Why We SHOULD Ask “Why Haven’t You Killed Yourself Yet?”

Why We SHOULD Ask “Why Haven’t You Killed Yourself Yet?”

Recently, there has been a wave of fury over the fact that PIP (Personal Independence Payments – a welfare allowance sometimes made in addition to basic UK disability support payments) assessors, who are NOT doctors, have been asking claimants “Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?” Disability News Service report.

It’s interesting, for a start, that the mainstream media hasn’t covered this. Perhaps they’re aware, as the social justice and alternative news sources seem not to be, that some questions, however unpleasant and upsetting, do need to be asked, and have a right to be asked.

“Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?” is creative negativity in action.  It asks a negative question in order to find a creative answer, one that can be worked with. When you haven’t killed yourself yet, even though you’re struggling, even though you can’t imagine things ever getting better, there’s a reason for that. You’re not still alive simply because you hadn’t got round to ending it all. Something is keeping you here – and, once it’s been established what that is, you can take that and run with it, working it into a sense of purpose that will help you work towards achieving whatever you want from life.

If you don’t know why you’re here, it’s very difficult to succeed – I know. I’ve been in that place, feeling that there was no point to my existence. Trying to kill myself. Failing. Turning up for work the day after.

I haven’t tried to kill myself recently, not because things are wonderful and I have no problems, but because, right now, even though the depression is still with me, even though I’m struggling to make self-employment financially viable, even though I’m trying to support my wife, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, with no help from anyone, and on very little money, even though I can’t afford to fix either the toilet or the boiler, I can – just about – cope. And if I can cope, I have no right to walk away and leave others to pick up the pieces.

My reason, my purpose, is that I believe in being responsible. Which means that my purpose is to find a position in which I have responsibility, and fulfil that responsibility as best as I am able.

When I’ve attempted suicide previously, the reasons haven’t been to do with there being no end to my troubles. The reasons have usually been that I could see how to resolve a situation, but I couldn’t afford to take the necessary action.

Poverty can kill – and we mustn’t pretend that’s not the case.

Nor must we leave people without a vital tool of self-knowledge by being afraid to ask difficult questions.

I’ve always had too much anxiety to manage submitting a PIP claim, so I’ve never been asked this question by an assessor. My wife, who was refused PIP, wasn’t asked it either. I’m not sure how many people are asked it, but I’m willing to bet those who do get asked are those who seem to lack a sense of purpose and direction.

No, the PIP system isn’t great – I personally object to the fact that people who are in full time employment can claim PIP: we have a national minimum wage that applies to disabled workers, too. You do what everyone else has to, and make a fully informed decision about whether you can afford to take a particular job or not. If you decide you can, then you live within the means of your wages, the way everyone else has to. I feel similarly about Working Tax Credits – if these options for didn’t exist, wages would go up, or prices would fall. People used to manage to have modestly decent standards of living before the national minimum wage, before Working Tax Credits. On the whole, these “benefits” are a salve, a way to stop the lowest-paid kicking up too much of a fuss about the tax cuts for the wealthiest.

In the 1950s – which the rose-tinted-spectacles-and-bigotry brigade believe was the best period in our history – the top rate of income tax was 90% or more. The wealthiest paid nearly all their earnings in taxation, which then ensured the rest of the country could be adequately maintained and improved.

Now, top-rate taxation is under 50%, and people are relying on top-up payments and food banks. Unemployment, insecure employment, and unpaid employment has skyrocketed. Prices are going up all the time. Public transport is either non-existent or unaffordable.

Why haven’t I killed myself yet? Because part of the responsibility I have is to be a voice in the desert of refusal to fully engage, the shelter and the storm against the pointless rage of social justice warriors, and the bigots they mimic whilst claiming to oppose.

Creative negativity is a vital and necessary skill to have – and I will gladly accept the responsibility of ensuring as many people have it as possible.

So – what’s your purpose and focus? Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?

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A Little Armchair Government

A Little Armchair Government

Running the country is easy when you’re not the one doing it – it’s why so many politicians and political parties perform incredibly well in Opposition roles, but can’t seem to get a grip when they manage to get elected.

