It’s strange, because obviously I have a lot of things to say about this. I have to go for another assessment after having been on PIP for just a year which really wasn’t expected, but they were a hell of a lot faster this time than last I’ll give them that. I’m going into this one having already had one assessment and so I know a bit more about how the process works, but I feel like I can’t talk about much of that at the moment. Because the internet has ears. And the paranoia of ill and disabled people is high. And I’m worried that my concerns about my assessment will be taken the wrong way. So instead, I thought I’d talk about something else.
I got ill almost two years ago now. It seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago at the same time. When I look back at how I was before I got ill, the work I did, the activities I did, how busy I was, it definitely seems like another life. And the problem with that is, the way I am now has become normalised in my mind. And so I forget that I still do things differently in order to accommodate my condition because I’m now not aware that I do them.
I don’t go into town because I know it’ll make me tired and I have things to do at home. I have to plan my showers days in advance sometimes, to make sure I’m actually, y’know, clean but to make sure I have time to rest afterwards. I get tired in the afternoons. I get pain and fatigue when it rains. I take strong painkillers, I don’t clean my own house, and just today I vetoed a trip to the supermarket at the end of the road because I felt in too much pain (even though I would’ve driven there rather than walked).
But that’s now my “normal”. I do all these things without thinking about it because it’s habit. Which worries me that I might miss them when I’m talking to the ATOS person.
Last time I said it felt like an exam. So I guess it’s time to start revision.
I spent more than half of 2014 blogging about the ongoing saga of my PIP application. I first applied in January and through a complicated form, a poorly-recorded assessment and nearly nine months of waiting I finally ended up getting a disibility benefit.
Twelve months later and it’s time to go through it all over again.
Yes I have the photocopies of the last form. Yes I still have the Word file with all my written answers in, and copies of my letters. Yes I know they hopefully won’t ask me in for another assessment.
But still. Another few months of wondering how long it’ll take and if I’ll actually be re-awarded.
I’m still exhausted from the last time.
My favourite little factoid about the House of Commons has to do with Budget Day, and it’s this:
“Members may not eat or drink in the chamber; the exception to this rule is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who may have an alcoholic beverage while delivering the Budget statement” (Wikipedia)
Today, it may be the rest of us that need the alcohol.
In 2008, the British government approved a rescue package to British banks. The banks had lowered their credit standards, given out more money and brought in profit for their shareholders. Then the housing bubble went pop. The greed of bankers and shareholders who wanted to lend out more money to bring in more profit, meant that the returns weren’t coming back in. And the banks were running out of money.
£500,000,000,000 is what it look like when you write it out. It’s a whole load of zeros. Let’s look at another number that has a lot of zeros.
£16,000,000,000. That’s sixteen billion. Which is the amount the banks paid out in bonuses the year they received the bailout.
How about another number.
£50,000,000,000. Fifty billion. That’s how much the government gave to the banks in 2009, for the second bailout.
£93,000,000,000. Ninety-three billion. The amount handed to businesses in subsidies and tax breaks.
£12,000,000,000. Twelve billion. The amount Osborne is expected to cut from the welfare bill before 2017. The money that goes to the poorest people in society.
Because when you’ve given £516 billion to the banks to fix their mistake, and £93 billion to businesses to make sure they’re alright, someone has to foot the bill. And the people footing the bill are the people who never had any money in the first place.
More numbers? Alright then.
£20,000. Twenty thousand. The amount of money a family outside London is expected to live on. (Here’s a previous blog post about how that pans out)
3,500,000. Three and a half million. The number of children in the UK living in poverty.
1,084,604. One million, eighty four thousand, six hundred and four. The number of people who had to receive emergency food and support from the Trussell Trust food banks in 2014-15.
15,955. Fifteen thousand, nine hundred and ninety five. The number of benefits sanctions in the FIRST THREE MONTHS of 2014.
One final one? Gladly:
We’re two months in to a Tory government, and the gloves are coming off. There’s a budget in less than a week and I can’t decide if the news stories that have appeared over the last couple of days are to gently ease us in to the horror, or if they’re cleverly designed to turn the country on those in poverty so when the budget comes they can say “Yeah, those workless, they’re the cause of all this country’s problems!”.
I plan to write a more detailed post for budget day. But this part couldn’t wait.
Let’s look at some of the news stories from the past few days:
- The Independent Living Fund (ILF) has been scrapped, leaving many disabled people reliant on local councils that have no funds to provide care for them.
- Jeremy Hunt has announced that prescriptions will now have the actual cost written on them along with “Funded by the UK taxpayer” in what seems to be an attempt to shame chronically ill people into no longer being ill.
- A leaked DWP memo seems to suggest that the government want to scrap the Work Related Activity (WRA) group of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Let’s have a quote from that article, presented without further comment:
Charlie Pickles from Reform, a think tank focusing on public service delivery that was co-founded by Conservative MP Nick Herbert, said the current system encourages people to stay on the benefit rather than finding work.
- The government seeks to re-write the criteria for child poverty, concentrating on the amount of worklessness and educational attainment in the household rather than material poverty – which fails to take into account that a lot of people are in work and still in poverty.
This has been happening for years. The government has been scapegoating people in poverty and saying “it’s your fault the country has no money”. But the stories are coming thick and fast, the cuts are becoming more brutal and next week’s budget is going to hurt. A lot.
We like a good protest. Y’know, as long as it doesn’t get too rowdy. In the last five years I myself have been on two national protests, March for the Alternative and A Future That Works. We stood with thousands of people, waved our signs, shouted some stuff, went to Hyde Park where people said stuff on a stage, we all cheered, we all got on our buses and trains and went home.
