Tuesday, 31 May 2011


A thought struck me this morning when I went to the local shop to buy the Echo. I glanced at the other newspapers and saw a myriad of mostly pathetic headlines and thought it was stupid that so many newspapers were total rubbish.
Then I thought that no matter how stupid they are people are entitled to read what they want to.

And that got me thinking about competition. Competition is no bad thing when it comes to things like newspapers. We might shake our heads over the fear mongering of the Daily Mail, or the celebrity tat in The Sun but we don't have to buy them. We are free to ignore them if they are not what we want.

On the other hand, there are some instances when having competition is counter productive. Recruitment agencies for example.

When I first started out job hunting as a teenager, there were no recruitment agencies in my town. Every job going was advertised in the jobcentre. A one stop shop as it were. It advertised every job available locally and also a few national vacancies. Advisers were also able to look for a particular job title in any other area.
Many employers now don't use the jobcentre, they use recruitment agencies instead. While this may seem logical, it makes it a bit of a nightmare for the jobhunter.
You don't want to miss any potential job so you have to sign up with all of them.
You make an appointment, go along with your CV, then fill in a form with the same details that are on said CV and then you do the tests. Spelling, grammar, maths and typing speed. (yes I am using my own experience of looking for admin work, other types of work will obviously not use the same tests)

And you do this for every single agency you sign up to. And you still have to use the jobcentre, because there are still a few jobs there and of course you have to use to to sign for your benefit.
That's an awful lot of time spent doing the same thing.

Wouldn't it be a lot easier and much more streamlined if there were still a one stop shop?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Channel 4 on the WCA

Channel 4 has been covering the welfare reform bill and interviewing people about the effects is will have on them and their thoughts about it. Yesterday, along with coverage from the hardest hit march in London, they showed an interview I did for them on my experience of the WCA and what it's like living on benefits

NHS march speech

A few weeks ago, I attended a local march for the NHS and gave my first public speech. I thought I would post it here

2 years ago I came down with my first symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. It was scary – when half my face went numb I thought I was having a stroke.

Four days later, when it was worse instead of better, I made a same day appointment to see a GP.

She sent me straight to the hospital.

When I arrived I saw 2 nurses who settled me in, made me comfortable and did the unenviable task of swabbing for MRSA.

After that I saw a doctor who took some blood and did a few more unpleasant tests. I didn’t envy her either.

I also saw a consultant. He asked a few exploratory questions and ordered a MRI scan. It was booked for the following day.

2 days later I had the result and 5 days after that I saw a neurologist who explained what was happening to me.

The whole thing, from GP to specialist, took a week. Just one week.

I was formally diagnosed with MS last year. I have a wonderful neurologist who I see regularly and a brilliant nurse who I couldn’t do without. I have the support of a whole team, including a physio and an occupational therapist and I’m on drug treatment to help prevent further relapses.

By contrast, my American friends who have MS are lucky if they ever see a nurse. Some of them have never seen one – they have no support at all. No-one to ask questions, to advise on treatments or infections, nothing. A few are struggling to get treatment because their insurance companies won’t pay for it.

And it gets worse. I have a friend whose husband had suspected cancer and needed an MRI. They had to wait till they could afford to pay for it.

Another had to pay 7000 dollars just to have a baby.

One lady went into hospital for a miscarriage and came out with a bill.

This is the reality of life without universal healthcare. Every single one of my American friends looks at our NHS and wished they had something like it.

I used to feel a sense of relief that nothing like that could ever happen here. No-one would ever have to suffer because they couldn’t afford treatment.

I don’t feel that now. If the health reforms go through, those horror stories will become our reality.

The NHS isn’t perfect. But it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative

Thursday, 28 April 2011

How to fix Britain's problems

I got this email earlier:

"Dear Mr. Cameron,

Please find below our suggestion for fixing England's economy.

Instead of giving billions of pounds to banks that will squander the
money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following plan.

You can call it the Patriotic Retirement Plan:

There are about 10 million people over 50 in the work force.

Pay them £1 million each severance for early retirement with the
following stipulations:

1) They MUST retire.

Ten million job openings - unemployment fixed

2) They MUST buy a new British car.

Ten million cars ordered - Car Industry fixed

3) They MUST either buy a house or pay off their mortgage -

Housing Crisis fixed

4) They MUST send their kids toschool/college/university -

Crime rate fixed

5) They MUST buy £100 WORTH of alcohol/tobacco a week .....

and there's your money back in duty/tax etc

6) Instead of stuffing around with the carbon emissions trading scheme
that makes us pay for the major polluters, tell the greedy bastards to
reduce their pollution emissions by 75% within 5 years or we shut them

It can't get any easier than that!

P.S. If more money is needed, have all members of parliament pay back
their falsely claimed expenses and second home allowances "

I think it's brilliant!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A lesson from school

When i was at school, I took business studies for one year. In the first class the teacher asked 'What are companies for?'

The student said 'to provide a service'. Wrong.

The next said 'to give people jobs'. Also wrong.

I said 'to make money'. Kerching! The right answer.

Companies exist to make money. If they don't make money, they stop trading. Companies everywhere start screaming when they forced to make concessions to ensure proper health and safety, quality control, because it costs them money. They do things as cheaply as they can possibly get away with in order to make the biggest profits. If profits start to slip, they look at ways to boost it. We've all heard of builders who charge for shoddy work, of manufacturers who produce goods made with substandard materials, of sweatshops who pay slave wages.
None of this is because it's right, it's because it's how they maximise their profits.
Supermarkets charge knock down prices to entice customers into their stores, so they won't go elsewhere.
How many high street shops lost their butchers, bakers, greengrocers, hardware shops, once a big supermarket moved in?

This market is what the coalition is proposing for the NHS. Competition will make it more efficient they say. Bring in the private companies - 'companies' being the pertinent word here - and let them take on NHS services.

Private healthcare companies are companies just like any other. They exist to make money. They look for ways to make as much money as possible, in their case from your healthcare.
If a service doesn't make them money, they will stop providing it. If it costs more than it will bring in, it won't be provided. If your care will cost more than they can make from providing it, they will look for ways to bring those costs down.
If they can bring in a loss leader to take customers away from the NHS they will. Because eventually that loss leader will start making them money.

