Sticks and stones


Words can hurt.

Words can flatter.

Words can insult.

Words may convey the opposite of what the speaker intended.

Take the word cripple, for instance. Many disabled people react with outrage if any person uses the word to describe themselves or someone else. But what does it mean?

Cripple: noun
1. Sometimes Offensive.
a. a person or animal that is partially or totally unable to use one or more limbs;a lame or disabled person or animal.
b. a person who is disabled or impaired in any way: a mental cripple.

Now I understand that many people born with certain differences such as being deaf, blind or without the use of limbs do not see themselves as disabled, just different. They are perfectly happy the way they are, wheelchairs, guide dogs and all, and don’t see themselves as missing anything. As one person I know put it, “I would turn a cure down.” That’s fine. I can see that they would object to the use of the word cripple to describe them since they don’t agree that they are crippled. But plenty of other people have through accident or illness lost the use of limbs, senses or other abilities, and they DO see themselves as crippled. Loss is the key part here – they have lost something that they once had, and are therefore crippled. If those people want to describe themselves that way, what right has anyone else got to stop them? I know several people that refer to themselves as cripples or crips, and they say it is fine because they are one. They make jokes about it. Once friend calls his cane a “crip stick”. Some other people have the word “crip” in their names on twitter or other internet forums.

The word crip can be used as an insult, but it is important to realise that it might be an insult only in the mind of the person using it. They look at someone, see less or different functionality in that person than themselves, and call them a cripple. They mean less or different, as in lower than them. The person on the receiving end of the insult may or may not think the same. People should be insulted by the other person’s intention behind the word, not the word that was used.  In the same way that someone could mutter “oh, sugar” when they drop something. They meant the same as someone that would have said shit in the same situation, we know they meant the same, they know they meant the same, so does the use of a different word mean anything?

Recently following the Slutwalk movement in protest against victim blaming, many people have decided to use the word slut about themselves in a (to them) positive meaning. Can other people that don’t want the word used stop these people from doing so? There are plenty of examples like this. Gay – a sexual orientation, or an insult and a disparaging description? Recently I’ve seen a fuss made about the word “Retard” – see The Guardian: It’s time to cut ‘retard’ from use.

There are some cases where phrasing is important in order to be inclusive. When I write I am careful to try and write “sick or disabled people” when I talk about this group that will be affected by cuts to the welfare state. The reason why is obvious – some are sick and some are disabled, some are both, but all that claim Incapacity, ESA, DLA or similar benefits are in the affected group, and using only one word or the other will leave people out. Sue Marsh wrote a good article on this – Diary of a Benefit Scrounger: Sick or Disabled.

Ultimately, words are important to express inclusiveness, and to avoid insult. Unfortunately a huge number of people know nothing about these areas of other people’s lives, and do not know the words to use. Most will adjust their language when the reasons are explained to them. Some will not, through laziness, a desire to insult, or through just not thinking it important. Recently I wrote a blog post on gender. Soon after I wrote it, a friend contacted me to warn me that I had some subtle definitions of sex and gender wrong, and that some affected people would be angry because of this. I changed the wording, and know now to be careful when talking about the subject. Millions of other people still have no idea of the difference.

I will try to use the correct words when I know about them, and will listen and learn when I get it wrong. And I do still get it wrong, most recently writing “the disabled” instead of “disabled people” repeatedly because of habit. Unfortunately some people attach more to the use of words than others, which is a problem in political campaigning. I know of one disability rights group that will not work with another group because they don’t always get the language right, and because they don’t correct others that don’t get it right. I’m inclined to agree with the view that correcting technicalities of words is less important than standing together at the moment. (Although there are some situations where large groups have done nasty things, I agree about not working with them.) I try to use the right language, but ultimately my goal is to fight for our lives against the government. I want to win that battle first, and we can sort the words out later. Anything else could be a huge risk.


Attacks from government – links and podcast

An extended version of my blog post about attacks from government on sick and disabled people is now available on the website of Disabled People Against Cuts: The insidious government sources: betrayal of disabled people

If you have always wanted to hear my voice, you’re in luck! I am on this week’s episode of The Pod Delusion presenting the same article. My segment starts 27 minutes in. I highly recommend this podcast even when I am not featured. In their own words, it is “a podcast about interesting things.”

Finally, an excellent article at Disagreeable Weasel, Fair is foul, and foul is fair, goes into some more detail on SpAds. Worth a read.

