If you're poor, the Tories don't like you. If you're disabled, if you claim benefits, if you are unemployed, the Tories don't like you. If you're a single parent, if you live in social housing, the Tories don't like you. If you have mental health problems, if you're a public sector worker, if you're a union member, the Tories don't like you.
So, as those of you who follow me on Twitter might be aware, it’s been a bit of a drama-filled couple of weeks. And it doesn’t look to get any less drama-filled any time soon.
A week last Sunday (so, April 28th), J (my husband) and I came back to our flat to find water pouring through all the ceilings. A major water leak had happened in the flat upstairs. The fire brigade were called, the people who lived upstairs came back, we rescued the cats and the more important pieces of electronic equipment and then looked at the damage.
Our carpets had standing water on them. Paint was coming off the walls, the ceilings were getting lovely damp patches and ominous bulges. The flat was, basically, in tatters. Luckily, none of our furniture had any damage. While the water had completely eviscerated the hallway and most of the walls and ceilings, the water had only got about halfway across the bedrooms and the living room, meaning most major pieces of furniture (beds, tables, chairs etc.) had escaped damage.
Later that night, someone from the Housing Association came to look at the leak upstairs. Clearly by this point, there wasn’t much he could do for our flat. The cats went to my parent’s, and we stayed with J’s mum for the night.
I spent all of Monday and Tuesday at the flat. Absolutely nothing happened on Monday. No-one came out, nothing happened. Even our booking at the Holiday Inn that the Housing Association had arranged hadn’t been done properly, so we spent another night at J’s mum’s (by that point, I was too exhausted to care). Tuesday, vans and men arrived to empty our flat and put all our stuff in storage. This was also the arrival of someone from the Housing Association (the first person who hadn’t been a plumber to come and look at my flat). She was completely shocked by what she saw, and realised pretty quickly that the Housing Association really didn’t have a clue of the scale of the damage that had happened. That night we managed to get into the Holiday Inn.
The situation now is that our Housing Association will pay for us to stay in the Holiday Inn until next Monday, 13th May. After that they won’t pay. The work on our flat is expected to last 6 – 8 weeks. Now, our flat had a lot of adaptations done, as J uses a wheelchair. We have a fully adapted kitchen, automatic opening doors and other bits and pieces done so J can get around. While we know there’s no way any temporary accommodation we get offered is going to have that level of adaptation, we need at the very least a property that’s wheelchair accessible. That means a ground floor, or a building with a lift. No steps. The Housing Association have said there is nowhere available owned by either them or other local HAs that would be suitable and is available on such short notice. The long and short of it is, I can genuinely see us leaving the Holiday Inn at 12 noon on Monday, and going straight to the Council to declare ourselves homeless.
J is a wheelchair user, but he also has Asperger’s syndrome. This makes any and all change very stressful for him. I’m supposed to be working. I work freelance, and I haven’t been able to work for the last week because I’ve spent all my time trying to work out where we’re going to live. On Monday I’m supposed to be having a very important meeting involving the young people I work with. I can’t do that if I don’t know where I’m going to be going home to afterwards. I’m also losing a huge amount of money – I don’t work, I don’t earn.
So that’s the situation. As well as the HA and the Council, I’ve also been talking to Social Care, the Law Centre and Shelter. Shelter tells me that landlords have no legal obligation to find alternative accommodation for their tenants while work is carried out. While a lot of private landlords will have to have written into their insurance that they will pay for alternative accommodation for their tenants, that’s a requirement of their mortgage and social landlords do not have to have that. I genuinely do not know where we’re going to live for the next month, at least.
It sucks. A lot.
If you’re poor, the Tories don’t like you. If you’re disabled, if you claim benefits, if you are unemployed, the Tories don’t like you. If you’re a single parent, if you live in social housing, the Tories don’t like you. If you have mental health problems, if you’re a public sector worker, if you’re a union member, the Tories don’t like you.
The country is run by people who not only don’t understand what it’s like to live on the breadline, to live in poverty or to live with disability, they cannot fathom it. It is so, completely far removed from their life experience that they cannot even begin to understand, to visualize, to conceptualize what it is like. The country is run by people who genuinely believe that all it takes to “work hard and get on” is to get a job. They genuinely believe that. All those excuses – disability, lack of employment, mental health issues, family and childcare issues – are all just excuses to them. As far as they’re concerned, you are just being lazy. A scrounger. A pleb.
