is part of a culmination of a society that is increasingly intolerant and aggressive to the disabled.

As¬†I said,¬†I was awaiting a bus; sitting in a bus stop outside the Hilton Hotel, watching the Irish Rugby Squad board their coach. Said “Tourist” (no idea if he was Irish!) approached, and – I presume – asked directions (he had that look and was pointing at his map).

I responded thus (as I had removed my hearing aid, as mentioned earlier); “Sorry, I can’t hear you but . . ” – I didn’t get any further than that, because he – literally – went ape-shit on me. He started ranting, no idea about what because¬†I was still fumbling for my hearing aid, and then he stormed off. From his body language, his facial expressions and from his colouration (going puce), he clearly thought I was being unhelpful. If he had waited a second longer, my sentence was going to end, “. . .¬† if you hang on a second, I’ll put my hearing aid in and will be glad to help you bwtti“.

OK. No one was physically hurt. No blood was spilled. The little old lady next to me was a tad upset at it, but she was ok. If I wasn’t getting on and not as quick as I used to be, I should have decked him one, but that would definitely terrified the old dear, so probably best I didn’t.

I should also add a few personal points. I am a smidgen under 6 foot tall; about 17+ stone, and after 40+ years in the world of work, including spells working with both sex and violent offenders, with people with addictions and with sufferers of Mental Health problems, not easily upset. I am also a very active Trade Unionist, so I am well used to abuse!

I don’t cry easily. With the exception of tears of joy when my beautiful, much-loved daughters were born, the last time I can remember really crying was 18th September, 1970 – when¬†I read the front page of the London Evening News that Jimi¬†Hendrix had died (OK, I was 16 at the time!!). I didn’t cry yesterday either . . .¬† but i felt like it nearly.

Daily, I see the expression on some people’s faces when¬†I ask (tiresome, I know) to repeat something – sometimes even twice.

All to often, I am expected to be amused as some idiot, on being told that I am deaf, makes some tasteless joke about it.

Frequently, I am confronted with meetings (even after being told of my condition) that don’t have an induction loop, or don’t know how to operate it, or find that it hasn’t been serviced in years and that it doesn’t work. “Oh, do you mind?”, they say.¬† What? Do I mind that I’ll not now hear sod all, and that you probably don’t give a toss? Have a wild guess!

A couple of years ago I attended a meeting in City Hall, along with many others, when Sir Richard Tilt was addressing an audience of CAB workers, Advice agencies, Local Authority staff and specialists who worked with Social Fund appeals. Tilt was the Commissioner of the Independent Social Fund Review at the time.

His staff had gone to some lengths to ensure that the meeting location was equipped with the correct loop and that it worked. The “top table” all had microphones and their was a roving mic’ for speakers from the floor. Brilliant. Only Sir Richard decided to become a “man of the people”, rose from his seat and stood in front of the table to address us. Couldn’t hear a bloody thing.

Not being the shy, retiring type, I interjected that those of us with a hearing impairment required him to use the microphone. He waved me aside and said, I’ll come to that later !! Sir Richard? or just plain “dick” ?

On other occasions, I have met with unfriendly technology or uncaring staff. I have previously blogged about the lack of working loops in cinemas, in theatres or, if they do work, the fact that a deposit is required for use. These are all relatively minor when compared with what some disabled people face each day, but if these are wearing me down, think what it is doing to them.

I have huge respect now, for those born or disabled young; for those with much more severe conditions than mine. I would like to hope that readers of this might just take a bit of that respect away with them and use it next time you meet someone who needs a bit of patience and understanding. Please.

As ever, thank you for listening and be grateful that you can ūüôā

This “Rant” is dedicated to the wonderful Kaliya¬†Franklin (@BendyGirl¬†on twitter) who continues to inspire me daily with her tweets, and to Natasha Hirst (@TashHirst) who inspired me to blog this contribution. She is a hugely talented photographer, political activist and all round good egg, who just happens to be deaf too. xx – to both of you – xx

The barely lucid ramblings of a nasty union activist :-)

There exist many myths in the media, most generated by newspaper owners and/or editors, with their own agenda and an eye on their own investments and political beliefs. It, sadly, also makes “good copy” and the sales figures of some of the worst offenders demonstrate that there is a ready market for these simplistic scare-mongering and scapegoating tactics.

