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, 29 July 2010

Big Society or Blag Society? When is A Volunteer Not A Volunteer?

It's a bit of a double blog this week... 2 for the price of one, you lucky readers. Although they are interlinked because my issues this week are the Big Society and also public cconceptions of volunteering.

A week and a bit after the launch of David Cameron's 'Big Society', I'm sorry if I'm being a bit stupid but I still don't see how it's going to work... and as a charity director I feel I should know how it's going to work. So either I am at fault or the Big Society concept is.

I mean I do get the general gist of we should all do voluntary work to build stronger communities, and I agree with that but this is hardly revolutionary thinking. In amongst all the Big Society discussions I have seen several people on various social networks talk about people who have been on long term benefits should do voluntary work or have their benefits stopped.

This shows a basic lack of knowledge of what a volunteer is, the moment you put a financial punishment in place when something isn't carried out that is not a volunteer. However this, to my knowledge, hasn't been touted by the government as yet, but is a leap that has been made by certain members of the public.. so maybe I'm not the only one who doesn't get it? Just to tidy up this point for
the people that have been discussed on the social networks appear to be based on the stereotypical 'can't be bothered paid to stay in bed all day blah blah blah ... ' if these people do exist (and I'm sure there are a few but not as many as people imagine), what have I done to deserve them becoming my responsibility? If they won't work for a wage what makes anyone think they will work for their benefits? And even if they will work for their benefits its's not free labour for the charity and a bad volunteer is often worse than no volunteer at all. The majority of volunteers on the books of the charity I direct have been made redundant from their jobs and are keeping their skills fresh by working for us, for which I am eternally grateful, and they were doing this long before the Big Society was even thought of.

The concept of volunteers being 'free labour' for a charity is false. All my volunteers have to be Crb checked and be trained to be able to do what I want them to do properly, because, and I repeat a bad volunteer is often worse than no volunteer at all.

Anyway Big Society .. yes, now I keep being told that as a charity director I have a key role to play in how services can be delivered, but at the moment it's like being on the phone and put on hold while being reminded by a recorded message that my call is very important. All I have seen so far is stuff about running post offices and libraries etc .. well I all ready have an excellent and worthwhile project that I work for, I already have a great team of volunteers, so where do I fit in? Where do we fit in? How much funding is available from the dormant bank accounts you have found? What funding is available from these accounts for pre-existing organisations as opposed to the new organisations that seem to be in mind to replace public services? Because if I'm going to take on all these new volunteers, I'm going to need it.

Therefore this is looking more of a Blag Society to me, full of well meant good intentions but also half baked ideas without a strategy for sustainability or concept of the reality of the true financial costs. So the concept is just being blagged and hopefully it will work.

Can someone please help me and answer some of these questions... oh and tell me what exactly my key role is? Thanks

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Dispelling The Disability Myths

In the wake of the Emergency Budget and the announced welfare reform, I have become somewhat concerned that some of the old disability myths are coming back into the public consciousness and being treated as if true which, I can only imagine, in people's minds justifies the reduction in benefits.

In an attempt to dispel some of the the disability myths, I have gathered some facts and figures from various sources that I hope will make at least some people think before pointing the accusing finger at disabled people bleeding the system dry.

There are approximately 32.6 million people of working age in the UK of which approximately 6.8 million have a disability as laid out by The Disability Discrimination Act 1995. This works out at about 1 in 5 people. In 2008 approximately 3.3 million of these people were in work and a further million would like to work given the opportunity. Now granted this may well have changed as the economic climate has changed significantly since then, but these are the most up to date statistics available. Therefore we are looking somewhere in the region of 2.5 million people who are disabled who are not working... of which I would conservatively guess at least 1/2 are unable to work, therefore 1.25 million people to save how many billions of pounds? It doesn't add up, therefore people in real need will be caught up like dolphins in a tuna net.

Reform of Disability Living Allowance will not get people back into work. I work and receive Disability Allowance after my stroke. It is not a means tested benefit and is in recognition that living as a disabled person is significantly more expensive than as a non-disabled person. (here I must credit the Benefit Scrounging Scum blog for that description and rationale of DLA as it is the best I have read anywhere else). Without my Disability Living Allowance it would be significantly more likely that I would not be able to keep my job as everything else in my life would become infinitely more difficult thus exhausting me and making me incapable of working, which would put me on benefits and render me unproductive.

Next, of the disabled population, somewhere between 5-20% of people are wheelchair users. yes I agree 5 and 20% is a rather large margin however this is difficult to measure too accurately as not every wheelchair user uses it all the time. The disability symbol has quite a lot to answer for with that particular issue.

Next, of the approximately 500,000 people who are registered blind in the UK only some 18,000 are braille readers. As soon as one loses their sight for whatever reason they don't automatically become fluent braille users as a means of compensation.

I won't bore you with anymore but needless to say I have merely scratched the surface, I haven't even discussed learning disablities, mental health disabilities and autistic spectrum disorders

Now I have no doubt that there are some people out there who are not as disabled as they make out to be, I also have no doubt there are a lot of disabled people out there who push themselves to the absolute limits of their abilities to maintain their independence and self-sufficiency and be productive members of society.

If this sweeping reform would only catch those cheating the system I would be happy in the knowledge we would all be all right, but as we stand at the moment I can't believe it and the worrying feeling that I get that society is scapegoating people on benefits, tarring people in genuine need and those cheating system with the same broad brush as the whole nation tightens its belt, will not only stigmatise people with disabilities, but genuinely disabled people will lose their much needed support in the name of reform and simplifying the system.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Raoul Moat & The Media Perception of Mental Health

Like many of us I was absorbed by the media coverage in Northumbria of Raoul Moat and his evasion of the police, and like most of you could have predicted how it ended.

