THE NEW HOMELESS

Homeless people spot
Homeless people spot (Photo credit: SpirosK photography (back!))

What does the word homeless mean? Does it mean you are living on the streets? Is that the only definition of the word?

Our homes are part of our identity. They are places where we should feel secure, safe and happy; places where we can relax and be ourselves. They are buildings where babies are conceived and where we die. They are and always will be, the bedrock of any society.

So, to consider yourself homeless may not mean that you are living in a cardboard box, although that is the most commonly understood meaning of the word. It can also mean you have lost your home; that the sense of security you had, has gone, that you are living somewhere that is temporary, not your own space; a space you do not feel happy to be in. It can mean that you are struggling to find somewhere to place yourself so that you can regain the equilibrium that having a secure, long-term home gives you.

The bedroom tax is attacking the very concept of a home. To make people move simply because they have too many bedrooms, rooms where they may have conceived their children, have nursed a spouse or parents, rooms that are a part of them, is to my mind, unbelievably insensitive and cruel.

To call yourself homeless means that for you, there is no stability. You are oppressed by your situation. You cannot function as you would if that stability was there, in a home you can call your own.

People of my generation are becoming an extension of that homeless group we only ever thought of as the bodies we saw in shop doorways; the people queuing at soup kitchens; the men and women wandering the streets, of all ages, carrying their meagre bundles of possessions.

But now, this group is growing to include people in their later years, people who have had hard-working lives, who have raised kids and paid their taxes. These are the people who took out mortgages to give their kids security in a home they owned. These are people who found that mortgage rates were too high, had to remortgage and moved on to the next house to try to keep up with the cost of living. These are the people that have been hit hardest over the past twenty-five years. These are the people about to be the new homeless.

Many people in this age group took out interest-only mortgages, desperate to hang on their own homes and keep the repayments down. The stock of council houses diminished under Thatcher and has continued to be inadequate to house people who cannot ever hope to apply for and get a mortgage. So, those who did manage to find a mortgage company willing to enable them to buy a home, were often encouraged to take out an interest-only loan. These mortgages have to be paid off in a lump sum, at the end of their term, but there was always the possibility of a remortgage.

Then, the mortgage companies started to change the rules, making it more and more difficult for older people to remortgage. People in their sixties and seventies who have these interest-only loans and who have had to sell up, for whatever reason, pay off their loans and are unable to get another mortgage leaving them with too little capital to fund a new home, let alone pay for care as they age.

If you are in this position, are you homeless? In my book, you are. With rents escalating and a one-bedroom flat costing anything up to £1000 a month, depending where you are living, how can anyone who has paid off their mortgage, has insufficient capital left and is on a pension, afford that?

The elderly worry a great deal about debt. They worry about leaving their kids with a financial mess to sort out when they die. And contrary to the views of many, not all baby-boomers are wealthy; far from it.

It’s not just the young and unemployed who are homeless; that’s bad enough. Older people who have always paid their way, never been on benefits, held down a job for many years and raised kids, then have to sell up for whatever reason, may be homeless at that stage in their lives, because the housing market, rented or otherwise, is closed to them as well.

To my mind, this is the new definition of the word ‘homeless’.

SHOES WILL TALK

5ecb6fd00add19082d94ca1b25cdaf04Ever bought a pair of shoes that don’t fit? Toes start to turn a nasty purple, lumps and bumps appear, skin peels off: no pain like it, is there? Women put up with this. Men don’t. Why? Because men’s shoes seem to be made for real feet and most women’s shoes are not. I say most because now there are some enlightened shoe manufacturers  who are making shoes that look as if they are going to be comfortable. Hurrah!

I remember winklepickers. Anyone else remember them? I remember trolling up and down Oxford Street in the early sixties, a fiver in my purse, looking for shoes that had a toe shaped like a rocket and heels like thin tree trunks. I remember the colours: bright pinks, white – lots of white (how I yearned for a pair of white, pointy-toed shoes) and even the odd bright blue. After the austerity of the 1950’s, this was something else!

