Sunday, August 23, 2009

Not the WI

Not a great success.
Originally uploaded by girl_of_bats
Today I decided to make chocolate cornflake cakes, having in my kitchen both a box of cornflakes and a packet of chocolate bars that were getting dusty because no one fancied eating them.

Turns out, it IS possible to balls-up chocolate cornflake cakes. Who knew?

Things to remember for next time:

  • Don't use snack bars of Galaxy and expect them to behave the same way as cooking chocolate.

  • Don't look at the semi-molten, unappetisingly pale brown mess and decide that it's a good idea to add cocoa.

  • Don't look at the consistency of your now dark-brown mess and decide that the best way to make it runnier will be to add a bit of water.

With a nod and a grin to Carie, multi-prize winner at her village show and a marvellous friend despite being my polar opposite in so many ways.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

DLA and AA under threat

Yesterday Benefits and Work released some rather alarming news about the proposed axing of "disability benefits", such as DLA and AA. To bring all readers up to speed:

DLA is Disability Living Allowance. This is money paid to disabled people to help cover the additional living costs they face due to disability. It has a Mobility component and a Care component. These are paid at fixed rates (high or low rate Mobility, and high, middle, or low rate Care).

AA is Attendance Allowance. This is sort of like DLA for people over 65, but it is not split into care and mobility - there's just a single high or low rate.

Neither benefit is means-tested for the simple reason that being disabled is expensive regardless of what other income you have. If you work your backside off and earn £20k, you deserve to be able to live the life of someone earning £20k - not to be struggling along in the lifestyle of someone on £12k because you have to shell out a small fortune for absolutely essential, non-negotiable disability expenses. You shouldn't be rendered ineligible for help with these essential expenses because you've had the gall to do things like get a mortgage to buy a house, or put a bit of money in an ISA for a rainy day, rather than spending all your money as it comes in.

Neither benefit is counted as income for means-tested benefit assessments, because the money is given because of additional disability-related expenses, the sort of things where the individual can't choose to save a bit of money by going without.

No one is immune from disability or old age. These issues might not affect you today, but chances are they will affect you at some point, particularly if you plan to live past 65.

All up to speed? Then I'll continue.

The reason DLA and AA are given as money and don't require receipts and suchlike to prove how the money was spent, is because of the huge diversity of disabilities and living conditions it covers, and because the expenses don't always work out that neatly.

Let's explore an example: grocery shopping. I have to pay more for my grocery shopping than an able-bodied person.

First of all, I have to pay for home delivery. I rarely have the spoons to manage to get all the way around a busy, bright, noisy, complicated supermarket, even with a mobility scooter - much less to then be able to get myself and my shopping home, and then immediately put it all away as well. To someone with a condition that makes moving about painful, who has difficulty lifting and carrying, who becomes tired very quickly, or who is easily confused, that's a triathlon.

Second, I have to pay to be able to access home delivery. That means an internet connection and a usable computer, repairs and replacements as necessary. Of course I use the internet and the computer for all sorts of things, essential and otherwise. How on earth would we calculate how much of it is a disability-related expense?

Third, I cannot save money on shopping around. Home delivery usually has a minimum spend. Every week, leaflets of special offers from the main supermarkets come through my door, but I don't have an option to get £10 of food from ASDA and £10 from Tesco and £15 from Sainsburys. I have to pick one shop. I cannot pick the cheapest shops, such as Aldi or Lidl, because they do not deliver.

Fourth, shopping online I cannot take advantage of the "benefits buffet", the items that have been reduced in price in-store because they're almost out of date, or because the packaging's been a bit squashed. It used to be a core money-saver - on my walk home from work, I'd wander into the supermarket and pick up something half-price for that night's dinner...

I had typed as far as my ninth point before I realised I'd gone a bit off course and deleted most of it. Hopefully I've demonstrated my point: disability-related expenses crop up in unusual ways and aren't always possible to calculate - which is why getting DLA or AA in the form of extra money to be spent at the claimants' discretion is utterly invaluable.

The Shaping the Future of Care Green Paper published by the DWP and the Department of Health on 14th July sets out government plans to get rid of attendance allowance and, depending on public reaction, also leaves the way clear to end the care component of DLA.

This will Not Be A Good Thing.

Worse, they intend to give the funding and responsibility to Social Services instead. The examples of Social Services that are unable to find their backsides with both hands and a map are myriad, but even if we were to grant them the impossible benefit of the doubt and assume that they ran it fairly and smoothly... this change can only mean less autonomy and more paperwork for elderly and disabled people who are not always in a position to be able to deal with it, as they attempt to document and justify every disability-related expense that the local authority will permit (and struggle with the ones they won't acknowledge).

Please, join the campaign at Benefits and Work.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Wednesday is my day off, but today, it really doesn't feel like one.

What I'm about to say is going to sound really daft...

Today I have 3 hours of social activity with my PA and you know what? I almost wish I didn't.

Anybody from Social Services reading this, I said almost, and I'm only referring to today...

You see, I have nothing to do.