Unpleasant adventure

I had an adventure this morning. Well, not an adventure. More a nightmare.

I couldn’t sleep last night and had about three hours of broken sleep between 5:30 am and 9:00 am. Unfortunately I couldn’t sleep later to make up for it because I had to get up for my regular diabetes check up. Then when I woke up I was extremely nauseous (not a rare occurrence) and couldn’t eat anything without fear of throwing up. I thought it more important not to throw up all the pills I had just taken than eat.

My dad drove me to the doctors surgery, and my wife came with me as I could barely walk on my own. The appointment went well enough, my HbA1C is down to 6.8 and my blood pressure was also a perfect 116/76! Then towards the end of the appointment, I started to feel sick again. Very sick. And I went pale. I asked for water, but it didn’t help. I was given a bowl in case I vomited, which I promptly did. Then I passed out. Well, it was better than being there for the experience.

My memory is intermittent after that. I came round on the chair, then remember waking up lying on the floor, with my GP in the room as well as the practice nurse. I was having convulsions and hyperventilating. There was a paper bag involved, and another sick bowl. My face felt like it was covered in vomit and snot. I think I was on the floor for quite a while like that. My blood sugar was apparently fine but I was told to eat a “cereal bar” (tasted like charred cardboard) which was apparently the only food nearby. After I had started to feel a bit better was moved in a wheelchair to another room where I could lay down to recover. I was eventually allowed to leave and was driven home.

So I’m home. I’ve had a bit more sleep, in small pieces. I feel a lot better now, but I’m worried. I don’t know exactly why this happened, and I am worried that it could happen again. This marks something new in my illness and the prospect of vomiting, passing out and convulsing somewhere more public  is very scary.

“Government sources” attacking disabled people

As I wrote in my last blog post, Benefits and BMWs, the recent article in the Sunday Times State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) was factually incorrect in the headline and in several points in the article. Since then I have found that the same story has appeared in numerous national and local newspapers. The story in most of the local papers was actually word-for-word the same – just google “Flash cars leased to disabled people” to find many examples of it or read this one at the London Evening Standard. Motability scheme ‘being abused’

I will reiterate here for those that haven’t read my last blog post – the government does not hand out cars to disabled people.  The most severely affected sick or disabled people can claim Disability Living Allowance, which includes a mobility component. Those people receive the money, which they can spend as they like, or buy a wheelchair, car etc. Many choose to sign over the mobility part of their DLA to the Motability scheme, which is not government run, in return for a car, wheelchair or scooter. They can also choose to pay an extra fee to upgrade to a more expensive car. In the case of a BMW, that would be at least an extra £1400. Vehicles hired through Motability are exempt from VAT and Vehicle Excise Duty. (“Road tax”) A car can be used by another person on behalf of the sick or disabled person without them being present, for example going shopping for them, or perhaps returning something that they had borrowed. If a Motability car is used by someone else for their own purposes, that is a breach of the rules of the Motability Scheme and raises problems with the road tax and possibly the VAT on the car, but does not involve benefit fraud since the DLA would have been paid to the sick or disabled person, car or not. Relatives or carers getting a “free car” and using it for their own purposes are doing so at the expense of the sick or disabled person, not the government or benefit fraud.

The stories about relatives getting “free cars” and about people receiving BMWs through Motability are worrying because they seem to originate from the government. The Sunday Times article does not mention it, but the Belfast Telegraph and the story duplicated in lots of local papers quotes “a Whitehall source” who would seem to be the only reason that this is a story at all. This source says “The issue this raises is ‘is Motability being abused?’ And the answer is absolutely, in some cases it is.” His statement is true, but judging from his other comments his emphasis seems heavily weighted towards smearing and attacking the Motability scheme and those that use it.

This is not the first time that anonymous government sources have provided stories to newspapers sympathetic to government policies. (And only newspapers sympathetic to government policies.) In a previous attack, government ministers released a select list of excuses for benefit fraud supplied to them by the Department of Work and Pensions. Of course the excuses were bizarre and most of these cases really were fraud, but no mention was made of the incredibly low fraud rate and how few cases excuses like this represent. The papers also took the opportunity to belittle addiction and “bad backs” as disabilities, despite them being crippling and life-destroying.

