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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Xmas Spirit?

Recently I have found myself torn about what to write about. Every time I felt ready to put finger to keypad, another issue caught my attention. Then I realised that they were all connected.

The first big issue to drive me to my blog page was the recent changes in the Motability scheme. Motability is the charity that was set up to allow disabled people to afford to be able drive themselves around. It replaced the old blue three wheeled Noddy car, that not only meant that disabled people had to go everywhere alone as it was a one seater but also that they took their lives in their hands as it was a total death trap. Anyone who saw Jeremy Clarkson drive round Sheffield in a three wheeler will have seen why. Originally it only offered a few cars, but it grew to allow disabled people to use their Mobility component of their Disability Living Allowance to fund a huge number of vehicles, along with a deposit for the more expensive models. Another reason why so many disabled people had to use the Hire Car Scheme from Motability is because getting insurance when you are disabled is very difficult and expensive, but insurance is included with the scheme. This because when you get a car under this scheme you don’t own it, you lease it. So the insurance is a fleet insurance, which is nice. Not so nice is that the car is never yours and after three years you return it to Motability, who then sell it on as a second hand car.

Just before I started my search for a new car I recieved a letter from Motability outlining changes to the scheme. From now on fewer cars would be available, with a total deposit limit of £2000 and any other named drivers had to live within five miles of the primary vehicle user. It was explained that this was due to the recent stories in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, where apparent cases of fraud had been discovered. They also complained that Motability allowed disabled people to drive expensive cars. Check out the story to see some of the examples. The one thing they totally ignored was that all cars under Motability scheme owned by Motability, and after the three year lease period are returned for resale. If you add this to the fact that for most cars that they used to offer had a deposit of around £500 right up to £4000, which is non-refundable, and a hire fee £50 per week to Motability. On top of this Motability has negotiated serious discounts on new cars, and in many instances Motability must break even or maybe make a small profit.

Let me demonstrate with a a personal story. Many years ago, when my Mobility Allowance was around £38 per week, I hired a Ford Escort through Motability. I paid £500 deposit and signed over the full £38 per week for a three year period. During the process I recieved some paper work, but it should have been sent to Motability. It was the invoice for the car and it was for under £3000, even though the list price was around £9000. So let’s do the maths. £38 times 52 weeks times 3 years equals £5928. Add my deposit of £500 and we end up with £6428. So for a car that cost Motability £3000 I paid £6428 and gave it back for them to sell on… and they kept any monies received from that sale. Now I don’t mind this situation as I know that I would never been able to get car insurance, seeing as I was a musician and TV presenter with a disability. But it does demonstrate that all this fuss about disabled people getting favourable treatment are just lies. I just wish that Motability had tried to fight the smear campaign from the press instead of just giving in. I do know that I am having real trouble finding a car that is suitable for me now. So thanks The Daily Mail.

Another story that caught my eye is that of David Askew, the disabled man who was bullied to death by local youths up in Manchester. My wife and I were targetted by a group of “youths” when we lived in Hammersmith, West London. In the end it got so bad I had to leave my home, even though I lived under the Housing Association Habinteg who were set up to ensure disabled people could live independently in society and was totally adapted to suit my needs, as no one came to our aid. The police said they could do nothing until we were attacked, but when my wife was seriously beaten up by three masked yobs while I helplessly watched, they could do nothing as we could not positively identify our attackers. My HA were useless and so I gave up my flat and moved into a totally unsuitable place to get away from the threats and violence. It took me three years to find a new flat suitable for me, and this really damaged my health. It is a fact that disabled hate crime has increased in the last few years, and it is partly due to stories like the one in the Daily Mail mentioned above. These lies and half truths have caused many people in society to see disabled people with jealous eyes. We are no longer pitiful, which is great, but are now objects of hate and envy. But this attitude is not just for disabled people. At a time of massive unemployment and poverty, anyone who may need to ask for assistance from the state is now seen as an easy undeserving target.

Strangely I am currently reading Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and have watched both the modern version with Patrick Stewart (Star Trek’s Captain Pickard) and the classic Alistair Simms version on the old google box. This tale of a man with a hardened heart discovering the truth behind the point of life should have resonance with all of society today. We should listen to the three spirits and see the truth about the world we live. Sure there are people out there that break the rules, but most are really in need and we should be happy to help them. And the rich should be even more happy to contribute more to making sure our society is a fair and happy place to live in, not only at Xmas but all year round. Sadly more and more people seem to be touched by the spirit of Humbug at the minute, aided by our press.

