Monday, 17 August 2015

#Pitchwars Mentee Bio

(If you don't know what Pitchwars is, I'm not the droid you're looking for)

((Actually it's a writing competition or sorts, where you compete for the attention of a set of mentors, who will help you whip your manuscript into shape in the hope of attracting an agent in its second round, and this is a who am I for the mentors))

So who am I?

I'm David Gillon (oddly enough), I'm 51, British, born in the Northeast (in the borderlands between the Mackems and the Pitmatics - these are genuine linguistic groups), but now living in the South East - actually I've lived in the South East since I was 21, so feelings about 'home' are complicated.

I was formerly a software engineer working for Evil Aerospace (no, they aren't really called that, but I'm under a gagging order not to name them, and I need to call them something, plus evil d'oh!), where I was involved in the development of fly-by-wire systems, head-up displays and weapon systems for aircraft ranging from the (Eurofighter) Typhoon, to the F-16 to the C-17, to the Boeing 777 (no, that one doesn't have weapons systems). This was quite literally the only job I'd ever had. Despite twenty odd years working for the Military-Industrial-Complex I'm a Bleeding Heart Liberal at heart (though the actual Liberals are well to the right of me).

Nowadays I'm a disability rights activist, which is linked to the reason I no longer work for Evil Aerospace, and the gagging order. I'm fairly complexly disabled, I'm hypermobile (aka Bendy), though fortunately I don't sublux (partially-dislocate) too many joints (DiversifYA did a piece on me and Hypermobility Syndrome here - I'd no sooner said I never have major subluxes than I had multiple shoulder subluxes and my hip has since gotten in on the action), I'm dyspraxic, and I'm neurodiverse in some currently undefined fashion - a psychologist spontaneously started assessing me for Aspergers during a pain management session a couple of years ago). These are all disabilities that are present from birth, but they're also all disabilities which have only been widely recognised in recent years. HMS became an issue in my mid-20s (which is fairly common), and I've been using various braces and mobility aids pretty much ever since, I recently became a wheelchair user, and have been kicking myself for not doing it 15 years ago. I wrote up my experiences of going to the last Worldcon - Loncon 3 - in a hire chair here and have a whole bunch of essays on the experience of becoming a wheelchair user that I'm probably going to create a new blog for in the near future. Obviously this means diversity in fiction is pretty close to my heart.

I've been an SF/F fan for as long as I can remember, I grew up on A C Clarke and Andre Norton books from our local library, and as my tastes matured and developed found Lois McMaster Bujold and C J Cherryh as particular favourites. I've been writing since my early 20s, but disability has been a major issue - creativity and chronic pain aren't happy bedfellows, I've finally gotten a decent level of pain control and significant writing is now a possibility again. I knuckled down last year to complete my urban fantasy novel Graveyard Shift, but was too late for Pitchwars 2014 and I've had to fight against some non-disability related medical issues to get its newest rewrite ready for Pitchwars 2015, but got there in the end.

I had one short story accepted for publication in the '90s, but that anthology never appeared, and I appear to have come very close to getting a story accepted for the recent 'Accessing the Future' anthology of disability related speculative fiction, but fell at the last hurdle/cut. I'm primarily a long-form writer, I just wish I had a long form body to support that! I've done slightly better with fact-based writing, having written for the UK broadsheet the Guardian, guest blogged for the campaigning group 38 Degrees and write on disability in both my own blog and in various other venues. I'm active on twitter, as @wtbdavidg, on disability, equality in general, and as a supporter of diversity initiatives in speculative and other areas of fiction such as We Need Diverse Books.

Complicating this year's Pitchwars submission, I'm off sailing in the Med with friends from the 21st, and net connectivity in small Greek fishing villages may not be ideal. I'll make every effort to be available if mentors want to chat, but can't guarantee connectivity until I get back to Athens on the 29th, when I should have net access in my hotel, or be able to find it in a cafe. I then have a few days in Athens, flying back on the 2nd. The holiday is exciting enough, first time flying with the chair, first time touristing with the chair, but it's also doing double duty as research for a YA novel I was working on before the health issues temporarily derailed me. (If I get any late requests for partial or full MS I'm hoping to set up a dropbox folder mentors can get at)

And that's me.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Disability Confident and Disability Employment Figures

(This particular piece started as an attempt to get a comment out to DNS when my email froze up on me yesterday, but I've now got the up to date ONS figures via that DNS article and it seems a shame not to bring it up to date, though in effect I'm completely rewriting it).

