Wednesday, November 20, 2013

This will make you cry

When I am less well - and just now, I am less well - I cry very easily. Nothing to do with unhappiness. It's more about the loss of certain inhibitions - I also laugh very easily, sometimes way too easily. But crying is more of a problem.

I might cry because something is sad, because it is happy or because it is beautiful, I cry when I try and talk about deep emotions, even (especially) entirely positive ones. And I hate it. I hate crying. Of course, I'd much rather cry than vomit - vomiting is physically painful, messy and smells bad - but crying is similarly uncontrollable, exhausting and demoralising. You don't want other people see you do it.

Worse is that most people only cry when they're really very upset. There are people I have known all my life who I have only seen cry once or twice. So it's natural to assume that a crying person is extremely distressed. Which can either make people feel anxious or guilty, or, sometimes, irritated.

Have your tissues at the ready.

I can't stand others telling me when I should or shouldn't be moved to tears except that, my heart hardened by indignation, it makes it less likely I will.

This household is obsessed with Strictly Come Dancing. Four of us sit down together and watch Strictly: It Takes Two every weekday evening, as well as the weekend shows. Every Monday, Zoe Ball interviews the dancing pair who have been eliminated at the weekend and she always tells us, averaging about ten times, that we're all going to cry. The dancers will cry. She will cry. The viewers at home will cry. Sometimes, she just talks about the urgent need for tissues, which makes the whole thing sound a bit disgusting, like everyone is about to leak or spurt in unexpected ways.

Rarely, does anybody cry. It happens occasionally, when people talk about the things that matter; the intense physical and emotional experience of learning to dance, the friendships formed, the art created. Ball thrusts a glittery box of tissues in their face as they speak, feeling the need to dramatise and glamourise something simple and human. She is the sort of person who uses hashtags in spoken language.

On-line people often precis a link with "This will make you cry."  This could be anything from a story about child soldiers in the Congo to a video of a puppy opening its eyes for the first time or the John Lewis Christmas Ad. And it's okay if any of these things do make you cry. But it's okay if they don't.

In fact, a story about child soldiers in the Congo, which is a really really terrible thing, might be less likely to make you cry. Just like the problems of our own lives, we can be numbed by our strength of feeling. We see a real-life problem as complex, and our brains are too busy trying to understand what's gone wrong and how it might be made better. This is why we can face serious illness, loss and bereavement and not cry for a good long while, if indeed ever. Or burst into tears on the spot. Complex situations provoke varied responses. All of them are legitimate.

"A mermaid has no tears, therefore she suffers more."

I have empathy issues. If I see you cry, I will probably cry. Watching TV, I will cry over a cake that's failed to rise if the person baking it is moved to. If I see you laugh sincerely, I will laugh without knowing why. If there's a crowd scene in a film when everyone is cheering for the evil tyrant, I will want to cheer, even though it is for the evil tyrant*. If I see a person or animal get injured, I can flinch so violently that I might injure myself. Increased empathy is among the stranger long-term side effects of dihydrocodeine.

(The only thing I don't copy from other people is yawning. That one's broken. I could sit in a room full of yawners, during a lecture on the contagious power of yawning and I wouldn't yawn. Odd.)

This obviously doesn't make me a better person - I feel like cheering the evil tyrant. It doesn't tell me how other people are feeling, doesn't make me understand other people's problems. I do try to understand, but that's a choice.

So much of our media-saturated culture would teach us that depth of feeling, and displays of feeling, are what counts. Last week's Children in Need is a good example. During the week, the British public gave £30 million to the Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal for the Philippines, on the strength of news reports (including reports like one I saw on the BBC, which amounted to "The trouble with Johnny Foreigner is that he can't queue in an orderly fashion, and that's why he gets into this kind of fix.")

