Below: an extract from Terry Pratchett’s Richard Dimbleby lecture, Shaking Hands With Death, February 2010:
When I was a young boy, playing on the floor of my grandmother’s front room, I glanced up at the television and saw Death, talking to a knight. I didn’t know much about death at that point. It was the thing that happened to budgerigars and hamsters. But it was Death, with a scythe and an amiable manner. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but I had just watched a clip from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, wherein the knight engages in protracted dialogue, and of course the famous chess game, with the Grim Reaper who, it seemed to me, did not seem so terribly grim.
The image has remained with me ever since and Death as a character appeared in the first of my Discworld novels. He has evolved in the series to be one of its most popular characters; implacable, because that is his job, he appears to have some sneaking regard and compassion for a race of creatures which are to him as ephemeral as mayflies, but which nevertheless spend their brief lives making rules for the universe and counting the stars.
I have no clear recollection of the death of my grandparents, but my paternal grandfather died in the ambulance on the way to hospital after just having cooked and eaten his own dinner at the age of 96. He had felt very odd, got a neighbour to ring for the doctor and stepped tidily into the ambulance and out of the world. A good death if ever there was one. Except that, according to my father, he did complain to the ambulance men that he hadn’t had time to finish his pudding. I am not at all sure about the truth of this, because my father had a finely tuned sense of humour that he was good enough to bequeath to me, presumably to make up for the weak bladder, short stature and male pattern baldness which regrettably came with the package.
My father’s own death was more protracted. He had a year’s warning. It was pancreatic cancer. Technology kept him alive, at home and in a state of reasonable comfort and cheerfulness, for that year, during which we had those conversations that you have with a dying parent. Perhaps it is when you truly get to know them, when you realise that it is now you marching towards the sound of the guns and you are ready to listen to the advice and reminiscences that life was too crowded for up to that point. He unloaded all the anecdotes that I had heard before, about his time in India during the war, and came up with a few more that I had never heard. Then, at one point, he suddenly looked up and said, “I can feel the sun of India on my face”, and his face did light up rather magically, brighter and happier than I had seen it at any time in the previous year, and if there had been any justice or even narrative sensibility in the universe, he would have died there and then, shading his eyes from the sun of Karachi.
He did not. Read the rest of this entry »
This is an absolute fucking disgrace:
Michael Hinton, a mentally ill man from Accrington was being evicted from his home of 33 years for £500 worth of bedroom tax arrears, when he tried climbing onto the roof to escape the bailiffs. He has now been jailed for criminal damage to the tiles.
This case, though particularly shocking in its blatant injustice, is just one of the more newsworthy cases of the misery and homelessness imposed by the full weight of bailiffs, police, courts and councils’ pursuit of people who can’t pay the Bedroom Tax..
Mr Hinton had every right to resist eviction and socialists and the union movement should offer practical solidarity to all of those resisting, as well as campaigning for Michael’s immediate release.
The Labour Party has promised to repeal the bedroom tax, which is a positive step, but we need Labour councils to adopt a no evictions, no implementation policy and for housing associations to stop evictions over these arrears.
The incident happened on June 4. Mr Hilton has since pleaded guilty to committing criminal damage and has been remanded in custody. Mr Hilton has been in Forest Bank prison in Salford since June 5. He will be sentenced at Burnley Crown Court on October 9.
A protest in his support took place outside the court on Monday and another is expected at the court on October 9.
More background detail here.
H/t: Dave K
Service users and supporters rallied in Cambridge on 5 April
By Matt Wells (via Workers Liberty)
Lifeworks is a Complex Cases Service drop in centre which currently supports over 70 people with complex mental health problems in the Cambridge district and has supported many, many more over several years.
Following a deeply flawed decision to close the Lifeworks centre, taken behind the backs of those using it, a group of service users decided to occupy it. That was six weeks ago and the occupation is still holding out. This short video interview from inside the occupation with one of the participants gives a flavour of the resolve being shown by those fighting to save the service.
Please visit their Facebook page and sign their petition: see here.
They are seeking donations to sustain their campaign. Cheques to Cambridge & District Trade Union Council, marked Lifeworks. Send to Ian Beeby, Treasurer, CDTUC, 55, Station Road, Whittlesford, Cambridge, CB22 4NL.
