Sunday 22 May 2011

Disabled People, Still Labour's Whipping Boy....

I've just read the text of Ed Miliband's latest speech, and it's full of carefully turned phrases on how Labour can be a real prospect at the next election, of how it will make Britain a land fit for those who work hard and deserve the rewards of that labour, and that's all to the good.

But then you come to this statement:

"People felt particularly angry about those they felt could work, but didn't, as making ends meet became more and more of a struggle.

We were too relaxed about that too."

Let's be absolutely clear about this, the head of the Labour Party, the Leader of the Opposition, the supposed voice of social justice, just said that one of the reasons they lost the election is that they didn't put the boot into disabled people hard enough.

He then has the nerve to claim:

"In power after 1997 we did something that few countries managed to do - stem the rising tide of inequality.

We did this by redistributing through the tax and benefit system."

So clearly as disabled people we were wrong to complain about the calculated campaign of demonizing vitriol pouring out of DWP and their sockpuppet hatemongers in the tabloids, the WCA tests carefully designed to exclude many hundreds of thousands of disabled people, the appalling manner in which ATOS were allowed, if not actively encouraged, to enforce those tests; it was all done in the name of equality. Or maybe not.

Maybe the truth is that Labour saw us as convenient whipping boys who could be abused in the name of scoring a few points with the Little-Englanders who love to hate anyone who fails to fit their fairytale of England, maybe the truth is that they still do. No matter what I say, there aren't words to adequately express my contempt for this speech and what it reveals about the disablist thinking at the heart of Labour's leadership that sees us as a convenient pawn to sacrifice in their lust for power.


  1. I don't *think* I lack sympathy for anyone genuinely unable to work (though I am often shot down). I am a physically disabled person who (with great difficulty after a stroke in my early 30s) works part time. In the years immediately following the stroke, I was way too incapacitated to work, and very grateful for government benefits. I still am, for the ones I receive - I can't use public transport any more, but DLA allows me to run a car, and tax credit helps to supplement the fact that I no longer have the strength to earn a decent wage.

    However: I'm afraid that I do see people around me who claim incapacity benefit (or whatever it's called now), use blue badges and try for DLA who *are* able to work, and that annoys me, because we all get tarred with the same brush. That said, though - I saw nothing to affect/ hurt/ offend me in anything that Ed Miliband said. I do not consider it to be aimed at me.

  2. I completely understand that some disabled people cannot work and it should be the job of the government to provide for them, but here Ed Miliband is not talking about disabled people per se, even if he was he may have been talking about people with a slight disability who could still work but are choosing not to. I can't imagine how hard it must be to live with a disability because I don't but there must be cases where people don't work were they could.

  3. Sorry, David, but I have to disagree.
    Ed Miliband is a different calibre of person altogether to the likes of Blair and Purnell.

    Blair was the driving force behind New Labour's attitude on welfare. Blair was the one who brought over right-wing US Republicans to give guidance on "welfare to work". Blair is the one responsible for the Atos contract and the WCA etc.
    Thus, it is the Blairite New Labour right wing of the Labour Party which stubbornly continues with such neoliberal thinking.

    It is early days yet for Ed Miliband, but I think he has within him the desire to re-shape Labour thinking on a few subjects, including welfare.
    Time will tell.

  4. I read the speech through about 5 times.

    The first thing I noticed was that "welfare" has now been added to the list of things "Labour got wrong" this was the first time they'd ever said that. There followed much debate with various politicos over whether that meant "they kicked us too hard" or "they should have kicked us harder"

    In the last two or three weeks, Liam Byrne has started to say "We should be forcing the unemployed into jobs, not the sick and disabled into poverty"

    Whilst I'm hardly less impressed by the attempt to simply demonise the unemployed instead, I think perhaps we need a little more info on what exactly it is Labour now see they got wrong on welfare? It might mean they got ESA wrong (which they did)

    The thing that worries me more is a sudden narrative (implicit in the article, from Byrne and from the pernicious Purnell - yes he's back, be afraid!!)

    Is that Labour are looking at "strengthening the contributory principle" All well and good in theory and no doubt populist, but what about those of us who've never been able to pay in? Who were born sick or disabled or who got their conditions pre-working age? What about those who can only manage part time or very few hours? Like women, will they find themselves penalised at pension age or penalised in a system based solely on contributory principle?

