Sometimes I wish I could care less about things. It would be much easier to accept the status quo. But we live in an increasingly polarised world, and we need people to care. A lot.
Today I want to talk to you about the UK benefits system and how it is letting down the very people it is supposed to help. This isn’t my usual topic of conversation on the blog, so I hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt when I say this is a crucial conversation that we all need to be having.
I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time, but two things have stopped me. The first is fear of the negative reaction I may bring upon myself for writing this honestly. And the second is that I simply haven’t had the time or energy to do so, because I have been so busy trying to fight for the support we need whilst struggling with severe health issues. But after the week we’ve had, I’m making time to get this written.
what is going on with the uk benefit system?
I’m not even sure where to begin with this, because there are so many things happening within the benefits system at the moment. In fact it would be impossible to cover it all within one single blog post. But for the purposes of giving a short overview of where we find ourselves, here are some key facts and figures:
- An additional 400,000 children are expected to be pushed into poverty by benefit changes and the roll-out of Universal Credit.
- 2,380 people died after being found “fit for work” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) between 2011 and 2014. Whilst researching facts for this post I was unable to locate a more recent figure, but I will update this post when I can.
- The DWP has spent over £100m on disability appeals, with over 66% of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and 68% of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeals being ruled in favour of the claimants who had previously been denied support by the DWP.
- More than 280,000 public tip-offs on benefit fraud have led to no action over the past two years due to lack of actual evidence.
These are just four quick snapshots of what is happening within the benefit system at the moment, but they give a clear indication that something is terribly wrong. We are letting down children and those with health issues in a truly horrific way, whilst also engendering an attitude of suspicion and bitterness towards those who are on benefits. How have we reached a place where we look down upon those who are most in need, rather than supporting them?
the stigma of benefits
There is no denying it – there is a massive stigma attached to the idea of benefits. The charity Turn2Us published an in depth report about this very stigma, based on an independent Ipsos MORI survey carried out in 2012 and an analysis of media reports between 1995 and 2011. It is a long read, but there are two points that really stood out for me:
- Benefit stigma rests heavily on the perception that claimants are “undeserving”, and that claimants appear to be seen as less deserving now than they did 20 years ago.
- The media is often blamed for driving this stigma and, whilst there is some evidence of this, it is more important to note that there are specific ways in which this can occur. For instance, whilst the media shares both positive and negative representations of claimants, there is a distinct bias towards the negative view. And whilst negative coverage does not appear to be more prolific than it was in the late 90s, there seems to be more weight added to the “effort” that a claimant makes these days than in previous years.
I found the second of these points really quite profound. In the age of social media, it is easier to balance out the positive and negative views. However it is also far easier to be caught up in the idea that, “you can achieve anything, if only you put your mind to it!”
And it is an admirable sentiment, for sure. But how many of us can truly say that we have never faced a challenge that we simply couldn’t fix on our own? We all have areas we struggle with, times when we fall to our knees and need a helping hand. Whether it’s financial, relational, physical, or emotional, we all have our battles. And yet, because of this ideology that we should be able to cope on our own, we suffer in silence and expect others to do the same.
the benefit system exists for a reason
In 1942, William Beveridge published “Social Insurance and Allied Services” (known as the Beveridge Report), which set the stage for the post-War Welfare State. I’ve recently been rewatching Call The Midwife , and have been struck by the huge difference the Welfare State made in those post-war years and the decades that followed.
Social housing enabled so many families to move out of poverty and into homes that were safe and warm. And the NHS gave families access to healthcare that was free at the point of care. As a family who struggle with multiple health issues, we are constantly grateful for the fact we still have access to see a GP or consultant without worrying about financing such care.
It bothers me greatly that the NHS is being failed so badly by our government, to the point where its future is so uncertain. Just as the high levels of homelessness and families struggling to afford their rent worry me. I find it so difficult to understand how we have found ourselves in this place, where even working families are struggling to survive financially, and those who need support often aren’t able to access it.
we need to change the way we think about the world
And yet there’s a part of me that knows exactly how we got here. Looking back over the past 20 years, which is pretty much my teens and adult life, I can see just how often I was taught to believe it was possible to live a good life by working hard and being “responsible”.