In another recent attack, newspapers quoted a “source close to the reforms.” We are not told where this information has come from, and yet it appeared in several newspapers at the same time. I have been unable to find a press release that correlates to this information, and therefore I must assume that the figures have been leaked to chosen newspapers by government.

Then we have government ministers giving innacurate or just plain wrong statistics on television or to journalists. Minister for the disabled Maria Miller announced on live television news that more people receive benefits for drug and alcohol addiction than for blindness (They don’t.) and employment minister Chris Grayling stated that 75% of people claiming ESA were fit to work. (They weren’t.) Ian Duncan-Smith stated during an interview on Newsnight that people on benefits are “putting nothing back into the community” even though in the rest of the interview he came across as genuinely wanting to help. Even the opposition seems to be getting in on the act, with Ed Miliband going after the “take what you can culture” and again branding benefit claimants as lazy shirkers or cheats. Presumably this is seen as the way to attract votes and popularity now.

We also see an attack from the sidelines by MP Philip Davies, who wants people with learning disabilities to work for less than minimum wage, as though they somehow need less to live on than other people.

All these attacks add up to something very disturbing. The government is steam-rollering through welfare reform with only an occasional speed bump when people raise specific instances such as cancer patients that won’t have enough time to recover if given time-limited Employment Support Allowance. Such a shame that while highlighting 7,000 cancer patients, Ed Miliband didn’t spare a thought for the other 700,000 seriously sick or disabled people affected by the same rules. The pace of savage cuts and reforms backed up by relentless propaganda is terrifying and it is taking us towards a society that no longer cares for those who are sick or disabled.


Related blog posts

Benefits and BMWs

Compare and contrast

Response to the attack on DLA in today’s papers

“Putting nothing back into the community”

Other Links

Benefit Fraud: a success story the government doesn’t want you to know about

Ed Miliband and the “Cheats” and “Shirkers”

If you think this is important, please help spread the word by leaving the link in comments on stories about this, and on social networks. Please also click the orange and blue “boost” button in the sidebar on the right.

Benefits and BMWs

The Sunday Times has decided to be outraged about people on benefits getting BMW cars. The headline they ran with was State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) and it was plastered across the front page.

Unfortunately there are so many errors in the article that even the headline is plain wrong. To start with, the state does not “hand out” any cars to “the disabled”. Disabled people or the long term sick may get the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance to provide for their travel needs, and it can be spent as the recipient chooses but usually goes towards cars, wheelchairs, scooters, trains, buses, taxis and more. There is a charity scheme called Motability, and if a person wishes, they can pay the mobility component of their DLA to the Motability scheme in return for a car.

The state has not handed anyone a car, people have received the benefits to which they are entitled, and chosen to spend their money on a car.

The Motobility scheme works on the basis of leasing a new car out, and then selling it at the end of three years. (This works out cheaper than buying second hand cars and paying for their maintenance, and is more reliable and safer.) Motability has a set budget and any extra cost over the standard amount has to be covered by the user of the car – for example if the car has been driven more than the expected distance, there will be a mileage fee when the car is handed back. If someone wants a more expensive car to start with then they can pay the difference in cost so that Motability does not lose money. Some people pay a few hundred pounds extra to get a car more suitable for their medical condition, such as a car with a higher seat for people that struggle getting in and out of the car, or find low seating painful. These people often borrow at their own expense to pay the difference in cost. A BMW can be had through Motability for an extra fee in the same way that a slightly higher model Citroen could be. It’s just that there is a big difference in the size of that extra fee.

To get a BMW on Motability costs the end user at least £1,399 extra, and it is a fee, not a deposit.

It should be noted that DLA is not an out of work benefit, it is paid to everyone that has a qualifying disability, regardless of their work status or income. People that are still in work, especially if in a high powered job, or that have savings, might be able to afford the extra fee. Whether that is right or wrong is a different argument, but no fraud has been committed as DLA was intended to cover the extra cost of disability when working as much as when not.

The Sunday Times also talked about people using the car without the owner present. Some of the the points they made were true, but they missed that the car may be used on behalf of the sick or disabled person or for their benefit. That means that a carer could drive the car to go shopping to buy food for the owner of the car, completely within the rules. Of course they can’t use the owner’s blue badge or park in a disabled parking space, since they can walk across the car park.

Someone else can use a Motability car on behalf of the owner without them present.

