One letter details the fierce opposition to another of Theresa May’s government appointments

PRESS RELEASE:

Over 65 Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations, campaigners and mental health professionals have signed a letter opposing the appointment of Professor Sir Simon Wessely to lead the independent review of the Mental Health Act as announced in Theresa May’s speech at this year’s Conservative party conference:

“Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to urge a reconsideration of the decision to appoint Professor Simon Wessely to lead the independent review of the Mental Health Act as announced at the Conservative Party conference on 4 October 2017.

A review is needed to address mental health injustice, yet Wessely’s body of work on ME (or “chronic fatigue syndrome”) demonstrates his lack of honesty, care and compassion for patients. His unsubstantiated claim that ME is driven by “false illness beliefs” has led to patients being labelled as hypochondriacs, treated with contempt by some in the medical profession and stigmatised by society. His recommended treatment regime of Graded Exercise Therapy caused deterioration in function for nearly 50% of ME patients surveyed, yet he dismisses their evidence as unreliable and labels all critics of this work as irrational and extremist.

He continues to defend the notorious PACE trial, a study into treatment for ME/CFS part-funded by the Department for Work and Pensions and widely condemned by academics for misuse of statistical methods in order to produce positive-looking results.

Wessely’s work on ME led him to play an active role, alongside insurance industry professionals, in devising the theories of “malingering and illness deception” which underpinned the Work Capability Assessment. The WCA has had a catastrophic impact on the lives of disabled people. Wessely is resoundingly unfit to lead an inquiry into mental health injustice.

The appointment of Wessely underlines our fears that under the wrong leadership, the review and any subsequent changes to the Mental Health Act will worsen rather than alleviate the current mental health crisis. We urge you to rethink this decision.

Yours sincerely,

Linda Burnip

Co-founder, Disabled People Against Cuts

Denise McKenna

Mental Health Resistance Network

Andrew Samuels

Professor Andrew Samuels. Former Chair, UK Council for Psychotherapy.

Anne Novis

Chair, Inclusion London

Rich Moth

Social Work Action Network national steering committee

Caroline Collier

CEO, Inclusion Barnet

Simon Duffy

Centre for Welfare Reform

Tara Flood

CEO, Alliance for Inclusive Education

Cathy Maker

Director, RUILS

Kamran Mallick

CEO, Disability Rights UK

Emily Morton

Chief Executive, Disability Sheffield

Kathy Bole

Chair, Suffolk Coalition of Disabled People

Caron Blake

Manager, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People

Dr Jay Watts

Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist

Bea Millar

Person-Centred Therapist

Richard House

Chartered Psychologist and Mental Health Activist

Paul Atkinson

UKCP Psychotherapist

Joyce Kallevik

Director, Women in Secure Hospitals

Eamon Andrews

Communications and Project Officer, Shaping Our Lives

Ellen Morrison

Branch Secretary South East London Unite Community

Andrew Lee

Director, People First

Phil Gosling

Secretary, Regard

Ian Parker

Psychoanalyst, Manchester

Helen Ridett

Nurse and GMB workplace organiser

Alec McFadden

Press Officer Salford TUC

Claire Glasman

WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities)

Ariane Sacco

WinVisible

Rev. Dianne Scott-Fowler

Chairperson, Stockport User Friendly Forum

John Pearson

Solidarity Drop-in Stockport

Ron Alexander

Life President, Dial Southend / Southend shop mobility

Christina Young

Mental health activist, Liverpool

Ellen Clifford

Croydon DPAC

Miriam Binder

Chair, Brighton DPAC

Paula Peters

Chair, Bromley DPAC

Nicola Jeffery

National Steering Group, DPAC

Andy Greene

National Steering Group, DPAC

Anita Bellows

National Steering Group, DPAC

Andy Metcalf

Mental Health Activist Alliance

Michael Harrison

Branch Secretary North East Wales Unite Community

Andy Mitchell

Branch Secretary Somerset Unite Community

Trevor Bark

Branch Secretary Durham Unite Community

Bernie Stock

Branch Chair Durham Unite Community

Zarria Phillips

Branch Chair Bristol Area Unite Community

Rachel Holmes

Branch Secretary Herts & Beds Unite Community

Kate Hyndley

Industrial Liaison Officer South East London Unite Community

Hillel Friedman

Treasurer Norfolk Unite Community

Joan Twelves

Co-chair Lambeth & Southwark Unite Community

Geraldine Murray

Norfolk Unite Community

Ian Nottage

Herts & Beds Unite Community

Carl Backland

Camden Unite Community

Amy Broad

Branch Chair, Peterborough, Chair Fenland & Kings Lynn Unite Community

Susan Pashkoff

Branch Chair East London Unite Community

Amina Mangera

Branch Chair South East London Unite Community

Jacqui Burnett

Diversity Officer Herts & Beds Unite Community

Bernard Miller

Co-Secretary Camden Unite Community

Claudia Dias Ferreira

Co-Secretary Camden Unite Community

Rebecca Rocket

Essex Unite Community

Susan Hagley

Suffolk Unite Community

Rob Lugg

Branch Secretary South West London Unite Community

Robin Sivapalan

Branch Secretary Brent Unite Community

Fred Coford

Islington Unite Community

Sarah Matthews

Branch Secretary Suffolk Unite Community

Martin Beverich

Herts & Beds Unite Community

Steve Ballard

Equalities Officer Haringey Unite Community

Kate Hodgson

Islington Unite Community”

 

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Domestic violence and South Yorkshire Women’s Aid: the council’s response

South Yorkshire Women’s Aid is facing closure, due to a lack of local authority funding. I spoke to Doncaster Cabinet Member for Communities and the Voluntary Sector, Cllr Chris McGuinness, about the centre’s plight. Here’s his response in full.

