Enough is enough – the Tories must wake up and tackle the disability employment gap | The Friday Article

“We must close the disability employment gap.” It was a simple enough statement made by the Minister for Disabled People Penny Mordaunt on her website last year. A consultation on ‘work, health and disability’ and a commitment to halving said employment gap in 10 years was announced by the government a short while later. From a party that has passed ruthless reforms to disability benefits, it’s likely that it had a few disabled people scratching their heads. Have the Conservatives finally started to care about a group in society which they have cruelly targeted for years?

Disabled person in powered wheelchair driving down the street
The disability employment gap remains stagnant at 31.3%. Photo: Pixabay.

One only has to look at what was announced on Wednesday this week for the answer. The disability employment gap the Tories planned to work on cutting down has stayed at 31.3%, lingering above the 30% mark for a decade. If they really wanted to tackle the issue, then the changes would be visible – be it in the statistics or in public announcements. James Taylor, Head of Policy at the disability charity Scope, said ‘these figures should be a wake-up call to the Government’ and he is absolutely right. The latest data shows the Conservatives’ current approach is indolent, lazy and slothful.

Granted, it can be argued that ministers have 10 years to get somewhere close to closing the gap, but the fact that there have not been any significant updates since the consultation closed in February is a cause for concern. The Brexit argument is likely to be an excuse given by some for this work taking a back seat during the middle of the year (following the triggering of Article 50 at the end of March), but it’s always worth mentioning that there are other burning issues and injustices that need to be addressed whilst also focussing on those all-important negotiations in Brussels. A crumbling NHS, the housing crisis and many other social issues can’t be brushed under the carpet because of our vote to leave the European Union. Ministers are yet to provide an explanation as to why the disability employment gap remains at the current level, but no excuse is valid.

So what could possibly cause a lack of disabled people in employment? As much as it comes down to the current benefits system, a more ideological issue is the stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding disability that have been generated from years of Conservative policies. Confusing and complex regulations and assessments have degraded disabled people – presenting them as inconveniences or numbers to meet a particular quota.

Whilst assuming all employers see a disabled candidate or employee as a pain in the backside in terms of paperwork and workplace support is a completely inaccurate and flawed judgement, it’s likely that some employers are unaware of how they can support disabled people in their company. The communication between the government, firms and workers about such things is inefficient if not non-existent. It’s part of the reason why I’ve always been reluctant to tick the ‘are you disabled’ question on an application form. Aside from the fact that I don’t really consider myself disabled (except under ‘the social model’), the possible discussion about workplace support if I did mention it always felt daunting – where would I start?

Although the ‘work, health and disability’ consultation intends to look at how health and work interconnect, more needs to be done to address attitudes and improve communication. The communities of disabled people in society must continue to call for better support when it comes to employment – only then will we have the chance to wake Conservatives up from their slumber when it comes to addressing the needs of the community of disabled people.

Now, one can hope that a stat-obsessed government which always likes to shout about increased employment or a stronger economy will notice one of the more concerning pieces of data that has come from the Office for National Statistics’ latest release. If the state of the disability employment gap led to a planned reform of the Work Capability Assessment, then here’s hoping that the gap remaining static will finally prompt the Department for Work and Pensions to take action. Enough is enough.

 

Fickle Friends’ ‘Glue’ – a groovy assortment of sweet, sticky pop

It was nothing but coincidence that all three songs from Fickle Friends’ new EP have a viscous substance as their title, but even so, with intricate guitar riffs, smooth vocal harmonies and rocking beats, SugarVanilla and Glue all live up to their names.

EP artwork for 'Glue' by Fickle Friends
The EP comes exactly two months after the title track, ‘Glue’, was released.

Look no further than the title track, Glue. Natti Shiner’s dreamy voice is guided with light synths and plucky guitar to produce an excitable track about rushed romance on a night out. Strip back all the funky instrumentals for the acoustic version and you have a song which really shows off Shiner’s soft vocals.

Then comes Sugar, which is essentially Glue 2.0, but tamer. Yet, the chorus is what’s distinctive. The line: and you don’t, and you don’t know, you don’t know you’re sugar interlinks beautifully with the beat underneath, and the harmonised sugar in the next line helps make it a strong second track for the EP. Calm but still funky, it bridges the gap between Glue and Vanilla – a song which certainly drifts away from the tone of the previous two.

