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 tag “#fairersociety”

If not us, Who? 

There is a naivety about me that I find really annoying. I have to work really hard to overcome it and ensure that I stay in the real world rather than the one that’s in my head.

See – the world in my head is a nicer place. People care about each other deal with each other in a fair way. Public servants particularly councillors and MSPs and MPs, civil servants, local authority employees, all work hard to ensure that they do the best for the people they are employed (with public money) to serve. I know many who do exactly this, our MP Drew Hendry speaks up for those most affected by Universal Credit, Women for Indy sisters focus on reducing inequality, We have some fabulous new councillors who are indeed there for the “we” not the “me”.  I am however, regularly faced with reminders that many more are not like that. And yet in my naivety, I am always shocked when I see this and cross with myself for not being more realistic and less stupid.

Over the last year I have seen people who on the face of it share my political goals, put their own self interest before the good of the community, the cause, and the parties they represent. I have seen first hand, spiteful, selfish behaviour from people who should know better. I have seen self promotion win over team working several times and I have seen examples of bullying and cheating which have left me furious and open mouthed at the absolute bloody cheek of people and completely aghast that they think this is an ok way to behave.

I have, of course also seen committed and caring people supporting each other and working together for a better community. I am fortunate to work for an organisation which does that every day. I am part of a wonderful group of activists with the desire to create something better at the heart of what they do. There are, of course, arguments and heated discussions just like any other group of people trying to make a difference to something when they really only have their own voices.  We don’t always all LIKE each other but we share an understanding that what we are doing is not about “me” but about “we” and this means we work together to try to affect change – regardless of our own situation. We help if we can and we want the best for our communities, and for each and every man, woman and child within it. I like to think that most people want this and it is this naivity which means that I am always surprised when confronted with behaviour like I described previously.

The fire in the Grenfell Tower has shocked me as it has many others. It has horrified us all. If, as the residents of the area are saying, these Tower Blocks are not to the standard that people paying for their homes would accept, why the hell not? Now, I can understand that people paying millions of pounds for a fancy flat expect a higher standard – but surely that is in room size, decor, finish.  Surely it’s full length windows and a fancy balcony; it’s whirlpool baths and sound insulation for the hardwood floors; it’s top of the range kitchens and being fully wifi’d up the yin yang; it’s fancy garages with automated doors and a concierge to doff his cap and call you sir or madam whilst smiling, accepting your Harrods order for you and keeping the “atrium” clean so that they can call you a cab when you need one.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is entirely acceptable for someone paying hundreds of thousands of pounds for a house to want nice things, more space, top of the range facilities and beautiful fixtures and fittings and space age security.

When it comes to fire safety, surely there isn’t a compromise worth making? When you come down to the bones of a building it is either as safe as it can be or it is not? If the posh block down the road is safer with sprinklers, then the council block is also safer with sprinklers. If the penthouse flats have hoses on each floor then so should the council flats. If each flat in the million pound development has fire alarms outside each front door or inside each apartment, then the council block must have the same.

Cars are a good example of this. I drive crappy cars. I have always driven crappy cars and whilst I accept that the very nice Mercedes Benz is likely to have much fancier braking system than my 10 year old Skoda, I still expect my Skoda to have brakes that work and do the job they are supposed to do. No one would think it ok to leave out the brakes in a cheap new car or let an old knackered car pass it’s MOT if the brakes don’t work so why is it ok to do that with housing? If we allow poor safety systems to exist in social housing we are clearly saying that the lives of people who rent these properties are not worth as much as those who buy their properties, that safety and therefore, life itself has a price which we as a society are not prepared to pay for those people who need to rent their homes.

This is utterly shocking. But is it actually surprising? When you remember what has happened over the last few years it’s perhaps not so surprising at all. People have been prodded and poked to make sure we remember who our “enemies” are. Miles and miles of newspaper has been printed with divisive, racist, classist shite which has repeatedly told us all that it is the poor, the refugees, migrants, immigrants, the alcoholic, the drug addicted, the single parent, the homeless person, the sick and the disabled who are the people our society needs to be frightened of. They are the people we need to keep under the cosh because they are dangerous and they are dragging our country down.

