‘Minions With No Opinions’

 

As I sit here in my living room half watching television on the day my daughter turned one, I find myself opening my twitter app reading posts from Conservative candidates and Tory followers. This should be a day of joy and exhilaration. Instead as I sit here looking at what these people are saying. It was like listening to a Theresa May’s Tory handbook.
When someone follows someone blindly in their opinions and is incapable of forming their own. It can be labelled a cult or a dictatorship. I believe with all my heart that everyone in this world should have their own views on things and that’s what is good about a democracy because it challenges others so that we all get a better, fairer deal that is a happy medium that we all can live with. This sadly is not the case anymore. Everywhere I look, read, see, speak. There are divided opinions everywhere. But there is something else happening now. Something I never thought would in my life time. The surge in the heartlessness of the right wing conservatives. Theresa May and her gang are imposing cuts on our elderly, on our youth and on the vulnerable. I can’t sit by and idly watch this happen and I know there are millions out there who share the same view as me on that.
Upon speaking and ‘debating’ with Tory candidates and followers in the street or on social media it is hard for me or anyone for that matter to get through to them. To help them find the error of their ways. It seems that they have a script in front of them, hand written by the Prime Minister herself and her backbenchers. It is so monotoned and transparent. On many occasions I will ask a few questions before we kick off ‘debating’. One of the questions I ask is ‘Do you support the rape clause?’ Now the rape clause is one of many of the Tory cuts that came into effect on April this year. It means that if you have a third child you will not receive any support from your Government to bring that child up. Clothe, feed, put a roof over their head. Unless you have been raped. That’s not all! You must write on documentation to prove that this is the case and send it away to the Government for investigation on which they will get back to you when or if your claim has been accepted. When I ask that question to many Tory candidates they seem to take the Ruth Davidson approach. They seem to take a long way around it and then hit back with how it can be prevented by the SNP. Now I don’t buy that. I believe that they do not support it, they do think it’s abhorrent and they feel red faced whenever they’re faced with the question. So why are they choosing to support this clause. Because they’re little minions with no opinions. They would rather walk blindly into a dictatorship with the Tories than help their fellow neighbour on the street. They would rather put their precious ‘Union’ and Queen in front of the average person on the street that is effected by these cuts.
These cuts are killing people. There will be no more housing benefit for 18-21 year olds. This will raise the number in people being homeless.
There are cuts on bereavement benefits leaving widow/widowers previously getting this benefit to support them for many years after their spouse had passed. This has been reduced to 18 months.
There are cuts on the disabled people who are claiming ESA. They’re cutting their benefits by £30 per week. That’ll be a massive £60 a fortnight less when they receive this payment.
They’re taking mobility cars from the disabled claiming that if they can walk ten yards they can work 8 hours a day.
They’re reforming the pension age of women from 64 to 66 while freezing pensions and trying to get rid of the triple lock that sees pensions rise by at least 2.5% per annum or it rises with inflation. This is affecting millions of women across Britain with complete uncertainty on their state pension age and if they need to keep working or not.
They’re doing all they can it seems to hurt and divide the people that are already hurt and divided. The people that scrape by from one day to the next. The people that rely on foodbanks or welfare funds to get them nappies for their kids and bus fare to get them to work.
If the Tory followers and candidates really are that heartless then I don’t want to be a part of this torrid union. If they really are that savage and brutal then I want everyone in ear shot to listen to me and tell them to never vote for them Tories.
The thing is. I don’t believe most of them are that heartless, brutal and savage. It’s not a game. You’re playing with people’s lives. It is not shameful of you to voice your own opinions and go against the Theresa May grain. Your voices and opinions matter too. We would welcome you and thank you if you told us how you really feel in all of this. Because ‘supporting’ these cuts are against the grace of god. Against human rights. Against what we all stand for. Do the right thing. Is your party, your union, your Queen really that important over the little person you take for granted. If that answer is yes, then you watch us go next time and you watch us create a better more prosperous place to live. And in your time of need when you find yourself unable to work or have a bad accident or your kids grow up and want their own house but can’t afford it or if your kids want a third child but are denied help in bringing up your third grandchild then we’ll be there. We’ll be there to help you, your kids, your grandkids. Because that’s who we are!

