Saturday, 28 August 2010

Migration from IB and IS to What, Exactly?

It’s fast approaching October 2010 the time the DWP has appointed for migrating claimants from Incapacity Benefit and Income Support to ESA, for the few, JSA for the many and oblivion for the rest.

Has the DWP completed the pilot schemes I heard they had put in place? Does anyone know of the outcome of these schemes; or, was that just yet another exercise in lip service?

Any ideas as to how they’re going to tackle the migrations? Are they going to use demographic age bands such as 18 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54 and 55 to 64? Will they begin with the younger groups, with an expectation of finding it a) easier to find them ‘fit’ for work and b) younger people have better opportunities of finding employment?

As I understand things they are expecting to have migrated all existing claimants from Incapacity Benefit and Income support by March 2014. This is a massive logistical task; and, will mean the movement of some 10,000 people per week.

According to the government there are 20 centres looking after this work; which means around 500 people a week passing through their gates. I wonder, have they considered the impact the cuts will have on these services. After all, by Tories own admission there will be no sacred cows; all departments are up for between 25% and 40% cuts.

Hopefully, Clegg will get his comeuppance in a few weeks time at his party’s conference in Liverpool. With a bit of luck that will herald the beginning of the unravelling of this coalition of the desperate to get back to power after 65-years in the wilderness and the desperate to get the their hands on the Welfare State to sell it off to their chums.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Why Public Transport isn’t the Solution for Some Disabled Londoners

Recently, on a discussion about taking the private car off London’s streets I put forward the argument for allowing certain categories of disabled people dispensation from such a blanket ban.

One poster disagreed contending that my arguments were more centred on self-interest and convenience; and, that the picture I drew was too bleak, that indeed things weren’t that bad for most disabled people.

My response was as follows:

Of course disabled could be taken out of my original message and replaced. However, some disabled people, of whom some elderly and infirm people may be included, do have a special case for exemption when if it came to banning private cars in London.

If I lost the use of my private car and had to depend on, most forms of, public transport my ability to move around would be severely limited. Sure, I’d have TaxiCard (well, at least until Johnson scraps it as part of the ‘cuts’ programme). TaxiCard will afford me 12 subsidised short journeys per month (by short I mean around 3 miles maximum); which in reality is 6 round trips – less than two round trips a month.

Should I wish to visit family or friends who live say 5 miles away TaxiCard will swipe my card twice, thus taking two subsidised journeys. At this rate I will receive only 3 round trip journeys a month – a journey every 10 days.

Then there’s Dial-a-Ride. Ask most disabled people who have ever had to rely on Dial-a-Ride to take them anywhere within a reasonable distance and time frame and you’ll most likely get a negative response. I gave up on them long ago. Any journey that smacks of the exotic, which means more than a couple of miles from your own home, becomes an impossibility.

It got to the point that I’d phone them and ask ‘where can you take me today?’

Let’s look at ‘mainstream’ public transport. To begin with, where I live in London, the tube system is not a goer for, many, wheelchair users and people with mobilising impairments; and, the same for most overhead train stations (main termini the exception).

So, buses; here, some, disabled people have seen the greatest improvements – especially under Livingstone. While buses are easier to access than most other ‘mainstream’ forms of public transport; for some of us difficulties arise.

  1. Getting to and from bus stops. London’s pavements are, all too often, unusable for someone like me. As a left hemi-plegic I have to hope that pavement crossfalls are not over graded – that the falls across the pavement to the kerb are not too steep.

When crossfalls are too steep, greater than 1:40, the act of independently propelling my wheelchair becomes impossible. This leaves me with two choices 1) surrender my independence by allowing someone to push me, or 2) Stay at home.

Similarly, at crossing points on roads dropped kerbs are very often far too steep for me to negotiate by myself – we’re talking about gradients of 20° plus!

So, unless I live next to a bus stop (which could be ok for one leg of the journey) I’m dependent on others when I wish to go out.

  1. As a result of one disability it isn’t unusual for someone to pick up a few more along the way. Me, I’m hemi-plegic, have chronic pain syndrome, and a urinary complaint, all of which arise from the original accident.

Buses, due to their size have greater gravitational pull than smaller vehicles such as cars. When travelling on buses I’m at the mercy of the vehicle’s breaking, accelerating and general lurching.

As such I cannot control my upper body being pushed and pulled backwards and forwards as well as laterally as the buses momentum introduces external forces. This means I end bus journeys in a greater pain than I’d experience if I’d used a car.

  1. Sadly, I need to pee at a really frequent rate; a 60 minute frequency isn’t unusual; and, often it’s every 40 minutes – the same at night; so, when the pain doesn’t keep me awake; my sleeping patterns are fractured by having to get out of bed every 40-60 minutes. This causes major problems when planning any journey; but, in a car I’ve more freedom to plan a route that’ll take in loo stops.

On buses, and to a lesser extent trains, I’m not in control of the situation. If it’s taken me 10 minutes to get to the bus stop and I’ve been waiting 10 minutes for a bus and the journey is 20 minutes the chances are I’ll be ok.

However, a 10-15 minute hold-up in the journey could well mean me having to get off the bus find a loo...You get the picture. Consequently, a journey that should have taken 30-40 minutes on one bus now takes double that.

On trains I’m at a disadvantage if the toilet is ‘out of order’. The one that’s working in the next carriage, or three carriages down, is of no use to me whatsoever. So, I’ve got to get off the train go for a pee in the station, if they’ve got facilities, and wait for the next train – oh, and the next train may not be able to take me because they’ve their full quota of wheelchairs on board.

  1. Buses now come equipped with ramps. Indeed, Ken Livingstone, through TfL, forced the bus companies to ensure that no bus leaves a garage with a faulty ramp; bus companies are contractually bound, alas not statutorily, to ensure all their bus ramps are in working order – I know they breach this agreement all the time; but, it’s getting better.

On numerous occasions I’ve been let down by buses with faulty ramps; several times two buses in succession have pulled up with broken ramps; on one occasion two buses failed to take me because of dodgy ramps and the third simply ignored me and drove past.

Even when ramps are in working order problems arise because of kerb levels. The kerb is too high or low and the ramp sensor won’t allow it to contact and remain in place.

