Deputy Speaker's Internship - Day 2

3/27/2013 09:53:00 am BenefitScroungingScum 1 Comments

Day 2 started much as day 1 did - early morning whimpering, a cup of tea with a chaser of oramorph in the hope that it would reduce the pain enough so that my feeble whimperings when I sat down weren't audible to others. It may or may not have done the pain trick, but it did at least make the scoot across the bridge to the House of Commons much more 'ooh pretty' and the battle with the supposedly automatic wheelchair doors another nice man had to wrench open much funnier. I'm not sure what poor Alex made of my mumbling about morphine as I arrrived, as at this point in the experience I hadn't yet realised he knew absolutely nothing about my condition and had been told not to ask.

We started the day more formally with a cup of tea and discussion in the office, then we went off to observe a Work and Pensions Select Committee evidence hearing of user experiences of the work programme. That was a somewhat misleading title, as although there was lots of talking about experiences, there weren't any actual people who might have used the work programme present...just people who's job it is to somehow comment as though they are users of the work programme. It was very exciting to be in the actual room having watched so many of these hearings online, and hilariously weird to be tweeted by my friends suggesting if I just moved one seat along they would be able to see me on the live feed.

I would have liked to stay and see the whole evidence session - there were some very interesting points being made about the complete lack of information for employers or work programme providers in relation to disability - ironically some of the same issues Alex had experienced when he was working to put the intern programme together for the week. The particular scandal was that there was no point of contact for providers or potential employers to be given information about reasonable adjustments, how to help support people or even to speak to Access to Work. It's no wonder the work programme is less effective than not making any interventions, what on earth is the point of throwing endless money at something when its actual design prevents it from working?

However, all too soon we had to leave and to something even more exciting than a work and pensions select committee (yes, I really must work on the getting a life thing!) This was a wednesday, and so a PMQS day - the big draw of the week. Alex and all of Nigel Evan's team made huge efforts to get us tickets as they knew how excited we were about being able to watch that. To make it even more special we were able to go into the central lobby to watch the Speaker's Procession just prior to PMQ's and then were in the house for the feistiest, funniest PMQ's I've seen in a while. It is overwhelmingly loud in there and MP's of all parties are astonishingly badly behaved.

Then it was straight off to a grassroots football event sponsored by McDonalds. I was deeply disappointed that Big Mac's were not on the menu! Fortunately I'd mentioned my utter ignorance of all things football prior to going into the event, so when the nice, smiley man came up to us to say hello, Alex introduced him by name and explanation - it was Sir Geoff Hurst (who, for those as ignorant of football as me, apparently scored goals in the 66 World Cup) We had a chat about my 'swizzy pushchair' which he immediately apologised for calling a pushchair and explained he gets muddled up, partly because he's got young grandchildren, and partly because he spent alot of time pushing his daughter in her wheelchair when she was poorly. I explained that my Dad sometimes calls it a pushchair too, and that as he actually did push me in a pushchair that its an understandable dad mistake to make! I was sorry to hear that Sir Geoff's daughter had died, and we had a little hand hold empathy moment in the middle of the football reception.

If you're looking for football details from the reception...I don't have any sorry! But we did also meet some man called Pat who was quite handsome and apparently used to be good at football too, and there was a fascinating, inspiring woman speaking who was a volunteer football coach in addition to being a policewoman.

We finally managed to get some lunch at about 2.30pm in another of the subsidised restaurants, but for me the day was a real struggle and I'd had to duck out of the football reception briefly to take more oramorph.

The last event of the day was observing a debate on the privatisation of the probation service - it didn't last long as the division bell rang and all the MP's went off to vote, but the most interesting bit was how many of the issues relating to the failure of the work programme came up in relation to probation services, especially as the criminal justice and probation services spend so much time with people with mental health problems or learning disabilities. It showed very clearly that whatever the rights or wrongs of privatising probation, there isn't any point doing anything to it unless we have effective back to work support which can cater for a huge range of barriers.

I was really struggling with pain and fatigue so after we'd finished and I got to go and meet fellow campaigner Jane Young for the first time, its no wonder she was horrified by how pale I was! But, it was still a fantastic day and great to be able to talk it through with friends for a few hours afterwards.