I grew up with the belief that there were enough jobs to go around, and that you could easily keep a roof over your head and food on your table. So imagine my surprise when I graduated from university in 2006, struggled to get a job, and could barely afford rent even in a house share. The financial crisis in 2008, and the austerity measures that have damaged so many in our country have only made things worse. And yet we continue to cling to this idea that if only people tried harder, they would not need support.
Which is why I felt compelled to write our story, to show that those of us seeking support from the benefit system have not only worked unbelievably hard to stay out of a system that is downright cruel, we are also having to deal with the most awful treatment within it.
our story as a family with two disabled parents
Let me start by giving you a basic overview of the situation we currently find ourselves in, and why this is so important to me.
I’m Amanda, a 33 year old graduate and freelancer. My current health diagnoses include: Fibromyalgia; Endometriosis; Joint Hypermobility Syndrome; and Postural Hypotension. I also suffer from chronic migraines that can last for days, IBS, and eczema.
Tim is my husband. He is 36 and his current diagnoses include: Small Fibre Neuropathy, Fatty Liver, and Depression and Anxiety.
Our son is 6 years old and was recently diagnosed with Autism.
Tim and I are both currently out of work for health reasons. This is not something we chose – we have both tried incredibly hard to stay within work:
- Over the past 10 years I have worked in numerous positions including: childcare; student support; tourism; PA; volunteer management; sales; and most recently as a freelance copywriter and VA. I even did a short stint as a dinnerlady whilst suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during my pregnancy – if that isn’t a sign of how hard I have tried to work whilst suffering from debilitating symptoms then I don’t know what is!
- Over the same 10 year period Tim has had 3 different careers – plumber, healthcare assistant, and admin assistant. He left plumbing when the pain in his hands and wrists became too much to continue in that line of work. He retrained as a healthcare assistant and worked in hospitals for almost 5 years before moving into an office based environment. This second career change came about because the shift work began to become too difficult to manage with his developing symptoms of Small Fibre Neuropathy. Unfortunately, despite multiple adjustments made at work, he lost his job last Summer due to the severity of his symptoms and the number of absences he had as a result.
As you can hopefully see from this, Tim and I have worked immeasurably hard over the years to remain in work. In fact, when I had to leave my final place of employment after 6 months of sick leave at the beginning of 2017, I set up my own business (Shortman Media) in an attempt to continue working around my health conditions.
I was determined to avoid having to apply for ESA, and had hoped to build up the business enough to eventually bring Tim on board as well. We knew his days were numbered in traditional employment and I wanted to find a way for us to continue to “pay our own way”. But the reality is that both of us are simply too ill right now to do that.
Since the beginning of 2018 I have barely left the house, other than to occasionally take our son to school. Some days I barely leave my bed, because the pain and fatigue and nausea is so bad. If Tim didn’t bring me food and drink I don’t know what I would do, because on my bad days I cannot cope with the stairs down to the kitchen. Even on good days I often have to go up on all fours because of the pain and instability in my hips and pelvis.
And whilst Tim is faring slightly better than I am, he is still struggling immensely. There are days when he wakes up vomiting from a combination of the pain and anxiety. There are days when the pain is so bad he can barely move, and he regularly cuts and burns himself due to sensory issues with his hands. And there are days when he cannot stop crying because of the awful situation we find ourselves in, and the battle we are facing simply to get the most basic of support.
We are doing our absolute best to support each other and keep our little family safe and emotionally stable throughout one of the hardest periods of our lives, but it is so hard. We are not new to this, we’ve been living with health issues for years. It’s just, right now, we need support to help us to rest, recover, and get back on track. But the very process of trying to get that support is actually making us more sick…
the benefit system is damaging those who are most in need
At present, we are surviving on a combination of ESA (for me), Child Tax Credits, Child Benefits, Housing Benefit, and Council Tax Reduction. Even with the best of budgeting intentions, this isn’t enough to make ends meet. Our rent alone is £540 per month (and due to go up to £555 next month) for a privately rented house that has had two major leaks within two years (I’m talking damage that required a whole new wall and ceiling, leaving us living in damp conditions whilst waiting for repairs!)