We have been told by successive governments that supporting “these people” is a waste of money, that the welfare state is bloated and that what “these people” need is more stick and less carrot. We are told that the gold standard of being a good citizen is owning your own home and that anything short of this is failure. We are encouraged to see those that don’t own their homes as somehow lesser and,  having allowed themselves to become a burden on the rest of us, they are therefore to be sneered at, looked down on and dismissed as not important.

Given this attitude we can see how a decision could be made that it was acceptable to put cheaper cladding on a council high rise rather than the more expensive fire retardant stuff. We can see how a decision could be made not to install sprinklers,  because this block, these people, were not worth it. We can see how the local council could decide there was no point in organising support on the ground.  After all – everything we see, hear and read – the Government, our Daily Papers, programmes like Benefits street – tell us that these people are less worthy. So what does it matter if we cut a bit here, trim a bit there, look the other way,  they are not important.

We reap what we sow. A Government that cares nothing for those who have nothing and most for those who have everything. We voted them back in only a fortnight ago. Newspapers that see the cost of everything and the value in nothing. They scream their hatred and vileness from their headlines seeing people and their grief as commodities to increase their profit margins and nothing more than that. We still buy them. We still support their existence and we lap up their gossip and hatred. We have news reports that have only bias to offer – the build up to the general election was the most unbalanced across both Scotland and the rest of the UK that I have seen, and yet we still pay our licence fees, our sky subscription. We watch, we snigger and we don’t turn off. We reap what we sow.

I have seen many people say that the people that died in the tower block died because they were poor. And they are right but it’s not just that – they died because our society has allowed money –  profit, to be the priority above all else. Whether there is a case for corporate manslaughter is not for me to say. But every single one of us carries some blame. We are all responsible for allowing society to get to where it is. Even those of us who have tried to change it. We haven’t spoken loudly enough, we haven’t worked hard enough, we have been – I have been – too naive to really hold people, especially the politicians to account.

Those voices that “tut tut” and say we should not politicise this miss the point entirely. It is because we have avoided politicising issues like this, because we have allowed the political class to turn us away from class politics, that our society continues in this manner. This is political and the only way to respond is to politicise it. If we continue to allow politicians, corporations, individuals to put the “me” before the “we” then we fail people like those living in Grenfell Tower. If we allow the powerful to damn us, to silence us for “politicising” this terrible event then we allow them to take away the voices of people living in places like Grenfell Tower, the people who David Lammy described as having ” no power, locus or agency”.

It is ONLY by politicising this that we change things. It is only us who can demand change, us who can challenge those in power to be better. We need to put the blame for society’s ills, not on the poor the disposed or the vulnerable, but on those who seek to profit from making them worthless and those of us who let that happen.

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.

The Power of Good People

Waking up is daunting just now. I planned to stop taking my phone to bed with me at night this year. I even bought a cheap radio alarm clock – remember those? And yet my phone is the first thing I reach for – not to see what my friends are up to, not to see who’s in a relationship, out of a relationship or who has liked my recent pictures on Facebook but to check what the hell Trump and May are up to now.

I haven’t blogged for a wee while, I went to see Paul Kavanagh – Wee Ginger Dug  speak in Inverness before Christmas. He was great –  witty, funny and insightful.  He said that there is no such thing as writers block – just “Can’t be arsed”. I went home and managed to write something. I am finding just now that it isn’t so much “writers block” as that I am overwhelmed by the tidal wave of appalling, depressing, disappointing, head shaking things that are happening. It’s not so much that I can’t be arsed, as I have no idea where to start because there is so much awful stuff happening that I am a bit overwhelmed. In addition, if I start writing I’m not sure that I will be able to stop and I have a life, a job, a family, hobbies, studies, obligations to meet. I feel like I would need to be writing full time to even stand a chance of covering all the things that I feel anger, sadness, horror, indignation or incredulity at – the list goes on and on. Dragging me down so that I find myself shouting at the television once again. I am finding it harder and harder not to say “I told you so” when I hear people who voted No to Independence and who voted to leave Europe speak about how they didn’t think that meant Scotland would be side-lined so much; they didn’t think that the UK would leave the single market; they thought there would be more money for the NHS. I have never been one to cast blame around but even I have been struggling with this. And I turn to my laptop to write and I don’t even know where to start.

