The Long Summer Holiday And How We Fail Our Children By Kelly Grehan

The long summer holidays. The time children look forward to all year, the chance for family time, holidays, adventure, time with friends, visiting new places…

That’s the expectation anyway.

Sadly, the summer holidays are becoming a time of dread for many families as increasing numbers of people struggle to feed and find affordable childcare for their children.

As schools try their best to ensure income differences are not felt by school children throughout the year (with mixed successes) the holidays has become the great differentiator between children according to the wealth and circumstances of their parents.

As some families fly abroad for new experiences and relaxation, for others survival mode kicks in, with the six weeks something to endure rather than enjoy.

With free school meals guaranteeing that all infant school children and those deemed economically impoverished receive at least five cooked meals a week; the holidays sees the removal of the safety net for up to 3 million children.

This problem is recognised.

In fact an all-party parliamentary group on hunger found there was a “deeply troubling” impact on children who had gone hungry over the holidays and returned to class “malnourished, sluggish and dreary”. They received evidence that affected children “start the new term several weeks, if not months, intellectually behind their more fortunate peers who have enjoyed a more wholesome diet and lots of activity”.

This is further backed up by a 2016 survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers where teachers also reported a deterioration in the mental health of those children concerned.

The union blamed low wages and changes to benefits for the ‘unprecedented hunger’ they had witnessed in children.

Further evidence comes from a 2015 study based on a 580 low- and middle-income parents, which found that 62% of parents on less than £25,000 a year can not always afford food in holidays!

For parents with incomes of less than £15,000 the figure rises to 73%, while 41% of parents in low-income families had skipped meals during holidays so that their children could eat.

Very sadly 22% of parents said they had avoided having their children’s friends over and 17% hadn’t invited family to their house during the holidays due to a lack of money and food.

So this means the children are further disadvantaged in missing out on company and stimulation.

The problems do not cease with nutrition.

With increasing numbers of working parents living without nearby family support and without the means to afford childcare while they work, many are faced with a dilemma about where children should spend the day.

The NSPCC last week revealed an increased number of children left alone all day during the summer holidays.

The charity warns that although the law does not give a minimum age at which children can be left on their own, parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if they are put at risk of suffering an injury.

Imagine the predicament for a person, maybe struggling with the rent, to put food on the table and knowing that their job does not pay enough to cover these and childcare; or maybe receiving a call from a zero hours employer and having no options of where the children could spend the day.

Leaving a child alone may seem a risk which must be taken.

A child left alone, or in charge of younger siblings, possibly for days in the holidays is missing out on structure and security.

Even for those parents on average incomes the holidays are now a struggle.

The cost of activities once enjoyed for a reasonable rate such as the cinema have now become extortionate, rising expedentially to that of wages.

Holidays in the UK and abroad in school holidays can now be double of those in term time.

Libraries and Sure Start Centres which traditionally supplied free entertainment and activities are closing or withdrawing services.

The old first day back to school tradition of writing what you got up to in the holidays must be a dreaded and distressing experience for some children with it further emphasising their exclusion from parts of life enjoyed by their more fortunate classmates.

What strikes me if that, once again, is that there are a group of children – a significantly large group of children – who are being failed.

They are spending significant periods of their formative years hungry, alone, under stress – all things that are likely to impact negatively on their mental health, their school attainment and their self image.

Despite the rhetoric of this government this is not a poor country and we can do better by our children than this.

In This Together – Anonymous

To my darling boy,

I couldn’t save you today. I couldn’t be there to hold you as the tears fell from your cheeks or make it all better.

Since you were a baby we knew you were different, I remember telling the doctor how hard it was to step into your world and how you wouldn’t let us in. The diagnosis of autism actually came as a relief in the end.

Things moved fast after that, school managed to put in place support, we learned how to communicate with you and how to help you feel safe.

However the one thing we couldn’t prepare you for is the heartache of watching your nursery friend now run off laughing with other friends as they look at you with pity, neither of you knowing how to step into each other’s worlds anymore.