In April 2016 Doncaster Women’s Aid closed following the loss of its primary funding from Big Lottery. The organisation was not funded by Doncaster Council and the Council did not withdraw funding from the organisation. However, following an approach from the organisation the Council provided wide-ranging advice and support to its trustees, including the offer of potential funding to enable it to remain open whilst seeking new grants and income generation opportunities. Unfortunately the trustees of the organisation decided that it was unable to continue and chose to cease operating.

Following closure of the organisation, a group of people wished to set up a new independent charity to replace the organisation, called South Yorkshire Women’s Aid (Doncaster). Doncaster Council supported the new trustees to achieve this, including providing a one-off start up grant of £30,000 with a view to the organisation applying for new funds and generating operating revenue in order to become financially sustainable. Earlier this month (August 2017), the Council agreed to extend the timescales for spending this grant from June 2017 until December 2017, as the grant had not been fully utilised. It also agreed to vary the funding requirements to allow the organisation greater flexibility to provide services.

The grant funding for South Yorkshire Women’s Aid was provided through the Mayor’s Voluntary and Community Sector Grant scheme, itself a one-off £500,000 fund intended to support local charities, community groups and voluntary organisations, which were able to apply for funding of up to £30,000. As the funding was from one-off resources, the Council made clear the need for organisations to plan their future funding strategy, where required, and ensure the independent sustainability of any associated projects. The fund proved to be very popular and was oversubscribed, with all of the funding now allocated. Throughout the process the Council was clear that it was providing South Yorkshire Women’s Aid with a fixed term grant and that the organisation should not expect further grant funding for these reasons.

On 25th August 2017, the trustees of the new organisation wrote to the Council requesting a further small grant until March 2018 and stated that it viewed the Council as its primary funder to meet the aims and objectives of the charity, indicating that it wished the Council to continue providing funding in future years.

This week, the Council became aware that one of the organisation’s trustees recently resigned and a further trustee had no knowledge of the recent media activity and protest. The Council intends to meet trustees of the organisation in the near future to further understand the organisation’s situation, discuss the current grant and ascertain what measures it has taken to secure additional funding and make itself sustainable according to its operating model.

Since 2010, Doncaster Council has already been forced to cut more than £200m from its annual revenue budget and like other Councils faces further significant funding cuts in the coming years. Notwithstanding this, the Council has prioritised tackling Domestic Violence as a key issue and spends in excess of £1m per year on related services, including:

• An Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy (IDVA) service and coordination of Doncaster’s Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference
• A Women’s Refuge and dispersed homes with support services
• A Floating support service, helping people in their own homes
• Domestic Violence Helpline

In addition, the government funded Growing Futures project operated by Doncaster Children’s Services Trust focuses on therapeutic support for children and young people, finds new and better ways to keep them safe and help them recover from the impact of Domestic Violence – since the Government funding stream ended, the Council has supported Doncaster Children’s Services Trust to maintain this service. The Council has also funded the delivery of non-criminal justice based perpetrator programmes aimed at men who commit domestic violence in order to reduce the number of repeat incidents. Where delivered by external providers, services are commissioned through an open and transparent process in line with the Council’s legal obligations.

Domestic Violence is wholly unacceptable and can have a devastating impact on victims and their children. The Council will continue to prioritise these services within the resources available to it. However, as with all independent charities, South Yorkshire Women’s Aid must plan to exist without reliance on funding from Doncaster Council, which unfortunately is simply not in a position to provide financial assistance to every VCS organisation facing financial pressures. However, the Council will continue to offer support to these groups in order to help them to secure funding from the wide range of charitable trust funds in existence, and the potential for generating income through charitable activities.

Domestic violence, South Yorkshire Women’s Aid and healing: one survivor’s story

South Yorkshire Women’s Aid is facing closure, due to a lack of local authority funding. One survivor, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me her story. It demonstrates why this vital service is so important. And why it must be saved.

WARNING: THIS TESTIMONY CONTAINS INFORMATION SOME READERS MAY FIND UPSETTING.

You can donate to the South Yorkshire Women’s Aid crowdfunder here.

When I was pregnant with my son, my partner who had previously been kind and caring boyfriend, changed his behaviour towards me.

He began, in more ways than one, belittling me: snapping at me; putting down how I looked; increasingly seeming to forget his wallet when we went places; mistreating me, and it even escalated to him physically pushing me and shouting at me in public places.

Before I’d had a chance or even a free minute to realise what a sad and serious situation me, my daughter and my unborn child were in, I found myself under the complete control of this man.

He had PIN numbers to all of my bank cards.

He would shout, and scream, and scream, and shout, until I applied for another store card or another credit card. He had bad credit and couldn’t get any of his own

But he would insist that the things he needed were so important, and that he’d be happier if he had certain things and if he could go certain places.

My life was incredibly miserable.

Near to the end, when I was close to leaving him, the first time he pushed me over I had to run into a shop and hide to try and escape him.

By the time I was six months pregnant I got strong enough to leave him. I simply walked away with my daughter

I sought help from my health visitor and I opened up to my parents.

Trying to rebuild

But I had to rebuild from scratch: new furniture, new home. However I was denied a Maternity Grant because I already had a child. So had to scrimp and save as much as I could, and sell possessions in order to provide such basic things as a cot and nappies for my unborn baby.

I was being punished by the state for leaving this violent man.

The situation I was forced into, by both his behaviour and the lack of care from the coalition government at that time, put me in a predicament – because I couldn’t keep everything a float.

Heartbroken, I gave birth to my son. A friend was with me in the hospital, but all around me were women with husbands, or boyfriends, or partners.

When my friend went home at the end of visiting time there were all these families and all these babies; but just me and my little boy. In the whole world all we had was each other, and my daughter.

Looking back, it was probably the hormones and also a sense of decency that led me to let my ex-partner know that his son had been born

Wheedling back in

I was incredibly vulnerable at the time. I was in hospital for a week after my son’s birth.

But when I returned home I invited my ex-partner to come and meet his son, although my mum was there to make sure that he behaved civilly towards me, while he met his baby.

