Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Autism: Cradle to the Grave Bullying

I was following this discussion on a message board I subscribe to. My Colleagues Alan and Julia do not blog: I feel very privileged that they have allowed me to pass on their thoughts:
Broken Brian.

From Alan Wheatley



There are now fewer real jobs for disabled people than when I was told by a Manpower Service Commission-run Employment Rehabilitation Centre in 1978 (at age 24) that I was too slow to ever benefit from further govt-funded education and training. Yet I have an invisible disability and an innate determination to develop and use whatever skills I do have, and experienced decades of serial lack of pro-active support from the jobcentre toward prospect of my getting Invalidity Benefit [the predecessor to Incapacity Benefit].

I learned long ago that the system is particularly likely to disregard the eligibility of people with invisible disabilities to disability benefits. Yet people outside waged employment have been subjected to reduced bargaining power and increased coercion, as well as a barrage of smear stories. With the self-realisation in my late-50s that three decades on jobseeker benefits have been counter-productive and left me impoverished and in student debt I am not likely to be able to pay back, my stress levels and anxieties have increased to the point that I now claim DLA as well as ESA while privatisation of the welfare state is creating a welfare state for increasingly wealthy exploiters of human misery who milk public revenues to the tune of billions of pounds.

From the Thatcher years onward, govt-funded training and higher education became subverted as means to massage the unemployment figures while the per-capita investment in the individuals engaging on such courses plummeted. When I did eventually enter university, even with extra time in exams I under-performed to the point that my eventual degree has never helped me get waged work but saddled me with an initial £4K student debt in 1997 that has risen to over £5K on account of interest on unpaid student debt. (And that was from the days when there was still a Mandatory Award!)

In the year 2000 after I had developed my computing skills mainly through my mum's investment in a computer for myself as a much slower learner, I managed to pass the entry test to get an offer of a place on a Web Development course at a 'Positive About Disabled People' training provider. Objecting to the discovery that there was no guaranteed offer of a training placement, and the fact that the training period was just six weeks for such a demanding course-load, I was then told that the course had been twelve weeks long until the Blair govt directed the training provider to halve the training period so as to double the amount of throughput from the dole queue. (And it should be noted that as 'Positive About Disabled People' and 'Investors in People' awards are adjudicated by govt, the status of the training provider regarding those awards was undiminished.)

In the years 1972-1977 I had had seamless but unfulfilling salaried employment at Cadbury-Schweppes in Birmingham, where co-workers likened me to 'Frank Spencer' in the TV sitcom 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em'. I left on health-grounds to await a place on a govt-funded training course for disabled people, but got subverted into attending a 'vocational assessment period'. Subsequently disillusioned by statutory provisions, I have found that continued time on my own for self-directed learning has been helpful to my health, as has limited hours per week volunteering. Market-led welfare reforms -- in my experience -- only serve the interests of wealthy exploiters of human misery.

Attendance at A4e Holloway New Deal in 2008, by dint of my length of unemployment after leaving 11 months part-time waged employment as a social care worker, operated as aversion therapy for me regarding continued jobsearch on JSA. Concluding that I would rather die than be forced to return to A4e, I sought and obtained help from a local mental health charity toward getting ESA and DLA. I eventually won a tribunal that over-turned Atos/DWP '0' points eligibility points award based on a WCA report that failed to mention my decades of unwaged status before my last waged post, or the fact that that waged work had been so part-time that it was done as a JSA claimant only allowed to keep the first £5 pe week earnings from six hours waged work. The tribunal awarded me 21 points and put me in the (preparation for employment) Support Group.

Needless to say, I have very little liking for market-led welfare reform's 'policy-based evidence-gathering'.
I would also add that a major difference between my experience of jobseeking as opposed to my experience of volunteering, is that the volunteering posts that I went for were generally on a much less competitive basis.

A great many job applications provide no feedback whatever and that is bad for the jobseekers' self-esteem. Scheme providers far too frequently advise jobseekers in their 'care' to focus on quantity of job applications, rather than quality. With a training company called 'Direct Computer Training' in 1998, I was told off for not having submitted a 'job-search portfolio' with a minimum of 16 'job leads', whereas in fact the one written job application I recorded for that week had involved several hours of editing my CV and a whole weekend drafting and re-drafting my handwritten covering letter as specified in the job ad (six drafts!). And that weekend's work was rewarded with a job interview for a higher grade post than that I applied for. Yet I'm very glad that I was not appointed. The Sheffield-based company expanding into London happened to be A4e!

At A4e in 2008, as part of the 'soft skills training sessions', the rhetoric of the 'Client Advisers' was, "The more jobs you apply for, the better your chances. Ten [sic] job applications per day is good." To achieve that, they advised 'beneficiaries' [A4e's name for those abducted from the dole queue to enter their doors] to send copies of the same CV for each job application -- much the same as we were advised at 'Direct Computer Training'.

By contrast, consider the relevance to jobseeking of what Abraham Lincoln was attributed to have said by songwriting skills adviser Tom T Hall. Lincoln said that he could speak for an hour extemporarily about any subject upon request; but for him to write a memorable three minute speech could take him several days.

How many minutes does an overloaded recruiter spend in sorting the 'long-shot' CVs from those that s/he will bin? Therefore, how much more time does the jobseeker — especially the disabled jobseeker — need to devote to creating a CV that will get them an interview? Would it not be better all round if there was less coercion for people to apply for jobs that they are not really suited to, and for which they are only applying as a response to somebody's ridiculous quota?
(Since Alan wrote this reasearch has emerged from Australia demonstrating that paeople who are obliged to work in the "wrong job" suffer psycological damage and are prone to mental illness. BB)
By contrast, properly supported volunteers with adequate supervision can gain much greater self-esteem. Public service job cuts of the kind that even New Labour have in mind are not the way forward. I have been told that more privatisation of public services went on under New Labour than under the Thatcher Govt. Privatisation emphasises corporate profit, not protecting vulnerable people with adequate resources
Alan Wheatley, age 57

Julia responded to Alan’s Comments

Your story of employment and being labelled early on sounds very much like my Cousin

He was in the 'Special Unit' in primary school due to his violent tantrums, they discovered way down the line he has very poor sight, is severely dyslexic and dyspraxic and much later (as an adult) aspergers has been mentioned. John was always the 'slow' one, your reference to Frank Spencer made me smile, this was how people referred to my Cousin, they still do if they remeber 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em'.

