Archive

Compassion

And, yet again, I am feeling angry and reflective in equal measures thanks to something I’ve just seen on TV.

I’ve just seen an interview with one of the two homeless guys in Manchester who ran to help people who were bleeding and lying, seriously injured and even dying at the Arena and in the street, after the horrible attack in Manchester earlier this week. What an an amazing, selfless, wonderful human being. He fully deserves all the praise and plaudits and gratitude he is receiving, a true hero. And he wasn’t the only one either. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the other gentleman who cradled a dying woman in his arms as well. He was also homeless but that didn’t stop him trying to help where he could and offer comfort where it was needed.

But, what’s got me wondering is what’s actually happened here? What’s changed? Would the people who are setting up Go Fund Me and Just Giving appeals and donating money to these guys have even given them a second glance prior to the attack? Would they, would I, would most of us have offered help or food or money or a kind word or even a smile to them in passing? I would hope so but I don’t know. Sure, some people might have but, sadly, I am afraid the answer for the vast majority is almost certainly not. Most people, had they even noticed them and had they even reacted in any way at all would probably have done little more than tut, pull their children closer, out of the way, kept on walking and thought no more about it. If anything, that’s all.

So there we have it and here’s my big question of the day. What was it about these men that made them so unapproachable beforehand that has now changed? What was it that meant so many people, had they seen them begging outside the Arena last week, would have just shaken their heads and crossed the road? How many would have failed to even acknowledge their existence? Far too many I’m afraid. And what’s changed? Why are we now giving them all the help we can? What has made the difference? Why is the before scenario and the after scenario so different? These guys are still homeless, still down on their luck, still in dire need of help. All that’s changed is that their kindness and humanity has been spotted and highlighted and brought to the world’s attention thanks to the events of Monday night. Nothing else, that’s it.

But surely that kindness and humanity and goodness was there before the bomb. It can’t have just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. All that’s changed is that it just wasn’t recognised due to the  predisposition we seem to have in assuming that the people who are on the street must have done something bad to deserve it.

Why do we think like that? Just because someone is homeless and destitute and begging does not make them bad and deserving of whatever has happened to them. Just because someone has somewhere nice to live and a well-paid job and plenty to eat and lovely holidays does not make them good. The truth is that the homeless guy round the corner is little more than one step away from having a job and their own home and, the guy next door with the house and car and salaried employment is just one step away from being on the streets. No-one knows what is just round the corner for any of us which could change our lives forever, one way or the or the other. ‘There for the Grace of God, go I’ has never been more apposite.

It’s a terrible indictment on our society that it’s taken this awful event for these two homeless heroes to get the help they are now getting. Why didn’t they get that help beforehand? What has actually changed? And, what about all the other homeless people in this country who weren’t there and who weren’t able to do anything to help? Are they going to miss out yet again? I would hope not. I would hope that, whenever we see someone who is down on their luck that we remember Steve and Chris, for those are their names, and try to do something, however little, to show that we care.

I, for one am certainly going to try to make sure I don’t pass by on the other side in future. A simple smile or a quick ‘hello’ won’t hurt me and it might help a homeless person feel like person again, it might even be the very thing that tips the scale and makes a real difference.

It’s horrible.

Yesterday saw a complete and utter tragedy in Japan when a man decided to attack and slaughter nineteen severely disabled people in a care facility outside Tokyo for the despicable crime of – being disabled. That was it, they were disabled. A cowardly attack by what sounds like a disgruntled employee, perpetrated against people who were unable to defend themselves against his blows and slashes and murderous assault purely because, to his eyes, they were not worthy of life. He attacked and mutilated and killed at least nineteen people in a frenzied knife attack before going to a police station to hand himself in, allegedly stating as he did so: “It is better that disabled people disappear.”

Why?

What was it about the disabled people living in this facility that he felt entitled him to snuff them out? Why did he decide that these people have no right to exist? What had these people done that was so terrible? Was it because they had been born in a less than ‘perfect’ body? Could it have been because he deemed them to be unable to function ‘normally’ in society? What gave him the right to play judge and jury and make that decision. We will probably never know.