My daughter is seven. She is a darling – a sweet child who loves her cuddlies, having her straight hair curly and wearing her favourite party dress and her sparkly shoes but she is also developing a no nonsense personality with a rod of steel running through her. She is beginning to find the wittiest comebacks and the sharpest putdowns to the teasing that her big brothers (27, 26 and 21) subject her to as their only sister and the youngest child. Trying to get the ball off her big brother who at 6’2 was holding it high up out of her reach, she realised that a punch to the belly would be effective in retrieving it for her and she was right. Off she went with her prize to play with the dog. I look at her sometimes, especially when I see things like the video of Tasmina Ahmed Sheik reading out the insulting and offensive responses to her appearance on Question Time, and I wonder what my girl will have to deal with growing up today. It makes me worried and fearful and bloody disappointed.

Last week – in the midst of the seemingly endless stories about Trump and his executive orders she brought home some work from school, which she completed last term. Amongst the maths work and the pictures, was a sentence she had drawn in bubbly coloured in writing and cut out of paper in a wavy sort of way. It read

“Bad things can happen but good people can help”

Looking at this, I asked her, “Where did you get this from?” and she said “Out of my head” shrugged and went off to play.

I looked at it for a long time. I put it up behind the sofa – propped up where I can see it and I kept looking at it. I put it in my handbag and I took it out and looked at it for a wee while.  I think I had forgotten. Then over the weekend, several things happened.

Firstly, it was our annual Burns Party. We do this every year in our house. It’s a great night, usually with around the 70 people mark; there is music and speeches and toasts and singing and haggis, neeps and tatties. There are burns songs – all the ones you would imagine, there are Scottish songs, there is ALWAYS Zombie, and an a capella version of Bohemian Rhapsody that is legendary, a Lancashire dialect poem in my sadly disappearing accent, and a Rattling Bog. It goes on until the not so wee small hours and then breakfast is offered to all those that stay around or return to tidy up. We have been doing it for 11 years. The people who come to our party are from all walks of life.  They come from all backgrounds and are all ages from children to grandparents. We have friends from Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland, from Spain, Poland and over the years from many other places. They share our food, our haggis, neeps and tatties and they sing their own favourite songs or play their own instruments or even play our old piano.

It’s always good craic, but this year I was struck by how much love I felt in the house. People who meet up once every 12 months and have been doing so for five, ten years greeting each other with a hug, chatting like they saw them last week and new friends being scooped up and encouraged to join in. My burly husband introducing everyone to a Lyons Hug – sometimes to their slight surprise – the warmth, the smiles and the good humour of everyone. Not a cross word, in fact we have never had a cross word in all the years we have been doing this. I thought about my daughter’s picture and I smiled. I think I had forgotten how much people love and care for each other, I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

Secondly, Trump carried out his #MuslimBan. I woke on Sunday Morning – without a hangover – to find that during the night a Glasgow Vet who had been a victim of this appalling policy had her costs met by a crowd funder set up by my wonderful sisters at Women for Independence. I have been involved with Women for Indy from the very start and was a member of their executive until last November. I think I had forgotten how much positivity and good we do. I think I had forgotten that we actually make a difference to individuals like Hamaseh Tayari; to policies like those on women’s justice; to the established media like the BBC by challenging the male dominated political commentary. I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

Yesterday I met with a group of women with lived experience of mental illness that I have been supporting over the last year or so. Several of the members are experiencing difficulties, emotional trauma, ill health, practical barriers to do with benefits and services and yet there they were, supporting each other even through their own pain. I think I had forgotten how strong and supportive these women are – how much of a difference their support makes to all of them. I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

Finally, last night all over Scotland, all over the UK, all over the world people put on their coats, wrote slogans on placards and stepped outside to protest at Trumps ban and our government’s reaction (or lack of) to it. The protest in Inverness started to ping onto my Facebook page about 4pm and I couldn’t go along because I run a Rainbows group on Mondays at 6, but there in the pictures from Inverness, from Glasgow and Edinburgh, from elsewhere were faces I know, faces I care about – people I am proud to call friends. I think I had forgotten that people are willing to take action when something angers and horrifies them. I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

And that’s a lesson for me. In amongst all this shit, in amongst the head shaking that I do, the voices of hate that we see everywhere, the ridiculous behaviour of our elected and unelected politicians, the breath holding that many of us are doing over Brexit and a possibly second indy ref, there are people who are prepared to stand up and say this is not on. People who are saying “you are wrong” and who are standing up for others and for what is right.

