Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Vulnerability Spectrum

The Vulnerability Spectrum

“The test of a good society is how do you protect the poorest, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the frail.

“That’s important in good times, it’s even more important in difficult times. People need to know that if they have me as their prime minister and they have a Conservative government, it will be that sort of prime minister.
David Cameron

I think if you take the quote above, stir in a little "We can't go on like this. I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS" and sprinkle with any combination of "We will keep the free TV licence, we will keep the pension credit....Those leaflets you have been getting from Labour are pure and simple lies" you have in a nutshell why the Conservatives won the election. (Or rather, didn't quite lose the election - they didn't "win" after all.)

The genuine fear of enormous debt pervaded everything, and in the end, these reassurances at last gave people the permission to trust the Tories once again. They wanted the debt cut and as long as those "most vulnerable" were left alone, it was time for belts to be tightened. Voters wanted their public services to be more efficient, they wanted fewer bureaucrats, they were fed up with reading about scroungers and cheats while they slogged to make ends meet.

It would be ridiculous to argue that 36% of UK voters stepped into the privacy of the ballot box and thought "Now then, Tory, Tory, Aha, there it is. I do so hope they make sure those paraplegics can't get about any more and that they do something about all these old people cluttering up the NHS," though you might get the impression that hoards of Labour activists believe that. It was simply a choice - largely economic - and no-one but no-one voted in cruelly. (Well, possibly the odd BNP supporter I suppose, but that's for another article)

The problem is that no-one defined "Vulnerable." What did it mean to you?

The minute you try to decide who is truly vulnerable you enter a swamp of subjectivity so murky, it's probably best if most of us avoid it altogether. Do we set an absolute minimum at damaged and abandoned children in care, or should all children be untouched by austerity? Do we support all elderly care home residents or just those with no family to support them? Maybe only those with 6 months or less to live are truly vulnerable? Is it only the profoundly disabled that we define as "vulnerable" or should we use a broader definition, including those living in constant, terrible pain or mental despair? Are the homeless vulnerable or does it depend on what put them on the streets? Are the unemployed vulnerable or can they fend for themselves?

I suppose if I look at myself from another's perspective I'm towards the fluffy end of the vulnerability spectrum. I believe all of the groups above are vulnerable. I'd probably give myself a '3' though, due to my slightly Tory emphasis on getting "on yer bike" and stiff-upper-lip attitudes to adversity.

Yesterday, someone suggested that if we stopped treating sick and disabled people on the NHS and developing ever more effective medical treatments, they would be less of a drain on the state through sickness and disability benefits. NHS efficiency and cuts to the benefit budget all in one. Job done! Obviously more towards the Tough-Love-Mr-Goebbels end of the spectrum. (!!)

Calls to sterilise the poor to stop them breeding or exclusions in elderly NHS care because older people are soon going to die anyway are probably off the spectrum altogether, but then so are calls at the other end of the scale to protect everything and increase childcare and pension budgets. Sorry guys, not a good time.

I do think it's pretty safe however, to say that most voters expected the genuinely sick and profoundly disabled to be protected. Can you imagine Cameron standing in one of his sky-blue-thinking, man-of-the-people, call-me-Dave visits to Planet Everyman making this speech?

We will take away freedom from the most disabled adults dependent for all their care needs by cutting their mobility payments. To sick children in specialist residential schools I say the same "Sorry, the money's run out, we can no longer pay for you to get about." We will force nearly all people with serious illnesses to find work and if they don't, we will stop their benefits entirely afterone year. To paraplegics I say this : "If you use your wheelchair too efficiently and it allows you to get about, you must now be classed as fully mobile. We can no longer support you to stay in workor support you to remain in your own homes and we will cut local budgets so severely that disabled care packages and hospice care for terminal cancer patients will need to be slashed. We must remember that we're all in this together and because these are going to be really difficult times, no-one should expect to stay as they are, particularly if they have an awful, progressive, degenerative condition that ruins every moment of their lives."

Still, as if that would ever happen eh? He would have been lucky to get a vote from Nadine Dorriesor Rory Stewart!

Well, certainly, the speech would never happen but are you shocked if I assure you that every single example I used is either proposed or already in place since we voted for "that nice Mr Cameron" on May 6th. How does it sit with your own personal place on the Vulnerability Spectrum? How many of us are honestly happy with a policy that effectively makes the most disabled people in society permanent prisoners within their own four walls? That says wheelchair users can now be classed as fully mobile? Very few I imagine.

If '1' is the most fluffy-lentil-munching-do-gooder and '10' is Jeremy Clarkson, then surely the above proposals/policies from the coalition are at least a 12? Are we OK with that?

If we remember that the government's own figures show that less than 1% of Disability Living Allowance claims are fraudulent and that it is a working benefit, paid to help disabled people enter or remain in the workplace, or to give them a shred of independence, I imagine very few of us are.

When you develop policy that would make Enoch Powell blush, it might be an idea to backtrack a little.


  1. I wonder, has anyone tried contacting Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, about standing up for us? She's quite possibly one of the few MPs likely to care, and might be willing to ask questions at PM's Question Time, or at whatever other opportunities might arise. I'm going to send her an email with a link to the One Month to Heartbreak blog and this blog and beg her to take a stand, and it might not be a bad idea if others do too.

  2. >> If we remember that the government's own figures show that less than 1% of Disability Living Allowance claims are fraudulent and that it is a working benefit, paid to help disabled people enter or remain in the workplace, or to give them a shred of independence <<

    I thought that DLA was explicitly NOT a working benefit? Being paid irrespective of employment status as a recognition of the additional costs we incur just by living. Of course it does help some people remain in work, but that's more a side effect than the direct intention.