A surprisingly fair and sympathetic piece by Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who appeared on Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row last night. The standard health warning about re-blogs here at Shiraz (ie don’t assume we agree with all of it) applies:
Katie Hopkins, Matthew Wright and Spectator reader White Dee
My night with White Dee — and Channel 5’s Big Benefits Row
What do you get if you mix the Jeremy Kyle show with Question Time? Channel 5 tried to find out this evening in a one-off debate about benefits and I was one of the 25 – yes, 25 – guests they asked along. Matthew Wright tried to keep the order, and the debate ranged (or, rather, raged) from the morality of benefits for immigrants to high MTR rates for welfare. It was more of a verbal explosion than a debate – you’d have working single mums screaming (“give me a job, innit!”) at benefit-dependent single mum. Edwina Currie baiting the lefties, with visible enjoyment. Even a mini protest (“every mum’s a working mum”) and Katie Hopkins who, with her ‘you’re all evil scroungers’ act, wound up the audience perfectly. And Jack Monroe, of the austerity recipe fame, who was admonished for using the f-word. It was kind of political panto.
Even Peter Stringfellow was present- in his capacity as a pensioner on benefits. He was very keen to touch the hem of Rachel Johnson, there as she’d recently spent a week living on £1 a day and has (as she put it) “friends with benefits”. The ex-Guardian journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor, was there to heckle Katie Hopkins and just when you though the evening couldn’t get more bizarre, up pops Terry Christian (ex-The Word) to stick the knife into Ms Hopkins as well. Margot James, a Tory MP and member of the 10 Downing St policy group, was watching all this, open-mouthed, from the front row.
But the star of the evening, for my money, was White Dee. She was then, as she is in Benefits Street, calm, articulate and funny – and making more sense than the rest of the guests put together. When the show closed, everyone came to to her asking for autographs and taking selfies. She kindly said that she was a Spectator reader (all the best people are) and that she liked our coverage of the Benefits Street debate.
I’m not sure what was learned this evening, given the variety of angles the topic was approached from – and the brave attempt to mix the Jerry Springer-style fights with the likes of myself jabbering on about marginal tax withdrawal rates (see below). But one thing’s for sure: after years of being an incredibly dull policy area, welfare reform is now one of the hottest topics in Britain. It is capable of breaking out of the normal confines of Westminster debate, and into a wider realm where wilder beasts roam and many more millions pay attention. And where poll after poll (including one taken for the show) makes clear that the public still backs reforms – still, that is, on the side of the government.
PS Here’s the point I was trying to make. White Dee doesn’t work because if she found part-time work and wanted to increase her hours, she’d find herself trapped in a system that would, in effect, tax her at 100 per cent for the work that she does. There is so much poverty in Britain because we have destroyed the economic function of work for the low-paid. Below is the Marginal Deduction Rate (i.e., benefits withdrawn, as a percentage of money earned) for someone in White Dee’s situation (i.e., a lone mother with two children).
From Leigh Day & Co:
Lawyers vow to fight on after losing part of their battle on overturning the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’
Lawyers representing adults and children with disabilities who are challenging the Government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ have vowed to fight on after today losing part of their High Court battle to halt the controversial new housing benefit regulations that came into force on 1st April this year.
Since 1 April 2013, persons deemed to have 1 spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14% and persons deemed to have 2, or more, spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit reduced by 25%. The claimants all argued that these new Housing Benefit rules discriminate against people with disabilities.
The Court accepted that they are discriminatory, but decided that the discrimination was justified and therefore lawful – apart from in cases of disabled children unable to share a bedroom because of their disabilities.
Disabled Children and Bedroom Sharing
The Court found that the Secretary of State has been aware that the law must be changed to provide for disabled children since May 2012, and they were highly critical of his failure to make Regulations to provide for them. Lord Justice Laws said that the current state of affairs “cannot be allowed to continue”.
The Government must now make Regulations “very speedily” to show that there should be “no deduction of housing benefit where an extra bedroom is required for children who are unable to share because of their disabilities.”
The Wider Group
However the Court held that discrimination against adults with disabilities, even those in the same situation to children with disabilities who could not share a room, was justified. Lawyers for adults with disabilities today said that they believe this cannot be right.
They should be entitled to full Housing Benefit for the accommodation they actually need.
Lawyers for adults with disabilities today confirmed that they intend to appeal the ruling, arguing that the discriminatory impact of the measure on people with disabilities cannot be justified and is unlawful.
Disabled children and their families also intend to appeal as they are now left in a position where they do not know whether in fact they are entitled to full housing benefit to meet the costs of the homes that they need.
