I'mNotAWriterBut…

I am a 51 year old working mum of five – not all at home thank goodness. Im a member of the Women for Independence National Executive. This Blog is growing and changing as my hopes and aspirations change. I actually DO expect to change the world but I accept that might not even make sense sometimes. I hope you enjoy the read.

Search Results for: “patience

Patience

compassion

In 1986 I got a job with the Manpower Services Commission. I worked in the old orange Jobcentres with the bubbly writing and the psychedelic chairs. My job was to find other people a job. By the time i worked there people no longer HAD to visit the Jobcentres, they went because that was where jobs were advertised.Through the years I moved onto be the ex-offenders officer, the Disablement Resettlement Officer, the Ex-Regs officer, the overseas workers officer – all these posts were about giving specialist help to certain people to help them find jobs.

I then became a Restart Interviewer- late 80s – loads of people out of work and I did 60 interviews a week to get through them all. This also meant new rules and new targets – stricter benefits regime targets – SBR. For the first time we could stop someone’s benefits for not Actively Seeking Work and they would not get their giro. Their money was stopped for the fortnight and an Adjudication officer would make a final decision. The training for this stressed the need to be careful when using this power, to remember that we are people’s last hope and to always take care that we were doing the right thing. In those days you had to issue a warning letter which said if the next time you come in you haven’t taken these steps to find work the you will lose your benefit for the fortnight. I remember saying to people “Do you understand? You have to do what you are supposed to do or you will get no money- is that clear?  Mostly people did what they were supposed to do, mostly we didn’t have to stop they money. But some people we did. It was, however, always the absolutely last option.

Time moves on and so did I. Claimant Adviser, Benefit Section Manager, Business Manager, Manchester, Caithness, New Deal. The rules changed, we saw integration of Unemployment Benefit Offices and Jobcentres and the targets changed, I did so much training – I could clerically assess benefits, I could work out tax rebates, I understood RITYs, Widows Running Start, share fisherman rules and I could even handle the importing and exporting of Benefits to and from the UK. I worked with Jean, a fabulous deputy who could rate a benefit claim in 2 minutes flat, took no nonsense and was respected by staff and claimants alike. Through all this work and all the changes the word used when discussing the rules was “compassion” – we were always told that we should apply the rules with compassion.

As a Jobcentre Manager, I became responsible for my office achieving these targets, and boy! were you aware if you didn’t. Performance was all. Monthly performance reports, quarterly reviews with your Disrict Manager, 6 monthly reviews, annual performance reviews. Daily or weekly contact wit District office if you were failing.  Make no mistake performance was everything but in those days targets were about getting people into jobs. SBR targets still existed but paled into insignificance beside the drive to find jobs for people.

During all this time, all this training, even during the Restart Interviews of the 80s, it was never deemed that we needed training in dealing with people who were suicidal because of what we did. The training taught us that if someone was angry, aggressive, then it was often because we were their last hope and we needed to be aware of that and make sure that we were thoughtful and compassionate when dealing with people. But we never had to think about causing their suicide.

In the 90s the service went big on Customer Service, aquiring Chartermark awards, dealing with folk like they were “customers”, making sure they had a great service from the people who dealt with them and compassion in applying the rules. People came first. Stopping someone’s money still happened but it was always a last resort and never ever done without warning.

Fast forward to today- I haven’t worked for DWP for a long time and I thank goodness for that. In all that time I found very few people who didn’t want to work. I remember them, i remember their faces, their stories and sometimes even their names. I can do that because they were so few and far between. Today, it’s ALWAYS the fault of the lying scrounging benefit claimant. Bus late? Funeral to go to? Interview that clashes with your signing on time? Sick? Disabled? Caring for someone? You are lying, it’s your fault and so you won’t get paid. Often no warning, often no consideration given to the reasons for YOUR failure to meet the rules, and definitely, definitely no compassion.

An organisation that is run this way, is being used to subjugate, denigrate and control the population. Does that sound like something out of a futuristic post apocalyptic movie? It does and it might make me sound like Citizen Smith, but it is happening  nevertheless. Jobcentreplus appears to have become the ideological sledge hammer of the Tory party. It is designed to smash the teeth of those out of work so that they have no voice. It is designed to frighten people into doing whatever they are told to do in order that the Conservative Party can achieve their ideological desire for a tiny welfare state where private companies run our social security system and the poor are out of sight and out of mind – left without  a voice and definitely without compassion. And with the Labour Party abstaining left right and centre, they are pretty much left to get on with it.