In my schooldays, all shoes were brown, brown, brown. They were boats with laces. You hated them and your feet. School shoes represented oppression. White pointed high heels were all about rebellion and they looked amazing worn with your new Biba dress, if you could persuade your Mum to give you the money to buy them. They had style and they made you feel fabulous or FAB, as we sixties dollies used to say.

Of course, there were dangers attached to wearing such shoes. You suffered. Toes became misshapen, heels were dislocated but was it worth it? YES!  Putting on a pair of those 60’s shoes in a second-hand clothes shop the other day, was like taking a quick look through St. Peter’s gates into heaven. The shoes were agony, but the memories were bliss.

Once, in the sixties, I went to a party. Not just one, but I can’t remember most of them. This one I can. It was in a flat on the third floor of a block overlooking the Finchley Road in London. The host was an A&R man – (Artist and Repertoire). The guests were pop stars of the time. Can’t name names, because I can’t remember them, but they were shiny and high and wore glittery clothes and had long hair and that was just the blokes.462f90be72b12c2b1f5b662477573cbb

I had made a special dress for the occasion – some of us MADE clothes in those days…  It was red with a lot of gold braid. It was a Maxi dress, very fashionable at the time. And I wore shoes. Shoes to die for. They were red patent leather with toes like daggers and kitten heels. So beautiful, I could have married those shoes and had their babies.

The party was like all parties in those days; a mix of booze and hash and fantastic music. I could never drink very much and I hated drugs, so my vice was dancing. Feet sweat when you dance. As the evening wore on, so did my shoes. By one in the morning, they had disintegrated into a ruby mush stuck to my feet. That’s what cheap plastic red shoes did when you jumped up and down in them for four hours non-stop in those days. The heels snapped off, the toes buckled, my feet wept. But did I take them off? NO. I staggered down three flights of stairs with the new bloke I had taken a fancy to, and tottered into the taxi, back to my place for the euphemistic ‘coffee’. I think I slept in those shoes that night. That’s how much I loved them. Bloke? Can’t remember a thing about him. But, Oh those shoes.

My shoes are still the harbingers of memories for me. That’s because they cost so much these days and I rarely buy a new pair. That happens when there are holes in the soles and the heels are hanging off. I just have them mended – cobblers are back in fashion! Boots hold particular memories. They have seen snow and floods, sleet and ice. They have protected me from weird weather and viscous mud. They have been, at times, my salvation.

So, that is why I hang onto my shoes. I hoard them. I adore them. They represent my life! I have boxes of old shoes in my wardrobe. What is better on a rainy afternoon than unwrapping a pair of shoes from tissue paper and lovingly trying them on again, even if they don’t fit. They are time capsules.  Beats sex any time.

A CULTURE OF HATE?

English: Churchill in 1916. One year after his...
English: Churchill in 1916. One year after his first political downfall the caricaturist imagines the politican to immerse himself in his writings. Captions reads: “After all, some say ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.'” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you write a blog, I guess you expose yourself to the world. You reveal who you are, what your values are, the way you see the world and you hope that the folks who read it won’t think too badly of you; at least that’s what I think. In this age of pretending that everything is perfect, in line with the lives lived in TV adverts, it’s hard to be a lone voice shouting from the sidelines and refusing to conform.

If you are in any way famous or infamous, you have to be very careful what you say or write, because you are up there like a moving target in a fairground sideshow, waiting for the pot shots. We have freedom of speech, thank God, but that also gives everyone license to be as nasty as they like when they express their views and opinions. So, to state your case on the Internet, in a blog or in any sort of media, you are asking for it, even if you are an ordinary plebian, like me.

That’s the price you pay for speaking out. It’s worth it. I know that if something is gnawing away at me; if there is an injustice happening that I can’t tolerate and that I can’t do anything about, the only way for me to deal with it, is to write about it. The pen is mightier than the sword if you use it well.