Now I know nothing of Mr Moat's particular case other than what has been reported on television and in newspapers so will not try to defend, condone or in anyway excuse the murder of one person and the severe injuries caused to two other people; but what I am concerned about is the continued stigmatisation of mental health conditions in the media and that chances that cases like Mr Moat's be used as a part of this continuation.

I have seen the words psychotic and manic used to describe Mr Moat in the final days of his life, which may or may not be true, however in the context in which these words have been used, along with deranged and dangerous, it can only add to the myth that anyone with a mental health condition that may cause psychoses and/or manic episodes is a dangerous person who will blow you away as soon as look at you.

It has been reported that Mr Moat was asking for psychiatric help in the hours and minutes before his death, however he was not long out of prison where, one would hope, he had undergone some form of analysis before his release, if he didn't, maybe the system failed or maybe he wasn't mentally ill, maybe he had a personality disorder or he was merely extremely angry about what had happened; it is all very speculative at the moment and I am not going to join those amateur psychoanalysts who think they know what was going through his mind before during and after his release from prison.

My point is this, there are clear diagnostic procedures before anyone can be described as being manic or psychotic, even those that are diagnosed with such conditions are very unlikely to be a risk to the public, and those in the media should use the terms correctly if they are going to use them at all, and in return the public (including myself) should refrain from being suckered into the media frenzy (there's another one for you) where these terms are used to heighten publicity and generate excitement from what was and continues to be an extremely sad story.

On the other side of this is the social media, particularly Facebook, and particularly the group RIP Raoul Moat You Legend ... he may have been a man who slipped through the net of mental health support, but what he did isn't legendary in anyway shape or form, although some 38,000 facebook users disagree with me.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Making A Difference to the Future of Disability

I have had a very interesting week as I have had a young schoolgirl shadowing me on her work experience. Rosie is 15 years old and hasn't had much experience being with disabled people, however she wants to work with people in her future career (although she doesn't know what that is yet) and she relished the opportunity of spending a week with me at the charity I run called Music Alive.

Although delighted to have a young person under my wing to teach the ways and means with which Music Alive works with people, I thought it might be a little narrow and specific, so to ensure that she had the best possible experience in the week, we visited a few other local organisations who are creating opportunities for people with disabilities.

The highlight for us both was yesterday when we visited an access day where different sports and activities were available for disabled children to actively participate. The day was organised by Ben Humphrey, and I have the pleasure of knowing that I was part of the panel that interviewed and selected Ben for the post he currently holds. The event had several activities available for children to try out at their leisure, and each and everyone relished this opportunity, especially the adapted bicycles.

Rosie and I looked on, and we chatted about what we were witnessing and we discussed the possible cost of some of the equipment being used. I had some experience of this from when I started the Powerchair Football Club in 2007 where the costs of the correct chair to be able to play was a minimum of £5000, where a non-disabled child could pick up a football and a pair of football boots for under £50 if they don't get the latest models. Rosie pleased me when she told me she hadn't ever thought about this kind of stuff before but it would make her think about things like this from now on.

To add some assistance, I returned briefly to my position of a few years ago as a Boccia coach (boccia is a bowls type sport) when a young man in a wheelchair asked me how it was played, I was even more pleased when Rosie offered her assistance to the young man without imposing herself on him with no prompting from me.

This got me to thinking that a lot of the people on that sports field will still be around long after I'm gone (slightly morbid but true). Will they live in a world where these kind of access days are a thing of the past because the things that we see as 'special' or 'adapted' become mainstream? Will young people like Rosie and the young man who asked for my boccia expertise live in a more equual society?

I feel that this can happen, maybe not in my lifetime but hopefully in theirs, but can really only have a chance with a sustained attitude of educating non-disabled people so that what is currently termed as 'inclusive' and 'accessible' becomes mainstream, and by raising the aspirations of people with disabilities so they can raise awareness of any injustices and discrimanatory practice and can feel that its okay to do so without fear of prejudice and reprisals.

But for all us disabled activists and blogger its worth noting, as this week has reminded me, its not just for ourselves that we do what we do, but it also has an effect on the future citizens we come into contact with and influence, either positively or negatively.

You can see a video showing some of the stuff that was happening yesterday at www.swindonweb.com, sadly I was editted out....oh well

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Onset of Depression With An Acquired Disability

Last week I spoke about coping with an acquired disability and related it to my stroke. This time I would like to focus on one of the hurdles that can get in the way of coping successfully with an acquired disability; and that hurdle is depression.

In the early stages of acquiring a disability it can be very easy for depression to sneak up on you while your focussing on your recovery from whatever has caused your disability. It is often the case that those around you will notice the onset of depression before you do, this may not however make it any easier for you to accept that depression has you, in fact quite the opposite.

There is a subtle difference between being depressed and having depression. It is possible to continue with your life as you usually do whilst being depressed, however it is much much more difficult to do so without some kind of intervention, be it with medication or therapy) when you have depression. Of course the lines on this blur when you have recently acquired a disability as you don't always know what continuing with your life as usual is now, hence those around of pick up on the possibility of depression before you do.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, there is a period of mourning for your former self when learning to cope after acquiring a disability, and in the same way as bereavement counselling can help people through the grieving process, other forms of counselling can help come to terms with the life changes you have and are continuing to experience, sometimes medication can be required.

Either way there is no shame to be attached to having depression and it is in no way a sign of weakness, indeed the greatest strength is gained from recognising you have depression and taking control of it before it controls you.