The general public like an organised protest. They like it when people march and say “we’re cross!”. They’re not so fond of it when it gets “out of hand”. Case in point: the student protest from a few years ago. The London riots. Maybe it’s because we’re British. We don’t like to make a fuss. We’re good at asking nicely, we don’t like conflict and we tut at people who are too emotive in expressing their anger. We’re less “¡Viva la Revolución!” and more “Down with this sort of thing”.
I find it very difficult to know where to draw the line. The one thing I can categorically say is that while these marches have demonstrated the force of feeling behind the country’s situation, no-one with any clout is taking a blind bit of notice. We are given our allotted space and allotted time to shout and then it’s done. This method is not working.We can gather in London and hear people speak until we’re all collectively blue in the face. Nothing is changing. In fact, it’s getting worse. Which means people are getting angrier, and organised marches are not going to cut it any more.
The news media love a good protest, and they love it when it all kicks off as they have the chance to play the same 5 second loop of someone with a scarf over their face throwing something at a police officer, while talking to experts about how it’s always a few bad ones that ruin it for everyone else and isn’t it a shame. How everyone was having a lovely time until these angry people spoiled it.
Thing is, protests aren’t meant to be a nice day out. A lot of the time they *are*, but they’re meant to convey a nation’s feelings about something they feel is an injustice. They are meant to put pressure on people with power until things change. This isn’t happening. And the worrying thing is, when people feel they aren’t being listened to, they get angrier, and more frustrated. And then when the news media tell them their anger is bad, that they were wrong, then they get even angrier.
I wonder where the boiling point will be. I wonder what happens when you have an angry populace who now figure they’ve got nothing left to lose. Whatever happens, it ain’t gonna be pretty.
The dust is beginning to settle, and everyone’s looking around slightly shell-shocked and wondering where to go and what to do next.
First, take a breath. Also I recommend a cup of coffee. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We have five years to try and get things changed, we can’t all exhaust ourselves in the first two months.
Second, take a look at the #wecantmarch hashtag on Twitter. Sick and disabled people (as well as anyone who, for whatever reason, is unable to physically march) are creating an online space of protest to match the physical movement of people. Feet on the streets is brilliant and a very effective way of showing the strength of anger but not everyone can do it. So what can we do? Here are some ideas.
- Read. Educate yourself. Learn about poverty, inequality, austerity and injustice. Learn why this is bad, so you can give educated and informed answers to people, as well as yourself. There are so many books out now around these subjects – you may not agree with all of them, but knowing why you disagree with something is just as important. Visit your local library, if you live in Bristol I heartily recommend Books for Amnesty on Gloucester Road as they have an extensive amount of books on these issues for a few quid each. If reading is a problem, have a look through Audible and see what audiobooks you can find. You can also get audiobooks from your library, either in physical form or electronic. Read.
- Find your interest. We cannot all be experts on everything. The state of the country is complex and brings into play a lot of different issues. While you can be reasonably informed about most of them, you cannot know everything about all of them. Find the issues that you feel most strongly about, or maybe one that you already know about as you’ve worked in the field or studied it before. For me, it’s youth work. I’ve worked as a youth worker for ten years and I’m doing my MA in it – I like to think I know what I’m talking about. Know what your speciality is, and don’t be afraid to link people to other websites of people who have specialities different from your own.
- Pick your battles. The internet is a busy place. People argue everywhere. You do not have to argue with all of them. We have a limited amount of energy. There will be people who will not listen to your point of view, and to spend time trying to convince them is a waste of your energy. It’s ok to say “I am not getting into this right now, bye.” Also, as a rule, Facebook and Twitter are terrible places for arguments on the internet (with exceptions, of course).
- Write. This one usually happens on its own after you’ve been doing the above for a while. Writing is a good thing. Sharing information you know, giving a space to put forward a clear argument (rather than trying to do it in 140 characters) and a place to write down the frustrations you feel. It also means you have a space you can point people to when you get into aforementioned Twitter arguments.
- Do something else. This is important. Campaigning and protesting is essential, especially now, but you have a life and health to think of and they should always come first. Take some time out. Spend an evening watching a film, go for a coffee with a friend, binge-watch some Netflix. Give your brain and soul a break every now and again. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Keep informed, keep active, but most importantly keep safe. Be angry, but look after each other. Be motivated but don’t exhaust yourself. Keep fighting.
It’s a sad, but I suppose not wholly unexpected, morning. At this point it’s almost certain that the Conservative Party will be governing the country for another five years. We all know what this means for the poor, the sick and disabled and the vulnerable. We know what this means for the NHS, education and welfare. The poor will get poorer, people will die, foodbanks will get busier and the rich will get richer.
So, this is when we really start the fight. We’ve campaigned and marched and shouted for five years and no-one listened. We need to make a louder noise. We need to get in the way. We need to make it very clear that we will not put up with this for the next five years.
Your MP is your elected representative in government. Make sure they know what you think. Government doing something you don’t like? Tell them how you think they need to vote. Even if your MP is the Toriest of Tories, tell them. Go and see them, write to them, make a noise. And tell everyone else you know to do the same.
Protest. Shout. Make your voice heard. Refuse to be silent. The media will put the disenfranchised against the poor, the sick against the homeless. They will tell people that you are scum, that you are not worth it, that you need to be quiet, that you deserve it. Do not listen to them. Be loud, be cross and be angry.
If we have to do another five years of this, we will fight. Don’t take it lying down.