Although, that is no doubt because of the new direction which the band pursue in this track. A slow drum beat immediately calm things down as the electronica takes a back seat for the most part and is replaced with a slouching rhythm and atmospheric bass.

If one was to dissect the record in more detail, it could be said that Glue splits up the feel-good sound we’ve heard on previous releases (such as Brooklyn and Hello Hello) to begin with, before the more chilled side of the five-piece comes through on the final two songs. Vanilla is a breakaway from the funk, and the acoustic version of Glue – as mentioned previously – demonstrates Natti’s talent.

It’s definitely a clever way of keeping fans excited for the band’s debut album, which is believed to be released early next year.

Musical Discovery: ‘Silence’ by Marshmello feat. Khalid

We all remember when The Chainsmokers dominated the UK charts. Andrew Taggart’s mumbling and groaning vocals defined their style as DJs and meant that any other track by another artist with the same low vocals would be labelled repetitive or ‘samey’. It’s since been used by Frank Ocean (in Calvin Harris’ Slide) and OneRepublic (in Rich Love), but now the hit DJ Marshmello has offered his take on the more chilled side of dance with his track, Silence.

Every now and then, the masked musician (whom everyone has now assumed to be Chris ‘Dotcom’ Comstock despite no official confirmation) lurches back into the mainstream and moves away from the snappy trap and electronic vocals. The last track to do so was the 2016 single Ritual, which saw the singer Wrabel step up to the mic with high-pitched emotion. Now, Marshmello has done the complete opposite, adopting a slow tempo and low tone for his with release of the year.

This sudden shift could very well be part of what makes it distinctive, but there’s no denying that Khalid is the centre of attention on Silence. There’s a sense that Marshmello’s backed away this time around, sticking to soft piano chords, pulsing synth and plucky guitars which underlie the 19-year-old’s soulful lyrics.

Described by the American singer as being ‘a sad song… about being content with loneliness and turning it into a positive’, it makes sense that the vocals are raspy and the instrumental aspect of the track is stripped back. Lines such as ‘love only left me alone, but I’m at one with the silence‘ and ‘I found peace in your violence‘ demonstrate the reflective nature of Silence. It’s far from being a song for people to dance along to, but it’s certainly one for fans to wave their phones in the air for when the DJ gives it a spin during his August and September shows.

Silence is now available on iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud and YouTube.

Review: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child at The Palace Theatre

The magic of theatre is a hard thing to describe. With the right play, the story comes to life and it just works. So, when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – a story with fantasy at its core – makes its way to the historic Palace Theatre in London, one can imagine that the end result is a production wonderfully creative and immersive.

It’s understandable for Potter fans to question how the Wizarding World of Harry Potter translates onto the stage, when there’s certain restraints and no CGI on hand to help. Naturally, Potterheads want to see the Boy Who Lived and his universe accurately portrayed in this new medium. It’s most likely this faith to the story, combined with a curiosity as to how the cast pull off the magical aspects of the plot which has led to hundreds of theatre buffs buying tickets to the play. However, for those who are yet to nab a seat, they can be reassured that the stage has allowed the magic of Harry Potter to be blossom in an entirely different way to the films. Readers who were quick to label Harry Potter and the Cursed Child an embarrassing and cringeworthy fan fiction after the script was released should wait until they have seen the play before they question whether the story should be canon.

It’s a show which makes you recognise the work of those behind the scenes as much as it does of those who are performing. The opening scene throws you straight into the story, which is no doubt helped by Steven Hoggett’s smooth choreography and Imogen Heap’s soundtrack which was stunning throughout. One must also appreciate the use of lighting, too, which certainly helped to set and alter the play’s tone as the story progressed.

The play managed to achieve something which the movies failed to do for me, and that was actually create this feeling that I was at Hogwarts and a part of this world. This is no doubt down to this off-stage and on-stage collaboration, combined with the fact that it takes place in The Palace Theatre, an old building which certainly has a Hogwarts feel to it both inside and out.