Perhaps I sound a bit goodie-two-shoes here? It’s trying to tread that fine line between wanting to stop bad things happening and needing to express spleen! The latter can sometimes piss people off, I’m afraid. Combining the two in a way that touches hearts is the trick.

In the last week there have been some stories reported in the press that have made my spleen jump up and down. I have also been sent into apoplexy by the comments made by the great British public in response to these stories. The sad thing is, there is far more vitriol being splashed about than balm and honey. This shows that we are living in a time where all is not well, despite the happy faces of the families who try to sell us soap powder on TV.

Discontent is everywhere. I’m sorry to be a party pooper, but increasingly, the citizens of this country are showing how unhappy they are. Is it all the fault of the government or does it go back to a time when we were lead to believe that ‘me’ is the only person worth listening to? I’m not sure. Certainly, this government has not done itself any favours. The axe that has been taken to our social services, to the NHS, to all the things that made this country important in the eyes of the world; the sense that we were a compassionate, loyal and reliable people; that we kept promises, respected the law, cared about the young and the old and made provision for them, believed in equality and showed enormous toleration – all that appears to be on the slide.

Of course, in the wider world, far more terrible things are happening. Last week, we all witnessed something that no one could fail to be affected by: the hacking to death of a young soldier, in broad daylight by two young men who believed this would change things for the better. What misguided and terrible values; what blindness; what hate; what a waste of human souls!

The use of violence continues, either by individuals, by nations and their armies, by religious zealots. It solves nothing. It creates generations of people who are resentful, full of hate and willing to commit murder for their misguided belief system.

In a thousand years, if humans still live on this precious planet, what will they think of our history? How shamed they will be to think that we were capable of behaving like that to each other.

FIRST BADGERS – WHO WILL BE NEXT?

A dead badger (Meles meles), adjacent to the A...
A dead badger (Meles meles), adjacent to the A386 Tavistock Road in Plymouth, UK. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, they are going to start culling badgers. Why not start culling old people, the disabled, the poor, the disenfranchised, the unemployed at the same time? Why not get rid of any living thing that does not fit in with the demands of the rich, the disdainful, the arrogant, the know-it-all’s, the vindictive, the mad men and women, the nasty, the stupid, the more stupid, the bullies… Shall I go on? The people who only see things one way?

What on earth is happening to the way we see our wildlife – or don’t see it, because the way things are going, the countryside will be a barren expanse of little boxes and you’ll be lucky to see an ant! It’s common knowledge that people who are shown to be cruel to animals are often cruel to children; to other human beings. What signal is this cull going to give to our kids? That killing is how you deal with trouble makers?

We have been told that badgers give cattle TB. I’ve heard all the arguments but this is my take on the issue: Badgers, some not all, are infected with TB, more in the South West of England and in certain parts of Wales. In 2000 DEFRA set up a controlled experiment called the Krebs experiment. What this means is that badgers are killed in some areas but not in others. They are also killed in areas where cattle have TB. Unfortunately, because other people have interfered with this experiment, the results cannot be relied on.

There are farmers who think that because badgers can be infected with TB, that means all of them should be killed and that will stop cattle getting the illness. The people against this killing of wild animals think that we have no right to do this and that it’s wrong to attack a particular species just because the government wants to keep a few testy farmers happy. So the folk against the culling try and actively stop it. But DEFRA have said that the experiment will show clearly if badgers are the culprits and are giving the virus to cattle. On the sidelines to all this are the ‘experts’ who say that the experiment is not scientifically credible and that the results will be useless.

So where are we? The results will be flawed and where will that leave the politicians and farmers? Regardless of this experiment, we do not definitely know if it is badgers that are giving cattle TB. I’ll say that again: WE DO NOT KNOW FOR SURE. We don’t yet really know how the disease is passed around, we just know that it is. Is this enough to sanction such a cull? Personally, I think not.

