Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Salford Poverty Truth Commission

If you live in the North West you could do a lot worse than visit the Salford Poverty Truth Commission. 

Church Action on Poverty have been active and ecumenical when it comes to dealing with the causes of poverty head on.

"We're launching the Salford Poverty Truth Commission on Friday 8 July at Eccles Old Town Hall: Book your place now!
Sponsored by the new City Mayor, Paul Dennett and the Bishop of Salford the Poverty Truth Commission is a unique and powerful way of developing new insights and initiatives to tackle poverty, building on successful initiatives developed in Glasgow and Leeds over the past six years."

Counsellors need to hear about poverty from the people affected by it, on their own terms rather than only ever from the perspective of the client/counsellor relationship. We make room for people to discover their agency: this is what it looks like when they take it.

Book your FREE space now.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Embodying Social Justice Conference.

It's taken me some time to process this exciting two day event at Roehampton University and I'm sure it will continue to work and settle in for me. Here are my immediate observations:

1. Everyone I spoke with said how very tired they were. 
So many of us are in the maelstrom of heightened client distress. It used to be that people escaping domestic violence, child abuse, slavery, burnout, bereavement and other day to day unhappiness had services that would support and help them. The majority of those services have been closed. Those that remain have to divert the majority of their energy into non-counselling related activities to remain in existence. Many therapists are working incredible hours for no pay.

2. There was a real sense of muted outrage.
Counsellors in schools are under increasing pressure to inform on one section of their client base.
Many therapists are working 60+ hours a week for no pay.
The average annual income for BACP members is £12,000 - which means that many of us are paid much less.
Black and other minority counsellors remain just that - a tiny minority.
The body is being commodified as never before, from plastic surgery to FGM, worldwide.
Cuts and closures have affected everyone, vulnerable or not.
There was a sense of helplessness, knowing that people were suffering, knowing that organisations like the UN require a change in government policy and knowing that there will be no change.

3. 'Resilience' is still a focus for most of us.
Carmen Joanne Ablack opened the Conference with personal examples of suffering and resilience from within her own family, extending those stories to the wider experience of minority and other peoples. It was inspiring. But throughout the conference I heard very little about the people who suffer and continue to suffer; who don't experience some kind of growth or change; who kill themselves; who live on in a kind of fugue state whether they're in positions of privilege and power or living in abject poverty; who die because they've been forcibly relocated; who die because they're old or unwell and can't afford to turn the heating on. Or eat.

I wondered if these narratives are just too painful for us to consider. Once or twice in the sessions where we all met together a delegate would express despair and there were no answers to that despair.

4. Boundaries are being pushed further and further out in ways that might have been unimaginable 10 years ago. 
We continue to work within systems that treat Muslim children as potential terrorists.
We continue to work with government departments that are responsible for starving, purposefully harming and, in not infrequent cases, killing very vulnerable people.
We accept that counselling training is limited to people who can afford to pay for training, pay to work, pay to service counselling agencies, and so on and so on.
We accept that £12k is a reasonable return for a highly trained and highly regulated professional.

For me, these levels of consent can be perceived as symptoms of cumulative abuse rather than cynical acceptance of the status quo (thought there is certainly a significant proportion of counsellors who believe that people are hermetically sealed against their environment.)  We see people in terrible and escalating distress and want very much to do something to help even though we know the numbers are overwhelming, the pain unbearable. We don't dare to really look at how shocking things have become because they've become very, very bad indeed. The water is boiling. The frog died some time ago.

The Conference brought intelligent people of very good will together. I found a lot of solace simply in that. The fact that the Conference took place at all suggests that some change may be afoot, not least because it brought together academics, practitioners, researchers and the new, exciting Psychotherapy and Counselling Union which Susie Orbach suggested we join and support in order to address some of our concerns.

During the plenary session at the end of the conference key figures were asked to summarise what had been particularly important for them. Mick Cooper spoke about Lucy Goodison's workshop "The Red Therapy Experiment - compassionate embodied activism." Lucy co-founded self help, grassroots therapy groups in 70's East London and when asked, "What would you pass on?" she replied "Don't expect too much too quickly."*

We all have to find our place on various axes of what we can bear and not bear, of what we can offer and not offer. Because of my experiences - most recently becoming increasingly aware of elderly and vulnerable people dying just months after being forced to move during the 'regeneration' of our neighbourhood - I place myself in positions that many therapists may, because of their experiences, consider extreme. Death is about as extreme as it gets. Starvation, hypothermia, suicide attempts and successes, profound anxiety and total bodily State compulsion are extreme.

