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Media rant

I am angry.

Yet again, I am angry and yet again it is our not-so-noble Prime Minister and her Tory cohorts who have angered me. What a surprise eh? Who would have guessed it.

So, what has Mrs May done his time to rattle my cage?

Well, it’s not hard but, amongst a plethora of other things, the thing that has really riled me this time is the TV interview that she gave, with her husband Philip, on the BBC1 early evening chat show, ‘The One Show’ on Tuesday. I freely admit that I didn’t watch all of it. I couldn’t but the little I did watch made me seethe. I lasted for a total of about five fist-clenching, teeth-grinding minutes before I was forced to change channel. Not because I desperately wanted to watch the programme I switched to, no, I just couldn’t stand to watch any more of the cringe-worthy, sexist clap-trap that was being spouted by our leader and her lap-dog of a husband.

Totally disgusting tripe.

And now, today, the spouse of another Tory grandee is reiterating the self-same nonsense in an article in a Tory-loving daily newspaper. Argh!!!!! Horrible, revolting, mid-20th-century, sexist garbage.

But, what, I hear you ask, was it?

Well, on Tuesday night, Mrs and Mr May, when talking about their day-to-day lives and trying to sound as if they lived lives that are the same as everyone else’s lives, started talking about the household chores that they each undertook. Mr May said that, just like everyone else, he took the bins out. The PM was asked by the interviewer if she did this too and that’s when she made me angry. She told the nation that no, she didn’t because there were ‘Boy jobs and Girl jobs and taking the bins out was a Boy job.’ And now, Sarah Vine is saying the exact same thing. She is saying that the secret to a lasting, loving relationship is for there to be ‘Girl jobs’ and ‘Boy-jobs’.

Excuse me?

Boy jobs and Girl jobs? Which decade do these women live in? Why is taking the bin out a so-called Boy job? Because girls can’t do it because it will mess up their pretty frocks or grubby up their delicate hands? Balderdash. I thought that attitude went out in the nineteen sixties and seventies, almost half a century ago. The Sexual Revolution, Sexual Liberation, is something that happened in the past, something that should rightly be consigned to the history books and Wikipedia, not something we should still be fighting for now, in the twenty-first century.

And what about ‘Girl-jobs? What are they exactly? Should women be found solely in the kitchen, doing the housework or looking after the kids whilst the men do the difficult things such as putting up shelves, manufacturing flat-pack furniture and disposing of household waste. Is this what Mrs May and Ms Vine are saying? Well that’s what it looks like to me. The Tories accuse Corbyn and the Labour Party of trying to take this country back to a previous age but they’re trying to do exactly the same thing themselves.

What about women who live alone or, live in an all female household? What are they supposed to do? Live in filth because they are unable to take a bin-bag to the wheely-bin outside, survive without their flat-pack wardrobe and pile all their things on the floor because they have insufficient shelving? Ring for help from an ex-partner, husband or expensive handyman service? Ask the nearest male they can find such as a neighbour or passer-by for help? I don’t think so. Unless Mrs May or Ms Vine have a better idea, many women will just have to get on with it and do it themselves.

And this throw-away comment has made me wonder what the Department of Work and Pensions would have to say on the subject. All over the country there are men and women who have to document their job-search activities if they are to receive their meagre weekly or fortnightly Welfare Benefits payments. When someone applies for Job-Seekers Allowance they have to sign a pledge or contract that stipulates that they will apply for any suitable jobs that come up. They have to document all their efforts which then have to be shown to the people at the Jobcentre every time they sign on. And then, if their efforts to find work are deemed to be insufficient and they don’t have a valid reason for their failure to get a job, they are sanctioned and lose benefits for a shorter or longer period of time until the can show they are trying harder. I wonder what would happen if a job-seeker told their employment adviser at the Job-Centre that the reason they had not found work was that yes, there was work available but that work was for the wrong gender. Would that ever be acceptable?  Somehow, I don’t think so. Anyone who tried that trick would swiftly find themselves with no money and queuing outside their nearest foodbank.

When will Mrs May and Ms Vine join Mr Corbyn, Mr Farron, Ms Sturgeon, Ms Wood et al in the real world and not remain firmly stuck in the past. Boy-jobs and Girl-jobs have been and gone and, in my opinion, good riddance to them. Household tasks are just that, tasks. Tasks that can be done by anyone in the household, regardless of gender, not girl-jobs and boy-jobs, just boring, mundane, everyone tasks.   

