Under-occupied

I met with a resident this weekend.

Husband and Wife have lived at their address for nineteen years. Husband was diagnosed with hairy cell lymphocytic leukaemia in December 2013. Husband and Wife are both 59 years old.

Wife has degenerative osteoarthritis. Both are now registered disabled. Both have enhanced rates of disability.

As a result of Husband’s illness he has lost his job; he was a baker for thirty years. He is now in receipt of housing benefit. His home is owned by a housing association and is a three-bedroom mid-terrace. It is now described as under-occupied, and this means the bedroom tax kicks in, costing them £30 per week.

They are not opposed to the idea of moving to somewhere smaller, but do not want to live in a tower block or in a care home. Unsurprisingly, with such a bleak outlook quality of life figures high in their priorities. Wife struggles with stairs and needs an adapted bath.

I had a long chat with Husband, a long and difficult chat. His diagnosis in December is a death sentence, and the added stress of the bedroom tax is hitting him hard. Seeing a grown man reduced to tears is not something anyone would enjoy.

They are quite prepared to live anywhere in Essex, although it seems that this is not a possibility as they have no family outside of the borough. It does strike me as peculiar that potential properties are denied them because of where they live, yet legislation is attempting to make them move anyway.

Fight against cuts and privatisation at Southend Hospital

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Outdoors

My remembrances from childhood are of as much spent out of doors as was possible. This included snow-bound Christmases, and only downpours meant time spent at home. Nowadays, childhoods are largely spent enslaved to the latest technological wizardry, or so it seems at times. Of course, this is a gross exaggeration, although it is not an exaggeration to say that today’s youngsters spend less time outdoors than we did in the sixties and seventies. But, we are facing the prospect of seeing a generation to come who will not live longer than we do, and we are seeing disturbing signs of over-eating and lack of exercise in the very youngest.

There have been a number of initiatives to address this, and my particular concern is to see wide open green spaces preserved – including those school fields yet to be sold off. Play England has similar goals. Whilst one cannot seriously expect no greenery to disappear under roads, houses and commercial enterprises, we can ask and expect that access to green spaces be incorporated into any development plans.

I suppose gone forever are the days of tin can football played in nearly carless streets.

Smoking in cars with children

If you were to ask me whether I thought it was a good idea to smoke in a confined space in front of children I would reply ‘no’. I think you should not smoke in front of anyone who is either unable to ask you to stop, or who cannot walk away.

I am an ex-smoker; I smoked my last cigarette on 19th February 1982. I had cut down to ten a day, wanting to give up, when I started dating the non-smoking Petrina. I really enjoyed smoking, but I wanted a long, healthy life more.

MPs have voted in favour of banning smoking in cars with children present. I have my doubts, and it is not because I want to condemn youngsters to suffer the effects of passive smoking. There are many things we do in front of the kids that have the potential to adversely affect their future.

What about eating fatty foods in front of the children, swearing, not flossing regularly, or exceeding the recommended limit of three or four units of alcohol (dependent on gender) when the sprogs are about? The list is almost endless, and yes, it could easily get very silly.

I try to be a libertarian and (perhaps naively) think that much can be solved by education. I take the point that this ban is not about individual responsibility and is about not inflicting a harmful habit and those who cannot do anything about it themselves. However, we are seeing smoking declining to a fraction of what it was when I was born. Since smokers are a shrinking band, is legislation necessary?

My parents gave up smoking when I was on the way – and such was the climate then that this was a decision driven by economics rather than health considerations. The 1950s saw smoking promoted as being good for you. Only a fifth of the population now smoke; when I smoked you could get ashtrays from the office stationary cupboard. I so rarely find myself in the presence of smokers that I now actually notice them, when in my youth it was entirely unmemorable because it was so common.

Whilst I wonder whether we need to legislate for an increasingly rare event, I appreciate that there is an opposing argument that this is the best time to legislate. However, do we want to regulate every aspect of our lives?

Is a ban is enforceable even? I still see texting drivers in the overtaking lane of the A127 – quite a few years after any use of a mobile (other than hands free) whilst driving was banned.

The new threat to hospitals – clause 118

Parliament soon votes on a hastily drafted amendment to the Care Bill. This clause 118 has become known as the ‘hospital closure clause’. No English hospital, including Southend’s, will be safe from financially driven closures if clause 118 becomes law.

It will not matter how successful or financially viable our local hospital is. It could be downgraded or shut altogether if there is a neighbouring hospital in trouble. We will not get a say. The decision to close will be taken by government appointed ‘special administrators’; they will be more interested in balancing the books than in patient care.

Local people, doctors and councillors will not be consulted in any meaningful way. It’s an affront to democracy.

Once upon a time the Cameron-led Conservatives used to claim they would protect hospitals – NHYes was their slogan. They also claimed no top-down reorganisation. The NHS was safe in their hands we were assured.

The secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt is keen to rush this clause through. It follows his defeat in the law courts over plans to shut services at the successful and solvent Lewisham hospital. The people of Lewisham won, but they won’t win again if this change becomes law. It could be our local hospital next.

