One in Five challenge Starbucks

Reading Time: 4 minutes

One in Five disability rights organisation in Scotland have written to Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson. International organisations representing over 500,000 disabled people have supported the letter. Ungagged are pleased to be included. 

The campaigners have challenged Starbucks to invest in the research and development of a new straw that will satisfy environmentalists and disabled people.

Jamie Szymkowiak co-founder of One in Five said

“Our letter shows the strength of feeling from disabled people around the world. Starbucks must listen to their customers, including disabled people and environmentalists, and commit to investing in the research and development of a straw that doesn’t harm the environment for future generations and ensures the needs of disabled people are met.”

One in Five co-Founder, Pam Duncan-Glancy added

“Starbucks have the power to help disabled people and the environment at the same time. Big companies like them can lead and others follow. It’s so important for our human rights that they act now. After all, what is environmental justice without social justice?”

Commenting on release of the letter, Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said

“The companies responsible for distributing masses of single-use plastic items have the resources to innovate products which are truly sustainable and fully fit for purpose – suitable for everyone including the disabled community. Straws and other throwaway plastic items, that can’t be easily recycled, must be phased out and replaced with alternatives that don’t pollute our oceans and are suitable for everyone. In the meantime, plastic straws should be easily available for those who need them.”

We also asked Jamie how he felt about the excellent response, he said

“Too often the plastic straw debate is framed as disability rights versus environmentalists. With this, One in Five is trying to show that the two arguments are just as valid as each other and more pressure should be put on companies to act responsibly. In this regard, it was so refreshing to coordinate an international response and have support from Greenpeace.”

The letter:

————————————-

Kevin Johnson

President & CEO

Starbucks Coffee Company

22 August 2018

Dear Mr. Johnson

Plastic Straws for Disabled People

It has been just over one month since your announcement of Starbucks’ intention to eliminate single-use plastic straws globally by 2020[1] caused considerable anxiety among the disabled community. Furthermore, the ambiguous follow-up statement[2] has done little to reduce these concerns and has led to many disabled people feeling excluded by the world’s largest coffee chain.

One in Five have been working since the start of this year to bring the needs of disabled people to the public’s attention in the plastic straw debate. The average plastic straw is cheap, flexible, can be used for drinking cold and hot beverages, and is readily available. For some disabled people these attributes are vital for independent living. It’s worth pointing out that the umbrella of ‘disability’ includes people with different needs and impairments, and that it’s the universal accessibility of the plastic straw that makes so many disabled people anxious about an outright ban.

As you may be aware, most paper and plant-based alternatives are not flexible or suitable for drinks over 40C (104F). Not only does a soggy straw result in a poor customer experience, the deterioration increases the risks of choking, as some of us take longer to drink. Hard straws, made from metal for example, act as heat conductors and present obvious dangers for disabled people who cannot control their bite or who have neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s. Reusable plastic straws present hygiene concerns to people with specific health conditions and can be very difficult to clean.

It’s not acceptable to have straws ‘available on request’ for disabled customers. This is unnecessary gatekeeping that contributes to feelings of guilt for wanting to enjoy – or needing – a drink. Nor is it acceptable for non-disabled people to expect disabled people to carry a straw everywhere we go just in case we get thirsty. Passing yet another cost onto disabled people isn’t suitable if you accept that society bears a responsibility to make the world more accessible for everyone. After all, environmental justice without social justice isn’t justice at all.

Starbucks have a successful track record when it comes to access and disability inclusion: where your organization leads, others follow. Unfortunately the straw debate is no different, as local coffee shops across Europe and North America abandon plastic straws without considering the needs of disabled people. However, you’re in a position to change that.

It is our view that the only solution that will rid our oceans, beaches and parks of unnecessary single-use plastics and meet the needs of disabled people is for organizations such as Starbucks to invest in the research and development of a new straw that is accessible for everyone, including non-disabled people.

Our question is simple. Will you work with us, and disabled people around the world, by committing to sourcing an environmentally friendly solution that meets our needs?

This letter has been co-signed by disabled people’s organizations, disability charities, notable disabled commentators and political representatives from across Europe and North America.

We look forward to your response.

Jamie Szymkowiak and Pam Duncan-Glancy

One in Five

www.oneinfive.scot

The signatories:

Disabled People’s Organizations & Charities

Center for Disability Rights

Inclusion London

National Disability Rights Network

Glasgow Disability Alliance

Facial Palsy UK

Inclusion Scotland

Ruderman Family Foundation

Raul Krauthausen, Founder of wheelmap.org, on behalf of Ability Watch

Michel Arriens on behalf of BKMF e.V.

