In The Deep Midwinter

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Nope! It isn’t Christmas, but then I don’t expect the folks having to ration their heating this season because of the price hikes, by the six big energy companies, will know the difference, they certainly won’t feel it. Reasons to be offended by these price hikes? Well, how about the fact that in the midst of a slow and barely discernible economic recovery, people need all the help they can get and massive bills for simply keeping themselves warm enough to stay alive simply aren’t helpful. Then of course there’s the idea that you can judge the decency of a society by the way it treats it’s elder statesmen (and women), according to the statistics, at least six million people will die this winter, because of complications arising from the fact that their homes will have been insufficiently heated. What does that say about us as a post-industrialist society? That we judge the elderly in much the same way as we did when we were an industrialist society, that once your economic usefulness ceases, we’re not altogether concerned as a society about how you die (see the NHS for further reference), or where you die (a cold & decidedly inhospitable home).

Then of course there’s the steadily growing and thoroughly discomfiting belief that there is no merit to be had in honesty, and in displaying the kind of commonplace decency that used to be a hallmark of ‘unbroken’ Britain. Why help struggling mothers and their toddlers through revolving doors without being paid for the priviledge? Better still why not demand a pay hike on the fourth or fifth time you find yourself obliged to do it? After all isn’t that effectively what the energy companies have done? Proclaimed their god-given right to increase our fuel bills in exchange for accepting the green levies that are meant to enable our society to leave behind a world that future generations will be able to comfortably inhabit?

Is there a park with unopened gates nearby you? Or better still a library that hasn’t (yet) been closed? It might perhaps be an idea to go along and purchase all the books they’re throwing out (before the local council finds itself obliged to close them, courtesy of austerity), and use those to keep yourself warm during the winter. I feel certain that any minute now the government will create a website full of creative ideas for the use of ‘alternative’ fuels that the energy companies don’t as yet have control of.

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Top Man

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So there I was, on Harlesden High Street, being greeted by  an old school friend I hadn’t seen in the longest time, it was a pleasant surprise (as such things often are), right up until the point where I realised that she was under weight, with the shambling gait of an old woman. My old school friend (who incidentally was barely into her thirties), was a crack addict I later found out, fast forward about five months later, to a similar meeting with another old school friend (this time in a local library, remember those days?), who turned out to be similarly addicted.

Am I anti-drugs? Well, when it comes to the kind of addiction that leaves you incapable of responding to anything other than the need to get drugs, how to afford to get drugs, favours done to get drugs and when you’re liable to get drugs, well yeah, I am. Besides which the two women I met both had children to whom they were the only immediate, if not the only available, role models. So when I hear David Cameron commenting upon the prosperity of a young man, who would otherwise have gone down the same dead-end road these young women have, I think to myself ‘top man’. After all isn’t that the right reaction to have when a government minister (primus inter pares), chooses to implement policies which help the little people?

Little people, like the folk managing their businesses within the Inshops Centre in Wealdstone, Harrow. In a neighbourhood rich with nuclear and extended families and in which there is a significantly large elderly population, what could be nicer than walking fifteen minutes down the road to a local market in which the faces are familiar, the goods are affordable, and the small business entrepreneurs are members of the local community and not just fly-by-nights looking to make a quick profit.

Now, in 2013,there were an estimated 4.9 million businesses in the UK which employed 24.3 million people, and had a combined turnover of £3,300 billion (that tells me that these small business entrepeneurs should carry some clout). SMEs (small and medium sized businesses) accounted for 99.9 per cent of of all private sector businesses in the UK and 59.3 per cent of private sector employment. In other words, the young men and women who upon leaving university or college, proceed to set up their own businesses, comprise that 59.3 percent. SMEs employed 14.4 million people and had a combined turnover of £1,600 billion. Small businesses alone accounted for 47 per cent of private sector employment and 33.1 per cent of turnover and of all businesses, 62.6 per cent (3.1 million) were sole traders (one man bands).

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Please note the above mentioned Wealdstone based ‘sole trader’ one of the 3.1 million people who have elected to stake their futures on running their own businesses. Only, after Christmas, like the other small business owners working alongside him, he will find himself without a business to run, since the business entrepreneur who owns the lease on the shopping centre has decided to sell the centre to a fly-by-night property developer who is certain to make ‘a killing’. A tragedy some might say, however according to David Cameron, this is merely the way in which competitive profitable business interests operate.

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The Inshops centre has since closed and is now a vacant shell in a community that is rapidly becoming a nest of empty shells. What we do have however, is a proliferation of aggressive, youthful police offices who aren’t so good at community policing, another ‘Cameron innovation’. Perhaps this is a reflection on the growing poverty in this particular part of Harrow, perhaps its simply that like the closure of its small businesses the neighbourhood deserves it.

