This is not how you should talk about disabled people

Sometimes I just have to comment on really bad reporting of disability. Today it is the turn of Ars Technica, a technology news website that I read every day. The story is about a woman who may have murdered her mother. Nevertheless, her actions don’t negate the harm done by this kind of language:

If it weren’t for daughter Gypsy Blancharde’s posts on Facebook, she would likely be seen as a missing wheelchair-bound cancer patient who survived Hurricane Katrina and who has become a victim of foul play herself.

Instead, the daughter—who can actually walk and was believed to have had leukemia and muscular dystrophy—faces murder charges alleging that she and her secret 26-year-old boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, killed her mother Clauddinnea “Dee Dee.”

Where do I start with this?

This woman is, in fact, someone who used a wheelchair. All the rest seems to be assumptions based on the fact that she was seen walking, that she is not “wheelchair bound”. I am also not “wheelchair bound” and frankly, that is a really offensive term. My wheelchair frees me, it enables me.

Wheelchairs are like glasses. You do not have to need them all the time to genuinely need them some of the time. Many people can walk a few metres or even further but still need to use a wheelchair for much of the time. Attitudes like that in the article are what make people call me a benefit cheat and a scrounger when I get out of my wheelchair to reach shopping on high shelves, or when I walk from car door to car boot to get my electric wheelchair out. The same applies to other mobility aids or other help with disability.

Please, stop talking about disability and disabled people in these horrible terms wrapped in stigma and judgement.

PIP judicial review: Court rules against us but vindicates our case

We lost. The judge ruled that in the end the consultation process for PIP was not unfair.

However that is not the whole story. You see, the judge found that it was the second consultation that made things right. The first consultation, he had some harsher words for. Words such as:

“Unfortunately mind-bogglingly opaque.” (Paragraph 105 part ii)
“At best ambivalent” (Paragraph 105 part vii)
“Convoluted, inherently unclear, ambiguous and confusing.  No construction allows for full coherence.” (Paragraph 106)

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the way the government chose to do things, I think you’ll agree.  The government’s legal team also agreed, and in fact they have accepted that they must share a portion of the costs of this judicial review in the face of evidence that it was indeed justified.

Not only that, but the government made it perfectly clear that they know exactly how much their policies will hurt people but want to do it anyway.

“… [T]his was recognised from the outset.  In developing the PIP assessment we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.  However, we believe that these impacts can be justified as being a logical result of distributing limited resources in a different and more sustainable way…”.
(Paragraph 80)

Let’s see that again:

we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.”

And again:

“genuine need”

So we have the government’s lawyers arguing that the DWP and the government ministers know full well that they are removing vital support from hundreds of thousands of people who have few other options and who will suffer as a result. And they are doing it to save money.

The judge agreed with the DWP that taking money from physically disabled people to allocate to other PIP claimants achieves “substantive equality between physically and non-physically disabled.” I argue that this has reduced the equality of physically disabled people compared to not-yet-disabled people, purely because of budget.

This is Lowest common denominator equality.

This is your government. This is what the society that we live in is prepared to accept.

The court’s findings and what’s next

The judge was persuaded by Dr Bolton’s evidence that the government could have changed their decision had they decided to listen to the overwhelming opposition to the 20m rule in the second consultation, and so it was not unfair. My legal team and I disagree. We still argue that the decision had long since been made and that the secretary of state had a closed mind by this point, and so the second consultation was not at a formative stage.

Although the judgment went against us I feel that the judge’s analysis of the first consultation is vindication for our bringing this case to court. Don’t forget that the second consultation only came about after this case was given permission to proceed and the DWP realised that they could not get away with such a shambles.

I hope that the admission by the government that they know exactly what they are doing will make people wake up to what is happening. Meanwhile, this is not the end. The legal team and I are considering our options to appeal this result.

Press Release from Public Law Solicitors

PIP Consultation Judicial Review Press Release

Read the full judgment

PIP consultation judicial review starts today

Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

Why I am suing the government