One of the great myths is that of Trade Union power and the belief that a small, unaccountable group of quasi-Marxists are plotting away to enforce a perverse set of values upon you all; you know, take all your money from you and redistribute it to schemes for Black, One-legged Lesbians Against The Bomb and so on (my apologies, if offence caused, to any Black person, Disabled person or Lesbian – it’s just trying to make a point)

I suppose I should declare an interest first. I am still, and have been for over 40 years, an active Trade Unionist. In my work life, I have been employed in the private sector (railway engineering), the “not-for-profit” sector (advice and support), and in the public sector (probation and local government). I have changed unions accordingly, always joining the one that negotiated my terms and conditions, and always being an active member. I do not see the point of not being anything else.

I have been a Shop Steward or a Staff Representative, a Works Convenor and a Branch Secretary, and I have held assorted Regional, Area, and National, offices. Never have I done it because I felt obliged too; always because I wanted to (and, whisper it, I greatly enjoyed it!)

In all that time, I can truthfully say that I have neither:- 
[a] held the country to ransom; nor, 
[b] plotted to overthrow the legitimate elected government of the day.  (I must have missed that training course !)

I have represented hundreds of individuals with grievances or who were subject to disciplinary measures. Some of the grievances were doomed but the individual insisted; some of the disciplinary charges were upheld and justified – some were even dismissed as a result (of what they had done, NOT my representation!! ūüôā )

On occasions, I have been asked “Why are you representing that person¬†?”¬†
My response, “Even Harold Shipman and Fred West were entitled to representation for what they did“.

Representation is not endorsing the action; it is about ensuring that the individual gets a fair hearing and a suitable solution.

Thousands of people, possibly millions ?, would have suffered injustice if not for their union steward Рand the vast bulk of these activists do it in addition to a paid job. Few get any recompense Рmost get a fair amount of grief from belligerent employers.

(“¬†Hey Dave, is¬†THIS¬†the Big Society in action? If it is, we are a hundred years ahead of you mate¬†¬†! “)

Most of the positive changes to working life, and their consequential effect upon Society in general, are a direct result of unionised labour fighting for something. Like Equality (and I am the first to admit we have a way to go still, in all aspects – gender, race, disability, age, orientation, culture, and so on . . ); Health and Safety; Work-Life Balance; compensation; the list is endless – and none of it was given without some brave souls standing up for it – but is that an abuse or misuse of Trade Union power? Of course it isn’t.

When has¬†ANY¬†industrial action ever been fought without a heavy price been exacted on those taking it? The¬†1926 General Strike¬†still resulted in starvation wages for the Miners for years afterwards; did the¬†1983 Miners Strike¬†result in total victory for the participants? – morally, I would argue “Yes “, but actually? financially? physically? – far from it; 200,000 jobs gone in S. Wales alone. Add to that, the vast majority of Trade Unionists are never involved in any industrial action, ever – yet still they are painted as some reactionary force.

Ironically, the two most powerful Trade Unions in the UK –¬†The Law Society¬†and¬†The British Medical Association¬†– who really do squeeze governments of any and all political hue, are not even considered by most as unions! (Possibly because a lot of MP’s are members of them! :-O )

The image is not helped by some representation in the world of television or film – Peter Sellars as Fred Kite in “I’m alright Jack“, or Jack Nicholson as Jimmy Hoffa (US Teamsters leader, now – apparently – playing a “supporting role” in a major road flyover) in “Hoffa“. Even my own personal favourite, James Bolam as Jack Ford in BBC’s classic “When the boat comes in” has him as someone who exploits his union and his class to get on! Yes, I know there are dozens of more positive images, but usually made on small budgets and seen by very few (I know, I am generally one of the few!).

We need some more positive and charismatic role models, and we need them from a wider base than white, middle-aged men. To my immediate knowledge (and my memory is just as prone to error as anyone’s!), we have had only one black General Secretary (Bill Morris of T&GWU), and very few female General Secretary’s (Brenda Dean of¬†SOGAT, Liz Symons of¬†FDA, plus a “smattering” in the Teaching unions – apologies sisters, but your profile is such that even I’m struggling to remember any other than Mary Bousted and Christine Blower; dear god, I nearly forgot the legendary Dame Anna Godwin of the¬†Clerks Union!). Considering women make up over 50% of society though, it is a pitiful representation.

