Monday, 30 November 2015

The ridiculous idea that being able to afford food is bad for you

Reading anything written by Brendan O'Neill is a bit like getting a private part of your anatomy caught in industrial machinery: Fun if you're a masochist; excruciating if you're not.

On Friday he wanked out this piece, because he was sad that George Osborne didn't do enough to take food from the mouths of the working poor in the autumn statement. Someone posted the link in a disabled people's group over the weekend with the added comment "know your enemy". So I foolishly clicked.

I do agree with him that it's "weird and wrong that the state effectively tops up people’s pay packets." When I was young and healthy and working 2 jobs, it seemed a little odd that I needed Working Tax Credits to make ends meet. I got £112 every 4 weeks, which may not sound like much to some people. But when you're broke, it's vital. It would be great if WTCs weren't needed; but you don't cut them and hope that employers will boost wages when their employees start collapsing from malnutrition-related illnesses. Employers need to be compelled by law to pay a living wage; and then WTCs will just fizzle out when no-one is eligible for them because the minimum wage is sufficient.

But Working Tax Credits aren't the only benefit O'Neill wants to abolish. After a whine about how over 50% of households receive more in benefits than they pay in tax (because employers pay so little that people are both eligible for in work benefits and not reaching the income tax threshold? Too obvious?); he turned his ire on people who are too ill to work.

The fact that vast numbers of people, first through Incapacity Benefit and then through Employment Support Allowance, have been redefined by the state as ‘incapable’ — of work, of independence, of dignity, in effect — and have been put out to pasture.

For starters; it's just unoriginal. Jeremy Hunt already accused people needing state help of being undignified at the Tory party conference.

Secondly: Why is 'incapable' in quote marks like it's not a real thing? Incapable of working does exactly what it says on the tin.

But as for independence and dignity: IB/ESA allow for those things; they don't strip them away. Without an income; people too ill to work would be entirely dependent on the charity of others. Having an income allows you the independence of buying the food you like, not being dependent on what a charity received in donations that week. Having an income means you can be independent in placing your own online supermarket order if you can't shop for yourself; not being dependent on someone shopping for you. Having an income means you can buy clothes that you can fasten yourself with only the use of one arm while you're recovering from a stroke; not being dependent on someone else to dress you.

On the contrary; having that independence stripped away and being forced into begging for every little thing: That's undignified in a developed country where we can, actually, allow for people recovering from serious accidents to have a bit of independence.

Also Mr Research-Challenged doesn't know that ESA awards are time limited, despite the fact that the "support group" is for people unlikely to ever be well enough to work again. Everyone - even with the most severe and incurable conditions - gets reassessed every few years; no matter how much iller it makes them. No beautiful green pastures of fairness left in this country; just wasting taxpayers' money on continuous reassessment of people with incurable conditions.

There are parts of Britain where a state-sanctioned culture of incapacity has deadened community spirit, destroyed its soul.

I shouldn't laugh at this level of ignorance; but it's actually pretty damn funny. "Culture of incapacity" like progressive neurological conditions are the latest must-have fashion statements.

Yes; sure I don't participate in community events as much as healthy people might. Although that's partly because in real life I'm actually quite shy and I don't want to get involved in neighbourhood politics because I don't want to be getting into arguments with the people who live all around me. You don't shit where you eat. Or get into arguments with people you have to pass in the street every day.

But also I don't get involved with "community spirit" because I'm ill a fuckload of the time. If the tenants and residents association is organising a day trip to Brighton and seats on the coach are limited: I don't want to book a place because I'll probably be ill on the day and I'll have robbed someone that could have gone of the chance.

Am I being a soul-destroyer? As someone who's simply never bothered going to the local street festival I've probably destroyed less souls than someone who regularly writes transphobic screeds for financial gain.

He then just goes into the realm of surreal with his next paragraph. I can only imagine he was tripping his balls off when he wrote it and I'm slightly picturing him looking like my cat when she's off her tits on nip. Yes, I am picturing him complete with toy mouse.

First he claims that welfare "dents individual ambition".

You know what dented my ambition? Illness. It broke my heart when I had to give up doing what I loved and claim benefits because I was just too ill to do it any longer. I still regularly cry about what I've lost. But you know what I haven't lost yet? My life. Because I still have a very low income that's just enough to survive on.

In the second half of the paragraph he reckons that people claiming things from the state are "less likely to rely on their own volition and on the support and kindness of neighbours and friends." This is really the balls-tripping bit.

I would challenge you to find many people more capable of relying on their own volition than me. When I broke my shoulder last Christmas it took me all of about 2 minutes to work out how to put my hair into a ponytail despite not being able to lift my arm at all. I'd wager most non-disabled people couldn't figure it out at all.

As for the support and kindness of neighbours and friends: I have called on them several times in the last year during brief periods of injury or illness. But it's not a sustainable solution. Take a look at some of the people in desperate need of social care. Read about some of the people who have to sit in soiled incontinence pads for hours. Sure; break your shoulder and someone will drive your car home. But if you're in need of help with continence all day every day: No friend or neighbour is going to do that. Is O'Neill volunteering to provide intimate social care for someone, 24/7, without any recompense?

I didn't think so.

If O'Neill broke his neck tomorrow; would he be comfortable with all his assistance for the rest of his life being provided by friends and neighbours?

