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Now, that’s interesting. According to a new report by disability charity ‘Sense’, 25% of respondents to a survey they conducted have said they avoided talking to disabled people because it made them uncomfortable, they didn’t know what to say to us and they were frightened of causing offense. Not only that, but this reluctance seems to be age related with younger people avoiding conversation more than their older counterparts.

Why? Do they think we bite or that they might catch something unspeakable from us? Are they concerned that we can only talk about things are disability related such as wheelchairs and hearing aids and white sticks? Do they expect us to intersperse our conversations with technical references to nasty medical stuff like invasive tests, incurable conditions, pharmaceuticals and distasteful bodily functions?  

Well, I have news for you folks, I, like so many other disabled people, can, and do, talk about so, so much more.

All the time.

In fact, it’s actually hard to shut many of us, like me, up!

I have a similar range of interests to my non-disabled contemporaries. Similar likes and dislikes, similar worries and and fears, similar opinions about similar things, similar funny stories about the exploits of my amazing family. I love eating sushi and all things Italian but dislike curry and anything spicy. I adore watching athletics and gymnastics on TV but get bored stupid by football and rugby. I hate our current Government and all that it stands for, worry about our Nation’s future and all that is just around the corner with Brexit and Trump and North Korea and Global Warming and, wonder what sort of legacy we are leaving for our children to inherit. I can chat about music and films and last night’s terrible TV offerings and Poldark and the latest goings on in Walford. ?I love reading and have so many favourite authors and genres of literature. I like going out for a drink with my friends in the evening and at the weekend and I’m quite good at pub quizzes.

In other words folks, I’m just like you, I just use a wheelchair to get around instead of legs. That’s it.

What’s so scary then and what is it that makes it so? I reckon the problem is routed in unfamiliarity. For too many years disabled people have been brushed to the side and hidden away and non-disabled people have been told that it’s rude to stare. That awkwardness of unfamiliarity begins from a very early age. Small children are hushed and dragged away from us and told not to ask us questions from practically the moment they learn to speak. I once met an obviously exhausted child aged around five or six, on their way home from school, who pointed to my super-duper wheelchair that had headlights and a horn and flashy indicators and asked their parent if they could have one of THOSE for Christmas. Her mother slapped her and pulled her away. Why? I wasn’t offended, I thought it was funny! My friend’s young son, on the other hand, loved it and told his teacher that his Mum’s friend drove her car in the lving room! Hilarious!

What I’d really like to see is far more opportunities for children to meet disabled people from birth onwards and lose the fear. I’d like kids to use their own, natural curiosity and ask us questions without being slapped down and shushed. When my own children were younger, I used to go to their schools to give talks to children in their middle two Primary years about my life and my impairment and how things would be so much better if the world was fully accessible for all, no matter what, and they lapped it up. I listened to their questions and answered them as best I could. Why can’t that happen more often? All children have PHSE lessons where they learn about health and social issues, why can’t other disabled people, like me, be invited to give talks and take the scarey away? Kids could ask questions and find out what makes us tick in a fun and liberating way. Everyone could have some educational fun together. If people were ‘exposed’ to disabled people more, right from the start then maybe they would realise that we are, essentially, just people, the same as they are. If more disabled kids were educated alongside non-disabled kids in mainstream schools and if there were more disabled teachers and youth leaders then maybe the fear would go. It might take a generation to achieve but, with a bit of thought and effort it could happen and then, just maybe, future surveys would find that the awkwardness had gone.

And, I have a tip for all those people, like those questioned by Sense researchers, who are unsure about what they can say to us to avoid awkwardness and offence, why not try ‘Hello’?

    

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OK Theresa and Jeremy and Tim and Nicola and Leanne and all the other pavement walking, door knocking, Manifesto-pledging Parliamentary candidates currently pounding our Nations’ streets, I have some questions for you. And, as a disabled person, I’m pretty sure there are many others from my community who have questions for you too. Why are you not speaking to us? Don’t we count? Don’t our votes matter to you? I hope not.

