Sep 132012

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over yet another vibrant and dynamic week in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Congratulations to all those who took part in the Paralympics – whether as athlete, supportive family member, friend, carer or spectator.

This was by all accounts the biggest, most successful, most visible (and probably most vibrant and dynamic) Paralympics to date.

And yes, congratulations to Team GB for their impressive haul of metals – but nationalism should not be the most important focal point of this great event.

This might be a good point to mention that sporting achievement and medals are not the only area where people with special abilities excel. 

Want proof?  Please visit VSA’s Easter Anguston farm before 23rd September and walk the art and sculpture trail, part of the North East Open Studios programme.  Not only is this a well laid out, environmentally sensitive show with wonderful artwork on view.

It’s also a collaboration between people from different age groups, skill levels and abilities – local professional artists’ work is shown alongside the work of children, people with autism, and people from other countries.  This show treats them all the same, and you’ll be hard pressed to tell what kind of person has created the works that greet you:  they are all, without exception beautiful and amazingly creative.

Things are improving for people with special requirements and special sets of skills, but unfortunately, there are signs all around that we’re just not doing as well as we should in terms of help, inclusion and respect.  Let’s do better.

Hopefully here in the Deen emergency services have now stopped parking their vehicles in ‘Handicapped’ parking spaces.  You might remember a certain instance when a fire truck parked at a local supermarket in the handicapped spaces so the firemen/women could go shopping.

Perhaps some relevant definitions won’t go amiss.  And furthermore, as we’re all suffering from UTG fatigue, this will be a web-free column this week (well, I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it).

Uncomfortable: (adjective) state of being at ease or mildly distressed.

Pity the poor staff and customers who were at Costa Coffee in our own Bon Accord shopping mall yesterday:  they were made ‘uncomfortable’.  The Walker family were feeding their young, ill child Brayden  via a feeding tube.  How rude of them!

Naturally, they were asked to leave.  We can’t have that sort of thing in public, and Mrs Walker should just stay home with her child.  According to the Scottish Sun, Brayden’s parents were asked to leave and never return to the Bon Accord Centre café in Aberdeen.  Somehow, Old Susannah doesn’t think they will want to.

I also mystically predict that Costa Coffee will continue to feel ‘uncomfortable’ for some time to come as sales slump.

  Well done to the staff of Costa.  No nonsense approach there

This must be the first time that such an offensive sight was seen in our town.  Let’s hope we can stick to our traditional public behaviour standards of assaults and good old-fashioned drunken exploits.

I would like to commend the bravery of the person who made the complaint against the Walker family; it’s important to stand up for your right of not having to look at ill people.  Well done to the staff of Costa.  No nonsense approach there.  Rather than explaining to the complainant that not everyone is well and healthy, or that everyone has the right to peacefully pursue a normal life.  Nope, just a get out and don’t come back.

Well played!  Wonder what they’d have said to Christopher Reeve or Stephen Hawking?

Brayden suffers from the kidney condition posterior urethral valves and needs 24-hour care.  Therefore, like anyone else suffering with a medical problem, he should just stay out of sight, at least until ATOS hit him with a benefits assessment appointment at some future point.

ATOS: (proper noun) a multinational company, services include IT services – and work fitness assessments.

Old Susannah has an acquaintance (who i would like to consider to be a friend, too) who was in a serious accident over a year ago.  In that year there have been operations (they are on a first name basis with doctors and nurses at the local hospital treating them), setbacks, challenges and so on.

This person is currently in hospital (again), and has not been able to move without discomfort (if at all) for much of this time.  As well as the physical devastation, there must also be a heck of a lot of stress and residual trauma.

Naturally, a benefits assessor has visited, and told this layabout to get back to work and that their benefits are to be cut.

In the spirit of the age, ATOS, the benefits assessment firm, comes to mind.  They are proud sponsors of the Paralympics.  Hooray!

They were also implicated in scandalous treatment of the long-term disabled.  The Guardian newspaper had this report in July:-

“Dr Steve Bick, a GP with 20 years’ experience, applied for a job as an assessor with Atos to carry out the work capability assessment (WCA), and secretly filmed his training for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, which will be broadcast on Monday 30 July at 8pm. Undercover filming shows Bick being told by his trainer that he will be watched carefully over the number of applicants he found eligible for the highest rate of disability payments.

“The trainer tells trainee assessors: “If it’s more than I think 12% or 13%, you will be fed back ‘your rate is too high.'” When Bick questioned how the company could know in advance the precise proportion of people who needed to be put in this category, the trainer replied: “How do we know? I don’t know who set the criteria but that’s what we are being told.”

“Bick asked: “So if we put 20% in, we would get picked up on?”. He was told by the trainer that, in that scenario, his cases would be reviewed.

“The DWP said it was unable to respond in detail to the programme’s  findings because it had not been shown a full transcript, but a spokeswoman said it was “nonsense” to suggest there were targets or expected results of any sort. She said assessors’ results were monitored to make sure they adhered to an average, adding: “If individual Atos healthcare professionals record results considerably outside the average, their work may be audited to ensure quality. If no issues are found with the quality of work, no action is taken.”