There is still time to defeat Clause 118 – by putting pressure on local MPs we can force the government to scrape the hospital closure clause. We need to contact our MPs and ask that they oppose clause 118 when it is voted on in Parliament in February.

Excess winter deaths

This graph makes for pretty ugly reading if you live in Southend-on-Sea. For almost all of the last twenty years my town has had a worst record than the comparator average when it comes to excess winter deaths. Recent numbers show the gap to have narrowed, and I hope that I will be able to report at some point that Southend-on-Sea is better than average.
EWD9011
(Excess winter deaths (EWD) are calculated using the Office for National Statistics method which defines the winter period as December to March, and compares the number of deaths that occurred in this winter period with the average number of deaths in the preceding August to November and the following April to July.)

I asked for an explanation for our poor past record, and here is the response:

The causes of excess winter deaths are complex and interlinked with cold weather, fuel poverty, housing and health inequalities, as well as infectious diseases (such as flu and norovirus) and the extent of snow and ice. It is therefore very difficult to say that there is any one particular reason for Southend being above the average of its CIPFA comparator local authorities throughout the period being reported on.

I have been supporting Ed Miliband’s freeze that bill campaign. Until something is done about fuel poverty one can only speculate what this graph will look like after this coming winter has passed. This is why the vote on the Local Council Tax Support Scheme Annual Review last Thursday was so crucial, and why those who support the idea of making the poor poorer (and for what the administration had proposed) must be made aware that actions have consequences. We can add to the ‘heat or eat’ question ‘or council tax’.

Stop FGM

I have been asked to mention the petition on female genital mutilation on my blog (found here). I am no expert on this subject but I can state that every story I hear fills me with horror.

This is from the Equality Now website :

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful traditional practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia. It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone genital mutilation. FGM ranges from the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy), to the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minora (excision), to its most extreme form, the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva (infibulation).

FGM is generally done without anaesthetic, and can have lifelong health consequences including chronic infection, severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse, and childbirth, and psychological trauma. No one knows how many girls die from FGM.

Anyway, I think I am signatory 93,241 on the e-petition. You could add yours, too.

For more reading on FGM you could try this – http://www.dofeve.org/stopping-fgm.html

Micturating males

There are some topics that are regular features in doorstep conversations; there are others which fleetingly popular.

The subject of men urinating in public is not a subject that is on everyone’s lips, but for some reason it has come up a number of times recently.

Now, most people get caught short, and if forced to will find an outdoor venue for relief. Most people are discreet. I have often mentioned a shortage of public toilets in the town, a real discouragement for those with bladder issues. However, the males who I have been made aware of are not older men with a weakening ability to hold water. No, it is young men who have consumed volumes of intoxicating liquor beyond the reasonable health guidelines.

I have every sympathy for those with bursting bladders, I know how uncomfortable it can be to hold on. But, there is some distance between those who are stranded some way from the nearest convenience and those whose intake exceeds sensible limits. However, the amount of liquid intake is not the real issue; rather it is the way that the inebriated clubbers solve their problem. Invariably they avoid discretion and opt for a very public display; I am told many tales of young men urinating quite openly, in full view of residents and anyone passing by.

Aside from the anti-social nature of having your property decorated with urine – and often these young men find refuge in front gardens – who wants to see urinating hordes? Those with young children are less than impressed. It is unsightly, probably illegal, and certainly offends those with community spirit.

Every nightclub and pub has toilet facilities. I urge the young men who frequent these places to avail themselves of these facilities, after all it is they who pay for them. If you find yourself in desperate need of relief and at the same time too distant from the proper place to find relief, then at least be discreet.

And being discreet does not mean using a shop doorway, public telephone box, or someone’s front door.

Yes, it’s me

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At the front, in the yellow tie; me, present at Friday’s Candlelight vigil at Priory House.

Whatever your views about the cuts you cannot but be moved by the plight of those resident who fear being moved.

Sutton Bridge Farm

Cheryl Dibley and Nicky Evans in one of the bedrooms

Cheryl Dibley and Nicky Evans in one of the bedrooms


I have been meaning to visit the Hamelin Trust at Sutton Bridge Farm for a while now. I finally managed this on Friday. My guide was Nicky Evans, fundraising volunteer co-ordinator, and was also shown the some of the facilities by Cheryl Dibley, the registered manager,

The Hamelin Trust supports people aged sixteen and upwards who have learning difficulties. The trust provides respite care for those with a broad range of learning disabilities.

The facility opened in November 1999 and there are eight beds providing short breaks for the seventy-five families from Essex and the east London boroughs that are supported. Their facilities, judging by what I was able to see, are first class. Much of their equipment is expensive, and it is clear that the service they provide is labour intensive – finding the funds to do all that they do must be a challenge for this charity.

Their hydrotherapy pool looked enticing, and is useful for those with arthritic conditions as well as their usual clientele. I liked the roots and shoots allotment area – something I plan to return to in the summer, and am looking forward to consuming the pickled onions I picked up there.

Tempted by the hydrotherapy pool

Tempted by the hydrotherapy pool


I always find it a humbling experience to visit places like this, and in some ways I am embarrassed by how little I really do for my community compared to the small army of staff and volunteers that keep a place like this going.

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