The Samaritans Radar app – the problem is right there in the name.

**This entry is about the Samaritans Twitter app and has brief references to stalking and suicide**

It’s always been assumed that in large organisations, the higher-ups don’t really know what the lower-downs are doing and decisions often get made that leaves those who do the work shaking their heads at what’s going on.

Full disclosure: I used to be a Samaritans volunteer. I worked on the phone line, the email and face to face. I did this for roughly three years. Samaritan volunteers get very good training on how to do their job.

Today the Samaritans released information about a new app – the Samaritans Radar. It’s designed to monitor the tweets from the people the app-user follows on Twitter and flags up any Tweets with specific key words and phrases  that might be concerning, and reports them to the app-user. At first glance a nice way to make sure your friends are ok and to make sure you don’t miss any tweets from them that means they might be in trouble.

I am a former Samaritan volunteer and I do not like this app at all.

I will always defend Samaritan volunteers. They do amazing work and it’s the sort of thing that you really don’t know what it’s like until you do it. It isn’t easy, it takes a certain kind of person to be a Sam and you cannot do it to boost your own ego – you become very humbled very quickly. This is why I’ve come to the conclusion that there may have been little to no consultation with the volunteers before this app appeared.

Let’s look at it from the point of view not of the app-user, but the tweeter being monitored. The app itself is called the “Radar” app, and even in the name gives connotations of being watched, being monitored.  How likely are you to tweet about your mental health problems if you know some of your followers would be alerted every time you did? Do you know all your followers? Personally? Are they all friends? What if your stalker was a follower? How would you feel knowing your every 3am mental health crisis tweet was being flagged to people who really don’t have your best interests at heart, to put it mildly? In this respect, this app is dangerous. It is terrifying to think that anyone can monitor your tweets, especially the ones that disclose you may be very vulnerable at that time.

From the perspective of an ex-volunteer, I find it baffling that the concept of choice has been completely taken away. Samaritans was always about choice. Choice to talk, choice to take action or not, even down to the choice to end your life or not. Sams never judged, they listened. This is the opposite of that. This takes away the choice of the tweeter to seek help themselves. This is so far away from the whole ethos of Samaritans, that we are there for people to come to us. While the app has no literal connection to the Samaritans service – it flags it up to the app-user, not to the Samaritans service directly – it still removes choice.

And the bottom line is, monitoring people’s tweets is just not a good idea. At all.

This is why I’ve come to the conclusion that the people who do the listening had very little to do with this. Because they would not have liked it. I will always stand up for Samaritan volunteers and the fact this app is doing something like this in their name makes me angry, and worried that it will effect what people think of the service. Samaritans are amazing people, please don’t let what’s happened today influence your opinion of the service they offer. The people in Samaritans who are responsible for developing this app NEED to read people’s reactions and they need to take swift action. The thought that this could damage their reputation breaks my heart. They need to fix this.

Please note that the Samaritans Radar app is not connected to the volunteers that man the phones 24 hours a day.

Please do not let the arrival of this app stop you from using the phone line to talk to a trained and experienced volunteer listener.

Samaritans is a 24-hour phone line for who are in crisis and need to talk. There are call charges but you can ask to be called back.

08457 90 90 90

Thank you to the people I follow on Twitter for identifying the ways this app can be very dangerous.

**Opinions stated in this blog are mine and do not represent the opinions of Samaritans or their volunteers**

(Blog updated to edit that the phone number is not free)


BENEFIT FRAUDSTERS – HOW YOU CAN HELP

Benefit fraud is a real problem. And it’s up to YOU to stop it.

The government has announced that it’s releasing posters to bring awareness to the amount of benefit fraud that happens in this country, and they are telling YOU to report those you feel are committing benefit fraud.

But, how do you know who is and who isn’t? Maybe it’s that disabled person who lives in the ground floor flat – they’re probably faking it…maybe it’s the guy who comes round and cleans your windows – he’s probably on jobseekers, y’know? Well now, for the FIRST TIME, YOU can get STATISTICAL INFORMATION to help you work out who to shop.

Out of a population of 64.1 million people,  there are 5.3 million working-age benefit claimants and 2.83 million pension credit claimants. That means 12.68% of people in the UK are on some kind of benefit. And of that 12.68%, 0.7% has been paid out due to FRAUD

That’s 56, 910 people.

That’s 0.09% of the general population.

THAT means that out of every 10,000 people YOU meet every day,

9 of them will be benefit FRAUDSTERS.

So keep your eyes peeled. And keep counting. Because out of YOUR 10,000 friends, 9 of them are evil BENEFIT FRAUDSTERS.


It’ll get worse before it gets better.

There’s an election next year. Scary thought, especially given the political climate. UKIP, with it’s one-MP-that-was-a-Tory have every party wanting to pander to them.

