Posts Tagged ‘government’

The case of Gary McKinnon, the British Hacker facing extradition to the USA still rumbles on. I confess to a degree of scepticism when I first read about the case. McKinnon was subsequently diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism 3 years after the alleged crime and I cynically wondered whether this label had been acquired in the hope of mitigating the situation?

My interest in McKinnon was piqued as my own son is autistic, otherwise I would have given this story no more than a passing thought.  Was this an individual using a conveniently acquired retrospective diagnosis to wriggle out of the misdemeanour they had committed, a slur on those who are genuinely are affected by this condition, tarnished by association? Yet the more I read the more sympathetic I became. It transpired this was a man who had had difficulties for years masked by intellect and passive behaviour. Was this vulnerable individual really trying to mount a cyber terrorist attack or was it simply the result of an misguided autism-driven obsession? His mother is not asking that he escape justice, rather that he is tried in British Courts with any sentence served in the British penal system rather than the American Courts which have poor track record regarding mental health and autism. There is a high profile campaign running which has the support of the media, celebrities, politicians and even Sarah Brown. All to no avail, the Home Secretary still states that McKinnon must be deported to face justice the other side of the pond. Where is our compassion? We can release the foreign terrorist convicted of the Lockerbie bombings on health grounds but cannot extend some compassion to this British National

My son is still a child, it is hard to imagine him as adult. Could the predicament Mr McKinnon finds himself in be played out in my son’s future?  My son, unlike McKinnon, has had the advantage of being diagnosed with autism as a child and benefiting from therapeutic interventions and increasing awareness that will hopefully help support him in adult life. Adults undiagnosed with autism are left languishing trying to make sense of a confusing neurotypical world, a square peg in a round hole. Is is any wonder McKinnon retreated into a comforting world of obsessions? No wonder the incidence of mental health problems in this group are high.

Autism is a hidden disability. I have seen the hurtful glances and heard the barely disguised mutters of disapproval at certain aspects of my son’s autistic behaviour assuming he is yet another badly behaved child who ought to know better.  I am equally grateful to those individuals who interpret my son’s sometimes eccentric or boisterous behaviour or his distress in certain situations sympathetically.  The censure of my child from those who make incorrect assumptions may be limited to glares and tuts, the condemnation of McKinnon may lead to him languishing in an American prison for the rest of his life.

Let’s not forget his mother who has spoken out from the heart about her son’s plight. Ultimately this is the story of a mother fighting to protect her son. Today is World Autism Awareness Day. I pray that increasing awareness of the impact of autism has will ensure that this vulnerable man is treated with the fairness and compassion he deserves


Read Full Post »

I read the harrowing case of Khyra Ishaq just before I cuddled my own daughter (3) to sleep last night.  As I wrestled my arms out from under her, I held my face next to her podgy cheek.  My thoughts turned to Khyra and, inevitably, food.  My daughter loves breakfast.  In the morning she takes herself off to the sofa and snuggles under a blanket while I make it for her.  She usually has two slices of buttered toast or porridge and a bowl of fruit.  Today she had mango and strawberries (sorry environmentalists) as a treat because it’s Saturday.  If she’s still hungry she’ll ask for a yogurt or maybe an extra slice of toast.

I’m not the perfect mother.  I shout, I tell her ‘in a minute’ too much, sometimes she has beans on toast more than once a week – I am positive that one day I’ll forget to pick her up from nursery.  But my daughter’s life could not be further removed from the life of Khyra who had to share a bowl of food with six siblings and would be caned if she ate too much.  I find the idea of not feeding a child in the western world totally unfathomable.  In fact it’s so unusual that experts had to look back to records of concentration camp victims to get a proper idea of what had happened to her.

Poor Khyra was taken out of school when staff there got concerned about her welfare.  Her parents said that they were home schooling her and both Social Services and the Local Education Authority were happy with the arrangements for her education at the time they visited.  In fact, Khyra was dead within 12 weeks.

