Perspectives from the Mentalist's Partner (6): The Blind Leading the Mad

As regular readers may have noted from Pandora’s occasional mentions of me, I have a disability. I’m partially sighted. I usually don’t think about it. Why would I? It’s something that’s always been with me. Well, when I say ‘always‘, I mean the pleasure’s been all mine ‘within living memory’. I hesitate to say that it’s a part of me, because that suggests a welcome I don’t extend to the problem; but the reality is that, yes, it’s made me who I am and so, yes, it’s wedded to me for better or worse, richer or poorer, and all that lark. Inseparable buddies, ’til death do us part. You know the lines.

So, then, how does this constant travelling companion affect me, you might ask? Well, I can get around familiar places for the most part, I can get on with my work. I don’t tend to think about what I can’t do a lot of the time because – well, to be blunt – I can’t do it, never have been able to and likely never will. I can’t play ‘normal’ sport with any degree of aptitude. I can’t drive or even safely ride a bike on a public road. I can’t read signs unless they’re smacking me in the face. I find it too much of a strain to read most newspapers or magazines (so the internet is a gift and the Apple iPad, with its built-in accessibility, is a dream come true). I can’t see well enough to build a PC, despite knowing exactly how to; I get help on the former score from Pandora.

The point I’m trying to make is that there are quite a lot of things I can’t do, and more things besides that I can’t do with much competence. I don’t tend to think about this because, as I’ve already stated, that’s how it’s been for as long as I can remember. Yes, occasionally I get pangs of wishful thinking – possibly more so when I was younger than now – but generally I can ignore my bosom buddy. And since I don’t tend to think about what I can’t do, people who know me tend to stop thinking about it as well. Sometimes I think they forget, or consign my sight problem to the ‘oh yeah, forgot about that’ bin.

Why is this relevant to this blog? Well, it is to the extent that I have what, sometimes, can be perceived as an ‘invisible’ disability. Granted, it’s more readily perceptible than the amorphous ‘what?’ that’s going on in someone’s head, but it’s closer to that than the other extreme of, say, being in a wheelchair.

As we know, if a health issue isn’t readily perceptible, it tends not to be thought about – or, at least, it tends to be thought about less than the more obvious. Lots of buildings are geared up for ‘disabled access’. What this appears to mean, in general, is the installation of a wheelchair ramp or a lift. Worthy additions, certainly, but additions that fail to cater to me and others.

Airports are a good example of this. Many airports are moving away from announcing flights towards a position where the onus is on the passenger to find out for him- or herself when a flight is departing. Fine if you can see the often distant screens with their not so huge fonts. Of course, if you’re hard of hearing, announcements are not much good, but does there have to be only one form of communication?

Or what about going into a fast food joint. You might argue that I shouldn’t be there in the first place. But I am. So let’s look at the board. Oh, hang on, let’s not. I’d better get Pandora to read it to me. Often the same with a menu in a restaurant, the specifications on the back of product’s packaging, the instructions (as a last resort) that I’ll need to understand when trying to get something to work. There’s not a Braille or large print version.

I don’t expect the world to change for me, and it sure as hell doesn’t revolve around me, but I experience the unquestionable feeling of being marginalised at times. Perhaps not deliberately or in a major way – simply a crime of omission. The wheelchair lobby have been very successful in pushing the need for reasonable adjustments, and I applaud those efforts; but others have enjoyed fewer victories.

Now, take my problem and double it; treble it. People at least know what a sight difficulty is and they generally accept that I’m not making it up or hallucinating the bugger. Maybe society hasn’t caught up enough to cater to it in an ideal way, and there are real difficulties still. But things generally tick over. Good Samaritans will often step in to ask a blind person if he or she needs help. A lot of my friends are blind or partially sighted. They lead pretty normal lives. They get disability aids to assist them. They are offered reasonable adjustments. Could things be better for them? Most likely. But their disabilities are seen and recognised, and I for one wouldn’t like to be the person standing between them and the entrance to their local of a Saturday evening! Normal lives, normal people.

If being blind or half blind is Cinderella, then being mental appears to be Cinderella’s unborn sister. From my observations of developments around the Madosphere, it seems to me that there is a very long way to go to achieve recognition of mental illness as a disability (whether temporary or permanent). While stigma – the ‘get over it’ culture – still persists, what hope is there of a genuine cultural shift towards accommodating these problems, of reaching something akin to normalisation of these issues? If the problem is not seen, it often goes unacknowledged. Not through malice, perhaps. Ignorance is the mother of stigma here, I’d wager. The generic term ‘depression’, is a good example of what’s wrong. It doesn’t communicate useful information to Joe Public. In regular usage, it can mean practically anything across a wide spectrum from ‘a bit pissed off’ to ‘suicidal’. It’s symptomatic of, and continued to support, an all too common attitude of ‘Snap out of it! Get over yourself! Cheer up! It’s only in your head!’