Where is the next Jack Jones? Where is the future Rodney Bickerstaffe? 
Better still, where is the next JANE Jones or RACHAEL Bickerstaffe?

I’m rambling now, I’m sorry . . . Originally, this was going to be more specific to the role I, and my colleagues are playing in attempting to defend jobs in our own workplace, but I worried too much about possibly offending people who do not deserve that.

I will see if I can make the points later, and in a way that doesn’t. As ever, thanks for listening, and be grateful you can. ūüôā

It’s not BIG, and it probably isn’t clever . . . ?

If I have understood this right, the BIG idea from this Conservative-lead Coalition government, is The BIG SOCIETY.

Initially, I thought it was just another attack upon obesity, but – apparently – it is not, it is really about taking government out of certain spheres and replacing it with volunteers. Almost by accident, I think, it also allows them to save lots of money that would otherwise be frittered away on Libraries, Play Groups, Arts events and Youth Clubs. This is, of course, good news, as it means that central government will reduce the deficit – you know, that one that is nothing to do with the banks (“time to stop the blame game, etc., and to concentrate on that bonus!” ).

I am a tad confused though.

This is, surely, the political party of¬†TINA¬†(There¬†Is¬†No¬†Alternative) – of “U turn if you want too, The Lady is NOT for turning” – of the¬†Great She-Elephant, who said, “There is no such thing as Society” . . . but her successor is saying, not only is there one, but it is¬†BIG¬†too ?

Anyway, as you all know, I’m incredibly old and remember things. I remember the 1970’s, when a Trade Union General Secretary (Clive Jenkins) and his union’s Head of Research (Barrie Sherman – think he went on to be a Labour MP?) produced a few books about the onset of new technology and the leisure implications.

Apparently, we were all going to be freed from the drudgery and the need to work till we dropped, and would have more time to pursue enlightenment and be a more caring bunch. No more lonely pensioners; no more isolated disabled; the new technological revolution would mean the growth industries would be the caring ones. It was even prophesised that we’d retire at 50 (HA!) and would have to learn how to enjoy our increased leisure time.

Boy, did that not happen!!

We are now looking to work until we are 70, not 50; and the average working week is going up, not down. New technology has become our taskmaster, not our liberator. OK, it allows me to do this too, so it isn’t all bad (unless you are reading it, of course !).

One thing that “put a spanner in the works” of the great age of leisure is the simple fact that leisure needs money. You can have oodles of time (ask any poor soul on the dole) but without some disposable cash – with a few exceptions (!!) – you can’t enjoy yourself. There is only so much day time TV you can watch (and that requires electricity, a licence and the occasional repair); only so many rigorous walks, etc.

Sadly, those who did benefit from the technological advances, held on to the benefits. The vast bulk of those who lost manufacturing jobs as a result, simply became unemployed, or shunted off to certain benefits (see previous rants!). That “enforced leisure” held no enthral for them

So where am I going with this?

Well, the¬†BIG SOCIETY¬†talks about volunteerism taking over libraries or community halls, about paid professionals being replaced by unpaid philanthropic citizens.¬†BUT –¬†Where do they get the time from to do all this? Who are the people who have the ability to do these tasks with this mythical spare time?¬† Perhaps the unemployed or the disabled will have to “volunteer” to “earn their benefits” in future?

Call me Dave” may mean well (OK, I’m being sarcastic) but is the 4th (or 5th, not checked – OK?) richest nation really thinking of returning to Victorian morals?

John Major tried “Back to basics¬†” as a Social model, until certain members of his party were discovered to have much looser morals than he anticipated (mind, even he was supposed to be “dallying” with Mrs. Currie!). Where is Cameron coming from on this?