No need for vicars in bathtubs of baked beans or moving VTs with soft focus wheelchairs and tragic music. On Friday, the British public gave about the same amount (£31 million) to Children in Need. But telethons are not really about raising money. They are about making people feel good - or specifically, making people feel like good people. The programming is designed like the most manipulative rousing sermon, with a mixture of spiritual highs (Yeah, we're really making a difference!), interspersed with deeply moving VTs about how tragic life is for the children - often disabled children or the children of disabled people (a tragedy that has nothing to do with say, the current political climate, cuts to care and services, welfare reform etc..).

And this tells you that you're a good person. You're a good person because you see suffering and respond with emotion, often with tears. You're a good person because you feel good about the fact that someone is doing something - you're supporting it, even if you're not actually, you know, supporting it. I don't know the viewing figures for Children in Need, but last year's were 8 million, raising £27 million, putting the average donation-per-viewer at under £3.50.

White Woman's Tears

Crying is a weapon of the passive aggressive. When people troll with feminine identities, they often claim to be driven to tears by the words of others. "After I read what you wrote, I cried for a whole hour!"

People do make each other cry on-line. Some people say horrible personal and insulting things. But what does the mere fact of tears indicate? If I cry and you don't, does that mean my pain is greater than yours, that your words have proven more hurtful than mine? And if - as is usually the case - we started off by arguing about a point of fact, do my tears mean that I win?

I think of White Woman's Tears; the use of hurt feelings by white women to silence black women, which often works because white women are seen as more feminine and crying - literally or figuratively - as a display of soft and gooey-hearted feminine sensitivity. Like when folk talk of sadness that Lily Allen should be met with criticism by those bullying all-powerful black ladies, when she's made such a sweet satirical video.

(This is the way my mind works. I don't experience white guilt when I cry, but you know, I think about social justice a lot.)

Crocodile Tears

I learnt to cry on demand as a stagestruck teenager, just as I learnt to fall to the ground without hurting myself (a skill that doesn't transfer to trips, falls and faints that aren't written into stage directions). The only time that's been useful has been during depression or bereavement, when tears are ironically unforthcoming, but I've really wanted to, needed to cry. Tears help to carry cortisone out of the body. I concede they have their uses, on occasion.

Obviously, you need to think of something sad. An appropriately sad thing might not be a real and seriously sad thing, like a personal bereavement - it has to be simpler than that, and less personal. Events from fiction, especially uncomplicated events, such as from children's books and films, especially things that stirred you early on. The death of Bambi's mother would work for a lot of us. The bit when Hazel realises he doesn't need his body any more at the end of Watership Down (here I go again).

After that you have to stop blinking. It helps to keep a light source in your line of vision - not to stare directly at a bright light, but to make sure you're half-turned toward a lamp, window, TV or computer screen. So your eyes are irritated.

You can sometimes tell when someone is making themselves cry. If you cry naturally, you usually lower your eyes (unless you're trying to talk to someone), you look away from the light and you blink much more than usual as your eyes attempt to rid themselves of the excess fluid. When George Osbourne was photographed crying at Thatcher's funeral, his head was up, eyes wide open and his face was turned slightly towards the light. Also, there's surely the face of a man with The Animals of Farthing Wood on his mind.

There's a genre of film called Weepy.

Last week we watched the movie of Les Miserables. I've known this music since I was eight or nine years old, and saw the stage show when I was seventeen, one of only two big shows I've ever seen (the other was Fame. It wasn't great.). The film is superb but I would have hated to sit through it in a public place. I had five separate bouts of crying.  Still, far more satisfying that my tears for the sacharine sad moments in even terrible films. I really do cry at the John Lewis Christmas Ad, despite it being twee and dreadful.

Some people seem to like crying, like Zoe Ball, and folks who chose to watch movies because they will make them cry. This isn't, I think, the paradox of tragedy - a weepy film or book doesn't need to involve hubris and might even have a happy ending. I think it is perhaps about bonding through tears. In tragedy, there is catharsis. In weepies, the emotional tank simply fills to overflowing and even if you watch them alone, you know that you feel as you're supposed to feel; you feel as the characters feel. If you're with other people, you feel as they feel. You cry together.