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

 

 

‘Our kids must be heard’

I took my family for a day trip over to Millport today. The sun light was strong but the wind was strong also. As I walked around the island of Cumbrae I saw smiling faces everywhere, people on bikes and children laughing and playing. It didn’t feel like a fifteen minute ferry journey across the water from Largs. My daughter was asleep in her pram. My Partner Jodie and our kids Lewis and Abi where there and our close friends, Chelsea, Rikki and their child Conlan.

I told Jodie and the rest that I would take Abi a walk down the pier as I wanted to take in the scenery of the beautiful Scottish Island. I have been busy all week with being pro active with the SNP candidates of North Ayrshire alongside working shifts so it was great for a little bit of still and tranquility. My father had always told me that it was important to stop and look around once in a while as time goes by so fast, you dont want to miss it, because before you know it your kids are all grown up and you will be old and look back fondly on those times. As I sat on a bench on the pier of Millport and looked across the beautiful water to other islands adjacent to the mainland, it got me thinking. I know that I should have been taking a break and relaxing but my mind wandered to politics (as it always does) but as a man started walking down the Millport main street playing the bagpipes, it made me emotional and proud of my country and what I want for my kids.

Section 30 has yet to be triggered to gain approval from Westminster for a second Scottish referendum. It will happen, that is true but as I sat there staring out to islands and the Scottish mainland my thoughts diverted to my kids and the impact an independent Scotland will have on them. I want my kids to be heard. I want them to have a say on what happens around them. Voting and being heard are so important. There is no point in voting and not being heard. When Scotland has voted in the past, the only way we get what we want is if by chance a good lot of England’s electorate feel the same. Thats not right! We are a country. Yes a country currently in a union of countries but still a country, a proud country with its own parliament and its own history that people across the globe admire. The inventions that this country have made have been nothing short of incredible for a population of 5 million. We have the capability the capacity and the history to know that we can go at it alone. We were independent many, many years before the union and we can do it again many, many more years after. The scare stories have been getting debunked left, right and centre with irrefutable evidence. All these debates need to stop focussing on the current time. It needs to shift its focus to our kids, our grandkids, the next generations. Do you want them to go on with their votes being null and void because England vote another way because they have a bigger population or do you want them to be heard, you want them to hold their own Scottish Government accountable for when things go wrong and stand outside Edinburgh and tell them they’re wrong or do you want them to be told what is happening and not being heard and have their Scottish Government having to mitigate cuts from the UK government over the course of decades.

As I looked at my daughter (1 years old next week) I couldn’t help but wonder. Wonder what her future entails. Will she have a government that has her best interest at heart, will she have kids and have help when she has kids? Because lets be clear. These people who want to keep the Union. The Tories, Labour etc. They have kids and grandkids too. Is the rape clause and housing benefit cuts and third child rule going to effect them of course it is. Are they thinking in the now and not of the future for them. Yes they are. When I was about to board the ferry on the way over. This old lady approached my car. I rolled down the window and she offered me a leaflet. She said “can we count on your vote to vote for Conservative?” I told her no and my reasons why for no. I told her about the cuts that they have imposed and the terrible policies her party has imposed on my Mother and Father in the Thatcher years and now these cuts in my years and I don’t even want to know what they will impose on my kids and grandkids in years to come. When I told her all this her response to me was “but we’re balancing the books” I felt that this old lady had a script. She had no personal view and no reasoning for her parties policies. She had no reply to my rant. She walked away.

This hurt me as there are many people the same. She was an old lady and of course she has the right to vote but she has the chance now to let the youth decide on their own futures. Instead she wanted to impose a scripted, robotic stance on others to vote a party that is cutting the benefits of the youth, disabled and the low income families. She may not be hear in 20 years or even 10. But her mess will.

You can follow David Patterson on twitter at @DavidPee29 or at his webpage davesworld

Featured image Father and child

 

How Scotland Votes: A Guide to the Scottish Council Elections

Disclosure and Disclaimer: I am currently standing as a candidate in the council elections. Be assured however that this post shall be objective and party neutral. This is a guide as to how to vote, not to try to convince you to vote for or against any particular person or party.