I am getting entirely fed up with the number of adverts I am seeing on my TV for lotteries and, in particular, lotteries for charities.

Seemingly endless ways of people wanting to take my money for largely, no return.

RNIB, Poppy Lottery, Oxfam, Cancer Research, they’re all doing it. The list is never-ending.  

Why are these charities spending, what must be thousands, on this sort of TV advertising and why are they pandering to our ‘get rich quick’ society. Why re they trying to take our money for virtually nothing. Celebrities don’t do these ads for free, they charge, the TV companies showing the ads don’t air them for nothing, they are out to make a profit. £1 per week here, £1 per week there, for every pound spent on lotteries, that’s one less pound that could be spent on things more important things such as food, clothes, heating and lighting.

It all mounts up, there must be another way.

And, who are the people who spend money on lotteries, speculating on financial pipe-dreams? Is it the people at the top, the people with money to burn, the bankers, the politicians, the businessmen and women in the gilded skyscrapers of the City, the high rollers, the elite or is it the people at the bottom who just scraping by and who barely have enough for their daily living needs. The celebrities who are promoting these lotteries are unlikely to be buying their weekly ticket, the shareholders of the TV companies showing the ads are not dreaming of a big win, they already get that when their dividends are paid. A study in the USA in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 2012 found that ‘Those in the lowest fifth in terms of socioeconomic status (SES) had the “highest rate of lottery gambling (61%)’. It’s not the rich who are gambling away their money because that’s what it is, gambling, it’s the poor who have little enough disposable income as it is. I know that someone has to win and that some lucky people actually have, but the chances ‘It Could be You’ are vanishingly small.

Unlike the National Lottery, big-charity lottery players don’t even receive a ticket or have a thrill of anticipation, watching the balls being drawn live, checking their numbers off when the draw is made after yet another TV, get rich quick, game show. They don’t even know what their numbers are or which numbers have been drawn each week. Nothing to show for what they have spent. They just have the money taken out of their bank accounts, week in, week out for nothing more than an sophisticated raffle.

It all mounts up, there must be another way.

I know these charities do amazing things for their beneficiaries. I know they need to get their money from somewhere. Having worked for one of them I am fully aware of the great work that is being done, how much it costs and all the people who are being helped but, much of the time, the people paying out and buying the tickets are the very same people who are on the receiving end too. All too often the pound they spent on their ticket is going into the grants for good causes which they are using and benefiting from anyway.

Why not cut out the middlemen who are making and showing the ads and doing something else instead. If the celebrities, TV Companies and big businesses who have so much just gave just a little of it every year to Charities then we wouldn’t need the endless lotteries. And regular donations would be so much better and so much more helpful anyway. The big charities could still get their money and the smaller charities could still get their grants but there would be some certainty to the charity’s income. And the government could help too. Instead of giving tax-breaks to the rich they could give more of our tax money to the services that are currently being propped up by the charities operating lotteries.    

I’m not against people having fun or trying to dictate how people send their money but I do find the non-stop ‘it’s only a pound’ mantra more than a little cynical. Paying fifty pence on the raffle or the tombola at the church fete, school fair or country show, where players stand a reasonable chance of winning a box of chocolates or a bottle of bubbly is one thing but the big, national charity lotteries where your chance of winning anything meaningful are something else entirely.

It all mounts up, there must be another way.

Robin Hood robbed the rich to give to the poor but we appear to be robbing the poor to help the poor down the road whilst the rich sit in their ivory towers raking in the proceeds.

There has to be another way.

Yesterday, there was an article in one of the more respected daily newspapers which stated that a survey in America had identified six medical conditions which had been rated, by hospitalised patients, as worse than death.

Really?

Worse than death?

Had any of the respondents to the survey actually experienced any of these conditions long term so they could make an informed decision or were they just guessing? Almost certainly not. I think that most people were, in fact, guessing.

I took a look at the list and, of the six conditions listed, I have experienced four of them and have lived with two on a daily basis for several years. Let me tell you guys, I reckon death would be far worse. Sure, these conditions are all things that can make life harder, a lot harder, but death would definitely be worse.

Death is not something you can learn to live with.

Death is not something you can get better from.

With death, you don’t get another try.

Death is the very end.

Finito.

