Friday, April 22, 2011


A lot of hoo-ha in the UK press at the moment about disability benefits. The essence of the story is that the government reckon 80,000 claimants who have what they consider "immoral" illnesses like drug/alcohol dependency or obesity are a justification for their plans to chuck about 570,000 genuine claimants off the disability benefits on which they depend.

According to the BBC article, the Prime Minister's position is thus:
The prime minister denied the government was stigmatising people who were genuinely ill but said the public believed recipients should be "people who are incapacitated through no fault of their own".

No fault of their own, what a strange concept. Does the man intend to start assessing not only the practical limitations of a person's condition, but also the degree of fault involved?

He continues:
"But there are some who are on these benefits who do not deserve them and frankly we are not doing our job looking after taxpayers' money if we do not try and make sure these people go to work."

Benefits are not given based on being deserving. They are given based on need. Going to work or not isn't based on being deserving. It's based on ability. An idiot who drove while high/drunk/ill/tired and smashed up his car and his head so badly that neither will ever function again is probably not considered very "deserving", but his needs will be pretty high and he's unlikely to work again. A young fireman who lost a leg while saving a helpless baby from a burning building is about as deserving as they come, but his needs, while substantial, will be easier to adapt for, and with a relatively small amount of equipment and support the chances are he will be able to do some work.

I wonder... if someone were declared Fit For Work despite a serious health condition, and in the course of making the effort to keep up with the Mandatory Work Related Activity requirement of JSA, their condition permanently worsened to the point where even the DWP and ATOS accept that they are too ill to work - would it be their fault for not saying "I can't do this," and risking having their JSA stopped?

Even taking the sort of example that I think the government mean, it's worrying. Let's imagine, for a moment, that we have a claimant, an alcoholic, and that his alcohol dependency didn't evolve as self-medication for a pre-existing but untreated mental health condition. Let's accept the government assumption that he really did skip gleefully out of the careers office at school saying "I've got a better idea, I'll get pished and the taxpayer will take care of me, bwahahahahaha!" Fixed this in your head? Good.

Now we're twenty years down the line, he has no friends and family left apart from other alcoholics, no work history, very few self-care skills, and all the physical and mental effects of long term alcohol abuse, which if you're not too squeamish you can look up for yourself. There are very few jobs that such a person could do, and even fewer employers who would take such a person on. Then what happens?

Cameron's despicable lie is that his ideal outcome involves people with dependency issues being treated and then helped to find jobs. That will never happen. It is far too expensive, and without wishing to sound defeatist, in many cases it's an impossible outcome.

We could put him into a treatment programme - one that isn't dependent on turning up sober (unlikely), and that won't send him back to his bedsit and alcoholic pals to undo all the work that has been done (so we're looking at an open-ended residential placement - unlikely, and extremely expensive). Then once he's sober, he'll be allowed to access NHS treatment for the underlying mental health conditions that will have developed (unlikely and expensive) and the physical damage as well (amazingly expensive). We'll have to hope that during those years - yes, years - the DWP don't choose him as an easy target and put him under so much pressure that he cracks and starts drinking again. Eventually, after many years of intensive treatment, a lot of money, even more hard work, and a dollop of luck on the side, he might be able to re-enter some sort of employment for a few years until he (a) retires, (b) dies of the irreversible physical damage, or (c) falls off the wagon again.

Cynically speaking, and please don't think I'm advocating this, it is in fact cheaper to allow him to quietly drink himself into an early grave without intervention.

Cameron might talk up "treatment" and "employment" but until we see actions to that effect - boosting rather than cutting the support projects* - what he really means by "getting people off disability benefits," is saving money by consigning them to the lower unemployment benefits.

The benefits system is supposed to be the last safety net. It does not provide a luxury lifestyle, it doesn't try to improve matters, it merely attempts to go towards providing what has been defined as the minimum amount of support necessary for that person to live in conditions that can be considered acceptable for a human being. Reducing that support does not propel people into sustainable jobs, it just makes their lives more difficult and in many cases perpetuates their problems, or in a few very sad cases, hastens their deaths.

*Yes, the article speaks of a £580m investment. However, this is from "private and voluntary organisations", eg not the government, and frankly it's a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of effective long-term treatment and support for that many addicts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Oh but it's easy!

Anyone who's ever so much as hovered on the fringes of wedding planning will have seen one of these articles. Shocking rise in the cost of the average wedding, picture of tasteless pink bride standing next to cake the size of a respectable starter home, reassurance that it doesn't have to be that way, followed by awesome photographs of a stunning wedding and reception that, according to the bride (I'm afraid it is usually the bride) involved, cost less than £500 and a marvellous day was had by all.

Great! you think, and start reading through for hints and tips. And then you start to realise that what she actually means is that the wedding expenses that were significant enough to be counted only cost her and her husband £500, and she either hasn't realised the cash value of other people's contributions, or she's choosing not to count them in a bid to gain moral high ground on the basis of frugality.

You realise that the wedding was conducted by Uncle John the vicar, who was able to waive all fees from venue hire to bell ringers, and jolly the Church Ladies into making that week's floral decorations in the preferred wedding colours.

You find that the dress (normal shop price: about £800) was made by the bride's ex-housemate who just happens to be a wedding dress designer/seamstress, that the fabulous cake (normal shop price: about £400) was donated by Auntie Linda who just happens to be a baker and decorator of wedding cakes, and that the food (normal shop price about £20 per head) is being provided free of charge by the groom's parents who just happen to own a catering business. A cousin who's on a hairdressing course, an uncle with a posh or classic car, and a friend-of-a-friend who's just setting up in the DJ business are optional.

