A group launched last year to represent people with learning difficulties across England has been scrapped and replaced by a non-user-led organisation that will be partly controlled by service-providers.People First England (PFE) was set up last year by Gary Bourlet, who founded Britain’s first People First self-advocacy organisation in London in 1984 and fellow disabled activist Kaliya Franklin.They joined forces in a bid to set up the first national user-led organisation for people with learning difficulties to cover just England, which they hoped would develop into an umbrella organisation for self-advocacy groups across the country.In the first few weeks of the project they raised nearly £30,000, but it later struggled to raise further funds and they have now been forced into a merger that will leave people with learning difficulties in a minority on the new organisation’s board.At the time of its launch, concerns were raised by other self-advocacy campaigners that PFE’s plans to work closely with families, carers and groups not led by disabled people could eventually see it become a non-user-led organisation that would have more in common with service-provider charities like Mencap.A year on, some disabled activists fear that those concerns have been born out.PFE has now merged with the charity the Housing and Support Alliance – which had been supporting PFE – to create Learning Disability England (LDE), which was launched at the House of Lords this week.Instead of LDE being run by disabled people, power will instead be shared between “people with learning disabilities, families and friends, and organisations”, with a nine-strong board having three family representatives, three people from disability organisations and three self-advocates.LDE is likely to replace campaigning work previously done by the Learning Disability Alliance – which itself was made up of service-providers, the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities and the National Valuing Families Forum – and the Learning Disability Coalition, which had a similar make-up to the alliance.But concerns have been raised that LDE’s funders include a string of organisations that earn money by providing services to people with learning difficulties, including Care Management Group, Brandon Trust, Advance Housing and Support, United Response and MacIntyre.Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns at People First Self-Advocacy, who raised concerns last year about PFE, said he was “very worried” about the new organisation and “not surprised that my concerns have actually become a reality”.He said he feared that LDE would lead to the voices of people with learning difficulties being “sidelined”, while he was also concerned about the risk of “tokenism”.He said: “Unless people with learning difficulties are in complete control of an organisation, then their voices will always be pushed aside.“I am very worried that the voices of people with learning difficulties are being trampled on in such a way.“Obviously the views of family members, although they are important, are not the actual views of people with learning difficulties.“They will always be different because people with learning difficulties will be saying, ‘I want choice and control, I want to live on my own, I want to get married, I want to have children and have aspiration,’ but they are being told, ‘you can’t,’ or ‘you can, with conditions’.”He said the creation of LDE highlighted the need for genuine, properly-funded self-advocacy organisations.Lee said he heard only last week that another local People First organisation had lost its funding, which he said came “at the very time when we need a strong voice”.LDE said that its immediate priorities would be to develop projects to support people with learning difficulties to speak to the media, and to be more involved in the political process, something PFE had focused on.It will also bring together “experts in various fields to help make policy stronger and effective”, work with a “network of academics to strengthen the effect of research”, set up a “fighting fund” to “help people challenge prejudice and discrimination”, and provide members with advice and support.Bourlet (pictured) told Disability News Service that there had not been enough funding to continue with PFE.Asked about replacing a user-led organisation with one that was partly controlled by the big service-provider organisations, which make money by providing services to people with learning difficulties, he said: “We are stuck in a hard place and people have to understand that money does not grow on trees.“They put the biggest amount of money in, but it doesn’t mean they will have the majority voting.”He said that the new organisation was about “all coming together” and “strength in numbers”.He said: “There are lots of good self-advocacy organisations and others saying the right things but it is easy to ignore because they are all doing it individually.“A lot of these local groups have been too wrapped up in getting local funding from local authorities.”He said there had been a mixed reaction to LDE from other self-advocates and self-advocacy groups.Bourlet said: “Some self-advocacy groups think you shouldn’t mix with families and professionals because families and professionals sometimes speak for us. Many self-advocates liked the idea that we had strength in numbers.”He said he hoped that PFE might be resurrected one day when there was more funding, and that they would look again at the idea in three years’ time.Bourlet said earlier in a statement that the new organisation would be “steered by people, families and organisations”.He said: “We are creating this now because for far too long services have been bad and self-advocates are tired of fighting a lone battle.“By coming together we can fight for better changes in our lives.”He added: “We are not equal in our society. If you have a learning disability, you’re more likely to die at a younger age than a non-disabled person.“Learning Disability England will bring people together to fight all these bad things that are happening and to campaign for the rights of people with learning disabilities and their families”.The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell spoke at the LDE launch event, and offered her support to the new organisation.She said: “For too long, people with learning disabilities have been consistently let down, sometimes at great cost.“The time is right for the voice of people with learning disabilities to be heard loud and clear.”After DNS asked her afterwards about concerns with the change from PFE to LDE, she said she had been impressed by the number of people with learning difficulties with enthusiasm for self-advocacy at the LDE launch event.But she said that most of what she knew about LDE was what she had learned at the launch, and she would now “have a good look” at the new organisation and how it was run.
