Category Archives: Working Parents

A criminal waste, a disabled society. Unlock Your Future.

Easter is a time for reflection. I have been reflecting on the many people it has been my privilege to meet over the years. Many of the people I have worked with are people that the Jesus that I like to imagine would recognize: vulnerable, damaged, disenfranchised, hostile, broken, pathetic, lost, abused. I like them.

Disability is a strange concept, and many of the people with disabilities who I know would strongly suggest that it is not them with the disability but society, culture, which is disabled or which provides the disability. We build streets fit for the able bodied, buildings that exclude all but the well and the fit, work that suits only the driven and the straight and “normal”.  We see “work” as a means for economic growth and acquisition, and ignore the very real other benefits work can bring such as purpose, esteem, quality of life, respect. We patronise the successful disabled and express astonishment at their success. We create targets and drivers that take no account of alternative talents and aspirations, that fail to value otherness, indeed in a tabloid sense disability is so often viewed simply as a problem, a drain, a fiscal error.

If you look for the word “disability” online these are some of the words you get:

handicapafflictiondisorderdefectimpairment, disablement, infirmity  incapacityweaknessinability • Disability can make extra demands on financial resources.

Transfer those words to our environment and see what happens. Our shops have defects and will not allow wheelchairs in, our streets are afflicted with high kerbs and a lack of ramps, many work environments lack the capacity to value a range of people and talents and are, as a result, weak and impaired. Recruitment is afflicted by a set of rules and processes that despite legislation and encouragement still often excludes too many and that handicaps the workforce.

I would go further and suggest that people with a criminal history have been handicapped or disabled by society. Their forensic history effectively cripples their employment potential and afflicts their family life. If we suppose that it is indeed society and our culture that creates disability, in effect cripples its citizens, it follows that society can redress that. Some legislation attempts to do that by supporting “equal opportunities”, but equal ops can only happen if we view all candidates with an equal eye and the work environment is capable of accepting all candidates equally.

If you look for the word “criminal” online these are some of the words you get:

unlawfulillicitlawlesswrongillegalcorruptcrookedviciousimmoralwicked, culpable, disgracefulridiculousfoolishsenselessscandalouspreposterousdeplorable

I notice that none of those characteristics is irreversible. They are a description of how it is at the moment, not how it will be in the future. If we continue to exclude people from employment, to ignore the many benefits a varied and experienced workforce can bring, to expect jobless hopeless futureless people to suddenly somehow behave like employed, hopeful people with aspirations on release from prison, we set ourselves up to fail, and we fail our communities.

I don’t suggest for a moment that we employ anyone and everyone into any vacancy without safeguards and safety nets. I don’t do soft and fluffy. I do however suggest that we create those safeguards and safety nets and take the trouble to include the excluded and create a properly integrated and cohered environment in which everyone is valued, has the space to grow, and has their aspirations valued. Not because it is soft and fluffy, but because it reduces the risks of offending, of disaffection, and increases the chances of people buying into their communities and making the effort to support their futures and crucially it means we reduce the risk of missing out on some serious talent. Back in the day when social and health care services were even more rigid in their outlook than they are now, I employed an ex-offender who had done time for murder. I employed him in elder care. This was not universally welcomed…….But I ran the checks, created the risk assessment, spoke to the people I needed to speak to and importantly offered him a mentor and some effective support to re-adjust. It was a success.

No-one would suggest  there is an easy answer or that it is a simple matter. But that is not a good enough reason not to try.

No Offence CiC is a social enterprise  and I am lucky enough to be on the Board. We are not driven by private profit and we facilitate open access to crime and justice information. By challenging barriers to positive change and influencing future policy, our objective is simple: to make a difference. My own organisation, Mayall Management Ltd, is proud to support the Unlock Your Future project that No Offence is driving.

http://www.no-offence.org/

Unlock your Future

‘Breaking down barriers to employment for people with convictions’

This project will focus on identifying and breaking down the barriers to employment for people with convictions, to bring employers and employees together.

A simple key discreetly placed on a job advert will indicate that this employer will consider all applications on their merit and not their past.

Many employers have a skills shortage and would benefit from an increased pool of suitable candidates from which to recruit.

Unfilled vacancies can have an economic impact on any business and increase pressure on other employees attempting to make up the resourcing short fall.

We need a network of champions to raise awareness of this project and support employers to use the key either on their own website and/or on our jobs board and spread the word to those people looking for a job and also recruit other champions. Could you help us?

Employment provides us with a significant opportunity to break the cycle of reoffending. If you are an employer please join our network and we will send you the key to use free of charge.

http://www.no-offence.org/static-page/unlock-your-future/

 

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Diabetes, then…..tch!

You have probably not been wondering where I have been as you have better things to do. After regular blogging there has been a pause, a whistling  tumbleweed silence unfilled by words or thoughts. I have missed you, though.

Like many women of what used to be called “a certain age” but is now called the New Forty I have discovered that  I am not a grumpy tired old bat, but that I have diabetes with a side order of thyroid malfunction and some yummy cholesterol. Well, ok, I am also a grumpy old bat, but I now have a lovely ready made off the shelf excuse for it and I’m not afraid to use it. With a vivid memory of the PMT I used to suffer, or rather my Old Man used to suffer, pre-menopause (men, look away now) I put the  recent irritability and low moods down to being a woman. Call myself a Feminist?! I should be ashamed, bringing dishonour on the lovely bright green dungarees I used to proudly wear in the 70s, with the universal Feminist sign all over the front. In case the short hair, dungarees, free-flow pit-hair and  belligerent attitude didn’t give it away.

So, the low moods, exhaustion and annoyance are the result of diabetes. Another confession: I used to be a nurse (technically I still am, which is scary), and I still don’t understand diabetes. I tried to convince the diabetes nurse that my blood sugar was raised because I have honey for breakfast and that the dizziness, fatigue and biting the heads off small children was probably because the Old Man was annoying. Which is true. But it wasn’t the reason that getting out of bed in the mornings was becoming less of a pleasure. I am a natural early riser, every morning, around 04.00 or 05.00 at the latest, up and at ’em, starting the day with meditation, focus, honey (of course) and tea – I love the start of the day. But in the last few months my mind has continued on the same plane but my body has been dragging behind whispering ” do we have to do this….?” and generally loafing around making my mind think twice. And when I was first identified as diabetic I dived straight into denial, taking to it like an old hand: it wasn’t diabetes because I eat properly/don’t smoke/it can’t be/I haven’t time for this. I thought that I could eat my way away from diabetes. Partly true, but a little optimistic I think. I think I thought I might grow out of it, like acne………

So on the whole I made a nuisance of myself avoiding the inevitable, bobbing and weaving to miss the headlines and warning signs, finding plenty of sand in which to bury my head and making a pain of myself.

Running alongside the diabetes was a serious dip in confidence. Hitting fifty (and the rest) can be a shock to the system, especially if the usual things all happen at once – and I can almost hear the rumble of agreement from other “New Forties” out there as you anticipate what I am going to say. My parents both died within a couple of years of each other (horrible circumstances, for another blog), I became disabled enough to need a blue badge, and the kids started leaving home/having babies/getting married/being grown up. And I continued to run the business and work hard. I wasn’t about to let grief, disability and pain, and the empty nest stop me! Oh no, because I am Superwoman, hear me roar.

Except I didn’t roar, I shrieked, snapped, snarled and moaned. I lost the ability to step away and see the bigger picture, and my assertiveness began to drip out of me and stain the carpet. I am used to achieving and have high expectations of myself, not unrealistically.  I know what I am doing and that bigger picture is what informs me. I always think my work is like being the conductor of several orchestras – the job is to lead, to show the tempo and understand the destination, and to make sure all the component parts get there at the right time and that any improv enhances the show. The energy and thrust needed for the business gives me energy, feeds me, and gives me purpose. And when all of those other things, those Life Events, converged, I lost the Kerpow Whoomph. I no longer really knew if  knew what I was doing even though I thought I knew that I did, I wasn’t sure. If you see what I mean! Where once I would have known with certainty when something was actually mine and the buck stopped at my feet, and when it wasn’t and that buck needed to be re-directed, I suddenly found it harder to tell, and started to think it was indeed all my fault, that I was wrong, it was me, and that I didn’t know anything. I think it is fair to say I was confused. But confused on the inside. My Fellow New Forties,  you know what it’s like – you are the one in the middle holding it all together. You have the reins, the strings and the plug that could be pulled and let it all swirl away, so you can’t let it go. So I didn’t, and the music played on. But I did shut down for a while, which is why I haven’t been here for a few months. It took all my energy to keep the plates spinning and I didn’t have any left over for Life.

So……..now I am diabetic and proud! I remember when I first became disabled, and I kept thinking “when this gets better I will get the bike out again” until gradually (d’oh!) it dawned on me that this was as good as it got and I was disabled. Diabetes received the same treatment. I have now reached acceptance and along with it the ability to take the advice and the pills, and I am living again. Maybe next time I have a Life Event you will be kind enough to send me a copy of this blog post so that I don’t waste too much time on denial and faffing. And, a bit like the Walking Stick club that I inadvertently joined – that band of walking stickers who with a nod and a smile, and a comment about the stick, offer unity and solidarity in disability – I have found a new club of diabetics that I hadn’t known existed. The more impaired I become, the more clubs I seem to be invited to join…….Happy Days!

Food Glorious Food?

Sharing meals allows us to come together and spend quality time with each other. It increases communication and understanding.  How many of us had our first experience of another culture through food? And coming together to prepare and eat food is part of many rituals and traditions. Food plays a big part in faith and in worship. When one shares in the Eucharist, it is said to be a  sharing of Christ’s body and blood, and worshippers are reminded of their responsibility to share all our meals with others. As St John Chrysostom once said, “You have tasted the blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognise your brother…You dishonour this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal.” Most faiths and religions have food rituals, most cultures have food rituals and norms. Food is significant. Food rituals – cutlery or lack of, how the food is produced (is it Halal? Organic? Vegan? Kosher?), how it is presented, how it is eaten – matter deeply to us all. The only people for whom those things no longer matter are the hungry, and even then I have known seriously hungry people refuse non-kosher or non-vegan food. So it is quite simply that important.

So…..

How many times recently have we heard about nurses now being expected to “feed and wash” patients for a year before they train? How many times do support workers and health professionals refer to “feeding” their patients or clients? The act of eating is reduced, for some, to the passive “feeding” offered by “carers”. It is reduced, for the care-givers, to a task to be got out of the way before the serious business of training, the important job of “nursing”, can be carried out. This simple attitude reduces human and humane care giving to the status of animal welfare. Now, let us acknowledge that there are similarities between the two, and animal welfare is very important. But in offering to care for and support other human beings we need to respect and acknowledge their humanity, and one of the few things that identifies humans as distinct from other animals is the development of specific and identifiable social rituals, especially around food, and the food rituals often define what we are as people: they indicate and specify how we live, what we believe, what matters to us.

The attitude that accepts us saying we are going to “feed” people when what we should  mean is that we are going to help them to eat or support them to eat is the same attitude that allows nurses and care givers to say things like “I have done Mrs Brown” when they mean they have helped or supported Mrs Brown to wash, or dress, or change her colostomy bag, or any of the other deeply personal, uncomfortable and intimate things carers do for us.  Those words, casually used and casually accepted, reduce our collective humanity, remove our independence. They remove the respect for our humanity that we properly expect our nurses and carers to demonstrate. They allow the casual neglect – and even the active cruelty – that we have seen in Winterbourne and at Stafford, and the many other places that have not yet hit the headlines. How can we pretend to be surprised by those events when we use the words that support the attitude of neglect and cruelty?

The words we use define how we behave, demonstrate how we think.  Let us challenge the use of words that encourage patient-passivity such as “feeding”, let us encourage the words that support active care such as “supporting, or assisting, to eat”. The former gives us a picture of food being shovelled into a patients mouth as a “carers” task, the latter gives us a picture of  someone in control of their food, being helped to perform their own task.  Notice the difference between “bathing” someone and “helping someone to bathe”.

When we become vulnerable through age, illness, disability or other reasons we often lose the option of privacy or dignity only because of the attitudes of the people tasked with supporting and assisting us. There are many discussions about why care can be poor, and often the poor wages are cited. And that is a factor – pay peanuts and you get chimps, and low wages do not reflect the importance of the job – but there is never, at any price, wage or  reward any excuse for reducing another persons humanity, for dragging away another human beings respect and trampling on their dignity. Individuals are responsible for their own behaviour and we should expect people recruited to care and support to behave properly – but the modelling of those good behaviours will flow from the leadership. If the people leading the services and the organisations do not demonstrate the crucial behaviours that indicate respect, humanity and the support of autonomy and independence for all then the people following those leaders will have no incentive to do so.

If you offer someone care and support, please, feed your dog but support your patient to eat.

A Postscript to The Family Way – and Having It All………

I reflected, as I do, after posting The Family Way, and the old mind meandered off towards another path. I felt I had perhaps done a disservice to people who “have it all”. I am so grateful for what I have, and mindful of my good fortune, that I sometimes overlook the challenges along the way. It seems a little ungrateful to dwell on them! But that does a disservice to others who work hard and manage complex lives in order to stabilise their families and support them. We have complex lives in our family, and have had some histories to get to where we are. We are fortunate and have what we need, have a nest and the life support systems that keep us afloat. But we have worked to get there. Without boringly baring all and sharing too many dull details, perhaps I should explain.

Before we had our family, for whom we waited eight years after we married, we lost a number of babies before they were born. Does that mean we cherish the ones we have more than others? I don’t think it does – families love their babies however they arrive. But perhaps it means we have a lively appreciation of them! When the babies were small I worked nights for some years nursing in many different places good and bad, in order to support us. Being part of that system and witnessing it was a part of the reason for me starting my own company some years later – to make sure that we did our best to ensure that good practice happened and bad practice was not tolerated, that people had the best services and the best means of enjoying their lives that they could, regardless of postcode, disability, age, cost or any of the other factors that often reduce a persons quality of life. Our drivers are equality of opportunity and the right to a Life.  It was a difficult time but ultimately lead us in a positive direction. Losing a job later on meant I took some time out, did some painting and writing, took a good, long look and reassessed what I actually wanted and where my strengths were, and my life took off in a hugely exciting and fulfilling direction. A bad thing turned into a good thing. And when my parents died, within 3 years of each other, in hospitals that were shameful, and outrageously and obviously so , it once again took me down a challenging path that had some beneficial outcomes despite the enormous pain of that time, effecting some changes and leaving a legacy for my Mother to be remembered by. And when I became disabled a couple of years ago it was a period of real development for me – I blogged at the time about how it had taught me a new and honestly better way of managing and leading. I was genuinely grateful. And I freely admit to having experienced depression from time to time, and learning how to manage and actually use that experience has taught me a great deal. Life has been stunningly good!

I suppose what I am saying is that sometimes “having it all” can set people up for the envious and the sad, who might deride people who have good lives and feel they do not deserve it or have not earned it somehow. One of the online forums to which I contribute has a thread doing just that at the moment –  a few sadly envious people are having a massive pop at anyone, particularly those in the public eye, with some wealth or success and ignoring the fact that in most cases considerable hard work and experience have contributed to that status. Now, we don’t have oodles of wealth or extravagant “success”, but what we do have is sufficient, it is what we need, and who needs more than that? We have what we need to allow us to have some choices and be ourselves without reducing the meaning that supports our lives – we do not have enough to make us lazy! And we have learned so very much along the way, growing together and weaving our branches to create a support for the new shoots.

It has been a blast – and all those who have it all, who have developed their lives so that they can be themselves and support their families, should be proud of that. There is no pathway without brambles, but learning how to climb over them is a major cause of success and fulfilment. And to be honest, aren’t they one and the same thing?

The Family Way

Thank you Nicola Horlick for once suggesting we could have it all. No advice about what to do with it all once we have it, but hey ho, that’s liberation for you.

Cards on the table and no fudging the age thing: I am about to become a grandmother for the first time. I am at an agreeable age for grandmotherhood – not too young so that I have to find excuses for grandchildren and not too old to enjoy a bit of energetic childcare. Of course, my daughter thinks it is all about her, but as all other grandmothers will know  – and as we speak will be nodding wisely – it is about us. I am an incredibly lucky woman. I have a gorgeously  lovely husband, beautiful and diverse children (and the ones who have partners have chosen terrific partners), a great house and a job that I am enjoying to bits, capacity for choices about work and a room of my own which houses my piano, paints and canvases, banjo, books, and other bits and pieces that keep me very nearly sane. It is also right next to the kitchen………. I have a good life. And into that life another life is about to step.

I remember as clearly as if it were last week the births of each of my children. I remember that my Old Man watched the World Champion Athletics on the telly in the labour room as my son was being born, and that in frustration at my pains at one point he grabbed the TENS machine and turned it up to full strength. I can feel the collective winces of all those women who have used TENS. Yes, ladies, I did hit him once I had been peeled off the ceiling. I remember on another labour day the midwife going to fetch a beanbag to support my back thinking Molly wouldn’t be arriving for a while and Molly arriving almost as soon as she had left the room, and my sight taking a brief holiday as my blood pressure hit the roof. I remember my firstborn experience: a patronising junior doctor leaned over me and reminded me sharply that I had “precious cargo” inside me. I told her I had, until that moment, thought it was a bag of f***ing sugar and was grateful to her for pointing out my mistake. I can be a little irritable. (Memo to self: try to remember not to piss off people who are either preparing my food or delivering my care……) And my lastborn – an enormous baby of almost ten pounds who decided to get stuck with her knees around her ears and attempted to arrive bum-first. She was my little Caesarean, as she is fondly known. All different from the word Go, and so different now. I wonder what this first grandchild will be like? So many genes to choose from!

Whichever genes are uppermost, whatever shape, gender, pedigree or colouring my grandchild turns out with, she will have a particular advantage: an extended family who will love her and care for her, and for her Mother and Father, whatever happens – and no mistake, we never know what is going to heppen; a family who will nurture her talents and indulge her fancies,  notice and enjoy her quirks, and cherish her forever. I am reminded today of all those who do not have what we have and in my own fortunate world I regret those lost chances for those lost children. Wherever you are, and however you live, perhaps you could join me in supporting Barnardos  http://www.barnardos.org.uk/   , CAFOD  http://www.cafod.org.uk/ , Fund It (because arts and culture are also important to children) http://www.fundit.ie/browse/ , Save the Children http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/ , the NSPCC http://www.nspcc.org.uk/ , Action for Children http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/ , Demelza House http://www.demelza.org.uk/home/#,  the Big Issue http://www.bigissue.org.uk/    and UNICEF http://www.unicef.org.uk/UNICEFs-Work/. Please feel free to add some more to this list.

As I grow older I realise that, in almost every aspect, there but for the grace of God (and for those atheists among us, there but for the grace of Circumstance) go I. And you. I have been privileged, genuinely, to work with some of the most vulnerable and abused people in our society, and there is a mere hairs breadth between us. Don’t ever think, as I have heard people say, “I would never allow myself to sink so low”. You simply do not know what you might do given a particular set of circumstances, most of which are not within your control. And most certainly the children who are there have not chosen it.

I “have it all”, and I am grateful. I do moan a little about how to manage “having it all” because it is damned hard work, but I don’t moan much. I know how lucky I am, and I also know that having it all has been my choice. Having a first grandchild on the way, from a dearly loved and cherished daughter and her lovely partner, has reminded me of all that I should value, and of all that is missed by some. It hurts me deeply to know that my own parents, who died within the last few years, will not see Mollys baby, but  it is wonderful that all my In Laws and her fathers family will be here to see her and that she has such a loving and diverse family to join.

As the Big Issue says: a hand up not a hand out.  Supporting organisations who support people to move up and out of their circumstances rather than simply throw money at them, who return the power to where it belongs empowering individuals to regain control of their lives, is the best possible way to return some balance to society and promote success.  We will support and cherish our grandchildren but, as with our kids, we will expect them to work and share the jobs out, to earn what they have and to remember to value it. That way they will be less likely to take it for granted or chuck it away, and will be more able to face the inevitable challenges along the way.

I look forward to meeting our new family member. It matters that while doing so, I also remember others. Loving my babies makes loving other babies so much easier, and not taking action is not an option.

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