ATOS : Hallelujah! It’s A Miracle!!!

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In three years ATOS, the government sponsored disability assessors, have managed to out-perform Jesus Christ, the miracles he performed in three years could only fill a couple of chapters of the Christian Bible. But ATOS’s efforts, have created reams and reams of evidential testimony, citing the miraculous cures their wondrous interview assessments have wrought. Under their divine hand, 85% of the 2.7million people ‘on the sick’ have been proven entirely capable of work. And how, pray tell, do they work these miracles? Well, according to a whistleblower they consider all the evidence (impartially), and then they hand down a judgement based on objective medical knowledge.

Take for example, a retired former senior teacher suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, a neurological condition, which affects somewhere in the region of 100,000 people in England. Now she’s been retired from her job for five years and has been on disability living allowance all that time, when she suddenly runs into a bit of good luck in the form of ATOS. One healing glance from them and she’s instantly transferred from the ranks of the disabled into the Job-seeker’s Allowance ranks and declared fit for work. She sought to have the decision overturned and received a seventy-one page document explaining her ‘miraculous’ healing to her, as well as suggesting that she appeal their decision; for though they maintain that she has been healed, she maintains that, though the Interferon injections she receives three times a week, may have given them that impression, she is as ill as she ever was.

And then, of course, there’s the case of the social worker who, having had a serious nervous breakdown is now cared for almost entirely by his wife. This gentleman who is socially withdrawn, suffering from severe depression, and short term memory loss, was  assessed three times. Twice by doctors who sought in their assessments to be both fair and objective (according to his wife), and once by the ATOS assessor who having noted his ‘sun tan’ waved her wand over him and declared him fit for work. A strange pronouncement, as since this assessment he has been granted three in-patient days a week, to attend counselling sessions with a state funded psychiatrist.

Now I was present at neither of these ‘miraculous healings’ so I can’t personally offer an opinion on the rights and wrongs of the ATOS approach, so I’ll leave the final word to someone who has obviously been privy to that whole process,

‘ATOS are just being used as “validation” for a twisted form of computerised Eugenics…ATOS has a history in medicine only as old as the government policy and resulting contracts issued. They have been caught out time and again by the recording of their own stupidity. Eugenics was championed by both Nazi Germany and Texas as a way of validating “mercy killings” of mentally disabled people…This is the shit you are putting your faith in?’

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Good news abounds though my friends! ATOS has been scrapped, the bad news is that they’ve now decided to foist a new invention on the general tax-paying public, Universal Credit, for whom I wonder?

Trying to Figure It Out

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The phone rings and I find myself talking for almost an hour to a friend; just at the time when I need to be making calls to people who, in turn, will make phone calls that will enable me to accomplish some constructive goals. I don’t want to be on the phone talking to this person though they’re an old friend. But I’m stuck on the phone anyway, listening to them trying desperately not to panic about the challenges they face, most of which centre around money. And that’s when it occurs to me that although my friend is stressed out beyond belief, her fear and panic are only temporary; she’s a mature woman, well-established in an essential caring profession (Yep! There’s such a thing), these money worries will inevitably be resolved.

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So then I think how a single mother under the age of twenty-five, with an addiction to drugs or alcohol would cope if she were in my friend’s place. Oh she might have the requisite five GCSEs (who could possibly hope to obtain employment in this global economy without them?) but be unable to translate that into career success. Think that’s far-fetched? KIds in abusive homes can excel at school and can appear on the surface to be doing quite well. It’s only when they’ve left school and have to fend for themselves in the outside world that the cracks begin to show. So let’s say, having gone from an abuse home, to an abusive relationship, she finds herself alone with a child to take care of and a heroin addiction to battle. Then as if that were not enough, she is also living in a hostel and having to claim benefits.

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No worrying about bedroom tax here, she had her housing benefit capped in 2013, and has been relocated out of London to cheaper housing by her local council as a result. But there are other worries like how to access drug rehabilitation, how to afford the weekly travel to the jobcentre in order to sign on; and the lifestyle of the other tenants in the hostel which makes it hard for her and her child to feel safe where they’ve been put. Although her son is three, he’s still in pampers and she’s still immersed in the process of weaning him off milk and onto baby food, money is short, in other words. She’s needs to smoke (cigarettes have taken the place of the heroin), and from time to time she also needs a drink (lets call it self-medication). But like I say, money is very short, and well, what about her social worker? How will he or she keep in touch?

The land of opportunity, yeah I get it, this young mother should view her circumstances as an opportunity to pull herself up by the bootstraps, and get on with the business of turning her life around, all by herself. Except that is not what people do initially when, having ticked every legal, moral and political box, the politicians kick back and sigh with satisfaction. Nope what ordinary people do when they experience this kind of upheaval, and these kinds of challenges is panic.

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