FROM DWP TO DNS: 2/6/16, 10.22amHi John,I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Copying in ***** who has joined the disability desk.Best***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 31/5/16, 11.35amThanks, ***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 2/6/16, 11.33amHi ***** (and *****)Just half an hour left…BwJohn FROM DWP to DNS 1/6/16, 2.01pmHi John,Apologies but our statement will be a little bit late, we will get it to you this afternoon. Sorry for letting you know late. Best***** FROM DWP TO DNS: 3/6/16, 9.22amFurther to my email below, I’ve just reread your email and believe the information ***** has provided to date already covers your points. Therefore, our original statement stands.Best wishes,***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 2/6/16, 1.04pmBy the way, I would still like to receive *****’s response for a follow-up, particularly as he has been working on it all morning.BwJohn FROM DWP to DNS: 1/6/16, 5.03pmHi JohnApologies again for the late response. A DWP spokesperson said:“Since December, 569 employers have registered with the Disability Confident scheme, and we’re continuing to receive around 100 registrations every month. The programme is supported by a range of major employers and small businesses across the UK – but we want to go even further to remove barriers, increase understanding and ensure disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential in the workplace.”Background:In December 2015 we introduced a registration facility on Gov.UK for employers to register their interest to become more Disability Confident.Best***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 1/6/16, 6.05pmI’m sorry, *****, but I can’t use that. It doesn’t bear any relation to the points I raised, which were all about the partners you had signed up.I stress that I’m more than happy to include this information in the story as long as you actually engage with the points made, and also explain the difference between registering interest (which doesn’t seem to impose any obligations) and becoming a partner (which I’m guessing does).I’m afraid I’m not going to allow DWP to avoid answering the actual questions I asked.Can I assume the minister is on holiday, as I did ask something from him?I also asked for a contact in the minister’s private office to arrange an interview. If you could help with that I would be grateful.Best wishes,John FROM DWP TO DNS: 2/6/16, 5.30pmHi JohnJust to point out that you asked us to respond how we saw fit, which is what we did. To clarify: Being a disability confident partner means that the employer supports the scheme and we provide them with support and advice to become more disability confident, such as: Join our LinkedIn community and take part in the discussion. Share information, good practice and articles on disability employment mattersActively encourage other businesses to support the campaign -particularly amongst their networks or supply chainOffer a disabled person a work placementHost Disability Confident eventsAllow us to publicise their support of the campaign on Gov.uk.Registering interest means that once we have made improvements to the scheme we will provide the employer with details and they will be able to engage should they choose to. Have a good weekend.***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 2/6/16, 1.03pmThanks… FROM DWP TO DNS: 2/6/16, 12.50pmHi JohnApologies for any distress caused we do try our best to get answers to your questions within your deadline. ***** did provide a response yesterday – which you were not satisfied with. He has been working all morning on your follow up email.Please use the response provided yesterday. In your earlier email, you had asked us to comment on your draft how we saw fit – which we have done – rather than provide answers to specific questions.You also asked for a contact for private office re an interview at party conference. Please email ***** she is actually on leave at the moment but am sure she will pick up with you when she’s back.Kind regards,***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 2/6/16, 12.13pmThanks *****, but my deadline was actually yesterday. My final deadline ie when the stories are sent out, does not change. I always send my stories out between noon and 1pm on Thursday. ***** knows that (or should do).Can I point out – yet again, to DWP press office – that I have a mental health condition, and this constant running over deadlines and causing extreme stress with last minute responses puts my continuing fragile health at risk. I shouldn’t have to keep telling this to DWP – the home of Disability Confident.Best wishes,John FROM DNS TO DWP: 2/6/16, 5.03pm*****You haven’t explained the difference between registering interest (which doesn’t seem to impose any obligations) and becoming a partner (which I’m guessing does) which I asked yesterday evening.And you still haven’t engaged at all with the information I sent across to you about the DC partners. Can you tell me please whether DWP is disappointed with the figures that I emailed across to you?Clearly just asking you to respond to some clear information is not enough, and I have to treat you all like children and make it very, very clear exactly what the question is, otherwise you will find a way to avoid responding to it in a sensible way.Just so disappointing. And causing all of us extra work, when I thought civil servants were supposed to be understaffed and overworked.Is this really why you became a civil servant, *****?I’ll wait to hear from you, again, *****.Best wishes,John FROM DNS TO DWP: 3/6/16, 10.08amWhat is unacceptable, *****, is your office using every ploy you possibly can to avoid responding to a perfectly valid request for a comment on the very low numbers of partners signed up to Disability Confident. I sent you details of my analysis of the organisation signed up as partners, and ***** responded, way over deadline, with a two-line statement that did not mention any of the information I sent to him. How is that professional?If ***** is too ‘junior’ to deal with reasoned and reasonable criticism, then I suggest he is in the wrong job. How you can attempt to justify the response you your office has given me is beyond me. Are you seriously suggesting to me that when I am treated the way I have been this week by your press office, I should just suck it up and not respond? This is really, really disappointing, but I’m not going to allow the DWP press office to yet again get under my skin and cause this to escalate.I will ask you both, yet again, to respond to the points I made yesterday by 2pm today.I suspect I will have to say in my follow-up that DWP, despite repeated attempts, has refused/avoided commenting and explaining why the numbers are so ridiculously low, but I will at least give you a chance to do your job properly and respond to the figures I emailed you about Disability Confident partners.I’ll wait to hear from you.John FROM DWP TO DNS: 2/6/16, 4.23pmHi JohnHere’s a statement for your follow up: “We are currently looking at whether any further improvements can be made to Disability Confident. All of our partners, as well as the 569 employers who have already registered interest through Gov.UK, will receive details of any potential changes in due course.”We’ll be happy to keep you updated as and when we can. Best wishes,***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 2/6/16, 6.14pm*****I’m still waiting for you to respond to the information I sent across to you about the DC partners. Can you tell me please what DWP’s reaction is to the information I emailed across to you, and whether you are disappointed with them and why. Please respond to each of the criticisms included in the information ie please produce a comment in response to every paragraph I emailed you. Because of your previous failure to respond sensibly, I have pasted the paragraphs below, helpfully numbering each paragraph. Please respond to each paragraph ie paragraphs numbered 1 through 6.1 The government has signed up only about 40 mainstream private sector employers to its flagship Disability Confident employment scheme in nearly three years since it was launched by the prime minister, new figures reveal.2 An analysis by Disability News Service shows that – with the exception of 15 law firms, and recruitment, welfare-to-work and employment specialists, which would be expected to have an interest in the subject – the government appears to have persuaded just 25 non-disability-related companies to sign up to its national scheme, and one of those is a tiny café in Cornwall.3 Fresh analysis of the partners signed up to Disability Confident shows that of the 126 organisations, nearly half – an estimated 55 – are focused on representing or working on behalf of or for disabled people, such as Suffolk Coalition of Disabled People, Mencap and Disability Rights UK.4 Another 18 are public sector organisations, while there are also three quangos, a sports governing body and two social enterprises, but only about 40 mainstream private sector companies.5 Those 40 include major employers such as Airbus, Asda, Honda, Balfour Beatty, Barclays, Fujitsu, National Grid, Taylor Wimpey and Sainsbury’s… and the Cornish Maid Café in Falmouth, Cornwall.6 The analysis suggests that the efforts of successive ministers for disabled people – Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Mark Harper and Justin Tomlinson – have failed to persuade more than a tiny minority of businesses across the country to take the scheme seriously.Yes, I asked you to respond to the information, assuming that you would do so in a way befitting of a very well-paid civil servant ie that you would take a reasoned and sensible view of what I was looking for. Obviously I won’t do that again. Hence the above.I’ll wait to hear from you (again).John This is a blog which I shouldn’t have to write, but which I think demonstrates just how desperate the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has become to avoid admitting uncomfortable truths about its policies and performance.I believe this is an issue that raises important questions about the impartiality of the Civil Service under the current government, and the right of journalists to receive straight, clear, non-evasive answers to questions that are put to government press officers, particularly those within the DWP.It’s something I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and while DWP is by no means the only government department that is guilty of this, it is by far the worst offender.Yesterday, Disability News Service published a news story which showed that successive ministers for disabled people had signed up only about 40 mainstream private sector employers to their flagship Disability Confident employment scheme in the three years since it was launched.The story was based on an analysis by Disability News Service (DNS) of a list that appears on the Office for Disability Issues website.That analysis shows that – with the exception of 15 law firms, and recruitment, welfare-to-work and employment specialists, which often have a financial interest in disability issues – the government seems to have persuaded just 26 non-disability-related private sector organisations to sign up to its national scheme, and one of those is a small café in Cornwall.Because I like to give DWP a chance to respond to potential stories whenever I can – it’s the responsible and professional thing to do as a journalist – I approached the press office by email in the early hours of Tuesday for a comment on my analysis.What happened over the following three or so days does – in my opinion – raise serious questions about how the DWP press office has been allowed to operate over the last six years. They were evasive, refused to respond to the points I asked them to comment on, and over-ran the agreed deadline, all of which has become standard practice (on deadlines, if they don’t over-run, the comments will arrive minutes before they expire).Personally, I don’t blame the individual press officers. My gut feeling is that they are following orders, and have been told that if