After a couple of months he wheedled his way back into my life, at first convincing me that he’d changed and that he was so sorry. But this time, the horrendous, abusive behaviour returned more quickly; and with more venom.

He emotionally and psychologically abused me. He forced me to relinquish control over every aspect of my life, from social media, to passwords, to PIN numbers and bank cards.

Whenever I went to see somebody, like a friend for a cup of coffee, he would phone me relentlessly or physically turn up.

I couldn’t breathe. I was being suffocated and I had no way to escape.

Walking on eggshells

We carried on living apart. But he had a key to my house and would let himself in and out, unannounced, whenever the fancy took him.

I was constantly walking on eggshells. I remember I used to go to sleep each night thinking ‘I’ll try harder tomorrow not to upset him’; that ‘I’ll be better for him, I’ll be the best girlfriend and the best mummy so he can’t possibly be mad with me’.

I used to have to wear my hair a certain way, wear certain clothes – even certain shoes.

Once, he made me do an experiment with socks to see which ones where the best value for money. He said it was to help me learn about the ‘false economy’. So, he made me put one sock from Primark and one for one stock from Next, and walk 50,000 steps wearing a pedometer; up and down the stairs in my house – and I wasn’t allowed to stop. I knew if I’d have tried to even go to the toilet he would have screamed at me.

The things he did to me were so degrading. By this time he was acting completely removed from what anyone could call reasonable or usual, acceptable behaviour in a relationship

Rape

He had sex with me when he felt like it. If the children were at home he would force me, even if they were in the next room. He would force me if I was asleep. And he let himself into my house, very often drunk, and if he wanted to have sex with me then he simply did. He would push my face into the pillow so hard I sometimes thought I would die.

I don’t know how I didn’t die. But there was no way I could hide trying to get help: I couldn’t call the police because social services would come round, and he never hurt the children; he only ever hurt me.

I thought that if I shouldered all the abuse then they would be safe. But I never realised that all the while they were hearing me being screamed at, and slammed against walls was a form of abuse from him onto them.

I just knew I had to do all I could do to keep them safe. And if that meant being hurt, then so be it.

A light in a dark tunnel 

I heard about South Yorkshire Women’s Aid (SYWA) which at the time was called Doncaster Women’s Aid, through a friend. I first contacted them by using the excuse to go to the supermarket, where I used the telephone box.

I was so frightened; frightened that he was following me. He always checked my phone history, so I couldn’t use my own telephone. I couldn’t even send an email without him knowing – he read everything. But I called them and they said I needed to talk to somebody.

I was so scared. I told them I was really frightened, and the woman on the end of the phone asked if I was safe. I told her my children were, and I told her what was happening. She said “I believe you”.

You can’t imagine what it feels like to hear those three words. I had never imagined I would hear them, because he was such a skilled manipulator. Anybody outside of our home thought he was a devoted dad and charming.

But he was a monster, and he had granted himself access to every element of my life – to the point where I felt I didn’t have long left to live.

Breaking through

I made an appointment to go in and speak to somebody at SYWA about my situation, to see what kind of support they could offer me. I used the excuse with him that I was going to my college course.

So, I put my son in the nursery and I told the nursery staff where I was going. I trusted them, and they knew there were some problems at home. Because by this time, our little boy who was then two, was quoting his father at nursery and hitting stuff. It was very disturbing for both me and the staff.

I got a lift from a trusted friend who I had verbally arranged to meet, and she drove me to SYWA where I spoke to a support worker. I don’t think I even cried, I think I was just numb.

The support worker listened and asked me some gentle questions; nothing that made me feel under any pressure.

It was made completely clear that I didn’t have to do or say anything that I wasn’t comfortable with; that I had control over everything that would happen next.

It was so nice to be listened to, in that room. It was like being in a parallel universe to the life that I was living.

I didn’t go back straight away to SYWA at first. But I knew that they were there and I felt stronger for that.

Breaking point

A week or so later, I was sitting with my son, both in pyjamas, ready for bed, when my partner came in. He had an open bottle of beer in his hand and was clearly drunk. He was shouting as he came through the door and stumbled into the hallway. He then crashed through the living room door and dented it, and carried on shouting and swearing.

My daughter was upstairs as she had come home early from after school club. He must have thought there was only me and my son in the house. Because when I asked him gently to stop shouting, he paused briefly… and I can’t tell you what happened next because I don’t remember.

But the next thing I knew, I was on the floor in the kitchen and could hear my son screaming; crying like he was very far away.

I’ve been thrown into the kitchen and punched. I woke up with my partner on top of me, pinning down both my arms and my legs. He had a hand around my throat, and he was lifting up my head and smacking it against the floor. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t see clearly.

He suddenly stopped. At first, I didn’t know why. Then I heard my daughter scream and he jumped up and went to grab her, but she ran upstairs.

I grabbed his legs somehow. I honestly don’t know how I managed it; it can only have been pure adrenaline. “Fight or flight” – I’d heard of it, but it never really made sense before that moment.

My daughter who was 11 at the time then had to do a very brave thing. She had to call 999 and tell the operator the her stepdad was beating up her mum.

She had to leave her young brother alone in a room with this violence. I think she still feels guilty about that to this day, no matter how much we reassure her that she did the right thing to protect herself, and that she did a brave thing to protect her family.

As soon as my partner realised that she’d gotten through to somebody on the phone he ran out of the house leaving one shoe behind, as he drunkenly stumbled and fled.

Breaking free

What followed was a subsequent court case where the police pressed charges against my ex-partner. I had to have my injuries photographed by the police photographer, and documented by my GP. Being measured with rulers, standing in my underwear, I felt like I was not connected with reality. It was like I was watching a film.

It was too horrific to believe that it was all really happening, and not only that -that it was happening to me.

My ex-partner was charged with assault, which he admitted to. He got a one year suspended sentence, with conditions that he had to stick to the terms of a non-molestation order that I had obtained in the weeks leading up to the court case.

