The eponymous perfect storm of Sebastian Junger’s book happened when two separate weather systems, an Arctic front trekking south through Canada and the remnants of a hurricane trailing north up the East coast of the US intersected each other with precisely the wrong timing, turning two individually dangerous storms into a single storm of disaster-movie proportions that left destruction and tragedy in its wake.
I’m starting to wonder if The Perfect Storm isn’t an all-to-appropriate metaphor for what we are facing as disabled people under the current government. Even before the government came into power we were facing smear tactics from the yellow press, smears that now come with backing from ministers and DWP, alleging we are all (benefit claimant or not) benefit cheats who fake our disability in order to defraud the hard-working conservative voters, sorry, taxpayers of this country. Then along comes George Osborne, using the Budget Speech to further confuse people as to which disability benefits are work-related and which are a recognition of all the costs we incur just trying to survive. Next thing we know the cuts are coming so thick and fast there is no chance to challenge them individually: ESA to go, replaced by some nebulous Universal Credit that will make it far more difficult to separate out the case for disability issues; such as the harsher elegibility criteria that will undoubtedly come with it; contributions-based ESA to go outright after a year of claiming, no matter that disabilities don’t magically disappear after a year; DLA to be done away with and replaced by yet another look-alike that just happens to have harsher eligibility criteria, Higher Rate Mobility to disappear entirely for those in residential homes, an act of unbelievably penny-pinching spitefulness; Access to Work funding slashed across a whole range of enabling items, which will undoubtedly be seen by employers as yet one more reason not to employ us (never mind that the government are convinced we could all find jobs if we really wanted to); council funding slashed, leading to far more pressure on care budgets that were already being inappropriately pressured; ILF closed, potentially to go entirely, hitting those in the most critical need of extensive care and support in order to function with any kind of equality in society. Add Ian Duncan Smith blaming disabled benefit claimants for single-handedly bringing on the world banking collapse and is it any wonder that we are left feeling attacked and demonised by the very government that is supposed to protect us from this kind of disablist hatred?
So disabled people inevitably want to protest, to draw the attention of those who aren’t directly affected by the cuts and the vilification and ask them if this is the kind of society they really want to be part of. But at the same time that we are trying to protest we have the students and their supporters campaigning (rightly!) against cuts in the education budget, seizing the headlines in a way that we cannot. As if that were not enough, we have all of this happening in what seems headed to be one of the worst winters in half a century. Disabled people have difficulty managing a physical protest at the best of times, I long since gave up on just going into
Scared of the cuts, scared of the hatred whipped up by tabloids and ministers, scared of the weather, scared of the police, disabled people are caught in a perfect storm of fear, and isn’t that something our entire society should be ashamed of?