Steve and I seem to have some sort of bug or whatever and we're both feeling more run-down than usual. I had to go home early from work on Monday and went straight to bed and stayed there. With an effort, I managed work and knitting on Tuesday, but now I'm really shattered and all I want to do is just crawl back into bed and stay put. This removes all of the more physical activities I might engage in during my three hours of PA time like swimming or bowling.

The weather is miserable, so that removes the outdoorsy activities I enjoy like going for a wander-about in this or that park, maybe having a bit of a picnic somewhere pretty, very enjoyable things even when energy is low that just aren't fun when it's persisting it down.

I tried museums and art galleries but I guess I'm just not that sort of person. I do my best to find it interesting and make dutiful comments about how fascinating it is to find out about (insert museum speciality here) but seriously, I'm either falling asleep, or I'm getting a headache from trying to stoke up an interest and absorb tons of information about something that simply doesn't interest me. It's a bit different when I'm with Steve, because he can get excited about the engineering involved, or at the very least, find stuff to photograph in beautiful or unusual ways, and I can watch him.

I have enough library books to last several weeks, and there's nothing at all that I need to shop for.

As Steve isn't currently working, there aren't any out-and-about jobs that I should be taking care of, because he's tackling that sort of thing as it crops up. Which is great, and I am a million flavours of NOT complaining, but at least when I know I have to post a letter or buy a birthday card or something, it gives me the start of the roll of sticky tape.

Also as Steve isn't currently working, and as I've just splurged a month's worth of my own wages on this shiny new laptop (which I have been slowly getting used to since last night), it's not a good time to head to a shopping mall and spend money on things that I really don't need just for the sake of filling up some time.

But I have these three hours and although there's some flexibility, over the course of a month, my PA is supposed to do and get paid for a minimum of the regular approved number of hours.

So I'm sitting here, really not wanting to DO anything, yet trying to think of some sort of activity to occupy myself and my PA. I feel like I'm obliged to come up with some form of entertainment despite only wanting to sleep. I feel like it's a job.

All I've come up with so far is trying to find a nice cafe and sitting there drinking tea and eating cake and knitting or reading or something. But then I feel like I'm wasting the hours I've been allotted.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Why it's a really good idea to have a geographical number

After spending a couple of hours last night looking at different sorts of laptops (including Alienware - hardware: wow, prices: eep!), Steve and I had narrowed the choices down to five reasonable options that more-or-less met my criteria and budget. So this morning, after the First Cup Of Tea but before the actual Getting Up process, we fired up his eeePC to have a fresh look at these options and see if I could choose which one I wanted.

Eventually we settled on an Acer Aspire 5738, one of the younger cousins of my current (unwell) Acer Aspire 5500. Despite the reduced price offer on laptopsdirect, it was a bit over my ideal budget, but had all my need/want features and looked like it would have the longest to run before it became obsolete.

However, there appeared to have been a data entry error on the technical specs. In one place, it said it had 3GB of RAM. In another place, it said it had 2GB of RAM comprising 1x1GB and 1x2GB, and while I know my maths won't win any prizes, even I can spot the problem there. And then, it encouraged us to phone them and ask about the "double memory offer" which would bring it up to 4GB...

Still, data entry errors happen, so I figured the best thing to do would be to phone and ask for the correct information - and then, depending on whether or not I liked the answers, buy it or start looking at the second-favourite.

Problem. The number to phone about the memory offer was an 0844, and the main site number was 0871, and at the moment Steve and I only have mobile phones available, and these non-geographical numbers are expensive for us to call and don't get included in our "free" minutes. The Contact Us page gave a company address and named the business not as laptopsdirect, but as BuyitDirect. So we googled them, hoping to turn up a geographical number for the business address (yes, I know, Say No To 0870, but their site confuses me, not least because the google ads look like site links).

Instead, we found a series of accounts of failure and f*ckwittery that made us certain of exactly one thing - we weren't going to be giving them any money any time soon.

I'll cheerfully admit to my own laziness/incompetence/impatience when I'm buying new kit while still in bed on a Saturday morning - if there had been a geographical phone number on the site, I wouldn't have bothered digging for information about the company, and thus wouldn't have found all the negative reviews. I'd have rung them up, cleared up the RAM issue, ordered a laptop, and given them the details to charge my card for rather more than five hundred of the finest British pounds sterling. Their loss.

There is a happy twist, though.

On a whim, rather than going to the second-choice laptop (which was with a different retailer), we put the complete catalogue number of my preferred laptop into google. And lo, we found the same laptop on SimplyAcer, and not only that, but it was significantly cheaper and brought the whole thing neatly back under budget. The company provided a postal address and a geographical phone number as their main contact details without any messing about, and a link to their parent company gives not only geographical phone number and postal address but also a little map and photographs of their shop premises, handily situated just up the road in Birmingham, so if there are any problems we'll be able to physically go there to sort it all out.

Eagerly awaiting a despatch email now, although not really *expecting* one until at least the beginning of the working week... have I mentioned lately that I love my G1?