' the Woodlouse: January 2012


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Preparation and more bureaucracy

Twelve days on from receiving  planning permission I feel like things are starting to move in the right direction.  I'm swinging from excited to terrified, but I suspect that will be the way of things for much of the year to come.  Now in a whirlwind of emails, phone-calls, site visits and general attempts to get everything in place practically and bureaucratically to start in March.  For example, today's magical mystery tour combination of bureaucracy and practicality has involved lifting manholes to photograph the drains and work out where they go and phone-calls to the dramatically titled Sewer Protection Team at Wessex Water, in order to determine whether the drain is classified as a private or public sewer.  Thankfully, as it only serves our bungalow and is on our land it's still private which means that one big bundle of added (and expensive) paperwork is avoided.  Any work over - or within 3 metres of - a public sewer would need permission from the relevant sewage authority, which in Wessex Water's case has a £225 fee attached.  (NB: a private sewer now becomes a "public" one once it leaves your land, so work needs to be more than 3 metres away from the point it crossed the boundary... ours is around 4.5 metres from that point so we're okay).

On the planning front, Kuba - the designer - (www.jakubwihan.com) is starting work on the detailed drawings for building regulation approval.  We've appointed JHAI as our independent building inspector for building control - they're local (based 5 miles away), have experience of other sustainable builds and materials including strawbale, and have a good reputation for helpfulness.  For SAP Assessment (Standard Assessment Procedure for energy rating of dwellings, taking into account all energy usage from heating, lighting, hot water etc, the sources of energy used, and the relevant CO2 emissions) we've chosen Phil Neve of Brilliant Futures who is based just south of Bristol - as well as doing the relevant calculations to ensure compliance with Part L of Building Regs (which deal with the conservation of heat and power) he will help us ensure we are building something that will be as efficient as we can make it, keeping our energy use (and operational costs) as low as possible.

Monday, 16 January 2012

How Disabilty Living Allowance helps

Back to the Welfare Reform Bill today, and in particular the changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA).  This benefit (which is not an out-of-work benefit: in many cases it helps people stay in work, or in my case as a carer it helps provide things for Anna which enable me to leave the house to work myself) provides money to help disabled people with the extra costs of care and mobility.

It is estimated that only 0.5% of DLA claims are fraudulent; the government plans to reduce spending on DLA by 20%.  It is unavoidable that this will mean removing the benefit from some who have genuine and serious need of it.  The basic way that reduction in the number of claimants will be achieved is by changes in the assessment criteria, to make it harder to qualify.  For example, under the Personal Independence Payment/PIP (which will replace DLA), if a person can walk up to 50 metres, even if they can only walk up to 50 metres with the use of aids (including a walking frame) they will only qualify for the lower rate of mobility assistance.  This ignores the very high cost of all specialist mobility equipment; more importantly it fails to provide for the large number of people who might just make it 50 metres using aids but would require a wheelchair to go further than this.  Many would require an electric wheelchair or someone to push them beyond 50 metres - both options which entail very cost.

There are many more examples, but these are described better elsewhere.  For a good starting point see this article in the Guardian, or this article in the Daily Mail.  For further reading see this blog.  Links to the Responsible Reform report are at the bottom of my last post on DLA changes.

The campaign rallying around the Responsible Reform report (online and on twitter under #spartacusreport) is not asking for disability benefits to remain exactly as they are.  We recognise that reform is needed.  But as the report title suggests reform needs to be genuinely responsible.  The urgent aim is to have the legislation paused for 6 months so that the changes can be implemented sensibly and without causing harm to those most in need.  Please sign this petition calling for just that: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968. Anybody wanting to support further can contact their MP or Lords to ask them to call for a pause and to support positive amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill.  See here: http://www.mind.org.uk/blog/6275_tweet_to_defeat_new_pip_will_fail_people_with_mental_health_problems

Today disabled people and their carers are stating the positive effect DLA support has on their lives, and what they will lose if that support is withdrawn.  These can be found on twitter under #spartacusstories or collated here on a blog: http://spartacus-stories.blogspot.com/

Here is Anna's (my wife's) comment on the support she receives via DLA:

My DLA money helps me in many different ways. I suffer from both physical illness and mental illness, which makes these things even more important (fibromyalgia, arthritis of neck and lumbar spine, chronic pain, bipolar disorder).  The different conditions often trigger the symptoms of each other. Below are a few of the ways DLA helps me.

Care:  it enables me to pay for help twice a week with changing, showering and dressing at the local sport centre when I attend disabled swimming lessons.  Without this help I get stuck in my clothing and fall over a lot.  It also helps when my husband is away as he is my main carer.  Enables me to be able to pay for private counseling as I have reached the limit I’m aloud on the NHS.  This helps me keep anxiety in check and helps me regulate manicness.  It helps buy microwave ready meals for when my husband is away, or is working at mealtimes, so that I can still eat; these are expensive as I have to eat ‘free-from’ wheat and dairy-free foods.

Equipment:  it helped me be able to buy my walker, wheelchair and mobility scooter.  None of which are cheap.  All of this equipment allows me to be more independent and covers all areas that I need help with my mobility.  Wetsuit and other thermal clothing to wear to keep me warm when in the pool, to prevent muscle spasms and increased pain.

Exercise:  it enables me to pay for disabled swimming lesson and hydrotherapy classes, both of which are vital to keep me at a basic functioning physical level.  I also gain a lot socially from this as our group has many different disabilities, we are all able to understand what each other is going through and have developed a supportive bond as we see each other twice a week

Friday, 13 January 2012

And the answer is...

Back to the strawbale side of things for this blog, to Anna, me and our plans to super-insulate and extend an existing bungalow using strawbales, lime render and a bit of green-roof.  The planning application Decision Notice was issued yesterday (exactly on schedule for the day they said they would let us know by) - nothing came in the post today but by this morning the District Council planning website had been updated with the decision so we downloaded the letter instead.  And the decision is:


We have planning permission! This hasn't entirely sunk in yet.  There was no mad jumping around with joy from me, more a bewildered wave of "okay, now lots of stuff needs to happen, doesn't it? Not sure what this really mean".  The bewilderment has worn off a bit now and allowed excitement to creep in a bit, though the "oh my god, now I need to do an enormous number of things very quickly" feeling has also ratcheted up a few notches.  This, I believe, is sensible as it is in fact true...