The government will not admit this. It insists that competition will make the NHS more effective. We all know that's not true. Competition in healthcare does the exact opposite. It drives down quality. It gives services based on cost, not need. It won't matter if you need something, if you can't afford it, you don't get it.

The government refuses to acknowledge any of this. Either they are arrogant enough to think we don't know this or won't recognise it until it's too late, or they are hopelessly naive.

I don't know which is worse.

Saturday, 16 April 2011


On Thursday afternoon I attended a protest outside my local Jobcentre as part of the National Day of Protest against Benefit Cuts.
The local paper came along and took a photograph of us, and gave a write up the following day.

These are 2 of the comments from the article:
I'm by no means an expert in MS, but if this woman can stand around waving a placard or march around Poole Quay, why can't she find a job doing something less physical in an office or something?
seems to me she's illustrating the point of the benefit cuts perfectly well!

If they are all on Incap Benefit, when was the last time they used a JOBCENTRE for the purpose it was created( to find a job). They may have a disability, but they should not be work shy. MS does not mean you can't work, it means you have restrictions which you have to overcome.

I was appalled, but not surprised, by the level of ignorance these two people display.
If they don't know anything about it, how can they feel they can judge? Are they happy for people to judge them? I suspect not.

This is just a snapshot of what anyone with a disability has to deal with. It's what has led many of us to feel afraid and paranoid all the time. Every time I set foot outside the door I wonder if someone is judging me, watching and waiting to call the DWP.
Because they don't feel what I feel. I they can't feel my legs shake underneath me. They can't feel the screaming pain that shoots through my head if I strain too much. They don't feel the extreme tiredness that comes after doing something.
They see one thing - a perfectly normal person.

This is what it's like to have an invisible disease. Constant judgement and fear and a feeling of having to justify yourself all the time.

Because of course attending a protest for 2 hours is the same as going to work.
Because of course having MS is the same for everyone.
And of course all restrictions can be overcome.

So to these two people - and everyone else who feels and thinks like them - I say this:
If you know of a company who will employ me for a few hours a week, who doesn't mind when I come in or how long I come in for, who doesn't mind how many things I drop, or mistakes I make, please let me know. I'd love to meet them.

Cross posted at Where's the Benefit

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Me, myself and work

The Broken of Britain are running a new awareness campaign this week, entitled #fitforwork (on Twitter)
Many people are blogging their work history - what jobs they've had, how their illnesses affected that, that kind of thing.

I was perfectly healthy until about 6 years ago so I don't have the same issues with work history as others.
So instead I thought I'd focus on what my condition would mean to an employer.

MS is a neurological disease that damages the nerve sheaths, which means, among other things, that my brain can't send messages the same way as normal so it has to use an alternate route. Think of it as having to go from A to B via C, D,E and F first. 'Normal' people of course just go from A to B, simple. All this means my brain and body are having to work a lot harder than most people just to do normal things.
Like getting dressed in the mornings. Or taking a shower.

So if I had to work, I'd be tired before I even left the house. Then the journey would be another job. By the time I got to work I'd be yawning and needing to rest.

My hands don't work properly so I can't type fast or accurately. Typing something that isn't full of errors is difficult and takes a lot more time and care. So meeting targets isn't something I could manage. Anything needing a high degree of accuracy is out too, employers tend not to like it if you send out letters with mistakes in them. Or put the wrong figures into a computer system.

I can't walk too far or too often or stand for long periods of time. So that rules out pretty much anything in retail.

Plus of course customers get a bit annoyed if you keep yawning when you're talking to them. Or if you have to dash off to the loo in the middle of serving them. They tend to get irritated if you keep asking them to repeat themselves because you haven't understood what they're saying and when you stop talking in the middle of a sentence because you can't remember what you were saying.
So that rules out anything dealing with the public.

I have to rest after doing a task. Just one task. And then again if I do another. And if I do anything too big then I have to rest for at least the next day, probably two.
And if I push it and try to do to much then I'm out for at least a week.

Anything with too much noise or too bright lights is out because it causes me pain. And not the sort of pain you can relieve with a painkiller.

I also have the inevitable doctor and hospital appointments. So I'd need time off for those.

Then there is the fact that my treatment means I'm immuno suppressed, which leaves me at a high risk of getting infections. Anything from a cold to a UTI makes my symptoms flare, leaving me in pain, shattered and unable to do much of anything. If I should get flu or a sickness bug then I'd be out for weeks. Something a 'normal' person could shake off in a day or two would take me weeks to recover from. I still haven't fully shaken the head cold I've had since January.

I tried to do an adult education course the other week. It was 2 hours a week for five weeks; I made two sessions.
I just can't predict how I will feel on any particular day.
I made plans for a day the other week that I had to cancel at the last minute because I woke up so drained of energy that dragging myself out of bed at 12.30 was a chore. I couldn't do anything, even get dressed properly. It was horrible.

So with all of this, with a hefty dose of unpredictability, would you employ me?
I wouldn't employ me, not like this. My best friend has already (apologetically) said that she wouldn't employ me either. I can't blame her. Employers want reliability, punctuality, stability. They want to know that the person they employ will be there for the hours they are paid to be, for the days they are employed to be. They want to know that their people can do the work they are paid to do. That they will do it well, all day, every day. That they won't cost a fortune in sick pay.

So please tell me - would you employ me?

Monday, 4 April 2011

ESA and the Work Capability Assessment

Today marks the day when the government's scheme to transfer all existing Incapacity Benefit claimants onto Employment and Support Allowance begins.
One and half million people will get their letters calling them into Atos offices for the Work Capability Assessment - the test designed to assess whether someone is genuinely in need of support or if they are fit for work.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling has said that genuine claimants have nothing to fear, that the only people who need to worry are the fakers who just prefer a life on benefits to one of work.

He's wrong. The fakers have nothing to fear; they have options. They are able to go out and work or comply with the regulations to claim Jobseekers Allowance. It's the genuine who are afraid because they have no options. If they could work they would do. No-one wants to be ill. No-one puts up with the 'scrounger' label or the suspicious looks if they don't have to.