Thankfully I was put into the Support Group for ESA. But I was denied PIP last year. I could have taken it to appeal, but I was experiencing migraines that lasted for 10 days at a time, so I simply wasn’t well enough to do that within the month given. I have just reapplied, on the advice of Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), but I thoroughly expect to have to go to appeal. They simply don’t accept how sick I am.
Tim, however, was denied ESA completely as the DWP found him “fit for work”. The decision letter actually states that they do not question that he is ill, but they see no reason why he could not find a job in a “modern office environment with reasonable adjustments.”
Now this, in itself, doesn’t sound that unreasonable, does it? But the fact of the matter is that Tim previously worked in a “modern office environment” and made all sorts of “reasonable adjustments” including specialised equipment and reducing his hours, but it still wasn’t enough to help him keep hold of that job. He was dismissed due to a high level of absence caused by his health conditions.
The DWP knows that he previously worked in an office environment and lost his job for health reasons less than a year ago. So the logic that says he should somehow be able to secure another job and miraculously find an adjustment that he missed in his last workplace is massively flawed. And yet that’s where we find ourselves.
On top of all of this, Tim has had the mobility aspect of PIP which he has been receiving for the past 3 years taken off him, despite the fact he is more ill now than he was 3 years ago when he was first assessed. How does that make sense?
This past week I have had to fill in his ESA appeal form and the mandatory reconsideration form for his PIP because the whole thing was too stressful for him. And when I say stressful, I mean I am seriously worried about his mental health and he’s due to see the GP again tomorrow.
Now here is where it gets hard for me, because in order to show you how damaging this system is, I have to share some of the darkest moments of our life. You see, over the past 3 years, Tim has had a couple of suicidal episodes. Twice I have had to try my absolute hardest to talk him down from the most harrowing place, trying to somehow get through to him that the world would not be better off without him. Because that’s honestly how he feels. There was also a time when he walked out of the house and I had absolutely no idea whether he was going to come back or not.
This is the level of depression and anxiety that he lives with, and yet despite being told this on numerous occasions the DWP seem to believe that he only suffers from “mild depression” and that finding him “fit for work” won’t have any serious implication to his health. To that I respond bullshit. There is no other way of saying it. If you can listen to a couple share experiences of suicidal episodes and then find that person to only be suffering from “mild” depression, then there is something deeply wrong with the system!
The DWP makes arbitrary decisions based on a flawed system
If you’ve never had to apply for either ESA or PIP then you probably have no idea how the system even works. So I want to give you a little bit of background. I’m going to focus specifically on PIP for this, but the ESA system has many similarities.
To start with, you have to call a number to start your claim. This is hugely terrifying for some people, and the process hasn’t even begun yet.
Then, you get sent a ridiculously long booklet you have to fill in (for PIP it is 15 questions) and you only have a few weeks to do it in. For people who are struggling healthwise, this is a mammoth task that is both exhausting and dehumanising.
The next step is a face-to-face assessment. This is carried out by someone with previous healthcare experience, but is basically a case of someone asking you a series of questions and typing the information that they feel is relevant onto a laptop.
But here’s the shocking part – the person who carries out the assessment and actually sees you in person is not the person who makes the decision regarding your claim. That is carried out by a “decision maker”, who may have absolutely no medical training whatsoever, and who has never met you.
the points based system fails to capture a range of conditions
The worst part of it all is that the system is set up to try and ensure as few people as possible are eligible for support. Just a cursory glance at the PIP descriptors shows how hard it is to qualify for even the most basic support (which requires you to score at least 8 points in either the daily living or mobility section).
Even though the DWP’s own guidance now states that these activities needs to be done reliably and to an acceptable standard, this is still open to huge interpretation. From what I have read, the term “reliably” should cover people like us who can do the activities, but doing so causes immense pain or fatigue, or takes us more than twice as long as somebody else. But my experience is that this isn’t always the case…
For instance, both my own refusal last year and Tim’s this year have stated that we do certain things (such as going to church and doing the school run) as proof that we are okay. Yet we have made it clear time and again that we have to rest for hours after the school run, and that doing so is incredibly painful.