But that’s not all, there’s more.

Earlier this year he wrote a letter to the Speaker of the lower house of Japan’s parliament in which he said that he felt it would be better if all severely disabled people were, with the agreement of their families,  euthanised if it was proven to be difficult for that person “to carry out household and social activities”. There was no description given of what those activities might be or what differentiated a disabled person from a severely disabled person, just that these people, whoever they might be, were not worthy of life and should, therefore, die. He even volunteered to carry out the killings himself and detailed how he would accomplish this atrocity if given the opportunity.

As far as I am concerned this is just the tip of a hate filled iceberg. Society is in meltdown. Disabled people are being hurt, disabled people are being abused, disabled people are dying because of it. Disabled people are  being targeted for no other reason than for just being who they are. This fear and hatred is prevalent from the lowest to the highest echelons of society and it’s getting worse. Only this week there was a report in the press about a middle-aged businessman who, apparently, decided, that bullying a disabled person because he himself had been made to queue to use a toilet was all right. Earlier this year, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump felt that it was acceptable to mock a disabled reporter because of their impairment without any obvious repercussions for his actions. In November 2015 it was reported that incidents of disability hate crime in the UK had increased by forty-one percent over the previous year. Name calling, harassment, physical and mental assault for no other reason than a person’s medical condition. Well, in my opinion this is not right and cannot be allowed to continue. What will it take for the hatred to stop? What has happened to make society so against people who are not the same, people who are different in some way. People who are different because of an illness, injury or accident of birth. Something that is out of the control of the person that is being abused.

We need to show that we have had enough and that all this unwarranted hostility and intolerance has to stop. People should learn to respect diversity and value their fellow men and women for what and who they are, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. We all have a contribution we can make, no matter how large or how small, how monumental or seemingly insignificant it may be.

We must make sure we all put our collective feet down firmly and just say ‘NO!’  

What has happened to this country? What is going on? We really do seem to be becoming a nation full of some very nasty people and I don’t like it. All I am seeing at the moment is story after story, report after report, news item after news item, on social and in mainstream media, of racist and xenophobic attacks and mind-boggling hatred towards our fellow man and woman. It’s horrible. Even though it’s now been a week since the Referendum, since we voted to leave the European Union, it’s going on and on and on. The hatred and racism is not abating in any way that I can see, if anything, it’s getting worse. According to newspapers and the news bulletins I’ve seen, read and heard just today, racist hate-crime has increased fivefold in the last week. A truly terrifying statistic and not a Britain I want any part of. People are being abused just because of where they were born, because of the colour of their skin and it has to stop.

What is going on?

People are being abused, insulted and attacked for no other reason than the fact they were not born in this country. Got a ‘funny’ name? Go somewhere else. Got an accent? Get out. Born somewhere else? The exit’s that way. Got a different skin colour? No room, we’re full.

Why?

Anyone with any knowledge or understanding of our country’s history knows that Britain is, and always has been, a medley of people and traditions from other countries, other nations, other cultures. A wonderful, amazing, fascinating meld of people from all over the world. People from many races living and working together, over the years, to make our country what it is. People absorbing other cultures and traditions, whilst adding a ‘British’ spin to everything. People teaching each other about life elsewhere and learning from one another for centuries. That’s what has made us the people and the country we are today.

But things are changing and, in my opinion, they are not changing for the better. As a nation we are becoming more and more insular and intolerant of others and it has to stop. All this bitterness and hatred is wrong and cannot go on. Not without harming the health of our country it can’t, anyway. Disrespecting, attacking and abusing others has to end before it’s too late. I  believe that my parents got it right and I believe that we should all try to think the same way. It makes sense to me anyway. They were both children in during the Second World War and the things they saw and heard then taught them something invaluable. Thinking first and then treating other people the way we would like to be treated ourselves needs to become our watchword, the way we all live our lives. Continuing to hate is wrong and can’t go on.