He left school at 16 and got an apprenticeship in a bicycle shop (he'd been obsessed by bikes and toy cars, taking them apart, putting them together all his life), he lasted until the employer could finish him and moved onto the next, and the next. I don't remember how many apprenticeships / part apprenticeships he went through. He eventually started a degree in Computing, it took him years and years to finish part time, he did have some support due to his diagnosed disabilities by then.

He got a job in a small family owned computer assembling circuit boards firm, he's still there all these years later. The company was sold on a couple of times & John has been kept on as the cheap labour who also makes tea, works long hours and doesn't mind the piss being taken out of him. Always on the same shitty minimum wage salary

John won't move on, at my instigation he did apply for another job a couple of years back, of course by the time he'd perfected and perfected the application form (4 months later), the job was well gone. If he loses this job he's very little chance of securing anything else.

Sorry I've gone on, I just feel a wave of anger when I remember what happened / is still happening to John.

Alan responded:

My disability was actually diagnosed in 1960 [age six-and-a-half] as "mild cerebral palsy with some oedema." But in latter years I have found that dyspraxia [not in the diagnostic books in 1960] is more likely to apply but has not been formally diagnosed. I attended mainstream schooling, with 'A' stream at secondary school and ended in the Upper Sixth Year with more qualifications than my subsequent foods laboratory co-workers did, but fewer qualifications than my upper sixth peers. My lab assistant co-workers complained that as I was slower than them, the boss offloaded my tasks on them. They talked long in works hours about the failings of the union pay scale, but never found the time to attend union meetings outside works hours.

Unlike John, I would have preferred to leave the unsatisfying work environment (foods laboratory) much earlier than I did. My mum and my Gran kept advising me to stay with the 'job security' while I did not want to over-burden them by disclosing the level of verbal bullying I experienced at work. I had built up that habit of non-disclosure since my secondary schooling after the first year class teacher had told my classmates to "make special allowances" for me on account of diagnosed cerebral palsy. (I had not known till the 4th year when a friend told me that I had not needed to tell (["confess to [sic])" him that I had been "born slightly spastic [sic]," that the source of classmates taunts of "Weakly's a mongol spastic" had not been based on their own observations.)

I entered secondary school in 1965 in a different local education authority only months after my father had left us [my mother, my two sisters, and me]. It was through my own self-development work through singing classes and learning to play recorder that I learned to listen to myself more so as to make the 't' sound in 'Wheatley' properly. I do find that when I am most stressed, I am less able to monitor and correct my own performance.

My sisters and mother reckon I have Aspergers Syndrome, a Professor in Speech & Language Therapy friend reckons that dyspraxia is much more likely [although the two are not mutually exclusive].

I can identify strongly with painstaking approach to job application forms, although not quite severely as John.

Alan Wheatley

Julia Responded
Many thanks for your story Alan,

John is 48 now so was just a few years behind you in the education system of the 60's / early 70's.

He still lives with his dad (his mum died in 2007), I don't think he would have survived had he needed support from 'services'.

I think John bought into the 'job security' mantra years ago. If his 'job' disappeared, it would be like tearing a security blanket from a child. Shitty as it is, I fear he would be lost without it, the getting up in the morning & following the boring, sameness exploitive routine of it.

He also likes music, used to play the guitar (loudly as I remember!!!), now devotes his time to Saturday night karaoke in the local pub with his dad!!

I was very touched by these emails so I wrote to Allan & Julia asking: "do you blog? If not I'll happily put your two testimonies (minus names if you wish) unedited onto my blog and then push them on Twitter. I am not a blog "star" I average about 200 hits per blog, but some of my "audience" are journalists and influential people who spread the content further. I would be honoured to give a voice to your thoughts, it can be done by tomorrow."

Alan said yes: Julia expressed the fear of all disabled people and those who know them:

You can use John's story as you see fit so long as he can't be identified, which he wouldn't be just with his forename. (To comply with Julia's wish both John's and her own name have been changed along with two other details that could lead to his identification. BB)

My fear is that he will lose his shitty job due to this 'recession' & be tossed to ultimately fail on the big benefit scrounging scum scrap-heap.

I’ve nothing to add. It’s all been said.
Broken Brian.

Monday, 7 March 2011

For theBrokenOfBritain campaign “Left Out In The Cold” - 2

The Welfare Reform Bill and You.

If you are following te Guardian Link you want this one
In my first blog for the "the Broken of Britain: Left Out In The Cold" campaign I told you some things about my life and related those to the welfare state as it once was, and then I related my current life situations to the welfare state as it will be if the Welfare Reform Bill is passed by Parliament. In this second blog I would like to talk about what the Welfare Reform Bill might mean for you. Yes, you.

If you read the first blog you will be aware that for most of my life I did not consider myself to be disabled at all. That disability had crept up on me, impairing my mobility when I was in my mid-40s, and completely disabling, (if we take that word to mean putting out of action), me in my mid-50s. What I hope this tells you is that however you feel now there is no guarantee that life and the rigours of living will not play the same trick on you or one of your loved one as it did on me. Before we carry on I would like you to click on the link beneath this paragraph which should open a web page at the top of which there is a photograph I would like you to look at for a moment and then return here when you are ready.

