We started the day more formally with a cup of tea and discussion in the office, then we went off to observe a Work and Pensions Select Committee evidence hearing of user experiences of the work programme. That was a somewhat misleading title, as although there was lots of talking about experiences, there weren't any actual people who might have used the work programme present...just people who's job it is to somehow comment as though they are users of the work programme. It was very exciting to be in the actual room having watched so many of these hearings online, and hilariously weird to be tweeted by my friends suggesting if I just moved one seat along they would be able to see me on the live feed.
I would have liked to stay and see the whole evidence session - there were some very interesting points being made about the complete lack of information for employers or work programme providers in relation to disability - ironically some of the same issues Alex had experienced when he was working to put the intern programme together for the week. The particular scandal was that there was no point of contact for providers or potential employers to be given information about reasonable adjustments, how to help support people or even to speak to Access to Work. It's no wonder the work programme is less effective than not making any interventions, what on earth is the point of throwing endless money at something when its actual design prevents it from working?
However, all too soon we had to leave and to something even more exciting than a work and pensions select committee (yes, I really must work on the getting a life thing!) This was a wednesday, and so a PMQS day - the big draw of the week. Alex and all of Nigel Evan's team made huge efforts to get us tickets as they knew how excited we were about being able to watch that. To make it even more special we were able to go into the central lobby to watch the Speaker's Procession just prior to PMQ's and then were in the house for the feistiest, funniest PMQ's I've seen in a while. It is overwhelmingly loud in there and MP's of all parties are astonishingly badly behaved.
Then it was straight off to a grassroots football event sponsored by McDonalds. I was deeply disappointed that Big Mac's were not on the menu! Fortunately I'd mentioned my utter ignorance of all things football prior to going into the event, so when the nice, smiley man came up to us to say hello, Alex introduced him by name and explanation - it was Sir Geoff Hurst (who, for those as ignorant of football as me, apparently scored goals in the 66 World Cup) We had a chat about my 'swizzy pushchair' which he immediately apologised for calling a pushchair and explained he gets muddled up, partly because he's got young grandchildren, and partly because he spent alot of time pushing his daughter in her wheelchair when she was poorly. I explained that my Dad sometimes calls it a pushchair too, and that as he actually did push me in a pushchair that its an understandable dad mistake to make! I was sorry to hear that Sir Geoff's daughter had died, and we had a little hand hold empathy moment in the middle of the football reception.
If you're looking for football details from the reception...I don't have any sorry! But we did also meet some man called Pat who was quite handsome and apparently used to be good at football too, and there was a fascinating, inspiring woman speaking who was a volunteer football coach in addition to being a policewoman.
We finally managed to get some lunch at about 2.30pm in another of the subsidised restaurants, but for me the day was a real struggle and I'd had to duck out of the football reception briefly to take more oramorph.
The last event of the day was observing a debate on the privatisation of the probation service - it didn't last long as the division bell rang and all the MP's went off to vote, but the most interesting bit was how many of the issues relating to the failure of the work programme came up in relation to probation services, especially as the criminal justice and probation services spend so much time with people with mental health problems or learning disabilities. It showed very clearly that whatever the rights or wrongs of privatising probation, there isn't any point doing anything to it unless we have effective back to work support which can cater for a huge range of barriers.
I was really struggling with pain and fatigue so after we'd finished and I got to go and meet fellow campaigner Jane Young for the first time, its no wonder she was horrified by how pale I was! But, it was still a fantastic day and great to be able to talk it through with friends for a few hours afterwards.
|Photo shows Sir Geoff Hurst, a white man in a dark suit with a red tie leaning on a lectern as he gives his speech on grassroots football|