While I think anything, anything, should be done to prevent this happening to even one more child, I am so sick of knee jerk reactions (and subsequent legislation) coming out of extreme cases.  Baby P – calls to sack ALL social workers in Haringey (because there are SO many waiting to take their place), Soham murders – calls to CRB check everyone who has to look at a child ever, MPs taking the mickey with their expenses – put them on bread and gruel.  Khyra’s legacy seems to be to make all parents who chose to educate their own children at home come under the spotlight.  What’s wrong with a considered approach, eh?

Just as most people who send their children to school are not abusing them, most people who are educating their children at home are not abusing them. From what I can gather, the existing legislation for parents of home educated children was not followed through.  Should two education welfare officers have accepted that they couldn’t see Khyra when they visited – especially bearing in mind that the Deputy Head of her previous school had expressed grave concerns for her welfare?  Similarly, should a social worker carry out an assessment of a child’s welfare on the doorstep of their home?

In the judge’s words: “On the evidence before the court I can only conclude that in all probability, had there been an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance, Khyra would not have died.”  That doesn’t sound to me like we need new legislation, it sounds like we need the existing legislation to be implemented properly.  Instead of spending time and money on new legislation, attract good social workers and education welfare officers to the professions, make their case loads manageable so that children and vulnerable adults don’t slip through the net like this and then see what tweaks or overhauls need to be made.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all about the Khyra Ishaq case is the fact that the police investigation identified at least 30 witnesses who could have intervened on Khyra’s behalf.  Many people living in her community had concerns for her, but didn’t share them with agencies who were there to protect her.  None of us want to live in a nanny state, so why don’t we look out for each other, and especially for the children living in our communities?  We all know, really, don’t we, when we see children who are happy and well looked after and when we see ones that aren’t being cared for?

I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  I lived in a downstairs flat years ago and above us lived a couple with a baby.  Did I hear the baby screaming for hours at the same time as his mother begged her partner not to hit her?  Yes.  Did I notice that after these episodes there were always piles of empty cans of extra strong cider next to the communal bin?  Yes. Did I worry about it?  Yes.  Did I do anything about it?  No.  Why?  I didn’t want to put extra stress on the poor mother.  Do I worry about how that baby is now?  Yes.

Part of the problem of the individualistic culture that we find ourselves living in now, is that we end up with more state interference and become over-reliant on statutory agencies to do the things we should be doing ourselves.  If we’re not keeping an eye on our own communities, then the state will have to do it for us and they tend to do this by rushing out legislation to cover all eventualities.

Please, let’s try and learn from this case, because how many more can there be before someone spots the bleeding obvious and sorts out morale and workloads for those paid to protect our children?  We need existing legislation to be implemented properly by people who have the time to do their jobs properly and we need (yes, that’s you and me) to keep our eyes open and take some responsibility for the well being of the children around us before it’s too late.

Read Full Post »

Wow. What a whirlwind of accusations and revelations we have been treated to in the last 24 hours. What with Andrew Rawnsley ’s allegations that Gordon Brown is prone to nasty hissy fits, followed by the extraordinary remarks of the boss of the ‘National Bullying Helpline’ indicating that Downing Street staff had called for help and all the attendant twittering and analysis, it is hard to know where to start.

Issues raised:

Character of PM, workplace bullying, breach of confidentiality of callers to helpline, potential dodgy dealings of said helpline, poor journalistic practices by BBC who ‘broke’ helpline story.

My thoughts:

GB’s fiery temper has not been a secret (see Private Eye). Is he a bully or ‘demanding’ and ‘passionate’? Depends if you believe the journo or the spin. At this stage I don’t suppose we will ever get a clear picture. Obviously workplace bullying is vile but there are many vile practices that take place in politics that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere. Witness jeering and sneering of MPs in the House of Commons, hardly ideal workplace practice. It’s also interesting to contrast the attempts of Mandelson on TV yesterday to spin GB’s ‘volcanic’ behaviour into something admirable with attempts to portray him as a romantic family man.

The weighing in of Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline is bizarre and disgraceful, in my opinion. This by the Guardian on Ms Pratt and the NBH makes interesting reading and the twittersphere is full of murky ‘facts’ about the dubious nature of their charitable status and conflicts with for profit services. But even if we disregard all that and take her statement at face value (that she was so angered by Downing Street denials she had to speak up), the shocking betrayal of confidentiality beggars belief. One board member has resigned over it, and Ann Widdecombe (a NBH patron) has criticised her actions, and rightly so. She has damaged the relationship between agencies who seek to address bullying issues and those they seek to help, and for what? You have to kind of consider John Prescott’s theory that ‘lt’s all been a publicity stunt for her company’ since she is all over the news media today and of course now Nick Clegg and David Cameron are weighing in, calling for an enquiry amongst other things. Urgh. And they wonder why the electorate are turned off by politics.

