Austerity – How Not To Treat People

How not to treat people

Westminster are intent on demonising and de-humanising some of the most vulnerable members of our society through their relentless

austerity programme, and the portrayal of these people through the state media. The prospect of Westminster’s £12b further cuts to be made to the welfare system will be merciless. The resultant rise of food banks due to cuts is something that Westminster should hang their heads in shame for, but they won’t. I read last week that the EU Council of Europe in Strasbourg has deemed the UK’s pensions, jobseekers allowance and incapacity benefit payments as ‘manifestly inadequate’, failing to reach the EU benchmark figures. WM won’t openly admit that fact, but it is yet another reason why it would probably suit WM just fine if they succeed in removing the UK from EU membership in 2016, they would no longer be held under the microscope by the EU for their unfair treatment of these individuals. It’s much easier to continue to stereotype some users of food banks as people who don’t really need them. The sad reality is that many more people who would benefit from them aren’t accessing them because of the stigma.

The assumption by WM and supporters of austerity that most people on benefits are just ‘wasters’ or ‘scroungers’, immigrants ‘milking the UK’ for money infuriates me. Seriously, who thinks the life of Reilly can be lived on that amount of money? It’s much easier to abuse people if they can be stereotyped, much easier to strip them of their dignity and human rights if they don’t consider the emotional, physical or psychological barriers that they face: the hunger and deprivation they experience. Another reason WM would be just fine about leaving the EU, they make no bones about wanting to strip us of the protection of the Human Rights Act. Stereotyping makes it much easier for many to feel these cuts are ‘justified’, no need to worry about the reality for these people. One of these people is very close to my heart. A kind, decent human being, who like many who are currently being denigrated and vilified, is

picture of edinburgh grass market with edinburgh castle in background
people all over are feeling the austerity pinch

deserving of far more respect and dignity than he has been shown.After working hard for years, something happened in his life which absolutely crushed him. One single event started his decline, and over a period of a couple of years, he was left with nothing. He tried to help himself, but when this failed, he self medicated with alcohol. His GP told him he was a ‘lost cause’ – who needs that, he already hated himself enough. These two words prevented him attempting to get any further help for the next twenty years. Three years ago something changed. His health had been bad for years, but over a period of a few months he declined dramatically. He was convinced he was dying of cancer. Till the day I die I will never forget the look on his face as he sobbed uncontrollably, and told me how scared he was but that he trusted me and agreed to let me help. He dared to go back to a GP, fortunately a new caring one, and he stopped drinking. He attends hospital now and is trying to turn his life round as best he can. It wasn’t cancer, but he has multiple serious, incurable conditions, which will only continue to decline. He received, as so many have, a letter telling him he was no longer on incapacity benefit and calling him for an interview and medical assessment for ESA. He was 6 ½ stone at this time and seriously ill. He trusted that any doctor could see how ill he was, but it wasn’t a doctor, it was a physiotherapist who assessed him. He was deemed ‘fit to work’. The whole assessment process was madness. He felt he might as well have been given a death sentence. It broke my heart watching him sobbing, wishing he was dead. We received confirmation a month after the assessment that his uncontrolled seizures were due to brain damage, but despite evidence from various Consultants and Surgeons, they refused to consider these conditions at his appeal because they weren’t diagnosed at the initial assessment date, despite the DWP having been informed at the initial assessment that he suffered from uncontrolled seizures. At the appeal hearing, he had an advocate as well as myself, neither of us were allowed to speak, so a man who struggles to recall dates or events was grilled for half an hour, as they tried to run rings round him. What is the point of being allowed an advocate who is effectively gagged? No thanks to this heartless system, but he won his appeal. For 18 months. He had to go through the system again: but we were better prepared this time. He has, at least this time, been spared a further medical. Common sense should tell the DWP that incurable conditions are, well, incurable?! Why persist in inflicting repeated indignity and stress on people who they know will not get any better? The current system is designed to torment and torture individuals, removing what dignity they may by some miracle have still managed to cling on to. It’s just plain wrong, and downright inhuman.He asks for no sympathy, he knows some of his conditions came about because of his own actions, but he’s trying to do everything he can to help now. There is, unfortunately, no shortage of people in glass houses throwing stones – the ‘holier than thou’ brigade as I call them – most of whom wouldn’t bear close analysis of their own lives, they’re never as squeaky clean as they’d like you to think. Ss I always say, we are all only one catastrophe away from the fate of being unemployed, homeless or ill – we should remember that. We wouldn’t want to be treated the same way by others in our time of need, would we?

