Democracy is not just for election day

” I don’t want to discriminate against anyone, apart from UKIP voters.” – Bloke who owns a garden centre in East Sussex.

The other night, I made the regrettable choice of staying up to watch the election results come in. I feel like a true twenty-something, being aggressively adult enough to nerd out over the election results, and yet irresponsible enough to stay up so late that I couldn’t drive home in the morning due to being too tired.

And yet there are people out there who couldn’t be bothered to vote on Thursday.

 But as much as I sit on my high horse, and sneer at the ignorance that is the 34% that passively allowed the conservatives to live on, the fact is that democracy is not just for election day, it’s for all the time.

 Lefties will be in mourning, for the progress that could have been, if Rupert Murdoch & chums had not been successful in their campaign of terror. But our battle is not over. Even if our democracy is a sham, it is still the best we’ve got.

Just in case you didn’t vote, because everything is fine, and nothing needs to change, I’m just going to leave you with this table from 2009 (from a 2011 ward profile – the most recent I could find), about kids in poverty.

From a 2011 Ward Profile.
From a 2011 Ward Profile.

So how can we change shit?

We need a fairer voting system

 In 2011, a referendum was held, asking people whether they wanted the Alternative Vote (AV). It was one of the things that the Liberal Democrats pushed for, even with the Conservative party in power. Unfortunately, the Conservatives then put out a fear campaign, saying that this is the system that will let in the BNP and other such nonsense. Nobody understood the proposed system, and went into the polling office with a stout opposition to change. The results weren’t even close.

 I will wager that those who were scared of the BNP are now scared of the SNP, and look at where that’s got us.

Bar chart of seats won in 2015
Bar chart showing % of the national vote for each party

UKIP has over twice as many votes as the SNP, and yet the SNP has 55 more seats than UKIP. Now, I don’t support UKIP, I don’t like them at all, but those that do should have their views expressed in parliament, unfortunately.

Proportional representation is the idea that seats are allocated in proportion to number of votes (this is different to AV). The argument for First Past the Post (FPP), our current system, over a more proportional system, is that we’ll end up with less hung parliaments, apparently. The real problem with proportional representation is that it threatens Labour/Conservative “safe seats”, so pushing an alternative voting system through parliament is difficult in the current political climate.

Here’s my final graph on the matter, showing the distribution of the number of votes/number of seats. Bear in mind that it’s on a logarithmic scale, so the differences are somewhat exaggerated, but it is nonetheless enlightening.

UK General Election – Votes per No. of Seats (logarithmic scale).

I’m not going to go into detail about the different PR systems, because there’s an entire Wikipedia article on it, but here’s a petition you can sign:

Or you can join the electoral reform society:

And this has been put up by the green party:

The government’s own petition website is on hiatus, which gives me great faith.

Signing a petition is less effort than rioting, so I suggest we start with that.

The next question is whether voting should be compulsory, but compulsory voting does not automatically translate into voter engagement. If people go to the polling office without knowing why they’re voting, then that is still a failed system. However, if the “Apathy party” had been accounted for in this election, they’d be in charge of the UK right now. []

Would a “None of the above” option result in chaos? India, Greece, Nevada in the US, and the Ukraine all have this option, although if “None of the above” wins in India or Nevada, the next highest party wins. []

Are the Conservatives a good thing?

NB: This section isn’t particularly cohesive, but it does contain a lot of interesting links and graphs.

I suggest you start by reading their manifesto, which actually does lay out what they intend to do. The problem with relying entirely on news articles is that you get things like “Michael Gove hearts hanging” and “Nicky Morgan wants to lock up all children until they’re 18 and blind”. I won’t lie, I am also guilty of buying into this, but please read newspapers (and manifestos) with a critical mind. Otherwise you’re as bad as the Rupert Murdoch fanbase.