A Guide to the Scottish Council Elections

One of the most read articles on this blog was a guide written in 2015 which tried to explain the mechanics behind how one votes in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections and how those votes translate into seats. With the voting age in Scotland being dropped to 16 and the upsurge in political interest in Scotland there will undoubtedly be a substantial number of people in the country who will be voting for the first time and will want to know how to do it. This article is for them and those who will be speaking to them in the days to come. As said in the disclaimer, this article will not be advocating any particular choice on who to vote for and will not be discussing options such as “tactical voting”. These are topics for other articles and other blogs.

Background

Scotland is presently organised into 32 regional authorities called councils (some call them “local” as they are currently the lowest level of effective government in Scotland but this would be erroneous as they are many times the size of actual local government in other comparable democracies)

These councils are elected every five years with the last election being held in 2012 under the proportional representation voting system known as Single Transferrable Vote, or STV. The next election is on May 4th 2017.

Council ward map vote share.png

Results of the 2012 elections by highest 1st preference vote in each ward. Yellow – SNP, Red – Labour, Blue – Conservative, Orange – Lib Dem, Green – Green, Grey – Independent

For the purposes of electing councilors, each regional council is split into multiple wards based on the population size of the council. Each ward then elects either 3 or 4 councilors. Due to the relatively small size of each ward and the proportional nature of the vote it is far easier for a non-party “independent” councilor to be elected (often based on either local popularity, past experience in council before leaving a previous party or by campaigning on a particular local issue) than is the case during either the Scottish Parliamentary elections or in the UK General Election.

First: Register To Vote

This is the most important thing. If you are not registered to vote, you cannot vote. There is no “on the day” registration in Scotland and the deadline for the Council elections is April 17th. If you are registered, you are likely to have received a polling card by now telling you where to vote. If you haven’t or if you know that you are not registered, then information on how to do so is here.

How To Vote

This is the easy bit of STV. Rather than the fairly opaque nature of the AMS system used in the Scottish elections where you are faced with two ballots which are both marked in the same way but are both calculated differently, STV presents you with a single ballot paper which will look a little like this:

ballot

The candidates will be listed in alphabetical order by surname with their home address* and their party affiliation, if any, underneath. Also present may be a party logo or a slogan representing a core issue of the candidate/party.

As with the Scottish election constituency vote and the UK General election (but unlike the Scottish Parliamentary Regional vote) you are not strictly voting for a party in these elections but for a person who may or may not be a member of a party. As there may be multiple people standing in a ward representing the same party, it is therefore important to consider the candidate as a person alongside their affiliations.

To actually vote is straight-forward. You do not simply mark one box with an X as with other elections, but instead RANK the candidates in order of preference using a discrete number for each 1,2,3 etc. You may not give two or more candidates “equal” rank. You do not need to rank every candidate. Once you get to the point where you’d prefer none of the remaining candidates to get elected, you may leave their boxes blank. This is sometimes known as “vote till ye boak”. Do not make any other marks on the ballot paper as this may result in your vote being invalidated and rejected.

And once you’ve dropped your completed ballot into the box or sent it away via your postal ballot, that’s it. Simple. The seats are then allocated out such that the candidates elected are the ones deemed highest ranked by the largest number of people

* To be eligible to stand in local elections, one of the requirements is that a candidate must live, own property or work within the council boundaries. Note that the requirement applies at a council level, not a ward level.

The Hard Bit: Counting the Votes

Here comes the tricky part. Counting the votes and translating them to seats. This is a far more mathematical exercise than the FPTP system used in the UK elections (which is trivial. Person with the most votes wins the seats, the party with the most seats wins the government) and more complicated even the d’Hondt system used in Scotland and the EU elections (which can be tabulated with a pen and paper if you have to). If you’re reading this on the front page and want to delve into this maths, then click below to unfold. If not, I hope this has been useful and good luck to your chosen candidate(s) in May.

Ok. Welcome. You’re the brave ones.

The first thing we do is count the number of seats in the ward (either 3 or 4) and count up the number of valid votes cast in a particular ward. We then calculate a Quota based on these two numbers and the following equation:

Quota
The reasons for this quota and comparisons with alternative quota calculations which give slightly different results can be read here.