Everyone who claims any of the disability benefits know about the WCA. Those on IB or in the work related activity group of ESA have been terrified of it for months. And rightly so - it's a terrible assessment that even the government's own advisory board as well as the man who designed it, have said is not fit for purpose.
They've heard the stories about those who've been denied benefit despite their illnesses. They've read the story of Paul Reekie, who committed suicide when his benefits were stopped.
Now they wait to see how their own claims will turn out.

I've been through two WCAs myself. The first was when I came down with my symptoms of MS, though I didn't have a formal diagnosis at that point. I was summoned to the Atos centre, waiting for what seemed an interminable amount of time, then was called in to see the doctor.
I was scared to start with and my fears were not allayed by he fact that I couldn't understand a word of what the doctor - from Eastern Europe - was saying. Nor could she understand me. She put me through a series of tests, none of which I could do, then sent me on way. The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes at most.

The following week I received the report she had sent to the DWP. I was shocked at what she had written - it was lies from top to bottom. Every test she had done she'd put me as passed even though I hadn't. She had omitted things I had told her and gone against everything that had happened in that room.
In short, she said there was nothing wrong with me.
This was despite being barely able to walk, being unable to feel my pelvic muscles which led to lots of bathroom visits and being so tired I could barely think straight. I couldn't bend down, I couldn't kneel down, I certainly couldn't touch my toes.

I sent the form, along with detailed rebuttals of everything that was wrong, off to the DWP. The following day I received a letter saying I wasn't entitled to benefits because I was fit for work. I then had to ring them up and tell them I'd appealed at which point they said my benefit would be continued until the appeal was heard. I was on tenterhooks, worrying over what would happen about it, if they would listen to me or uphold the Atos doctor's decision.

The next letter I received was one telling me the appeal had been successful and my benefit would continue. I can't tell you how relieved I was.

Last year I underwent the WCA again when I left hospital following my formal diagnosis with MS.
I received a letter from Atos telling me to call and make an appointment - if I didn't, one would be made for me. So I rang and spoke to a very bored and slightly dismissive man who gave me an appointment who gave me an appointment for a date that they decided.
When I arrived, I was shown into the waiting room by a security guard, and greeted by a receptionist who looked at me like I was something foul on the bottom of her shoe.
I waited for about half an hour, all the while getting more and more uncomfortable as I felt the judging stares coming from the staff. If anything is designed to put you off it's that. So far, it was worse than my previous experience.

When I was finally called in I met a very nice lady doctor who seemed to understand about MS. She didn't attempt to make me do anything she knew I couldn't and was very reassuring. Very different from the first assessment so I had hopes that it would be ok.
Well, she didn't lie. But that's about it. Despite having shown some knowledge of MS she placed me in the work related activity group, meaning that with the right support I could work.
Because of course the right support will mean that I no longer struggle to get dressed in the mornings. Or take a shower. Or cook meals. Or walk anywhere. Or need to rest after putting a load of washing on. Or want to cry when the pain in my head gets too bad. And it will get better because of course MS is curable.

I didn't have the strength or the energy to try and appeal though. Not to mention I was scared that they might stop it completely. So I left it as it was. I see an advisor every few weeks, meaning a taxi journey to the jobcentre where I wince with pain as I struggle with the sensory overload of neon lights and too many people.

And in the summer I get to go through it all over again.

Now then Mr Grayling, are you still going to tell me I have nothing to worry about?

Cross posted at Where's the Benefit?


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Lansley - judge, jury and executioner?

I'm spitting bricks at this article from the Telegraph

First because of the title - 'Lansley defiant amid claims of Lord rebellion over NHS reforms'.
Almost every group you can think of has come out against the reforms - yet Lansley won't back down. He's like a stubborn child, digging his heels in to get what he wants.

But this is bit that really gets my goat:
a Department of Health source pointed out that PCTs are already being wound down while doctors are forming commissioning groups.

In other words, the reforms are being implemented before they have been voted into law. Such arrogance! Is he that sure that the reforms will pass? I suspect it's because he wants them implemented so they have to be passed because it's too late not to. Again, arrogance.

It's like a jury delivering a verdict before the evidence has been heard. If something isn't legal yet then surely it should be il-legal?

These reforms need to be stopped - at least and until they are passed into law. Anything less should be regarded as a criminal act.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A vision of the future - why we must save our NHS

A few weeks ago I went on holiday for a week to Portland, Oregon. It took me weeks to book the tickets as the thought of going somewhere so far away and so unknown terrified me. Not the going itself, but how it would affect me. I was terrified it would make me feel worse.
But I promised myself I would get to America one day and given that MS is a degenerative disease, this could be my last chance. So I did it. I found a ridiculously cheap flight, some decent travel insurance and whacked it on my credit card. The one I got when I was still a productive member of society and hadn't used in two years. I debated the pros and cons of spending out that much money but in the end I decided it was worth it to have one less regret. One thing ticked off my bucket list.

I had a great time there. I met some wonderful people; having known them online for more than two years, I finally got to see them in the flesh. I saw some fantastic scenery - the mountains of Oregon and Washington reminded me strangely of Wales but the waterfall at Multnomah Falls was like nothing I've seen before. I finally got to visit one of those giant department stores only seen on telly. Macy's to be exact. It was great, I could have spent a fortune in there. I learned that there really is a Starbucks on every corner. I even saw a Libyan protest, where people spoke so passionately for freedom for their home country that it made me cry.

But I also saw this

I stood staring at this for a good ten minutes, most of that with my mouth open. It seriously shocked me.
I knew America had a terrible system of healthcare but to see some thing like this was horrifying.

And it made me more determined to fight for our NHS. Because if we lose it, then this is our future.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Some common sense

Today's news brings with it this little tidbit - Jobless figures rose by 27,000 in the three months to the end of January, bringing the total number of unemployed to 2.53 million people. That's a shocking amount.

The Jobcentre in my home town is open just one day a week. That's despite it having a huge unemployment problem.

Jobcentres aren't just there for people to sign on. They advertise local, and national, vacancies which anyone, employed or not, can view. They serve as places for people to get help and advice. Or at least they are supposed to.
But they're being treated as factories, for pushing people from one end to another as quickly as possible. And now their staff numbers are being cut.