The Conservatives actually want to invest in a series of great things, such as transport, the NHS, apprenticeships, development of British agriculture and GM crops, and scientific institutions as part of a “Northern Powerhouse”. The problem is that at the same time they’re offering tax relief to some of these industries, and no increase in tax to anyone else. We actually don’t want to tax the rich too much, because going above 40% causes the rich to leave. That means that the investments are being funded by cuts to other areas, such as the Disability Work Access Scheme, and caps on welfare. Then again,

The problems with sudden benefit sanctions can be seen here.

Here’s a fun graph about the distribution of welfare spending.

Breakdown of public spending on welfare, from

Here’s another fun graph. I don’t know what non-classified Health entails either.

Green – Health n.e.c (not elsewhere classified – how mysterious) Red – Research & Development Blue – Public Health Service

Interestingly, the biggest spending sink in Health Care is Medical transport, which isn’t on this graph because it totally obscures the rest of the data.

And here are some charts of total public spending now, vs. 2010: is my new favourite website, if I’m honest.

The interesting thing to note is that overall spending has not changed that much, with the biggest changes being in interest paid on public debt, and pensions.

Here is an extremely interesting read on why, actually, austerity isn’t working for the economy – in fact, it “negatively correlated with growth throughout the EU”. It has a whole bunch of fab graphs, and it’s written by a guy who’s about to do his PhD in politics.

This is what the Institute for Fiscal Studies has to say in its report on manifestos:

“The last five years have seen considerable policy activity in the tax and benefit sphere: in total, some £56 billion per year of giveaways and £89 billion per year of takeaways by 2015—16. Most of the main tax reforms have simply changed rates or thresholds within current structures — the increase in the main rate of VAT, cuts to the main corporation tax rate, real cuts to the rates of fuel duties and the big increase in the income tax personal allowance being the most important. Only for pensions and savings has there been a significant reshaping in terms of what is taxed and what is not. Changes to benefits have mostly been straightforward cuts in generosity, with more significant structural reform coming in the next parliament — the introduction of the single-tier pension, the introduction of universal credit and the replacement of disability living allowance (DLA) with personal independence payment (PIP).

As for what is to come, there are important areas of agreement between the main UK parties. There is apparently a huge amount of money to be extracted through a clampdown on tax avoidance (mysteriously missed by all previous clampdowns)*. There is yet more money to be extracted from those on very high incomes saving in a private pension. The main rates of income tax, National Insurance contributions (NICs) and VAT will not be increased. The ‘triple lock’ on indexation of the basic state pension will remain and most pensioner benefits will be protected. There is also a shared lack of any attempt to paint a coherent strategy for tax reform, a shared desire to impose further, often absurd, complications to the tax system, and a shared lack of willingness to set out specific benefit measures that chime with the parties’ rhetoric. On that last point: on the one hand, the Conservatives have spent two years promising substantial additional benefit cuts of £12 billion a year whilst failing to come up with more than 10% of that figure in actual cuts; on the other hand, Labour’s promised ‘toughness’ involves reducing spending by almost nothing by taking winter fuel payments from the small number of pensioners subject to the higher rates of income tax, and most likely by literally nothing by limiting the uprating of child benefit rates.”

*This is my favourite sentence, because of its ultra-sass.

You can read the report here, which is totally worth doing judging by the overall sassyness of the excerpt from the executive summary.

We can’t change the results of the election

So the best thing to do now is wait and see what happens (who knows, in five years Britain may be a thriving powerhouse of economic growth, technology, and rich people, even if it is the result of all the poor starving to death and/or catching hypothermia).

In the mean time, you can join the political party of your choice (approx £25-£40 for a normal human, considerably less if you’re poor/a student), which means that you get a say in their policies. If you’re busy complaining that none of the existing parties have policies that suit you, I suggest joining a party that aligns with your ideologies, and submitting your own. is the place for petitioning, particularly whilst the government’s e-petition site is shut down. The Conservatives have been in a position of unchallenged power for a couple of days, and there’s already an army of animal rights enthusiasts out to prevent fox hunting from being reintroduced.

You can go and chat to your MP. Some MPs are probably more helpful than others, but most have surgeries within their constituencies where you can see them. Alternatively, you can write them a letter.

