Dear readers here is the latest in my occasional series of guest posts. Christine Clarke has been an activist for over 30 years in women, peace, community politics. She is a member of the Green Party and Tameside Keep Our National Health Service Public.
The path-breaking petition Invest in a caring society. A living wage for Mothers and other Carers was launched in Parliament on 1st May, International Workers Day, with a speak-out. The petition aims to re-establish welfare as an entitlement – our right to survival and to give and receive society’s support.
As one of the many who travelled to London for the petition launch speak-out, I came away feeling outrage that women’s lives are so devalued. Our caring and love, our creativity in making ends meet, must at least equal a living wage.
When society invests in women, all benefit –including our living Earth, our sustaining environment. Women have no country — we are, to quote the petition, Mothers, the primary carers everywhere. Caring for children, sick, disabled and elderly people is work vital to every society.
As I spoke of my own life experience, and listened to the lives threatened by destitution, faced up to with courage, I came out determined to fight on all fronts and to reach out to others.
Caring matters now more than ever, as the meagre benefits are sanctioned and clawed back. We came together to defend the welfare state and agreed to act on this together. What better way to tackle poverty than to start with mothers and other carers everywhere.
Already, the petition has attracted support from all kinds of people, including professionals who are fighting for public services to be caring, such as GP Louise Irvine of Save Lewisham Hospital, Nushra Mansuri of the British Association of Social Workers, John McDonnell MP and his constituency co-ordinator Helen Lowder, Glasgow’s Kinship Carers Alliance, Hampshire Women’s Institute… All spoke at the launch.
John McDonnell spoke about the effects of the cuts:
We are also experiencing all those inequalities that are being pursued by this government by way of welfare benefit cuts, the bedroom tax, the impact on the provision of public services locally… We have an open door policy four days a week now in the constituency office … we have been absolutely swamped with people who are absolutely desperate, desperate, and you can come away and weep, and we regularly do.
Helen Lowder was distraught:
For the first time, in working for John I feel completely hopeless. Where once you could request to government agencies or to the local authority or statutory organisations to use their discretion, use a bit of compassion, it’s no longer the case … it’s almost a ‘so what’ attitude when you make representations around a person’s problems. You have probably all heard that Jobcentre Plus staff and town hall staff will call security when they are confronted by an absolutely desperate person who is at breaking point. The only way that they can deal with that is “out of my face”, call security, and they’re hoiked out.
Why the petition is needed
People are realising the horrific impact of the benefit cuts, and hearing more about the tragic suicides and deaths caused by Atos and the bedroom tax, such as that of Stephanie Bottrill, the grandmother from Solihull. So much has happened that is truly awful for us. Many bereaved families are campaigning – I am one of those bereaved mothers.
My/Our story and why I campaign for women’s care to be valued
For many years my son Frank had been granted Disability Living Allowance; he was diagnosed with schizophrenia after being sectioned to Cheadle Royal Hospital in 1982 resulting in a six month stay there,
Subsequently for three years Frank lived in a shared rehabilitation house especially for young people with mental dis-ease with themselves.
He got on well there, so much so, that he was able to move to his own self-contained-flat where he lived for the next three years. No longer with a Schizophrenic label, he was able to get employment that he enjoyed, the last one in a local factory, however, he lost this job. A group of young lads got into his flat and beat him up after goading and harassing him (now termed a hate crime) — so with no money and after experiencing a truly difficult time he chose to go into Tameside psychiatric hospital with his second and last Mental Health crisis.
Back with the Mental Health label the next move to Ashton in 1988 was another flat in a small 7 flat building with support from Making Space. He got on with every one there for almost 15 years. Every three weeks a psychiatric nurse called to give him a “depo” Injection. He was quite happy until Paul, in the upstairs flat, kicked his door in — and Frank came to live with us for a month.
The next period of independent living was again in a shared small housing group, with his own ground floor flat and support from a not for profit charitable organisation called Creative Support. This was where Frank came into contact with a truly destructive group of brothers. Once they had got him in their grasp there was no way they would let him go. Eventually Frank told me that he was addicted to heroin.
He told the police, and though they praised Frank they did not stop these men from humiliating him, stealing his I.D. – date of birth, NI number, in fact everything in order to impersonate and to get enough details to be able to change his collection post office point and of course Frank’s giro. The benefit agency allowed this to happen twice!
To get away from Frank’s tormentors another move to another town, this time, a social housing high-rise flat; though not with an easy access to familiar faces. This time I thought Frank would be OK; more room to show his pictures and memorabilia — and listen to his music, After so much hassle getting back his benefit, a more positive note.
Then he became depressed and fearful that after all he/we had been through to get a better life for him, now all he was hearing was that he would lose his Disabled Living Allowance. (40% of benefits that ATOS turned down have been reinstated after tribunal appeals)
Creative Support was there, a not-for-profit organisation – a team working with vulnerable people, if he was to lose this support through the new assessments to work, the cuts and even more red tape, the Personal Independent Payments( PIP’s) scheme and this new round of welfare to work I was afraid would make Frank even more fearful and confused: It would mean losing this essential home care service. All these hoops for him to jump through made his life too fearful for him to contemplate.
One of the last phone calls to me was that he had received a letter warning him about too much noise — however this was his neighbour’s dog barking. The other letter was that he needed to have a benefit assessment. On the telephone he asked me, begged me to go and see him. All too late. Frank died from an overdose of methadone, He had been on this for over a year – there had been no other kind of rehabilitation therapy.
As his Mum, I miss him terribly. I believe that Frank took his own life through the fear that he was not able to survive all the changes of managing his rent, (bedroom tax) etc. on the Personal Independent Payment and without the support in the community, he felt desperate.
For people with schizophrenia, life is already very hard with discrimination – and the pitfalls of feeling different – to overcome! The depo medication which may help to minimise the hallucinations also causes side effects, dry mouth, lose of libido, and shaking limbs, even lock-jaw if the drug, procyclidine is not taken daily.
Frank once told me that heroin made him feel normal but he gave it up to gain a semblance of doing the right thing. Such a sensitive, thoughtful man he was, he died through the government plans of the Welfare Reform Bill proposing major changes to the welfare system, to send us all back to a Victorian Britain where the poor or sick are never deserving or entitled but considered scroungers.
Throughout this time we have lived in Tameside or Glossop. At his inquest there was no other drug in his body from the toxicology report but an overdose of methadone. My daughter, Frank’s sister said she thought that he didn’t want to cause us any more worry.
What you can do
Sign the petition at
Share with your friends, family and contacts.
Join Global Womens Strike
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