Monday, February 02, 2015

Lucy Frances Glennon 3/12/1985 - 29/1/2015 @LucyTweeting

“The Daily Mail must hate me. I have (foreign) carers making my sandwiches”

I’d thought most campaigners knew Lucy, even though she’d been too unwell these past few years to write much, but perhaps that is just because, for me, Lucy was such a huge part of campaigning. She was involved with debra UK often attending awareness raising events and meeting all sorts of celebs. Jon Snow and his snazzy tie & sock combo were a big hit, Cameron less so. I could never do justice to the Lucy story about the Prime Minister, Sean Bean and backsides, so I hope one of her other friends will share that. 

(Updated thanks to Kate Spector - Lucy's storify of (not) meeting David Cameron. The photo speaks for itself)

Lucy sat in her wheelchair at a Downing Street event, Sean Bean studiously looking at his nails and Cameron ignoring everyone

In 2009 Lucy set up a group blog to review tech products for accessibility - the reviews we wrote were not extensive, but Lucy managed to bag herself all sorts of free tech which may have been the whole point! She loved food too – that and technology were her two big writing interests.

“Jamie Oliver's remarks about people on benefits eating cheesy chips is unfair. I'm on benefits and I prefer chips with aioli.”

For the first few years I knew Lucy, through blogging and later twitter, that’s what we talked about. We bonded as we both had connective tissue disorders – they had vastly different impacts on our lives, but still all down to fundamentally workshy collagen. We traded advice on technology and pain control.

But then, in 2010 things started to change for Lucy. She was one of the first and most impacted by the Coalition’s welfare ‘reforms’.

Initially I assumed Lucy would be ok. So did Lucy. David Cameron made many promises about protecting the most vulnerable. And there was no arguing that lovely, clever, tough little Lucy was that.

When the government changed and immediately announced sweeping cuts to social security, Lucy was one of the first people to get involved with The Broken of Britain and later the Spartacus report. Living in Camden she was able to attend The Hardest Hit marches in person, nag all her journalist contacts and wrote as many articles as she could.

Disability and welfare campaigning have become a powerful movement in the last couple of years, but earlier in the parliament there was just a small group of people desperately trying to get the message out and all too aware that not all of that few were guaranteed to live long enough to see the next election.

Lucy was one of those I worried about most. People with Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa die so very young and that made Lucy’s situation so much more urgent. She didn't have the luxury of years to wait for things to improve.

There are two stories of Lucy’s to be told; the strong young woman with a naughty sense of humour who faced life full on with an awesome dignity, and  the terrified girl who feared losing the independence and life she fought so hard to gain. I have agonised over whether it was right to tell that second story here. But Lucy wanted to tell her story, it became the focus of her writing both in the articles she published on The Guardian and the emails she sent. If I am honest, what Lucy went through drove much of my campaigning. She was one of the first to be impacted by the government’s housing changes and it made it very clear that whatever promises had been made, the government had no real intention of protecting the most vulnerable. How could they when they were doing this to Lucy?

Lucy hated the whole butterfly thing and she was right to. Although its an understandable analogy that people with EB are sometimes referred to as ‘butterfly babies’, their skin and internal tissues being more fragile than a butterfly’s wings, its schmaltzy and Lucy was never that. Witty, cheeky, and the sweetest character, but never schmaltzy. She was more like a little wave, her incredible force of strength hidden under the surface so all you see is sunlight glinting as it ripples across a pond, changing everything and everyone she came into contact with for the better.

EB is a uniquely painful and cruel condition. The skin and internal organs are so fragile that even a light knock or bump can cause terrible trauma. Morphine is required for things like nappy changes and parents are unable to indulge their natural instincts to hold their babies as close as they want when they scream with pain because it can damage them.

It was typical Lucy that she referred to the fentanyl suckers prescribed for pain as her ‘crack lollies’. For a while during 2010 and 2011 they helped keep the worst of the pain at bay and Lucy poured her characteristic determination and passion into writing, calling out politicians for an increasingly common bullying attitude towards those on disability benefits.

But what not as many people knew was the extent to which Lucy’s life had been thrown into turmoil, fear and confusion by the changes to housing benefit. Although she became entitled to a two bedroom rate, once the rate reductions had taken effect that was less money each week than she had previously received for the one bedroom rate and Lucy knew she had to move. Leaving central London wasn’t an option, Camden was ideal for her to reach St Thomas’s hospital quickly. It was also vital for her Dad Ted, as it meant he could get from the family home in Rotherham to Lucy in not much more than 90 minutes. She couldn’t move to a cheaper suburb an hour or so away, that was too far from the hospital she needed and too long for her Dad to reach her when she needed him.

