Feeling normal.

If you asked me what I was doing on October 11th ten years ago, I wouldn’t have a scooby. Same would apply if you asked me about this time last week, probably. My life is largely unremarkable and unmemorable, which mostly is no bad thing.

I can, however, and for very specific reasons, remember October 11th 2000. Because I was sat in a psychiatrist’s office whilst he carefully explained to me my recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. For the past ten years, I had been experiencing mood swings that had progressively worsened to the point where I had attempted to take my own life twice in the past six months. Unsurprisingly, this had taken its toll on my marriage, which was to limp on until my partner took the wholly understandable decision to leave me and end the relationship in 2005. I was pretty much 100% to blame for that.

But even though I remember that date, and the diagnosis, I was really only beginning to understand the implications then. That was a process that took many more years. Years in which I learned that no matter how much I tried to deny the truth, this wasn’t going to go away. I had stable periods, I had desperate, chaotic, despairing periods that began to dominate. I spent three extended periods in psychiatric hospital, the last one in 2006.

Not that life got any easier from there. My mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I supported dad caring for her. I was also beginning to suffer serious problems with my physical health, which also impacted my mental health.

So to me, every day is a mental health day. Obviously, what’s happening presently has had a serious effect on people’s mental health, has put more focus on it as an issue, rightly so. Slowly, I have acquired knowledge and strategies that have made life more manageable and more stable, and have become an invaluable source to coping with the difficulties of life during a pandemic.

What it has done is ruthlessly exposed the drastic deterioration of public services and infrastructure which stems directly from governmental corruption and incompetence. There is worse to come. There will be mass unemployment and more deaths because of this government.

And with the final Brexit to come…

I don’t have any clever answers, no glib solutions. 42000 deaths so far from a virus we are barely beginning to understand. A virus,by the way, which certainly does exist, is clearly different from flu viruses, and which cannot be adequately controlled through herd immunity. I know that we will need to look out for and take care of each other.

I also think that deep structural changes are needed. That much is also clear.

A few questions…

When tenants living on College Bank and Lower Falinge were told that RBH were going to talk to the council regarding their regeneration plans, after councillors took up concerns expressed by tenants groups and residents in the area,I did not believe it was the step forward that people believed it was.

Because I have a few reservations about this. Firstly, where is the participation of tenants? Yet again tenants are being excluded from this process. We are, in effect, being patted on the head and pushed to one side. But as it turns out, it’s even worse than that. These talks aren’t even between our elected representatives and RBH. They are between council officials and RBH.

And I doubt if they can even see how wrong this is. I suspect that this is an attempt to avoid even cursory scrutiny of their plans, which has been the case all the way along.

In short, I suspect a stitch up. I think they will come up with something that will be presented as a fait accompli. They will pay consultants to present these plans to us, which will be as big a charade as the original plans. And the councillors will have pressure put on them to agree. Which they ultimately will.

We cannot just hand this over and trust in a process that is ultimately biased against us. It has been my opinion from the beginning that the lack of a strong independent tenants organisation would prove to be a weakness. Because whilst pressure groups can work up to a point, it is also easier to exclude them from the decision making process.

We will only make an impact if we form a borough wide tenants organisation. We need solidarity and strength in numbers. And we need to fight for control of our own communities. Trusting our future to people with too many vested interests won’t work.

Knowing your place…

I was walking home from Lidl with my weekly shop last week, and I had to stop for a quick breather(boring long term illness…). My attention was drawn to graffiti that had been there for years. FUCKAWI TRIBE. Clever play on words there. And an entirely bogus bit of graffiti.

The reason for that was because it had been put there by a TV company using the neighbourhood as a location. Apparently, there hadn’t been enough suitable graffiti there. I was told this story a few years ago, and it makes sense. One of the things that RBH did to make a few extra bob was to look for this business, in this case as backdrops to urban hell hole dramas, neighbourhoods with terrible social problems, the sort of shallow bollocks that’s usually accompanied by betting and car ads. They don’t do it anymore, after this was pointed out to them, that it might in some way be particularly obtuse. Maybe even reflective of RBH corporate prejudice. Perhaps even reflective of societal attitudes…

Who knows eh?