Then, there are the times that the ramp is working the pavement is at the optimum level to satisfy even the most sensitive of sensors but people with buggies refuse to move out of the area designated for wheelchair use. Some drivers are forceful enough to take control of the situation; if they’re not, then I have to wait for the next available bus.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Buggy users are not the only ‘villains’. A small minority of passengers believe that buying a bus ticket is their legal entitlement to a seat on the bus; even when that seat is situated in the wheelchair designate area; and, they refuse to move on these grounds. The poor old bus driver must decide whether to tackle the noncompliant passenger or apologise to me – an embarrassed ‘sorry’ and shrug of the shoulders is usually easier.

Rush hour travelling in London is, as you all know, frenetic at the best of times and living hell at the worst. The coming home, as far as I can recall, being the worse. People are knackered; they’re brain weary; and, their souls that bit more spent than yesterday. Feeling like this it’s hardly surprising that most passengers just want to get home, or to whatever place of refuge that’ll salve their savaged soul, and get there as speedily as they can.

Stop, start; doors opening people spilling off while others pour in. Oh Christ, it’s 5:55 pm and we’re crawling along Kennington Park Road; will I ever reach Brixton Station?

Another stop; a man in a wheelchair has an expectant look of boarding. The bus is heaving with tired and jaded people. The driver gave up ages ago counting passengers on; people are crammed so intimately as to be legally engaged to one-and-other. There is no room on the bus.

Frustrated, I mimic the drivers shoulder shrug and wonder if I’ll ever get home and if I do will it be before or after a yellow leakage.

Thus, taking the car away from disabled people like me would be a breach of our freedom to move around more easily, more conveniently and with less pain and stress. Such a measure could, and would, impact on our health; expose us to greater indignity; and, make someone like me more dependent on others to get around.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Travelling by Train to Birmingham a Few Years Ago

I’ve once had a situation where a member of the station staff was less than helpful. I’d booked a place on the train and made my own way to the platform (informing the relevant person in passenger services). There I was sitting by Coach D (the designated coach) waiting for assistance. Next to me there’s a column to which a portable ramp is attached and the carriage door has a wheelchair symbol emblazoned upon it – so, I knew I was in the right place.

A geezer in railway livery strolls past; I politely point out I need to get on the train; he tells me it will be leaving in a few minutes, blah, blah, blah...shrug, sorry.

I wheel perilously close to the gap between platform and train and through the open door grab onto a fixed part of the train. Getting the attention of other passengers I inform the guard in no uncertain terms that I’m not moving; and, if he wants to wave the train on, then to go ahead.

He threatens me with Old Bill. Go ahead; get the Old Bill, I defiantly challenge. He bottled out; unlocked the ramp – by now a passenger standing in the door had assured me the door wouldn’t be closed until I was on the train – and pushed me onto the train.

The guard was in the wrong; he knew he was in the wrong; I knew he was in the wrong; and, several passengers knew he was in the wrong.

Sadly, the guy at Manchester Piccadilly didn’t win the support of the other train users.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


When Remploy closed down 30 of its factories 18 months ago it justified their actions on the grounds of the cost of employing disabled people within a factory setting. At the time they produced highly inflated costs per capita for factory workers while making wild claims that they could get 20,000 people a year into ‘mainstream’ employment at a fraction of the cost of factory employees.

Remploy has not achieved anything remotely close to their over-inflated projections. Indeed, they, like the other players in the employment services for disabled people, have fallen woefully – Remploy boast 10,500 jobs found this year up from 7,200 for the previous 12 months. Remploy and the other ‘providers’ blame the recession; yet, in 2007/8 they only managed 6,500 jobs.

Many people connected with Remploy are also aware of the double counting that goes on with these figures. For instance they may find me a job in June which I hold down for seven months – this kind of revolving door employment being typical for lots of disabled people; especially those with poor qualifications – then find me another, say three months later.

If this happens with a small amount, say 20% of 6,500; this then skews the figures quite significantly. Rather than finding jobs for 6,500 individual disabled people; they’ve in reality found work for 5,200. It may not surprise you that Remploy used similar inventive mathematical reckoning when calculating that each factory employee was subsidised by £23,000 per annum; and, that Remploy could place disabled workers into ‘mainstream’ employment for around £3,500 each.

On the issue of the over-inflated figure of £23,000 per person, the company calculated all the running costs and the overheads of the entire company into this figure, including their Interwork arm. Add to this the fact that the company has largely ignored favourable public procurement regulations that if properly fought for would fill the factories order books – Remploy currently receives about 20% from public contracts.

I had a discussion with an ex-Remploy worker yesterday; the man (call him J) is disabled and worked in a Remploy factory for quite a few years (having a disability being a prerequisite to employment at Remploy when he joined) before taking voluntary redundancy in March 2008; and, he’s been unemployed since.

J told me he’d attended his local Remploy Branch (he does this in conjunction with his JSA agreement) and was told that as from 20 October he’d no longer qualify for the services Remploy offers. Apparently, despite years of service in one of their factories, the principle criteria being he had a disability, Remploy is re-categorising him as able-bodied. Miraculously, Remploy has laid hands upon him and deemed him ‘fit’ to go out in the wide world and compete with other ‘fit’ people!

Remploy is undoubtedly looking ahead at the oncoming cuts; no bad thing for any organisation funded by central government. However, instead of standing up for and defending disabled people it would appear that they’re going through their books trying to redefine the disability status of their ex-employees, and maybe even those remained employed by them after their factories closed.

This kind of behaviour from one of Britain’s largest employers and provider of employment services of disabled people is shocking. Not satisfied with taking peoples’ livelihoods away and throwing them on benefits they are now attempting to rid themselves of the very people they were set up to help back in the late 1940s.

This kind of behaviour is symptomatic of the direction our society is heading. We, in the trade union movement, were always mistrustful of Remploy. We were aware that, ultimately, Remploy only served one purpose; and, that was to look after a few people at the top while paying lip service to its workers or work seekers.

Well, the Remploy Board has had a good run for its money. When the cuts come they will follow any government decision without putting up a fight. Their employees and others who look to them for support will end up with nothing while they’ll get paid-off handsomely with money, titles and honours.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Trade Union Activism

Evan, sorry for exposing my trade union activist credentials; you know, the reservoir of knowledge I’ve gained as a rep. That is, working as a rep in the real world not acting like a virtual working class hero on the Internet!