Disability Agenda Scotland

  • Action on Hearing Loss Scotland
  • Capability Scotland
  • ENABLE Scotland
  • RNIB Scotland
  • SAMH
  • Sense Scotland

Embla Guðrúnar Ágústsdóttir and Freyja Haraldsdóttir, co-Founders, on behalf of Tabú

Health & Social Care Scotland (The ALLIANCE)

Cumbria Down’s Syndrome Support Group

WOW Campaign

Alice Wong, Founder and Director, Disability Visibility Project

Ian Langtree, Director, on behalf of Disabled World

People First (Scotland)

Notable disability rights activists and political representatives

Baroness Tanni Grey Thomson

Jeremy Balfour MSP, Conservative Party

Johann Lamont MSP, Labour Party

George Adam MSP, Scottish National Party (SNP)

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Liberal Democrats

Alison Johnstone MSP, Scottish Green Party

Míriam Nogueras, VP of the Catalan Democrats (PDeCAT) and MP in the Spanish Congress

Robert Gale, Artistic Director, Birds of Paradise Theatre Company

Debra Torrance, on behalf of Ungagged

Cllr Dennis Robertson

Cllr Robert Mooney

Sandra Webster, on behalf of the SSP Disability Network

Susan Douglas-Scott, Chair of Independent Living Fund

Trade Unions

Community

UNISON

Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC)

[1] https://news.starbucks.com/press-releases/starbucks-to-eliminate-plastic-straws-globally-by-2020

[2] https://news.starbucks.com/views/follow-up-to-starbucks-sustainability-news

Translations of the Letter 

  Plastik-Strohhalme für Menchen mit Behinderung

  Pailles en plastique pour les personnes handicapées

   Pajitas de plástico para discapacitados

   Canyetes de plàstic per a persones amb discapacitat 

 

You can read Ungagged articles on the straw ban here and on the suggestion of a baby wipe ban here 

by Debra Torrance

You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or hear a range of left views on our Podcast

Real Carers Week

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Sandra Webster

I am privileged to belong to a group of passionate writers who are called Ungagged. I love them because they share voices that deserve to be heard and often are not. At the end of Carers Week, am proud to be writing for them.

Once a year we carers get patted on the back and told what a fantastic job we do. I think there will come a time when we all realise the love and compassion carers have, make the world a better place. We do what we do at the expense of our own health, there are no health and safety measures put in place. In a past life I was a paid carer a career, fantastic colleagues. I worked in places with great practice. I had time off and paid holidays. My work then could not prepare me for the reality of being an unpaid carer. We care round the clock often 24/7 when our caring role is over many of us have PTSD and are expected to find work quickly. We have much to offer our skills include advocacy, form filling, managing our time effectively. Most employers will look at our “work history” and not regard this as real work. However we do what we do with love in our hearts.

This week has been a rollercoaster for me but is just a typical one. I have read so many stories on social media. Some of us have been tweeting #RealCarersWeek. We live in the shadows and keep the dark times to ourselves; posting pictures about happy times masks how difficult our lives actually are. The stories I have read this week have made me cry and smile and make me realise I am not alone. I rarely get out. I saw a dear friend who is also a carer this week and got to a gig!! I thought I would not get but I have not had a night out on my own for over a year and we made it. It refreshed my batteries but I felt so guilty going. I know many folk will get that.

Carers contribute more than the NHS budget in unpaid care. What would happen if we downed tools but w won’t of course. The Adam Smith foundation presented a paper this week which said women should expect to be unpaid carers. That is the crux of the matter it is mostly seen as “women’s work” though I know more and more men who are carers. Assumptions are made as well as cuts to essential services. I believe in people being seen and part of their community but this is used as an excuse to making cuts to essential services. Such services are crucial and I am all for volunteers and charities but they should not provide essential centres. Language about community care are used as an excuse to make cuts.

So another Carers Week is almost at the end for us though #RealCarersLives continue 52 weeks a year seven days a week. We have to battle and advocate for support for our loved ones forgetting ourselves. Am glad that so many people have shared their stories on #RealCarersWeek this year. It is up to a 1000. I live in hope things will get better this week but in reality doubt it. Am proud on behalf of Ungagged to wish all who care the best, always at your back. Come and share the microphone that is Ungagged and let others hear your story it is an important one. Love and strength to you all. xx

 

You can read more of Sandra’s Ungagged writing here or listen to her on our podcast