Only in your head? What a quintessentially galling statement. Everything’s in your head. Everything is filtered through the lens of our senses; everything goes through our heads, all those neurons firing away merrily to create what we call our world view. Can things that are ‘just’ in your head be so readily trivialised or dismissed? Really?

My conclusion isn’t revolutionary. It’s stating what the Madosphere and mental health advocates generally are already stating: there is a need to begin to see mental issues in the same way that we see other health issues. We must collectively stop laughing them off and begin to provide the interventions, empathy and adjustments that are being extended, albeit sometimes slowly and imperfectly, in so many other areas.

Here endeth the sermon.

Pan

I think this post is particularly timely, given the shocking ignorance, offensiveness and self-righteous cuntery of the utter bollocks shown on the otherwise respectable Channel 4 this week (words to the wise: follow the link at your peril. It could genuinely upset or trigger you, and it will almost certainly anger you). For those unfamiliar, some God botherer, Malcolm Bowden, has been wanking on that depression – and as A notes in this post, that’s certainly an overused term – is a character failing, caused not by biopsychosocial factors, but by the dirty heathen sin of ‘pride’ (incidentally – as my next post will discuss, at least a little – there’s fuck all wrong with pride anyway. Conceit and arrogance are ‘sins’, if one must employ Biblical nomenclature – but they are
quite different from simply taking pleasure in the fact that you’ve done something good).

Yeah. The words “fuck away off” came to my mind too. Apparently leading mental health charity Rethink agree.

Can I just say that this is not how all – or even many – Christians view depression and other mental health concerns. This is clearly exemplified by some lovely people who actually practice the doctrines preached by Christ, rather than sitting in self-referential, holier-than-thou judgement.

Unfortunately, though, Mr Bowden has done neither people with mental illnesses nor his warped view of Christianity any good. He’s poured gallons of fuel onto the stigmatic fire, and has in all probability provided cocks like Richard Dawkins with a new pile of wank fodder.

Depression is real. Depression is a real mental illness. Godliness, or the lack thereof, has fuck all to do with it. Yet society, or at least parts of it, will nod along to Bowden’s demonising rhetoric, because it suits them to believe that teh m3nt@lz are all evil/scrounging/lying etc etc etc.

So hard as it is, on we must fight. All of us with disabilities – seen or unseen, mild to severe – in solidarity. That we must do, despite members of the community being some of the most marginalised and vulnerable in society, is disgusting, but cockjockeys like Mr Bowden, and indeed challenges such as A has discussed above, prove that it’s sadly a necessary evil even now, in a supposedly enlightened 21st century.

Philip Davies, Mental Health and the Minimum Wage

This is an expanded, more opinionated version of an article I wrote elsewhere.

Unless you’ve been living under a stone since Thursday night, you’ve probably heard about the controversy caused on Friday by a hitherto pretty much unknown Conservative backbencher. Philip Davies stated, in a debate on opportunities for employment in the House of Commons, that people with mental health problems (or learning disabilities, as he inaccurately referred to us on several occasions) should be “allowed” to work for the minimum wage. I shall come to that main crux anon.

Firstly, though, did you know that he also regards young people who are unemployed – without, apparently, any particular qualification to his comments – as braindead layabouts, who spend their money on childish versions of gambling? Well, you probably did – it wouldn’t be difficult to guess that I suppose, given other things he’s said – but let’s have it documented here anyway. This may not be the most popular blog since the beginning of time, but it may well have more popular appeal than the fairly turgid transcripts of words said in the House of Commons:

It is bizarre that the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) [Labour] thinks that it is appalling for young people to be going out to work for low wages, and that he would therefore prefer them to be sat at home watching Jeremy Kyle and “This Morning” and visiting their local amusement arcades, rather than having gainful employment.

(Source: Parliamentary Hansard)

Good to know, Mr Davies, thanks. I was under the impression that the majority of people without jobs – whether young or otherwise – were sick, disabled or trying to get work. Now I know better. Cheers!

Seriously, yeah – we all know there are some unemployed people out there like those he describes, but the stats show time and time again that they distinctly are in the minority. But if Mr Davies wants to ignore findings from (of all sources) The Daily Mail, with whom I would imagine he would get on with quite nicely, who are we lowly dolescums to protest?

So, onto the minimum wage/mental health issues. Mr Davies has accused several people who emailed him in disgust of not properly reading what he said (see below), so let me, as promised above, dissect his commentary by going through the Hansard record of the debate in question.

I went to visit a charity called Mind in Bradford a few years ago. One of the great scandals that the Labour party would like to sweep under the carpet is that in this country only about 16%—I stand to be corrected on the figure—of people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities have a job.

(Source: Parliamentary Hansard)

I can’t correct him on that figure, mainly because – as someone who does not have a learning disability – I have not done an awful lot of research into that arena. But wait…doesn’t he say that he went to Mind? Why yes – yes he does. Mind are, as many of you will know, a mental health charity. Could Mr Davies possibly be equating learning disabilities with mental health problems?