you can follow Louise on Twitter at  @zaman1966

pictures from hdtimelapse.net and Louise Farquharson

Mental Health in Scotland and France – perspective

 

After six years living in France, we returned home to Scotland earlier this year due to circumstances beyond our control. When our

daughter’s mental health went in to a serious and frightening decline, we discovered the realities of France’s mental health treatment for children and adolescents. At times, we even question the wisdom of our move abroad.

 

Our daughter Alyth, now 15, was always a shy and anxious child. She was, and still is, very beautiful and sweet-natured, but often had difficulty relating to and interacting with other children, or making friends. Teachers often remarked on her ability to ‘disappear’ in class by remaining silent and not contributing. Despite this, her years at primary school in Scotland and then in France were fairly settled, although she suffered some low-level bullying because of her quietness and perceived ‘strangeness’. In fact, both Alyth and her brother Alasdair had adapted well, and quickly developed astonishing fluency in French.

 

It was at the beginning of secondary school that things started to go wrong. A series of poor results in schoolwork resulted in a repeat of the first year. Anxiety, sudden mood swings and angry outbursts made home life very tense. As parents, we struggled to understand this change, but put it down to the onset of adolescence, the pressures generated by a rather rigid school system and normal teenage angst, accepting that we would probably have to sit it out and weather the storm for a few years. By the autumn of 2013, however, it became clear that things were just not that simple. Alyth admitted that she had been self-harming for almost two years, to alleviate ‘bad feelings’. Her style of her clothes, make-up and music became very ‘Emo’; later, her behaviour became increasingly erratic and her style of dressing more aggressive and Gothic. She listened to loud rock bands (we eventually learned this was a technique to drown out troublesome voices in her head). By Christmas, she had descended into a living nightmare of psychosis, with voices, paranoia, hallucinations and detachment from reality. She was hospitalised for a short time in an emergency psychiatric unit, then later admitted to an adolescent unit for assessment and treatment.

 

At the time we were relieved that she was receiving some help with these distressing symptoms, and were cautiously hopeful of an improvement. However, as the weeks passed, we began to feel uneasy about the attitudes of the psychiatric staff. Despite long explanations and our having kept a detailed journal of events over several weeks, we felt as if we were really just making it all up. We were excluded and kept in the dark about Alyth’s treatment. One evening we had a call to say that she had displayed ‘some extreme behaviour.’ This turned out to be a suicide attempt, after an abrupt withdrawal of her medication in favour of a placebo. Her medication was then chopped and changed over an eight week period while doctors puzzled over the diagnosis, leaving Alyth in a state of mental suffering, while also dealing with many side effects. Meanwhile, we had done a great deal of our own research into her symptoms and had realised that Alyth’s illness was somewhere on the schizophrenic/bipolar spectrum. Strangely, the psychiatrist in charge was reluctant even to admit to the possibility of a 15 year old having such a condition and took a surprisingly flippant attitude to our deep concerns. We faced many such obstacles, and were told more than once not to talk about psychotic symptoms. After almost three months, we were no further forward. Alyth was still seriously ill and a considerable danger to herself, and we had reached the end of the line with the mental health professionals.

 

scottish flag
Rhoda felt a move back to Scotland was best for her daughter

Although French psychiatry widely acknowledges the existence of childhood psychosis, its approach to treatment is outdated and in our view, backward. Drug treatment is minimized and psychotherapy widely favoured as the main form of treatment, effectively talking a young person out of their illness and using other socialisation activities such as sport and group work. This appears to be the fundamental ethos in childhood mental disorders, but also reveals a deep-seated unease and unwillingness in French culture to confront the reality of such illnesses.

