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?