Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Fear, Loathing and Disability in the Torygraph

It turns out yesterday's attacks on us in the Mail and Express were not the DWP's only pre-emptive strike against the disastrous revelations of Dispatches and Panorama. The DWP puppetmasters also convinced the Daily Telegraph to launch an attack on disabled people, this time with a rehashed version of a Christina Odone blog (apparently the Telegraph were too lazy even to write an original piece).

This being the Torygraph, the primal hate of the Mail and Express would not suit their house style, so the article is framed to claim that the 'disability rights lobby' (a term she uses repeatedly, apparently in an attempt to paint us as no different to any corporate lobby group, rather than as an actively disparaged minority subject to spiralling levels of hate crime) are attempting to have their cake and eat it, by demanding both the right to work, and the right to have out of work benefits on demand. She even drags in the Paralympics, writing:

Aren't the Paralympics proof that even the most physically challenged can achieve awesome feats? Their disabilities did not prevent Nelson, Byron, FDR, JFK from achieving their goals.

Apparently if we aren't winning gold medals or becoming living legends, then Ms Odone considers we are letting the side down. She is actually articulating a view many of us have been afraid of, the use of the Paralympics as a tool to beat us with, rather than to celebrate our achievements, while her selection of disabled heroes make an interesting choice: Nelson who was already marked for high office (and had patrons to ensure that) before he ever became disabled; Byron, whose club foot did little to limit his poetry (but which does demonstrate the psychological damage caused by negative views of disability); FDR, who was again a major figure prior to disability, and who did everything in his power to hide his disability, to the extent that most Americans did not realise they had a disabled president, and JFK, whose political career was the vehicle of his media magnate father, and who suffered from the back pain she goes on to deride later. There is much to celebrate in all four of these disabled lives, but also much to be critical of in the light of contemporary views of disability, and all four had assets and influence operating on their behalf that are available to very few people in our society, disabled or otherwise.

But it is in her final paragraph that Ms Odone's mask slips and she descends to the level of the Mail and the Express, proclaiming:

A man who claims to suffer from a debilitating but unprovable backache, an alcoholic who refuses to tackle her addiction: they may be considered "disabled" but should they receive benefits? When they do, the truly incapacitated feel cheated. As do the rest of us.

As someone who actually has a 'debilitating but unprovable backache,' I had just finished speaking on Radio London about disability hate crime and the irresponsibility of vile tabloids like the Mail and Express in whipping up ignorant hatred against disabled people by teaching the mob that common disabilities are not real and that we are all 'fakes' and 'frauds' and legitimate targets for their hatred when I came across Ms Odone's article. To find the same hate-filled line being repeated in the Telegraph, supposedly a 'quality' broadsheet was utterly depressing.

My 'debilitating but unprovable backache' manifests itself as pain across the entire lower surface of my body if I sit at a desk. Imagine feeling like you have a burn across everything from knees to buttocks, and feeling that every day across 20-odd years of disability. I worked for most of that, but every other day would see me curled up on the office floor, in so much pain that I couldn't string two coherent thoughts together. It might not show on x-rays or MRIs, neuro-plasticity means that the only issue need be the internal wiring of the spinal cord, but multiple rheumatologists and my pain management specialist are in no doubt that my pain is very real, and utterly disabling. Yet apparently Ms Odone is medically qualified to the point of being able to dismiss them without even seeing me.

Forced out of work, even DWP accepted there was no hope of me finding work, but my WCA was a bitter farce that triggered a major flare-up in my disability which lasted months. Never mind the problems shown in last night's documentaries, the ATOS doctor was verbally aggressive from the outset, criticising me for my knowledge of the process, dismissing evidence later proved to be absolutely true as my condition worsened in front of him, and actively trying to prevent me giving the one piece of evidence that qualified me for ESA outright. My report of what happened now forms part of the Work And Pensions Select Committee report into the WCA.

And then last year, no doubt because of the encouragement of hate-filled articles like this, someone reported me to the Benefit Fraud Hotline as working full time. I rarely leave the house more than once a week for a couple of hours, my car sits on the drive in open view for all of that time, yet someone felt able to assure DWP I was a benefit fraudster, because they had been taught by the tabloids and by articles like this that all of us are. The DWP investigator may have dismissed the allegation before she was even through my front door, but the consequences for me were a massive flare-up, lasting months, leaving me barely able to snatch an hours' sleep at a time. And when it came time to renew my ESA claim at Christmas, I was simply unable to do it, every attempt triggering panic attacks. That is the reality that articles like this create for disabled people, that is the climate of hatred we live in. 


  1. I support your position, and am a Spartacist.
    But I have one question for you.
    I know *your* 'debilitating but unprovable backache' is genuine.
    Neither is it is so tritely easy for an alcoholic to 'tackle' their addiction.
    But do we therefore simply pay benefits to everyone who claims they have a 'debilitating but unprovable backache' and continue to pay and care for that alcoholic so that they can give themselves uninconvenienced to drink?
    I know for a fact that large numbers of people simply tell lies to get a blue badge, and that many misuse it when they get one.
    So my question is this: do you believe that there are *no* malingerers who make up/exaggerate their disability to get the benefit? Have you never met anyone who walked with huge difficulty when they go to the doctor yet discos-dancesd when they have a few drinks in them, or was putting in a patio for their son?
    People - ordinary, uncomprending working people - are seeing this every day, in their own street, in their own circle, and they believe the Mail andf the Telegraph, not because they have been fooled by rightist propaganda, but because everyone knows someone who seems (on the face of it) to be cheating the system.
    Thus do we not need a campaign which does not just rail at ATOS and assessment and the 'scrounger' narrative - is that really the issue?
    Are not the issues that:
    1. the ATOS assessment is not fit for purpose
    2. our society does not have adequate mechanisms to support people with a disability so that they can contribute to the community.
    I am not looking for abuse here, but I am raising the question.