Plastic Pleurisy Part Poo 💩

Reading Time: 4 minutes
The war on plastic is real, it’s escalating. Humans are devising new ways to tackle the ever growing problem that is plastic. We are recycling more, we have discovered plastic eating insects,
We’ve deployed barriers across rivers to catch plastic, we have sophisticated tractor dragged rakes to pick up the plastic on our beaches. However, we really should be cutting down on the production of plastic, and the only real way to impact that is to stop using it.
Hence the logic behind banning some plastic convenience items, such as straws that was featured in my last article on the subject, Plastic Pleurisy.
Now the newest great idea is to ban wet wipes. There has been a bit of an uproar from parents on the issue, there’s many articles that share parents concerns. But do I even need to mention the needs of the disabled? Yes, it seems I do.
Now, you’ve a wee baby and how gross to imagine carrying about a wet rag you’ve just used to clean up a really dirty nappy. Now imagine that baby is a grown adult. Are you still carrying about that cloth? No, no you are not, it’s probably binned. Adding to the every growing number tonnes of rubbish in our dumps.
Double incontinence is a concern for many disabled people who want to go out in public, wet wipes are a necessity. Not a convenience. Yes wet wipes shouldn’t be flushed, and they are causing huge fatbergs in sewer systems around the country.
What is a fatberg? It is a huge build up of mass in a sewer that is caused by things that aren’t meant to be flushed down the loo. There was a whole program about it, where they dissected one, if you want to physically balk when you watch tv then its not hard to find the link online. But here in Scotland we have adverts on tv telling us how our water systems work and regularly advertise what and what not to put down the loo. I think education is a better alternative than flat out bans.
The needs of disabled folk are quickly becoming afterthought in Tory tokenistic environmental policy, and it’s the afterthought that irks me so much. But that’s to be expected from a party who’s welfare reform can be called nothing else than a bureaucratic attack on the sick and disabled citizens of their own country. What’s surprising and depressing tho is the ableist responses from the general public;
Apart from the clearly ableist commentary, the backlash is growing against parents who know what disabled/changing room facilities are like. (Let’s be honest, they are usually one and the same.) There is no bidet and they almost always already smell of poo. There is the cries of “what did you do before wet wipes existed?” and that is true, I asked my 77 year old mum what she used to use, she told me a natural sponge, however there wasn’t many public changing facilities. And of course, babies were in natural terry towelling nappies. As for disabled folk, well my mother recalls seeing the first public disabled toilet in the 70’s, before then disabled folk were rarely seen out. Most likely ostracised from their communities and societies for reeking of pish.
Sometimes disabled folk are stuck in bed, and besides the uncomfortableness of a bed bath, it’s quite humiliating to have someone else clean your private parts. There’s a dignity some folk don’t even have the privilege of having. I’m not going to go down the line of telling you all about catheters, digital stimulation of bowels, adult diapers and other toilet stuff, I’m gonna guess you also go to the loo, you know sometimes you get a dodgy tummy, I’m sure I don’t need to go into the details of why a packet of wet wipes is an essential item in a bug out bag for any disabled person.
What I am gonna do however is talk about actual non essential plastics. Things that no-one needs whatsoever and is a waste of plastic.
No 1. Balloons, now my mum says I’m a party pooper for this one, but really what is a balloon for? Those plastic foil, usually filled with helium (which by the way is in short supply and essential for running MRI machines) and attached to a plastic string. We blow them up and give them for celebrations where they are put in a corner to slowly deflate and wilt away, only to be flung in the bin or they float away still filled with precious gases and end up in the ocean anyway.
No 2. Plastic wrap on things made of plastic. If plastic is so durable it can stay in our environment for centuries, and won’t break down naturally then how come we need to wrap up plastic garden chairs in plastic cling film? That seems a real waste of plastic.
No 3. Plastic coffee stirrers. Apart from the fact you can stir your coffee with practically anything else, why do we have little strips of plastic in the billions, available next to plastic pots of milk and sugar at many a coffee shop and canteen?
So there are three other plastic things, totally unessential to anybody. Total frivolous waste of plastic, plastic that will probably end up in our oceans. I want to tackle plastic pollution as much as any other tree hugging environmentalist. I want to save our planet, it’s the only one we have. Mother Nature is my deity and I don’t want to offend her, but I am so sick of bearing the brunt of powerful people’s decisions. Please think before you ban plastic products that of are real use in making disabled people’s lives easier. We don’t want a return to hiding in institutions, hospitalised indefinitely and made to feel ashamed to go out in public. I obviously don’t speak for all disabled folk, but I speak as a human who was once fully abled bodied. I never expected to suddenly soil myself in Ikea, I didn’t know some student nurse would give me a bed bath when I had my periods in hospital.
And that is the other thing, this ban of wet wipes is also classist. Imagine being homeless or having no access to hot water. How could you stay clean? What if it happened to you? We are all human beings, we all have to take responsibility, that is true. But can we just think of each other before we start banning stuff?

Councillor Mhairi Hunter speaks to Ungagged on Baby Boxes

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Mhairi Hunter

 

When Ungagged asked me if I’d like to write something about the baby box stooshie my initial reaction was to think it might be too depressing.  But then I thought no, that’s how the Tories want us to feel. So here goes.

It all started with a Guardian story based on two pillars: one, that that a cot death expert had questioned the use of baby boxes as safe sleeping spaces and two, that the baby box does not have safety accreditation.

On the first point, there’s no reason to doubt the expertise of the person making the comments. But, as the Guardian itself reported, he is but one of a large panel of experts advising the Scottish Government on the baby box. Experts don’t always agree but the norm is to go with majority opinion.

On the second point, yes there is no single safety accreditation for the baby box for the simple reason that no such thing exists yet, though it is reported to be in development. But the baby box and its contents meet all relevant safety standards currently in place and the Scottish Government has given a commitment to ensure it complies with any new standard that is introduced.

The story was continued the next day, with suggestions that the SNP had exaggerated the impact of the baby box in reducing child mortality in Finland. This was based on a close analysis of websites, speeches and years-old tweets.

Let’s be absolutely, scrupulously fair and say that you could make a case for this. It’s possible that some claims which were made about the baby box could be interpreted as being overstated. Fair cop. But if you subject claims made by any human beings to a close analysis you will find parts that are overstated. Including in the Guardian’s story.