We’ve also had our medications used against us. According to the DWP, I can’t possibly be in as much pain as I say I am because I do not take prescription painkillers that a lot of people with my conditions do. Except I told them I don’t take them as they make me too sick, and my Rheumatologist advised me not to take them. Tim received the same message, that he could only possibly be in “moderate pain”, despite taking the maximum doses of Pregablin and Tramadol, and having had to stop taking Amitriptyline and Oromorph due to side effects.
mental health is treated in the most appalling way
When it comes to the mental health side of things it gets even worse. The DWP seems to have absolutely no understanding of mental health, nor the severe impact that the system causes to those who are already suffering.
As I mentioned above, Tim is considered by them to have only “mild depression”, despite previous suicidal episodes and severe distress at present. This is because he was able to talk to the assessor and because he is only on a mild dose of antidepressants (again, because of negative side effects). I find this the most shocking of all, I think, and certainly the most distressing. Because I am the one trying to console my husband as he despairs at the state we are in and how much it feels like the world is against us.
I am actually generally a very positive person, I have my own periods of despair but my faith and natural optimism get me through most things. But even I am struggling mentally and emotionally with the burden we are facing right now, and the stigma that comes with the position we find ourselves in.
Nobody wants to be reliant on benefits. Nobody wants to have to spend every day worrying about how they’ll make ends meet and whether they’ll ever feel well again. And nobody ever wants to be treated like a second class citizen (which is putting it nicely).
I fear for the mental health of my husband right now. I fear that a day will come when it will all become just too much. And I feel guilty that there is absolutely nothing I can do to help him, because I’m too ill to fight the way we need to just to access the most basic of support. And nobody should ever have to feel guilty for needing support.
so let’s change the conversation, let’s support those in need…
If any of what I have written above has moved you in any way, please consider sharing this post with your friends and family. Let’s get the conversation started about the true cost of the benefit system in our country.
Let’s tackle the ongoing narrative that benefit fraud is a big problem and the current system is fair, because it isn’t. This brilliant article from The Huffington Post is a few years old now, but it is a great overview of how small benefit fraud is compared to other things such as tax fraud. It also shows how benefit fraud costs us less than 1% of the total cost of benefits and pensions. How have we blown it so out of proportion?
Well, a lot of it is due to the constant obsession with eliminating the budget deficit, which is actually harming our country. I’m not going to go into this in detail now, as there are people who understand it and can explain it far better than I can. To get you started, check out this brilliant article by The Guardian.
I feel like there is so much more I could say, but all I really wanted to do was to get the conversation started. My husband and I are currently in the heart of battle with this cruel system, and I won’t stop fighting until those in need start to get the support they deserve. Because it’s not just about us as individuals, it’s about us as a society. And I, for one, hope to build a kinder society for my child to grow up in!
help and support for claiming benefits
If you’re trying to access benefits, or want to know what help you may be able to access, please try some of the following places:
Today everybody in the UK woke to find that we had voted to leave the EU in the Referendum yesterday. Like many, I am shocked and quite frankly fearful of the ramifications of this result. Yet I know my parents feel the exact opposite and voted, just as I did, for what they felt was the best for our country, even though we both voted for opposite sides. So where does that leave us, as a family and as a nation?
For weeks the country has felt divided, with opinions and gut reactions leading many of the arguments rather than clear facts. It became almost impossible to find information backed by research from a variety of sources, and combined with the high emotions felt by a disillusioned electorate, it seems understandable that the nation would vote based on almost instinctive reactions.
I mean, let’s look at the polls leading up to the referendum. Most of them showed very distinct patterns with, for example, the younger generation generally voting in favour of remaining in the EU and the older generations voting to leave. Both sides believed they were making a sound decision. For instance, I spoke to someone at work who told me she was voting to leave because she felt it best for her grandchildren, yet I was voting to remain because I felt that was best for my child.
I know that this is how referendums and voting in general works, you always vote for what you think is best, but it seems to have been so polarized this time around. You just have to look at the end results to see that – the Leave campaign may have won with the “majority” of the votes, but that majority was 51.9% of those who voted… 48.1% voted for the exact opposite outcome and that’s a very small margin, just over 1 million votes in it. So clearly, the nation remains divided in its reaction to the referendum result – half are ecstatic and half are entirely disappointed.