The ballots are now counted in a series of rounds.

In the first next round, all of the ballots are placed in piles according to their 1st preference votes and the piles checked to see if any reach the quota (this is actually done electronically these days so that we don’t need to wait days to find out the results). If none do then the candidate who received the fewest 1st preference votes is eliminated and their ballots placed on piles according to their 2nd choice. If still no-one reaches the quota, this is repeated such that the next candidate is eliminated and their ballots placed on their 2nd choice (or, if that choice has already been eliminated, their 3rd preference etc). These ballots are fully counted so that your 2nd choice is given the full value of your vote. Once a candidate receives enough votes to reach the quota, they are elected.

If the quota is exceeded then something slightly different happens. Unlike other systems, your vote is not “wasted” if you vote for an already wildly popular candidate. The votes in excess of the quota are themselves distributed to your 2nd or next available choice of candidate but it is done in a slightly more complicated way than simply skimming the top chunk of papers off of the pile and moving them (as this could introduce bias depending on which ballot box was opened last).

Instead a statistical method is applied by which the number of votes in excess of the quota is calculated. Essentially the ratio is calculated of the number of votes cast over the quota and the total number of votes. If a candidate received, say, 1687 votes but the quota was 1159 then this ratio would be 0.31298 (ratios are rounded to five decimal places). The candidate is duly elected then ALL of their ballots are transferred to the next available choice but are given a weight of that ratio. This means that your individual 2nd choice vote might be worth less than a 1st preference vote given to a candidate or a 2nd choice vote transferred from an eliminated candidate but this is balanced by the fact that if the votes were just skimmed off the top of the pile, the votes underneath (which may have been yours if your box was opened first) would be worth zero. It all balances.

It’s a very complex and involved process to dissect in detail what happens at each round but what these transfers can mean is that someone who gets the most 1st preference votes may not win a seat and surprises can happen right to the very end. To take a real world example from 2012, consider the results from the four member ward of Avondale & Stonehouse in South Lanarkshire.

AnS

You can see here that the first candidate elected, from the SNP, did so by exceeding the quota but that all other candidates had to rely on transfers to do so. You can also see that multiple transfers were required for even the second candidate to get elected and that the final candidate elected, an independent, actually received fewer 1st preference votes than the Conservative candidate who was not elected at all.

What this means is that trying to predict (or even “game”) the STV system is particularly difficult as it often requires co-ordinating not just 1st preference votes but also 2nd, 3rd and other preferences. STV is remarkably resistant to “tactical voting” though – as stated earlier – this is a strategy best left to another article or blog. What STV is good at doing is working out which candidates are most liked, by the most number of people and ensuring that they are most likely to be elected. And that is, after all, the point of democracy.

Hopefully this has helped folk understand how the council elections work and how to make sure that your vote is counted. Good luck to everyone involved in May.

You can read more articles from Dr Craig Dalzell at The Common Green

tcg-logo-7

 

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

 

Won’t somebody stop me

That’s pretty much what Ruth Davidson has come out with today.

She has finally made a statement on the latest abomination from the Tory Party (rather than hiding behind a spokesman yesterday)

C9S1cWdXoAEDJ2z

HER party has introduced this and she expects the Scottish Government to mitigate it. How much more can they do? They are defending people against the bedroom tax and cuts to Housing Benefit through Discretionary Housing Payments. The Scottish Welfare Fund also provides grants for people in crisis – e.g. if sanctioned. They’ve continued the Independent Living Fund supporting disabled people.

Holyrood has control of 15% of the benefit system – and by the way it is Social Security – a safety net for those who need it, not just something given away – it’s the sign of a civilised nation, a caring one. Which is probably why those bastards in Cabinet are doing their best to remove it.

We have Tax Credits because employers pay shite wages. A week’s wage should be enough to support a family but it doesn’t and rather than improve the minimum wage tax credits were introduced to make up the gap – another subsidy to business.

Then there was the benefit cap, which almost seem sensible until you realise how much some people are paying in rent. Housing benefit isn’t just for the unemployed, working families are struggling too.