Then there’s the actors and actresses. Admittedly, it felt like it took a while before some of the character’s dialogue became ‘genuine’, but one could argue that that was a result of my own apprehension. Nevertheless, Samuel Blenkin delivers an incredible performance as the socially awkward and over-excitable Scorpius Malfoy. Offering both pure emotion and comic relief, Blenkin fleshes out a likeable character the audience sympathises with. When working alongside the talented Theo Ancient (Albus Potter), the two create a tale of friendship that’s uplifting throughout. It’s also worth applauding Thomas Aldridge’s hilarious portrayal of Ron Weasley, Rakie Ayola’s sassy Hermione Granger and Gideon Turner’s performance as Harry Potter, which was exceptionally raw in certain scenes. Yet, as mentioned previously, everyone involved in the production should be given credit for the team effort. The fact that the cast pronounce Voldemort the correct way (Vol-de-MOR) was a nice touch.

However, much like how a magician never reveals their secrets, it would be wrong to unveil all of the technicalities that go into making this play what it is. Audience members were also sent a video from J. K. Rowling after the performance pleading for them to #KeepTheSecrets, so there’s that.

You just have to go and see it, if you’re lucky enough…

Half A Decade

Up until a couple of days ago, I had completely forgotten that August 12, 2017 marks five years of blogging on The Life of a Thinker. Whilst I remember being shocked and annoyed at myself when I realised that there was an upcoming milestone, now I’m unsure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Good because it is such a big achievement, bad because you should never be so obsessed with statistics and numbers as a blogger.

Gone are the days of my blog logo being a weird rock. The Life of a Thinker has become more professional and I’ve never been happier with the direction in which it’s headed. Photo: Frances Batchelar.

As I write this, I’m inclined to think it’s the former. To say I’ve come a long way since August 2012 would be both blatantly obvious as well as horrendously cliché. Yet, when you consider the fact that a piece on ‘funny pub signs’ was my first proper blog post on this site, you can understand why I’m glad I’m no longer an incompetent and pretentious 15 year old.

I don’t know the exact date I made this decision, but there came a point when I decided to abandon the lifestyle aspects of my blog in favour of a journalistic style of writing. Cue opinion pieces and more reviews and the abandonment of guest blogs. However selfish it may sound, I decided that I wanted all content on my ‘online portfolio’ to be written by me. I took time to change The Life of a Thinker‘s style, which saw me leave the blogging community for a little while. Whether I’m now back as an active member of the community again is a different story for another day.

I’ll be honest: casting my mind back over what has happened blog-wise since August 2016 is hard. It’s only when I quickly search through my archives that I notice that I was Highly Commended in the Midlands Student Media Awards in October 2016 (which doesn’t feel like a year ago – it feels longer). The entry was my blog post on the first series of Channel 4’s Humans – a 1,000 word article which demonstrated the more formal writing style I mentioned previously. It was certainly a benchmark for what followed.

I was still getting advanced readers’ copies (ARCs) of unpublished books from publishers, my Friday Article opinion pieces grew from strength to strength, and I received my first review copy of an upcoming album (that being Frances’ Things I’ve Never Said). More recently, my feature on the Italian singer Ginny Vee saw me adopt a more professional interview style when compared to the Liam Interviews series I had on the blog post many years ago.

It’s these types of improvements which I’ve certainly noticed over the past few months. My music reviews are no longer focussing on the technical aspects of songs, more on the emotional, lyrical elements in a more informal tone. I’m continuing to develop my own voice in my opinion pieces and as for features, I’m looking forward to doing more of them on The Life of a Thinker when I can.

Looking ahead to the future of this blog, I’ve certainly got a strong sense of pride in it. Amazing PR opportunities have come my way through what I share here and occasionally, the odd blog post does really well on social media. After researching and hearing talks about ‘the exposure debate’ and paid freelance work, I’m now more inclined to ask for payment for PR posts on here now, as opposed to a younger version of me who would probably take it just because of the exposure. Now, it depends.

Nevertheless, it’s been half a decade since an excitable teenager created The Life of a Thinker on a beach in Cornwall and I remain thankful to anyone who has stopped by this little corner of the internet during this time. Here’s to the next milestone!

‘The Tory Glastonbury’: The Conservatives’ hilarious attempt at winning back the youth vote | The Friday Article

“Why is it just the left who have all the fun in politics?” whined Conservative MP George Freeman to the Financial Times last week. The politician, who represents the Mid Norfolk constituency, made headlines after he unveiled his plan for a right-wing ‘ideas festival’ to build up grassroots support – something which has rightly been dubbed ‘The Tory Glastonbury’.