Welcome back, what did you see? Some might have seen a brilliant artistic image which expresses some facet (your interpretation) of living with a disability, some might have interpreted the photograph as a representation of soft porn and some might have been reminded about an old joke of Billy Connolly's in which he used to talk about finding a place to park his bicycle.

I'm with that first group, when I first saw this image I also saw a breathtaking piece of art but, unlike you, I was already aware of what the model and the photographer were wanting to convey. What you've been looking at is a woman who has exposed herself to discomfort, pain, and possibly illness to fulfil her desire of conveying to you just how it feels to be a member of the community of disabled people who inhabit Britain at this time.

You see someone who is alone, someone who is possibly distressed and who is certainly very vulnerable. Someone who requires assistance but there is no one there who can help. Although it may not have occurred to him or her at the time, the Photographer is a metaphor for the majority of our current society, the “able bodied”, who are observing the helplessness and vulnerability of the disabled community at this time but who are doing little or nothing about it because they also feel helpless, a feeling we sometimes invoke just through our presence.

If you belong in that spectator group it doesn’t mean you are automatically a bad person. Us “Bendies” and “Loonies” become very skilful at interpreting the moods of others and we realise there may be several reasons for your feelings of impotence. It might be because you simply do not know what you should do to help us, it may be because you can't think what you might say to a person whose vulnerability is so obvious, it may be because you've digested the current political ideology which implies that all people with disability could do more to help themselves, or, because of your lack of knowledge regarding persons with disabilities, it possibly hasn’t occurred to you that there is anything to be done. Finally, if you are a member of the current Tory Party you will believe that Kaliya Franklin has exercised her personal responsibility and chooses to lay down eating mud on a wet and freezing cold beach.

With one exception these are all valid points of view regarding the situation I am describing. Many of us "Bendies and Nutcases" would have felt the same way when we were you. We know that now we, through stubbornly refusing every offer of help we receive even when we need it, can leave people wary of offering assistance even when the need for it is obvious. However, I promise you that you would view a scenario like the one above very differently if you were to become one of us.

Right now we do need your help. The reason this government, and the previous one, have targeted disabled people instead of their historic victims, single parents and immigrants, is because those groups now account for a large proportion of eligible voters. They consider we do not. Just as the mentally disabled have been the impoverished, money starved, portion of the disabled Social Services and NHS provision since 1948 because they are comparatively small in number, so the whole disabled community is now considered fair game for institutional abuse and financial disregard by a government who do not consider us to be a significant voting force. They have a point if they are just counting us, but they are forgetting that we all have friends and relatives who also have friends and relatives and that among those people is YOU and you are interested in US or you wouldn’t be reading this, so if you come and join us, and bring your friends and family with you, suddenly WE will become, in voting terms, a significant number.

Whether you are joining us because you have seen the light and now realise that you, or a loved one might become one of us one day, or you are joining us for purely altruistic reasons, WE think we all should have some knowledge of the decimation the Welfare Rights Amendment Bill will bring down on OUR social care and health services which we and our parents paid for with our taxes and National Insurance contributions.

Cleverer people than I have analysed and summarised the bill so I will not try to outdo them because I couldn’t. What I can do is point you to some of the information the politicians are ignoring so that you can form an informed opinion. Okay? Lets go.

Regarding Housing Benefit

In Sept 2010 Citizens Advice Said:
“Proposed cuts to housing benefit will result in higher levels of poverty, debt, rent arrears and homelessness and should be delayed, national charity Citizens Advice says today.”
And much more HERE: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/press_20100910

And in December 2010 The Guardian said:
“Housing benefit cut could double homeless numbers, charities warn
Coalition of 17 charities warn government that cut announced in spending review could put 8,000 more people on streets”
And much more HERE: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/dec/29/housing-benefit-cut-homeless

And on March 7th 2011 The Daily Mail Said:
‘Welfare payments cuts 'will force 200,000 benefits claimants out of London and into the suburbs'
Mind you it was an article warning the suburbs that the scroungers are coming. Still, there’s truth in the headline. You can read more here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1323327/Welfare-payments-cuts-force-200k-benefits-claimants-London.html#ixzz1FvX8KgSL

Regarding Homelessness

On Monday March 7th The Daily Mirror said:
“Feeding homeless to be banned by Tory-run Westminster council”
Read more: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/2011/03/01/heartless-tory-council-plans-to-ban-charities-from-feeding-the-homeless-with-soup-runs-115875-22957295/#ixzz1FvZ4LAeI

Regarding Unemployment Benefit

On 23rd Oct 2010 The Welsh “Public and Commercial Services Union” said
“Nine jobseekers for every job in Duncan Smith's Cardiff”
And much more at: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/news_centre/index.cfm/id/805C3E5F-1FBC-4647-8542B4A1D9A439F6

Regarding Incapacity Benefits

On March 6th 2011 The (Scottish) Daily Recorder said:
“Sickness benefit clawback firm tells GP people are 'claimants, not patients”
And much more at: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2011/03/06/sickness-benefit-clawback-firm-tells-gp-people-are-claimants-not-patients-86908-22970435/
On 26th Jan 2011 Full Fact.org said:
“The latest welfare figures have again been subject to misinterpretation among certain newspapers. Yet the Daily Mail has gone further than most - suggesting 94 per cent on incapacity benefit can work. However the figure did not stand up to much scrutiny.”
And more Here: http://fullfact.org/factchecks/incapacity_benefit_94_per_cent_can_work-2458

Regarding “The Cuts”

On 5th March 2011 “The Guardian” said:
“Benefit cuts will leave a third of UK 'too costly for low-income households'”
And more Here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/mar/05/benefit-low-income-households

Because there is a great deal of info on DLA on the tBofB site I have not included that here

PS: If you are still wondering, the comment in paragraph 4 that wouldn’t be acceptable in paragraph 5 was:

“if you are a member of the current Tory Party you will believe that Kaliya Franklin has exercised her personal responsibility and chooses to lay down eating mud on a wet and freezing cold beach.”