It was pretty clear all along that this was going to be the case, as it’s been a closely run battle from the start. Whichever way it had swung, half the population were going to be disappointed. I’m not even going to try and pretend that if the Remain side had won there wouldn’t have been similar feelings this morning – the only real difference would have been that finding a new way to work together in harmony, bringing the two sides together once more, would have played out on a UK-only stage rather than the world-stage as it is currently doing. So again, I ask, where does this leave us?
Well, I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that amongst all the comments I’ve seen this morning across social media, the ones that stand out the most are the ones calling for unity. Those that are asking for us to come together, even in a time of division, because change is hard on anyone. And the next few years are going to be full of uncertainty and change, and we’re going to need to come together and find our common goals in order to make it through as best we can. And I do believe that we have common goals, that we all essentially want the same thing, don’t you?
Let’s build a bridge, not a wall
Deep inside the heart of me
there is a place of truth,
A place that wants the best for us
it’s what I’ll always choose.
But life is never black and white,
there is no right and wrong,
Let’s put aside our differences
together we stand strong.
I know I made my choice today
based on a heartfelt truth,
And you, I know, did just the same
your heart helped you to choose.
So many feelings, good and bad
were thrown into the fray,
Love and fear went head to head
and logic fell away.
So let us all remember now
that feelings hold the power,
We cannot let our fear win out
this is the crucial hour.
Let us instead choose love to win
and with it hope and peace,
And promise to our children now
that love will never cease.
For we have chosen what we thought
was best for them and us,
So let us all unite today
and make sure that it does.
Don’t let our actions at this time
go down in history,
Filled with anger and regret
and marked with misery.
So come together, side by side
let’s work together now,
There’s got to be a better way
and we’ll find it somehow.
For you and I, we’re just the same
we want the best for all,
So let us build a bridge between
our sides, and not a wall.
I’ve written another post over on Spirit Kid Network, inspired by Little Man’s beautiful words, “I love all the people” that he shared with me Friday night before bed. Let’s nurture that loving acceptance of all people!
Scroll down to the bottom to find out how you can make a difference, today!
How long will it be?
How long must we wait?
Until we understand
this is not our fate?
There are things we can do,
there are things we can say;
we don’t have to stand by
and watch time slip away.
Injustice and cruelty,
pain, famine, and war;
when will we stand up
and shout out “NO MORE“?
When poverty hits us?
When death closes in?
When it happens to us?
When will we begin?
The world needs our voices,
our neighbours need love;
Wouldn’t we want the same
were it happening to us?
Don’t fall for the lies,
filled with anger and fear;
don’t blame the victims
or ban them from here.
Our fate is not sealed
and neither is theirs;
we can make a change,
as long as we care.
So let’s open our hearts,
and speak out with intent.
And make sure that our time
on the earth is well spent.
If we start today,
then tomorrow will change.
And together we’ll find
that love isn’t so strange.
How long will it be?
How long must we wait?
Not long at all,
if we let go of hate.
Yesterday I wrote and posted this poem, as I felt I had to do something. Anything.
Today I am joining my fellow bloggers in campaigning together to enact change. We’re using the #SaveSyriasChildren hashtag along with Save The Children in order to raise vital funds and awareness.
TEXT 70008 and the word SYRIA to donate £5 (this goes direct to Save The Children’s emergency relief fund. You can find their terms and conditions here).
If you’d rather donate via the web, you can do so here.
If you want to get involved with spreading the word, you can post a black and white image of your child/ren holding a sign saying “it could have been me/us” along with the hashtag #SaveSyriasChildren like the one I’ve posted of Little Man at the top.
Please also post the following with your image, if shared on Facebook:
”There’s lots that you could do from the comfort of your own home.
Please don’t turn a blind eye.
Do Something to help.
Whatever you decide, don’t choose apathy.
#SaveSyriasChildren To donate £5 please text SYRIA to 70008”
If you want to do more, here are some ideas…
Petition to accept more asylum seekers (on the UK Government and Parliament website)
5 ways You Can Help (one of many articles of this kind – Google will provide far more!)
In light of the #budget2015, Amanda has asked me to write a blog post about getting involved in politics. We are doing a swap of skills… she’s my social media guru and I’m giving her a few politics lesson!