Nah, he must just have made a slip-up…

I spoke to people at Mind who were using the service offered by that charity, and they were completely up front with me about things. They described what would happen when someone with mental health problems went for a job and other people without these problems had also applied. They asked me, “Who would you take on?” They accepted that it was inevitable that the employer would take on the person who had no mental health problems, as all would have to be paid the same rate.

(Source: Parliamentary Hansard)

Oh, good. ‘Mental health problems’, he says – that’s more accurate. Now, I think very few of us would deny that Mr Davies and the people with learning disabilities mental health difficulties that he met at Mind have a point here: as things stand, yes – the employer is likely to employ the non-disabled but otherwise like-for-like candidate in a competition against a mentalist. I get that. I think we all do.

Mr Davies makes clear in the debate that he opposes the minimum wage in principle. That is his perfect entitlement, and as far as I’m concerned he can go about and campaign for reform of it all he likes. The specific problem in this instance lies, in my view, in deliberately dressing up his ideology in false (or even erroneously perceived genuine) sympathy for what he at one point terms society’s “most vulnerable”. The assumption made in his spinning of this is that the “most vulnerable” are less worthy than the “less vulnerable”.

To get a foot into the job market, we are supposed to work for less than other people doing the same job?! We should be “allowed” this supposed right, rather than be allowed the right to compete on an equal platform based on relevant occupational merit? All this despite the fact that many people with mental illness(es) are educated, experienced, intelligent people – and that they and many others within this sphere have other skills, demonstrable creativity, and/or potentially lucrative or strategic ideas?

No, Mr Davies – that is unacceptable. We are not lesser people than others, and as such we do not make lesser employees. Ergo, we should not work for less than the legal minimum.

I noted the following on a blog post that initially complained about the furore surrounding Mr Davies’ remarks:

Racism [for example] is still rife amongst certain people; if Davies had met a group of black or Asian people who said that they’d expect the nice British Aryan to be chosen over them at an interview and subsequently suggested that they should be grateful to work for less than the minimum wage, there would have been uproar (and quite rightly so). I fail to see how the demographic to which he did refer should be any different.

And I don’t. The problem is stigma and inequality, not who pays who what. Here (not sure about the rest of the UK?), the law has recently been changed so that potential employees don’t have to declare that they have an illness before an offer of employment is made; this is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t go far enough in my humble-ish opinion. Greater reform of employment law is needed – for example, it being entirely voluntary for an employee to declare periods of work absence.

But meh. It would be easier just to continue to stigmatise the mentally ill, to make them ‘live’ off a pittance, rather than perhaps putting our dear friends in business out a teensy-weensy bit. Plus, it saves money too – YAY! (Of course, Mr Davies working for less than the minimum wage would also save a hell of a lot of money. Maybe he should consider that as a viable proposition.).

And the ‘learning disability = mental illness’ thing? Not a mere slip-up after all, as it turns out:

…[t]he situation was doing the people with learning difficulties [that he apparently met at Mind] a huge disservice.

(Source: Parliamentary Hansard)

[in the wake of the horrified response to what he said] Left wing hysteria now dictates that you can’t even repeat what people with learning disabilities tell you if it questions their shibboleths

(Source: Twitter)

Good to know he’s informed on what mental health and learning disabilities are, then. I find such touching comfort in the fact that he can therefore ably speak for both groups!

I mentioned above that Mr Davies accused complainants of not reading his speech accurately. Even if that were true, which is patently wasn’t, his responses left a lot to be desired:

One

I am extremely sorry but I am afraid that you clearly have no idea at all about what I actually said as I did not say any of the things that you have accused me of saying in your email [she pointed out the laws on equality and disability discrimination and stated that his comments “disintegrated” them, then said that his comments suggested that people with disabilities should be treated as second class citizens]. Please can I suggest you read what I actually said in Parliament.

Two

Thank you for confirming that you have not in fact read my whole speech.

If you had you would have known that I was merely repeating what people with mental health problems had said to me!

I am sorry you feel their views shouldn’t be aired just because you happen to find them unpalatable.

Three

[to the same woman as ‘two’, who had by this point read his speech in full]

If you have read my speech then I am unsure why you would want to distort what I said and misrepresent it so badly.

Clearly in those circumstances it is impossible to have a sensible debate.

There are very many people with disabilities who have congratulated me for what I said. I am sorry you feel their views shouldn’t be aired just because you happen to disagree with them.

That is what I consider to be intolerant.

Etc etc etc.

(Source: Facebook Page – Reduce Philip Davies’ Salary to Less than the Minimum Wage)

Even if you agreed with every word the man spoke, even if you were thrilled with his claims of mere repetition, the brusque, condescending and simply bloody rude tone of his correspondences with members of the above page is not something people should have to put up with an elected MP, whether he agrees with their outlooks or not.

Also, he keeps stating that he was merely repeating what Mind’s clients said to him. What he actually said in the Parliamentary debate was that the folks he spoke to knew there was a much greater likelihood of a non-disabled applicant getting the job for which they’d also applied (see above). As I said before, I think we all know this to be true. Accepting that this is a real situation does not equate to a willingness to derogate from our right to basic equality, to being treated like human fucking beings. So, I’d challenge Mr Davies to state whether or not the people to whom he spoke specifically and unequivocally stated that they would be willing to accept less than the minimum wage in order to get some sort of employment. If so, can this be backed up? Mind don’t seem to think so – they appear pretty outraged that their clients were being referred to in this manner.