But then, he took me to a family court, applying for joint custody of the children.

He denied he had been convicted of beating me to the family court judge, which didn’t go favourably against him. He also tried to prove that I was mentally unstable and an unfit mother.

He tried a number of cruel and frankly unbelievable methods of prolonging the court case, like saying he couldn’t get the time off work to attend. It went on for over a year.

But in the end he just made the judge very angry, by lying about his conviction and laughing when the police described my assault and the state I was in when they turned up at my house that day.

The judge said that he was “found to have committed” a further 15 acts of abuse on my person, some of which were when I was pregnant with our son.

The judge used the Children’s Act to decide the rights of my son would be violated, if he was to be put in even the limited, supervised care of his father. And this applied to my son even being sent post by his father, such is the severity of the trauma he’s been left with.

Because of the ridiculous and cruel rules of the judicial system, despite not being allowed near to me outside of the courtroom, he was allowed to cross examine me inside.

I was behind a screen, and security kept him away from me, even in the waiting area during the intervening period.

Breaking out

Prior to, and during the family and the assault court cases I went back to SYWA.

I was supported in getting the locks changed with the local council, and getting a special letter box fitted.

I didn’t have to hide my phone calls anymore!

I called them from my own phone and made appointments. I got a place on a course called the Freedom program, which quite frankly changed my life. It set me on the path to healing and protected me from entering into a relationship with another abusive man. It educated to look out for the characteristics of an abuser.

The SYWA staff had advised me to get to the non-molestation order, so I visited a trusted solicitor and obtained it, with their support.

I could call SYWA at any time and just speak to somebody, for a shoulder to lean on if I needed it – and I did.

When my emotions started to flood my mind, everything I’d locked away and everything I’d been through came back. Especially when I was educated enough to understand that although the children weren’t physically hurt, they were subject to emotional and psychological abuse due to the trauma of hearing them mum being assaulted verbally and physically on so many occasions. I then had a massive breakdown, but SYWA was there for me.

A broken service?

I honestly believe that without SYWA, without going on the course, without having someone there that I could trust to talk to and to listen to me, without the real practical advice, and without the support to get the education I needed to protect my family and myself – I would not be alive today.

I’m completely devastated that the council seem to see this service as a useless, unnecessary drain on their budget. If anything, it saves them money in the long run by helping put an end to, and preventing, abuse in many cases, for many families.

There are still so many thousands of women and children who desperately need the support of this service.

Those people are going to need that support. And if SYWA isn’t there, then these poor, innocent people are simply going to end up as the part of the statistics of the number of beaten women. And ultimately, the number who are killed.

How can that be right? How can that ever be the correct decision for someone, who’s charged with the care of their constituents, to make?

It’s terrifying.

I’d like to thank this brave, remarkable lady for allowing me to share her story with you. Much respect.

2016: where do I begin?

I’m currently sat on a train from London to Suffolk, a journey which I never envisaged I’d be doing so regularly at the beginning of the year, trying to write my review of 2016.

It really was one of those years for which only “where do I begin” seems an accurate appraisal. The EU referendum, the ‘Chicken Coup’, slaughter in the Middle East and sustained attacks by the Conservative government on disabled people and society’s most vulnerable all feature at the forefront of my mind. But my own life does also, this year, and the (get ready to cringe) ‘journey’ that I’ve been on.

So, here’s my take on 2016.

Mother: if you’re reading, I apologise in advance for the language…

Chaos at home

The EU referendum has to have been one of the greatest mistakes ever made by a sitting government – intentional or not. Simple as.

As I previously wrote for The CommonSpace, the British public were essentially stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side, the European establishment propped up by banking giants like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, all garnering succour off the Military Industrial Complex and big oil. On the other side? Essentially the same. But with a lesser veil of democracy and attempted egalitarianism.

If the UK had voted Remain, then the EU project would have been safe; Britain would have gone further down the rabbit hole of corporatocracy; it would have lost all veto powers in 2017, and the union would have continued on a path to monolithic, greed-driven totalitarianism.

But we voted to Leave. So instead, we have the most right wing government in living memory controlling our future. As I have frequently commented, I spoiled my ballot. The question the public were being asked was wrong, and the referendum itself an utter stitch-up.

Politicians, however, have struggled to get their pretty little heads around the result. The precious snowflakes can’t understand why so many working-class communities didn’t vote in the way the blatant propaganda was telling them to. The Tories put it down to Nigel Farage’s magic UKIP wand casting a spell over the public, and the public being too stupid to understand what they were voting for. Labour put it down to the Tories leaving so many communities financially and socially behind, and the public being too stupid etc etc. Neither are wholly correct. The rot started with Margaret Thatcher’s scorched earth industrial and social agenda in the 1980s; continued with Tony Blair in the 1990s and 2000s, and, this decade, was compounded by David Cameron. People no longer feel society works for them, and made their anger at the establishment felt via the referendum.

We’ve seen a revolt like no other in modern history. Sadly, it was only at the ballot box – and true revolution never happens there. The public voted to kick the establishment where it hurts. But now, predictably, the same establishment, clutching its blisteringly-red bollocks, are tasked with shaping our future outside the EU. See the stitch-up, yet? We’ve been sold a pup; and are going to pay a heavy price for the privilege. The establishment: One. The public: Nil.

Chaos in the Labour Party

Meanwhile, in the Labour Party, chaos ruled supreme. I don’t think anyone ever believed that Jeremy Corbyn would have an easy ride as party leader. But, as a non-Labour supporter, even I was shocked at the sustained attacks, hatred and vitriol displayed by both the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), Constituency Parties and certain elements of the grassroots.