Did you get that? Good, you’re learning fast.

Broken Brian

For theBrokenOfBritain campaign “Left Out In The Cold"

A Cycle Of Deprivation: The Welfare Reform Bill and Me.

I came to disability and welfare quite late in life. Although I had lived with depression since I was a child it was not until my late 40s that I first considered myself to be "impaired" and that was for a different reason. It was seven years later and I was in my mid-50s when I was forced to come to terms with the fact that I was now a person with disability. Is that confusing? Indulge me for a moment while I explain how I arrived at the point that sees me writing about this matter.

I was born seven years after The Beveridge Report laid the foundations of the Welfare State and 18 months after the welfare state "went live" in mid-1948. This meant that my healthcare was free, that I would be educated for a longer period than those who were born four years before me, and that, following the breakdown of my parents marriage and our subsequent eviction from the RAF married quarters we had lived in, my mother, my sister's, and I returned to the town where I had been born to a newly built council house.

When my sister and my brother were born (1946 and 1948 respectively) it was in a hospital owned by the local authority and my parents had to meet some of the costs. By the time I was born in December 1949 that same hospital had been purchased by the Government for the new National Health Service and it was cost free. This was just as well because my brother died in the same hospital two weeks after I was born at just around the time that my mother was being told that I had a severe stomach complaint which made it highly unlikely that I would live. I required an operation that very few "babies" survived due to their lack of physical resources.

I guess it was fate that someone came up with the medicinal "cure" right at that time. It could have been more than fate because the medicinal cure had such limited success that by the time I returned to manage the social work team in that same hospital 43 years later the operation was once again the preferred treatment and the mortality rate was still quite high.

The Welfare State did not do much in the way of financial handouts during its early years and so my mother my sister's and I lived in poverty because most of Mums wages from packing biscuits into tins were consumed by our rent and her bus fares to and from work. (If she was still alive I think my mum would like me to mention here that she had been a schoolteacher in India where she was born but her Indian teaching qualification was not recognised in the UK at that time).

For many reasons I spent most of my childhood believing I must be some sort of Alien. Emerging each day from our scruffy house in my scruffy clothes, and I was aware, because I was constantly being reminded, that I had nearly died. I was also very aware that my brother died as I was born and privately I wondered if he had to go in order to make way for me. My “childhood” was quickly over as I shared Mum’s anxieties about where our next meal would come from, there was no time in the life of an Alien for the luxury of childish thoughts. Within my own home I assumed the role of court jester bringing laughter to mum and my sisters with comedic actions and language while, when away from them, I was intense to a degree that confused my school friends.

And so it was that by the age of 11 I had learned very well the skill of concealing my innermost thoughts behind a veneer of humour. I had also learnt to put an invisible shield between myself and the taunts from others regarding my appearance, my ethnicity, and my parentage, (it was very unusual back then for a father to be absent for any reason other than death and so the word "bastard" was heard fairly often when my sisters and/or I was out and about.

The intensity, the veneer of happiness, and, the invisible shield all stood me in good stead as I entered the adult world and began to acquire the social skills required in that environment. Despite my depressive episodes I am one of the few people I know who can say that I truly have achieved all of my ambitions, this is because after a very bad experience with colleagues after returning to a workplace following an incapacitating bout of depression, I vowed I would never put myself through that experience again. So, after leaving school at 15 because my family needed a wage, I spent my late teens making and mending things, I spent my twenties selling things, I spent my thirties computing things, I spent my forties "Social Working, and I spent my late forties and my fifties (up to the point I ceased work) Teaching.

My disability career was running a parallel course, it meandered something like this. From the age of about 10 I have been resisting the attempts of my depression to totally consume me. I had my first prolonged episode of depression when I was 18, luckily it occurred while (and perhaps because) I was recovering from a knee operation following a serious football injury. I was able to pass off my low mood saying it was because I feared I would never play football again while, the truth was that I was combating endless thoughts about ending my own life.

These deep depressions have occurred approximately every 5 to 7 years of my life and, with the exception of that first one, are preceded by a period of hyper-activity. In 2005, following the most severe and prolonged episode I had ever experienced up until that point, I was given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

The point I'm trying to illustrate here in the context of the Welfare Reform Bill is that apart from one period of six weeks and one other of three months my strong "working-class" work ethic motivated me to take the minimum time away from work in order to remain employed. As I was employed in a senior management role when each of those episodes occurred my salary was paid by my employer throughout my time off work.

That three month episode came at the end of a period when I had spent three years overseeing the computerisation of the company I was working for, and it came four years after I became involved in voluntary work near the end of my twenties. The more I became involved with the computerisation the less I was involved with people in my professional life and I began increasing the amount of voluntary work I did to compensate for this. After the breakdown, and with the help of the staff at a mental health residential crisis centre where I stayed for six weeks, I realised that I could not carry on doing what amounted to two full-time jobs. A decided that as my main source of "job satisfaction" came from the voluntary work I had to find a way of becoming a professional social worker.

The steps I took to convince potential employers that I was over the effects of the breakdown and to obtain a relevant qualification are too lengthy to relate here. Suffice it to say that it was 10 years later and I was a children and families social work area manager when I became mobility impaired.

Following my legs becoming numb on a couple of occasions and the onset of chronic back pain and sciatica I was told that my spine was beginning to crumble away from the bottom upwards. Two discs had "burst" and arthritis was moving into the space that was left. Various nerves were being compressed because of this.