A, who is registered blind, was furious when he heard about all this on Friday evening. He asked, rhetorically, if he should be paid less than the minimum wage because of his disability. I should certainly be interested to hear Philip Davies’ views on this.

In the end, whinging about this here isn’t a particularly good use of my time, because Downing Street have already stated that they “reject” the ideas espoused in Mr Davies’ remarks. Still and withall, this bollocks really riled me. Not only does Mr Davies clearly not fully understand mental illness or learning disability, he has twisted – and apparently continues to twist – the innocent and justified lamentations of unwell but otherwise ordinary people into a reactionary, macro-political discourse.

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The Comprehensive Spending Review Will Screw People With Mental Illness

I’m far too depressed about this to write extensively on it, but by now you’ll probably be aware that our friend Gideon has slashed funds for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).  Fair?  Well, you make up your own mind, but let’s face it; those of us that are genuine claimants are just as screwed as the few ‘scroungers’ that exist within the system.

ESA Work Group

Georgie has decreed that those in the ‘Work Related Group’ of ESA will only be allowed to remain there for a year, then will be transferred to Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA).  Um…sorry?  I thought the work-group was for people who had ‘limited capacity‘ for employment.  Augh well.  Everyone will be better within a year, won’t they George?  It really is as easy as that.  Thanks for letting me know.

This is truly dreadful in just about every conceivable way.  JSA does not carry with it ‘return to work’ schemes and the support of an ‘advisor’ in as work-group ESA does, thus reducing and definitely not incentivising those that will be affected.  Also, JSA paid at a lower rate than ESA.  You could argue that it’s only a difference of about £20, but when you live on the fucking line, £20 is a lot of money.  Way to boost people’s morale and encourage them back to the workforce, regardless of whether or not they’re still ill.  Nice one, G.

Here’s a stunningly insightful, absolutely non-patronising and comprehensive look at how the work group of ESA works, in case you were not previously familiar with it:

Wondrously Amazing Explanation of ESA!

Wayhay!!! Thanks, Social Security Agency, This is STUNNING!

ESA Support Group

Big G ‘n’ Friends claim that the ‘most severely’ ill/disabled individuals will still be ‘looked after’.  Oh really?

Just how is that measured, G?  I can’t find a source through Google, but estimates being bandied about on Twitter suggest that only six per cent of ESA claimants are allocated to the ‘support’ group of the benefit, the one where people are ‘safe’ from being moved to JSA.

Why don’t we just reduce it to one per cent, George?  Or even point one?  If all that matters is protecting the ‘most severely’ ill/disabled, then why not just set your arbitrary figures at an even more arbitrary level?  Why not screw everyone?  Why not decide that the lowest number possible represents the ‘most severely’ disabled?  In fact, I have a great idea.  How about, instead of using percentages, we just ‘protect’ the one single ‘most severely’ disabled person in the whole country?!  That would really help clear the deficit!

Why Mentalists are Fucked

It’s not just mentalists, of course.  Anyone with a hidden disability is potentially bollocksed by this, regardless of reams of medical evidence agreed by 700,000 health professionals clearly demonstrating their chronic/severe/seriously debilitating illness(es).  This is because of the government’s infinitely wise choice to ignore what is clearly biased evidence from your GP, consultant and any other medic-y types you may see, and have you assessed instead by their independent medical assessors.

These people of course work for the Social Security Agency (SSA) and ATOS because they voluntarily turned down positions in the NHS and private medicine, absolutely not because they were faced with little choice when it came to their careers.  Hmm.  yes.  *clears throat*  Furthermore, naturally their specialist rotations were of such longevity and depth that they know at least as much if not more than individual consultants in specific branches of clinical medicine. Um-hmm-hmm-hmm.  Yup. *clears throat again*

In short (and sarcasm aside) – these twats have little to no specialist knowledge of psychiatry/psychology, and are therefore not in any position at all to make a judgement on whether someone is truly mentally ill or not.  Ditto gynaecology, rheumatology, opthamology, etc etc etc, ad infinitum.

Random Notes and Observations

I am interested to note no evidence in the CSR of extra percentage points added to things like inheritance tax for those left with colossal inheritances.  I wonder why that was?

It should be noted (as if matters weren’t complicated enough) that ESA can be claimed on a contributory or an income-based basis:

  • [you can claim] contributory ESA if you have paid enough national insurance contributions. However, if you become unfit for work before you are 20 (25 in some cases), you do not need to meet the national insurance contribution conditions.
  • income-related ESA [is claimable] if your income and savings are low enough…To get income-related ESA, your income will be compared with an amount the Government thinks is enough for you to live on.  If you income is less than this, you will get the maximum amount of income-related ESA. If your income is more than this amount, you may get some income-related ESA.  You cannot get any income-related ESA if your savings are more than £16,000. If you get child maintenance payments, usually these will not be included in your income.  (Source)

So, to be fair, this reform won’t officially affect everyone who claims ESA in the work-group.  But do we trust the government to keep the income-related component safe from stealth cuts?  I’m not so sure.

