Monday, 26 September 2011

"You Need To Get A Life ..."

I don’t know about you, gentle readers, but if I had a pound for every time someone has said that to me I’d be a very wealthy woman!  It’s a throwaway line I’ve come to really hate, showing, as it does, how easily some people [actually, quite a lot of people] dismiss the needs and feelings of others.  What it really means is “This stuff is just not important to me, therefore I can see no reason why it might be important to you.  You matter less than I do so just go away and take your problems with you.” 

If any of you are regular users of the most well-known social networking site you can’t fail to be aware that some fairly major changes have taken place recently and that they are not universally popular.  I reproduce here a conversation between one ‘Craig’ and myself which shows just how incapable some people are of putting themselves in another person's shoes: 

“Craig - Who genuinely gives a [expletive deleted]? If Facebook changing is that important to you then you should probably just have a little bit of a think. Then get a life! Thanks. 

Me to Craig - Some people who cannot get out of the house very often, if at all, rely on Facebook as their connection to the rest of the world. I suggest YOU have a little think before you mouth off in future! 

Craig to Me – I did have a little think. Somehow I still doubt it’s important to them. If anyone in the world needs Facebook that much then they've got far more serious problems than a little change! 

Me to Craig - You obviously have a full and interesting life with no illnesses or disabilities. Many of us are not so lucky! You are right - we do have MUCH more serious problems than changes to Facebook - but Facebook is one of the tools we use to help us combat them! We have a social life through its pages which is not possible for us out in the 'real' world. So when it is changed beyond recognition and our usual conduits to our 'friends' are changed or closed, it IS a VERY BIG DEAL for us. Just for once, try putting yourself in someone else's shoes before you sneeringly dismiss us as needing to “get a life”. If we could - WE WOULD!!” 

Now, I’ve been on something of a downward spiral over the last week or so.  It’s just one of the things that happen when you have mental health problems and even when you have a whole kit of tools to deal with them – bad periods WILL crop up and make your life difficult for a while.  I can’t speak for anyone else but I personally find it easier to talk about my problems online with comparative strangers than to talk with my nearest and dearest when I’m going through a bad patch.  As a result, social networking is a Godsend to me.  My online friends frequently lift me out of the doldrums without even knowing they are doing so – and when I do let them know how bad I feel, most of them are kind, supportive and thoughtful. 

I can see that for a person with a healthy, active social life the recent changes to Facebook are a mere bagatelle – trivia either to be accepted while they carry on as normal or rejected in favour of other pursuits.  For people in the same boat as myself however, whether because of mental or physical disability, they represent a pretty big deal!  I would love to be able to “get a life”, but at the moment social networking on the internet is the best I can do, and I am well aware that I am FAR from being alone in this. 

I believe that the “get a life” response is symptomatic of our Society’s decline.  It’s so much easier to dismiss the concerns of other people, when they don’t affect you, than to try and put yourself in their shoes for a while and understand what changes mean to them.  And this attitude comes down from the top – people who, for whatever reason, can’t take part in the rat-race of 21st Century life are denigrated and despised by Government, press and media alike.  So it’s no wonder that people who have no social problems can so easily dismiss those of us who do as needing to “get a life”. 

When we, as a Society, are once more capable of understanding and caring for those whose daily lives and needs are different from our own, then, and only then, will be able to call ourselves “civilised” again. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What Price Democracy In The 21st Century?

OK – you can call me an economic ignoramus if you like, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark – but I have been really struggling to understand why almost every country on the planet allows itself to be dictated to by those vague, shadowy entities known only as “The IMF” and “The Markets”. 

I vaguely understand that that the IMF was set up after WWII with the object of “stabilizing exchange rates and assisting the reconstruction of the world’s international payment system” [thank you, Wikipedia].  I can hazard a rough guess also that “The Markets” refer to the financial institutions such as stock-exchanges which “facilitate:
[Again – my thanks to Wikipedia for putting my sketchy knowledge into understandable language!] 

