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Disability Bitch vs volunteers

16th February 2011

• Disability Bitch is published every Thursday.

Readers, this week Prime Minister David Cameron has been talking about his 'passion', his effort to get the citizens of Britain to 'take more responsibility' and create what he calls a Big Society.
David Cameron
Actually, he's been banging on about his Big Society since even before the general election in May last year, and thus far everyone except him has been a bit vague about what it means.

This Monday he told us: "What this is all about is giving people more power and control to improve their lives and communities." He wants people to volunteer more and take over services that were previously run by government. Startup project money will come from the Big Society Bank which gets most of its money from bank accounts that people no longer seem to be using.

These plans to harness the power of volunteers come at a time when government is cutting funding to councils, meaning councils will have to lay off many hundreds of thousands of employees, meaning unemployment will rise, and presumably more volunteers will then be available to do unpaid work. Genius, really.

Councils around the country are presently announcing what cuts they will make to their services. We have to hope that schemes like Dial-a-Ride are maintained because, with DLA recipients being reassessed, it's possible that some disabled people will lose the money they previously used to spend on things like taxis to get them to the shop or out to see family and friends and will have to rely on old-fashioned scheduled group transport schemes like this.
Ed Miliband
I for one am hoping that my neighbours turn out to be good at this Big Society stuff.

Labour leader Ed Miliband (the one who took over from Gordon Brown last September? Remember him?) has also expressed support for changes to Disability Living Allowance, but various Labour spokespeople are dismayed that the cuts are undermining the Big Society plans before they even start. In basic terms, if councils cut the budgets of organisations that mobilise volunteers, the focus for volunteering disappears, and the services could disappear.

Perhaps tellingly, it was revealed this week that the level of charitable giving in Britain hasn't changed much since the 1980s, so maybe the prime minister is right to prick everyone's social conscience and remind us of old fashioned values. Why does everything need big budgets behind it? How did everything become so strangled up with money? And why can't people just be nice, for free?

My gran would say something about mourning the loss of the milk of human kindness. But getting the people of this country to be generous with their time and resources might be an uphill struggle.
A cobbled street
My entire existence as a disabled person living independently 'in the wild' among people who are fully able of body and mind has given me exclusive insight into the generosity of spirit displayed by the average citizen in this country. Mr Cameron, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but sometimes your people aren't very good at helping the needy.

I'd like to draw your attention to the following incidents:

  • I found myself on a packed station platform, waiting for a delayed train. I hung out beside the solitary bench, packed as it was with able-bodied posteriors. Weary as I was after a long day at work, I asked politely if one of them was able to offer me a seat. They all looked the other way and pretended they'd neither seen nor heard me.

  • Two years ago, I tripped over on some cobbles in a very busy central London shopping area, during the pre-Christmas rush. Usually I bounce, but on this occasion, I couldn't get up. Scary, huh? I tried to attract attention. My fellow humanity almost universally looked down its nose at me, and people started stepping over me as if I were a draft excluder.

  • Walking back from my local supermarket with a small supply of groceries, the sub-standard plastic bag I'd been given split and all my groceries rolled out of the bottom, the apples rolled down the hill, the milk carton burst, and the eggs smashed. Desperately, I chased after the food I thought I could salvage, and was left with an armful of assorted vegetables and a walking stick flung on the ground. I could go nowhere. All I needed was a friendly citizen to grab my stick and find me a functional bag. My neighbours walked by, looking me up and down as if I were an art exhibit. I suspect one of them of stealing my chocolate.
It's not that I'm bitter, but there are many more incidents like this stored in my memory banks. I'm just thankful I'm only reliant on unpaid strangers once in a while, and not for getting from A to B, cooking my meals, or helping me get up in the morning.

And now to my final sentence: The very crucial point here is that you can't rely on them in the same way you can if you are paying them.

Facebook / Twitter

Come and complain about the rest of the world on my Facebook and Twitter social networking sites. Will you be joining the Big Society? Is it like joining the Scouts?


    • 1. At 1:01pm on 17 Feb 2011, James Medhurst wrote:

      This is quite complicated. Arguably, things like independent living centres and other user-led organisations are in the spirit of the Big Society but, of course, what they need to operate is money from the government. What I would like to see is less centralised bureaucracy and fewer quangos but this will only work if the cash saved is invested in community-run services.

