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Monthly Archives: February 2016

I sometimes wonder how local Councils think they can get away with some of the things they do. Well, actually, I know exactly what they think they can get away with, pretty well anything they like because no-one seems to do anything about most of it.

So, I hear you asking, what is she talking about this time?

What has rattled her cage today?

Well, as always, it’s more stuff I have learnt from my favoured medium, Facebook. People have posted up links to stories that have made me really angry. Again.

As far as I can see, two London Councils, Barnet and Hammersmith and Fulham, have decided to axe their Meals on Wheels Service for older and disabled people. In the case of one of these Councils it has been suggested that the Service can be replaced by providing vulnerable people with frozen, Tesco Finest, ready meals which will need to be microwaved and, the other Council suggests, Foodbanks can take up the strain.

No, no and no!

What is it about Meals on Wheels that these Councils are failing to grasp? This is a service that is for older and disabled people who are unable to prepare a decent meal and cook for themselves or use a microwave to ensure that they get to eat one nutritious, balanced, hot meal every day. They are not a luxury for the lazy who can’t be bothered to cook, they are a necessity for people who would otherwise be resorting to soup and sandwiches, if they are to get anything much to eat at all. Ready Meals are not, as far as I can tell, the most wonderful things you can buy to eat. Even the so-called ‘Finest’ range seem to have excess sugar, salt and preservatives in them. The ingredients cannot be described as ‘fresh’ having been mainly frozen or dried and they have not been lovingly prepared by trained cooks or chefs for the consumer’s delectation. They are fine for a one off, emergency meal, but not every day and certainly not for older and disabled people who need good, healthy meals which include all the right amounts of the recommended food groups to stay as fit as possible. Ready meals are not the solution, they are merely an emergency or stop-gap measure which should be the exception and not the rule. It may be cheaper in the short-term to provide ready meals for everyone who needs them but, in the long-term, all you are likely to end up with is more admissions in hospitals for malnutrition or diabetes or people with raised blood pressure or heart problems due to an overload of sodium in their diet.

Then there is the other idea. That Foodbanks can take up the slack. Apart from anything else, this shows a complete lack of understanding of the role and purpose of a foodbank. The food that people get from them is not a cooked meal, it is uncooked food which the recipients need to be able to prepare and cook themselves. On their own. Without help. Why do people who have Meals on Wheels use the service? Because they are unable to prepare and cook a meal for themselves. Giving vulnerable people the ingredients is not going to help, however nice they if they are, if these people are unable to do anything with them. What people need is a fully prepared, cooked  meal, not a new household decoration. It makes no sense. Just because someone has the raw ingredients for a meal it does not mean they have had anything to eat. Not only that but Foodbanks don’t have the staff to to cook and prepare meals. They don’t have the vans or the drivers to deliver them. And, they don’t have any kitchens either.

It’s time Local Councils nationwide stop trying to always take the cheapest option but actually think about what they are doing. Saving money in the short-term is all very well and good but, if that saving creates even more problems, is it a saving at all? Stop taking a seemingly easy option without considering the consequences. Spending a little more now could save so much further on down the line. Look at the reason a service is being provided before cutting it to the quick. Short-term solutions rarely work in the long term.

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Politics and Insights

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Apparently the Conservatives are cross about being compared with the Nazis. Mike Sivier at Vox Political wrote about the circumstances of the comparison, which arose on Monday:This ignorant Tory councillor had better try justifying the deaths his party has caused.

Human Rights abuses

This is a government that is currently at the centre of a United Nations inquiry into abuses of the human rights of sick and disabled people, and is also in breach of the rights of women and children, because of their anti-humanist, draconian welfare “reforms”.

Whilst I am very aware that we need take care not to trivialise the terrible events of the Holocaust by making casual comparisons, there are some clear and important parallels with what is happening to sick and disabled people, poor people and those who are unemployed in the UK and the ideological processes in Nazi Germany: events on…

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Interesting.

I have been watching ‘This Morning’ on TV and they were doing a phone-in about a storyline that’s coming up on Corrie and it got me thinking. Given that many people could get help with their issues by seeing characters in their favourite soap operas going through the same thing, could this be exploited in some way? I know that, quite often, we get the helpful message at the end of a programme giving a phone number that people can ring if they have been affected by any of the issues they have just seem, but could more be done?

I think it could.

