To be young and poor is a criminal act.

If there’s one group of people that have been repeatedly on the wrong end of the cuts, it’s young people. No more EMA, no more youth service. No more Connexions, no more jobs, no housing benefit and now, you’ll be put on workfare if you can’t find a job that doesn’t exist.

The idea is that 18-21 year olds will have 6 months to find a job. If they don’t manage to do that, they’ll be put on “Youth Allowance” (which, conveniently is the same amount as JSA – £57.35 a week) and be told they have to undertake 30 hours a week of community service. And 10 hours of job searching. £57.35 a week for 30 hours work comes out at just over £1.90 per hour.

According to the first thing that popped up when I typed “unemployment statistics young people” into Google, 740,000 16-24 year olds were unemployed in the period October to December 2014, 201,000 of which had been unemployed for over 12 months. Let’s take a random shot in the dark and say 500,000 young people would’ve been unemployed for 6 months and therefore required to go on the “Youth Allowance”.

Where do we find volunteering and community work places for 500,000 young people? For 30 hours a week each? Cameron suggests “cleaning litter or graffiti” at which point I think it’s very clear the meaning behind these new requirements.

The young people who are most likely to be unemployed for more than six months, who haven’t gone to uni, who haven’t secured an “unpaid internship” will be the most vulnerable young people from the poorest backgrounds.

To be young and poor is to be treated like a criminal.

Mr Cameron in his infinite wisdom, has made very clear what he thinks of young people. If you’re able to get the grades and go to uni (which we’ll charge you a fortune for) and get work then you’re a striver! You’re also much more likely to be middle class, not live in social housing and not have a family who are living on the welfare system. If your background is that way, well, we already know that you’re going to follow in their scrounging sponging footsteps, and so we’ll make sure you’re put in your place as quickly as possible.

“That well-worn path – from the school gate, down to the jobcentre, and on to a life on benefits – has got to be rubbed away,” Mr Cameron said. (BBC News, 20th February 2015)

This government has taken every ounce of support from young people with one hand, and used the other hand to point the finger at them and say “This is YOUR fault”. They have said “you’re not worth paying for work, you’re not worth helping because we have given up on you”. They have criminalised being young and poor.


2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


It’s not very helpful.

The last time I saw a specialist regarding my chronic illness was back in February. I saw a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. Which she then told me was the same condition as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (hint: it’s not.)

Last July I finally received a referral to the local pain clinic. I was very pleased as finally I felt like I could begin looking at managing my condition, and finding strategies to get life as back on track as I could. I waited four months for this appointment and went in with questions about diagnoses, about medication, about referrals to other agencies who could help me.

I spent more time sitting on the number 501 bus to the hospital than I did in the pain clinic.

I was told calling my condition fibromyalgia “isn’t helpful” and I should call it “widespread pain” instead.

I was also told I was ineligible for a referral to the M.E. clinic as they don’t take people with chronic pain.

Let’s deal with the first point first. Fibromyalgia is classed by the World Health Organisation as being a soft tissue disorder”. I’m aware that there is extensive debate happening about the accuracy of this but the fact remains it is recognised as a condition. Changing the name of the condition de-legitimises the patient. It says, “if we give you a medical name you’ll think you actually have a problem. So we’ll give you a symptomatic name instead.”

Moving on.

For the second point I’m just going to put this link to the M.E. Association here and quote the first paragraph under “The typical symptoms of M.E./CFS” that states:

Muscle symptoms include exercise intolerance and post-exertional malaise (i.e. feeling shattered the day after undue physical activity), pain/myalgia (present in around 75% of people) and fasciculations (visible twitching of the muscles which sometimes includes blepharospasm/eyelid twitching).

Emphasis mine.

It’s at this point that I have to go and take a bit of a long lie down because the cognitive dissonance between professionals and departments astounds me. In February I saw a rheumatologist that told me I had fibro-which-is-also-CFS and last week I saw a pain clinic doctor who told me I had fibromyalgia “widespread pain” and I didn’t meet the criteria for referral to the M.E. clinic because I had a symptom that is present IN 75% OF M.E. PATIENTS.

I’m fully aware that those of you reading this who also have chronic conditions are probably going, “Bless her, she’s very new to all this, she’ll learn soon enough that you can’t get much out of doctors when it comes to chronic conditions”. I know. It’s sad, and I know.

But. I wanted this appointment to be the start of progress and in some respects it has been. I’ve been referred to the 12-week pain management course and I am going in with an open mind. Because at this point, what else can I really do?


A comedy of errors – the 28 page joke that is my PIP assessment.

Today I received the most entertaining and most depressing document of my life. The ATOS report for my Personal Independence Payments assessment.

You may remember I went for my assessment back in July. The guy who assessed me was really nice, he was relaxed and chatty and not like a driving examiner or someone terrifying, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that the document I received today was not due to his incompetence, but due to a broken system that does not allow people to do a good job.

Or spellcheck their documents, apparently:

“…she will manage to put out a bowel of cereal for herself.”

Right. Sounds…disgusting, really.

The guy was typing this as I watched so I know he didn’t try to type it with his head or with both hands tied behind his back.

“Has who cats”. I first interpreted this as meaning I had cats who were in the band The Who, until it was pointed out to me that it probably meant my cats were actually Timelords.

