Opinion with Christine Tongue: Why I’d strike if I could

On the picket line

I can’t go on strike,  I’m old and disabled. And who would notice – or care? The government would be secretly cheering if we took ourselves out of their expensive support systems.

But we decrepit pensioners have good enough reason!  Disabled people and oldies are among the poorest in the country and are suffering worse than anyone from the cost of living crisis. We depend on power for so much – my stair lift gets me upstairs, my scooter gets me out of the house, my reduced mobility means I get cold so my house needs heating.

The old age pension – among the worst Europe– hasn’t taken account of increased food prices. People with heart problems or diabetes or other diseases that mean you can’t fill up on cheap custard creams are finding it hard to eat properly. And of course, no one should have to fill up on cheap starch anyhow.

Through Access Thanet I hear what measures disabled people are taking to mitigate their financial hardship. Several have bought fluffy onesies to keep warm in and share jokey pictures of their cats trying to get in with them. But is it a joke when my friend Anne has to decide that her chest infection is so bad she needs warm air in her house and she’ll worry about the cost later? Or John, who now just heats one room and sleeps in his armchair.

So, I’ve been eternally grateful for the workers who are prepared to go on strike and tell the country what the financial crisis has done to ordinary people.

I’ve managed to get to a few picket lines locally to show my support and thank them for making the fuss that most of us can’t. I’ve scooted to Ramsgate Station to thank rail workers for striking against the cost of living crisis and I’ve  joined our local posties outside Broadstairs sorting office.

I totally understand why it’s important to make a stand about their working conditions as it damages everyone to have untrained or overworked staff in positions of great responsibility.

But the people who need our support most are the NHS workers who are for the first time ever in their history going on strike. It’s not just about nurses having  to use food banks  — that’s bad enough – it’s about the government disrespecting the profession so much nurses  now have to fund  their own training, pay for parking at hospitals, work endless 13 hour shifts because staff shortages are so horrendous that 140,000  vacancies need filling.

Paramedics are also striking. I’ve had several trips in a blue light ambulance — my partner’s heart attack , my friend’s road traffic accident, my father’s final hours, with paramedics keeping them alive,  managing complex equipment  and all the while  being reassuring and helpful to distraught family.

Many are leaving the service. Some are going to help out in GP practices. The paramedic in mine says: “It’s indoors, no heavy lifting, and no attacks from patients!”

It’s a tough life.

My paramedic friend retrained as an occupational therapist after she damaged her knees doing CPR on wet pavements once too often.

So, my reason for trying to support local picket lines is that at last someone is saying enough is enough. They’re speaking on behalf of most of us, but especially for the people who have no voice, the old, the vulnerable — the financially unproductive, the elderly parasites (like me!) Find out where the pickets are and take them cake! And join them too. You’ll be really welcome.

This Wednesday and Thursday (18 and 19 January) nurses in some local NHS organisations, including NHS Trusts, are striking over pay and conditions. Ambulance workers are due to strike on January 23.

Christine Tongue is a member of disability campaign group Access Thanet