Soap operas are supposed to represent a dramatised view of everyday life, but do they? As far as I am concerned, we are supposed to relate to various characters because they are going through the same life challenges as us. Sure, most of the time the people on the Street, in Albert Square or up in the Dales seem to lurch from crisis to crisis but can any of these crises be used to help us?

I think they can.

Let’s look at Eastenders, my soap of choice, how come none of the characters appear to be unemployed? They seem to come out of school and waltz straight into a job on the market, in the cafe or convenience store or at the Vic. Is that realistic? No, it isn’t. Most young people move from school to Uni, College, an apprenticeship or, in many instances, down to the local Job Centre to sign on for JSA or ESA. Why does this never seem to happen in Eastenders? It also appears that every single character has a job on the Square. Not one of them, as far as I can see anyway, leaves their house in the morning to battle their way through London congestion to work in the city or somewhere else closer to home. No-one seems to return in the evening exhausted and stressed after another day in their boring office job, pen-pushing. That’s what the rest of us do, why not the Beales, the Mitchells or the Fowlers? Do they all work in the Square? What an amazing place Walford must be with full employment and apparent jobs available at the click of the fingers whenever they are needed. I almost want to move there myself.

Then there are the other opportunities there are to help viewers. What about the obviously disabled character, Donna, does she receive DLA and is she about to be transferred to PIP? In the real world, almost certainly, in the wonderful world of Walford, who knows. Disabled people nationwide are having to go through reassessments, invasive medicals and endless appeals, maybe Donna should have to go through this too. That way the viewing public could be guided towards all the wonderful, helpful organisations that are out there when it seems there is nowhere else to turn. When it comes to Welfare Benefits, a storyline that would resonate with so many people would be a character who is in receipt of JSA or ESA and who gets sanctioned for no real reason apart from a delayed bus making them late to sign on. Someone needing to use a Foodbank and dealing with the potential embarrassment and stigma this can cause. And what about that same character falling into debt and having to resort a payday loan company? Just seeing the problems that can cause and where people need to go to sort things out would be so helpful.

That, in my belief, is only the start of things. I would like to see stories that better reflect the problems of the wider community and potential solutions. I think that would be so helpful to so many. I know Soap Operas are not here to educate, they are here to entertain but surely education and entertainment can be combined. To all the writers and Directors and Producers out there, what about using your characters go through the same things that we do. We’ve had Hayley Cropper in Corrie and Dot Branning in Eastenders, give us more and reflect the lives we are all living every day. Have desperate people who are looking for help and support the same way we do. Show us some of the places we can go and some of the things we can do and you would be doing so much for your audience. Apparently the average Briton spends an entire year throughout their lifetime watching soaps. Help to make that a year well spent and not a wasted year. Help us to help ourselves and give us all some idea where we can go when it looks like there is nowhere. Do that and, I’m sure, we will all place greater value on our TV licences and resent the advertising revenue that is generated for big businesses on Commercial Channels less. Help us to help ourselves and, in exchange, we, your audience, will thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Education and entertainment intertwined.

Think about it.

This morning has been interesting. I have been asked if I could write something about how the British Welfare Benefits system does not take into account the needs and difficulties experienced by disabled people with a medical condition where the effects of the condition fluctuate, so, here goes!

I have Multiple Sclerosis. I am now quite advanced with the condition, being restricted to my bed most of the time, unable to walk, move or do anything for myself so the restrictions I have are pretty obvious but, and it’s a big but, I have very clear memories of my battles with the system and when I was still able to go out to work.

The main problem, as far as I am concerned, is the system’s inability to be able to cope with people whose condition means that the effects fluctuate. DWP forms and rules seem to like people with conditions that are cut and dried, where nothing really changes day to day. But for many of us, people with MS or ME for example, life is not that simple. People who find that what they can do today is not the same as what they could do yesterday or what they might be able to do tomorrow. And this fluctuation can be on an hourly basis, never mind a daily basis. Someone with a fluctuating condition might be able to do whatever you wanted this morning but this afternoon? No chance.

For me, the main effect of my MS that was not understood, was my fatigue. DWP advisers and employers and many other people seemed to think that MS related fatigue and sleepiness were synonymous with one another. Let me tell you, they are not. Sleepiness can be cured by a nap, fatigue cannot. When I am fatigued due to my MS I can’t move, I can’t concentrate, I can’t think, I can’t really do anything much until it wears off. And how long that will take is anyone’s guess. For someone with  fluctuating condition life can be a daily lottery where we have no real idea of how things will pan out. We have good days and bad days and kind of OK but not brilliant days.