they don’t follow those orders, they will be disciplined. Of course, that doesn’t completely excuse them.Here is how my communications with DWP’s press office progressed over those three days. The email exchange is included in full, minus the names of the individual press officers (it is a matter of convention that journalists do not name government press officers).I suspect not many people will want to wade through the entire email exchange but I thought it was important to publish it in full – if only for my own satisfaction – as I believe it highlights the problems myself and other journalists are facing in dealing with DWP. I would be grateful for any feedback. Perhaps I’m over-reacting, but I don’t think so… FROM DWP TO DNS: 2/6/16, 11.39amHi John***** is chasing up for you now. We weren’t aware you needed something by 12:03pm. As always, we will try to come back to you as soon as possible.Kind regards,***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 31/5/2016, 00.13amHi *****/*****Hope you both had a good bank holiday.I’ve been amusing myself by analysing the organisations that have signed up as partners to Disability Confident. I’m afraid the numbers do not look good. I thought the best thing would be for me to email you the relevant bits of a rough draft of where the story is at the moment (see below), and then you can comment as you see fit, rather than me asking you particular questions.Would be grateful for a comment from the minister if possible, please, or from DWP if he’s on a beach somewhere. My deadline is 2pm Wednesday. Please let me know if that will not be possible.Also, could you please let me have the email address for the person I need to liaise with in the minister’s office re a possible interview at party conference? I know he won’t do one, but I have to ask anyway.Best wishes,JohnThe government has signed up only about 40 mainstream private sector employers to its flagship Disability Confident employment scheme in nearly three years since it was launched by the prime minister, new figures reveal.An analysis by Disability News Service shows that – with the exception of 15 law firms, and recruitment, welfare-to-work and employment specialists, which would be expected to have an interest in the subject – the government appears to have persuaded just 25 non-disability-related companies to sign up to its national scheme, and one of those is a tiny café in Cornwall.Fresh analysis of the partners signed up to Disability Confident shows that of the 126 organisations, nearly half – an estimated 55 – are focused on representing or working on behalf of or for disabled people, such as Suffolk Coalition of Disabled People, Mencap and Disability Rights UK.Another 18 are public sector organisations, while there are also three quangos, a sports governing body and two social enterprises, but only about 40 mainstream private sector companies.Those 40 include major employers such as Airbus, Asda, Honda, Balfour Beatty, Barclays, Fujitsu, National Grid, Taylor Wimpey and Sainsbury’s… and the Cornish Maid Café in Falmouth, Cornwall.The analysis suggests that the efforts of successive ministers for disabled people – Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Mark Harper and Justin Tomlinson – have failed to persuade more than a tiny minority of businesses across the country to take the scheme seriously. FROM DWP TO DNS: 3/6/16, 9.07amJohn,It is completely unacceptable and inappropriate for you to converse with ***** in this way. Frankly I’m surprised that a journalist of your standing would resort to making personal insults to a junior member of staff who is simply doing a job on behalf of the Department. If you had wanted answers to specific questions, you should have emailed them across when you first contacted us. As I recall, you asked the Department to respond in a way that we saw fit, which we did. Please provide a new deadline for the questions you have asked below.Regards,***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 1/6/16, 2.39pmThanks, *****, appreciate the update… FROM DWP TO DNS: 31/5/16, 10.29amHi JohnThanks for the enquiry, we’ll get back to you tomorrow. Best***** FROM DWP TO DNS: 3/6/16, 10.32amJohn,I’m afraid we’re going to have to draw a line under this one. We won’t be providing you a further statement on this issue.Regards,***** FROM DNS TO DWP: 3/6/16, 11.06amI think I’m probably going to have to blog on this later, because I don’t think this has been dealt with acceptably by your office. I will not be using the names of any press officers, though.bwJohn
The disabled chair of the organisation that will manage Britain’s team at September’s Paralympic Games in Brazil has explained how it plans to use their sporting performances in Rio and beyond to “inspire a better world for disabled people”.Tim Reddish, who himself has five Paralympic swimming medals, was talking to Disability News Service (DNS) after the publication of Inspiring Excellence, the British Paralympic Association’s (BPA) new strategic plan.The five-year plan will take the organisation – which prepares, selects and manages the ParalympicsGB team – through the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020, and it outlines BPA’s “vision, mission, values, strategic priorities, organisational structure and planning”.The aim, as was with the previous plan, is to “deliver real and lasting change in society through the inspirational impact of Paralympic athletes on the field of play”.But Reddish suggested that the strategy was more about showing how similar the athletes are to the viewing public than setting them up as inspirational “Superhumans”.He said he hoped that the performances of Paralympic athletes would demonstrate that they are “first and foremost human beings”.He said: “Yes, they may be seen as role models, but take that athletic performance away and they are still human beings with some kind of impairment that stops them doing things the same as someone who is non-disabled.”The hope, he said, is that non-disabled people will be more likely to “engage” with disabled people after watching the medal-winning exploits of Britain’s Paralympians, something that he says he has experienced himself as a blind person when out in public in recent years.Reddish said he could not understand the suggestion by many disabled activists that Channel 4’s new We’re The Superhumans advert (pictured), promoting the broadcaster’s upcoming coverage of the Rio 2016 Paralympics – with its “Yes I Can” message – could have unintended consequences by suggesting that disabled people do not need support and do not face barriers in society and only need to try harder to succeed in life.He said: “It’s to get people to watch the Paralympic Games on Channel 4, that’s the primary objective.