What I want to know, exactly, is what the political big-wigs and hard-hitters and movers and shakers in this country can offer to us? What promises can you give to all of us. What promises or pledges will you make to us? According to all the statistics I have been able to find, there are around 12-13 million disabled people in this country, what are you going to do to our lives any better for us? Are you totally disregarding the collective power and magnitude of disabled people’s votes and the votes of our families and friends? I hope not. Do you really think you can continue to either demonise us or watch others doing the demonising without us noticing? I hope not. Are you going to continue putting our needs to the back of the queue? I hope not. Are you going to go on ignoring us? I hope not.

Well, here are my questions at any rate.

We are told that Social care in this country is in crisis. That there is not enough money to pay home-carers and unpaid carers a decent wage or benefit that reflects what they do to support and enable us. What are you going to do about it? We are the net users of that care, what are you planning on doing to alleviate the situation and ensure that we get the care we want and need to allow us to live our lives to the full?

What are you going to do?

Many of us need to use aids and adaptations in our daily lives such as hoists and wheelchairs and hearing aids and aids for people with visual impairments. What are you going to do so that we can all get the best equipment we need to live without having to fight for every nut, bolt, screw, , plug, cable and electronic component?

What are you going to do?

Then there is the constant battle to find a home, a place to live which can cater for our access needs and accommodate us properly and in comfort. It’s often one of the greatest obstacles we face but one where we appear to get little or no help in getting what we need. What are you going to do to ensure that there are houses and flats and bungalows available which allow us to live in the community with our families, alongside our friends and neighbours without having to fight for funding for alterations and adaptations?

What are you going to do?

How are you proposing that your party will ensure that disabled children and young people can receive the education they need and deserve alongside their non-disabled compatriots? How are you going to try to ensure that they can all study together and not be segregated due to an impairment meaning the school or college is physically inaccessible for all?

What are you going to do?

Everyone falls sick at some point in their lifetime, what are you going to do to ensure that everyone can access the healthcare we all need and not find it being rationed according to how much we need it and how expensive it is? How are you going to give us access to the doctors and specialists and the nursing professionals we need in our hospitals? Are you going to ensure that these professionals receive salaries that reflect their skills and dedication? Are you going to make sure that they have working conditions such as hours and breaks that allow them to do their jobs to the best of their ability and not want to leave?

What are you going to do.

Then there the employment thing. We are told that everyone must work and get a job. What are you going to do to ensure that disabled people who can work get the support they need to do so safely and successfully and that those that can’t work due to their impairments are not demonised and punished for daring to be sick and disabled. Many of us would like to have the opportunity to do something, however small, what are you going to do to help us? How are you going to promote disability in the workplace so that those of us who can work and want to work get the support we need and the opportunity to do so?

What are you going to do?

Talk to us and tell us how you are going to help and support us. Why should we vote for you and your party as opposed to the other parties and their candidates? What are you going to do that will make a difference for us? Don’t write off 13 million potential voters. Please talk to us and tell us what you’re going to do to help us. If you want my vote give me a reason to put my cross next to your name on the ballot paper. What difference are you going to make to my life? Why should I vote for you, please tell me.

What are you going to do?

I’ve been pondering.

Dangerous, I know, but the Daily Politics Show and the lunchtime news has got me thinking. Again.

And, today’s muse has led to me wonder what will be my, and our nation’s, enduring memory of our current Conservative Government.

What will we remember in the years to come.

What will be their legacy.

Good, bad or indifferent, what have Mrs May and her compatriots done that will stay with me past the end of her tenure in Number 10? What have they done which will leave lasting impression?

And I have just realised what I think it is.

Crisis after crisis. A never-ending stream of crises. My life, the lives of my friends and family, the lives of so many people in this country, appear to be doing little more than lurching from one crisis to the next. And the Government and its policies are largely the cause of this.