If all else fails, you can go and face-sit outside parliament.

All tea parties take place like this from now on.
From here:

An Open Letter to the Department of Work and Pensions

So in summary:

I cared full time for my dying mother for 3 months, while taking time out of university to do so. I apply for carer’s allowance, and am denied it, because I am a student, and am classes as doing 21 hours of SUPERVISED study per week, despite taking an official interruption from the university, for a year. The system is broken, not only for me, but for every stressed out informal carer who is trying to prop up a family member, and who is unable to work. There is not enough support there. Here is my open letter to the people who are meant to look after the vulnerable.

Dear Sir/Madam,


You have decided that I am not eligible for Carer’s Allowance (CA) because I was in full-time education, despite the fact that I have taken a full year’s interruption from my course to care full time for my dying mother.

The law states:


“5.—(1) For the purposes of 3 section 70(3) of the Contributions and Benefits Act, a person shall be treated as receiving full-time education for any period during which he attends a course of education at a university, college, school or other educational establishment for twenty-one hours or more a week. (2) In calculating the hours of attendance under paragraph (1) of this regulation– (a) there shall be included the time spent receiving instruction or tuition, undertaking supervised study, examination or practical work or taking part in any exercise, experiment or project for which provision is made in the curriculum of the course; and (b) there shall be excluded any time occupied by meal breaks or spent on unsupervised study, whether undertaken on or off the premises of the educational establishment. (3) In determining the duration of a period of full-time education under paragraph (1) of this regulation, a person who has started on a course of education shall be treated as attending it for the usual number of hours per week throughout any vacation or any temporary interruption of his attendance until the end of the course or such earlier date as he abandons it or is dismissed from it.” [1],

“In determining the duration of a period of full-time education under paragraph (1) of this regulation, a person who has started on a course of education shall be treated as attending it for the usual number of hours per week throughout any vacation or any temporary interruption of his attendance until the end of the course or such earlier date as he abandons it or is dismissed from it” [2].


The University states the following regarding periods of interruption:


“During your period of interruption you will not be a registered student of the University and your right to be on University premises will be that of a member of the public. You may not undertake work on University premises as you are not covered by our insurance arrangements. You should note also that you will lose onsite IT and student library access…” [3].


I will also add that the University does not charge tuition fees over this period, nor does student finance provide support. The University does not acknowledge me as a student over this period, and even if it had done I was still living 3 hours away. I have no access to their resources; it would be literally impossible for me to undertake supervised study at this time; how the hell do you expect me to rack up 21 hours a week?

It is clear to me that those in charge of the distribution of CA have no experience in informal care themselves, as they would otherwise know that full time care is too intensive to allow for luxuries such as further education.

My mother and I were lucky, as we were in a situation where my 19 year old sister had a job that just about supported us, along with what was left of my mother’s finances (not a lot, as she’d given up work over a year ago). We had friends and family that offered a support network, but I am sure that there are many people who are not that lucky.

Given that my MP, Dr Liam Fox has written to you on my behalf, and given that you remained resolute in your, as Dr Fox said, “inconsistencies”, I have resigned myself to the belief that you will never provide myself and my sister with the financial support that we are entitled to.

It seems a farce when I consider that, if I had dropped out of education completely, you would have given me benefits. It’s a funny reward system you have.


Whilst I’m at it, I thought I should just highlight some of the other implications of being an informal carer:



Let’s assume that I had not decided to care for my mother, and that I completed my degree over this year, as planned. According to the institute of physics, “[graduate] respondents with MPhys/MSci degrees had an average salary of £23,300” [4], so let’s assume that I would have gone into work by September 2015; that’s a year of income that I have lost. Also, it reduces the number of years I will work in my lifetime, and so I will have lost more than £23,300, as I will be losing my final year of salary, which we can expect to be higher.

Funnily enough, that could have been the money that I rely on for my own care when I am retired.

I’ll add that student finance have also decided they want ~£700 back, because I wasn’t at university this year. So my absence from university alone has already economically screwed me.