All of the above seem perfectly legitimate and laudable aims and/or raisons d’être.  What is not stated anywhere in connection with these institutions is that they should have the power to dictate government policy in Sovereign Nation States – and yet they most assuredly do!  The IMF in particular uses its financial clout to impose ‘conditions’ on any country to which it lends money [and in this day and age, that is just about every nation on earth].  These conditions include “Structural Adjustment Programs” which basically mean that the IMF gets to dictate how the country which borrows the money is run.  There is a widespread belief that these ‘conditions’ retard social stability and increase poverty in the nations to which they are applied – which is very far from the stated aims of the organisation!  It is the IMF which is insisting upon the decimation of public services in the UK, Europe and America – again I am indebted to Wikipedia for the following The IMF sometimes advocates “austerity programmes,” cutting public spending and increasing taxes even when the economy is weak, in order to bring budgets closer to a balance, thus reducing budget deficits. Countries are often advised to lower their corporate tax rate.”  Does this sound familiar to anyone? 

Now “The Markets” seem to have almost as much power as the IMF, although it is exercised in a less direct manner.  Currency speculators and traders in the ‘transfer of liquidity’ watch national governments like so many vultures eyeing up a buffalo at a water hole!  At the first sign of “weakness” [which seems to me to mean listening to the electorate rather than the IMF] they descend in slavering hordes for the kill.  The value of currency is undermined by their speculative activities – don’t ask me how this works because I don’t understand it myself – and as a result governments the world over live in much greater fear of ‘not satisfying the markets’ than of failing their own citizens. 

Successive UK governments since Margaret Thatcher have allowed our economy to become almost entirely dependent upon ‘The Financial Sector’.  We no longer make anything which we can sell to other countries nor do we produce any raw materials which we can export.  Our entire economy depends upon finance and service industries and no government of recent years has seemed either willing or able to bite the bullet and commit us to a return to a manufacturing and exporting economy.  

The present coalition IS talking about a return to a manufacturing economy, at last.  However, this would require businesses to be able to raise capital – and where does capital come from?  It comes from “The Markets”!  Now, it is obviously not in the interests of the financial institutions to see Britain return to a manufacturing economy, because that would loosen their stranglehold on our government.  So no matter how much the present government may plead with, flatter and cajole the financial institutions, they will NEVER voluntarily finance a resurgence of Britain’s manufacturing and exporting economy.  It suits the markets and the IMF for successive governments to remain in hock to them and therefore to remain THEIR servants and not ours. 

So, all we in the West – who pride ourselves on having a universal franchise and a truly democratic electoral system – aren’t we actually deluding ourselves now?  In the 21st Century, it doesn’t matter a damn what we, the electorate, want from our government.  It doesn’t even matter who we elect – because in every way that matters to us, policies will be dictated by the unelected, faceless entities known as “The IMF” and “The Markets”. 

So, I reiterate:  “What price Democracy in the 21st Century?”

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Season Of Huff & Puff

So, the Party Conference Season is upon us and for the next few weeks the press and media will be full of huff & puff from both ends of the political spectrum and everywhere in between.  For the first time since World War I, the Liberal Democrats apparently have the opportunity to turn the hot air generated at their Conference into actual Government policy.   If the Conservatives will let them, that is …

You see, it seems that at Conference, the Lib-Dems have voted to issue a warning to Atos following the thousands of complaints from those have undergone the new Work Capability Assessment “medicals”.  They will call for an end to the automated “tick-box” assessment system and for its replacement with a system more accurate and less stressful for those undergoing it.  This in itself is very good news but it remains to be seen whether or not they will be able to coerce their coalition partners into carrying it out!  Personally, I hae ma doots!

They have not succeeded [if indeed they have tried] in preventing the booting of the Grand Committee stage of the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords neatly into the long grass.  Despite the fact that convention dictates this should be held in the main chamber of the House, the Government have squirreled this most important stage of the progress of the Bill away into a side chamber where it will be much more difficult to scrutinise and where there will not be sufficient room for all interested Peers to participate.