I know that we are in the midst of seismic political change in this country, with last year’s Referendum and the imminent triggering of Article 50, and that will crtauinly be unforgetable, but I don’t think that’s what I am likely to remember the most. I think the thing I will remember is the never ending series of crises we appear to be having. Day after day, week after week, month after month.

We currently have a major crisis in the NHS, due to a lack of funding, and our hospitals are struggling to deliver the medical treatment we all need.

We currently have a crisis in Social Care, due to lack of funding, and our Local Authorities are struggling to ensure that our disabled and older people receive the care in their own homes they need to live the independent and stress free life we all deserve.

We currently have a crisis in our education system, due to a lack of funding, thanks to a teacher supply shortage, unmanageable workloads and serious underfunding placing an insurmountable pressure on teaching staff in schools and colleges

We are now told we have a crisis within our Police Service, diue to a lack of funding, where forces nationwide are having difficulty recruiting and retaining detectives, which is harming response times and there has been an erosion in neighbourhood policing.

And what is it that all these crises have in common?

Funding, or rather, a lack of it.

Our health service is underfunded. Our Social Care Services are underfunded. Our Police Force is underfunded. Our Education System is underfunded. Underfunding seems to be the cause of crisis after crisis and this serious lack of money across the board will mean, in reality, that things can only get worse. Our services cannot continue to be run on a negative bank balance. Things need to change and they need to change fast. I’m not an economist, a financial whizz-kid or a politician but, even I can see that more money needs to be found, from somewhere, and it needs to be found soon if we are to avert a cataclysmic crash. And, finding that money, may be the greatest legacy this Government could leave both us and the generations to come.

There must be a way we can be led back from the brink of disaster and, as far as I am concerned, it’s up to Mrs May and her cohorts to do it if this plethora of problems is not going to overwhelm us and ruin our lives, and the state of our nation, for generations to come.

Finding the solution to all these crises would be the greatest legacy this Government could leave. We can only hope they find that solution soon, before it’s too late. .  

Yesterday, yet another library in my Borough, the London Borough of Lambeth, was closed. Parents and toddlers coming for their weekly story-telling afternoon were turned away, doors were padlocked to keep both staff and customers out, shelves were cleared and removal vans were sent in to remove both furniture and assets. Today I am seeing pictures of packing crates in empty rooms and uniformed security guards patrolling the premises and hearing tragic tales of other local libraries nationwide being striped of their staff, their stock and their identity.

Why?

What is it about Libraries, their history, their function, their unique position in society, their unquestionable importance, that my local Council, and indeed, other Councils don’t seem to understand? Libraries were set up to be free, public repositories of knowledge not, as Lambeth seems to think, a simple bookshelf in a church hall, surgery or gym which is what they are proposing that we should have.  This wanton destruction of our precious facilities, our heritage, our children and grandchildren’s futures has to stop now, before it’s too late and the situation cannot be reversed.

The heart is being ripped out of our communities and it can’t be allowed to continue.

According to figures I have seen in the last couple of days regarding council spending, I understand that during the last financial year over £13million of our Council Tax in my area was spent on ‘Corporate Office Accommodation’, whatever that might be, whilst only a miserly £57,000 was invested in library provision Boroughwide. £57,000 invested in one of the greatest information resources we have in the area. £57,000 invested in our young people’s future. In a Borough with a total population of around 316,000 people that amounts to just £5.58 for each man, woman and child. Not even the price of your average cut-price paperback.

Well, forgive me, but that just doesn’t seem right.

I pay my taxes for services and facilities that will benefit everyone not just a select coterie at the top. Services that will benefit, not just me, but my children, my future grandchildren, my neighbours, my neighbours’ children and grandchildren and my entire community. I don’t pay my taxes for unused empty buildings and city centre office blocks. I want value for the many for my money, not perks for the few but that’s not what I’m getting.

