Wednesday 11 May 2011

Conversations with my cab driver

I'm going to write a big old post about the Hardest Hit march and rally filled with photos in a little while. I got a taxi home from the event and I wanted to share the conversation I had with my cab driver:

  1. Before I forget the details.
  2. Because I think it deserves its own post separate from the main write-up about the events of the day.

I know some people who take a lot of taxis and always strike up a conversation with the driver. I rarely take taxis because I can't afford them. And even when I do I don't tend to talk to the driver because I'm awful at striking up conversations with strangers.

But today I overheard the driver talking on the phone in which he said "I didn't see any demonstration. I don't know what they were demonstrating about..."

So once he got off the phone I explained that the demonstration had been a bit earlier but it was over now and the roads had all reopened. And that it was a protest against the cuts to disability benefits.

"But if you get, say, £100 a week, they're not gonna cut that down to £70 though, are they?"

I explained that actually the planned cuts were much more brutal than that. He still didn't seem to quite accept when I explained just how cruelly disabled people were being treated. He just couldn't comprehend that our government could really do that to disabled people.

"Now, you see, the trouble is is all these fakers."

I tried to tell him that the official fraud rate for IB is around 1% (see page 8 of this DWP report), but on this he just wouldn't believe me. He insisted that there are fraudulent IB claimants everywhere.

I tried to explain that most people have a story of the time they met a faker. The government acknowledges that one in every 100 IB claimants is a fraud. But those other 99 are people he's less likely to meet. The other 99 will include people who are housebound or can't afford to go out and take taxis. The 1% who are fakers might be more visible than the 99% of genuine claimants, but that doesn't mean that they account for any more than 1%. He refused to accept this.

"But why do you believe that it's only 1%?"

The conversation got quite difficult for me here because he made it out to be a matter of religious-type belief. I tried to explain that the 1% figure are the government's official statistics but he wouldn't concede they were "right", he was only willing to accept that I believed them, but he chose to believe the tabloid-ised stats.

"I mean people in wheelchairs and that are obviously genuine, but I think a lot are fakers."

This turned out to be a simple claim to refute when he revealed that he had spondylosis and he found even walking short distances to be painful. He was perfectly willing to accept that some people have conditions that you can't see because he has one himself. I think his statement purely came from repeating sentiments he'd read in the tabloids but had never really thought much about.

But this did lead on to:

"Well I work and pay taxes so I don't see why I should be paying for benefits for people who could work."

We were stopped at some traffic lights about 100 metres from the end of my journey so sadly I didn't have time to address the "well I'm disabled and I work so why can't other people?" subtextual element to the question.

But what I did have time to explain was DLA. I explained that DLA was a benefit that disabled people could get for help with getting around and help with care. And that the benefit wasn't affected by your employment status because if you find a job your need to buy a wheelchair or your need for help getting out of bed in the morning doesn't go away.

I had to explain that the government and the media, in their attempts to whip up hatred towards disabled people, keep claiming that DLA is an "out of work" benefit. So despite what you might read in the papers there are some people who have a job and get benefits, but aren't getting those benefits fraudulently. He seemed to think that, actually, DLA was a really good idea.

Alas my journey ended here. It was quite a shocking conversation for me because it really drove home just much people believe the lies printed in the papers. He seemed like a genuinely nice bloke; I mean he pulled his cab over to pick up a wheelchair user which most cabbies won't so that's a fair indicator of his decentness. But for so long he's been fed these stories that there's a huge problem with people claiming benefits fraudulently that he now believes it and won't accept when just one person points out the facts to him because it's a lone voice in the face of all this propaganda. And so many times he's heard that "the most vulnerable will be protected" that he can't quite grasp that that's not true either.

The fare came to £11.40. He would only let me pay £7.


  1. I can't helpo wondering if he will do a lot of thinking over the next few hours, and whether actually your arguments will actually change his mind in the long term. Hats off to your attempts to expose the truth.
    Why can't papers actually print truth for once - and how come they aren't being pulled up for inciting hate?

  2. I've had several similar experiences recently -- 'well obviously you're not faking it, but everyone else is'. You can poke any number of holes in it, but it's been repeated so often by the tabloids that it's become an article of faith.

  3. As much as I hate to demean my fellow humans; truth cannot so easily be masked when it is so plainly in view.

    Unfortunately the taxi driver is simply another example of the mass Proletarian chunks of society whom: Have been transformed into sleeping "repeaters" incapable of doing anything else except blindly accepting the mainstream media propaganda as gospel.

    He probably believes the "Big Society" is going to magically swoop down resplendently astride a winged white Pegasus; depositing bags of gold coins into the laps of "genuine's." Then proceeding to hind-kick everyone else back into work.

    A combination of continual media brainwashing, diet full of soft-drink horrors such as Aspartame and possible over-flouridation of the tap water in his area have almost certainly contributed significantly to this.

    He is happy in his daily repetitive world. He works and reads the gutter tabloids, goes home, drinks beer, zones out to his favorite "x-factor" or sporting mush on tv, gets bombarded with fast-moving news stories repeated about three times throughout the programme that backup his earlier tabloid reading and then goes to bed only to start again tomorrow. (Obviously I'm giving a relevant skimmed version here.)

    As long as none of this is disrupted; he can probably pootle along virtually indefinitely in
    this state without minding in the slightest.

    It keeps all that happy Seretonin flowing in his Brain, subconciously he does not want this to be disrupted by reality so he goes into auto-denial mode whenever someone questions his tabloid-derived status-quo comprehension of the issue concerned.

    In a way; you cannot but help feel sorry for these sort of people. Be it months or years, when the cuts/collapse finally filters it's way down to them: They are going to awake with
    one heck of a shock. Perhaps that erstwhile voice in the wilderness (or back of taxi cab as the case here may be): Was worth listening to after all.

    I append this post with some appropiate Orwell.


    "Parsons was Winston's fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth.

    He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms-one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the thought police, the stability of the Party depended." - George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 2

  4. @Southpaw: It does no good to deride Lisa's taxi driver and everyone else by extension. I've talked to extremely intelligent, professionally successful, socially active people who just have no clue what is happening WRT disability. Society programmes people with the Personal Tragedy Model of Disability, the idea that 'the disabled' are lesser being who need to be taken care of, and that society will do it, pretty much from the cradle, and unfortunately those views are so deeply seated that you need to individually grab them by the chin and show them your reality to get them to understand that this isn't the case anymore.

    The programming may be something out of 1984, but if we dismiss everyone who has been seduced by it as mindless drones then are we any better than Big Brother?