Disability hate – from people who should know better

I’ve just been told about this rather disheartening incident involving my dad this morning.

My dad has a friend called Ray. Ray is blind and physically disabled. He has a guide dog, and uses a walking stick too. My dad has serious spinal problems and also walks with a stick. Both of them are entitled to use blue badges for disabled parking.

My dad and Ray went to McDonalds for breakfast this morning. This particular branch has just two disabled parking bays. This is not normally a problem but today when they arrived both were in use. One of the cars, though, contained a woman and a child with a blue badge on display who were sat eating food from the drive-through. My dad had to stop and let Ray and his dog out in the road and then park in a standard bay with further to walk.

My dad stopped and pointed out to the woman that she was blocking a disabled parking bay causing problems and risk for them and that this wasn’t necessary since she wasn’t getting out of the car and could therefore park in a bay further away from the restaurant. (He does this himself when he is not getting out.)

She was immediately hostile, announcing

“You don’t pay for my car.”

My dad pointed out that this wasn’t the point, but then she noticed his walking stick. At this point she actually threatened to physically hurt him, finishing with

“Walk away know while you still can, old man.”

My dad sensibly left it there.

This incident makes me sad because not only was this abuse of a disabled person but it came from the mother of a disabled child who really should know better. The rules for parking don’t explicitly state that she shouldn’t use the bay but they do say that you shouldn’t sit and wait for a non-disabled person and that consideration should be given. (See below.) Even so, she was hostile and abusive when there was no need to be. It also makes me sad that the woman’s first reaction was to defend her possession of the car, clearly related to public attacks on Motability in recent months.

Who can use the badge?

The badge is for your use and benefit only. It must only be displayed if you are travelling in the vehicle as a driver or passenger, or if someone is collecting you or dropping you off and needs to park at the place where you are being collected or dropped.

Do not allow other people to use the badge to do something on your behalf, such as shopping or collecting something for you, unless you are travelling with them.

• You must never give the badge to friends or family to allow them to park for free, even if they are visiting you.

• You should not use the badge to allow non-disabled people to take advantage of the benefits while you sit in the  car. Although it is not illegal for a badge holder, or a non-disabled person waiting for the badge holder to return, to remain  in the vehicle while the Blue Badge is displayed, consideration should be given to using a car park whenever possible.

• It is a criminal offence to misuse a badge. This includes people other than the badge holder taking advantage of the parking concessions provided under the scheme.

Taken from The Blue Badge scheme: rights and responsibilities in England, page 8

 

Poor and disabled? Tories think you’re a troublemaker

I wrote yesterday about the plans by Iain Duncan Smith to restrict what “troubled families” can spend benefits on through the use of smart cards, and why this is a terrible idea for many reasons. It’s even worse than that though. The plan is to get councils to send “troubleshooters” to confront these families and force them to conform to the expectations of the government. The Independent and BBC News both have more details.

What I didn’t write about yesterday is the definition that the government are using for troubled family, and that definition is very bad indeed. The Conservative Party have turned to research by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to decide who might be “troubled”. The government have decided that a troubled family is one that meets five out of seven criteria:

  • Low income
  • No one in the family who is working
  • Poor housing
  • Parents who have no qualifications
  • The mother has a mental health problem
  • One parent has a long-standing illness or disability
  • Unable to afford basics, including food and clothes.

Government Lies

In fact these criteria boil down to one thing: poverty. And the ESRC have come right out and stated that the government have basically made up their own minds about what it all means. They said “In the term ‘troubled families’ it deliberately conflates families experiencing multiple disadvantage and families that cause trouble.” The definition that the government are using does not mention child truancy, criminal records, ASBOs, police call outs, drug abuse, or any of the other things that they claim to be addressing.

It is quite likely that none of these conditions are under the control of the family themselves, and yet under government plans they can be penalised for it. Even worse than that, though, is the presence of illness, disability and mental health on that list. These are definitely not under the control of the people involved, but it is clear from what Eric Pickles told The Independent that the government do blame these people. Pickles said that these families must end an “it’s not my fault” culture of excuses and must stop avoiding taking responsibility for their own lives. He said that there would be “less understanding” and a tougher approach.

Victim Blaming

This is blaming the victim, plain and simple. It fits right in with the Bio-Psychosocial model of disability that the government have adopted after decades of being advised by insurance company UNUM. The model basically says that disability is all in the mind of the disabled person and they only need to adopt a better attitude to overcome barriers to work and other activities. This is the model that has seen so many people judged fit for work in their Work Capability Assessment by Atos, and now we see it being used to clamp down on poor people who the Tories find distasteful. Instead of helping them, which costs money, they are punishing them because they don’t fit their Victorian ideal of “deserving poor”.