How to get involved…
- Get involved with a political party. Decide which one best suits your personal beliefs and get involved. Not sure which best suits you? Try this quiz…
Have a look on their websites, explore their policies. You could go all the way and get involved as a candidate, like Susanna Rustin, who provides an excellent tongue in cheek review on becoming a politician.
Or you can become a member and help to fundraise and campaign for candidates. Members also help vote for the leadership of the party. Like the Labour Party but disliked Ed Miliband? Join the Labour Party and vote for the next leader and deputy leader.
- Write to your MP, MEP or counsellor. I have done work experience with MPs, they get very few letters. So when they get a few letters from constituents on an issue they get worried, if they get a lot of letters they get very concerned. After all, they know they need to get re-elected in a few months or years. Even better, get your friends and followers to also write letters. Think how worried they will be if they get a hundred letters the same.
Find your constituency: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies
- Interested in a particular policy area or issue? Then research, find and join a relevant society or charity that are actively campaigning about that issue.
For social justice, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is a good one.
Again, get involved. Charities in particular will be grateful for any help they can receive.
Most of us will never influence national policy directly but we can make a difference by volunteering for a charity. The big charities and societies are experienced lobbyist and often consulted on relevant legislation changes. By supporting a national charity you are helping to support a charity that has a stronger voice than yourself be heard.
Even donating your old clothes can be seen as a form of activism.
- Join a local campaign group, these can be political or single issue. If you have a local concern, it is likely others do too. Find them, join them. The best way to find information about these is to look at the noticeboards and piles of information sheets in your local library or independent café or shop. Otherwise, google them or look in the local newspapers.
I’m actively involved with my local history society, as that is an issue I feel strongly about and it also which cuts across political parties.
A list of Lincolnshire charities (where we are based) can be found here. A quick search online should help you find a similar list for your own county.
- Join in a local or national march. These will be advertised in the local media. Your local trade union will promote the big national marches.
- Concerned about workers’ rights? Find the main union in your work place and join a trade union, become involved as an officer or steward.
- If you cannot find a group you like, form your own. Organise, advertise, campaign.
- Otherwise use your skills… many of you will be active bloggers or twitter users. Read and re-tweet and re-post reliable sources of information, such as the board-sheet newspapers, charities, societies, academics or expertise. Don’t just re-tweet attention grabbing posts that you cannot verify the source of information, this will weaken your reliability. Opinion posts are good but must be have reliable sources of information.
- Write a blog post, link to relevant parties, charities, societies. Start a debate, encourage others to get involve. Set up a group to promote information and ideas. Pitch ideas to your local magazine or newspaper to promote information – make it entertaining but informative.
- The government website has other suggestions which you can find here. The ones I like are getting involved with consultations or signing petitions.
I am a member of the Labour Party because I believe in the constitutional declaration that ‘together we can achieve more than we can alone’.
However, you can often achieve more by deciding what your area of expertise is and utilizing those skills.
The government gets away with blaming the poor, the ill and those receiving benefits by playing on people’s stigma. Helping to remove that stigma by promoting the facts and your own experiences in an accessible but informative way helps to remove the strengths of these stigmas and the strength of the government lies.
So I am a teacher, I am a member of local and national history societies, I am a member of a political party and charities. I have also started to write and blog about my experiences. These are all forms of activism.
I think the best form of activism I can achieve is by helping my students to understand how our political system works, to think for themselves, to question everything, to seek out reliable information, to be independent thinkers who make up their own minds and become active member of society.
(Sadly some have chosen to vote Conservative after my lessons but that is fine as they have reasoned for themselves.)
Find one (or more) method that suits you and get involved and have fun.
Debbie is a self-confessed History-Geek, who thoroughly enjoys spending her days passing on her passion and enthusiasm in a post-16 educational environment. She uses her own experiences of overcoming disabilities and difficulties (such as dyslexia and chronic health conditions) to help support and encourage others to reach their potential. Her new blog can be found at historytiglet and she is also on Twitter.
(She also happens to be my sister!)
Like many others, I have spent a lot of time over the weekend reading commentaries and conversations about the General Election, the plans of our new government, and British politics in general.