I know about redundancies because I’ve been at the sharp end; both negotiating for members as a shop steward and becoming redundant myself.

When we conducted redundancies a few years ago at Remploy members with over 30 years service received around the £30,000 mark. Good in that they, mainly, escaped taxation; bad in that they were so poorly valued for such loyal service.

Evan, don’t you dare insult me when I pull you up on, for me and thousands like me, a very important issue of redundancy and taxation. If you wish to float in the deep end of the pool of ignorance, do so; but, don’t be surprised when others pull you up

Incidentally, the overwhelming majority of my Remploy Comrades are still after 18 months are still without work; and, likely to be so, many forever. Despite the fact the jobs they seek are those that only pay out low wages; they find themselves, nonetheless, discriminated against.

When Jerry speaks of taking a working wage; what is he talking about? Is it £150,000 per annum a Unite IT consultant might be paid; or, is it the £10,000 per annum that an ex-Remploy member is earning as a part-time cleaner; because, his idea of a working wage and my members’ reality will likely differ.

So, forgive me when I pull up another Comrade for trying to pass off misinformation as fact; who also feels justified in making a derogatory comment to another Comrade who for the sake of objectivity puts him straight.

Evan, may I suggest you look to your own postings and conduct on this site before attempting to claim the high ground.

Nadia, you accuse another of being anti-union whilst singing the praises of someone who has, and still is, running his campaign on an anti-Unite basis. Listening to his speeches and reading his words people are struck by his total grasp of propriety when attacking Unite victories and disputes currently running.

If people were to believe Hicks and his coterie of nay sayers Unite has never accomplished a thing for its members; that their leadership is betraying them at every turn; and, that anyone employed by the union is a class traitor.

Even when Comrades are in the middle of disputes he criticises the running or the progress of the action. It’s bad enough Simpson putting in his unwanted views - but, at least he’s rewarded with a healthy condemnation from the Left. But Jerry, continues to denounce and condemn an action that is essentially run by BASSA, lay members, while it’s in progress – wonder what the BA hierarchy think of that.

If during the Remploy Campaign, an event very much lay-member led, we’d had to put up with inappropriate condemnation from somebody running their own private agenda; we’d have told them where to go.

“How about divulging the campaign expenses and the access to union information, including membership databases and email addresses that these full times union offciers and their supporters have?”

Nadia, mind explaining to me how Jerry Hicks got access to my home address and email address? Now ask yourself this question: what course of action would Brother Hicks have taken if he knew of blatant rule breaking. I think you know the answer, don’t you – no, you’re a hypocrite.

He’d go to the Certification Officer and report the wrongdoing. Maybe I should be thinking along the same lines as Brother Hicks, and report him for breaking the rules of the GS nomination process – except, I won’t because the tradition I come from you don’t go running to the authorities

Nadia, many on the UL within Unite can also see an unaccountable egoist who refuses to recognise or work within any form of discipline; whose actions last September were the antithesis of trade unionism, rather the actions of a man who believes himself born to a position.

Clown or hypocrite? I’ll go with the clowns; at least there is rich vein of dignity and pride in that profession.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Wheelchair Bound

I knew I was kinky when I found,
It sexually exciting to be bound,
Trussed and tied to my wheelchair,
With no clothes on; completely bare,
Wondering what would happen next,
To this poor virgin so undersexed.

My temptress slim and in leather clad,
Taunted me saying ‘You’re a bad lad’;
And so, teasing me with her sexy ways,
Left me panting for more and in a daze.
There’s a moral to this tale of sleaze,
If it’s being offered say, ‘Yes please!’

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Wheels for Wellbeing

Cycling would be very expensive for me. The minimum price I’ve seen handcycles selling for is just short of a grand. That’d be an upright all-in-one handcycle. Problem there is I wouldn’t be able to get it into my flat; and, would also have problems fitting it in my car.

I could opt for the type of handcycle that fits onto a wheelchair; but, that’d be even more expensive; £1200-£1500 for the front wheel and gears (the handcycle bit) and a further £1000-£1500 for a decent rigid wheelchair (I’m currently using a horizontal collapsible wheelchair) – so anywhere from £2200 to £3000.

As for using the thing in town; handcycles are not practicable for use on busy urban roads for some disabled people. As someone who is hemi-plegic most of my strength comes from one arm; which would make me slow moving; which would be a greater problem at traffic lights.

Of course this then only leaves the countryside at my disposal. Which is great. Once I can afford to buy a suitable machine. Until then I’ll try to use Wheels for Wellbeing; weather permitting.

Anti-Trade Union Laws

Arguing for a blanket repeal of the Anti-Trade Union Laws is the wrong strategy. We don’t even have the support of all trade union members here; many wouldn’t want a return to the closed shop or going back to the days of a show of hands to determine strike action. How exactly would that be achieved with today’s fractured and dispersed industrial composition.

Breaking the law in order to change it only works when sufficient numbers are involved – by the way Omar, it’s a Tory government we’re now dealing with. As for having the moral high ground on the BA dispute; the courts don’t make decisions on moral grounds they do so on points of law - or at least that’s the way the law is supposed to operate; I imagine the law makers believe that any law they pass is by definition morally fit for use.

BASSA and Unite did have massive support for its actions both against BA and the Anti-Trade Union laws. And, we won some important victories at the High Court. However, these judgements weren’t given on moral grounds; no, we won because we left little or no room for BA’s lawyers to introduce spurious and frivolous breaches of the law as cause for action; because there was no room for the judge to misinterpret our balloting procedures.

There is a sense out there, propagated by some of the more revolutionary minded amongst us, that the British working class is ready to rise against the injustices that have rained down on them for the past 20 or 30 years. I don’t feel a sense of this at all. ‘The Cut’s are spoken of in terms of the catalyst by which the revolution will take form.