And I can look at what’s happening from a different angle, through different eyes. I am not just a local resident and taxpayer, I am also a trained librarian so I can look at what is happening as a qualified professional, not just as a vociferous and angry service user. I have worked in public libraries, school libraries, university libraries and specialist libraries within national and multinational businesses and corporations.

When I studied for my BA(Hons) in Librarianship in the 1980s, I learnt about the beauty of both language and literature, the wonder of local and national history, the importance of all knowledge and I was taught everything I needed to know about high quality information provision for all. I learnt about storing, guarding, protecting and sharing information and helping others to access that information whenever they needed to. I was not taught how to pack it away and put it into storage, hidden from sight, which is what seems to be happening, not just in Lambeth, but throughout the country.

I’m pretty sure we were taught that what local communities wanted and needed and cherished was unfettered access to books and computers and information and space to study with properly qualified, fully committed, professional library staff who knew the local area and what other facilities were available for people to use should they want to. We were not taught to value corporate offices we were unlikely to ever use or see. We were trained to become Library staff who were prepared to invest time and effort in listening to our customer’s questions, finding the answers to those questions and showing people how to do their own research if they wanted to know more. I’m pretty certain we weren’t taught that what local communities wanted most for their money were posh offices with comfy chairs and shiny desks for transient local councillors and overpaid council executives.

How much longer will both Lambeth Council and other Councils continue to forget that local libraries are a valuable resource for everyone, maybe even the most valuable of all resources for so many people within the area?

Residents have been investing in their libraries for decades so please, don’t close them and take them from us. We have needed them in the past, we still need them now and we will continue to need them long into the future.

Don’t take away one of the greatest assets we all have. There must be other, less painful ways to save money. Leave us our libraries and try something else.

What an eventful political week.

Who could have predicted the momentous turn of events we have just witnessed only one, short month ago. Not me, for one. Saying goodbye to David Cameron and his team and hello to Theresa May and her’s is going to change so many things, long-term, for us all.

But, what do I as a disabled person, want to see delivered by the new regime?

Well, for a kick off I want to see an end to all Welfare Benefits sanctions, in particular sanctions which mean that disabled people are left without sufficient money to pay for food and medication and rent and energy costs and transport costs. I would like to see proper Welfare Benefits for disabled people where we didn’t have to continually justify our existence or prove how ill we are at every turn. Applying for Disability Benefits and attending never-ending face-to-face assessments or tribunals is soul-destroying, mentally traumatic and largely unnecessary. I want to see an end to people being punished for the crime of being too sick to work and being awarded benefit levels that allow us to actually live not just subsist. Just because we are either born or become too ill to earn our own livings does not mean we should always be put at the bottom of the heap or made to feel as if we are a burden on our families and society through no fault of our own.

I would like to see physically disabled people being able to access proper equipment based on what we want not what the government deem us as needing. The cheapest option is not always the best option in the long term. Giving us the bare minimum could be counterproductive. Spending a bit more to help us now may well mean less needs to be spent in the long term because our medical conditions might not deteriorate as fast, if at all because we are not having to struggle all the time for everything. There needs to be better provision of proper Mental health care and access to inpatient and outpatient treatment for as long as it needed, not a one size fits all system. Everyone is different and this needs to be recognised. There should also be mandatory mental health first aid training for anyone working with young or vulnerable people and for both physically and mentally disabled people, proper support for the NHS. I would like to see more funding made available for medical research which may lead to a better understanding of disabling conditions, better treatments and possible cures.

Another important consideration for many disabled people is care. I would like to see more money put into support for family carers, support for young carers. There should be mandatory respite care, for all disabled people of at least two weeks, annually allowing both disabled people and their carers a break where they can relax, safe in the knowledge that needs will be met. I would like to see this combined with increased level of social care. I would like to see family carers paid a living wage rather than just receiving the paucity which is Carer’s Allowance. I would like to see proper recognition of the value of family carers and how much money they save the nation. I would also like to see a proper rate of pay for all social carers. Without them and without family carers many more disabled people would need residential care or hospitalisation at a far greater cost to Social Services and NHS budgets.