It’s interesting that all this should come up because I was thinking of writing something on bullying after having read this blog post about how we should talk to our children about dealing with bullies. The advice tends to be to ‘talk to a trusted adult’, something that I have said to my own daughter when she tells me soandso doing suchandsuch in the playground. The sticky part is how do they know who to trust? Often simply ‘telling the teacher’ can be seen as telling tales and young children may not always be able to articulate what happened clearly enough that the teacher realises the seriousness of what is going on. As for parents, it seems hard to get a realistic picture of what is happening at school with often only a garbled child’s version of events to go on. This makes it very hard to know when and how to speak up on your child’s behalf.

Obviously, communication is key and I try to regularly talk to my children about playground incidents, good and bad. For the school’s part, one key to combating bullying is for teachers to develop a relationship of trust with their pupils as well as a sense of community in the classroom. In this kind of environment, getting to the truth of potential bullying episodes is going to be an easier task.

Its not like bullying is confined to the younger generation though and it seems dealing with it doesn’t get any easier either. With workplace bullying for example, who can you trust? The betrayal demonstrated by the NBH is hardly going to help the situation, is it? It’s also a shame that the electorate won’t get a realistic picture of what is or was going on in Gordon Brown’s office now the warring parties of journalists and spin doctors are muddying the waters. I suspect that bullying of one kind or another is endemic in politics. It makes me want to send the whole pack of them to the Headteacher’s office.

Read Full Post »

I know that if I had been born 100 years earlier that I would have been a suffragette, out chaining myself to railings, smashing windows and going on hunger strike. I feel so strongly about the fight for our right to vote that I would never, ever, ever, contemplate not voting. I’m not really a party political animal and have voted many different ways in the past including once writing a brief essay on the inadequacy of the first past the post voting system on the back of my polling card, but I voted for this Labour government with great excitement and optimism back in 1997 and have done since, though with somewhat less excitement and optimism as the years went by. I’ll never forget the sheer joy of staying up all night to see them win in ’97 and float, bleary-eyed, into work, buoyed up on euphoria. And of course no political party, no matter how much their policies march with what you want or expect of the government of your country can sustain that level of love and devotion. Unpopular decisions will have to be made (you hope…nothing good can possibly come of decision-making by vote-chasing!).

So, as we approach a General Election, my belief that you must vote holds strong, but God, it is hard to see what the point of it is. For one thing, I have a general feeling of mistrust and unease about politicians as a group because of the expenses issue…not so much that people claimed for such ridiculous things but because of the lack of shame or acknowledgement that they have been abusing both the public purse and public trust. They are public servants, after all, there to serve the people of Great Britain, not to feather their own nests (or should that be duck houses???) . As it happens the MP who will be elected in my constituency whether I vote for him or not (I won’t) comes out of the expenses affair very well, ranking 620-something in a list of how much MPs have claimed which suggests legitimate usage. So that’s something…he doesn’t represent my views (fair enough…clearly he represents the views of a LOT of people in the area, more than 10,000 majority), he doesn’t answer my letters (a point of contention) but I am satisfied that he isn’t lining his pockets at our expense!

But I will not vote for this Labour party again in its current incarnation. State intrusion into and micromanagement of the private life of families who are doing nothing wrong is something I cannot tolerate. Perhaps not that surprising when many of the current Labour party were much less centre-bland than they appear to be now, and once had political leanings that merited MI5 investigation. I could perhaps understand it better if it was in pursuit of a particular ideology, but it doesn’t seem to be. In fact they strike me as particularly soulless. If they want to take control of our lives and thoughts and expression of those thoughts for any reason other than control itself, I remain open to be convinced of it.