In some ways I wish this was true; but, in reality I look around me and despair of the Left. The Left is as fragmented and full of ideological splits as ever it was. There is no cohesion in our ranks; we’re disparate groups fighting for control of an ever shrinking Left base. Until we can get our act together we’re destined to scribble away in the margins of politics while the pages are written by others.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


Handcycles are coming down in price. In the last couple of days I’ve found one for under a thousand pounds, £930! This particular machine is an integral three-wheel upright handcycle that doesn’t have the added complication of the handcycle that bolts onto a wheelchair; and, way way cheaper.

When I first looked at getting a handcycle, a couple of years ago, I was quoted around £1600-£1800 for the front wheel and gears and anything from £1000-£1500 for the accompanying wheelchair – a whopping £2700 to £3300! At that time all-in-one handcycles were being advertised in the USA for around £900.

Now I’ll take advantage of ‘Wheels4Wellbeing’, a cycling scheme that operates in Croydon and Lambeth. This organisation specialises in hiring out a range of cycles to people with disabilities. For £3, for up to a 3-hour session, I can hire out a handcycle and ride to my heart’s content.

Once I’ve used one of these machines for a while I may consider buying a machine for myself. It’d be great to be able to get out of London, or on to Hampstead Heath and have some freedom. Wheelchairs, while affording me more freedom than I had when I walked with a stick (I could only manage to walk about 10 meters before the pain became unbearable) are still quite restrictive – as a hemi-plegic I’ve a weakness in my left side; and, my right hand is quite painful these days.

Grass Always Seems Greener on the Other Side

Rhys has a point. We hear much spoken from different groups within the Left about the need for taking unofficial action. These same people constantly condemn the leadership of Unite as being weak and even as selling out their class. In the same breath of condemnation they then call for our leaders to be more like, the estimable, Bob Crow; they put forward Mark Serwotka and Matt Wrack as shining examples of Left leaders who do the business.

Off hand, and no doubt I’ll be corrected, I can’t think of any significant unofficial action being called and officially supported by any of these three leaders – and, this isn’t a criticism of other Comrade trade unionists; no, it’s the real world.

Bob Crow has actually been criticised by his own members thus: “It was a cause for concern, he concluded, that Bob Crow and the RMT Executive complied with the laws and actually repudiated unofficial strike action.”,1390,0,0,1,0

So, let’s not run away with the idea that if Jerry Hicks became GS that he’d be supporting every action, official or unofficial, that landed on his desk. To begin with he’d need the support of the Executive, and hopefully, it’ll be a better one than we’re currently labouring under. Then, we would, I say ‘we’ because ultimately any decision reached could impact on the entire union, have the courts to contend with.

Most of us know the battles we’ve had with the High Courts when endeavouring to take legitimate industrial action. Imagine, under a Tory government - forget the charade of an alliance, the other mob’s insignificant as events will soon reveal - taking unofficial action with a judiciary primed to respond.

Are there any of us out there who don’t doubt that a cartel of bosses isn’t just waiting for such an eventuality to occur? We had a tough ride under New Labour. The Tories business backers are looking for a return for their money. The dissolution of trade unions through sequestration and likely bankruptcy – this a reality, if the likes of BA came after us for a sum of £40 million we’d be in trouble – would fit in well with the break-up and selling off of our Welfare State.

The grass may well appear greener on the other side; but, in amongst the green grass blades are still nasty weeds; and, anyway grass, even the greener kind on the other side, needs attending and looking after.

Now, I’m off to take a bit of official action against my dinner. Spag bol; and, a few glasses of Rioja, mmmmmmmm.

Bon appétit; merci, don’t mind if I do, guvnor.

No Time for Complacency

At this stage in the GSD elections I wouldn’t write off any of the candidates; and, if the Left fights with itself we could leave the door wide open for Bayliss to stroll through. What the Left cannot afford is a split in its vote.

The reason we conducted a hustings last September was because we wanted one candidate to stand for and represent the Left of the union. This didn’t happen; and, I won’t bother to bore people on this to death with another re-run of that day.

However, having a single Left candidate would have been preferable. But, since we now have two we must fight the harder to ensure the candidate with the mandate of the UL, Len McCluskey wins; and, dismissing Bayliss as ‘unelectable’ is a complacency we can’t afford.

On the Labour Party leadership I agree; we, trade union members, should have the right to expect any candidate we promote to give us assurances on scrap those parts of the anti-trade union laws we want repealed.

We need also to be specific what we mean by repealing the anti-trade union laws. Because, there are parts of those laws that we won’t get changed, such as the re-establishing of the closed shops and show of hands ballots in canteens and carparks; which allow Labour MPs a get-out when we call for repeal – David Milliband used these examples for not supporting repeal at the Labour Leadership Hustings held by Unite a few weeks ago.

So, let’s not use catch-all phrases that allow MPs a get-out. Let’s tell them what we want; the right to strike without fear of losing our jobs; the right to secondary picketing; simpler balloting procedures; to make it more difficult for employers to use, often spurious and frivolous, technicalities to stymie action decided on by legitimate ballots; to force employers to furnish unions with true and accurate employee records when legitimate ballots are called.

Because, these are reasonable and achievable targets; yet, no matter how reasonable they are we’re not going to succeed under a Tory regime. Yet there are those in our number who appear to be calling for these measures to implemented now. The BASSA dispute is ongoing; and, McCluskey is showing good leadership. However, even a BASSA victory will not bring about a change in Tory culture.

We are living with uncertainty over our economic future. That is, working people and those of us who depend on public services are looking at a perilous existence. Personally, I’m looking at losing a care package that has enhanced my quality of life over the past four or so years.

It could be that with no improvement in my physical wellbeing; nor any change in my care needs that I’ll nonetheless be deemed capable of doing things I couldn’t do a few seconds before someone in Social Services brings down the axe – I’m not actually blaming the Care Manager of my Local Authority; executing these cuts will not be easy for them.

Finally, I hope Omar and our Comrades in BASSA are reinstated in the near future; I hope BASSA prevails over the bully boy Willy Walsh; I pray, which for an atheist can pose problems, that this ConDem Junta implodes; and, that the whole venture is thrown into disarray in the very near future. But, if it’s not let’s get ready to fight the cuts.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Who Caused the Deficit?

The banks refusing to furnish businesses with loans, especially those banks that we refinanced, is an act bordering on the criminal. We bailed the banks out not so as they could re-stock their vaults with cash, I think re-liquidate was the term being used; we did so in order that they operate as banks, which is to give loans to companies for them to manage their cash flow situations.

