Yesterday, I heard some very sad news, yesterday a woman Lesley, in her thirties or forties died from an overdose, because, well we will never know the real answer to that.  A woman who had suffered trauma and abuse all her adult life.  A woman who fought a drug dependency for years and who I saw just two weeks ago, laughing, strong and happy as she graduated from rehab alongside my friend. She had a new flat, was going to a new life, had changed her life and was fighting hard with confidence. JUST WHAT HAPPENED.  Within one week of her leaving the Rehab she is dead.

I know I will not wait any more, it is time for action!


Did you know that it is in the teenage years that the brain decides what is needed for the human body it inhabits to survive.  Trauma and abuse at this age mean that the brain will see survival from these acts as the normal way of being for the body at a sub-conscious level.  The brain becomes hyper-sensitive and sees danger, even where there is no danger.


Do you know what we are doing to our teenage children now?

We expose them to NEGATIVE CONDITIONING, they are forced to live with unbelievable pressure and anxiety put on them by our way of living, our present society.  It is too easy to brand someone a failure before they have ever had a chance.  The unique individual talents and gifts that we all have are smothered under the fear that things might change if everyone is allowed free choice and development.  Everyone is judged to be in one box or another because of where they came from or their “abilities”.  We are conditioned to be afraid of this group because of where they come from or how they have to live. WHY?

We all belong to different clans and live segregated lives, WHY?

Can we not accept that we are as diverse in knowledge, ability, practicality, etc,

Can we not celebrate and love that diversity instead of being afraid of it.

Can we not negotiate ways of working together instead of being afraid of each other.

Can we give up this mantra of divide and conquer and I need more power and create a sensible decent environment for everyone to live.

Can we not cast our barometer to hope instead of fear.

There is much more to this than you think but it is better let out slowly than all in one outburst, and for the avoidance of doubt I am talking about the brain and not politics.

However, here’s a question for you. JUST ASK YOURSELF, DO I HAVE HOPE?


As a young girl I imagine you playing with your friends

Being the leader, the caring one I see,

At School I imagine the clever shy girl

Loved by everyone

As a teenager, trying hard, A young woman crying in pain

Made to feel worthless, useless, time and again

Looking for love that would mend everything

Caring and loyal, fighting hard to the end

Trying to break free

For your children, for your grand-child,


Putting a brave face on everything, so hard

To find the light at the end of that long dark road.

But you, you are the strong one who succeeded

You did it, with bravery, sensitivity, a lot of laughter and tears.

You broke the devil’s bonds

The joy, strength, love in your heart

Showed through everything on that day 4th May 2017.

Although I only knew you for a few minutes, a few seconds in life

I will always remember that moment and the inspiration that shone in your face.

The shame of shames,

That there was no-one there, to help you through at the end

God bless you always Lesley, I will not forget that smile

With love from Sandra Marshall

twitter @leithunique,

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Mental Health – Complex Trauma or PTSD or Being Human

With regard to Mental Health, I have learned so much and more each and every day I learn. It was no different in our workshop today.  So many different unique perspectives on one subject.  I have suffered from a complex trauma issue for a few years now and I have been human all my life.

There are times when I over-react simply because my brain is telling me about the dangerous situation I am in, even when it is not a dangerous situation.

If a trigger I have never realised was there suddenly decides to rock my boat, it takes time to recognise what it is and what I can do to re-train my brain not to consider that particular trigger a problem.

There are some long, quite scary words used in Complex Trauma training, “systemic abuse,” being one of them.  Now that one can open up a whole can of worms, anything from watching too much news, to being hounded in respect of benefits, creating all the anxiety and stress that does bring-up.

You know, I am sure that every single individual interprets communication completely differently from the next person.  If you look at the process:

You see something, you think a thought – through the chemical processes of the brain, that thought becomes communication and in the case of verbal communication, you then have a  verbal, communication.

The person, receiving the information, hears and sees the verbal communication, which is then decoded by the brain.

A complicated process.

Added to which we all have our own developed individual realities, issues, background, that get in the way of us completely understanding, or interpreting what is being communicated in the way the person creating the communication meant it to be heard, seen etc.

We also have something else that can interfere in the whole process and that is an ability emotionally to feel what a communication is about.  We pick up emotion at an unconscious level and can get the communication wrong if what we see and what we feel do not match-up.  We can be honest about statements, and truly believe that the act was carried out, even when it didn’t happen that way at all, simply because we feel the intention, even when we do not see the act, itself.

Empathy, when we connect with others at an emotional level is an amazing human ability.  It allows us to sympathise, and, although we cannot walk in anyone else’s shoes, relate to others with similiar life experiences or issues.  In this way, we  can share, learn, teach, support each other.  Mutuality, as it is called, can bring a more complete, in-depth mutual support experience (Peer Support), than other forms of support. Some people are so sensitive to the emotions of others that they can end up travelling the road with the person suffering emotional disturbance.  It can prove impossible to pull away or draw back easily from situations, causing trauma to the previously unaffected person in addition to the person suffering disturbance.