Their needs and communication have now surpassed what you can offer and inevitably they have moved on.

You try and join in but it’s just too much, you cannot understand the invisible rules of making friends, it’s so hard and complicated and eventually you walk away lonely and heartbroken.

The world you were once a part of, the children you once called friends now moving further away as their understanding and expectations of what a friend is changes and you are just not able to keep up anymore.

I come up to you, I wipe away the tear and kiss your perfect cheek. I check my phone, no messages and just a Facebook update of a mum I used to spend time with, she is now busy with the other mum’s and it seems their children are all having a sleepover tonight and making cookies.

I silently say goodbye to yet another friendship and thank god you do not have social media yet.

I turn to you and tell you that I love you, that we will always be in this together.

I remind you that you have so much to offer this world, that you can point out the smallest detail in something that other people cannot see, you are loyal and focused when something interests you and because of that you will excel in your chosen field.

You rarely judge other people or get caught up in social expectations, you accept a person for who they are and would never lie or cheat them.

You are passionate, you live for the moment and despite common belief actually have the biggest heart I know!

But mostly importantly, you are unique and beautiful, and even the loneliest butterfly eventually spreads their wings and finds their place in this world.

In the meantime my darling boy I will always be there for you, we are in this together and I will always be your best friend.

I will help you understand this world and see the beauty within it.

I will teach you the things you struggle to see and together we will make sense of it.

I will forever walk by your side and you will forever have my love.

Love Mummy xx

How Autism Awareness Changed My Life By Lisa Mulholland

I am not the same person I was 10 years ago. Before the word ‘autism’ became a reality in my house.

10 years ago my eldest son was diagnosed with autism.

10 years ago my heart broke in two.

10 years ago I had a very steep learning curve and…

10 years ago a whole new world opened up to me; my life changed for the better. I just didn’t know that at that precise moment in time when the paediatrician uttered the words “ Your son has Autistic Spectrum Disorder “…

I nearly fell off my chair.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock. The signs were all there from when he was a baby.

He lined everything up. Sounds were painful to him. He could not get on a train that had windows that looked slightly different to what he was used to. Certain materials were a no no. There were so many signs and perhaps I was in denial but all I saw was my intelligent, unique son.

I didn’t see a ‘problem’.

As a working single mum I would struggle to get him to his childcare before tackling the daily commute into London. I didn’t know what autism was. Sure I’d heard about it. I’d seen the film ‘ Rain Man’ and my son was nothing like that!

But what would I know? All my friends were city workers, civil servants, teachers. None of them had children. I had nothing to compare him to.

So that day at the hospital I burst into tears. Alone and scared . I didn’t know what it meant . A million questions ran through my mind at once!

There was nothing ‘ wrong’ with my boy surely?

And so it went on. The denial. The upset. The tick list of things that he would ‘ never do’ that I now crossed off in my mind.

Little did I know that the list of things I wanted for my son were just preconceived ideas based on my own fuzzy image of how I wanted things to be .

Playing Football, birthday parties, friends coming over, even making friends: all of these things I now crossed off in my head.

All I could see was what I thought autism would take away from him. I didn’t see what it gave him.

Yes he wasn’t interested in football! But guess what? He loved space!! And he could tell you everything about the Big Bang theory and list every single Thomas the Tank Engine train in alphabetical order.

Yes he struggled with friends but he had two. Ok they played alongside him (not with) most of the time but mostly he was happy in his own world. I was just an outsider looking in. Judging by my own standards. How did I know what he enjoyed?

After a while I started to see my son again.

For the first few months every funny little quirk he had, I looked at in a different analytical light. But when I accepted that autism was a part of him and what made him so funny and unique: I saw him again. I saw him for who he was.

The main problem I had with autism was not actually the autism.

Ok the sleepless nights and the meltdowns are very tiring. But when a lovely support worker at the school put me in touch with other parents and organisations that taught me about autism and how to prevent meltdowns and understand I changed my strategy. And it helped. I realised that he couldn’t change so I had to. Slowly but surely I made breakthroughs.