But what it made me think of was the almost total lack of say people that live in these communities have over what happens in them. It is entirely formulated by people who have little or no real idea of life in those communities, and seem to form policy based on assumption, unrepresentative and self selecting focus groups, and surveys with minimal responses. Tick box consultation.

I think actions betray attitudes, in this context. Allowing our neighbourhoods to be used for dramas portraying urban communities as full of murderous sexual degenerates, without the permission of the people actually living there…

Or presenting the proposals of well paid consultants in publicity displays, claiming that PR equals consultation, then gaslighting tenants who understandably object to these proposals…

They betray contempt.

Footnote : RBH – Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, the biggest provider of social housing in Rochdale.

 

 

 

When the applause ends.

A regular feature of lockdown life has become the round of applause on Thursday evening for the NHS.

Personally, though, I would prefer it if staffing levels, pay and conditions, and the provision of PPE were all at adequate levels. Instead, what we have is a government and media campaign to try and persuade us that people doing essential work, who a short time ago were being treated with contempt, are now ‘heroes’.

Of course, this has enabled the government to escape proper, sustained scrutiny for the failure to prepare adequately for a pandemic they knew was heading their way in January. And as Monday’s edition of Panorama pointed out, those failures show starkly the shocking, shameful inadequacy of the governmental response, that has contributed to thousands of deaths that would not have happened if their preparations had been adequate, and would not have seen us approaching the worst death total from Covid 19 in Europe – and one of the worst in the world.

Let that sink in for a moment. Our government, the one millions went out and voted for in December, the one that was going to lead us to the sunny uplands of post Brexit neolib nirvana, in charge of one of the wealthiest nations on earth, has failed where poorer countries have somehow managed.

The slow response, and the verging on criminal nature of the abdication of responsibility by the Prime Minister, together with the so far sluggish nature of the opposition, which seems more concerned with not upsetting people than actually examining government action the way it needs to be.

The influence of “advisers” like Dominic Cummings, leading to the consideration of the idea of “herd immunity” (which would not be achieved without a vaccine),¬† show how casually they regarded the threat, and the implicit contempt and indifference to people’s lives that shows, is disturbing, to put it mildly. The manipulation of statistics, which until recently did not include deaths outside of hospital, is evidence of a deep rooted cynicism and contempt. The truth about deaths of people in care homes, just beginning to emerge, a lot with Covid 19 as a contributory factor in their deaths, but also those with other conditions who have not been treated due to the disruption in the health service.

We do not have definitive figures for the number of deaths in all settings, but it would not surprise me if it proves to eventually in excess of 40000. The failure to introduce test and contact tracing, a strategy that has helped to reduce the level of deaths in other countries, will prove to be crucial when it comes to the number of deaths.

There has pressure building for the relaxation of lockdown for economic reasons, and it already seems clear that an already fragile economy will take a massive hit.

So, when the worst of this crisis eventually subsides, as it will, will it lead to a better funded and resourced health service? The restoration of cuts to councils? A strategy for dealing with future pandemics, which will be increasingly common. Doubt it. What we’re seeing now is the spectacle of an incompetent government forced to spend billions dealing with a crisis made worse by their lack of preparation.

So, what happens when the applause and mawkish sentimentality stop? Well, that’s when the process of blame shifting and gaslighting by government and media will begin. Anything except accepting blame for their own massive failures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Saturday comes…..

Saturday. For most of my life, it’s represented freedom. Being off the leash after four twelve hour shifts, or two weeks worth of nights. Burning that candle on both ends, deep into what became Sunday….. Then as I got older, lie ins, shopping trips with partners, cack handed attempts at DIY……Going to the football. Meals out. You know, all the nice stuff that for me balanced out an often difficult and arduous work life.

