The Continuing Wisdom of Bert

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Bert could barely suppress a smile as he groaned his way into his armchair. A good groan was like a fine wine, something to be savoured; plus it served as a segue into a new conversation. While his wife tried to watch Doctor Who, he explained the thought that had occurred to him on the toilet,

“I’ll tell you what’s odd; dogs never used to smile when I was young, but you see them now and they’ve all got big grins! All over the Internet.  Tom posted a picture of one on Facebook, a big doggy grin it had. That’s genetic engineering that is. That’s modification. Centuries of inbreeding. Isn’t it? Isn’t it, Becky?”

“Uh huh.”

“But what I’ve been thinking is, when are they going to work on cats? I mean dogs were always happy creatures and we had the wagging tail and licking, so there’s no real mystery about how they’re feeling, but what about cats? No one ever knows how a cat is feeling. They could do with smiles. When they going to modify cats to smile? Becky? Becky?”

Becky didn’t answer, and Bert sat back, contented. They could carry this on later, over dinner.

 

Picture pinched from here

Banishing Gloom – a Monday Good Thing

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A lot of bad things have been happening in the world recently, and now it’s cold, everyone is miserable and I keep forgetting to notice all the good things that are around me.

So I’m going to make a point of, every Monday, posting something good from the week. Either a photo, an observation, a piece of news or a delightful fact.

So what about you, what has brightened up your Monday? What good things are in your life right now?

If anyone feels like joining in, that would be fantastic, I’m happy to link or feature.

This Monday’s good thing, some photos of the frost where I work…

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A Bit More on the Benefit System

Change.org just sent me an email about benefit sanctions with a couple of good articles, so thought I’d add those here, for anyone interested…

The Effect of Benefit Sanctions – the effects are depression and hunger, unsurprisingly.

Sixteen of the Most Senseless Benefit Sanctions –  A stern warning for all you work-shy claimants: having a heart attack during an assessment and therefore not completing the assessment will result in a sanction.

Because of I, Daniel Blake…

How our benefits system costs the tax payer more money

Last weekend I watched I, Daniel Blake (late to the party, as always). It was moving and beautiful, but I’m aware there are many people in this country who think that a film about benefits does not apply to them. So, using this film as inspiration, I wanted to point out a couple of things to those people:

Our benefit system is costing you more money by punishing claimants.

  1. The benefit system makes sick people sicker for longer, so they claim for longer.
  2. The benefit system creates benefit cheats.

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The benefit system makes sick people sicker for longer

We all know that stress is a killer, but stress also makes sick people more sick, so they can’t work, for longer. I had a brain injury, but what really prolonged my ability to get better was extreme stress. The stress was rooted in the accident, however, I didn’t show any symptoms of it until I tried to claim for benefits and that was clearly a trigger. One of the most stressful things you can experience is to have your survival in the hands of lying, incompetent people who don’t think of you as human. The film explores how this feels, how it destroys vulnerable people, breaks them down.

While claiming I found the system so relentlessly illogical and devoid of a duty of care that I became convinced that the government was trying to kill me, that was first sign of psychosis I experienced, after that it got worse. I was on benefits for six years, I think if I hadn’t been pushed to that point by the benefits system, if I could have relaxed, safe in the knowledge I was cared for and concentrated on recovery, I could have gone back to work in a year.

This may sound like a one off extreme experience (or maybe melodramatic), but it has happened to every genuinely sick person I have known who has tried to claim; because all illness, mental or physical, is made worse by stress. And everybody, no matter how ill, goes through the same system of being treated like a scrounger, lied to, tricked, dismissed.

Add to that the situations shown in the film – people being sanctioned and then not being able to eat properly or heat their home – all these things increase stress, prolong sickness and lead to the claimant needing benefits for much longer.

The benefit system works better for cheats than for the seriously ill – so the sick become cheats

The system is designed to be illogical and exhausting in order to put off benefit claimants. The problem with this is that benefit cheats have the mental and physical resources to deal with endless nonsensical and wrong instructions, they have the energy levels necessary to spend hours on the phone and they know the system so know just how to play it. People like Daniel in the film have never claimed benefits and don’t understand the system. They tell the truth (because they assume that is the right thing to do) and they are short on the strength necessary to play the game, all of which means they will not get money.

