Saturday, 26 March 2016

From the Office Of... 2

(This too precedes the resignation of a certain appalling senior Tory...)

So I received a letter in respect of my email to the local Tory overlord regarding the plan, now implemented it seems, to cut ESA for those in the WRAG by 30%. This cut reduces ESA to the same amount as JSA. The reasoning of course is pernicious: despite these people establishing their case as being unfit for work they are still regarded as being capable of work. I have spoken about this before; the WRAG is just spin because the government still regards these people as being fit for work and capable of 'work related activity', despite being medically found otherwise. Really there should be no need for an WRAG, but the distinction is made because the government feels these are people that can be cured somehow. Even then it goes on, as I say, to disregard their problems.

This time, the response was more than an email. I got a letter with a six page attachment from the Employment Minister - the awful tobacco lobbyist Priti Patel (it really is!). Before I dissect what she says, I will address what the my MP had to say, which, unsurprisingly, isn't very much.

Essentially he makes two points, both of which are bullshit, indicative of the huge disconnect between the Tories and not just the rest of society, but the systems they assume control of.

Firstly he shares the above assumption that ESA WRAG claimants:

"are (by definition) able and expected to look for work."

He hopes I will agree. I do not. These are people that have passed a test, a notoriously onerous and prejudiced test, establishing they have difficulties regarding being able to work. All you are doing is dismissing the problems these people have; this is pure cynicism. This is how you whitewash disability in a capitalist market and this is how you empower divide and rule.

People in the WRAG are not able. They are meant to be placed in this group if their problems are known to be curable (which begs a whole series of other questions). Even the acronym is pernicious: Work Related Activity Group.

The second point made by the local fuhrer asks:

"It's also worth noting that, even though the Lords were happy to vote against their change, they have been strangely silent on how they'd pay for the enormous increase in spending which it would require."

The last part begs the question, but that aside we all know that this can easily be paid for. This doesn't even warrant discussion; the Tories have borrowed beyond even the last government. They've repeatedly peddled austerity and yet cut taxes for those that can afford them and who already receive massive subsidies and benefits. Yes, we can afford this; we have to because these are people that need to be supported if we are to even pretend to be a civilised society.

So there are two (two seems to be the numerical them thus far) conclusions I draw:

1. Support is cut from those who need it most by those with no right to do so. Then, it is argued, that said support cannot be afforded. Given the decision is arbitrary and made without evidence it is akin to burning someone's home and then arguing that repair or replacement cannot be afforded.

2. The WRAG should enable those with 'curable' conditions to receive adequate support, free from constraint or unreasonable demand, such as expectations of recovery made without due care. Instead the conditions experienced by those within are used as weapons against them.

As I mentioned, his response included a six page load of Tory hogwash from the Minister of Employment (it really does). To be honest, most of what she says you've already heard since my MP ultimately agrees with it and summarises it. But there are some parts worthy of note:

The system should not support lifestyles or rents not available to the taxpayers who pay for that system.

Well isn't that handy; eviscerate people's wages and then complain about all those scroungers living it up with their plasma screens and their brand name shoes. Or, consider that the Tories vote for inexplicable and unjustifiable pay rises themselves and apply the same standard...

I believe that it is only fair that those whoa re capable of taking steps to prepare for work receive the same rate of income-replacement benefits as out of work claimants.

Huh? I personally don't care what YOU believe. You were not put into power to materialise your beliefs (though that's just being naive, since that's precisely how representative parliamentary democracy works and why I no longer support it). Not the phrase 'prepare for work'; a nebulous phrase that the reader is encouraged to view as synonymous with looking for work. But it's not the same thing at all and, fundamentally, I do not see any justification of the proposition. Why should such people - again, these are people that are sick and cannot currently work - be arbitrarily financially deprived? Where is the evidence that cutting their income helps them?

I can also confirm that claimants in the ESA WRAG will not be required to carry out the same job seeking activities as a Job seekers Allowance claimant as a result of the is change. However, claimants in the WRAG will continue to be required to undertake work related activity. There is a great deal of flexibility in the types of work related activity that claimants may be asked to participate in and activities must be appropriate and reasonable for each individual claimant taking into account their circumstances.