I think the major problem we have here is fear. Fear of the unknown. For a start, all the people who took part in the survey were hospital in-patients. They were all people who were probably scared and worried and ill. According to the article, they were people with long-term conditions such as malignant cancer and heart failure. These were people who were scared and frightened by what was already happening to them, then they were given a list of other conditions and asked if a diagnosis with any of these would tip them over the edge. These people were sick and at a cross-roads, they were presented with a list of nasties and asked if they had a choice between them and death which would they chose.

Well, that’s not fair.

In those circumstances it is hardly surprising that death won. These people would have heard of all of these conditions, and may even know others who have experienced them, but they would have already been scared so asking a question like this, at that time, was wrong. Sure, the conditions listed are horrible and, for someone with no prior experience of a long-term, life changing medical condition, scarey, but, if these conditions are well managed and people receive proper treatment and care, there is not nearly as much to be scared of as you might think. Having to deal with any of the conditions listed can be difficult and, in some instances, unpleasant but, in my opinion, death would be worse. Furthermore, as this survey was conducted in the USA where people don’t have access to free, NHS care and participants would have to pay for treatment and care, this could have coloured their responses. Taking that into account however, of the six listed there is only one, ‘being confused all the time’ which actually would scare me. Even then, I’m still not sure if I would chose death as the way out. The others are, as far as I am concerned, all copable with. In fact, I have friends and acquaintances who do cope with them on a daily basis and they all have rounded and fulfilling lives. They are not sitting back longing for the Grim Reaper to call, they are out having fun and enjoying themselves.

I think this article is another attempt at promoting the thorny issue of Assisted Suicide. Running a story about what happens in another country is not right unless it emphasises the fact that it is another country and that things are different there. I’m not saying that people don’t have a right to choose, they do, but they need to know death is not the only choice available and what the situation is here. Sure, people should be able to go for the death option if that’s what they really want but they need to be given full, accurate information about other options available to them so they can make an informed choice and that doesn’t always happen and it should.

I hope that the newspaper in question runs another story about Britain in what happens here but I’m not expecting miracles. Balanced reporting would be nice for once but it probably won’t happen.

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.

Ok, Hollywood centred rant coming up….

There is a new film around that has really rattled my cage and made me angry.

‘Me Before You’.

This block-buster film is due out next month, release date in the UK 3rd June.

I have two major problems with it.

Firstly, the disabled male lead character is being played by a non-disabled actor. Just why? AREN’T THERE ANY DISABLED ACTORS IN THE WORLD? Why a non-disabled actor? It’s not right. Secondly, and in my opinion, more importantly, it seems to promote the idea that disabled people are better off dead. Just NO. As a severely disabled woman I don’t believe this is true. Being disabled is NOT a death sentence, it’s perfectly possible, to live a good and productive life and be disabled at the same time.

So. Let’s start by looking at the issue of non-disabled actors playing roles depicting disabled characters on screen, TV or on stage. What is the issue with casting one of the amazing disabled performers there are in these roles? Are film directors and TV producers trying to say there aren’t any or that they aren’t good enough? If that’s the case, they’re wrong. There are plenty of amazingly talented disabled performers just waiting for the chance to shine. Or could it be that these same directors and producers believe that using real disabled people might make the viewing public uncomfortable? If that’s the case, why should it? Disabled people are part of every-day society in real-life, why not in the fictitious worlds we all pay to join when we watch a film? We are seeing more and more racially appropriate actors playing diverse ethnic characters, why not let us have a fully representative cast when making something that includes a disabled person in the plot, especially when that character is one of the leads.

Then there is the subject matter of the film. Implying that disability is a tragedy and that disabled people should consider killing themselves rather than continuing to be a burden on their families and on society is so wrong. Disabled people have as much right to live their lives to the full as everyone else. Where do we draw the line? How are we supposed to decide who has a right to life and who doesn’t. Are we saying that some disabilities are worse than others? Ranking impairment by effect on the individual disabled person or on society as a whole. Who gets to make that decision. Who gets to play judge and jury? Does anyone have that right? If we legalise euthanasia, in my opinion, we’ll be starting down a slippery slope. Some disabled people may feel they have no option but to take their own lives because of the ‘burden’ they consider themselves to be on their families or even those who are actually pressurised into it by their families. Others may feel they just can’t go on. Many disabled people experience considerable pain and discomfort due to their impairments and that is the reason they cite for feeling they would be better off dead. Rather than looking at ways to put an end to that suffering through death, why can’t we put more money, time and effort into improving the provision of palliative care. Decent pain relief and more effective treatments should be the way to go, not endless discussions on our right to life at all.  