 

120,000 troubled families could be legally banned from spending benefits on alcohol and tobacco [Telegraph]

Problem families told – ‘Stop blaming others’ [The Independent]

Councils back troubled families scheme [BBC News]

No alcohol or tobacco

“No alcohol or tobacco”

That’s what you get printed on vouchers for emergency food supplies  from Co-op and Tesco given out by a charity where I live. And now, it seems, it could apply to all benefits paid to “120,000 problem families” if Iain Duncan Smith has his way. According to The Telegraph:

Iain Duncan Smith has asked his officials to see if so-called ‘problem’ families should receive their welfare payments on smart cards, rather than in cash.

The cards would only be able to pay for “priority” items such as food, housing, clothing, education and health care.

The Work and Pensions secretary wants to stop parents who are alcoholics or who are on drugs from using welfare payments to fuel their addictions.

The team of civil servants in his department have been asked to come up with proposals by the end of this month.

We can find the government’s definition of these 120,000 “problem families” in an article from The Independent back in June:

Under government criteria, a troubled family is one that meets five out of seven criteria: having a low income, no one in the family who is working, poor housing, parents who have no qualifications, where the mother has a mental health problem, one parent has a long-standing illness or disability, and where the family is unable to afford basics, including food and clothes.

There are many problems with this definition but it can be summarised thusly:

“So basically anyone without the good manners to be born healthy, rich and privileged.” – @IamMrJ

The Problems

Leaving aside for a moment the morality of dictating what people can buy, the first problem I can see with this scheme is that it will favour big businesses and supermarkets and leave small local shops and markets by the wayside. There will be costs involved in accepting these payment cards which small shops will be unlikely to be able to afford, as well, I’m sure, as checks to make sure that shops honour the restrictions . Street markets are usually cash only which would bar people from getting cheap local fresh fruit and vegetables too.

The second problem is related; because of barriers to accepting the smart cards or to restrictions on what can be purchased people will be barred from shopping around for cheaper food and some will be prevented from purchasing specialist items that are required for their health but are not prescribed or considered by government to be necessary.

The third problem, and possibly the biggest problem I see is that sick or disabled people often have no choice in where they shop. The limited ability to travel or to carry things can mean that the nearest shop is the only one they can use. If small shops are not able to accept these cards then there may be no other source of food open to these people.

https://twitter.com/Spoonydoc/status/257067504952803328

Many sick or disabled people order their shopping over the internet; in fact this is often a requirement since care plans have written internet shopping in so as to cut costs of providing carers for shopping trips. This will probably be less of a problem since supermarkets will accept cards but the question remains as to whether or not they will accept them over the internet.

Breaking Addiction

If the idea of this scheme is as reported, to stop feeding addiction, then it will be pointless anyway. Addiction is powerful and removing funds doesn’t mean that people won’t be addicted any more. If someone is dependant on nicotine or alcohol then providing benefits on a restricted smart card will not prevent them from obtaining these things if they have to. It will lead to a black market – to bartering of valuable items for cigarettes and alcohol, or to selling of benefit funds for much less than the real value resulting in less money for the benefit recipient. It could well lead to theft to feed the addiction. It will certainly drive some into prostitution. Drug dependency drives people to desperate measures and they won’t always be rational.

Pleasure and Entertainment

Finally we must ask why society deems it acceptable to tell those who are least fortunate that they must not have any pleasures or enjoyment. It seems that those who must rely on benefits are resented and even envied for what they have. Some is illogical; for example Motability cars are not a luxury, they are required for people who cannot walk to get to medical appointments or to go shopping and the cars are leased not given. Internet connections may be the only way that some people can shop, communicate, pay bills, claim benefits or get support and yet some people still think that an internet connection is a luxury that those on benefits should not have. People who have TVs and perhaps TV subscriptions are resented, but for those who are forced to stay in the home by illness or have no funds to go out it may be the only thing to occupy their time. Should these people be forced to sit and stare at the wall for the rest of their lives? We seem to have broken the concept of national insurance. When a person who has worked and paid their dues becomes unemployed or unable to work and receives benefits they are resented for claiming benefits that they have been paying for while working. Must they too give up all pleasure in their lives? We can be certain that restrictions along these lines will exacerbate or even cause mental health problems.

