Last month we saw the Seven Days of Action campaign, to highlight the cases of people with learning disabilities, mostly autism, who are being held for prolonged periods in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) when they could or should be at home, or in a care home environment near their family. For last year’s BADD I also blogged on this issue; some of the people I mentioned are still trapped; Josh Wills has been happily resettled (after many bureaucratic hurdles) in his own home in Cornwall, Claire Dyer is still free, while Thomas Rawnsley’s inquest has yet to begin (a pre-inquest hearing was adjourned last week at the request of the “other parties”). I decided to link this year’s BADD post to Seven Days of Action so as to attract the wider disability activist community’s attention.
This week the learning disability blogging crowd are putting on Seven Days of Action, with a blog featuring seven stories of young people who have spent time trapped in the ATU (Assessment and Treatment Unit) system, one of whom (Thomas Rawnsley) has died. Eden Norris’s story is featured today; he is 24 and has spent seven years in two separate units after being admitted voluntarily, which was expected only to be for a short time. He is from west London and is currently being held in a unit in rural Norfolk. His story was featured on BBC News last Friday. The full list of stories is to be found here. Eden’s story has a feature which occurs time and again with so many people who have fallen under the ‘care’ of the ATU system: the long-term use of anti-psychotics as sedatives, leading to massive weight gain and other health problems.
Note: I started writing this last Tuesday and finished today (Sunday) as work made it impossible to complete during the week.
I’d rather not be writing this entry. Last week there were two important documentaries: a Channel 4 Dispatches on disabled people being humiliated by benefits assessors, and a BBC Panorama about young mentally-ill people being held hundreds of miles from home and in some cases dying for lack of decent mental health care anywhere near home (the Humber region comes up yet again). But Trevor Phillips has been out race-baiting again, saying “things you can’t say” about race and race relations in a mass-circulation daily newspaper and on a prime-time TV documentary, as he was in March last year. This time, on the basis of a dubious interpretation of a tiny study (PDF) of British Muslims, he’s telling everyone else “what we really think” and scaremongering about the “dangers” of allowing Muslim “ghettoes”, or “a nation within a nation”, to exist. (More: Manchester Policy Blogs
A number of years ago I heard a play on Radio 4 whose title I can’t remember but I suspect it was called High Valour. It was about a couple who emigrated to Australia where the husband hoped to work for his elder brother’s business. The business had some sort of initiation for ‘serious’ employees called High Valour, the details of which I can’t remember but it involved long hours, time away, a lot of drinking and not much family time. Needless to say, the wife didn’t approve, especially when the older brother’s wife told his wife that she tolerated his use of prostitutes while working away: “he uses a clean whore, and always tells me he loves me”. The elder brother told the husband to adopt the same practice of telling his wife he loved her when going out without her, and towards the end of the play, his wife confronted him and reminded him that the last thing he had said to her was that he loved her: “when you tell me you love me, I don’t want to have to wonder why”.
Recently accusations have started flying that the Left, including the Labour party, has a ‘problem’ with anti-Semitism and that Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s leader, hasn’t been doing enough to combat it. The accusations include that the Oxford University Labour society is a hostile environment for Jews, that various members and leaders of local Labour groups and affiliated organisations have made anti-Semitic remarks online, and that the Left in general has turned against Israel and that human rights campaigns that target Israel have become a “new front” in European anti-Semitism and a “new blood libel”. This type of rhetoric aimed at silencing criticism of Israel based on human rights principles is not new, but while anti-Semitism in far-left fringe groups has been known of for decades, the flurry of claims about anti-Semitism within the Labour party has only happened in the last few months.
Today is World Autism Awareness Day, an event organised by the United Nations since 2008 to “encourage member states … to take measures to raise awareness about children with autism throughout the world”. It’s become best known recently for Light It Up Blue, in which people are encouraged to wear blue, turn their websites blue and shine blue light on their buildings so as to “raise awareness” and to raise money for the genetic research funded by Autism Speaks, which is also notorious for scaremongering about the condition and, by extension, people affected by it. Not much talk is heard about the matter of how aware our professionals are of the needs of people, and particularly children, on the autism spectrum, despite the ample evidence, in the UK at least, that people empowered to make professional decisions about the lives and living arrangements of people with autism and other learning disabilities are woefully ignorant of them, and that people have died as a result.