 

We soon realised that moving back to Scotland was our only option to give Alyth any chance of adequate treatment. We have been here since April. Alyth has had a diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder. She was admitted to Stobhill adolescent unit in Glasgow, where she was treated with understanding and compassion. Her medication has increased progressively and the psychotic symptoms are at last under control. Continuing psychiatric and psychological therapy is helping her confront other difficulties such as anxiety and cognitive damage. Despite all the upheaval we have faced, we have no doubts it was the right thing and indeed the only thing we could have done. Alyth has faced so many terrifying challenges and so many ups and downs in her young life, but always with amazing strength, courage and determination. There’s still an uphill struggle, but each passing week brings a glimmer of hope.

 

Because of what we experienced in France, we see our NHS as a valuable national resource. This was one of our many reasons for voting Yes in the referendum. So much could have been safeguarded with a Yes vote, and we now dread the effects TTIP and other corporate power grabs could have on healthcare. Complacent No voters have dismissed these fears as SNP scaremongering and claim the NHS is safe in Scotland as a devolved power. Nonetheless, we are still dependent on whatever pocket money Westminster decides to dish out. Physical and mental health surely go hand in hand for society to be successful. But right-wing, self-serving policies are leaving the weakest and most vulnerable without a voice. Our hope is that Scotland can move forward and become a better, equal and caring society where the politicians we elect are truly representative and accountable for their actions.

 

picture provided by Mark Newton

featured image provided by Lose Farquharson

Britain : How They Control The Classes

 

Britain: How they control the classes.

 

chattering media class, thus preventing them from engaging in DISCLAIMER: I’ve been struggling for the past few days trying to unravel the class structure of the British state. What follows is my draft attempt at unravelling this knot. This is not a perfect analysis, it is not academic, it is not thorough. I generalise, I stereotype and I do make assumptions. That being said, I also feel I’ve hit some nails on some heads. While not perfect, I believe this piece provides some interesting points of view that can be of value in moving forward. I aim to refine this reasoning and afterwards I shall try to apply it to the referendum campaign and to whatever comes next for the post-indyref movement.

 

The British state and the media have created a hierarchic society where your position, goals and opportunities are based on you or your parents financial income. The state enforces this hierarchy through policies aimed at keeping the working-class impoverished and the middle-class fearful of losing the wealth that they have generated. The media aids the state by moulding resentment towards the lowest groups in the hierarchy – the unemployed and the working poor – while completely ignoring the top layers of government and the corporate elite.

At the bottom end of this hierarchy lies the shark pool of the unemployed and the working poor. While there are some who cheat the benefit system, this is a minuscule amount with the remainder often finding themselves in poverty because of systems outwith their control. The government paints these people as the “undeserving poor” and “benefit cheats”. The media amplifies these stereotypes giving the middle-and-working classes an enemy to blame for societies woes.

This demonisation of the poor and the unemployed helps to motivate those on the next rung of the ladder – the working class. These people find themselves faced with the prospect of falling into the shark pit and this motivates them to work harder for longer hours with extremely low wages, just to keep themselves from becoming part of this demonised group. The government then sets about making the shark pit an even less desirable place to be by imposing cuts and sanctions. Those in the shark pit find themselves in even worse economic conditions and often have to rely on foodbanks just to survive.

The government, helped by the media, thus creates such an undesirable underclass that they can ensure that the attention of the working class is focused solely on maintaining their employment. The working class, fuelled by fear, begins to count itself lucky for even being employed and this increases their tolerance for low wages and poor working conditions. This also creates a drive from working-class families to place a barrier between themselves and the shark pit of unemployment. They do this by working hard, saving and trying to claw themselves into the realm of the middle class. Those that do this create a buffer between them and the “undeserving poor”.

The middle classes are then controlled by commodification. By either being born into the middle-class lifestyle or by working hard to get there, this group seeks comfort in the commodities that they can buy with their larger incomes in comparison to the working class. These include bigger houses, nicer cars, private school educations for their children, expensive gadgets and technology, yearly holidays abroad and so on. The media and government then keep this group controlled by instilling them with the fear that they might lose these expensive commodities. This fear placates any uncontrollable rebellion from the middle class and thus enables the government to enact even more draconian policies on the underclass and the working poor.