There was no real explanation. One specialist believed that a poor diet as a child had left me with a condition akin to osteoporosis. Others felt there were signs of twisting injuries and impact injuries that I must have collected over time. All agreed that I should give up working immediately because there was a high risk that some of the debris left behind, or the next bursting disc, would compress my spinal-cord causing paralysis. I was 47 at the time and they said I had the spine of a 90-year-old. They said that if I was 90 years old they would operate. The operation would allow them to do things to relieve the pain but carried a very high risk of causing paralysis which, they said, wouldn't have mattered if I was 90 but they felt I was too young to take that risk at that time.

I asked for the worse prognosis, they said I would be paralysed below my waist. I asked If I would avoid becoming paralysed If I sat still from that day until I died, they said not necessarily. They told me coughing or laughing while I was in the wrong position could cause paralysis. I asked if I would definitely be paralysed if I carried on working, they said they could not say that would definitely happen, it would all depend where I was and what I was doing at the time the next disc burst.

Occupational health said I could not return to my job with social services because I was in a role where there was regular contact with people who might become violent. I took my lump sum and my pension and began to look at alternatives.

(Once again, because of the role I was in, my salary was paid throughout the period described immediately above. I used my pension and my lump sum to finance what I describe below. It is important to remember here that up to this point I still had not applied for any benefit of any kind. During the period when there was a strong possibility that I would be unable to do work of any kind I contacted National Insurance regarding my state pension contributions. I was told that I had already paid in sufficient funds to guarantee receiving a full state pension when I am 65).

I wondered about jobs I could do which I would be able to continue doing if I were to need a wheelchair to move myself around, the two skills that I had obtained during my time in social work, and in voluntary work before that, were skills at counselling and at training social care staff. So at that point with the aid of painkillers (which to be honest aren't very effective against nerve pain) I began my first adult education teaching qualification and counselling qualification. After a few months it was obvious that the counselling qualification would probably never be used because I couldn't sit in the same position for more than about 5 min and so I put all my energy into obtaining the teaching qualification. I'm very glad I did that because although it was only six years my career as an adult education lecturer was one of the most fulfilling I have undertaken. What began as a part-time post while I tested my physical limitations soon became a full-time one and I moved from the Oxfordshire countryside into London to cut out the commuting which was often the most painful part of my day.

It was halfway through my teaching years that I first applied for a benefit. When my 10-year-old car needed replacing I applied for a DLA mobility grant. I was successful and I also obtained lower rate DLA to pay a cleaner for a couple of afternoons each week to perform the cleaning tasks that I am unable to do for myself.

Another disc burst in 2002. On that occasion a minor surgical procedure, a steroid injection into my epidural cavity, was used to relieve some of the pain and I was able to return to work after a couple of months.

That was the way it stayed for the next three years. Me, too absorbed in my career to even consider the fact that I might become depressed again and rising to the challenge of continually finding new and different ways to manage my pain. My training in those early years where I taught myself not to worry about being scruffy, weird, or a bastard, stood me in good stead and it didn't bother me one bit that I now walked like Donald Duck on a bad day.

And then it came, during the summer holidays, that morning when I woke and it was the other Brian who was sitting there. Severely depressed, I was unable to decide whether or how to get out of bed, confidence gone, happy memories replaced by nagging guilt. Hours blurred into days of sitting unwashed, unfed, uncombed, undressed, until my ex-wife, who is still my best friend, arrived for a visit and found me. I had forgotten she was coming. I hid the letter I had written to my cleaner apologising to her for my decision that she should be the one to find my dead body because she was not emotionally attached to me.

And that was it, having lived with me through two other periods of acute depression my friend instantly knew what was going on and made the necessary telephone calls to the medics. Within two days I was sitting in a meeting at the psychiatric day hospital where I was offered the choice, (if that's what it was), of either attending the day hospital every day or of being sectioned (psychiatric jargon for compulsory admittance to a residential psychiatric hospital). I didn't realise at the time but that was the day on which I became disabled.

Although I was profoundly depressed I began attending the day hospital believing that, although it didn't feel like it, at some point I would emerge from the hospital a fully functioning person once more. This time it wasn't to be.

With the new hospital came the new diagnosis and with that came new antidepressant medication.

After each of my previous severe bouts of depression I had eventually reached the point where I had weaned myself off of whatever medication I was on. This wasn't really very hard to do because most psychiatric medicines are of limited use or they come with a cocktail of side-effects which are in themselves a massive incentive to get off the drugs. The first new medication that was tried made things worse instead of better, (not an unusual occurrence with psychiatric medicine), but the next thing they tried was quickly in control of my suicidal thoughts and the side-effects were minimal.

The new medication has proved very successful at flattening down the emotional effect of the most destructive of my thoughts but, possibly because I lost the love of my life during that period, my mind appears to have lost the ability to lift itself totally clear of the cloud of confusion that engulfs me.

I now live with a similar prognosis from both my psychiatrist and my back specialist who each state that everyone with chronic back pain sufferers a degree of depression but that since my depression is acute they believe, (and were proved correct when I undertook some voluntary work a couple of years ago) that these two chronic conditions impact upon each other with such force that it is inevitable that if I subject myself to high degrees of either emotional or physical stress that I will be setting myself up for a life spent permanently bouncing between stronger psychiatric medication and unsafe levels of painkillers. And that is my life now.

So what does the Welfare Reform Bill mean for me?

1: without my motorbility car I would not be able to leave my home because I have been medically advised that it is highly dangerous for me to travel on public transport. The nearest shop is 200 yards away. On a good day I can walk there in 15 min but I am not able to carry anything back that I cannot put into my pocket.

2: the lower rate of DLA ceased to be adequate to pay a cleaner for more than one hour per week about two years ago. That one hour is basically used by my cleaner to ensure my home is hygienic. If I lose my lower rate DLA allowance there are jobs, mostly concerned with hygiene, that simply will not get done.