Last Tuesday, The A Word started at 9pm on Tuesday, the slot that had been occupied by the second series of Happy Valley, the Yorkshire-based six-part police drama starring Sarah Lancashire as a police sergeant in Hebden Bridge. The A Word, which a number of my friends with children on the autism spectrum said they couldn’t watch for fear of it being too upsetting, is about a young autistic boy (or perhaps a boy with Asperger’s syndrome, although that distinction is no longer made) in a family full of squabbling adults, or maybe it’s about a family of squabbling adults who have an autistic son; that will presumably be revealed later in the series. I found that Happy Valley was nowhere near as dramatic as the original series, with neither of the murderers involved being apprehended, and in some important aspects unconvincing; The A Word’s depiction of autism itself has been described elsewhere as uncharacteristic and the diagnostic process ludicrously optimistic.
This article was published today and appears to be due for publication in the “Experience” slot in the Weekend supplement of tomorrow’s Guardian. It allows a woman, using a pseudonym, to tell how she hired two ‘escorts’ to take her daughter to Utah to go on a seven-week “boot camp” course after she decided she wanted to be a hairdresser rather than do whatever high-end career her mother wanted her to do, and after her 14-year-old brother got caught with drugs. The camp appears to be one run by the so-called World Wide Association of Speciality Programs and Schools (WWASPS), an organisation that runs (or ran) a chain of boot camp type institutions in parts of the USA as well as Jamaica and Mexico:
I had paid $16,000 (£11,380) for seven weeks of gruelling physical and mental challenges. The other kids were in desperate situations: young offenders, drug addicts, some were suicidal. I was aware my daughter didn’t share their circumstances. They lived like cavemen: they didn’t see a roof the whole time, took care of their sanitary waste, learned survival skills and did physical labour; some cut off their hair because they couldn’t bathe.
They had daily therapy and wrote letters to their parents. My daughter’s were full of apology: how she had made mistakes, wanted to be forgiven, how she loved me. Sure, she was angry at first when she didn’t know what was going on, but she soon understood why I’d sent her there and was embarrassed.
Last week, someone posted a picture to the Mencap Facebook page, and the picture has been widely shared on social media and has found its way into the mainstream press. It shows a young woman standing next to an elderly man in a wheelchair, in a small recess outside two fire exits. The woman is smoking and is talking on a mobile phone. The man has shopping hanging from the handles of his wheelchair and three bags piled on his lap tray, one of which is pressing into his face. Mencap responded by telling the original poster they were “appalled” and had suspended the support worker in the picture and reported it to the relevant local authority safeguarding team; the picture has generated outrage in the learning disability blogging community; Neil Crowther and Mark Neary both posted articles which took apart Mencap’s response to the picture. Personally, while I agree with the criticism of Mencap, I think we are jumping to too many conclusions about the woman’s behaviour. (I’ve not named the woman or her home town in this article.)
So, the date for the referendum on Britain’s exit from the European Union has been set (23rd June) and politicians on both sides are coming out with their position on the matter. Unusually, David Cameron has allowed members of his cabinet freedom to support either side in this (he and George Osborne support staying in; Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith and London mayor Boris Johnson support leaving). On the Labour side, all but 7 support remaining, as well as all 54 from the SNP, and all members from the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. The Remain side point to the fact that the EU countries are our closest neighours and that as a member of the EU we get a say in writing the rules of the ‘club’. The Leave side claim that we could have a mutual trading agreement similar to that ‘enjoyed’ by Norway and Switzerland, and that we could build up closer trading relationships with ‘emerging economies’ such as India and China. If things in Europe in June are as they are now, I will be voting to stay in. Whatever the faults of the European Union, I do not trust the people who are trying to drag us out and to leave now would give them untrammelled power.
ThinkProgress, a site some of us had taken for a progressive opinion site, recently published a piece titled “Why Converts To Islam Are So Susceptible To Becoming Terrorists”, by one Beenish Ahmed (right). That this is true was news to some of us who are converts to Islam and have been quietly getting on with our lives for years, or decades, some of us quite successfully and some of us struggling a bit. The article claims, on the basis of a report from George Washington University titled ISIS in America (PDF), that 40% of “those arrested on terrorism-related charges” in 2015 were Muslim converts; 23% of American Muslims, it claims, are converts. The article is long on “illustrative examples”, some of which have nothing to do with terrorism at all, and uses a picture of a woman in niqaab to illustrate the point, when in fact the majority of terrorists are men and the majority of women who wear it, even if they belong to puritanical groups within Islam (which not all do), are not terrorists.
