Mental Health And Me By Lucy Robinson

At 17 I moved out of home. Within a year, my Dad & Step Mum who I previously lived with emigrated to Canada. My Mum lived in Wales. I was alone in London, with the world at my feet. I was ready.

…Or so I thought.

I bought a flat at 18, working in building maintenance. At 21 I fell pregnant; not ideal, unemployment and repossession ensued with me ending up – after lengthy process – in a Housing Association flat.

I refused to become a statistic of another single Mum on benefits.

Then in 1997 Labour got in to government – there was hope!

At this point I decided my career had to work for me. I went from working on a help desk in 1999 to managing engineers, to managing contracts. I did day release university and got qualified.

I started to manage bigger contracts, better contracts, profit margins increasing.

I was bold, brave and very good at my job.

In 10 years I went from part-time admin earning £10k to Projects Director in a multi-million pound engineering company, commanding a salary of £80k a year, managing literally hundreds of people.

I was now married with 3 children aged 13, 4 & 3. My stress levels were through the roof: I was being bullied at work (which most who knew couldn’t fathom) and my soul mate was dying of cancer.

It was a rollercoaster.

My soul mate died, work paid me off in a compromise agreement and then, just as I couldn’t get lower, my husband left.

It’s OK. I’m the breadwinner, I have child care, a cleaner, money… I can do this… NO.

No you can’t, not without a support network, which I didn’t have, I had opted for a career.

I was about to learn the hardest lesson.


I lost 4 stone in as many weeks and never slept, apparently.

I have no recollection of 2011/12.

I still went to work every day, my kids were fed and clothed and attended school – in no small part thanks to my long-suffering teenager.

No one knew.

I saw not a cloud move, not a raindrop fall, didn’t taste or feel anything at all in this time.

I didn’t hear my children laugh or cry and from what I understand behind closed doors I was a vile ball of negativity and bitterness. I’ve no idea how my three beautiful babies coped while all I knew was blackness.

I sold my house, my beloved BMW convertible and got divorced. I started to regain what was missing and came to discover I was moving home.

I moved to Kent, I can’t quite tell you why; I do know rent was cheaper and I was born there which I assume took me back.

The moment I moved I could start to feel the ground under my feet (literally).

I saw I had an old ford Mondeo, my teenager was occupied as much as possible and we should all understand why, I saw my younger children cower from me and I was in so much physical pain it was hard to think.

I couldn’t fathom it… what was happening?

My hands didn’t work properly, I was physically sick most days and getting my children to school was a task. I had to have 4 operations: one on each wrist, one on my bladder and one on my throat. I had also gained a hiatus hernia and degenerative disc disease in my spine, not to mention the complex neurological disorder (nerve problems)…

But I’m bold and brave and very good at my job, I’m respected and established how could this happen?

My Doctor was incredible. I arrived gripping onto his desk, shaking, crying, scared and justifying that I was an intelligent, capable human being but I just needed help.

Please help me.

He did.

I went on antidepressants and got to know my children again. Did I mention autism? Yes we are an autism friendly family; not helpful if your Mum is having serious mental health issues.

I tried to go back to work, similar level but local on £60k. I couldn’t hack the pace, people were getting the better of me.

Tried again, still local but less responsibility on £40k.

I can’t EVEN do that.

It’s now 2015 I’ve moved twice and I am just going to have to finally admit I have mental health issues.

My spine is deteriorating, my children are not getting to school on time, my landlord might find out I’m not working and the school might find out I’m not coping.

Depression, anxiety, zero self-esteem and no support network… I’ve got to do this.

The school get involved, leading to a family conference with my family (now in Wales), my ex-husband’s family and my MENTAL HEALTH social worker, with me begging for help.

How does a bold brave person end up crawling so low. I’ll tell you…

By not taking care of the one organ which is bigger than you… your brain!

My landlord did find out I wasn’t working. I was still paying my £1145 a month rent in full but no, he wanted me out.

November 2015; 5 days before my youngest’s 9th birthday my three children and I were evicted, literally on the street. No temporary accommodation available locally, one North London and one in Harlow.

