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The desperate quest for a lie-in

Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column.

“Have you heard of the Fibonacci sequence?”

“The Fibowhat?”

“The Fibonacci sequence. According to which everything in nature has a ratio of 1.61.”

It is 5.37am and baby Moe has been howling for an hour. Daylight is creeping around the edge of the curtains and we are getting ever closer to the agonising point at which we will definitely not get back to sleep before Moe’s elder brother, Larry, wakes up. For some reason, Curly has chosen this moment to try to explain a “concept” of science. Science is not my strong suit and particularly not when it is communicated to me at a senseless hour of the morning by Curly, who invariably doesn’t know what he is talking about, either.

“Isn’t a ratio supposed to have two numbers in it, like 1:4?”

“Fibonacci explains everything, from ears, to snails, to artichokes.”

“Now you’re trying to explain artichokes?” These mad ramblings are a symptom of our sleep-deprived delirium. For the past two months, the nights have been getting gradually worse. When we first brought Moe home, he seemed quite the model baby. I was sure he would be sleeping through the night in record time. But as if to punish me for my smugness, after six months his progress went into rapid reverse. Currently he is waking up every hour from 11pm onwards, every night. I read somewhere that the Japanese “broke” their prisoners during the Second World War by using a very similar approach.

At first, I tried to encourage him to settle himself. When that failed – and as I got more and more exhausted – consistency went out of the window. I have been alternately feeding him, patting him, singing to him, dosing him up with Calpol, putting in my earplugs and trying to ignore him, bringing him into our bed and generally hopping up and down like a grasshopper on Red Bull all night long. Needless to say, this frenetic activity has only made him worse.

Ah! Sweet relief! The crying stops. My throbbing head is bathed in blissful, soothing silence. It’s 6.06am – nearly a full hour before Larry will come thundering down the corridor baying for porridge. I close my eyes and slip into an uneasy dream: green and purple cartoon babies spin at me out of a dark sky, their mouths wide and their tonsils vibrating. They form a cacophonous, whirling spiral, like an ear, a snail or an artichoke . . .

“Mummy!” A voice yanks me back from the deep. I wrench open my eyes to find Larry peering at me, only inches from my face. “Wake up! It’s morning time!”

I sigh. I moan. I shove Curly repeatedly. “Please! Babe! You’ve got to get up! I really, really, really need a lie-in!” He pulls the duvet over his head.

“Don’t worry, Mummy, I’ll get you one.” Larry scampers back to his bedroom and returns with Lionel, his stuffed toy lion. I look at him in confusion. “Here you are!” he exclaims, looking pleased with himself. “You said you needed a lion.”

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 27 May 2013 issue of the New Statesman, You were the future once

Photo: Getty Images
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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.
For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.
IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.
Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.
Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.
Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.
The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.
His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.
He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.
I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.