Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Inner City Came Knocking

The inner city came knocking on Tuesday.

I visited St Joseph's Hospice, Hackney, where smokers are encouraged not to smoke outside the door when ambulances are bringing people in, but to smoke at a bench in the garden. There's a fountain. There are flowers growing. There's a guy in a wheelchair with a tube up his nose having a fag. It's lovely.

The occasion was the launch of a social report “Try Being in My Shoes”, by Social Action for Health, a project that sees patients in GP surgeries who have benefits and social problems.

They save GP time, help benefit patients with sturdy paperwork, try and help patients with their anxieties. If the problems become too complex, they refer the cases to local law centres and other legal aid lawyers. Cases are titrated very cheaply, thousands and thousands of benefits income is saved for sick people,the NHS saves money. It's all win win.

The room is packed. Almost 100 delegates turn up. Healthcare professionals, voluntary organisations, people from the Council, youth-workers, we're all worried and angry.

The report dwells on a transformation of the welfare benefit landscape,cuts in the East End of London and sixteen case studies of ordinary people who the project helped.

Mostly the stories are of disabled men and women who face losing their benefits because of the robotic Work Capability Assessment to decide whether they are fit for work. Their experience of the new dispensation was mostly terrifying and bewildering.

One benefit claimant in the case study was diabetic. She was injecting insulin for her type 2 (late onset) diabetes. Her interview with ATOS broke down when the physiotherapist who was being paid for the 20 minute test disbelieved that she was injecting insulin. In his mind a type 2 case couldn't be using insulin like a type 1 case. Well, my partner has exactly the same condition, I could have told them.

Another patient will have to go on public transport for the test, as the DWP no longer sends doctors to visit the seriously ill. Even if the person is recovering from a heart attack or is agoraphobic. So she says she won't be able to go. She just can't cope. If she doesn't go they'll fail her, but if she does they will discount her disability because she managed to reach the interview, and most-like fail her too.

Vicky Hobart, an expert in public health (“The science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health” Winslow 1920) leaves me in no doubt that people have been living longer in Hackney over the last 10 years, and makes me worried that with these cuts people will be dying sooner.

50,000 people will lose civil legal aid in London , more than 5.000 will be in Hackney. That's a 64% cut in Hackney. Nationally 6,000 children will lose legal aid, and 70,000 youths (18-25).

Hah! We got off easy! In Liverpool 10,000 people will lose legal aid!

“Riots are what happens when the inner city comes knocking, and we're afraid to listen.”

Dianne Abbot MP was quoting more or less Ian Duncan Smith, a Tory MP and former party leader with a zeal for welfare reform based on some serious minded study of inner city deprivation, the causes and effects.

The riots in Hackney are Banquo at the feast. The elephant in the living room. The totally bloody obvious.

Today also the inner city began to knock.

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