When I was a child, back in the 1960s and 70s, my wonderful parents brought me up with one main tenet for my life which they encouraged me to follow. It’s a maxim that has served me well for more than half a century now and it’s something I have tried to instill into my own children’s upbringing. It’s something, I believe, we would all do well to remember and try to adhere to, especially now. If I have learnt nothing else, if there’s nothing else I could teach my grandchildren, when I am blessed with some, if I take nothing else forward into the rest of my life, from the many things my parents taught me, practically from the day I was born then it’s this,

treat other people they way you would like to be treated yourself.

If you don’t believe you would like it done to you, by someone else, then don’t do it to other people.

Stop, think, reconsider then walk away. That is what we need to remember every day in everything we do and that is what we seem to have forgotten at the moment.

I don’t want to sound rude, resentful and ungrateful but I am getting completely fed up with the loss of dignity, privacy, autonomy and spontaneity that goes along with being a disabled person, reliant on homecare and personal assistants for my every need. It’s horrible and I hate it so much. I would give so much to be able to have a lie-in because I feel like it, not think about what I’m going to have for my lunch until I’m actually hungry, do something without having to plan it days in advance and have a wash and get dressed without an audience, but I can’t. Just for once, I’d like to be able to be left alone and to chose to do things, because I want to do them, without anyone else being involved, but it’s not going to happen.

After a year of frustration, with agency staff looking after me, I now have a team of lovely carers, whom I employ myself, who come in three times a day, and they do everything for me. Which, don’t get me wrong, is nice, but, just for once, I’d like them, if to were possible, to just go away and leave me alone. They come into the house first thing in the morning, often when I am still asleep, and wake me up, even if I don’t want to be awake. They bustle around, opening and shutting doors, making idle small-talk and turning on the lights. They go to the bathroom, get a big bowl full of water and then strip the bedclothes and my pyjamas off me, wash me and give me a bed-bath. Whilst they do this, and whilst I am still half asleep, trying desperately to get back into the lovely dream I was having only minutes before they came, they ask me what I want for my breakfast and for my lunch and then one of them goes to fetch it. I’m hardly fit for anything before I’ve had my morning coffee but I have to go through the morning routine every day before I even get a glass of water. Forty-five minutes of frenzied activity every morning and then, just a quickly as it started,  I’m on my own until it all happens in reverse in the evening when they come to get me ready for bed. And this is my life. No frivolous conversation about what was on the TV last night, no questions about what I did the day before, no talk about what I’m going to be doing next month or next year, or my plans for the future, just the same thing, day in, day out. No variation. Well, I am completely fed up with being poked, prodded, turned, talked to, flustered and disturbed all the time. I would like to be able to wake up when I want to wake up because I feel like it, have a wash in a bathroom with the door closed, without an audience, change my mind about what I’m going to wear when I’m halfway through getting dressed because I don’t want to wear whatever I got out of the wardrobe after all. I want to be able to go to the kitchen and choose what I want to eat for my breakfast by looking in the cupboards to see what’s there rather than having to choose from the supermarket delivery note. I want to get to look out of the window and THEN decide if I’m going out or staying in rather than make all my plans for the day in advance. I want to be able to do what most people do and live a ‘normal’ life. I want to make simple, little decisions about my life, on my own, without comment, but I can’t. Don’t get me wrong, I really do appreciate the dedication of all the people who help me on a day-to-day basis but, just for once, I want it to be like the old days.

Having the autonomy to do my own thing was never something I truly appreciated when I had it but, now that I don’t, I really want it back. Being able to do something spontaneously was never something I really thought about but now I can’t be spontaneous I really miss it. In the past I have just gone to the station and caught a train to the other side of the country because I felt like it, now I can’t even change my mind about my sandwich filling without having to ask someone else to deal with it for me. Privacy when it came to being seen naked or in my underwear was never something that really bothered me. Changing rooms in clothing stores and leisure centres didn’t bother me and if someone wanted to look at me or stare then so be it. Once you have given birth, with an audience of doctors, nurses and midwives, you get to realise your body is not really your own. Even so, that was years ago and I thought it was something I could put behind me but no, it’s back and it’s not likely to go away now.