The unemployed are treated as goods on a conveyor belt. Or worse, they are treated like criminals. No-one asks to lose their job, for their firm to go bust, or for them to become ill. So why the criminal treatment?
I honestly don't think this government realises what being unemployed is like. The worthless feeling when you are unable to provide for yourself and your family, that gets worse with every rejection. The humiliation of having to queue in the Jobcentre to sign on for your benefits and prove that you've applied for a certain number of jobs.

And if you have the audacity to become sick then you face the humiliation of claiming ESA. I say humiliation because you're treated as if you're faking your illness from the start. The Work Capability Assessment, carried out by unqualified, non specialist assessors, is designed to prove you can work, not to confirm that you can't.
And because of it's failings, hundreds of thousands of people are about to be pushed onto Jobseekers, to join the rest of the 'goods' on the conveyor belt.
Atos gets paid £300 million for this. That's in addition to the £500 million it's already been paid for it's current services.

And let's not forget the much lauded (by the ConDems) Work Programme. Private companies can bid for government contracts to help the unemployed back to work. At a cost of anywhere up to £2 billion a year, according to the Financial Times

With the number of Jobcentre staff now being cut, the system will get worse. I'm no economist or politician but it seems to me to be crazy to payout millions to private firms whilst cutting the number of Jobcentre staff.
So here's an idea - stop paying the private firms. Stop sacking the JC staff. Recruit more of them and train them properly. Have them take on a case load of certain amount of claimants that they work with - from the initial signing, to the 2 weekly appointment, to jobseeking. Have them get to know their clients. So they can help them better and stop the culture of treating everyone as a commodity to be got through.
Stop paying Atos. Instead of subjecting every claimant to a WCA, work with their consultants.

That way you stop wasting millions, or even billions, you take more off benefits, and you stop vulnerable people from being treated like cattle. When people start being treated as humans again they are more likely to accept help, to trust their advisers and their confidence is boosted. All of this helps them to look for work.
And the disabled and sick stop living in fear. They stop thinking that taking their own lives is the only way out. They gain back that scrap of dignity that it left to them.

All of this is common sense surely?

Monday, 14 March 2011

Hypocrisy Pt II

Iain Duncan Smith calls refusing to take a job you are offered a sin.
I take issue with with religious language being used for politics, it has no place there. But let's follow his thinking for a moment shall we?
It's sinful to be a benefit cheat.

Isn't it then equally sinful to be a tax cheat? Keeping millions in an offshore account to avoid paying tax would be sinful yes?

And isn't it equally 'sinful' to have more homes than you need to live in? To have properties lying empty while other are homeless?

A BBC show starting today says 750,000 home lie empty, while 1.75 million people sit on council waiting lists. How does IDS view this?

I find it extraordinary that with these figures out there, nothing has been said about this. There is much talk about housing benefit cheats, people living in social homes that are too big for them, life long tenures being wrong. But absolutely nothing about so many HOMES sitting empty while people suffer for the lack of one.

Where is Mr Duncan Smith and his 'sinful' talk now?

Monday, 14 February 2011

A response to DLA reforms

Dear Mrs Miller,

I would like to voice my concerns over the proposed reforms to the Disability Living Allowance

1. Renaming DLA as PIP is a waste of time and money.

2. If the aim is to remove 20% of people from the benefit how is the eligibility criteria to be set?

3. The reforms take no account of those with fluctuating illnesses. Many conditions such as MS vary from day to day. One day could be a good one. One week could be good. The next could be awful.

4. DLA is NOT claimable simply by filling out the form. Medical evidence is ALWAYS required. Introducing mandatory testing is unfair, unnecessary, unjust and a huge waste of money. Paying millions to a firm to complete the assessment - as is done with ESA - is utterly criminal when claimants already have to provide evidence. You cannot claim it for a broken leg. You cannot claim it for flu. The condition must be serious. You should try to claim it yourself and see how far you get.

5. The fact that many claimants have been claiming it for years does not speak of a broken system. It says that many people have long term illnesses that won't go away simply because you want to stop paying. If you want to discern if these people are still genuinely entitled then write to their specialists. Because they WILL have one.

6. DLA does not stop people from working. In many cases it helps people to be able to work. If the benefit is taken away then many people will be forced to leave work and become reliant on benefits. This completely negates any money saved from cutting it.

7. Saying you want to direct support to those who need it most might sound laudable but it does not cut the mustard. If you take away support from those who don't fit the criteria then it is entirely likely their conditions will become worse and end up costing more in the long run than it does to support them now. Whilst also causing pain and humiliation to those who suffer.

8. Telling people they are unsustainable is an insult. Telling them they need to represent value for money is also an insult. No-one asks to be disabled. People don't make it happen so they can claim benefits. Living with a disability every day is a battle, a struggle to be independent and not a burden to others. Being told that you are unsustainable takes away that shred of independence and tells everyone that you ARE a burden.

9. DLA fraud has been estimated at less than 1%. Punishing the many to weed out the few is not a system that would be encouraged anywhere else. Even hardened criminals are judged to be innocent before being found guilty. These reforms are treating the disabled as guilty before being judged innocent.

I sincerely hope these ill informed and ill thought out reforms will be stopped. Those who suffer from disabilities already deal with enough. Don't make their lives even harder.

Yours sincerely

Helen *

*Don't worry, I did put my last name on the letter ;)

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Socialism - a dirty word?

This morning I started reading Naomi Klein’s book ‘the Shock Doctrine’. By page 7 I was so shocked, angry and appalled I gave it up, realising I was not in the right frame of mind to be reading it. Just that short amount however gave me a very useful, and very apt, phrase – ‘disaster capitalism’.

Disaster capitalism is what’s happening in the UK right now. With the people reeling from the recession at last May’s general election, the Tory Party was handed a golden opportunity – they could enforce their policies and blame it squarely on the failure of the Labour government. And the people would swallow it because it sounded right.
Freemarket capitalism is what led to the recession. The banks got greedy, and with little regulation, they did as they pleased and squeezed as much as they could from wherever they could get it. Then they burst. To prevent millions from losing everything they have, the banks were bailed out, leaving us with a large deficit. This deficit is now being blamed on the last government overspending giving the new coalition an excuse to start cutting. Sell off the forests, privatise the NHS, close public services, get rid of educational subsidies. Anything that smacks of socialism is to go.