I used to think that this UK government had  no understanding of the consequences of their actions.  That they were oblivious to to the impact of their targets, their rules.  I used to think that because they had never had to sit with the curtains shut because they didn’t have enough to pay the milkman who was knocking at the door, they didn’t understand how it felt. I used to look at the front benches and wonder if any of them like me, had ever sat on the bed crying because they had no idea how to feed their boys, if any of them, like me, had not been able to afford to heat their home, if any of them, like me, had put cardboard in their shoes cos they were leaking and the kids needed shoes so mine had to wait. I used to wonder if any of them had ever stepped outside their lives for long enough to know the powerlessness, the desperation, the pain that comes from experiencing those things. Because I was sure that if they had then they would not be treating people the way they do. They would not be making the rules that they do, setting the targets that they do. They would find a better way, a different way to move people into work.

I used to think that they didn’t know. But they do. They know fine well. And that is why they are arranging suicide training for their staff. They KNOW how desperate their policies are making people. They KNOW the consequences of their policies. They KNOW it, and they don’t care.

That is disgusting, it  is cruel and it is immoral.

It is also a compelling reason for Independence. The ability to design our own social support system. To do something that works for Scotland. The ability to spend the money we have on moving people into work rather than spending millions on sanctions and appeals. The ability to refuse to put money into the pockets of shareholders of private companies who make their profits of the misery of the poor, running failing work programmes, getting people to work for nothing on pseudo “work trials”. These are the things Independence would give us the ability to do differently – to change. The chance, not simply to recognise when people are desperate but to prevent them becoming desperate in the first place. The crumbs falling from the table set out by Lord Smith are not enough.

And yet I know we need to be patient, our Scottish Government paying the bedroom tax for people  to protect them from having to bath their disabled son in a paddling pool in their living room, (did anyone not feel like crying reading that story?) providing crisis payments to people  when that has been abandoned in the rest of the UK, council tax reduction scheme, Scottish independent living fund all being supported in Scotland. We need to be patient, we need to speak up for the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice. We need to show that we can do things better – to those people on all sides of the political spectrum. To rush into a second referendum would be the worst thing we could do. Not simply because if we lost again it would mean independence off the agenda pretty much for ever and would break our hearts,  but because not winning, not getting it right condemns the people already struggling, those people that I have spoken about to being governed without compassion. If we don’t get it right then we fail them and we must not do that. That means we must have SNP for constituency and for list votes in 2016 and not get sucked into the attempts by others to garner support for their own personal ambitions. It means patience and good governance – working within the Westminster system to hold both the Tories and the Labour Party to account. It means all of us, MPs, MSPs, Councillors, Activists standing up for the people of Scotland. If we do these things then it will happen – Scotland will be Independent. Patience people, patience.

 

What can we do?

Daniel Blake

Trigger Warning – this blog post discusses suicide and references an article about the experience of people who have been asked to talk about their suicidal feelings during DWP assessments.

Today the front page story in the National deals with my MP Drew Hendry calling for a halt to the roll out of Universal Credit citing the appalling delays leading to rent arrears and highlighting the hardship and poverty that Universal Credit is causing people.

It is the latest in a long line of awful stories which highlight the devastating effect of the last seven years of Tory Governments. Perhaps we should call them testimonies – rather than stories, each one a  personal, miserable story of humiliation, of poverty, of inequality brought to bear on individuals as a direct result of government policy designed to do exactly that.

The havoc that the UK Government are wreaking on the NHS is shocking. The us and them attitude of the UK Government to EU nationals living, loving, working here in the UK is awful. The callousness of the immigration system which deports a wife, mother and grandmother of British citizens who has lived here and been an integral part of her community is breathtaking, but for me, it is the Tory attitude to the poorest in our society which makes me furious. It is the policies that they have introduced which put people directly and immediately into poverty with no thought for anything other than their ideological drive to abolish the welfare state.

The last couple of weeks alone we have been faced with further announcements.  Last week the UK government announced that they are indeed abolishing the right to Housing benefit for 18 -21 year olds, a move which will see an increase in the number of homeless young people.

April sees the reduction in the Bereavement Allowance – a mean minded policy if ever there was one – which will mean that after 18 months the support for widows and widowers with children will stop. Apparently paying this £112.50 per week “stops people from adjusting to a single life” says Richard Harrington – after all, caring for bereaved children stops being challenging after 18 months don’t you know..

