A week in the life of ablism, part 2

There was, of course, another incident this week, one which led me to write the little horror post,  The Telltale Mail. I’m not going to link to the original story but it was a complaint about a rise in DLA applications in the run up to the introduction of PIP on 1 April. It was accompanied by this cartoon:


Did it occur to the Mail for one second that a rise in applications could be a result of the enormous effort being made to publicise these toxic “reforms” leading to more people realising they’re entitled to DLA? Under Labour, we often saw government campaigns to increase uptake of benefits and tax credits. Now, ordinary people are spreading the message on disability benefits because we have a government which doesn’t just want to cut benefits but claims people are less disabled than they are, often to a mind boggling degree.

It’s also the case that some disabled people who can afford not to haven’t been claiming DLA: a self-imposed means test. Might those people, fearing the new PIP system and not knowing what life might have in store for them have decided to apply for DLA before it’s too late?

Most likely for people entitled to lifetime or indefinite DLA though, the timing of assessment for PIP is a crucial factor. DLA recipients could make it all the way past the next general election without reassessment. If PIP was really fair, if assessments were really fair, they wouldn’t need to do so but they’re not (if you agree and want the Government to carry out a full impact assessment of how all their “welfare reforms” affect disabled people, please sign the WOW Petition). That’s a big incentive to get DLA now and it’s only what people always do when the clock’s ticking. Legal aid will also be slashed from 1 April. The best thing for potential claimants is to make sure they know that and can get their claims in beforehand, if possible. Looking at the wealthier end of society, people are actively encouraged to use their whole ISA allowance before the tax year ends and if the Mail’s ever done a story criticising property investors for buying more property just before Stamp Duty Land Tax goes up or selling just before Capital Gains Tax goes up, I’d love to see it. For that matter, hell, where’s the Mail’s article criticising people who buy goods in the sales for paying less VAT and failing in their duty to stimulate the economy to the greatest possible degree? In the lexicon of the Mail, those people are the good guys. They’re not scamming the state or gaming the system, which pretty much confirms what we all know. The Mail is a flaming bloody hypocrite.

The cartoon which accompanied the Mail article was shockingly offensive and led disabled people on twitter to argue that these kinds of stories and cartoons may well increase disability hate crimes. I agree. In autumn 2012 figures were published showing that disability hate crimes recorded by police forces during 2011 had increased nearly 25% 1,877. Coming hot on the heels of the most successful Paralympics ever, this got a fair few column inches but this figure didn’t tell the whole story.  The Crime Survey for England and Wales suggested the number of victims of disability hate crime in the year to the Spring of 2011 was 65,000. Just 3% of disability hate crimes were recorded by the police. Either disabled people don’t report crimes at all or we may be seeing attitudes similar to those to victims of sexual assault.

Of course, the Mail aren’t the only paper attacking disabled people, far from it. In less than a decade there’s been a sharp shift in the number of stories, their purpose and the language used in them. Yes. Stories. Let’s not use the word article. There are fully fledged campaigns to convince people up to 75% of people on disability benefits are “skiving”. The proportion of fraudulent DLA claims actually stands at 0.4%.

Despite the Paralympics, government rhetoric has been consistently negative since May 2010. It’s convenient for the Government to vilify disabled people and by working so hard to convince the public disabled people are “milking the state”, they’re giving their blessing to hate crimes, in my opinion. That’s not an unfamiliar strategy and we know it works. Look at how effective xenophobic and racist rhetoric can be. It gives tacit approval to the nastiest side of people’s natures. People aren’t necessarily being indoctrinated (remember what I said about the Nazis in Part 1?) by the Government and media. It could just as easily be the case that they’re pandering to a public which is inclined to ablism. I don’t know which is worse but at the very least, the Government and the media are encouraging a societal norm which is completely wrong.

Incitement of hatred needs to stop. It’s intolerable for the Government to target disabled people (and other minority groups) but they’re not the only offenders. The Government’s proposals on implementation of Leveson include the right to bring third party complaints and it can’t come quickly enough for disabled people. Freedom of speech matters but so does the right for a class of people not to be victimised because a hateful newspaper says they are scum. As this letter from charities and other interested parties calling for this change noted, the situation is getting worse. It all just needs to stop.

Added 6 March
I’ve just seen the tweet copied below. I’ve blacked out his name even though what he says disgusts me.

A fair caption might have been “cashpoint not wheelchair accessible”. I’ve scrolled through his timeline. Nearly every single tweet is about sport (of them, mostly football) but he broke that trend with this tweet. I didn’t see a single other ablist or anti-benefits tweet over the period I looked at. Is this tweet indicative what our country has become? Mistrustful, misinformed (medically speaking, of course it’s absurd to suggest nobody in a wheelchair is capable of standing), resentful, divisive, loudly and proudly condemning others. His tweet would be potentially libelous if the man in the photo could be identified from it but the Government and media encourage the presumption of guilt. Is it unfair to expect better of someone whose tweets don’t suggest a great interest in politics than we see from politicians and the media? It’s just one tweet but it’s a symbol of what happens when powerful people decide to stigmatise a group of other people.


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