We are supposed to be the 5, 6 or 7th richest nation in the world (I can’t keep track since Brexit fucked things up – and it hasn’t even started yet) why do we have anyone in poverty, let alone the thousands relying on foodbanks and the total horror of homelessness. The only trickle down is them pissing on us.

This two child policy has put us in a very select group with China, Hong Kong, Iran, Singapore and Vietnam. Do politicians not look at demographic data? Yes the world as a whole is overpopulated, but we have a baby boom blip. And let’s face it going by the way they treat the WASPI women no one under 50 is ever likely to see retirement.

These type of policy doesn’t make people think about how big a family they can support. No child would be born into a working class family if they waited to be financially secure. There are no jobs for life. Circumstances change. Contraception fails. When the child is here it needs feeding and clothing.

I am so ashamed that this could have even been discussed, let alone implemented.

As for the rape clause, it’s abhorrent. 8 pages to be filled in to outline that your child was conceived through rape. Having to go through the trauma again, for another bunch of bureaucrats to decide. And imagine how any child would feel if they found out.

Of course, people will say they could terminate the pregnancy. Aye right, because there’s no sigma involved with that. Yet again, it’s all on the woman.

And Ruth “I’m a cuddly Tory” Davidson has the gall to say the SNP are being hypocrites! It’s taken a week for her finally say something. She’s shed her “compassionate” facade like the snake she is.

If you vote Tory THIS is what you are voting for.

A “society” without compassion, without heart. A bureaucratic, penny-pinching,   privatising, everyone out for themselves rat-race.

I don’t intend to squeak. I’m going to roar against this.

It could be my friend, my family, my daughter having to face this.

Life is hard enough without us standing together, supporting one another

Featured image from @raiphsays

You can follow Simone Charlesworth on twitter @cee4cat and at Mewsing Out Loud

‘You should just have another child and then you won’t need to worry about finding a job.’

For a system that is determined that mothers of young children should go out to work, there is impressively little help for anyone who wants to find a job – as Shauna Gauntlett has discovered:

I’m a mum looking to get back into work. I have previously been self-employed but my work has dried up. Because my husband works full time, I have been told by many professionals that I am not entitled to any help. I have also been turned down for jobs because I need childcare friendly hours. When I asked for help from Dundee Council’s Working for Families I was sent to an information session for prospective employers at the job centre, and because I had to bring my son with me I was made to feel like an inconvenience. I was interviewed by a lady from a prospective employer who asked why I couldn’t work full time. I said because I simply can’t afford childcare. I don’t have an amazingly supportive family who I can ask to mind my son all the time, and they have other caring commitments. I stated I wanted to work in the care sector, which I was what I was lead to believe his information session was all about. The woman the said to me, ‘So you want a part time job so you can go on maternity leave again?’ I was mortified. ‘You should just have another child and then you won’t need to worry about finding a job.’ I have since learned this person no longer works for the agency and left a trail of devastation in her wake.

When I went to another, council-run, information session for prospective care employers, I was again made to feel like an inconvenience because I had my son. I was made to wait in the reception until they could figure out what to do with me. The place was packed, and when someone finally came out to see me I was asked on at least three occasions why I wanted to work in the care sector. I replied that I have worked in this sector for many years and feel I could be an asset to any employer. The gentleman’s response was, ‘So do many others in this hall’, making me feel like I was wasting my time. When I was asked to come back to an interview that afternoon I had to decline, as I had no childcare, to which the guy’s response was, ‘Oh well, come back in six months.’ This is a sector that claims to be in crisis, but if that is how they treat prospective employees I certainly don’t want to work for them. I was so angry I contacted my local councilor who agreed to help me with my CV.

Right now I have no confidence and feel badly let down by the very people who are supposed to help me. The one interview I do have coming up isn’t even for sustained work, it would be a one-off job. I know of many parents who are in my position, who would love to go to work but due to the extortionate cost of childcare simply can’t. It’s like you are a burden to society for having children, and if you dare ask the state for help you are met with hostility. In a country that has an ageing population that can’t be a good thing.

[The Scottish Government provides more help with childcare than in the past , but it is still not nearly enough.]

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

Tiger Teachers or simply the Fearsome Far-Right?

