Paying the price for being made scapegoats.

Today two teenage boys have pleaded guilty of killing blind 85 year old Paula Castle and this has been widely reported in the press. This is such a sad story but I feel it lifts a lid on an underlying issue with our society at the minute. These two young boys felt nothing as they violently attacked this elderly person, who was obviously very frail and disabled, and even repeated their crime on the day that Mrs. Castle passed away, this time against 75 year old Rose Mohamed. But why is it that there are young people out there who have so little consideration for those who are weak and vulnerable? Many people, especially in the press who are so outraged by this kind of crime, will say it shows that society is falling apart and that we need to crack down on these types of criminals. While I do agree that tough sentencing is required for this kind of crime, I think it is vital to place some of the blame at the feet of some sections of the press who have complied with the current government’s campaign to make scapegoats out those members of our society who need assistance and support.

As a disabled person I have also been a target for young people who saw me as a soft touch. My wife and I were targeted by a group of youths when I lived in West London, which went on for some years, escalating in severity during this time and ending with me having to flee my home in fear of my life after a threat to burn my flat down. The police, while being supportive, insisted they could do nothing until something actually happened, but not wanting to wait until the flames licked around my tyres or the knife stuck out of my or my wife’s ribs, I felt that running away was the best course of action. So I gave up my fully adapted two bed flat that had been my home for years, and the friends I had in the area, and hid in a one bed un-adapted flat in my wife’s home town of Camden. It took us years to rebuild our lives, but at least we both got away alive. We had to live apart for two years after we were married as neither of our flats were suitable for us to live together in, but that is another story I feel.

Throughout this ordeal I was told by my youthful tormentors that it was “all right for me as I got loads of benefits off the state”, that I was “a drain on society” and that “people like me should be put down”. Now where would these young people get these attitudes from? Well obviously their parents, but they got them from the media, as did their charming kids. For too long now the old and disabled have been portrayed as an expense that our country can no longer afford, and that these groups get stuff that everyone else doesn’t get, and for free. If you are a poor unemployed teenager it is easy to start resenting those who society seems to be upset about due to the cost of having them as members. So the old and disabled become valid targets.

Once peer pressure alone would have stopped a teen mugging someone who was 85. I know when I was in my early teens Punk was the big thing, and while we all sauntered around in our bondage trousers with our spikey hair and our safety pins we would never have dreamed of mugging some one elderly or disabled. Not only would it have occurred to us, but even if it did our mates would have kicked the poo out of us if we dared to suggested it. But that was because even though we wanted to shock our elders and betters we still considered them as vaild members of society. We looked at those in power as the ones to blame for our problems, not the old and disabled. However much we were hated by the press and public we still had respect for our elders, even though it might not have shown.

But if you continuously hold those who are least able to defend themselves up as part of the reason why our economy is so bad, as a cost we cannot afford and as people who would be better off dead then you end up in the position we are in now. With hate crime against the disabled and elderly going up horrendously, and an attitude of jealousy and distrust becoming more and more pervasive in our society. While this is a truly tragic case, and the boys who did this crime must be punished, I do hope the press takes a moment to reflect on how their reporting and the language they use may when they discuss groups like the elderly and disabled may have played a part in creating a world where this kind of crime happens.

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Wedding Blues

So, Prince William and Kate Middleton are getting married eh? The country goes Hooray. As Philip Scofield said today on This Morning, “Everybody loves good news”. But then isn’t that part of what the Royal family is there for in the modern UK? To take our eyes off times of trouble. Timed brilliantly to coincide with the start of the cuts coming into effect, we all now have something to become obsessed about. Already the media has gone into a frenzy, so by the the time the big day comes round they’ll be rabid. They’ll be much less time and focus on how our society is changing as this government slashes and burns everything we have spent so long building up. Who cares about student fees, look at her dress. Who cares about the widening gap between rich and poor, aren’t they a lovely couple?