“I don’t think it’s doing anything more than that or anything less.”Reddish said he accepted that disabled people need support, but when asked whether BPA could speak out on rights issues and emphasise that the team’s athletes and other disabled people also rely on government support and services, he said: “We can’t do everything for everybody, and our primary focus and objective is to prepare and take the team to the games.“We can’t take that away. It’s like saying to Nissan: ‘We want you to start making Vauxhalls.’”Even so, the strategic plan says BPA’s status as a National Paralympic Committee gives it “a mandate to engage in the development of both sport and disability policy at a domestic level”, but Reddish says it is too early to say what those disability policies might be.BPA’s previous plan, published in 2012, spoke of engaging more closely with non-sports disability groups, but Reddish said this area was still “new ground for us”, although it had “started developing a relationship” with the disability charity Scope.The new plan again speaks of seeking to “build relationships across the wider disability community in the UK and understand how their broader agenda can positively be served by the Paralympics without distracting us from our core purpose or losing sight of our primary role within the sporting landscape”.Reddish said: “I wouldn’t say it’s been slow-moving but it has been about laying the foundation.“We haven’t engaged with every disability rights group. We don’t have the capacity and that’s not our job, our job is sport.”But he added: “I don’t think we managed to get to as many areas as some people or [we] would have liked to have done.”The BPA plan points to results from the latest Sport England Active People survey, which showed that fewer than one in five (17 per cent) disabled people were playing sport at least once a week, but it fails to mention that this has fallen by one percentage point since 2011-12.Reddish said: “If the figures are accurate then I am disappointed that we have not got more people with an impairment getting physically active.”He said he did not know why the figures had fallen but he was confident that disability sports governing bodies “do everything they can with the resources that they have”.Reddish also defended BPA’s decision earlier this year to link up with Cadbury, which released a special edition of its chocolate mini eggs to raise money for the ParalympicsGB team at Rio.He said: “It’s about a partnership, it’s not just about the money.“There’s no evidence to say that because BPA and ParalympicsGB are involved that more people are eating more chocolate.”He said the company wanted to be “part of what we are trying to achieve, inspiring through sport”, and to help BPA inspire more people to be physically active, “not to sell more bars of chocolate”, while he said Cadbury’s staff were also raising money for the team.Asked why there was no reference in the strategic plan to the need to increase the number of disabled staff working for BPA or the number of disabled people on its board – following a DNS survey which found just one disabled board member out of nine, and just three disabled people among its 33 paid staff – he said: “I would love to see more and more people with an impairment on our board and other boards.“I want to see them come through and I want them to have the skills, knowledge and experience, but there’s no automatic entry anywhere just because they are a disabled person because that’s not fair to the organisation, and it’s not fair to the athletes.“It’s about having the best people in the right place at the right time.”He added: “I was elected as chairman not because of my impairment but because I was the most appropriate person the membership looked at to move the organisation forward over a period of time.“To get more people on the board with an impairment, we have got to give them the opportunities to learn the trade.“I would encourage our membership to identify people with an impairment suitable to be nominated and then they get voted on at the election meeting next year.”Looking ahead to Rio, he said the ParalympicsGB team would be “prepared well” and that he was sure the athletes would “deliver on the field of play”.He said he was “optimistic” that the team could achieve the target of winning one more medal than at the home games of London 2012, something that had never been done before by a host nation in the next Paralympic Games.But he said he was curious to see how much impact the much-praised London 2012 Paralympic Games has had on Brazil.He said: “I think we have to take London 2012 at the moment, until we have experienced Rio, as a bit of an outlier, in a positive way, because not everybody in every nation around the world will be the same as what we did in London.”And he warned that there could be “some teething problems” for Paralympians because Rio would be putting on the Olympic Games and then transforming its facilities to host the Paralympics.He contrasted that with London 2012, which had asked “What do we need for the Paralympic Games?” and had then worked backwards from there, avoiding such a difficult transition between the end of the Olympics and the beginning of the Paralympics.But he said: “I am sure they will be ready. There are always teething problems at every single Paralympic Games and our athletes are used to it and will go with the flow.”
