Thursday, May 27, 2010

Not grasping the nettle

I am somewhat disappointed  in the Lib-Dem/Conservative coalition's planned welfare changes. What they amount to is beating sick people with a stick and threatening to take away their benefits because ATOS is incapable of making a fair assessment of whether they can  work.  This is why so many people appeal and there is up to a 9-month wait for a tribunal hearing.

What I wanted to hear is that the ESA/ATOS system would be scrapped and the DWP would go back to relying on the opinions of the health professionals closest to the claimant who are best placed to know if that person is fit to work or not. ESA/ATOS treats people with mental health issue particularly unfairly, putting them under additional and unnecessary stress. - the coalition really has to ask the mental health charity Mind about this.

Ian Duncan Smith seems to have fallen into the Conservative trap of thinking that work is a cure-all for everything and worse still, that jobs for the unemployed can simply be conjured out of thin air in a recession. There is no incentive or requirement whatever for any UK company to inform the local JobCentre when it has vacancies. Some companies hardly ever advertise OR tell the JobCentre, they rely entirely on internal promotions and word of mouth if they need new people.

People who have a job simply have no idea what it is like living on benefit. A recent TV programme showing an MP living with people on benefit seemed to have little effect. Take my bank Halifax. They have just decided with no consultation or discussion to take away my overdraft. They didn't consider first what the effect would be or ask about it. Now they are expecting me to live AND pay back some of the overdraft and want to take nearly a third of my benefit income to do so. Their customer service is absolute poo. It has so far taken me over 2 hours total phone time to even get to a department who has a tiny bit of sympathy for this problem. They say blandly that yes, they realise what a disaster it is to lose the ability to pay direct debits and standing orders, or just to go and use my debit card to buy food, but I'm darn sure they don't.

In the end they agreed I could have some of my last lot of benefit to pay for essentials and I had to suffer the humiliation of standing in the middle of the bank with other customers around to tell my story to someone on the banking floor, and then being escorted to the cashier who was told in a loud voice how much she could give me and why this was being done. A little trust would have been nice, telling me I could withdraw up to a specific amount via my debit card in the ATM or over the counter without the loud accompaniment.

The overdraft level I am currently on was GIVEN to me by Halifax last year, it was just increased from its previous level. In the circumstances I was in then, I had no choice other than to use it. At that time, they were snatching outrageous amounts of money from me for every transaction if I went over my overdraft. Expecting that the courts would tell them that those charges were unfair, they switched me to a differently named current account but the charges are still very steep and I understand other customers who have been hit hard by them too, are considering another court action. Basically, Halifax charges BEFORE the change of account last December are responsible for me reaching the level of overdraft I am at now. So, when they call me back later in the day to have another discussion about it, I will remind them about that.

Banks need to take a very new and different attitude to customer financial difficulties. At present, this service is phone based. I can't go and talk to someone from the 'customer priority team' in my branch. I wouldn't even mind going to a larger branch a few miles away if they had one person in each big city or major town.

My stress levels have taken a major beating this week and it has taken every bit of determination that I would not give up and self-harm, but I can tell all of my readers that it has come very near it, to the extent of sitting on Hayling Island beach and considering suicide by drowning. Why should I let these heartless bastards win. They can't even run their own business - Halifax having been taken over by Lloyds TSB last year - what do they really know about running mine? Onwards and upwards.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Prime-ministerial spouse tittle-tattle

After the solid and stodgy diet of politics over the days since the election, now perhaps we can look forward to a little entertainment from No.10.

We have already seen inside the Cameron's kitchen, although I have to admit missing that TV program, but what can we expect as the media gets to grips with the Mrs' Cameron and Clegg.

I very much liked Samantha Cameron's elegant navy maternity dress, worn for the visit to the Queen and despite her determination to stay in the background, I am sure there will be more about Miriam Clegg's fashion preferences in the weeks to come.When she has been seen, she has looked very stylish. Samantha reportedly doesn't have a favourite designer label and admitted to having 'borrowed' a maternity dress. Very thrifty - will she be seen in London and Oxford's more up-market second hand dress agencies as her bump grows?

Please, please don't either of them make the mistake that Cherie Blair did in her first weeks as wife of the PM, by opening the front door in her dressing gown. I don't think she'll ever live that gaffe down. Miriam Clegg may get an unjustified rough ride for leaving for work without her make-up this morning though - she looked fine, but appearing without warpaint is a no-no for the celeb. watchers.