    1. Yes there is fraud. The rate is 0.3% for Incapacity Benefit and 0.5% for DLA.

    2. The idea of being “genuinely disabled” or “deservingly disabled” is perhaps the most corrosively damaging thing the government has inflicted on disabled people. Is someone who breaks their neck skydiving really “more deserving” than someone who becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs because of a genetic predisposition, their family background or a history of abuse? Why are the consequences of an elected risk considered acceptable, but the consequences of something inflicted on someone through no fault of their own considered unacceptable? It’s the “hierarchy of disability” under another name and like that is designed to set one disabled person against another.

      “Have you never met anyone who walked with huge difficulty when they go to the doctor yet discos-dancesd when they have a few drinks in them, or was putting in a patio for their son?”

      Yes, me. Yet I’m lying here in pain and when I stand up the trick is going to be getting whatever I need to do done before I end up wobbling on one leg (the opposite leg to the one it was this morning), and that’s despite having done no more than potter about the house all day. The problem is that most of society is overwhelmingly ignorant of the reality of disability, which is that it is often massively counter-intuitive and massively inconsistent.

      You may see me dancing, but you don’t see the pain, you probably won’t notice I sit out every other dance, you won’t see that my weight stays almost exclusively on one leg, and the nature of modern dance will hide the instability that has me constantly at risk of face-planting. (And yes, alcohol is a massively effective painkiller and muscle relaxant).

      You may see me working in the garden, but you won’t see the pain, you won’t see the instability and you won’t see the braces beneath my clothes. You certainly won’t see that it may be the only day in a month, or a year, that I am fit enough to do something, and you certainly won’t see the days I spend recovering afterwards – my record for recovering from overdoing something is a full year, and I’m not convinced I ever got everything back.

      Disability benefit fraud does exist, but it is a tiny problem, and the Tories are trying to cure a hangnail by amputating at the hip.

  2. * trying to prevent me giving the one piece of evidence that qualified me for ESA outright. * I thought that nothing would qualify anybody out right. Because the woman on tv said if you can press 1 button - you canwork

    Its so unfair when life itself is a battle and now it is one fraught with continual fear of everyone, as well as battling to have a life :-(

    1. You have to score 15 points to go into WRAG, at the time I took the assessment not being able to sit for more than 20 minutes scored 15 points. So yes, one piece of evidence can qualify you for WRAG, provided you can force the ATOS quack to allow you to give it.

  3. And you live in a country where benefits are a mostly accepted part of the culture, as is a NHS.

    Be glad you don't live in the US where they'd leave you out on the street to starve or freeze if they could get away with it.

    1. homeless people are a huge reality in the UK,

      and many with children also have to walk miles to food banks.

    2. MEfly...so you're saying the UK is just better at hiding it...why am I not surprised.

      There is going to be blood spilled over this someday. I don't want it to happen, mind you, but the way things are going cannot stand.

  4. malicious unfounded reports of fraud a form of hate crime. I am afraid to be seen in the garden even though my GP said I could do things unless I felt ill. I can actually do little but pulling a few weeds helps me mentally. Some neighbours immediiately rush up to cross question me when I walk to the car. One woman used to ask whomppl were when they gave me a lift! So I now have serious depression. Who gave these ppl the idea they could do this? Why the papers of course and their DWP masters.

    1. Well yes...I feel less afraid to work in my garden now that I am a pensioner....since no-one is likely to report me to the DWP.... I too suffer from severe backache, sometimes to the extent that I CANNOT STAND UP STRAIGHT, let alone walk unaided. And why do people like Odone and her ilk always choose BACKACHE as likely to be 'fraudulent'? No, people can't SEE the pain, they can see us limping around on walking sticks, or bent double as we shuffle to the bus stop....I can assure everyone that most of the taxi drivers in Stroud can testify that my backache is genuine!! And when it is not hurting,yes I work in my garden - there are ways of modifying gardening for disabled people - AND it's therapeutic in a lot of other ways - AND I grow food!!

  5. Hi David,

    Nice article. Got me thinking...

    We’re making a feature film called The Redistributors in London this summer – targeting the issues of inequality and the growing disparity between rich and poor.

    It’s a thriller made for a mainstream audience, trying to keep these issues in the public mind. The appeal should be wide-reaching when we release to cinemas in 2013.

    Would appreciate any support or thoughts on the project!


    Kind regards,


    1. If you want to show the reality, show disabled people being attacked on the street, both verbally and physically, by utter strangers, for no better reason than being disabled. Show profoundly disabled people left to lie in their own waste overnight, because the courts rule that is an acceptable level of care.