And then there is transport and transportation costs. I would like to see a version of Taxicard available nationwide. I would like to see more investment in a fully accessible transport network. I would like to see much wider provision of wheelchair accessible transport such as Dial-a-Ride services and wheelchair accessible mini-cabs. Blue badges need to be universal for hospital carparks. There should be free parking or a refund of reasonable travel costs for relatives of people who are long-term in patients in hospitals.

These are only my initial thoughts and things that affect me personally the most but there are so many other things I feel that our new Prime Minister and her Cabinet should tackle that could benefit the lives of disabled and older people nationwide. Education, Transport, Access to Justice, Employment, the list is never ending.

Am I hopeful that we will see any of this?

Frankly, no.

I have been been gently fuming for a couple of weeks now.

My anger has been like a slow burning fuse on a pile of dynamite and now I am ready to explode.

If you have been reading or watching the local and national news over the past two or three weeks you may have seen stories about a local library in South East London that was scheduled for closure by the Local Authority and was therefore occupied by local people for several days in protest at that closure.

Well, that was my local library. If I hadn’t been stuck in bed due to my impairment, I would have been there too but I wasn’t able to take part in that bit of the protest, much to my chagrin. However, that doesn’t mean I did nothing. I might not be able to protest physically any more but I can do it in words. Writing is what I do best so I wrote. My contribution to the fight was to send letters voicing my concerns to local Councillors and MPs asking them to stop what they were doing and reconsider. I wrote to all three to my councillors, only one responded, I wrote to my MP who sent me a nice but largely ineffective email back, I wrote to members of the Greater London Authority who didn’t bother replying to me at all and I wrote to my MEP who ignored me. All the protests, the marches, the occupation, the petitions and the letters were disregarded and ignored and the library ended up being closed.

But the fight goes on.

The closure of the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill was part of a programme of library closures planned and orchestrated by Lambeth Council. The idea seems to be that we will get a lovely, but unwanted and unneeded, new gym, with a bookshelf in the corner, and no Library staff whatsoever. Lambeth Council are hellbent on getting us to exercise our bodies whilst ignoring the importance of exercising the mind.

How short-sighted. How wrong and how short-sighted.

But that’s not the thing that’s angered me the most about the whole situation. No whilst I am incensed by the library’s closure, the thing that has rattled my cage and prompted my ire, and this blog, is the email I received from one of my Ward Councillors in response to my letter of protest.

Councillor Jack Holborn, Labour, informed me, in an email,  that: ‘If we specially exempted the library service from any cuts, more would have to come from the big areas of the budget, such as looking after older people, or council tax support for the poorest.’

How dare he!

How dare he try tugging on heartstrings by implying that it was the library or services for the most vulnerable in the Borough that had to go! He was obviously trying to make me feel guilty about wanting to put books over people. Well, I am a severely disabled person and a qualified Librarian and what he has written will not wash with me. I find it despicable.

Libraries are not just about books, libraries are about people too. Libraries are places people visit to find information about local groups and services. Libraries are places where local groups such as local historians, and preschool story-telling groups can meet. Libraries are places where schoolchildren can work. Libraries are places parents can take their children, secure in the knowledge that there are people there who can help them to learn. Libraries are places where students can do research for their exams and assignments. Libraries are places where people can access computers and the internet if don’t have that facility at home and where everyone can receive professional guidance should they need it. How dare Councillor Holborn try to imply in his response that, by wanting to save all that and so much more, I was not concerned about local people. I am very concerned about local people Mr Holborne and, what concerns me the most, is the fact that they, and I, am currently represented by someone who would dare to try playing such tricks with my heart and mind and think he could get away with it. Well, it didn’t work. You failed. Jack Holborne, please rest assured that there is one voter here who will never be voting for you again. I would never be able to put my trust in someone who has the nerve to try to do what you have done. Implying that I don’t care about disabled and older people and poorer people was a step too far. I would never be able to trust anyone who believes they can get away with doing that. 