And I guess that's what folk are after when the tell us "This will make you cry."

They mean to say, "Feel as I feel. Cry with me"

* Stephen read this and said, "Be honest, you don't just want to cheer - you do cheer for the evil tyrant."
It's true. I avoid seeing any footage of the Nuremberg Rallies around people who don't know me extremely well. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Top 10 Complaints About Housing in the UK

I know - riveting! But this is something that, one way or another, effects most people I know under about 45. The effects vary greatly and I know that I am extremely lucky, an unlucky kind of way; there are folks I know who are far more securely stuck in unhappy housing situations or worse, teetering on the precipice of homelessness.

Anyway, here's why I think we're getting housing wrong in the UK:

10. It's too cheap to own a second home and leave it empty.

Second home-ownership is fairly ruinous to rural and coastal communities, pricing local people, on local wages, out of the housing market while flats and houses remain unoccupied most of the year. On the day of the 2011 Census, 29,000 residential properties in Cornwall - one of our poorest counties - stood empty.

It's not immoral for rich people to own second homes - I live between two homes, neither of which I own, but I can see the advantages of having places to live in two very different places, just as I can see the advantage in having a robot butler or more than three pairs of shoes. But what cannot be right at all is that tax law should make it cheaper to run a second home than it costs to run the first, through discounted council tax. At the very least, second-home owners should be paying full whack to support any community they own property in, given that their part time presence is unlikely to be an unmitigated force for local good.

On the same score, although MPs represent a small minority of second-home owners, they need to do much better (especially as so many have spoken of what a luxury it is for a poor person to have a second bedroom so their kids can stay over at the weekend). For one thing, any MP who fiddles their expenses to any extent needs to be fired, just like you would in a regular job. But if the tax-payer is to foot the bill for MP's second homes, this should be funded allowances according to need rather like housing benefit, e.g. a married MP with one child only needs a two bedroom property. If they want something bigger for their own comfort, they really can afford to pay for it themselves.

9. People enjoy living in expensive houses that they couldn't afford to live in if they didn't already own them.

There's house prices which vary, but fundamentally a house is only worth the cost of a similar house. If I owned a house that cost £150K, it wouldn't matter (very much) whether the price rose to £200K or dropped to £100K; selling that house would only generate enough money to buy another similar house in a similar area. I know it gets a little more complicated than that, but fundamentally.

The trouble is that people enjoy the fact that they bought their house for £3.50 thirty years ago and suddenly it's worth more money than they could ever have afforded if they didn't already own it - more money than their own kids, if they work in similar jobs, could ever dream of earning. I knew people who charted how much their house was worth during the boom as if this was real material wealth they were accumulating. High-rent prices mean that there are a lot of very wealthy landlords who didn't know a thing about property ten years ago. And the people who have benefited most tend to be of a generation who are also most likely to use their vote. They believe that they worked hard to pay off their mortgage (which they probably did, but everyone does), and if younger people can't afford to buy, that's their look out.

These people do not want to see the price of their houses fall, nor do they want their tenants paying any less rent. Yet elsewhere, when the recession hit, property prices fell and everyone survived in. We should stop seeing a property slump as the disaster to be avoided at all costs - apart from anything else, one of those costs could be a far more massive slump than would have happened otherwise.

8. We're not building enough of the right kind of housing (I)

In the UK, we're building very old-fashioned houses, with an only limited nod to environmental concerns. Outside house-building TV programs, the houses I see being built now look exactly like the houses I watched going up when I was a kid.  Where is our architectural imagination? Why aren't we using any of the technology that's developed in the past thirty years on mainstream development?

Part of this is about the environment (and for the most part, environmental materials are not expensive to use and generate work within the UK), but quite obviously, making homes where people will source most of their heat and light from the sun, ground, air or whatever, would lower the cost of living. It seems ridiculous that almost all the houses we're building now will still be predominantly reliant on fossil fuels, when those things are only going to get more and more expensive.