My initial reaction to the results still stands – I am saddened that we are facing another 5 years of further cuts that will damage our NHS and make life immeasurably harder for those already struggling so much to simply make ends meet. However, as I have digested the words of others and seen conversations taking place on various social media platforms, my focus has changed somewhat.
I have been absolutely astounded by the attitude of some which suggests that because the Conservative Party received a majority of seats, those of us who didn’t vote for them should simply accept this and shut up. I’m not sure how to express my concern that there is this idea in our society that we all get a chance to vote once every five years and other than that we leave the politics to the politicians. It doesn’t end once the votes have been counted and the winners announced, in fact it’s only just beginning…
There has been a lot of outrage expressed about the fact that the Tories won a majority in this election, and it is all too easy for those who voted for this outcome to believe this is just a case of “sour grapes”. And, of course, there is a part of the response which is simply sheer disappointment that “the other party” won. But let’s not be under any pretences that this very same response would not have occurred had Labour won the majority.
However, the bigger issue that a lot of people are trying to speak out about is the fact that we no longer live in a society with two main Parties battling for their chance at leading the country. Our system of First Past The Post (FPTP) is seriously outdated and no longer representative of actual votes cast. The Conservatives may have won a small majority, but that same percentage of votes would have massively lost them the election in previous years. And this is because votes are being cast for smaller Parties, like the Green Party and UKIP, who under Proportional Representation would have gained far more seats than they did.
Don’t get me wrong, I am personally very glad that UKIP didn’t get more seats. But that doesn’t negate the fact that they should have done, that millions of votes have gone unheard under the current system. It’s no wonder people feel like there is no point in voting!
But instead of getting disheartened, instead of giving up, instead of doing what people expect us to do and simply accept our fate, we are starting to realise that we do have a voice, we just have to find it.
For me, as a writer, this means using my voice through the written word. I have never really blogged about politicial things before, but you can be sure that I’m going to from now on. And I shall be watching out for others who are using their voices online, and sharing their thoughts with you too. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it, finding common ground and supporting each other so that we can achieve greater things than we ever could alone. If you don’t already follow me on Facebook or Twitter, please do considering joining me over there as I’ll be able to share things via social media much more frequently than I can here on the blog.
I’ll also be looking for ways of supporting those in my local community, building up connections so that we can enact change right here on our doorstep. This is the time when our communities (whether online or off) are of utmost importance, because with so many cuts in our future, so much uncertainty facing us, it will be the people around us who hold us up and remind us what “we’re all in this together” really means.
I’ve started a new page with links to articles, comments, and organisations which may interest you. This will be the easiest way to keep on top of anything I link to in any of my blog posts on this topic, and you can find it here.
Along with so many others, I watched the election results this week in stunned disbelief. Never in my worst nightmare did I ever imagine the Conservatives would win a majority, which again seems to be a common reaction to the news. In the weeks leading up to the election, I had spoken to many people and heard just as many opposing views and, along with the debates, this had given me the strong impression that we were heading for another hung parliament. How did we go from that, to this?
I know that many people feel that there is very little difference between the parties, and therefore there was no real choice in this election. It is the very reason many non-voters give for choosing not to cast a vote this time. A few days before the election, I posted a link to this article along with the words, “I strongly believe that casting your vote is a big part of how we engender change, working with politics and politicians to focus light on the issues that matter most. It isn’t going to change overnight, but not voting is like accepting it “as is” and allowing it to go on unchallenged.” And I still do believe this… but our system is so flawed with its First Past The Post (FPTP) that it feels incredibly disheartening to realise how very little our voices are heard.
Somehow, as a nation, we have ended up with a majority Tory government, with more votes than they had last time, despite all that we have been through in the past five years. I can’t, of course, blame that completely on the FPTP system – people have clearly (and rightfully) cast their vote for the Conservative Party. But in many ways that makes me lose faith in where we’re heading as a society – do we really value the lives of others so little that we’re happy to ignore the fact that under the previous Tory government the rich got richer and the poor got poorer? Austerity measures were the worst thing to happen to our economy, and yet so many people believe the Tory Party rhetoric that they need time to finish what they started! But when you begin to really look at what we’ve voted for, it makes for an extremely depressing read.