But, since that’s never stopped any politician – or mediocre businessman – to date, I may as well throw my t’uppence worth in.

The good thing about running a country, from my point of view, is that you always start with the negatives – something is wrong, and you have to fix it. (Even if it isn’t actually wrong, and doesn’t actually need fixing, you’re like a kid who just has to fiddle with things, so you tell everyone it’s broken, and you’re going to fix it, and you usually end up making it worse.

One of the things we’re consistently told is broken in the UK is out of work benefits – Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – the latter is paid to individuals who are disabled and/or living with long term health issues, the former is paid to people with no health related barriers to employment who are looking for work.

The UK government is endlessly wringing its hands over what to do with people who are “economically inactive” (they could start by being factually accurate in their descriptions, really – no one who is receiving welfare payments from the State is “economically inactive” – they can’t afford to be. Welfare recipients are not stashing money in off-shore accounts or tax-free ISAs: they’re spending it, on food, clothing, utility bills, public transport. The money they receive goes straight back into the economy, pretty much in its entirety. Welfare recipients are certainly not “economically inactive” – however much it might suit ministers and Jobcentre advisers to pretend otherwise.)

The UK government spent over £17million to develop its flagship “Universal Jobmatch” site, to soothe the chattering classes’ sneaking suspicion that those awful unemployed people weren’t doing anything in exchange for their benefits – they couldn’t be, because surely,  if they’d actually applied for a job, at all, they’d be working by now, rather than mooching off the poor, hard-pressed tax payer. The running costs for Universal Jobmatch are £6million per year. That means, in the first year of Universal Jobmatch, an extra £23million will have been added to the UK Jobseekers’ Allowance bill – and, since Universal Jobmatch has been beset by “teething problems” almost from its conception, that £23million is a redundant cost – it’s not enabling the unemployed to contribute more to the wider economy, since they won’t see a penny of it, and it’s almost certainly not helping them secure employment. It’s literally just another recruitment website in a sea of recruitment websites who are all advertising the same jobs, because the same recruitment agencies simply post all their vacancies to every major website – Universal Jobmatch is run by Monster (the recruitment website, not the energy drink), for pity’s sake!

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) like the idea of Universal Jobmatch, because it enables them to interfere – claimants are literally expected to hand over their log in details, so that advisers can “recommend” jobs – in many cases, people have felt pressured into taking jobs that weren’t suitable, because of childcare commitments, public transport logistics, or simply that the job was in a sector they had no relevant qualifications or experience for – none of which were options to elaborate on “why didn’t you apply for this job?” (And which really should be options, because it would help advisers identify potential barriers for their clients’ jobsearch, so they knew what they should be working on with each individual client.)

The thing is…the DWP have spent £17m + on a system that, err… is already available, and free to use.

Reed Recruitment already offer full, intuitive, role and location specific search capability. They already mark jobs that have been applied for as “APPLIED” -meaning an adviser, whilst not able to interfere directly in the process, would be able to see what jobs a claimant had applied for, and discuss reasons why other roles they felt were suitable had been passed over. Reed already offers suggestions of “recommended jobs.” Reed’s site allows the candidate’s CV and sample covering letter to be clearly visible. It allows candidates to upload a profile image.

The DWP didn’t need to spend £17million creating Universal Jobmatch. It doesn’t need to spend £6million a year maintaining it. IT ALREADY EXISTS – with someone else paying the maintenance costs. All the DWP had to do was require every JSA claimant to have an active account with Reed – which is a sensible measure anyway, as they’re a company with massive reach and reputation, running an accessible, easy to use site which produces highly relevant search returns, from almost every major recruitment agency. Advisers would be able to look at the layout of their clients’ CVs, the kind of things they were including in covering letters, and what they felt was an appropriate professional image, all on one site, in a single setting, and immediately give feedback on what was good and not so good about the profile. They would be able to see what jobs their client had applied for – at the start of each signing-on session, the claimant simply clicks through to their Reed profile – as the Jobcentre offices now have internet access as standard – and the adviser can see which jobs have been applied for at a glance. Once the client’s activity on Reed has been discussed, the adviser can move on to discussing other jobsearch activities – something which, from anecdotal evidence, doesn’t seem to happen so much, with advisers believing that all jobsearching activity should be going through Universal Jobmatch, and sanctioning people who applied for jobs advertised in the local paper, or who popped a CV in after seeing a poster in a shop window.