Many people who know about these matters, think that it’s very hard for badgers to infect cattle. There are lots of articles on the Internet to read about this. But if you ask a farmer whose cattle has had TB if they are in favour of a cull, they more than likely will say yes. It’s very sad, because until we know for sure, killing these beautiful wild creatures, is to my mind, very wrong.

Looking at the bigger picture, we eat far too much meat, anyway. Do we need to only drink cow’s milk? There are alternatives. Can’t we be a little more imaginative in how we eat? I can hear the farmers loading their shotguns as I write this…

Badgers live here!
Badgers live here!

DO WE HATE OLD PEOPLE?

The Happy Family
The Happy Family (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do you really think about old people? Do you see them as a pain in the neck? As senile, shuffling parasites? As people who must be discounted in favour of the young?

It’s a sad truth that we have little real respect for the elderly unless they are rich and famous. Since Dr. Harold Shipman was found guilty in 2000 of murdering 215 elderly patients (possible 260), there has been little increase in the compassion shown to our ever-growing elderly population. I, for one, am quite scared of becoming seriously old. Not because of illness or a fear of death but because I may become one of the vilified, the patronised, the battered, the ignored.

The media love to report on horrendous stories of abused old people in nursing homes. We are used to hearing reports from the relatives of elderly sick patients badly treated by nursing home staff or reading about old ladies left to die alone in their homes. Do we feel anything? Have we become desensitised? Does all the negative media around make us hate or indifferent to everyone over 70?

It has to be said that we are very disinterested, as a nation, in looking after our elderly relatives within the family. We panic at the cost of social care; at the thought that mum and dad will have to sell their home, our inheritance, to provide cares as they become more feeble and unable to look after themselves. We see care for the elderly as an increasing burden on the state. Yet, everyone of us will get to that stage, unless we die young. People are living longer but there seems to be a national denial of any family responsibility.

Now that so many families are split, the responsibility for care moves further and further away from family members and on to the state. Who will take responsibility for mum, widowed and in her late eighties, frail and maybe incontinent when sons and daughter’s are divorced, with new partners and new kids? Who wants to look after step-granny/granddad?

It just doesn’t come up on the radar for most young people, either. It isn’t something discussed in schools, is it? There is no ‘culture of inclusion’ taught, when it comes to our own old relatives. Someone else will do it. The government wants everyone to start paying for their pensions once they can jump out of the cradle, yet there is an insidious denial of the real issue – a lack of will to promote a resurgence of compassionate care for older relatives within the family and that they should be valued and seen as an integral part of the family with a huge contribution to make. Perhaps if this was the case, there would be far fewer incontinent, senile old people that have to rely on often cold, inadequate and indifferent state care provision?

To make ageing parents/ grandparents feel they are really important and are valued members of a family, no matter how that family is configured, can have enormous benefits for everyone. Older people who feel valued live healthier and happier lives. Contact with children and grandchildren, even if Skype is the only method of communication, can give older relatives a real sense of inclusion and of being wanted. Everyone benefits.

Of course there are families that willingly love and care for their relatives and would not consider leaving it to strangers. And there are times, when someone is too ill to be cared for at home, but in general, the young never consider if and how they will care for mum and dad when they become old.  Often, they see them as the lucky generation, having been able to buy their own homes and stay in the same job for years. If our young people are without jobs, without hope for a bright future, they will not want to think about ageing parents.

However, a society that is happy to foist the care of the elderly on strangers alone as the norm, is a society that lacks compassion and that means trouble.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS VIOLENCE

Grandville : Cent Proverbes
Grandville : Cent Proverbes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although I have written about domestic violence in the past on this blog,  I want to remind you, yet again, that two women a week – yes, you read that correctly – two women a week are killed by domestic violence. This is the average figure in the UK and has been so for the last 15 years. Why are we, as a society, tolerating this?

Today, I read about the tragic case of Maria Stubbings, who was killed by her boyfriend, even though she had asked the police for help. The man who killed her had already served a sentence in Germany for killing another woman. Now, whatever the ins and out were about this relationship, why did the police not pick up immediately on this man’s past and give this woman the protection she needed?