The banks instead acted more like caricatures of the miser sitting in his heavily barred house counting his accumulated wealth by candlelight. Of course the government of the day must accept some of the blame; once they had the majority shareholdings of these organisations they should have put in place policy that ensured small businesses were not left high and dry; and, safeguards for homeowners whose mortgages we now had control over.

New Labour is not fully to blame for the world recession that we’re still enjoying. However, the neo-liberal economics it slavishly signed up to is to blame. The fact that when neo-liberalism finally came crashing down with the collapse of the banking, mortgage and insurance systems pretty much across the developed world opportunities, such as the nationalisation of banks etc, were not taken.

We all know that a period of restructuring will take place; and, government will use the recession and its attendant deficit to as an excuse for swingeing reform. The banks won’t be punished for their gross mishandling of affairs. Because, merging them and sacking half the staffs isn’t punishing the banks, no it is penalising the, for the most part, lower grade staffers who had the least involvement in the debacle.

No, we and people across all work sectors are paying the price of the speculators; you know the ones; the people paid ridiculous sums of money for gambling with other people’s money; who when they get it criminally wrong go crying to the us the tax-payers to bail them out; and, then expect to receive bonuses because their contracts demand this.

Ordinary working people and service users are the victims of these high rollers. The ConDem axis knows the situation full well. After all it was their kind that played hard and fast with our economy. They also know that the public deficit, though high, doesn’t have to be paid off quickly; excuses about a lack of confidence in the pound and City because of our debts is a smoke screen.

I’ve stated before our debt from World War 2 was over three times as large as the current one. Back in the 1970s we were in a worse situation than we are now; back then we had to go to the IMF for assistance. Periods of economic instability come and go. Yet, we as a country full of many natural resources manage to pull back to a position of relative stability; and, with our Welfare State, more or less, still intact.

The Tory government (because, let’s be honest, the other mob are a bolt-on of no real significance; there merely to give the Tories a majority therefore a ‘mandate’ to govern) is aware that it could ride out the recession and pay off the deficit, admittedly slower, by a series of income tax increases, a Robin Hood tax and National Insurance hikes.

It would still be hard on lots of people; but, it would spread the pain more evenly. While some jobs within the higher ranks of the public sector would inevitably be sacrificed; the mass redundancies this government proposes would be contained. People like paying taxes marginally less than death. But, if laid out properly with commonsense explanations the Tories could be on a winner by going down the less draconian route of taxation over mass unemployment and most likely a double-dip recession – which we’ll hardly be out of by the time of the next election.

Ideology, I’m afraid will stymie any thoughts of the Tories acting responsibly for the majority of the country. The need to capitalise on any given situation and in the process enrich their own narrow class is firmly embedded in their mindset. They look at Treasury figures; they see the high amounts of OUR taxes that go towards servicing OUR Welfare State; and, they don’t see a resource that benefits millions of people through direct employment, government contracts and services provided; instead they see exploitative opportunity.

They see, maybe the last, chance to smash the Welfare State; and, from the smashed fragments they can divert profits into the pockets of their class. Councils and the NHS will in the future be, a bit like the railway system but on a macro scale, fragmented into smaller organisations. Medical disciplines competing with one and other; what were council departments will be disparate sections fighting for the same funding streams whilst not operating holistically – which means the links between, say, health, housing, social care, the environment etc will be broken making life even more difficult for service users. Accountability will become the province of the anonymous.

Back to Benefit Fraud!

“I’m both curious and a little perplexed. Benefit fraud is running at around £1.1 per year (some of which is actually not fraud but error on the part of benefit’s agencies in areas such as Tax Credits) less than 1% of benefit paid out. Tax fraud accounts for anything from £40 billion to £100 billion+ (difficult to estimate because the fraudsters pay very clever people to hide the money); yet, this government targets those that steal the least.

This isn’t value for money. As a tax payer I’m incensed that the government spends scores of millions chasing peanuts; when, for the same money it could be bagging the big boys. A benefits inspector costs the tax payer money as their salaries are twice what they claw back; a tax inspector working in fraud can expect to claw back three times what she or he earns.

Do the sums. It isn’t too difficult, is it?”

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Hip Surgery

My sister, who is 51, was diagnosed 15 months or so with sciatica. Not being terribly medically minded; not much of a fan of self-diagnosis; nor, indeed the Internet as a source of information she accepted her GPs diagnosis.

Some months ago the company she works for offered, in conjunction with a health company, the opportunity to see a chiropractor. She attended a diagnostic at which the practitioner worked on her back and lower spine. Feeling good afterwards she decided to sign up for the package – x sessions for £xx.

On further investigation and with the assistance of x-rays it transpires that my sister has an arthritic hip; and, the ‘wear and tear’ is quite advanced. While Sis could afford a few hundred quid for the chiropractor activities there’s no way she can afford the roughly 10 grand to go privately.

She visited her GP a couple of weeks ago and explained that she’d seen a chiropractor; the diagnosis from the chiropractor was arthritis not sciatica as diagnosed by another practice GP; and, as she was in quite considerable pain what could be done. The GP read the notes from the chiropractor, and while not disagreeing didn’t agree either.

The GP wasn’t too happy about her using non-NHS services; and, told my Sis in no uncertain terms that she couldn’t have a hip replacement operation until she was 60! Ok, my Sis is probably jumping the gun. She needs to first to get the x-rays from the private company to her GP.

Here’s my question. Given that she does need a new hip is it written in stone somewhere that the NHS won’t carry out hip replacement operations until the patient reaches 60?

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Politics of Greed

Thanks for the wake up call but i am wide a wake and have been since 6 this morning when i went to the gym for a 2 hr work out before work.

You have the luxury to spend two hours in the gym before work. For far too many that would be the height of self-indulgence. Those two hours would be more profitably spent in one of their two or three minimum wage jobs; and, that just to keep their heads above water.

As a disabled person who works I can’t 1) afford the subscriptions to a local gym, 2) access the equipment in the gym or 3) have the energy after maybe an hour or two’s sleep to complete a workout.