Two big topics of the budget were getting on the property ladder and starting small businesses. For so many people, both those ideas are so far away from what they’re able to do. People can’t just start up their own business. People can’t just pop off and buy a house. And the government completely ignores and glosses over those who are really struggling to live day-to-day. Today’s budget was confirmation that the Tories are not thinking about the poorest, the hardest hit, those who are truly struggling. They genuinely believe you are scroungers who are lazy. They’re believing their own rhetoric.
I have decided that I’m no longer going to kid myself that the government gives half a crap about anyone that doesn’t directly affect them. They don’t have to see the poor, the disabled, unless they get wheeled out for a visit to a local estate or a day centre. They do not see the say to day and they have no interest in seeing it.
I trust this government as far as I can throw them.
On Monday, I happened to be in the situation where I caught two of Radio 4′s flagship news programmes. I was driving in to work as World At One was on, and driving home as The World Tonight aired. (I’m a youth worker, my working hours are bizarre at best.)
The main story of the day was, of course, the claims around sexual harassment in the Lib Dems. Channel 4 News had run a story at the end of the previous week, stating women who worked for the Lib Dems had made allegations against Lord Rennard. They had accused him of sexual harassment through inappropriately touching and propositioning them, and nothing had been done about it. On World At One, Jasper Gerard, a former Lib Dem speech writer, was asked to comment on the allegations. After spending approximately five seconds saying “if these claims are accurate then it was a terrible abuse of power”, he then goes on to say “but isn’t it so convenient that these claims are coming out now, with a by-election on the horizon, hmmm?” He then used the words “not a major crisis” and “blown out of all proportion” in relation to the claims. At 20.30 on the show, he said:
“We’re still now going on about whether somebody put his hand or didn’t put his hand on somebody’s knee, this isn’t a Jimmy Saville case.”
21.13 into the programme, he says:
“I think there’s an element of sexism in a lot of this coverage, having met a lot of the female Liberal Democrat prospective Parliamentary candidates I think they’re pretty well capable of looking after themselves to some extent here…I think it’s been dressed up as some sort of Edwardian melodrama where young damsels are running out of a room fluttering, terrified that this beast Lord Rennard is after them. I think it’s a bit patronising about these women. I think most of them are quite capable, if somebody does make an inappropriate pass at them, to put that person in their place pretty sharply.”
So, not only does he say that this is being blown out of all proportion – effectively saying “well, it was just touching, it’s not like he raped them”, and putting a level of what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate onto sexual harassment which, as far as I can tell, all falls under the umbrella of “NOT APPROPRIATE AT ALL” – he then goes on to say that these women should’ve dealt with it themselves. That only frail and weak women are affected by sexual abuse and everyone else should just brush it off.
I’ll say it again in big letters just to push the point.
He then goes on to say that these women should’ve dealt with it themselves. That only frail and weak women are affected by sexual abuse and everyone else should just brush it off.
If you were driving through the South Cotswolds at any point during Monday afternoon and you saw a woman driving down the country roads screaming at her radio, I do apologise. A little Google work shows that there have been some repercussions for these comments.
It was also mentioned that these allegations had been brought to Nick Clegg’s attentions about five years ago, and that his response was to ask his Chief of Staff Danny Alexander to “have a word” with Lord Rennard about these allegations. The discussion then continued with Simon Hughes, the deputy leader, who spent a long time saying “well, if these women didn’t say anything about it, what were we to do?” and reiterated Jasper Gerard’s point of “Funny these allegations should spring up now, right?”
Senior members of the party went onto national media and said “we didn’t know. What do you want from us?” At no point did any of them say “We should be looking into WHY these women didn’t report it sooner” rather than shrugging their shoulders and saying “what more do you want from me?”
I felt furious all afternoon, and then I drove home with The World Tonight on the radio. Tim Farron, Party President, said the words “we screwed this up”. I cheered. Then Sandra Gidley, former party spokesperson on women’s issues, came on and repeated that point.
“I must admit I do think that was a slightly strange strategy, it smacks of Yes Minister and this really is not a funny situation at all. You send somebody off to ask if it was true: “Did you do this, old chap?” “No of course I didn’t old chap.” “That’s alright then, let’s have a drink.”"
Finally. Sense. An admission that there were no processes for these women to report their worries. No formal structure to deal with the allegations. In every organisation I’ve ever worked in, any allegations like these would involve at the very least a formal meeting, and a probable suspension while they were investigated. The idea that the response to this was a quick chat is, quite frankly, terrifying.