Did you know?  The brain is really like the branches at the top of the tree, it is where the chemical/electrical thought, memory, etc. processes occur.  We do, however have other systems in the body that are part of the whole brain system.  These areas are located in the heart and the gut, the liver as Muslim people would say.

It is only when these three brain functions work in harmony, ie. we do not have a gut instinct or a heart suspicion that is different from the thoughts going through our brain. On the contrary, everything is working together, that we can be in the best place we can possibly get too.

So that was my day’s learning.  I would love to hear from folks on what they think, etc.

twitter @leithunique,

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The Bridge

“Politics is a life we choose because we think we can do some good” – Kezia Dugdale, 25th April 2017

Today the Scottish Parliament debated the cuts to Child Tax Credits being imposed by Westminster. This necessarily centered much of the debate around certain exceptions to those cuts, in particular the so-called Rape Clause. This article isn’t about that Clause in particular. That must be for others. If you want, you can watch the entire debate below

Instead I want to particularly highlight Labour leader Kezia Dugdale’s speech (from 26:20 above or here). Please watch it in the context of that debate before continuing.

Scottish politics is becoming increasingly polarised but sometimes we’re reminded that we don’t always disagree on what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed. Today, Dugdale reminded me of that. This may be a cynical and untrusting age but it still holds that Politics is at its absolute best when conviction shines through. It should be applauded when it does.

On issues like today, we can stand in complete agreement. The cuts to Child Tax Credits are wrong, the exceptions are wrong and trying to pass the blame for the policy on to the Scottish Government as theirs to “mitigate” is wrong.

In other issues, we may see the same way on the problem but differ on the solution. Compromise politics should be the order of such things and by them we should find a collegiate way forward.

Today was a reminder that even when such differences occur we can’t let ourselves be blinded by them and to use them to simply demonise our opponents as the source of all that is wrong in the world. We choose the life of politics because we think we can do some good in the world. It does us well to consider that when faced with our opponents and even when we self-examine our own policies. What good do they do in the world and what good are they supposed to achieve. Maybe when we understand that, we’ll better understand ourselves and each other. Maybe then we’ll find those solutions. And maybe we’ll do some good in the world.

Occasionally, we’ll differ on whether or not there IS a problem at all. This is where the discussion gets more difficult and this is where we are with the Conservatives today on this particular issue. The cuts and the Rape Clause aren’t in-and-of themselves problems to the Conservatives, but are a solution to their version of the problem (ostensibly, to “pay down our debts”, although, from my own point of view a relatively cursory examination of “Austerity” as a means to do that shows up the evident flaws in the logic). It will be harder to find a compromise solution which will please them (not least because their “suggestion” that the Scottish Government subsidise the cuts would have to be paid for by cuts elsewhere or by tax rises, both of which the Tories would no doubt also oppose). It will be harder even to get to the position of discussing compromise because we could spend all of our energy just trying to find out what they think the problem they’re solving actually is. Without that, we’d just be arguing at cross-purposes and making a lot of noise without meaning.

So instead I’d like to better understand my opponents. I’d like them to tell me what good they think they are bringing into the world with these cuts. I’d like them to tell me what good they think we who oppose it are bringing. I’d like them to try to better understand why we choose the life of politics and why we stand where we do within it.

And I’d like all of us to try to do the same with everything else we do in this life of politics we chose.

You can read more articles from Dr Craig Dalzell at The Common Green and also on twitter at @thecommongreen 

featured image The Bridge


Universal Credit is nothing to celebrate

We recently heard that on the anniversary of the introduction of Universal Credit the Dundee DWP office dressed in blue and had celebratory cake. The thought of celebrating something that has caused so many people so much misery ought to be enough to make any cake stick in the throat, but this sort of corporate bonding event is designed to instil everyone involved with the organisation’s values, and to break down the barriers that separate their private life from their work life and protect their moral compass.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Universal Credit continues to provide further nasty surprises. A few weeks back we were talking to someone who is on Universal Credit and waiting for a Work Capability Assessment to see if he is eligible for the Limited Capability for Work component – the equivalent of ESA for people who are in the Universal Credit system. He told us that he is having to sign monthly at the jobcentre. This didn’t seem right, as people in that position who have applied for ESA are left alone and simply have to supply regular doctor’s notes. However, when we checked with the nice people at the Child Poverty Action Group they explained that, under Universal Credit, someone waiting for their assessment can be given all sorts of things to do, including job search. It is the DWP that decides what is reasonable to expect in their circumstances, and they are subject to the full sanction regime if they don’t comply. (In this particular case the jobcentre weren’t demanding more than the regular signing – but that was just as well as our friend had already waited 15 months for his assessment and had still not been given a date.)

