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Guess who’s angry again? Yup, you got it, ME!

I don’t know how many people will remember last year, when I got seriously angry about the closure of my local Library, the Carnegie Library, in Herne Hill, South London. Well, we’ve had some good news at last. After a year with no service whatsoever, we’ve got it back! The Carnegie Library has reopened! There has been much celebratory coverage of this in the papers and on local TV News programmes. The Head of the Council has been doing the smiley, happy, noddy thing for the cameras again and everything in the garden is wonderful! We have access to our books once more! Lovely. Whoop-de-do!!!!!

Except, it’s not lovely. Well, not lovely for everyone anyway. There is now no access to the Library available for wheelchair users, or people with mobility impairments, or for some older people, or for all those people who cannot climb the many, steep stone steps up to the main Library entrance. We have been excluded. Admittedly, access never was great but it used to be, at least, be possible. There was a bell at the bottom of the steps you could ring to alert the Librarians to your presence and then, one of them would come out to you, accompany you round to a side entrance and let you in so you could use a small lift to the main library, but that isn’t there any more. As I say, it wasn’t ideal but it was, at least, possible to get in to choose your own books or to do some research or to find information about local amenities or to do anything else Library related you wanted to do. But no longer. Now, that access has gone. Lambeth Council, in its infinite wisdom, seems to think that what the people of Herne Hill REALLY want is a much smaller, inaccessible Library and, yet another blinking gym. The entrance we used to use in order to access the lift is now the entrance to the building site that will become the gym, there is, no longer, a lift available and there is no alternative entrance for us.

Great.

According to our wonderful Council, the Library that was gifted to the people of Herne Hill by Andrew Carnegie, opened in 1906, and loved and used by local people, young and old alike, for more than a century, is no longer needed. What we all REALLY want is a gym and a much-reduced, inaccessible, Library service. Sure, the library will, for now, at least, be open to some people, for short periods, but not for everyone. People with mobility impairments get left outside, in the cold, the wind and the rain. Many people who used the Library regularly will now not be able to get in at all. And, for those people who can gain access, we don’t get a full-time Librarian the way we used to, we get a member of the Gym staff instead. And some security guards. And a phone to the Librarian in Brixton. So, if you can get in at all, and you are looking for a specific book or for some essential information, or for any sort of help whatsoever, you have use a phone to have a Librarian a couple of miles away, tell you which book you want, what shelf it’s on and what it looks like. Now that’s going to work all fine and dandy – NOT. I am a qualified Librarian myself. I spent three years at University training for my qualification. No-one will convince me that an untrained member of staff from the gym and a phone will be able to cope for longer than a day or two. And don’t even get me started on access for people with hearing impairments who can’t use phones at all. You won’t like it.

No. I think that this so-called grand ‘re-opening’ is not a true re-opening. We, the people of Herne Hill, have been sold a pup. Given that there are Local Government Elections less than three months away in May, I am pretty convinced that this ‘re-opening’ is little more than a cynical pre-election publicity stunt. The people of Herne Hill want their wonderful Community Amenity back the way it used to be and we don’t want a gym. What we want a full-time, fully staffed, fully accessible library full of books and dvds and local information and local interest groups and joy and love and laughter. If you want us to consider giving you our vote, give us back the Library Andrew Carnegie gave to us and we’ll think about it.

And please would you make sure that it is fully accessible to all of us who want to use it.

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Well, that was soul destroying.

I just watched a Channel 5 report, broadcast yesterday, about a couple who both WANT to work but are unable to do so thanks to the wife’s impairments. She is not physically fit enough to work so, as a result, she claims Welfare Benefits but she’s now being punished for this. The little money she gets is being cut and cut and cut gain and there’s nothing she can do about it.  She cannot go out to work, she’s too disabled to do so. All she is being told to do by politicians is to get a job, only this week Theresa May said “Working is the best way out of poverty” what part of SHE CAN’T don’t they understand?