3: I will be called for Work Capability Assessment at some point in the future and following that assessment regardless of the fact that both my orthopaedic and my psychiatric consultants say I must not work I could be assessed as being capable of work. If that happens my benefit will reduce and I will lose my home. If I have not gained employment within 12 months I may lose my benefits all together.

4: I am 61 years old. In four years, when I reach retirement age, it is possible that I will lose my motorbility car (see 1).

5: I paid National Insurance Contributions for 40 years. For many of those years I worked when others with psychiatric and physical problems the same as mine might not have done so. I was told after 32 years that I had paid sufficient contributions to be entitled to the full state pension. Now, that might not be the case.

I used to teach my students that sociologists speak of a “cycle of deprivation”. I was born into poverty and spent my childhood living in poverty. Throughout my adult life I have worked hard and honestly and although there have been many occasions on which I could have extracted money from the public purse I did not do so. If the Welfare Reform Bill goes through it is almost certain that having risen from underclass through working class to middle-class, that I will spend the last years of my life back in the underclass and living in poverty. That is the cycle of deprevation.

Broken Brian

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Charities: Working 4 or Doing 2? - 2

This is the second of an occasional series of blogs pointing out incidences of Charities forgetting who it is they exist to represent and, sometimes, becoming self-serving instead. I write this as someone who has requested help from charities when at my most vulnerable and then experienced what it feels like to be rejected and betrayed for not fitting into any of the shapes on their eligibility puzzle. You know, like those children’s story puzzles where the child fits different cut out characters into the corresponding hole in a picture attached to a wooden base.

Today I have faced with a dilemma. How should I deal with the actions of a charity which I hold in great esteem, - not least because I have met, and trained in one aspect of their work, several of its employees and was always extremely impressed by the work practises they described – which has allowed itself to be used by the Daily Mail to validate the callous, vindictive, uncaring, and, worse still, "ethnically cosmetic" intentions of the Conservative Westminster Council to ban other charities from delivering food to "the homeless" who live "rough" on its streets.
The unattributed article was even more nauseous than that newspaper's reports of social issues usually are because it was couched in the terminology of a caring society. The “Daily Mail Reporter” used quotations from the chief executives of both "St Mungo's Homeless Charity" (who I was referring to above), and the "Thames Reach Homeless Organisation", to justify the actions of the Council and to override criticism from Labour councillors and other charities.
As someone who has had his own words manipulated by the media to present a picture that was not intended, I do not think for one minute that the cherry picked quotations were the only things that these chief executives said in response to a question the content of which I do not know, but in the absence of any retraction by either of them I have to assume that they were satisfied that what was printed represented their true view.
In my previous posting on the subject of charities allowing them-selves to be manipulated to suit government policy I pointed out that whatever the true intentions of those charities their words and their compliance would be used to justify unpalatable government intentions. In the case of St Mungo's I sincerely hope that is what has happened here, and that they learn a lesson from the chief executive’s gullibility.

Regarding the dishonesty and lack of integrity demonstrated throughout the Daily Mail article, it is highly relevant that at no point does the author draw attention to the previously stated "cosmetic" wish to remove rough sleepers from the streets of London before the 2012 Olympics take place. Yet another charity chose to see that intention as something they could support and, as you will see below, did not intervene when physical discomfort was deliberately inflicted on their “client’s”. An article on this subject entitled “How the 2012 Olympics will end rough sleeping” by Jeremy Dunning in Community Care.co.uk on December 21, 2009 (link 1 below) contained the following regarding the “tidying-up” of rough sleepers:
“Homeless Link chief executive Jenny Edwards says the Olympics "gives us a very nice, particularly high-profile timetable around which to achieve a once-in-a-lifetime offer", while Richard Blakeway, director of housing for London mayor Boris Johnson, says it is taking "a unique moment in time" to end something that has been "symbolic in London for several decades".”
The article went on to describe how, since 2008, funding had been made available to various charities and organisations to assist them in setting up schemes to offer alternatives to rough sleeping in the capital. Towards the end of his article Jeremy Dunning says:
"The initial focus has been on the 205 most entrenched rough-sleepers, of whom only 67 now remain on the streets."
I will proffer my opinion of why those 67 might still be choosing to live "rough" below, but first, another quote from Jeremy Dunning's article, one which shows how the original collusion of the charities was abused once the "caring approach" had not completely eradicated the problem. Jeremy Dunning said:
“However, there have been criticisms over the use of enforcement measures such as antisocial behaviour orders, dispersal zones and the practice of "wetting down" doorways in the City of London through the Corporation's Operation Poncho, run in partnership with the police and homelessness charity Broadway”
I wonder whether those who donate to the "Broadway" charity are aware of how their donations were used.

Those Charities who purport to represent the most vulnerable members of current British society need to become "streetwise" and wake up to the fact that the Conservative Party Ideology of the 2000’s demands a return to the days of the "Deserving" and the "Undeserving" Poor, a concept retained by a minority of very small, mainly religion orientated, charities since the early 1900s, but discarded by most as a flawed concept since then.