The Lib-Dems are extremely anxious to portray themselves as the representatives of “low-and-middle income earners”, leaving it to us to infer that the Conservative half of the coalition represents wealth and privilege, as if we didn’t know!  Neither party in the coalition is willing to represent those who, for whatever reason, cannot work and do not “earn”.  As for New Labour – well, I don’t think they themselves know who they are in politics to represent!  If Ed Miliband’s recent frantic attempts to distance himself from the Unions at the TUC Conference are anything to go by, it certainly is NOT the traditional “working class” constituency of ‘Old’ Labour!  Nor, as was amply demonstrated during their years in office, are they willing to identify themselves with those of us who, through no fault of our own, cannot make an economic contribution.

Back in the 1930s, the economy in Germany was very much like the economy of England today.  There was massive unemployment, widespread poverty and no real sense of national identity.  Then along came the National Socialist [Nazi] Party and set about restoring the nation’s economy and national pride.  Through the skilful use of hate-filled propaganda in the press and media, they managed to turn the vast majority of the population against various minority groups, not only the Jewish population, but also against the chronically sick, disabled and mentally ill.  So successful were they in this that they were able to ‘euthanize’ whole sections of the population without anyone turning a hair.  Those who could make no economic contribution to the New Germany, or who might be thought to ‘contaminate’ the gene pool, were quietly but systematically eliminated.  So the next time you read a headline about ‘Welfare Scroungers’ or ‘Benefit Junkies’ – write to your MP and tell him/her that you are not prepared to go along with this demonisation of those who cannot work.  Make it clear that you know that this is how the holocaust began!

Is there ANY political party in England, Wales or Northern Ireland [I deliberately leave out Scotland where the current administration has a proven strong sense of social justice] which is willing to stand up for the most vulnerable people in our so-called Society?  Who is prepared to identify themselves with sick, the disabled, the elderly and the unpaid carers?  If you know of one – I would dearly love to hear from you!

And now for something completely different ….

I have been following the story of the hate campaign against Joanna Lumley because of her championing of the cause of the Gurkhas.  I was saddened by the attitude of the people of Aldershot towards the families of Gurkha soldiers who have taken up residence there, even though I can understand their worries about the strain on local infrastructure and facilities such as the NHS.  But I was totally disgusted by the lack of empathy and understanding demonstrated by Defence Minister Gerald Howarth when he crassly stated that Gurkhas and their families should be ‘treated like asylum seekers and dispersed around the UK’.

Asylum seekers?  What a shocking and ungrateful comparison!  The Nepalese villages from which Gurkha soldiers are drawn are small, close-knit communities, with connections to the British Army going back many generations.  Any regiment in the British Army prides itself on being a ‘community’ – even a family.  The Gurkhas are one such and having served this country with courage and loyalty since long before Mr Howarth was born, they have every right
  • to live near their Regimental base in Aldershot, and
  • to remain together as a community unit and not to be ‘dispersed’ willy-nilly.

It is for the Government whom these soldiers have served in countless war zones to ensure that the facilities and services in the area where they have settled are adequate for the needs of EVERYONE in the community!  Hats off to Peter Carroll for demanding Howarth’s dismissal!


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

My Apologies For Not Posting Recently

On A More Personal Note …

I must begin by apologising for not having ‘posted’ in the last couple of days.  I was just sitting down to write the next instalment when I received some shocking and extremely saddening news.  My Dad’s “baby sister” Kathy, who was just 6 years older than me, died suddenly in hospital after a routine and apparently successful operation.  Being so close in age, our relationship was more that of sisters who lived apart than of Aunt and Niece.  We were close in all the right ways even though our meetings in recent years had been few and far between.
Kathy had had an operation earlier in the year to remove some pre-cancerous growths from her bowel, which had left her with a temporary stoma.  She went into hospital last week to have the stoma reversed and I spoke to her on the telephone the day after her operation.  She was her usual chatty, lively and positive self and we were making plans for a Family Reunion next spring.  She felt great, she said, and fully expected to be home by the weekend.  When the weekend arrived, her newly re-connected bowel wasn’t working as well as everyone had hoped but it was nothing unusual, we were told, and the medics were confident that they would “get things moving” and she would be home very soon.

