Shine a light

I was an au pair in Germany in 1991 and found it challenging at first, as the lady I worked for had a system where she washed the same colours together, so if I had a yellow top it could be some time before I got to wear it again. After a while I explained the situation and she was happy for me to wash my clothes together, rather than waiting for the next lime green load to go in! Living with another family was educational as growing up you think your family’s ways of doing things are the only way. The Germans were into recycling way earlier than in Britain, and I couldn’t get the idea of separating out rubbish initially. We made meringues once and I was a great source of humour, as I thought that meringues wouldn’t be cooked unless they were brown on top!

In my life now, I’ve found marriage to be pretty similar amalgamation of family traditions, and habits that in bringing up a family we’ve had to challenge and debate. Some I’ve kept, and some have been slung out, and some I’ve adopted from my friends families, such as receiving a score from my neighbour’s granny for my dance moves!

In church there are similar idiosyncrasies that different churches adopt. Some are great, some are awful. I love the upfront emotional impact of being part of an evangelical community, but not the idea that women or people who are gay are not equals. I love the music and ritualistic meditations that are part of the anglo-catholic tradition, but not the inability to talk about one’s feelings!

The message I am hearing at the moment is that none of this really matters in the end, it’s all boils down to our ability as Christians to represent God in the world. I keep getting the sense that we should all be like the kids in the ready-brek adverts of the 80’s, glowing on the inside, whilst running to school, or carrying a virtual candle that lights our way, that is discernable to someone who is looking. If there was some kind of God perspective, like a 3D filter that one could apply, there should be something different about those who are disciples. It should be based on hope, love and kindness, these should be the hallmarks. The net impact should be a walkway of  candles lighting the way for others in the dark, stretching across the world. This shouldn’t be only available to certain groups of people, but it should definitely be prioritised for children, those who are sick, or heavy laden. This is from a passage where Jesus retreated on his own to teach his disciples…

Matthew 4 v3-12

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

10 Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

11 Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.

12 Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.

It’s all in the mind

I pretty much take my mind for granted. I’ve been lucky in sailing through most of my exams at school and rely on my brain to pay the bills, as I am in a job where analysis and composing complex information is a requirement. Recently I felt like I’d let things go a bit and my mind wasn’t performing as it should. I kind of needed to give it a rest. If this had been a bad back or some other illness, I think I’d have been much kinder on myself, and accepted this earlier. As it was I struggled on for way longer than was really helpful for me or others concerned. This is pretty common, we all like to think we are invincible and young for way longer than we actually are, otherwise why would anyone smoke! If you are rundown mentally though, the implications for  your work, social life can be more long-term and people often suffer prejudice and discrimination.

Since then people have been really helpful in sharing ideas and approaches, and I’ve had different kinds of support from my GP signing me off work to counselling and advice from colleagues and friends. The one I’m enjoying the most is mindfulness, I downloaded an app, called Head Space and completed a 10 day trial, and have noticed immediately that I am much nicer to live with and can take different developments more in my stride. It teaches you not to react immediately to thoughts and feelings, rather to notice these and explore them, without acting on them. It’s a technique not dissimilar to meditation, guided Bible reflections, or other ways of praying that people of faith use around the world. It is definitively worth a try though as it helps you take a step back. When my mind is full of children’s schedules, work, difficult conversations I’ve had, and any other ideas swilling around, I can end up feeling overloaded, and miss the sunshine and the colour of the sky, when this isn’t actually necessary.

I have two close relatives who are olympic champions in taming their minds after being diagnosed with bi-polar and schizophrenia in the early 90’s and both have managed to complete degrees, get married and live independent and challenging lives. Both are a real inspiration to me in managing life long conditions that have big ramifications for their lives, but not letting it define them. Like a paralympic they aspire to achieve as much as they can with their amazing minds, but also recognise their limitations and own the reality of that on her day to day life. I think if everyone did that the world would probably be a much nicer, and safer place!

Roll-up, roll-up, the circus in town

If you live in a target seat this week it will feel like a circus with all the major parties lining up to entertain and excite you with their promises, and critical analysis of the status quo. It’s not easy to decide at the best of times who you would like to run the country, but this year seems particularly baffling. If you use social media you can’t tell if the information is being posted by party activists or genuine supporters, and even on TV debates, the questions and audiences can seem rigged. Then there are the manifestos, are they worth reading? Well probably, but who has time. So in the end we usually go on something like the candidates themselves, their record locally, or who has bothered to speak to you that week.