Domestic violence is violence against another human being and it is a crime. Only a full public inquiry into this appalling case will reveal the truth and Sandra Hurley, a woman who should know as she is the chief executive of Refuge, is supporting the need for an inquiry.

This type of violence can all too easily be dismissed by the police. Perhaps old attitudes secretly prevail – prejudice against women per se? The idea that what goes on between a woman and her man is private and should remain so, even if that woman is being beaten up on a regular basis. And it’s not just women who are violently assaulted. Men can also live in terrifyingly violent relationships. Domestic violence is no respecter of gender, sexual orientation, culture or creed. That is why those who are responsible for protecting people who find themselves in such a situation should be far more on the ball and recognise from the first phone call that this might be a situation that could escalate and lead to yet another murder.

It is gratifying to hear that the police have accepted that in Maria Stubbings case, errors were made and they intend to implement changes in how officers deal with such incidents. But the violence continues and the shocking statistic of two dead women a week is, to my mind, totally unacceptable in a civilised society.

The unerdulterated consumerism that has been thrust at families since Thatcher has much to answer for. The change in priorities, where it became more important to acquire ‘stuff’ than to spend time as a family – being together; sitting round a table eating real food; talking to each other, ignoring consumerism for real values – has put huge pressures on people and their relationships. Life has become a race for shopping opportunities where there are an infinite number of choices and an easy entry into debt, without any real thought of the consequences. Even so, despite whatever chaos a couple may unwittingly descend into through unemployment, lack of money, divorce or separation, there is never any excuse for domestic violence. Never.

Is there also a sort of blind spot about the children living in families where domestic violence is the norm? Years ago, when I made the award winning training film The Lost Child, professionals in the field of child protection were saying that there should be more ‘joined-up thinking‘. That phrase is still being used. Agencies do not collaborate enough. The left hand often does not know what the right hand is doing.

Chances are missed and  vulnerable women and children are paying the price.

JUST BE NICE!

The Flying Carpet by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880). ...
The Flying Carpet by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880). Oil, canvas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Customer service! A bit like choosing a religion then damning God; like giving peanuts to an allergy sufferer and watching them choke; like taking people on to your cabin cruiser for a nice day out, pushing them overboard while saying it’s all part of the service, then watching them drown.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but how you treat your customers is crucial if you want your business to survive and there are a few businesses in my neck of the woods that do not deserve to survive because their customer service is so utterly appalling. Sadly, local councils often fall into the category of dreadful customer service, as do parish councils. Some are amazingly wonderful, so I am not tarnishing everyone with the same loofah. It’s up to the citizens living in their catchment areas to make a stink about such behaviour, if they come across it.

I am carping here about businesses that have absolutely no regard for you as a customer and treat you as if you were a piece of doggy poo they had inadvertently stepped in and it’s your fault that they did.

Here is an example: a very large shop that sells carpets. You spend at least half a day choosing your carpets. You listen attentively to the salesman who explains that the prices are not what you will ‘actually’ pay for the carpet, but have something to do with a ‘top-line’ – whatever that is. You listen to his detailed description of waft and weave, of distribution and development; you wonder at his knowledge of the names of carpet fitters, carpet manufacturers, here and in the EU; your ears start to hurt. After several hours, when you begin to question your own judgement and decide you have probably made a huge mistake by choosing the wrong colour, weave, thickness, underlay, you desperately try to make for the door. Your salesman is still there, his face two inches from yours, with the promise of quotes in the post by the following morning. Blinded by his reassurances, you totter out to your car and drive home, fifty shades of grey, blue, beige and cream flashing before your eyes where traffic lights should be.

