We're two thirds of the way through conference season and it's fair to say the spoonie warriors are suffering badly from exhaustion. It all started with the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham, with stunning performances from speakers like Shana Pezaro, culminating in the Liberal Democrats passing a motion to challenge some of the most destructive parts of the Welfare Reform Bill, meaning that it is now official Liberal Democrat policy to oppose some of the government's plans.
I managed to attend the Disability Benefits Consortium event at the Liveral Democrat conference even though The Broken of Britain can't even afford stamps or cards because I happened to have a place to stay in Birmingham and a boyfriend good enough to push me to and from the event despite his personal discomfort at being so close to politicians. The Lib Dem DBC event was outside the secure zone so I could attend without a pass, but although the actual venue was very accessible, getting there was a problem. The hotel had been advised to expect disabled people, and parking in their car park made available to us...but it was impossible to drive to the hotel car park because the roads surrounding it were within the secure zone. If my boyfriend hadn't been prepared to give up his time to push me half a mile to and from the event it would not have been possible to get me there. Fortunately he stepped up and the event was well worth attending.
Big credit to Steve Winyard from the RNIB who stood up at the end of the DBC event and called upon all the charities to focus on aggressive campaigning against the damaging parts of the Welfare Reform Bill as an immediate priority. Grassroots campaigners are now eagerly awaiting the rest of the big charities to follow RNIB's stance and remember their most important duty is to support those of us they purport to represent.
Labour's conference was held in Liverpool which made it easier for our penniless campaigners to attend as I live close enough to drive to Liverpool and to provide the fabulous Sue Marsh with accomodation as she was there in her dual roles as campaigner for The Broken of Britain and as delegate for her local Labour party.
Liverpool's a great city and Scousers are warm, welcoming people so we all owe our thanks to the nice car park man who I blagged free, all day parking from by explaining we were disability rights campaigners- it was supposed to be £12 a day which is far too expensive for us!
Sue had a conference pass in her Labour role, but as I am not a member of any political party it proved impossible for us to find, or afford a conference pass for me, even though Lord Prescott helpfully tweeted asking Labour to provide me with a pass. That meant I had to stay outside the secure zone until Wednesday's open day for non Labour members for which I had a pass.
Still, we networked and campaigned as best we could. Short of both spoons and equipment Sue and I spent our time at conference sharing a mobility scooter - which unsurprisingly attracted an awful lot of attention. Thanks to Merseyside Police for smiling and waving at us rather than arresting us for inappropriate mobility scooting behaviour!
Unfortunately, the event organised by Disability Benefits Consortium on the welfare reform bill had to be moved at the last minute inside the secure zone, meaning I couldn't attend and no-one from The Broken of Britain was able to be there to put your concerns across. It had been booked in the Albert Dock's Premier Inn - who insist they told conference organisers it wasn't fully accessible, but conference claimed of course that Premier Inn had told them it was fully accessible. None of this will surprise sick or disabled people but it did seem to come as a surprise to others. Having made up a bed to sleep in the back of my car so that I could manage to be at the event after a morning networking this was very frustrating news.
Despite the lack of access and disappointments about welfare being whitewashed from the Conference we picked ourselves up and carried on. Monday finished me off completely and I spent Tuesday at home in a haze of pain, exhaustion and heavy medication while Sue bravely went back into battle on all our behalfs. In public Sue and I manage to hold it together and appear eloquent and in control, but my boyfriend and her husband get the uncensored version where we can't even string two words together because we're so exhausted.
Wednesday morning in my flat was a scene to behold as Sue and I attempted to transform ourselves from pale, dark eyed, exhausted women into some sort of glamourous, publicly presentable version. Somehow we pulled it off and made it into the secure zone once again sharing the BendyBus. Fortunately there don't appear to be any photos either of Sue and I on the scooter together, or of Giles from the Daily Politics show scooting through conference with me sat on his knee!
We met up with Dame Anne Begg for a drink to discuss welfare issues, hung out with bloggers and then went off for the main attraction of the day, the Labour open day question and answer session with Ed Miliband.
Poor Ed. As my parent's commented, he just didn't know what he was taking on and the question Sue and I had so carefully crafted handbagged him good and proper. Being a spoonie I had to leave the Q&A session to go for a wee immediately after Ed Miliband responded to our question and poor Sue was left in the hall not knowing what had happened to me! I was followed to the toilet by camera crews from the BBC and ITN so it was a while before Sue found me and she was so worried I'd been kidnapped by the Labour party ;)
Although Sue and I were both shaking with exhaustion at this point we couldn't hang around because I was booked to speak at Left Foot Forward's fringe event held in Baby Blue Bar....which turned out to be accessible only by a flight of concrete steps. Huge thanks go to Will Straw for his knight in shining armour role who carried me into the venue and the twitter follower who introduced himself to me and carried me back out of the venue** Sue and I both got back on to the BendyBus and arrived in style at the Labour tweet up...we were so exhausted we couldn't stay long but it was great to meet everyone and be written on by The Farm even if two days later I've still got black pen on my arm!
So...that's two conferences attended, blagged, networked by The Broken of Britain and all without a penny of funding. Ed Miliband has been in touch to say he intends to honour his promise to meet with us and discuss sickness and/or disability issues in relation to welfare which we are all very much looking forward to.
Next week conference season finishes with the Conservative conference in Manchester. We don't have a conference pass, and don't anticipate being able to find one at such short notice, but we'd love to meet Iain Duncan Smith, Maria Miller or David Cameron there if they are willing to match Ed Miliband's promise to meet with sick/disabled people actually affected by their 'reforms'! Assuming the Disability Benefits Consortium welfare event remains outside the secure zone I'll be attending that at Conservative Party Conference and we'll keep you updated as to any developments.
But for now, your two exhausted spoonie warriors just want to get through the rest of today and spend a wekend resting up, enjoying the weather and a complete holiday from welfare.
*we're working on transcripts for people with hearing impairments and United Response are trying to put together an easy read version so please give us some time to get those out
**His name's too far back in my timeline to find and thank him by name. Updated, thanks to @zephleppard