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Monthly Archives: September 2015

For the last couple of days I have been reading about the sad death of Michael O’Sullivan, the disabled man who killed himself after being found ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, and the coroner’s report which criticised this decision. After all that reading, I have a question I need to ask about the whole situation.

Why?

Not why did Mr O’Sullivan feel he had no option but to kill himself. That is something for people who are far more qualified than me to discuss. No, what I want to know is, why was the doctor, the one at ATOS who was assessing Mr O’Sullivan on his fitness to work, actually the person who was assessing him?

Mr O’Sullivan was someone who had been deemed, by his own medical specialists and consultants, as being unfit for work due to the severity of his mental health condition. He had been diagnosed with clinical depression, a panic disorder, anxiety and agoraphobia, all serious mental health conditions. The doctor at ATOS who conducted his Work Capability Assessment, the doctor the that would make the decision that would cause Mr O’Sullivan to believe he had no other option but to kill himself, was an orthopedic surgeon.

Why?

To me, that just does not make sense.

What qualifies a surgeon, who specialises in on operating on people who have medical conditions involving bones and muscles, to decide whether a man who has well recognised and diagnosed mental health issues is fit for work? A man who was being treated, by specialists, for mental health issues, not for problems with his skeleton.

Mental health and physical health are two different things. That’s why we have specialists.

If you had broken your leg badly in a road traffic accident, and needed to have an operation to insert a metal plate and screws to secure the bones in your leg, would you be happy if you found out that the person performing the required surgery was a psychiatrist? Wouldn’t you question why this was happening? Wouldn’t you ask for someone who might actually be better qualified to undertake the work, more experienced in what could go wrong, to be the one that wielded the scalpel? If you had been diagnosed with cancer, wouldn’t you want someone who had undertaken extra training in that particular disease, a professional who had worked with people who had cancer on a regular basis, to be the person who treated you? As someone who has experienced cancer personally, I know I would.

As far as I am concerned, this is the question that needs answering and the situation that should never happen again. Sick and disabled people nationwide are being signed off as unfit for work by medical specialists that know them and understand their particular conditions. Surely the best people Atos and its successor, Maximus, could use to make a secondary assessment, for welfare benefit purposes, on whether or not someone should be deemed as ready to go back to work, would be a medical professional with some understanding and proven expertise in that particular individual’s actual health condition. Surely the best person to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would be someone who knew what they were talking about.

I would like to see the service provided on behalf the Government and the Department of Work and Pensions, by Atos and Maximus, being re-evaluated and re-assessed. I would like to see doctors who actually have some understanding of particular medical conditions being the ones who make these life changing decisions. I would like ‘Fit for Work’ assessments to be proper, considered assessments, not merely box-ticking exercises. I would like to see the doctors who are undertaking those assessments being doctors who actually having some expertise in the medical conditions they are assessing.

Maximus needs a ‘Fit for Work’ assessment of it’s own and, until that happens, and changes are made, it should suspend all of its activities for the health and safety of sick and disabled people nationwide. The sooner this happens the better.

What happened to Mr O’Sullivan was frightening and wrong and something needs to be done as quickly, as possible, to ensure that it never happens again.

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Well, there I was, late yesterday evening, idly wondering if there would be something good discussed at the Labour Party Conference today that would inspire a new blog, when David Cameron posted the following tweet on Twitter: “This is a clarion call to the whole world. To eliminate, for the first time in human history, the scourge of extreme poverty.” And there you go, blog subject decided. Thanks Mr Cameron.

Initially, calling for everyone to work towards eliminating extreme poverty, worldwide, appears to be a very laudable aim and ambition. There are certainly far, far too many people in the world who are, indeed, living in abject poverty and something needs to be done about this. But, and it’s a big but, how dare Mr Cameron say this when he and his Government are directly responsible for much of the poverty he is pledging he wants to eliminate. How dare he say this when he is doing nothing to stop what is happening here, in his own country, and the pain he is causing to the people of Britain.