As a result, many seriously ill people give up trying, they rely on friends and family to survive or they kill themselves (see below for some  info about casualties). Dan sold his furniture and went hungry; and this is a seriously ill man who has just had a heart attack. I was lucky enough to understand computers (which Dan doesn’t) and I had a good friend to take over filling out forms and calling up advisers. Even with this help, I learnt that if I was to get money to live, I needed to change how I acted. Honesty and doing what I was asked to do, simply didn’t work. So I learnt to lie and cheat and manipulate, and that was how I got the money I needed to live.

Which is where the problem lies for the tax payer: The benefits system creates cheaters because honest people don’t get money. And being a cheater doesn’t just go away when you get better. If you have ever had someone repeatedly screw you over when you are at your most vulnerable you will perhaps understand: it changes you, it creates a cynicism and an anger that don’t vanish, and cynical, angry people, who have learned to work the system, aren’t good for society.

 

This blog was originally going to be a review, but there are plenty of excellent reviews about this important film and I had nothing helpful to add. In case you missed them…

Some facts about the system:

And finally a quote taken from the review above:

“I must emphasise one point. I, Daniel Blake is not a “poverty flick”, nor even a film about poverty. It’s about dignity, about society recognising you as a human being and not as a number. It’s about the relationships we create with one another to save us dying from state-imposed loneliness. The way we treat people on benefits becomes a metaphor for our society’s radical failure to recognise the humanity in others.”

The Polite Girl

These walls shall run red with your blood and echo with your screams. Not as revenge, but as a smoothing of fate, a coercion with destiny. Your horror will finally satiate me, your end will be my beginning.

Clare shyly raised her hand and Mrs Devonshire turned instantly towards her,

“Yes, Clare?”

“Is the answer Slovenia, miss?” asked Clare.

“Yes, excellent work,” Mrs Devonshire smiled with a tip of her head, wanting Clare to feel warmth radiating out from her. Clare looked down at her hands.

Of course it is excellent, cretin. I can toss you meaningless facts while your future is sealed.

Mrs Devonshire turned back to the board and started speaking, but was interrupted by the bell. Twenty-seven identically dressed children filed towards the door, Clare moving with them, trying to lose herself in the flow. Mrs Devonshire stepped forwards, blocking her; she spoke discreetly,

“Now, Clare, you know you have your meeting with the therapist now?” Clare responded with a duck of her head and an embarrassed shrug. It was lies, she wasn’t embarrassed, but it was what they wanted.

“I know you don’t like it, but it’s important for someone who’s been through…well, what you’ve been through.” Mrs Devonshire’s voice was dripping with pity and Clare smiled a wan, long suffering smile, before quickly escaping out of the door.

You know nothing of what I have been through, how dare you presume! With mediocrity stunting your growth, you cannot conceive of my experiences. You believe because you have stolen my life, that you can define it? Idiot!

Clare’s therapist was called Tom, he spoke slowly, with a tone that rose and fell with the regularity of a ticking clock.

“Now, I think that last time we met we were making some real progress talking about the abuse you suffered…”

Clare had quickly zoned out. She had no difficulty keeping an interested look on her face, while her thoughts swooped and danced. Her face was mild, but her thoughts boomed.

You would call the creation of a God, abuse? You would rather grovel in your mentally healthy cage, so clean and empty of glory? That was not abuse, it was a release from the bone cage.

Clare wasn’t allowed contact with her parents, they were considered a toxic presence, but it didn’t matter, they had taught her what she needed to know. They had given her strength and knowledge that dwarfed anything these scurrying ants had ever known. So she attended the therapy sessions, she sat through school, she kept her expression neat. She kept the raging vengeful God inside, all her power and fury waiting, just like she had been taught.

“You’re probably experiencing many emotions that are difficult to process: guilt, anger, feelings of abandonment…”

Clare did not feel abandoned. Her parents had set her free. They had made the ultimate sacrifice, having trained her, empowered her, they had thrown themselves into the jaws of the system, so that she might escape.

But like all good parents, they would never leave her on her own without giving her instructions on how to survive, how to evolve, and how to smash her way through the world leaving bloody, wailing destruction in her wake. It just wasn’t her time quite yet. She folded one hand in the other and looked dreamily out of the window, while the therapist droned on. This fool would be the first to die, she would make sure of it.