7. We're not building enough of the the right kind of housing (II)

Another problem with new builds is that every single one I've seen is on two storeys. They're also small, not just small rooms, but very narrow walkways, making them difficult to navigate with crutches, let alone a wheelchair.

While I don't want to sound pessimistic about old age and disability, with 1/5 of the population over 60, the number of people who struggle with stairs, at least to some extent, is an increasing minority. But there's nowhere for them to live. I know dozens of disabled people of all ages, who still live in houses with stairs, but remain on one floor or struggle - dangerously, and at detriment to their health - to get up and down stairs.

I understand that building up is much cheaper than building across, but I can't understand why there is no obligation on developers to build a small proportion of houses that are fully accessible, in the same way they're obliged to build a few that pass that vague criteria of affordability.  It's local councils who are going to have to foot the bill for adaptations on these inaccessible houses in the long run.

6. We're not building enough of the right kind of housing (III)

Most of the new building I see is happening on new estates away from existing towns and villages - not necessarily far away, but they require residents to drive to get to a shop or post-office, let alone schools, doctors and pre-existing community centres. They don't have any buildings apart from houses in them, so they don't encourage communal activities and the sort of community that builds up simply by having folk pop into the same shop every now and again, let alone a pub or Church. There are obligations on developers to plan around the prevention of crime, but nothing about encouraging or sustaining community.

By the same token, these affordable houses, whether owned or rented, are not where the work is. You're going to have to drive to get anywhere and that's going to mean that as a low-income worker, you're going to have much less money in your pocket at the end of the day. Many people cannot live near the places they work, but far fewer can afford to live in the middle of nowhere.

5. We're propping up the property market in the worst possible way.

This government cares that people will stop buying houses and all those middle-class home-owners (they're not all middle class, but the ones that matter are) will see their house prices drop. So how could you help first time buyers?  Perhaps providing its own low interest loans for first-time buyers, who've saved up a bit but are struggling to find a mortgage on a small flat or house?

Or you could guarantee a proportion of a loan up to £600,000 where the borrowers have only a 5% deposit. Because you want to help folk who have managed to save £30K to buy a £600K house - that's normal people, ordinary folk with ordinary aspirations, just needing a little leg up. And the tax-payer's money will be perfectly safe! And it's not going to artificially prop up property prices because people wouldn't be able to buy such expensive houses otherwise!

Urgh. I really don't think the government should be in the business of helping people buy property at a time when many people don't have enough to eat. But if they chose to, it should surely be low-waged first-time buyers with modest aspirations.

4. Government is afraid to further regulate, let alone compete with, private landlords.

Rent is way too high.  Rents are too high for working people who earn too much to claim benefits, but let's talk about those who can't or don't.

Much emphasis has been placed on how much money in spent on Housing Benefit (now Local Housing Allowance) with few politicians considering why this bill is so big. The sum you get is based on the cost of the smallest accommodation you could live in, in the 30th percentile of the local rental market. So for example, a single person my age where I stay in Surrey would be entitled to £346 a month, based on a room in shared accommodation. Only that's based on the 30th percentile across a region; round here, the going rate for a room is more like £500-600 a month.

Most people are either already renting somewhere or paying a mortgage when their income drops to a level where they need the extra help. Moving can cost many hundreds of pounds - people can't just up and leave (away from where the work is, away from their communities, their kids' schools etc.) because they're unemployed this month. By the time a situation reveals itself to be long-term, there's less money to make a move with. Meanwhile, if you're disabled, you don't get any extra because you need an accessible flat, or room for a wheelchair or other equipment.

The bill to the tax-payer has nothing to do with the choices made by benefit recipients. It's all about landlords - not a bunch of villains necessarily, but folk who will pragmatically charge as much as they can. If your rent goes up, you have to move or pay, and most people can't afford to move.