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    • 2. At 2:13pm on 17 Feb 2011, Dark_Divinity wrote:

      the sub-standard plastic bag I'd been given
      Not to be a bitch because that's your job, but maybe using better quality carrier bags from other stores maybe a solution. You could even double bag some of your shopping. Just a suggestion. :)

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    • 3. At 5:15pm on 17 Feb 2011, Ranald wrote:


      Are you familiar with the expression "Close the stable door after the horse has bolted?"

      I am sure in hindsight the Bitch would have chosen to be in possesion of a decent quality plastic bag...

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    • 4. At 5:48pm on 17 Feb 2011, Mummy Penguin wrote:

      As someone relatively new to the Ouch world I have to say that the Bitch has summed up the attitudes of many quite well. My bigger fear is all those well intentioned souls who 'help' without asking. For example yanking a door open when I am using it to support me as I attempt to walk through or grabbing my arm to support me and pulling me off balance.

      As for the milk of human kindness on a bad day it can seem like a sour smell of patronage.

      Like everything in life, no two people are going to see Big Society the same way - other than its initials - which could be misinterpreted by some.

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    • 5. At 12:37pm on 18 Feb 2011, crustycrip wrote:

      Ceiling cat saves fallen women....

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    • 6. At 5:51pm on 18 Feb 2011, BaggieRobert wrote:

      There's so much wrong with Cameron's "Big Society" I could write a book on it. I was once told that volunteering was about giving the volunteer a "good experience" - thus they, rather than the activity, should be the priority. I remain unconvinced with the idea of volunteer personal assistants as a result.

      The BS idea also makes big play of charities and volunteering - within the ethos fostered by the Charity Commission 'charity' is about "helping the less fortunate", "needy" and "vulnerable" - all of which are a million miles from disabled people's demand for choices and rights. Who would have control over our lives in the brave new big society? Disabled people demanded "Rights Not Charity" because they wanted free of the shackles of dependency but Cameron wants to turn back the clock.

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    • 7. At 6:05pm on 18 Feb 2011, spikeysoul wrote:

      If I pay my P.A. they turn up when I say, so i get up when I want to, eat when and what I want to, go where when I want to and generally have some control over my life. The P.A. is dependant on me for their wages. If I have a volunteer, I can ask, but I'm dependant on them, if they work - I'll only be abel to get up when they can get here - if they can't be bothered to chop veg I might have to make do with a cup o soup instead of a real meal. If they don't want to clean my toilet, then they won't - charity handouts make life chaotic and unpredictable - removing any sense of control over the situation. Whenever people start talk about volunteering to care for the 'needy' I get a bit worried - I'm a human being with things to do not a pet project to make you feel good about yourself - infact so far I feel quite good about myself having employed two disabled people, one a young person in their first job (in this climate they were getting nowhere jobhunting) and another a single parent, we work round each other - as long as they can do what I need done we're fine. Not many employers choose that!

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    • 8. At 7:08pm on 18 Feb 2011, grim wrote:

      The reason people won't 'help the needy' is because there are far more 'needy' people now than there were twenty years ago! People who walk down your/my street, in your/my supermarkets etc are as poor as you/I am! They don't have the time, money or attitude to help because they are too busy keeping themselves afloat! Obviously you won't see any rich people about because none of them walk anywhere, and god forbid wouldn't be seen in a 'High Street'! Except David Beckham who is a god and should be given the job of ATOS checker. As for volunteering, if I had time to volunteer I would get another job because I cant afford a bloody thing! In future DB, when you fall, stick out a leg and bring them all down with you, at least you'll have someone to talk to while you wait for the 'one in a million' samaritan.

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    • 9. At 7:10pm on 18 Feb 2011, grim wrote:

      p.s. Love the way the BBC have distanced themselves from anything negative about the disgusting way the Government is dealing with disabilities.

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    • 10. At 08:31am on 20 Feb 2011, Mummy Penguin wrote:

      Just one further point based on personal experience - paying someone doesn't ensure that they arrive on time and do as you ask. What it does do is give you the right to say the level of service is not acceptable. Something you may find harder to say to a volunteer.

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