As someone who is in a similar situation, this report rang very true. It’s all cuts and it’s so hard when there’s nothing you can do about it, you just CAN’T go out to work. I am largely restricted to a bed in my front room thanks to my MS and the restrictions it places on me and it feels like I am being punished by the Government for daring to be sick. I didn’t ask for this, it happened and, like so many other Disabled People, there was nothing I could do about it. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1984. Just like the vast majority of impairments, this was not my fault and there was nothing I could have done to stop it, it just happened and I was left to get on with it as best I could. Very sad but life goes on. I’ve been a full-time wheelchair user since 1992/3ish but I still managed to work, full time, until 3 years ago when infected pressure sores put me into hospital and then this bed. I WANT to work. I LOVED working. I loved my job and the camaraderie I found with my colleagues.  I loved what I did every day. In my view, it was the best job ever. I was an Information Officer with a National Charity and I loved being able to help other people but, unfortunately, I physically, I can’t do it any longer. My impairment put a premature stop on my ability to go out to work. I didn’t choose this lifestyle, no-one in their right mind would, I’d love to change it but I can’t. Having minimal money is bad enough but being told, continually, by politician after politician that I should get a job if I want to make my life better is just rubbing salt in the wound. What part of “I CAN’T” don’t they understand?

And then there are disabled people who WANT to work and who TRY to get a paid job so they can work their way out of poverty, as we are told to do, but they are being prevented from doing so by Society’s attitude toward disabled people. We often have no problem finding a volunteer role but, for some reason, these employers don’t want to pay us to do the same jobs. They are happy to take us on as volunteers but, as soon as the possibility of a salary is mentioned, heads start to be shaken and the excuses rain down. A friend has just said to me “I also want to work and get out and do part time. I applied for various jobs after leaving college in 2005ish. No-one wanted to know so I stopped applying and did volunteering instead but that doesn’t solve the money issues, it just gets you out of the house.” And that begs another question – if a disabled person is perfectly capable of successfully holding down an unpaid, volunteer role, what is it about their impairment that makes employer think they would be unable to hold down the same or a similar role if it was paid?  

How much longer are Disabled People going to be told to get a job and work our way out of poverty? How much longer are w going to be blamed for something that is not our fault. We didn’t ask to be sick so stop punishing us for it, after all Mrs May, next week it could be you. Listen to what we are telling you and stop telling us to do the impossible. We KNOW that working for a living would be the best route out of poverty for us but, for many of us, work is an impossible dream. Our impairments are stopping us from doing what you are forever telling us to do. Getting a job and working our way out of the poverty you are inflicting on us.

So, for the last time, what part of ‘we’d love to work our way out of poverty but we can’t’ don’t you understand?

WE JUST CAN’T, OK?

So, yet again we have a Tory Minister saying something REALLY stupid and angering another group of people from amongst their core supporters. It makes you wonder if they are trying to make the other Parties lives easier for them. Do they care about the people who voted for them? These days it’s looking more and more as if they don’t.

So, who has been saying what and about whom on this occasion?

Who is being ridiculous this time?

Well, it’s an MP called Guy Opperman, talking about women and pensions.

He seems to think that older women, who are being disadvantaged by changes to the age that State pensions start being paid, could mitigate their financial loses by taking up Apprenticeship opportunities instead.

What foolishness is this? Do some of these Ministers just open their mouths and let the words fall out without thinking about what they’re saying first? It certainly seems to be what’s happening.

Just to explain the situation to people who may not know what I’m rabbiting on about this time, changes are being made to British Pension regulations which are designed to equalise when men and women become entitled to their State Pension. It used to be that women received their Pension from the age of 60 whilst men had to wait until they were 65. And this is what’s changing. The State pension age for women is being raised to 65 so that it’s the same for both genders. And there is no real argument about the fairness of this idea. In my opinion it should be the same for both genders. But there is an issue with how it is being implemented.

A group called WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) argues that for women born in the 1950s having no transitional arrangement is unfair and wrong. These women’s pension arrangements and retirement plans and options are being changed without any thought as to how their plans are being changed. Their issue is with the unfair way the changes were implemented – with little or no personal notice (1995/2011 Pension Acts), faster than promised (2011 Pension Act), and with no time to make alternative plans. Retirement plans have been shattered with devastating consequences.​ And, Mr Opperman seems to think that women who are being affected adversely by these changes could take up apprenticeships to cover any financial losses they may experience.

I have two things to say about this idea – it’s unfair and it’s unworkable.

It’s unfair because these women have always been told and have believed that they will get to retire, on a full pension, when they are 60 and they have planned for this throughout their working lives. Surely a fairer way to do things would be to have a transitional period? And it’s also unfair on the young people, for whom apprenticeships were originally envisaged, to have these opportunities potentially taken from them by older women. It does not seem right.