For what it is worth Рprobably very little, before someone posts that comment РI think this is classic right-wing ideology. Remove the state from everything possible and allow the very rich (the very VERY rich, because only they ever benefit) to spend only what they want on what they choose to spend it on. The rest of us? Well, we are components, a resource, a commodity; something to be used and exploited, and not their concern really. Is this the 21st or the 18th century? I BEGIN TO WONDER . .

Thanks for listening, and be grateful, as ever, that you can ūüôā PK

The blame game . . .

They say confession is good for the soul. That admitting your responsibility frees the inner guilt and allows you to move on; but what if you are not guilty but still get the blame?

History is littered with examples; The Birmingham Six, The Guildford Four, all manner of people locked up for things they didn’t do but who were punished for it just the same. Sometimes the error is admitted, and the sentence squashed, but how do you undo the years of imprisonment, the beatings in prison and the price paid by family and loved ones outside? No money can compensate for that, surely?

Whole people’s¬†are sometimes used as scapegoats; jews in pre-war Germany (and in case we get too sanctimonious in Britain, at various times through British history too!); nowadays, it appears to be the entire Muslim faith that are considered terrorists in the making. Ignorance rules, and a Sikh gets beaten up for being a Muslim because some dick-head doesn’t know the difference.

What, though, if you are being punished for something; that everyone accepts is not your fault, but still you get punished. No one disputes that you are innocent; they even know who is guilty, but they are not only allowed to escape any punishment, they are positively rewarded instead! Outrageous, you say.

No. Let me explain.

The UK, like much of Western capitalism (US, bigger European nations – the usual suspects) is in a financial mess caused by speculative gambles and excessive greed by a few, and I mean a few – very few! As a consequence, a new government has decided that the only recourse is to cut back on everything – only it isn’t “everything” – is it. Salaries and bonuses for a few are still the same, even better for some. Instead, this government decides that the sick, the disabled, etc., will have to do with less help.

For my sins, which are undoubtedly many, I work in Local Government. I have worked in frontline support for some of the most deprived and vulnerable for something like 20 years, 12 of these with a Council in Wales. I used to manage a Welfare Rights Team, but the ruling party of this Council decided to shut it down. Then I was put in charge of a scheme to assist discharged offenders on release find accommodation; the thinking being that this could reduce re-offending. Now this is being closed down too.

Across dozens of Local Authorities, front line staff – in Adult and Children’s Services, in day care for the elderly, in support for vulnerable individuals – are being made redundant, being “actively encouraged” to volunteer for severance, or to retire early. The last two almost sound attractive, until you realise that the amounts most will get will barely last a year – and remember, most benefits are means-tested after 6 months – and then what?

In Manchester and in Birmingham; in Rhondda Cynon¬†Taff¬†and Neath Port Talbot; in the South East and the North West; across the UK , people who bear absolutely no responsibility for the mess that successive governments have created (I hold no brief for ANY Political party) are now being made to pay the price. They are being punished for something everybody knows they didn’t do.

Worse, the vulnerable people many of them supported, are being deprived of this service; so they are being punished as well.

We always seem to find resources for weapons or for wars; how about a “war” on inequality? or “weapons” against the causes of disability. These are otherwise called “investments in the quality of life” and they should be financed by fair taxation and proper enforcement of tax liability. Instead,¬†I read that this government plans to make it even easier for big businesses (usually Banks!) to avoid their responsibility. Is this fair? Did you vote for this? I know I didn’t.

As ever, thanks for listening and be grateful that you can. ūüôā PK

Not so much a rant, more an observation . . .

As a child of the 1950’s, who was born on the outskirts of Bristol, my horizons were contained by the neighbourhood I lived in. I was born “at home” – not for any trendy reason – but because my father went to get the Mid-Wife on his bike (we didn’t own a car – no one in our street did) and I decided not to wait!

I was delivered by the next-door-neighbour, who became my Godmother, a wonderful and sadly missed woman called Dorothy Nolan (Aunty Doll). I was (and still am!) the youngest child and only son, so had my own bedroom, if you can call a “box” with a single bed and small wardrobe – and nothing else in it – a bedroom.