A disabled grandmother has described how the flawed disability benefit assessment system and back-to-work harassment from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) forced her into employment as a webcam sex worker.A*, who has had chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia for the last 10 years, has been left £25,000 in debt after having to survive without the benefits she needs.She turned to sex work as a “cam girl” – performing for clients on the internet through live webcam footage – five years ago, after jokingly asking on Facebook (which she no longer uses): “What job can I do without getting out of bed?”She knows at least 15 other disabled sex workers who are in similar situations because they have been unable to secure the benefits they need to pay their bills.A, who is in her 40s, says that every time she has tried to work outside the home it has left her “absolutely ruined healthwise”.She says she prefers working as a cam girl and having to deal with some “really quite unpleasant” men who seek her services rather than trying to, yet again, claim employment and support allowance (ESA), which she tried for several years until 2011.“I can’t cope with ESA,” she said. “I would prefer to be self-employed and not have them pester me all the damned time. It’s more depressing on ESA than off it.”During her years in the work-related activity group of ESA she had to cope with lengthy delays with her application, “many lost medical certificates”, a string of failed interactions with government back-to-work programmes, and being sanctioned for being too ill to show up for appointments.She said: “I feel frustrated with my situation. I don’t actually hate my work, but I don’t like it much either.“I would like to carry on doing it as it suits my particular conditions, and I can stay in work, away from ESA-style benefits, but I need extra financial help – I blame the DWP for not letting me have the extra help I need.”An attempt in 2014 to claim the disability element of working tax credits – on the advice of HMRC – left her in even deeper financial trouble, after an Atos healthcare professional visited her at home 18 months later to assess her for PIP.She had been claiming disability living allowance (DLA) but was one of the thousands caught up in the PIP reassessment programme, after the government started introducing the new benefit in 2013.A DWP decision-maker concluded that she was ineligible for PIP after the retired paramedic who visited her on one of her better days – she has chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, which are both fluctuating conditions – decided that she had “picked up a cup of tea without obvious discomfort” and “had no problems communicating”.Like many other DLA and PIP claimants, she didn’t have the physical or mental energy to appeal.The PIP decision led to HMRC demanding that she pay back £5,000 in tax credits that she had been receiving for claiming the disability element of tax credits, which drove her further into debt.She is now in the middle of a fresh claim for PIP.Having previously twice been found ineligible for disability benefits – once for ESA and once for DLA – and on both occasions having appealed successfully, she believes the assessment system and the software used by the assessment companies are “flawed”.She said: “None of my assessors have had any idea about my conditions. The first one was a doctor who was forced into resignation after botching an operation.”Because she lost her DLA/PIP, and had to pay back £20 a month to HMRC, she resorted to using credit cards to eat and pay her bills – she no longer has any credit and is being chased by debt collectors.The anxiety caused by such a large debt – in total she owes about £25,000 – caused a “complete mental breakdown” last November.Her mental health is currently so poor that she is phoning Samaritans and the local NHS mental health crisis team at least three times a week.She said: “I am now on Mirtazapine [an anti-depressant] to stop me going off the rails, although it’s impossible to actually treat the depression and anxiety and occasional suicidal thoughts because it’s the debt that’s mostly responsible for those feelings.“That and being housebound and having no other option than to cater for really quite unpleasant men on the internet to get any money (I do have some nice customers on there, just not many).“I have a grandchild now and another on the way, but I do not have time or energy to see the family as I am having to spend all my waking hours at work, and then the rest of the time trying to feel less terrible from having worked.”She said she was “fairly naïve” when she began working as a cam girl. “Many people assume this is an easy earner, thousands of pounds, for taking your clothes off.“This is an absolute fallacy. I can sometimes sit poised for webcam for days on end and only make £10.“That’s me putting in 12 hours of trying to work per day, on my good days. I do occasionally get a big spender, and get £300 in an hour, but this is not often the case.”Her average monthly income is about £500.But A said she was privileged that she could be “out” with her family and friends about the work she does.She said: “They all fully support me, although my parents like to imagine that what I do is much more genteel than it actually is.“Many sex workers are not able to confide in anyone about this, so it’s not to be assumed everyone is as fortunate as I am or has any support at all.“Sex work can be a very lonely business, no matter what sort is being conducted.”She added: “Do not think sex work is bad, it’s just not necessarily right for a lot of people.“It is very important to point out that the majority of sex work isn’t conducted by disabled people or addicts, as the media may portray – most people in the business are perfectly normal, everyday people who chose this because it suited them.“This is just a personal account of one disabled person who found it to be their last option.” *She has asked for her name not to be usedPicture: Red Umbrella by Sonny Abesamis is licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence
Shortt is leaving to be with her girlfriend in Los Angeles — “I’m moving towards something, not just leaving,” she said — and chided those who predicted she would be back in the San Francisco soon, ready to jump back into the housing wars here. “I can go, I can leave, because you guys have got this! You’re strong and you’re kicking ass,” she said.It’s a turbulent time for the progressive housing movement: The recent electoral defeats of short-term rental regulations and the Mission moratorium were a setback, and just a year ago long-time progressive housing leader Ted Gullicksen died in his sleep, a fact not lost on those in attendance.“When you think about the housing crisis in San Francisco, two names come to mind: Ted Gullicksen and Sara Shortt,” said Supervisor David Campos, who lamented both losses but said each had coached people to “step up to the plate” and continue the movement.“Those are big shoes to fill, but they trained a lot of people,” he said.Shortt and others emphasized the strength of their movement in spite — and perhaps because — of recent losses.