You’ve lost me.

Bye-bye.

I do love Sunday – ‘Politics Day’ on the TV. Programme after programme designed to have me shouting at the screen and promoting discussion and blogs for the following week. Lovely.

So, what is today’s main topic? Sugar or rather, Sugar Tax. Everyone seems to be talking about the amount of sugar we are all eating, tooth decay, the rise in incidences of diabetes, obesity and what we, and the Government, need to do about it.

Now, I am not a dietician or a medical expert or a celebrity chef or a dentist. I am not a politician whose ministerial brief is to propose policies relating to legislation on health. I am not a specialist who can talk knowledgeably about the science relating to the connection between eating too much sugar and being seriously overweight. I am just an ordinary middle-aged mother with no specialist knowledge whatsoever. What I do have, however, is a good, secondary school education and a degree of common sense but, one thing my basic ‘O’ level in biology and a lifetime of experience have taught me, is that sugar does not, in itself, contain many calories. A quick Google question reveals that a teaspoon full of sugar actually only contains a whole 16 calories. Not many at all. As far as I am aware, therefore, whilst too much sugar can lead to tooth decay and diabetes, on its own, it does not make you overweight.

I believe, along with many, that where we have gone wrong in this country is in stopping teaching our children and young people how to cook. How to cook proper, family meals. Not fancy stuff but real food that people want to eat every day. When I was at school, back in the dark ages, we had a proper ‘Domestic Science’ lab in our science block with cookers and sinks and fridges and preparation benches. Every week when I was in the equivalent of years 7 and 9 there would be a day when we would all trot along to school with a bag full of the ingredients our teacher had told us we would need and, that evening, thirty families in the Chester area would all eat the same thing. Whatever it was we, their children, had produced. Fast forward twenty five years to when my own children were in school and there was no domestic science, no learning how to cook and no experimental family meals. The cookers, fridges and bags of ingredients were no more.

And that, in my view, is where the problem, and one of the solutions, lie. Equip schools with kitchens where children can learn the practical skills they will need to feed themselves, and their families, food that tastes good, does them good and does not break the bank, cause waistlines to expand and teeth to fall out. Teach our children and young people, male and female, how to cook. Teach them what vegetables are, what to do with a portion of fish or meat to make it palatable and safe to eat, how, as my own mother would have said, to boil an egg. Every day we see adverts on our TV’s for special food boxes containing everything we need to make a meal, complete with recipes but is this what we want? Surely it would be better to teach our children how to go shopping and buy everything they need for a meal by themselves. How to follow a recipe, how to peel a carrot, how to mash a potato properly. We learnt what to do, many of our children didn’t. It’s all very well and good knowing how to speak several languages, deal with algebraic equations and write a well composed CV or essay but if young people don’t also learn how to feed themselves properly what does the future hold?

So, do we need a ‘Sugar Tax’ in this country? Well, in my view, no. Rather than imposing yet another tax on what we buy, let’s try teaching our children and grandchildren what to do with the food we all need to eat so we don’t rot our teeth, develop diabetes or become obese. Deal with the real problem, the lack of practical skills being taught in our schools rather than continue with the obsession our politicians seem to have for tax, tax tax. We don’t need to try and generate money to deal with the results of our inaction, we need to put more funding in to ensure our children and young people learn how to prevent the problems from happening in the first place. Reinstitute proper kitchens and domestic science lessons in all our schools, before it’s too late to stop the rot. Let’s teach the next generation to cook, cook, cook, not tax, tax, tax like taxation is a solution for everything that has gone wrong in this country. It isn’t.