Let’s not beat around the bush, though. This was always going to happen. While Corbyn is by no means the anti-establishment, radical socialist Messiah many would have him be, he is a threat to the order of things. I’m not, and probably will never be, a Labour voter. But Corbyn could be the catalyst to lasting political change in the UK. And such was (and still is) the threat to the established order, that an appallingly-timed ‘coup’ was attempted, the mainstream media have been harshly biased against him, and many in the party will not accept him as leader.

In part, this hostility is down to a fear of upsetting the corporatist apple cart. The ‘right wing’ in Labour cannot believe that the consensus that has reigned for over thirty years can be broken. They are more concerned with winning elections than actually serving the best interests of the country. And yes, many will cry that only by winning can you change things. But what’s the point in a victory, when the ensuing lap of honour is merely danced out in a similar fashion to your opponent? By that I mean there’s no point Labour winning, if they go on to simply water-down Tory values. Blair and Gordon Brown are evidence of that. And that is all the Progress/Labour First/Blue Labour elements in the party will do.

But for many in the PLP, the problem runs deeper than this. Corbyn wants to change the way policy is made. He aims to put control of the process in the hands of members. And this has literally scared the shit out of certain MPs. Historically, Labour Party policy has been designed by representatives of big corporations, in the form of consultations. Then, these are presented to Labour’s Executive Committee, policy forum and conference, to decide upon.

If corporations no longer had this power over decision-making within Labour, many MPs would be thrown off the gravy train that is the Westminster system. And the revolving door between politics and business careers would be slammed in their pious faces. The bottom line is Corbyn is a threat to self-serving, careerist MPs like Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Jess Phillips and their contemptible ilk. And 2016 showed that these cowardly, greedy, nauseating pissants would stop at nothing to try and preserve their own shameful interests. And I’m not even a Labour voter.

Chaos in the Middle East

For me, 2016 had to be one of the most horrific years in the Middle East in recent memory. Not just because of the bloodshed, although this is tragically still incomparable to many periods in modern history. But because of the disgraceful propaganda, the selective reporting by the mainstream media, and the naivety of so many campaign groups, political parties and individuals over what’s really going on.

We are witnessing the first global war of the 21st century in Syria. There are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ in the almighty mess that was once one of the most successful, secular countries in the region. Both Russia, the West and their respective allies are playing a game of geopolitical chess. And the winners are corporations, big oil and some of the richest individuals on the planet.

But so many people would have you believe that one side is in the right, here. Whether it be Western powers, with their bullshit veil of humanitarianism barely masking the craven greed that’s driving them to fund terrorists and repeatedly lie to the public. Or Russia, with its relentless spinning of propaganda, nefarious military campaign and disregard for human life – also under a bullshit veil, which is of the same hue as the West’s. And the charities and non-governmental organisations (NGO), acting as blatant proxies for whichever side is the highest bidder.

It’s not fucking difficult. No one is in the right, in Syria. Except the millions of innocent civilians caught up in the despicable games of those who have money to make. How do we end this relentless carnage? I don’t know; short of toppling every imperialist power, in both the East and the West, in one fell swoop. But I do know that no one can be trusted. Except those whose lives have been devastated by the conflict .

But for me, 2016 was also all about Yemen. I first wrote about the situation in January, before every Guardianista, their silver-grey cat and YouTube channel woke up and jumped on the bandwagon, seeing the career-miles that could be made.

Yemen appears just as complex as Syria. Countless warring tribes with uneasy truces; the Bab-el-Mandeb strait; Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-dominated Eastern Province, where all its oil is to be found; the Kingdom’s terminal decline and its fear of losing control, and Western geopolitical games in the region. But in reality, it boils down to the same, disgusting greed that we see manifest itself in Syria. And while the public, and certain politicians, are seemingly more aware of the devastating situation, which is on a humanitarian scale that dwarfs that in Syria, Western corporatist powers care not. They simply carry on, regardless; aided and abetted by campaigners and politicians who condemn Western intervention in Yemen but blindly support it, albeit often mutedly, in Syria.

In 2016 we created one, almighty, fucking mess in the Middle East. And such is the nature of the chaos, that most don’t seem to know, or care, what is right or wrong anymore.

Chaos in British society

This year, I felt like I was constantly repeating myself on one subject in particular. That of the Tories’ sustained attacks on disabled people, the poor and society’s most vulnerable. A week didn’t pass where I wasn’t writing or being interviewed about yet another shocking piece of analysis; another buried assault on a marginalised group disguised as a money-saving, life-improving Tory policy, or a protest by people, sick of protesting, but with little else left in their artillery.

There would be too much to write about if I wanted to detail every vile policy, every staggering statistic and every campaign group fighting for life’s most basic rights. But for me, two incidences sum up the year. The two occasions that the UN have condemned the Tories for their attacks on those of us on the lower rungs of British life.

Essentially, the UN has twice accused the Tories, and their shitheels Lib Dem former partners in countless crimes, of breaching people’s basic human rights. “Grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights accompanied “deep” and “serious” concerns of the UN over the attacks on the poor, working families, single parents, homeless people and the elderly. This, of course, was all in the name of ‘austerity’.

The first report, which covered all marginalised groups, was published in June. And it was unprecedented in its criticisms of the Tory government and its predecessor. It was, in fact, only comparable to Honduras in its severity – a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, and one which is subject to travel warnings from most governments.

The second, published in November, was specifically about violations of disabled people’s rights. And it was even more severe, saying the Tories had contributed to creating a society where disabled people were viewed as ‘benefit fraudsters’, ‘lazy’ and a ‘burden’, and that countless international conventions had been breached.

But, as is always the way with the flaccid, impotent and highly compromised UN, there wasn’t anything in these reports that was legally binding. Essentially, the Tories just shrugged their shoulders and said “And? Just WTF are you going to do about it?”