Sifting meticulously through the strata of tweets under a certain hashtag, I encountered more and more teachers touting the  term ‘revolution’. My gut response, usually the most accurate, was to internally register what an utterly oppressed group of professionals us teachers have become. Nothing new in that, I hear you mutter, behind gritted teach… (I mean ‘teeth’).

Oh yes, I agree, it is nothing new. But…and it’s a big ‘but’, there has been a radical shift amongst teachers in recent months which appears to match political trends within the UK, Europe and, dare I mention it, the US itself. As the actor Tim Roth pointed out (in no uncertain terms) a few days ago, if you oppress the working class for long enough they will eventually rebel. This rebellion will career off in any direction it can find an outlet, like mercury flowing through the tiniest crack. So let’s apply this theory to the largely desperate, population sub-group of the British Isles; State School teachers.

Over the past six years the pressure on State Schools, teachers and support staff has intensified to unprecedented levels. Teachers have held on, under ridiculous workloads, paperwork and expectations, inflicted on them from ‘On High’. Stepping into the ring amid this despair, is a group of teachers, attached to one particular school, polished experts in self-promotion. Rather in the same way as UKIP tapped into the discontent of the overworked and underpaid worker to offer a ‘solution’, this group of teachers appear to offer a ‘revolutionary’ alternative. Like Nigel Farage, in his quest to appear to be the ‘voice of the common man’ this group are positioning themselves to be the ‘voice of the common teacher’. Looking more closely, we can see that Farage is not in fact a representative of the average worker: he himself is part of the Establishment.

Let’s take this a step further. Surely all Head Teachers fear Ofsted to some extent, after all they have the power to strip a school of its dignity and place it in the path of a hostile take-over, creating chaos and misery. Therefore, rather surprisingly (or not, as the case may be) at this desperate moment in time, into our midst comes this same School, which professes it does not fear Ofsted. We are drawn to it like pale creatures to the call of the first cuckoo of Spring, surely this is our Salvation? But open those winter-tired eyes, unused to the light, and ask yourself, how can it be this school does not dread the all-powerful Ofsted?

Imagine you (or I) are a Head of a School that stands up and shouts, ‘We are not afraid of the Inspectors’. Maybe we are supremely brave, or just plain deluded. Or is it something else entirely? Are we in fact, extremely confident that we are untouchable and completely sure of our protection. How and why could this be? I’ll leave that with you…or just ‘put this here’ as we say on Twitter. You may peruse the supposition at your leisure. Let me know if you come to any hypothesis.

Let’s return to my analogy… to UKIP and the boomerang of a leader, the ever-returning figurehead, Farage. Discontent is a powerful emotion to channel and the populist far-right in the form of UKIP have found a willing audience in the form of communities who feel ‘left behind’.  Can the same be said then of the overwhelmingly oppressed community of teachers in State Schools. If someone, disguised as the ‘common Head Teacher’ stands up and says that we will take this no more, we are, in our desperation, drawn to them. But, and this is a crucial point, we must be very careful to be sure which ideals it is they are promoting.

Yes, I agree the pendulum has swung too far away from professionalism, from teachers being given autonomy to teach as we see fit and as we are well capable of doing. However, in fighting against rampant managerialism, we must be sure we are not damaging those we most want to help, nurture and teach, our students. Turning schools backwards to the past, to a system of schooling whereby our children endure rigid rules and a profoundly teacher-centred approach is not the answer. This self-promoting school, it appears to me, is doing exactly this, turning us backwards to the ‘past’. As with UKIP and it’s ‘little Englanders’ this is a not a Revolution, but instead in is a backward step, a Regression. Britain was not by any stretch of the imagination better ‘back then’ and neither were its schools. I am not interested, to coin a new phrase, in becoming a ‘little Educator’. Rigid authority and regimented curricula has no place in 21st Century Education.

There is so much more to discuss…but I don’t want to confuse the issues. I’d rather flag up, in my idiosyncratic way, what is important to remember. Just because the acolytes of a particular School dress up their ideas (in the form of a book) as ‘revolutionary’, it does not mean that it is any such thing. Their ideas are purely the means by which they promote themselves and their far-right ethos. It is difficult to be discerning, when we are a heartbreakingly keen, young teacher lacking in experience or an older, heavily battle-weary one. However, I believe most teachers would agree, that UKIP’s far-right party does not offer the solution to the oppressed in our country…and in the same way this School does not offer a blueprint or worthwhile solution for the oppressed teachers and pupils of Britain.