The Sunday Times highlighted two cases of fraud in an attempt to back up their argument. One was someone whose health had improved but who had not informed the DWP and had gone back to work as a boxer, and the other was someone that was using his wife’s car to make deliveries as a courier. Benefit fraud levels are incredibly low, but with millions of people involved, even 0.5% means that a few people committing fraud can be found. Highlighting two cases without telling the reader how small a minority commit fraud is highly misleading. It should also be noted that while the boxer who didn’t inform anyone of his improvement was committing benefit fraud, the person driving his wife’s car was not. He was breaking the rules of the motability scheme and driving a car without paying the vehicle excise duty. (Which is waived for people receiving higher rate mobility component of DLA.) He had not defrauded the government out of any DLA benefit money.

The whole article has the same tone that we are becoming used to from mainstream newspapers. The implication that everyone on benefits is a scrounger. The article mentions that 123,000 people receive DLA for back pain, as though back pain is a simple thing or is somehow less worthy of support. (It covers scoliosis, degenerative spinal conditions, botched surgery resulting in nerve damage or paralysis.) Even the use of quotes around the word disabled in the headline is used to imply quite strongly that these people are not really disabled. I refuse to believe that the ‘journalists’ (see what I did there?) are that ignorant or don’t understand DLA and Motability. There is a clear agenda in this article to smear these people and create outrage. It is not acceptable and an apology must be given. I urge you to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the factual innacuracies in their article, as I will be doing.

Cross posted at Where’s the Benefit?

Thoughts on my first long powerchair trip

I went on my first long powerchair trip on Friday night. It was a 5 mile round-trip from Badsey to Evesham and back. On reflection, this was never going to be an easy journey. There are two routes that can be taken on foot. Unfortunately due to roadworks, one of those was not an option and so my wife and I were forced to take the other route, along the main road into town. This involved about a mile along a rural road with a 60mph limit, and hedges on both sides. Before leaving I checked through that stretch of road using Google Streetview to make sure that there was a path all of the way along. All seemed OK, so we set off.

Here are my thoughts on that journey.

  • My powerchair goes faster than 4mph. I think it probably manages 8mph. Excellent!
  • It doesn’t go as far as it should. The battery light was blinking after about six miles of use, not 24. Maybe a few charge / discharge cycles will fix that.
  • Using a powerchair requires planning to make sure that route and transport are accessible.
  • According to my wife, I operate a powerchair like I play Mario Kart. I’m choosing to take that as a compliment.
  • You can’t operate a powerchair like you play Mario Kart. It likes to stop before making the next move.

And some more problematic thoughts.

  • Getting to a junction and finding no dropped kerbs and therefore no way to leave the pavement and cross is frustrating.
  • Having to backtrack to the last dropped kerb is also frustrating.
  • Having no matching dropped kerb on the other side and having to take the chair along the road is dangerous.
  • Curved dropped kerbs that go round the corner are a pain. Wheelchairs are supposed to take the kerb at 90 degrees to avoid toppling. Having to turn 45 degrees to do that is irritating, AND the pavement is at odd angles that push the chair to one side.
  • A dropped kerb that crosses the pavement all the way to someone’s driveway makes the chair go down then up again. Having these repeatedly all the way along the street makes the chair go up and down continuously. They can also make the chair swerve into the road unless paying perfect attention and deploying light-speed reflexes.
  • A dropped kerb is supposed to be dropped. That means going down to road level. Not two or three inches above it. When a chair goes over that, it lurches wildly back and forth.
  • When a too-high kerb is combined with a round-the-corner curved dropped kerb that simultaneously goes up a hill on one road and down a hill on the other road, the combined angles plus speed necessary to climb the kerb mean that the chair will topple.
  • Flailing wildly when going over will wrench muscles, twist the back, neck and shoulders, and cause extreme pain and swearing.
  • Finding no way to get from pavement to road to pavement so that you can cross is bloody annoying. Did I already do that one? Well I’m doing it again because it’s BLOODY ANNOYING.
  • Tree roots growing under the path and tearing it up can lift one side of a chair, causing it to tip disturbingly to one side.
  • Cars parked on the pavement deserve to be scratched as I go past.
  • Pavements full of pot holes, cracks, patches and worn away surface are not just a minor irritant, they make the journey a hell full of dragging, rattling, lurching, bumping and worse.
  • A path is supposed to be wide enough to use. Six inches of goat trail with smashed up tarmac surrounded by tall grass and weeds right at the edges on both sides is not acceptable. Grass to within six inches of the road edge is definitely not acceptable.
  • Paths so old that their height varies by several inches NEED FIXING. You can’t leave that.
  • I got stuck on patches of broken pavement so bad that one wheel went in a hole. Not once, but twice. I couldn’t avoid the hole because the grass verge had covered the pavement.
  • I had to negotiate places where the broken, narrow path went through potholes, gravel and old stones at the edge, merged with driveways, with grass covering it at 45 degree angles. I lurched wildly. I nearly went over. And this happened in at least three places.

