Wednesday 5 February 2014


On Monday night, Peter Stringfellow pointed to Mik, MJ and me on live TV and said:

I'm looking at people over there who obviously deserve everything they can get.

Apparently what we didn't deserve was a place at the grown up table to discuss the issues that affect us. Sue has blogged about how she was pulled from the line up with 2 hours notice. meaning there were no benefit-claiming disabled experts to talk about the cuts. People have pointed out that White Dee claims ESA for depression; so there was at least one disabled person on the panel. But firstly, we don't know if she identifiess as "disabled". It's possible she doesn't because so many people view being disabled as such an horrific and revolting thing. Secondly she claims benefits; but she's not an expert on them. People like Sue and me are. We can tell you the fraud rates for disability benefits off the top of our heads. We can gives you names of people who died from their conditions while supposedly "fit for work".

(OK, I know I'd never get invited to be on the panel if there was literally anybody else available. Media types only call me when their first choice is unavailable. I know I'm not cool or popular or particularly liked among the prominent left. And that's OK; I've never been popular and I'm used to it.)

But given that disabled people are more hit by the cuts than any other group of people; they shouldn't have just kept Sue and Dee in the line-up: They should have had additional disabled people up there too. There's a saying among disability rights activists that's been around as long as I can remember; it's possible the statement is older than I am. That saying is "nothing about us without us". And Monday night's debate was almost exclusively about us, but apart from Dee (and Mik managing to get about 3 seconds of soundbite out) it was definitely without us.

But I want to go back to Stringfellow's comments about what we "deserve" and what we "get".

When he said it; I laughed. Loudly. But then I always laugh loudly. My laugh carries for miles; just ask most of this country's comedians. I laughed so loudly that it was my only verbal ejaculation of the evening that was picked up by the microphones. (And I really put effort into heckling in an attempt to be heard; the laugh was just my normal laugh.)

I laughed because the support we get is being cut to the bone. Employment and Support Allowance cuts, Disability Living Allowance cuts, council tax benefit cuts, the bedroom tax, severe disability premium cuts, social care cuts, NHS cuts. Do we deserve that?

What we do currently get - and what we get an increase in every time papers run front pages calling us "scroungers" - is hate.

Disabled people get called "scrounging cunt" in the street for going out while visibly disabled. WtB's Pippa got followed home by someone shouting "fucking DLA stick.". I've been told that I should have been killed at birth to save the taxpayer money.

What we get is told that we're not allowed nice things. When I first got an iPhone I sustained abuse for it. The person abusing me didn't care that it was a Christmas present to replace my broken CrapBerry; disabled people are simply not allowed to own nice things. The media has an obsession with benefit claimants and the size of our TVs. Last autumn I had a TV crew in my living room. Before I was willing to start talking to camera I made them show me the shot so I was sure my telly couldn't be seen. My TV is shit: You can't have the aerial cable and an HDMI cable plugged in at the same time or they cause each other interference. But you can't see the fault from just looking at it (unless you're trying to watch a DVD with the aerial cable plugged in), so if my telly had been shown during my 4thought; the next day the Daily Mail's front page would've said "outrage as benefit claimant owns flat screen TV." Poor people owning stuff really seems to get under people's skin; no matter the circumstances in which they acquired said things.

There have even been cases of people who don't claim a penny in benefits getting abuse for being "scroungers" for merely looking disabled.

Do we deserve that?

Do we deserve to never be able to afford holidays? To only be able to afford Primark clothes? To not be able to upgrade to a TV without a fault? To know that this financial struggle is going to last your whole life because you're an "incurable"?

Katie Hopkins kept claiming that she was there to represent "hard working Britain". What about the 58 year old with cancer who has been working hard and paying National Insurance premiums for 40 years, but has just been refused ESA? That is the whole point of National Insurance. Because disabled people weren't allowed to be part of the debate; no-one pointed out that the system is there precisely to protect hard working Britons.

Hopkins also brought up the number of people being found "fit for work": Because there were no experts on disability benefits on the panel; no-one pointed out that that includes fatally ill people like Larry Newman or Cecilia Burns. I tried heckling "that includes terminally ill people!" But when I watched the show back, I realised that I hadn't been picked up by any of the mics around the room.

She then went on to claim that chancers are pulling out of the ESA process before being assessed by Atos because they're frightened of being caught out. There are all sorts of reasons people stop their claims, including dying. Again I tried heckling "that includes people who've died!" But again went unheard by the audience at home.

Coming from a stand up background, I hate hecklers. I hated having to heckle. But seeing as the producers wouldn't let any disabled people up on the stage to rebut these distorted claims, I was left with no choice but to try shouting.

Before the cameras started rolling, the floor manager told us that if we had something to say; we should say it. She said she didn't want people to leave feeling that they'd not had their voices heard. The lack of disabled people's representation up on that stage meant that voices like mine weren't heard. With the exception of Dee, Jack Monroe and Annabel Giles; the voices we heard from were people who have no idea how miserable life on benefits is, and how cruel people can be to those perceived as "scroungers". Yes, a couple of other people said that they know people on benefits and are aware of their struggles; but trust me: Unless you've lived this, you really don't know just how horrific it feels.

Benefits Street might have made this country obsessed with talking about benefits. It might have made benefits issues a guaranteed ratings winner. But unless you let the people affected by these issues use their own voices in these debates; you've just got people pointlessly arguing for an hour. 'Nothing about us without us' my backside.


  1. I wasn't going to watch when I realised Currie and Hopkins were on but I'm glad I did. I agree with everything you've said and as someone with chronic, incurable disease it really is frightening that so many of us are struggling for the basics of life like food and heating. I really think the issue has to come back down to making the public more aware of what living in poverty is really like and to start to hate what poverty does to people rather than hate 'the poor'. We used to be disgusted by poverty, now we transfer that disgust onto the victims of it and if the victims are also sick and disabled then there's a knock on effect of even more distaste from so-called 'normal' people who cannot bear to face their own frailties or mortality. We are living in truly terrifying times but I'm glad I'm on the side of the dispossessed; the view of the other side, of Hopkins et al, is pretty ugly.

  2. The programme was juvenile with nothing really discussed at all. Missing out on participating is no loss. It was like an episde of Grange Hill. Most people seemed broadly supportive anyway. It was only Katie Hopkins who clearly has a lot of baggage, and the dissembling Edwina Curry who wouldn' tknow honesty if she slept with it.