And that’s the bit Welfare Benefit forms and Benefits Assessors can’t cope with. They want people to be able to answer cut and dried questions about their capabilities but, what they don’t seem to be able to understand, is that when it comes to people with fluctuating conditions, we can’t. Questions such as ‘Can you lift and move a carton of milk’ are demanding a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Either you can or you can’t. There is no provision for ‘maybe, it depends on my fatigue levels’. Before my MS got so much worse I had ‘I can’ days, ‘I can’t’ days and ‘I’m not promising anything but I’ll try’ days. On a good day I had no trouble lifting and moving little things. On a bad day I could barely lift my arms, let alone anything else. On a ‘maybe’ day, it was a hit or miss experiment. If you had caught me at the right moment, shifting that milk carton and making a hot drink would have been no problem whatsoever but, if the fatigue had hit, you would have been much more likely to get a puddle on the floor when I dropped the carton than a cuppa. If I was having a fatigue ridden day my arms would be aching and unresponsive, I would have cloudy or double vision and I would have been practically incapable of concentrating on anything for more than a few minutes. And there’s your difficulty. What the DWP seem unable to cope with is when assessing people with fluctuating conditions is that these days don’t follow a set pattern.

If I were to be asked what might make things better for people with fluctuating conditions then I would suggest that the DWP should pay far more attention to what a benefit applicant’s consultants, specialists and medical experts say in their reports. They are the people that know us and, in some cases, have been treating us for years. Benefit Assessors often have little or no medical expertise whatsoever yet they are the people who are being expected to rule on complex conditions they don’t really understand. This is what needs to change. This is what the DWP and the Government doesn’t seem to understand. People with fluctuating conditions don’t fit neatly into officialdom’s neat little boxes and pigeonholes. Trying to get help and support shouldn’t be a lottery. The stress caused by continually having to explain yourself and how your impairment affects you can often make things worse. Reassess the system, not the people who use it and maybe, just maybe, things will get better for all of us.

One of the things I have seen online today that has made me think is an article about one of the 7/7 survivors who is having to go through the humiliating experience of applying for Employment Support Allowance. This man is a double amputee who has lost an eye and his spleen and is now a wheelchair user. The article is concerned with how awful it is that someone, who was so severely injured due to a terrorist act, and whose injuries are a matter of record, has to prove he is disabled in order to receive support.

I agree, it is horrible and disgusting that he is having to do this but, in my opinion, he is not being asked to do anything, that is in any way, unusual. For so many disabled people this is a normal part of applying for the minute dregs we are entitled to from the welfare state.

As far as I can see, all that has happened is that he is being asked to complete the same form all disabled people have to  complete when we have to apply for ESA or, as a matter of fact, for any other benefit. This is, in fact, something we have to do on a practically daily basis. We have to justify our existence and the help we need all the time. The form this man is being asked to complete is one of the same humiliating forms all disabled people are sent when they apply for Employment Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payments, Attendance Allowance and the myriad of other soul-destroying forms we have to complete where we have to go into all the things we CAN’T do rather than focussing on all the things we CAN. Benefit forms, home care forms, medical forms, a snowstorm of paperwork and online assessments. All nosey, mortifying and embarrassing.

So, why is it still deemed justifiable to do this? Why do people who are ill or injured have to go into the minutae of their everyday existence in order to receive any support at all?

As far as I am aware disabled and older people are asked about their limitations more often than anyone else. In order to receive any benefits at all we are asked unwanted, invasive, intrusive,  questions about our personal lives and then, in so many instances, we get called in for a face-to-face grilling as if we are criminals or trying to get something for nothing. These assessments are about such glorious subjects as our mobility capabilities, our personal habits and our mental state. If we can walk, how far we can go? How tired do we get when we do anything? Can we pick up an empty box or a carton of milk? How about a 5p piece, can we manage that if it’s on a table or on the floor? We are asked to take off our shoes and attempt to scramble onto a high examination bed. We are quizzed about our bowel and bladder functions. Do we wet or mess ourselves and, if we do, how often? Can we wash or bathe unaided or do we need someone to assist with everything we do? Do we need encouragement to do things or feel too anxious or concerned to attend meetings or go to work.

