Thursday, November 24, 2011

News Flash: Economics Disabled

In my hotel room in London, I turn on the evening news. Another story about the financial crisis that overshadows Europe. A news anchor furrows his brow and asks another hard hitting question regarding disability benefits, the Britons who abuse them, and the austerity measures.

An expert talks about abuse within the system, about how the government needs to ensure that benefits are paid out as necessary but that those who habitually abuse the system need to be strongly encouraged to become 'productive'.

They speak with gravity, as if the whole financial crisis has been caused by those who fake disability, by those who 'use' their disability to reach into taxpayer's pockets and, of course, those with legitimate disabilities who have never contributed and who never will.

Everyone nods.

Focus is taken from the rich and powerful who grew rich and powerful through mismanagement and corruption. It's easier to be angry at those 'below' you than at those 'above'.

This is true 'trickle down' economics. 'Hate' trickles down. 'Prejudice' trickles down. But worst of all, 'Violence' trickles down. And I feel it. I hear it. Especially, when it trickles on me.

I am pushing down a hallway, wheels fighting against thick carpet. A fellow in a suit comes by, asks me, kindly, if I'd like some help, if could he push me. I said, 'No, carpet is tough to push on, but it gives me a good work out.' He smiles back and says, 'Well, it's nice to meet one of you people that's not simply lazy.' I stopped and stared at him and he smiled back, thinking that he'd complimented me. That his remark had risen me up from the 'lazy scum' who don't work. I took offense at his compliment. He walked off, not having been challenged in his belief, but simply determining that I was the exception that proved the rule. It was my first hint that I'd somehow become one of 'those people' ... those people they talk about on television.

I am shopping in Tescos, looking for some candies to take back to the kids. Ruby, who's five, love's the idea that she's eating candy that is from far away. Sadie, who's two, doesn't care where it's from, if it's sweet she likes it. So, I had just picked up some 'sticky toffee pudding cookies' and put them in the bag at the back of my wheelchair, when I noticed that a young couple was watching me. With disgust on their faces. At first I thought it was because people don't like seeing fat people buy cookies, but then, I got the feeling that they had classified me as a 'useless' cripple using benefit money to buy something frivolous. I suddenly wanted to explain about the kids, about the fact that I'm a working man, about the fact that I 'contribute'. But, didn't. It would have played into the idea, once again, that I'm somehow a special kind of cripple.

Bar conversations are iffy at best. But, I'd fallen into conversation with a couple and we were talking about a variety of issues. I illustrated a point I was making by referring to a television commercial that's playing here in England about child abuse. In it a diversity of children are presented, of course, as usual, diversity did not mean disability. Even though children with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than other children, none were represented in the commercial. 'Well, of course, not,' said the young man, 'because you can understand why a parent would want to hit a disabled child.' I was stunned, he continued, 'you raise normal kids, you feed disabled ones.' I said, 'Seriously, you are seriously saying this to me?' I thought maybe he was just trying to wind me up, but a couple seconds more of chat, and it was clear, they'd received the message that disabled people are simply 'useless eaters' - echos of a different time are still chilling.

I know that people with disabilities have been consistently devalued by society, but for the first time I feel like we are also being 'costed'. Suddenly I remember those old math and moral questions - the one's that went like this: if there are three people in a boat, a young woman, a small child and a disabled man, and there is only enough food for two, who would you throw out? Suddenly I realize how close I am to the side of the boat, and how rough the sea.

It's six o'clock.

I can't watch the news anymore. I'm afraid that again, I will learn, that the whole of Europe's banking system is about to collapse because people with disabilities eat candy


Anonymous said...

Just to add Dave, although I am not denying that sadly there is a lot of truth in this, a lot of the feeling within the UK which I guess is media driven, is about our benefit system being set up so that people can exploit it too easily, which includes people PRETENDING to be disabled/have health problems rather than people who genuinely have disabilities. For example, people saying they have a bad back and cant work, when actually there is nothing wrong with them. I don't really have much way of knowing how much truth there is in this, apart from having spoken to people from certain areas where there is a very strong benefit culture, and they have no expectation that they would work at all (none of these people being people with disabilities) so I do think that there is a problem with attitude towards work for some people. Also, I have heard of people thinking that a disability automatically means they are unable to work e.g. "can you believe they are trying to make him look for a job, he has epilepsy!" I know that there is also a barrier for people with disabilities who are able to work, and want to work, getting a job - for example the majority of employers thinking that it is impossible for someone with a visual impairment to use a computer, rather than that they might just need some different software. We do have the Disability Discrimination Act which means employers have to make reasonable adjustments, but again not sure to what extent this works in practice, as I would imagine, especially with such high unemployment rates at the moment and lack of jobs, a lot of discrimination against people with disabilities (and other minority groups) happens at the application stage.