On the key point, the Scottish Government has never claimed that the baby box will reduce cot death and the Guardian had to amend its article to reflect this reality. The case for the baby box in Scotland is exactly the same as it is in Finland – it is part of a wider range of supports for parents and children to encourage engagement with maternity and ante-natal services and give all children the best start in life.

Now all of this might have been fine – journalists are perfectly entitled to subject government policies to close scrutiny – were it not for the toxic interaction between newspaper stories and political opportunism that characterises much of Scottish politics.

Because the story was not only picked up by other newspapers but exploited by the Conservatives (and, shamefully, a few Labour voices) via an outbreak of concern-trolling on twitter and in the Scottish Parliament itself. Calls were made for information on safety accreditation to be published, even though it already was.

This led to an interesting diversion caused by the First Minister who questioned why the Tories were so dead set against the baby box. Was it simply because it was SNP policy? Was it because they preferred to take state support away from families rather than provide it? Or was it because there was no rape clause defining eligibility to receive it?

The latter comment was, apparently, beyond the pale. The rape clause is far too obscene to be mentioned in polite society, you see. It spoils the discourse. Now, I quite agree the rape clause is obscene. That is precisely why it should be raised in polite society at every single opportunity until the Tories finally acknowledge its obscenity, get their discourse together and do something about it.

But back to the baby box. At the end of it all we’re left with the question, are baby boxes safe? Yes, they are.

We all bring our own experience to bear when reading stories like this and my own experience, as someone whose job regularly brings me into contact with health professionals, is that the NHS tends to be pretty risk averse. For me, the idea that the Chief Medical Officer and the serried ranks of health professionals behind her would support anything that potentially places babies at risk is ludicrous. This is just a personal opinion, of course, but one which I suspect would be shared by most people with experience of how the NHS operates.

I’ve talked to health visitors who think the baby box is a fantastic initiative, not only because it ensures that every parent can have a box of essential items ready for bringing baby home but because it provides a simple and effective way to work with and support new mums and dads, especially those who don’t have the help of other experienced parents around them to draw on.  This includes talking about safe sleep. If I’m asked to choose between the opinion of health visitors and the opinion of Tory MSPs, I’m going with the health visitors every time.

So what have we learned from all of this? Apart from the fact that the Sun never knows when to stop, the main thing, I think, is that the politicians who made hay with these various stories did so because they were against the baby box to begin with. And maybe we need to ask the same question as Nicola Sturgeon. What is it about the baby box that makes Tories so very angry?

I think I know the answer. It’s because people like it.

My view, to be fair, is largely based on anecdotal evidence. I don’t know what polling has been done on the subject but the large uptake of baby boxes suggests that parents like it. And so do other people.

What do people like about it? It’s not necessarily the specific policy imperatives it is designed to support. I suspect it is much simpler than that.

They just like the idea of the government providing – on our behalf – a gift for every newborn child. They like what that says – welcome to the world, little one, we care about you, we want you to have a good life and we want to help. They like the fairness of treating every baby equally. They like the generosity which, even in tough times, can find a helpful way to welcome each little miracle of life. They like it because it’s a lovely thing to do and they have no time for mean-spirited penny pinchers who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

That’s what makes the Tories angry but they’re just going to have to get used to it. The baby box is here to stay and I for one am delighted about that.

The Price You Pay for Having Ovaries

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Erin Slavern

It’s not until you start paying attention you realise how ridiculous it is. £2 for a tampon out of a machine. You must have the right change – 2 individual pound coins or you’re goosed. And that’s one of the cheaper scenarios!

 

If you use the women’s toilets, have a look next time. Are the machines stocked? Are there machines at all? You’d be surprised at how often the answers no to either one of the two. A number of restaurants and bars don’t have sanitary product machines, but they have machines which vend condoms, vape refills, even disposable toothbrushes.

 

So why is this? Why is it you can always access toilet roll and soap free of charge and not sanitary products? Why is it that sanitary products are categorised as luxuries that you have to pay to vend, the same way you do if you’re after a condom, some shifty scented lube or a candyfloss vape refill?

 

It’s the price you pay for having ovaries. It’s that simple. The previously mentioned products are used either by both men and women or men specifically. Sanitary products are a necessity for anybody with a female reproductive system, just as essential as toilet roll and soap is to everybody! There is no reason we should have to pay for tampons, anywhere. In shops, in pubs, in public places, museums, dancings, stadiums, train stations – nowhere!

 

It’s this realisation combined with the current political momentum behind the concept of ‘period poverty’ which made me take my own action. I love football, and I love politics – so it seemed only right to mix the two! With football being a male-dominated sport, we thought it would be particularly significant if we were to increase the visibility of football fans in football grounds by pushing for free sanitary products provision in football stadia – starting with our own team, Celtic.

 

Two female season ticket holders Mikaela McKinley and Orlaith Duffy, along with myself started an online petition encouraging Celtic FC to make sanitary products free of charge in their stadium. With Celtic being the top of the league for such a considerable time, with the profit margins and reputations that they have – it seemed only natural that Celtic lead the way with this initiative.