I emptied my home into a van and a garage I had rented. I find different places for all of us to stay.

Only two nights but two scary, lonely long nights.

I get a call. Erith. That’s somewhere I’ve heard of.

Another move but this time it means I’m in the system that offers help. A year later my family are offered a twee little 3 bed council house in the cutest of roads, garden, a downstairs bathroom to accommodate my disability.

I honestly couldn’t have been more grateful and slowly we start to heal.

So here I am in 2018, nearly another decade on from earning £80k with my BMW and two decades from refusing to be a single mum on benefits…

I AM a single Mum, on benefits with a disability to boot.

Would I have been better off with no career?

No, I loved almost every second of it.

Would I have stayed married?

No, I needed support.

Will I actively encourage people to look after their mental health?


I’m lucky. I am 43, once again with the world at my feet… it’s a blank canvas… now what is it I want to do?

By Lucy Robinson

The Devastating Plight Of Kent Families Hit By Austerity By Kelly Grehan and Lisa Mulholland

This past week has highlighted how the people of Kent are suffering from further cuts to services.

On Monday it was announced that Kent County Council had decided to press ahead with the £400,000 cuts to breastfeeding support services.

This was despite a staggering 1,294 responses to the consultation (the average last year was 156 per consultation) and an evidence based campaign from ‘Keep Kent Breastfeeding’.

Data from Unicef indicates that 81% of mothers wish to breastfeed their babies at birth, but only 17% babies are still exclusively breastfed at 3 months.

The health benefits of breastmilk are well known.  We are particularly concerned over the impact on the emotional health of mums who want to breastfeed and are not supported to do so, and as such experience a sense of failure, this is at a time when postnatal depression is on the rise.

A 2015 study by Netmums indicated that one quarter of all new mums experience loneliness.

NCT research shows that good breastfeeding support has practical and psychological benefits for mothers; impacting on the wellbeing of their babies.

Breastfeeding support workers had the luxury of having time to spend with mums. I think we all recognise that, with the best will in the world, Health Visitors who will be expected to take on the task and void left as a result of these plans will not have the time to spend with women.

It seems KCC did not comprehend the value of breast peer support workers and thought only of the initial costs.

Maybe, having awarded themselves a 12% pay rise last year maybe it is inevitable KCC Councillors would need to make cuts.

The cuts to breastfeeding support were not the only indication that family needs are not the priority of KCC this week.

Last Friday The Royal College of Psychiatrists revealed Kent have only 3.75 child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 children.

The lowest number in the country.

In London, the tally is around 17.  With a national average of around 8, it is evident that Kent is leap years behind the UK.

And that is no mean feat when you consider many councils and people across the UK as a whole are suffering immensely from austerity.

The toll it takes on parents and families is immeasurable.

I ( Lisa) have written about my personal battle with child mental health services as a Kent parent and was asked to appear on the BBC local news to talk about the effect it has had on me and many other families throughout Kent. You can read my article here

It is a sad fact that life is not easy for many Kent children.

The End Child Poverty Coalition estimate more than 93,000 children in Kent are living in poverty.

Shelter estimate 2000 children in Kent are homeless.

An investigation it carried among people living in emergency B&Bs and hostels found every family living in a single room, with 25% having no access to a kitchen and 50% having to share toilet and bathroom facilities.

Imagine growing up in those conditions!! And it begs the question, where is the help for these families?

The suffering and endless misery does not stop there.

Since 2015 the average Tory cut in funding to each primary school has been £54,000, and to each secondary school it has been £205,000.

Teachers and parents are having to fund vital equipment. And now they’ve denied 1m children a free hot school meal. Unless the DUP own you of course; children Northern Ireland is exempt from these cuts

It seems that no service is safe.

Maybe it is unfair to place the blame squarely on KCC.  Tory austerity has hit them hard.

For example:

● The council is expected to make around £75m of savings next year, out of a £900m budget.

● In the past five years the council’s grant from central government has been cut by £185.4m.