I agree with you that this is a scary concept, it happens with immigrants a lot too in the UK, they start getting blamed for every problem in the country especially when things aren't going well. We have some disgusting newspapers which love to promote this crap.


Joyfulgirl said...

Gosh that is chilling and shaming too, especially when you see it being spread by main stream news.

Hannah Ensor said...

So true. As a wheelchair using young Brit - I stopped watching the news because it wound me up too much.

Yes there are a few disability benefit frauds - estimated at 3-5% I believe, but there are also many who are elegible for benefits but don't apply cos the process is long, complex and soul destroying.

I am a valuable member of society, along with my many disabled friends and aquaintances, even if I don't have a conventional, 9-5 job. I just wish society wasn't continuously told otherwise!

Emma said...

The facts the news doesn't tell you share a different story:

More money could be claimed by people who are entitled but for whatever reason haven't than is lost by fraud each year.

The fraud rate for DLA (one of the most common disability benefits) is lower even then the fraud rate for state pension. How that works when you have to be a certain age and show proof to get a pension I don't know.

And I too have had the "so and so I know gave up I'm glad you haven't" thing when I refuse to let people push me.

Nathan Dawthorne said...

I feel sick from this - seriously.

Myrr said...

and that is why I have spent the last year and a half screaming every time Cameron comes on the TV, reality for the disabled in the UK. I cant understand how quickly it has permeated thoughout society.

Shan said...

Logically, if there are non-disabled people taking advantage of the benefit system, then non-disabled people are the ones they should be mad at.

The cookie shopping thing is funny...I always marvel at the social stratification of the grocery conveyor belt. I went through the checkout at the health food store once, behind a family of four glossy blond vegetarians from California. Mom, Dad, and two little girls, all thin and tanned, with flashing white teeth, buying leaves and Greens + supplements. You should have seen the look Mrs. California gave me - a slightly overweight, windblown, Birkenstock shod, skirt-and-cardigan-wearing, greying late-30s woman with two kinds of chocolate cookies on the belt. (Heck, at least they were organic!) Then her toddler daughter was poking her (nonexistent) tummy and the Mom said "I know, honey: I need to do a cleanse." She didn't look at me while she said this, which is good because I was laughing.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

This is just chilling. Scapegoating and dehumanizing are the first steps to inflicting physical harm and even death. This is just what the Nazis did. I have the posters. We should all be afraid, very afraid. And I do mean all - disabled, able-bodied - the lot of us. We don't want to go where this could lead.


Anonymous said...

Just found this story on the BBC website about this topic which people might be interested in


trainspotter said...

Most of the people I know who get disability 'benefits' can't even afford to buy candy!

I have a friend with schizophrenia who refuses to go on disability because he doesn't want to be seen as "lazy". He has, literally, spent the last 15+ years of his life being hired and fired every 3-6 months because of the severity/frequency of his episodes. Of course he has to pay for all of his medication 'out of pocket' (which is most of his paycheck) because he's never employed long enough to get drug coverage. His parents are still helping to support him otherwise he would be homeless because of his worries about "burdening society". No one would have to push this guy out of the boat- he'd jump just to save the others!

CapriUni said...

Shan -- that grocery store checkout story is so funny. I love it when life drops windfall satire into your lap.

Dave-- on a more serious note:

I am happy to see anti-bullying campaigns happening in schools now.

But sometimes, it insults my intelligence, when grown-ups talk about how terribly children behave toward each other. Especially when those same grown-ups turn around and talk about whole segments of the population as being a drain on society.

Don't any of these people see the connection?

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

I am gobsmacked - that you've essentially summed up, in one post, all that we've been learning in my college course. Yesterday, we watched heart-wrenching, breath-stealing footage from WWII, when Hitler rounded up all the disabled people, the "useless feeders" and killed them.

Dave. Keep doing what you do. Now, more than ever, we need your voice, your stories, your strength, your gifts.

Sadly, there is still so much to be done.

wendy said...

