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Monthly Archives: October 2015

I had a hair-cut on Thursday.

A much needed hair-cut.

However, whilst I was there, the salon had a phone call from another potential customer and it got me thinking.

Based on the one-sided conversation I could hear, the person on the other end of the line had obviously asked my hairdresser, the salon owner, how much he charged. And this is when my ears pricked up and my cage was rattled. The answer to the potential customer’s query was “It’s £35 for a man’s cut and £55 for a woman’s.”

Why? Why should whether a customer is male or female make a difference? Surely the work that is done, the time it takes and the amount of all the different products used should be what determines the price, not the customer’s gender.

I have short hair. Very short hair. And it takes my hairdresser about 40 minutes to deal with. I don’t do the hair washing thing or have any bleaching and colouring or straightening or curling or anything complicated and I am to be charged £55 for it. So I asked my hairdresser how much he would charge a man for exactly the same thing – a trim and tidy up. The answer? £35.

Why? What is it about my haircut that makes it different from a man’s. This seeming discrimination got me thinking. What else costs more just because the customer is a female?

It starts from a very early age. Children’s clothes and children’s shoes regularly cost different amounts depending on the gender of the child. I had two daughters and would often end up buying them so-called boys trainers and sandals because they were cheaper. The only difference I could see was that the boys trainers were blue or green and had dinosaurs or superheros on and the girls ones were pink and were decorated with cute fluffy kittens and pirouetting ballerinas. Apart from that they were essentially the same. Thankfully my girls liked dinosaurs.

If you go to the supermarket there are so many products available which are labelled as being for men and products which are labelled as being for women. Razors, deodorants, shampoos, moisturisers, socks. And what are the differences between the products in question? Not much that I can see apart from the fact the men’s products usually come with black or silver packaging whilst the women’s products are pink and have pretty little flowers on them. Well, product manufacturers, I am female, my favourite colour is black, I really don’t like pink much at all and I don’t need little flowers printed on everything. They serve no purpose I can see. What do I buy? The cheaper stuff in black or the more expensive pink stuff that my gender seems to imply I should be buying? I’m a rebel. I go for the cheaper, men’s products every time.

Why do so many people put up with this? Why the disparity? What is it about pink and the word ‘girl’ or ‘woman’ that makes manufacturers, service providers and retailers think they can charge females more than males for the same thing? I want to see an end to gender based pricing structures. Let’s have more gender neutral products or services. Charge both genders the same. I know it’s a radical, innovative concept but it’s pretty simple really.

My hairdresser got it, he charged me £35 and has promised to consider charging people for what he does, not whether they are male or female in future. It’s a start. One down, thousands more to go.

And quit with the pink versus black thing. Try green for a change, that’s a nice fresh colour with no gender bias whatsoever.

Exactly what is this Government trying to do?

Have they managed to find a time portal into which they have inserted the entire county?

What is happening and what to they want from us?

Report after report, story after story, blog after blog, all I am seeing on my TV, in my newspaper and online on my prefered social media sites are things that sound like they would be more comfortably placed in the nineteenth century rather than the twentyfirst. We appear to be being taken further back to the Victorian Era as every day passes whether we like it or not.

Foodbanks are now common in every town and city for people who don’t have enough money to be able to feed their families. Homeless people, living, sleeping and dying in their cars, in shelters or on the streets are everywhere. A new ‘workhouse’ is being opened in Bradford. A hospital in Tameside is handing out food parcels to patients when they are discharged. Cases of malnutrition and other diseases of the past, such as tuberculosis, are becoming common once more. Scurvy, scarlet fever, cholera and whooping cough are on the increase. Social housing is being sold off once more so we have nowhere left where we can live if we don’t have the money to buy our own properties. Citizens nationwide are having to rely on charity to survive. The rich appear to be getting richer whilst the poor are getting poorer day by day. ‘Downton Abbey’ on our doorstep.

What is going on? I don’t understand.

