Friday, 4 November 2011

Letter To Maria Miller About Media Misrepresentation

Dear Maria Miller,
In your role as Minister for Disabled People you head the Office for Disability Issues, leading the government in matters that affect disabled people.

I would like to know what you do when:

- Your fellow ministers go on national radio sharing inaccurate information about disability benefits (Ian Duncan Smith recently went on Radio 4’s Today programme and talked about DLA as though it were an out of work benefit, and has spoken about non-means tested benefits as though they were means-tested.)

- National media reports on disability related matters using completely inaccurate statistics.

- National media reports on people claiming disability benefits using inaccurate examples and misleading statistics.
As someone that daily tries to work toward disabled people’s equality – I am disabled myself, I work for an organisation that works with disabled actors and artists, I have disabled family members and friends – I see the effects of public perceptions of disabled people as lead swingers and scroungers, and media misrepresentation encourages this.
As you are in a position to challenge this view on a country-wide scale, as compared to my very local levels of impact, I would expect you to be doing everything in your power to ensure disabled people are not repeatedly misrepresented by my fellow colleagues, or by national media.

I look forward to your response,
Yours sincerely

With thanks to MillerWatch for sharing this here 

The future of disability rights is in our hands, so what are you going to do about it?

 With thanks to Imogen May the author of this post;

This isn’t going to be a long blog post, winter is setting in and many of The Broken of Britain are struggling as a result. We may be used to dealing with the consequences of the colder climate, but I don’t think any of us were expecting to be shut out in the cold by the Government.

I’ve followed politics since I was in my teens and I’ve always been involved in Grass Roots activism with disability organizations. I’ve felt anxious before, I’ve worPost Optionsried about my friends with fluctuating impairments or mental health impairments, but I’ve genuinely never been terrified.

The truth is, most disabled people honestly don’t realise the true impact of the cuts this Government is planning to make. Currently, information on specific subjects like Housing Benefit or Disability Living Allowance is filtering down through social media sites like Twitter with a handful of people doing their best to bring the stark truth to our attention. But realistically, reaching a few hundred or even a few thousand people online just isn’t going to cut the mustard!

I feel specifically let down by the Disabled Peoples Direct Action Network (DAN), who seem to have been in hiatus for what feels like years. With small demos taking place every few years, it’s about time they lived up to their name! What we need from DAN right now, isn’t just plans for direct actions, but we need that network. We are a community that has constantly had to fight for our rights and that is only going to become more necessary as the coalition slash our entitlement to benefits and make huge cuts to services. We need a network so that disabled people can reach out to one another, actually inform people of what’s to come as well as support them the best we can once this Welfare Reform Bill is passed. 

I was incredibly disappointed that DAN didn’t make use of the recent Hardest Hit marches in October. It would have been the perfect place to not only show they’re still active, but to introduce disabled people who perhaps felt no need to be political previously, into the world of activism. We are in urgent need of absolutely every single angry disabled person to add their voice so that we may actually be heard.

The Government is planning to cut, from 3.5 million disabled people, a total of £9.2 billion by 2015. And that’s just us, the total amount from the Welfare Reform Bill over that same period is something more like £20 billion.
When this bill is finally passed, I want to be able to say that we did everything we possibly could to stop money being taken from the some of the poorest people in our, so-called, Big Society.

The perceived problem with doing something ‘big’ in order to be noticed is the mixed ability within the disability community. Not all of us are able to attend marches or demos, not all of us have the energy to write a blog post and some of us simply don’t have access to the information needed to know where to start. However, I wouldn’t agree that this is a problem at all, in fact I believe that this is the perfect way for us all to take on a role we are capable of managing. We need all the activists, all the bloggers, all the people who can write the most persuasive letters, all the people who can Tweet info right into the smallest corners of the UK and everyone in-between.  I believe that our problem at the moment is that there doesn’t seem to be one group of people attempting to co-ordinate a multi pronged attack. I’m not talking about leaders, or people making decisions without the backing of our community, but people who are willing to spend time contacting people, informing them, giving ideas of where to direct letters or interacting with other grass root organisations to ensure we’re all on the same page.

I know other bloggers and Tweeters who’ve spoken recently about similar things without much response, but we can’t give up! If you want disability rights to be a reality, if you don’t believe the benefit reform threatens your quality of life, if you know your vital care will be slashed, if you’re anyone else who knows that this is vitally important, if you actually want to be part of something powerful and amazing, then you need to be part of this. The ball is in your court now, the future of disability rights is in our hands, so what are you going to do about it?

For more information, e mail & follow Imogen__May on Twitter.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

#NaNoWriMo 2011 (#disability #spoonie #mentalhealth) - by @CreativeCrip / @IconicImagery #TBofB

"This year I hope to finally set a realistic and achievable #NaNoWriMo goal by focusing on writing blogs for #amwriting". Thus read my first social media status update for 1 November 2011. I am feeling "OK" today and unlike many others in the UK, last weekend's time change seems to have helped me a bit with managing Spoonie fatigue, the pain.and brain fog notwithstanding. After a mad round of tweeting I managed to crawl out of bed and get going.

