Thankfully, most of this wasn’t needed. People were more confused than suicidal, which is one of the few bright lights in the fallout. I’ll leave it here for now, because who knows what will happen in the next few months.
Thankfully, most of this wasn’t needed. People were more confused than suicidal, which is one of the few bright lights in the fallout. I’ll leave it here for now, because who knows what will happen in the next few months.
Many people have asked me for an easy to reference list of the evidence for the democide of disabled people in the UK. I am going to update it over time, because it is too much for my mental health to do it all in one go, but here are the key studies and judgements, and where possible, the original research. If I have linked a news article, it’s because it has important clarifying information and quotes.
“After ruling out data errors, cold weather and flu as main causes for the spike, the researchers found that NHS performance data revealed clear evidence of health system failures. Almost all targets were missed including ambulance call-out times and A&E waiting times, despite unexceptional A&E attendances compared to the same month in previous years. Staff absence rates rose and more posts remained empty as staff had not been appointed.
The researchers say that there are already worrying signs of an increase in mortality in 2016. Without urgent intervention, they say, there must be concern that this trend will continue.
Liverpool and Oxford University research on increased suicide and mental ill health. Although direct causal link couldn’t be established because of the nature of the data, experts agree that the conclusions are robust.
“In findings that could be hugely damaging for the Government’s welfare reform agenda, experts from the universities of Liverpool and Oxford said that up to 590 additional suicides, 279,000 cases of mental ill health and 725,000 more prescriptions for antidepressants between 2010 and 2013 were associated with the introduction of the more stringent Work Capability Assessment (WCA).”
Calum’s List – a list of confirmed suicides or deaths caused by exacerbation of condition due to stress, with links to reports from press and coroners. This small set were gathered by family contacting the site owners to ask for their loved ones to be included.
Cradle2Grave – list of some of the dead
Napier and Heriot-Watt Universities research finding ‘almost universal’ mental health damage from the assessment process for ESA, often permanent, sometimes catastrophic: Mental Health and Unemployment in Scotland
Universities of Bristol, Manchester and Oxford: Understanding vulnerability to self-harm in times of economic hardship and austerity: a qualitative study
Oxfordshire Mind has been awarded a six-figure sum from the Big Lottery fund to enable the service to expand to specifically cope with the fallout from the government’s welfare reform programme. The BBMH hotline has received 20% more calls over the past 18 months from people anxious about benefit changes.
BBC Article on the Judgement: UN: ‘Grave’ disability rights violations under UK reforms
Statements submitted to MPs have provided further evidence of widespread dishonesty among healthcare professionals who carry out disability benefit assessments, but their inquiry has had to be abandoned because of the prime minister’s decision to call a general election.
Appalled disabled activists have warned the British Medical Association (BMA) that it will be “complicit” in the future deaths of patients, after the doctors’ union refused to speak out about “very dangerous” new benefit rules affecting severely-ill claimants.
Unfortunately, by now, I think that Claire Heuchan has probably had every dire belief about Scottish nationalists confirmed by the extremist wing of Twitter, who cannot find it in themselves to respond thoughtfully to any perceived slight, real or conspiracy theory. I fear that even the more measured among us will respond with hurt and anger to her piece, rather than looking at it for what it is.
For full disclosure, I think there are certain key aspects that she has wrong. I’ll get to them, but first I want to say this:
Scotland exists in a bizarre overlap; we are both colonised and coloniser. Our culture, history and languages were crushed and erased until there was only the barest few stereotypes surviving, and they were defanged and stripped of political meaning. It is only in the last couple of decades that the long centuries of people trying to keep the shreds of our identity together have been vindicated in any way, by a restoration of our history and the recognition of our languages. But all this effort is met with resistance and the cry that to teach Scottish history in Scotland instead of exclusively English history is ‘the politics of grievance’, as if there is no political element to learning the history of feudalism and kings and 1066 et al, but spending a day or so on the Clearances or the clan system or the Convenanters is ‘Salmond’s attempts at brainwashing children to hate England’ (a quote from a person I met while campaigning for the Referendum).
Civic nationalism is a double-edged sword. It means you get to be proud of what the country achieves because you have played a part in it, but it also means taking responsibility for the things which need to change, because you play a part in how things are right now.