Unfortunately we know this is bullshit; at best ESA claimants will be required to do exactly the same as JSA. Not least of all because the JC+ and it's allies have not the first clue how to provide a more nuanced and suitable service. Anyone who complains or fails to meet the burden they are set will of course be sanctioned. This is just rhetoric.

It is time to think about how we can improve the way people are assessed for sickness benefits that is less 'binary' and more positive in looking at what people can do and the support they will need to do it.

Sounds wonderful. Sadly that ideal is far from where we are right now. When I was on the Work Programme what I was interested in was completely ignored and mention of mental health immediately dismissed by someone with no idea what he was talking about whatsoever.

Your constituents (sic) particularly mention the difficulties people with mental health conditions face with entering employment (sic). We know that 47 per cent of all ESA claimants have a mental health condition as their primary barrier to work. Being out of, or away from, work can not only sustain the symptoms of a mental health condition but also reinforce negative views about capability and future prospects.

This is capitalist thinking at its most sinister and most ignorant. The reality is that it is not being away from work that is the problem since that begs the question, what is meant when we talk about work. It is being away from community, society and the ability to flourish as fulfilled human beings. Work - of the correct kind - can be part of this. So what is work? It is that which fulfils us and improves society, either adding to knowledge, culture or understanding. But there are further questions about the nature of that work: do people need to be driven away from family and community in economic cages like battery chickens merely to produce profit, keeping nothing they create so as to enrich another? I do not agree.

Mental health is incredibly complex and poorly understood at best. Capitalism only exacerbates those environments that alienate us and so her spiel is idle rhetoric, and ultimately dangerous.

We also know that previous schemes did not do enough for disabled people including those with mental health issues. This is why the Work Programme focuses on giving some of the hardest to help people two years of support as it can be a real struggle to get back into work.

And yet it has proven, as was inevitable, to be a dismal failure that has succeeded only in enriching private sector parasites and sub contractor agencies who are as ticks on the public purse. The Salvation Army, of whom I see no evidence they are in any way suited to this kind of endeavour (beyond a few choice bible verses), were not even the primary provider for me. They subcontracted from 'Rehab Jobfit'. They were the people I was assigned to and yet all they did was sell my contract to the Salvation Army.

Is that the kind of support the Tories mean?


Saturday, 19 March 2016

From The Office Of...1

(I intended to write this before the resignation of Iain Duncan Sauron. That was not something I was expecting and I don't think for one moment it will make any difference to Tory plans. In fact it now frees Osborne to place his own pro-EU man into the post. Consequently this means nothing will really change - not that I believe IDS is the saint he thinks he is).

All you need to know about my MPis that he is a Tory and that he's also the one responsible for culling people from the electoral register. He claims that these are people that are inactive or don't exist any more. I don't trust a Tory and that's why I regularly contact him - usually through the many online petitions and campaign that groups like 38Degrees organise. Fortunately they make it easy enough to do. Even more fortunately, people like my MP respond. When they do so they always claim that 38Degrees are partisan and biased - though entertainingly this has to be done in a friendly way so as not to alienate the constituent. It's pretty transparent though.

His response to my questioning the government's handling of the NHS, particularly in the context of the capitalist maw threatening to swallow our economy known as TTIP, claims that the NHS will be exempt from such an agreement. 

He says:

On whether Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will endanger the NHS, I'm pleased to report that the European Commission has confirmed that TTIP specifically exempts public services like health, and won't require any EU country to open up their national health systems to private providers. A letter from the EU trade Commissioner, Celia Malstrom, to the former UK Trade Minister, Lord Livingston, confirming this is published here: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2014/july/tradoc_152665.pdf 

This document seems to agree:

To be clear, the effects of the EU's approach to public health services in trade agreements such as TTIP are that: 
• Member States do not have to open public health services to competition from private providers, nor do they have to outsource services to private providers

This of course assumes that the NHS will remain public. That's the elephant in the room: we all know the Tories are hell for leather intent on privatising as much as possible - and this now includes the wholesale academisation of the school system as announced in the budget. So while public services may be exempt, there's no guarantee those services will remain public. Furthermore the comment from Celia Malstrom says that member states can still choose to open up public health services. Given that it's highly likely the Tories will, even if the NHS remains public, they will still allow TTIP to screw with it.