I embedded visual supports, countdowns and prepared him for changes, I explained the what and the whys of the world to him and his anxious, active little mind would settle.

The main problem with autism for me came from a lack of understanding with the rest of the world.

The dagger looks I would get from other parents.

The stares in the shop if he got over stimulated and would lie on the floor.

The school teacher who didn’t understand but wanted to.

And so I realised the key to unlocking my son’s potential and creating a happy and understanding world for him was to forge it and to carve it out by myself.

Explain to the people in the shop.

Talk to the other mums and explain to them too.

Be upfront with the teacher about the difficulties at home.

Look for solutions together.

I am not going to say this was a miracle solution but it helped. I had to swallow my pride and calm my own anxiety and lump it. Something I had never done before. But I had to do it for him. He came first now. Not me.

And it paid off. The parents would smile. They’d show understanding towards my son and that filtered down to their children. I found a group of friends who would listen to me and in the end the teacher and I would work together and put on a united front to my little boy.

So when I went into battle over school placements and navigating the very complex system of obtaining a suitable education for my son, it became easier to do because I found a tribe of supportive mums and autism mums. And we kept each other sane. And picked each other up.

When my third child presented with a more severe form of autism I was calm. I’d already fought battles both outside and inside my head.

I’d already found a way to celebrate the small tiny things.

I knew the system inside out and I knew how to get support right away.

I knew that comparing him to neurotypical children would only break my heart so I accepted instantly that he is who he is.

And do you know who helped me put it into perspective? My eldest autistic child.

He was just 11 when told him that his youngest brother Finley had been diagnosed with autism and global development delay.

His response amazed me then and still does now 2 and a half years later:

“ Mummy don’t worry!!! Everyone travels on different roads. We all reach the same place in the end. Most people take the motorway. I take the A roads mostly. But Finley is just off roading. We all get to the same place and he will get there too so don’t worry”

Well what could I say to that?

So! No, I am not the same person I was 10 years ago.

I am a much more positive person these days. Autism has taught me that the little things matter . It has taught me to think outside the box and look at everything with childish curiosity. It has taught me what is really important in life and I couldn’t be prouder to be an autism Mum.

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.  

#AskHerToStand

A Desperate Plea From A Relative Of A Rough Sleeper By The Masked Avenger Anonymous

We have all walked past a rough sleeper on the street. Sometimes we give it a second thought. Sometimes we stop and chat, maybe even try to help.

But mostly we walk on by.

Most of us are fortunate enough to have never been there and while we sympathise, we often try and forget it and move on with our busy lives. Rushing to get somewhere; an appointment or some such.

We often don’t see the person beyond the sleeping bag. Sometimes it is very hard to imagine how someone got there. The government dehumanise rough sleepers. They advise us not to feed them as though they are pigeons in Trafalgar Square. They put spikes on floors to stop them being able to get some shelter in a shop doorway. Again treated like pests. So it’s no wonder that we walk on by. Sometimes it is a taboo subject.

But for me it is different. I happen to know a rough sleeper very personally.

You might want to ask me a few questions. Does anyone help him? Is he loved? Do you help him? The answer is yes. To all of the above.

But our help is not enough and the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ he gets into this position is what is complex.

My uncle has undiagnosed mental health conditions. He is an addict. Self medicating I guess. He has never had the support he needed from the professionals. And this is the product of years of neglect.

Born in the 60s to parents with severe mental health issues that lost everything down to gambling, my uncle was not diagnosed with anything himself or supported. Instead when the family broke down, my grandmother had a mental breakdown and no one was there to help. The authorities left my grandmother to it and just took my uncle away into care when he was 7. And that was the start of it. In and out of care. In and out of trouble.

” A handful, naughty, out of control, the mother can’t cope”

While he was in the place that was supposed to care for him, he was abused.

He went in as a child with problems and came out disturbed with even bigger problems.

No one knew what happened at the time. This is only a recent revelation. So he continued. In and out of trouble causing merry hell for the family.