We, like nearly every other family in my street, didn’t have a TV then. We had an enormous valve operated radio, which took about 20 minutes to warm up, and that was the family focus at meal times. Especially Sunday’s – Sunday lunch with “The Navy Lark”, “The Clitheroe¬†Kid” or “The Al Read Show”; Sunday tea (either cheese on toast or mashed sardines on toast) with “Sing something simple” with the Cliff Adams or the Mike Sammes Singers (God, it was awful!). No TV – No computers – No DVDs or CDs – No PS3 or Wii or whatever.

I firmly believe, that because our outlook was restricted, we were the better for it. No fridge either, so food was always fresh and locally sourced (quite a bit from our large back garden). I am aware that some will swiftly remind me that this ensured that women generally (and my mother specifically) were tied to domesticity. I can’t argue with that, she was; but we all (my siblings, my¬†father, even me) did our share of jobs as well, though – of course – as was the case in those days, the “lions share” fell upon my mother. She was home all day, my father was out, mostly looking for work. He left the Army and struggled, until the 1960’s to find something permanent.

Memory is an unreliable thing, that too I am conscious of, but I sincerely do not recall being “bored”. We played football, cricket, whatever the season dictated, in the street and surrounding area all day. As I said, there were no cars to cause any problems with that. Everyone DID look out for one and other – comics and books were circulated amongst the kids in the street; if you got a new football for Christmas, you were suddenly everyone’s “bestest friend ever “!

A woman up the top end of the street even hand rolled cigarettes and sold them individually! I can sense some readers¬†clouding over with anti-nostalgia sickness from the “we were poor but we were¬†happy” line!! OK, I didn’t contract rickets or polio, so perhaps I have a lot to be grateful for!

Why am I saying all this? – because I feel that one cause of so much depression, illness and anxiety in the world today is the constant drip-feed of aspirational programmes on TV; about the better house, the designer garden, the second home abroad or the exciting holiday that many cannot afford and most will never enjoy. If you are stuck at home nowadays, you metaphorically have your nose rubbed in your failure to achieve the dream life. The only relief from these shows, are the imbecilic¬†“you are all benefit scroungers” mockumentaries; they – of course – REALLY cheer you up . . . .

PaulK ūüôā

Disability – this time it is personal . . . .

This one could be a long rant, but please stay with it because it is, I believe, important. Never, in my memory (which stretches almost back to the Atlee government that started much of what is now under attack) has “Welfare” been so vulnerable.

Those who have braved this blog before¬†will remember that I am “disabled” – I am severely hearing impaired, effectively deaf – albeit I can still hear sounds and use guess-work and a hearing aid in my one ear with a fraction of its original capacity to muddle along. I am, however, extremely fortunate in that I am employed, full-time, in a reasonably well paid job. I am not dependent upon the state for my ability to survive. Actually, judging by the amount of taxation – I think it might even be the other way around.

I want to say two things this time: how my disability has hidden effects upon my life; and how the word “disability” is bandied around by politicians – across the political spectrum – who simply do not know what they are talking about. Simplistic generalisations are used, as if every disabled person fits a “norm“. That’s like saying all MP’s are dishonest, because a few have been caught fiddling expenses.

First up, me: as¬†I have said, I am severely hearing impaired. This has obvious effect, in that I hear little and what I do hear is often distorted or muffled, so I have to either ask for repetition (not always easy in busy shops or bars) or “guess” and hope I don’t misinterpret (it can be embarrassing!).¬†I have, on occasion, said “Yes” – or smiled – thinking one thing was said, when they asked something very different. Fortunately, I am large enough to get away with it most times, others may not be as fortunate.

There is though another “consequence” of my condition. One that close family and friends have started to observe. I am becoming isolated; I am becoming “anti-social“. I don’t mean in the context that I charge around drunk being abusive – I mean that I don’t socialise anymore. I opt out; I make excuses; I stay home. Worst of all – I tell lies. Not huge , damaging ones – little white ones instead. I make up another life, to excuse my non-participation in work or other social events. In short, I am becoming a semi-recluse.

Very few pubs or restaurants nowadays don’t have background music. This makes my limited ability to comprehend even less effective. Many pubs now have large screen TV’s blaring out either sports or music videos. I know when I’m beat, so I have given up. Even close friends start to look frustrated when asked to repeat something for a third or fourth time. I can’t even lip read (limited as my ability is) because many pubs also dim lights now as well! It is almost as if they are saying “No Deaf wanted“!!