This is why, in 2013, we're needing food banks and Red Cross Parcels. People on low incomes (including some who are not even entitled to benefits) are spending most of their money on keeping a roof over their head and finding there's not enough left to eat.

The idea that cutting benefits will help control the rental market is bullshit. If, as taxpayers, we can't afford to pay the rent of our very poorest people, we need to control what they're allowed to be charged. Or better yet, compete with the landlords:

3. We desperately need more social housing.

Both sets of my grandparents lived in council housing before they went on to buy their own homes. They were working people and there was no shame or stigma. In fact, the council house Kelly grandparents moved into (Granny showed me on Google Streetview) was a central-heated semi-detached palace compared to the tiny terrace houses they both grew up in. They had fought and won a war, they aspired for a better life than their parents' generation and that council house was the first step on that journey.

These days, attitudes towards social housing are completely different. Many people have the idea that if you live in a council flat, you live rent-free (you might do, but only if you're out of work and poor besides). Council housing is highly stigmatised, some people don't want to live near it and many people understand the word chav as standing for council-housed and violent.

Meanwhile, folks are desperate for social housing, there are 1.7 million people waiting for social housing in England (about 3.5% of the population), let alone the numbers who need urgent transfers to non-existent smaller housing because of the Bedroom Tax (there's even talk of demolishing three-bedroom council housing that tenants can no longer afford).

We desperately need more social housing. We need to re-embrace social housing as a necessary facility that anyone might make use of if they need to (much like public transport. Only, you know, more like public transport ought to be.)

2. The Benefit Cap

When they talked about capping benefits to £25K a year a household - once they discounted Disability Living Allowance from the calculation - I thought, "Well that's a stupid crowd-pleaser, but there aren't going to be many families effected by that. £25K is a lot of money."

Only, it's not, when it's fairly easy to pay more than half that much out in rent. Frances Ryan's coverage of a recent (failed) High Court appeal by a group of women escaping domestic violence demonstrates what a mess we are in. Yes, it is a bit ridiculous that someone who is out of work should be getting more than an average salary (which, being the mean average, is more than most salaries).

However, it is even more ridiculous that someone could be having £25K income and still have no money to spend after food, bills and most importantly rent. And until we sought out that moral scandal, we need to cough up the extra in order to keep children fed and clothed.

1. The Bedroom Tax.

The Bedroom Tax is a policy whereby people in social housing who are perceived as having a spare room must now pay a weekly fine for the privilege. The "spare room" could belong to an autistic girl struggling with puberty who the government thinks should share with her boisterous six year old sister. It might be used by children who only visit on the weekend - its presence being a condition that the parent is allowed to have their kids overnight. It might be used by adult children who are away at university or in the army and do need that place to return to. It may be used by disabled people to store equipment - a wheelchair, hoist etc - or as a bedroom for one half of a couple to retreat to if pain, spasms and other symptoms make it impossible to sleep comfortably together.

Or it might be a spare room where nobody regularly sleeps, but which is part of the flat the occupants have lived in for the last forty years. Part of the home the occupants were placed in by the council.

One inevitable effect of the Bedroom Tax is to force people to move away from their work and employment prospects, families and communities. But mostly, there are no smaller places to move to, so it's just making poor people poorer. A third of council tenants are now in rent arrears and many are now becoming homeless.

There are no words for the damage this is causing, both to individuals, families, communities and society as a whole.

The first rule of any government policy relating to housing in any way?

Don't actively increase homelessness.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Care & Familial Responsibility

When I wrote Why does disability make people more vulnerable to domestic abuse?, I talked about how carers are often seen as universally saintly and this can mean that it becomes harder to question whether they're doing what they should be. There are other, related effects. We praise carers, but - as with the sanctity of motherhood - believing that people are endowed with magical powers of patience and wisdom, we tend to stop supporting them (what could a mere mortal do to help?) and certainly don't value what they do in any material way.