We will see the introduction of the two child limit for those having to claim tax credits and Universal credit having already seen the reduction in the Benefit cap to £20000. April also sees the introduction of the rule that says lone parents with a child aged three will be required to look for work in order to get any benefit. There is no value of the role of a parent in the UK’s broken system. Children are seen as barriers to work to be overcome as quickly as possible, whilst parents struggle with poor access to affordable childcare and zero hours contracts which conspire to prevent them balancing the books.

The reduction by £30 per week of the ESA of people placed in the Work related activity group is also beginning in April. These are people that Doctors have decided are not fit for work, unable to go to work because their medical practitioners and specialists have said it would be detrimental to their health. And yet, some “healthcare professional” with no knowledge of the person or their condition, has decided that they can be doing something to “get ready for work”.

We continue to see motability cars removed from people who cannot get to work or shopping without them.  People who are terminally ill cannot get access to the special rules for fast tracking benefits if they are expected to live for more than 6 months – because a diagnosis which gives you nine months to live or 18 months to live is soooo much better!

Sanctions continue to be a daily fear for anyone dealing with the DWP. A late bus, failing to get an answer despite repeated calls to an adviser you have been told to phone, a funeral, an unexpectedly sick child – all these can mean a person overwhelmed, panicking that they will and are facing a sanction. The chances of being late to an appointment increase with every Jobcentreplus office being closed and every demand made for  people to carry out 35 hours of jobsearch. People are being set up to fail by wealthy policy makers who have never had to worry about where their next meal is coming from and to be frank, don’t care about those who do.

And then there is the latest article from the Canary about the inappropriate quesioning of people struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. This article which includes discussion of suicide is confirmation of the stories I have heard directly from people who have been through a PIP assessment or a WCA. It confirms a callous approach to  people at risk of suicide.   Expecting people  to talk about their suicidal feelings with someone they have never met before, don’t trust and who’s aim is to prevent them from accessing the money they need to live is cruel and unbelievably callous. The fact that this is done without any understanding of risk assessment and no strategy for suicide prevention which includes crisis referrals screams out the lack of care and respect which is built into these assessments. These processes are designed to strip every vestige of confidence and dignity from those people undergoing the process. In a previous Blog – Patience   I wrote that the policies being enacted by the Tory Government, are designed “ to subjugate, denigrate and control the population. Does that sound like something out of a futuristic post apocalyptic movie? It does and it might make me sound like Citizen Smith, but it is happening  nevertheless.”

I was right then and I’m right now.

Yesterday I was at a screening of  Ken Loach’s BAFTA winning film,  I, Daniel Blake. It’s the fourth screening that I have been involved in and in every case the question afterwards is the same. “What can we do?” Its tempting to throw our hands up in despair and say we cant do anything but there are plenty of things we can do to make ourselves feel better. We can collect for the foodbank, we can write to MPs and MSPs and take part in the variety of consultations which are taking place inside Scotland to shape our future Social Security System and we can assuage our guilt that we are doing ok by buying DVD copies of I, Daniel Blake and sending them to people we think are ignorant of the things that are going on in today’s society (yep someone I know is really doing this 🙂 It made me smile)

Yet many  activists (myself included) have been caught up in the outrage caused by Sadiq Khan calling us racists. We are busy getting furious at Teresa May’s address to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference, furious by the idea that they think they can dissolve the Scottish Parliament. We have been tied up with the rights and wrongs of a Wings over Scotland tweet about Oliver Mundell and whether racism can be applied to white people or if its racist to suggest that it does.

What we really need to do is to stop getting sidetracked by the endless roundabouts of “he said she said” stuff being thrown at us by stupid ignorant people trying to tie us up in their stupid games and suck all our energy away by throwing around  insults and inflammatory accusations whilst they laugh up their sleeves at us dancing to their tune. We need to ignore this and speak about what really matters to us. For me it will be issues around benefits or poverty, for others it will be immigration or health or the economy. For me it’s the SNP but for others it might be Greens or Labour policies they want want to shout about. It’s not important, what is important is that we shout – loudly and cheerfully.  I’m giving up being offended by people who call me names. I don’t care one iota if someone calls me a traitor or anti English for standing up for an Independent Scotland. I will remind them what we are trying to do with disability benefits, how we are spending £58 million making sure that poor people don’t become even poorer by mitigating the effects of some of the welfare reforms, how we are demanding that EU citizens have their rights protected, how we are continuing to fund the NHS and resist privatisation even in the face of Westminster cuts to our budgets.  I will point them in the direction of the statement Jeane Freeman gave in the Scottish Parliament on the determination of the Scottish Government to set the foundations of the new Scottish System as a fundamental  human right.