Make no mistake, this is done with a purpose, it has very little to do with cutting the deficit. The capitalists hate anything to do with socialism, so much so that they do everything they can to make it a dirty word.

But what’s so scary about it? Take away the –ism and you’re left with ‘social’. This is who we are, it’s what we do every single day. That’s where the word comes from. If you went out with a friend to a pub and he didn’t have any money you’d buy him a drink yes? Because he’s your mate and you know that if the situation were reversed he’d do the same for you. You wouldn’t tell him you would only buy him a drink if he signed a piece of paper promising that for every drink you bought him he’d buy you two back would you? Of course not. But this is what capitalism does. It treats people as money making commodities as opposed to real human beings.

If someone is in need you give them a helping hand. You treat them as a person and you make no conditions about it. If you’re a capitalist you start thinking about conditions because people are selfish and they might run off with your money. That’s usually because capitalists are selfish themselves and they expect everyone to behave the same way they do. But if you treat someone as selfish, act as if they are selfish, is it any surprise when they turn out selfish? If you mistreat a dog are you surprised if it bites you? But if you treat it with kindness you are rewarded with loyalty.

I prefer to think of my fellow human beings as people. I don’t think money should be made from their pain, I don’t think money should be made off their backs. I don’t think that a privileged few should be able to run roughshod over those who have less. And free market capitalism ensures that it does.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

I'm angry

I'm angry a lot these days. Or more accurately, I vacillate between anger and despair.

The coalition are making a big noise about welfare 'scroungers'. The thieves are costing the taxpayers billions they say. Headlines about 'scrounger' scream at us from atop the Daily Mail almost every day.They want to make claiming harder to weed out those who are undeserving.
Benefit fraud costs £1.5 billion. Tax fraud costs £15 billion.
So why aren't they targeting the tax cheats? They are costing us more. Yet the government is making hundreds of HMRC staff redundant. They should be taking on more and training them properly.

The Atos system used to 'weed out' the cheats is not fit for purpose. This has been demonstrated time and time again. It finds huge amounts of people fit for work, yet 70% of those who appeal have the decision overturned. This is an enormous waste of money. And it hurts those it's supposed to help. Not to mention the staff aren't trained and they earn more for each person they find fit for work.

They are abolishing Disability Living Allowance. Sure, they're replacing it with the personal Independent Payment but this is nothing but an excuse to chop the amount of people eligible for it. DLA fraud is estimated at less than 1% of the total. Everyone else is legally entitled to it. But they have said we're 'unsustainable'. Do they have any idea how insulting it is to be told that?

They are privatising our NHS, all in the name of 'patient choice'. Apparently GP's are the most trusted people in the medical profession. Aside from the fact that I know several GP's who are terrible and made me feel like I was wasting their time, if they want GP's and patients to have more say why don't they put some of them on the boards of the PCT's, instead of spending £3 billion on abolishing them?
And for that matter, if GPs are the most trusted people in the medical system why doesn't the government allow them to decide if people are fit for work? When it comes to benefits, GPs aren't trusted. The government instead chooses to spend over £500 million on employing Atos, whose track record for mistakes is appalling, resulting in even more money being spent on re-assessments and appeals.

But worse, they are opening the market to private healthcare providers. We all know this is nothing more than paving the way for privatisation. I'm still blinking in disbelief at this. Healthcare should never be linked to profit, it's a basic human right. These reforms will end up with us having a system like America's. And no-one in their right mind can say that works well.

They have raised uni tuition fees to the point where many students will be put off going. Who wants to saddle themselves with £30k of debt before they've even bought a book or paid their rent? Nick Clegg would have us believe that a large number of students will end up paying nothing back. If this is the case then that's their argument for fee raising to pay off the deficit gone out the window.
Of course many of those poor kids won't be attending uni anyway since EMA, the money that enabled them to go to college or stay in the sixth form, has been abolished. A cost saving exercise that hits the poorest children without affecting the richer ones.
Kids who are determined to go to college despite no EMA can turn to the library to borrow their books. But wait, they want to close libraries. Again another cut that will affect the poor much more than the rich. One that will hit the young harder.

Tories apparently value traditions - unless there's money to be made it seems. Why else would they be in favour of selling off the nations forests? Forests that have belonged to the nation since the 1500's? They say they will favour charities or community groups but these organisations as a rule do not have the funds to buy them. They'll end up in private hands or worse, go to the timber companies.

It's like an attack on all fronts. How are we supposed to deal with all of this? And how can we not be angry about it?

Cross posted at Where's the Benefit

Monday, 31 January 2011

An NHS comparison

I have spent today watching the Commons debate. It's still going on as I write this.
Mr Lansley set out his proposals, spending a lot of time on 'patient centred care' and 'GP commissioning'. He spent very little time talking about the price competition or the new regulator, Monitor. It was misleading to say the least.

He compares us constantly, with false figures, to France. Or just to Europe. But the reforms will lead to us having a system like America. And this graph shows perfectly that we already have better care than America.

The YouGov survey found that only 27% of people back moves to allow profit-making companies to increase their role the NHS.

Less than a third of the public supports the NHS reforms. So how can the Government go ahead with them?
The Conservatives promised the NHS was safe with them, that they would not cut, nor inflict any more reforms on it. There was no mention of it in the Coalition agreement.
So they have lied. Badly. In short they have absolutely no mandate for this reform.


Sunday, 30 January 2011

Why the NHS works

Mr Lansley thinks the NHS doesn't work properly. Read this post from an actual NHS doctor as to why it does.

Why the NHS works

I saw a patient last week, who has recovered from major surgery. He has had brain surgery and is now likely to do very well. I am pleased. He is well.

The whole process worked beautifully. He was diagnosed quickly and effectively. He was assessed further at the local hospital who referred on to the Regional Centre where he was well looked after, nursed excellently, and when he came to see me, he and his wife were delighted.

He is an ordinary working-class bloke from Dullsville, who has been looked after.

His care, I reckon, would have cost around £200,000. He knows that. We, the healthy, paid for him to have his treatment.

This is the NHS that I joined as a Junior Doctor 36 years ago.

I get a bit fed up of politicians and journalists telling me that the NHS needs reform.