I so wish I could just be me again and have my old life back but, unless someone makes a medical breakthrough and finds a cure for me, I’m going to face the fact it’s not going to happen. I am just going to have to grit my teeth and get used to being the new me. It’s not the life I envisaged for myself when I was younger or the life I would have chosen but it is the life I’ve now got. Spontaneity, privacy and dignity as I knew them are now for other people, not for me. My life is now different and there are many other people who are involved in it so, I suppose, I had better knuckle down and get on with it.

Roll-on the future, let’s see what happens next.

Why is it that, when non-disabled people are talking about or to disabled people, they feel that it is perfectly fine to say or ask whatever they like? Regardless. Absolutely anything. Things they would not dream of asking or saying about a non-disabled person but, because we are disabled, they feel they have a right to know.

Surely, people don’t do that, I hear you say. Well they do. Granted, it’s not everyone, most people are great, but it certainly does happen and it is definitely not fine. Just because we are disabled it doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings. Rule of thumb here guys, if you wouldn’t like people to say what you are about to say about yourself, then, in all likelihood, your disabled compatriot is unlikely to like it either.

And, most of the time, it’s not necessary either. Again, before you open your mouth ask yourself why you are about to say what you are about to say? Is there a valid reason or are you just being nosey. In many, if not most cases, it’s the latter and not the former. You really don’t need to know at all.

So what kind of thing am I talking about then. Well, I’m sure just about every disabled person in the country, in the world really, can think of more than one occasion when someone has said something that was unnecessary or hurtful or when they have been asked something intensely intimate and private when there was no need.

Last weekend a friend of mine was very upset when she overheard a visitor to her home in conversation with her partner. My friend, who has an impairment which can cause her intolerable pain, was in bed after having a very bad night due to pain and nightmares. The inconsiderate visitor was heard saying that she thought my friend was extremely lazy and asking, couldn’t her partner do something about it, because it just wasn’t right for someone in their early twenties to be so idle. Thankfully, her partner dealt with the situation very well and the visitor later apologised but, knowing that my friend is disabled, why did this person feel they had the right to say what they did if they didn’t know the full circumstances?

And it’s happened to me too. Just because I am obviously disabled, and use a wheelchair, I have been asked questions no-one in their right mind, would ask a non-disabled person. “How do you go to the toilet?”, “Can you have sex then?” and, said with some incredulity, “You mean you’ve got a job then? You work?” These are genuine questions I have been asked by random strangers on the bus or in queues at the checkout. I have even been stopped in the street and asked if my children were mine because they weren’t disabled too. Who thinks they have a right to do that? I think the most hurtful question I have ever been asked personally was when I went to my GP to get the result of a pregnancy test. The doctor had the brass nerve to say, almost without stopping for breath, “Congratulations Poppy, you’re pregnant. When would you like the abortion?” Once I’d retrieved my jaw from the floor, I said I didn’t want one. She then said, “But you have MS. How will you look after a baby?” Apart from the fact that, at that time, my MS was fairly newly diagnosed and was causing me very few problems, she was also completely ignoring the fact that I had a partner, parents, a sibling and other friends and relatives who could lend a hand if I needed one. Much the same as any other young, pregnant woman actually. Why did my MS diagnosis mean that this woman felt she had the right to say what she did. In my opinion, she didn’t. My MS didn’t mean I was completely incapable. Sure, I might have a few difficulties but, doesn’t everyone else? Thankfully, her fears were, as I had expected, unfounded and I had no problem with my pregnancy whatsoever. Or with my second pregnancy two years later for that matter, a very different experience altogether, thanks to a new, understanding GP and a supporting Midwife.