  5. My own view is that its easier to get the working on your side by saying the people on benefits are a millstone around our necks and costs the taxpayer counless millions every year. What they forget is a lot of people fit or unfit for work have themselves been taxpayers at some point in their lives. They and i mean all party's will now use able/disabled as a tool to crry favour with the voting. It stinks it sucks but then who ever listens to us anyway

  6. @Prickly: It is perfectly legitimate to work and be in receipt of DLA, DLA was deliberately designed to work that way, as a reflection of the extra costs of disability, regardless of whether the recipient works or not.

    When it comes to ESA and IB, and DLA for that matter, remember what you _see_ is often only the tip of the disability iceberg. If you see me then you will see someone limping with crutches and no doubt would claim I should be able to work. But the walking difficulties are only a tiny element of my disability, a visible symptom of a much larger, much more debilitating, yet invisible disability. I have spinal problems that result in chronic pain while sitting, pain that escalates to the point of being unable to string two thoughts together and regularly left me curled up in pain on the office floor. I worked past the point my pain management consultant was advising me to stop and had to be forced out of the workforce. And now I have to add similar problems in the c-spine. Can't sit, can't stand, can't think straight, can't use my left arm reliably, yet I _look_ like I have a very minor disability. And I'm lucky, because I at least have some visible sign of disability, the people with solely invisible disabilities are perhaps the most abused group amongst us, and all too often that abuse comes from disabled people who refuse to accept disability they cannot see.

    Distrust your eyes, trust disabled people.

  7. @anonymous: Ed Milliband was very specifically talking about disability benefit. He may not have said so explicitly, but the context is clear when you know the policies Labour pursued in relation to disabled people on Incapacity Benefit while in power. I am not exaggerating when I talk about deliberated demonization, everything you see now from Grayling, IDS and Cameron started under Labour.

    >>he may have been talking about people with a slight disability who could still work but are choosing not to <<

    People with MS and terminal cancer are regularly being found fit for work under the WCA system Labour designed and introduced, a system carefully designed not to count many of the most debilitating symptoms of disability. The rate of fraud in disability benefits is the lowest of any benefit except for the Old Age Pension. Yet Labour, seduced by Lord Freud, started a campaign of deliberate vilification to imply that disabled benefit recipients are fraudsters, a campaign that the tabloids fell on in delight, and suddenly everyone is convinced that IB recipients are universally fakers, and disabled people like me and other contributors here are being attacked in the street for daring to be disabled in public -- no need to question if we're working or not, we're disabled, we must be scroungers.... When Ed complains that they underestimated the hatred they've spawned, he's complaining that Labour were hoist on their own petard.

    You say you aren't disabled, maybe you should listen to those of us who are and who have had to follow the development of these disability-hostile policies under Labour for the past several years.

  8. @Phil: If Ed is a different calibre to Blair, then why is it that the only thing that he has said about ESA, WCA and the related changes is that he supports them?

    Why did Stephen Timms as Shadow Minister of Employment agree with Cameron when he attacked disabled people whose disabilities cause addictions or obesity?

    Why does this speech say that they should have taken more notice of the voters expressing the hostility towards disabled benefit claimants that Labour had created?

    So far Labour under Ed is just a weak repetition of all the disablist thinking that was Labour in power.

  9. @Sue: >> I think perhaps we need a little more info on what exactly it is Labour now see they got wrong on welfare? <<

    It was so deliberately left ambiguous that I think we have to assume they want to see which way the popular vote is trending and jump on the bandwagon, rather than having the courage to make a decision for themselves or to stand for the principles of the Labour movement. And given the depth of the Tabloid propaganda against us, the genie Labour let out of the bottle, we're stuffed.

    As for the contributory principle, which part of 'too each according to their needs' are they finding difficult to understand?

  10. @ David
    Thanks for the reply.
    You could be right.
    But, as I see the situation, Ed Mil has become leader of a Labour Party where the MPs are disproportionately Blairite (from past patronage), and Ed wants to shift thinking and policy (but gradually, to avoid a dramatic split within the party).

    In my opinion, Mr Timms is out of touch and ought not to be in a position of responsibility or influence.