Time and time again during the last Labour government there were stories in the press about the lengths gone to to hide bad news on days where really big events filled our media. The Tories made a big deal about this, as did the media… after the event. It is a mechanism that has been used through out the history of this country by those who rule. I want to make sure that I voice the fact that I see this as just as cynical. I am not a Royalist, not by a long shot. I even turned down the chance to go a to private dinner with the Queen and members of her family back in my TV star days, as I was not prepared to conform to Royal protocols. Whatever my personal views on having a monarchy, that is not what this blog is about. It is how much the people who are in control of our society work together to shape how we see that society.

I will use the example of disability as it something I know about personally. When I hit adulthood, I had just started using a wheelchair. Before that had a limp, and the world was my oyster. I had ten offers of great jobs, and could see my life going in the same direction as all of my school friends. Once in the chair, all those jobs offers disappeared and my future became quite different. I was told I would now be “unemployable” by social workers and others trained to assist me through this difficult time. And so I was farmed of onto benefits. But no one called my a scrounger and a drain on society. The general consensus was that at that time, was with such high unemployment (it was in the UK of the 80’s) how could anyone with a disability find full time employment? How could a boss be expected to employ someone with health issues over an able bodied person? However much these attitudes might offend, they are kind of true. Especially at times of high unemployment.

I went forth and made a life for myself with out any help from anyone, except my family. Everything went quite well until my recent accident. While I was too ill to work, and while I recovered from all that fun surgery, I realised that society had started to change. It began with the DDA. Anyone who knows about the DDA, and the Equality Act that replaced it, agrees it is pretty toothless law. Not only is discrimination an act against the person and not the state, which means anyone who feels they have been discriminated against has to take out a private prosecution at their own cost, but with the word “reasonable” in there it also makes it much harder to prove unfair treatment. But this change in disabled people’s rights did have one real effect. It started the ball rolling on a move to making society see disabled people as a group who take and don’t give. I personally believe that any rights we were given were due to a feeling that disabled people were equal, but more with the long view to start cutting how much we “cost”. OK I am a bit of a conspiracy nut, but how things have shaped up since makes me think I was right.

From there it was a small step to “Once we had rights, surely we should have responsibilities? So why should society pay us anything or give us any help?” Just look at the way the Blue Badge is seen. When I first got a car no one had ever heard of someone using one fraudulently or stealing one. Now I have to padlock mine to my car, after having four stolen in just a few months. Why did this happen? Because society was slowly guided, by the media and government, to ask why should those cripples get something I can’t? No more understanding of why disabled parking exists, and just a kind of envy of us and what we get crept in it’s place. Once this attitude had taken hold, we then start to hear of all the fraud within the “disability benefits” system. Now anyone who has undergone the process of applying for any of these benefits know how hard they are to get. So getting them via fraud is bloody hard, and very rare. Let’s not even mention the millions that go unclaimed each year by people either too afraid to claim , too proud or who just don’t know they are entitled. So how do we fight this “terrible fraud”? Cut the benefits for all, and make it almost impossible to claim anything. Very much a very large sledge hammer to crack a very small nut. But the majority of the public believe it is the right thing to do.

Now I wish anyone who is getting married well. It was the best thing I ever did and I wake up everyday glad that I found the right one. I just can’t shake this feeling that this announcement is very well timed. I won’t even ask who the bloody hell is going to be paying for it all? I mean let’s face it, at a time of growing means testing I feel that this family is one of the few who can afford to pay for the lot.

Right, that’s my topical gripe out of the way. Sorry if it has upset all of you who are overjoyed at the happy news. But then this blog is called “Mik Scarlet Sees Red”.

Addendum:
When I read this through I found myself unsure whether to post it or not. I felt I was being a little unfair to the future King and his future wife. So I sat down and watched some TV. When even the continuity announcers on the BBC mention the engagement in their links, I wonder. I suppose the one thing I can be sure of is that I shall have to take a foreign holiday next year when the wedding is on.

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