Wednesday, 1 May 2013

#BADD2013 When Demonisation Makes Sense

If we look at the politics surrounding disability in the UK over the past couple of months, then some of the decision-making seems disturbingly irrational, or worse, disturbingly rational. 

The Bedroom Tax stands as one of the most openly unpopular measures adopted by the Coalition, people can understand that demanding families move to smaller accommodation when that smaller accommodation simply doesn’t exist is not simply unfair but outright wrongheaded. And the unpopularity of the Bedroom Tax is not simply a theoretical consideration, the Poll Tax caused rioting in the streets and destroyed a previous Tory government. In that situation, and with growing media focus on the Bedroom Tax,  it was politically important to dress up it up in as much goodwill as possible, yet the Department of Work and Pensions went all the way to the Supreme Court, refusing only at the last hurdle of letting the case go to trial, to try and force two children with very different disabilities to share a bedroom; and while they may finally have backed away from being seen to bully disabled children over a bedroom, they did not back away from insisting that if an adult couple could not share a bedroom due to disability, then they would be considered to be under-occupying.

Equally the last few weeks have seen Iain Duncan Smith, his junior ministers, and the Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps all laying into disabled people in the tabloids, the broadsheets and on TV with claims that ‘a million of them could work’ (IDS), that ‘they get better’ (Esther McVey, Minister Against Disabled People), and that the Work Capability Assessment has scared hundreds of thousands of scroungers away from claiming Employment and Support Allowance (Shapps). The political need to demonise disabled benefit claimants has passed, the Welfare Reform Act is law, the slashing of disability benefits is a fait accompli, there is no more ground to be gained in Parliament, but the demonization continues on. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Tory Central Office thinks there is something to be gained for the local council by-elections happening tomorrow, and that they make that gain not by any specific political aim, but simply by demonising us.

And isn’t that an unpleasant fact to face, that as disabled people we are now so unpopular that simply attacking us may incline people to vote in a specific way.

[Photo: Computer generated image of a small child in a wheelchair under the legend 'Mr Duncan Smith says I Caused the Financial Meltdown']

(One of my two posts for #BADD2013, the other is here)

#BADD2013 Behind the Mask

It’s Blogging Against Disablism Day 2013, and that’s driving my thoughts to where we stand, and how society views us.

Ten years ago things were looking if not good then at least hopeful, society was starting to think about our position and our right to be equals, rights increasingly recognised in law. Today, things aren't even hopeful. The language of politics is turning against disabled people not just in Britain, but throughout much of the English-speaking world. Where we were shifting from ‘the disabled’ to ‘disabled people’ (or ‘persons with disabilities’ in the US), we are now increasingly portrayed as ‘skivers’, ‘layabouts’ and outright frauds. Disability hate crime is up, disability benefits have been slashed, and disabled peers have just narrowly won a battle to prevent the Coalition removing the General Equality Duty of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, its legal mandate to try and make us a more equal society. Not so very many years ago I was able to get the Minister for Disabled People to intervene on my behalf when the Department of Work and Pensions was refusing to acknowledge my disability, now we increasingly talk about ‘the Minister Against Disabled People’, while even more senior ministers, such as her boss Iain Duncan Smith, a man who once hoped to be Prime Minister, rant about how there are a million of us who could work if we really wanted to.

In the US, there are similar attempts to portray disabled people as benefit scroungers, while Congress refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – that’s right, the country that prides itself on being the ‘Home of the Free’ refused to ratify a treaty enshrining disabled people’s right to equality. In Europe and elsewhere in the world it is more difficult to keep track of disability rights across the language barriers, but there are disturbing stories out of Greece of hospital staff having to raid their own supplies in order to provide back-door medical care to those cast adrift by the savage austerity cuts demanded as part of their country’s financial bail-out.

We can talk about insurers and disability denial mills, and about how their twisted seed of hate, that we were too lazy to get better, fell on fertile ground with the institutionally disablist Department of Work and Pensions, we can talk about ministers who would rather target disabled people than a more powerful lobby group such as pensioners, or, god forbid, the bankers who fund their personal offices and their party coffers, we can even whisper about the likely impact of certain religious positions amongst those who write policy, but all that may be missing the point. To deny a disability insurance claim, to see disabled people as inherently lazy, to be willing to take advantage of disabled people’s status as a minority with little political power, to view disabled people as paying a penance for past sins, and to take these vicious lies as true and label disabled people as scroungers when prompted by tabloid headlines, all of these things require that you first hold disabled people in contempt.

Have we slipped backwards, or has the mask of progress simply slipped aside, to show us the disablist contempt still lurking within society?

[Photo: Nazi pro-Eugenics poster of a disabled man being supported in a twisted position on a chair by an attendant with a hand on his shoulder. To their side a legend in German states: '60 000 RM kostet dieser Erbkranke die Volksgemeinschaft auf Lebenszeit. Volksgenosse das ist auch dein Geld. Lesen Sie Neues Volk, die Monatshefte des Rassenpolitischen Amtes der NSDAP.' Which translates as 'This hereditarily disabled man will cost the community 60,000 Reichsmarks in his lifetime. Citizens, this is your money. Read 'New Race' , the monthly of the Racial Policy Office of the NSDAP.']

(One of my two posts for #BADD2013, the other is here)