But, the unworkable thing is what concerns me more. Exactly how many employers are going to want to take on an apprentice who is scheduled to retire either during or shortly after completing that programme? How many employers are going to want to spend any money whatsoever on training people up who will be leaving almost immediately? And how will women being paid at the pay rate for apprentices help anyway? Has Mr Opperman ever looked at how much money  people would get? Currently, apprentices over 19 and in their first year get £3.50 per hour. £140 for a 40 hour week. Once tax and NI is taken out, how would that mitigate ANYONE’S loses?

I think three things need to happen and need to happen fast. Firstly some sort of transitional arrangement needs to be put in place for the WASPI women. The rug should not be pulled out from under them without something sensible being sorted out. Secondly, and as a byproduct of this discussion,, the Government really does need to look at the rate of pay for all apprentices. £3.50 p/h is little more than save labour. Granted, apprentices need to be trained and, certainly initially, may not be as valuable to the workforce for any business, but wouldn’t a graduated pay scale be better? £3.50 or something similar to start with when a new apprentice starts and learns the basics but, once they have been around for a while, surely they are making money for their employer through the work they do? Surely someone who is halfway through should get some financial recognition for the work they are doing? Employers are earning profits from apprentices and the apprentices are earning peanut. It does not seem right. And thirdly, Government Ministers need to learn to think first before they speak so as not to come up with stupid pronouncements that upset some members of the electorate and serve no useful purpose but to make them appear to be ill informed and cruel. Think first, speak later really should be a maxim all politicians need to remember and consider at all times and should be point one on any briefing paper or induction pack they get when they enter the House for the first time.

Think first, speak later – you know it makes sense.

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.   

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?

So, on Wednesday our glorious leader, Theresa ‘Will of the People’ May is going to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of ripping us, kicking and screaming, from the relative sanctuary and sanity of the EU. This is not something I voted for and is not what I wanted but it’s happening and there’s not a lot I can do now to change it. I’ve voted, I’ve blogged, I’ve protested, I’ve voiced my opinion, I’ve given countless explanations and justifications for what I believe but to no avail. It’s happening and, protest as I might, I don’t think anything can now stop it. All I can do is hope that when things go wrong, as I expect them to do, we will be allowed, by the other EU members, to rejoin.

But that’s a hope for the future. There are other more pressing, more immediate things which need to be challenged now before it’s too late. I have seen yet another news report about what Mrs M is proposing which, if it’s possible, scares me even more than leaving the EU. It scares the living daylights out of me. According to what I have just read, after triggering Article 50 on Wednesday, the government will then publish its Great Repeal Bill on Thursday.

The Great Repeal Bill? What’s that. We’ve all heard of it but how many of us know what it really means.

Well, according to everything I’ve found out so far and according to the original report I read, apart from anything else, this Bill will propose giving Government Ministers the power to change some aspects of European laws, when they have been incorporated into UK legislation, without needing the approval of Parliament.

Excuse me?

Can we just look at that again.

What is actually being proposed here?

This is a Bill which will give Tory Ministers the power to change our domestic laws without needing the approval of Parliament. This is a Bill which would give the Tories free rein to make whatever changes they want to our laws without any checks and balances. Without any way of stopping them, without any of us, or our elected representatives from other parties, having a say. I know one of the things the Brexit camp was advocating during the Referendum process was that by leaving the EU we could ‘take back control’ but was this really what the people who voted to leave the EU last June wanted? A Tory Government which can make up it’s own rules, unhindered, unopposed and unchallenged?

I don’t think so.

I really hope not at any rate.