The government hasn’t addressed the reasons for smoking and drinking either, and it’s not just about addiction. Smoking is an appetite suppressant  When food is expensive and income is so low parents often buy food for their children while smoking to mitigate their own hunger pangs. Alcohol is a pain killer and a sedative; like it or not for some people despite all of our medical advances alcohol may be the only way that they can have a few pain-free hours or relax enough to go to sleep.

Nanny State

Others have said this better than me:

https://twitter.com/DickMandrake/status/257065327022718976

https://twitter.com/DocHackenbush/status/257064611390562304

https://twitter.com/DocHackenbush/status/257065034595827712

 

I shall end with this. Another extremely worrying element of this is what the cards would pay for:

“education and health care”

Now why would we need to pay for those?

 

120,000 troubled families could be legally banned from spending benefits on alcohol and tobacco [Telegraph]

Problem families told – ‘Stop blaming others’ [The Independent]

My Question Time experience

BBCQT Panel Screenshot

Last night I was in the audience for BBC Question Time. I follow it every week on TV and join in the argument on Twitter.  I thought it would be interesting for people to know how it actually works so here is my experience.

The Application Form

Two weeks ago after watching Question Time on TV I saw that there would be a recording in Birmingham soon. Birmingham is a one hour drive from here and just about within the range that I can manage without getting too sick so I visited the website to apply to be in the audience. I have actually started to fill in the application form before but I did not complete it because it contained questions that I just could not come up with decent answers to and that nearly happened this time.

The form starts with the expected details of name, address and phone numbers. It also asks age, occupation, ethnic group and whether or not you have any disabilities – I assume that these details are required in order to ensure diversity in the audience. It asks the applicant to cite two issues in the news recently that you might want to ask questions about were you to be on the programme, which I suppose proves that you are engaged with the news and would take part in the debate, not just stay silent. The unexpected part for me is the questions about who you would vote for and any party membership, and if you support that party leader or not. More on this in a moment. The question that nearly prevented me from applying was “What is your opinion of the situation in Afghanistan?” because it is complex and I am conflicted on the issue. I turned to Twitter, however, and after a helpful conversation I managed to tweet an opinion so I copied that into the form and sent it off.

The Phone Call

I heard nothing more for a couple of weeks but then yesterday morning I recieved a phone call from the Audience Producer for the programme, Alison. She asked me if I would be able to attend the recording that evening and of course I agreed. She told me who the panel would be (Grant Shapps MP, Caroline Flint MP, Simon Hughes MP, poet Benjamin Zephaniah and columnist Cristina Odone) and then wanted to know what question I would ask if I got the chance. She wanted me to come up with two; one to be sent in by email immediately and one to be written out on a card on arrival, preferably after hearing the day’s news. I said that my first question would be something related to David Cameron’s conference speech on the previous day where he had said of his son “Today, more people would see the boy and not the wheelchair” while I believed that today most people would see a scrounger and not a person. I couldn’t phrase the question there and then but Alison was happy with the concept and asked me to email it in after our phone call.

My second question she wasn’t quite so happy with. I told her that I wanted to ask about the investigation that is being launched into a supposed left-wing bias of BBC news reporting as I believe there is a right-wing bias. She didn’t completely object to the question, but she immediately defended the BBC. She said of Question Time: “I know who goes into the audience, I know how left wing or right wing it is.” It seems that the audience is selected specifically to represent a range of views across the political spectrum, hence the questions about political affiliation and views on Afghanistan. To be fair to her, I think that she probably does ensure a quite balanced audience but my impression of BBC news and current affairs is that the balance of panellists and experts interviewed are generally biased towards the right-wing even if the audience of Question Time are not. A bigger problem to me than the bias in selection of people who appear on the BBC is their choice of what stories to cover or not to cover, and the links between people like Lord Patten and the Conservative Party such as his £400,000 donation as well as links to private healthcare firms alongside the complete absence of reporting on the outsourcing / privatisation of most of the NHS.

Moving on, Alison next wanted to speak to my wife since she would be accompanying me. My wife didn’t particularly want to be in the audience but would have to go with me as my carer and to push my wheelchair but despite me pointing this out she wanted to speak to her anyway to ask the same questions that she had asked me.