Links

Many people have responded and will respond far better to today’s announcements than I have or can.

I will add to this as and when I come across more.  I suspect that that shall not be far in the future.

My views on the already-proposed changes (from the June 2010 budget) to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) can be found here.

Number Crunching

I do not object to benefit reform per se, and I would like to see ‘scroungers’ weeded out of the system as much as anyone else.

The problem is that the idea of ‘scroungers’ is a hand being grossly overplayed by the government and the country’s reactionary media.  No one denies that there’s some such people; however, most of us dispute that they are as high in number as The Fail or The Sexpress have indoctrinated their respective readerships into believing.  In actuality, the rate of benefit fraud comes in at something like one per cent of all claimants, for God’s sake.  Oh, wait.  A source, you say?  OK.  It’s…um…The Daily Mail!

For the purposes of comparison, This is Money notes that the Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that whilst the aforementioned 1% of fraudsters may be incurring about £5 billion pounds of expense, about £16 billion of benefit entitlements are unclaimed.

The same site also points out that The National Fraud Authority (NFA) claims that tax evasion costs the Treasury about £17 billion.  One thing to note here is that one single case of tax evasion or white collar fraud can run into millions, thus possibly meaning that relative to benefit fraud, there are fewer individuals committing this type of financial crime.  Nevertheless, the figure is still three times higher than that of benefit crime, and thus is surely relevant to the bigger picture in governmental macro-budgeting.  Perhaps some funding to help the NFA catch white collar criminals wouldn’t go amiss.  Perhaps, given these figures, much more money could be returned to the Exchequer in this way than by cutting benefits to those that need them?

Meh

What do I know though.  I’m just a dirty benefit fraudster who thoroughly deserves to be cast into a potentially deadly financial desert for her crimes, all because you can’t always see her faux illness crippling her body.

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Nadine Dorries on "Nutters"

Our friend Nadine Dorries has shown herself, yet again, to be the quintessence of human decency, a Mother Theresa-like figure to whose lofty heights of loveliness we should all aspire:

Nutters

My association is an election winning machine run by my Chairman, Andy Rayment and Deputy Chair Political, Steve Male.
Both are busy men and run the association in a regimented and disciplined manner.
As focused driven individuals, neither Andy or Steve suffer fools lighlty.
So when a ‘nutter’ began bombarding my association with telephone calls and emails, this made me laugh out loud http://www.bedfordshire-news.co.uk/Blogs/John-Balls-Diary/Monday-September-20.htm [this goes to a story reporting on how blogger Tim Ireland has contacted Mr Rayment]
I have heard that when a copy of this was leaked to my local newspapers, in indignation, it caused much mirth in the newspaper offices too.

So, my former Lib Dem opponent carries handcuffs around in her handbag. I’m not even going to ask….

Please note that the quotation above is taking verbatim from Ms Dorries’ own blog.  I therefore apologise for the multifarious stylistic errors.  She would not have made a fabulous secretary, but then she doesn’t make a particularly good MP either, does she?

Both Seaneen (here) and I (here) have written recently on the use of humour – which can include certain what seem to be pejorative terms – in the discussion of and even in destigmatising aspects of mental illness.  By and large we both concluded that the intent of a particular term or allusion was what served as the clear demarcation between amusing and offensive.

So, if a friend who was familiar with my circumstances poked fun at my mentalism and described me as a ‘nutter’, I would probably treat it as gentle teasing.  No big deal.

However, two things strike me on Dorries’ use of the term.  One: Tim Ireland, with whom she has had a long-running public spat, is not to the best of my knowledge diagnosed with any mental health difficulties (not that, if he were, there is any reason for shame, and not that her imbecility would be excused).  She doesn’t like Mr Ireland, and he represents a very public inconvenience for her; ergo, her terminology is evidently used in a critical fashion.

It reasonably follows, therefore, that if she uses such a term antagonistically, she feels that being a ‘nutter’ is a Bad Thing, which in turn follows that she thinks people with mental health problems are flawed people – probably lazy benefit frauds, in her estimation, as her asinine anti-Twitter rant would appear to attest.  (If you can concentrate on a number of tiny messages several times a day, then there’s damn all wrong with your concentration, ability to type, yadda yadda).

Secondly, it almost doesn’t matter in what fashion Ms Dorries uses derogatory terms because she is (to the regret of many) a public figure.  Even if it had been innocent and little more than a gentle dig, using a possibly offensive word whilst basking in a public limelight could potentially have the effect of normalising such thinking – “bad person = nutter // nutters = bad people”.

