Archive for blogging against disablism

Have We Become a Nation of Scrooges?

David Cameron recently called for Britain to return to Christian values.

Well, as a non-believer, I’d prefer not to sign up to the actual religion, but I agree some of the values are very much worth preserving. And for me, especially at this time of year, those values are largely summed up by the story of A Christmas Carol - a traditional family tale which should be well up Cameron’s street, surely.

But is he, and are we, really listening to its message? It’s a very clear message, made plain from early on when Scrooge is approached to give to charity.

“Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

Earlier this year, Ken Clarke’s attempt at prison reform was blocked because the government didn’t want to be ‘soft’ on crime.

“I don’t make merry myself at Christmas [said Scrooge] and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned – they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

The government and the right-wing media are full of attacks on benefit fraudsters, ‘scroungers’, and ‘handouts’. But 96% of calls to the National Benefit Fraud Hotline are malicious or timewasting. Of 254,000 calls to the hotline in 2009/10, only 1.3% resulted in a claimant being sanctioned for fraud. The Guardian has also reported that most cases of ‘fraud’ are actually error.

Meanwhile, ATOS is blithely pronouncing people fit to work on the basis of primitive tests and a brief interview. Not that they can get jobs, because there aren’t enough jobs to go round, and employers frequently discriminate against disabled people either overtly or covertly.

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides – excuse me – I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned.

There was a call recently for better-off pensioners to donate their winter fuel payments to less well-off pensioners. David Cameron’s comment on this was: “I would not want to see any pressure put on people to do something that might not be in their best interests.”

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Ken Clarke said after the riots: ”In my opinion our feral underclass in this country is too big, it has been growing, and now needs to be diminished.”

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility.

“…This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that child poverty will rise by 800,000 by 2020. People with cancer could lose their benefits if they don’t get better fast enough, and disabled children are being targeted too. David Cameron has proposed stripping benefits from families where children regularly play truant.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Do I even have to mention bankers?

Is Scrooge really the role model we want to adopt? If so, let’s stop pretending that we have any respect for the (traditional) values of generosity, benevolence and kindness. And while I don’t believe in ghosts, this image from A Christmas Carol never fails to chill me.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

Christmas Eve is this Saturday. Who’s on for putting on some chains and arranging a midnight visit to Cameron?

Or is it the whole country that needs deScrooging?


Being Vincible

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2011

I’m not disabled: why am I taking part in a Blog Against Disablism day? Two reasons. Firstly, because it affects me. Secondly, because it doesn’t.

First things first: why does disablism affect me if I’m not disabled? There are several answers to that and here are some:

- I push my baby around in a buggy. You know what I’ve noticed? My local train station doesn’t have step-free access from one of its two platforms. I have to bump the buggy down the steps or hope someone will help me carry it. If I used a wheelchair or couldn’t walk down steps for other reasons, I wouldn’t even have those options.

- My friends. I know people who are disabled in all kinds of ways. Wheelchair users, yes, but also people with invisible or less-visible disabilities such as ME, anxiety, depression, back pain, PSTD, cancer, deafness. On top of this, my partner suffers from a problem which has led to difficulties at work due to the amount of sick days he’s had. So I’m aware, for example, of the ways that illness and disability can have an impact not just on getting a job, but on keeping one.

- I am disabled. It just doesn’t count because it’s entirely correctable. My eyesight is so bad that if you took my glasses away I wouldn’t be safe to leave the house. I am lucky to have a correctable disability, but I’m still reliant on something external to me to be able to function.

- And of course, there’s a perfectly good chance that one day I will be non-correctably disabled. One day maybe I’ll get a chronic illness, or have to deal with crippling anxiety or depression or OCD, or have an accident that damages something. Or my partner will, or my parents will. Disability issues are something that will become personal to virtually everyone at some point in their lives, so I want to pay attention now. (Disability activists often use the term ‘temporarily abled’ to make this point.)

Now, I would be very very surprised if there’s anyone in the world who is going to spend their entire lives from cradle to grave being perfectly healthy and able-bodied with perfect mental health, never having to look after anyone, never having to worry about whether a building has steps or not, never having to think about disability at all. From a position of self-interest alone, we should care when disability benefits get cut, when employers find excuses not to employ people because of their disabilities, when there are media stories which assume that if you’re not literally missing a minimum of three limbs then you must be faking.

Second things second: why do disability issues not affect me? Because I’m not disabled. I don’t have to think about disability if I don’t want to. But that’s just luck. I don’t have to think about racism either, if I choose not to. That’s luck too. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t.

I think it’s fair to say that people mostly get interested in the issues that affect them. But in fact, I think getting interested in issues that don’t personally affect me is a really good idea. It’s good for me because it widens my visions of the world and introduces me to new ideas. It’s good for the issue, because there may be specific ways that non-affected people can help to change things. Feminism needs male allies. Anti-racism activism needs people of all colours. Queer groups need straight helpers. Not to take over, not to tell the existing activists Where They’re Going Wrong, but to show that these are all issues that should matter to everyone.

(The part about not taking over is key, though. There are a lot of ways to screw up being an ally – this article says it better than I can. )

Ultimately, whichever way I look at it, disablism is something I should be concerned with. So this is a plea to other people who don’t see themselves as disabled: Let’s not avoid this stuff because we don’t want to think about it. Let’s practise empathy. Let’s join in the fight for what’s right regardless of whether it benefits us personally.

Let’s all be vincible together.