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?