The people of Britain are being dragged, kicking and screaming, back through the centuries to the Victorian era of tenement slums, skeletal children, disease ridden rats, fleas, open sewers running freely in the streets and hopelessness. Our young people are told that the way out of poverty is education, education, education and encouraged to strive to go to university before embarking into the adult world of work but what happens when they try to do this? Lifelong debt at a crazy level and zero-hours contracts where they are paid as little as the bosses can get away with. Apprentices are paid at such derisory levels whilst they learn so they are unable to leave home. Our steelworks and car plants are being closed or sold to foreign investors at knock-down prices and skilled workers, with many years of dedicated experience, are being shown the door and told to find employment making sandwiches for the lunch time trade of bankers and businessmen. Older people, disabled people, sick people are being thrown on the scrapheap whilst Bevan’s welfare state is dismantled around them. Schools are having to feed children when their parents don’t have the money to do so. Misery, destitution and despair are everywhere.

And where are our ‘masters’? Where are the politicians whose job is to fight for the people they represent? Well, in the case of the smug Ministers and leaders of the Conservative party, they are sitting back on the padded green benches in the House of Commons giving us pointless, meaningless sound-bites telling us to ‘work harder’. They and their families are fine, it’s us, the ordinary people who are left to struggle and fight and do our best to exist when the odds are stacked against us.

We don’t want to go back into the pages of history, we want to keep on moving forward towards a better tomorrow. Help us to get there, stop legislating against us. Keep the goal-posts where they are and stop moving them all the time. Give us a chance to live.

What gives people the right to think they can make personal comments based solely on the way someone looks. What makes people think they can talk about someone’s medical condition or disability in a disparaging way. What makes people think that physical appearance is so important? What makes people think that saying things like this is something they can do without being challenged? It’s horrible, it’s offensive and it needs to stop.

I was watching BBC Breakfast this morning and there was an item about an actor who happens to have psoriasis and he was talking about the time when he heard and audience member, sitting close to the front and well within earshot, saying to his companion that this actor’s skin was horrible and he hoped he wouldn’t catch anything. What made him think he could say this? What made him think he could get away with it? What made him think this was OK?

Recently I saw Changing Faces champion Adam Pearson taking on TV about much the same thing and it happens all the time. People seem to think that talking about disabled people and people who look different for some reason is fine. As a wheelchair user, I have heard parents telling their children to stay away from me in case they catch anything. I have news for people like this – we are not factory made fashion dolls so we are all the same, we are flesh and blood human beings and we are all different. That is one of the wonders of being human.

For some reason people are becoming more and more judgemental about others who are not exactly the same as they are and it is so wrong. Much of the blame for this must lie with the media. Every day we are being told and shown how we are supposed to look, what we should wear, what makeup we should use and how it should be applied. Dietary advice is on almost every page of celebrity gossip magazines. We all comment on whether or not our favourite film star or singer has gained or lost weight, ask they have a beauty secret and speculate about what that secret may be. This is preoccupation with how others look has been going on for eons. We talk about other other people all the time. We stare, and mention to one another, that the person on the other side of the road who is, to our eyes, too thin. We talk about the passenger who sat next to us on the bus who, in our opinion, was too fat. We query how the guy on the TV copes with hair that red and ask is it dyed? What gives us the right to say and do this? How would we like it if people talked about us like that? We we be happy? Its simple. We wouldn’t.  

I am, of course, not saying that you can never say a friend or relative looks nice in their new outfit or that someone’s new shade of lipstick is lovely or tell them how pretty they are looking. Every day compliments like that are lovely and everyone likes being told they look good but, commenting adversely on something that is out of a person’s control, is horrible. If someone has a physical feature such as their height, their hair colour, their weight or a medical condition which makes them stand out for some reason, they probably know about it already. Commenting on it is not helpful. If someone is disabled, stepping back, crossing the road, pulling children away and suggesting that it might be catching is just unacceptable. I have news for unthinking people like that, if we had an infectious condition which is that obvious we are unlikely to be out and about in public. We would be in bed at home or in hospital under a doctor’s supervision not sitting in a restaurant, doing the shopping or watching a theatre production.