It blinking well doesn't. What it needs is aforesaid politicians to go away and do something else with their time. I'd rather they dredged their moats, or tended to their duck houses.

Leave us alone.

Original post here

No-one claims the NHS is perfect. But that doesn't justify abolishing it. Which is what these 'reforms' are tantamount to.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Save Our NHS

I love our NHS. Last year when I went to my GP complaining of numbness from the waist down she sent me straight to the hospital. I saw some lovely nurses who made me comfortable, then a very nice doctor who didn't make me feel too embarrassed when she had to check in certain areas that no-one should ever have to see.
She booked me an MRI - for the following day. When one of my American friends needed an MRI for suspected cancer he had to wait till he could afford to pay for it. That thought makes me shudder. Luckily it wasn't cancer. But what if it had been? He could have died by the time they raised enough money to pay for the scan.

Yesterday another American friend posted a link to an article from an Arizona paper where a child had an emergency transplant surgery cancelled because of budget cuts.
I saw a tweet where a 5 year old boy was selling his artwork to pay for cancer treatment.
This shocked and horrified me. What sort of world do we live in where people can't get life saving treatment because they can't afford it?

Up until last May I would have been relieved that, thanks to the NHS, it could never happen here. Except that now, there's every possibility that a few years down the line, it could.

Andrew Lansley promised he would protect the NHS. Now he proposes to dismantle it. He doesn't word it like that of course. The word 'privatisation' is never used lest we should realise what he is up to. He tries his hardest to make it sound like he is doing this for the patients, using terms like 'GP commissioning' to fool us into thinking it will be about us.

What it really amounts to though is the gradual demise of the NHS and the introduction of private healthcare companies. Mr Lansley thinks that the NHS should be financially competitive. Enter the private healthcare companies. The NHS will have to shrink to make way for these companies and GP's will be able to refer patients to whichever hospital offers the best care. Sounds reasonable right?

Except the private firms are profit run. They can afford to spend a few years offering the same treatment but at a lower cost, which the GP's will jump at because they have a budget to deal with. The NHS will be gradually squeezed out. Once the risk of going else where is gone, these companies can then set the prices they want. Who will be able to complain when there is no other option?

GP's should be focusing on patient care, not budgets and financial concerns. So either patient care will suffer or they will employ outside help. Once again enter the private firms.

Make no mistake, these firms are out there, circling like vultures, ready to pick at the carcass of the NHS. One can also see the glee in their faces, the pound signs in their eyes. Give it 10 to 15 years and wham, bam, welcome to the New America.

I for one think that healthcare should never be linked to profit. People should always come first. With private healthcare this is not their concern. They are a business, they are there to make money. That's why they exist. If there were no money to be made they'd vanish.

And Mr Lansley knows there are risks but refuses to release the details. He claims it will impede ministers. I am cynical enough to think it's probably because he doesn't want to give the public information to use against him.

The NHS is a fundamental part of Britain. It needs improving of course, but it is there for all of us, whenever we need it. It doesn't matter if we have no money, if we are rich or poor; in the NHS we are all the same.
This is why we must save it. I don't want to live in a country where my fellow citizens could be denied treatment because they can't pay. I don't want to live in one where money is the first concern over someone's wellbeing. One where someone could die while they save up the money for an operation.

So I will fight for our NHS. I hope you will too.

These sites can help you fight
NHS Support Federation
Keep Our NHS Public
38 degrees Save Our NHS

Friday, 14 January 2011

One month before Heartbreak

It's almost one year now since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
My life has changed forever in the last year, in ways I could not have foreseen and would never have dreamed could happen to me.

I now have to have someone else to change my bed for me because I can no longer do it myself.
I have to get a taxi to the doctors surgery 10 minutes walk away because I can no longer walk there.
Last week I had to leave the shopping centre after 5 minutes because my head was hurting so badly.
I have a rail on the wall so I can shower.
I can't open a can with my left hand anymore.
I have to swallow my dignity and discuss my bowel and bladder functions with a nurse.

If you're thinking this is not a fun way to live you'd be right. It isn't. I am slowly coming to terms with it but I still grieve for the life I no longer have. For the opportunities that I will no longer to able to take.
I wanted to learn the violin, to learn the tango and Irish dancing, to walk the Pennine Way and Offa's Dyke.
None of these things are options for me anymore but I am slowly learning to accept it.

I am learning to adapt. I bought a tumble dryer because I can't walk to the launderette anymore. My family bought me a small dishwasher because I can't wash up by hand. I buy pre cut vegetable and ready grated cheese so I can still eat healthily and not waste precious energy. I buy ready meals for when I am too tired to cook.
I still struggle with getting taxis everywhere because I know that the bus would be so much cheaper but I just can't use it.

These are all things that Disability Living Allowance - DLA- helps to afford. Without it I don't know what I would do. But I am now faced with the prospect of losing it.
The coalition government in it's infinite, non disabled wisdom has decided to do away with DLA and replace it with Personal Independence Payment - PIP. And they are re-drawing the eligibility criteria so less people will be able to claim.

Make no mistake, DLA is not easy to claim. The form is 48 pages long and took me weeks, with the help of a friend, to complete. The only way to deal with having a chronic condition is to try and pretend it's not there. Claiming DLA strips away your dignity and forces you to confront every tiny thing that is wrong with you. It asks the same questions over and over, worded in a slightly different way, to try and trip you up. And it requires medical evidence from a professional. It is the most difficult benefit I have eve had to claim.

And despite MS being incurable and progressive, it was only awarded for 2 years.
So next year I will have to claim all over again. Except if the reforms go through it will be a different benefit. One that is designed to be given to as few people as possible. If I should end up having to use a wheelchair then I would have trouble claiming, despite that meaning my illness is worse. If I should end up being unable to live independently and go to a care home, the Mobility part of DLA would be taken away. I would end up completely reliant on friends and family to go anywhere or else be stuck in staring at the walls all day. Every day.

The government claims that DLA is unsustainable. Do they have any idea how insulting it is to people like me to be told that? Do they realise that just because they decide not to pay everyone those illnesses won't just vanish?
DLA has the lowest fraud rate of all benefits simply because it is so hard to claim.