A well-meaning new-found long-lost relative from across the pond decided to comment on the Facebook entry; "truth is I'm strategic..." she wrote. "...the goal is achievable you have to trust yourself to make it happen."

This was my response:
Not being funny but - as someone who has complex health problems (physical disabilities, illness and mental health) all the planning, strategies and jolly hockey sticks cheerleading in the world cannot guarantee a result. That's just #Spoonie reality - we do what we can, when we can ... unfortunately more often than not it means struggling immensely to do not very much at all... I give myself these pep talks and try strategies every year for #NaNoWriMo but don't really care if I actually manage to submit or even finish... its just helping me to focus on my blog and get some things done that I've neglected.

The thing is, I really would like to achieve a National Novel Writing Month win; I've wanted to for the seven years that I've tried. It's only in the past few years that my increasing problems with concentrating, memory and ability had nothing to do with just being lazy and more than a bit to do with the severe clinical depression that went undiagnosed since I was a teenager battling the Bulimia I still struggle with from time-to-time on the cusp of 46. The added struggles with physical disability and invisible illness makes it even more challenging to get started or keep going even if I do. Even a simple post like this has taken hours, with many stops and restarts.

I am blessed for every day that I have to actually wake up and The Great Spirit willing, I will have many many more. Unfortunately (as I explained to the psychiatrist at my last CMHT check), every night I go to bed my head spinning with a few ideas of things to work on the next day. I make notes in my project books and smartphone when I can manage to not forget within a minute or two of having a scathingly brilliant idea. Then the sun rises and sets again without any of those things getting done. Thus is the vicious circle that constitutes my spoonie not #fitforwork life, day-in and day-out.

Unfortunately it is impossible to have a "normal" schedule. For those who would criticise that sentiment and make a "scrounger" comment; review my LinkedIn profile. Even if I hadn't had my previous career on Wall Street and in The City of London, the life I am forced to lead today still wouldn't be a lifestyle choice. I would gladly give up my need to have help from the State in return for good health and mobility.. I need help - in the form of a Careworker who visits a few times weekly so I don't have to go for months on end without being able to have a shower or shampoo my hair; someone who could take me to the supermarket and help with shopping; someone who would be willing to help me keep my flat tidy and make sure I don't ignore the brown letters of doom from the DWP; someone who would be willing to prepare meals that aren't burnt beyond recognition and make sure that I eat them; someone who could actually be a Lovely Carer (tm @BendyGirl) - which would help me immensely.

I have big dreams and small; and yes, a little fame as a writer and campaigner wouldn't unwelcome. But as Lydia Grant used to say in the opening of the Fame television series: "Fame costs, and right here is where you start paying - in sweat". Like the majority of people in my situation or worse - I'm not afraid of hard work and never have been. The relentless onslaught against disabled people from politicians, government bodies, general public and media takes a toll on my health. This, along with the  lack of Care in my daily life and constant worry about my finances, needing business help and having to move house again etc, makes something as "trivial" as trying for a NaNoWriMo win feel like trying to go up an icy hill alone on rollerblades. I may fail again; but in the words of Bob Hoskins in Maid in Manhattan, what defines us is how well we rise after falling.

Lisa J. Ellwood
Disability & Mental Health Campaigner
The Broken of Britain

Cross-posted from The Creative Crip Blog

Disability News Round Up By John Pring - Week Beginning 31/10/2011

  • Disabled activists have ridiculed a union’s claims that its members have been unfairly criticised for the way they test disabled people’s “fitness for work”.
  • Government figures have revealed alarming new evidence of a slump in the number of disabled people granted funds to make their workplaces more accessible.
  • Two disabled people have lost their high court challenge over a council’s decision to slash spending on social care services.
  • The number of disability benefits claimants found “fit for work” by the government has fallen sharply over the last two years, according to new figures.
  • Researchers are seeking volunteers to take part in a project that will trace how the educational experiences of disabled people have changed over the last 100 years.
  • A disabled peer has challenged a minister over whether she is taking account of the views of disabled people in developing new policies.
  • Trials of the assessment for the benefit that will replace disability living allowance (DLA) show the test is worryingly similar to the government’s discredited “fitness for work” assessment, say campaigners.
  • Thousands of disabled people and other campaigners have taken part in a series of anti-cuts protests in more than a dozen towns and cities across the UK.

For links to the full stories, please visit Disability News Service

Monday, 31 October 2011

Legal help with welfare benefit appeals would be retained under Liberal Democrat amendment to the Legal Aid Bill.