The media, in broadcast and in print, is largely aimed at the middle class and is therefore filled with middle class voices. This works as an echo chamber of sorts as across the spectrum there are very limited views from the working class or the even from the unemployed or working poor. While there are certain liberal voices that call for equality and the re-distribution of wealth – such as in the Guardian newspaper – these voices offer nothing more than armchair activism which can talk a lot about tackling poverty and inequality yet does little in the way of action. The prospect of revolt is therefore minimal due to the fear of these middle class voices losing their expensive commodities and comfortable lifestyles. The views of the working class are not represented and are instead shaped and moulded by middle-class voices telling them that the source of their ills lies with those beneath them; the unemployed, working poor.

many people rely on foodbanks now
many people rely on foodbanks now

With all of the attention of the middle class and working class focused on the lowest in society, the politicians, bankers and corporate interests can get away with almost anything without any fear of reprisal as these two class systems have been placated by the constructed fears peddled by the media.

In forcing the working class to work even harder, every hour that god sends just to keep food on the table, via wage freezes and such, the politicians ensure there is minimal time for this group of people to get involved in political organisation, engagement or revolt. Their political views are often shaped by the broadcast and print media. This makes them controllable, predictable and open to manipulation when new governments need to be elected.

The knock-on effect from this is that the political organisations, even among ‘radical’ groups, remain dominated by middle-class voices. This is because only the middle classes have the free-time, money and educational means by which to do so. In keeping the power of political engagement within the middle class, the government can control even these dissenting voices. They do this via the fear of loss of commodities and comfortable lifestyles.

The middle class will never rebel and tackle the political establishment with the same fervour and even violence that the working class would do, if it were awakened and unleashed. The main fear of the government, media and corporate interests is that the working class might wake up one day and realise the diabolical situation that they find themselves in. If this happens, the working class, who have a lot less to lose in comparison to the middle class, would become a political force to be reckoned with because they cannot be as easily manipulated and controlled once awakened to their situation. The working class care not for the ‘rules’ of political engagement which hampers the middle class. They are not afraid of how their actions ‘might be perceived’ by others of the middle class establishment.

If the working class was awakened to political engagement it would not have a desire to conform.

The middle class, even those who claim to be ‘against the establishment’, thrive on acceptance by the government and the behaviour which is ‘frowned upon’.

It is only when the working class is truly awakened to the power that they hold within their hands that any meaningful rebellion can take place.

You can read more from Shaun Milne at thenorthbritishpostpicture of writer shaun milne picture of working class http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class_conflict picture for featured image http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coal_miners

Make Them Notice

 

On Sunday 14th October, I attended the Hope Over Fear demo in Glasgow with a friend.We decided to go through from Edinburgh because we wanted to connect with other Yessers. George Square was full, and I was impressed by the number of young families who came round with the kids in pushchairs, and it seemed quite a jolly day out, despite the weather.So, what is the point? Devo-Max has been kyboshed, Federalism and Home Rule were non-starters. We knew that. Vote No, Get Nowt, that was what we said, and that is what Westminster intended to deliver. There are no new offers on the table for us to campaign for, and there are no elections on the horizon until the General

Election in May 2015.

However, there is a point, in my opinion.Now that the independence referendum is over, the “real” politicians, the men in suits– and occasional token woman – expect to be back in charge. The most upsetting thing we can do is fail to act according to their script. It has become a truism that Scotland is more politically active now than ever, but we need to understand what that means. It means that people are involved who haven’t realised that politicians lie, that The Vow, covered by the BBC, the Daily Record, the great and the good of UK politics, would not be kept. Enough of them believed it to swing the vote, if we can believe the post-referendum polls. And so, we cannot allow politics to return to business as usual. We can’t let the political class off the hook as easily as that. Promises were made. David Cameron, with tears in his eyes, told us Westminster could change. We don’t allow the spurious post-referendum spat between the main parties to be used as an excuse to deliver nothing.

We don’t allow Labour to puff about “English Votes for English Laws” as if it matters – it’s 40 years since Labour depended on Scottish seats to deliver a majority, and they were also depending on the SDLP then too. Blair’s Labour had a majority without Scottish MPs in each of his three victories. This is a reason to democratise Westminster, not to undermine democracy in Scotland.We don’t allow the Tories to pretend that they can’t deliver anything for Scotland until it’s delivered in England – there was no mention of that in “The Vow”, or in the pledges presented to us on Calton Hill, signed by all of our unionist party leaders, and their Scottish branch managers.We point out the  hypocrisy of the LibDems talking about Federalism while refusing to devolve meaningful powers.