Then there is the issue of how disability affects both the individual themselves and the people in the wider community are impacted by having disabled people in their lives. If I hadn’t developed MS at 24 there are so many people I would never have met, so many friends I would never have made, so many things I would never have done, I would never have started writing – my writing has happened exclusively because I am disabled. I would never have done my Post Grad-Law qualification, I would have stopped after my first degree and stayed in public libraries for my entire career. I would never have worked for the organisations and employers that have employed me. I would have missed so much. Contrary to popular opinion, disability has not ruined my life, it has made it. Without my MS I would be a very different person doing very different things. 

‘Me Before You’ is one film I wish had never been made at all and I, for one, will not be rushing to the cinema to see it. In my opinion the actors are not right and the subject matter is controversial and wrong. Disability is not entertainment. It’s real life and should be treated as such.

No wonder people in this country believe disabled people are inherently scroungers, receiving money for nothing, when we are greeted by headlines in national newspapers and on the TV, like the ones I have seen today, saying that our welfare benefits are to be cut by £150 per week in next week’s Budget. Benefits that we receive for being sick and disabled. Benefits that are supposed to help put us on a level playing field with our non-disabled fellow citizens. Benefits that we ourselves, or our families, have contributed to by way of taxes and NI contributions.  No wonder we are being vilified and thought of as living a pampered life of luxury when we’re not. No wonder we get shouted at and abused in shops and on the streets by people who are also struggling in the gloom of austerity. No wonder when misinformation such as that I have seen and read today are being quoted on Social Media and by the media as being fact.

These figures are not right. They cannot be right. It is mathematically impossible for them to be right. Figures, implying that our benefits can be cut by £150 every week and still leave us with enough to live on, make it sound as if we must receive an absolute fortune but this is far from the truth. Where these figures coming from?  I don’t know but they are not right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the situation is not dire, it is, but, by giving out incorrect numbers as fact, the public are being led to believe we can afford to absorb the cuts. We can’t. The problem is, as far as I am concerned, that when the real figures for the cuts are given they will have to be lower than £150 per week as we don’t get that much in the first place. It will look like the Government has listened and has toned things down a bit, when they haven’t. They can’t have done. However hard they try to make us believe it, they cannot reduce figures when the number they are starting from is so wildly out of kilter with reality. They look like they are trying to make it appear they have done us a favour. Well it’s not true. They won’t have because they can’t.

Let me show you the problem and try to set the record straight.

As someone who actually receives these benefits, the numbers quoted in the press and on TV didn’t sound quite right to me but I wasn’t going to kick up a fuss without being sure. I needed to know for certain or I would be doing exactly what I was complaining about and saying something that wasn’t true. So I checked and I was right. The numbers quoted are wildly inaccurate and misleading. PIP or Personal Independence Payments and it’s predecessor, DLA or Disability Living Allowance, the benefits they are talking about, are split into two separate payments, one for care and one for mobility. Disabled people are tested against a number of criteria and are then awarded points based on what we can and can’t do, the help we do or don’t need to do those things and what specialist aids and equipment we may or may not need to do those everyday tasks.  Current rates are set at weekly figures of £82.30 for care and £57.45 for mobility meaning that the most anyone can get for PIP or DLA, combining the two amounts together, is £139.75 per week, a figure that is £10.25 per week LESS than the amount we are reported to be losing every week thanks to Mr Osborne’s cuts. No wonder people who don’t actually know think we are all coining it in.

Where are these numbers coming from then? Are the press being told the figures by the politicians? Are people not even bothering to check that it makes sense? Are they just blindly believing and printing what they are being told? Don’t they even check for accuracy? That’s what it looks like to me and it’s sloppy, it’s not helpful and it’s wrong. If I, an ordinary citizen with no journalistic training whatsoever, can find accurate information on current benefit rates by typing a simple question into Google,namely ‘What are PIP rates for 2016/2017’ surely even a junior hack could do the same thing. Getting it wrong is not helpful, especially for the people you are trying to help and support, it can even make things worse. Please try to check what you are printing or saying before you print or say it, what is so hard about doing that?

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.