David Cameron and Conservative Party policies have been directly responsible for the deaths of several thousand people under the banner of austerity cuts. Cuts to public services, cuts to welfare benefits, cuts to the NHS, cut after cut after cut. Food banks are proliferating nationwide because, thanks to cuts to welfare benefits, people are not able to feed themselves and their families. And it’s not Mr Cameron and his party that are setting up these foodbanks either, it is charities and religious groups of all faiths and local communities that care, not politicians who don’t and who won’t acknowledge that what they are doing is causing pain and misery to thousands..

Then there are the physically and mentally disabled people nationwide who are taking their own lives due to the poverty they are experiencing thanks to cuts to their welfare benefits. Disabled people who are being told they will lose their benefits because they are ‘Fit for work’ when they are not. When they are too sick to go out and find a job. When they need help and support, not sanctions and punishment. When medical professionals are saying they are too ill to work, not ATOS pen-pushers deciding they know best, stopping welfare benefits and saying the disabled person is a liar.

There are the homeless people who are in every town and city nationwide. People who are being evicted from their homes because they are unable to pay the rent due to cuts. People like tragic baby Daniel who has died thanks to being forced to live in a car with his parents because his parents were unable to pay their landlord thanks to cutbacks. Something needs to be done to help these people Mr Cameron. Extreme poverty exists in Britain everywhere you look today. Do what you can here Mr Cameron and reverse the policies that are causing it. Save the lives of British citizens who are being driven to despair and desperation by what you are doing. Do something to eliminate extreme poverty in Britain before you you start lecturing the people of other countries about the poverty they have wherever they live.

And when we do look more widely, when we do look at people living and experiencing extreme poverty in other countries Mr Cameron, you, and your government, are not blameless there either. War is causing pain and poverty in many countries. Sure we need to try to stop tyrants and despots, wherever they exist, from killing innocent civilians but, when these same innocent civilians are running, escaping from the horror and destruction and terror we can barely imagine, we need to open our arms and offer them safety and security, not try to ration them out and claim they are not really our problem. They are our problem. We helped cause the problem so we should help alleviate the problem. The desperate refugees who are paying people traffickers in Africa to get them out, struggling across the Mediterranean in rotten, leaky, worm infested boats and walking the length of our continent carrying all they own on their backs are not doing it for fun. They are doing it because of a war you, Mr Cameron, helped to create, Give them something to live for again, give them hope, give them a home.

If you want to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide, then Mr Cameron, start by looking at what you, and your party, are doing yourselves and begin by changing your own politics and policies. That should be your first and most important step. Then, only then, once you have done this, can you start calling for the leaders and the people and the politicians in other countries to do the same thing,

So. During the last two years, more than two and a half thousand sick and disabled people have died shortly after being found ‘fit for work’ by the government sanctioned miracle workers, ATOS.

That’s over eighty sick and disabled people every single month for the last twenty-four consecutive months.

Eighty families devastated by the loss of a loved one.

What is ‘fit for work’ then? Physically capable of undertaking any job? Mentally capable of leaving the safety of home and doing a full day of work? Fully able to enter any workplace and be a safe and productive colleague for other workers and for British industry?

And who is deciding this. Disabled people themselves who are living with their condition on a daily basis and understand the limitations their condition imposes upon them? The general practitioners and consultants who know them and have treated them throughout their illness? The medical professionals and specialists that have been treating these people for what, in some cases, can amount to many, many years? People who have studied and trained and worked tirelessly to become experts in their field? Or, could it be, people who have never met these sick and disabled people before and who have no understanding in that particular disabled persons individual condition. As far as this Government is concerned it appears to be the latter.

Does the term ‘sick and disabled’ mean nothing in Tory Britain any more?

I was taught that ‘sick and disabled’ meant being unwell. Unfit. Not in the best of health. And that if someone was deemed to be ‘sick and disabled’ they were not really capable of going out to work. They were physically or mentally unable to do what is required in a workplace to be considered productive.

As far as this Government seems to be concerned sick and disabled seems to mean benefits cheat, liar and scrounger. It seems to mean that someone is ‘pulling a fast one’. It seems to mean someone who should be hounded and bullied and penalised until their medical condition kills them or they feel they have no other option left but to take their own life It seems to mean someone who should be disbelieved from day one.

When did we become such an uncaring nation? When did we become so cynical and disbelieving? When did we stop looking after our own? What has made us this way?

Sick and disabled people are what they say they are. They are people who are, in some way, too unwell to go out to work. They are people who need the care and support of others. They are people who have rights and who need to be included in everyday life even if they are unable to work. They are not a type of second class citizen who is out to cheat their healthier neighbours in some way. They are not trying to get something for nothing. They are not people who should be locked away and forgotten.

The Government needs to show some compassion, some understanding for the people they are supposed to be protecting. The Government needs to make it so sick and disabled people want to go on living, not making life so untenable that they have nothing to live for. If the Government wants to see more sick and disabled people become well enough to return to work, provide them with the support they need, not push them over the edge so they can take no more.

And if someone is too ill, too physically or mentally unwell to do anything, accept it and help them live the best life they can. Help them get the treatment and support they need. Please don’t make it so their condition deteriorates to such an extent that they pass away and die leaving their families and communities poorer for their loss.

I really don’t understand this Tory Government and the Department for Work and Pensions at all.

What they are doing and what they are saying makes no sense to me. One day they are telling disabled people that they are cutting our benefits and we must all go out to work and it’s good for us then, the next day, they are cutting the fund that helps us to do this.

They must know the purpose of Access to Work, they must know what it’s for. It’s a fund that helps put disabled people on a level playing field with our non-disabled colleagues. Access to Work pays for the things we need to be able to work at all such as specialist computer equipment for visually impaired people, specialist wheelchairs for mobility impaired people, sign language interpreters for hearing impaired people and support workers for people with learning difficulties. It’s not a welfare benefit. It’s a fund that we can use to help us get off welfare benefits completely. It’s something that is beneficial for everyone, disabled people and non-disabled people alike

And many disabled people rely on the funding provided through Access to Work to be able to go out to work. That is, after all, what the Government wants. Iain Duncan Smith has said so.

Does it then make any sense for the Government to cut the funding that helps disabled people to do what the Government wants?

No. As far as I am concerned it does not make any sense to cut this funding at all.

I am no mathematician and I am certainly not an economist but surely, providing some funding so more disabled people are enabled to go out to work, and then pay their taxes, is better than leaving those same disabled people languishing on welfare payments in their own homes and doing nothing. Surely the Government and the Inland Revenue makes more money for the economy from the taxes paid by working disabled people than the money it loses by providing Access to Work support for those same disabled people.  

Access to Work is not for everyone though. We all know that. We all recognise that there are some disabled people who, due to the severity of their impairments, will never be able to work at all and who will always have to rely on welfare payments to live. But surely, helping the disabled people who are able to work to do so, makes sense. If nothing else, the taxes the Government receives from those disabled people who are enabled to work through Access to Work will help fund the welfare payments for the disabled people who can’t. This Government seems to want to do nothing but cut, cut cut and it’s disabled people who are paying the price.

It’s almost as if the Government wants to cut disabled people themselves.

If that’s not the case, why have they cut the Independent Living Fund which helped fund independent living for disabled people completely. Why have they cut the money disabled people receive from social security payments to the bone. Why are they looking to cut the Access to Work fund which helps disabled people to help themselves. Continually cutting everything is not always the best thing to do. Sometimes investing money in assisting people to do what you, and they, want is the more prudent move.

Give us back the Independent Living Fund, save Access to Work and stop cutting welfare payments and you may be surprised by what happens. Helping rather than hindering disabled people at every corner could be beneficial for everyone. Disabled people are not the enemy, this is not a war.

Stop trying to stop us, start investing in us and helping us. Let us do what we can to help you too. Give us a chance.

When is something going to be done about payday loan companies?

Following the tragic death of Kane Sparham-Price after Wonga cleared out his bank account,  there have been a  plethora of posts on social media about the issue. As was to be expected, the views of the multitude of posters has been wide and varied. Some people have been criticising the loan company for what it did, others have been asking what would you expect from someone with admitted mental health difficulties, another group have been talking about ‘Benefits Street’ and people living above their means and then there’s the group who have been going on about the everlasting rise of consumerism in this country. As far as I am concerned, whatever the reason for Kane’s death, something needs to be done.

Just out of interest I went and took a look at Wonga’s website and, as I suspected, it’s just  too damn easy to get a loan. I would have had no problem borrowing more than I should, even though I am a severely disabled person, on benefits, who is unlikely ever to be able to leave my bed, let alone leave the house to go to work. Even so I would have had no difficulty in applying for a loan and, according to the website, receiving the money into my account within minutes. No checks on my suitability, no mention of guarantors, no questions about whether or not I would stand any chance of being able to pay back the loan. Just ‘give us your details, how much do you want, here you are’.

Something needs to be done to ensure that far more rigorous checks are made on people’s ability to pay a loan back within a reasonable timescale. Late repayments are part of the problem. The interest rates on loans are crippling. People are having to pay back enormous amounts on top of the amount of the original loan just for being a few days late. All it takes is for some money that someone was going to use to make a repayment turning up a couple of days after it was expected for things to spiral out of control. And once things start to go downhill they, more often than not, continue to slide.

Not only that, but someone needs to do a study into why people are having to resort to taking out such loans in the first place. What is the reason for so many people to be taking such massive risks with their finances? Why are people burdening themselves with impossible repayment schedules? Why do people need to do this?

As far as I am concerned the Government is largely to blame. Most of the people using payday loan companies aren’t borrowing to buy something big or extravagant like a new car or an enormous TV or a holiday somewhere sun-drenched, they are borrowing to live. They are borrowing so they have enough money to pay the rent, pay the electricity bill, heat their homes and buy food for themselves and their families. And the Government needs take it’s head out of the sand and address this. There needs to be some sort of safety net. Something to stop us tumbling headlong back to the days of Poor Laws and workhouses. Until welfare payments are aid at a level that is, at least, sufficient to enable people to actually live, this sort of tragedy will become more and more common. Until payday loan companies are properly regulated people will go on borrowing more than they can afford without anyone saying no. Until we all learn that it’s perfectly possible to be happy with our lives without having to own the latest gizmo that Mr Jones down the street bought last week consumerism will continue to rise.

Someone needs to say no more. Someone needs to actually take a good, hard look at what is happening, why it is happening and say no more.

There will always be some rich people who have much more money than other, poorer people and there will always be very poor people who have little or nothing. Rich people will always want to have the so called luxuries of life and poorer people will always want to have some of that luxury too. We are never going to get to a point where everyone can have everything they want. What we want and what we need are two different things. The place we have to get to is the place where everyone has everything they actually need. We need to learn to shake our heads sadly over the things we want but can’t afford whilst ensuring that everyone is able to get the things they need without having to borrow to do so.

What happened to Kane was tragic and wrong but, until we start learning that we can’t all have everything we want,  we must, at least, make sure that no-one is left with nothing at all and no-one is forced to take out a loan, with an impossible rate of interest, just to stay alive. The Government must start looking at the people of this country, who have to claim welfare benefits to survive, as human beings, with needs, rather than scroungers.and workshy parasites whose only desire is to swindle the nation. The Government  must make sure that we are all able at least live. The Government must stop making cut after cut whilst chanting the austerity mantra. We all recognise that we have a national deficit in this country that needs to be paid off but it needs to be paid off fairly by rich and poor alike. We all need to do our bit. At present it feels as if poorer people, those in receipt of welfare benefits, are making all the sacrifices through cuts to those benefits whilst our richer neighbours, the ones with inherited wealth or clever accountants, are laughing as they sip their cocktails round their pool. If every single one of us does our bit then maybe there will be no more Kanes.