I've learned not to expect anything much in terms of political awareness from the profession so the Conference was refreshing and reinvigorating. I'm hopeful that the respectability of Mick Cooper and Susie Orbach, of Roehampton and Edinburgh Universities will encourage resilience in more counsellors who, like me, may feel very isolated in a sea of troubles. We may not be able to end them but together we can oppose them.

* I'm paraphrasing from memory: if you remember differently please let me know.

Study Finds Racial and Class Discrimination in Psychotherapy

A new study suggests that psychotherapists are human beings in a society, subject to the same influences as other people in that society.
"Psychotherapists are not immune to the stereotypes that influence the decisions of other professionals," Heather Kugelmass, the author of the study, said. "Moreover, because therapists in solo private practice have high levels of professional autonomy, they have a lot of latitude to make decisions that are consistent with their biases." 

"Among those who were called back, however, Kugelmass found a disturbing trend. Once reached, white patients who sounded like they were middle-class were offered an appointment 30% of the time, while middle-class black women were offered an appointment 21% of the time and middle-class black men received such an invitation only 13% of the time. The offer for psychotherapy appointments also seemed to depend on gender and class divisions."

“For those [potential clients] who do persist in their search for care, every instance of blocked access means additional time and effort spent placing numerous phone calls to identify a psychotherapist willing to respond and accommodate their schedules. This is time and effort that those suffering from mental [health issues]—especially those of low socioeconomic status—do not have to spare.”

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Hearing The Voices Of Others.

