Monday, 2 September 2019

The constant struggle..... if I only I could market myself like the homeless stereotype the media wants....

As you'll have read in my previous post.  A lovely lady who brought me hope and happiness slipped through my fingers for seemingly no reason a few months ago. It hurt... a lot.

It's not an uncommon experience though being let down by those people closest to you. As I get older it's something that has happened more than it ever did when I was young. That's not an age thing but a period one.  Commuity and friendship used to be key to survival in our society. but we've stopped thinking of ourselves in those terms in the 21st Century, instead we've become isolated and money serving.

Being let down by someone you care for, that's the worst, but being let down by everybody makes the process of living nigh on impossible.

I am yet again, being wongly deprived funds from the DWP in respect to my DLA (Disability Living Allowace) & IB (Incapacity Benefit) which are paid due to my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  This means I'm now utterly destitute.Being penniless in the UK, unblievable, is actually an illegal offence.

That is becasue we still have the Georgian (not Victorian law folks, it poredates even that) Vagrancy Act on our statute and the police still use it (Liberty are campaigning to get it repealed). If you cannot prove you have the means to feed yourself you can go to prison.  The irony of a state that doesn't want to give someone their legally entitled welfare of £200 per week but happy to pay a £1,000 in housing that same individual in prison, is not lost on me, especially, as our PM says aursterity has ended.

I personally wouldn't last a week if my freedoms were taken away from me, so it's not really an option for me, but I do see those choosing prison over survivnig on the streets as its a better alternative, as being reasoned and rational.

People often ask me, "how can this be happening?" it's a good question, but it isn't actually what they mean. They are not asking how can we live in a society that allows this to happen, or how are civil servants permitted to get away with this behavipur or why isn't our government doing anything to prevent these travesties?

No, they are asking me, how I've let this happen to me.

This question really pisses me off.

Not least, becasue I would have done a hundred things they wouldn't even have thought of doing to imrpove my siutation. Attempted a myriad of solutions from the blindingly obvious to the insanely obscure.

But the most galling is because they think, if their life is "normal" then clearly I must have done something to make mine "abnormal". They don't understand, as a society that we don't live in a bubble,  Our actions aren't necessarily our own as we live in a country with enforecable laws, that sometimes work against us.

For example I have in the past reached out to the Cinema & Television Benevolent Fund (CTBF now renamed The Film & Television Charity) when things had got like this in the past and had been greatly assisted, especially when it came to supporting my son after the DWP removed my mens to live the first few times.  But the CTBF hated the fact that I could maintain a social life in London and be homeless and peniless and therefore simply stopped beleiving me.  Thus my persistence not to be crushed by my situation, instead preferring to use my initiative, skill and knowledge to continue my lifestyle without money, becomes the very reason I wasn't getting support for money I simply couldn't survive without.

My mother always instilled in me the notion that people will help others who help themselves.  That's no longer a mantra that holds ture in today's society.

In the UK's current climate, you're either a waster or a cheat if you have the tumerity to claim, should you get sick or infirmed, the insurance you've probably paid into for years. British society doesn't see National Insurance as the same as any other type of insurance and therefore if you make claim on it in respect to Social Security payments then you're a failure, a loser or a bum.

Ironically though it would be the same as saying to someone who'd had an accident in their car that they shouldn't claim car insurance, because of all those who've paid their insurance and haven't had an accident. The system would obviously collapse, but it is of course exactly the same thinking.

Legally, I've beaten the DWP in appeals court over tweny times over the years. 

I've even attended the Royal Courts of Justice as a litigant in person (representing myself) when they refused to communicate with me by email against their own policy, government legislation and my Human Rights, which the judge in that case stated had been breached for nearly a decade (Paul Atherton V Secreatry of State for Work and Pensions).

How many people can say they argued against the State on their own in one of the highest courts in the land and changed case-law?  I suspect very few.

But still people ask "How haven't you sorted this yet?"

My current appeals process has taken since November 2018 and I've still yet to hear if I have a date for the hearing.  I'm lucky, having worked for the DHSS as was in the mid eighties, I understand the law in respect to benefits, so can represent myself.  Others aren't so lucky and they've had the removal of Legal Aid to add to their woes, so can't get pay for legal assistance, even if they found someone who'd take their case.

But how can I speed up the legal process, how do I fix that?

I'm trying to get an art project off the ground as you may have read elsewhere called Displaced (My speech on the project at the RSA can be found here).  The idea was simple, put 50 of my luxury objects, that had been trapped in my sotrage unit for the past ten years, in Museum Cases on the streets of London in the style of a treasure hunt. The prupose? To highlight the changing face of homelessness currently evolving in the United Kingdon and dispell many of the myths assocaited with it and in so doing bring about a change of tone in the media.

If I'd been attempting do this a decade ago I would have completed it by now. As it is, I've bee trying to get this off the ground for three years and am pretty much exaclty where I started.

I'd been working with the Museum of Homelessness but they got intimidated by the scale of the project even though for me it was primarily to raise funds for them and dropped out with really no explanation.

Access Storage who have been phenomenal in their assistance over the years, have had a change of store management and are now no longer being accomodating with my storage fees and they've also had a change of Marketing Manager so the promise of PR from them has suddenly dematerialised too.