I had a brief look at the GWU report as I suspected that the 40% figure must be based on a very small sample, and was right: it’s not 40% of terrorists as a whole but of people charged with ISIS-related activity, and the total number is 71. That’s an extremely small number of people and cannot be treated as representative of the American Muslim convert population. (It is not clear whether they distinguish between actual converts and Muslims descended from them.) Not all the cases involved plotting terrorist acts as such, but were related to affiliation or planning to emigrate to ISIS-controlled parts of Syria and Iraq. And not all “terrorist plots” uncovered by the FBI originate with the arrestee; many of them are fabricated by the agents themselves. Eliminate those from the statistics, and the number of American Muslim converts charged with ISIS-related terrorist activity becomes even less significant.
It has been revealed that Sarah Reed, the woman who was found dead in her cell at Holloway Prison in London last month, having supposedly strangled herself, had been remanded following an incident in a secure ward at the Maudsley psychiatric unit in south London. Ms Reed wrote to her parents to tell them that an old white man had sexually assaulted her while in the unit and she fought back, resulting in her being charged with causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent. Rather than being released back to that or another unit, she was remanded in custody. This would have been the decision of a medical ‘expert’ from the local health authority, rather than a judge or prison service official. Reed was the victim in 2012 of an assault by a police officer, who was later dismissed from the Metropolitan Police and sentenced to community service.
They first sent me to Windsor, and then to Stoke on Trent
In a holding cell in Liverpool three days and nights I spent
My solicitor can’t find me and my family don’t know
I keep telling them I’m innocent; they say “come on son, in you go”.
— Billy Bragg, “Rotting On Remand”, 1988
These words were written about the state of Britain’s prisons in the mid-1980s, when overcrowding was a problem and prisoners were moved frequently, including remand prisoners who were awaiting trial and thus often innocent. Much the same is still true of the treatment of some of our young people in Britain’s mental health system, where someone on section can be moved on the say-so of a consultant psychiatrist who believes that their behaviour has got a bit too much for his staff. This is what enabled the transfer of Claire Dyer, then aged 20, from Swansea to a private medium-secure unit near Brighton in 2014; she was released from there after less than three months. Many people with learning disabilities, particularly autism, and mentally-ill young people are not so lucky and face years in multiple locked or secure units because of lack of funding for home-based care or a community placement, or because the consultant in charge does not understand their condition.
Last weekend David Bowie died, and amid the non-stop media tributes (which have been compared to the relentless coverage of Lady Diana’s death in 1997, although they can’t have really approached that — normal TV programming was stopped for most of that Sunday), there were a few dissenters who called Bowie a ‘rapist’ because he slept with a teenage groupie (or more than one) in LA some time in the 1970s. There is an unusually balanced view from Julie Burchill in the Spectator, who called Bowie’s behaviour ‘creepy’ but criticised feminists for their tendency to “strip women they do not agree with of agency, and seek to paint them as confused poltroons suffering from good old ‘false consciousness’”. A number of feminist blogs have no such qualms, however, with Louise Pennington (referred to in Burchill’s article) writing anoymously on a site called “Everyday Victim Blaming” about her own experience of sexual abuse as a (much younger) child and drawing dubious links between Bowie’s behaviour and that of Bill Cosby and Jimmy Savile. She has published two separate articles on her own blog also (, ). There have been a number of other articles expressing a similar viewpoint (, , , ), as well as a more balanced piece by Mic Wright here.
On New Year’s Eve, an organised gang of hundreds of young men, described as being of Arab or North African appearance, descended on the main railway station in Cologne, Germany, and molested and robbed hundreds of women who were out to take part in the city’s NYE celebrations. At least two rapes were reported as well. It transpires that of the 31 arrested over the incident (and, it should be pointed out, some have been released for lack of evidence), 18 were asylum seekers from those two areas, but they also include Germans, Serbs and an American. The speculation and then confirmation that many or not most of the attackers were Arabs or North Africans and possibly asylum seekers has led to a flurry of demands for a tightening of Germany’s asylum laws as well as the return of asylum seekers who commit crimes (the chancellor is drafting laws which will do this, making it possible to deport those sentenced to less than three years, the current threshold), as well as calls to “face facts” about Arab and Muslim culture and Islam itself and the attitudes to women they encounter. Some have responded that sexual harassment and rape culture are already well-established in western societies, including Germany, and does not need to be imported by immigrants from anywhere.