“I’ve seen coalitions, alliances, and a real fucking movement more now than in the last 17 years I’ve been here,” Shortt said in a brief farewell speech, to hearty applause.She cited partnerships “from Chinatown to the Mission” and named some now well-known victims of eviction: Benito Santiago, Patricia Kerman, among others. “We know the names of the evicted, the public knows — they’ve been in the papers. That’s new for us. We’ve never had such power.”Shortt came to San Francisco 17 years ago during the first dot-com boom (and bust), but has been involved in housing since her 20s. The housing scene was different in the early 2000s. Many found themselves unsure how to approach the rapid changes happening in the city. “There were a lot of community groups going back then like ‘How do we do this job?’” said Joseph Smooke, an employee of the Housing Rights Committee who started at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center at around the same time as Shortt came to San Francisco. She would come to him for advice, but he didn’t remember her needing any. “It didn’t take her very long, she didn’t need much help.”Shortt took over as executive director in 2004 and led for the next 11 years, never scared of “pushing the envelope as far as it [could] go,” according to Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, a co-organizer at the Housing Rights Committee and Shortt’s replacement as director.Sherburn-Zimmer praised Shortt’s candor and analysis, repeating an oft-heard refrain that night.“There’s just something about the way that Sara gets up there and tells it the way it is,” she said. “She’s the kind of person who can break down really complex issues for real people, make a radical position seem reasonable,” said Smooke.Others recalled particular actions like the takeover of Airbnb’s headquarters or the Google bus protests, the latter perhaps the most remembered event that night and an action that garnered attention nationwide. “The Google bus blockades were amazing, the creativity of them,” he said, remembering them alongside the “many hours” organizers spent in Shortt’s office “conspiring against the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, landlords, speculators — basically all the evil that exists in the world.” Tom Ammiano, former state assemblymember and supervisor, remembered honoring Shortt in Sacramento. During an awards ceremony, Shortt went up to a fellow honoree — a female police officer from San Francisco — and asked her point-blank: Did you arrest me? “I did!” Ammiano recalls the cop saying, an example of Shortt’s proclivity towards humor — one he himself displayed that night.“A lot of people make fun of her height, but I’m not going to stoop to that level,” Ammiano said, the first of many one-liners. The former supervisor was replaced on stage shortly afterwards by sitting supervisors Aaron Peskin and Norman Yee, who presented Shortt with a commendation from the Board of Supervisors, the second in two days.Unlike the one she received in front of the full board, this one was signed only by the progressive supervisors — Campos, Peskin, Yee, Jane Kim, Eric Mar, and John Avalos — leading Peskin to call it “the real commendation.”Peskin also remembered his time at the Housing Rights Committee — he was a board member in the 1990s before running for office — and his work with her in the last seven years, during his hiatus from office-holding.“A little while ago it felt like the darkest of times in San Francisco,” Peskin said. Housing groups were rallied against “Google buses, short-term rentals,” he said, and “everything that could go wrong was going wrong.”But, Peskin said, “at the forefront of that fight was Sara Shortt.”Shortt was upset to be leaving, calling her move “heartbreaking.” She was not worried about the survival of the movement in her absence, however, and ended the night with a ubiquitous call-and-response of San Francisco housing protests, well-known to the activist crowd: “What do we want? Stop the evictions! When do we want it? Now!” 0% Share this: FacebookTwitterRedditemail,0% A room packed with old-time housing activists as well as more recent recruits celebrated Sara Shortt’s 17-year-stint at San Francisco’s Housing Rights Committee, including the last 11 years as the executive director.Shortt will be moving to Los Angeles at the end of the month, where she will be with an organization that works to get housing for the homeless. Though she was empathic that “there’s no other city in this country or in the world like San Francisco,” Shortt acknowledged that the housing crisis has taken its toll on her.“This city has absolutely, totally broken my heart,” said Shortt to a crowd of some 200 supporters on Thursday, December 17, at the Lab, an arts space in the Mission District. Shortt spoke on the rapid displacement in San Francisco and the Mission specifically. Until it got priced out, the Housing Rights Committee was based in the Mission.“I am so aware that it’s not just for me. Everyone I talk to on the street — it’s just so evident, the pain and trauma,” she said.
Free music tonight at the Community Music CenterThe center’s Concert with Conversation, featuring the Catalyst Quartet, begins at 6 p.m. tonight, Friday, March 2. The quartet comprises top Laureates and alumni of the Sphinx competition, and the center promises “dynamic selections of classical music.” It all happens at 544 Capp St. Also, a heads-up: it’s time to register for the center’s spring quarter, which starts March 19 and runs through June 1. Visit the enrollment page or contact a registrar at (415) 647-6015. Fraught Fête Weightless at Z-SpaceThe rock duo the Kilbanes and director Becca Wolff have turned one of the stories from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” into the most inventive and pleasurable theater piece I’ve seen this year. Lily Janiak, the Chronicle’s theater reviewer, agrees. It runs at Zspace until the 18th, but my guess is that tickets will go fast. Everlane opens this weekendThe online Everlane that has been testing the brick and mortar on Folsom St. opens at 461 Valencia St this weekend. The SF Business Times reports that Folsom Street will become much-needed office space.Coming up This Week:Anna Deavere Smith, Alicia Garza and Lateefah Simon As part of its speaking series featuring illustrious and kick-ass women, The Woman’s Building will host “Insurgent Voices: Striving to End Racism in America,” with Deavere Smith, a playwright, actor and educator, Simon, Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and Simon, president of the Akonadi Foundation. The women will gather on Tuesday, March 6, at the Marines Memorial Theater near Union Square. You can purchase tickets here. Mission 4All, the PR arm of Maximus Real Estate, the developer of the proposed 300-plus units at 16th and Mission, is sponsoring a 12-hour fête on Saturday at 16th and Capp streets. It starts at noon. If you take the flyer at face value, the developers have commandeered the support of a slew of local artists and bands. Is it just a party, or a party with a message? There’s growing disagreement. Sign up for Mission Local’s daily news letter! Tags: arts • Events Share this: FacebookTwitterRedditemail,0% 0% A tribute to John Cage at the David Ireland HouseA homage to one of David Ireland’s influences will take place Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the 20th and Capp (500 Capp St.). For two hours, in a site-specific performance, John Kennedy and the Santa Clara University New Music Ensemble will celebrate Cage. Should be very cool.Can’t paint? You, too, can contribute to public artNew Door Ventures, a nonprofit that works with youth in the Bay Area, located at 20th and Harrison streets, has launched a campaign, Mural for New Door, to raise $10,000 to help cover the costs of a new mural by the amazing Mona Caron. Check out our Events calendar to keep abreast of what’s happening in our neighborhood.