● The council says it has made savings to the tune of £417m in the same period, because of the drop in funding and increased demand in services

But yet this remains the sixth richest country in the world!

Yet at every turn our children are failed time and time again. Budgets are cut to shreds and it seems to be children who are on the receiving end. What a sad state of affairs this is.

We will be taking a closer look over the coming week of how austerity has affected services across Kent.

Without awareness we cannot seek to change what is happening.

A Review Of The ‘Inspiring Kent Labour Women Event’- 10th March 2018 By Kelly Grehan

Spurred on by International Women’s Day on Thursday a group of us from Dartford CLP headed down to Canterbury for this event.

Since becoming Kent’s only Labour MP last June, Rosie Duffield has become the pride of the Labour Party movement throughout Kent, with all of us feeling that she is ‘our Rosie’ .

The fact she worked in ‘ordinary, but important’ jobs such as a Teaching Assistant and for charities and juggled this with being a single mother has certainly been inspiring for the rank and file female Labour members.

Ive written before about how in my experience women often play down their skills and experiences and do not realise the value they could add to their communities as councillors ; so it was interesting to hear Rosie say that not so long ago she felt that standing as an MP was not a realistic option for her and that talking to a fabulous woman called Frances Scott from 50:50 Parliament had made the difference in her outlook.

Frances explained that she launched the 50:50 Parliament campaign which campaigns for gender equality at Westminster with the aim to inspire, encourage and support women in being elected to Westminster and is asking Parliament and all the political parties to work on solutions.

It is very exciting to know that this is exactly what encouraged Rosie.

Women are 51% of the population so it is indefensible that women make up just 32% of our MPs.

Frances spoke about how men can represent women (and vice versa) but are more likely to do a good job when there are women around.

All people use their experiences to understand the world, so it is no surprise that issues which primarily concerning women such as maternity, childcare, the wage gap and domestic abuse have not been priority issues within a male dominated parliament.

Men and women have different experiences – it is not that one is superior to the other – they are just different and all people benefit from those different experiences being valued.

Laura Cashman is Programme Director for Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. She made the point that woman and men vote in the same proportions – yet the false narrative that ‘women are not interested in politics’ persists.

The idea that women cannot be good mothers and good politicians is a myth. Just look at the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern who is currently pregnant, and closer to home, in France last year; Senator Larissa Walters addressed the chamber whilst breastfeeding her baby.

Yet woman are sidelined in arguments, for example in the Brexit debate only 16% of media appearances to discuss the issue were women!

Given a choice of seminars I opted (after some deliberation it must be said) for Confidence In Campaigning; led by an inspiring woman called Fiona Crawford.

Like many Labour party activists Fiona came to prominence after feeling compelled to campaign on issues she felt strongly about such as racism and the ‘Save Broadstairs High Street’ campaign. This spurred her on to other campaigning.

Other women told of their campaigning experiences, with the message being that campaigning is so varied that there is something everyone can excel at – whether it be door knocking, designing leaflets, making displays and numerous other things.

Hearing women talk with passion about their champion of various causes was so motivating, and a reminder of how much woman have to offer.

What I am increasingly learning is that ‘inspired women’ inspire other women.

As women, we need to get better at telling others what we have achieved and what we value about them.

#AskHerToStand was a campaign championed by 50:50 Parliament.

The power of the movement was bought home to me speaking to one of the members of my group, Sarah Crook, attending her first political event.

Sarah commented “50 : 50 really struck a chord with me. It has seriously made me think about standing. I cannot believe in 2018 it’s still a 2:1 ratio of men to women in Parliament. Frances was so impassioned – she made me want to campaign for the movement”

I ask all women (and men) to join and ask friends to think about standing for parliament, council and all other public offices.

Together we can make a difference.

Kelly Grehan is a member of Dartford Labour Party and co founder and writer for The Avenger.

A Woman’s Place Is On The Ballot By Kelly Grehan

So here we are 100 years on from the first women in the UK gaining the vote and the political class continues to be dominated by men.