So come on every one. We live in a rich society, where some people are so rich that they an afford flats in London that cost over £9 million pounds – yes I saw a recent advert for a flat near me for that much…. a flat? £9 million? they must be mad, you could buy a small county for that much in some parts of the UK! – so we should not listen to our inner Scrooge. Instead we should have an open heart and wish good will to all. In the words of Tiny Tim, one the most famous disabled people in literary history and someone I know I resembled when I was a kid, “God bless us, everyone”. Just think if he was around today the Daily Mail might describe him as a scrounger and accuse his family of being benefits cheats if he got any of the help he was entitled to. And never forget it was stories like The Christmas Carol that slowly led to the Welfare State. The last thing we want to go back to the time the tale was set in, with workhouses and poverty on an unimaginable scale.

Anyway, rant over. Happy Xmas to you all and superb New Year!

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Hate Crime – Cripples Fight Back

So on the same day that it was announced that hate crimes against disabled people has risen from 40 in 2005 to 130 this year, Sir Terry Pratchett fronts his program “Choosing to Die”. Now I think you all know what I think about the assisted suicide debate, but I do wonder why Sir Terry is so obsessed with promoting his belief on the subject. Surely this whole problem is easily solved? Just before he gets to a point where his standard of life is less than he would wish it to be, he could just kill himself? Isn’t that the answer to everyone in this situation? If you let yourself live just a little too long, and you can no longer take your own life… then tough.

You see whether you like it or not, promoting this death as a solution to illness and disability at a time when the government is painting all disabled people as scrounging drains on our ailing economy causes the attitudes that has led to this increase in disabled people facing hate crimes. I know how awful it is when you find yourself being targeted because you are disabled. Back in the early 2000’s I lived in Shepherds Bush, just a stones thrown from the BBC. A group of “Youths” stated using the car park of the block of flats I lived in as a place to hang out. Gradually they began abusing my wife and I but when we stood up to them the whole situation escalated. It started with a physical attack on my wife, and when I came to her aid I was also beaten to the ground. The police didn’t even bother to come. Then we were threatened with a knife, and my wife fended them off with a broom stick. The police arrived but we told that we would be arrested as the broom is an offensive weapon… the knife had disappeared magically. Finally a gang of three of the youths attacked my wife and beat her very badly. They turned up wearing masks and it was obviously a planned attack. We could not describe them to the police, so they could not help us. In the end we had to move, as after this we were told that we were “dead” and that we would wake up one night with petrol being poured through our front door. Nice.

Now this was before the hype around benefit cheating incapacity claimants and death before disability. I know from my day to day life that people’s attitudes have changed for the worse. I mean how many of you have had your blue badge stolen? I’ve had three nicked so far. There is even a website to tell people how to get hold of a dodgy blue badge. Why? Because people no longer see things like incapacity benefit and the blue badge as something that is awarded to people who need and deserve them, and that allocation is fair a just. Now most of the public see awards like these as unfair. Why should these cripples get something I don’t?

So what is the answer? I have no idea. I didn’t vote for this bunch of idiots, and I never will. I also never under estimate the general public, so if they are told to believe something I know they will. Maybe the answer is to strick back and for some hate crime carried out by cripples. Could the answer be for a gang of wheelchair users to go out and beat up some ramblers, or a gang of deafies go postal on an orchestra, or a crack squad of visually impaired hooligans could jump some photographers? Hell’s Cripples… or even disabled terrorist? Disabled Liberation Army anyone? (Get it… DLA… God I’m so witty)

Comedy aside, maybe the answer is for us disabled people to be more proactive. The one thing that makes the fact that my wife and I had our lives ruined by hate crime was how badly I beat up one of the little shits. OK, it didn’t solve anything and meant they only ever harassed us in large groups but the memory of the little git’s face coming apart as I rammed it into a brick wall still makes me smile. One thing for sure, he never tried his luck again. So let’s all take martial arts lessons and next time we find ourselves being targeted by these kind of scum, we kick their bigoted arses and we kick them hard.

OK, this is a serious problem, and my flippant blog doesn’t really help but you either laugh or you cry. If we let them see weakness this kind of bully we always feel the need to pick on us. So come on cripples haters, you just try picking on me, and you’ll find yourself joining us pretty damn quickly!!!

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