The next morning, the postman arrives with the usual pile of bills, circulars and other junk. You nervously sift through. No quote. No acknowledgement that you even visited the store and spent what felt like half your life there. Nothing. Nada. You are invisible. You drink coffee and think: ‘Oh, well. They are probably very busy. I’ll give them a day or two…’

The days roll by. A week passes, then two. The quotation, like doomsday, never comes. After a month, by which time, you have visited three other carpet stores and have something to base your assessment of customer service on, you decide to pretend that afternoon never happened. It was just a dream.

You find a local small store who treat you like royalty, who ‘listen’ to you and only answer questions that you ask. The salesman is calm, friendly and gets the job done. When you ask about how they deal with complaints, he answers you with gravitas and reassures you by handing you a leaflet that spells out a clear complaints policy. You LIKE him. You order the carpet and part with your hard-earned cash. So far, so good.

The day arrives when your carpet is fitted. Two jolly chaps turn up and start work. When they have finished, they tidy up, say thank you! and leave, quietly. You examine their work in the silent and muffled atmosphere of a newly carpeted room. It is all looking great. But – and I can hear your groans – there is a problem. After a few days, the carpet in the corner of the room starts to come away from the wall. There is a fray; a run like a badly-made stocking. You examine it carefully, using a magnifying glass your granddad left you. As you are not an expert in carpets, despite your lecture from carpet store number one salesman, common sense kicks in. They have simply forgotten to tack this bit down? The carpet has shrunk? They cut it all wrong? They caught it with the scissors?  They are really plumbers?

With a heavy heart you call the shop. Happy salesman answers and you wait for the worst to happen. You are braced for an argument; for the inevitable ‘it’s your fault, madam,’ scenario. But, joy of joys, the opposite happens. Huge apologies flow from the earpiece of your phone like colourful butterflies. Diaries are synchronised. The fitter will be with you tomorrow at nine o’clock. If necessary, the whole room will be refitted with new carpet. You are apologised to again and told to have a nice day. Your heart returns to its normal rhythm. Your self-esteem is rebooted. Your sense of self is back in good shape. You are HAPPY!

The next morning, true to their word, the small shop send their men out again and the carpet, all of it, is pulled up and a new lot put down. You are apologised to again! An explanation is given – it was a faulty roll. You could kiss them. But you don’t, you just thank them and know that you will recommend the shop to every single person on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Tumblr etc.  You will write a blog about it. You will, when you can afford it, carpet your whole house. You love that shop!

Now that’s customer service!

MY FOODIE HERITAGE

Cover of "Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a V...
Cover of Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa

I am reading a great book at the moment. It’s called EATING UP ITALY by Matthew Fort, published by Fourth Estate. This book has put me in touch with who I really am.

Matthew Fort travelled through Italy on a Vespa. He ate and then describes the food, the people, the history and the recipes in the book. You can smell the Melanzane Sott’olio con Peperocino, the Pasta al Forno,  the L’agnolotto Casalese – I’m not translating these gorgeous dishes, you will have to read the book to find out what they are, and cook them!

I am half way through this lovely book and already memories of my childhood have come flooding back: my mother, her black dress speckled with flour, standing by our old kitchen table, her back slightly bent, her concentration palpable as she made pasta for the ravioli we ate regularly. This ritual was a secret, for we were an Italian family living in North London just a few years after World War Two. My parents felt it was diplomatic to keep our heads down and become assimilated, at least on the outside. As time went on, I did not feel the same sense of fear they had and saw my Italian heritage as something to be embraced and not ashamed of.

The cooking that went on inside the walls of our London apartment was exquisite. My mother and her sisters were all amazing cooks and passed down to me and my children, the love of home-made good food. The memories of the smells that permeated my home – gently stewing meats infused with garlic, wine and herbs; the little parcels of ravioli filled with ricotta and more herbs floating lazily in soup, waiting to be covered with a fine dusting of freshly grated parmesan cheese, the antipasto – little dishes of small delights, olives and mounds of potato salad, thinly slices salami, prosciutto, tomatoes and beetroot, sardines and anchovies, sliced red onions in a sweet liquor, bread sticks rising like thin towers out of a tall glass as a centre piece of the table – all of this and more are part of who I am, as the child of Italian parents who had left their homeland because of war and famine, fascism and destruction to settle in a country that gave them a chance to experience peace and be happy.