“Carers save the economy an estimated £119 billion per year with the unpaid care they provide, an average of £18,473 per carer.”[5]


Let’s go over how much money the government saved because I cared for my mother. The money advice service estimates a cost of £11,000 a year for 14 hours a week [6]; let’s assume my mother needed 4 home visits a day over the last 3 months – that comes to £5,500. That’s not including any care that she would have needed whilst my sister was supporting her, and before I started full time care.

Now if we estimate the cost of my continuous day and night care using the same source, over the last three months, I am owed £37,500.

If we (however unrealistically), assume that I sleep for 8 hours a day, carer’s allowance would amount to £0.54 an hour. Even assuming the minimum of 35 hours per week, it works out at £1.75 an hour. That’s 37% of the minimum wage. To top it all off, DWP, you are still refusing to even pay me the grand total of £736.20.



And finally, let’s have a brief look at the impact caring has on health.


“People providing high levels of care are twice as likely to be permanently sick or disabled, and 625,000 people have health problems because of their caring responsibilities.”[7]


Here are just the symptoms of Caregiver Stress, and Caregiver Burnout respectively[8]:


  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Overreacting to minor nuisances
  • New or worsening health problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling increasingly resentful
  • Drinking, smoking, or eating more
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Cutting back on leisure activities


  • You have much less energy than you once had
  • It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
  • You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
  • You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
  • Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
  • You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
  • You feel helpless and hopeless


I hope that you appreciate the I am writing this letter to highlight a serious problem with the legalities that define who is entitled to your support, as well as the more general failings of the existing system, and the penalisation of those who are trying to do the right thing. The DWP does extremely important work; I only wish that it worked better.

Yours faithfully,

[1] Social Security (Invalid Care Allowance) Regulations, regulation 5

[2] Social Security (Contributions and Benefits) Act 1992, section 70(3).

[3] The University of Manchester. Principles in respect of interruptions to an Undergraduate or Postgraduate Taught Programme of Study – Guidance for students.  (accessed 29/01/15)






That was lengthy. Thanks for reading.

Meditation is Awesome.

Panic Attacks

When you start looking at mental health issues on the internet (in my case panic attacks), it’s pretty conclusive in stating that there is no cure; everything comes down to “managing” whatever mental health problem you may have.

If you happen to have the symptoms listed, you’ve essentially read that you’re going to be very, very uncomfortable for the rest of your life. You will become a shell of your former self, third and second guessing your every thought.

The only option is some drugs that dull your thoughts. Perhaps therapy, if you have the time and the willpower to hyperventilate from your house to the therapist’s office (after 18 weeks on the wait list).

When I fell off the back of the sanity sofa and into the lava, it happened very quickly. At the start of the week I was enjoying breakfast in a bistro, and midway through I was watching a stage production of Sweeney Todd. Except I wasn’t watching it, because I was leaving every 15 minutes to try and calm down in the ladies toilets. And I love that musical.

By the second week, Boyfriend asked me to go and get the milk, from a shop that is less than a minute away. I burst into tears from sheer fear. I have never seen Boyfriend look quite so surprised.

All I wanted to do was to curl up in a sad little ball in my room and communicate only via the internet.

However, I had exams. And then a new job. Boyfriend had to communicate my condition to the exam invigilators, because when I stopped hyperventilating for long enough to speak, my sentences went like “I have an anxieteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-” *high pitched whine and tears*.

The doctor put me on a low dose of beta blockers and SSRIs. I actually found that if I did anything close to strenuous exercise, the beta-blockers actually made it harder to breathe, which started to mimic a panic attack, causing a panic attack. Yay, panic attack.

The SSRIs made my brain noticeably slower. It was harder to concentrate. I was playing with a rubiks cube, and I realised that if I moved any squares, I couldn’t remember what my next move was going to be, or how to get back to where I started, and I (almost) have a Physics degree.

And to top it all off, I was still having panic attacks. True, now there was a delay from me leaving the house before my brain blue-screened, but it still happened.