Stop talking about other people as though they are exhibits in a gallery. Stop treating people as if they are animals in a zoo. Ask yourself if you would like to be spoken about in that way or treated like that and then, if the answer is no, don’t do it. We are all different and those differences should be celebrated, not ridiculed. Have some consideration for others and think before you act or speak. It’s not hard and it doesn’t take long. Start today.

I am worried.

I am seriously worried.

What is happening to the country I call home? The country where I have lived for my entire life. The country where my ancestors lived and worked and raised their families. The country where my children, my grand-children, my great grandchildren will live and work.

As far as I am concerned, thanks to the current Conservative Government, Great Britain is changing for the worse. We now seem to be living in a country where all anyone cares for is themselves, care and compassion for others is on the way out. Great Britain runs the risk of becoming an international laughing stock on the backs of its poorer citizens.

This Conservative Government has been in sole power for six months and what a six months they have been. Policy after policy, proposal after proposal, debate after debate, and they all seem to be designed to make things worse for the people at the bottom of the income tree.

One of the first things that happened was that sick and disabled people lost the Independent Living Fund which was supposed to help fund the care and support they need to live. People petitioned and protested and demonstrated but it made no difference, the ILF was still closed. Strike one to the Conservative Government.

So it continued.

Sick and disabled people are are now going to lose the enhanced welfare payments they are supposed to receive to help them find and retain jobs. The welfare payment for people in the  Work Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance is to be reduced to subsistence levels. Thanks to the Conservative Government, sick and disabled people are going to lose a significant part of their income and all the Government says is ‘Work Harder’.

Strike two to the Conservative Government.

Not content with just penalising some of the people least able to fight for anything better, the Conservative Government has now set its sights on the group known as ‘the working poor’. People who are already working hard and trying to do their best for their families but who need some support and help to do this. People who receive Tax Credits to top up their income. These payments are also due to be reduced to a point where foodbanks and charity handouts become the norm. People are being forced to resort to extreme measures just to survive. Thanks to the Conservative Government, poorer working families are going to lose a significant part of their income and all the Government says is ‘Work Harder’.  

Strike three to the Conservative Government.

Now, another group who are are least able to do anything to help themselves are being targeted. Older people who have come to the end of their working lives are due to be penalised too. Older people are being told that, if they have been unable to pay sufficient National Insurance payments from the wages, they will receive no pension. These are the people who have done their best for many years to do the right thing for themselves and their families. People who have scrimped and slaved and struggled for decades will have nothing. Thanks to the Conservative Government, older people are going to lose a significant part of their prospective income and all the Government says is ‘You should have Worked Harder’.  

Strike four to the Conservative Government.

Who next? Are children going to be told they need to go out to work the way they had to during the Victorian Era? Is that the way we are going? During the Second World War the Nazis had signs above the concentration camp gates saying ‘Work makes free’ and now we are getting almost exactly the same words coming from Conservative Government every day. ‘Work Harder’ is the new political mantra of Great Britain.

All over the country people are doing their best but this Conservative Government seems to be doing what it can to make things worse and insert hurdles at every corner. We seem to be on a slippery slope and I don’t like it. Great Britain and the Conservative Government needs to find some care and compassion and stop punishing those who are least able to do something to help themselves. Vulnerable people are being left desperate and destitute and the Conservative Government needs to look again. Admit your mistakes. There is still time to make things better. Stop the cuts and forget the mantra, we’re already doing our best. Help us, support us, care about us, work with us. Forget the mantra, we’re trying. The Conservative Government needs to ‘Work Harder’ too. Give us back the country we love and that we can be proud of. Stop the cuts and the punishment before we reach a point of no return. Give us back our hope.

So. Today the House of Commons are discussing the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. This is the Bill that will cut the Employment Support Allowance payments received by disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) by thirty pounds every week to the same level as non-disabled people receiving Job Seekers Allowance. And the justification the Government for this move? Apparently, cutting disabled people’s benefits will ’incentivise’ them to go out and get a job.

Great plan.

What is is about sickness and disability that this Government just isn’t getting?

According to the Government, and the Department of Work and Pensions, sick and disabled people can be put to one of two categories for welfare benefits purposes. There are those people who are so sick and disabled they will never be able to work and then there are those people who may be able to work one day if they are given the right support to get to that point. And it’s that second group which will be affected by this Bill.