 

It is no secret that sanitary products are expensive. It is the harrowing truth that not all women and girls can afford them, and many find themselves choosing between food or menstrual hygiene. This has to change. Work to increase accessibility to sanitary products in Parliament currently has a primary focus on schools, colleges and universities which is absolutely essential – ensuring that no women or girls have to miss out on education. However, we believe that social inclusion is just as important as education and free sanitary products should be provided in all public places so that females are not prevented from participating in social activities – an important factor in lifestyle, wellbeing and mental health.

 

This isn’t a problem specific to Celtic, it is across all teams and all leagues. However, it can’t be ignored that women have always been the minority gender in football grounds, although our numbers are increasing! Females are often overlooked in terms of football merchandise, the female representation in lower league football is not massive compared to young boys participation and we’re often considered to follow the sport for male validation. We hope that by starting this campaign, if it is a success, that we will be able to highlight our deserving female presence at football grounds.

 

We have faced considerable backlash, and a lot of the arguments bare great similarity. Women demanding their essential hygiene needs are met isn’t greedy – its an absolute human right. Nobody should have to leave a football match halfway through because their needs weren’t met, nobody should have to compromise opportunities to socialise because they cannot access sanitary products. Nobody should be made to feel ashamed about their body’s natural functions.

 

Even if this campaign is not a success, it has started a lot of debate and discussion – which is a victory in itself. Social attitudes need to change towards menstruation. Once it is a normalised subject, we can improve accessibility and ensure nobody’s day at school, trip to the swimming or matchday experience is compromised.

 

 

**UPDATE: Erin’s campaign has been successful!**

Plastic Pleurisy

Reading Time: 4 minutes
So I stumbled across a twitter thread today, quite innocuous but linked to a vital and important issue. Plastic straws. Now I know we have all seen that awful video of the poor turtle with the straw up his nose, but in case you haven’t…
Here at ungagged we try really hard to support all environmental campaigns, and reducing plastics in our oceans is just one of the many causes we ran on our activist advent calendar. I personally recycle as much as I can and try to ensure I buy products with environmentally friendly packaging when I can. We have 5 recycling bins including a food waste bin, as I suspect many of you guys have at home too.
It was recently suggested we would have to increase our recycling capabilities as we brexited the European Union, so it’s no surprise that the government has encouraged companies trying to cut down on unnecessary plastic products across the board.
One of these very admirable moves include banning plastic cotton buds. Replacing them with a biodegradable paper poled cotton bud. The other announcement was from multiple retailers and companies themselves, the banning of plastic straws.
Following the news that Scotland intends to ban single use plastic straws by the end of 2019, several restaurants were keen to tweet that they were ahead of the curve
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There is a campaign called The Final Straw Scotland and there’s a video you can see here…
Now, I really don’t have a problem with companies restricting the amount of straws they stock, I don’t even have a problem with biodegradable alternatives that work. What I object to is being told, as a disabled person who regularly needs a straw to be able to drink, that I can buy my own metal alternative or the company supply a reusable washed one.
Oh. My. Gods! Yukkers *vom emoji* 🤢🤮

 

So first off, never mind the blatantly obvious fact some disabled folk have upper limb impairment which means it can be difficult to hold cups and glasses. Yes we usually have our own drinks container, often with special handles or grips and built in straws, but most of the time the straw has 3 day old water in it or some disgusting electrolyte powder residue from that time you had the skits. And like we are all aware some disabled folk are more prone to disease and infection, and myself having an autoimmune disorder, I don’t really fancy drinking out a “washed”, “communal” straw. I’ve seen dishwashers in bars.
Now the tone of this article is gonna drastically change. If you cant interpret the point I’m digging at then I probably can’t help you past this stage.
  • Numero uno!

Before you comment on why doesn’t a disabled person just buy a metal or wooden straw, or use a paper straw, answer this. Do you have one of those bamboo toothbrushes? Have you recently measured the mould growth? Do you carry around your own cutlery EVERY time you grab a coffee? Oh you don’t use a straw to drink hot drinks? That’ll be why you think paper straws are the perfect solution.

  • B)

99% of my mobility aids contains some sort of plastic. My wheelchair has plastic trim, my crutches half plastic. I have a plastic pirate themed orthotic brace for my foot. I have a plastic bath seat. I have a plastic toilet stool (not my stool, that’s organic. Hashtag: poo emoji 💩)I have a plastic gripper grabber, plastic fans, plastic pads, plastic sheets (sometimes). You cannot plastic guilt trip a disabled person. Most of our furniture is plastic. It’s not a style choice like some funky 70’s LA interior design magazine or hipster Bakelite revival.

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Not a hipster fashion item
  • Section iii.)

Telling a disabled person they can carry a straw about with them or trying to tell them how they can best adapt to their own disabilities, is a bit fucking stupid. No one know’s a disabled person’s capabilities and adaptabilities better than the disabled person themselves, or their primary carer. Swallowing can be an issue for some disabled people. People with physical disabilities and mental/neuro disorders alike. Just cos you have a granny with arthritis doesn’t mean you know what’s best for Tam’s C1 spinal cord injury and resulting impairment. With all your best intentions, just gonnae no?