Both women are determined to continue their high-flying careers, Sam as creative director for Smythsons, a luxury stationery and luggage company, and Miriam (professionally Miriam Gonzales Durantez) as a lawyer, but it will be interesting to see what Sam decides to do post-baby - flexible and reduced hours perhaps.

One of the first headlines after the announcement that David Cameron would be the new PM, was an invitation from the White House for July. Now, Samantha is due to have her baby in September, so there might just be time to fit that in before a mid-Atlantic birth became too much of a risk. Perhaps President Obama will send Air Force 1 to collect them - I hear it is rather better equipped for such emergencies than your average British Airways jet. I am sure Samantha will get on very well with Michelle Obama who has trod a very careful path between family and First Lady in the first year of the Presidency.

An interesting bit of Samantha trivia is that she has a tattoo, a dolphin on her ankle - is that a first for a Prime Minister's wife or did Cherie or even Norma Major hide one away? Or, here's an exotic thought, maybe Maggie T had an anchor-chain-link tattoo somewhere in keeping with her Iron Lady title.  I'll leave you with that one.....

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gordon, going, gone

After all his embarassing key rattling to get Tony Blair out of No.10, I was not surprised by GB's reluctance to quit it. I imagined him squatting like a large warty toad on the bottom stair while poor Sarah Brown wrung her hands and begged him for permission to pack. Well, now she can.

Fact. Our electoral system is broken, and needs reform and updating at the very least so people who want to vote can do so and are not denied it because their polling station can't cope with the numbers. My polling station, by the way was an oversized garden shed in a pub car park - at the most it would hold about 10 people apart from the two officials.

Fact. Labour got fewer seats and a lower share of the national vote

Fact. Nick Clegg said all through his campaign that he would follow the will of the British peoplle in the event of a hung Parliament. So, why is he looking like reneging on that promise?

This is not the result I would personally have wanted, but it is a far better prospect than another 5 years of Labour, regardless of who is at the helm. Whatever David Cameron continues to insist, is Conservative policy, I believe that many of the more progressive grassroots members of his party now see electoral reform as an inevitable and necessary procedure because the British people as a whole want it.

Over the weekend, the money markets were on tiptoe, waiting to see what happened in those meetings between the Lib-Dems and the Conservatives. If GB had shown any signs of doing a deal with Nick Clegg, I think they would have reacted very badly.

As I write, David Cameron has upped the stakes, promising a referendum on electoral reform, albeit in a rather watered down form. What will happen tomorrow - I really don't know.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Never mind the b******* Gordon

One way and another, the media has played a far bigger part in this General Election campaign than any other in British history.  Today's huge gaffe by Gordon Brown, calling Gillian Duffy, a lifelong Labour voter from Rochdale, Lancashire 'a bigoted woman'  has the potential to totally destroy Labour's slim chances of winning on May 6th.

Mr Brown has not done well in the two leaders' debates to date. He has been notably the one leader who has argued, interrupted and tried to cut across the other two party leaders, and then called them bickering children. He has consistently said that this election is about substance and policies, not style, then comes today's outburst, not to mention previous accusations of bullying by Number 10 staff.

The Labour party have reportedly been responsible for leaflets being issued, telling the most outrageous lies about supposed policies that appear nowhere in either Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestoes.

Only this week, Mr Brown said on a BBC Radio 4 programme that both the other parties planned to cut child tax credits as if this was a policy directed at the poorest in our society. I can find no reference to removing this benefit totally.

With regard to benefits, I would like to hear something very specific from Mr Clegg. The Labour party were at one time working with the mental health charity Mind, to improve the process by which people with mental health issues apply for E.S.A., the benefit that is gradually replacing Incapacity Benefit. Recently they have come out with a new application form which is even LESS likely to result in someone with depression or anxiety being granted benefit, and MORE likely to start a very expensive and long-winded appeals process. The Conservatives think that work is a cure for such ailments and intend to put everyone back on Job Seekers Allowance. See this link for Mind's reaction to the planned changes.

Mr Clegg, to finally win my vote for the Liberal Democrats, please tell me that you are going to scrap the Government quango ATOS and return the decision of whether or not a person is fit to work to the NHS staff like GP's and mental health professionals who you are already paying to determine the appropriate diagnosis and the appropriate treatment. By doing so, and granting benefit to claimants on the basis of a written agreement that they are unfit to work, you will cut the work of tribunal staff and save claimants months of stress and worry which is hardly good for their condition in the first place.

