Is there any more chilling threat? It’s one I heard for real a couple of years ago, three men in their 50s yelling it across the high street at me as I walked to the bank one afternoon. “This is the DWP! We know where you live! We know that you’re faking!” As disabled people, this is a reality we have had to grow used to as the tabloids teach the public that every disabled person is really a conniving faker, intent on cheating them out of their hard-won pay. I am into double figures with incidents of verbal abuse, and the Scope surveys of disability hate crime suggest that my experience is the new norm for disabled people.
Yet in the Mail on Sunday this weekend, Mark Littlewood, Director of the Institute for Economic Affairs, authored a column calling for the names and addresses of every benefit recipient in the country, and how much of a ‘handout’ they receive, to be published online in a database accessible to everyone. Disingenuously he claims “The British are far too reasonable to start taking up pitchforks and burning torches and assaulting imagined benefit cheats.” As a disabled person I wish he was right about the British, but the two yobs who tried to assault me for walking while disabled didn’t seem too reluctant.
Two years on, I don’t know who it was who reported me to the DWP National Benefit Fraud Hotline, claiming I was working full time when I’m lucky to get out of the house for a couple of hours a week, but, like 96% of reports to the Benefit Fraud Hotline, that report was vindictive and completely false. Fortunately the DWP investigator accepted that the instant she laid eyes on me, but there was no comeback against my anonymous accuser, and, no matter my innocence, the consequences for me were a three month flare-up in my pain levels and I really, really don’t want to go back to my pain levels being so high that I’m lucky to get an hour’s sleep at a time.
Nor were the consequences simply physical, when the time came to renew my ESA claim I found myself having panic attacks, something which had never happened before, and the thought of going through another Work Capability Assessment – my first had been utterly abusive – was just intolerable. So for the sake of my health I let myself be driven by the hate and the abuse out of claiming a benefit I was entitled to.
Friend, neighbour, casual acquaintance, someone who saw me speaking out against disability hate crimes in the media or online, I don’t know who it was who filed that malicious report against me, but a blunter term for ‘malicious’ might be conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and, even without any basis in truth, the consequences of those allegations were serious.
Such on-street harassment, false accusations and outright assault are far from unusual for disabled people, but if my details, or the details of those even more vulnerable, are available online, then how much easier will it be for the thugs to track me down, or the poison-pen types to spew their bile to the Benefit Fraud Hotline?
Mark Littlewood, the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Mail on Sunday can make their pious pronouncements that they are sure no harm will come of their modest proposal, but the truth for disabled people and other benefit claimants is likely to be far harsher.