You can follow the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network on facebook and on there webpage click here


No wonder she was angry

Jen emerged from the jobcentre shouting and accompanied by a security guard. At first she was too angry to engage with us at all, convinced that, as with everyone else she had encountered, our offers of help were hollow. But something persuaded her to turn around and come back. Over a cup of tea in the café opposite, she explained that she had been on JSA but had taken a job for two weeks in a Glasgow club.  When she signed on again she was put onto Universal Credit. She had asked for a Rapid Reclaim, but the DWP treated her like a new claimant and she was undergoing the long wait for her first payment. To make it worse, they initially failed to put through the claim at all and she had had to start again. It was now nine weeks since she had applied, and she was yet to receive any payments other than a £350 advance loan, which had almost all been swallowed up in rent, as she had to keep a roof over her head. Now she had no money and just £9 on the electricity meter. She had gone into the jobcentre because she had hoped that they would be able to find out the cause of the delay and ensure she got her benefit payments; but she had been told there was nothing they could do and been fobbed of with the usual assurance – in which she had little faith – that the money would come through that evening.

We rang the Scottish Welfare Fund from the café, and they took details of her situation so that they could decide whether to give her an emergency grant. It was too late to contact the foodbank, but we told her to ring us if she needed to do this the following day. That evening she was going over to her mother who had just rung to tell her she had borrowed more money off a friend to see her daughter through.

To make matters worse, Jen’s private landlady clearly had a cavalier attitude to health and safety and her boiler had recently exploded. No-one was hurt, but Jen had been relying on expensive electric heating for two weeks and her only source of hot water was the shower. We discussed taking this and her other housing problems to Shelter.

When she left the café her intense anger had evaporated. She has not got back to us so we hope this means that some money has finally got through.

Our last blog looked at a couple of the people we have helped after they were found ‘fit-for-work’ and bumped off ESA. This one looks at some of the other problems we have come across in our last two stalls outside Dundee buroo.

Richard lost his job on the Riggs two years ago and has only had bits and pieces of work since. He told us that employers in other areas of work aren’t interested in him because they assume that he will leave as soon as better-paid oil work comes along. There had been a prospect of a good oil job recently, but a vital license had expired and he didn’t have the money needed to renew it. He had asked the jobcentre for help, but they had said there was nothing they could do. It was already too late for that job when he discovered himself, through friends, that the Scottish Government has set up a fund to help people in his exact predicament: something – as he pointed out – that the jobcentre should have been aware of. He gave us the link for anyone else who might need it.

The problems of finding work when you are older are well known, but last week we learnt about an additional hurdle from a woman looking for care work. She told us that younger people get their SVQ costs paid for them, but others have to pay these back out of their wages. And despite all the homage paid to the idea of building people’s confidence, another frustrated woman complained that she had just been told by her ‘work coach’ that although she had had three job interviews that week she ‘shouldn’t get her hopes up’. She had been living on just £23 a week after rent and overdue deductions, so we suggested she see a money advisor to get her repayments rescheduled.

Allan was also waiting for his benefit money to come through. He had no money and had not had a proper meal in two days. We tried to get him a food parcel, but it was (again) too late that evening. He, too, had been given the usual promise that the money would be in his account by the end of the day, but previous experience led us to ring him to check the next morning – when we found ourselves having to give him details of the day’s soup kitchens, before getting back on the phone to our friends at Taught by Muhammad to arrange a food parcel. We also advised him to take his case to the Welfare Rights drop-in when he was at the soup kitchen.

Mark had no money and no home. He was staying on his friend’s sofa and had been sanctioned because his jobcentre appointment had clashed with his Gran’s funeral, which wasn’t deemed sufficient excuse to change the date. But he didn’t want help because he was getting away from it all and joining the army. Maybe that was what he had always wanted to do, but it is easy to see how jobcentres make dangerously easy recruiting grounds.

Thanks to: Gordon, Dave, Gary, Susan, Sarah, Alison, Grant and Tony

You can follow the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network on facebook and on there webpage click here

The Rise Of Groupthink






I was introduced to the world of computing in 1981 when my English teacher demonstrated to our class a text-based adventure game in which we could explore another world with simple commands – look up – go north – pick up gold – open door and so on. The game was not connected to the internet, as it was in its infancy, but our teacher did ask for a majority decision on what the typist should enter on the keyboard for our collective adventure. For the purpose of this post we will call our collective adventurer “Bob.” Under our control poor Bob suffered greatly from a series of multiple virtual deaths and never did make it successfully to the end of the game. As you might expect from a group of twenty or so eleven year olds we were eventually led by the loudest and most excitable student “Mikey” who constantly shouted out instructions with moderate threats along with a growing number of his followers who seemed to take great pleasure in Bob’s growing list of failures. I watched quietly as Mikey took over the ensuing chaos realising that we had missed our opportunity to speak out and debate the subtle nuances of what should have been our gaming strategy.

