Real Stories Inside The Social Care System- How My Loving Family Became Unrecognisable: Part 1- Anonymous

Two mountains apart, unable to withstand heat from the sun neither bolts of lightning, their upright posture slowly crumbles descending into a lake where love and hate meet, to separate them would be as trying to remove oil from water’ -They flow together.

My mother and father are of Indian descent, being born, raised, and having lived in parts of the African continent. From my vague recollection (pardon me) both sets of grandparents decided it would be best to flee their homeland in order to escape the remnants of the British Raj (British rule by the British crown in the Indian subcontinent between 1858-1947) hoping for a prosperous future. Original location of residency in India is unknown to me. 

My mother, the youngest daughter of nine siblings spoke regularly of her upbringing in what is called ‘The warm heart of Africa’ Malawi. Attending formal education at an all-girls school expressing her love for singing, dancing, and sharing jokes with peers. I always got the sense from her story telling that she was a mischievous child, her cheeky grin and smirk would confirm I was right in my thinking. Her father (My maternal grandfather) owned a convenience store with my grandmother being a housewife. I would hear of her mother tongue, (Chichewa, official national language along with English) when she spoke to relatives – I was alien to it! However, the happy stories gave me a sense of her free natured childhood spent content.

Similar feelings were felt about my father, as a young child you absorb such stories you hear about your parents with joy & fascination. I believe my father had four siblings, he too had a mischievous streak being born in Kenya (Uganda) he had that ‘Hakuna Matata’ ( No worries) feeling whenever he was around or wherever he went, climbing up coconut trees, visiting the Serengeti & Maasai Mara people, helping them with their animal duties, as well as serving in the Kenyan army for a while. I don’t know whether that is true – my paternal aunty did say his childhood dream was to be a ‘hero’ I suspect being in the army or pretending to be could have made him believe he was one! Convincing others too. My father did attend school finishing his formal education at age sixteen. He spoke the national language,  (‘Kiswahili’ commonly known as ‘Swahili although I never really heard him speak with great depth, only one word from my recollection ‘Jambo’ meaning hello.)

 

In 1979 my father alongside his family left Kenya immigrating to England (London) North West London to be precise. My mother followed suit with her family living within the same areas.

There was a period where African migrants believed their countries were being ‘taken over’ by foreigners a feeling my family could empathise with, so regarding that, many Indian settlers were ‘kicked’ out even forced out by malicious attacks possibly, (which I will not delve into) my point is, it must have been very difficult for the both families. Time passed & healed any open emotional wounds I suspect. I know my maternal grandmother did die shortly after arriving.

How did my mother & father meet?

Well, my parents were Hindus and would attend their local Temple alone or with family to pray and offer their deities blessings. My mother’s account- “I met your father in the temple, it started from there“, what a holy place for an encounter like that to come about.

There’s were no such devices as mobile phones I guess it was all word of mouth. My mother & father were in the courting stages…. Communicating they spoke in Gujarati (my grandparents mother tongue native to India, so yes, my parents were bilingual English not being their strongest language.)

“He took me to the same lovely restaurant every Friday when his wages would come through, he would pick me up in a lovely car dressed smartly with his black zipped leather boots, and off we would go – My mother’s eyes twinkle every time she recalls this memory she also starts blushing too!

In India there is a caste system, society there are set within these systems from birth and by family name.

My father I believe, was born into a family with high caste status whereas my mother wasn’t, however, she wasn’t right at the bottom neither. Just different, that difference meant that their families would forbid a marriage. You represented your caste, marrying outside that would bring disrespect and shame onto the family name.

My mother came of age, where an arranged marriage would be proposed, her elder brothers alongside her father would choose someone suitable from back home which they did. The man was brought over to England for the ceremony, but it didn’t last long he was sent back due to not meeting the criteria to obtain British residency.

Being told by my mother to wait and within time they would be together again! He fortunately didn’t/couldn’t wait and married someone else having children. Yay! I’m glad as if it went according to plan I would not be here!

My mother’s heart did break, however, she was adamant that she would choose who she wanted to be with, which she did my father. Both being aware of the caste system including the family’s disapproval. I firmly believe at that time my father was a secure figure in my mothers’ life she formed distrust towards her family regarding the arrange marriage that failed – that wound was still fresh in many ways.

My father provided a safety net for her which she needed. They continued their dates which flourished into ‘love’ that love resulted with me being the product. My mother was pregnant! That I guess was a happy moment, things needed to be well within all angles of their life. Both families did disapprove. Resulting in my parents being forced to live in a hostel.

