“Attention – this policy is reversing!” U-turn on young people’s travel

Hurrah – direct action and real democracy has finally paid off.

Yesterday – fifteen months after their short-sighted,  mean-minded and pennypinching  abolition of Suffolk’s Explore young person’s travelcard (halfway through the academic year, let me remind you!) –  the Conservatives on Suffolk County Council have announced a U-turn.   SCC will now be developing  an Oyster-type card “to help provide reduced travel costs for education, training and work-related travel” for young people, because – as Leader Mark Bee acknowledged -travel is such a problem for young people in our rural county.

As my son would say, no shit, Sherlock!

What Cllr Bee says is perfectly true. But it  is  hardly news. It’s now exactly a year since the County Council received that  6,000 signature petition and the personal representations from a huge range of people (including some very vocal, determined – and polite – members of Woodbridge’s Just 42) telling them just this!

When  the Conservatives originally argued the necessity of the Explore  cut on the grounds of cost, they were too shortsighted to recognise the costly damage it would cause to the educational, work and training prospects of a whole cohort of young people.  This harm was clear to anyone who looked at the facts rather than the ideology of the New Strategic Direction.  Indeed, in the middle of last year the Conservatives heard this information directly from me and other Lib Dem councillors, from schools and colleges, from parents and – most of all – from the young people affected.

We all told the Conservatives that scrapping the Explore card would – and did – cause huge problems to those who wanted to get an education and a job.  But -as the Cabinet member for Roads and Transport so memorably said -“you can’t spend a pound more than once.”   In such  circumstances, the wise idea is to choose carefully what you do spend your pounds on in the first place. This was the same Cabinet that agreed the expenditure of really quite a lot of pounds on Suffolk Circle.

Thursday’s announcement is welcome news – but sadly it is too late for some.  And the current announcement – despite the fanfare – is currently limited to Ipswich.Yet  Scrutiny established  at the end of last year that the young people living in Ipswich remained  best supported by bus services after the Explore cut. It was those in the rural parts of Suffolk – those with large distances to travel and no access to cars or petrol -who were most badly affected.

Now that this decision has been made, I urge the council to go beyond spin on this occasion and to roll out this new Oyster-type scheme as quickly as possible. We we need to reverse, wherever possible,  the harm they have caused and are continuing to cause to the next generation of Suffolk!

Leaders of the Pack? 1st Woodbridge Scouts

Young people today they dress the same as each other… they’re always hanging around in groups… climbing all over the place..

1st Woodbridge Scouts make a workable 'A' frame bridge

There really couldn’t be a better description of the 1st Woodbridge Scouts.

I’ve known the 1st Woodbridge Group for a long time – indeed am immensely grateful to them. My daughter was one of the first female scouts to join the Group and they were amazingly supportive in allowing her the same opportunities for outings and camps and cycling and water sports as the others in the group, when many other organisations saw her epilepsy rather than the person underneath.

So she fell into rivers, she camped in the snow, she cooked hideous messes over fires – and she learned to be self-reliant, and hardy, and how not to come to harm. And she bloomed.

Of course, it was not just my daughter 1st Woodbridge supported to achieve her best, but every single member of the group, whatever their age or background.

And that’s what scouting is about. They support ‘learning by doing’ – giving the scouts responsibility, encouraging them to work in teams, to take acceptable risks and think for themselves.

Scouting is cheap – for the scouts, and their parents – because the basis of the movement is that everyone should be able to join and benefit. And so the scouting movement relies heavily on adult volunteers – people who are generous enough to give up one evening a week to help young people to hang around in groups productively, rather than on street corners. It is generous of them, it is public spirited – but let’s be honest, it is also extraordinarily good fun.

So much fun that maybe you should try it for yourself.

At the moment 1st Woodbridge has 25 scouts. There is a waiting list. The group  can’t take any more, because they would need more leaders. And if one of the leaders becomes ill, they have to cancel activities.. So, if you’re enthusiastic, practical and good with people, and – say – your day job involves too much sitting and not enough excitement, why not contact 1st Woodbridge?  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1stwoodbridge/

Seizing Cinderella: Raising the Curtain on Epilepsy

I’ve made a lot of fuss on these pages about the stigmatisation of epilepsy. Many people have it (1 in 30 will have a seizure at some time). You can develop it at any time in your life  for a variety of reasons (eg stroke, head injury, age, illness).  Few will mention it. Everyone ignores it. Society does not accommodate it.

It’s the elephant in the room, skeleton in the cupboard and all the rest of those cliches

Above all, epilepsy is not sexy. There are no brownie points to be gained by putting it on the stage, screen or page. While you’re having a seizure it’s hard to make you look look pale and interesting – frankly, sometimes it can be hard to make you look human. A seizure taps into folk-myths of transformations: werewolves, changelings, vampires. In short, a seizure looks scary, and it is hard for people to see beyond it: that underneath that (often) frightening transformation there is a person just like yourself but with a bum deal in the neuro-transmitter department.

No wonder that those with epilepsy do badly at school, are poorly served by health services, and find it hard to gain employment or form relationships.  They can be arrested in a street, turned off a bus or out of a pub – just for being ill.

And all these snubs have a huge impact on the life of the person with epilepsy

“You may only be put out of action for an hour every two weeks, but you’re always worrying, because you don’t know which hour it will be..”

Last Sunday, I went to Halesworth’s  Hightide festival to see a reading of Stephanie Street’s play Seizing Cinderella which tackles the issue head-on. Based on the true story of Ross (Brendan Coyle) it tell of the loss of his 26 year old daughter Karen (Louise Brealey) after years battling with the condition. It’s a double loss – first to the character-change that came with the merciless anti-epileptic medication, and then to SUDEP Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy .

Ross doesn’t want this loss to happen to anyone else,  but discovers the biggest obstacle is ignorance, denial and stereotyping – and this results in deficient care. In the couple of years after Karen’s death, Ross learns more about epilepsy than in the 12 years she lived with it.

In counterpoint, the play also looks at the wonderful benefits an Epilepsy Support dog can bring to the life of a person with hard-to-control epilepsy – the 3 out of 10 whose seizures cannot be controlled by drugs.

The cast for the reading were excellent (see link for full details)  and supported this play fantastically. If I had a criticism, it was only that there was a facile link made between the poor public service response to epilepsy and the present government.

As if.

Amongst the shocking epilepsy statistics pointed out to – and ignored by – the last Labour government were: 400 avoidable deaths per year; 69,000 people living with unnecessary seizures; 74,000 people taking drugs they do not need; £189 million needlessly spent each year.  Nothing has got better since then, but it certainly hasn’t got any worse.  Those of us who cope with the appallingly deficient response of many services to epilepsy care across the board know only too well that it is not matter of current cuts, but long-term political lack of interest.

Let us hope that this play will break through some of the fear and prejudice behind this by reaching a wider audience. Everyone in this country needs to understand – and help change – what life is like for that 1 in 30.

After all, one day it could be you!