Some weeks after, I managed to convince my parents to get me a ZX81 with BASIC language instruction manual which I mastered by learning how groups of code could be written to produce simple programs. By the time I had left school I had written the code to produce my own spreadsheets and after college had successfully mastered PASCAL and could easily have written the adventure game of my childhood using dimensional arrays. The ’80s saw a home computing revolution of exponential proportions. The ’90s saw the rise of the internet and I was one of the first to have access to it, from home, in its infancy. Apart from being slow, unreliable and relatively small it was also unregulated and full of individuals wanting to connect with others who had paid a small fortune for the luxury. Thoughts were shared on topics of the day on forums without the slightest fear that anything said would be read by someone they knew, as in 1996 less than 1% of the world was connected. With leaps in technology we get to today, where mobile internet is king and everyone appears to have access to it through – Facebook – Twitter – WhatsApp – Instagram – all being used by people to access information and communicate with others. So what of the quality of exchanges between these “individuals”? Instead of individuals the internet is full of Bobs who are being controlled by Mikey and his followers and the sad thing is that Bob doesn’t even realise it.

Think of the usual exchange on Facebook for example – “I’ve changed my profile – pic looks good don’t you think?” – “Visited restaurant and ate Sushi :)” – “Crazy night last night!”  – All good stuff but it’s really only harvesting “likes” and smiley faces from our peers – which is OK. If we want to post a serious comment I bet 99% of them don’t even make it to our pages as most will have filtered them from existence after the realisation that our peers may not like our point of view before a key is even pressed. Fear rules – the fear of rejection – the fear of falling down the social ranking ladder and the fear that this information can somehow be used by others against you at a later date.

Twitter is similar except we are constantly nudged towards following verified accounts (those deemed important enough for Twitter staff to give them a tick against their names). So, there are at least two large classes of people on Twitter – those with ticks and those looking for acceptance from people with ticks. Why are the views from standard accounts less important than soap star Mr. X or political commentator Miss Y with a tick? Why are such people deemed as being more influential? Why are your views being quantified as being less important? Why do we allow this?

When was the last time you heard someone say they are struggling in life? Very infrequently, as people like projecting and others like hearing a successful and positive image of themselves and others, even if the reality of your life is more reflective of society in general. The way that messages are displayed to you via social networks also narrows the narrative and supplies you with narratives you will feel comfortable with based upon your previous responses and in turn you obtain a mirror image of yourself and your points of view unless you seriously take the time to mix up your feeds and / or friends. This is true for all subjects. What is the point of writing a tweet when you have not tried to gain a basic understanding of the different points of view that people have on an issue before forming your own? Why believe what someone is saying to you just because it fits what you feel should be the case before doing some research on the subject matter? The next time anyone tweets something try looking beyond what they want you to see.

The mass media has recognised the influence social media can have, and  we now see the subtle altering of people’s perspectives on certain issues – towards what these organisations want you to believe. As these opinions are absorbed by our peers this, with time, is reciprocated by ourselves. To an extent this has always happened but with the internet the timescale of this change has reduced significantly and dangerously, for now in the quest for followers and influence, groupthink is king and individuality is frowned upon.

So, can Bob be saved or have we reached the point of no return from which the loudest (or most powerful) people (or organisations) with the most followers (or financial backing) control our collective futures? There are, of course, many ways to prevent this: – make sure you are the person typing the instructions, make sure Mikey shouts on your behalf, mute Mikey, block Mikey, use a group block list (which may reduce original thinking) and so on.

You can follow Rob on twitter at @LemontopRob  and at his webpage politicalsqueakonomics



Resisting Triage Tyranny – by any means necessary

I managed tae mak my first advice stall in a couple oa weeks at Dundee buroo the ither day, to meet up wi comrades and shoot the craw wi freends and familiar faces. It was mercifully quiet, wi only een or twa serious cases tae deal wi, but whilst I was there wi Jock and Sarah, I met Davy, a grey haired guy in his mid fifties, wha hobbled oot oa the buroo on a walking stick, accompanied by his carer, whose allowance was under threat. I asked him if he wis hivvin ony problems, and he said, ‘Noa the day, but ah hiv hid bather in the past’. When I asked him to expand, he telt me that he had been through a serious motorbike accident 2-3 years ago, which had left him with serious stomach injuries, whilst he had also, subsequently, developed a serious problem with Diabetes, which has had a damaging impact on his eyesight.

Davy had been awarded ESA, and was placed in the Support Group, which means that he shouldna get bothered by the DWP dingbats. However, around a year and half ago he had been called into the caring, sharing Triage office in Dundee. This company purports to be devoted to getting fowk into work, but, the reality has always been that you are much mare likely to be sanctioned by these trumpets than of ever finding a job – indeed, a guid percentage oa sanction cases in Dundee are generated by this lot claiming fowk hivna turned up for interviews when the fowk themsels are claiming that they received no such notification. The SUWN are well known to the paid drones within, as we’ve closed their office doon oan twa occasions in the recent past ower their treatment oa unemployed and disabled fowk in Dundee.