I even gave up my cultural heritage and daytime fuel, tea, in the hope that the lack of the stimulant would somehow calm my fragile nerves (pro-tip: don’t give up caffeine the moment you start a new job).

The turning point came 3 months into the madness, when I discovered meditation.

Some Science

If you can breathe, you can meditate.

To a lot of people, I think meditation is still this far off concept, only practiced by hippies and monks.

I mean, what can possibly happen if you sit down for 10 minutes a day and just focus on your breathing?

Well, actually, it can cause some major changes in your brain – good changes.

It’s the opposite of smoking and twice as relaxing; it’s a nicotine buzz for your whole body, but you never build up a tolerance and don’t suffer withdrawal symptoms.

More and more scientific studies are being done around meditation and the neuroplasticity (how much you can change your brain structure), and these studies are spitting out significant results, and showing surprising images in fMRI scanners. “Mindfulness meditation appears to be a viable treatment option for adults with chronic insomnia and could provide an alternative to traditional treatments for insomnia” [1]. They carried out an experiment to test whether people with social anxiety disorder responded to mindfulness based therapies, and found that not only did their symptoms reduce overall, but that “during the breath-focused attention task, they also showed (a) decreased negative emotion experience, (b) reduced amygdala activity, and (c) increased activity in brain regions implicated in attentional deployment”[2]. Your amygdala is the part of your brain that processes fear, and can be responsible for the jarring, intense way that post traumatic memories are formed. Not only does meditation shrink the grey matter in your amygdala [3], but is also shown to affect the connectivity of your amygdala with other parts of your brain, which showed up particularly well when expert meditators looked at positive images, but it also allowed them to be less affected by negative images [4].

It is the best fear buster I’ve come across, and it’s considerably more comfortable than exposure therapy.

If this isn’t enough to convince you that meditation is awesome, then you should know that it can also preserve the length of telomeres in distressed cancer survivors [5]; telomeres control ageing, and are normally shortened in cancer survivors. There’s a preliminary study that suggests meditation could help with the management of IBS [6]. It is increasingly being used to treat binge eating [7] – unsurprising as the foundations of Theravada Buddhism are built around understanding and cessation of your cravings.

Meditation > Anxiety

I found meditation, because my friend recommended that I try hypnosis. I tried some online hypnosis videos to help me fall asleep; they did help me fall asleep, but they also led to some super vivid dreams. Vivid dreams can be awesome (dream flight is the best), but also mega tiring.

But it drove me to start looking at holistic therapies; provided it’s not a scam (THIS SUPER AWESOME SECRET WILL HELP YOU OVERCOME ALL OF YOUR ANXIETY FOR ONLY $180 ONE TIME OFFER), what do I have to lose, right? I’d meditated a few times before, but sporadically, with no real structure to my practice.

That’s when I came across Headspace (

Headspace is the wellbeing-software fusion of Andy Puddicombe, an app filled with guided meditation courses, helping you find your focus, sort out your stress, or just encouraging you to reconnect with your loved ones. The full app costs £50 (eek!), but the foundation course “Take 10” is totally free. It’s totally free because 10 minutes of meditation every day for 10 days is enough to make you want to throw money at the man as a thank you for your newfound brain freedom.

I am absolutely not suggesting that you fork out your life savings on an app (I just really like its quality, the way you can track your progress, and the totally chill feel I get from just opening it). There’s a whole bunch of youtube videos out there, with or without soothing music.

Of course, you don’t necessarily need guiding at all – by just sitting, being present and focusing your attention on your breath, you are meditating. That’s it.

The benefits of guided meditations are that they lend some structure to your practice, they show you different techniques (such as noting or body-scanning), and it can really help to bring you back if you’re a novice with a busy mind.

I’m shouting about meditation because a week into starting, I was able to manage my panic attacks, and able to calm myself down and regain control of my thoughts. After a month, I had stopped having panic attacks entirely, and I haven’t had one since. The anxiety has lessened as well, and I have an overall higher “chillness” than I did before the panic attacks started. I gave up my meds over a month ago, and I can think clearly again.

It won’t work for everyone, and I am not a medical practitioner, and never come off your meds without the consent of your doctor.

But I think our bodies often knows what they need, and most of the time we are not mindful enough to listen. So this is my challenge to you: go and sit down in a quiet space (on your sofa, in your car, a corner in your room), and just feel yourself breathe. If you get distracted (and you will), just refocus your attention. Just fucking try it. Namaste.

“Maybe I’ll touch a spider later.” -Allie Brosh


[1] Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for chronic insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553-1563. Retrieved from

[2] Goldin, P. R., & Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10(1), 83-91. Retrieved from

[3] Taren AA, Creswell JD, Gianaros PJ (2013) Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64574. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064574

[4] Mei-Kei Leung, Chetwyn C.H. Chan, Jing Yin, Chack-Fan Lee, Kwok-Fai So, Tatia M.C. Lee, Enhanced amygdala–cortical functional connectivity in meditators, Neuroscience Letters, Volume 590, 17 March 2015, Pages 106-110, ISSN 0304-3940,


[5] Carlson, L. E., Beattie, T. L., Giese-Davis, J., Faris, P., Tamagawa, R., Fick, L. J., . . . Speca, M. (2015). Mindfulness-based cancer recovery and supportive-expressive therapy maintain telomere length relative to controls in distressed breast cancer survivors. Cancer, 121(3), 476-484. Retrieved from

[6] Berrill, J. W., Sadlier, M., Hood, K., & Green, J. T. (2014). Mindfulness-based therapy for inflammatory bowel disease patients with functional abdominal symptoms or high perceived stress levels. Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis, 8(9), 945-955. Retrieved from

[7] Godfrey, K. M., Gallo, L. C., & Afari, N. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions for binge eating: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Retrieved from


During my exam period last year, I was under a lot of stress. My mother was in the throes of cancer, and I was on a mental burnout. BAM. Breakdown. Suddenly, I couldn’t leave the house without acting like the apocalypse was about the happen.

I got put on a course of meds, thank you doctor. And that was it from the NHS. I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to therapy, and quite frankly the thought of having to commute to spend an hour alone with a stranger was enough to send me back to bed in fear.

But the meds only did so much. I think moving out of the city helped a little – I’m pretty sure my anxiety was only worsened by the knowledge that there was a sexual assailant on the loose around my street, and the burglary that had happened only a few months before. It turns out that moving somewhere where you can leave your front door open without fear is very liberating.

Then I had to go to Germany. For two months. Alone.

I know what your thinking, “Okay, so you have panic attacks when you leave your house or even think about the idea of being on public transport. So you’re going to cancel your trip, right?”

Ummm, well… no. I went. I gritted my teeth, packed my meds, and I left the country in the middle of a nervous breakdown. Some people tell me I’m brave. The truth is I can’t even catch a large spider in a glass; I’m just intolerably stubborn (thanks Mother).

I realised that this shit wasn’t going to just pass on its own, I didn’t want to be on meds forever, and I seriously needed to get onto sorting out my problems. I also wanted to look at alternative cancer therapies, seeing as the Mother’s doctors had all gone “Well fuck that”.

Hello, internet.

I started looking at lifestyle blogs, general blogs, health websites, apps, youtube videos and TED talks, reddit… I did some pretty extensive research, from yoga to paleo. Of course there’s a big problem with this kind of research. Most of it’s anecdotal, or word of mouth. And as true as (some of) those life accounts may be, alternative therapies won’t work for everyone, and they lack the rigour of scientific testing.

So I wanted to start a new lifestyle blog, where I reference my sources like any good uni student, and highlight what is and isn’t anecdotal. I want to highlight the science, and not come across as an uneducated hippy (disclaimer: I may still come across as a kale-eating middle class fake hippy, and I hate myself for that a little bit).

Also, I want to give my poor boyfriend a break from my continuous lifestyle spamming.



So far, just my life. Sorry to disappoint.