Thursday, 31 March 2011

Moral Kombat

This is a post I made on Comment is Free in response to a CiF Belief article asking:

What are the ethics of welfare reform?
Comment is Free published two responses, one by Amelia Shellan and the other by Nick Spencer. Considering the importance of this subject right now, even though the question is general rather than specific to current welfare reforms going through Parliament, I thought I should make a response in the comment section. I re-post it here because I'm a view-seeking whore. 

It should first be said there is no 'holy grail' of welfare reform, there can be no welfare system on which an overwhelming majority of people can agree is fine. This is because there are two competing worldviews about it and I am going to be blatantly unfair to one of them because I think this perspective deserves it, it has earned it. There are those that believe in social security and those that plain and simply do not. In much of the west, those who are in favour have long won the argument and it's impossible to disagree; so most opponents sugar-coat their ideals by saying they want a welfare system but with exceptions, nuances and often dishonest, inaccurate and unbalanced conditions. If what they wanted were to be implemented, it would be as good as there being no social security at all. Hence when the usual justifications for reforms or opposition to greater social security coverage are trotted out: expense, fraud etc, numbers should always be demanded. In the case of fraud, if they are unable to say what level of fraud is tolerable(not to be confused with 'acceptable') or they say 'zero', then they are either not taking the subject seriously or do not actually believe in any social security system.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Turning Around 38 Degrees and Going Home

Just over two weeks ago, 38 Degrees published the results of their poll on what they should campaign for next.

They can claim some considerable credit for preventing the privatisation of forests and for raising awareness on library closures. 38 Degrees has considerable influence to mobilise people in public opposition, an opposition currently missing in Parliament. They were for many, the single greatest hope for punching much of the disability-denying parts of the Welfare Reform Bill into the dust, which wouldn't be difficult once it was publicised because the justification for reform of disability benefits is so delicate it might as well be made of talcum powder.

The most popular proposed campaign just a short while earlier was that of stopping the cuts to Disability Living Allowance. Then, 38 Degrees decided to open up the poll to a much wider number of people. Now, the direction of the poll was not being decided by those most informed of a wide number of progressive issues, but vested interests and campaigners for other things. This meant that DLA stopped being the top issue, the one that needs addressing most urgently as the danger is so near and affecting those with the least means to be heard in the media and national discourse. Once it has been done, it can not be undone and the government are trying their damn hardest to get it out the door before non-disabled campaigners realise what's happening and come to our rescue.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A Well-Known Back Problem Called 'Psychosis'

Taxi drivers are great, as one-half of the demographic who should be running the country(alongside hairdressers) they are a mountain of insight, knowledge and ideas. How did the National Autistic Society manage to find me the one cabby in the whole of London who has no opinions? He stays so quiet it's like he's trying to protect a fabulous singing voice.

It was nice of them to pay for taxis to get us back to our respective train stations after they hosted the lobby session at Portcullis House last Wednesday, if you even remember me making a hoo-hah about it and writing of my encounter with Maria Miller the minister for disabled people. She's responsible for the pitiless attack on the disabled reforming Disability Living Allowance.

This cab driver was tranquil and at inner peace no matter how intensely I looked at his ear. He could have asked us what we'd been up to, how our day had been, what about these politicians innit? Nothing. His cab was a library with the bookshelves stuffed with carpet and curtains. Then my support worker(who was there to prevent me first from doing anything stupid and second to prevent anyone doing anything stupid with me) made life return to normal with "that woman looked...strange." She was talking about Maria Miller. "Maria Miller? Aye she did" said one of the people we were sharing the cab with. "She seems so youthful, but I can't tell why. It's her face, it's just very...."

Thursday, 17 March 2011

These Aren't The Voids You're Looking For

About seven hours ago I was in Portcullis House. The scanners having failed to scan, the camera unable to take a clear picture(my image on film or a screen will always appear as a black silhouette), I walked unhindered after using the Yorkshirian mind-trick through the building. If all you hear when a Yorkshireman speaks is an incoherent blurb that conveys some sense of injustice and distrust of foreigners(anyone not from Yorkshire) then it has worked on you and you have no recollection of what they've made you do or think. In all I got to meet with three MPs at the National Autistic Society's lobby session including my own. I had odds running in my head about who would actually turn up and Maria Miller the minister for disabled people was there; right at the end for 15 minutes. I knew everyone would want a turn with her, she knew everyone would want a turn with her and having had the chance to observe her personally I quickly cottoned onto something.

