So on Saturday IDS escalated the hate. His boss, David Cameron, crossed the line into direct attacks on disabled people last month with his open attempt to demonise those whose disabilities lead to addiction or obesity, attacks which led Scope and the Guardian to point out that government attacks were leading to increasing rates of Disability Hate Crime, but on Saturday his pet attack-dog ramped up the attack with more hate-filled articles from the sockpuppets at the Tory Rags. This time it isn’t just disabled people with addictions or obesity who are being openly derided as frauds and not worthy of benefits, the new target is DLA recipients, and particularly disabled people whose disability manifests through long-term spinal conditions, or as IDS’s anonymous source would have us believe, a mere ‘bad back’.
I talked about the myth of the ‘bad back’ a few weeks ago in That Proverbial ‘Bad Back’ , the myth that ‘bad-backs’ are some kind of scrounger’s charter or somehow less than other disabilities that is. My ‘bad back’ has destroyed my career and seriously limited the life I can live, even as I lie here to write this (sitting would be unbearable) it is causing me a noticeable amount of pain. No amount of money could compensate me for the pain I experience, and ESA, DLA HRM and DLA HRC combined wouldn’t come close to replacing the salary I have lost because of my ‘bad back’, even if I actually received them all – of those three benefits I only actually get ESA, the thought of putting myself through the ATOS ordeal again for DLA HRM is simply too much to face right now (DLA HRC, even LRC, I clearly have no hope of claiming). I did apply for DLA several years ago, but not knowing how to navigate the labyrinth didn’t get past the first hurdle of using the appropriate terms on the form rather than simply naively explaining how disabled I am (yes, there are hurdles, no matter what the Tories, the DWP and the attack-hacks in the tabloids would have us believe). I have been trying to gather the evidence to support another claim for several years now, side-by-side with trying to get myself the treatment to get back into the workforce, but the cuts to the NHS are making that a dreadfully slow process (so slow I’m actually going backwards), not helped when my local rheumatology department tell me that my ‘bad back’ is so complex that they don’t actually have anyone qualified to look at it in its entirety…
Yes, you didn’t read that wrong, even after having gone through the horror of the WCA test, and passing, even with my local rheumatology department struggling to cope, my disability is not clearly severe enough to entitle me to the benefit the Tories are trying to convince people is handed out like Smarties at a kid’s party.
But let’s get back to the tabloids, IDS, and their ‘anonymous source’. It’s amazing the courage that comes from having a tame journalist willing to quote you anonymously as ‘a source close to the reforms’, no need to hold back on the vitriol you can turn on disabled people. What we see here is demonization by insinuation. No direct statements, just the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, they’re all at it you know of your friendly neighbourhood poison-pen letter. Phrases like ‘a huge increase’ and ‘cash payments’ are clearly designed to imply that the sums involved are significant and somehow akin to backhanders, not the less than £20 a week that DLA is for many people, not the £51.40 per week that HRM claimants are expected to sacrifice for those ‘free’ Motability cars that provoke so much bitter jealousy against us (nope, I don’t get one of those either).
The ‘anonymous source’ then goes on to say “We are going to bring in a new assessment and regular checks to make sure support is getting to those who need it.” There’s a term to describe this, lying. DLA already has an assessment and regular checks, with stressful three-yearly renewals regularly terrorising disabled people, but the Tories and their tame attack dogs are trying, successfully, to mislead the tabloids’ core readership into believing that disability benefits are handed out just for the asking to people who fake their disabilities in order to scrounge from the State. The fact that seriously disabled people live in terror of losing their DLA in the Kafka-esque lottery of renewal, the intrusive medical checking, the thuggery of ATOS, these are inconvenient truths that they work to hide from their readership, treating them with precisely the same contempt they display towards us.
The Tories aren’t interested in seeing that support is getting to those who need it, if they were then they would never have closed the Independent Living Fund that provides for people with the most profound disabilities of all, it is just one more big lie to hide the truth from people by claiming the absolute opposite. The replacement for DLA, PIP, is simply an excuse to harden the rules and exclude 25% of the people currently in receipt of DLA, no matter their level of disability. Claims that it is meant to replace a broken system are simply more lies, DLA works, the aim is not to fix it, but to cut the numbers able to claim it, the predetermined percentage betrays that for all to see, yet the Tories lack the guts to admit it. Easier by far to demonise disabled people and convince the country that we deserve the cuts, after all, we’re only disabled, we probably vote Labour, what does it matter to the Tories if we’re attacked in the street as a result.
The only thing that surprises me about this is that I had thought that depression would be the next disability to be attacked, piggybacking on society’s poorly hidden fear of mental illness, with spinal conditions following afterwards. There is a clear strategy behind the attacks on us since the turn of the year. Before that the focus was simply on demonising us all as scroungers, but then opposition started to cohere and find a voice, whether from disabled people themselves, as seen in WTB, DPAC and the Broken of Britain, or from charities, campaigning groups, the Guardian alone amongst the national dailies, and even from members of the general public who had realised what the propaganda campaign really amounted to. Faced with a potential backlash, the Tory campaign has taken a new tack, seeking not just to undermine us en masse, but to divide and rule by targeting and demonising individual sectors of the disability community, implying that the people who fall within those sectors aren’t really disabled, and actively deserve everything that happens to them. Obesity and addiction have already had their turn in the stocks, on Saturday it was the turn of spinal conditions, I suspect depression and mental health will see their turn soon enough. We actually have a term for this in the disability community, we call it the Hierarchy of Disability and I have written before on why it is such a divisive, dangerous idea even in normal disabled life, but now we see someone actively seeking to use it against us for political ends and I am unavoidably reminded of the (sadly forgotten) earliest form of Pastor Martin Neimoller’s poem:
First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the sick, the so-called incurables, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't mentally ill.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me
Together we stand, divided we fall.
Rounding out Saturday’s diatribe of hate is the contemptible disdain of Martin Sinclair, the mouthpiece of the ‘Tax Payer’s
There is one final name I haven’t talked about in this catalogue of shame, the Liberal-Democrats. This is the party that, even more than Labour, has traditionally portrayed itself as the party that puts Social Justice first, ahead even of political power, the party that currently shares in the government of the country alongside the Tories. So where exactly does your party stand on this, Mr Clegg? People like Danny Alexander were vocal enough about the problems arising from ATOS assessments in Opposition, but as soon as a ministerial position was wafted under their noses they became strangely silent. Less than three months ago your party’s Spring Conference, specifically addressing DLA Mobility Component, made it clear to the parliamentary party that attacks on disabled people had gone too far, finding it necessary to remind you of your obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Your party has spoken, Mr Clegg, but they, and we, are still waiting for your reply….