When Davy was called into Triage, he wisna haen the best time oa it. His serious stomach injuries were playing up – he’s affected by green bile reflux and had been projectile vomiting that morning. He was, however, aware oa the problems that might come his way if he didna attend the Triage appointment, and so hauled himsel into the Triage office/interrogation centre, where he met a whippersnapper in a dodgy suit, wha could nivir hiv been mistaken for a ray oa sunshine. Davy explained to the whippersnapper that he was having health problems and that he didna see the point oa being dragged oot oa his sick bed to attend. The whippersnapper nivir even looked up, and jist kept oan scribbling awa in his wee notebook. When he did look up, Davy had turned a bit greenish, and telt the guy he was feeling nauseous. Again, the whippersnapper barely blinked. Then, Davy felt his stomach in turmoil, and, with real urgency this time, asked the whippersnapper to get a bucket as he wis gaena spew. Davy said the guy looked at him, ‘as though I was at it’. He probably wished Davy was ‘at it’, as, with virtually nae warning the green levy broke, and he projectile vomited aw ower the desk, aw ower the paperwork, and aw ower the young whippersnapper’s lap, thus ruining whit was already a dodgy suit, and replacing the look oa disdain oan the guy’s puss, wi een oa absolute shock and horror.

I can think oa no better way for the sick and disabled, which includes masel, to fight back agin the murderous drones oa the DWP and their allied parasites than to use oor illnesses agin the trumpets. Perhaps oor next protest at Triage could involve mass projectile vomiting – now that really would be a bit different. Eftir aw, we’d only be geen back a little oa whit they murderous bastards hiv been handing oot for far too lang noo.

Tony Cox

You can follow the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network at the webpage or at the facebook page

Cervical Cancer, No Longer the Silent Killer – But Only If You Are Straight

It is fantastic news that cervical and ovarian cancers are no longer classified as “silent killers” due to the predictions that come from regular cervical screening tests – alerting women before major symptoms occur.

This means all women should be able to detect any possible irregularities before they become an issue, right?

Well,  no. It doesn’t.

It seems that a substantial portion of women are being turned away and told that they do not need screening tests – the reason for this?  They don’t have sex with men.

Lately, it has been shown by LGBT experts that a percentage of women in the community were being turned down for sexual health screening tests due to predominantly being involved within same-sex relationships.  Thus, stating they were not prime victims within the risk categories.

Of course, this is incorrect and a completely absurd remark to make due to the fact that the human papilloma virus (HPV) – which is the cause of most cervical cancers, can be transmitted through lesbian sex.

Or any type of sex involving vaginal contact for that matter.

It seems some healthcare professionals are inadequately educated regarding same-sex relationships and therefore may be giving incorrect information to the women involved.

A report completed last year shows that more than half of LGBT women were refused sexual health screening tests or treatment because their orientation made them “less at risk” for diseases.
They were also more like to be submitted to homophobia, harassment and misinformation as doctors assumed they were heterosexual.

Unfortunately many women who identify as LGBT, suffer from not getting the right health care treatment due to their sexuality and according to surveys, a shocking 37% of these women reported having being told they were not required to undergo screening tests due to their sexual habits.

Allow me to reiterate.

They were supposedly less at risk of developing sexual health problems or a sexually transmitted disease because they were having a different type of intercourse than most women who came through the health care clinic doors.

Women who have sex with women are regularly under-represented and lack acknowlegment within society which leads to misinformation in both the LGBT and mainstream society.

This means that it is not only healthcare professionals which are failing these women and putting them at risk, but also our education systems.

There is a severe lack of comprehensive sexual education programmes within schools teaching those in the LGBT communities about safe sex practices, their anatomy or emotional literacy. This means that our LGBT children may be at more risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease than their heterosexual counterparts. They are also less likely to see the warning signs of abusive relationships or sexual harassment.
Reports show that only 4% of LGBT youths remember having inclusive sexual health programmes at school and only one in three knew how to properly protect themselves from STD’s such as HIV and syphillis.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people have been proven to be more at risk of contracting sexual diseases due to lack of information. According to surveys, young gay men between the ages 13- 29 account for more than one third of newly acquired HIV infections and young women who identify as lesbian or bisexual have been proven to be more like to contract an STD or be submitted to sexual coercion or dating violence.

This lack of acknowledgment regarding the gay communities needs to be addressed.

We cannot claim equality and diversity if we are not paying attention to all the groups involved. We need to properly delve in to inclusive sexual education to protect our youth regardless of their orientation and make sure they understand how to protect themselves to the best of their ability – and I dont mean by quickly waving over the topic of dental dams and condoms.

Our children need to know that these diseases are not just transmitted in heterosexual activities but in any activity involving bodily fluids and genitalia.
It is imperitave to make sure that these issues are addressed and that we make a stand for our LGBT communities.

We cannot preach equality and acceptance if we are not willing to follow it up with the actions needed, otherwise we are just practicing hypocrisy for the sake of keeping face.