  • Part IV)

A disabled person most likely has a kit, a bug out bag if you will. I have medicine, patches, pads, a tool kit, a water bottle (aforementioned star wars container with Jedi grip), spare clothes, waterproofs, a hand pump, and a scarf (to double as a blanket) all in the back of my wheelchair. I also have to remember my phone, my wallet, my disabled parking badge, my crutch, my keys, my bag for life and my trolley coin token thing cos there is no way I have a pound coin cash, and you want me to remember to take a straw so you feel better about the banning of plastics? No bother I’ll just die of thirst in the supermarket queue while the lassie helps to pack my 20 PLASTIC bags for life. Not only does remembering such a shitload of stuff impact my cognitive issues, it can be stressful and expensive.

Remembering a wee straw might not seem like a big deal, especially if it’s something you need. It might not even seem expensive. Buy a multipack from the pound shop eh? But when being disabled is already costing a premium, and putting barriers in way of our independence, a small insignificant drinking tube seems trivial. But when you sometimes have to ask for a key to the toilet, plead for access to a ramp, be reassessed on congenital and progressive disorders, a wee straw feels like the final straw.
  • Lastly;

please don’t take this article too seriously. If you want to find out more please go check out the amazing work @jamieszymko is doing in highlighting the issue.

Please don’t be an ableist jerk and think before you tweet.
And please don’t get me started on the issue of pre-chopped vegetables. That involves knives. *angry emoji* 😡
Get in touch, get ungagged! @_Ungagged

12 Days of Christmas- Day 8

Reading Time: 1 minute

On the 8th day of Christmas Ungagged are asking you to save 8 people’s lives. Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think.

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Signing up to the organ donor register will take around a minute, and it won’t cost you a single penny. But you can literally save the lives of eight people, and improve the lives of up to 120,000 more.

90% of us think being an organ donor is the right thing to do. But only 30% of us sign up to the organ donor register. There are nearly 6500 people currently waiting for organs. Many of them, including children, will never get one.

By signing up to the organ donor register, you can help stop not just one family going through the pain of bereavement, but eight. If you consent to donating your tissue or your eyes, you can improve the lives of up to 120,000 more people.

You can be a hero, in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea. And you don’t even need to leave the house.

Don’t forget to tell your next of kin what you’ve done, as they can override your wishes. Maybe you’ll convince them to sign up too, and you’ll save twice as many people.

Sign up to the Organ Donor register HERE

 

And if you already did this during our Activist Advent in 2016, maybe post about what prompted you to join the Organ Donor register on your social media accounts, and why others should consider doing the same, or consider signing up to give blood, if you can.

12 Days of Christmas- Day 6

Reading Time: 1 minute

Can you believe we are halfway through our 12 Days of Christmas already? Today’s small act will cost you nothing but time, but could make all the difference to someone’s wellbeing.

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It can be hard to admit when you are feeling lonely,  and Christmas can be one of the loneliest times of the year.

Have a think about people you might not have heard much from over the festive period. Is there anyone in your social circle that has been quiet over Christmas and might be feeling lonely? Are there elderly or disabled people in your neighbourhood who might not have been able to get out over the Christmas period?  Have you noticed any neighbours who haven’t had any visitors and might be feeling alone? Is there a new-ish neighbour in your area you keep meaning to say hello to, but haven’t quite got round to it?

Now is the ideal time to pop in with all the leftover Celebrations and Mince Pies (after all, your diet starts tomorrow, right?) – it could make all the difference to someone’s state of mind. The Christmas/Hogmany/New Year period is very difficult for some people – a friendly chat with you could help get them through it. And you may well start 2018 with a new friend. Yet another win-win small act of kindness for the 12 Days of Christmas.

Universal Chaos

Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Victoria Pearson

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A shocking government briefing paper written by David Webster of the Child Poverty action Group has come to light exposing the failings of the Tories flagship Universal Credit system, including skyrocketing sanctions against pregnant women, and people with mental health problems.
The scheme, which the government agreed in its universal credit white paper (pdf) was justified due to the “huge social and economic cost” of “welfare dependency” has already been accused of “failing thousands of people” by the Citizens Advice Bureau,  “failing working parents and vulnerable people and the government is far too slow at tackling its flaws,” and  “failing to make work pay, pushing people further into rent arrears and leaving them vulnerable to eviction from private landlords.”

But despite food bank usage soaring in areas where universal credit has been rolled out , the government have doggedly stuck to their disastrous policy.
The DWP has published new figures for the proportion of Universal Credit and ESA claimants who were under sanction at a point in time. For Universal Credit this proportion is stated to have varied between 3.0% and 5.4%. However the Benefit Sanctions Statistics Government Briefing states that the correct figures are approximately 6.7% to 12.0%.