We’ve all heard of the headlines in The Scum screaching “schizo”, “madman” and, indeed, “nutter”, when the individuals to which they allude don’t always even have mental illnesses.  In the cases where they do, reference is rarely made to what is actually wrong with the individual (unless (s)he conveniently enough has schizophrenia, which is of course totally mis-represented by the pathetic little rag) and even more uncommonly is there a discussion of the fact that the vast majority of mentally ill people are not remotely dangerous nor particularly sensationalist.  But that doesn’t sell rags.

Dorries’ nonsense isn’t all that different.  OK, it’s on a small-ish scale – she isn’t that well-known – and she certainly doesn’t have the influence of The Scum, but she is still in a position of responsibility, and is choosing to abuse that.  She has berated the aforereferenced Mr Ireland as not being a constituent to whom she is therefore not accountable.  Fair enough, but she is accountable to everyone in her constituency (regardless of whether or not they voted for her), and a proportion of those people will be certified “nutters”.

For the record, I personally am not particularly offended by Dorries’ asinine rambling, but I think that it is representative of a wider and more concerning issue.

Consider this.  Try replacing the term ‘nutter’ with any one of ‘queer’, ‘nigger’, ‘kyke’, ‘mong’ etc (God, it pains me even to write those, and I’m far from ‘PC’).  It’s not so long ago that some of these words (and many others) were used simply to criticise people, whether they belonged to the subset of the population to which the phraseology applied or not.  I don’t think anybody but the likes of Nick cuntface Griffin would deem most of these slurs acceptable in today’s everyday parlance…so why, then, is it still considered widely acceptable to use deliberately prejudicial language to reference mental illness?

Certain otherwise pejorative terms are considered acceptable in this arena whenever the intent behind the statement is clearly not malicious.  Being an ignorant, self-important arsehole with an attitude problem is not, however, tolerable.  Phil summed up Dorries best to me in a blog comment yesterday: she’s the sponger, living off my taxes.

Thanks to @humphreycushion, one of Dorries’ current objects of ire, for drawing my attention to this matter. The Conservative Party Conference is ongoing in Birmingham this week, and the lurrrrr-vel-ley Nadine will be in situ.  If you’re in the area, do go along and tell her what you think.

EDIT TO ADD: @humphreycushion has published a very interesting list of articles out there in the blogophere discussing Nadine Dorries’ recent comments on this post of her blog.

EDIT TO ADD II:  There is an excellent post refuting Nadine Dorries’ one-sided, ill-informed opinions – specifically regarding mental illnesses – here.

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Nadine Dorries is a Twat (AKA Why I Love Twitter)

The title says it all, really.

Sad CowYou’ve probably heard of this fuss by now: Tory backbench Moron Nadine Dorries has explicitly stated that she feels that anybody who’s claiming benefits and simultaneously using Twitter a lot must be a cynical, lazy, scrounging fucktard who deserves to be reported to the Department of Work and Pensions (or, in Northern Ireland, the Social Security Agency) and have every last penny that sustains them removed from their apparently fraudulent bank accounts:

Is there such a thing as Twitter addiction? How can anyone live a normal life who can do that? Surely these people cannot be in employment because if they are, how can they work? if they aren’t then it’s time they got a job which involves being sat at a key board because there’s nothing much up with their fingers, brain or attention span!!

do you know of anyone else who has Tweeted more than 35,000 times in less than six months? If so, email my office and let me know. Or, better still, if it’s someone you know is on benefits, contact the DWP.

As you can see, aside from being a remarkably sensitive and understanding humanitarian to whom we should all look up, Ms Dorries also epitomises the subtle art of prosaic narrative, and in so doing simultaneously beguiles her readers with her quick wit and astonishing intellect.

As I know she has the best interests of each citizen of the United Kingdom at heart, I would invite Ms Dorries to read the archives of my blog to see whether or not she feels I should be working.  I’m sure that she would agree that having a hallucinating, dissociated, ticking timebomb of pure mentalism work for you is high on the priority list of every employer in the country.  I’m also sure that she would find herself nodding in ruminative agreement with my assessment that my returning to a working environment before I am adequately well would miraculously cure me, rather than drive me to suicide.

Ah, such cynicism, Pandora!

OK then.  Ms Dorries was not referring to me and people of my ilk, sure she wasn’t?  But wait – I rather think that she was.  I have thousands of tweets to my name (thousands more if you include Alter Ego’s account too); what an evil clusterfuck of sloth-filled bile and societal degradation I am.  The fact that I can concentrate on 140 measly characters a few times a day must surely mean that I am twisted, lying benefit cheat who needs to be radically punished!  Right on!

Or maybe, it’s something that has given me back a small modicum of social interaction, an endeavour that is otherwise nigh on impossible when you live with the circumstances that I and countless others do?  Maybe it’s acted as a highly effective and much treasured support group – an acceptable kind of group therapy, if you will?  Maybe Twitter has actually saved me from myself…specifically from killing myself?  (I know that it might be financially convenient for the coalition if all disabled Twitter users topped themselves right now, but I am sure that even the saintly Ms Dorries would not wish to espouse such a course of action).

People who don’t use Twitter often misunderstand it and dismiss it as a fatuous and self-obsessed platform for searing, grandiose narcissism.  Whilst tweets exhibiting such traits inevitably exist on occasion, the opposite is in fact usually true.  Twitter opens up an entire world to the chronically agoraphobic or pain-stricken person: it connects kindred spirits, allows us a bit of a laugh together on occasion and enables shared suffering – no one wants that suffering to exist of course, but since it’s going to anyway, we might as well experience it with people who empathise and who give a shit about us.

Ms Dorries clearly does not give a shit about people with disabilities, whether or not those are physical, mental or both.  Trying to take away one tiny thing that gives some measurement of hope, pleasure and camaraderie to people who are otherwise entirely devoid of same is callous, cold and discriminatory in the extreme.

I wanted to post on this issue as over the past 18 months or so I’ve become moderately well known in this (admittedly very small) corner of the blogging community, and I hope that in that way I can draw some attention to the matter.  However, although I could say much more, for once I’m going to take a back seat here and not prattle on for 3,000 words.  To that end, I will now link to several articles that have dealt much more eloquently and succinctly with this issue than I ever could.  I applaud these people for their considered and astute responses to Dorries’ twattery.

All of the above come highly recommended, and if you know of any other blogposts or articles that should be included, please leave me a comment and I’ll add them here.

In signing off, though, may I just echo @miss_seaneen‘s particular sentiment as extended to Ms Dorries:

Fuck off, Nadine Dorries!

PS.  In case anyone’s wondering why I have filed this entry under ‘Important People in my Life’, it’s because people on Twitter are important people in my life, regardless of whether or not I’ve met them in person.  Twitter is a lifeline for many disabled people and can connect you with wonderful folks who become friends for life. If that’s some sort of criminal offence in political circles, then go ahead and hang me you cunts; if you were to deny me such a small and simple pleasure then I’d bloody welcome it anyway.

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Thoughts on the DLA Changes in the Budget

EDIT II – 17 February 2011 – Today the government announced its welfare “reform” bill, the relevant document being accessible here. I haven’t examined it yet, mainly as I am very severely depressed at the minute and incapable of doing anything even remotely constructive. I would suggest that you check out the blogs of these folks for useful and insightful commentary on the proposals. There is also a very good piece on disability benefits by left-wing activist Sally Bercow here.

The information I have in this post is still relevant to DLA changes, and I hope you find it useful. However, it is not as current as some other material out there, given that it was written in response to the June 2010 budget. I hope that if this post doesn’t answer your questions, that at least some of the links here can.

Best wishes

Pandora

EDIT – 6 December 2010 – In light of announcements made today on DLA, this post is experiencing a resurgence of hits.  Unfortunately the material herein, although probably relevant to today’s measures, is not about them specifically, referring instead to ideas mooted in the June 2010 budget.  I have yet to examine in detail the changes announced in today’s proposal documents, but will do so as soon as possible and then post about it.  In the meantime, here is the information provided by the government itself, and an article on the issue from Community Care.

NOTE: This is written from the point of view of someone claiming Disability Living Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance as her sole income; I do not and cannot work at present.  In most cases, DLA can be awarded if you do work.  However, I have only claimed it in the context of unemployment, and would apparently not be entitled to it if and when I did return to work, so I am writing from that perspective.  Please see here if you need more details on the benefit.

So apparently the delightful George Osbourne, with the backing of both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats in their spectacularly beautiful little love-in coalition of joy, has decreed that from 2013 all claimants of Disability Living Allowance – new or existing – will have to undergo medical examinations.  This is in order to weed out the dirty, scrounging malingerers that go about claiming DLA…you know, those bunch of work-shy, lazy twatbags that just cannot be arsed to work.

People like me!!!

I am mental, therefore I have a disability that you can’t see on or about my body…therefore I don’t have a disability and am not mental, so seemingly goes the circular logic, because mental illness* doesn’t really exist, does it – it’s just something us pigshit, employment-avoidant obsessives make up so we can live at the tax-payer’s expense.  Nevermind that filling out the bloody form is like a full-time job in itself…

(* Of course they do recognise that mental illness exists – but ‘depression’ or ‘PTSD’ or whatever are not really mental illnesses in these people’s eyes.  One has to be floridly and continually psychotic, otherwise they ain’t unwell at all innit.  And, yes, I know – not everyone in the government or society at large thinks this.  Probably not even the majority, to be fair.  But it’s still going to be the hidden disabilities that get hit here – of that I am almost certain).

Obviously, I’m being facetious here.  I know that there are people claiming benefits who are work-shy malingerers, and of course I’d like to see such people weeded out of the system; I think most right-thinking people would.  The difficulties with this approach are many, though.

For one, I genuinely don’t believe that there’s as many such people in the system as the Daily Fail-thumping reactionists would have us believe.  That was a view that I formerly held, I must confess, and I apologise profusely for my unfair, cruel stereotyping.  It hasn’t been my own work-demise that has fuelled my revision of opinion, but connecting with so many people on Twitter and Facebook whose claims for various disabilities – mental or physical, obvious or hidden – are very clearly needed and deserved.  I have yet to meet one single person claiming the benefit that does not seem entitled to it.