Eight years ago, I watched the live stream of Obama’s inauguration while chatting online to my friends across the world. Through the whole ceremony, I was holding my breath, waiting for what I believed to be the not unlikely gunshot. When the festivities ended, and it became clear that Obama had been allowed to take office, it finally became real for me.
During the ceremony, in between making jokes and sharing the emotional weight of an event as seminal as the swearing in of the first Black president of the US, I wrote a long letter. In my flair for melodrama, I tend to write letters to the future, creating space to imagine what the world will be like when they’re read, who I hope to be. This one, unusually, was to the children I hoped to have.
I found the letter a few years ago, and it made me sad. It was so full of hope. So sure that this was a turning point in the world – that if America, a country founded on racist ideology and with racism encoded into every structure of every institution, could elect a Black president, then maybe we had reached the point where the tide raises all boats.
I wrote to my potential children about how I hoped they lived in a world where the idea of a Black president was not unusual, not unlikely. I hoped they lived in a culture where the idea that we were surprised was bizarre. I hoped they understood the weight of this moment that I was experiencing, as I watched the faces of people who had lived under the Jim Crow laws and marched, been beaten bloody and broken, for the right to just be part of the society they lived in. The people who had been born without the right to vote, now watching a Black man take the stage and swear to give his life over to the country that finally seemed like it might be worthy of him.
I wrote that they should understand that it wasn’t just that he was Black. We were also watching the end of the nightmare that was the Presidency of George W Bush, an administration which had plunged the world into perpetual war for profit and destroyed the image of the US in the wider world. The world had changed in so many ways since he took office in the opening days of the new millennium, and it seemed darker, scarier, more unstable. We knew that Obama could not live up to the weight of hype that had raised him to the highest office, but we hoped that he would restore the balance, heal the divisions. We hoped he would be a beacon.
In his inaugural address, while I held my breath, I cried as he spoke about closing Guantanamo, protecting whistleblowers, restoring justice to the country, creating inclusion where it didn’t exist. Of course they were pretty words – he was always a skilled orator – but he seemed like he was committed to them.
Of course, we all know how his presidency turned out. He did restore the image of the US – maybe not to its original place, but at least to a position where they were not seen as an actively hostile threat to world peace. At least for a few years. As the consequences of the wars became clear, the people who had warned about the cost of entering wars without clear goals and without clear plans for reconstruction and responsibility were vindicated in the most terrible ways. The rise of the death cults was entirely predictable. Sadly, the response from Obama was to increase exponentially the extrajudicial assassinations of whole families in other countries. He expanded the surveillance network which was exposed by Edward Snowden, he created an army of drones which spread terror and death across the world. I cannot pretend to know the weight of the decisions he had to take. I know I could never make them. I know I would be crushed by the responsibility, and I am not privy to the intelligence he was shown or the advice he was given. It’s easy for me to judge him for his choices in these matters, not having the full picture. However, it’s also right to judge him for them, because they are his responsibility, for good or ill.
Through it all, though, it was clear that he did not take these decisions lightly. However much I might have disagreed with him, I never doubted that his choices were made based on evidence, reason and serious examination. The world has changed, and the actions of the President have changed with it.
Tonight, the last night he will be President, I am haunted by a song I heard before the election. It has been haunting me since the results came in, but particularly in the last few weeks. Sara Bareilles was asked to write a song about how the outgoing President sees his replacement, with Leslie Odom Jr singing it.
You ask am I angry?
And I’m at a loss for words
After all we’ve done
Every battle hard won
Every hair gone gray
In the name of this place
In a history plagued
With incredible mistakes
Still I pledge my allegiance to these
United divided States
I’m at a loss for words. I genuinely can’t imagine how Obama must feel tonight, about the hand the office and the weight of responsibility to a man supremely unfit and unprepared. To a man who cannot be trusted not to hand the keys to their mortal enemy. To a man who celebrates his vacuity, bigotry and malice. I cannot imagine how it must feel to have given his life and his health to the country he loves, only to watch that country betray everything his own ascendancy was supposed to represent. I think about ‘Hamilton’, and George Washington’s desperate desire to ensure that the country he had sacrificed so much for was capable of continuing without him. I’m at a loss for words.
I want to talk about tomorrow, about the marches being held across America, and across the world in solidarity. Every major city in Scotland is having a protest to stand with the women in Washington, with all the marginalised people at risk from this nightmare.