The City of London's City Art Initiative (CAI) apparently loved the idea, but then made no assistance in making it happen, as fake block after fake block was put in my way. First it was an advertising problem, that miraculously vanished when I requested upon which legislation they were making this decision, then it was Highways problem until Highways said no problem and so it went.

I spoke at the Royal Society of Arts as a Fellow to garner support from the Fellowship, but none came forward. The RSA is supposed to be the heart of groundbreaking thinking in the UK but nobody out of the 40,000 fellowship actually came forward with assistance. NOBODY!

I reached out to my alma mater Cardiff Business School in the hope of getting support from the Alumni & provide work placements for students. Carbs is the only school that makes claim to being A Public Value Business School but their response reflected small minded thinking and a knee jerk reaction to something that should have prompted a discussion at the very least. They bother me every week, have written about me and I'm one of the few Alumni with a Wikipedia page.

I've spoken at the House of Commons about my plight to engender a clearly understanding of the problem when Bob Blackman was drafting his Homelessness Reduction Bill, but the key to my contirbution was how do you enforce legislation when Councils are refusing to abide by them was lost and remains to be the biggest problem today.

I've been invited in to City Hall to speak to the heads of No Second Night Out when I was stuck in their hub on Goldhawk road only to be ignored, because the people I was speaking to, although in charge, had no undestanding of the problem. Prefering a piece of reseach that was so flawed wouldn't have got through a first year business course

I've been written about as a Homeless case--study in a book. spoken at Tate Modern on DWP & The Digital Lie and given a lecture at the British Academy Representing Homelessness Conference but have achieved precisely nothing.

And I'm not asking for Charity.  I'm asking for something that I'm legally entitled too.  I'm asking for my insurance to pay out and to have the legal protections to allow me to live a decent life within the framework of legal Human Rights which of course ironically, is a law that the UK created (The European Convention on Human RIghts).

I don't want sympathy or other people's money.  I want my money, the money that I paid additonal voluntary contributions for into my National Insurance, when I was running my own business in my twenties.

Am I to blame for contracting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at 20? Am I to blame for having a Credit agency make an error on my credifile and have no legal recourse to correct it (which is what prompted my homelessness in the first place over a decade ago)?

Is it my fault that Local Authroittes lied to me, got me to sign a contract with an agency that removed my right to social housing, not that that mattered because it would still take a ten year wait before I got one.

How about the wrongful impounding of the car that I was living in when the DVLA screwed up and the Metropolitan police took it away - my fault?

I think not.  But still, I don't want to complain or gripe I just want to change the situation for myself and others who find themsleves in this plight.

I've been interviewed by Buzzfeed (1 hour interview), the Mail on Sunday (3 hour interview followed by a 3 hour photo shoot), Channel 4 news (2 hour interview) and been offered to write a piece for the Huffington Post but all came to naught. Invariably not getting past the editor or making it past the last cut.

The feedback, if any comes at all, is invariably the same, I don't fit the sterotype. I'm trying to change the narrative but that's not what the news audience wants to hear.

To be homelesss in the media, you have to look and smell what they consider a homeless person should be. The arcehtypal Guardian image of man in doorway covered with newspapers.

No way should you find yourself at the Opera, vsiting a Gallery or dining, as the DWP put it, when they spotted a tweet on my feed when a friend had taken me out for a meal, at an upmarket restaurant (even more ironically we wouldn't have considered the establishment remotely so).

The sex sells angle wins too.  When I was being asked to discuss things in respect to Dr. Frances Ryan's book, it was the female who had to turn to sexwork to survive that seemed to garner most interest, in that uncomfortable juxtaposition between wanting to see the book publicised but not wishing the exploitaiton of someone who'd made a diffiuclt choice in hard-times.

In the 21st Century you'd think our media would be far better than this. Our intelligence improving not, as Mike Judge (he of Beavis & Butthead Fame & King of The Hill) in his brilliantly prophetic, live action movie Idiocracy, predicted all but disappeared.

So I find myself in no-mans land (something I found myself with my skin colour when I was growing up in the Welsh Valleys - not Black nor White but mistrusted by both) wanting a platform to make change, but with a media utterly insistent on not sharing my voice.

It was telling when I went to the StopTheCoup demonstration, that as someone who had voted to leave the European Union, that I knew so much more about the EU than those who were campaigning to stay in it.

It's the media that has created this divide between Remainers & Leavers, because the media are not reporting the facts.  They are no longer a service (well that's been true for a while) that delivers news, but a content entertainment service.

As a film-maker I'm all too aware of this.

From Citizen Kanes "What will the people think?... "they'll think what I tell them to think", to Networks "I'm not going to take this anymore" to Broadcast News "fake tear reporting" we've commercialised our news.

The birth of the "clash" interview in the documentary amd it all to obvious that divisive was the only way to entertain.

So, if you're ever wondering what I've done to try and improve my lot, I've taken the state to court, spoken at the House of Commons, appeared in a best-selling book on austerity, created an art project to highlight my plight, put my life bare on the internet for anyone to see and undertaken a myriad of press interviews to change public opinion as well as supporting others through court battles and making films to highlight social injustice.

All of this of course whilst in the main, living on £70 per week social security benefits and sleeping at night on plastic chairs at Heathrow Aiport Terminal Five, now ask yourself, what would you have done in the same circumstances to improve your lot?

And then please, let's never hear the question "what have you done to sort this out? again".