Secondly, these medical examinations can set people like me back by months.  I cannot emphasise enough how stressful they are.  Unlike DLA, claims for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the replacement for Incapacity Benefit (IB), are presently assessed.  I went through one in March last year, and it effectively ruined my life for a while – the derision and contempt with which you are treated, the evident disbelief on the part of the clinician, the gruelling and intimate interrogation that they force upon you – for someone mentally stable, it would be horrific.  The effects upon us that are clearly unstable are potentially devastating.

Thirdly, as Benefit Scrounging Scum points out in this post, there is a danger that DLA assessments will completely backfire on the government.  If, as seems likely, assessments will ensure that many people receiving or applying for DLA will be turned down for it, then in all probability the various Social Security Agencies will be swamped with costly appeal tribunals.  The capital involved in provision of these tribunals could quite possibly amount to a figure similar to the bill currently directed at DLA payments.  Any savings would ergo be lost.

On a similar point, though, I fear that those of us with mental health problems, or those that are ‘easily’ distressed, may be so floored by the news that their DLA claim has been rejected that they fall into a spiral of abject depression.  I think I can reasonably assume that detailing the dangers of this to most of my readership is not a necessary endeavour on my part; however, in government-speak, let’s just say that if these people are using DLA as income because they can’t work – well, refusing the benefit to them is not exactly likely to enable them to become your fabled ‘productive members of society’.

In the fourth instance, the medical professionals employed in these capacities seem universally fuckwitted (I’ve had experience of them prior to last year too).  They work for the Social Security Agencies, I am convinced, because they are unemployable elsewhere (and that’s saying something when you consider the calibre of some medics in the NHS!).  At no point are any specialists apparently involved.  This is not just applicable to psychiatric disorders, but things like MS, arthritis, deafness, learning disabilities, autism – you name it.  They’re just ‘generic’ doctors with no in-depth understanding of the sometimes complex illnesses with which they are presented.

The incompetence of the doctor I saw last year was underlined by the fact that he felt that I was at no point ‘disconnected from reality’ (hmm, psychosis and dissociation are a universal reality, then) and could return to work within a year to 18 months.  LOLZ like innit.  Look at me, people, look at me!  I’m a bloody mess of psychological spaghetti falling off a plate!  There is no way!

The incompetence of the Social Security Agency, in turn, was that they employed this useless tosser who didn’t even assess me under the correct section of the relevant legislation, and they didn’t even realise his mistake.  Despite my protestations, a year later they have still not responded to my complaints.  Furthermore, because I was not deemed to be ‘disconnected from reality’, I will be asked to attend work-focused interviews towards the end of this year – and unless there is a dramatic change in a mere few months, I will simply not be ready for these meetings, never mind for actual fucking work.

Not everyone that claims DLA also claims ESA or IB, but many do.  For those of us with a nervous or unstable disposition, having to have two evil medical exams will be a stress beyond stress; this may sound histrionic, but I really believe this could lead to full psychological – even psychotic – breakdowns.  They really are that bad.  Aside from the fact that this is horrendous for the person involved, and their friends and family, if we look at it from a macro perspective, such breakdowns will only cost the government more through the health care required.  Thus rendering the supposed savings redundant, yet again.

Now, if Georgie-Gideon-Tory-Boy Osbourne would link ESA assessments to those also claiming DLA, or vice versa, that might be moderately acceptable.  I could live with that, but not with having to go through this highly traumatic experience twice.

Additionally, the various Social Security Agencies across the UK need to make sure they employ a range of medical specialists.  Psychiatric specialists, yes, but also those in other medical disciplines.  Presumably psychiatry would need to be the largest, however, as mental health problems (as far as I know) account for many DLA claims, especially amongst people of my age.  I don’t even think these doctors would need to be full-time, nor would they need to be consultants.  A trainee at registrar or SHO level, perhaps also working elsewhere at other times, would be better than someone who has only the most basic specialist training whilst doing his or her MB.

They will never do this, of course.  But to make things fair, they damn well should.

The one saving grace of this proposed change to DLA, from an entirely personal angle, is that it won’t come into practice until 2013.  I sincerely hope that I will be able to work at that point, but therapy and recovery for the conditions with which I am afflicted takes bloody time, and we’ll just have to see.  One thing that I am determined not to do is return to work before I am completely psychologically ready – that would do neither me nor the employer any good.

For other people, who will never be able to work, this is a self-evident and undermining blow – and, frankly, something of an insult.

In theory, I do support some screening to make sure claimants are genuine.  Those that are claiming illegitimately give us all a bad name, and more importantly, they ‘scrounge’ money that would be much better spent elsewhere – such as the health service itself.

But at the end of the day, I would rather there were one or two fakers within the system than have the rest of us robbed of the entitlements that we need, whilst being thoroughly objectified and demoralised in the process.

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