At that time, food was rationed, so to access such exotic ingredients was not easy. There was a black market, but my father did not need to use it. He was a musician, playing in some of the poshest restaurants and clubs in the West End of London. These places often had Italian chefs and he made friends with many of them. In fact, many came from the same villages in Northern Italy, villages that my father knew well and with the food, were topics of conversation that bound them together. I remember sitting on our front garden gate waiting for Dad to come home, carrying a large box of culinary delights from some compatriot chef who had taken pity on a poor musician and his family. Often our food came from the best kitchens in London at that time and how grateful we were!

Reading Matthew Fort’s book was such a tonic. Although I love my country – and by that I mean the UK, as I was born and raised here, I also think a lot about Italy and how different my life might have been if my father hadn’t left in 1919. My mother was born here, like me, but her parents were also immigrants who settled in the East End of London and made good.

Both sides of my Italian family contributed hugely to this country and it makes me so sad to hear people talk in such a disparaging way about immigrants. Yes, I know the UK is not a bottomless pit and there have to be measures put in place to make sure that the laws are fair to everybody, but speaking as someone who understands the way it can feel for incomers; for frightened, often vulnerable people who have left their homes to find stability elsewhere, I wish there was more compassion and tolerance. We seem to be losing much of that.

Here is my Dad playing Accordion on this recording of SHINE made in 1935, long before I made my entrance! He plays a mean solo…

A TAX TOO FAR!

The article below is from The Independent newspaper. It is written  by Dominic Harris.

 ‘A grandmother who killed herself left a note in which she blamed the Government for her death. Just days before she died Stephanie Bottrill, 53, from in Solihull in the West Midlands, told neighbours she simply could not afford to live any more.

Her family told the Sunday People she was tortured about how she would afford the £20 extra a week for the two under-occupied bedrooms in her home – money she owed because of the Government’s spare room subsidy policy, the so-called “bedroom tax”. Ms Bottrill died in the early hours of May 4. In a letter to her son Steven, 27, she said: “Don’t blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the Government.” He told the newspaper: “I couldn’t believe it. She said not to blame ourselves, it was the Government and what they were doing that caused her to do it. “She was fine before the bedroom tax. It was dreamt up in London, by people in offices and big houses. “They have no idea the effect it has on people like my mum.” In the days before she died Ms Bottrill told her son she was struggling to cope, and told neighbours: “I can’t afford to live any more.” Ms Bottrill had already packed up the belongings in her house in Meriden Drive, the Sunday People said. Her son said she was distraught at having to leave the home she had lived in for 18 years, where she had raised two children as a single mother. He said: “She didn’t want to go but she knew she had to. She couldn’t afford to stay. It was too hard.” Ms Bottrill lived in her three-bedroom home on her own after her two children moved out, leaving her with a 25% reduction in her housing benefit for two rooms, the Sunday People said. Solihull Council Labour group leader David Jamieson, who knows the family, told the newspaper: “I’m absolutely appalled this poor lady has taken her own life because she was worried about how she would pay the bedroom tax. “I hope the Government will take notice and reconsider this policy.” Under the spare room subsidy policy, introduced last month, benefits will be deducted from social housing tenants of working age who are found to have more bedrooms than they need.’   Dominic Harris. The Independent


I felt I had to repost this article on my blog as it affected me deeply. I believe that the upheaval and distress this new tax will create to so many people is totally unacceptable. It is a badly thought out tax and smacks of desperation by a government that is only interested in ideology. The legislation being imposed is cold-hearted and indiscriminate and takes no heed of the impact on people’s lives. My sincere condolences go to the family of Ms. Bottrill