Let that be his legacy. Let’s make it so the payday loan companies claim no further victims because no-one needs them any more. Let’s make sure we all have enough money to live. Let’s make it stop.

I’ve been doing some thinking. After watching the speech by Tim Farron at the the Lib Dem Conference yesterday, what do I actually want from my politicians? As a severely disabled person what would I like to see the Government doing to make life better for me? What would make me feel that waking up every morning and greeting the new day with a smile was a good idea? What promises would I like to see made in all the different party manifestos?

This list is long and complex but, as far as I am concerned, the main issues I’d like to see tackled, as soon as possible, are to do with money, housing, care and employment although not necessarily in that order.

However I look at it, money, for me, is the main issue. Like many people, I don’t have enough of it. Unlike many people, however, there’s not a lot I can do to improve the situation. As someone who is too disabled to get out of bed and leave my home most of the time, I am reliant on the money I receive from social security to live. Thanks to all the cuts that have been taking place in the name of austerity, this is now precious little. Barely sufficient for even the most basic existence, certainly nothing for any form of luxury. And I don’t think it’s fair. It’s not my fault I got sick and can no longer work, however much I want to. I didn’t choose this way of life. So why am I, like so many others, being punished for something that’s not my fault? Why is the amount of money I receive going down all the time? When I was still able to work I paid my National Insurance every month with the expectation of being protected if times got rough. I thought that was how insurance worked. Obviously not. Whatever I was paying for it wasn’t for my own future security. What I’d like to see in party manifestos would be a commitment to ensure that people who are unable to work due to disabilities that are not their fault receive a slightly more realistic amount to live on.

Number two on my list is housing. I am lucky – I live in a properly adapted, social housing home. I’m comfortable and able to do pretty much what I want. But not every disabled person is as lucky as me. And that needs to change. My property was adapted using a Disabled Facilities Grant and this needs to be the case for so many more people. Making sure more properties are suitable for disabled people has got to be an investment in the future for social housing. But my experience of the application process for the grant was nightmarish. Massively long forms, complicated questions, endless requests for more information about my own personal financial circumstances. From when we first applied for a grant to when we actually got to move in it all took a couple of years. Not good enough. And this is why I would like to see housing mentioned in party manifestos. I want to see Politicians pledging to make it easier to get a grant to adapt a property to cater for a disabled person’s need. Not only that but I would like to see legislation enacted to ensure that all new build social housing projects have a respectable number of properties that are suitable for all disabled people included in the plans.

Next on my list is care. I have experienced both family care and social services care and there are issues that need to be addressed with both. Firstly, family care. Why are family members almost expected to give up on their own lives in order to care for a disabled child, parent, sibling, grandparent? Why are they expected to do this for almost no pay whatsoever? Family members are saving this country so much money by looking after their relatives themselves and yet they are receiving almost nothing for performing this service. Carers Allowance is pitiful. Support is negligible. Why?

And then there is social services care. Care packages are so restrictive. Having a Social Services carer who can actually do what you want them to do is really hard. What I need is to have a carer who can do the things I would have done had I not been disabled. What I need is a carer who can not only cater for my personal care but who can do things like hang up the family washing, put stuff in the dishwasher and set it off, do the hovering and dusting, nip down to the shop for a pint of milk when I run out. I want more control over my own life.

I would like to see a manifesto pledge from all parties to ensure that social services care is reinvented to cater more for the actual needs of the clients it serves rather than the perceived needs.

The last thing on my list is employment. I would like to see more help for disabled people who want to work and for the businesses that would like to employ us. I want to see some more innovative thinking on the part of Governments on how to make things easier for any disabled person who wants to have a job. Instead of just cutting social security payments and telling us in a patronising and paternalistic way that work is the way to go, why not do something constructive to help. Why not encourage employers to adapt premises and business practices to make them more accessible for disabled people. Why not set up some agencies to help disabled people find suitable work. Why not promote more homeworking opportunities for disabled people who are quite capable of doing something but who can’t manage to leave their home due to their impairment. We have phones, computers, access to the internet, Skype and so much more. Why aren’t their more job opportunities that use these advantages for people who want to work from home? We live in a technological age, why not use technology to help disabled people who want to help themselves.

