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.