Photo shows Sir Geoff Hurst, a white man in a dark suit with a red tie leaning on a lectern as he gives his speech on grassroots football


Deputy Speaker's Internship - Day 1

3/22/2013 01:10:00 pm BenefitScroungingScum 0 Comments

Having been sent a detailed timetable in advance I had an idea of what to expect we'd be doing when - and it was quite the packed schedule. I arrived in good time to get through security for 10am to find the wheelchair entrance full of buckets and the doors not working. The lovely security man quickly cleared out all the stuff that seemed to be related to trying to fix the entrance and got me in through the first door...which was when we realised that the other door opened in the wrong direction and the only way for the security man to force it open was to lean over me on the scooter. Fortunately he was awfully nice when I ran over his feet while scooting under his arm! I like to make an impression when I arrive in places, but marking someone's feet really won't make it onto any 'good impression' list.

Putting aside the trauma of inflicting actual bodily harm on a House of Commons security staff member in front of a load of armed policemen  before 10am, things went better after that. We all met up with Alex who was in charge of our group for the time we were there, then went up to the Deputy Speaker's office where we met other staff members, and Nigel Evans himself to chat about the programme ahead over coffee. Then we were privileged to sit in on an interview with Nigel about the relationship between openly LGBT politicians and the wider rights legislation in those countries. It was fascinating to hear the candour Nigel displayed in answering the questions and I felt very strongly that many of the issues he was talking about in terms of acceptance were the same as those faced by disabled people. As he described his experiences I felt a mix of respect for him for speaking out so openly, empathy and hope that it can be, will be different in generations to come.

We were scheduled to go on to an Education select committee evidence session after that, but it had already finished so we went to observe the Culture and Sport committee for half an hour, then on to have some lunch in Portcullis House. I didn't have a PA with me, but the BSL interpreters were really good about checking if I needed any help and Caitlin who was also interning in Nigel's office was a huge help with all sorts of little things I couldn't manage.

In the afternoon we went up into the Stranger's Gallery so we could observe Nigel in the Speaker's role during the Opposition Day Debate. The seats to observe are mostly in really steep tiers, but the upper part of the gallery is wheelchair accessible. However, when sat either in a wheelchair or one of the more comfortable seats that fold away neatly into the floor eyelevel is below the window so its really quite tricky to see, when we discussed our afternoon with Nigel and his team later on he said that explained why I kept disappearing out of his eyeline during the debate! I could only hold myself up properly to sit up and see for very short periods of time before needing a rest. The debate was really quite challenging to follow, both in terms of our ability to observe and being able to understand it. Paul and the BSL interpreters found it especially difficult as the subtitle service wasn't working on the screen on their side of the gallery, and of course when it does work it is so far behind what's actually being said that its impossible to follow the order of business that way. I was trying to explain all the different taxes that were being discussed to Caitlin, who was from Tennessee- bedroom tax, mansion tax, 10p tax rate, spare room subsidy - it was all so complicated I can't remember what the debate was meant to be about!

It was an exhausting day for me as sitting is one of the activities I find most painful and tiring - watching a long, complex tax debate through the time I'd usually be napping was very challenging and we got to know one of the Stranger's Gallery staff especially well as he kept joking that he was going to go and get me a blankie so I could lie down! The fun fact about the Commons that I learnt that afternoon also came from Matt who explained to us the bench he was stopping anyone from sitting on was reserved only for police officers, but that police officers must not be wearing their uniform when they sit there. Westminster is a very odd place, full of all sorts of arcane but fascinatingly weird little rituals. 

We finished the day with another chat over coffee about what we'd observed and then, exhausted though I was, it was time to go back to the hotel all too soon. I decided as I was in London I had to find my big girl pants and get brave enough to go places on my instead of a cab I scooted back to the hotel on my own - it was so cold on the bridge I was still shaking back in my room under two duvets!


Polite? Constructive? Request to meet with Minister Mark Hoban 10/2012

3/21/2013 05:36:00 pm BenefitScroungingScum 3 Comments

Hi Marika,

Thank you for getting back to me so quickly, its much appreciated. As this is such an important issue for sick and disabled people I wonder if it would be possible to arrange a meeting at the Minister's convenience please? I will be able to arrange funding and support from the disabled community to attend.

Best wishes,

Subject: RE: Meeting with Kaliya Franklin
Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2012 19:11:17 +0100

Hi Kaliya
Many thanks for your email.  Unfortunately the Minister will not be in London on 14th November as it's the parliamentary recess so is not able to meet with you and sends his apologies.
Kind regards
Marika Fawcett
Diary Manager to Mark Hoban, Minister for Employment | Private Office, Caxton House, Tothill Street, London SW1H 9NA | Phone 0203 267 5021 | internal 25021 | | BOX TIMES: Mon-Thurs 2pm: no box on a Friday. To arrange for clearance of urgent work outside these times, please call the relevant Private Secretary to discuss | Please consider the environment before printing |

From: Kali franklin []
Sent: 24 October 2012 09:48
To: Diary Minister for Employment
Subject: Meeting with Kaliya Franklin
Kaliya Franklin
**Address removed**

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your phone call yesterday, as discussed I'm writing to request a meeting with the Minister for Employment, Mark Hoban to discuss some key issues with the Work Capability Assessment. This would be an additional meeting to the positive and productive meetings at Conservative conference earlier this month with Esther McVey and Iain Duncan Smith, to cover areas within the remit of the Minister for Employment.