I’m going to stop there. There are more things, but I have complained enough for people to get the idea. OK, so most of the time I won’t be trying to travel from my village to the town, but I should be able to. It should not be a challenge, it should be a nice smooth ride along tarmac or paving slabs. Not a wild lurch along broken, grass-covered ancient pathway.

Oh, and I did manage to get to town and back, but not before the shops had closed, rendering my trip to buy cheesecake completely meaningless. I enjoyed a coffee at my sister’s house instead.

“Putting nothing back into the community”

We cannot go on adding over five million people and growing in number, trapped on welfare dependency, putting nothing back into the community, sitting on benefits in many cases, 1.5 million people sat for ten years under the last government, without any work, written off, forgotten about, never seen by anybody, this is not right.” Ian Duncan Smith, Newsnight, 9th June 2011. (Emphasis mine)

“The big difference between him and me is that I would much prefer the person with the learning disability to be given the opportunity to get a job, do something worth while and contribute in a way that they want to, whereas he would prefer them to be sat at home, unable to get a job in the first place. He may think that he is taking the moral high ground by believing that it is far better for these people to be sat at home unemployed without any opportunity, but I do not” Philip Davies MP, House of Commons, 17th June 2011 (Emphasis mine)

The impression I get from many Conservative MPs is that they believe a person only has any worth if they are in paid (or self) employment, an employer, or rich. They seem to believe that if a person does not fit one of these roles that they are not contributing in any way.

This is a massively blinkered viewpoint. For a start, it is common for a parent, usually the mother, not to work in paid employment when raising children. Although maternity leave is not very long, parents put years of their lives into looking after their children. Apart from parents, plenty of other people are not “working.” The sick, the disabled, the retired and the unemployed.  I think all of these people put plenty back into the community. We have the people that help others around them, babysitting, helping sick or disabled neighbours with housework, food, transport or more. There are the ones running local events, volunteering for charitable causes or to help run services. (Don’t forget, David Cameron wants everyone to do precisely this type of volunteering as part of the big society.) These people usually care about the community around them and many work to improve their area.

There is a term that I saw used recently by the office of national statistics in their report on unemployment. It is a term that I don’t like. That term is “economically active”. It is used to describe people that are in employment as opposed to those not employed and not looking for employment. I hate it because it again implies that those people are not part of the economy and therefore don’t matter. I think it is wrong because  for a start, unemployed people buy things, supporting shops and paying VAT. That’s not inactive, that is keeping the economy going. A parent that chooses to stay at home to look after their children is not economically inactive, they spend money to keep their home and family going, whether that money is from government benefits, savings or their partners earnings.

In the quote that I opened with, Ian Duncan-Smith said – in passing – that people on benefits were sat at home and putting nothing back in to the community. Philip Davies expressed a similar sentiment that people with learning disabilities should “get a job, do something worth while and contribute in a way that they want to” again with an implication that they were contributing nothing if they did not work in paid employment. Philip Davies said a lot more than this in the House of Commons this morning, going as far as to suggest that the disabled should work for less than the current minimum wage rather than “be sat at home unemployed without any opportunity.”

This suggestion misses two points. The first is that even now the minimum wage is not enough to live on. A living wage would be more like £7 – £8.30 per hour, not the £5.93 that is the legal minimum at the moment. Someone earning less than the current legal minimum would still be utterly reliant on state benefits to provide for their needs. The second point that he missed is that, as I described above, a person will not contribute nothing simply because they are not in paid employment.  It is also insulting to people with disabilities to say that they are worth less than those around them. Of course employers should take on more disabled people; they are missing out on a vast pool of untapped talent, knowledge and training by ignoring them. Devaluing the disabled as people and treating them as worth less than others is not the way to do this.