Pyramid Stage with sunset
George Freeman’s plan for a right-wing festival has been dubbed as ‘The Tory Glastonbury’ by some commentators.

Labour supporters are already having a ball imagining what the Tory version of the internationally renowned music festival would look like. A giddy Boris Johnson walks onto the main stage as the Saturday headliner, juggling flaming torches to the tune of Shaggy’s 1995 hit, Bombastic to the crowd’s amusement. Arcadia, Worthy Farm’s fire-breathing spider, is replaced by a pissed off pig, and over at the politics tent Jeremy Hunt is giving a talk on how to dismantle the NHS. Attendees would be spoilt for choice until they realise that there isn’t anyone likeable left in the party to play the popular Sunday legends slot.

Then there’s the music that would be on offer. The Tories’ inaccurate perception of young people will probably lead to old 90s disco tracks being blasted around the festival site, in an attempt to ‘get down with the kids’. It’s a move which would be as disastrous as asking your grandma to buy a Kanye West album from HMV.

This whole idea is the latest way in which the Conservatives plan to ride off the success of Labour in June’s general election. As if asking your political opponents for policy ideas wasn’t embarrassing enough, setting up a festival because you’re jealous of the ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ chants once again shows the desperation and panic that has taken over the Conservative Party. Such an event will do little to combat the wave of Corbynism present in our young people, and the party’s backing in other age groups is faltering. Is the idea of a ‘Tory Glastonbury’ their way of finally acknowledging the power of millennials in general elections?

Perhaps not. If this really is an attempt by the Tories to win back some of the youth vote, then the fact that the one-day festival is rumoured to take place in September shows how nonsensical, fantasist and flawed the whole idea is. Student voters will be back at university and the Tories’ next best bet would be to hold a Freshers Tour – which would be quite fitting given the Etonian background of some of the party’s key figures.

George Osborne DJ set at Cambridge uni, anyone?

Theatrical Reflections from a Rain-Painted Window

Rain pelts the windows of my Thameslink train as I type this. I’m on my way to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre, and if I was able to see both parts of the play before 7pm, then my review would be up today. As that isn’t happening, I thought it would be worth talking about my experiences at the cinema, and why I’m starting to prefer going to the theatre instead of seeing a film.

An obvious point to begin with is the accessibility of cinemas today. Whilst the one where I live has a few subtitled showings, living with a hearing family with their own schedules has meant seeing films without subtitles (not to mention the fact that most subtitled performances can be shown at inconvenient times of the day). From Marley and Me to Deadpool, I can still laugh and cry at what’s happening on screen, but I miss out on the plot that comes through dialogue. This is probably why it took me so long as a child to realise that TV shows were meant to be listened to as well as watched.

However, to blame it all on accessibility would be unreasonable of me. Another reason is the fact that I’ve always been a book nerd as opposed to a movie buff. Sitting in uncomfortable seats struggling to hear just didn’t appeal to me, compared to imagining the story for yourself from the comfort of your own home.

It’s become a question of time investment. Will it be worth spending two hours concentrating on this movie, trying to hear it? Will it demand my attention or will I get bored? It’s why I now have a certain criteria for a film to meet in full or in part before I decide to see it.

  1. It has received rave reviews.
  2. It contains an actor I like.
  3. It’s based off a book I like.
  4. The trailer looks good.

However, with a play, this criteria doesn’t apply, and the accessibility is better. Granted, there’s still no subtitles (unless you’re seeing a captioned performance) but the audio quality is better. Then there’s the sense of atmosphere in the theatre which can only be achieved in the cinema with a horror movie/thriller or by breaking the fourth wall.

But to revert back to the time investment point, I guess it’s something I’ve had for many years now when you consider some of the film classics I haven’t seen:

Titanic, E.T., Alien, Predator, The Shawshank Redemption, Love Actually, The Great Escape, Forrest Gump, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Die Hard, Casablanca, 2001: A Space Oddysey, The Back to the Future trilogy, Fight Club, The Terminator, The Social Network, Psycho,  Trainspotting, Speed, Saving Private Ryan, The Shining, Guardians of the Galaxy, Schindler’s List, Jaws, Goodfellas… 

This revelation often has my friends staring in disbelief and firing me shocked or angry looks, but film isn’t really my thing. Perhaps if I have some time to see more captioned performances, this may change, but for now, I’m looking forward to Harry Potter and seeing more plays in the future.