I didn't think so either.

Yet a few miles from the leafy suburbs in which they churn out their defences of welfarism there will be communities branded incapable and made divided by that welfarism.

All us incapables live in segregated communities!

Which is news to me. I thought some of my neighbours were doing quite well for themselves.

Although, the sad reality is that there are poorer areas with a higher number of disabled people than the national average. But that's because disabled people are more likely to live in poverty, so we're not going to be buying mansions in Hampstead. Instead we're going to be renting in affordable areas.

And poverty is more likely to make you disabled. From the psychological toll of living hand to mouth, to getting osteoporosis from not being able to afford foods high enough in vitamin D, to being more likely to sustain an industrial accident in your low-paid job leaving you unable to work.

Although Trippy McBalls has just, inadvertently, made an impassioned defence for income equality and fighting against housing benefit cuts that are causing social cleansing from affluent areas: Social integration is good for communities.

In the second-to-last paragraph, Mr Haven't-Thought-This-Through says we need to cut welfare to "repair the self-belief and independence of working-class and poorer sections of society."

He suddenly gives a fuck about my self-belief? Throughout the article he has called me:

* Undignified
* A Deadener of community spirit
* A destroyer of souls
* Lacking in ambition
* Unable to rely on my own volition
* Lacking in "individual pluck"
* Lacking in "community zest"

Basically, just about every pejorative he could think of. That's not how self-belief works. You can't insult someone for several hundred words and not expect their confidence to take a hit.

But, Mr O'Neill truly saved his most bizarre brain ejaculation for last. He implores for more benefit cuts because our system is "Dickensian". That's right; at a time when people are so broke because of the cuts already that Victorian diseases are soaring, he wants to cut more claiming it'll make things less Dickensian.

If I wasn't familiar with his other writings; I'd think this was a brilliant piece of comedy. But sadly I know that he wasn't trying to be funny.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The DWP at your GP

This article about a pilot scheme to place JobCentre advisers in GP surgeries is actually 2 months old, but somehow I hadn't read it until last week.

It is fucking terrifying.

Your GP surgery is supposed to be a place of safety.

I recently had some issues with panic attacks. Basically I spent an entire weekend in a state of absolute terror - I called The Samaritans at one point because I was just so panicked, alone, and afraid - and then on Monday morning when my doctors' surgery opened I phoned and wept at the receptionist. I got given an appointment for 3 hours later; when I wept at a doctor.

I was scared and upset and in absolutely no state for a JobCentre staffer to start harassing me with "have you ever thought about being less ill and getting a job?"

But it's not just about mental illness. When talking about alopecia am I going to have someone from the work program suggesting I buy a loom and start making and selling jumpers using the obscene amount of hair I shed? While having invasive gynaecological examinations, am I going to have to maintain eye contact with someone telling me that if I put my mind to it I could get a job as a stripper seeing as strangers have seen me naked from the waist-down anyway?

The recent academic research that attributed 590 suicides to the work capability assessment also found that the assessment process caused 279,000 additional cases of mental health problems, and required doctors to prescribe to assessment victims an additional 725,000 antidepressant items. Can you just imagine: You've been made so ill by the WCA process that you need to go and beg for antidepressants. And when you get to the doctor you find yourself face-to-face with someone saying "hey! We might have just given you an extra mental illness on top of whatever condition you already had. But how about we send you on a workfare placement? That'll perk you up. Or kill you. But either way, you won't be a useless scrounger any longer."

Here's a quote from that article justifying the scheme:

Dr Josephine Sauvage from the NHS Islington CCG explained that the employment drive aims to redress isolation and confidence issues, which are often associated with long-term health problems.

She said: ‘When we become ill we often stop doing those things that get us out and about and bring fulfilment to our lives. As a local GP I see and hear this every day and I’m very keen to do more to support my patients’ well-being.

‘Prescribing free and confidential employment coaching, delivered in a caring and familiar environment, could be really beneficial to a patient’s confidence and self-esteem, as well as their long-term recovery.”

Yes, being ill has meant I am no longer able to do things that get me out and about. Last Thursday I was supposed to go to some swanky party; but instead I was home alone - ill - and sitting around the flat my pyjamas. Someone from the JobCentre telling me to get a job every time I visit my GP isn't going to prevent me from being too ill to do stuff a hell of a lot of the time.

Yes, I'm extremely isolated; I wrote about that on my own blog just a few weeks ago. But DWP harassment every time I need a GP to diagnose a weird rash isn't going to make people want to spend any time with me.

But you know what's going to make my confidence and self-esteem even lower? Reminding me that I'm a useless benefit scrounger every time I enter the building to submit a repeat prescription request form. Don't you think I feel enough shame about my status in a society that's obsessed with one's occupation? Without just rubbing it in every time I turn up to a building that's supposed to be safe.

What's worrying is that a GP - an actual practising doctor - seems to be in denial about the fact that some of her patients are actually too ill to fucking work. Perhaps, if she's really concerned about the social and emotional well-being of people like me who are ill and excluded from society, she might like to promote social cohesion schemes that allow us to participate in the local community as and when we're able. Because bringing the JobCentre into the surgery and telling sick people to "take up thy bed, and walk... Into McDonald's for a minimum wage job you're far too ill to hold down," isn't going to help anyone.