New figures are also published for the duration of Universal Credit and ESA sanctions. The median Universal Credit sanction length is shown as 31 days, but, according to the briefing, after allowing for repayments of hardship payments, the true median would be about 52 days, or over 7 weeks.
Given that the group most likely to be sanctioned are those with mental health problems, and pregnant women, we are faced with the stomach churning reality of our most vulnerable members of society being left with no money, mounting rent and council tax arrears for weeks on end, with little to no support.  It’s no wonder that benefit claimants feeling suicidal is so common that Iain Duncan Smith was forced to release training guidance to DWP staff on how to allow rejected claimants for Universal Credit to talk about their intention to kill themselves.
The Universal Credit regime has similar lengths of sanction to those of Job Seeker’s Allowance for the various ‘failures’, – 310,000 of which have proved to be baseless since may 2010 – but there are some critical differences.
Sanctions are lengthened by being made consecutive, not concurrent, pushing people deeper and deeper into debt. Hardship payments under Universal Credit are repayable, making people scared to take them up in case they can’t repay them, and pushing them further into debt if they do. We know that stress can be extremely damaging to pregnant women and their unborn child, so we have to ask; who exactly does this benefit? What social and economic benefit does endangering pregnant women give us, exactly?
Given that repayments are made at the rate of 40% of benefit – the same as the amount by which a hardship payment is lower than the benefit – this means that for claimants receiving hardship payments, Universal Credit sanctions are in effect 2½ times as long as their nominal length.

All sanctioned Universal Credit claimants must also demonstrate ‘compliance’ for 7 days before applying for hardship payments, and must reapply for each 4-week period. The 80% hardship rate for ‘vulnerable’ claimants is abolished. For a pregnant woman these conditions will mean skipping meals, being unable to travel to essential antenatal appointments, and being at higher risk of dangerous health conditions such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure leading to pre-eclampsia, low birth weight and even miscarriage.
Official statistics – which have been described by the Benefits Sanctions Statistics Briefing as “far short of compliance with the requirements of the UKSA” – released on 14 September show that the take-up of income-based JSA has fallen from 69% in 2009/10 to 56% in 2015/16; the sanctions policy has been successful in driving people off benefit, and also out of the reach of government programs designed to help them, such as training and education schemes.

Perhaps the Tories feel proud of that. But when the crushing weight of evidence has, for years now, proven that the Universal Credit system is unjust, dangerous and not fit for purpose, that it punishes the vulnerable with no net benefit whatsoever, you have to wonder what is stopping Theresa May from performing one of her famous u-turns. One can only conclude that punishing the most vulnerable is the aim.
You can read the full text of the briefing here (reproduced with kind permission from the author)

Judge Tories on their Record

Reading Time: 6 minutes
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Victoria Pearson

Theresa May is in hiding, too scared to appear in public, refusing televised debates, public appearances or questions from the electorate, asking that we judge her on the Tories record instead. So let’s have a look at that.

May has been PM for nine months, and during that time she has consistently insisted she is a strong, safe pair of hands. The reality does not match up to May’s fantasy, however, as during her time as PM we have seen absolute chaos.

Under May we have seen zero hour contracts rise by one fifth, putting nearly 900,000 people in positions of insecure working hours, but struggle, because they are in employment, to qualify for any help from the state. This has pushed almost a third of the UK population below the poverty line.
Obviously people not having money in their pocket has knock on effects to our economy. We aren’t spending, because we’ve nothing to spend. Businesses are collapsing, so more people are going into insecure work, and round and round we go. Add that to the instability in the markets in the US due to Trump, and Sterling tanking due to Brexit, and we’ve all the ingredients for a global financial crash before Christmas. So go far, so stable, I guess?
The knock on effects, unfortunately, don’t just stop at destabilising our economy. We have seen a massive rise in foodbank usage, with Trussell Trust reporting a million people being forced to feed their families donated food this Christmas. Period poverty has soared in the UK, with girls being forced to skip school due to inadequate sanitary protection and women risking infection using tissue paper, socks and old rags because they can’t afford pads or tampons. Health visitors are also reporting parents struggling to afford nappies, leading to babies being changed less frequently and ending up with serious health complications through infected nappy rash.
Rather than helping desperately struggling families, Theresa May – who promised a society that works for all just a few months ago – has capped tax credits claims to just two children. This will save virtually no money, due to the administration – but will see families already struggling become even poorer. The cap not only means that a mother will be forced to fill in a form stating that her third or subsequent child was the result of non-consensual sex if she needs the extra £13- £20 per week, but also that she will have to name that child on the form, and prove she was raped. This move is not just heartless, it shows wilful disregard for advice from women’s charities and the low reporting and conviction of sex crimes.

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The child cap doesn’t just attack rape victims though – it also places yet another barrier on parents trying to escape violent or abusive relationships. Someone with three or more children who are already claiming tax credits can continue to claim, but if their circumstances change, they must submit a new claim, and will only receive support for their first two children. That means that parents who already have more than two children are effectively trapped in their current relationship, unless they can afford to make up the shortfall. If you are in an abusive, controlling relationship with more than two children, you now have to be able to find very well paying work before you can get your children out of a dangerous situation. If nothing else, trapping children in abusive households is a mental health time bomb.
The Tories like to see themselves as strong on the economy and good for business, so while our economy is crashing down around our ears, and they have tripled the national debt to £1920billion despite promising to wipe it out, the Tories have lowered corporation tax again, making us by far the lowest corporation tax in the G7. Having borrowed more than any government in the last 70 years, and reduced corporation tax to a trickle, there is now no money to spend. Still the Tories have decided we have £370million available to refurbish Buckingham Palace, £200million for Johnson’s garden bridge vanity project, and suggested that we spend tens of millions from our foreign aid budget on a Royal Yacht.