He continues:

 In spite of all the political rhetoric about competition and privatisation, almost every GP practice in the country has been a private, profit-making company (or partnership) since the NHS was first created back in 1948. Of course (and rightly) no-one suggests they should be excluded from the NHS as a result; in fact GP practices are usually held to be one of the crown jewels in British healthcare.

He assumes I want GP practices to be private and profit making. I don't.

Finally:

So I'm happy to say the e-mail you've been asked to send me is basically wrong (and rather party political too, I'm afraid). And I fear it shows that 38 degrees' claims to be an apolitical organisation are pretty silly - from all the emails I've received so far, their briefings to their members are frequently one-sided, and overwhelmingly left-wing, even if they aren't officially affiliated with any specific political party. I suppose it just proves the old saying, that we can't believe everything we read in the papers - or, nowadays, on the internet either!


No, sir, it's not wrong. You've just put a spin on it that suits your party's agenda; thus it's pretty ironic to make accusations of bias. I've made no claims as to whether 38Degrees are non-partisan. In fact I don't want them to be; I want them to oppose your politics (and you are hardly non-partisan either) from a strong ideological centre, just like me - that's why I agree with them!

So yes, I'm non-partisan. I'm not interested in a facile notion of 'balance'. I want you, your party, and your politics, gone. Balance only exists in the feeble minds of media pundits who seem to think that discussions about important issues can be reduced to a 1v1 discussion, regardless of the strength of evidence on either side.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Day That Arrived

And so it came: a letter from the DWP accompanied by an assessment form.

Capability For Work Questionnaire, ESA50. 20 pages of questions I will be unable to answer sufficiently that are required to be completed and returned by 7th of April. This is barely enough time to even be seen by my GP, even though doing so will be a waste of time.

I knew this day would come. Hardly a surprise, but still not what you want dropping through the letter box; although - and perhaps deliberately - not in a brown envelope.

Part of me is relieved. Unfortunately that part is tiny and is overwhelmed by the massive black hole of uncertainty now filling up my soul. There is no way I'm going to pass this test so what are my options?

Firstly it needs to be understood that nothing written on this form will convince them to forego a medical assessment in person. This experience will presumably be held at the local venue I attended initially; a place run by an incredibly abrasive and hostile administrator who cares not that people have to wait nor for how long. Appointments are booked without consideration for difficulties incurred or inconvenience. The amount of ID required to actually be seen when you do attend transcends that required to convince a national bank that you are not a terrorist nor money launderer.

I have no chance of persuading an assessor (and the person I saw last time, once I got past the reception desk and the aforementioned administrator, was pleasant enough). Am I wasting my time even attending? If so, why bother filling in the form. The only reason is to buy time.

I have a small window within which to fill this form in, certainly compared to last time. Am I wasting my time even doing this if not, again, to buy time. I do not know how long processing this form will take: this could itself be months, though it is probably safer to assume it's a matter of weeks if not days. The process has changed (as has the government, more's the pity) which means these assessments are held by Maximus, not ATOS. Whether they are more or less efficient is unknown to me. I notice that a completed form is sent to Wolverhampton, which is nowhere near me. Thus it's safe to assume this is some kind of clearing process. From there I assume they are sent to the relevant assessment centre and appointments are arranged. These appointments cannot be changed - I tried that before and, despite two separate ATOS agents telling me I could, I almost lost my benefit. I only wanted to change it by a couple of weeks, hardly being evasive.

This is simply a matter of time; if I have an assessment there is no way on earth I will pass, no matter how pleasant the assessor's demeanour. The reason these considerations are important isn't simply about playing for time, it's about dealing with uncertainty and maximising my resources, If (when) I lose my ESA I lose my income. I have to know how I can support myself afterwards - never mind having to deal with any subsequent claim for JSA (or Universal Credit, as it will in fact be). Never mind that, I simply cannot cope with going back to the jobcentre, and, thanks to First Bus, it's highly likely I won't be able to since they removed the only bus that went there. Now we have a minimal private coach service whose provision is so spartan it will be impossible to meet the demands JC+ place on signing times, which will not be flexible nor negotiable.

At this point I'm not even sure if there's any point visiting my GP again. She is not going to be able to help, in fact I doubt she is even going to want to help. Anything work related - or rather benefit related - and they are like vampires in sunlight. This is all because of the prevailing social attitudes; work is the great panacea (except when it is not, and assuming you can find any), and 'sick' people are just making excuses, particularly people who are suffering from mental health issues.