The Lib Dems (of whom I am a member) are not making much of an appearance in York Outer this year, they are focusing on the seats where they already have an MP such as Leeds, rather than campaigning to win new ones. I will still vote Lib Dem though, and still helping the local candidates for the City of York council election by posting leaflets. I really hope we have a better result than the polls are predicting. There are several reasons I am still a paid up member of the party:

1) Leadership: Nick Clegg is not only tall, dark and handsome, funny (he’s apparently mates with Louis Theroux), multi-lingual, married to a feminist, but has actually done a decent job I think. He fought for the implementation of the findings of the Leveson report, and is therefore not likely to get any coverage at all from the right wing press. He went into coalition with the Tories, and lost the support of many grassroots LibDem activists who (like in York Outer) had been fighting the Tories in the campaign leading up to the last election. So noone likes him much on the left or the right, but he doesn’t apologise for what he’s done, despite all the criticism.

2) Getting the job done: if you look at our manifesto from last time, over half our ideas have been implemented. The things that we’ve got right include the pupil premium, raising basic rate of tax, and for me the new focus on mental health in the NHS is a vote winner, that has been led by Norman Lamb. We’ve kept the Tory right from dominating the debate about Europe, and Vince Cable as business secretary has ensured the graduate tax on university education is paid by those who benefit from this, not those who have no access to further education. More people on low incomes now go to university since we re-introduced support for students on low income.

3) Keeping it to the centre-left: if the Tories get back in without a  Lib Dem coalition we will see further cuts to the welfare budget, and less progressive measures to tax the most wealthy such as the Mansion Tax etc. For people with disabilities the last 5 years has been really difficult and I can’t say I am proud that the Lib Dems have been in office whilst the bedroom tax was invented, but we are only 10% of the government, and I think the Tories will go further in reducing income for those at the bottom of society. If Britain is a bad place for people with disabilities, it’s a bad place for everyone. The Lib Dems will also maintain committed to human rights and protecting civil liberties.

4) Coalition:  Lib Dems have somehow invented coalition government, which like it or not makes things more interesting, and hopefully increases the chance of a democratic choice of who represents you.

For more information on the Lib Demn 2015 manifesto go to….

For those of you like me who work in NHS commissioning this section is particularly relevant:

  • Secure local agreement on full pooling of budgets between the NHS and care services with a target date of 2018, consulting on a legal duty for this. The details of how services are commissioned will remain a matter for local areas. In this way we will build on the radical proposals to integrate health and care funding in Greater Manchester.
  • Continue to develop Health and Wellbeing Boards to take a broad view of how services can improve wellbeing in their area, ensuring democratic accountability for local care.
  • Combine the public health, adult social care and health outcome frameworks into a single national wellbeing outcomes framework to ensure the NHS and local government work together towards common goals.
  • Support new joined-up services such as GPs providing services like scans and blood tests closer to home, or hospitals having GP surgeries within A&E departments.
  • Encourage the development of joined-up health providers, which cover hospital and community services, including GPs, learning from international best practice. We will permit NHS commissioners and providers in a local area to form a single integrated health organisation where appropriate.
  • Work with Monitor to reform NHS funding systems, moving away from payments for activity to tariffs that encourage joined-up services and preventive care.
  • Liberal Democrats are committed to repealing any parts of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 which make NHS services vulnerable to forced privatisation through international agreements on free markets in goods and services. We will end the role of the Competition and Markets Authority in health, making it clear that the needs of patients, fairness and access always come ahead of competition, and that good local NHS services do not have to be put out to tender. After determined negotiations, we now have a clear guarantee from the EU that member states’ rights to provide public services directly and not open them up to competition are explicitly enshrined in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and we will ensure this remains the case for TTIP and any future trade agreements.

In terms of social care….We will:

  • Finish the job of implementing the Dilnot Report proposals for a cap on the cost of social care.
  • Provide more choice at the end of life, and free end-of-life social care for those placed on their local end-of-life register if evidence shows it is affordable and cost effective.
  • Ask the Care Quality Commission to showcase examples of good and bad practice in care commissioning by Councils.
  • Raise the professional status and training of care home managers through statutory licensing.
  • Ensure those who work in the care sector are properly trained and suitable to practice by introducing a statutory code of conduct backed up by a care workers’ suitability register.
  • Work with local government and providers to promote paying a Living Wage.