There is so much more that needs doing but these are quite enough to start with. It’s not hard really. I’d like to see politicians start asking disabled people what they want from government. I’d like to see an end to the paternalistic guesswork that has been the norm for so many years. When you are writing your manifestos, why not ask us what we want? There are so many of us who would like to tell you. Try it, you mlight be surprised.    

Its funny. I’m not a massively political person but, today, I have never been happier to have political ideas, political thoughts, political leanings.

Quite often I don’t say much about which way I lean either. Today, I could not be prouder to be a paid up member of the Liberal Democrat party. I have just listened to a speech by our elected leader, Tim Farron, and it made me want to cry. Not because I disagreed with him, quite the contrary, it was because I agreed with every word he said. He talked about housing, the refugee crisis and businesses and I lapped it up. He spoke straight to the heart of me and what I believe.

Tim said we need to focus on housing in this country and trying to undo the damage that has been done to social housing in the past and still is being done today. In the 1980s Mrs Thatcher sold off council housing, promoting the home ownership mantra. Today David Cameron and the Conservatives are doing exactly the same thing, it’s just that this time he is trying to sell off Housing Association properties. Why? Why this fascination with owning your own home? Why not do as Tim suggests and invest more money in social housing and not less. I couldn’t care less about owning my own home, just as long as I have somewhere safe and secure to live and that my family has somewhere safe and secure to live then I’m happy. Why should I need to own my own home? Don’t you want to have something you can pass on to your children, I hear you say. Well, as a disabled person, owning my own home sounds like a really bad idea, not a good one if I’m honest. If, as I expect will happen, I end up needing to go into residential accommodation such as a care home, my family would be forced to sell any property I own to pay for my care. I wouldn’t be able to pass it on to them anyway. Not much of a legacy then. And owning my own home is not going to help me much in the long term either. It’s not like I’m going to need it when I’m dead.

And then there is the refugee crisis. As Tim said, we need to show a little more humanity. These people are fleeing from a war zone, in fear of their lives and their family’s lives. They are not trying to get to Britain to sponge off our benefits. They are trying to get somewhere, anywhere, where they, and their families, can feel safe. Somewhere  they, and their families, can feel like they have a future. Somewhere where they, and their families, will not have bombs dropping on them day in, day out. Why can’t we open our arms and invite them in, not try to build walls and barriers, not turn them away and tell them they are not our problem. These people aren’t walking thousands of miles, risking their lives clinging to leaky, overcrowded unseaworthy vessels, paying every penny they have to people traffickers just to claim our meagre Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit, they are trying to get away from the unspeakable lives they have been forced to live in blood-soaked terror.

Then there are the home-grown businesses we need to haul ourselves out of the financial deficit that has been blighting this country for many years. Why can’t we invest in the future? Sure, it’ll will cost us in the short term but it’s the future we should be thinking about. Tim said we need to invest in business in order to prosper as a country and I agree. Over the last few decades we have seen town centres stripped of their character, their individuality and premises either being abandoned and left to rot or bought up by foreign multinationals. Why can’t we support smaller, local businesses and help them prosper rather that spend all our money in the big superstores. All we’re doing at present is making massive profits for firms that want to please their shareholders, we’re not helping to improve our local communities. Why can’t we support the regeneration of our towns and villages and help make them the places we remember from our own childhoods and the places we want our own children to remember with pride when they are older too.

This country has so many problems at the moment. So many issues that need to addressed by a party that wants to change things for the better. After listening to Tim’s speech I’m even more convinced than I was that the only party that can do that is the Liberal Democrat Party. I might not be able to do much from my sick bed but I’m going to do what I can to promote the party and the leader I believe in and do my best to ensure that we can continue to be a force for good on the British political stage.