And the public? Essentially, they have done the same. Years of neoliberal, race-to-the-bottom, ‘envy thy neighbour’ conditioning from Tory and Labour governments has left us socially bankrupt. No longer are people valued for what they contribute to society; merely what they can contribute to the economy, and therefore, ultimately, rich people’s bank balances. But it’s the contribution to the last bit that most people don’t seem to think about. We, as a society, have become all-consumed by what we can ‘aspire’ to in life. Anyone who is seemingly getting a free ride, regardless of whether they have fibromyalgia, MS, cancer, mental health issues, addiction problems, or any manner of other reasons, are not worth as much as those who go to work. Remember Eugenics? It seems that many of today’s politicians have a fondness for that most despicable of pseudo-sciences. We really are regressing to a time last seen over a century ago.

Chaos in my own life. But with a happier ending

I’m a big fan of soundtracks to life. Anyone who has ever seen Ally McBeal will remember Tracey (Ullman), McBeal’s therapist, telling her to get a ‘theme song’. Well, art is indeed imitating life, there, as my therapist says the same thing. And on a personal level, for me, two songs sum up 2016 most accurately.

Sarah McLachlan wrote the song Angel in 1997. It is about heroin addiction, and how the illness holds a person’s life to ransom; more often than not playing a game of Russian Roulette with them. And it’s wholly applicable to alcoholism, as well. Something which I had the hardest battle of my life with, this year.

Having been an addict for over a decade, everything came to a head in 2016. I severely relapsed in May, and was at a crossroads between life and death. Literally, if I gave in again and drank, I knew, in no uncertain terms, that I would die.

McLachlan wrote:

I need some distraction; oh, a beautiful release.

Memories seep from my veins.

Let me be empty, oh and weightless and maybe, I’ll find some peace, tonight.

It’s the “endlessness that you fear”, that engulfs an addict. Learned behaviours, childhood trauma, anxiety and self-esteem issues – all are given a “distraction”, a “beautiful release” when you pour alcohol into your body, in excess. Something which I kept doing, and doing, and doing.

But this year was different. Staring drunkenly into oblivion early one morning, I had just spent all night writing about Amy Winehouse’s tragic story. It was my beautiful Amy that gave me the wake-up call that I needed, as I could see so much of my behaviour in hers. And as I wrote for The Canary, I could see her tragic death, at the end of a spiraling chaos that got out of control, being mine, too.

I cannot thank the NHS enough. I know it’s not perfect; I know it’s a postcode lottery; I know some people have horror stories and I know many do not get the help they need. But for me, my psychiatrist, my therapist and my GP have literally saved my life. I’ve had the most amazing help and support from them, and I’ve been “pulled from the wreckage of my silent reverie”. And, I’m now over six months dry. Something I have never managed to be, before.

McLachlan also said in Angel:

Spend all your time waiting for that second chance.

For a break that would make it OK.

There’s always some reason to feel not good enough.

And it’s hard at the end of the day.

Even being dry, those words still resonated with me. While therapy has helped me to understand why I drank, and begin to deal with the very negative core beliefs I hold about myself, I was still waiting for that “second chance”.

The second song that will always make me think of 2016 is Yours, by Ella Henderson.

I made a (what I thought was) humorous post on Facebook in September. I said that:

If a woman can put up with a bisexual alcoholic who has mental health issues, then I’d make a great house husband.

I had resigned myself to the fact that the likelihood of me having a relationship with a female was greater than Jess Philips coming out in support of Corbyn. And you know those odds aren’t good. I never, ever thought for a second that I would find a woman that could actually put up with my tarnished life.

But, remarkably, I have. I cannot begin to describe how articulate, beautiful, charismatic, inspirational, intelligent, loving and perfect she is. Neither can I use any more adjectives, as that would seem borderline obsessive. But, she is.

Henderson sings:

And I will find the strength to untape my mouth, when I used to be afraid of the words.

But with you I’ve learned just to let it out, now my heart is ready to burst.

Cause I, I feel like I’m ready for love. And I want to be your everything, and more.

I used to be afraid of getting too close to someone. There were always aspects of my personality and soul that I would keep hidden. But, for the first time in my life, I finally feel nearly at peace with myself. I feel I can be myself. Wholly. And that is, in no small measure, thanks to her and her amazing son. I’ve just had the most wonderful Christmas of my life with them, and am looking forward to 2017 in a way which I have never felt about a new year, before. Excited and hopeful.

Thanks

I have so many people to thank this year, I’m not sure where to begin. So, as any writer should do when they are trying to save on the word count, I’ll bullet point them:

  • Kerry-Anne, and everyone at The Canary. I never, ever, ever would have believed this time last year I would be writing for a living, full time. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity, and love every single minute of it. And the support has been humbling. May The Canary sing, and fly, even higher in 2017.
  • William (he knows who he is). One of my dearest friends, who has been with me through the really good, and the really bad times, this year. I love you dearly, ‘playah’…
  • To the amazing team at Scisco Media. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to be part of the development of something so exciting. Here’s to 2017!
  • Everyone at Consented, The CommonSpace, Russia Today (especially Bouchra), Al Jazeera, Red Pepper, The Independent, Occupy, talkRadio, Talk Radio Europe and anywhere else that has given me a platform this year. Thank you.
  • My friends on Facebook, some of the nicest social media people going. You’ve seen it all from me, this year, and have been so generous, kind and supportive. Thank you.
  • Everyone who has read, shared and commented on my work, on Twitter and in the amazing Facebook groups I’m part of. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your support has been overwhelming, during what was a really hard year.
  • All the people who have contacted me with their stories. I pride myself on writing about subjects other people wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, and letting voices be heard that usually are forced to remain silent. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write everything everyone asked me to. And I also apologise for not always responding to messages as quickly as I should. I’ll try and improve on that in 2017.
  • Finally, my darling, beautiful partner. I love you so much, it hurts sometimes. “And I know every day I say it, but I just want you to be sure – that I am yours”.

Last year, I said that in 2016:

No one, old media or new, will be telling me what to think. I will research, ponder, question and criticise, even if it goes against what the majority are saying. Finding my own truth is going to be a fundamental component of my year, because without it I will be nothing more than a cog in the ever-growing wheel. Ain’t happening.