You can follow Daisy Norfolk at @daisynorfolk and at her  webpage Daisy Norfolk Notes…

Featured image Education Innovation

That Feeling Of Not Being Good Enough

 

When I was first told about my Fibromyalgia I was happy in a sense, maybe the wrong word, relieved is better, I had a reason for feeling so awful and in pain all the time, i thought people might actually believe me now, let me learn how to live and that was that. However, in the 6 months since, i have had so many learning curves in relation to living with a disability. I had to grieve my old life, old way of doing things because i needed to look after myself and learn to become happy again in a world where i felt everything i did was wrong.

My very first realisation was with my consultant, while lovely and helpful he started to tell me all the drugs and programmes that can manage my diagnosis and keep the pain at bay. This abled person, who has no idea how hard this has been and continues to be is sitting in his comfy chair being paid thousands to tell me it will be fine I’ll resume my normal life and he wants to discharge me. Then he ushers me out the room and sends me off. With this news, on my own into the world, that’s that. My life, categorised by a single 15 minute appointment, i felt every emotion in about a second.

 me before my Diagnosis

Society has this preconceived idea that the disabled are not mentally or physically capable to carry out a “normal” day to day life. Of course it differs for everyone but all of us have the ability to be a member of society. I think abled people forget while we do have diagnoses we all are more than our illnesses. We love people, we have interests and hobbies, we learn. It’s a mater of adjusting for us. Our life has purpose with or without the same things an abled person has.

In today’s world, we are taught that everyone is equal. Everyone deserves the same treatment, but unfortunately, like a lot of minority groups, most disabled people have faced problems. Employment is one area of life that can be severely affected; employers not wanting to make adjustments, not hiring you, bullying etc. Businesses think of money, in fact money rules almost everything in life. While legally you aren’t supposed to be discriminated against in employment we all know it happens way to frequently. Don’t believe me here are a few news stories.

We are taught that being on benefits and getting help is a sign of weakness, that we should be ashamed and that we are ‘screwing’ the system mainly because of a few abled people who do use the system to make their life easier. Benefits are there for those who need it, truth is it’s hard enough to get on and stay on it and its barely anything in comparison to what we could get while working but it’s something rather than nothing. We don’t need to work to feel proud of ourselves and we don’t have to work to please others.

I haven’t even started on just how the ablest treat the disabled in general. When someone is visibly unwell or disabled for example carrying a stick, you sort of expect a level of respect and compassion. This doesn’t always happen. I was out with my partner, J, who uses a stick to walk and stay up right. On a busy train he was made to stand the entire journey, while business men, school children and other general commuters sat there ignoring him. Its an inconvenience to them, obviously not understanding is a major part of it, but where has the care in the world gone? There are so many stories of people being rude, cruel and unkind to people with disability, and it saddens me that we can be abused so easily. Society has such strict rules and ideas of how people should be in every sense of their self; appearance, ambition, class etc and when you don’t fit the mould you are ridiculed.

Kindness and compassion is free. Its not something that requires effort, but something that can make all the difference. More understanding would be brilliant, but we cannot expect that from everyone. We can however, believe in the power of people, the power of kindness. At least i believe in it.

You can Follow Beth Evans on twitter at @findingfibro and at her webpage findingfibro.blogspot.co.uk 

Featured image “the Journey”  by Brave @Defiaye  check out more at Defiaye.com

 

My body and me

This has been a topic that I’ve wanted to discuss for a while, but I’ve always put it off. I’m not sure why I have done that, but I’ve decided now that I’d like to discuss it. Today, I’m going to be discussing my journey with my weight and body.