UNDERSTANDING ANGER

English: A metaphorical visualization of the w...
English: A metaphorical visualization of the word Anger. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up this morning feeling very angry and it worried me. Kicking the cat, or punching my pillow did not seem to be a good solution. Making a pot of coffee and going for a walk might help but I was still seething – about what doesn’t really matter – and found it very difficult to calm down or ‘wind my neck in’ as I was told as a child. Steam was ready to spout out of both ears and possibly from the under-carriage as well. Shouting at someone would work, I knew, but there was no-one to yell at. It was, after all, 7am and the lane I strode down was empty. I could have screamed at a couple of horses in the field or jumped up and down on a centipede scurrying across my path, but I’m not an unkind person by nature so I desisted and struggled with the feelings like a nun struggling with the devil!

How do you start to understand your anger? When the feelings well up inside you, what can you do to help you work through it and come out the other side, intact. Well, you can start by acknowledging that there are two types of anger – the healthy and the unhealthy. You can investigate what it is that sets you off and stokes your anger. You can think about the way you express your feelings and ask yourself  if you are doing this in a way that gets you listened to. You can think about how stressed you are and what makes that stress worse and leads to an explosion of anger. You can learn how to deal with your negative feelings.

Everyone gets angry. It’s a normal emotion and its role is to make sure we stay safe. But if, in childhood, we were encouraged to suppress our feelings; if we were born into a family where to express feelings is frowned upon, especially any expression of anger, we may find that in later life that anger becomes uncontrollable. It can control us and lead to violent and abusive relationships. So, understanding what makes someone uncontrollably angry, looking at the feelings underneath the explosion, is a good way to start to find out how to express those feelings in a healthier way. We have to learn to express ourselves so that the anger doesn’t escalate.

Looking at why something makes you angry as soon as you feel that anger, can help. But it’s not easy. Anger, when it is unchecked, is a force to be reckoned with. So finding out what lies underneath the anger is a good way to give you back some measure of control and time out. My mum used to tell me to count to 10 when I felt angry. It does work, because it gives you time to consider, to think about the reasons behind the emotion that threatens to overwhelm you. Usually, fear is involved and injustice.

In a relationship, you may be feeling anger as way of protecting yourself and making sure you maintain a sense of self-belief. Often, if you have been hurt in the past, your anger may be triggered by memories of that hurt suddenly flooding in. You may also be expressing the anger felt by your partner who cannot express their own anger. Sadness and grief stored up in the body, with no outlet, can also become uncontrolled anger. I remember a member of my family who had suffered several bereavements during her lifetime and in old age became increasingly angry over the slightest thing. Eventually, a breakdown was diagnosed. The unexpressed grief had turned to anger and then, because no help was on hand, had become severe depression.

Anger is often a way of expressing feelings that are hidden. Fear of being abandoned, or not heard or dismissed by our partner or feeling unconnected from yourself can all trigger anger that consumes us. So ignoring feelings generally is not a healthy thing to do. To repress your feelings will see them bursting forth in other, less healthy ways. Trying to be non-judgemental and educate yourself to understand the reasons behind your anger is a good plan. Ask what is the anger telling you? If you avoid feelings, if you deny them, then you cannot deal with them effectively. It also leaves those close to you tip-toeing around your unexpressed anger, in fear and trepidation! Hurt feelings are often hidden beneath outbursts of anger. Understanding those feelings and giving yourself time to value and consider them will give you breathing space and will allow your anger to be expressed in a way that is pro-active rather than destructive.

At the end of my walk, having stopped by a stream and focused on the water bubbling over stones, noted the beauty of the colours, the sounds and the smells, I suddenly realised the anger has dissipated. The things that had made me so furious seemed all a bit stupid, and…funny! I found myself laughing. I felt happier. My body didn’t hurt! I felt free from an emotion that had, for a short while, threatened to control me, absolutely. The serious issues that had made me so angry hadn’t gone away, but my response to them had, and that was liberating. I felt reassured that I could deal with the emotion and the problems with compassion and understanding, rather than bashing something or someone up!