Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Braving a night out in the cold to highlight the problems faced by the homeless.

North Staffs Green Party coordinator Sean Adam will brave a night sleeping out in the cold this weekend to highlight the challenges faced by homeless people across the city.

The sleep-out will take place at a yet to be disclosed location.

Sean said: I'm sleeping rough to bring to attention to the issues of homelessness here in Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire.'

He went on to comment on the wide range of people driven into homelessness by circumstances often beyond their control, including many ex-servicemen and the impact of government attitudes towards homelessness, saying 'government policy should not be putting people on the streets to live. When is the government going to realise this a wake up to it. Yes there are those 'ladies & gentlemen of the road' but these are a minority of the homeless. Even with some of young people sofa hopping there are still times when the only bed they can find is under the stars.'

Amongst the issues Mr Adam wishes to draw attention to is the possible use of Public Space Protection Orders, introduced under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, which could be used to criminalise homeless people.

He also wishes to draw attention to the impact of homelessness on young people, a Freedom of Information request made to local authorities by homelessness charity Centrepoint revealed that 136,000 young people asked for help because they were either homeless or at risk of homelessness in 2014/15, with 15,000 being assesses as eligible for support.

The Green Party has a number of policies aimed at redesigning the housing market to make it fairer and more sustainable, these include:

Building 500,000 rented social homes and ending the 'right to buy' scheme; devolving control over Housing Benefit budgets to local authorities, allowing for more flexibility and restoring entitlement to Housing Benefit to people under the age of 25.

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough said ' this is a hugely important issue that goes to the very heart of the government's austerity policies and their impact on the lives of real people. We are fully behind Sean's campaign.'


Friday, 20 November 2015

The cruelty of WCA shows that Tory leopards never change their spots.

Researchers from Oxford and Liverpool universities have analysed data from five years of the government's Work Capability Assessment (WCA) programme and found that it could be linked to nearly six hundred suicides and a rise in mental health problems.

The WCA was introduced by Labour in 2008 as a way of helping people on sickness benefits back into work, under the coalition government its remit was expanded as part of Iain Duncan Smith's assault on the welfare state.

Out of every 10,000 people subjected to WCA 2700 reported mental health problems and six may have been driven to commit suicide by the experience, there was also a marked rise in the number of people being prescribed anti-depressants.

Tom Holland, campaigns manager for mental health charity MIND told the BBC on Tuesday the report shone a 'light on the damaging impact WCA's can have on peoples mental health.'

Also speaking to the BBC shadow health minister Luciana Berger said it was 'unacceptable to have a system that causes vulnerable people anxiety putting their health at further risk.'

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said the report was 'wholly misleading' and that no direct conclusions could be drawn from the evidence presented about cause and effect.

Professor Tom Baguley of Nottingham Trent university, again speaking to the BBC, said the evidence presented in the report went 'beyond merely establishing a correlation but falls short of establishing a causal link.'

He added that the study 'provides evidence that the specific application of this policy increased the suicide rate and outcomes associated with adverse mental health in those people affected.'

I'll leave the academics to argue about the methodology, what it abundantly clear is that someone has been 'misled' over the impact of WCA and it is we the public.

Since 2010 the government has sold us the us the line that it isn't seeking to punish people who are can't work due ill health, it is trying to help them recover their independence and sense of purpose; how wrong can anyone who believed that have been.

Actually you don't need a report stuffed with graphs and statistics to see that the WCA system isn't helping the people it was set up to, in fact it is exposing some of them to mortal harm. Look at your local paper any day of the week and you will come across stories of people who have been hounded mercilessly by a system that refuses to believe, even when it is backed up by medical evidence, that they are unfit to work.

Lets be clear about this, nobody chooses a life on sickness benefits because it is easier than working; it demonstrably isn't, if they're lucky claimants have just enough money to survive and no more. That they have to deal with a suspicious and prejudiced system only serves to make a bad situation even worse.

The government seems to operate in relation to what remains of the welfare state on a moral level handed down by the Victorians. People in what they are careful not to call 'the lower orders', but evidently think of in those terms are fundamentally feckless, if they aren't working its usually because they just don't want to, therefore any benefits they receive should be meagre and the process of claiming them difficult.