In my opinion, as an idea, allowing a Government to do it’s own thing in this way is just so wrong, so frightening, so dangerous. I mean, as an idea it’s been tried before and it didn’t go too well then, so why we should, as a country, try it again defeats me. What is there about the idea which makes us think it could work this time when it went so terribly wrong last time. Nothing. Nothing good can possibly come from it. Have people really missed something we all supposedly learnt in our history lessons at school, or at least, did they not take sufficient notice of the lessons of the not so distant past not to say no, not again? Well, maybe we should take the time to look in our libraries and online for the information we all, so badly, seem to need. I know I only got a grade C at ‘O’ Level in the subject but, if I remember what I was taught correctly a certain Herr Hitler tried this trick too. In 1933, in Germany, the Enabling Act gave the German Cabinet, in effect, Chancellor Adolf Hitler, the power to enact laws without the involvement of the German Government, the Reichstag. Now, to me that sounds frighteningly familiar. To me, that sounds to be almost exactly the same thing that Mrs May is proposing for our country now. And I believe it is a step too far. Politicians from the ruling party getting rid of the laws they don’t like and imposing their own rules on the people without anyone being able to stop them from doing it. Just no. That is, in my opinion, a step too far down a path we should not travel. I am happy to admit that some of the laws that the EU makes may not the best and I’m happy to admit that some of these laws are not ideal for our country and may need tweaking but not without proper scrutiny and someone saying ‘No’ if necessary. When we elect our politicians we expect them to do this and keep us safe from legislation which could hurt us in the long term. And, the idea that our current Government, meaning the Tories, should be allowed to change things alone and at will is just terrifying and cannot be allowed.

We all need to write to our MPs, to our Party Leaders, to the Press, to everyone we can think of that may have any influence whatsoever begging them to try and stop this madness. We need to stop this country from becoming a dictatorship. Mrs May is proposing on taking a step too far down a destructive path which we should not travel and, somehow, she needs to be stopped before it’s too late.

Reusing a catchphrase from my childhood, we all need to ‘Just Say No’.

I think I’m supposed to be grateful.

I think all of us disabled, and older people are supposed to say ‘Thank you’ to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, for his much flaunted, much hyped boost of £2bn for Social Care in yesterday’s Spring Budget.

Well then.

Here goes…

Thank you Mr Hammond, you are so beneficent and generous.

Sure, £2bn is an awful lot of money, and, with any luck it, at least some of should help ease the Care Crisis we currently have in this country, but it can only help if it actually filters down to the people it’s supposed to be helping. My major concern is that it will be shared out amongst all the Social Services Departments, nationwide, and will just vanish into their usual, annual Social Care black hole. We, the older and disabled people who are the ones who are supposed to reap the benefit will probably get to see little, if any, of it at all.

As someone who is in receipt of Social Care, there I three places I can think of straight off where that £2bn could make a real difference if it was spent properly.

First of all, I would like to see the money being put towards ending the farce of the fifteen minute care-call. How can anyone in their right mind think that fifteen minutes is long enough to provide any form of meaningful care for a disabled or older person? It’s barely long enough to make a sandwich or boil a kettle for a cup of tea, let alone help a frail person access the toilet, get them dressed or undressed, make sure they’re comfortable and safe, cook a light meal and help them eat it, if they need help, make a bed and do a little light housework.

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn definitely needs to go towards this.

Secondly, the paltry amount Home Care workers get paid needs to be addressed.

When I was in receipt of Agency Care, via my Local Authority, the workers were receiving little more than the minimum wage, indeed, in some instances it seemed as if they were even getting less than that. I now get my care through a scheme called ‘Direct Payments’ whereby my Local Authority pays the amount they would have spent on Agency Care directly to me and I get to employ and pay for my own carers. In theory, this is a great plan and, for many, it works well but it is impossible to offer a decent wage for the work that needs to be done and therefore, get the most suitable carers. The amount I get, for example, allows me to offer an hourly rate of just £9.40, before tax and NI, hardly a fortune, especially when you consider the level of personal care I am expecting those workers to undertake.  I would dearly like to be able to offer more but, as someone with no private income whatsoever to fall back on apart from my Welfare Benefits, I am stuck with just the funding my Social Services Department allows me every month for my long-suffering and excellent carers. Hardly enough at all.

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn needs to go towards this.

Then thirdly, there’s something which doesn’t affect me personally as yet. The amount that is available for both short, and long-term, residential Care Home accommodation. How can we expect older and disabled people to receive good quality, dedicated care when they need intesive care or can no longer live in their own home, if the amount Residential Homes are given for each resident’s care package is so small? We can’t

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn needs to go towards this.

What I really want to see most after yesterday’s display of Governmental generosity would be a completely new Care Strategy for our country. There needs to be meaningful consultation with the Care providers, the medical profession and carers themselves, both Home Care and Care Home agencies and workers and the Care Recipients, namely all the older and disabled people who need help to live in comfort and with dignity. We need to be assured that any extra or new funding is being spent wisely and well and is contributing towards the wellbeing of those who need it most.  

Some of Mr Hammond’s £2bn definitely needs to go towards this.