There will be no support offered, there hasn't been so far.

There are no systems that can address help finding work, particularly for people that have been unemployed a lot and have a history of what will be seen as minor mental health issues.

Yet these issues are persistent and real, certainly to me - to whom it matters. I have failed to acquire a diagnosis of any kind, which is the biggest problem. No one will be willing to provide supporting material. Even then, what good would that do? In the end I do not see any future at all. Having to deal once again with signing on fills me with more dread than I can imagine and using that Universal Jobmatch system to try and find work is an exercise in futility. The site is so catastrophically designed.

Where support is needed it is not provided and in its place is scorn and suspicion. People are assumed to be able to cope and if they can't they are just making excuses. I do not know which way forward to go.

Third Sector Stupidity

I've sent a number of tweets, on behalf of grassroots online campaigns, to various third sector groups. This is because these campaigns are doing their best to highlight the injustices and/or hypocrisy now sadly rampant in the hierarchies
of these organisations.

That's not to say I don't support voluntary work/charity work; nor is it to say that I think ordinary people volunteering with the best of intentions should be harassed. Certainly no more than they are exploited by some of these groups.

So I have always kept an eye on the Do-It.org website which is a repository of local (perhaps national, I only know of them locally) volunteer vacancies. Unfortunately they require that you sign up in order to peruse their database. Why this is necessary I do not know; do they make money off of this? Is it the Go Compare of volunteer work.

What's even more unfortunate is that not only does their site not work and I cannot log in at all (it keeps telling me my user details are incorrect, even when i change them), I find they have blocked me on twitter. This suggests that they have me blocked as a user.



Is this what happens when you speak out? Are the third sector capitalists so insecure they can't take legitimate criticism? Since I can't contact them, I can't find out why I can't log in.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Battle

What is mental health?

Perhaps it's best defined by what does it mean to lack mental health. This will be different for everyone, but I suspect there are some common elements, one of which is the feeling that you can't ever really relax or 'let go' because it means being vulnerable and open to inevitable stresses. These can come in waves, like a periodical kick in the gut; a gnawing feeling of bereavement. The death of peace of mind.

This is before we factor in society, which is something I think medical professionals ignore. This cannot be ignored. This includes a lack of any kind of therapeutic community or holistic attitudes toward wellness. It includes the notion that work is the grand panacea (for everything) - without discussing the work itself and the conditions thereof. It also includes the bootstrap, "pull yourself together" mentality that denies people the opportunity to understand what is happening and drives them forward with no thought for the consequences. In fact a lot of the wellness 'programmes' that I have come across seem to be more interested in getting as quick a result as possible. A few sessions, at the patient's expense, a brief toolkit and then out the door. Quick turnaround, quick profit.

There is also the media. We don't have a free press; we have a tyranny of opinion printed to be framed with pictures of young women in their lingerie, or celebrity actresses' sex tapes. These parasites pick on the most vulnerable in society and they know full well they cannot defend themselves, meanwhile the press is its own moderator. This is not journalism, it's state fuelled oppression; print fascism.

The most fundamental issue is that people who don't have direct experience of  anxiety/stress/depression have no way to understand the individual's experience. For sufferers life can become a daily struggle where every breath is drawn hard against feelings of negativity that threaten to overwhelm. Where can these feelings go? Can they be resolved? As someone living isolated from what meagre help is offered this becomes even more difficult as the battle is fought solely internally. One can walk the streets and see an entirely different life. The battle never ends to maintain a healthy balance of finding joy and peace and experiencing things such that those qualities are bereft. This is not a choice that people make and it is not a battle I am currently winning.

This is not to say that more serious and/or life threatening psychological conditions (such as bipolar or schizophrenia) are not equally important if not more so. My philosophy is simple: whoever needs or wants help should get help.



Thursday, 11 February 2016

Anarchism 1

What is the way forward?

Since the riots of 2011 - such as they were - the government has made sure that people are afraid of standing up and fighting back. But that is what it will take.

I do not condone burning down other people's houses and belongings, that's just divide and rule. Working class people should not be fighting each other. 

Unfortunately it seems increasingly clear that we have a government that wants to do nothing more than assault ordinary people, laughing like the cruellest bully as it gets away with this in plain sight. People stand back while the poorest are kicked and punched by a vicious bully that revels in the spotlight as it does so, daring itself to go even harder knowing that we, apparently, lack the spine to do anything. 