208 women are now MPs making up 32% of the Houses of Parliament, including 206 female peers, making up 26% of Members of the House of Lords.

In 2015 of the 3,971 candidates who stood for election only 1,033 (26%) were women and this was hailed as major progress.  

Women were 34% of Labour’s candidates, compared to 30% in 2010.  169 Conservative candidates, 26% of the party’s total cohort, were women – a 10% rise on 2010 and the highest number in the party’s history. Similarly, 166 (26%) Liberal Democrats candidates were women.

It is the same picture in local government: 32% of local authority councillors in England are women.

Small, slow progress, but I hardly need to remind everyone that over half the people eligible to vote in this country are female!

Globally, the UK’s 30% ratio for women in the House of Commons puts it 49th in ranked list.

Rwanda is first, followed by Bolivia, Cuba and the Seychelles. Three countries in the ranking have no women in their lower or single house, while 31 have fewer than 10%.

So why don’t women stand?  

Well several studies have found evidence of well-entrenched gender bias in British party politics, including widespread incidences of direct and indirect discrimination by party selectors towards women candidates; ranging from gendered assumptions regarding women’s traditional roles to explicit sexual harassment.

Seeing the treatment of female representatives in the media and via social media is likely to put a lot of women off standing.

The fact that females at every sphere of the political system receive so much more abuse and ridicule than their male colleagues says a lot about our society and the everyday sexism that continues to define it.

Then there is the way the political processes are set up.  Meetings are often at night, leaving anyone with caring responsibilities unable to attend as no provision is made for children.

Door knocking is not viewed as a suitable activity for children by many.  

My experience is that Labour meetings continue to be dominated by men.

I am sure there are some, but I have not personally come across, a Labour Party Chair who is not a man.

Even discussions on issues primarily affecting women such as domestic abuse and sexual harassment or childcare are quickly overtaken by men, often pointing out that men can be affected by these issues too, and shouting down women who were about to speak about actual experiences.

Within the meetings there seems to be an unwritten rule that women make the tea and take the minutes.  

Women are simply not seeing the representation of women or given the voice they should be.

When I speak to very capable women about standing many simply articulate that they think they lack the capabilities to be a good councillor and so self select themselves out of the process.

The result of this failure to have adequate representation of the lived experiences of women in our elected places means progress for women is slowed.

I attended an event with Tracy Brabin, Shadow Early Years Minister.  It was clear her understanding of childcare and early years provision (or lack there of) is a shaped by her experience as a working mum.  Too often we are reliant on people who have no idea of our needs to speak up for us.  This is not to say we don’t have some excellent male representatives who work really hard for all their constituents, but such continued dominance of males (mostly white males over 60) means that the political set up continues to be patriarchal and to continue to examine issues in a patriarchal context.

This does nothing to advance us as a society.

The truth, in my experience, is women seem to completely underestimate what they could bring to the role of representative.

Many women are already firmly established as active members of their communities, on groups like school Parent Teacher Associations or volunteering for charities.

Many have good understanding of local issues surrounding schools from experience as parents and similarly the NHS from their experiences in it as well as taking others as carers (and yes it is still usually mothers and daughters fulfilling this role).

As mums many women have fought to get their children access to services like speech therapy or dyslexia testing which have given them in depth understanding of the system and the obstacles it brings up and many women are consistently shown to have suffered disproportionately in the austerity ‘cutbacks.’

The vocalising of these experiences and the taking of the wisdom of the experiences to the community can made a real difference.

The only way our local parties are going to get better is if we, as women go and make them better.  

Women, reading this – please do stand.  


Why should I know?

I was driving along listening to Radio 4 this morning when the news came on at the top of the hour. Just the headlines, you know.

One of the stories caught my ear, and I’ve been thinking about it all day.

In Portsmouth, a primary school head teacher had admitted in Magistrates Court to drink driving and being in possession of half a gram of cocaine.

That was one of the headlines they read out on the BBC news. Now, this wasn’t a detailed news programme, but a bulletin with headlines. That a head teacher had been fined in a Magistrates Court and banned from driving.