Let me tell you something – as a family we will be hit hardest by the Tory Party plans. We’ve already suffered under the previous Tory government, but it will be even worse this time around. In the past year alone we have seen: our tax credits cut so much that we could not afford the childcare we needed, leaving me in a very stressful and unpleasant situation in my previous place of employment; my inability to claim JSA despite being made redundant, due to having not paid enough NI Contributions during the two years I stayed home with Little Man and returned to work in a part-time capacity only; and an increasingly difficult battle to receive the medical care and support TJ needs for a debilitating condition due to lack of funds in the NHS.
As a family with a disabled father, a young child, and a mother who has chosen to put her career on hold (consciously choosing a lower level and therefore lower paid role) in order to meet the immediate needs of her family, we are going to be hit the hardest by the coming government’s plans. We will struggle to make ends meet, and fight an even harder battle to receive the care we need from an NHS that is crumbling into ruins, no matter what the Tories say. Far from the “benefits scroungers” that they would have you believe are the cause of the problems, we will battle on regardless with almost minimal support from the government.
TJ will continue to work as hard as he can, despite being so sick that he had to miss 40 days of work last year due to being unable to even get out of bed. The days he works are days filled with immense pain, clouded by a fog of mental confusion caused by his medications and side effects nobody would wish on their worst enemy. He will do so, because we cannot afford for him to even consider reducing his hours. And I will continue to work fewer hours so that I can balance childcare, caring for my husband, and providing for my family in a way that doesn’t kill me. But more than that, we will rely on family and friends more than ever before, and we will fight for change.
Because whilst we will be hit hard, we are still incredibly blessed. We have a roof over our head and food on our table – some people are not so lucky. How crazy is that? How can I even be sitting here, in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, mentioning food poverty and homelessness? It isn’t right!!
Thankfully I am far from alone in feeling this way. My absolute horror that, as a nation, we voted in a Tory government that cares so little about the most vulnerable in society, has been reduced significantly over the past 24 hours as I have read the reactions of others across the UK. Let’s start with the fact that, despite getting a majority vote, the Tories received a significantly smaller percentage of the votes than the losing party in previous elections! Again we come back to the flawed FPTP system, and the fact that:
“In real terms, this means that Cameron’s Tories won the support of only around 24 per cent of all those who could have voted. The ‘none of the above’ party of non-voters totalled 34 per cent, finishing a close second this time. Millions of those who did vote will feel no more represented than those who did not, notably the almost five million UKIP voters who ended up with one MP between them.” – Did the Tories really win?
This gives me hope, more than anything else, that we are not alone in feeling so utterly disappointed in the result of this election. Our electoral system is far from representative and therefore millions of people throughout the country feel just as passionate about creating change. But how do we do this? How do we engender change when our voices are vastly unheard, at least when it comes to politics?
I think Russell Brand says it pretty well in his recent video calling for us to live with compassion.
“One thing I know for certain is there’s going to be no shortness of meanness… we’ve got to find new ways of being compassionate and new ways of making change.” – Russell Brand
Compassion is something we can all strive to live by. It comes in so many guises and every single act of compassion, no matter how small, can all add up to a far greater life for us all. It could be as simple as stopping for a few extra minutes to talk to an elderly neighbour who may cherish those few moments of friendship with you, or buying an extra bag of tea during your weekly food shop to donate to the food bank. Or it could be as dedicated as volunteering for a local cause or speaking out about injustice on a local, national or even global scale. Whatever form compassion takes for you, know that it will make a difference.
The last thing we want or need right now is for the news of the past few days to throw us all into a state of apathy or a belief in hopelessness and helplessness. We can create change, indeed we must create change, it’s just we have to find new ways of doing this.
And on that note, I wish to leave you with a song by one of my favourite artists, Damh The Bard, entitled “The Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood”. Damh wrote this following the 2010 election and shared it again in light of the results from the 2015 election. The chorus line has been running through my mind since last night and I invite you to join me in singing along and finding your own way to make that change.
“If you thought that we would do nothing, You’ve misunderstood! For we are the Sons and Daughters, of Robin Hood!”