The question that she suggested was about the privatisation of The Blood Service and the fact that many blood donors will not donate to a private blood service. To both of our surprise this question was vetoed because the story has not appeared in mainstream news, only on blogs and social networks. While I can see the reasons for wanting stories that everyone in the audience and panel have heard about, this does go some way to explaining why some topics never come up on Question Time or other debate shows. Unable to think of anything else, my wife said that she would email a question in later.

After the phone call ended I realised that my wife really wanted to go to her previously planned event that evening and so I looked for someone else to accompany me instead. (I couldn’t go alone as I can’t self-propel my wheelchair.) In the end I phoned my mum who it turned out was actually quite excited about being in the audience and so I called Alison back and asked her to change the details and call my mum to ask her questions.

The Event Itself

I drove my mum and I up to Birmingham. We arrived an hour earlier than we were supposed to as we both had to plan around meals, medication and insulin injections. We were too early to go in to the Question Time waiting area so we sat in the bar for a while. (This was in the MAC, Midlands Arts Centre.) When we walked over to the waiting area just after six the queue was already out the door! We joined the back of the queue and I spent a while trying to stop my mum from pushing my wheelchair so close to the person in front that I was kicking them. (They were friendly and laughed about it.) We got to the security staff with the metal detector but were just waved through. (Note to self: hide any contraband in my wheelchair.) After a guard looked in our bags we gave our names at the desk and were given wristbands to show we were audience members and question cards to write our second question out on. The notes asked that our questions be short, twenty to thirty words, and provocative. We sat in a fairly crowded cafe area and wrote out our questions. (In my case, dictated the question.)

https://twitter.com/DIMBLEBOT/status/256456650939039744

A few minutes later David Dimbleby appeared in the room and gave us a short talk about how the recording would work. He explained that he wanted a lively debate, and he wanted the audience to join in, argue back and debate with each other as well as the panel. He told us that the questions would be selected before the recording and the people who would ask the questions would be told and given a copy of their question to read out. After that is was about another twenty minutes before we actually went into the area where the recording would take place. Being in a wheelchair I was taken through separately and placed at the front since the rest of the seats involved steps. I was slightly taken aback on the way through the door as one of the crew darted forward waving scissors at my wrist to cut off the wristband.

https://twitter.com/latentexistence/status/256459859409641473

Before the recording took place we had a warm-up debate. Since the panel were not there yet the floor manager invited five volunteers down from the audience to form a panel. We debated about obesity and diabetes while the crew fitted microphones, adjusted cameras and checked seating positions did not block anything. The debate was interrupted a few times as various changes were made. It was clear that the floor manager did not intend the debate to be serious, interrupting with jokes including a running gag about national service and points given out at random to the panel however the audience and some panel members had quite a serious and interesting debate anyway and I made a couple of points myself.

Towards the end of this debate the Audience Producer came in with the questions which had been selected by Dimbleby. She stood at the front and announced each name, asking them to stand so that the crew could find them. They were then taken outside for a couple of minutes to be given their question cards while we continued our debate a little longer.

The Recording

At this point Dimbleby made his appearance. He stood at the front for a couple of minutes and chatted with the audience. Then he called in and introduced us to each member of the panel in turn. Dimbleby called on the audience to applaud points they agreed with, and for “Tories to support Tories, LibDems to support…” before being cut off by a shout of “Tories!” from the woman behind me. He explained that we were a varied audience and asked any UKIP members to raise their hands just to prove they were there. (There were two.)

The first question actually took place before the recording started and we spent a few minutes on that. Then the recording started properly and the programme was, surprisingly, exactly as you see it on the TV. The whole sixty minutes is recorded in one go and apart from selection of the camera angle is unedited. We spent a long time on a discussion of housing benefit and welfare and I spent most of that segment with my hand up to ask a question but sadly Dimbleby never picked me. He did seem to be directing the crew to position microphones near the people picked to speak through winks and nods which was a little bizarre.

https://twitter.com/latentexistence/status/256499422177943552

When the programme finished Dimbleby asked us to remain seated for a minute while the recording was checked in case it had failed and any part needed to be rerecorded however the floor manager directed me to leave ahead of everyone else so that I didn’t get trampled. We headed over to the bar to get me a coffee and stretch and then I drove us home.

I arrived back home just after eleven and I watched the rest of the show as it was broadcast while trying to answer the thirty-five twitter mentions from people who had seen me on TV!

https://twitter.com/latentexistence/status/256517949509206016

https://twitter.com/latentexistence/status/256518721680592896

And that was my Question Time experience.

Watch Question Time – Birmingham 11/10/2012 [iPlayer]