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.

Archive for the category “social security”

Yir Ain Pain’s the Sairest

I’ve been in Brussels this week at the European Anti Poverty Network 16th European Meeting of People Experiencing Poverty. An EU sponsored event which brings together the people with experience of poverty and collects their voices  to better inform and develop policy. Because of my work and my life experiences,  I was fortunate to be part of a UK delegation through the Poverty Alliance along with Twimukye Mushaka, Kerrie Friel and Paul Edwards. I will, of course be doing a formal report on my professional experience for my work but I wanted to write a personal account of what I experienced.

Now, many of you will know that this is not a normal event for me. I don’t travel to Europe “on business”. I rarely fly – the last time must have been 2010 so this was a big deal for me. I learnt so much in this last few days, about Europe, about other countries, about poverty and about me.

I learnt that everyone seems to speak English. I learnt that a latte is different everywhere you go. I learnt that Schiphol airport is bigger than Inverness – not Inverness Airport – I already knew that – but Inverness itself. It’s MASSIVE. I learnt that I’m a proper teuchter – wide eyed and overwhelmed by the people, the noise, the bustle of big places in a way that my 18 year old self, worldly wise and working in Manchester would have laughed at.

I learnt that drivers in Brussels honk their horns all the time. It’s so noisy! I learnt that listening and tweeting at the same time makes my head hurt and I learnt that I should have brought more than one plug adapter. I also learnt that small boots are better than big boots when flying and that being a fat, menopausal Woman fae The Highlands means that everywhere I go I am hotter than almost everyone else even when everyone else seems to be wearing woolly hats and scarves but that there is a universal language of menopausal women which lets you know you are not alone.

More that this though was the experience of the event itself. I learnt that to be introduced at a European event as the UK delegation raises a wry eyebrow but to point out that you are from Scotland raises a smile and an occasional cheer. I learnt that the minimum wage in countries across Europe ranges from 60 euros a month to around 1500 euros a month. I learnt that the markets for subsistence farming produce is becoming smaller and causing great hardship and poverty. I learnt that there are lots of young British people working in Brussels and that many of the ones I spoke to had a connection with Scotland. I learnt that many of the delegates had been to university in Scotland. I learnt that I regret not being more ambitious as a young woman. I learnt that I truly feel European – especially when meeting my son who is currently living in Antwerp. I learnt that George from Romania has an English friend called Sue who lives in Crawley – he face timed her and introduced us!

I learnt that Scotland’s voice is of interest to many other Europeans. I learnt that people in Europe think the British have no sense of humour but that the Scottish “style” was appreciated. I was a bit confused by that as my experience of everyday Scottish style is that it’s black jeans and black t shirts for men and not much different for women ( not counting the kilt of course). Closer questioning revealed that what was being talked about was “the craic” and we spent a funny few minutes teaching our new friends about “the craic” and the “banter” and sent them off to share those new words with others – cultural exchange indeed! I learnt that not only does Scotland look to Europe and Scandinavia for innovation and inspiration, but that many countries feel that Scotland has a lot to offer too. The Danish delegation specifically said that Scandinavia looks to learn from Scotland – maybe they were just being nice but I’d like to think not. I learnt that there is a feeling of relief that Britain is on its way out of Europe because those people involved in developing social policy at a European level feel they will get more progressive work done without Britain’s obstructive behaviour. I felt a bit ashamed of that. I learnt that the British Government had promoted Universal Credit as an exemplar to other countries in Europe and I spoke about the stories that I had heard at Drew Hendry’s Universal Credit Summit in Inverness as often as I could to delegates, the EAPN, representatives of other Governments and the EU itself. I spoke about the work which is ongoing to design a Rights based Social Security System in Scotland with dignity and respect at its heart. 

I learnt that there is so much more that connects us than divides us; that the power of the collective voice is important as a way to bring about social change and that the EU must support the development of that collective voice if they want to see real transformation. I also learnt that whilst there are many different experiences of poverty in different countries, the common denominator in every case, is the exploitation of the working class by the wealthy. For those of you who might find class politics stick in your throats a bit I would look you sternly in the eye and tell you straight – in a week when we saw the Panama Papers released and the scale of the avoidance of tax by those at the very top of the pile it is hard to see any other explanation for the continuation of poverty in the 21st century. Poverty is a political choice.

Finally I learnt that there are many people who would give their eye teeth for some of the things we take for granted. Many people who have nothing, but in knowing that I also know that the fact that others are suffering too doesn’t make the suffering of those people in our own countries any less appalling. If you are destitute in Britain, destitute in Spain, destitute in Estonia, France, Sweden, Ireland; if you are working and not earning enough to pay your bills and facing eviction in Scotland, in Belgium, in Denmark, Lithuania, Romania it is no comfort to you that someone, somewhere else is “worse off”. My delegation colleague Kerrie Friel who spoke passionately about the experiences of lone parents and Carers at the opening session said her mum used to say “Yir ain pain’s the sairest”. And she was right. All over Europe people are feeling their “ain pain” – the pain and hopelessness of poverty and we must continue to demand that the EU and individual Governments work together to tackle this across Europe.

Oh, and rich people ….. PAY YOUR TAXES!

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.
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.

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