They read out his name, maybe they read out his school, I don’t quite recall now and it doesn’t seem the news from that time is on the iPlayer radio app. But on the BBC website there’s a link to his schools OFSTED report if you want to read it.

Please, don’t for a minute think that I think it’s OK for head teachers to be driving drunk and taking cocaine. I don’t. But with all that’s going on in the world, is that really one of the top stories, the few headlines, chosen to be read out on the BBC news?

His school, by the way, has 300 children on role according to the OFSTED report. So, if you’re a parent to one of those 300 children, or a parent thinking of sending your child there, perhaps it’s of public interest that you should know.

But I live more than 200 miles away.

Maybe it should be in the local paper? But as a headline on the national news? Surely not. It was also one of the top 10 most read stories on the BBC website at one point in the day.

The guy has been to court, he’s been banned from driving, he’s been fined, he’s been suspended from his job, he’ll probably be sacked and never teach again. Should he have been driving drunk? No, of course not. Should he have been in possession of cocaine? No, of course not.

Is it national news? One of the top six stories to make the news bulletin at the top of the hour on BBC Radio4? Is it in the public interest that everyone across the country knows the name of this guy? No, I shouldn’t have thought so.

Or if it is, let’s make the news bulletin longer – because if we’re going to read out the name of every head teacher who’s been caught drink driving or taken cocaine maybe we should do the same with doctors? Police officers? Politicians? Who else, maybe members of the clergy? Anyone who ever breaks the law? Let’s read them all out every day.

Is that news? Does it make the world better? Does it heck.


100 Years On From Winning The Right For Women To Vote But How Far Have We Actually Progressed? By Kelly Grehan

Next week marks 100 years since some women in Britain were granted the vote – it seems to be forgotten that, despite all men over 21 years of age being able to vote after the Representation of People Act, only women over 30 who occupied a house were deemed fit to vote.

It was another 10 years before equal suffrage was to be achieved. At this time the destiny of a woman was very clear – get married and raise a family.

Campaigners like Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Garret Anderson had carried out and pursued a peaceful struggle to open professions like medicine to women. Yet still, only the privileged few, whose fathers or husbands were enlightened enough to permit it, got a foot on the ladder of opportunity.

Today almost all jobs are open to women, and yet we have yet to get an even gender representation in Parliament or standard equal pay.  

But there is one industry where process towards equality has been particularly slow: sport.

Male played sports continue to dominate the TV schedules and news headlines. Women who have beaten the odds and the system, such as Assistant Referee Sian Massey-Ellis are subject to scrutiny on their appearance which would never be imparted on their male counterparts.

In fact, after Sky Sports pundits Andy Grey and Richard Keys were embroiled in a row over their sexist comments on her; The sun saw fit to print a front cover of Sian dancing in a vest top and denim skirt with the headline ‘Get ‘Em Off.’

Further to this, some sports – boxing and motorcar racing in particular –  have not only continued to be overwhelmingly male dominated, but have continued to use women in roles that I can only describe as ‘accessories.’

This week it seems, those responsible for the Formula 1 brand openly recognised its use of ‘grid girls’.

They deemed it out of date and not conducive to the image they wish to portray.  In a Press Release Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations at Formula 1 said:

“Over the last year we have looked at a number of areas which we felt needed updating so as to be more in tune with our vision for this great sport.  While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 Grands Prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms. We don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world.”

Formula 1 should be congratulated for their change in policy here and let us not forget this was a commercial decision, taken to protect commercial interests.

Clearly F1 decided that girls doing nothing more than looking pretty and having champagne poured on them was not a good image.

This has, perhaps predictably, not prevented  the coverage that has followed; accusing them of ‘cowering to political correctness’  and that ‘jealous, ugly feminists’ have ‘banned’ women from jobs they loved.

Objectification of women is endemic in our society.  Just look at the recent events at the Presidents Club.  People claim the women concerned enjoy their work, choose it etc. No doubt this is true, but ‘work’ of this type contributes to a society in which women’s role is seen as being for the pleasure of men in a world where they are portraying that the nearest women can get to the top or be a success is by fawning all over the men who actually win something.

