If I’m honest the subject of this blog has me shaking with a mixture of anger and sadness that is making it a little hard to know what to type into my keyboard. However, I feel it is so important that I challenge the hypocrisy of the current scapegoating of disabled people that I have to write something. I just apologise if it is a little ranty and rambling. Whatever, here goes…
The last government started the process of changing the mind set of the British public towards disabled people. We went from being valid members of society, who were given certain benefits to offset the way we were disabled by both our medical conditions and the way our environment does not cater for our needs, to work shy scroungers who were defrauding the state of huge sums of money when we should have been out there working no matter how difficult that might be for us, like all the salt of the earth able bodied voters. That or being whisked off to a clinic to be assisted in suicide. The saddest thing was that this change in the way we were talked about worked too. People in the street stopped seeing disabled people as people they should have compassion for and we became some kind of useless waste of space.
Blue Badges are a perfect example. Once they were seen as something given to people who had a medical need for them and were a kind of benefit that was deserved. Now they are seen as an unfair freebie that have become the target of thieves. There is even a website for people wanting to buy stolen Blue Badges, that gives advice on how to gain one illegally.
The new Con-Dem government has really taken the gloves off on disabled people. It seems those of us with disabilities are to be the target for many of the deficit busting savings our new chancellor outlined in the recent budget. Not only is Incapacity Benefit, or Employment Support Allowance as it is to become, in their sights even though we live in a society where the workplace is not accessible to many disabled people so working is out of the reach for many of us, but also Disability Living Allowance is also now under the knife.
Lets just examine those benefits shall we? Incapacity Benefit was where all people with any medical problem was placed under the Thatcherite Tory government to massage the unemployment figures during the last recession. Many disabled people were told that they were “unemployable” due to their disabilities and so this was the benefit for them. Huge numbers of disabled people began a life on benefits. Invalidity Benefit, as it was then called, was slightly more than Unemployment Benefit, mainly due to it being a dumping ground payment, but still wasn’t an amount that meant those claiming it were on easy street.
Disability Living Allowance came into being when Attendance Allowance and Mobility Allowance were combined. These were payments towards the extra costs incurred by disabled and sick people when living day to day. Mobility Allowance, or the mobility component of DLA, is there to pay towards travel costs, and as we still live in a society where our public transport is barely accessible to many disabled people, cabs and specially adapted cars are still the only means of getting around open to many. Many people like me who get the Mobility component, give the entire amount towards paying for our Motability car. (no we do NOT get a free car!) As Motability is one of the largest buyers of cars in this country, cutting this benefit will impact on our struggling car industry. Attendance Allowance, or the care component of DLA, covers other costs. Anything from paying to have someone to accompany a disabled person when going out, to paying for things like gloves that I use when wheeling about are meant to be covered by this benefit. Neither benefit is enough to make any recipient rich, and due to the way entitlement is assessed they are not open to fraud.
But it is not benefits being targeted that most annoy me. It is the fact that disabled people still do not have real equal rights legislation. The Disability Discrimination Act is a toothless piece of law that anyone can get round, as long as they can prove that to bar disabled people from the same treatment as the rest of society is “reasonable”. This wonderful word, included in our equality law only, means that you can pretty much do as you like when it comes to disabled people, as we are the only group who faces discrimination due to the environment. The changes we need for equality are structural changes to the world we live in, they cost money and so during this time of recession is it reasonable to ask struggling businesses to implement a program of expensive works to their premises? Most would claim not, and they would win in court. The other reason why the DDA is a useless law is that all other minority groups, when they face discrimination it is an act against the crown. For disabled people, discrimination is an act against the person and so we have to take out private prosecutions using our own money. This why so few cases have gone to court, and another reason why the changes we need to make the UK a more equal place have been so slow in happening.
Even if the British Isles was a wonderful world of accessibility, the last problem with focusing on the benefits disabled people are entitled to is the recession itself. As the numbers of unemployed are going up, in a repeat of the era of Thatcher, who exactly is going to be rushing to employ all these terrible scrounging cripples? I can’t see many employers rushing to take on someone who not only has no work experience as they been on benefit for years due to a disability, but who also needs them to possibly change their building’s access and change their work practises? Don’t forget that someone with a disability will need to have the fire escape procedures changed to ensure the business complies with Health and Safety and fire regulations. And that’s just one little problem. In a time where millions of able bodied people are searching for work, the idea that disabled people are going find joining the work place any easier than they did in the past is a joke.
So now we are rushing towards a new dawn for disabled people, where we are to all be reassessed for all our benefits, whatever the cost of that procedure is to the tax payer, and some will be expected to battle to get a job in a hostile work environment and thus end up on a different and lower form of benefit, and the rest will be scarred by the fear that this scapegoating of disabled people causes. For all of us, it spells the end of the feelings of pity and sadness that we once caused in the general public, and that we hated, to have them replaced by much worse feelings, deep resentment and mistrust. Personally I think this government should hang their heads in shame. If they were going to give us real equal rights laws then maybe, just maybe these changes could be justified. As it stands they are picking on the members of society that have the least ability to fight and protest. It smacks a little of the early policies of Nazi Germany, and we all know where that led.