Some people might see me as an ‘acceptable’ sort of disabled person. I work, pay tax and generally feel pretty positive about my life. But I’ll let you into a secret: this isn’t because I’m saintly or have an exceptional character. It’s because I’ve got the right support, because I’m healthy and because I’m able to access support schemes that other disabled and non-disabled people have fought for. But now, the current Government is systematically dismantling many of these.
Yesterday the Minister for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, told his party conference that disabled people must be made to work their way out of poverty. He said: “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.”
Now I might be able to take this bold claim seriously if he’d also announced the restoration of the Independent Living Fund, the removal of the cap on Access to Work, investment in mental health services, local authorities, and social care. Or that legal aid was to be funded properly so that discriminatory employment practices could be challenged again.
But he didn’t.
So let’s be clear who he’s talking about. Benefit frauds? Fraud relating to out-of-work disability and sickness is estimated at less than 0.3% according to the Government’s own statistics, so small a number that it clearly can’t be just them.
No, the people he’s talking about are people with cancer, people with learning disabilities, people in chronic pain, people desperately ill with mental or physical health conditions. He’s talking about the 2,380 who died soon after being assessed as ‘fit for work’ by ATOS. He’s talking about Michael, Stuart, Danika Malcolm, David and Tim.
Let’s also be clear on who he’s talking to.
He’s talking to people who may be frightened about losing their jobs or status. He’s talking to people who might have limited experience of disability or who have only encountered it in later life and whose financial independence is well established. He’s playing on the basic idea that someone else could be getting more than you’re getting, and that that’s certainly more than they deserve.
I don’t believe for a second that most people in this country, faced with someone ill or vulnerable, would want to turn away and leave them to fight their way through, or die trying.
Mr Smith if we don’t ‘lift’ sick and disabled people we drop them further into poverty, shorten their lives and risk killing them.
Here’s what IDS said put the other way round so it’s clearer what he means:
‘We will drop you out of society by simply refusing to use the money that taxpayers pay to help you. Work your way out of illness.’
IDS talks about taxpayers – almost everyone pays taxes or is the child of people who do. At some point in our lives most of us will need to claim sickness or disability benefits.
IDS says: “We want to help them live lives independent of the state.”
I work hard. I earn a good living and I’m good at my job. But my life’s not independent of the state and unless my needs substantially change it won’t ever be. Without state support I wouldn’t be able to work, contribute, or live a meaningful life.
Here’s a glimpse of how integral state support is to me on an average working day:
Enough sleep to be able to function = My NHS prescription card for my medication, and my Disability Living Allowance (DLA) that funds my night-time support worker and my alarm system. Without this funding I’d be at constant risk of having a ‘ticcing fit’ in the night, alone, face down, unable to breathe.
Getting out of bed = My personal budget funded by my local authority means I’m helped to get washed and dressed and ready for work. The bath-lift provided by my occupational therapist means that my carer doesn’t risk injuring herself and needing support of her own. She helps me put on the DLA-funded padded gloves and kneepads that mean my skin isn’t shredded and bleeding before I’m out the door.
Getting to work = My support worker, funded by Access to Work, keeps me safe on my journey to work. We go in the taxi funded by the same scheme, essential because of London’s inaccessible transport network.
At Work = My support worker keeps me safe and enables me to do my job. At the water cooler my drinks go into a lidded cup, again paid for by the DLA, ensuring that both my work and I stay dry. I can move around only by using my wheelchair (the NHS, Access to Work and DLA are all instrumental here). At lunchtime my support worker’s paid through my social care funded budget otherwise it would be a choice between not eating or cutting myself up instead of my food.
And so my day goes on.
My ability to work is totally dependent on schemes aimed at giving me equality with my colleagues. Remove my support and you remove my ability to work.
The support I need to keep working costs money, quite a lot of money (but not nearly as much as it costs taxpayers to keep an MP). Most of it doesn’t come directly to me at all but goes to the support workers without whom I would have no career, no independence and no quality of life.
IDS told his audience that his welfare policies were, “rooted in human nature, not utopianism nor empty pity.” What does this mean?
I don’t want pity and I don’t know a single disabled person who does. I want a life, a future and equality. And I want this for every other person in the UK too.
I reject the idea that wanting to live in a fair, equal society is ‘utopian’, or in any way contrary to human nature.
To the Tory Party membership I say don’t let your leaders dismiss the 80,000 people protesting outside your conference as ‘assorted crusties’. They are human beings, tens of thousands of human beings moved to take to the streets to protest against policies that are causing huge suffering.
Before applauding IDS’s hateful speech, ask yourself ‘What if…’
‘What if I become ill?’ ‘What if my child ‘sinks into depression?’ ‘What if my grandchild is born with a learning disability?’ ‘What if my granddad gets Alzheimer’s?’
And what if there were no such notions of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ disabled people? What if we all recognised that there would be no paralympians if there were no benefits? And what if disabled people didn’t need lifting out of unemployment at all because all they needed was a level playing field?
I’m a taxpayer, I work every hour I can and I’m very happy for the money I pay in tax to be used to lift people whose doctors deem too ill to work out of poverty. I’m not one myself but I’m sure that cutting sick people’s benefits and dropping them further into poverty will only make them sicker.
IDS Syndrome is something that’s going to effect us all if we’re not careful.