At least at home I can control the environment. I can use my assorted gadgetry to understand TV programmes, I can call up subtitles on DVDs, I can converse in a room that is well-lit and free of other noise; but that is not the same as a night out, is it.

I wonder how many other disabled people have similar problems? How do visually impaired cope with poor lighting and with the plethora of street furniture? How do mobility impaired cope with steps, or with “fashionable paving” which is cobbled or such?

This brings me to my second point. The generalisation of the term “disability“. Legislation is passed as if all disability has similar impediments,¬†identical problems or same solutions. What is “disability” ? Apart from my own insight from a selective personal experience, I have also worked as a Welfare Rights Worker for something like 20+ years. It isn’t a simple diagnosis.

There are the obvious disabilities, such as sight¬†impairment and wheelchair users, but they have differing needs too. Some visually impaired were born with their disability, others had traumatic loss – each will have differing needs. Some have no sight, some have limited vision; some have blind spots, some have just the ability to define light from dark. Some will be confident, some will be terrified. It isn’t a simple case of s/he has (a) so can do (b) . . .

Then there are those with learning disabilities – again, to a degree, visible. Downs syndrome is a classic case, but not all people with this condition have an identical set of needs. We are all different; unsurprisingly, so are they!

Then there are the invisible disabilities. In my many years of supporting and representing people with various difficulties, nothing¬† struck me more than those poor souls struck with Crohn’s¬†Disease or Ulcerated Colitis. In short, they are often housebound out of fear of an explosive problem “down below“. I can recall a man – a former Master Butcher in a high street chain – who simply reduced to tears when describing the embarrassment of incontinence caused by his condition. The Benefits Agency (as it was then) argued that incontinence pants solved the problem, but would you be happy walking around in a “nappy” full of . . . well, you don’t need me to be that graphic. What does he do about the looks of horror from the smell? Who hasn’t sat on a bus and joked about a baby needing changing? Imagine if there was no baby, but a 50-year-old adult instead?

There a multitude of differing disabilities; and an equal number of abilities to cope. I haven’t even touched on the disability with perhaps the biggest stigma of all; mental health. There are many insightful blogs out there with greater knowledge than I have, I urge you to seek them out and read them. I have been fortunate to have many wonderful clients, some who I am proud now to call friends, who have mental health problems.

I represented one particularly lovely lady FOUR¬†times, over a period of about 5 years,¬†at Social Security Appeal Tribunals – twice for DLA, twice for Incapacity Benefit. We won all four, and overturned decisions to stop benefit, but at a price of stress, sleepless¬†nights and – in some cases – self harm by the claimant. Always the combined evidence of Consultant psychiatrists, of GP’s, of Social Workers and of family and friends, who have known the individual¬†for years, was rejected in favour of the ATOS (or whichever profiteer had the contract) diagnosis, based on a 20 minute interview. Sorry, the only word I can think of is “Outrageous“.

The current thinking is that most people are better off in work. As someone who has “worked” continuously since 1969, there are mornings when I wonder – but, if I am honest, I accept that “paid work” does give a focus, a dignity and – most importantly – a degree of additional financial support. Contrary to the mythology, few on benefits are well off.

However, where is the employer who will tolerate the BiPolar Affected person who is full of energy and ideas one week, then incapable of getting out of bed the next? Most disabilities place some restrictions upon the sufferer. It is a competitive employment market Рwe have the Equality Act (incorporating much of the DDA) Рbut we still have prejudice too.

I believe I am fair and impartial in political terms. I think NONE of the parties have a clue; or maybe they do but simply don’t care? As I said in an earlier blog, by scapegoating the tiny minority who may defraud the system you often have a deterrent effect upon many who are both eligible and in desperate need. No one wants¬†to be labelled a “benefit scrounger“, though some TV producers would be lost for programme ideas if they didn’t exist. Fear of being thought as a cheat is now costing some people their lives.

This is an important issue. Please support those campaigning for social justice for those least able to cope in these times. A mark of a truly Big Society is one with the heart to protect the weakest.

Thank you, as ever, for listening ūüôā