On the fringes of our society, people are falling apart. Mental health problems born of pressure split families, increasing workloads and social stresses and isolation induce those problems into a nightmare feedback loop. Yet the media looks the other way, painting a selective picture of a Britain unrecognisable to anyone with a conscience. 

It is painfully clear that our systems have failed us. They are controlled by a neo feudal capitalist aristocracy; middle men for corporate bottom lines and trans-national agendas that only ever exploit. Yet people seem to be waiting for a solution that never comes. They look to old men like Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders (a 74 year old white man ffs). These people are still participants in a system that, by virtue of that participation, will persist. That system needs to be torn down. There is no other way.

The most common response is: what do you replace it with. This is actually irrelevant. If you are sick and your doctor has prescribed a medicine that is exacerbating the problem you do not stick with that medicine if an alternative is not readily available, you get off that medicine. We are sick, our society is falling apart. 

It is predicated on unsustainable principles that set people against each other: in a society that compels people to believe in 'winners and losers', what provision is made for the loser? None of course, since that would be the antithesis of this system. 

Anarchism calls on people to question the authority that is imposed upon us, without consent. People are trained to believe that voting - parliamentary democracy - is that consent. They are told that not voting is akin to surrender to fascism; people are abused by propaganda that positions fathers and grandfathers, as soldiers in the wars (equally exploited), against them, shaming them into compliance. We must question these ideas and reject those that are found wanting. 

It is of paramount importance that we reject and remove capitalism, but the argument is not based on what to replace it with. I am not an authority and I do not seek to be. I seek only to be part of the discussion and to offer an equal voice in the effort to remove capitalism and instil a better system. It is not about replacing capitalism, it is about empowering people to have control over their lives and their aspirations and removing those systems that have no legitimacy: the sorceries of finance for example. Do we even need money?

The greatest mischief that has been done to us is to convince us we need others to tell us what to do and how to live, and to profit from that position. I do not grant that chinless wonders in Westminstershire are expert over my needs and I do not legitimise their efforts to control me, and neither should you.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

End of the Line?

I think I have reached the limit of what our system and indeed our society can offer. Speaking with a CMHT nurse yielded nothing; they are only prepared to get involved if you are about to throw yourself under a bus - or someone else. The GP just doesn't get it at all; it's one step forward and two steps back. One time they seem to understand, the next they do not and it's as if you were talking to someone else entirely. All she can recommend it seems is the same old groups and organisations, completely ignoring the fact that these people do not offer what she thinks they do or that I have dealt with them before.

Clearly GP's and the like are given a sales pitch from these people as to how they can help, when in reality that's not what they actually do. But what can you expect from those that align themselves with corporate filth like ATOS?

I have been told to go back and speak to the likes of Friend, a drop in centre largely run by volunteers (with all their faults - including not being very welcoming and racist). They have rebranded themselves to be called '1in4', though I imagine the same people work there. I notice they offer such evidence based and efficacious therapies as Reiki and Reflexology. That dpesn't inspire confidence. Not least of all, visiting them involeves expensive bus travel.

The other alternatives follow the same lines. There is a place in town called the Carlton Centre which offers courses in 'life skills', which is going to be similar to the CBT approach that's all the GP can offer. Again it costs to travel, and there's a course fee. Unfortunately the courses aren't running at the moment. Whether any of these schemes or places offer anything that has long term practical value I do not knpow. My feeling is sceptical; these places are never geared that way and so when you explain the difficulties you have, particularly in respect of the DWP/employment, they wilt. They have nothing to offer in that area.

This I think is what needs to change. Unfortunately the best the government has to offer is the Work Programme, which they think does exactly this. We all know it doesn't, my experience of that on this blog proves this.

We shouldn't need governments to provide these solutions, and part of this is because we know they don't. The Work Programme serves the wishes of the likes of the CBI, not the individual. The lack of a holistic approach that allows individuals the freedom to explore not just how they can heal themselves in a world gone mad, but the freedom to explore what they can do in society. Capitalism curtails this dramatically, limiting people to whatever the capitalists want, often according to the aspirations they programme and the demand they manufacture in people. Jobs are only created when there is demand for the commodity involved, and we have no say in what we want.