“In the footage, one of the trainers admits during a session that the auditing process makes her feel uncomfortable.”

There’s that word again – uncomfortable.

So here’s this person I know, trying to get their life back together, going through operations, experiencing pain, and this is the criteria – apparently – that assessors are using to ‘keep targets low’.

No doubt my friend will be forced back to work, ready or not, if they want to keep a roof over their head and keep eating.  No doubt the young Walker child will be expected to get some kind of low-paid demeaning job as soon as he’s old enough to talk.  And this is, of course, a good thing.

We’ll have 6,500 brand new jobs of all kinds once we build the web, and we’ll need all the low-paid cleaners, street-sweepers, graffiti-removers and tree-fellers we can get.

Damn – and I wasn’t going to mention the web.

Next week:  More definitions, and hopefully a review of all the articles the P&J and Evening Express will publish about the new granite web scandals over the secrecy of the TIF application and the radio blitzkrieg that should have never been.

PS – a true reason to be cheerful:  the Led Zeppelin 02 Concert Film ‘Celebration Day’ will finally be released.  Once it’s out, look for me in whatever cinema it’s showing in for the first few weeks at least.

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  16 Responses to “Old Susannah #94: Paralympics Lessons Learnt (Or Not)”

  1. I feel sorry for that wee lad Brayden, just a baby and already he is experiencing discrimination. I think I will avoid spending money in a Costa from now on.

  2. Funny you should actually mention the web and the disabled in the same article, my father is wheelchair bound and would love to visit Union terrace gardens in a safe manner, that’s why he voted for it to be raised, he wasn’t swayed by the press or the radio he simply wants to access the gardens in the city centre when he’s shopping on Union Street.

    I also feel you do a disservice to disabled people by stating they will be pushed into low paid menial work, especially be bringing the Walkers child into your article, many disabled people excel in school and go on to have very successful careers, why do you doubt the Walkers child may be one of them? I once worked at BP with a gentleman who was paralysed from the neck down, he was a very successful analyst.

  3. Hello George – while I’d made it a rule not to reply to the posts on articles / satirical columns I write (note – this is a satirical column), you seem to be missing some facts evidenced by your post above.

    Dame Anne Begg is one of several people I know who visit the gardens in her wheelchair. The entrance is on the north side not far from HMT. The next time your father wants to visit, I, Dame Anne, or members of Common Good Aberdeen will be happy to show him how it can be done.

    I don’t believe that you’ve grasped the concept of my linking the mythical, non-existent, unspecified jobs the web’s proponents are promising to create with the way the Government is now trying to force people into work who should not be working. It’s happening to people I know who are incapable of working, but are being pushed into taking menial, low-paid work to hold onto the meagre benefits they get. My friends with special abilities have been able to understand the sarcastic link I am making at the expense of those who would force people unable to work into work, and the massively inflated claim the web will bring thousands of permanent jobs (this figure surely must be including low-paid cleaning, maintenance-type posts – or are we all getting white collar work?). In fact people have asked me to post links to this piece so others can see it.

    So if you don’t get what was being alluded to, hope this has helped. Please do take your dad into the gardens – the break the gardens provide from the wind, the fresh air, the sight of people enjoying themselves will do you both good.

  4. My father goes into town with my mother on the bus, due to their ages the walk to the North side is just too far, I also wouldn’t encourage them to be going through the tunnel down there, it’s a well known hang out point for the less desirables in our City.

    I also doubt anyone incapable of working is pushed into a job, if their disability allows them then I see no reason why they shouldn’t work, if they are only qualified for low paying jobs then so be it, however I would never class someone’s work as menial, I think you should rephrase that term if you write on this subject again.

    The new industrial estates being built right now in Dyce and Bridge of Don will provide a broad spectrum of jobs, from low paid to high, the business rates from these companies would have gone to the TIF loan, instead they will go directly to Central government and will no doubt remain in the Central belt. I have no objection for people wanting to keep the existing gardens but when they twist facts to back up their story then it becomes a problem, the 6500 jobs was based on a report by an independent company, they had no reason to make anything up.

    Will the industrial estates attract companies that view Aberdeen as a hard place to do business and a place that has huge traffic problems? That remains to be seen but the recent decisions by our Council will not have made the task easier. I suspect many will view a vibrant Dundee a nicer place to go than a dying Aberdeen.

    • George, if your father is in a wheelchair, i’m sure he has a bus pass which would also allow your mother to travel for free… if the walk to the North side of the gardens is too far there are a number of buses that go from one side to the other… i’m sure they could manage to use these to transport them both… i access the gardens via the tunnel with my 2 children (one of whom is in a pushchair and the other has learning difficulties) with no problems at all and i can assure you i would not do so if i felt my children or i were at any risk from undesirables… to be honest, i have felt more discomfort at the prospect of walking down union street with my children at times than i ever have at the prospect of entering the gardens. Hope this helps 🙂