Note: This post is going to contain mentions of weight related issues, for example: self confidence, eating disorders. If this is going to trigger you in any way, please don’t read further.
If you’re a regular reader of chloetommo, you’ll know that I was bullied quite a lot between the ages of 10/11-18 years old. It was for a lot of different things, but mainly it was for my weight. I have (kind of?) broad shoulders, as well as the fact that I put on weight extremely easily, even though about 5 years ago I had a very high metabolism – as in when I ate food, I swear I lost weight (probably not true, but that’s what it felt like).
I also didn’t shift my ‘puppy fat’ very quickly when I went from child to teenager, so that didn’t help either really. It never really bothered me, until I started doing P.E. in high school. All the girls groups who were timetabled for P.E. in that period had to share the changing rooms then they’d split off into their allocated groups. This was hard, since the ‘popular’ and skinny girls would be there, and they’d mock people. It was irritating to me, because I didn’t think people could be that shallow, so I just brushed it off.
Fast forward to 2012, when I was 15 and this was when sh*t hit the fan. I was being bullied even more for my weight, and someone even had the audacity to say that I was pregnant, because I had a tummy. To clarify, I wasn’t pregnant and never have I ever been. This really upset me and I told my mum the day I went home after that rumour circulated, and she told me to sarcastically agree. I went in the next day and when I responded, I literally did an eye roll so painful, I felt like my eyes had detached from where it’s placed. I also said in the most mocking voice ever “Oh yeah, of course I am”. As idiotic as they were, they actually didn’t understand my sarcasm and took it as confirmation.
October 2012, age 15
In response to the rumours that kept circulating, I became so self conscious that I ended up not eating properly for a minimum of 14 days straight, and I weighed myself 4 times a day. This was awful, as I used to keep a journal (I disposed of it years ago) which had my weight recordings down everytime. It made me feel dreadful, especially because I’d have a breakdown if my weight went up or stayed the same. In my head, it needed to go down. Doing this had a drastic effect on me, as if made me get tired very easy, I lost weight off my breasts and I began to look ill. At this age, I wore make-up so it was easy for me to cover up parts of my face that made me look unwell, particularly my eyes.
When I realised what I was doing wasn’t healthy, I tried to coax myself out of it and got back to eating normally, eventually. Proven to be a struggle, my attempts weren’t as successful as I’d hoped, as whenever I went to eat, it was as if my body and stomach were rejecting the food. The thought, image, smell and taste of food was turning my stomach everytime, no matter what it was.
Moving forward to about age 18, my mental health wasn’t really that great and due to stress from exams and applying for university, I was flipping between binge eating all day, every day, or not eating at all. It wasn’t a good time for me, as stress, depression and anxiety were in the mix, and it was affecting everything. Luckily in sixth form, I had a bit more freedom with my uniform, as long as I wore black and white, so I got away with things I wouldn’t have when I was in lower school or upper school.
I was going to take this as an opportunity to be myself and to dress how I felt comfortable, as opposed to being in a uniform I was forced to follow. I bought a dress from Topshop to use as a pinafore, and it was honestly the most gorgeous thing ever. It was plain black with a deep plunge on the front which mirrored on the back as well. I wore it with a white short sleeve shirt and it really made my figure stand out (I have a quite exaggerated hourglass figure). It made me feel confident as a person, and this kind of turned my perspective a little bit.
First night out in my ‘pinafore’, as well as dealing with horrific anxiety!
Where am I today?
Currently, I’m between a size 12 to size 16 (varies for different clothing, a 16 due to bust, and 12 due to waist) and in all honesty, I’m happy. Sure, I go to the gym and I want to try and eat healthier, but I’m not worried about my weight anymore. I will admit, I do get days where I wish I was thinner, had a flat stomach, a more toned bum, less stretch marks… But I can’t live my life wishing I could nip and tuck every little thing I find ‘wrong’ about myself. I don’t even see it as wrong anymore, just different. I haven’t weighed myself since the weight issues, and it does make me feel good (also I refer to the scales as the naughty step, thanks Joe Wicks!)
A lot of the time, I look around at people and think “We’re all made the same way, and are all human, yet how can we all look so different?” And that sometimes honestly baffles me. We all have different shapes and sizes, we are all of different gender, race and religion, but we all have one thing in common, no matter how different we are.
We’re all human.
I hope you enjoyed reading this, and if you have any questions at all, feel free to leave them in the comments or get in contact with me on Twitter!
Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @chloemtommo, Instagram: @chloetommo and Bloglovin.
Have an amazing day!