Regarding the 67 rough sleepers, their reasons for preferring to sleep “rough” deserves to be understood, not used as an excuse to “ethnically cleanse” them from the streets of Westminster. I know from my own experiences as a social worker that there are people among us who quite simply find it impossible to live securely in either a family or a structured communal setting.
One fairly common scenario is this: a child is removed, or escapes, from a family in which he or she suffered abuse. The Children Act 1989 rightly states that wherever possible that child should be placed with another family, usually a foster family. Unprepared for the fact that even abused children will miss their family, the foster family, and sometimes, disgracefully, the social workers involved, fail to read the signs when that child begins to display the aggressive and/or disruptive behaviour which is a necessary component of the grieving process. Based on their own experience of family, and the belief set that says any child will be grateful, and happy, and compliant, once they are removed from their original situation, the child is labelled uncooperative, disrespectful, even, dangerous or mentally ill, because he or she is unable to make use of the help that is provided in the way the foster parents and the social worker believe they would do in a similar situation. The next step for our hypothetical abused child, or for any child who enters the care system above the age of about 10 years, is a move to "Residential Care" where another grieving process begins but where staff will already have made up their minds about them based on what they have been told. Staff will consider them to be either potential troublemakers or damaged Angels. Those who label them “troublemakers” will soon find evidence to prove their assumption correct; those who take the damage angel approach will feel rejected when the child is unable to return kindness and will become as disillusioned as the foster carers were, excusing their original, caring, stance, by labelling the child a manipulator who initially “took them in”.
Whichever path they followed within the statutory care system all children leave that "Supportive Environment" emotionally abused by the experience. Some will also have been physically or sexually abused by other residents or by individual staff members.
To expect those who have experienced rejection and/or abuse from family members, from friends, or from professional carers, to fit willingly, seamlessly, and gratefully into another family or residential environment is ridiculous.

While the scenario described above will fit many of the 76 "unwilling" rough sleepers referred to in Jeremy Dunning's article, it is probable that the biggest group represented by that statistic (which will also include many of those described above) will be those with some form of mental illness.
Among those of us who live daily with psychiatric illness will be some who are afraid of people, some who are afraid of society, some who are afraid or mistrustful of the police and the psychiatric care services (because those professional groups have misinterpreted their thoughts or words in the past and, in the opinion of those who are ill, will have locked them up just because they are who they are). Then there are those who are afraid of all of these things. Whichever group they fit into most of those 76 will be afraid of life itself.
Every one of us who has been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness has been emotionally abused, usually unknowingly, by a "Care System" that claims to protect us. Some of those who have spent time either willingly or unwillingly as a patient in a psychiatric hospital will possibly have been physically attacked, sexually abused, or raped by another patient, or, by a member of staff.
To expect those who have lived through the worst extremes of the mental health "care system" to fit willingly, seamlessly, and gratefully into another residential environment is ridiculous.
In my opinion these are the things that the chief executives of St Mungo's and the Thames Reach homeless organisation should have been saying to the Daily Mail yesterday. They should not have been colluding with the ongoing persecution and abuse of those they purport to represent.

Regarding what was said in the unattributed Daily Mail article (link 2 below): I have contrasted it with a report from Jason Beattie of the Daily Mirror (link 3 below).
"Unattributed" begins his or her article in terms which are as devious as those being used by Westminster Council regarding this matter:
“Proposals for a ban on soup runs and rough sleeping in a part of the centre of the capital have sparked a political row. Westminster City Council is seeking to pass a bylaw that would prohibit soup runs from operating in a designated area around Westminster Cathedral. Labour councillors have attacked the proposal as 'cold-hearted and callous' but the council says soup kitchens perpetuate homelessness and insists it has the support of interested charities.” (authors emphasis).
I am not sure if this is the first instance of the words of charities being used in the manipulative manner I previously predicted, but it certainly will not be the last. You will note that it is the support of the charities that Westminster Council and the anonymous reporter use to counter the socialist perspective. That ploy is based on the assumption that we all believe that charities only act in the best interests of those they say they care for and protect.
Jason Beattie began his article on the same subject like this.
“THEY spent much of the run-up to the election trying shake off their image as the nasty party. But a heartless group of Tories have ¬revealed their true colours by banning charities from running soup kitchens for the ¬homeless.
Conservative Westminster council in Central London also wants to make it an offence to sleep rough – while slashing £5million of funding to hostels. Astonishingly, town hall chiefs claimed soup kitchens only “encourage” people to sleep on the streets.”
It goes without saying that Jason Beattie is also reporting from a politically ideological perspective, one which is opposite to that of Mr or Miss "Unattributed", but it is the words used by the council, and not those of some supposedly independent and unattached body, that he uses to emphasise his point. The truth is that Mr or Miss Unattributed could not use the terminology of the council to support the proposition because it is clear as you read the remainder of the article that everything that the council said exposes its true intentions to anybody with half of a social conscience brain cell.
The Daily Mail first uses a verbal gift from a co-operative charity like this:
“Jeremy Swain, chief executive of Thames Reach homelessness organisation, said: 'Street handouts do little to help people make the step away from rough sleeping. Instead they frequently prevent people from facing up to the reality of the harmful life-style they have adopted.'”
Here we have a classic return to the deserving/undeserving poor ideology. The deserving are those who go along with what their "betters" say is good for them. The undeserving are those who do not. If you didn't understand why I was illustrating my intentions with the description of the wooden jigsaw puzzle above, hopefully you do now. Interestingly it is also similar to the ideology that the Nazis propagated to justify putting vagrants into concentration camps. It comes down to this, everyone is entitled to make choices regarding their lifestyle but if those choices are out of step with the ideology we propagate, then they are both inferior to us and undeserving of any form of help other than the help that we have decided they need. Since they do not agree with us they do not deserve to be helped.
"Unattributed" then uses what was said by Charles Fraser of St Mungo's to present the uncaring face of charity as influenced by Conservative Party ideology.
“Charles Fraser, chief executive of St Mungo’s homeless charity, added: “While we recognize the compassion involved in providing food to vulnerable people, those in distress and rough sleeping need services that will support them off the streets for good and give them the opportunity for longer term better housing, health and work as they move on with their lives.””
I was very sad when I read this assumption that people are failing if they do not “move on with their lives”. The St Mungo's front line workers whom I have met all understood, without needing to be taught, the potential scenarios I described above to explain why some people will always find it difficult, even impossible, to live comfortably in a residential setting. It would appear that Charles Fraser does not share the awareness of his frontline workers, either that or he has lost sight of the fact that his charity exists to serve the mentally ill and the homeless and has chosen to serve the ideology of the current Conservative Party instead.