This is because the Government has declined to confirm that the new Regulations, which the Court says must be made, will cover their situations, or to provide a date by which the new Regulations will be made.
Since the new housing legislation was introduced it has had a devastating effect on many people across the country. Charities, Social Landlords and Advice Agencies have spoken out about the plight of people with disabilities who have been affected by the measure.
3 law firms are representing the Claimants: Hopkin Murray Beskine, Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors.
Richard Stein from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day said:
“This is a most disappointing result. We will be seeking an urgent appeal to the Court of Appeal. Many people with disabilities including our clients may lose their homes unless the law is changed. Their lives are already difficult enough without the fear of losing their accommodation which has been provided specifically to meet their exceptional needs.”
The Guardian identifies some “puzzling anomalies” in the judgement.
Is justice really blind?
In theory, all forms of legally recognised discrimination (ie discrimination arising from one of the six “protected characteristics”) are equally serious. Many of us have long suspected that in reality, that isn’t the case and that certain forms of discrimination tend to be taken less seriously than others. For instance, while racism is (thankfully) a complete no-no in the media and in most workplaces, sexism (especially in the form of jokes) is still widely tolerated.
In this context, a look at employment tribunal awards for the various forms of discrimination, makes informative and – for me, at least – quite surprising, reading.
Britain’s leading discrimination law specialist Michael Rubenstein, has just published an analysis (by employment lawyer Innes Clark ) of the Equal Opportunities Review (the ‘EOR‘) annual survey of compensation awards made in discrimination cases, and with their “kind permission” he’s set out the main points, as follows:
By Innes Clarke
The statistics are based on 422 cases either filed by the Employment Tribunal Service in Bury St Edmunds or sent to the EOR by individual lawyers.
The total compensation awarded in the 422 cases was £5,268,597. Discrimination awards are uncapped and the highest award made was £235,825 in the disability discrimination case of Wilebore v Cable & Wireless Worldwide Services Ltd, in which reasonable adjustments were not made for an employee who was returning to work after having treatment for cancer.
The only other award in excess of £100,000 was for £136,592 in an age discrimination case – Dixon v The Croglin Estate Co Limited.
Breakdown of Awards
Of the total amount awarded (£5,268,597), 47% is attributable to awards made for injury to feelings (£2,469,566) with the rest made up of, predominantly, financial loss (i.e. loss of earnings).
The highest awards made for the various categories of discrimination were as follows:-
Protected Characteristic Highest Award
|Religion & belief||£18,600|
I have set out below the median awards for the various strands of discrimination with the 2011 and 2010 figures for comparison purposes.
|Protected Characteristic||Median Award (2012)||Median Award (2011)||Median Award (2010)|
|Religion & belief||£3,000▲||£1,000||£6,976|
|All discrimination awards||£7,500▼||£7,518||£8,000|
An Employment Tribunal can make recommendations as to the steps that the respondent should take to reduce the adverse effect of the discrimination on the claimant. The Tribunal can also make recommendations for the benefit of the wider workforce and not just the particular claimant. In 2012 the Employment Tribunal made recommendations in 30 cases. Of these, 19 included wider recommendations to promote equality in the workplace. The most common wider recommendation was for training to be implemented either on equality or diversity.
It is worth noting that the Government is intending to remove the power of Employment Tribunals to make these wider recommendations which, in my view, is regrettable and appears to be something of a retrograde step.
It should be borne in mind that the statistics relate to a selection of cases which were decided by the Employment Tribunal and do not take into account the many claims that do not reach a full hearing and which, instead, conclude by way of agreed settlement for undisclosed sums.
Clarke notes that the EOR’s report also contains “some very interesting statistics” on the ‘injury to feelings’ element of discrimination awards and promises a further blog on that, shortly. Look out for it at ‘Michael Rubenstein Presents…’
This petition has now reached over 200,000 signatures:
This petition calls for Iain Duncan Smith, the current Work and Pensions Secretary, to prove his claim of being able to live on £7.57 a day, or £53 a week.
On Monday’s Today Programme David Bennett, a market trader, said that after his housing benefit had been cut, he lives on £53 per week. The next interviewee was Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who was defending the changes. The interviewer then asked him if he could live on this amount. He replied: “If I had to, I would.”
This petition calls on Iain Duncan Smith to live on this budget for at least one year. This would help realise the conservative party`s current mantra that “We are all in this together”.