If there was nothing new in “The Vow”, if the Westminster parties didn’t really break purdah, and come up with a new offer, let them say so, explicitly.Let the unionist BBC and the Daily Record, and the rest of the mainstream media, tell their readers, listeners and viewers that they were lied to by the unionist parties. That they failed to scrutinise what was on offer – the supposed duty of a free press in a democracy.Until that day, we, the Yes campaign, hold those politicians – and journalists – to account. We challenge them at every opportunity. We don’t let them off the hook. We question, we go to hustings – assuming any of the unionist parties come out of their hiding places. In fact, we make sure they have no hiding place.

We act in good faith. After all, didn’t Scotland vote on the understanding, from all three party leaders, that regardless of the outcome, a No Vote was a positive vote for change? If it turns out they didn’t act, or speak in good faith, we make sure that is obvious to everyone in Scotland.As far as I am concerned, when the chips were down, the Scottish political class acted in the interests of the British State, not the people of their constituencies. The machinery of the British state – the political, the media, the corporate – acted as one to defend itself. The whole rotten edifice stands exposed. It’s up to us to make sure that as many people as possible see it for what it is.

The First Minister, Alex Salmond, has been vilified in a way that hasn’t happened since the 1980s, when Tony Benn was considered a threat to the British State. And was vilified by the same organisations. So much of the No campaign was predicated entirely on making the campaign centre on the First Minister, then demonising him. And, frankly, too many people fell for it. We need to raise the level of political education in Scotland, among the population as a whole, and that is what we can do in the time between now and the next General Election.

May 2015 must not be business as usual. We cannot let the cynicism of the political elite infect our movement, because cynicism and

Scotlands changing face
Scotlands changing face

alienation is what gives them their power. We make every unionist MP afraid for their seat. We don’t even talk about “Labour MPs” or “Lib Dem MPs”, we call them Unionist MPs. We make sure we’re visible in every community, at every event . I grew up in a trade unionist, Labour voting house. I can’t believe what the party has become. Scotland is ignored by the Tories because we always vote Labour. And we’re being ignored by Labour for the same reason. We’re a collection of safe seats for their “rising stars” aka careerists. They have taken our seats for granted, because those who don’t want to vote Labour often don’t vote at all. The low turnouts in many seats reflect this.

I would like us to look at these seats. See where the low turnouts are, where the low majorities are. Then compare with the number of new

voters we managed to get onto the Electoral Register. It is vital that we keep our newly politicised compatriots engaged. Make them realise that they can still use their power, that these rotten burghs are ripe to fall, and conduct an electoral strategy for the whole Yes movement.So that is why events like Sunday’s demonstration are important. We are here, we are visible. We fly our flags, converse with our neighbours and colleagues, wear our badges. We are still creating the better country we want to live in. It’s just that Westminster hasn’t noticed yet. Let’s make sure our communities do.

 

pictures from Hope Over Fear

you may also like  Charley’s Journey     Hope over Fear

Hope over fear

 

 

 

 

 

Charley’s Journey

On Sunday 14th October, I attended the “Hope Over Fear” demo in Glasgow with a friend.

We decided to go through from Edinburgh because we wanted to connect with other Yessers. George Square was full, and I was impressed by the number of young families who came round with the kids in pushchairs, and it seemed quite a jolly day out, despite the weather.So, what is the point? Devo-Max has been kyboshed, Federalism and Home Rule were non-starters. We knew that. Vote No, Get Nowt, that was what we said, and that is what Westminster intended to deliver. There are no new offers on the table for us to campaign for, and there are no elections on the horizon until the General Election in May 2015.