The government have also admitted they have not done any assessment to determine how these cuts will impact on disabled people. This means they have proposed a series of cuts without any idea of how they will affect the very people they are targeting. This is alarming as well as inherently unjust.

There is a miasma of fear that is very nearly palpable running through the disabled community. We are dependent on these benefits to lead any kind of ordinary life. Not a luxurious, jet set one, just an ordinary one.

The public consultation for DLA ends on Valentines Day. I beg you all to do what you can to prevent the reforms so me and people like me can continue to live a nearly normal life.

Sign the petition against the reforms.
Write a letter to your MP. You can use a template letter so it takes hardly any time at all to do.
Write to Maria Miller the non disabled minister for disabled people.

Help us to spread the word about the campaign. People need to know just how bad it could get. And it will be bad. If you read my previous post you'll see Ali's story of how she will take death if she is refused because she can't face abject poverty and homelessness again. Her story is not the only one. I've seen many posts like that. People are so scared and so desperate that they think suicide is their only way. Many of them feel that secretly the government would prefer that because then it will no longer have to support them. Who can blame them when that is what is implied when told we are 'unsustainable'?

Ask yourself this - what sort of world do you want to live in? One that treats it's disabled and vulnerable as people or one that treats them as a burden?

And remember that most, including me, aren't born disabled. One day it could be you.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A heartbreaking story

This is Ali's story. She is facing a reassessment that could leave her without benefits and ultimately without food and her home. This is the reality that many disabled people are facing and the decision that many will choose.

Original post at Purple Noise

The beginning of the end

Just a quick note - I'm talking about suicide in this post, MY suicide. If you don't wish to read this, please click the X now. Some people don't like reading about such things, some people think it's wrong to talk about it before the event, some people are simply upset by the subject. I respect anyone's choice not to read this post, so please take this as your only warning and leave now if you wish.

So the time I've been dreading is nearly here. Any time from next month onwards I could receive the letter which changes things forever. The white envelope with "this is not a circular" emblazoned across the front, its contents demanding that I outline in excruciating detail every little thing I face on a daily basis. Guilty until proved innocent. The migration from incapacity benefit to ESA requires that I be reassessed, the fact that things haven't changed for me since my last assessment doesn't matter. It's not enough for them that I write "unchanged", I have to sit myself under a microscope and allow myself to be scrutinised until they are satisfied that I am not a fraud.
There are a few ways this could go:
I fill in the form, they accept that and I move to ESA with no problems.
I fill in the form and they "require further evidence" in the form of a face-to-face medical examination.
I get refused without a medical.
I get refused after having the medical.
Any result other than option 1, and I will end my life. The form itself is difficult enough when I had to fill one in a few years back I ended up in hospital from the sheer stress of it all. I know that once I have spent the amount of energy it will take to do the form, I won't have any left for anything further, medical included. I will not be having a medical. It is simply not something I am able to go through, I just don't have the ability. The last medical I attended very nearly killed me. The only thing that prevented me deleting myself back then was some serious input from friends who arranged an advocate to attend the medical with me, and by some stroke of luck an understanding examining doctor who within 5 minutes called the assessment off because on seeing how distressed I was she said it would be torture to force me to continue. There is no way I would be that lucky again, and knowing how it was last time there is no way I would be able to survive that process again.

To fail this assessment at any stage would leave me in poverty and ultimately homeless. Many people don't understand how this would happen, so let me explain. To fail to qualify for ESA would mean initially to claim Jobseeker's Allowance. OK, so for a few weeks I'd have less money to live on but would still survive on basic rations and have a roof over my head, fair enough. But soon I would be made to attend interviews, workshops and sessions all supposedly designed to help me find a job. Let's leave aside that many of these sessions are soul-destroying; pointlessly "sitting in a room for 8 hours a day with a couple of newspapers and a broken computer" seems to be a common theme from those currently subject to such an arrangement. But the point is - I can't work. Now if I can't work, how am I supposed to attend these sessions? If I was able to get to the required sessions, I would be able to get a job and wouldn't be in this position in the first place. So what would happen is, I don't manage to attend the session. Depending on the policy at the time (it seems to change quite often depending on which bare-faced liar - sorry, government minister - is speaking) I would face either a reduction in JSA, or no benefit for a fixed period of time, or get the benefit cut altogether. And there's the problem: no benefit means no home, no food, no nothing.
There is also the double-whammy of my Disability Living Allowance renewal, which will take place some time this Summer. Usually this would be a stressful enough process in itself. However this time we are told that any information used in the DLA assessment may affect existing IB/ESA information. Meaning that I could in theory be subjected to two assessments in a single year, both with the same possible outcomes of failing and losing everything.

I've been homeless before, and I'm not doing it again. I've slept under bridges, on stranger's floors, in the stairwell of a block of flats. I've given blowjobs in return for a coffee and sometimes a bath, I've slept with men to secure a warm bed for the night. I've washed my knickers in the sink in Asda's toilets. I've gone months without brushing my teeth. I once allowed a homeless guy to touch my breasts in return for him going into Tesco and stealing me a pack of sanitary pads, not wanting to steal myself and not being able to get them any other way. I've recovered from a paracetamol overdose, alone, lying in an alcove underneath a multi-storey car park.
I do not wish to go through any of that again, nor should I have to. However if I fail this reassessment - which is a likely outcome - I would be forced to. Unless I choose the only other option: death.

So I have my plan. I know how I will die if the time comes. I have undertaken much research to choose the method most likely to be successful for me, and I have acquired the means necessary to do so. Don't get me wrong I'm not about to voluntarily pop my clogs in the next 3 days or anything. But I would much rather die in comfort in my own home than wait until I'm on the streets with no resources to finish the job properly, so I have made the preparations while I can.
Let me get something straight here: I don't want to die. Sure, I've felt suicidal in the past and made attempts on my life in the past, but on the whole I want to try to live. Everything I do is based on survival, from moving house to a place that feels safer, to injuring myself as a way to cope with the otherwise uncopeable. It's an oft-quoted phrase by people who talk about suicide, "I don't want to die, I just can't face living any more". And that's the position I would be in if I was forced into poverty and homelessness, I would rather die than live like that. I want to make this clear, I'm not just some loony who was going to kill herself anyway. If I press the button it will be as a direct result of the assessment process. The process which has been made increasingly more difficult to pass even for those who are terminally ill or in hospital at the time. The process where those examining are given targets and incentives for failing people. The process where time and time again it has been proved that the examining professional has lied and written down something completely different to what the claimant has told them, or disregarded medical evidence provided by a clamaint's own doctors. The process that may not even include a doctor, where someone claiming on mental health grounds could get assessed by a physiotherapist. The process which is based purely on numbers and luck, and not on an individual's actual circumstances and needs.
That is what will kill me.

