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.
Tentacles of doom: Embarrassed to be me
The Guardian: Ed Miliband starts fightback after week of criticism
Diary of a benefit scrounger: Ed Miliband and the “Cheats” and “Shirkers”