My father was a motor mechanic by trade securing financial income. Things were ‘very real’ for them now, living alone only having each other. My father was close to his family I suspect my mother was too, so emotional hardships did playout. Maybe the progress of pregnancy and baby arrival could swing the external family to make amends.

Yes!!!! It did! I was born overdue.

“You were born at 40 weeks, the midwives had to induce me. It was a hard labour, you weighed 8 pounds had a full head of black hair, was chubby, with big brown eyes.”

“everyone loved you, including all the hospital staff. I was poorly so the midwives would tend to you I was afraid of kidnap. I would awake and stumble out of my bed, making my way to the nursery to find you-and you were there my baby girl”

Both external families came to visit at home, with presents and eagerly wanting to hold me. Both my grandfathers held me. Proud moment for both my mother and father- that was an Indian custom I guess in terms of blessing perhaps. All was sweet.

“Your father was amazing, he helped so much, made your bottles, changed your nappy, and held you constantly, hating leaving you. He called you his Nini” (my pet name)

I grew up in the hostel until age 2 years. I remember an incident vividly. I hurt my right foot running around – it was painful I cried, my mother and father hoisted me up onto the kitchen counter, reassuring me my dad rubbed some ‘Ghee’ on it (Indian purified butter) I guess it was one of the household remedies of that time. Soon after we moved into a lovely two-bedroom house.

It was great, we had a garden, lovely peacock mirror on the landing, and stairs leading to our rooms!

I loved it I had some very happy times there. My mother cooked wonderful Indian dishes the smell of a mixture of spiced seeds popping in a hot oiled pan. I started to despise my mother’s traditional cooking once I started school (loved English dinners) My dad would work close to home as a mechanic – we would take him lunch sometimes on weekends. Soon after my brother was born. Family would from time to time visit. I loved when my paternal aunties would visit, they were kind, always beautifully dressed, and brought lovely gifts. They had a close bond to my dad it was evident to see. I felt loved!

I thought what a great family!

My paternal grandfather died before the birth of my brother, my dad was distraught. From then, we would regularly visit my paternal grandmother at her house, she never came to ours. That didn’t bother me as I was so excited to see her – I loved her! We would be a couple of minutes from her front door, she would know as she would see us from the window -she’d open the door- that’s it I’d be off, I would run as fast as I could and give her an almighty hug. The feeling of her soft silk white sari pleated waist down with red & gold design. I knew she was my dad’s mum, and my dad was my dad, we all looked similar. My father adored her as she did him.

My father hated leaving my side, I hated leaving hers. Her home was big and beautiful, she had the sweetest smile and caring nature toward me. Her garden was something else! Out of this world all the different plants and flowers were amazing my favourite were her collection of primroses.

I felt so excited and happy there. I wish those visits were made more often as well as fairly. 

My father’s trade boomed. He would work not only in the garage during the week, but to be close to us at home he would fix clients cars during the weekends by appointment.

I admired my dad- “look at me Nini I’m so strong I am carrying an engine of a car

I don’t know if it actually was an engine. His hands and nails would be covered in black oil! He had very strong hands. How cool was my dad I thought at the time?  His clients knew he was good at his job he would fix a problem soon as. Sometimes during the weekday’s clients would pop up to the house assuming he would be in if there was an emergency. Sometimes they would wait or go over to the garage, or decide to come back the next day.

See, the device such as phones just wasn’t available (mobile phones, not everyone could afford them) business was healthy leaving not much time however to visit friends or family.

Both my mother and father would take it in turns with school runs. Our first ever family car was a bright yellow mini! I was ecstatic being driven into school in that car. My dad always made jokes sometimes without the car he would pick me up, the class door would open and he would be there with a gigantic smile with both arms stretched out. He would pick me up twirl me around and place me sitting on his shoulders. I felt on top of the world. I was age 5. From then on, he would sit me on his lap during the evenings read books and at the end ask,

‘M”what would you like to be nini when you grow up’? ‘‘erm…. A nurse”

That answer would be the same for many years following.  My father played with both myself and my brother lovingly. We would all watch Tom and Jerry chuckling all the time!

One day, my mother picked me up from school, I got through the door went upstairs to change into home clothing while my mother started on dinner. Our house phone was upstairs for some strange reason that is unknown to me. The phone rang, I was commanded to answer I did so.

“hello”

“hello, is your dad there?”

“no, he is at work”

“Oh, what about your mum?”

“she is busy cooking”

“I’m going to tell you something about your mum, she is very naughty, she has been very naughty”

I hung up on the unknown caller as I could not recognise the voice. I froze with confusion not understanding what that man meant.