To find out more about cervical screening please see the link below

You can follow Dionne Melissa Newman on twitter @DionneMNewman or at her blog page     

Featured image Woman with cancer



The young unemployed and a ‘perfect storm’ of stigmatisation

The imposition of stigma is the commonest form of violence used in democratic societies…[It] can best be compared to those forms of psychological torture in which the victim is broken psychically and physically but left to all outward appearances unmarked.’  (Pinker, 1971)

During the course of my research I have interviewed a number of young people who have made a conscious decision to not apply for social security. At first this baffled me – every single young person in this situation was entitled to do so and most came from already struggling homes. But when their reasons for not taking up entitlements became clear, I started to get increasingly annoyed. Then I started reading up on this phenomenon and decided to do a short post on this – I hope this will be of interest to folks.

What is absolutely apparent from the interviews I’ve carried out is the sense of stigma and shame that the young people feel from the potential of accessing social security. Baumberg (2016) makes the point that ‘benefits stigma’ has seen a resurgence in 21st Century Britain due to a number of overlapping factors. He describes ‘personal stigma’ in this context as ‘a person’s own feeling that claiming benefits conveys a devalued identity’ (p183). It’s clear that such a description chimes with what the young people have been telling me – that they feel claiming benefits would result in them feeling ashamed – and lesser – should they access their entitlements.

tvBut why should they feel this way? Pemberton et al (2016) talk about the UK at the moment witnessing a ‘perfect storm’ as pejorative images and denigrating discourse from TV shows, news media and public and political rhetoric swirl around mainstream culture, serving to ‘other’ and dehumanise those that have the temerity to access social security. Tracey Jensen (2014) points to the explosion of interest in what she terms ‘poverty porn’ in the UK since 2013 with a whole host of shows creating this new ‘genre’ – shows such as Benefits Street, We Pay Your Benefits, On Benefits and Proud, Britain on the Fiddle, Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, The Great British Benefits Handout amongst others. Such shows serve to individualise the consequences of poverty, presenting a narrow view of the subjects of these programmes as feckless and deserving of either pity or contempt (primarily the latter). Hancock and Mooney (2013) make the important point that shows such as these caricature ‘‘poverty and people experiencing poverty’ by presenting a narrow and decontextualised view of the lives of a few individuals who are presented as representative of a homogenised whole’ (p113). Explicitly – all people in receipt of social security are like this and as such, what are we going to do to punish them?

lonelyAlongside such shows has been the increase in attention on welfare recipients since the Coalition government came to power. This is not to say New Labour were innocent – but McKay and Rowlingson (2011) suggest that since the coalition we have witnessed ‘continuation with intensification’ and a rise in ‘othering’ rhetoric. As Patrick (2014) notes, ‘in seeking to justify and defend a tightening of welfare conditionality and a reduction in the real value of many benefits, the Government has repeatedly returned to the idea of benefits as a lifestyle choice’ (p709). In particular, the discourse of ‘shirkers and scroungers’ and ‘strivers Vs skivers’ has become a favourite trope of Conservative politicians and a reworking of the older ‘deserving Vs undeserving’ rhetoric of days gone by. Certain sections of the media have proven extremely helpful in spreading this language into the mainstream, as Beresford (2016) notes:

Successive governments have carried out their welfare reform policies in close association with dominant right-wing media. Newspapers such as the Sun and Daily Mail, and their online platforms, have been cheer leaders for welfare reform; headlining benefit fraud, attacking welfare claimants and acting as a mouthpiece for ministers like Iain Duncan Smith, supporting benefit cuts and caps uncritically. (422)

In combination with the aforementioned poverty porn, life on welfare is presented as a vehicle for the imagined ‘underclass’ to shun a decent, civilised and above all hard-working life in order to live the life of riley on fags, booze, big-screen TVs and to breed with impunity. In other words, it encourages a life of immorality whilst the ‘hard-working families’ are positioned as some sort of mugs for allowing ‘them’ to do so.

Of course, such figures have proven extremely elusive as study after study has shown (e.g., Shildrick and MacDonald, 2013; Dunn, 2011; Dean and Taylor-Gooby, 1992). What research consistently finds is areas of high unemployment, decimated by rapid deindustrialisation and the:

…economic dispossession of the working-class of Britain’s old industrial centres over the latter third of the 20th Century…unemployment, insecurity and poverty. This to us seems the start of a more persuasive story than one that pretends that there are places where no-one works; ‘Benefits Streets’ where families have never worked for generations and where unemployment is a preferred way of life. (MacDonald, Shildrick and Furlong, 2014: 5)

Indeed, the site of my study in Scotland is one such area. The glaring lack of decent employment (or any employment) accessiblewindow to these young people is airbrushed out of the picture. As is the fact that not one of the young people has spent any longer than a couple of months idle. All are desperately trying to make something of themselves but this isn’t enough for them to feel able to claim their entitlements, it seems. All of the young people have worked, volunteered, attended employability courses of varying quality and many have spent months in exploitative employment in an attempt to ‘get on’ but still they feel ‘undeserving’.