The three main points I hope to discuss are in relation to Employment Support Allowance; that of the descriptors, the norms and the further medical evidence processess. In particular the problems specific to each of those areas and what potential solutions can be introduced to improve the accuracy and performance and value for money of the WCA.

I would be ever so grateful if the Minister could please spare me some time to discuss this. As a disabled person who is reliant on benefits it can be very difficult both practically and financially for me to travel to London. However, I will be in London on the afternoon of November 14th funded by a charity to contribute to an event for the APPG on disability and hope it is not terribly cheeky to ask if the Minister could see me that day? Although I am a campaigner I am housetrained,  and won't behave badly as am hoping for a constructive discussion not an argument or protest visit...I do have an embarassing tendency to spill tea though!

Yours faithfully,

Kaliya Franklin

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What is Work Experience?

3/21/2013 09:46:00 am BenefitScroungingScum 2 Comments

Of late, there is much talk of work experience - what makes it experience, how can people do more of it, is it slavery, oh all kinds of questions that for something, back in my day used to be quite simple. A few months before the highly anticipated 'work experience week' which, however dire, had to be better than a week of lessons, you'd fill in a form expressing preferences as to what areas of the work world you might be interested in, then hope for the best and forget about it until closer to the time. I got lucky once and had a fantastic placement, and on another occasion remember sitting in a post room for a week not being allowed to actually do anything. Them's the breaks, even then back when it didn't require either an independent income or DWP imposed sanctions to be able to carry out work experience.

So, when the idea was suggested that I might like to do work experience in the Deputy Speaker's Office I was quite excited and hopeful of more than just a post room holiday. It took everyone involved a few months to set up, in between available dates, illness and wondering just how to fund the whole thing, but eventually we settled on early March, hoping the weather and therefore my symptoms would be a bit better. The weather lived up to traditional British expectations and was f r e e z i n g, but apart from that the week was fantastic, exhausting and exciting.

Being based in the north west I couldn't take up the opportunity of an internship without being able to fund accomodation - which meant for a few days work experience I needed to raise well over £500 to cope with London prices. Fortunately I was able to find a charity to help, so I only needed to cover the costs of transport and food - having several months lead in time meant I could save up for the ticket and food wasn't too terribly expensive as lunch was provided for us each day. Without the charity support I wouldn't have been able to do any of this, and despite asking around charities and work programme providers about funding to do work experience no-one could think of any, so this fantastic opportunity simply isn't open to sick or disabled people who live outside easy commuting distance of Westminster, unless they have independent wealth.

The experience, or mini internship as it was properly titled, was organised for us by DWP Ministers, and a timetable was set out from 10 am until 4pm each day as one of the participants might have fretted a bit about where nap times fitted in to the whole thing. As it turned out, unsurprisingly, naptimes did not fit with the programme, but 10 - 4 was just about sort of manageable, although there were consequences as a result. And I do apologise to the hard working House of Commons cleaner's for the various sticky patches of oramorph residue I left about the place...and the multiple doorways that didn't move when I asked them nicely to. Oh, and the really expensive automatic door that erm, needed fixing after I tried to open it. However, having learnt my lesson about liquids and Westminster, I oh so carefully refused to actually drink anything in the receptions they went to as I've noticed it stresses the domesitc staff out quite a bit when said liquids get flung everywhere. There was a definite, don't worry about dropping stuff, attitude from the political staff though.

Our first morning was so cold, so, so cold that I was visibly vibrating when I arrived at security to be greeted by a broken wheelchair doorway. I suspect the looking like I was going to fall off my scooter helped them rush me in, but the automatic doors refused to co-operate and one nice security man had to fight his way into the bit I was stuck in and wrench the doors apart. On a side note, it is potentially concerning when the security guards remember you between visits that are some months apart. However, this set the tone for the whole 3 days, I'd arrive, we'd all celebrate the wheelchair doorway being fixed, scratch our heads then wait for the nice man to come along and use brute force to open them.