I went downstairs informing my mother of the call but not telling her about the “naughty part, neither questioning her“at that moment I felt fear.

Then it was all forgotten about.

Another occasion I was dropped home by a family friend whose child attended the same school. When reaching home, in the hall-way I saw a new small, elegant mahogany table with our home phone placed on it. I fell in love with the table rushing into the kitchen to ask my mum if I could clean it?

There was a man in the kitchen, a man that was familiar to me, one of my dad’s clients…

I said hello didn’t batter an eyelid and proceeded to obtain the things I needed to clean that beautiful table. I spent hours cleaning and polishing it until my dad walked through the door.

“Hi dad, guess who was here today?”

My parents continued to speak Gujrati, I understood the language being able to speak it too, but preferred to answer in English. When amongst social gatherings we all would speak both English & Gujrati (translation method)

My mother walked out of the kitchen and gave me such a stern look as if to say “you tell, and I will punish you”.

I changed the subject as quick as I could telling him about how long I spent cleaning the table. Within that moment I learned about the art of ‘deceit and lies. I felt uneasy and couldn’t understand why she would not want to tell my dad.

I became protective over my father.

That phone call soon played on my young mind and something did not feel right especially being an open family sharing everything, so secrecy was very new to me.

My mother was having affairs and was promiscuous with my dad’s clients/friends. They were to blame just as her. My father was working, I was at school, my young brother was at home with my mother who had some time to herself now knowing what she decided to use her time on.

My father did find out, as jokes at work were made, he would confront my mother who denied it outright which sparked horrid arguments.

My father would be kicked out on many occasions on purpose so my mother could full-fill her desires privately. It wasn’t private as I could see, hear, and understand whereas my brother couldn’t. I became angry at how my dad’s friends could be cruel including my mum.

I learned about betrayal.

I was a child helpless caught in that horrible pit. Those clients never stayed long -they only wanted one thing, after knowing that, my mum would then rely on my dad. She would become bored and do it again. My father willing to forgive to save our family. I guess temptation was to strong my mother couldn’t resist.

She couldn’t resist it even for the sake of her children.

We were broken from that point on as a family.

My fathers work and mental health suffered. He resorted to alcohol, my mother was pregnant with her third child my half-sister. Yes, biologically my dad was not her father, my mother convinced him he was, when in fact she was his client’s, his best friends’ child!

I knew as he would always be around – I hated him. I remember stabbing him in the eye with a pen as he sat on our sofa. My mind is blank as to watch happened next.

My father thought ok fresh start, another kid on the way maybe this could work. Until my sister was born my father looked at my wrinkly sister and had no doubts then, he gave her his surname actually believing my mothers lies. I was age 7.

I felt so helpless having no power to tell my dad the truth. My mother held all power, she held authority over all of us. While at school I’d forget the tangled situation of home until it I went home having to live it.

We stopped eating around the table, we didn’t play anymore with our parents, I had to help my mother with my brother, I was left alone watching tv for long periods while my mother napped and my father drank until he passed out.

 

We decided to move away seeing as we all wanted a fresh start as there was a new baby. Things were content for a while. I noticed my dad consume more alcohol than usual.

I was worried, very worried.

I looked out for my brother and sister. My sister was aged 8 months my dad went into melt-down as her hair was not like mine or my bothers it was afro-Caribbean textured. I believe that was the demise of my dad. Arguments broke out constantly, police visits occurred constantly. My mother’s promiscuity continued.

My sister was born in 1995. 1997 was the last time I saw my dad.

He left and never came back!

By that time, he was a chronic alcoholic. No one really supported him not even his family as he turned out to be an embarrassment.

Many injunctions were set on him in court to not come to the house, when he did my mothers boyfriends would beat him up! I’d scream crying as my dad was no match for them drunk. Before, when he could carry a car’s engine maybe he was tough then.

They had no mercy.

Maybe his violent language wasn’t great but we as children didn’t need to see that.

I felt abandoned & frightful. I didn’t feel secure with many different people being in the house. I constantly was on ‘autopilot’ in defence mode waiting for something bad to happen. On many occasions there would be fights, screaming, shouting, smashing of glasses, and banging of doors.  The smell of spilled whiskey & coke would swamp the home. My mother loved spirits two bottles could be consumed within one day, with the repeat pattern taking place the day after. Clouds of cigarette smoke would engulf the entire flat invisibly tarring our lungs…

Part 2 continues here https://theavengeruk.com/2019/02/03/real-stories-inside-the-social-care-system-how-my-loving-family-became-unrecognisable-part-2-anonymous/

 

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.