Of course I am particularly referring to the “licensing” of home educating families. It’s not just the immediate effect this will have on my family. In all honesty it could be virtually non-existent. I am already in the system because my daughter was briefly at school; I have survived one visit from the LA and I know that I can say and show the right things to get them off my back. But I do very vehemently oppose the right of the state to dictate how I chose to raise my child. I mistrust the very process by which this law is being brought about, based on false claims, flawed statistics and downright lies, witness Mr Ed Balls stating at the committee stage of this bill that a majority of home educators are in favour of the proposed changes to the law. There were over 5000 responses to the consultation document and almost all the questions were between 75 and 97% *against* them. So to make 97% against into a majority in favour is a rather large leap, but apparently that’s okay. If the law they want to pass, passes then any and all means are justified, including lies, slander and public vilification of a minority group.

And this is not just a home ed. issue. What the government is basically saying to us is “prove you are not abusing your children.” Once that fundamental principle of British justice, that you are innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof lies with the accuser, is eroded in application to one section of society, don’t think it won’t and can’t apply to each and every one of us.

Now if only I actually trusted any of the other parties not to do the same.

Read Full Post »

Not laptops, but lapdancing…

I will lay my cards on the table straight away – I do not agree with lap-dancing clubs. At all. It might be fogeyish and unfashionable, but I felt a sense of glee when I heard a debate on Radio 1 on Friday about new laws tightening up licensing. You can read about it here  and here .

Lap-dancing clubs have had a total image change over the last 15 years or so. When I was a girl, seedy men in raincoats went to see exploited women in dodgy pubs with darkened windows and a pint glass went around at the end of the night. Now I am told (and I have zilch experience, believe me) that men go and pay £15 a pint in ‘gentleman’s clubs’ and pay for table side dances and private dances but it’s all right because the women are well paid so are not being exploited and it’s not seedy because the club is glitzy. All the while there is a correlation between an increase of sexual violence against women and the opening of lap-dancing establishments.  It’s not just men who go to ‘gentleman’s clubs’ – women go too! One poor friend works in a male dominated environment and somehow, somehow lap-dancing clubs have become a part of corporate entertaining and she’s expected to join in! In fact, lap-dancing clubs are so ‘respectable’ that the Tory Party gave vouchers to delegates in their 2008 conference.

When I’ve discussed this with friends in the past, opinion has been divided. Some have been quite happy for their husbands to go off with their mates to spend the family income watching a woman gyrate around a pole – I’ve even got friends who have been to lap-dancing clubs for a date with their husbands! I am part of the other group who think that their husbands should have more respect for themselves, never mind women, than to want to go and pay for a woman to wave her breasts in his face. Luckily for me, or not really luckily as this is the kind of thing I checked out before marrying him, my husband says nothing turns him off quicker than the idea of being turned on around his mates. He likes drinking pints and talking about football and women stripping are an unwelcome distraction from the important issues.

Given that the new legislation gives councils the right to refuse license applications if the premises are unsuitable, I’m pretty appalled that Peter Stringfellow is ‘preparing for battle’ under the Human Rights Act. Human Rights? Give me a break, son.

Read Full Post »

Marriage and Tax

Earlier today, one of our contributors at laptopmums published an article on the importance of marriage which I read with interest. Quoted therein was this speech by David Cameron in which he discusses the introduction of tax breaks for married couples. I decided to go and read it, and I am glad I did since it allowed me to challenge my blood pressure with a little Saturday morning excitement.  Cameron believes that since society is breaking down (more crime, more divorce, more doom, more destruction), we could do better by our children in getting married and staying married. He says:

“But I absolutely feel at my very core that recognising that relationships matter, that commitment matters and, yes, that marriage matters is something we should not say quietly but something we should say loudly and proudly.”

He claims that by supporting marriage in the tax system, more people will be married and children will be better off. This is because, apparently, research has shown that children of married parents have better and more stable lives. But the Conservatives are confusing causation with correlation. Rather than children having better lives because their parents are married, it is equally possible that more committed and stable individuals are more likely to get married and therefore be better parents. Bad Science. And Cameron does a nifty little bit of statistical smoke and mirrors with the following statement:

“..if you look at how many couples are still together when their child reaches its fifth birthday the fact is it’s only one in eleven married couples that have separated whereas with unmarried couples it is one in three. That is a pretty staggering difference.”