Access at Westminster is an interesting business - generally speaking I think it is quite good, using a base line level of 'is there any access, and can you get to where you want?' however it does involve lots of longer routes, going outside, having to observe from separate areas, and much more time allowed to get anywhere. The teeny tiny lifts won't all fit even a small wheelchair or scooter, and it was sad to see the empty stools in them where just a few weeks ago men had full time paid employment. We only got lost a few times, and one particular 'where are we' moment came with a flurry of black tie'd waiters who let us pinch canapes off their plates.

I noticed that not many people in Westminster notice the real people who work there - the cleaners, the security guards, the waiting staff, everyone who is actually important in terms of keeping the place going is invisible to those who think they are important in keeping the place going. I was really saddened to learn that senior management staff are getting a pay rise of between 4-5% but the important, front line staff are getting the same 1% as other public sector workers, with a side order of re-negotiated contracts to reduce their employment and pension rights. No wonder they are planning to strike. It was also depressing, but unsurprising to learn that the chief clerk of the House of Commons is given a grace and favour mansion as part of his job, not like for example the Speaker's residence which is used frequently to host events, the clerk can do that if they wish, but doesn't really. However, to compensate the clerk for the sheer inconvenience of having to live in a grace and favour mansion worth millions, he is given 7% of the value of the grace and favour property in addition to his salary. This is all information in the public domain but as the chief clerk isn't a political position the media don't seem to care. I bet all the cold, homeless people would care if they knew though, the hard working Common's staff watching their management give themselves payrises certainly cared!

From the perspective of disability and access, I think its safe to say the Deputy Speaker and his team learnt more than their interns. We were looked after by the very lovely Alex, who like most young, ambitious Westminster staffers hadn't much in the way of prior disability experience, so, sensibly he'd phoned up the Diversity Office to ask for some advice before we arrived. They, not terribly helpfully managed to drum into him that he must not, under any circumstances EVER ask 'what was wrong' but merely ask 'what was needed'. Its the kind of social model advice that seems a great idea until reality crashes in and irritatingly reminds people that generally just a little bit more information than that is required. This meant I didn't realise until we were leaving on the final day that Alex hadn't a clue what was going on when I went a funny colour, muttered about needing morphine or went off to the loo to relocate another joint hoping the screaming was muffled by the thick Westminster walls.

The other intern was a young man with profound deafness, so we made quite the group as we went about - Paul needed two full time British Sign Language interpreters with him at all times, sometimes there were three, then there was me on the scooter and poor Alex trying not to lose or break any of us. This mostly succeeded until the final afternoon when for some reason the scooter tipped, I put a foot out to stop it falling, insisted I was fine, then two minutes later said that actually immediate access to a toilet and some morphine would be helpful. Now. Please.

The most important messages I got from this work experience were;

I'd like to go back and stay there forever. My body however was not so enthusiastic about this ambition and demanded copious amounts of opiates and three days before I could get out of bed and speak without slurring.

Westminster is a bubble. We all know that, but from the inside the bubble of priviledge is far more insulating than the outside could ever imagine. It's really no wonder that they are all utterly disconnected from reality, regardless of which party they belong to.

Its not just the work programmes the DWP have 'forgotten' to inform about minor details such as Access to Work. They haven't told other departments about it either, so no-one had any idea when setting this up where they could ask for advice, any access requirements or fund them.

In that bubble, if people insist they want things to happen, they happen. Its like magic to the important people...all those underpaid Common's house elves just wave a wand when the important's aren't there and Dobby style, their will be done. Its really no wonder that we have a political class who are utterly ignorant of the real world when they get a lesson in 'thy will be done Westminster style' without the reminder that the rest of the country simply doesn't work that way.

Politicians are really, really keen to get more disabled people to become MP's. Really keen. So much so they don't actually listen to what disabled people are saying the barriers actually are.

The key take home message I left with was that if I want to be an MP there are no barriers, there will be no glass ceiling, and whatever is needed in access terms would be done. It was actually really powerful to hear that message from the Deputy Speaker, and I won't forget what he said. But sadly, I think there's a long way to go before those same politicians understand that for many of us, all the access or equipment in the world cannot overcome the barriers our bodies present to working in terms of sickness, pain and fatigue. However, the more of us who spend time with politicians, the more likely they are to understand this.

My favourite fact about the House of Commons turned out to be toilet related...which won't shock any long time blog readers, but is also a weird little access feature, historical style. If you've ever wondered while watching PMQ's why the Speaker's chair has a roof on it, its because once upon a time it was also a toilet. The Speaker wasn't allowed to leave the House while it was sitting, so before there were Deputy Speaker's there was a curtain around the chair which the Speaker would pull shut, do his business, then open back up and carry on. Bringing that back would really liven up PMQ's!