However, there is a point, in my opinion.Now that the independence referendum is over, the “real” politicians, the men in suits– and occasional token woman – expect to be back in charge. The most upsetting thing we can do is fail to act according to their script.It has become a truism that Scotland is more politically active now than ever, but we need to understand what that means. It means that people are involved who haven’t realised that politicians lie, that The Vow, covered by the BBC, the Daily Record, the great and the good of UK politics, would not be kept.Enough of them believed it to swing the vote, if we can believe the post-referendum polls. And so, we cannot allow politics to return to business as usual. We can’t let the political class off the hook as easily as that. Promises were made. David Cameron, with tears in his eyes, told us Westminster could change. We don’t allow the spurious post-referendum spat between the main parties to be used as an excuse to deliver nothing.

 

We don’t allow Labour to puff about “English Votes for English Laws” as if it matters

– it’s 40 years since Labour depended on Scottish seats to deliver a majority, and they were also depending on the SDLP then too. Blair’s

actor Martin Compston talking to the rally crowd
actor Martin Compston talking to crowd

Labour had a majority without Scottish MPs in each of his three victories. This is a reason to democratise Westminster, not to undermine democracy in Scotland.We don’t allow the Tories to pretend that they can’t deliver anything for Scotland until it’s delivered in England – there was no mention of that in “The Vow”, or in the pledges presented to us on Calton Hill, signed by all of our unionist party leaders, and their Scottish branch managers.We point out the hypocrisy of the LibDems talking about Federalism while refusing to devolve meaningful powers.If there was nothing new in “The Vow”, if the Westminster parties didn’t really break purdah, and come up with a new offer, let them say so, explicitly.

 

Let the unionist BBC and the Daily Record, and the rest of the mainstream media, tell their readers, listeners and viewers that they were lied to by the unionist parties. That llenge them at every opportunity. We don’t let them off the hook. We question, we go to hustings – assuming any of the unionist parties come out of their hiding places. In fact, we make sure they have no hiding place.We act in good faith. After all, didn’t Scotland vote on the understanding, from all three party leaders, that regardless of the outcome, a No Vote was a positive vote for change? If it turns out they didn’t act, or speak in good faith, we make sure that is obvious to everyone in Scotland.

 

As far as I am concerned, when the chips were down, the Scottish political class acted in the interests of the British State, not the people of their constituencies. The machinery of the British state – the political, the media, the corporate – acted as one to defend itself. The whole rotten edifice stands exposed. It’s up to us to make sure that as many people as possible see it for what it is.The First Minister, Alex Salmond, has been vilified in a way that hasn’t happened since the 1980s, when Tony Benn was considered a threat to the British State. And was vilified by the same organisations. So much of the No campaign was predicated entirely on making the campaign centre on the First Minister, then demonising him. And, frankly, too many people fell for it. We need to raise the level of political education in Scotland, among the population as a whole, and that is what we can do in the time between now and the next General Election.

 

May 2015 must not be business as usual. We cannot let the cynicism of the political elite infect our movement, because cynicism and

crowd standing on monument waving flags
crowds where taking any advantage to view the speakers

alienation is what gives them their power. We make every unionist MP afraid for their seat. We don’t even talk about “Labour MPs” or “Lib Dem MPs”, we call them Unionist MPs. We make sure we’re visible in every community, at every event.I grew up in a trade unionist, Labour voting house. I can’t believe what the party has become. Scotland is ignored by the Tories because we always vote Labour. And we’re being ignored by Labour for the same reason. We’re a collection of safe seats for their “rising stars” aka careerists. They have taken our seats for granted, because those who don’t want to vote Labour often don’t vote at all. The low turnouts in many seats reflect this.I would like us to look at these seats. See where the low turnouts are, where the low majorities are. Then compare with the number of new voters we managed to get onto the Electoral Register. It is vital that we keep our newly politicised compatriots engaged. Make them realise that they can still use their power, that these rotten burghs are ripe to fall, and conduct an electoral strategy for the whole Yes movement.

 

So that is why events like Sunday’s demonstration are important. We are here, we are visible. We fly our flags, converse with our neighbours and colleagues, wear our badges. We are still creating the better country we want to live in. It’s just that Westminster hasn’t noticed yet. Let’s make sure our communities do.They failed to scrutinise what was on offer – the supposed duty of a free press in a democracy.Until that day, we, the Yes campaign, hold those politicians – and journalists – to account.

Photos from Hope over Fear

If you like this have a read of Make Them Notice and  Hope over Fear