This ideology returns social care provision to the position it filled before human rights legislation led to it adopting the "client" or "patient" driven services we have become used to since the early 1990s. With that change came a period during which the government took money away from local authorities and gave it directly to "service users" in the form of Disability Living Allowance. One knock-on effect of this was that the local authorities reduced the money they gave to charities, rightly claiming that the “service users” now controlled the money in order to purchase whatever services they required from whoever they wanted. The charities were threatened by this, they were now accountable to the purchasers of their services in a way they had never been before. The current government has decided to take the DLA from some people who receive it now and to give the money they recoup to charities. This is why the charities need to be extra careful of the way the current government is manipulating them, dangling this new money over their heads as motivation to begin behaving in the way the government wants them to.
The terms "Personal Responsibility" and "Personal Choice" were endlessly repeated by the governments of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major who oversaw the removal of monies paid to local authorities and charities and given directly to service users in order for them to exercise their personal responsibility and their personal choices. David Cameron also talks about personal responsibilities and choices quite a lot. In fact, both Thatcher and Cameron have used this terminology to declare the concept of "Society" obsolete, redundant or non-existent. In the context of what is being written about here there appears to be a massive ideological dissonance.

The reasons given by both Mr or Miss "Unattributed" and the ultra-right wing Westminster Local Authority to justify the removal of choice from the approximately 76 people who choose to continue living on the streets of Westminster is that society knows better then they do what is good for them.
That dissonance leads to remarks that would be laughable if they were not so abusive and potentially dangerous. Remarks like this quoted by Jason Beattie in the Daily Mirror:
“Conservative Westminster council in Central London also wants to make it an offence to sleep rough – while slashing £5million of funding to hostels. Astonishingly, town hall chiefs claimed soup kitchens only “encourage” people to sleep on the streets.”
That same piece of obscene nonsense is repeated by Unattributed of the Daily Mail in support of the actions of Westminster Council.
“Daniel Astaire, Westminster Council's cabinet member for society, families and adult services, responded by saying: 'Soup runs have no place in the 21st century and it is wrong and undignified that people are being fed on the streets. Handing out free food only serves to keep people on the streets for longer, damaging their health.'”
Unattributed precedes that little gem with this:
“'If approved, the by-law could be in place by October,' the spokesman added. 'Vulnerable individuals will not be enforced against, and all individuals will be asked to leave the area before being subjected to any enforcement.'”
In nearly 30 years of reading misleading documents prepared by National or Regional Government, District and Town Councils, Hospital Managers and Primary Care Trusts, and local football or youth club committees: I have never read such a deliberately ambiguous statement. I have been reading it on and off for over 24 hours and I still cannot make sense of it. It would have been more honest if "The Spokesman" had said: "We will ask them to leave and if they don't go we will make them".

Before closing I will repeat a few quotations from Jason Beattie's article in the Daily Mirror which, although I presume they were available to "Unattributed" of the Daily Mail, were not included in his or her article.
“Westminster council, one of the richest in the land, wants to bring in a bylaw making it an offence to “give out food for free”, punishable by fines. The twisted move blows apart David Cameron’s Big Society boast that an army of ¬volunteers will flock to help those worse off.”
“And it sparked a storm of ¬criticism. Reverend Alison Tomlin of the Methodist church in ¬Westminster said: “The proposals are nothing short of disgusting. This bylaw punishes people solely for their misfortune and belongs in a -Victorian statute book, not the 21st century.””
“Labour’s London mayoral ¬candidate Ken Livingstone added: “Only the Conservatives would try to make it illegal to give food to the homeless. With Tory mayor Boris Johnson cutting affordable housing to a trickle, the number of people sleeping on the streets is rising and cuts to housing benefit threaten ¬thousands more with eviction and homelessness.””
“Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour Group, said: “Nothing illustrates the cold-hearted and callous approach of the Conservatives than this attempt to criminalise those offering help to ¬homeless people.
“I thought this was what the Big Society was supposed to be all about, generous-hearted people giving their time to those less fortunate, at no cost to the public purse. This is a nasty, mean move from a nasty, mean party.””

So, what do you think? Are the homeless charities Broadway, St Mungo’s Homeless Charity, and Thames Reach Homelessness Organisation, “working 4” their target group of vulnerable people or are they “doing 2” them? Are they forgetting who it is they exist to represent and becoming self-serving instead?
I believe they have lost sight of their purpose and are guilty of negatively “doing 2” their clients. I also believe that as potential beneficiaries from another Draconian change proposed by the coalition government i.e. the changes to Disability Living Allowance, that it is highly unlikely that these charities have been able to remain totally objective in their dealings with their paymasters, Westminster Council.
During what is a very anxious and frightening time for us “vulnerables” Scope remains the only major charity which is consistently challenging the Government on our behalf while The Green Party and Plaid Cymru are the only major political parties who are publicly declaring their support for our causes.
I expect the three Charities named above to say that without their input the legislation would have gone ahead anyway, and they will probably be right, but, it would be going forward without the endorsement of those "respected charities" whose names have been used in an attempt to convince the public that the abuse of the vulnerable, abuse of “US”, is right.

In conclusion: I have been discussing matters on which all three of the major political parties in this country are refusing to either represent or support us in our fight. The least we “vulnerables” expect of those individuals and organisations who purport to represent us in our absence is that they would publicise and draw public attention to this disenfranchisement: not collude with it.

1 http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2009/12/21/113458/how-the-2012-olympics-will-help-end-rough-sleeping.htm

2 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1361198/Callous-council-wants-ban-soup-kitchens-homeless.html

3 http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/2011/03/01/heartless-tory-council-plans-to-ban-charities-from-feeding-the-homeless-with-soup-runs-115875-22957295/