I hope I stuck to that. And I certainly found my own truth this year, in so many ways.

There’s a particular quote that will be at the forefront of my mind, during 2017. I’m a bit of a Marvel fan, something that along with my love of Mariah Carey, may surprise people. The quote, originally from an edition of Amazing Spider-Man penned by J. Michael Straczynski in 2007, then revamped for the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War, it is simply:

Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong, is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say “No. You move”.

This will be my mantra for 2017. And I think, maybe, it should be yours too.

With lots of love and hopeful, peaceful and warm wishes for 2017.

Steve

x

Robbie Powell: a story of a systematic institutional cover-up, a quarter of a century in the making

The tragic death of 10-year-old Robbie Powell more than 26 years ago is a story without an ending. Allegations of gross negligence manslaughter, forgery, perverting the course of justice and conspiracy hang over numerous medical professionals. And the NHS, police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Welsh Office, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the General Medical Council (GMC), Conservative Cabinet Ministers and other public bodies were involved.

Robbie died from what should have been a treatable illness that only needed a daily intake of tablets. But, what history shows is that not only did doctors fail him, but almost everyone involved in the boy’s case repeatedly did as well – and are still doing so right up until this day.

Below are the links to my investigations into the story, so far. Please read and share widely; more articles are to follow.

Robbie: an overview of the case:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/09/26/robbie-powell-shocking-alleged-cover-10-year-old-boys-death-26-years-ago/ 

The failings of the CPS [Part One]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/10/07/robbie-powell-crown-prosecution-service-tragically-failed-10-year-old-boy-part-one/

The failings of the CPS, [Part Two]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/10/07/robbie-powell-crown-prosecution-service-tragically-failed-10-year-old-boy-part-two/

The medical professionals who could have saved his life:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/10/14/robbie-powell-medical-professionals-saved-10-year-old-boys-life/

The “institutionally incompetent” police who failed Robbie:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/10/21/robbie-powell-institutionally-incompetent-police-failed-10-year-old-boy/

The failure of UK legal and political systems to bring justice for Robbie [Part One]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/11/04/robbie-powell-failures-uk-political-legal-systems-death-10-year-old-boy-part-one/

The failure of UK legal and political systems to bring justice for Robbie [Part Two]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/11/04/robbie-powell-failures-uk-political-legal-systems-death-10-year-old-boy-part-two/

The one, crucial document that may hold the key to Robbie’s death [Part One]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/11/25/robbie-powell-one-crucial-document-may-hold-key-young-boys-unnecessary-death-part-one/

The one, crucial document that may hold the key to Robbie’s death [Part Two]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/12/02/robbie-powell-one-crucial-document-may-hold-key-young-boys-unnecessary-death-part-two/

The one, crucial document that may hold the key to Robbie’s death [Part Three]:

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/12/02/robbie-powell-one-crucial-document-may-hold-key-young-boys-unnecessary-death-part-three/

How every institution of the State has failed Robbie Powell [Part One]:

https://www.thecanary.co/2017/02/03/robbie-powell-grieving-father-nowhere-left-turn-death-10-year-old-son-part-one/

How every institution of the State has failed Robbie Powell [Part Two]:

https://www.thecanary.co/2017/02/03/robbie-powell-grieving-father-nowhere-left-turn-death-10-year-old-son-part-two/

Another state-sanctioned cover-up? This time, over the death of a 10-year-old boy.

My report for The Canary, into a possible state-sanctioned cover-up over the death of 10-year-old boy, Robbie Powell – over 26 years ago.

Robbie Powell: the shocking alleged cover-up of a 10-year-old boy’s death, 26 years ago

I’ve been a Guardian reader for 40 years, but no longer. Here’s why. 

This is excellent.

Walker's Rambles


Today, I received a routine email from the Guardian regarding my ongoing subscription to the paper. I have been a regular reader of the Guardian for 40 years including as a subscriber in recent years. But no longer.

My email explaining why is listed below.

Hi there

Thank you for your recent email.

It has prompted me to contact you regarding my Guardian subscription.
I have bought the Guardian since the age of 12; I am now 52. I have always considered the paper to be fair and on the side of people who are trying to make a difference. The paper’s campaigning work is well known and rightly so. Even though I have not always agreed with the paper’s leaders and editorial line, mostly I have and one of the main reasons I have supported the paper for 40 years has been its left of centre position on the…

View original post 585 more words

140 characters

A new blogger.

Read, read, read.

#CreativeGeordie

I’m one of the 26% of over 55’s - who use social media to garner their internet news. Oooh I do like to be – not the norm!

I’m on Twitter. Couldn’t ever get with this ‘friends’ thing on Facebook. It felt a bit harsh not to be friends with someone! And people wrote reams. Whereas a tweet had the delight (to me) of only being 140 characters long. Just like texts years ago. I loved the challenge of the limit. Still do.

My grown up children however are not too impressed. On holiday recently I was told to get off Twitter! More than once.

Not only is it my source of news but it’s my source of inspiration & fun. I’ve RTd and won tickets to the theatre once. It’s my outlet for my outrage at various issues. It has galvanised me into supporting causes by going to rallies…

View original post 765 more words

Jeremy Corbyn: is the unelectable, electable?

So, I wrote a series of articles last week, on the situation within the Labour party and the ongoing battle for the leadership.

They were actually intended as one article, but owing to the length I decided to split them into three parts, spread across three nights.

The articles look at the accusations of Corbyn’s “far left” ideology, the problems with Blair’s “Third Way” and Miliband after him, and broadly whether Corbyn is, and should be, electable as prime minister.

Here are the three pieces, linked, so if people wish to read them as an entire work they can.