There are people who are speaking about these allegations who are speaking sense, but there seem to be just as many, if not more, who are focusing on the fact that the allegations didn’t come out sooner. I understand that news stories are released at times when they are likely to cause the most harm to an opposing party. But to accuse that means accusing the women of spitefully raising issues of sexual harassment as political gain. The story is not “these women kept their allegations until they knew it would cause most harm”. The story IS “sexual harassment is still happening in politics, and that’s not acceptable.”
We need to have voices like Sandra Gidley’s in response to this story. Not like Jasper Gerard.
I was sat in the library earlier today reading a copy of Children and Young People Now, which had an article about the “reform” of the probation service. I’d been marginally aware that something was happening but hadn’t looked at it in any particular detail up to this point, but when I did I was struck by something (that wasn’t my head hitting the table at the ridiculousness of it all).
This is exactly the same as the youth work reforms. Pretty much down to the letter. Here are some choice quotes from the Guardian’s article on the changes:
“The public probation service is to be scaled back and “refocused” to specialise in dealing only with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders and public protection cases.”
“Unions expect that as much as 70% of the work currently done by the probation service in working with offenders in the community will move to private and voluntary sector providers under the plan, including the supervision of nearly all medium and low-level risk offenders.”
It’s all so familiar. Generic services will be shipped out to private and voluntary sector orgs while the public sector only deals with the high-risk, and removes most of its (trained, highly knowledgeable and experienced) staff in the process.
Compare this to the youth service restructures that have happened in Local Authorities all over the UK over the past couple of years – generic “Youth Services” have been disbanded, save for a few case workers now working with specific high-risk young people, generic youth provision has been left to the private and voluntary sector – and it’s a horrifyingly familiar story.
So not only have the government removed all responsibility for the more generic provision of services for young people from themselves, they’re pretty open about not wanting to have it back either. “Youth policy is not a priority for central government and should be developed by local authorities rather than Whitehall, the Education Secretary has said.”
That’ll be the same local authorities who have just removed most of their youth provision, then. It’s a catastrophic pass-the-parcel of responsibility for our young people. Central government don’t want it so they fob it off onto local authorities, local authorities can’t do anything about it so they throw money at the problem and hope the vol orgs will deal with it.
Young people are not a problem to be dealt with. They are not a service that you can fob off onto a young people’s organisation and hope they buy some footballs with the pot of money you’ve thrust at them. They are the future of a country, the MPs and doctors and teachers and parents and the ENTIRETY of the next generation. What kind of message are the government sending to young people in the UK?
So far, young people have been told they just don’t matter enough. And we wonder why young people feel disenfranchised. The way the government has been treating young people has been nothing short of shocking. They have been the first to lose out on services, on access to their education and on making sure they have a solid future ahead of them. I am left to draw only one conclusion: that this government just does not care about its young people.
Today is Valentine’s Day. Today is also the day where One Billion Rising will be undertaking events all over the world to call for the end to violence against women and girls.
As part of this, there is a cross-party debate in Parliament today for sex education to include information about abuse and appropriate relationships. A recent article in The Guardian saw that young people going through secondary school now are still concerned about the quality of Sex Education they receive, saying that “…SRE is too much about sexually transmitted infections (STI) and saying no, and not enough about feelings and relationships.”
Sex Education has changed massively even since I was at school (which wasn’t that long ago!) Sex Ed in the 90s usually consisted of the biology approach, the classic video of a woman giving birth and giggling over the “reproduction” section of our science text books. If there was any more to it then I don’t remember it. We didn’t put a condom on a banana, we didn’t look at STIs or contraception. In fact, all my information about anything that wasn’t biology came from Just Seventeen magazine and their endless and brilliant articles, booklets and information on everything to do with sex, relationships and general Growing Up Stuff. It was invaluable. However, that was then. Now, young people are a lot more clued up on all thing sex, and usually in a very positive way. From my experience working with young people in a variety of settings, most of them will know how to access free condoms, they’ll know about the implant, the injection or the pill and they’ll know how to protect themselves. A lot of schools are part of condom distribution and C Card schemes, those who have a school nurse are able to offer contraception services right there in the school for young people to access for free. It’s definitely come a long way. Young people are clued up.