So yes, funny funny ha ha, until I realised that this document was about my life. This document was being provided to someone who would look at it and make a judgment on my quality of life. And there wasn’t even enough time to make sure it had proper spelling and grammar. In 28 pages I counted 31 spelling and grammar mistakes. And that doesn’t even count the sentences where I just thought “I have no idea what he’s trying to say here.” Also, typos can change the meaning of sentences. At one point it says “was the rheumatologist at the hospital” rather than saw the rheumatologist at the hospital” which, while you can say that the DWP knew what he meant, still completely changes the meaning of what’s being said!

The assessment report says that the nice man who conducted my assessment was a physiotherapist. About four pages later it then has a space where he describes what he takes my mental health to be, based solely on his observations. As a physiotherapist. In this regard I feel lucky – I do not have complex mental health needs. However, I do not feel that my physiotherapist assessor was qualified to make mental health assessments of me purely by observation.

I was also observed to have “no abnormal movement in the upper limb” which made me wonder at which point I’d misplaced my other arm.

I’d also contest whether being able to calculate change fulfilled the requirement for “able to manage complex budgeting decisions”

The following quote really needs no further comment other that I found it rather offensive:

“…was of more than average build. Therefore she has no significant functional restriction in relation to taking nutrition.”

So, other than misplacing an arm, changing career and being called fat what was the outcome of this assessment?

Well they assessed me as being able to plan and follow a journey unaided, which anyone who has ever been in a car with me will tell you is really not the case. I was also assessed as being able to walk more than 200 metres, which was proved by the fact I “parked in the multi-storey car a park for which walked from with 2 elbow crutches to the centre (110 metres)

(random sentence structure left in for your own amusement)

It also repeatedly states there is no restriction of movement in my upper limbs, which seeing as I have fibromyalgia and not arthritis, is unsurprising. Fibromyalgia is a pain condition. I can still move my arms around.

This document is ridiculous and laughable. A professional company that puts out assessments on people that will have a profound effect in their lives should not look like the document I was sent today, riddled with spelling and grammar errors, awfully written and completed in a hurry. I went into huge amounts of detail on my application form. The amounts of blank page on this assessment made me feel like this was not an accurate representation.

And it’s not the fault of the assessors. ATOS telling medical professionals to assess patients for things they’re not qualified to assess for. They send out assessment reports that look unprofessional and it just shows that they have no respect for the people they are assessing. They just want them through the door as fast as possible.


This is what a feminist looks like: rich, skinny and white.

I have a great passion that feminism should be for all women. I’ve even written about it before. Feminism must be intersectional.

Last week, ELLE, Whistles and the Fawcett Society bought out a new t-shirt bearing the often-used Fawcett Society t-shirt slogan “This is what a feminist looks like”. The t-shirt sells on both the Whistles website and the ELLEUK website for £45. It’s a charity t-shirt, which means all of that £45 goes the the Fawcett Society. Funnily enough, selling a designer t-shirt on a high-end clothing website brings with it a few issues! Whoulda thunk it.

The first issue I’m just going to gloss over slightly because it really needs its own entry to cover all the problems but to be honest you’ll probably be able to work them out yourself anyway: They got Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to wear it. When I think of feminism, I do not think of, well, men for a start, but especially two of the most powerful white men in the UK who make a habit of being a destructive force to women.

The second issue is also handily mentioned in that BBC article (also handy because the only other one was a Daily Mail article and I don’t really want to link to the Daily Mail). There’s speculation at the moment that the t-shirts were made in a sweat shop in Mauritius by workers paid only 62p an hour. This is currently only speculation and the Fawcett Society put a response up on their website a couple of days ago.:

“We met with Whistles over the summer to discuss the t-shirt design and production and, upon querying, were assured that the garments would be produced ethically here in the UK. We also agreed that 100% of the profits would be donated directly to the Fawcett Society.

“Upon receiving samples of the range at our offices in early October we noted that the t-shirts had in fact been produced in Mauritius, upon which we queried (over email) the ethical credentials of the Mauritian factory, and the fabric used.

“We were assured by Whistles (over email) that the Mauritian factory:

is a fully audited, socially and ethical compliant factory…”

Now that worries me already – FS were told it was an ethical UK company when it suddenly appeared that it wasn’t. Regardless of the pay issue, this is a t-shirt being made by factory workers in an African country for well-off people in the west. This does not sounds like good, intersectional feminism to me so far. Having a poor woman make a t-shirt for you that she is unable to afford to buy herself, does not look like equality.

My final two points are more personal points. I am currently living on benefits, due to being chronically ill. I receive Personal Independence Payments and my husband and I get a joint ESA claim. This is enough for us to pay our bills, buy our food, keep our cats in cat litter and treats and maybe get the odd cheap DVD or book. This doesn’t leave very much room for me to buy a £45 t-shirt, even if all the proceeds go to a feminist charity. This feminism is clearly not for me – I cannot afford it. And if I can’t afford it, those who are even less well off than I am will certainly not be able to afford it. This is not a feminism for the low-paid, unemployed, sick women.

And finally, this t-shirt is sold up to a size L. According to Whistles website, a size L is size 14/16. The average size of women in the UK is a size 16. I myself am a size 20. There is no way this shirt would ever fit me. The feminism I believe in says that it doesn’t matter what size or shape you are, you still have rights. Apparently, I am too fat for this feminism.

So what does a feminist look like? It looks like a skinny, middle-class western woman. Who can afford to buy a £45 t-shirt.

 

 


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.


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