Stunning. Truly. Stunning.

Diana Leighton said...

What they don't mention is the fear this discrimination raises. My husband who is disabled dreads the post coming each day which will tell him he has to be 'assessed' even though he has a terminal cancer but will not die(inconveniently) within the government limit of 6 months to be labelled terminal, out of that 6 months you are considered fit for work regardless. He will spend the rest of the time he has left worrying about this. Many genuine disabled people are looking over their shoulders all the time to see who is snooping on them and may report them to the government or they're worried about who will be the next person to spit at them abuse them which has become a new sport. Itis of the British governments making all this abuse as they leak media shaped stories with convenietly doctored statistics to the media on a regular basis to keep the impetus. I'm sorry you had a bad time in our country.I wouldn't have treated you like and I am sure many would be astonished at your treatment but at the same time what you experienced is only the tip of the iceberg. Still it takes people minds and channels them awa from thinking about how badly the government is dealing with the economy. In failing societies there always has to be the bogeyman, the scapegoat and I am afraid like what happened in Europe before WWII it is once again the weakest members and the disabled. take care and best wishes to you and your family.

Penny said...

Frankly? I'd rather pay for that 3-5% of fraudulent claims than risk someone who NEEDS benefits to survive not being able to get them.

Anonymous said...

As a 'normal looking' disabled person the abuse and attitude I've experienced using my "free" bus pass recently astounds me. I'd never noticed it before. It's definitely getting worse. When I take a companion with me it's less. Am I supposed to act up when I get on a bus to appease ignorant daily mail readers and people who assume that those who appear normal must be fakIng bad backs. Oddly everyone seems to know someone who's defrauding the system yet I don't know any. Must be me

Andrea S. said...


(Re, how people angry about fraud should blame people without disabilities rather than disabled people)
I think part of the problem, or at least this is what I gather from reading things written by disabled people in the UK, is that people who have been brainwashed by the media into believing that fraud rates are higher than they actually are start to look at disabled people around them with a lot more suspicion, wondering if they might be one of the fradulent "fakers" who aren't actually disabled. Then when they see someone doing something that they *THINK* a disabled person shouldn't be able to do, they assume this is proof that the person is faking their disability because they're too lazy to work--just like the media tells them. Some people's assumptions about what a disabled person "shouldn't" be able to do is based on stereotypes that assume that every disabled person is a complete invalid without any ability to do basically anything at all aside from being alive, so it often doesn't take much for them to leap to conclusions. Then come the sneers or the harassment, or phone calls to the hotline (apparently there is a heavily promoted hotline in the UK for reporting possible cases of disability fraud) which can trigger an investigation that can cause enormous amounts of stress even if they ultimately end up in the disabled person's favor.

Some members of the public in the UK I think may be becoming negative toward disabled people in part precisely because they think they aren't actually as disabled as they claim.

Becca_Boot said...

It's all so true. And I hate it. I like to watch the news - I like to know what's happening in the world. I like to get involved in politics even though I'm not old enough to vote - because I want to make a difference. I like to talk to and smile at people. All of this I am scared to do now because I'm afraid of what I will see, how angry it will make me, how people will react and most of all the effect on my health.

Spoonydoc said...

This post jolted me.

This low level drip drip drip background disdain has become so common place that I would no longer think of writing a blog entry about it.
It has taken a foreigner visiting my country to remind me how low we have sunk.
It is only when I get higher level of abuse (shouted verbal insults, threats, spitting, etc) that I would feel moved to actually write about it.

With my energies so focussed on the very big issues right now, fighting sweeping benefit changes and crippling cuts to services disabled people rely on, I no longer even fight the smaller day to day ones.

The few times I am well enough to go out, I routinely encounter disgust and suspicion. The system treats me like a criminal. Letters from the DWP aren't even addressed to "Mr or Mrs" or end with "yours sincerely". Respect is not accorded to the likes of us. But I have accepted it. And that is quite frankly terrifying.

rickismom said...

I feel that money is the basis for almost all the hate dirrected our way. Why abort kids with Down syndrome? Because they cost money. They cost society money. (IF they would be fully integrated, and well-educated, it would cost a LOT less, but governments are not that for-sighted...)

rickismom said...

PS I always tell new parents (of children who have Down syndrome) that the HARDEST part of having a kid with DS is fighting the athorities for the benefits the laws DOES give.....