Friday, 7 January 2011

A letter from my MP

Just before Christmas I wrote to my MP expressing my concerns at the DLA reforms. I didn't expect much because he is a staunch Tory but I had to at least try.

Here is his reply

"Dear Ms Thomas,

Thank you for contacting me about reforms to Disability Living Allowance.

I believe that the Government owe a duty to disabled people to promote their independence and equality and I also believe it has a duty to ensure that it has the right governance in place to deliver this support efficiently and sensibly.

The Government is already undertaking a large-scale reform of the welfare system, for example the Universal Crdit and it's flagship Work Programme. These welfare reforms are designed to protect people in the most vulnerable situations, including disabled people. The Government has made it clear that it is steadfast in its support for the principles of DLA, as a non-means-tested cash benefit contributing to the extra costs incurred by disabled people.

However, DLA is currently a poorly targeted and unsustainable benefit. Almost three million people receive this benefit at a forecast cost of £12 billion per year. We now have a disability benefit which is confusing for individuals to understand, based on unclear criteria and often results in inconsistent rewards, and since 1992, both the case load and the cost of DLA have grown to a level that is unsustainable. Change to DLA are long overdue and must address questions of fairness and value, while supporting disabled people to lead independent lives. We must ensure DLA better reflects the needs of disabled people today, rather than in the 1990's, and that it enables support to be targeted to those with the greatest need.

The Government wants to bring disability benefits into the 21st century by replacing DLA with a new Personal Independence Payment. This is an opportunity to improve the support for disabled people and enable them to lead full, active and independent lives. The Personal Independence Payment will maintain the key principles of DLA, but it will be delivered in a fairer, more consistent and sustainable manner. It is only right that support should be targeted at those disabled people who face the greatest challenges to leading independent lives and this reform is required to enable that, along with a clearer assessment process.

The Government has launched a formal public consultation on DLA and wants the views of disabled people to be fully reflected in any change it makes to DLA and has asked disabled people and their organisations to join the debate on reforming DLA. You may wish to make your views known and you can contribute to the Consultation by visiting website: http://dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2010/dla-reform.shtml
I want to assure you that those who are genuinely sick, disabled or retired have nothing to fear. This Government does not regard caring for the needy as a burden, but as a proud duty.

I hope that this reassures you and thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Robert Syms
Member of Parliament for Poole."

Cutting through the waffle, this says to me 'We are paying too many people. We don't want to pay that many people. So we are re-drawing the boundaries to endure that those we don't want to pay don't get through.

We want to pretend we are caring but what we are really concerned about is how much money we will have to spend and our reputation'

I have no faith that my own MP will stand up for people like me.

Cross posted at Where's the Benefit

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Once again Clegg leaves me scratching my head

Nick Clegg promised to scrap fees then promptly votes to treble them once he got a sniff of power.

'The tuition fees are necessary to address the deficit' the Coalition told us.
'It has to be done' they insist.

The deficit must be addressed and everyone must play their part' is what we keep being told.

Nick Clegg is currently desperately trying to show his party still has credibility by winning the Oldham seat. He is there campiagning at the moment. And by all accounts he is having trouble persuading people after the tuition fee rows.

He says
" "paradox" was that though fees will go up – to £9,000 a year at top universities – "as more young people look at the scheme, they will realise that it will be cheaper and easier to go to university than it is now," especially for "bright kids from poor families. 21,000 a year, on an average career path, would pay back £7 a month, compared with £80 under Labour's current scheme. "A majority of graduates will not pay back all their loans," ".

I'm fairly sure I won't be the only to not see the sense in this. If he is desperately trying to reassure people that most graduates won't pay back their loans at all then how exactly is this going to help reduce the deficit?

It begs the question of why fees needed to be raised at all. Could it be that the rise isn't actually necessary? One must wonder. In the meantime I shall go on scratching my head...


What a farce

In an article from today's Telegraph, the watchdog for MP's expenses is planning to relax the rules under which MP's can claim.
Why? Because MP's are angry about it.

IPSA said it received complaints that some MPs whose primary home is in London but represent seats outside London are unable to see their children at weekends, because they cannot afford family-sized accommodation in their constituencies.

Boo hoo. If a person with a child who lives with the other parent wants to claim social housing they cannot claim it for that child. You can only claim larger than a 1 bed if the child lives with you. Why should MP's be any different?

And if their constituency is outside London why isn't that their primary residence? If the primary residence is in London and you want to see more of your kids, here's an idea - MOVE!.
It's what IDS expects everyone else to do. Other parents travel at weekends to see their kids, what makes MP's so different?

In the long run, Ipsa’s review document also raised the prospect of eventually shifting away from the current system of detailed rules for every sort of expense claim and adopting a “principles-based” regime that gives MPs much more discretion over claims.

And will therefore be open to more abuse.

And here's what's really made me angry:
Under pressure from Tory MPs angry at IPSA, Mr Cameron has warned that the body must address members’ concerns and become more "family friendly" by April, or face possible abolition.

In other words, do what I say or I'll get rid of you. Are we still pretending we live in a democracy?

There is national outrage all over the country about the cuts to benefits, the rise in tuition fees, the slashing of jobs. But David Cameron is carrying on. A few squeals from MP's about expenses and he's threatening to abolish the watchdog.

Just goes to show doesn't it?


Tuesday, 4 January 2011

New figures for benefit checks

Figures release by the DWP tell us that the new benefit checks will cost over £100 million a year. That's in addition to the £500 million ATOS have already been paid.

The coalition have gone crazy, it's the only answer. The alternative - to work with the NHS and patients own consultants - is staring them in the face yet they won't take it up.

Perhaps they are scared that these checks would be more accurate and therefore tell the world that benefit claimants aren't scroungers?