Part one: the Labour leadership: the smearing of Corbyn supporters is a disgraceful game

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/11/labour-leadership-war-smearing-corbyn-supporters-disgraceful-game/ 

Part two: this is the real reason Corbyn’s being set upon by the Blairites

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/12/real-reason-corbyns-set-upon-blairites/

Part three: Corbyn must be the UK’s next prime minister – and here’s why

http://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/13/corbyn-must-uks-next-prime-minister-heres/

“Taking Steps” by Helen Sims – a review

Here is my review of a new book by my friend and disability activist Helen Sims. Called “Taking Steps”, it’s a collection of her poetry, short stories and “musings”.

The term “brutally honest” is a well-worn phrase, used by politicians, journalists and PR gurus often without the slightest inclination of the gravity of the sentiment. It’s frequently just a rhetorical soundbite; invariably cynical and more often than not, hyperbole.

In the context of Helen Sims’ book, “Taking Steps”, none of those adjectives are appropriate. The author is brutally honest so far as to say she, and her story, are devastating – yet poignantly hopeful.

In what is an extremely smart, well-constructed and pertinent collection of her poetry and short stories, Sims takes us through the full spectrum of her own emotional, well-worn path in life. The results are joyous.

Opening with a foreword that gives us some backstory to where the author and campaigner has come from, with expansion this could become a standalone piece in itself. An epitaph to all those who have monumentally struggled, as Sims openly has, but who have been shaped by this struggle and come out the other side. Intact.

There’s a passage which particularly stands out – that encapsulates the writer and what drives her. Sims’ talks about being at a “mainstream” primary school:

Eventually though, things settled down a bit and I found my niche. I was ‘skipping rope holder’ at play time. Part of me felt wonderful; so pleased and relieved that they wanted me to play with them. But it hurt too. I wanted to be the one skipping or playing hopscotch, and I hated being left out of ‘kiss chase’. However, I understood that it was just the way things had to be. There was, there is, no choice.”

“There was, there is, no choice” is, for me, one of the most profound statements in the prologue, and one which is crucial to understanding the rest of Sims’ work. It’s that resolution the author has come to, that acceptance, that drives her. She is, while not always content with life, unyielding in her self-awareness and determination to be more than her disability – Sims lives with cerebral palsy.

The bulk of her work is lyric poetry or ballad in style, honing in on subject matter personal to her; often reflective on past events, the author appears to tread a fine line between writing as catharsis and in some way prompting the reader to stop, think and reflect themselves.

This is apparent in several pieces, where she discusses homelessness, societal and governmental attitudes to the disabled and even pop culture (note her acerbic takedown of social media in “Faceless Book”).

There is no standardised form to Sims’ writing – she merrily skips between quatrains, quintains and even septains. Much of her work utilises the iambic pentameter, but she doesn’t stick to any particular format, dancing from “ABBA”, to “ABCBC” via “ABAB” and even utilises a Vers libre format extremely potently in many pieces.

Orthodox poetry this is not – so if you were looking for a collection that banally confines itself to set forms and techniques, then look elsewhere.

A pertinent example of this is “Write Again”.

As a journalist who lives with addiction and mental health issues, it’s a piece that touched a nerve personally with me. Sims encapsulates perfectly the struggle to emotionally garner the capacity to put words and thoughts down, after a period of abstinence from writing (in this case what would appear to be, for her, due to depression).

The author skips from the omniscient third to the first persons in stanzas, and it’s utilised to good effect:

“She’s back
And she is feeling fine,
She just needed
A little time,
We’re relieved that she can write again.

I’m back
And I told them all is well,
But they don’t know
How far I fell,
I wish that I could write again.”

But two of the most devastating pieces in this collection are “Dead” and “Baby, unfinished”. In them Sims openly talks about suffering a miscarriage, and the effect it had on her and her relationship with her husband. Gut-wrenchingly honest and brutal, she cares not for dressing the pieces up; merely, she hits the reader with the moving, stark and tragic reality of the event:

“I really don’t know why I’m writing to you now,
I guess the private me needs to come out
Somehow.
I’m sorry baby that you could not stay,
And because I flushed you away.”

However, the masterfulness of Sims’ work is the way she manipulates the reader, by interspersing the harrowing with extremely light, often laugh-out-loud pieces – which also presents her as an astute social commentator. There’s something of the Ayckbourn about her in “While you’re at the shops”:

“While you’re down there,
Put the lottery on,
This time don’t get the numbers wrong!
Get some polish for Cindy’s shoes,
Find a cure for Andy’s flu.

Granny rang,
Don’t forget her gin,
Or plastic bags for the kitchen bin.”

Sims also musters some of this unembellished grit in to the second and third parts of her book, which are a collection of short stories and “musings”, if you like.

She shows a precocious talent for storytelling, especially that aimed at a younger audience. There are some delicious tales surrounding Christmas, which could easily be extended into books in their own right.

But Sims also burns glaringly bright with the ability to talk to her audience about subjects they may not understand, or have experienced.

In “Depression: The Hand Around Your Ankle”, she says “It isn’t simple, and maybe I over simplify things a bit here”, as if almost questioning the clarity of her prose and her argument. I feel she misses the point herself – the very fact she does oversimplify things, is what makes it so commanding.

The various “musings” she has written also demonstrate she has a deft hand at social commentary, especially surrounding disability. Many a Guardian columnist could learn a lesson, or two.

Overall, “Taking Steps” is not the work of a poet and writer who has learned their craft through the educational system, without actually living.

What “Taking Steps” is, is a glorious collection of work spanning a writer’s lifetime, that transcends the conventions of academia-led verse into a full-blown, gutsy miscellany of reflections on an individual’s world. It is the work of a writer who has “lived”.

Sims is a writer with an impishly rebellious streak, that shines through every piece in her collection. While not transgressive, it is modern, raw and unrefined. The way all the best writing should be.

Open your mind, withdraw from convention, and take some steps yourself into Helen Sims’ world. You won’t be disappointed.

“Taking Steps” is available to purchase here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taking-Steps-Helen-Sims/dp/1533347182