My GP referred to ATOS original decision that I was fit to work as 'talking out of their backsides' - except she replaced 'backside' with a word beginning with 'a'. The eventual outcome appears in previous posts.

Mr Brown's indiscretion today will be a very clear warning to all other candidates of all colours that they are being watched 24/7 by all forms of media,  and that bad news spreads virally via Twitter, Facebook and other social media.  However, what is more worrying is that Mr Brown's attitude that anyone with the view that immigration should be cut, is bigoted.  What I would expect that to mean after the election is that immigration issues will be shuffled under the carpet and talked down as less important than other issues on the agenda of a new Government if Labour have any part in it. Actually, Mr Brown it isn't less important, and I don't think I need to elucidate why.

BBC Report on 'the Rochdale incident'.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

What are we voting for?

The long awaited announcement of the election date yesterday was about as exciting as a can of flat cola. Gordon appeared trying hard to look friendly and smiley, with his team of washed-out incompetents and pleaded incoherently for another term. In the one shot of Mrs Brown, I saw her scowling at the cameras and looking anything but happy at the thought of five more years at Number 10. I don't think she has to worry. Even if Labour were to get in again by a whisker, I cannot see him surviving as party leader and PM for very long. The knives will be out for sure if there is no overall majority or a thumping loss.

David Cameron and his wife were smiling and in the company of a group of young supporters. Point - what have his rivals done to tempt first-time voters to back them? Nothing Labour have said so far looks very inviting. Students have had a very rough ride under this Government, they are finishing their degrees in debt in many cases, and universities are seeing cutbacks. Is that fulfilling Tony Blair's education pledges? Don't think so.

Nick Clegg also appeared with his wife, both looking happy and confident. I wish I could predict that this election will see his party in power, but should there be a hung parliament, they may start to show their true skills. I think they may attract a strong protest vote in constituencies where the previous incumbent has been involved in the expenses scandal and that is no bad thing.

What did not really emerge yesterday were solid or exciting promises and policies. Both Cameron and Clegg have been rather woolly to date on what they stand for. The only solid electioneering I saw yesterday came from Plaid Cymru and the SNP, both of whom pledged their support for the parts of the UK they stand for.  I think it's time for a little root around the manifestoes of the principal players to find out what we are likely to get from them, and more interestingly where there is convergence which may give a clue to what could happen without an overall majority. 

Perhaps the parts of the UK the party leaders visited yesterday have a better idea of what to expect, but for the rest of us - many questions remain unanswered.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Poor old Gordon - not

I can imagine Gordon Brown at this moment is sitting locked in the loo somewhere in 10 Downing Street, biting his nails to the quick and squirming with embarassment in having made another gaffe.

As his party desperately try to say that the industrial dispute at BA isn't political, we hear that Unite, the union involved are the major bankroller of the coming General Election.

That is the election that Mr Brown has not yet announced and which the country awaits. Today he has also said that unless there is a clear majority against him (seats or votes is not clear) he intends to sit tight and not give up his position as our leader. One can imagine her Majesty screaming at the radio "Orf with his head" at the mere idea of not doing the decent thing and walking.

Face it Gordon, unless the country gives Labour a clear working majority, the position of PM that you pestered and harassed Tony Blair to get is not morally yours. I can see that there might well be a hung Parliament after the election, but a Labour majority? Surely, surely NO-ONE in the UK could be so stupid as to hand it to them. Vote Liberal for preference, Green, just not Labour.

It's such a pity that we no longer have the Monster Raving Loony Party any more. This has to be one election that they could win. Better still if we had a box on the polling form where we could vote for proportional representation along with the name of the party or candidate we support.

Please Gordon, get out of that toilet, flush away your doubts and tell us tomorrow when we may go and vote this Government into obscurity.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tesco bans the pyjama brigade

Tesco in Cardiff has decided it doesn't want its customers coming in wearing nightwear and it has caused such a storm, it's made the national news.

I know how I feel about the subject, and I've made a Squidoo lens all about it - I would NEVER do this - sheer laziness and lack of self respect. Not only that, I'm thinking what if one of my favourite celebrities just happened to be browsing the aisles in the store and I bumped into them - I'd be so embarrassed. But, it seems that I may not be in the majority and BBC Radio 4's PM news programme had plenty of correspondence saying that it's perfectly OK.

