Wednesday 16 July 2014

New Disability Minister, Same as the Old Disability Minister

In an utter farce during yesterday's Cabinet reshuffle, disabled people were left for several hours under the impression the post of Minister for Disabled People had been axed. Existing minister Mike Penning, no loss, had been moved off to become Minister for State for both Policing and Justice, the sort of authoritarian roles which will clearly suit him better, and the odious Esther 'they get better' McVey, his predecessor in the role before being promoted to Minister of State for Employment had had her government web page amended to say that, 'from July 2014' she was taking over the responsibilities for the Minister for Disabled People role. Then, much later, came the announcement, and via 'rumours from within DWP' to quote the Guardian's Politics Blog, rather than being announced via Cameron's twitter feed as with other appointments, that Mark Harper would be taking over as Minister for Disabled People. Clearly disabled people are beneath Cameron's dignity to address as he does for other ministerial posts.

So who is Mark Harper? Well, for a start he's the former Minister for Immigration who signed off on the 'Go Home' racist vans, and I say 'former Minister' because it then emerged he was employing an illegal immigrant as his cleaner and had to resign. But after a bare six months on the back benches his record has been washed clean and he's back in government. The question is whether he'll be any different to his three Tory predecessors: Miller, Miller, the Cripple Killer, the odious 'they get better' McVey, and Penning, all of whom have functioned more as Ministers against Disabled People than Ministers for Disabled People. Well the good news is he actually has some background with disability, having been Shadow Minister for Disabled People before he was elected, the bad news is that he has form for openly accusing disabled benefit claimants of being frauds and scroungers, and he did this while Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform in the Cabinet Office. Appearing on Any Questions on 10 September 2010, Harper stated: "There are definitely some people in our country, and everyone in every community knows who they are, who are able to work, and don't, and those people mustn't be given the option of staying on benefits when other people are going out and working incredibly hard to try and support their families" and then, when told by the original questioner that he should be condemned for his language: "I gave a very balanced answer, when I said there are some people, and it was very clear during the General Election campaign, because everybody sees them, able-bodied people who have no barriers to work who choose not to. And there's nothing that upsets people who work hard to take care of their families, who see other people living at least as good a life as they do, who don't work for a living. They find it outrageous and particularly when money is very tight, they want the government to do something about it." This is absolutely classic IDS-style demonization of disabled people with all the requisite buzz-words of 'hard-working people' and 'everybody sees them' to imply that the overwhelming majority of disabled people in receipt of disability benefits are frauds and scroungers, and that if you don't agree then you aren't one of the right-thinking people. Thrown into the middle of that there's also the gem of "the Work Programme... will be very personalized ... trying to fit the help that they get to the particular needs that they've got" - if anyone has come across the Work Programme doing that, let us know! You can listen to him saying all of this here, from 32:45.

So there we have it, the new Minister Against Disabled People, wielding the demonization brush with the best of them and clearly no more a friend and supporter of Disabled People than any of his predecessors.

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