Back in 2011, when I first started my (thankfully?!) brief blogging venture, I mostly spoke about my experiences as someone with a hearing impairment. My belief then, further reinforced by events since, was that “society” has a relatively poor understanding of “disability”. Politicians, and the agencies of the government (DWP, etc.) have an even worse one!
Whenever Westminster wants a soft target to garner media attention, they usually focus on “benefits” in general, and – often – the sick &/or the disabled in particular. The national press, and not just the usual suspects of the Sun, the Mail and the Express, lap it up, and go mad trying to find someone who may be abusing the system. [DWP/ government statistics unfailingly show that the % of fraud is miniscule. If you want big numbers, look at tax avoidance ...]
First up; ANY system – no matter how sophisticated – will always have a small number of people who find a way of cheating it. Just look at Parliament and MPs expenses ….
Concentrate of catching the cheats, not on a high profile campaigns to make the genuine feel ashamed of claiming. Usually these result in the elderly, or the mentally ill cutting themselves adrift and becoming isolated.
Secondly, can someone please explain to the policy makers that “disability” means many different things to many different people. The disabled are NOT a homogeneous group with identical, or even similar, needs and problems There are different levels of impairment, and different people – for reasons of confidence, for reasons of support (or lack of!) or simple attitude – cope in different ways.
Two people with very similar degrees of the same disability will, quite possibly, cope very differently. The individual needs assessing, NOT the disability.
Similarly, can someone please explain that not all disabilities are visually obvious. The sight impaired sometimes have a nice cuddly Labrador, and the mobility impaired sometimes have wheelchairs – both clear indications of a problem (and, sadly, often an invitation for some to patronise!); BUT, many disabilities are invisible.
You’d have to look hard to see my hearing aid, especially when I’m not wearing it :-). Then there are serious, life-changing conditions like Crohns Disease, heart disease, lung disorders, and a whole host of others. There is also the “Cinderella” of all disabilities – the issue of mental health, still stigmatised in the twenty first century.
I spent nearly 25 years in welfare rights – with the CABx, with the Probation Service and with a local authority. I know from personal experience of thousands of clients, that simply paying a weekly stipend to bugger off and stay at home is no solution; but neither is a unrealistic workfare programme with non-jobs and intimidating sanctions.
This is still one of the richest nations on the planet. We can – apparently – afford two aircraft carriers at countless billions, even though we don’t have any aircraft to fly from them. We can afford £224 million penalties on cancellation of a failed contract for the Borders Agency. We can even afford to consider replacing a nuclear weapons system in a world where the real threat is often in our own communities ….
Surely, we can afford to spend a bit of time on finding long term, realistic ways of supporting our own people? The quality of a society is measured on how it treats its most disadvantaged, not on how draconian it is to them.