SAINTS have named their 19-man squad for Thursday’s First Utility Super League Round 19 fixture at Castleford Tigers.Keiron Cunningham welcomes back Luke Walsh and Joe Greenwood into the reckoning with Luke Thompson also added.They replace Lewis Charnock, Jack Ashworth and Matty Fleming.Saints’ 17 will come from:3. Jordan Turner, 4. Josh Jones, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Travis Burns, 7. Luke Walsh, 8. Mose Masoe, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Alex Walmsley, 15. Mark Flanagan, 17. Mark Percival, 18. Luke Thompson, 19. Greg Richards, 21. Joe Greenwood, 22. Matty Dawson, 25. Andre Savelio, 34. Shannon McDonnell.Daryl Powell will choose his Castleford side from:3. Jake Webster, 4. Michael Shenton, 5. Justin Carney, 6. Ben Roberts, 7. Luke Gale, 8. Andy Lynch, 9. Adam Milner, 10. Grant Millington, 11. Oliver Holmes, 12. Matt Cook, 13. Nathan Massey, 15. Ryan Boyle, 16. Junior Moors, 17. Scott Moore, 20. Denny Solomona, 21. Liam Finn, 24. Mike McMeeken, 26. Ashley Gibson, 33. Ryan Bailey.The game kicks off at 8pm and the referee is Richard Silverwood.Ticket details for the game can be found here.
Environmental activist, Erin Brockovich, says she wants to come to Wilmington to show her support against GenX. (Photo: facebook.com/ErinBrockovichOfficial) WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has confirmed a visit to the Cape Fear area.On Facebook Friday evening, Brockovich posted that she plans to be in Wilmington this week.- Advertisement – Here is a look at her post in full:“I am planning to be in Wilmington, North Carolina offering community support and information on the continuing Drinking Water Crisis – next week, August 16th – 20th. I have been invited to attend several events in the community. We will be meeting with different groups impacted from different perspectives; there is no single solution and no silver bullet that will address all of the regional water supply issues. I will bring Bob along to answer specific water treatment and supply questions and we will provide you with information on how to best protect your families from the chemicals found in our Drinking Water. Our first event is Wednesday, August 16, a GenX Forum at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington Campus. I look forward to meeting you and hearing your stories personally.”Click here for more information on the GenX Forum she is taking part in.
WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — If you have a lot of trash to get rid of after the holidays, the City of Wilmington has some trash tips for you.City trash customers can put out as much trash as they like on their first scheduled pickup following Christmas without having to purchase excess trash stickers.City trash customers can recycle their Christmas trees curbside. Simply remove all ornaments and lights and place it curbside on your regular pickup day. Remember not to block storm drains, water meters or fire hydrants.Old holiday lights can be recycled at any New Hanover County library through Jan. 5Almost all wrapping paper is recyclable – except foil wrapping. Just place it in your blue cart.Remember, there is no limit on how much you can recycle. If your blue cart is full, place excess in another container next to your recycling cart.Also, if your trash day is Monday, there will not be trash service on Christmas. Instead, your pickup day will be Wednesday.- Advertisement –
00:00 00:00 spaceplay / pause qunload | stop ffullscreenshift + ←→slower / faster ↑↓volume mmute ←→seek . seek to previous 12… 6 seek to 10%, 20% … 60% XColor SettingsAaAaAaAaTextBackgroundOpacity SettingsTextOpaqueSemi-TransparentBackgroundSemi-TransparentOpaqueTransparentFont SettingsSize||TypeSerif MonospaceSerifSans Serif MonospaceSans SerifCasualCursiveSmallCapsResetSave Settings LELAND, NC (WWAY) — A day after West Brunswick Coach Kelly Williamson resigned, North Brunswick has made a coaching change as well. The school has named Bryan Davis as their head football coach.Brunswick County Schools Public Information Officer Daniel Seamans tells us the school board approved Davis as the head coach at last night’s meeting.- Advertisement – Davis coached previously at Topsail High school from 2007-2012.The move marks the end of the one year tenure of Darren Willis who boasted a 1-10 record last season as the head coach of the Scorpions.Davis is the third head coach in the last three years for the North Brunswick football program.