I look back at the letter I wrote, about my hope that the world would never again know a president like George W Bush, would never succumb to ignorance and fear again. I could not have imagined that the inauguration I watched was certainly a turning point, just one where people were so furious that a Black man could be in charge that they would choose annihilation over progress. I could not have imagined that I would never feel nostalgia for W, that I would ever consider the mass murderer at least a person who wanted to be seen as a good man.
I have no idea what the next few years will bring for any of us. I don’t know if I’ll write anything tomorrow, partly because to imagine the future is an exercise in nihilism right now. My newsfeed tonight juxtaposed these two stories. The first, by Connie Schultz, about how the fact that Obama’s interview about his love of books included mention of a gift he gave to his daughter – a Kindle loaded with the books which shaped him and which he thought would help her be the best, strongest version of herself – revealed just how wide the gulf between the outgoing and incoming presidents truly is.
The second was a piece about how Trump spoke in an interview about how troubled teens are great in bed, talking about fucking the 18 year old Lindsay Lohan. He was 58 at the time.
I don’t know how to counter people who aren’t working from a baseline of reason and a concept of the common good. I don’t know how to reach people who don’t care about who they hurt as long as it’s funny or they get what they want. I don’t know how to convince people who refuse to engage with not just facts, but what facts actually are.
I don’t know how the next few years will go. I don’t know how the next week will go. I stand with everyone who is afraid and I will fight the good fight with my last breath. I wish I had wisdom to offer or comfort to give, but all I have is the knowledge that I know fierce, passionate, angry, wonderful people who will listen and learn and resist. That might be enough.
I miss the traditions of my childhood on nights like this. Hogmanay has always made me melancholy, but this is the kind of year when spinning until I’m dizzy and laughing, shoeless, care about hair and makeup long forgotten, at a ceilidh with the people I love would be healing. When we would see the bells in, then the adults would stumble from house to house carrying gifts of whisky, food and coal, children sleepy-eyed and trying hard to stay awake to greet the First Footers.
Then we’d all gather after a long sleep to eat party food – vol-au-vents, bhajis, samosas, cheese, grapes, salad – at our house, laughing and drinking again and nursing sore feet and hangovers, showing off the bruises on our arms from Strip the Willow.
These are the traditions that bind communities together, which start the year off with joy, laughter, giving, and a lot of love. I don’t think that it’s the loss of these traditions which has doomed us, but this is one of those years where it would be comforting.
I’m lucky – I’m with people I love in a warm, safe home, surrounded by cats and waiting for lasagne and wine. It’s the ideal Hogmanay for my grown up self – no crowds, no rain, no drunken strangers, just warmth and games and love. The melancholy is strong, though, although I think it’ll fade when the games start.
This has been a bruiser of a year. We are all still in a state of shock, I think. We’re still waiting for whatever fix is going to come to save us from our actions, even if we intellectually know that no saviour is coming. We did this to ourselves. Unfortunately, we also did it to everyone else – people who never had any say in our decisions will pay for them with their lives and futures.
Our grief for the long litany of the dead, while painful, is in many ways a sublimation of our horror at the huge machinations of states and powers. We can’t grieve for the future of the human race because doing so would mean accepting that there is no hope, so we grieve for the people we see as representative of the future we thought we’d have.
I’m hoping against hope that I’ll see this as laughably hyperbolic next year. I hope so. It’ll be much easier than today was, reading the following Facebook memory:
Things I’d like to see a little more of in 2016 than we did this year:
1 – Excitement about science, including the boring stuff, and some more discussion about what makes science robust and how retractions and negative results are just as important as shiny new discoveries. I’d like to see the bridge between the scientific and the lay communities started, because right now it’s only made up of journalists looking for the most sensational way to interpret something.
I’d love a scientist to normal person dictionary, which would mostly be made up of ‘scientist: this is quite robust evidence, and while certainty doesn’t exist, we believe we have reached a consensus on the import of this data’, in lay person, means ‘holy fucking shit you guys we have to do something right now or we’re all going to die’.
2 – An appreciation of nuance in debates. There are some things which are black and white, but many ,more which only appear so. I’d very much like to see an understanding that there is a real difference between people who are malicious or wilfully ignorant, and people who are just programmed by the culture which we rage against for programming people.
I’d love to see more empathy for how hard it is to step outside that world view and understand that you have done harm to people – our brains are set up specifically to avoid seeing ourselves as the bad guy, and it requires compassion and patience to overcome that. It’s also really hard to do that while under siege from the entire internet, which just puts you into survival mode instead of learning mode.