Today, though, as for a lot of you out there, is different. Today, I have been for my daily appointment with the district nurse, and after picking up some shopping, I shall be home, and will probably not leave it again till Monday. This isn’t because I’m a misanthropic loner- I’m comfortable by myself – but because it turns out that I’m vulnerable to Corvid 19, because of my current health conditions. Not as much as others, I don’t want to overstate this, but enough for me to have to take on board government advice about social distancing. Last week- last Friday, in fact – I had to be taken to hospital, because I had early symptoms of the onset of sepsis. I was in hospital for four weeks in 2018 being treated for sepsis and other infections, so I’ve learned to be sensitive to early signs. Thankfully, it was just an overnight stay, and by seven on Saturday I was comfortably ensconced in my gaff with a pizza and a couple of bottles of Marston strong pale ale. Which was something of a result……

However, it did remind me that my health is variable, and Iam vulnerable to infection, so I’m trying to be sensible, practice some social distancing, whilst keeping an eye on my dad, and making sure my more elderly neighbours are OK. As usual, the community in Rochdale are pulling together superbly to help its most vulnerable members in difficult times…..

I have a few thoughts about context, though. This crisis is taking place at a time when we’ve had ten years worth of ideologically driven cuts to public services, and I have serious fears about the capacity of the NHS to cope with the period of peak infection, which looks like it will be around April /May. Social services will also find it hard to cope. And whilst it is true that this is unknown territory, it is difficult to have confidence in the ability of the government to deal competently with this crisis, and learn from their mistakes.

I have some cynicism about the packages of financial help announced over the past few days. Less critical elements of the media have praised it as being an unprecedented infusion of cash….. And indeed, it’s a considerable amount of money, which will provide partial remediation of difficult circumstances. But let’s be very clear about this. These are not, as some are claiming, socialist measures. It simply addresses the difficulties they have themselves created, which does not, and will not, address the deep structural problems that exist. I fear that in the coming months we will see the effect of years of cuts to essential services, and that the result of this will be many unnecessary deaths. And if you find that unduly pessimistic, I’m sorry, but I think that is a realistic assessment given current circumstances. But our communities will come together and put in staggering efforts, which may well make a difference. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Communities, not ghettos

Something that’s really pissing me off at the moment is the habit of labelling poor communities as “ghettos”. That word comes freighted with all sorts of connotations and assumptions about devastated communities rife with poverty, crime and violence. Now, places like that certainly exist, I’ve travelled through some of them, but places like Lower Falinge, or other areas of Rochdale, to be labelled as “ghettos” is ridiculous and insulting.

Yes, there is crime in these areas. But there is also poverty, which is a way bigger issue in communities in Rochdale, due to insecure and low paid employment, people experiencing difficulties negotiating an often hostile benefits system, and families, often with two earners, finding that their wages are inadequate. What they need is a decent wage and good working conditions. With good childcare that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. And a massive social housing building programme. A National Health Service properly funded. Good infrastructure and public services. And then we can leave people the hell alone, and not monitor, investigate, harangue, preach at, and make their lives a misery. General rule of thumb is: most people are fine. Compassion and empathy are good things. Labelling, whilst apparently satisfying for the smugnorant, isn’t that helpful. Oh yeah, and a properly funded and better regulated police service, with the principle of consent front and centre. The police too often act as an arm of the state, which isn’t a good thing.

This is, I recognise, something of a wish list. But I am heartily sick of communities being seen as being unable to make decisions for themselves, about where they live. Like the communities of Lower Falinge and College Bank, for instance. Who have innate community spirit and resilience. And which aren’t bloody ghettos.

Peering through the drizzle….

https://underthefloorboardsweb.wordpress.comIn September 1969,my dad took me to Boundary Park, to see Oldham Athletic, the mighty Latics.

