Like playground bullies, journalists and politicians gang up on the sick and disabled
Sick and disabled people are being particularly hard hit by this government, with one study estimating we will lose around a third of our incomes. Measures that affect us include:
- Cuts to Employment Support Allowance (formerly Incapacity Benefit) and Disability Living Allowance
- Social care packages being slashed
- The housing benefit cap, which affects sick and disabled people disproportionately
- All benefits to be “reassessed” – but that assessment has been found unfit for purpose by every major study
- Vital hospices and special schools closing
- Successful work programmes and independent living programmes cut or scrapped.
You can imagine how frightening this is. The sick and disabled have less control over their futures. They often can’t just go out and get a job. Even if they were capable, who would employ them over a healthy person? They often have no choice but to hope that they can survive on what they are left with.
Yesterday (as on many other days) we woke up to find national newspapers, egged on by government ministers, calling us "scroungers" and "skivers".
“SCANDAL OF 80,000 ON SICKNESS BENEFITS FOR MINOR AILMENTS… INCLUDING DIARRHOEA,” screamed the Daily Mail, listing “diarrhoea”, “depression”, “headaches”, “blisters”, “drug abuse” and even “nail disorders” as proof that most people claiming incapacity benefit were just fakers. They used a picture of someone snorting white powder through a rolled up note to make their point.
“BLITZ ON BRITAIN’S BENEFITS MADNESS,” screamed the Express, contrasting those on “sickness handouts” with “hard-working taxpayers”. They quoted Tory MP Philip Davies as saying: “People are sick to the back teeth of being taken for a ride by people sponging and scrounging and abusing the system.”
Even if we ignore the fact that the statistics only list the initial condition reported (eg someone with a “nail disorder” could also have kidney failure, someone classified under “drug abuse” could also be mentally ill) these “fake” conditions deserve a closer look.
I have “diarrhoea”. But why? Because I have severe bowel disease. I’ve had 32 growths removed from my guts, 7 major operations to save my life and I inject myself with chemo. If we’re going to cherry pick random symptoms we must be very clear what they relate to.
“Blisters” might be a symptom of epidermolysis bullosa, a terrible disease that means the sufferer’s skin blisters and comes away at the lightest touch, causing horrific scarring and agonising pain.
“Headaches” could be cluster headaches (also known as suicide headaches), a cause of intense and excruciating pain.
Once we get into the realms of addicts, alcoholics and the obese “causing” their own conditions, where do we stop? Do we exclude the smoker who developed lung cancer or the horse-rider who’s hobby “caused” her own paraplegia?
More to the point, how does this kind of attack help? How are people meant to be “assessed” fairly if complex medical conditions are reduced to a bunch of unworthy symptoms?
Attacks like these set sick person against disabled person, they set neighbour against neighbour. They make sick or disabled people feel they are being constantly judged – afraid to go out looking too “well” in case they are thought of as cheats.
It feels a bit like kicking the geeky kid with glasses in the playground. It’s gutter politics and gutter journalism – in which the playground bullies are all grown up.
Sue Marsh blogs at Diary of a Benefit Scrounger.
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