Maria Miller does the gish gallop, a verbal dance where you are made to listen to her and it's no longer a dialogue but a monologue. You're just a recipient of her message and she's just really trying to help you. Miller is in her comfort zone when she faces as few questions as possible and she makes it difficult for anyone to do so or elaborate or get clarification. She changes the topic, she decides the pace of the conversation and the premises on which a debate is based. She is very Cameron-like and quite a few people saw the resemblance.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Enemas of Enterprise

An old friend used to say money talks. Since he got counselling and some medication he no longer has those hallucinations. Money is though the method by which most people deal with most people. Those who do not wish to be materialistic wish they could stop caring about money, but they can't. There are orphaned kittens and they need money. Scientific research needs money. Even the Royal Mint needs money and they're minted. If you care about anything, you are forced by the direction of history and the fate of our civilisation to care about money; what it is doing, what it is being used for and why the American dollar note seems deliberately designed to send conspiracy theorists crazy.

Money, is a political issue. Money is the reason why we are 'all in this together' whether like it or not. Channel 4 are the first mainstream media outlet to finally arrive on the scene of the out-sourcing industry and are there to repeat the same things bloggers have been trying to raise awareness of for some time now. Last night's Dispatches reported on the rise of the largest private out-sourcing companies, who take-over public services and turn them into profit-making enterprises, still funded from the public purse. They cream off much of the savings as profit and when asked to lower their prices, simply cut their costs more and pass them on to others whether they be schoolchildren, prisoners or the jobless.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Case #5: How To Be Autistic

Stop standing up straight, start slouching and don't wash. It's not like anyone ever compliments you for doing the opposite; it's like they expect you to look smart, alert and neat for no reason at all. If you're reading this at the same hour I tend to write these dispatches, you're probably already there. That's the hard bit over, seriously. But be warned that to be Autistic is to be a one-legged man winning every ass-kicking contest and depending on whether you're Autistic or Neurotypical determines your interpretation of that metaphor.

If you're not Autistic you think this means a person of disadvantage able to do what they shouldn't be able to better than those conventionally thought to be better-equipped for it. If you are Autistic you will immediately have cottoned onto there being no ass-kicking contests that you have heard of and if there are any, no one goes to watch them. No matter how awesome you are, you have to be awesome by yourself.

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Empire Strikes Rich

Most businesses have narrow profit margins. A single McDonald's franchise outlet can have an annual turnover of up to five million pounds if they're in the right place, but this doesn't mean they're profitable; their running costs can almost overlap their income. They have high staff turnover, uniforms, utility bills, maintenance, franchise payments to the McDonald's company, Happy Meals are rumoured to be loss-leaders(get 'em young), a truly scary fast-deploying fire extinguishing system which almost literally causes involuntary evacuation of both the building and bowels. I worked in a McDonald's; it's like playing the Sims only you get caked in grease and cooked alive for miss-clicking.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A Time And a Place To Break Cover

My sister took me to the Magna Science Museum in Rotherham last week. The site of a former steelworks closed in 1993 and converted into a family tour on what went into the record-breaking steel production and manufacturing innovations of the 20th century. Had I been born in another time, there would have been a place for me in South Yorkshire's factories but it was not meant to be. But before I'd even gone in I received a phone call.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Indiana Balrin and The Temple of Dumb

A note to those who don't know me from before the blog; I post as username Arec Balrin on the Guardian website. This is the second supplement from my article for Comment is Free.

The Phantom Menace in Starbucks Bin

When I wrote a piece for Comment is Free last month, there was more I wanted to write which wouldn't have all fitted in the main article, not by a long-shot. As all threads do, the thread in the comments below the line slowly died and fewer people read the supplements I wrote. I've decided to reproduce them here for recognition's sake as I can hardly stick them on a CV. Here is the first, the second will be posted tomorrow evening.