But judging by the information coming from newspaper reports and campaigns like One Billion Rising, Sex Education needs to change again. Issues around healthy relationships, abuse and exploitation are not being covered, meaning that although we’re equipping our young people with the practical knowledge and equipment to keep themselves from getting an STI and avoiding unwanted pregnancy, we’re not equipping them mentally for the impact of having a relationship. The self-respect to say no, the means to keep themselves free from exploitation. And it’s not only for the girls! Young men need to be taught these things just as much as young women. The internet means that young people have access to a whole load of sexually explicit stuff a lot earlier, and they get extremely mixed and skewed messages as to what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. Respect, mutual consent and communication are not messages that young people usually pick up from pornography. They need an education that teaches them about relationships in the real world, not the one they might access through their computer.
But of course, for any improvement to Sex Education to happen, there needs to be a requirement for a high level of competency in the delivery of Sex Ed across the board. It should be a progressive process across education, teaching age-appropriate relationships education to kids from a young age. It should be required teaching. If young people are taught to respect and value themselves from a young age, it will be part of their development into an adult. It’s completely possible to teach sex and relationships education in whatever cultural or religious setting the young person is in, without indoctrinating them into believing sex is wrong, immoral, dirty or a taboo. In fact, teaching those things often means young people will find it more intriguing. Talking openly about sex and relationships removes the mystery and stops it from being a taboo. Facts are facts, and there’s still space within SRE to encourage discussion and debates around sex and morals as that’s what helps young people form their own opinions and make their own choices.
It’s time for Sex Education to take another step in its development. In order for this to happen I believe a number of things need to be put in place:
- Sex Education needs to be compulsory in secondary school. There needs to be a basic curriculum around sex, STIs, contraception and relationships that is compulsory teaching.
- Every school should have access to a professional who is trained in teaching PSHE to the appropriate level, and who is capable of delivering that curriculum.
- PSHE needs to focus just as much on relationships, sexuality, abuse and exploitation, and online safety as it does on STIs and contraception.
- People need to recognise that teaching young people about sex and relationships means they have knowledge to make decisions about their life, it means they are empowered to keep themselves safe and it stops sex from being an illicit taboo.
Sex Education has come on a lot since I was at school, but it needs to keep developing and progressing along with young people’s needs. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and think that if we don’t talk about it then it’s not a problem. I’m hoping that the Government stops sticking on this issue and makes a proper step forwards on Sex Education.
If you are for opposite-sex marriage and against same-sex marriage, that makes you homophobic. I don’t care how lovely and nice you are, what a wonderful Christian or happy Conservative you are, I don’t care if you’re a 15 year old boy or a 75 year old granny. If you do not want people to be able to marry the person they love just because they are both the same gender, that means you are homophobic.
It’s really, genuinely that simple. You can throw excuses of Biblical references at it if you want (but you’d better be putting your wife in a tent until she’s off her period if that’s your excuse). You can say it’s undermining the sanctity of marriage but I bet you can all name someone who’s cheated on their husband, or is on their third wife.
You can claim that people get married in order to reproduce but I pity you if that was the reason you decided to marry your spouse (“she’s got good child-baring hips!” “he looks nice and fertile!”) and then of course what about all the couples who can’t or don’t want to have children? I’m hoping the human race has moved on a bit from simply partnering in order to mate. We are not a pack of lions.
Or you can be honest and say that you find the whole gay thing a bit icky, and that two men holding hands is a bit weird, and that you’re not really sure how it all works and HEY, GUESS WHAT, OVER HERE, WHY ARE YOU ONLY THINKING ABOUT SEX? Same-sex partners have arguments and cook meals and buy houses and go shopping and go on holiday and have jobs and furniture and LIVES just like anyone else. I read somewhere that it seems that those who are anti-gay seem to think a lot more about gay sex than gay people do. I’m inclined to agree.
Marriage is a social construct. It does not occur in nature. It is something humans created for legal and sometimes spiritual purposes. And at the end of the day, if you don’t agree with same-sex marriage, don’t marry someone who is the same sex as you. That’s really the only way it will affect you. The country won’t fall, morality won’t collapse, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse won’t appear, you won’t walk down the street seeing men in tiny shorts snogging each other on every street corner (although that really does depend on where you live).
Just because, for some unknown reason, you find something offensive it does not mean that it shouldn’t be allowed. I find rich Tories offensive but I don’t want them to be made illegal (although now I think about it…) Same-sex marriage will not harm anyone any more than opposite-sex marriage does.
*I do not like the term “gay marriage” as that implies you have to be gay to marry someone of the same sex as you. This is not the case – you could identify as any number of things, or as none as all. I am in an opposite-sex marriage but I would not class it as a heterosexual marriage.