What provoked this new piece is that DWP are once again beating their drum on Twitter for the increase in the number of disabled people in employment based on the latest Office of National Statistics report. 

Now their headline figure of 225,000 more disabled people in work versus a year ago is clearly a good thing, but last quarter it was 238,000 more disabled people in work versus a year previously, so is a fall to 225K good, bad or indifferent? Unfortunately it's difficult to tell, the Labour market has some significant seasonal variation, and, AIUI, the ONS figures aren't corrected for that, though whether disabled people should be as heavily affected by seasonality is questionable - there probably aren't many wheelchair users engaged in seasonal agricultural work, for instance. Equally Caroline Richardson noted in comments for DNS's article that the employed figure includes people on workfare and other purely temporary schemes, effectively the employed figure is being permanently bolstered by the size of the cohort on workfare at any one time, while the unemployment figure is systematically lowered by the same number.

The ONS data is a wall of numbers that really needs a graphical presentation, but I don't have the spoons to put that together at the moment, so I'm going to pull two comparisons out of the stats, change versus the last quarter, and change versus the last year. The bracketed numbers following the figures for the year are the actual current totals rather than the changes to give you some perspective on the size of each group.

For the last quarter (Jun-Aug 2015)
Employed Disabled People: Up 42K
Unemployed Disabled People: Up 22K
Economically Inactive Disabled people: Up 86K

For the last year (Sep 2014-Aug 2015)
Employed Disabled People: Up 226K (3,246K)
Unemployed Disabled People: Down 15K (423K)
Economically Inactive Disabled people: Up 133K (3,399K)

Ultimately it is the number of disabled people not in work that Disability Confident is supposed to challenge, that includes both the number of unemployed disabled people and the number who are economically inactive - not either in work or looking for it. A 225K rise in the year in the number of disabled people with jobs is positive, but the number unemployed is only down 15K, while the number of economically inactive is up by 133K. Clearly the number of disabled people captured in these stats is increasing, and that means a 225K increase in numbers employed isn't as impressive as it sounds, the fall in the number of disabled people out of work is much slower, and the number economically inactive is significantly worse, in fact looking at the previous quarter alone, more than twice as many disabled people became economically inactive as found jobs, while the number who are unemployed also increased, so that good figure for the year actually masks some disturbing numbers for the last quarter. 

Disability Confident is supposed to challenge the Disability Employment gap (the difference between the actual number of disabled people employed and the number of disabled people who would be expected to have a job if we were employed at the same rate as non-disabled). That is estimated at 2 million people, and Disability Confident is targeted at getting half of those into work, but DWP keep quoting increases in numbers employed, whereas we actually need to look at the decreases in those unemployed and economically inactive, figures which aren't nearly so good and in some ways are down-right worrying - what is driving the increase in economically inactive disabled people, a figure which dwarfs the number of unemployed disabled people roughly 8:1. Certain possibilities suggest themselves - fear of involvement with workfare, DWP's trigger-happy sanctions regime and general hostility towards disabled people within JCP (c.f. reports of disabled people being deliberately pressured in order to meet sanctions targets), not to mention the reported increase in hostility towards disabled people in the workplace as a whole, but none of these are things the government can afford to acknowledge, never mind address.  And of course there's also George Osborne's assertion in the budget (re the 30% cut in ESA) that we're all just lazy oiks who can't be bothered to work as a possibility, but I tend to class that as a disability hate crime rather than a serious policy suggestion.

For Disability Confident to reach its 1 million target, it needs to get all c400K unemployed disabled people into work, and then persuade another c600K disabled people who are currently economically inactive to return to being jobseekers, and then get them into work too. As Disability Confident is solely targeted at employers it is difficult to see how they intend to achieve this, but it is clear that other DWP initiative intended to pressure disabled people into work seem to be at least as successful at pressuring them entirely out of the workforce as into work.

There aren't any answers in the new data, but there are a lot of disturbing questions.