  5. Yep! Your column resonates (terrifyingly) with me this week. I had to fill in one of the interminably long forms for ATOS a couple of weeks ago and, if you’ve seen the questions, the criteria they appear to use would make as much sense to a monkey as to a health professional. But, of course we know that it’s not health professionals they use. It’s purely a tick–box exercise and the ‘professionals’ will just have a little chart sitting next to them and if you score over a certain amount (assuming they can do arithmetic) that’s it – you’re stuffed. I got my Macmillan Project Worker to go through the whole thing with me, but I have still heard nothing back. I’m hooked to my feeding pump 15 hours a day and depending on how my throat and every other bit of my body feels, I may have to spend up to another hour a day administering drugs. So, sixteen hours a day. And did I say I sometimes have to be sitting VERY close to a loo? I don’t think any of these factors are taken into account. Dr Bick speaks the truth, I’m sure. One of my friends was working for Triage, one of two companies in this area of the country, contracted by the Government to run the DWP Work Programmes for long-term unemployed. What he told me was just as scary – they had similar targets of getting people off benefits altogether and that they were so pressured that there were NO criteria for deciding who to target. So, if perhaps you’re face didn’t fit with your advisor you were basically f**cked. I don’t know how bad it’s got in Aberdeen yet but it’s nnot going to get better any time soon. Pleased to say that said friend now works with disadvantaged people/families at a charity in the city now. That’s my rant for the morning!

  6. Good morning George – Common Good Aberdeen hosted an event in the Gardens to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee – Jubilee Tea in UTG! It was a wonderful day, celebrated by young and old, and what was significant was the amount of elderly/ less able, who were using walking aids, or were wheelchair bound, or who had difficulties with sight, or parents with children in buggies/prams, who all came to the gardens via the rear of HMT. I’m not sure what tunnel you are talking about, so perhaps I have misunderstood what you were saying. Yes, I agree, it would be great to have better access from Union Street, but that is something that can be worked for once agreed plans to upgrade the existing gardens are in place, but, as I said, there is reasonable access for all to enjoy the peace and quiet of Union Terrace Gardens.

  7. Ruth, I’m sure in your position you won’t be forced into work, the main targets are those who use the invadility benefits as a lifestyle choice, if they didn’t exist then you wouldn’t be in the position of having to justify yourself to get the benefits.

    I’m aware of someone who has pocketed invadility benefits for over 20 years with a “bad back” yet props up the bar in my local pub every day of the week. As a Country we can no longer afford to pay these people. It is quite right that filters are put in place to stop these people, that others have to justify their illness by filling out a form is a small price to pay.


    Thanks for the advice but I can’t see the prospect of multiple buses just to enter the garden being very appealing to them, I suspect they’ll rather just wait till the garden gets brought to street level as per how they voted.

  8. If it would require “multiple buses” for your parents to visit UTG – a prospect which, you say, would not be very appealing to them – then clearly Sir Ian Wood’s Granite Web would not be the answer. Perhaps, depending on which service they use, a letter to Sir Moir Lockead’s successor at First Group, or Sir Brian Souter at Slagecoach Bluebird, asking for ‘bus services to be improved might be more appropriate.

  9. H Harper, Access from Union Street would be very appealing, just one bus from Bucksburn to there.

    Even a Plaza covering the railway lines and roads would be much more appealing than what we have now, pity the anti people have now delayed any chance of us getting the TIF loan the City so desperately needs, as it stands all new business rates from the new industrial estates will go directly to the Central belt instead of going to rejuvenate our City, something the anti people didn’t think about in their haste to campaign about something.

    At least we have Mr Trumps investment bringing new visitors, nothing else in the City is doing that, it could be so much better if we didn’t have this radical left wing minority spoiling the wishes of the indigenous people, everything is a struggle, from a simple road bypass to a new World class golf course right through to improvements in a underused hole in the ground there is always a wall facing progress, this has to change or this City is forever going to be seen as backward, the rate of decline is actually frightening.

    • Sorry George, but I am at a complete loss to understand how it requires only ‘one bus from Bucksburn’ to reach Union Terrace Gardens yet it would take ‘multiple buses just to enter the garden’. Clearly there is some esoteric scientific principle at work here which is completely beyond my extremely limited intellect. Perhaps you could explain it to me.

  10. H Harper,

    It really is quite simple, it takes one bus to get from Bucksburn to Union Street, if my parents were to try and get to the garden it would take at least one more bus to take them to the garden entrance, perhaps you could take your “extremely limited intellect” back to the top of this thread of posts and read them all.

    • I did follow the thread hence my picking up on your use of the word “multiple” when describing the number of buses which your parents would be required to take in order and I quote you George, “just to enter the garden.” Now I don’t know about your dictionary, but mine defines ‘multiple’ as, ‘having or consisting of many parts, elements etc; manifold,” which I understood to be more than two i.e. one to get to Union Street and one to get to the garden entrance but clearly, once again, I must bow to your superior intellect.

  11. Shakes head!

    I’m not going to lower myself to your level of debate.

  12. Btw H Harper, when using the first link off Google please don’t edit the contents to suit your agenda, lol! You may just get caught out!!!!! 🙂

    Having, relating to, or consisting of more than one individual, element, part, or other component; manifold.

    • Not Google Mr S but Collins Concise English Dictionary – see page 494 between ‘multipartite’ and multiple choice’.

      End of conversation.

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