Then on Sunday their concern about her bowel grew and they took her into Intensive Care.  On Monday, one week after her original surgery, they returned her to theatre where they discovered a blockage in the bowel, which they successfully cleared.  However, when the 2nd operation was complete they had difficulty in returning her vital signs to normal - her blood pressure was dangerously low.  They kept her sedated, returned her to Intensive Care and on Tuesday morning she vomited some residual stomach contents into her life-support tubes.  Because of her already weakened state, they were unable to resuscitate her and she died without regaining consciousness.

Kathy met her husband Martin while they were serving together in the Royal Naval Reserve on HMS President, while ‘President’ was still an old mine-sweeper moored on the Thames at Victoria Embankment.  They both rose steadily through the ranks, Martin becoming “Chief of the Boat” and Kathy “Chief Wren” in the Regulating branch.  For many years they were on the committee of the ‘Chiefs’ Mess and helped to manage extremely successfully the social life of the ship.  Kathy received the BEM for her work in writing a training manual for the RNR.

She and Martin had been together for many years but did not marry until they had both retired from the RNR in their early 50s.  Although 64 and legally able to retire, she continued to work as a Pensions Administrator and in addition had just successfully completed the first module of an Open University degree course.  When I spoke to her last she was eagerly anticipating starting work on the second module during her convalescence.  She was also an avid family historian and had traced our family back to the late 17th / early 18th Century – no mean feat when you consider that in the 19th Century many were ‘Barge Folk’ who moved around the country and were extremely hard to track down!

Kathy had a strong, forceful personality allied with a typically ‘Service’ sense of humour.  She may not always have suffered fools gladly but she was quick to recognise the humour in situations and had a great sense of the absurd.  She and Martin loved to walk and were involved in the restoration of waste ground near their home as a wild-life haven.  Whatever she set her mind to, she achieved, however much effort was involved.  She was a real ‘presence’ in my life and in the lives of everyone who knew her.  Speaking of her in the past tense seems entirely wrong – I love her dearly and wherever she is now, I hope they know how lucky they are to have her.  For myself, I shall miss her every day of my life.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Right To Reply

I was under the impression that here in the good old UK we enjoyed the right to freedom of speech.  It is one of the things that our fearless leaders are constantly bleating about when trying to impress upon the rest of the world and indeed upon us that Britain is a model democracy.  Then I heard a vague rumour, a rustling in the grass, to the effect that websites, discussion forums and blogs like this which are critical of Atos and the ESA system were being taken down and in some cases the authors threatened with legal action.

Now as a mental health sufferer, I know how easy it is to become paranoid about things like this, but there is truth in the old joke that says Just because youre paranoid, it doesnt mean they arent out to get you!  It seems that Atos are indeed on the lookout for criticism on the web and are prepared to go to great lengths to silence their opposition!  Tentacles of Doom lists a number of incidences of Atos attempts to suppress free speech, many of them successful.  So Marriott Edgar may have had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he wrote in his monologue The Magna Charter [sic] that In England today you can do as you like, as long as you do as youre told! but there is yet another old saying which applies here Theres many a true word spoken in jest!

And all this links back inevitably to my original post on this subject, concerning the derogatory and hate-filled headlines trumpeted by the organs of the tabloid press and endorsed by the ConDems.  [And I am thankful to note that I am not the only person who is incensed by this propaganda.]  Once you have successfully turned one half of the population against the other, who will care enough to support those whose welfare rights are being withdrawn and even their right of free speech suppressed?

So where do we go from here?  What can we do to arm and protect ourselves against this avalanche of invective and the suppression of our rights?  The answer is Im not entirely sure BUT there are a number of campaign groups and organisations we can support or take part in.  I highly recommend a website called National Protest Against Benefit Cuts by benefitclaimantsfightback.  Check it out and see what YOU can do to stem the tide There is also an excellent on-line petition directed to the Minister for Health at Against DWP Reforms for the Genuinely Sick & Disabled I urge you to sign it!