I'll be interested to see if my local Tesco takes a stand on the subject. Rather than worrying about what their customers are wearing, I would rather they improved the standard of fresh food that they sell, pay their suppliers a fair price and cared a bit more about animal welfare. Oh, and made sure that their special offers are special for the customers and not a con.

When my local store re-opened after a rebuild, I thought I would at least give it a chance. I wished I hadn't. Whoever designed it, must have been standing on his head. You have to walk the full length of the store to reach basics like milk and bread - past all the new things they now sell that I wouldn't buy anyway.

One of the items on my list on that first visit was the particular type of tinned tuna my fussy cat prefers. I found single tins at one price and a 'special offer' pack of 3 tins which I expected to be cheaper per tin. WRONG! Believe it or not, it was nearly £1 more!

I took the two packs to the customer desk and I expected an apology for making a mistake and to be offered the 3-pack at a more appropriate price.  I didn't get the response I expected and was virtually accused of wasting the assistants time - when I expressed some mild annoyance with her attitude, she said she would 'tell the duty manager'. I did expect that on a subsequent visit that the error was corrected - it wasn't. 

I am tempted to visit in my pyjamas this weekend or wear a fluffy dressing gown over street clothes - perhaps then I'll get some proper attention to an outright rip-off.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Spelling matters

Why is it that more people than ever are going to university, yet the newspapers and blogosphere are full of bad English and mis-spellings.

Even dear old Auntie Beeb is not above throwing in a few split infinitives - including in news broadcasts - unthinkable!

I enjoy writing for the articles site Squidoo and they have a forum in which writers are encouraged to post links to their latest work for criticism. Despite the fact that there is a 'sticky post' at the top of the forum section, every other lens seems to ignore the suggestion to spell-check before publication.

Some of the writers are asking for work to be reviewed that showcases their real business, yet they are willing to sacrifice their credibility for the sake of spending five minutes checking what they have written.

English, as a language has absorbed words from many different sources but more often than not, the original spelling survives. The Welsh, Irish and Gaelic-speaking Scots would expect anything written in their languages to be properly spelt so why don't English speakers have more respect for the written word?

One answer is that there has been a 'fashion' in education for too long, that has valued ideas and content more than style or correctness of grammar and spelling and punctuation. That tide needs to turn and soon. What's the point of a degree if you spell it deegree?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year's resolution and my first whinge!

I resolve to blog more often and put my annoyance and irritations into writing rather than sulking and letting them fester. Then perhaps I can see more of the positive side of life than I saw in 2009.

You might think (especially if you are a bloke and more specifically if you are James Martin) that my first post of 2010 is just over-reacting to what was meant to be humorous. Well maybe and maybe not, read on anyway.

Celebrity chef James Martin was interviewed for the January edition of Waitrose supermarket's house magazine. I really like James. His TV presenting style, the kind of food he likes to cook and the fact that he loves fast driving and expensive cars. He's a hunky guy and has a lot of female followers.

According to the article, there is a particular group of his fans who he calls 'The Martinis' who turn up regularly at his events and have done for several years. These ladies are not immune to the ravages of time and their looks may well have declined since they first became his fans, but it is really not gentlemanly or very kind to comment on it.

The article also mentions that James had to pulp the first edition of his autobiography 'Driven' after he was sued by his stepmother so I thought he might have been a little more careful about what he said and his public image.

More generally speaking, it is very irritating when celebrities are dismissive of their fans in various ways. We put them where they are and they should show appreciation by at least not being rude.  Sometimes their demands for privacy are downright unreasonable - not James, but how many stories a year break about some rock, TV or movie star or even footballers, in a scrap with a persistent photographer. Maybe they have now got enough money to go and hide for the rest of their lives and never make another public appearance, but they will get old - oh yes, and maybe they won't have been in the public eye long enough for us to remember them in another 20 years.

They will lose their looks - even the men - very few people are beautiful to the end of a long life without the need for a cosmetic surgeon's life and a lot of makeup.

Enough said. If James ever gets to read this, I think he is a nice enough person really to have at least a moment's regret for upsetting even one loyal fan, even for one moment. Am I one of the maligned Martinis? No. But I would crawl over broken glass to be on Saturday Kitchen with Mr Martin.

(James' book 'James Every Day' features in my Squidoo lens about the current crop of cookbooks)