  11. oh, just another thought.
    Ed Mil chose to give the National Policy Forum brief to Peter Hain, who is close to Ed,
    and he gave the Policy Review to Liam Byrne.
    What does this indicate? My guess would be that the NPF is going to be significant in shaping future policy, and the Policy Review is going to be a short-term thing to jettison some unwanted policies.

  12. @Phil: gradual changes are no good to those of us suffering now under the legacy of Labour policy. We need a party with the guts to stand up and say 'we got it wrong, we have demonized a minority to the point that they are being attacked in the street and we have to fix that before we do anything else'.

    >> Timms is out of touch <<

    No more so than the man who appointed him to that post.

  13. I notice this piece got picked up on the Lib-Dem's Facebook page. If anyone is here from following that link then please have a look around at some of the other stories on WTB so that you can understand the real impact of the attacks on disabled people your party is supporting and the way that the ConDem government is deliberately demonising us.

    This piece may attack Miliband and Labour for their policies, but I could as easily have attacked Cameron and the Tories for their vicious attacks on disabled people, or Clegg and the Lib-Dems for sitting quietly, eyes wide shut, desperately trying to pretend that this isn't really happening.

    Isn't it about time for Liberal-Democracy to take a stand on the kind of party it wants to be?

  14. David - I'm sorry but I think this is an argument from 2 years ago. We have no idea where Labour are heading with this at the moment.

    There's certainly no harm at all in keeping the pressure on them, but it's impossible to read from the article that they simply plan to punish us more.

  15. We do indeed have no idea where Labour are going from what is said, but we can infer a lot. Precisely the same language was used in Miliband's speech around Labour not being aware enough of the anger over people being perceived as being able to work (which I hope we can agree is clearly a reference to disability -- no need to mention ability to work otherwise) as was used to say Labour were not aware enough of anger over immigration. I don't see any way that that can be assumed to mean Labour is going to press for easing the restrictions on immigration, precisely the opposite in fact, and use of identical wording means we have to assume a hardening of attitudes towards immigration implies a similar hardening of attitude towards disability benefits.

    Equally we can't afford to have Labour not campaigning on this issue. This was a major speech by Miliband at a time when there are a massive amount of disability-hostile changes moving through Parliament, and he deliberately obfuscated the party's position on it. I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to say 'If you're not with us, you're against us, but the Labour Party certainly isn't helping at the moment, and that isn't a situation we can let go unchallenged.

    We need to change party opinion in both the Lib-Dems and Labour to active opposition of disability benefit changes, and if that means attacking their respective leadership and holding the reality of their policies up to the harsh light of day to move the backbenches even if we can't move the movers and shakers, then so be it. Cameron and the Tories may be the party pulling the strings of power, but they aren't a party we can have much hope of moving, we have to concentrate our efforts on swaying Labour and Lib-Dem popular opinion to our corner.

  16. @ Sue Marsh
    Hello, Sue
    I think you're spot-on; there's no way of telling where Labour are heading on welfare at the moment.

    a) some months ago Liam Byrne said his research told him that many ordinary Labour voters wanted a tough policy on welfare.
    note : he shows more concern about electoral consequence than small matters such as morality, principle, social justice or compassion.

    I think it should be borne in mind that New Labour instigated tough rhetoric about "workshy" "benefit scroungers".
    Maybe New Labour were too relaxed about the tough rhetoric, and misjudged the anger bandwagon it would facilitate? and, post-financial crash, did nothing to dissipate the anger?
    The careful ambiguity of his words makes me wonder if Ed Miliband now feels he has a presentation problem?

    Ed Mil wants the votes of the squeezed middle.
    But that might not be enough; Labour might also need the votes of a couple of million welfare claimants.
    If both are required, it really is not in Labour's electoral interests to have antagonism or tension between its potential supporters.

    b) in a speech in Oslo in early May, to some friendly Europeans, Ed Mil described the current situation as "a crisis of neo-liberalism" for which "our opponents have only one answer : more neo-liberalism".
    In order to earn credibility, he should logically back up his words with a shift away from the more right-wing policies of New Labour ... and this ought to include a rejection of the whole 'welfare to work' thing (with ESA, WCA, Atos, A4E etc.) which is overt, brazen neoliberalism (stigmatise and impoverish the poor; blame them for their own plight).

    c) any proposed change in direction will doubtless be resisted by the most fervent of Blairite Labour MPs.