Davies also expresses the opinion that “I am sure that there are a lot of myths out there and that many of these people would be just as productive as those without a disability—they might well move up the pay rates much more quickly.” This idea is absurd. Since when are employers some kind of altruistic charity that pays people more than they have to? Most employers pay the minimum wage that they can get away with. If they could hire a disabled person for less money than anyone else, they might do so, but I doubt that they would raise that wage unless they were forced to.

I doubt that the Tories are going to learn the value of other people any time soon, but we must make sure that others do not fall for their rhetoric. As @rattlecans said on twitter, “Anyone who sees a fellow human being as a ‘productivity unit’, as a ‘cost’ has no place in the House of Commons or a boardroom in my view.”

Related Links

Disabled ‘should accept lower wage’

Video: Tony Judt on present society

Disagreeable Weasel – Worth less or worthless, Mr Davies?

Employment Opportunities Bill Second Reading


Fear and mobility

My new power chairI have been given a power wheelchair that used to belong to my wife’s grandfather. I am very grateful to my wife’s grandmother for giving it to me. It will be very useful when I have to go to the local shops, or be somewhere where I am expected to stand around or stay on my feet a long time. It will also mean that I can go to protest rallies which I has so far been left out of. I have a problem though. I have a very large psychological barrier to actually using it.

So what is the problem stopping me using it? Put simply, fear. Fear of what people will think and say, and embarrassment at people seeing me in it. I have previously written about similar problems with using my walking stick in my blog post Embarrassed to be me, where I talked about fear of abuse as well as fear of people thinking that I use a stick to look more ill and claim extra benefits. With a chair, I have an additional fear that people will think I am trying it on because they have seen me walking. My neighbours will have seen me in various different levels of health; on my best days they have seen me stand for a couple of minutes talking, and stroll across to the car park, get on my motorbike and ride away. More often, they have seen me walk using a stick, sometimes leaning on it more heavily than others. Now, they will also see me leave the house in a chair. To people that know me it is obvious that I have a variable condition that leaves me less able to move or stay upright the more tired I am or the more pain I am in. To people that see me away from the house, I worry that they won’t understand this and will simply think that I am faking my illness to get money from the government. I also worry about abuse if I stand up from the chair for a bit – I don’t have to stay in it all the time, but some people seem to think if a person can walk at all then they should always walk.

I also have a problem using the wheelchair, and, indeed, the stick, because I tend to be stubborn about what I can do. I start out in little pain and able to stand and walk, so I insist on going out without mobility aids. It doesn’t take long for me to start falling over because of exhaustion and pain though. Sometimes I can manage more than other times, and so I can quite often be capable of walking to the village shop, perhaps with a stick, and maybe walk back again too without too much pain, but the payback afterwards is high. I should use a wheelchair in this situation because that way I won’t exhaust myself just from going out to buy milk and won’t have to spend such a long time resting to recover.

When I talked about my concerns on twitter a friend sent me a link to this blog post which summarises the problem nicely. The writer has help at home with tasks like showering and dressing, yet she tries to do these things herself anyway.

“So last Thursday, when I had to explain it all over again, I told her that I *can* do all those things, but that I had to pay a price for it. And I showed her that my wrist was dislocated because of the transfer I just made. And then she said the most wonderful thing. She said: “but if your joints dislocate when you do something, that means you can’t do it right?” And she was so right…”

The problem is that she can complete these tasks, but the result of doing so is pain or even dislocation. I can walk to the shops (sometimes!) but the result of doing so is pain and exhaustion, leaving me helpless for some time afterwards.

Today I took my new powerchair out to the local shops for the first time. It’s not far, just five minutes walk away, but it’s a big step (roll) forward in making myself use the chair. I was worried through the whole journey, worried about what people would think, but I think I am getting there. I intend to use the chair to make local trips a few more times, and then I will take it out to the protest in either Birmingham or London on the 30th. I hope I will get over my fear by then.