Jake Berry, the Tory MP who is leading the campaign for the yacht said

“But here in Britain – the fifth largest economy in the world – we feel it [a royal yacht] is something that we can’t afford. I feel that is a national disgrace.”

Personally, I think it is a national disgrace that, in the fifth largest economy in the world, we have an NHS that is so underfunded that doctors were forced to leave a two year old with suspected meningitis in A&E on two plastic chairs for 5 hours because there were no beds. I think it’s a national disgrace that paediatric surgeons have been forced to cancel babies heart operations because there are no paediatric intensive care beds available in the country. I think it’s a national disgrace that people are being discharged from hospital because there are no beds and dying in the hospital car park. I think it’s disgrace that people in severe mental health crisis are calling up hospitals for help with suicidal thoughts only to be told there are no beds, try again next week if you are still alive. I think it’s a national disgrace that over Christmas The Red Cross described the chaos in NHS as a “humanitarian crisis”.
But the Tories have never cared about the NHS, many of their parliamentary party have argued for an insurance style system in the UK. The Tories have always prided themselves on law and order though. After seven years of a Conservative Prime Minister we should have a strong, well functioning justice system.
Instead we have a prison system in absolute crisis, with overcrowded conditions and inexperienced staff, radicalisation and drug issues worse than they have ever been. We saw five major incidents in six months, culminating in Birmingham prison seeing the worst prison riot since Strangeways 25 years ago. The Tories will argue that this is due to factors they can’t control, but the fact is they have repeatedly ignored pleas from front line staff for mobile scrambling equipment to stop the use of drones bringing drugs, weapons and mobile phones into jails, they’ve sacked the majority of experienced officers to replace them with cheaper, inexperienced staff who don’t know how to deal with the problems, and cut funding for mental health programs and drug rehabilitation in prisons. Things are at such crisis point, prison officers are threatening industrial action, a catastrophic blow for the prison system.
The justice system has been further undermined by Liz Truss’ refusal to back the Article 50 judges when certain ‘news’papers branded them “Enemies of the People”. Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said;

“I can understand how the pressures were on in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally, absolutely wrong.”

It is was Truss’s duty, as lord chancellor, to defend the judges, he said.
One of the most senior judges in the UK agreed.

“The Lord Chancellor has a particular duty to speak up in those circumstances”, Lord Neuberger said.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd has since butted heads with Truss again, saying she had misrepresented changes to the law surrounding victims of sexual violence giving evidence in court. Lord Thomas said her department had “misunderstood the thing completely”, forcing him to write to all judges to correct the mistake.

“It was a complete failure to understand the impracticalities of any of this. And that is very troubling,” he told an inquiry by a House of Lords committee.

Despite this breathtaking incompetence, Downing Street not only backed Truss, but insisted her misrepresentation of events was in fact correct, with their spokesman insisting the Prime Minister had full confidence in Ms Truss – and that he believed the legal profession had full confidence in her.
The Tories aren’t just failings on the economy, NHS, and law and order though. Schools have been hit with the biggest cuts in 20 years. 99% of schools have had their funding cut, by an average of £103,754 in primaries and £470,433 in secondaries.

Schools have been asked to find an extra £3billion in funding, and many are writing to already squeezed parents to beg for help – by fighting Tory cuts and by funding everyday necessities like pens and paper. One deputy head in a well off area, who wished to remain anonymous, told Ungagged exclusively that she hasn’t seen a crisis like this since Thatcher’s day.

“Its heartbreaking to see.” She said “there are children coming to school hungry, and I’m having to ask their parents for money. We don’t have adequate books, pens or paper, let alone computers or enrichment equipment. These children are being failed and there is nothing teachers can do about it.”

Helen Ingham, head of Ivydale primary in Nunhead, south London, told parents in a newsletter that the school faced a 14% cut in its budget by 2019-20.

“To put this in context, that is 30% of what we spend on teachers each year or 65% of what we spend on TAs.” She said,  “Since staff costs make up 70% of our budget a reduction in funding of this magnitude leaves us with impossible choices which will inevitably impact on your children’s education.”

Despite protecting school budgets being in the Tories manifesto, the Tories firmly have their head in the sand, with their only “solution” to the crisis bring to propose new grammar schools, which of course disproportionately advantage wealthier children and draw scarce resources from where they are needed.
The Tories ask you to let their record speak for itself, and hope you’ll just focus on their shambolic brexit and ignore all the real problems in the country. I say I’ve looked at your record, Mrs May, and I’m appalled. The Tories have failed on health, social care, education, welfare, the economy, the justice system, and inequality. Everything that we can be proud of has been neglected, sold off or run into the ground. If May really wants us to judge her on her record, I can only assume she is unaware of it – or is hoping we are.