As he got to adulthood he started to ‘self medicate’ and slowly but surely became an addict. Which led to petty crime, prison. And eventually being institutionalised .

“A write off'”

On paper yes. But what no one else saw was the snippets of the man he could have been if the support had been there during his childhood.

Detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, he had structure, routines and he flourished. He took courses and passed them all. He read and learned and became a talented writer.

He did endless courses and took all of the opportunities he could. He grabbed them with both hands.So when he went back into the outside world he started his own business, he even wrote for a national newspaper as a regular columnist. He became a published author. Some semblance of a normal life was finally coming his way.

He was capable and intelligent and we could see the person he could become if he’d been given more support as a youngster.

But things happened and again the support fell away. Without the guidance of a probation officer, without the structure, his mental health problems that simmered under the surface reared their ugly, scathing, self destructing head again.

Addiction came back with a vengeance and along came some new ones too.

So we saw him slip back. He lost everything and again he went on the slippery slope into the abyss of addiction and self destruct.

So, we try to help as a family, but its not possible to keep an eye on him 24/7.

The downward spiral was and is fast and relentless;he loses touch of where he is and he ends up on the street. He loses contact with any kind of support network and before you know it he is sleeping rough.

We can’t track him. We don’t know where he is.

We’ve had phone calls in the past from wonderful passer bys that have tried to help him. In his moments of lucidity he remembers a number of a random relative and some very nice person decides to help him and calls.

We then hear he’s been in various places begging as he has lost everything. So we get there and we have to try and get him some help. He’s unwell and doesn’t know where he is. The police come and tell us not to bother with A and E as they are overcrowded but that they will try to help him.

Do you notice that even though I’m describing events in the past that I am using present tense? Why you might ask?

Because this is a recurring event. This happened last month but it could happen tomorrow, next week, next month. We never know what will happen next. This is the pattern that happens over and over again.

Services that are cut to shreds still try their best to help him. There are genuinely good mental health staff, hospital staff, police officers and key workers out there.

But it’s not enough.

The services need to be joined up. They need more funding to give him the intensive therapy and support for his mental health needs as this is the root to all of his problems, I believe.

But all that happens is the problem is treated that day. Acute support is given while he is physically unwell. But there is not enough in place to prevent this from happening again.

So I sit here and wonder what people must think when they walk past him. When he ends up on the street, bounding in and out of shops, trying to get someone to help him.

They will never see the man he can be. The man he has been, the man he could have been.

Every person has a story, but homeless people are nothing more than pests to the Tories.

If we followed the advice that they give us, which is to ignore a homeless person, don’t give them money or food; if every passer by that has helped my uncle thus far listened to this advice that this ‘government’ dish out my uncle would be dead by now. Perhaps that’s what they want. By treating homeless people like pests perhaps they think they will just die off.

But instead there are good people out there, people try to help. And for now he and we are riding our luck. That might just change one day. And we dread phone calls sometimes. What will happen next we just don’t know.

So I want to say to the people that help, the doctors, the nurses, the passers by, the staff in Pret that give out food, the key workers: Thank You!!!

Don’t ever change and maybe one day if we fight hard enough we will have a government that cares too so that real change can happen and people living in the streets being dehumanised by a callous government will be a thing of the past.

Isn’t It Time We Made Homes Fit For Human Habitation? By Kelly Grehan and Lisa Mulholland

The second reading of Karen Buck MP’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill is on January 19th 2018.

We can hardly believe that, in the 6th richest country in the world, in 2018 it is necessary for such a bill to be raised.  

It is astonishing that such a protection is not already in existence for tenants. Tenants have no avenue for redress or means of compelling landlords to make repairs or even secure the safety of the property.

The Bill would empower tenants by giving them the right to take their landlord to court if they fail to take action to resolve a problem.

There are currently around one million rented homes with hazards that pose a serious risk to health and safety. This affects over 2.5 million people.

You might think that this lapse in the law is an oversight that just needs to be rectified. But you would be mistaken.

