About Me

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I have been working to support disabled people to live as independently as possible and realising their individual potentials for over 20 years. I am qualified in Health and Social Care Management and Ethics and Social Welfare. All blog entries are my responses to issues I see affecting those I support and indeed myself as I joined the disabled community after surviving a stroke.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

It Seems I Study Fiscally

I'm feeling rather pleased today, is it because I have taken some well earned time off this week? No! Is it because of the weather? Most definitely not! Is it Penry the janitor? Sorry Hanna Barbera but it isn't even the legendary Hong Kong Phooey that has pleased me so much. So what can it be that has put this usually grumpy blogger in such a good mood? Well it seems I and a number of my fellow disabled bloggers were right all along.

Yesterday the Institute of Fiscal Studies published its analysis of George Osbourne's 'progressive' budget. At the time the budget was announced many of us raised our eyebrows, okay since my stroke I can only raise my right eyebrow but I still did my best. Some of us really couldn't work out how a budget that promised to hammer people on benefits and more pertinently those in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, could be progressive and fair. How could this fit in with a fairer society?

Well we got our answer yesterday... it isn't. The Institute of Fiscal studies, who the government listens to when it suits stated "once all of the benefit cuts are considered, the tax and benefit changes announced in the emergency Budget are clearly regressive as, on average, they hit the poorest households more than those in the upper-middle of the income distribution in cash, let alone percentage, terms".

Not surprisingly the government has decided that this is incorrect, although oddly it they don't argue with the figures, but what they do say is that it hasn't looked at the bigger picture as, as Mr Nick Clegg stated "It does not include the things we want to do to get people off benefits and into work," and "If you just look at who is receiving benefits then, in a sense, you don't ask the most important question of all, which is how you can relieve poverty and make Britain fairer by getting people off benefits and into work." Now who isn't looking at the bigger picture Nick?

Doubtless there is a percentage of people who are happy to collect their benefits no questions asked, but research regarding disabled people doesn't bear this out Nick. As I wrote a few weeks back in my blog entitled "Dispelling the Disability Myths" in 2008 there were 6.8 million disabled people in the UK of which 3.3 million of us were then in work and of those that didn't a further million would like to work given the chance. This means that giving disabled people employment does not mean they are no longer disabled, therefore not only should still qualify for Disability Living Allowance, but their continued employment depends upon it.

Anyway, I saw this months ago so can with justification be very pleased with myself as the Institute of Fiscal Studies has shown I was right. Don't get we wrong readers, we're still all screwed for the foreseeable future, but the important thing is that I was right ... now if only I could get the likes of Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg and Mr Osbourne to listen to me.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

100 Days of a ConDem Nation

The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government reached its first landmark this week, one hundred days in power, or three and a bit months as most of us would call it. Once the soldiers of misfortune were chosen to take up their posts in this unique government, this period of power has been dominated by two issues, cutbacks on public spending and the launch of the 'Big Society'. I feel its a bit unfair to judge what has happened within this period of time but I'm going to do it anyway, because: a) that's just the way I roll, and, b) its an unfair world, get over it.

Now although I might not appear so, I am not very politically motivated, that is to say I believe in a society where everybody can get a 'fair crack of the whip', and I don't believe any of the political parties are capable of providing that, so I have no political axe to grind as I treat them all with equal contempt, but I have to say I was surprised when Cameron and Clegg joined forces in May, I didn't think their brands of politics complemented each other, however they do say opposites attract and I was intrigued to see how things would work out, and I still am.

We all knew difficult changes were ahead of us, the country was financially on its ar... in trouble for whatever reason and it was inevitable that public services were going to bear a large amount of financial changes to help pay some of the deficit. This shouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, it is commonly accepted that there is a lot of waste in the public sector, however this appears to have been largely overlooked and the onus has been put on so-called benefit cheats, and reforming the assessment process for people claiming Disability Living Allowance. has this challenged the benefit cheats it has been designed to catch? Not that I have seen, all it seems to have done is create panic amongst the most vulnerable members of our society (big or otherwise). I hate benefit fraud as much as anybody else, not only for the financial aspects but also because it stigmatises disability and creates suspicion around disabled people where we have to constantly justify ourselves.

And then we come to the Big Society, well I hate to be down on this because I would love it to work, but as I said earlier, its an unfair world and I don't think it can work. I was listening to Radio 5Live yesterday who had commissioned a survey on people's willingness to volunteer; the pool indicated that almost half of the population consider themselves too busy to volunteer particularly in the age group 35-44 years old. I really don't believe you can run a 'Big Society' without engaging the vast majority of society; I would say about 75% minimum to have any kind of noticeable effect, and I find it hard to believe their can be a swing of opinion as dramatic as that, it could even be argued that kind of statistical swing could be a change in culture which would probably take many years to bring about.

Okay so its early days a hundred days is nothing really, and we know things couldn't remain as they were, but so far it just looks like selective victimisation on those with the least means of being heard and replacing services with well meant intentions with little or no foundation. I want to be proved wrong so if anyone can please feel free to do so.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Dawning of The Unfair Society

Its been difficult to select the topic of my blog this week. I would have liked to have continued on the positive theme I followed last week, and saw a wonderful short film made by William Mager called Deaf Mugger, I strongly suggest you look up this film on Youtube, it will be the best 2 minutes of your day. However the quality of the film speaks for itself. And then there was PM Direct earlier this week, which I found quite painful viewing (unless you muted the volume and made up your own words to go along with David Cameron's hand gestures which made it quite entertaining), and comments made on welfare reform and benefit cheats. So I'm back to the negative again.