A week or so ago, I found a link that Karen Ingala-Smith, a prominent British campaigner against violence against women, posted about an ‘experiment’ in Harrow, north-west London, in which victims of domestic violence will discuss their abuse “face-to-face with the perpetrators” in an effort to “break the cycle”. The experiment is based on an American model and will be run by psychotherapists and counsellors from the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. A local councillor is quoted as saying that “if the abusers understand the impact their behaviour has on their family, we hope they can change” and that the experiment would be combined with a campaign to encourage victims to come forward. The article quotes Karen Ingala-Smith and another anti-violence campaigner, Sarah Green of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, who said:
The assumption in such couple counselling approaches tends to be that both parties must be at fault and they simply need to learn better behaviours. Domestic violence is about bullying and control, not misunderstanding. It is a choice, and it is deeply related to power between men and women.
In today’s Guardian there is a feature on why the AK-47 has suddenly become the weapon of choice for terrorists, replacing suicide belts and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The article features a petty arms dealer from Montenegro, one Vlatko Vucelic, who was stopped on the motorway in Germany carrying “a whole arsenal”, which consisted of three handguns, two grenades, 200g of TNT and eight Kalashnikovs. The assault rifles, which originate in Russia, are now manufactured in more than 30 countries (including EU states that used to be in the Warsaw Pact, some of which sold the weapons to Libya), most of them in China, and are exported to Africa where it is believed most of the illicit AKs come from, having been supplied to rebel groups in other countries or sold by underpaid soldiers. (TW: picture of assault rifle with bayonet under the fold.)
Back in the late 1990s I remember watching a documentary about a young girl then named Joella Holliday, whose mother had been fighting to get a birth certificate issued that said she was female. She had been hastily named Joel David as a newborn when doctors could not identify a sex because several of her abdominal organs were malformed or absent and it was feared that she would not survive very long, but doctors believed she should have been assigned female as she had no penis at all. It took nearly ten years and a public legal battle to get the certificate issued, but the publicity caused her to be bullied at school and to ultimately be withdrawn. I saw a couple of other interviews with Joella over the years and a literary agent’s website carried details of a forthcoming book, but this year the book was published, and Joella is now Joel (or Joe) again, and has reverted to living as a man. He and his ghost writer have done interviews and published articles calling for an end to the medical reassignment of gender to intersexed babies, claiming that studies have found that many of those with genders reassigned (usually female) for medical reasons or because they’re “not quite male” have rejected their assigned gender as adults, and attributed the depression he had suffered in his early 20s, prior to having a routine chromosome test which revealed he had XY (male) chromosomes, to being raised in the wrong sex.
Earlier today I got an email ostensibly from Apple, which told me that my iCloud ID was facing deletion because I had not ‘confirmed’ it. The email read:
You’ve not yet confirmed your iCloud ID [redacted] and it’s now pending removal from all associated services.
Apple Account: [redacted]
Customer ID: [a 7-figure number, redacted just in case it’s real]
To comply with mandatory EU regulation and to confirm your details, we need to fully certify your Apple ID. You can do this by visiting Apple Store with a valid form of ID or electronically as long as all the information you have provided is valid. To complete this online please proceed to login below.
In today’s Observer, there is a long article by former Labour stragegist (now a London headteacher) Peter Hyman in which he claims that the current Labour party is a party of “pacifism, republicanism and anti-capitalism” which could only appeal to “a mix of metropolitan elites, students and some trade unionists” and many of whose supporters “want to win an argument rather than an election” and is uninterested in education. He calls for the Blair wing of the party to split away, to form a new ‘project’ which “does not try to recreate New Labour, because the world has moved on, but learns from it”, and accuses Blairites who remain and consider staging a coup of “deluding themselves”:
At its heart would be a renewed sense of moral purpose – a commitment to social mobility – breaking down all barriers to people getting on in life. It would believe in a leaner, more agile, empowering state that supports social entrepreneurs in the building of strong, diverse and democratic communities. This would be in sharp relief to the cuts of the Tories and the big state solutions of the traditional left.
This project would tap into the urgent needs of the country and the new aspirations of the public. This project would need to come up with fresh thinking about how to shape a growing, creative, greener economy and schools that prepare young people properly with the knowledge, skills and character to thrive in this economy.
Instead of just attacking the current reforms to welfare, the project would need to champion the overhaul of the welfare state to provide a more modern contributory system and new institutions such as a National Care Service for the elderly to run alongside the NHS. It would be seen as grappling seriously with the big questions of the day: migration, globalisation, terrorism, the environment, welfare, housing, our place in the world.
A news article based on this claims that Hyman had said that “it may even be necessary to form a new party with others, including the Lib Dems”, but nowhere are the Lib Dems mentioned in the article. (It erroneously calls Hyman’s school a comprehensive; it is in fact a free school.)