Around the same time she had to reapply for Disability Living Allowance, the DWP lost her first set of forms and she didn’t know where she was going to live. This was all in 2011 and the wider understanding of the impact of these cuts, in particular how to deal with them on the frontline, was not really off the ground. But for Lucy, and those of us frantically trying to find a way to help her, the impact was all too obvious.

Lucy wrote this to David Cameron as part of a campaign on the 17th September 2011.

“I have never felt lower.
Because of changes to housing benefit, I've been reduced to a worrying mess. I face the possibility of being moved out of my flat that has an extra room for when I need a carer because the local housing allowance is dropping so much.

I'm entitled to a two-bedroom rate of housing benefit, but it's dropping so much, it will be lower than the one-bedroom rate I'm currently on.

I'm too severely disabled to work. I cannot walk far, my condition is extremely painful, and I face unpredictable fluctuations in my disability where one day I may be unable to swallow properly, be able to get onto my feet, or even see properly. It is difficult enough to look after myself on a day to day basis, yet you are making it harder.

I receive DLA, Income Support and even Severe Disablement Allowance. Yet despite being acknowledged as one of the most deserving recipients of housing benefit, the office who deal with my benefit do not understand why I am to be one of the worst off, with no exception.

This morning I listed ten items to sell on eBay. These were presents I received last Christmas and on my last birthday. The items I am selling are two well made winter jumpers, some DVDs of films I enjoy, and three handbags (from high-street stores). I am looking around for other things to sell, as times are hard enough without the impending drop in housing benefit. I don't have anything of big value I can sell, and although I love the clothes and watching the DVDs I am selling, I have nothing else nice that anyone else would want

You and George Osborne said you would not leave the infirm without help. Well you've let me down, and many others too. You have gone back on your word, and you are no man of honour.”

As always Lucy put it perfectly. Where is the honour in promising to protect the most vulnerable, a promise Lucy had understandably thought would apply to her, when it was clearly a lie? A lie that led to a beautiful young woman in the last few years of life feeling so afraid about how she would pay her rent that she listed her Christmas presents on eBay.

Quietly, behind scenes, people rallied to help. Not the politicians who made those false promises, but others. In typical Lucy style she described her MP as

“like a nice old bloke (a bit like the other Attenborough brother who does the acting). He wore a cuddly blue jumper too (I didn't cuddle him).”

We got her into a trial housing advice project being run in by neighbouring constituency, her case was raised in the House of Commons, huge amounts of medical evidence were collected, checked and checked again. Lucy’s condition spoke for itself, but still we got it all reviewed by an Atos assessor to make sure it spoke the language of the DWP.

Eventually the housing situation was patched together, her DLA approved and Lucy moved to a more accessible flat where she could still access the beautiful Bloomsbury squares she loved in her powerchair. But that fear and anxiety ruined a whole year for her, a year just as she was becoming ever more frail, a year she didn’t have spare to be spoiled.

What happened to Lucy is as much a story of how life changed for disabled people during the 2010-2015 Conservative/Liberal Democrat government as it is a story of a remarkable young woman who in her all too short time here demonstrated huge honour and dignity in everything she did.

I’ll never forgive the damage this government did to Lucy – not so much the problems with her housing, or money shortages, but the brutal lesson they taught her about value, worth and honour.

But I’ll remember Lucy, as she was the last time I saw her – speeding through the Brunswick Centre in her powerchair, too fast to catch up to, as she would have described it 'flying like a squirrel on wheels', crack lolly in situ, shouting ‘go faster you piece of shit’.

Photo Credit - Sarah Lee, The Guardian. Photo is of Lucy Glennon a young woman with pale skin, dark hair, glasses and big blue/grey eyes

“I can confirm it's not possible to twerk in a wheelchair. It looks more like you have an itchy backside. You're welcome.


Sarah Ismail said...

I'm linking at SD immediately.

Have you submitted this beautiful tribute to CIF?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful tribute and a disgusting situation :(
Sleep soundly, Lucy xx

Anonymous said...

This is an incredible story, what an amazing woman. And, I agree with the above comment, it's a disgusting situation. Beyond disgusting, actually.

Findlow said...

To my shame, I did not know of Lucy Glennon until now, her tragic, and untimely death. It is very, very sad, and the awful fact that she spent her last years with so much stress and uncertainty in her life because of the cruelty of Cameron's policies, is a real indictment on this government. So cruel.

The photo above of the charity reception, with Lucy being totally ignored by smug Cameron, is just shocking.

R.I.P Lucy Glennon - a brave woman and a great loss to humankind.

Lola Ent said...

Thank you for this post. It's wonderful. David Cameron on the other hand is... Not.