I'm fed up of hearing of politicians bleating on about a fairer society, it didn't wash in the pre-election debates hence the hung parliament, and its not washing now. I have yet to see evidence of how society is going to become fairer. Lets have a look at what's happening.

I read with dismay, but not surprise the Oxfam UK Poverty Post this week, which made an interesting and frankly believable comparison of money spent on benefit cheats and that spent on catching tax cheats, and how much the capture of fraudsters could potentially net from each category. To quote Oxfam: 'it is estimated that the total tax gap is about £120billion. Admittedly, maybe predictably, the government’s figure is closer to £40 billion. In contrast, benefit fraud and official error combined cost £3.1billion last year.' Hmm so not fraud alone. But Oxfam don't finish there: HMRC spent the grand sum of £633,284 their anti-tax fraud advertising campaign last year with nothing spent in the previous 2 years as opposed to £17.5million spent tackling benefit fraud over the same 3 year period.

That doesn't speak of a fair society to me, and who has been passing comment on this benefit fraud crackdown? non-other than Chris Grayling, Conservative MP for the not exactly poverty stricken constituency of Epsom and Ewell, a man possibly best known for comparing the Moss Side area of Manchester to The TV show The Wire and according to press reports during the UK politicians expenses scandal claimed for a flat in Pimlico, London when his constituency home is a mere 17 miles away, as well owning a 2 additional properties in nearby Wimbledon claiming over £100,000 of taxpayers money in the process. It was also reported that us taxpayers paid for him to have his flat redecorated and refitted and he 'avoided' the upper expenses limit by submitting the claims over 2 years.

For each incident the press reported Mr Grayling had explanations, he claimed that he used the flat when "working very late" because he needs to "work very erratic and late hours most days when the House of Commons is sitting.', and that 'both the water and electrical systems failed "leaving the place needing a major overhaul'. All of which is possible and it is not for me to second guess the validity of his expense claims, yet I can't help but wonder if his claims were subject to the same scrutiny as benefit claims, would they have passed? I somehow doubt it.

So forgive me but when the countries most vulnerable citizens have their backs against the wall in a benefit crackdown full of changing rules and uncertainty, I am not filled with the glow of the dawning of a fairer society, in fact quite the opposite.

To view Will Mager's Deaf Mugger video

To view Oxfam's UK Poverty Post

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Being Positive With Your Disability

With the changes that are afoot in the welfare system at the moment it is easy to get drawn into get drawn into the negativity currently circulating the subject of disability. And I feel this is because, as a disabled person, I have to defend myself against people's opinions on what they think I can and can't, should and shouldn't be able and shouldn't be allowed to do. This week I have decided the negativity and worry can go to hell and I'm going to try and be positive, because there is a lot to be positive about when you look for it. In fact I'm not going to look that far because I have been involved in the positive aspects I'm writing about - self indulgent? maybe it is but positive nonetheless.

With the start of the new football season almost upon us (please don't stop reading you don't have to like football to continue), how many of you have actually heard of powerchair football? How many of you are thinking 'how can you play football in a powerchair?' Well you can and not only can you but there is a national league where you can challenge teams from other areas... and it rocks.

One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was a founder and first chairman of Swindon Rockets Powerchair Football Club. Not surprisingly I wasn't working with Roman Abramovich type budgets, in fact we had next to nothing, but what we did have was passion and determination to start something good. Thankfully we had the support of our county FA who bought into the idea and helped us, and the support of The Wheelchair Football Association (yes there is one) who were delighted to help another team develop, (there were about 8 clubs around at the time in England).

I stood down as chairman of the club in 2008 having put the structure in place to confident the club was sustainable and I had the pleasure of watching them take part in a tournament against a team from Cornwall a few weeks back, they all had their powerchairs that have been designed to play the game (I've tried driving one and they are fantastic, 0-12 mph at the flick of a wrist), they had their proper kits and everything they needed .. they were a football club, even though they lost by a single goal to one of the top clubs in the country, I was proud because the players had taken ownership of the club, from 10 year old players to 50 year old players. last season was the Rockets first season playing in the national league and they finished 3rd in division 3, and they have high hopes for next season. The game of powerchair football is also growing extremely quickly with teams popping up all over the country, but if there isn't one near you, try setting one up, its not easy but its worth it.

I am now director of Music Alive, a Wiltshire based charity that provides access to music and music technology for people with disabilities. The music industry is extremely difficult to crack but can be extremely rewarding once you do. We have managed to unearth some major potential recently with a couple of guys who write and perform their own stuff, some of it full of the heartfelt angst we all feel from time to time, some of it a catchy musical cheese-fest but all of it original.

I had the pleasure of being the compere at a concert at Swindon Arts Centre a few weeks ago where some of our singer-songwriters did their stuff and I was extremely proud to be stood in the wings watching an audience of 200 people enjoy what they did. Videos of the performance can be found on Youtube if you look for Music Alive Big Hat Cabaret.

Now I haven't written this to say how great I am (but if I could write my own reviews I would), no, the reason for me writing this is simple. Nor am I saying we should all start playing powerchair football or writing songs. We, as a disabled community are often pigeon-holed and on the back of that assumptions are made on what we can and can't do, which brings me back to my first point about feeling the need to defend myself during the welfare reform.

My message is, try not to let the system grind you down, be aware of your disabilities without forgetting your abilities and be aware of your physical limitations but don't be afraid to challenge them from time to time, and not because a health assessor wants to see if you can, do it for your own benefit, who knows what you might find yourself doing.