We need to stop dancing to the tune of the naysayers, the trolls and the permanently outraged of little Britain – who cares if they accuse us of treachery, racism or worse. There is no need for us to waste our time contradicting the insults. Whilst it is good to shout our support for each other from the sidelines, the people facing the neoliberal cosh that is the Tory Party’s welfare or immigration policies need our voices much more. We need to shout out our determination that our Scottish Social Security policy will offer dignity and fairness, shout out our welcome of every person moving from NO to YES,  our commitment to refugees, our commitment for and support of those from other countries living here as new Scots.. Let’s not get sidetracked –  let’s get out there and speak up for those who’s voices are being silenced by the threat of poverty starvation, homelessness, deportation for whom an Independent Scotland is their only real hope of lasting change. All the other stuff is just noise.

Footnote – if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are in despair or distress,  then here are a couple of numbers you can call for help – please call.
Samaritans  – Telephone 116 123 email jo@samaritans.org .
24 hours a day, 365 days a year for those in despair or distress. You do not have to be suicidal to call.
http://www.samaritans.org/
Breathing Space –  0800 83 85 87
Opening hours
Weekdays: Monday-Thursday 6pm to 2am
Weekend: Friday 6pm-Monday 6am
A confidential phoneline for anyone in Scotland feeling low, anxious or depressed.
http://breathingspace.scot/

Molly Constantine

Molly Constantine almost passed unnoticed. An unremarkable woman to look at, Molly was of an indeterminate age. She might be fifty, she might be eighty it was hard to tell.  Her clothes were also unremarkable, plain and serviceable, the hint of a heel on her shoes, the cut of her coat suggested quality without frivolity, no jewellery to speak of – no wedding ring and just plain gold hoops in her ears, small and sensible. Her terraced house was neat and tidy in appearance – it’s little garden was kept well and her windows and net curtains were always clean.

When you met Molly she was warm and friendly. She smiled and her blue eyes were honest and gentle. She was the sort of person who kept herself to herself, not in a snooty sort of way like that woman round the corner but in a self contained, self assured manner. If you knocked at her door then you would be welcomed into a nice, neat, slightly dated living room and offered a cup of tea but Molly didn’t really DO neighnouring. The endless in and out of each other’s houses which typified life in these terraced streets didn’t include Molly.

Every month Molly went away for a weekend. She took her sensible case and a taxi to the station where she caught a train. No one knew where she went, no one really ever asked. Her neighbours waved her off and asked on her return enquired if she’d had a nice time and she would smile and nod saying the journey was good or the weather was nice but nothing in the way of details.  At first people were curious but as time passed her neighbours just accepted her absences as being as unremarkable as Molly herself.

Then Molly Constantine died.

Her neigbours were sad at her loss, each thinking they would go to the funeral as Molly had been very sweet when they were ill, bereaved, sad. In fact when they thought about it they remembered a book lent to pass a lonely day or two, a hot pie when they had come out of hospital that time, help when a carrier bag broke as they were trying to open their door, a bin taken out when forgotten.  Yes, Molly had been a sweet woman.

When they tuned up at her funeral, they were amazed. The church was packed to capacity. People who had known each other for years were surprised to find that they both knew Molly.  “What are you doing here?” they asked each other, only to find that Molly had fetched shopping, tidied a garden, helped write a letter, cooked a meal, or made a cup of tea for someone who was sad or weary. For years Molly had carried out these small acts of kindness  which no one really noticed. As people chatted they started to see the whole picture.  When the minister stood up to speak they were even more surprised.

Molly had been a member of the French Resistance during the war. Brought up in Jersey, Molly’s French was fluent and she was ideal as a candidate for spying against the occupying forces in France in World War 2.  She ran a unit responsible for helping allied troops escape capture. She lived a dangerous life of secrecy and deception and only evaded capture herself by hiding a cattle wagon as they passed through enemy checkpoints.  Her neighbours were astounded – they had absolutely no idea. The eulogy was given by a very handsome man who explained that the old soldiers at the home Molly visited every month would miss her. Her patience in sitting with them and chatting, her shared understanding of the horror of their experiences meant that they had come to love Molly and would miss her wonderful singing.  Her neighbours had no idea that she sang.

As the funeral ended and all these slightly amazed people left the church a recording was playing

“There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover”

If they had turned as they left they may have been forgiven for thinking a bird had accidentally flown into the church but if they had listened closely they would have heard the sound of an angel stretching their new wings.

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