These small actions may seem like a drop in the ocean but each little drop we add will increase the strength of the whole.  Thanks to the incitement to indifference, if not to outright hatred, propagated by our government and their toadies in the press and media, we cant look to the healthy, working population of this country for support we are on our own and we must help ourselves however, wherever and whenever we can! 

Thursday, 8 September 2011

A Day To Forget ...

Yesterday was the sort of day you'd just as soon forget. It seems that no sooner do you get your head above water than along comes Dame Fortune in her Size 9s and pushes you right back under again. On Tuesday evening, I couldn't get my computer to close down, so I did what you should NEVER do and switched it off manually. Come Wednesday morning when I tried to boot her up again – Zilch!! Absolutely as dead as the proverbial Dodo. Apparently, the 'mother board' had died and, like the aforementioned Dodo, is now obsolete and therefore couldn't be replaced.

To cut a long story short, the deceased was carted off on a stretcher with a cloth over it and today I took delivery of a nice, shiny, refurbished PC which seems [at present] to be a huge improvement. However, it cost us an eye-watering £200.00 which we could ill afford and has reduced the size of our dwindling financial buffer yet further. (Not to mention the fact that although all my files were rescued, my programs all have to be reinstalled or re-downloaded and I've lost all my bookmarks and saved web pages etc.) And then the car will have to be taxed at the end of this month which will just about wipe us out. Heigh-Ho – the life of a benefit scrounger is just SO much fun!

I read 'Peter, Freeman of the Land's comment on Tuesday's blog with much interest, especially in light of the yesterday's call by some senior economists for George Osborne to scrap the 50p tax band for high earners. Even if it is true that this higher rate tax band drives talented individuals and successful entrepreneurs away from our shores, (which I don't entirely believe) it is inconceivable that any right-thinking Government could so openly take from the poorest people in Society, as they are currently doing, and at the same time give such a huge break to the already wealthy few! Even the supreme arrogance of the present coalition would surely baulk at such an obvious 'Robin-Hood-in-reverse' scenario?

And then I read the headline on the front page of today's Daily Express. A VERY small bone is apparently going to be thrown to ”millions” of low and middle-income earners, in the form of a tax cut worth up to a princely £400 per annum! The ConDems want us to think that they are actually going to do something for the less well off. Now, if we were privy to the incomes of the few people affected by the 50p tax band, and we calculated how much better off each of them would be if that band were removed, I think we can safely say that it would amount to a darned sight more than £400 per annum, don't you?

Once again, the well-to-do, middle-and-upper class côterie from which all our politicians are now drawn, is throwing a sop to the hard-working but low-earning majority while at the same time giving more than a passing thought to repealing the “never more than temporary” legislation which levies a slightly higher rate of tax on their own earnings. And they expect us to believe that they have our interests at heart?

As I mentioned before, I have major problems with the big, wide world out there. Until recently, one of the ways I coped with this was to do my weekly shopping online, rather than going out to the supermarket. Nowadays I have to screw up my courage to the sticking place and venture out of my bubble into the ultra-cheap, non-branded places, which don't do home delivery. We no longer have such things as life or house insurance because we can no longer afford the premiums. We have reduced our visits to my elderly parents from once a week to once a fortnight because we can no longer afford the petrol for the 70 mile round trip. So go ahead, George, and take away the 50p in the £ tax band. Boost the income of the few at the expense of the many. After all, life as a “welfare junkie” is just one long breeze ...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Unless you have been on Planet Mars for the last 18 months, you can’t have failed to learn from the press, media and our esteemed Government, that England – nay Britain – is at the mercy of a large group of dangerous subversives who are systematically draining its life-blood.  I refer, of course, to the recipients of state benefits. 