A version of the Bill was first introduced by Karen Buck in 2015 and was ‘talked out’. A version of the Bill was also proposed as an amendment to the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and was voted down by the government. Including the 87 Tory MPs who are landlords.  Their argument was that such legislation would burden upon landlords and discourage people from renting out homes.

How did we get in the situation we are in today, one might ask.

Many years of under funding and de regulation of the housing market we could argue.

What could be a greater burden for any person than trying to live in a ‘home’ unfit for human habitation, you might wonder.

Data from the English Housing Survey 2017 found that Almost a third (29 per cent) of homes rented from private landlords fail to meet the national Decent Homes Standard; meaning they either contain safety hazards or do not have acceptable kitchen and bathroom facilities or adequate heating

Poor housing impacts on children by making them 25% more at risk of ill health or disability, including raised risk of meningitis or asthma and a greater chance of mental health issues.

They are also more likely to miss school through illness.  Almost one million privately rented homes are deemed to be in a state of “substantial disrepair”, while 442,000 have damp in one of more rooms.

Poor housing also places a greater burden on other services and affects society as a whole, not just children.

Substantially more working age adults living in bad housing report fair, bad or very bad general health (26%) than those living in good housing (17%), with adults in bad housing 26% more likely to report low mental health compared with those living in good housing.

Those living in bad housing are almost twice as likely to have their sleep disturbed by respiratory problems at least once a month.

The association between living in bad housing and health problems is particularly acute among those above retirement age; with Pensioners in bad housing a third more likely to have fair, bad or very bad health compared with those in good housing (58% vs 38%).

Almost a fifth (19%) suffer from low mental health compared with 11% in good housing.

Almost twice as many pensioners living in bad housing suffer from wheezing in the absence of a cold, compared with those in good housing.

Not only is this unacceptable and immoral in this day and age but it also undoubtedly places more burden on the cash strapped NHS, including mental health services and schools that are already under so much pressure.

So what can we do about this?

We welcome the second reading of the bill and hope that this can proceed to the next stage. MPs will have a vote on this issue and we the people can apply pressure on our local MPs to vote the right way.

You can find who your local MP is and and how to contact them by clicking on the link below.

http://www.ukpolitical.info/YouandyourMP.htm

The above is taken from Natcen’s 2013 report on People in bad housing.

Why It Took Me So Long To Realise The Importance Of Education By Eddie Luigi

Let me make this clear from the start. I failed my 11+, and was thereby consigned to the ever growing ‘scrap heap’ of the under educated.

This never occurred to me to be a problem. I could read, I could write and I could accomplish basic arithmetic. You can not miss something that you never had.

I joined the Royal Navy, and learnt how to read electrical engineering manuals, in order to carry out the tasks assigned to me. My leisure reading was, purposely, limited to pulp fiction western and detective novels.

The news held no interest for me and I was quite happy blindly obeying orders. In an armed forces environment there is no place for a square peg in a round hole. Life was cosy in an environment where you were cocooned from the cares and worries of the civilian population.

Now that I have retired, and broken three television sets getting angry at day time programs, I decided to do something positive with my free time and enrolled at my local college for an access course with a view to attending university.

Now I understand why the Tories don’t want to invest in education and why the media write articles that you only need a rudimentary education to read, but not necessarily understand.

Primary and Secondary education is adequate for what used to be termed ‘factory fodder’. You are taught that this is a word and it must be true because there it is. You are taught to read the words but not taught to question the words, and as long as there is a roof over your head and food on your table you don’t particularly care. You assume an ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude.

However, what about your children, or your children’s children.

Once you get beyond rudimentary education you start to question the written words and ask

Who wrote this?

Why did they write it?

What are they trying to achieve?

This is just the thing that the Tories want to avoid. They do not want an educated population that will question any of their policies, they require an obedient population that are happy to live off the few crumbs that might fall from the master’s banquet.

If you want a quiet life for yourself vote Tory, do not become educated, accept that ‘this is the way things are’ and ignore your children’s plaintiff cries of inequality.

“There is no more far-seeing investment for a nation than to put milk, food and education into young children” Winston Churchill 1939