I’ve been as guilty of it as everyone else – we can’t say that these things aren’t important when they’re symbols of a culture which is doing real, visceral harm, but we can modify our responses depending on the person we’re angry with. Rather than destroying the lives of ordinary people who make missteps, even egregious ones, because they don’t know any better, maybe we could try to remember all the ways in which we are still ignorant and doing harm, and how much we could all be fighting for each other instead of with each other.
And as part of that, I’d like to see people trying to bring nuance into these discussion instead of saying ‘burn the witch’ not villified as being on the side of the oppressor. For people who say we’re not a hive mind, we certainly like to act like we are. It’s the most human thing in the world to want to feel superior, smarter, better, more moral. It’s harder to try to figure out if a person is bad or just uneducated, if they could be a better person with compassion instead of shame. It’s hard, too, to understand that two people can both be good people even when we disagree on important stuff. It’s getting harder. I’d like to not see that disappear entirely.
3 – I’d like to see the long, hard fights acknowledged like the short, popular ones are. There are so many people working away behind the scenes, in so many roles. These are long, thankless, painful, often hopeless struggles for justice and liberation, because most of the really intractable problems can’t be solved by a petition or a hashtag. There’s room for both types of activism, but I’d love to see the people doing the complex, long-term work as reported on as the meme-of-the-day.
4 – I hope we can step back from the abyss. We seem to have found ourselves at a precipice, and I hope that we can include compassion and empathy in our outrage, or we’ll leave ourselves with nowhere to meet the other side in discussion and understanding.
I hope I remember this in my own interactions. I hope I am a better person this time next year than I am right now. I hope I’m happier, and that the world looks brighter. I hope. Still.
If I can look back at this piece with laughter, I’ll be thrilled. But this is the first year my fear for the future has not been purely my mental illness speaking. It’s hard to control my OCD catastrophism when the world is confirming all my fears. It is hard to look with any hope at the future coming for us all.
So, as the good existentialist I am, I am going to keep going with one of my principles – if nothing matters, everything matters. There is no inherent meaning to the universe, no great plan, no reason for all that is happening to us. So, in the absence of grander plans, every small act of kindness matters. Helping people matters. Being compassionate to people matters. It’s all there is in this dark world. What we do for each other creates the meaning we’re looking for.
Or, from Angel:
Angel: Well, I guess I kinda worked it out. If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters… , then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today. I fought for so long, for redemption, for a reward, and finally just to beat the other guy, but I never got it.
Kate Lockley: And now you do?
Angel: Not all of it. All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because, I don’t think people should suffer as they do. Because, if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.
Kate Lockley: Yikes. It sounds like you’ve had an epiphany.
Angel: I keep saying that, but nobody’s listening.
So I’m reminiscing about some of my favourite memories from a dark year, and here’s to the small moments of grace, love and kindness we’ll find time for in the year to come. I hope we see another Hogmanay, I hope we fight as hard as we can for the better world we can create, I hope we don’t forget our responsibilities to each other. I hope we remember that we are the only ones who can save ourselves, so we should get to work.
I hope your Hogmanay is joyful and filled with love. I hope your 2017 brings better days. I hope that you find ways to bring better days to others, if you can.
A guid New Year tae ane an a’.
I love Christmas. Unashamedly, while all the cool people declare how much they hate it and that they’re done with it all, I love it. The decorations, the lights, the process of finding things I think the people I love will rejoice in, the food, the warmth. But most of all, I love seeing the people I call my family, both biological and chosen. I love getting together, eating and laughing and just sitting with them.
For my whole life, in the various forms of therapy I’ve had, when I’ve been told to conjure up a good place, a place where I feel safe, it has been the Christmas Eves of my childhood. The memories have a sense of peace and contentment that makes something in me let go. The people I love, all in the home I adore, pottering about as people converge from all over. I am aware of how lucky I am that these memories are filled with love.
This post isn’t about my life, though. It isn’t a well-written bit of exhortation to love the people you call family while you can, for time grows short. Other people have done that much better than me (and I’ll link below). Instead, it’s a kind of party I’m hosting, that I want to share with you. I’m an atheist (technically an atheist pagan), and, while I love the carols, I also collect other songs which reach me. So these are the articles and songs which help make Christmas for me. Many of the songs are sad (because Christmas can be hard as well as beautiful), but they’re meaningful nonetheless. These are the elements which, for me, show that Christmas is neither Christian-only holy day, nor is it just the commercialised festival of capitalism it can be. It’s spending time with the people you love, eating good food, laughing and lighting away the long dark.
