Tag Archives: ablism

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:

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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.
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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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A week in the life of ablism

Ablism’s been front and centre this week for me. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing when I saw that a Councillor in Cornwall, Colin Brewer, had said that disabled children should be “put down”. The comment was actually made in 2011. That he tried to defend himself by saying he was in a bad mood, is a former salesman and hoped to provoke a debate did nothing to help his case. He’s since resigned but I still want to say a few things about this.

Let’s not muck about here. The extermination of disabled people is not funny. It’s not a subject for flippancy. And it has been attempted before. The Nazis’ killed approximately 275,000 disabled people in the Holocaust and sterilised 375,000 more. Disabled people were among the Nazis first victims, despised by those intent on breeding a perfect race. It’s probably fair to say they were also easy targets. I don’t want to hear “oh, well, yes, but they were Nazis”. The Nazis held power because they had the support of ordinary people.

Disabled people have been derided and victimised throughout human history and forced sterilisation of disabled women and girls still happens all over the world today, despite the UN having concluded that it’s a breach of human rights and despite there being long term contraception alternatives for girls and women who are at risk by reason of their disability. Even if it’s in the best interests of the woman not to get pregnant, that’s not necessarily a permanent state. Take a 16 year old with severe learning disabilities, for example. It may be true that she’d be unable to care for a baby but that doesn’t justify sterilisation over all alternatives. Also, can we guarantee that, over the course of the next 25 years or so we won’t unlock more about the human mind? I know next to nothing about learning disabilities and they can have various causes but what if we discovered something which lessened her disability? One argument is that men will take advantage of such girls and women. That’s men’s problem and falls in the same category as blaming women for rape as far as I’m concerned. If abuse is a risk the proper response is to prevent the abuse not abuse the woman’s human rights. Practically speaking, I can’t see the justification for not using long term contraception as required. We have implants. Use them.

A (not completely unrelated) digression: a few years ago I met a nurse who works on sexual health with homeless people and addicts. Many have mental health problems. In February 2010, she told me about a charity’s plan to offer cash in return for agreeing to be sterilised. It made the papers here a few months later. Obviously, the first point is addiction is categorically not a permanent thing (or at least continuing to be controlled by addiction isn’t). Imagine being a recovered addict, falling in love and having to explain you sold your ability to have children for the price of a few fixes. As far as I’m concerned asking addicts to sell their ability to have children is just a more sneaky way of achieving the same end as forced sterilisation. Even among those with no other disability, many addicts aren’t incapable of ever consenting but are so impaired by their addiction that they may well be unable to give genuine consent at the time it is sought. And, of course, the bribe takes advantage of the need for cash to feed the person’s addiction. The nurse I met was appalled at the plan, feeling long term contraception is appropriate for some homeless women and addicts but that education on sexual health is also a priority. She was also concerned that condoms would be used even less than her experience suggested they already were among these vulnerable groups and that a rise in std’s could be the result.

And as for killing disabled people? At the moment there is an ongoing debate over abortion of disabled babies. A parliamentary enquiry is looking at the lawfulness of carrying out abortions between 24 and 40 weeks where the baby will be born disabled. I’ll go on record here as saying I’m pro-choice but do find it disturbing that we have so many abortions in the UK. In my opinion abortion on disabled babies up to 40 weeks isn’t abortion. We set limits on abortions for a reason: foetal development. After 24 weeks the test should be the same as for babies after birth. In a very small number of cases, where the baby is terminally ill and will be put through awful pain or other severe symptoms and death will surely follow, euthanasia may be in the best interests of the baby but those cases will be a minority.  There’s evidence that women are encouraged to have abortions when tests indicate that the baby is likely to be disabled and around 500 abortions a year are performed solely because the baby will be born with Downs Syndrome. Disabled people have been vocal in their anger at this and rightly so. If we don’t draw a firm line in the sand, where will it stop? The message the Government and medical profession send to able bodied people about disability with the existing law is dangerous.

I’ve been surprised to find the only coverage of this enquiry (which only began in February) has been in the Mail, the Telegraph and pro-life websites. This shouldn’t be an anti-abortion issue. It should be an anti-ablism issue. Maybe other media sources are on the fence, not wanting to walk the tightrope between pro-life/pro-choice and ablism. Maybe they’ve just been too busy with Eastleigh, the pope, horsemeat and the two Oscars to make time for it. I wouldn’t normally quote a pro-life article because there may be accusations of bias but I have little choice if I want to talk about the enquiry at all. They reported that less than a fortnight ago disability activists and parents of disabled children were among those who gave evidence to an enquiry into abortions of disabled babies. They said there was little support or information available for families who wanted to keep their babies, as opposed to having them aborted. “Second, there was a strong presumption from doctors that parents with disabled children would choose to have them aborted. Third, there was a huge amount of subtle or direct pressure placed on parents who decided not to abort. They were repeatedly asked to reconsider their decisions and treated like pariahs – in short they were discriminated against.” 

Hopefully both the law and practice will end up being changed. In the meantime, no Mr Brewer. There never could be an excuse for what you said but thank you for eventually acknowledging that you were in the wrong.