Advisers could watch clients perform a search on Reed, and suggest additional search terms, based on related sectors and job roles, and commutable locations that the claimant may not have been aware of. (For example, I live in Lowestoft, and it may not occur to me, if I were scrabbling by on £73 a week, that, for the right job at the right salary, taking into consideration rail fares, etc, I could get to Ipswich, Cambridge or Central London by train, as well as the more obvious bus route areas of Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Beccles, Gorleston and Southwold, and places such as Dereham, Swaffham, and King’s Lynn – further out, and requiring a change of bus in Norwich, but still just about feasible.) Likewise, I may not, faced with trying to keep everything ticking over on a limited amount of money, and ensuring I complied with every tiny whim and rule so I didn’t lose that limited amount of money, realise that, while my primary skills are written communication and administration, sectors such as marketing, PR, advertising, digital communications, B2B, events planning, etc, all used those skills – I may have just searched “Admin”, for example.

In many cases, the solution large companies, and governments, need, are already there – those companies and governments simply need to look for them.

At Your Own Expense

Two people I know have recently had presentations accepted for conferences – which is fantastic for them, as the exposure may well improve their chances of getting work they actually enjoy, engage with, and are empowered by, rather than a daily drag that “pays the bills” (almost.)

Problem is, said conferences are asking “registration fees” of well over £100.

Doesn’t sound like much to the middle-classes, and the academics attending on expense accounts – but, when you’re unemployed, or in a minimum wage job (the situations of these two individuals), it’s a small fortune – and an almost impossible ask. Especially with two weeks’ notice.

The positivists out there “remind” us of the expenses involved in putting on a conference, the fact that “conferences are typically attended by academics, who can claim the costs back on expenses”, and generally make us feel that we shouldn’t be so stingy, and shouldn’t drag everyone down by kicking up about the fees – they “remind” us that it’s “a fantastic opportunity.” They “remind” us of the “exposure” we’ll get – because every landlord and utility company accepts “exposure credits” as a valid form of payment. Your weekly grocery shop? That’ll be 20 exposure credits, please.  As if.

The positivists want to keep the world the way it always has been – with the middle-classes trotting along to things, nodding and smiling while others of their ilk pontificate about things that are other peoples’ lives – people who can’t afford to get to that conference, stand on that stage, and make their voice heard.  People who are “no-platformed” not because their views are objectionable, but simply because they are poor. People who will never have a weekly column in a paper read by thousands. People who will never have  the social capital of Twitter followers or Facebook fans in the upper limits of those sites. People whose posts will never make LinkedIn’s Pulse.

We should get angry. We should kick out, we should rant and demand that things change.

Because, if you’ve prepared a presentation that has been accepted, you have already contributed to the conference. You have already played your part. You shouldn’t be asked to contribute again in a fashion – financially – that is not a viable option for you.  Imagine a conference where no papers were presented, no one gave any talks; nothing happened, because no one who had produced any work was able to afford the conference fees.

It’d  be a pretty rubbish conference, wouldn’t it? Just a bunch of disinterested academics taking advantage of a couple of away days, and most likely bitching about the buffet.

For as long as we continue to charge impossible registration fees for conferences on the assumption that “everyone’ll be on expenses, anyway”, we continue to shut out people who have lived the scenario that is providing the theme of the conference. And, for as long as we continue to do that, we continue to be misinformed about things we claim to believe are important issues – after all, if they are not, why are we having a conference on them? And, for as long as we continue to be misinformed, nothing will change, because, as far as we are aware, in our cosy little ivory towers, nothing  needs to change. And, for as long as nothing changes, the very people we claim to want to help will continue to suffer – in silence.