It’ll get better, but I think it’ll get worse first. Here’s my back-of-a-fag-packet thinking about this.

Election happens next year. UKIP get some seats, the media will go MAD about it and it’ll be all over the papers for weeks. Someone will win, possibly the Tories (to be honest they’re the “most likely” to win out of the other three just because the Lib Dems really don’t have a hope any more and Labour are just being rubbish). UKIP will get LOADS of screen time during the run-up to the election because one of them will say we should bring back slavery and another one will say that women shouldn’t work and another one will do a Nazi salute or something but for UKIP, even bad publicity is publicity and the media will go on about it for days.

Meanwhile. Whichever party wins will basically end up bringing in the same policies. The dividing line between the three main parties is now so tiny it’s barely visible and we’ve almost got to the point where if you’re poor or unemployed or disabled or a mixture of all three then you’re going to be screwed, which ever party gets in. And because the media will have been shouting “UKIP!” for weeks, each party will feel they have to pander to them. It’ll get worse before it gets better.

However. At some point after the next election, people will realise it has gone too far. People who support UKIP don’t see the truth behind the propaganda they spew. Sadly, I think they’re going to have to come and show how awful they actually are before some people will see them for the nasty, misogynistic, racist party they are. And then people will realise, and they’ll get cross, and UKIP will eventually disappear like all the BNP/EDL groups that have come before them.

However. We should not accept that this is what will happen. We need to fight against it. It’ll be a hard fight, especially because it will consist of the people with least power fighting the people with the most power. Be political. Talk about political issues. Challenge people. It will be exhausting, but we just cannot lie down and be trampled on.

But I’m interested to hear what people think. Do you think it will happen this way? Am I being pessimistic? What are the chances of the country being a better place for the poor and disabled? Please leave your comments below.


UKIP are not taking over the world.

I haven’t switched on the tv so far today. There are a few reasons for this, one of them being my new German cast recording of Wicked that arrived today (Keiner weint um Hexen!) but also, UKIP won a by-election, meaning they now have a seat in the House of Commons.

Or did they? I mean, they did, but how did it happen?

Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton, defected from the Tory party to UKIP, which then triggered a by-election. Which he won. The turn-out for the by-election was 36%, which automatically puts 64% of Clacton voters in the “not UKIP” camp. The other aspect I will freely admit is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder how many of those UKIP voters weren’t actually voting for UKIP, but were just voting to keep the same MP they’d always had? I grew up in a very safe Tory seat, and the MP (who is still there) has been MP since I was in school.

I’d wager, quite happily, that most of those voters just wanted consistency. They wanted the same guy they’ve had. They weren’t voting for UKIP, they were voting for Carswell.

So the news is, actually, sitting MP retains his seat. The BBC would have you believe that UKIP is about to take over parliament but honestly, it’s just not that big.

On the other hand, Caroline Lucas – who became an MP on her own Green Party manifesto – has been the sole sitting Green MP for four years. But that’s not radical, so the BBC don’t care about that.


Young people deserve so much more – a reaction to Iain Duncan Smith’s Party Conference Speech

There are so many things I could say about Iain Duncan Smith’s speech today. A lot of them I said on Twitter.

I could talk about how introducing pre-paid benefit cards for people with addiction or debt problems will lead to a black market of people selling their cards for cash. Or how, the pre-paid cards will only be redeemable in specific supermarkets, meaning local shops will suffer, and that means traveling to your nearest supermarket. Difficult if you don’t have a car.

I could talk about how rolling out Universal Credit next year is a very bad idea, considering it’s been “dogged by delay due to IT problems”, and that while IDS intended to have 1 million people on Universal Credit by last April, there were in fact only 7,000. (source)

No, what I want to focus on is what IDS said about young people specifically. What with me being a youth worker an’ all.

“Today I can announce my intention for Jobcentre Plus coaches in my department to work with young people in schools across the country, for the first time, from as early as 15…targeting those most at risk of falling out of education, employment or training…working with them before they end up with a terrible wage scar, as happened too often in the past.

For the first time, 15 to 21 year olds will have a single package of help, support and assistance that will radically improve the hope and aspirations of a generation that the last Government left behind.”

Young people have been dragged through the mud by this government. Youth centres all across the country have been closed, experienced and good youth workers out of a job. Youth workers worked holistically with young people. We understand that it’s no good getting a kid a job if he’s not no home to go to, or he’s got no food, or if he can’t control his anger. Youth workers deal with the whole person. We were really good at that. But the Tories got rid of us.