via Facebook

The following status is rather long and for that I apologise but, I would urge you to take the time to read it. I have stalled making this letter I wrote to various MP's public as I did not want, in anyway to impact on Andy Grant PIP assessment however there are no such constraints on me!!! Please feel free to share this with as many people as you wish to as the more people who are made aware of the callous nature of this process the better..............................
For those who have never met him, let me introduce you to Andy, my wonderful Partner of sixteen years and amazing father to our two beautiful children. He is the most exceptional man I know; funny, caring, generous, determined, handsome, abundant in patience, he understands me like no other person, accepts me flaws and all and is our family's protector. He also happens to be disabled. I tell you this bit last as this does not define him. He goes about his daily life with little or no complaint, despite being in constant pain with a permanently dislocated hip, agony with his lower back and pain and discomfort in many joints and muscles throughout his body, not to mention the 'bubble' we have created to live in to ignore the constant stares, giggling and sometimes photographing and filming when in public because he happens to look a bit different. He is unable to walk long distances, can not stand for long periods of time among many other limitations.
For the last twenty-three years, Andy has qualified for High Rate Disability Living Allowance meaning he is eligible for a Motability car. This is not Andy sponging or scrounging off the state, it was a non-means tested benefit, in part put in place to contribute to the extra costs faced by disabled people. His Motability car is his lifeline, "my legs" as he describes it. By the 31st May 2016, Andy was told he had to return his car, rendering him housebound. This is following the 'reassessment' of his abilities and needs brought on by the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments.
The process for Andy started in October 2015 when he had to return a convoluted application form, forcing him to lay bare every element of his life and try and put into writing the impact his disability has on his daily living. For someone who has always been determined not to be labelled as 'handicapped', this was a truly embarrassing and humiliating process. He accepted however, this was a means to an end. Then came his wait for a face-to-face 'medical'. On the first occasion this was cancelled two hours before he was due to attend, following numerous sleepless night leading up to it. For the last six months Andy has faced the daily stress and anxiety of not knowing what his future would be.
On 21st April 2016 the dreaded brown envelope landed on our doormat. In it contained the words which, relatively simple, have changed Andy's world......."I have decided you're entitled to .....Standard rate". He was no longer deemed disabled enough to qualify for 'Enhanced rate' and therefore a Motablity car. It has broken my heart to watch my once, confident husband reduced to tears, being left feeling like, to use his words, a "useless cripple" and trying each day to shelter our children from the impact this was having on him. The DWP's assessment (with input from ATOS), among other things, was that he was able to walk 20metres but no more than 50 metres "reliably and repeatedly", not only was this incorrect, but did not take into account the complex and diverse nature of his disability. In trawling the internet and watching numerous documentaries on the subject, this element appears to be the crux of most people's assessment and seems to be the main deciding factor as to whether Enhanced or Standard rate is awarded or not.
On receiving and digesting the content of the report from ATOS, completed after his 'medical', we both had had serious concerns about the quality of the Health Professional’s report, her understanding of Andy's condition and in particular the impact on his mobility, as well as how the assessment itself was conducted. Aside from the typographical errors, there were also inconsistencies, inaccuracies and assumptions made by the assessor which we felt impacedt on the reports validity. For Andy to have to read this document was a further kick in the teeth that, despite being honest and transparent with the Health Professional, at times they did not appear to have taken any notice of what he had said and it had been merely a paper exercise.
The Government appear completely confused. In their State of the Nation Report on Poverty, Worklessness and Welfare Dependency in the UK (3rd June 2010) they wrote, " There is a high degree of persistence among claimants of many low income and out of work benefits; For example around 2.2 million people, including 1.1 million people of working age have been claiming Disability Living Allowance for over five years". This completely ignores the fact that DLA is not, nor has it ever been, a low-income or out of work benefit. "Persistent" you say......disability by its very nature is this. Andy isn't suddenly going to sprout 'normal' length legs, his Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita can not be cured, or his hip replaced satisfactorily enough to increase his mobility. He can't just get rid of his disability.
I hope she will not mind, but to quote Michelle Maher from the WOWcampaign, "Sick and disabled people are being punished for something they had no part of, caught in an ideological attack by the Tory party determined to (remove) all forms of support". These cuts are forcing disabled people to be locked away from society, a return to the old days of dependency, isolation and totally degrading. Do we really want to live in a society where difference is not supported, where equality is no longer valued and where in order to function in society you have to be deemed perfectly able? Andy's car is not a 'luxury item'; it is part of what helps him be an equal member of society with the same opportunities as others.
Today, eight months on, and far sooner that he had been expecting, Andy received the outcome of his mandatory reconsideration. That on reassessment, he was 'disabled' enough to receive the Enhanced Rate. This should feel like a victory, a relief of months and months of stress and anxiety for him, but actually it feels almost like an anti-climax...........the point being that he should never have had to go through this hideous experience in the first place. He can, please excuse the sarcasm, 'look forward' to going through this whole process again in another five years. Andy knows how fortunate he is to have had a positive outcome to his reconsideration and is acutely aware that there are thousands of disabled people who continue to battle the system. Perhaps a reflection of his thoughtful and considerate personality, is his ongoing concern and worry for those people that have been unable to cope with this process, those who have been plunged into thousands of pounds worth of debt in order to buy a vehicle to remain mobile and those who do not have the support he has had from family and friends. Andy was very frank in admitting had the latter not been true for him, he does not know what he would have done.
I have not written this to gain sympathy for Andy's plight or to evoke pity (Andy would hate this completely!!!), I have highlighted Andy's story in order to give a face to these cuts, to try and give a glimpse of how they are affecting thousands of individuals and families with sometimes devastating consequences. Andy is a very private person and therefore it has been a big decision for him to allow me to share this snap shot of his life.
I would like to end with a somewhat sarcastic "thank you" to the Conservative government for making my husband feel more disabled than he has ever done in the last forty years of his life."

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

"Dignity Is For The Middle Class." What's being taught in business school.

Poor Professor Jeremy Baker. He's currently trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.

Sports Direct founder, Mike Ashley, will be answering a Parliamentary Committee's questions this morning. Mr Ashley had previously refused to meet the Committee who had asked him to discuss his businesses working conditions. Realising that he would be in Contempt of Parliament, which can lead to a fine and a prison sentence, Mr Ashley has changed his mind.

But who can blame this billionaire for his attitude towards the people who create his wealth? Jeremy Baker is an affiliate professor of Entrepreneurship, Marketing and International business at ESCP Europe, London Campus. People wanting an MBA pay a great deal of money for this kind of teaching. He defended Mr Ashley on the Today Programme this morning.

I'm looking for a transcript of the following interview because it's a straightforward description of the naked prejudices including frank racism that great many people believe is just good business. Intelligent, well educated people in good standing with their communities and professional organisations.

Please take the time to listen to the interview which positively and explicitly agrees with and encourages the exploitation of people who are not 'middle class'.