This would mean a 97% reduction in his current income, which is £1,581.02 a week or £225 a day after tax* [Source: The Telegraph]
It’s not, perhaps, the most sophisticated response to the Tories’ across-the-board attack on welfare claimants (whilst simultaneously cutting the income tax on the earning £150,000 or more). But it’s bloody effective.
You never know, it might even embarrass Iain Duncan Smith to give it a try…but it would have to be for a year (as the petition demands) for it to be meaningful.
Will the Paralympics have a lasting effect? Will 2012 turn out to have been a decisive year in changing perceptions of disabled people?
From behind Murdoch’s paywall: a rather moving and very honest piece by Matthew Syed from The Times of September 8 2012:
My cousin Zoobi – and a million other human stories
First we saw freaks; then they were just pure athletes
Zoobi, my cousin, is a dwarf. She came to live with us in the summer of 1982 from her home town in Karachi: a brown-skinned, short-limbed 14-year-old in the heart of suburban Reading. Her family wanted her to broaden her horizons, to benefit from a British education. My parents, who have always believed in the extended family, welcomed her with open arms.
I look back on those years with considerable guilt. I was a year younger than Zoobi and I knew my father hoped that I would warm to my cousin. He hoped that she would go out on bike rides and shopping trips with me and my friends. He thought that if I accepted her without inhibition, others would, too. And he hoped that this would do wonders for her self-esteem and self-image.
But I didn’t accept her. I listened to my dad telling me to be kind and friendly, and I nodded dutifully. But it didn’t change anything. She was just too different. I could see people peering at her when she left our house, examining her curiously long body and stumpy limbs. They would point and giggle. When I was with her they stared at me too. I worried that they would think there was something wrong with all of us. The problem wasn’t Zoobi’s character, which was (and is) generous, wise and compassionate. It was that she was — how can I put this? — too different.
Perhaps all forms of human insularity emerge from tnhis sense of otherness. I imagine that my callow feelings of resentment resembled those of British people in the 1940’s, when the first wave of West Indian immigrants arrived on these shores. Black skin was pretty much unprecedented back then and it was common to stare, point and giggle. It was also common to resent. They are just too different. Too unfamiliar.
In the case of disability, this sense of unfamiliarity has been bplstered by a particular and sinister form of ghettoisation. The ghettos have not been geographical, as they often are with race, but institutional and moral. The locking up of the mentally ill in the 19th century was merely one manifestation of a society that for decades attempted to airbrush disability from view. The inaccessibility of transport, pavements, shops and buildings effectively excluded wheelchair users from the public world. The disabled were not merely unfamiliar; they were pretty much invisible.
Things have got better, of course, in recent decades. The disability rights movement may not have the media profile or resonance of, say, the civil rights movement, but it has been quite effective. Anti-discrimination legislation, greater access to public spaces and an extended understanding of equal rights have all changed lives. But progress has been slow. The sense of unfamiliarity, of otherness, remains. A sense that their world is not quite our world.
And it is in that sense that the Paralympics has been a game changer. If we are honest, many of us started watching these Games with a smidgeon of discomfort. Alongside the curiosity was an elevated sense of the grotesque.
The spectacle of athletes dragging themselves along the floor to the edge of the pool, or rolling around on the floor in the volleyball: all these were jarring for a simple reason. We are not used to staring at disabled bodies and their banal-herioc challenges.
Eleven days on and things have changed quite dramatically. We should always resist the temptation to claim more for sport than it deserves. But this time sport has been transformational. The perceptual distortion gradually subsided, then disappeared altogether. We are no longer watching a group of outsiders trying to play an eccentric form of sport. Rather, we are watching sport. We are no longer watching stereotypes, with embarrassment or condescention, but real people. People with hopes and dreams and moral weaknesses. The sense of otherness has been destroyed by the narrative force of their human journeys.
Ellie Simmonds has had a particular effect on me. Simmonds is a dwarf with a sparkling personality, a megawatt smile and an outstanding ability to swim fast. She has wowed us with her brilliance, but also with her charm, her ambition and her elation at winning gold medals. We have become familiar with her story and, as a result, have come to see her not as a token — not an example of a medical condition — but as a person.
And I suspect that if a dwarf were to move into suburban Reading today the response would be radically different. She would not have to endure the pointing and the insularity. She would not have people shunning her because of her physical shape any more than a black person would be shunned for the colour of her skin.
And she would not have the indignity of a cousin turning his back on her out of distaste and social embarrassment.
Above: Ellie Simmonds