Most of what you have written is well i dont agree with it but then again that wont surprise you and i cant be bothered to get into a discussion about legal tax structuring, ineffecient non accountable govt depts, hyper fat civil service etc its been discussed before.

Of course you ‘...can’t be bothered...about legal tax structuring...’ that’d be tantamount to turkey’s voting for Christmas. Shhh, let’s leave well alone. After all, why draw attention to the scores of billions fraudulently withheld by businessmen and the wealthy each year? Why should the rich be expected to bear their share of the burden; they’ve never done so before.

What i do agree with you , shock horror, is that we are running a big risk with as you say the rich / poor divide getting wider and it will cause massive social problems. The solution probably a reality check all round on expected profits, on investment in plant and people, on wages and the cost of living needs to dramatically fall with that. Also, from my history i think the benefits system was supposed to be a safety net and not a lifestyle choice which for some it is.

Part of the solution to the poor/rich divide would be the rich paying their way instead of expecting the poor to prop up the Treasury while they, the rich, pass more laws that protect their wealth. Until the wealthy realise their responsibility to society in general they’ll remain the vampiric caricatures they’ve become.

It ridiculous that other european people flock to this country to work for wages that you say are third world, they cant be that bad if that is the case. I mean the Romanian president called us lazy. It ridiculous that the cost to manufacture goods in this country is so high (most of it due to wage inflation) that most of it has gone abroad.

Most other European people have stopped coming to this country because the work is drying up. Those that are coming in are not as you so Daily Heilishly put it flocking in; no, they’re being coerced by capitalist organisations to come to the UK in order to drive down wages and T&Cs.

Capatilism is actually about responsibilty. Being responsible for your own actions, deeds and efforts. Its about being responsible for your own future and your own destiny, getting out what you put into it, being rewarded for taking risks and working hard should they pay off, and being helped back on the ladder if they dont. Its about being responsible socially with the wealth that one hopefully generates whether that is to the people one employs or the lifestyle and excess money there work brings. Its not about being taxed to the enth degree by an ineffecient govt to pay for a bloated civil service and benefits system that isnt supporting those that need it and providing a lifestyle for the workshy.

Yes, capitalism is about responsibility. It’s about class responsibility. It’s about brokering wealth and keeping it within the parameters of those deemed responsible – the wealthy. Capitalism is about denying society and ensuring that you and yours are looked after.

Capitalism isn’t about taking risks. Where’s the risk in banks playing hard and fast with our economy; going bust; and, getting bailed out by the tax payer. Capitalism seems to me a situation where the risk is socialised while profits remain in private hands.

Capitalism being described in socially responsible terms is both risible and insulting. Even when making ‘charitable’ donations capitalists need to do so with a fanfare on primetime TV, corporate image a mile high; and, at the same time entering some kind of tax covenant to claw money back – that’s not charity, it’s cheap publicity.

Capitalists do not employ people on a benevolent basis; employees are a means to an end. In the first instance we’re the means to create the goods and subsequently the wealth that capitalists luxuriate in; and, second we act as the customers to buy back the goods and services we produce and carry out at inflated prices – that’s the profit.

Capitalists are not taxed to the Nth degree. Proportionately they pay less than their workers, the true wealth creators. Indeed, some pay no taxes whatsoever. Capitalists don’t pay for our Welfare State; they never have and never will. We, the ordinary workers pay for our NHS, education, social services, etc; we even pay for the wars that capitalists become bloated on.

As for workshy. I’d be looking in the direction of the progeny, the issue of the wealthy for sheer work shyness. The fatcats who after a few years in the City ripping off millions retire early on their ill-gained filthy lucre.

Most people in the third world would give their back teeth for the opportunities people are born into in this country the trouble is there are a number of people who forget that and think they can all be premiership footballers or glamour models and therefore dont need to work at school.

Have you seen the state of many of the sink schools that Gove has resigned to more years of misery. Are the issue of the Bullingdon Club sending their kids to rotting schools; to schools where lessons are conducted in huts? Are their kids trying to do homework in cramped conditions; having to wait for sisters and brothers to vacate a table; or, waiting their turn to get onto a computer that keeps breaking down.

It’s easy to make social commentary on a class of people you don’t know who you have nothing in common with. It’s easy, and extremely insulting, to pontificate on issues of social exclusion as you sit their purring and preening your sleek coat – insulation from poverty is a great gift; you should cherish it.

Pavement Politics

My campaigning, though not exclusively, is for disability access. By access I mean anything from receiving readable communications to venues with sound loops to pubs and restaurants with level entry access or lifts as well as accessible toilets to public transport from which I can enter and alight with minimum difficulty – not just ‘do you have a ramp?’

My campaigning also involves reading and responding to government and local authority consultation documents – a recent one was concerned with the use of motorised wheelchairs and scooters on pavements.

As for pavement safety; this is not an area I’ve covered – apart from my response to motorised wheelchairs and scooters; which, for the record I believe should involve mandatory training and the vehicles should be insured – the same should apply to cyclists.

The campaigning I do really does take up most of my time; indeed, it increasingly encroaches into my social life. However, if some of the cyclists on U75 were to throw up some suggestions as to how we can make roads safer for cyclists to use, I’d be receptive.

Personally, the two main problems, three if you count dog shit, I encounter on pavements is too many cyclists and crossfalls that are too steep – from kerb up. The first, cyclists, terrify me; and, the second, steep crossfalls, make it impossible for me to independently push. Ironically, one of the few relatively even surfaces in London runs along the South Bank. However, more and more cyclists are using this route; and, the already crowded nature of the place makes it very hazardous for me as a wheelchair user.

Since there are far more cyclists than wheelchair users in London I don’t expect things to get any better for me.

Unions and Strikes

“I rate Matt Wrack, Mark Serwotka and Bob Crow as the best of the current generation and Jerry would ably compare with these.”

Undoubtedly good people; good Socialists and leaders one and all. Both Wrack and Crow holding considerable industrial clout. Even though Bob Crow has repudiated unofficial strike action in the past -,1390,0,0,1,0 – doesn’t make him a class traitor.

I haven’t heard of either Matt or Mark endorsing unofficial strike action by their members; again, this doesn’t mean they are in the pockets of the bosses. Yet, when it comes to disputes such as Vestas, Visteon and BA the Unite leadership are class traitors.