It is what we all need to do. Many of you may be feeling as overwhelmed as I do. We need to stand up and be counted. We need to remember that we are not alone in this – that, together with others, our voice is loud enough to drown out the voices of hate and division. We need to remember that across political parties, across the Indy debate – yessers, no’s or don’t knows, those for in, or even out of Europe, there ARE people  who are standing up and saying that this is not how we do things in Scotland. They are saying that this is not how we think about people in Scotland and that this is not what we want here in Scotland. That is how we will win a stronger, better future and it is how we will take people with us. It is how we will change people’s minds. This is how we will be those good people my wee girl wrote about.

I say in my blog introduction that I want to change the world – I think I had forgotten that. My wee girl, the people at my party, my Women for Indy Sisters, the women at the support group, the protesters have reminded me that “Bad things can happen but good people can help”. I’m going to make damn sure that I keep that at the front of my mind and speak up, speak out and speak loudly to ensure that my voice is added to all the other good people who are helping. I may not change things by myself but I don’t have to because together, we surely will.

Social Care and Scotland’s Future

National Conversation

National Conversation

I talk a lot about people having the opportunity to achieve their potential. Achieving our potential is not simply about youngsters getting the chance for work or for college – it’s about everyone living the life they choose and getting the best support there is to do that – whether they are 9 or 99

The Scottish Government yesterday launched a National Conversation on the future of Health and Social Care in Scotland. You can see Shona Robison talking about it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFRnrH2CnQs&noredirect=1

Social Care is one of the biggest issues facing our constituency over the course of the next parliament. There are around 657,300 unpaid carers in Scotland and they save our government around £10 billion a year. During this parliament we have seen key pieces of legislation and some changes which lay the foundations of better care; the Self Directed Support (Scotland) Act, the Carers Bill and the Integration of health and Social care.

Whilst these are to be welcomed, they are only a foundation and still need considerable work done, building on the legislation to ensure that what is delivered on the ground – particularly in rural areas – lives up to the spirit of this legislation and actually delivers good quality care across both well and sparsely populated areas.

When I started working with unpaid carers I very quickly learned that carers and the people they care for have to fight for every single thing they get. Whether caring for a child, a parent, a spouse, a family member or a friend, people are having to fight from the minute they realise they need support, and then keep on fighting no matter how hard, how exhausting, how worried, how ill they are. I have met carers caring for now grown up children who are seeing the parents of young children fighting the same battles they thought they had won years ago. That can’t be right.

We have seen support reduce in rural areas and we still have people who are told that they must have a certain type of support at a time to suit the care provider not the person requiring care or the unpaid carer. This is completely against the whole ethos of person centred support where the need and opinions of those requiring care and giving unpaid care should be at the heart of what is delivered. We have seen respite reduced, cancelled and almost unavailable in several areas and we have seen the demand for unpaid carers to use a day of their respite to travel often many miles to deliver their loved one to their respite and then another day required to collect the person and bring them home. That turns a week of desperately needed break into five days and makes it difficult to go away or relax.

In Highland we need innovation in care, we need to look at ways to provide care for people in rural areas in a cost effective and compassionate way. We need to stop people feeling like they have to fight and we need better and more flexible care and respite. We can do that by looking at how we work together to use personal budgets to provide care in a remote location, by offering better support to those people wanting to employ their own personal assistants and by protecting the traditional services so that people who don’t want to manage their own budget also get the care they need tailored to their circumstances. Some of this happens in our areas just now and we need to build on that. We also need to improve the status of care work so that more people are attracted to it as a profession rather than as a stop gap job, leaving as soon as something better comes along. This means improving pay and conditions, offering a career path, qualifications and status. We did it with child care and the Scottish Government can do it with home care and residential care too using tools like the living wage and business support, offering training and qualifications to staff. Society needs to value the care people give and we need to invest in it – many of us are likely to have a caring role in our lives at some point.

As your candidate I will be getting involved with these conversations and I will work hard to improve the lives of carers and make sure that the support for those needing social care is better and more robust, that people involved in the assessing and delivery of care are supported to do a good job and that we explore community and innovative ways of delivering care in our rural areas. I will hold services that fail to deliver to account and support our vital Third Sector in delivering support to the most vulnerable in society. I said that people are having to fight – I do some fighting with them now – as your candidate I will continue with that – supporting people, supporting our communities and standing up for the best services we can get. That’s what I mean about making sure people have the opportunity for better lives.

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