Just because someone is disabled it doesn’t mean their life is public property. How their impairment affects them should be on a need to know basis only and if you don’t need to know, don’t ask. It’s private and unlikely to be any of your business. If you wouldn’t like to be asked yourself, move away and stop being a poke-nose.

Regular readers of my blogs will know, without doubt, of my addiction to social media and how often the posts I read on Facebook and Twitter make me angry and inspire my writing. And today is no exception to the rule. Today it is a post on Facebook that has rattled my cage and made me want to write again.

The thoughtless comment I read this morning was yet another post about ‘benefit scroungers’ and fake disabled people. Someone was going on about all the people who are in receipt of PIP (Personal Independence Payments) and it’s predecessor, Disability Living Allowance, who ‘aren’t really disabled and entitled to it’ are they. The fake disabled person, as far as this poster was concerned, was a woman who volunteers in a local charity shop twice a week who gets PIP and has learning difficulties. The point, as far as the poster was concerned anyway, was that learning difficulties wasn’t a proper disability and that PIP was only for people who couldn’t walk or for blind people wasn’t it? No understanding whatsoever. No attempt, that I could see, of any research being done about the payments, just a declaration that the woman in question was a scrounger and a fraud because there was no special something which gave a clue as to her medical diagnosis. Not only that, but at least two responders had suggested that the OP (original poster) should report the woman to the DWP for fraud, especially as she was volunteering, which meant she could obviously work, so shouldn’t be getting any benefits at all should she.

Why is it that the less clued-up general public seems to think that all disabled people must have some sort of sign or badge which marks them out as having an impairment? Why is there little or no understanding for all the thousands of people who have conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, autism, mental health difficulties, diabetes or epilepsy? How about all the people whose impairments have little or no outward manifestation. What about those of us who do not have an aid such as a white stick, a zimmer frame or a wheelchair that means we’re lying. Some of us have nothing at all that marks us out in a crowd. Someone with learning difficulties may need another person with them when they go out to help them get from A to B safely. Someone with diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in their hands might be able to walk but might not be able to hold a pen or pencil so may need a writing aid. Someone in the earlier stages of Multiple Sclerosis or Motor Neurone Disease may need to use cabs to get around but they can still walk a bit. Just because they have no visible sign of an impairment does not make them any less disabled that someone with a guide dog or a mobility scooter.    

And, where does it say that disabled people can’t volunteer or go out to work? To start with, PIP and DLA are welfare payments made to disabled people to help them with the extra costs their impairments cause. DLA and PIP were designed to help put disabled people onto a level playing field with their non-disabled compatriots. They are not a payments that are based on our diagnoses, they are based on our need for some help with our day to day lives. We don’t all have something that marks us out from the rest, a label which says ‘genuinely disabled’ hanging round our necks. More often than not there is nothing special about us to distinguish us at all.  And this leads on to the second myth my original poster and secondary responders were expounding, that DLA and PIP cannot be paid to disabled people who are in work. The extra costs disabled people can incur don’t go away with the arrival of a pay cheque. Someone who is unable to use public transport and has to catch a cab everywhere they go when they are unemployed is still going to have to call a cab to go places after they get a job. They will not, magically, get better the minute they sign an employment contract. Miracle cures don’t work like that or we would all be out there hammering on the doors of recruitment agencies begging for work.

Genuine disabled people don’t wear badges and there is nothing that says that disabled benefit claimants don’t need a little bit extra from public funds to put them on a level playing field, even if they do work. People who post comments on Social Media really do need to think twice and do a bit of research before they hit the enter key. What, at first glance, may look to be unfair usually isn’t. Disabled People are not money grabbing crooks, we’re just people who are trying to make the best of the difficult situation we have found ourselves in, often through no fault of our own. Disparaging and thoughtless comments and social media posts don’t help. If you’re not sure, do a little research, you may learn something and void hurting someone who has done nothing to hurt you. Most people aren’t crooks and should be treated with consideration, however much some social media users may like to believe they are.  

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.