 Campaigners urge last minute emails to MPs

A Liberal Democrat amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is being debated at Report Stage this Monday 31st October, would see legal help for people appealing or reviewing benefit decisions retained. Under current government plans all welfare benefits advice will be cut from legal aid, along with many other areas of law including much of employment, debt and housing advice. Charities like Citizens Advice, Law Centres, and advice agencies use legal aid to fund much of their work in this area. 
Part of a motion on welfare reform passed at Liberal Democrat conference called on government to "reconsider the exclusion of welfare benefits casework such as this from the scope of legal aid." A group of Liberal Democrat backbenchers have put down the amendment, including Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair of the Home Affairs Parliamentary Party Committee. The other signatories are Stephen Lloyd MP, David Ward MP, and Mike Crockart MP.
Help with appeals is vitally important, particularly at a time when the benefits system is being radically changed. The introduction of Employment and Support Allowance has been beset with bad decision making - 40% of those appealing were successful. Yet in terms of the number of people affected, this will be dwarfed by the estimated 18 million people who will be caught up in the move to Universal Credit.
Campaign group Justice for All is urging people to email their MP urgently to ask them to speak during the debate and vote in favour of the motion. You can do this via their website at
Justice for All have also produced a pair of videos, highlighting why help with appeals is so important. They feature three women who have had help from local advice agencies in appealing wrong decisions. They are available to embed here

We all know someone who could work but doesn't - Don't we?

Well, there's that Jim at number 27. Have you seen his garden?? Out there all weathers he is. It's like the bleedin Chelsea Flower Show. Now you can't tell me he couldn't work? 

Jim is 62. He has epilepsy. He was born with it and back in the 50s, most people still thought you were possessed or evil if they saw you having a fit. His mother never used to take him out for fear he would have a seizure in public. He's never been able to drive. He gets "warnings" before the 4 or 5 seizures a week he has, allowing him to get inside to somewhere safe. No-one ever sees his disability - he wouldn't dream of talking about it with a neighbour.

He still never leaves his home. The shame he grew up with never really left him. His garden is his life. It gives him joy and purpose. Somewhere beautiful where he never feels lonely or ashamed.

It's just got ridiculous! There's this girl in our village - never done a day's work in her life....and she jogs!! Hours she runs up and down with those earplugs in, round the village, out on the quiet country roads, sometimes she goes out in the morning and she runs til lunchtime!! Why should she get my hard-earned tax money just to do nothing?

Laura is 26. From the age of 6, both her uncle and his friend used to sexually assault her. She never told anyone, they said they would do it to her brother if she did. As she grew up she became more and more withdrawn. Sometimes they hurt her physically and she had to try to hide the bruises away.

She never made any friends and ran away from home when she was 15. Living on the streets, people took advantage of her and she soon became a prostitute with a crack habit.

At 18, she managed to get a place in a hospice and with the amazing help of mental health workers, counsellors and a safe environment, she got clean. She moved away, moved to a nice safe village, kept working on her past and found solace in running. All the time she runs, music pounding in her ears, she can forget. She feels free and alive.

She has managed to start volunteering in a local centre working with other young people who've been through what she went through and hopes that one day, she might be able to make a career of it.

She has never spoken to any of her neighbours, she's still too damaged, and she certainly wouldn't tell them about her childhood.

Do you remember Doreen? She never stops that woman, out at work all hours, looking after the kids, running em here and there. And all her husband ever does is lie around on the sofa watching daytime TV! 16 years it is since he worked! The man must have no shame. 

Karl served in Kosovo. It was brutal time and he lost many good friends. One night, just after midnight, he and his men were taking cover behind an old burnt out coach. A bomb suddenly exploded and every last man but him got blown to pieces. He was taken away and held for days with little food and light. They questioned him at gunpoint until he soiled himself, then left him sitting in the mess. He saw women raped and children left to die at the side of the road, their eyes pleading with him as he marched past.

Since then, he's suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has terrible periods of depression, flashbacks, sweats and night terrors. He can't sleep and when he does he wakes up screaming. He barely pays attention to his family, and though the television might be on, he never sees the programme. He only sees one programme now, running through his mind every minute of every day.

He makes Doreen promise she won't ever tell anyone what he goes through. She wouldn't dream of talking about it with her neighbours.


The BBC seems to be running a "Scrounger" season. You are being asked to judge our social security system in a flurry of documentaries, based on anecdote. A GP who "feels" it's unbelievable that we have so many people on sickness benefits, random women in the street who share stories like the ones above.

No evidence, for the evidence is most certainly not with the programme makers. Rather they feed into a stereotype that is being used comfortably by all main political parties and the media to push through welfare reforms. We already have one of the toughest welfare systems in the developed world with the toughest sanctions and among the lowest rates of fraud. But you will never hear that from these documentaries. You almost certainly won't believe it now, but it's true. Pesky evidence.

No. These "documentaries" ask you to ignore the stories that make up the person and simply judge your neighbour.

Nasty eh?