Bob Crow arrived on the Isle of Wight during the Vestas sit-in; how many people flocked to join the ranks of the RMT? Did the RMT do what they had accused Unite of failing to do? Did they save the jobs? No, they didn’t, unfortunately. This doesn’t stop Jerry berating Unite; for blaming Unite for all the ills that befall industry.

A couple of years back Len McCluskey was accused at a United Left meeting of selling out the ex-Shell tanker drivers after they settled for a 14% pay rise. The accusation came from someone very high in Jerry Hicks’ leadership campaign team.

Despite the fact that the BA dispute is being run by lay members who instruct the leadership in the directions they wish to go; all we hear from Jerry is ‘betrayal!’ I know some of the lay leadership of the BA strike very well. They know that their membership was never prepared to take unofficial action.

Yet, certain elements within the Left will not believe this. They cannot countenance the fact that not all workers share their revolutionary zeal; that a lot of the UK workforce lean politically towards the right. No, they’re not raving racists nor are they BNP supporters. They’ve simply been brainwashed and manipulated by the media and circumstances for far too long.

This is the audience that both McCluskey and Hicks are pitching their brand of trade unionism. A largely apolitical audience – by this I mean, they’re unaware of the political animal within – most of whom are concerned first for their jobs; second that they have a roof over their heads; third they can feed their families; and, so on down the line.

Jerry is less likely to attract votes with his ultra-critical delivery; with his message that strike action is the only way forward – if that isn’t what Jerry is saying; it is the way the message comes across. In fact Jerry’s condemnatory approach to trade unions is more likely to see members leaving.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Jerry Hicks and Passionate Speeches

This is the first time I’ve heard Jerry Hicks speak at length. Why do people who have to shout in order to deliver a message put it down to passion? Shouting your message instead of delivering it in a moderate volume doesn’t make your message or the messenger more passionate; no, it makes the messenger sound like a shoutey person.

Good speakers deliver their message in a number of ways. But, ultimately the content of the message will rise above the volume of the voice or the rhetoric therein; and, the message itself will win or lose support.

Having sat through 11 minutes of Jerry Hicks delivering a largely negative message I remain unconvinced that he can deliver anything progressive to the running of an organisation as large and complex as Unite. Jerry appears to be stuck in a groove of his own making. The one message he continuously tries to deliver is one which trade unionists, let alone the workforce of the UK, is not ready for – a General Strike.

There are 28 million workers out there; 6.5 million of whom belong to trade unions – mostly in the public sector. Those millions currently working in the public sector are scared stiff of losing their jobs. Rather than preparing to go out on strike for their jobs they are looking at ways to stay in employment; and, who can blame them when the alternative is so bleak. If made redundant they’ll receive a pittance; not for them some massive payoff that will at least keep them financially insulated for a few years.

I wish I knew the answer to getting our Comrades motivated; to instil in them a sense of let’s-get-out-and-fight. People talk of the Poll Tax Riots and how that moment in history forced a Major u-turn in Tory policy. The Poll Tax was a great unifying injustice. It hit us all up and down the country; this drew us together as a class.

Although, the cuts that are with us and those to come over the next few years will affect us as a class, they’ll attack disabled people, elderly, kids in inner city and rural schools, single mothers, people in low paid public sector jobs ad infinitum, they’ll not focus in the same way as the Council Tax did.

The cuts, though universal in nature, will not necessarily be applied universally. For instance, my child is grown, so the education cuts won’t impact on me in the same way they will friends with kids at school. Conversely, care packages won’t directly affect most of my friends as they have no use for these services at the moment; yet, my standard of living, and probably health, will plummet should I lose the care I currently receive.

While we can all point to a service or services whose withdrawal or cutting will make life more difficult; the overall affect will be spread around. Just as Lindsey, Visteon, Vestas and the current BA disputes were or are not the rallying cry for a General Strike we must nonetheless build and organise for the propitious day when we can in solidarity and commonality all down tools and walk.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Get the Infrastructure Right Before Introducing 'Green' Cycle Hire Schemes

Before we argue whether or not Johnson should be making handcycles available to disabled, or other, London cyclists we need to address the current perilous state of our pavements.

There are parts of London I can no longer safely push my wheelchair because bicycles are taking over. As our public transport system becomes more expensive and less reliable more people are taking to two-wheels. This should be heartening leading to less motorised vehicles clogging up our roads and lungs.

If the migration was from the car to the bicycle we’d definitely see a greater greening of London. However, the largest migration is from public transport to the bicycle; many of whom will have abandoned a hit-and-miss and expensive tube system. Thus, we’re experiencing a greater volume of bicycles coming into a system unable to cope.

Just as with schemes such as Canary Wharf that opened some years ago without a proper public transport infrastructure in place; so Johnson has rolled out a cycle hire scheme without first ensuring there is an infrastructure to support it.

Too many cyclists choose to use pavements (I’m not referring to cycle paths) illegally; when asked why some will admit it is to avoid a one-way system; others that it meant they didn’t wait at a red light; but, most will admit that they find the roads too dangerous.

Thus, as cycling increases so our pavements will be invaded more and more. The two groups who will suffer from this are mobility impaired disabled pedestrians (I include manual wheelies in this category) and infirm elderly people.

When a cycle is bearing down on you at speeds of 10-12 mph it is difficult for someone with a mobility impairment to take evasive action – indeed, it is difficult if the speed is a mere 4 mph. Over the years, as a walking ped, I’ve been hit six times by cyclists; four times on the pavement, knocked over once; and, twice whilst legally crossing the road, again knocked over once. As a wheelchair user I’ve been hit twice – caught once on the hand and a front wheel hit me on the knee.

I wish the cycling scheme good luck. However, I do ask that greater consideration be taken by all cyclists; and, that they remember they are also bound by the laws of the land and road.

How to Improve London’s Public Transport System

Extend the Congestion Charge to the M25 at the same time as making all public transport free at the point of use. When the GLC brought in their ‘Fares Fair’ policy in 1981 there was a massive uptake. Thousands of people abandoned their cars to travel on affordable public transport.