It was my first game, and yes, it was raining. In those days, Oldham were in the old Fourth Division, and in a pretty parlous state(things seem to have come full circle….), having just been through the indignity of re-election the previous season. The manager, a recent appointment to replace the old Burnley star, Jimmy Mc Ilroy, was Jimmy Frizzell, who had been playing for us.

We beat Aldershot that day, 4-2, but that proved to be a rare highlight in a season of struggle. My dad also took me to Old Trafford that season (he’s a United fan…), where I watched Law, Best and Charlton open mouthed…

Yet somehow, I didn’t end up a Man Utd fan. My dad’s shift patterns changed, and I ended up going to Latics with my Uncle Ronnie, a lifelong fan, getting hooked, not least because our supposedly stop gap manager built a team that first managed promotion to the Third Division, and then went on to win the Third Division, in 1973, an afternoon I still remember vividly.

And so the years passed, I grew tall, played rugby in the winter, cricket in the summer, got my first razor, had my heart broken, had fantastic times, bad times, indifferent times, worked hard, travelled….. But through all this was the Latics. I was there, euphoric, the night we knocked six past West Ham to virtually guarantee our first and only Cup Final, the League Cup, against a very good Nottingham Forest side who edged it 1-0…..

The next few years, which saw us get promoted to the First Division, and be founder members of the Premier League, and a couple of unlucky losing FA Cup semis to the dreaded Man U, seem like a dream now from our present position, near the bottom of League 2, with a dodgy chairman and a fans group calling for him to go…. And there I am, watching us nick wins and lose dismally.. Full circle, I suppose…..

Thinking about it, one of the things I get out of it is a sense of place, of being part of a community. I used to live with an ex partner literally next to the ground, so on the bus to the ground, the memories can be bitter sweet. But whilst the past is what roots us, you can’t live there….

I’ve lived in my present home since 2003, and I’m rooted in my Rochdale community…and knowing things must, and will, change, but that some things will stay the same.

Footnote : I’d forgotten about Jack Rowley, who managed in between Jimmy McIlroy and Jimmy Frizzell. So it must have been him who was manager the day I saw my first game.

What f*****g empathy….. The failure of RBH to understand the circumstances of their tenants….

Around 2012 or so, when the government were using benefit claimants as guinea pigs for Universal Credit, there were three areas in the north west being used in the pilot scheme. The initial results were alarming. Because housing benefit was now an element of the new all singing all dancing benefit, the big idea of Iain Duncan Smith, people found that they were in rent arrears because of the inordinate length of time they were expected to wait.

As a concerned tenant, I attended a meeting where there appeared to be little knowledge of this when I brought up the worrying results of the pilot scheme, and the impact this was having in Ashton-under-Lyne, one of the pilot scheme areas. Because of the length of time claimants were expected to wait – five weeks and counting – often vulnerable people were falling into arrears with social housing, and were being evicted and falling into homelessness.

This has only got worse as the years have progressed, and now Universal Credit has been recognised as one of the major drivers of homelessness.

In addition to this, there has been the impact of benefit sanctions, which has also been a driver of arrears, as people have had their money stopped for months on end for often the most trivial of reasons. This has been a major driver behind the number of homeless people in Greater Manchester.

Then there are people struggling with mental health conditions, physical disabilities, and chronic illnesses, who find themselves having to deal with an often unsympathetic and inconsistent system, subject to assessments that leave them with inadequate money to cover their basic necessities,including rent. For a few years now, RBH has had what they call a ‘rent first’ policy, which hits people in this situation particularly hard, as they are forced to make choices….. Are they going to make sure they are adequately fed, with heating and lighting, or are they going to pay their rent? These are real life choices that people have to make. Paying the rent or feeding the kids? These are the sort of choices that people in poverty have to make.

RBH, despite knowing this, continue to push the ‘rent first’ policy….. Thus the lovely, friendly slogan on this van. Set in the context of the situation as described, it makes them look unsympathetic as an organisation towards the difficulties of their tenants…… I would personally suggest perhaps ‘Need help with your rent’ would be better.

I believe that this particular slogan on the van represents something deeper and more troubling. It represents a lack of empathy that is organisational, and comes from the top. Policy is made by people who, although they often stress their own modest beginnings, are now very firmly bourgeois, and intent on policy informed by that…. Thus the rent policy, often enforced irrespective of circumstance, causing distress to often ill and vulnerable people. I would stress that for the most part, the staff who actually do the work do their best in trying circumstances, often not of their own creation.

Last year, due to serious illness, I was in hospital for over four weeks with serious infections that affected my mobility particularly badly…… Now whilst in hospital, benefits stop, and because of this, I found myself in rent arrears. I was hooked up to two drips when one morning I received a call from RBH regarding the arrears. I explained as best I could given the circumstances I was in, and the reply was unsympathetic. As you could imagine, this did not help, although later it was eventually resolved after I complained…. But I shouldn’t have had to.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say this, but RBH are failing their tenants…. The recent (absolutely spot on) criticism by Councillor Meredith and Councillor Blundell of the way the management of RBH have made fundamental mistakes in their management of the supposed regeneration of Lower Falinge and College Bank, including the treatment of tenants.

The slogan on this van is symbolic of their failure.

 

 

The saga continues……

The recent criticism by rochdale councillors of RBH plans for Lower Falinge and College Bank is something I would cautiously welcome. I say cautiously because Iam unsure about what, practically, they would be willing, or able to do to help.

Certainly, the recent revelation of massive pay rises for RBH execs, at a time when they are continually restructuring and expecting staff to do twice the work at a time when their wages are static, hardly inspires faith in their avowed commitment to the values of the mutual. In fact, I would maintain that it directly contradicts those values.

These attitudes are reflected in their treatment of the residents of Lower Falinge and College Bank, which has been marked from the early stages by a remarkable degree of disingenuousness, and an arrogance in dealing with the justified criticism of their plans by the residents of the two estates.

This arrogance, I’m afraid, also applies to the way some vulnerable people have been treated by RBH personnel, who have not had their needs addressed, and have been left distressed and fearful as a result of the way they’ve been treated, with no proper consideration of their conditions or appropriate help given.

The repeated claims of consultation of the communities are wholly unconvincing. Hiring a firm of consulting architects for over a hundred thousand pounds, with ready made plans, does not constitute consultation. They should have involved tenants at the inception of the project, instead of which they were presented with a fait accompli.

There are also technical issues involving the space of new properties compared to the existing properties. This is particularly significant to people with disabilities, not only people with physical disabilities, but also people on the autistic spectrum. The uncertainty has also had a negative effect on mental health.

A continuing issue is the number of properties available to people who are having their present properties demolished. RBH maintain that everyone who wants to stay in the town centre area – the definition of which seems to change by the week- can do so. And yet the number of properties on RBH’s homesearch site available in the town centre area appears to be vanishingly small. I’m sure that RBH have an explanation for this discrepancy, if they could be bothered to provide one.

The neglect of properties on Lower Falinge has led to properties rife with mould and damp and no longer fit to live in. There are other blocks that are still sound that are also being demolished when they should be refurbished.

It is also unclear how many new properties will be available for social rent, which is the area of greatest need. My suspicion is that private developers will be ‘partners’ with RBH, with a decreasing number of homes being for social rent.

Personally, I regret ever having voted for RBH to become a mutual now…… Although it certainly had serious faults when it was an ALMO, and before that when it was council housing, at least there was independent tenant representation, something RBH never wanted, which is why we are left with a toothless representative body that only members can vote for, who constitute a fraction of tenants, and disinfranchises most of them.

So, as per usual, it’s the tenants that lose out. The question is now what are we, as tenants, prepared to do about this situation?