It was a huge shock to lose a good friend and campaigner on Monday 1st January 2017. I spent the day in and out of tears, but as the day unfolded I was astonished to realise the extent of her reach and the number of lives she had profoundly touched. It was typical of Denise Bellamy to just get on with it, she was at times completely disabled by recurring illness and had a busy family life to boot. I can’t imagine how she did it, but I do feel profound awe and overwhelming of love for a dear departed friend and campaigner.
We’re just a few days into the new year, it’s not even toddling yet, but what has struck me is the force of the opposition to what the Tories are doing to our country and our people. It feels the year has started like a tidal wave and we are a lot wiser than at the start of 2016, but the fundamental problem remains, the way the Tories treat us and their attitude towards us.
Today I read about a woman who had her mobility allowance stopped because she could squeeze someone’s thumb. She has since had her mobility allowance restored and backdated after interventions from her MP and the press, but that is not the point. Despite having evidence from MS specialists at Leicester’s hospitals, during the assessment the lady was asked to, ‘squeeze this person’s thumb, to touch her toes from a sitting position and to stand on one leg, which she managed to do although holding on to something.’ And that was it, her support was stopped.
I must mention here that within the Department for Work and Pensions we are called ‘Stock’!
Throughout history the lower orders, that’s ordinary people, have been used and abused as cannon fodder, cheap labour, providers for the great and the good as well as being their servants (and being forced into other less savoury roles) and the problem with this government is that this attitude still prevails.
The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is designed to be humiliating, demeaning, infantalising and downright disrespectful. Medical evidence that claimants provide is ignored and people are forced to perform for so called Healthcare Professionals who go through a tick box process and the results are sent to a decision maker who has the final say in denying them support.
One nurse who worked as a Healthcare Professional had this to say about her job, “It is made clear throughout training and working that we are not nurses – we are disability analysts. Also, we do not carry out “medical assessments” we carry out “functional assessments”. We did not even need a diagnosis to carry out assessments.”
The entire point of ‘functional assessments’ is to assess whether the claimant could do any form of bullshit work at all, no matter how limited, so squeezing a finger qualifies a claimant as capable of work and the entire point of the assessment is to deny benefits to as many people as possible. In short, it’s a punitive system of benefit denial.
What used to enrage Denise, which we discussed many times, and still enrages me and many others is the arrogant paternalism of the government who treat people more like groveling penitents who are forced to physically beg for help through a series of meaningless and demeaning actions like performing monkeys. The word and expertise of real healthcare professionals, like GPs and hospital specialists and, indeed, the word of the claimant, is treated as of no value and meaningless.
In his book, PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, Paul Mason wrote the following, “The truth is, as finance has seeped into our daily lives, we are no longer slaves to the machine, to the 9-to-5 routine, we’ve become slaves to interest payments. We no longer just generate profits for our bosses through our work, but also profits for financial middlemen through our borrowing. A single mum on benefits, forced into the world of pay-day loans and buying household goods on credit, can be generating a much higher profit rate for capital than an auto industry worker with a steady job.
“Once every human being can generate a financial profit just by consuming – and the poorest can generate the most – a profound change begins in capitalism’s attitude to work… financialization is a permanent feature of neoliberalism. Like fiat money, it leads to breakdown – but the system can’t do without it.”
Financial insecurity, whether through poverty pay, insecure jobs on zero hours contracts, the destruction of social safety nets, reducing or denying people the pensions they have paid for over a working lifetime, is a systemic abuse of ordinary people for profit and the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.
Drive people into the ground and they become slaves to debt and interest rates all of which just increases the wealth of those who control the financial markets and so it is no surprise to see a report today that the public subsidies to the privatised rail networks, £3.999 billion in 2015/16 alone, is declared as profit and siphoned off as bonuses and fatcat pay packages. Meanwhile rail fares are on the rise again and rail networks fail to meet customer needs merely to get to work.
Whether it is in the trenches over 144 days of hell and ultimate horror in the battle of the Somme at the cost of over a million lives, numberless billions trying to scratch a mean living as wage slaves, or sick and disabled people denied even the right to basic mobility and care, it all feeds the greed of those who own and control wealth and make obscene profits and pay themselves more money than they could need in a hundred lifetimes and give nothing back, not even taxes towards the very system that sustains them.
The entire world runs on the backs of ordinary people, the worker, the disabled person, the immigrant, the single mum, the OAP struggling to stay warm, the evicted homeless, all of us plain, honest to god, ordinary folks.
And do you know what? We’re amazing, we’re so damned decent it takes my breath away. The outpouring of love for Denise says everything about us and nothing about the thieves who despoil our lives for profit. If you are English, then you quite likely hardly know how to complain about a poorly prepared meal in a restaurant, or take back shoddy goods to a store without making a fuss, just standing firm and expecting a refund, or whatever. The crimes committed against us on a daily basis we’ve suffered for generations.
Back in July 1957, Harold Macmillan blithely told us we’d never had it so good, before deciding that we needed to increase our productivity and have our wages suppressed. And he got away with it.
We are so damned good and decent it’s staggering, and when the time comes to be as obnoxious as humanly possible towards the system, we are completely nonplussed. It’s not that we’re out of practice, we’ve never really done it before. Civil disobedience? What’s that?
Personally I am learning every day, building up grit and sinew, cutting away at the veneer of civilisation because there is nothing civilised about organised society, other than in the civility of ordinary people. Behind the veneer of a supposedly civilised state is a shocking brutality in which people are dying daily and does the state care? Not one bit, indeed it creates the very circumstances in which so many are losing their lives.
It’s a slow process and we are not to blame for that, we’re learning as we go. Learning to stand up for ourselves and it is happening. When I think back to planning what I could do in 2011/12 before starting a letter a day to number 10, there was barely a ripple in general to what was going on. As 2017 begins it’s a very different story by comparison. Is it good enough, are we good enough? Yes, we are.
It takes patience, it can’t be rushed for love nor money. Not a one of us can demand any kind of popular uprising, but we can and do work towards it, daily. As others join, so much is already in place and they don’t have to do the groundwork, and getting up to speed is made easier by those who’ve gone before and worked their socks off.
Denise was such a one and I applaud her life and all she did for every one of us, yes, even those who do not even know it yet, never knew her and never will. Her efforts were no less heroic for that.
If she could have left a message on my answering machine, I am very sure she’d have left (in spirit) something like:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won if he’d stuck it out.
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow –
You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are –
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.
Attributed to Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)
KOG. 04 January 2017