And put this in its place. It’s all very familiar – I believe an almost identical service called Connexions was axed a few years ago – but then again the Tories are well known for axing services and then putting something else exactly the same but with a different name in its place. But my argument is this: Jobcentre Plus advisors are advisors. They are not equipped to handle the complexities and chaos that is a young person’s life, particularly the young people who are likely to end up as “NEETs”. Youth workers are QUALIFIED in doing this, we are qualified in working with young people in a way that doesn’t just tick the boxes of “job” and “qualification” but that can help that young person build a positive relationship on their own terms with an adult. Young people are told what to do all the time. They need to be given the choice to make their own decisions.

The problem is, this doesn’t tick boxes. The targets are not “how many are in work” or “how many gained a qualification” (although we can do that too, if we need to!) The problem is that the government refuses to invest in good youth work services for young people. But, I would challenge IDS’s idea that a single package of help, support and assistance is being delivered “for the first time”. Youth workers have been delivering exactly this for years. Trained, experienced youth workers who know how to work with young people where they are. Who equip young people with the skills to give direction to their lives themselves. I am willing to believe that the Jobcentre Plus workers being placed in schools will not be using those skills.

Young people are being treated so, so badly by this government and the cuts it has imposed. They deserve so much better than this. They deserve not to be treated as a statistic, a problem, as something to be dealt with. They deserve to be treated as complex, fantastic human beings and we are doing them a huge disservice.

(You can read Iain Duncan Smith’s speech in its entirety here)

 


If you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The government does not care about you. And nowhere today could that be more obvious than George Osborne’s speech to the Tory Party conference. George and his collection of Tory posh boys whooped and cheered as he announcing that, should the Tories remain in power after the next election, benefit rates would be frozen in 2016. Meanwhile the rich are getting richer.

And who better than to give comment about Mr Osborne’s proposals than that well-known political commentator White Dee (whose opinions were clearly so important that even the BBC felt they had to report it) who, is without a doubt, being used horrifically by the Tory party.  “Look!” they say “she’s someone on benefits, like you! And SHE thinks it all a good idea!”

This government, and this country, are run by the rich and the corporations. They write policy geared to make sure they end up with profit in their pockets. And in order to focus attention away, in order to say “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” they point fingers at the poorest, saying “it’s your fault we’re in this mess.” The papers play along, blaming the poorest and most vulnerable in society for the financial problems we’re now in. And meanwhile the rich get richer.

The poorest and the most vulnerable in society cannot take it any more. Food bank usage is at a MASSIVE increase, benefits are sanctioned for the smallest of reasons and still the money flows into the richest pockets.

If you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention.


PIP and NHS

Hey all. Sorry for the rather extended hiatus.

It’s been a while, and a few things have happened. Firstly, the important thing: I got a letter last month to say I had been awarded Personal Independence Payments. I’ll be honest, I was stunned I was awarded it first time round. I was fully expecting to have to appeal but I was lucky. I was able to fill out the form “properly” and knew how to make sure I answered the questions in my assessment so they fully understood my condition. I found it a stressful and difficult (and very, very long) process. I cannot imagine how someone with mental health difficulties, who isn’t good at forms or has no-one to help them would ever manage to get through this process. The assembly line of assessing people’s complex lives through a series of tick boxes.

But. For now this fight is over. But there are still other fights to fight.

My next battle is going to be with the NHS.

Also the council. Them too.

I’ve been ill for almost a year. In that time I’ve been referred to a rheumatologist who I was under for all of twenty minutes who told me I had fibromyalgia, which was the same thing as chronic fatigue syndrome. I then fought with my GP for months to be put on the right medication treatment. I’m now waiting for my pain clinic appointment – still two months away – and trying to work out how on earth I’m going to get a referral to the M.E./CFS clinic I so want to be seen by. I already know that my GP isn’t comfortable dealing with cases who are “under” specialists but technically, I’m under no-one.

My husband and I had a crisis point a while ago. I called Adult Services, to try and get some help. But we weren’t eligible for any.

A couple of weeks ago I was alone in the house and I got stuck on the kitchen floor while feeding the cats at 5am.

But I’m under no medical professional and adult care cannot provide anything for me. I’ve been feeling worse over the last few weeks. Leaving the house is becoming a rare luxury. So why is it that there is nothing to help me?

Disability campaigner Sue Marsh wrote a piece about her current stay in hospital. It’s well worth a read. She talks about how nurses are rushed off their feet, and don’t have the time to complete basic tasks with patients such as making sure they are properly fed. If this is the state of someone who is ill in hospital, no wonder that services for people with chronic illness are in such short supply.

The NHS is disappearing. My husband and I and millions of people like us rely on the NHS to keep us walking, functioning and living. I’m terrified about what’s going to happen to the NHS if the Tories get into power for another five years.

Actually, I already know what’s going to happen. It will be dismantled and sold. And then, I really won’t have any chance of getting help.


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