You cannot open a newspaper, hear/see the news or watch a TV ‘infotainment’ show without seeing evidence of how “scroungers” and “benefit cheats” are living the high life at the honest tax-payer’s expense.  Indeed, so widespread now is the belief that anyone unable to work must be a feckless, dishonest ne’er-do-well, that when employees of the French company, hired by the Department for Work and Pensions [DWP] to “screen” claimants of the new Employment Support Allowance [ESA], recently referred to those claimants as “down and outs” and “parasitic wankers” on a well-known social networking site, no-one turned a hair.  Atos – the French company in question – were not even reprimanded by the DWP.  The government, whose first duty under the law is to protect and defend British subjects, smirked, sniggered behind its hands, and did nothing.

But should we be surprised by this?  No – I don’t think we should.  It seems to me that this wave of hateful invective against some of the most vulnerable people in Society is actually what the Government want.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they actively incite this kind of witch-hunt.  After all, what could serve their purpose better than turning the working population against those who, for whatever reason, are unable to work?  If the working population of this country felt or demonstrated sympathy with the sick and disabled, the appalling cuts to services and benefits would cause a huge outcry which might force a Government change of policy – and in the Government’s view that cannot be allowed to happen at any price!  So, the DWP drip-feed inflammatory statistics to the press and media and encourage the nationwide reporting of those minority of cases where benefits are claimed illegally.  This makes the working population angry and indignant and successfully nips any sympathy they may feel for real sufferers in the bud.  A truly elegant piece of political manipulation by propaganda which would have made Herr Goebbels very proud!  What next for the sick and disabled – Concentration Camps?

Well, now that you know where I am coming from, perhaps it’s time to tell you a little about myself.  I am 58 years old and suffer from what are known in these enlightened times as “mental health issues”.  I’ve been variously diagnosed over the years (47 of them, to be precise) as suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder II, and chronic clinical depression and anxiety.  I made my first suicide bid when I was 11 years old and was self-harming on a regular basis from 1964 until 2004, when I was finally lucky enough to come under the care of a really excellent Clinical Psychologist.  Thanks to her, I haven’t self-harmed for nearly 7 years, although the urge to do so is ever-present and has been very hard to resist in recent months.

Some of the most significant symptoms of my illness are an inability to cope with unfamiliar people, places or circumstances “in the flesh”.  I can talk for England via the internet – but ask me to do the same thing in a face-to-face environment and I become anxious to the point of paranoia.  I can’t travel alone because in the past, when faced with any kind of conflict or difficulty, I have experienced “fugue” states, whereby I lose whole chunks of time and find myself in places with no knowledge of how I have got there or what I have been doing in the meantime.  The slightest perceived conflict triggers wholly disproportionate responses in me, likewise any perceived criticism is apt to either send me flying off the handle or into floods of tears.  [Past workplace appraisals have been known to make me ill for days!] 

One of the few activities in which I can safely take part outside the safe “bubble” of my home and garden has been 1940s re-enactments – a recent discovery in that when “dressed-up” in 40s clothing I am in disguise, not actually myself, and find I can interact almost normally with the people I meet.  But only if my husband or a close friend is with me at the time.  The thought of going anywhere alone is enough to make me run off screaming into the jungle!  Other than that, I have to remain in the safe place I have created for myself – my home and garden – and share it ONLY with the people I know and love best, and who I am confident will treat me with kindness and consideration.

I have not been able to go out to work since 2004, and my husband is 72 years old and in spite of having served in the Royal Navy for almost 10 years, receives only the basic State Pension.  [When he joined up you had to sign-on for 12 years or more to qualify for a Royal Navy pension!]  I have been receiving Incapacity Benefit since 2005 and I am now undergoing the transition process from IB to the new Employment Support Allowance [ESA].  Hence the title of this blog – I am one of the “parasitic wankers” whose capability for work or work-related activity is currently being “assessed” by Atos Healthcare UK on behalf of the DWP.

So that’s me, gentle readers.  If you would like to know what it’s like to be a “welfare scrounger” in the 21st Century, on a day-to-day basis, then follow my blog from now on.  I may miss days – my illness does still get the better of me at times and some days are harder to deal with than others – but I am going to do my best to blog regularly and share the good and bad days, as well as my random musings on the politics of the day!  Talk more tomorrow?