The week before last, Jeremy Hunt gave a speech vaguely advocating that families care more for their elderly - that we should aspire to be more like cultures in which care homes are "a last resort." This is so cynical, it makes my skin crawl. Then the lovely Glosswitch wrote about caring for her brother, and her fear that her caring role will increase as her parents age.
What are the rules for caring for a sibling, anyway? I'm not sure but I've always felt they must be different to those that apply to parents or offspring. Indeed, I've often hoped I'd find them written down somewhere: 
Rules for Caring: 
• children – definitely 
• partner – of course 
• parents – probably 
• grandparents – maybe 
• siblings – siblings? Who do you think you are, Mother Teresa? Surely everyone draws the line at siblings, not because we love them less but because it's just too hard.
So I really want to talk a bit about care and familial responsibility. This post is a little epic and Glosswitch's bullet points won't be the last.

Apart from any kids who you brought into existence, I don't believe you're responsible for any family member just because of blood. Yet we're all responsible for the people we love, for people who have loved and cared for us, and that's the same whether they are blood, related through marriage, or our close friends. If you love people, you need to look after them as best you can, whatever that entails.

But that doesn't mean that you should ever have to perform care. Two things worth mentioning before we go on:
  1. Here, I'm talking about responsibility. Sometimes, people have no real choice about becoming a carer and that's a terrible thing. This post should demonstrate why this choice is essential.
  2. Fortunately, most people never even face this prospect. We're sometimes presented with a picture of old age where everyone needs round-the-clock care. In reality, most people grow old and remain independent until death or shortly before death. Hooray! 
Right, back to what happens when folk do need care..

Granny Kelly told me a story about when her own grandmother, who lived next door, was sick. This was the 1930s and my great great grandmother had a morbid fear of the hospital - everyone she knew who had gone in alive had come out dead. So Granny's mother cared for her bedridden mother, whilst running her own home and bringing up her three children.

One day, Granny's aunt came to stay with the old lady and give Granny's mother a rest for a few days. The aunt didn't even last to midnight, before she came round to Granny's mother's house, knocked on the door and begged for her sister's help. She could not cope with her poorly mother. She could not perform care. She had to go home. So she did.

This is the first reality of care within families: Some people are extremely ill-suited to this. I could look around my family now and tell you who would do well caring for their parent, partner, sibling or child should they become disabled  (I could tell you some of these things from personal experience).

This is not about how nice people are or the quality of love in their hearts.

Although needs vary, I'd say a typical carer needs to be pretty good at
  • Working to a strict routine; meals at these times, drugs at these times, the same every day.
  • Being able to rest and sleep during breaks, as opposed to the one long break most people have from the end of work in the evening to the beginning of work next day.
  • Flexibility. All plans may change.
  • Not getting easily bored.
  • Not panicking in a crisis. 
  • A certain kind of detachment when it comes to bodily fluids, effluent, injury and nudity.
  • Respecting the inherent dignity of a human being, even when they are helpless.
  • Reassuring people.
For some people, in the right circumstance, this stuff comes quite naturally - I've written before about how tasks we could define as "care" can merge with the natural teamwork that takes places within a partnership or family. But people and family dynamics vary hugely.

Take reassurance as an example. This is an essential skill for many carers; people often need reassurance when they're distressed, confused or in pain - let alone when they're having symptoms that will one day kill them. And that isn't something that comes naturally to everyone. If you think about times you've been in a real panic, then think through your friends and family and consider how many you're bloody glad were nowhere in sight. Some very lovely people have a habit of pouring petrol onto flames.

This doesn't mean that people can't or don't learn new skills - people often do. But if they can't, you're looking at a very miserable carer and very poor quality of care.