Related links

Embarrassed to be me

Rise in abuse of disabled people is shocking but not surprising

A new definition of being able


I’m stressed because I have to deal with benefit cock-ups and repaying a massive overpayment. I’m stressed because I need to deal with buying a cooker. I’m stressed because the washing machine won’t fit in the space next to the dishwasher. I’m stressed because we don’t have a shower, only a bath. I’m stressed because it seems impossible to talk to the electricity companies to sort out our meter. I’m stressed because politicians are all attacking the sick and disabled. I’m stressed because the general public thinks everyone on benefits is a cheat and a scrounger. I’m stressed because I can’t keep up with all the campaigning and projects that I want to be involved in.I’m stressed because I have started 16 blog posts that I can’t get inspiration to finish. I’m stressed because I can’t work. I’m stressed because there is no room for my wheelchair in this house. I’m stressed because I am afraid to use the wheelchair because of what other people might think. I’m stressed because I am in pain. I’m stressed because I take too many painkillers. I’m stressed because my wife can’t get a job despite a shortage of science teachers. I’m stressed because I live in a village too far from town. I’m stressed because we haven’t finished unpacking and the house is a tip.

I’m stressed because I am stressed.

Please excuse me, I’m going to curl up in a ball in my bed now.

Rise in abuse of disabled people is shocking but not surprising

The papers reported today on a recent survey by SCOPE which revealed that “more than half of disabled people say they have experienced hostility, aggression or violence from a stranger because of their condition or impairment.”

This rise in attacks on the disabled may be shocking but it isn’t particularly surprising. I have experienced verbal abuse for my walking stick on several occasions in the last ten years, and I have witnessed it happen to friends of mine too. The reasons vary, I am sure. Some people may see the disabled as an inconvenience and perhaps mentally put them in the same category as “benefit scroungers” (Note: many disabled people work) while others maybe just want an easy target to bully for their own amusement. Radio 5 had a phone-in on this subject at 23:30 on Saturday night which had several examples of worse abuse and it is worth a listen. It’s on iPlayer here. (Jump to 1:39 to hear the relevant segment.)

Unfortunately, while such attacks might not have been so common in years past, I believe that they are being practically encouraged now by a constant scapegoating of all that claim benefits by government and by the newspapers. Perhaps this characterisation of the jobless and the sick and disabled as scroungers is too subtle for most people to notice but it certainly doesn’t seem that way to me. From Maria Miller’s incorrect and irrelevant assertion that more people receive disability living allowance for drug and alcohol addiction than for blindness, to a false statement that 70% of people assessed by ATOS for employment support allowance were found fit for work, to the leaking of “new statistics” about the rise in claims for DLA but only to right-wing newspapers, there seems to be a clear political intention to make people claiming benefits for sickness and disability seem undeserving and to blame them for being scroungers and cheats. Many newspapers seem only too eager to run with this concept, whether to push a message or just to generate controversy to help sales, I don’t know.

The opposition doesn’t seem to be any better either. A leaked speech to be made by Ed Miliband tells us that “Ed Miliband will attempt to stem growing doubts about his leadership with an assault on Britain’s “take what you can” culture which is open to exploitation by benefit cheats and unscrupulous bankers.” and that “Labour would look to restore the link between people’s contribution and their eligibility for assistance from the welfare state.

Unfortunately while putting a stop to a “take what you can” culture sounds a great idea, talking about benefit cheats again like it is on anything like the scale of the problem caused by unpaid tax or bankers gambling at our expense is ridiculous. It is precisely the sort of loaded language that will punish all people reliant on benefits. Please understand, that the vast majority of people receiving benefits are not frauds! I applaud the concept of preventing benefit fraud, but every time the government introduces new measures to tackle it, it is the people in genuine need that suffer. The current idea of “tackling benefit cheats” actually seems to mean “reduce the money available for benefits.” This idea of restoring the link between contribution and assistance is also seriously flawed. A great many people are sick or disabled all their life. They will never work, needing assistance long before working age. How will they contribute first? And this isn’t just a problem for the sick and disabled. Youth unemployment is now at 20.5%. That’s 75,000 people aged 18 to 24 who have not had a job for two years. What chance have they had to contribute?

The people that aim abuse of any kind at someone just because they have to use a stick, cane, wheelchair or some other aid, or because they have a visible disability, are simply bullies. Standing by and ignoring such abuse is cowardice. Actively reinforcing the stereotypes and making scapegoats out of vulnerable people to support budget cuts and to make your own political gain, that is vile.


Related Links

Tentacles of doom: Embarrassed to be me

SCOPE: Disabled people face rising levels of abuse, says Scope chair in The Times

Telegraph: Disabled passengers face ‘rising level of abuse on public transport’

The Guardian: Ed Miliband starts fightback after week of criticism

Diary of a benefit scrounger: Ed Miliband and the “Cheats” and “Shirkers”