You are told that "it's easy" to make your own invitations and place cards and so on for a modest outlay of about £50. Assuming, of course, that you have already invested several hundred pounds in a decent trimmer and a selection of corner punches, a proper craft knife and cutting board, a decent printer, endless accessories like glue dots, pritt stick, and backing card - and assuming that you possess a certain degree of design aptitude.

Next you discover that the amazing photos were taken by a professional. The fact that a decent professional photographer will often charge a three or even four-figure sum for shooting a wedding isn't mentioned - the photographer was either another person the couple just happened to know who owed them a massive favour, or he was hired by the families as a gift.

Yes, it turns out that the way to have a wonderful wedding on a budget is to be surrounded by generous, interested family and friends who are already (a) professionals in wedding-related industries, (b) incredibly creative, and/or (c) prepared to spend their own money so that you don't have to. Easy! Erm...

We're spending money on professionals to take care of certain aspects of our wedding. This is not a moral issue.

We're definitely looking forward to getting married, and to having the party with our nearest and dearest, but I think we'll also be glad to escape from the insane and contradictory world of wedding planning.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Following on from my last post, I carried on in the bit-under-the-weather vein for a few days and met with repeated frustration on the balloon-quest and several other things I wanted to push forwards with. It wasn't a great week.

Nevertheless, some wonderfully good things happened - we started to get RSVPs from wedding guests, and Pip has got a decent job that actually uses his skills and qualifications, and Steve had a much-needed full weekend away with a friend. I was able to get quite a bit of rest in, and then on Tuesday, I just turned into an incredible luck magnet.

The first thing that happened on Tuesday, was that I managed to book a new balloon decoration firm.

The second wonderful thing happened - Shopmobility had received my innertubes and my wheels were fitted and ready to collect.

The third wonderful thing was that the ever-lovely Carie, ably assisted by the charming Miss Kitty, gave me a lift into town to collect the wheels. While we were about it we had a spot of lunch and cooed over lovely little baby-hats. This seems to me like a marvellous way to spend a lunchtime.

I should have bought a lottery ticket at that point, but I had to go home and recharge my batteries, physical and metaphorical, so that I would be able to thoroughly enjoy my trip to Naidex the next day.

My PA picked me up bright and early in the morning and we managed to get to the NEC with only one minor burst of getting lost (the NEC is so well signposted that several roundabouts actually have more than one exit marked as "NEC" which is generous, I'm sure, but ultimately not helpful for navigation purposes). My Blue Badge was checked and we were ushered through to the disabled parking hangar, and from there on in... it was weird. But in a good way.

I've never been to a crip-centric event before and suddenly there were these three huge halls full of companies wanting to sell me stuff. Not to prescribe like NHS/Social Services/AtW and other 'official' groups do, and not to find a way of adapting their existing product or service to find a halfway point like shops do. But to actually sell. It wasn't all or even mostly wheelchair users, but everything was accessible and there were enough of us that it felt entirely normal to be at seated height (usually I feel a bit like I'm trying to navigate a foreign world made up of steps and buttocks). I also saw at least one other person with the e-motion m15s, which was nice and made up for the man who perhaps didn't realise how loudly he was saying "f---ing show-off with fancy wheels grumblegrumble etc."

There's some wonderful inventions out there. A few of my favourites were:
  • A small phone, too small to be much use as a general phone, but that wasn't what it was for - it had just two buttons to be preprogrammed with emergency numbers and was small and light enough to be worn as a wristwatch (it also tells the time). Infinitely preferable to those emergency-button lanyards that reside uselessly on the bedside tables of elderly people up and down the country.

  • Adjustable height kitchen worktops, so that a prep space, sink, or hob can be raised or lowered at whim enabling one kitchen to be usable for multiple people with different needs in the same household - like a woman who wants to sit down and a man who's tall and dislikes having to stoop all the time.

  • SafeSpaces, which are basically like indoor tents. Designed with autistic kids in mind, they create a small, manageable, safe place for sleep and timeouts. They're soft, waterproof, wipe-clean, with low beds, and they're anchored to the floor 10 inches from the walls of the room so that the user can't hurt themselves. Inside, there's all sorts of sensory therapy stuff, and it was so soothing... I sort of wanted one myself!

Then there was all the tried-and-tested stuff - mobility scooters, wheelchairs, lifts, ramps - and I remember being thrilled to spot grab rails in a whole rainbow of colours rather than just boring clinical white/dark blue.

A number of Twitterers had been planning to go, and although due to the harsh realities of spooniedom some people couldn't make it, I was pleased to meet up with @GentleChaos and @FunkyFairy22 at lunchtime. My PA, although employed directly by me, has been involved with Social Services for several years, so we decided that she would go and say hello to a few familiar faces in the halls while the three of us chatted. It was marvellous, we thoroughly put the world to rights. It's been years since I met new "internet people", particularly on my own, and particularly meeting females, rather than being one of a couple of incidental females in a male-dominated group. I'd like to do it more often.

Unfortunately on the Thursday morning I woke up with no spoons (expected) and an absolutely stinking cold (wasn't quite prepared for that). Each is making the other that bit more unpleasant. However, once I've shifted the cold and can breathe through my nose again, we should be full steam ahead for the wedding!