And that's plain old innocent aptitude. There are loads of families - there are elements of this within my own - where there's a great deal of talk of love, charity beginning at home, doing anything at all for one's nearest and dearest, but a complete lack of action or support when help is really needed.  Some people find illness in others irritating and lose patience when their partner has a cold, let alone something more long-term. In fact - as anyone with chronic illness will have learned - many people just don't have the stamina for any kind of problem that goes on and on and doesn't have a simple solution and a happy ending.

It would be great if everyone acted in the best interests of the people they love.  However, when they won't, insisting that they should does no good to a disabled or elderly person (nor indeed, does reminding them that their family could function differently).

Then there's the fact that some disabled and elderly people are extremely difficult to deal with. Some people who require care aren't pleasant people.  Some parents have given their children a lifetime of ill treatment before needing help in their old age. Others are decent caring folk who nevertheless become ill-tempered and demanding when living with illness, pain and impairment. Just as some people don't cope at all well with care, many people cope very badly with needing help, and find it much easier to snap at family members than they would at a professional performing a paid service (a professional who could resign their position if they feel mistreated).

And that's before we talk about conditions. Caring for someone with severe autism is very very different from caring for, say, someone with muscular dystrophy. Meanwhile, most conditions effect different people very differently - coping with someone who has profound dementia but is cheerful and co-operative is a completely different kettle of fish to dealing with a loved-one who - through no fault of their own - is now aggressive, even violent towards you.

And all of this is before we talk about what is practically possible. My Gran has four children, ten adult grandchildren and a few adult great grandchlidren (she is a great great grandmother), most of whom live within the same town. But when her health deteriorated, there was nobody who could take on a full-time caring role. There was nobody who met the following essential criteria:
  • In possession of a house with a spare room and bathroom that was physically accessible to Gran or
  • Able to practically move into the small spare room of Gran's bungalow.
  • Not working or studying full-time. 
  • Not chronically ill.
  • Not on the list of people Gran strongly disliked and mistrusted even before she got dementia. 
  • Not on the list of people Gran had so deeply hurt or offended, they may not show at the funeral.
So my Gran went into a care home. It was the last resort, but really, it shouldn't have been: my Gran suffered a series of falls at home, including one where it seemed clear that she had left the gas on, had later smelled gas and had fallen in her hurry to leave the house. The general feeling was that Gran would suffer a great deal leaving her home and she would stubbornly resist. In fact, she adjusted to it in the blink of an eye and quickly became happier than we've ever known her. She's currently insisting that she is engaged to another resident of the care home, although she's forgotten who that is.

Of course, this isn't the way things are, but our experience. It would have still been the right thing to do even if she'd hated the care home - she was made safer, and none of us could keep her safe otherwise. No amount of love or concern keeps someone safe when they really can't be left on their own for any period of time.


So, what if you love someone who needs care but you're not in a position - whether through personal, practical or financial reasons - to perform that care? Well, the great thing about care work is that it can be performed, to a very high standard, by professional people. But (a) someone has to make sure that's happening and (b) good care only gets you half way to good quality of life. There are a thousand things we can do to support our disabled and elderly loved-ones and their carers (paid or otherwise) without ever having to see them naked.

People often fail at these things for a few different reasons:
  • The sense that anything done to support disabled people is a tremendous chore/ act of charity. 
  • Guilt. I feel guilty I can't do more, so I'll pretend there's nothing I can do.
  • The thing mentioned above about problems that go on and on and can't be fixed.
  • It really is easy to get on with my busy life and let time (and good intentions) fly by.  
  • Generalised squeamishness about age, illness or disability.
  • If I can't be the hero of the hour, I'm not playing the game.
Jeremy Hunt talked about loneliness, but as Aditya Chakrabortty pointed out, young people are more likely to be lonely than older people. Disabled people of all ages, especially those not in work, are much more vulnerable to loneliness than say, my Granny Kelly who at ninety, keeps a calendar jam-packed with family visits, trips out with friends, concerts and church events.

But receiving good quality care is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to a disabled person avoiding loneliness and having a good quality of life. We all need to look after one another, best we can.