Several of the young people I interviewed highlighted the scrounger/skiver language and made explicit reference to poverty porn as reasons for non-take-up of entitlements, wishing to avoid the associated pejorative labelling. It seems apparent that the pernicious outcome of the perfect storm is the internalisation of this discourse to the point where the young people are ‘self-disciplining’ and eschewing income that would alleviate (a little) the very worst outcomes of impoverishment. As Garthwaite (2016) observed in her study on foodbanks, such rhetoric has also served to stop people accessing essential food packages, as the discourse ‘at times creat[ed] a stigma so powerful that it could not be overcome. This resulted in people skipping meals, eating foods that were out of date and foraging for food, which could have notable negative outcomes for both physical and mental health’ (p285).

moneyThe young people in my study spoke often about parents and guardians (primarily mothers) struggling financially, often going without themselves in order that the young people were suitably fed and clothed. And as Patrick (2014) also found, my young people and their families were often engaged in other forms of contribution – ‘parenting, volunteering and care work – which are all too often under-valued and neglected in government accounts that continue to conceptualise paid work alone as the route a to full, ‘active’ citizenship status’ (p716). Perhaps more disconcertingly, several of the young people were unable to work – due to health factors or other responsibilities. But they too had internalised the belief that they were shirkers or skivers, despite their situation. The only ‘real’ work is paid employment and anything else is a personal failure even if these factors are outwith their control.

As Kaufman (2004) suggests, shame is one of the most powerful social emotions we can feel. For the young people in my study i’d suggest it attacks their very sense of self – who they are and what they are capable of. But perhaps it isn’t these young people who should be feeling it. The safety net of social security has been gradually eroded over the last thirty years (at least) but for some of the young people interviewed, it appears it no longer exists at all. I suggest that it’s others who should feel shame at that fact.


Additional Reading:

Baumberg, B. (2016). ‘The stigma of claiming benefits: a quantitative study’, Journal of Social Policy, Vol. 45, (2), pp181-199

Beresford, P. (2016). ‘Presenting welfare reform: poverty porn, telling sad stories or achieving change?’, Disability & Society, Vol. 31, (3), pp421-425

Garthwaite, K. (2016). ‘Stigma, shame and ‘people like us’: an ethnographic study of foodbank use in the UK’, Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, Vol. 24, (3), pp277-289

Jensen, T. (2014). ‘Welfare Commonsense, Poverty Porn and Doxosophy’, Sociological Research Online, Vol. 19, (3), pp1-7

MacDonald, R., Shildrick, T and Furlong A. (2014). ‘’Benefits Street’ and the Myth of Workless Communities’, Sociological Research Online, Vol. 19, (3), 1

Paterson, L. L., Coffey-Glover, L. and Peplow, D. (2016). ‘Negotiating stance within discourses of class: Reactions to Benefits Street. Discourse & Society, Vol. 27, (2), pp195-214

Patrick, R. (2014). ‘Working on Welfare: Findings from a Qualitative Longitudinal Study Into the Lived Experiences of Welfare Reform in the UK’, Journal of Social Policy, Vol. 43, (4), pp705-725

Pemberton, S., Fahmy, E., Sutton, E. and Bell, K. (2016). ‘Navigating the stigmatised identities of poverty in austere times: Resisting and responding to narratives of personal failure’, Critical Social Policy, Vol. 36, (1), pp21-37

Runswick-Cole, K. and Goodley, D. (2015). ‘DisPovertyPorn: Benefits Street and the dis/ability paradox’, Disability & Society, Vol. 30, (4), pp645-649

You can follow Alan Mackie on twitter @Oldmanmackie and at his webpage oldmanmackie.wordpress


Are some children more equal than others?

You might well ask why I even need to write this article, because this week’s political machinations around the UK Government’s two child policy and the infamous rape clause make it abundantly clear the answer is Yes. But many of us have detected some interesting parallels in the attitudes of people and politicians to this particularly heinous piece of welfare reform and their attitudes to other policies that concern children and families.

Take the “SNP’s controversial named person policy” for example (to coin an overused phrase). There’s a vocal minority in Scotland, including the Scottish Conservatives, who believe that elements of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (derived from the Getting It Right For Every Child or GIRFEC practice model) are an unacceptable intrusion into family life. They object to the concept of “wellbeing” that is defined in the Act, believing it’s unreasonable to attempt to legislate to ensure that the wellbeing of every child is protected. This is, we are told, too low a bar for the State to be concerned about. Furthermore the provision of a named person for every child, that single point of contact that parents were asking for, has been misrepresented as a “State guardian”, someone who will see fit to interfere with the most trivial aspects of family life. (At the same time, those same people complain that the named person role is an unacceptable addition to the workload of already overworked professionals, so why the colour of a child’s wallpaper – an unfortunate example contained in one leaflet explaining wellbeing – would concern them is not entirely clear). A small number of parents are up in arms at the very idea of somebody outside their family having any insights or support to offer in relation to their children.

Every child is equal in the eyes of the Children and Young People Act. Most children and most families will need no extra support and they may have no contact at all with the relevant professional in their named person role. But they are there if needed, and they are looking out for every child in their care. If a child often goes to school in unwashed clothes, regularly has no packed lunch, maybe has the odd unexplained bruise, it is the named person’s responsibility to notice this and take the necessary steps, talking to the parents and liaising with other agencies as necessary to help them get any support they need.

Ah well, say some middle class families, those cases are obvious. The named person isn’t needed for children like mine. I have a little experience in this respect which I won’t go into here, but I can say that the support we have received has been second to none, and the presence of a single point of contact has been a godsend. Nevertheless, the aforementioned view is quite widely held. I’ve been told by people who don’t know me that I’m just lazy and can’t be bothered to do all the legwork myself with the various agencies. I obviously take issue with this, but it’s water off a duck’s back. What these people fail to acknowledge is that the entire point of the GIRFEC approach is to pick up problems before they become obvious enough for the State to identify which children do and do not need targeted support. In the case of older children and teenagers, it’s entirely feasible that the child has worries and concerns that their parents simply don’t know about, but which are apparent at school or in other settings, and it’s hard not to see a certain possessive attitude at play with the campaigners who care so deeply about their family’s privacy that they would deny that alternative source of support to their children.

You see, what the Children and Young People Act is saying, to every child and every young person in Scotland, is that the Government cares about you. Not, god forbid, because they think you’re at risk of serious harm, not because they think there’s a risk you’ll end up in prison and a burden on the State, not just because they need to keep you in mainstream schooling because they can’t afford to run special schools, not just because they need to keep the attainment and exam pass figures up, but because you are growing up in Scotland and we as a society have a collective responsibility for your wellbeing. As a mother with concerns about how my son will cope when he goes to secondary school this knowledge is extremely comforting.

As outlined above, some parents don’t see it this way and dislike the implication that their children are equally vulnerable, seeing it as a reflection on their own parenting. Fair enough, lots of people are uncomfortable with what they see as the “Nanny State”. But surely they couldn’t object if the same Government decided to give a gift to every newborn child to ensure they get the best possible start in life? Oh you bet they could.

Bring on baby boxes, a really lovely idea that originated in Finland. From this summer every mother of a newborn baby in Scotland will be given a box of essentials including clothes, bedding, useful items such as a thermometer, reusable nappies, breast pads, etc., and the really ingenious part is that the box itself comes with a mattress so that it can be used as baby’s first bed. The box is intended to be an incentive for the mother to engage with antenatal services, thus boosting maternal health, as well as providing a cheap, safe place for the baby to sleep and avoid the need for an expensive Moses basket or crib. The cost is estimated at £6 million a year, although there are suggestions this may now have risen a little.

What better symbol could there be that in Scotland every child is born equal? Obviously we know that’s not the case in reality, no one is that naive, but it’s a signal of intent on the part of the Government that you’d imagine would be welcomed by everyone. Not so. Again, among a minority of the Scottish public and the Scottish Conservatives, there was outrage. “What a waste of public money?”, they cried. “If people can’t afford to clothe their baby then what are they doing giving birth to one?” Conversely, “I can afford to clothe my baby perfectly well thank you, why would I need a gift from the Government?” “The Government expects my baby to sleep in a box!”. And so on. So poor people who would welcome this gift have no right having babies to begin with, and wealthy people who can afford these things themselves are outraged at money being “wasted” by the Government on their children. So much for all children being born equal.

And so we come back to the UK Government’s two child policy. The argument goes that if you can’t afford to support your children then you shouldn’t have had them, and you certainly should not have more than two. It was belatedly realised that this couldn’t hold in all circumstances, which is how the morally indefensible “rape clause” came into being, but the principle stands firm. I’ve had a number of robust discussions over the past few days with other women who are adamant that parents should be made to “take personal responsibility” for their decisions. There are all sorts of rebuttals to be made, reminding people that circumstances change, parents re-marry or sadly die, jobs are lost, and so on. But there’s a weak link in the “take personal responsibility” argument that is rarely openly acknowledged by its proponents. Children do not ask to be born. What this policy is more or less overtly saying is that if a child has more than one older sibling then the UK State washes its hands of them. They are less worthy of support, and their wellbeing – in bitter contrast to the Scottish GIRFEC model – is irrelevant to the UK Government.

The advocates of the two child policy are quite obviously saying that some children are more equal than others. But so are the opponents of the baby box, who think there is no case for giving every child an equal start, and so are the opponents of the Children and Young People Act, who think that only children from obviously “problem” backgrounds should have people looking out for their wellbeing. And this is why I am so passionate about the policies of universalism advanced by our Scottish Government. The measures I’ve talked about here merely scratch the surface, but they show a government moving in the right direction. Every child, no matter their family background, deserves the very best chance in life that we as a society can give them.

featured image Sad Boy

You can follow Sylvina Tilbury on twitter @caorach or at her blog