Added to this ludicrous prejudice in this instance is another and equally ancient one, that against people with mental health problems. If someone needs a stick to help them walk then even the dimmest blimp in the smoking room can see they might genuinely be too ill to work. Someone with depression say probably doesn't show any outer symptoms and so to those afflicted with smaller than usual minds they can't be ill.

Only, of course, they can; so ill in fact that they are unable to face the struggle of wrestling with the complexities of the benefits system and so it rolls over them like a runaway train. In the worst cases the result can be, as this report shows, suicide.

Since 2005 David Cameron and his cabal have been on a mission to persuade us that the Tories have changed and learnt the value of compassion, policies like this prove that to be a lie. They are still the same elitist, selfish and sometime openly cruel party they have always been; they really do believe there is no such thing as society.

Political leopards are no more likely to change their spots than the ones in the zoo are. That it a terrible thing to find out, as many people are doing to their cost, at the most vulnerable time of your life.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Hope, Recovery and Crocodile Bob.

On Wednesday night Stoke based mental health charity Changes held its annual general meeting at the Hope Centre in Hanley. In attendance were around a hundred members and a small stuffed crocodile called Bob.

Quite what role Bob played in proceedings wasn't made clear, apart, perhaps from serving as a metaphor for how the risk of experiencing mental distress can lurk under the surface of the most placid seeming lives.

The meeting took place as concerns were being expressed locally about an acute shortage of psychiatric staff as the Royal Stoke University Hospital. Nationally think tank the King's Fund were quoted as describing cuts to NHS funding for mental health care and the increasing replacement of clinical treatments with cheaper and largely untested self help alternatives as a 'leap in the dark.'

For its part the government has since the election continued to make comforting noises about 'parity of esteem' for people with mental health problems with that of those with physical ones, meanwhile the same old situation pertains on the ground. Age old prejudices collide with paltry funding and the politics of austerity to create a bleak landscape for service users.

Increasingly charities like Changes are having to step in to plug the gap in services, providing mutual support, the group is, uniquely, run by people with first hand experience of mental distress; and surprisingly often a real opportunity for recovery and hope.

Chairman John Irons alludes to this in his review of the year saying Changes has continued to provide a 'supportive environment' and to help members play to their strengths rather than be limited by their problems, despite operating in a 'harsh' financial environment.

The work done by what is a, comparatively, small charity is truly impressive, over the past year it has delivered 34,104 contact hours, every week Changes volunteers have clocked up 540 hours of unpaid work with a value of £300,000 for the year as a whole.

Through an impressive array of projects the charity has delivered mutual support groups in prisons, offered training to members helping them to understand and develop tools to cope with their experience of mental distress and worked to help whole communities to improve their surroundings and quality of life.

About the only thing more remarkable than how much good Changes does in the local community is how little said community knows about it. Perhaps because they are used to having to fly under the radar to avoid prejudice people successfully living with mental illness who refuse to be defined by their condition are reticent about celebrating their achievements.

That is a great pity because it means some truly inspiring stories are never heard by the larger audience they deserve, stories like that of Matt. He is one of the 569 people Changes helped last year through its One Recovery drug and alcohol addiction project.

On Wednesday night he took to the stage to tell the story of how through the pressures of his job as a chef he had become first a heavy drinker and then a full blown alcoholic. Despite having tried to find sobriety before it was only when he discovered Changes that something 'clicked' and recovery became first a possibility and then a reality.

Now a year or so later he had found a new life, not one that was always easier than it had been before, but now it was one that contained genuine friendships, a sense of purpose and hope for the future. There was no contrition or victimhood here; no sense of an individual having been flattened into numbed stasis by a system that puts paperwork ahead of people, just quiet and hopefully lasting strength.

Mental illness has, in one form or another, always been part of the human condition, the trade off we make for having brains that reason rather than follow instinct alone. What is clear though is that the atomised, aggressively materialistic and competitive nature of today's world has made it more prevalent.

There are few people who will not have it touch either their life or that of someone close to them and yet it remains something not to be spoken about. On the rare occasions when the subject is raised it is through a narrative of victimhood and intractable problems.

Wednesday night told, through the experience of Matt and many of the other people present, told another and more positive story. One about hard times overcome and a long road travelled to arrive at a better place.

It is a story that should be told openly and with honesty to give hope and courage to others who might be about to take their first faltering step.