Staggering indeed. Wait, what? So if you look at 5yr olds, 1:11 married couples have separated but 1:3 unmarried couples have. So when you say ‘couples’ you mean ‘parents’, right? So you are including pregnant teens, people finding themselves unexpectedly pregnant after a one night stand, women whose douchebag boyfriends left them when they found out they were pregnant? Hardly a level playing field of comparing stable committed couples who either are or arent married.  And then this:

“And this week evidence was produced to show that when it comes to how many couples are still together when your child reaches their fifteenth birthday ninety seven per cent of them are married couples.”

Again with the apples and oranges. How many 15yr olds have parents who are still together? I bet a whole lot of them who don’t have parents that used to be married but aren’t any more. Maybe they would still be together if they had had a bit more money from the tax man. I seriously doubt it.

Ha! Cameron agrees with me:

“Now I don’t believe for a minute that people get married for money or that people will stay together if you give them a few more pounds here or a few more pence there, of course not.”

So it won’t work then? OK.

So why do it? Chris Giles at the Financial Times suggests that since those most likely to benefit are single high earners ‘The policy is therefore a straight-forward redistribution from poor to rich.’ [Giles’ article also includes some other interesting inconsistencies in Tory thinking]. So there you have it: Tories seek to alter wealth distribution with a nice piece of social engineering that panders to their social conservative base. Except that apparently, they admit that same sex couples will also be eligible for the tax break. So a gay couple that has committed to each other through a civil partnership will benefit, but a non married heterosexual couple will not. I cant imagine that going down too well in some quarters.

Read Full Post »

In last night’s Panorama , Jeremy Vine examined the role of the new Independent Safeguarding Agency. Anyone who works or volunteers with children once a week or more will need to be checked by the new agency. Let me state at the beginning that of course convicted paedophiles should be barred from working with children, but I have doubts that this system will make our children one iota safer and may in fact have very negative consequences. Firstly, of 12,000 calls to Childline last year about sexual abuse only 13 of those accused would have been picked up by this system. The idea that someone is safe to be around your children because they have a clean CRB check clearly doesn’t always work. Statistically a child is more likely to be abused by someone they know well, so where do we draw the line? And if we cannot decide where to draw the line, why stop anywhere? Children are sometimes abused by their parents, so why not check everyone when they book in for ante-natal care? And everyone else in the family? One woman who called into Jeremy Vine’s radio show on the subject said that she wanted everyone who ever came in contact with her child checked: the postman, shopkeepers, bus-drivers.

Not only would that be madness but I truly believe that that level of paranoia risks our children’s safety and mental well-being more than having someone who hasn’t been checked by the ISA in contact with them. What happens to trust? What happens to community? Who does your child turn to for help if they need it if they have been taught that *everyone* is a risk? Men in particular are too scared to approach a child who may need help. My husband has worried that people will suspect him because he is friendly to other children. He worries that people will think our pale-skinned mixed race daughter is not his and he is going to hurt her. And this system seems too ripe for abuse. Unsubstantiated rumours, anonymous tip-offs and stories in the press will all find their way onto your file as soft evidence and it could be down to an office worker in a business park to make decisions that will impact your whole life.

I think they have it backwards. You cannot protect children from the outside in. You have to protect them from the inside out. Give them the tools, as much as it is possible, to defend themselves. How much autonomy do you allow your child over their own life, over their body? Ever made them wear a coat when they insisted they weren’t cold, made them finish their dinner when they said they weren’t hungry, tried to get them to take a nap when they are not tired? Give them some control over their body, let them know they own it and no-one has the right to make them do anything that makes them uncomfortable. Last week my daughter’s trampolining instructor picked her up and threw her despite her protests that she didn’t want to. I could have told her to stop being silly, but I didn’t. I told him that she had said no and she had the right to do that. This week he asked first. She is more confident in her right to say no to anything that makes her scared or uneasy. Then make sure that if anything does happen they know where to go, who will listen, who will act on their behalf.

We should be building community, not tearing it down. The well-being of your children should be everyone’s responsibility not just yours. The number of people who might want to harm them is still very small compared to the number of people who mean well and would act to help and protect them.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »