Disability Friendly Cooking – Tin Can Cook

Tin Can Cook: 75 Simple Store-cupboard Recipes

1 June 2019 Format: Paperback

This is the 5* review I’ve also posted on Amazon & Goodreads.

Anyone who follows me on twitter will know I’m a big fan of Jack Monroe & her recipes, this is the third cookbook of hers I’ve bought & it’s already loved!

So impressed with this cook book. Written in Jack’s inimitable and endearing style it was intended to help those living on food bank parcels or with very limited budgets to create simple, nutritious meals in a short time and it does this beautifully. Pitched at the novice cook but in no way patronising for those with more experience it’s a lovely read and I already know I’ll be using this lots!

For me personally it hits another sweet spot though, and that’s in spoonie friendly cookery. For those of us living chronic life, suffering from disability and severe fatigue, cooking is a massive energy drain and often impossible. With rheumatoid arthritis in my hands food prep itself is a challenge I could do without, even with years of experience as a chef.

As someone who’s spent years ‘cooking from scratch’ it’s been a big adjustment to buy pre-prepped food without losing control over what’s in it (see ready meals – useful but not every day!). So discovering Jack on Twitter a couple of years ago felt like fate was smiling. I now happily eat tinned potatoes, olives, mushrooms, lentils, chickpeas, fruit, along with frozen peppers, stir fry veg, and spinach. Often cheaper, nutritionally sound and so easy as it’s already peeled \chopped\sliced and often partially cooked, it’s helped me cut down on wastage and save pennies! I also make my own wholemeal seeded bread and pizza bases – with a stand mixer and a slow cooker bread is an effortless wonder.

Additionally as I’ve followed Jack’s books and picked up more of her vegetarian recipes I’m only eating meat a couple of times a week, good for the environment and my budget! Highly recommend this, a fabulous variety of breakfasts, breads, soups, meat and vegetarian main courses, plus desserts will not leave anyone wanting for variety.

I’d highly recommend buying a copy for your kitchen, & if you can afford to donate one to your local food bank too it will be very gratefully received, or you can donate the cost of a copy to Jack’s GoFundMe & she’ll get it delivered through the Trussell Trust.

Yes, This Hurts!

Some of you will already know that I’m losing my motability car on the 23rd of April. I’m incredibly angry as this effectively leaves me housebound. So I’m having to spend money I can’t spare on buying an ‘old banger’ so I can get out.

So why is this happening?

  • Because this govt don’t want people on disability benefits
  • Because in conjunction with the MSM they have wrongly demonised disabled claimants as scroungers
  • Because they’ve moved the eligibility goalposts to make it even harder to evidence disability
  • Because their contracted “health assessors” (who aren’t experts in many conditions including mental health issues) are targeted on reducing benefit levels
  • Because their contracted assessors blatantly lie, misinterpret & make erroneous assumptions in their reports which are then treated as gospel over claimant evidence, scans, & consultant correspondence
  • Because they f*cking can & the MSM is complicit in covering up their lies

I know I’m not alone in this, I know other people who’ve been through this right to the appeal tribunal stage & won back their rightful benefits because at a tribunal you’re dealing with humans, not dwp targets. But I also know so many are just too ill, too tired, too anxious, too stressed, too alone, too defeated & too confused, and have given up without appealing even though they know they’d likely win. The fight is too hard & this govt are relying on that to cull numbers.

Almost a third of DLA to PIP claimants lose benefits, cutting their independence & their income. Disability charity Scope said these figures are “deeply concerning” and called for an “urgent overhaul” of the assessment process

“It’s deeply concerning that so many disabled people are facing a sudden drop in vital financial support,” said James Taylor from Scope.

“Life costs more if you are disabled. These extra costs haven’t disappeared just because there is a different assessment process.

“Without an urgent overhaul of the PIP assessment process, the system will continue to work against disabled people, instead of for them.”

I won’t go into my medical details here because much of it is very personal, but I cannot emphasise the following things enough;

The stress & anxiety have been absolutely horrendous. Imagine some unknown & unsympathetic stranger has complete control over your finances & your car, then imagine they won’t tell you for month after month what they’re doing next. I had my initial dwp letter in June last year. My assessment wasn’t until 1st December. I didn’t get a decision until February (and I had to chase them).

So I completed with Citizens Advice the initial Mandatory Appeal (which is known to be a pointless exercise but still took us two hours), unsurprisingly I’ve had a letter today denying the HR disability again & repeating what was said in the last letter almost verbatim. So next stage is to go to court for a legal Appeal Tribunal, which I understand from others can take up to a year.

My depression has absolutely been impacted by this process too, I’ve had more down days, the black dog nips a little closer when even thinking about not having reliable transport, & also of being accused of being a liar which is essentially what the dwp have done to me & thousands of other disabled people. I’ve been agitated & restless & I know exactly what the cause is.

My rage has settled down to a simmer now, but I was so bloody angry when I finally got my report copy. (Confession – I may have written certain rude words in pencil all over the margins). It’s outrageously poor.

Bear in mind here for a minute that in a previous life I ran huge contracts across the South West for (plot twist) the dwp, supporting the unemployed into work. The irony isn’t lost on me! But had any single member of staff in one of my centres turned in a report of this poor a calibre about a client some very serious conversations would have been had.

I’ve not picked it up for a few weeks because it’s still a bit raw, but off the top of of my head…. It’s a badly written cut & paste job, some of which obviously came from doing someone else’s assessment. It’s practically illiterate. The same phrases are repeated over & over like magic, as if when you say something stupid/untrue often enough it becomes reasonable or true. It contains as I said earlier outright lies, glaring inaccuracies and erroneous assumptions. There is no logic or consistency.

It took me a few days to work out that at least part of my anger was precisely because of the poor composition and lack of attention to the construct and meaning, as well as the errors. I know I’m a detail orientated person and these things matter to me, but surely in doing work that will actually impact people’s lives, wellbeing & financial circumstances everyone should pay attention to detail?

Almost a third of DLA to PIP claimants have lost benefits, cutting their independence & their income. Disability charity Scope said the figures are “deeply concerning” and called for an “urgent overhaul” of the assessment process.

“It’s deeply concerning that so many disabled people are facing a sudden drop in vital financial support,” said James Taylor from Scope.

“Life costs more if you are disabled. These extra costs haven’t disappeared just because there is a different assessment process.

“Without an urgent overhaul of the PIP assessment process, the system will continue to work against disabled people, instead of for them.”

Call me naive, but I guess I expected better from a government employed organisation when producing an official report on someone’s mental & physical health & ability. So yes, on top of everything else I was actually incredibly disappointed.

In my previous life with a fully functioning brain I would have torn this report to shreds in a couple of hours, referring to the DWP’s own guidance point by point to emphasise each and every error. Unfortunately with frequent brain fog, cognitive difficulties & fatigue unpicking this to refute it for a tribunal will take me weeks. But if needs be I will do so, with the support of friends, and the fabulous Citizens Advice, because even feeling as ill as I do daily I’m too bloody angry & stubborn to let this go.

I hope the above has made sense, I’ve probably rambled but this is the first time I’ve felt calm enough to write this out without ranting &/or swearing (a lot)!

Thanks to everyone who’s supported me, especially the lovely Essia who attended with me in December to literally & metaphorically hold my hand.

Quotes pictured above are from the incredibly useful Disabity Rights website which can be found here if you’re looking for further information

Defined by?

A recent thread by @HannahPearl_1 on twitter questioned the suggestion from someone that “it’s important not to be defined by” our illness. Hannah went on to say she understood what the person meant but didn’t feel able to agree.

This got me thinking. ‘Defined by” is a term that crops up a lot in #ChronicLife circles & forums online. People tend to be either against it as somehow limiting, or in favour of it because our illness affects every aspect of our lives.

But what does ‘defined by’ actually mean? I’ve had a trawl through Merriam Webster online looking at meanings & synonyms to try & pin down a definition, and it’s a little slippery. But I love language so let’s give this a go!

Defined has a number of uses which vary the meaning:

  • to draw or make apparent the outline of
  • to mark the limits of
  • to point out the chief quality or qualities of an individual or group

It’s the second & third definitions I’m interested in here, because I think this may be where the divergent opinions around the phrase derive from. Let’s have a look at both…

To mark the limits of

If one applies this to living with a chronic condition I would take ‘defined by’ to mean that we acknowledge our illness affects us in ways that inhibit the way we live our lives. For me this meaning absolutely applies to my life. Inspiration porn often tells us nonsense like “the only disability is a bad attitude”, and this simply isn’t true.

Current popular ideology leans towards telling everyone they can be anything, do anything and there are no limits, which is a lovely sentiment in fairy tales but totally untrue in real life. We all operate within limits, whether they’re the law of gravity or simple genetics – someone like me with red hair, pale skin & freckles is never going to achieve a suntan!

That doesn’t mean giving up on ambition & dreams, or never setting goals, of course not. We all need things to strive for, to challenge ourselves, to work towards. What it does mean is that we can live our best lives by focusing on the possible, the achievable, and taking steps at our own pace to get there.

To point out the chief quality or qualities of an individual or group

Applying this to living with a chronic illness implies that we are characterised by our condition, that it becomes an intrinsic part of our being. Again, this undoubtedly applies to my life. I am no longer able to separate out my illness & disability from who I essentially am, and I don’t see that as a bad thing.

This doesn’t mean it is all that I am or can be, just that #chroniclife is entwined with my sense of self, my lifestyle & my place in the world and I’m very ok with that. I think this is completely natural human behaviour – if I flip back in time to when I was working my whole identity was entwined with my career in the training sector, which is why it was initially so very hard to accept having to effectively retire. I wasn’t sure who I was without being defined by what I did.

It doesn’t help that as a society we value people by what they do, not who they are, and we love putting people in boxes & applying labels. Would I let anyone else characterise me or define my limits? Not a chance. But as a chronically ill person with disabilities I’ve definitely earned the right to set my own.

And I choose to identify with my illness, my disability, and do so proudly. It’s taken me a lot of work & some fab therapy to get to this point in my life, and I’m happy to own it.

But you know what? If you don’t feel this way that’s fine too, surely one of the most important things we do is choose how to define ourselves 💙

Whispering Darkness…

Some of you will be aware I write when I need to process. Never more necessary than this week.

I’m struggling right now, both physically & mentally. This is totally down to our disastrous current government. I make no apologies for being political when those very politics are affecting my physical & mental health.

I received notification in June/July this year that even though I had been previously awarded lifetime DLA (Disability Living Allowance) for my chronic & progressive conditions, due to govt changes to the benefit system – namely the introduction of the new PIP (Personal Independence Payment) benefit – I had to reapply. Yes, reapply.

You’d have thought the sensible thing to do for people with lifetime disability awards would be a simple transfer, but no. Reapply as if you’re a completely new claimant. There was an option to allow them to access your previous assessment records for DLA to support your claim – “if they are still available”. Yes, it appears the DWP may have failed to actually keep records properly. Who’d have guessed.

I want to be clear here before moving onto the effect this process is having on me personally – the only reason the govt have rolled out PIP is to get disabled people off benefits. It’s that simple & that barbaric. A UN report in 2017 “accused the Tories of creating a ‘human catastrophe’ in the UK” which violates disabled people’s human rights, the text below is quoted from The Canary, the full article is available here

The UN are currently carrying out another investigation into UK poverty and the impact the current government has had on this, looking at key areas including these listed below – text again is from The Canary, full article is available here.

I kind of wanted to be clear on this – this is not me as a benefit claimant just being awkward or heaven forbid “ungrateful” – but a widely acknowledged truth. Disabled people are being disadvantaged by this government, the facts prove that. The United Nations knows it.

So, back to to this process. I had to call to apply after receiving the letter which was incredibly difficult for me – anything to do with benefit changes causes me severe anxiety – I was physically shaking when I rang, despite being prepared by Citizens Advice on what to expect so I had the information I needed right in front of me. It took a stomach churning twenty minutes. Just to ask for the form.

Once the form arrives in the post there is a four week deadline for completion. The earliest appointment Citizens Advice had was for almost six weeks away. So again I had to go through the ordeal of phoning, this time to request an extension which thankfully was granted.

I cannot begin to describe the vile process of completing that form, even with a trained & sympathetic advisor. I can’t write for any length of time myself because of the RA in my hands, so they had to complete the form for me. It’s invasive, incredibly personal & embarrassing. Answering questions on what medications you take, their side effects, how often you manage to wash yourself, use the toilet, leave the house, eat, get out of bed, the assistance you need but don’t get, and the intimate details of every symptom of your conditions & disability from bowel movements to insomnia, light sensitivity to Myoclonic Jerks.

The awful thing is on a daily basis you are mostly able to avoid thinking about the vastness & sheer weight of multiple conditions & symptoms alongside chronic unceasing pain, you simply deal hour by hour because that is manageable, mostly. This is like plunging into the abyss with your eyes taped wide open. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s traumatic.

Every tiny personal detail of your life is discussed & transcribed, ready to be pored over by faceless strangers – without the requisite medical knowledge – but with the power to remove your income & your car & leave you destitute & housebound. Yes, it’s that f*cking huge.

So – my appointment with the lovely & very empathetic lady at Citizens Advice? Three hours. Three grueling & exhausting hours. And I wasn’t done yet.

It took me another two hours at home to go through, copy & annotate twenty-seven separate pieces of medical evidence going back about 18 months. Scan reports, surgical reports, consultants letters, radiography reports, it all went in there. This took me about three days.

So finally it all went into the post. I had a text on the the 8th August to say my form had been received.

I then heard nothing until Saturday 3rd November when a letter dropped through my door. Yes, just over twelve weeks, or 3 months. Every single day since August my anxiety has grown worse. My depression is also pressing at the edges of my consciousness, whispering of hardships & darkness. My GP is fully aware & we’re monitoring my mental health, the frustration is that we know the exact cause & have no power to remove it.

So the last couple of days I’ve basically gone turtle. I’ve retreated inside my shell, alternating between Netflix & reading depending on my ability to concentrate. The minute I stop either my thoughts are immediately back to this planned assessment. I feel dreadful as stress flares everything. Fortunately I have a wonderful friend who has agreed to be with me for the appointment which is incredibly helpful.

My next task which I couldn’t bring myself to do today is to call them & ask why they’ve not taken on board the request on the form from Citizens Advice & myself for a home visit, and see if its possible to change it. Honestly from what I’ve heard I’m not particularly hopeful.

Then I need to prepare, think of this as a job interview but twenty times worse. Its so easy with fatigue, anxiety & brain fog for me to use the wrong words, forget whole symptoms & conflate conditions. It’s basically a quiz about me where I can get the answers wrong much too easily. I’m terrified of this, and not without reason – so many horror stories of poor assessments are a matter of record.

One last note – DWP or whomever, if you’re reading this and thinking even for one second “well if she can write a blog that makes sense she can work” you are stunningly misinformed about what being chronically ill & disabled looks like.

This, as with many of my posts takes hours – but never all at once. Initial thoughts, a few notes, finding links, remembering what the hell I was talking about when I lose thread mid sentence, stopping for sleep or rest, editing, rechecking, a final read through to make sure I haven’t made a compete idiot of myself. It all takes precious time and energy spread out over days, to do something that when I was well I could have rattled off in ten minutes.

This is my reality, please simply believe me.

PS – for anyone who has bought into MSM (Main Stream Media)’s outright fairy tales about benefit fraud & demonisation of claimants – here’s the real deal from the government’s own data. A tiny 1.2% of benefit claims are fraudulent.

Like HMRC, the DWP also estimates fraud and error for its benefit payments. Its most recent estimate shows that overpayments to claimants in 2017/18 were £3.8bn, or 2.1% of its total bill. Of this, 1.2% (£2.1bn) of its £177.5bn budget was claimant fraud. Full article here.