Then there is the vilifying of feminism and the repeated use of the word ‘feminist’ as a derogatory term.

A brief browse through this weeks tabloids or twitter attached to the hashtag #gridgirl gives no doubt about the vitriol aimed at women who dare to praise the F1 decision.

Women who call themselves ‘feminists’ can expect to be called ‘jealous,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘prudes,’ and such like as a matter of course.

So 100 years after women won the vote it seems the idea that ‘women should know their place’ still persists.

We still have a long way to go for gender equality.

Pardon Me, Ms Plummer! British Tourist or Egyptian Drug Smuggler? By Lucy Chapman

So it looks like any day soon, Laura Plummer will be a free woman once more!

It’s been reported today that the 33 year old from Hull who smuggled 300 Tramadol tablets into Egypt in October, may be released from her 3 year jail sentence as part of public holiday celebrations by President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, although nothing official has yet been confirmed.

Whilst for Laura and her family this will offer a wonderful ray of hope, some of the rest of us are left wondering what all of the outrage was in aid of in the first place.

Yes prison isn’t fun, in an Egyptian prison you’d be more than a little worried; the death penalty was a possibility, but she did commit a crime.

This wasn’t one pack of Tramadol she had in the bottom of her handbag for her own use and she hadn’t double checked, this was THREE HUNDRED tablets.

Back home we saw family members weeping on breakfast television, heard distressed friends of Laura on the radio, and again I’ll repeat, of course they should be upset for their loved one!

But why so much coverage of it in the media?

It’s not as if it’s even legal here! It’s available on prescription, but not over the counter to buy so it gets me wondering…

Who were these three hundred tablets prescribed to?

How many hours of a GPs time have been wasted in fake “oh my back’s still giving me trouble, Doc” appointments?

How much has that cost our struggling NHS?

What charge would somebody get in the UK for fraudulently obtaining prescription-only medication to pass on to somebody else for whom it was not meant?

Laura Plummer, I’m afraid, committed an offence despite her lack of knowledge of Egyptian law. And whether or not she knew the legality of the medicine itself, she knew it wasn’t prescribed for her boyfriend, that it had been obtained through deceit and legal or not, it was wrong.

NHS fraud can hold a custodial sentence here in the UK and NHS fraud does include “False claims – Patients claiming free treatment they are not entitled to”

Shortly after Ms Plummer made her ‘honest mistake’ a headline in the Independent read “NHS counter fraud authority to tackle £1.25bn bogus prescriptions and claims that could fund 40,000 nurses”.

Laura Plummer isn’t all that innocent in the eyes of our own law and people; so why are so many jumping to her defence overseas?

Let me be clear, I don’t have the slightest problem with a family trying to free their loved one from an Egyptian prison sentence; I’d certainly do the same! I’m sure it’s terrifying for this woman who is the same age as I am; I would be despairing too.

I have nothing against this woman personally or any desire for her to be in an Egyptian prison, of course not.

What I have a problem with is how as a nation we’ve dealt with this story and situation!

Aren’t there bigger injustices to fight?

She wasn’t sentenced to the death penalty, she was given three years; it doesn’t even sound all that disproportionate to me.

The month after Plummer was arrested, 16 men were also sentenced to three years in prison in Egypt. Their crime? Waving a rainbow flag at a concert!!

Is waving flags illegal in Egypt? No.

Is homosexuality illegal in Egypt? No.

Is going to a concert illegal in Egypt? No.

Is smuggling three hundred Tramadol tablets into the country? Yes. Yes it is!

You committed a crime, you got caught, it’s rubbish. Suck it up!

Debauchery is what the men were charged with by the way.

I wonder what would have been splattered across our newspapers, talked about on morning television and discussed on radio if the story was “Egyptian man smuggles 300 illegal tablets into the UK claiming ‘honest mistake’ to help his British girlfriend with back pain”.

Do you think we, as a nation, would be up in arms fighting for his pardoning by the Prime Minister?

No me neither.