So here goes.
(note – the songs have all been collected on a Youtube playlist, too)
I won’t include notes for all of them, just where I want to (it’s my party!)
First, the articles. This piece by David Wong of Cracked is the single greatest article about Christmas I’ve ever read. I sobbed when I read it the first time. And the second time. And it still makes me teary and weepy. I won’t quote from it because you should just read it. It is beautiful, and religion has nothing to do with it. The world is dark, and time is short. Rejoice that we get to be here at all.
And here’s the funniest Christmas article I’ve ever read, also from Cracked, by Adam Tod Brown. Again, not going to quote it, but it involved the real implications of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
And the greatest scene from Terry Pratchett’s ‘Hogfather’, which is full of amazing scenes, including the fixing of the Little Matchgirl’s story (see my other piece from today):
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”
MY POINT EXACTLY.”
The greatest of all non-religious Christmas songs for me: White Wine In The Sun by Tim Minchin. The first time I heard it I sobbed for a full ten minutes (which was embarrassing, because it was at the end of a gig and I was in a room full of people). But these lines, for me, evoke exactly the feeling I wrote about up top:
“And you, my baby girl
My jetlagged infant daughter
You’ll be handed round the room
Like a puppy at a primary school
And you won’t understand
But you will learn someday
That wherever you are and whatever you face
These are the people who’ll make you feel safe in this world
My sweet blue-eyed girl.”
Here’s the Youtube playlist including all these.
Here is my Spotify Christmas Chill playlist, which is beautiful and includes a lot of songs not listed so far (particularly check out the Christmas Song by Stars, it’s stunning). It’s not always the happiest of playlists, but these are my favourites.
Here’s my general Christmas playlist, with quite the range of songs.
Been thinking a lot about The Little Matchgirl last night and this morning. It’s a story I adored when I was little, because the saddest stories were my favourites (the original Little Mermaid was another). It’s one of those strange ones that, when you read it later in life, is genuinely disturbing in its message: that poverty is inevitable. That a tiny, starving, abandoned girl freezing to death as shoppers walked past with presents and food for Christmas was a happy ending.
We’ve talked a lot over the last couple of years about the return to Victorian values, and how frightening it is. Mostly it’s hyperbole to highlight dangerous trends, but this Christmas more than 120,000 children will be in unstable or temporary accommodation in the UK. This Christmas there will be children too afraid of abusive parents to return home, who will not have access to the kinds of safeguards we put in place to stop them starving and freezing to death on the streets. This Christmas, young people sleeping on the streets will have difficulty finding shelter as councils across the country have been slashing beds and financial support for shelters for six years now. But the Little Matchgirl, she didn’t sell enough matches to save herself, so she was lazy or genetically inferior (-Boris). Providing help, warmth, food, safety – that would just incentivise children to run away! It would all have made children *want* to sleep on the streets.
She freed herself from the ‘welfare trap’ by being a story from a time when welfare didn’t exist, and she just died instead. Because that’s what happens. People don’t magically get better or stop being poor because you remove support systems, they just die. They starve, or freeze, or overdose on whatever they took to make the despair disappear for a while. It’s happening now, and we’re the people scurrying past, ignoring the desperate child with only hours to live, watching the shooting star heralding her death and wondering who it’s for.
Pratchett, in his infinite wisdom, rewrote the ending in The Hogfather. Rather than allow a child to die just so everyone else could feel good about not being that poor, an explanation which is monstrously horrific once it’s laid bare, he gave her the best present he could – a future.
Children are freezing and starving right now because we have chosen to let them. It fits our narrative of borders and danger and invasion. We could give them a future, but we choose not to. The danger of understanding the horror at the core of The Little Matchgirl – that the angels arrive to take her away after she dies, instead of taking her somewhere warm and safe before – means that we have to take responsibility.
“Terry Pratchett hasn’t been an escapist writer for quite some time. He’ll amuse you, sure; but he won’t tell you that things are great just the way they are, or that they’re hopeless and there’s nothing you can do. He’ll tell you that you — yes, you — should make them better.
And then he’ll do something even more radical. He’ll make you think you can.” (always credited to an article that no longer exists)