Couldn’t have that now, could we. A transport scheme that actually offered people cheap travel. A system that was taking cars off the roads. No we couldn’t; and so, the car industry, tyre manufacturers and petrol companies got into their tame poodles in government and when wealthy Bromley Council won a case on the grounds of fiduciary duty against ‘Fares Fair’ it scuppered any chances London had of having a decent public transport system and less congested roads.

The year following the scrapping of the scheme saw an increase of 6,000 serious accidents. Nobody will ever know how many, hundreds of thousands possibly, extra cases of asthma the short-term-ist scrapping caused.

Vested interest is a hard one to fight. When it comes to the few protecting their narrow interests through the structures and mechanisms of state and beyond the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

Congestion on the South Bank

The poor old South Bank; a recipe for carnage. First of all fill the pot with thousands of tourists who are in no particular hurry to get no place in particular; add to this pedestrian Londoners on their way to work, or someplace particularly; throw in a few skateboarders heading for their spot in the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s undercroft; sprinkle around a score or more of those painted idol-curios who though standing still draw the attention of the idle-curious; into this mess of potage throw dozens of red-faced panting sweating joggers; and, then drizzle the whole thing with a few hundred cyclists...oh, and me in my wheelchair being walked over by Tommy tourist as he takes just one more step backwards in his quest to get all seventeen of his party into the shot with the man dressed as a something-or-other and painted slate grey!

Pavement Cyclists – again!

Cyclists have the same option we all have – don’t break the law. As a disabled person I’ve lobbied government on a number of issues. Some have been successful others less so. Rather than break the law cyclists should lobby government in order to get improvements to the woefully inadequate infrastructure they have to contend with.

There are very hot debates on other sites about pavement cyclists. Alas, far too many of the cyclists believe it is their right to mount pavements whenever the going gets tough; a lot of them are of the opinion it is fine to run red lights.

When challenged about their illegal, dangerous and blatantly anti-social attitudes they go on the attack blaming motorists for all their ills.

As a non-driver who gets about London a fair bit as a car passenger I see things from quite a unique position. In my estimation it is nip and tuck as to who is the greater offender, motorists or cyclists.

I’ve observed some incredibly stupid, nigh on suicidal, cycling stunts pulled – especially by ‘guerrilla’ cyclists attempting to undertake lorries the size of small buildings. This is either bravado or reckless endangerment to their own health and safety.

On the other hand, I’ve spotted drivers turning from side roads onto major roads without giving passing cyclists the chance to clear their paths. You know, the driver spots a gap in the traffic; and, vroom off he goes to nick his bit of road; in such instances cyclists are not part of the traffic – I must say the latter occurs far more than the undertaking instance.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Rhydian Fôn James, Tuesday 3 August 2010 08.00 BST

“According to the national statistics, there is a benefit worth £8.2bn a year where fraud runs at 1%, twice the rate of both disability living allowance and incapacity benefit. These benefits are the pension credit and the state pension, and a pilot review in 2005-06 estimated the cost to the taxpayer up to £51m a year in fraud.
The vast majority of pension credit claimants make genuine claims for money to support them in old age. Only a few very strange people would suggest that pensions should be cut for everyone, just because a handful of pensioners play fast and loose with the system. And yet, that is the argument made for the sick and disabled. Why? It is all about the tabloid-stoked perception of anyone claiming disability-related benefits as potential scroungers who are able to work. This line of thought suggests that most disabled people are capable of some kind of work – however minimal – and that benefits disincentivise work. Such thinking allows the government to take a hacksaw to the welfare state in the guise of benevolence aimed at reducing fraud.

Incapacity benefit (IB) supports those too ill to work, and disability living allowance (DLA) helps claimants meet the extra costs of their disability whether in work or not. DLA is not – cannot be – a disincentive to work as it is paid to support the costs of disability, whether in work or not, and paid for the most part at the rate of £19 per week. IB could, potentially, be a disincentive, but only if a claimant suddenly recovered and yet managed to fool the already stringent assessment procedures. The only reason why some people with serious conditions would choose to subsist on these benefits rather than work is more about the difficulty of findingsuitable, accessible, and flexible work.

Finding work is difficult enough for the fit and healthy, but if you are one of the 11 million people – from cabinet office estimates – in Britain who is disabled, injured, or suffers from ill-health, then your condition may make it harder to move beyond the interview stage. Enabling most claimants to work means that jobs would have to be tailored to their needs. This means taking account for weeks and months off work, short days, regular shifts in working hours, work days and deadlines, the distraction of severe pain, post-medication sleepiness or sickness, susceptibility to colds, flu and bugs, and the need for home-working.
At least a couples of these issues will affect most claimants, no matter what their level of mobility. This fact makes a poor joke of the idea that most disabled people, even if capable of some work-related task, would be able to cope with employment not adjusted to their symptoms. Employers already complain about statutory maternity leave, so how would they cope with making adjustments to complex and long-term needs, affecting their profitability? And how can people be declared "fit" to work if employers won't give them jobs because of their illness?
The access to work scheme has been partly successful in removing the physical barriers to work, but there is more to true accessibility than a disabled toilet and accessible office. Many more disabled people could work than the current number, but this would require a huge change in the employment market beyond the "reasonable adjustment" required by the disability discrimination act. Such a change would require huge investment by the government. Rather than facilitating the transition of some claimants into work they can do, it is cheaper to cut people's benefits and set them up to fail in a dog-eat-dog labour market.
The "migration" of IB claimants to the new employment support allowance(ESA) is a warning for DLA claimants. George Osborne recently announced a new medical-test for DLA claimants to reduce nonexistent disincentives to work, and to tackle the miniscule level of fraud. It will probably be the same type of unfair programme, run by private contractors Atos, aimed at reducing the caseload for DLA by 20%. This implicit target for throwing people off DLA is easily seen in June's budget.

As for fraud, there is little justification for a catch-all punishment. Atos will get £500m over seven years for kicking people off benefits, while fraud in IB over this period will add up to around £250m: the tests intended to stop the fraud cost twice as much as the actual fraud! This means that the only way Atos can be value-for-money is if they cut £250m off the ESA caseload – so that there is indeed an implicit target, just as there is for the DLA caseload. The real story isn't of cheating disabled people, but of a government with a badly hidden agenda.”