In my opinion, it’s pretty simple really. Someone who is sick or disabled has a medical condition which limits the work they may, or may not be able to do. Either that or they need support in applying for and securing employment and support in keeping that employment once they have obtained  it. That’s what the WRAG group is all about. The Government has decided that people in WRAG should receive the same amount of money as people who are receiving Job Seekers Allowance but that they will get extra help with finding and securing a job. Now that’s a great idea, as long as it works. Many, many disabled people would love to work, just a long as they get some support to enable them to do so. The problem is, as far as I can see, that the Government also wants to withdraw that support too, namely, the Access to Work Scheme. The Government seems to want sick and disabled people to go into workplaces without any additional help whatsoever. Wonderful plan but it just will not work. Disabled people are perfectly capable of working, just as long as they get the help and support that WRAG and Access to Work provides, such as personal support, aids and adaptations. Without that personal support, without those aids and adaptations, sick and disabled people cannot go out to work. WRAG was devised as a way of supporting sick and disabled people into work. It was devised as a way of recognising the additional costs someone who is sick or disabled may encounter in trying to do exactly what the Government wants in working their way out of poverty. Cutting it to the same level as Jobseekers Allowance takes away the very amount claimants receive for additional disability costs. ESA WRAG and Job Seekers Allowance become the same thing. No difference between them. What is the point.

Actually, thinking about what is being proposed, is this how the Government is going to reduce the cost of sick and disabled people to the National Health Service? Is this how the Government are planning on reducing the NHS Bill? Have they found some kind of magic bullet for so many medical conditions? Reduce the amount of money sick and disabled people have for the necessities of life such as shelter, heating and sustenance and they will all get better and be able to go out to work. Is the Government, and largely, the Conservative Party, trying to tell us that a reduction in the welfare payments a sick or disabled claimant in WRAG receives will magically cure them of whatever it that ails them because that is what it sounds like. Somehow, I don’t think that’s how healthcare works. If it was as simple as that, surely someone would have spotted it sooner than this.

Leave people in WRAG alone and try chasing after the people and companies who are evading tax altogether to make up the fiscal deficit. Leave people in WRAG alone and try going for the people like the bankers who caused the problems we are having. Leave people in WRAG alone and try stop trying to punish the people at the bottom just for being at the bottom. Welfare Benefit reductions are a quick fix, not a long term solution. Leave people in WRAG alone, look to your own and try something else instead.

I am so angry….

It looks like Lambeth Council, my local council, are trying to close eight libraries in the Borough. Two of these are to be closed completely and the other six handed over to local volunteer groups for them to run, but, if there are no suitable volunteers, these libraries will close too.

And what is Lambeth going to do with the empty buildings? Lambeth want to sell off the library buildings they close to become gyms. Great plan. So needed. Not….. Closing our libraries would be terrible for the Borough. Such a backwards step. There are only ten libraries in Lambeth so, if eight of them are closed, we would be left with just two libraries for the whole Borough.  Over 300,000 people using just two libraries. What a joke.

It could, of course, be argued that, with the advent of E-books and devices such as Kindle, libraries have had their day and that closing them would be a good idea. I beg to differ. Let me be honest from the outset. My first degree was in Librarianship and Information studies so I am somewhat biased however, but in my opinion, E-books can NEVER fully replace print. There is something about the feel and the smell and the pure physicality of a printed book that an E-book will never be able to replicate. Not to mention the fact that, whilst there are E-book libraries, you have to be a member of a standard library to use them.

But, there is so much more to libraries than just books.