For many disabled people, completing a benefits application form is one of the most upsetting things we ever have to do. Having to answer questions about what we can’t do and focus on all the things we may have had had no trouble with in the past, but are now unable to tackle due to our impairments, is so upsetting, so depressing that it is almost impossible to do. Filling in one of these forms, especially if you used to be active, sporty or just, unimpaired is one of the most horrible things a disabled person can be asked to do. It is almost unbearably hard to consider what you, as an individual, may have lost through no fault of your own. To face the fact that your entire life has changed and you are now, in many instances, dependent on others for so much is awful.

There must be another way. A way where claimants don’t end up feeling suicidal thanks to the things they are asked and the way they are asked them. It must be possible for this information to be garnered without people feeling they have to go through the Spanish Inquisition to get what they are entitled to.  GPs and specialists may hold the answer. Medical reports and specialist opinion should be given proper consideration. What is clear is that this third degree stuff has to stop. Whatever happens, the system as it is cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged and unaltered. It needs to change so we can celebrate our successes, not despair over our failures. Reminding us, at every turn, of what we have lost is cruel, in the extreme, and needs to come to an end now. This constant questioning of disabled people about the things, over which we have no control, is just plain wrong and inhumane.

Stop it now, before it’s too late, and try something else, we beg you.

Anyone who has ever received any treatment whatsoever, in hospital, must surely be grateful for and appreciative of the work of all the wonderful junior doctors we have working in the NHS. A service that is free at the point of use and whose  medical staff are professional and dedicated.

For most of us, our first meeting with doctors and nurses would have been before we were even born when our mothers would have received ante-natal treatment and our final meeting will be close to, and probably even at, the very moment of our deaths. In between these two events the vast majority of us are likely to see the inside of a hospital more than once. And every time it will, almost certainly, be a junior doctor who treats us. The work these people do for us is immeasurable and we should all be so thankful for the men and women who dedicate their working lives to looking after the health of the entire nation. No task is too small, no task is too difficult, they will do their best to help every single one of us from the moment we go to a hospital for treatment until, hopefully, we are ready to leave, significantly better if not cured. And these are the people who are about to have a new contract forced upon them. A contract which will be detrimental to the entire profession. A contract that is making so many consider resigning and moving to work abroad where doctors are properly appreciated and valued.

As a disabled person I have had call to use the services of my local hospital on many occasions, maybe more than average, and on each of those occasions I have received the most wonderful care and compassion from all the doctors I have seen. As a parent I have had even more reason to see the work of our junior doctors first hand and, never once, in more than fifty years, have I ever heard any of them complain or say they can’t or refuse to help. As far as I am concerned they are all wonderful people who do their best from the second I first meet them until the second I say goodbye. When I had my first child they were admited to the special care baby unit at birth and treated there for a week before I was able to take them home. They were treated by junior doctors. When my younger daughter had some major asthma attcksas as a small child it was the junior doctors in my local hospital who treated her so she could come home later, fit and well. When my ex-partner had a motorcycle accident and was taken to Accident and Emergency he was treated and his life saved by junior doctors both there and on the ward. When my elderly father was in a nasty accident and broke his neck it was junior doctors who worked tirelessly to save his life and his mobility. Last year I spent several weeks as an in-patient and every day I saw the dedication displayed by these men and women as they worked tirelessly to help and treat every one of us on the ward. I saw the way they would stop and smile and talk to every patient, even the ones they weren’t about to treat themselves. I heard the abuse that some of them were subjected to by some very ill people and people in tremendous pain who, almost certainly, would not have behaved the way they did or said the things they said if they hadn’t been so ill. Not once did these professionals bat an eyelid or say anything back, they just went on doing their best for us all. They were polite and dedicated at all times, however tired they may have been, however many hours they may have just worked, however many more hours they still had to work before they got their next break. They were amazing.  

This is why I will continue to support the industrial action our junior doctors are being forced to take, I know they wouldn’t be doing so if they didn’t feel they had no other option. Junior doctors are the lifeblood of our National Health Service and their work should be valued and applauded by all of us who have ever had to use hospital service and that, I suspect, is most of us.  

To all the Junior doctors working in the United Kingdom, from one of your many patients, thank you, I would not be alive without you.