My nearest library, the Carnegie, is a local resource that cannot be easily replaced. Our local history group uses the library for meetings and for exhibitions and lectures about this part of South East London. Toddler and pre-school groups meet in the library every week to introduce small children to the wonderful world of books and story-telling. School children and students use the library every day for doing their homework. We also live in an area with a high child poverty level and where a lot of houses are legally overcrowded so many local teenagers use the library to do their schoolwork because their homes are too cramped and noisy for them to be able to work effectively. In addition to this, they are able to use the library computers and the internet because they don’t have computers at home. And it’s not just younger people who need our library. Job-hunters use the library computers to access employment agency sites and make online job applications. They use them for printing out application forms and for writing and printing CVs. Older and disabled people use the library for social events and just as somewhere to meet new people and have a cup of tea with friends. The nearest library that will be remaining open is too far away for people with mobility difficulties to use easily. Public transport in the area is not brilliant and buses are irregular and crowded. Libraries are needed and are widely used.

But there is more to it than that. My local library is now used by several start-up companies which rent office space there. The money that is paid in rent by those companies is being used to buy new book stock for the library and to pay some of the staff wages. If the library is closed and converted into a gym, where will these companies go? South-East London entrepreneurs will be stifled and will go to other Boroughs with a more forward thinking attitude. Lambeth will loose the best and the brightest.

And then there are the other libraries Lambeth wants to close. The Minet Library, another prospective gym, holds the Lambeth Archive. This is a such a valuable local resource. People who are tracing their family trees, people who are interested in local history, people who want to see how this part of South East London has changed and developed over the centuries need to use this library.  Two of the libraries earmarked for closure are very important in their own right. They are two of the oldest public libraries in the entire country. The Main library in Brixton, is the oldest public library in the UK and the Carnegie, my local library, is the second. Nationally important buildings and the council wants to turn them into gyms.

Lambeth needs to think again and not go through with their plans. Closing the Borough’s libraries is not the answer. I recognise that money needs to be saved but there must be other ways of doing this. Libraries are lively, vibrant, important local resources. We want them, we love them and we need them. Leave our libraries alone Lambeth and try something else for a change. Stop trying to take our libraries away from us.

Yesterday evening, when doing my usual surf through the innumerable posts on Twitter, I spotted one which posed a question that made me think.

‘Where are the pictures of your family? Should you have photos of your disabled children in the office?’

What a question!

Why could that even be an issue? Of course you should. It’s very simple, all children should be celebrated, disabled and non disabled alike. Without exception.

Most people like to display pictures of their children, their partners, their loved ones on their desks or as use those pictures as ‘wall paper’ on their workplace computer so that everyone can see them. It’s normal. Even if you are a very private sort of person, it’s usual to have one or two pictures of your family on your desk, on your computer, in your handbag or in your wallet. And, if you work in an environment where everyone else is proudly displaying pictures of their families,  what are you saying if your colleagues know you have a family of your own and they never get to see photographic evidence when it is something that is part of your workplace’s culture. How many parents don’t have one of those awkward school photos somewhere. How many parents don’t show off the holiday pictures of their children splashing in the waves to their friends? How many grandparents don’t have pictures of gummy, grinning babies lying, kicking and laughing on fluffy blankets or shaggy rugs they can boast about? Don’t all children need to know they are loved and that their families are proud of them?

If we have a disabled child or grandchild in the family, what are we saying to them if we don’t have any of those pictures around. Why are we trying to hide them away. What is the message we are giving them?

Are we implying that there is some sort of ‘problem’?

Are we saying that we feel ashamed?

Are we telling people that there’s something we don’t want our friends and colleagues to know about?

Why?

Children bring so much joy and happiness into every parent or grandparent’s life, whoever that child is. There should be no difference in now we all feel about disabled and non-disabled children alike. Every child is worth celebrating and adoring. In this technological age where we all have digital cameras, smart phones, laptops and tablets there is nothing to stop us capturing every significant moment and showing it off to the world. Whether child is disabled or not there will always be something to show. So why not do it. Why not let the world see how you feel about everything those amazing children do by having pictures of them on your desks, your walls, your shelves, your computers. Have pictures everywhere.

Don’t try to denigrate disability by hiding your disabled children away. Hold your head, and your pictures, up high and celebrate the joy and pride you feel in their lives, however long or short, easy or difficult those lives might be. Show your love and pride for all your children and grandchildren to the world so that everyone knows how you feel and, especially, make sure that those children know how you feel and how much you love them.

Don’t denigrate, celebrate.