Anybody who has followed the UK's wanton oppression of Britain's disabled people within recent times, will not need any reminding of the details of why the UN recently accused the UK Government of creating a 'human catastrophe' for disabled people. Indeed, speak to disabled people and they not only feel that their human rights have been totally 'neglected' as the UN recently argued, but most cannot see a way of ever regaining the foothold they once had in their fight for equality. A systemic inequality that is generated from a sustained three-pronged socio-cultural attack within British society, stemming from disability hate crime, discrimination and government welfare reform. And it's a three-pronged onslaught that doesn't seem to be ready to abate any time soon.
Of course, we should be careful not to lump all three phenomena into one big melting-pot and thereby lose the distinct flavour of each. However, ultimately in the UK at least, we may need to treat hate crime, discrimination and welfare reform as components in the wider scheme of things - of the UK's deep-rooted maltreatment of disability and its overall domination and oppression of disability. Certainly (for me at least) all three components have their roots in the same social poison that has surrounded disability for hundreds of years - something that Marion Young may have regarded as a form of 'cultural imperialism'. A way in which social groups become negatively differentiated by the socio-cultural norms or practices of the most dominant within society. Social and cultural norms that mark out the good behaviour or preferred social traits from the bad ones - social practices that thereby become normative and acceptable practices.
Arguably, this concept is an important one in any discussion of the modern day treatment of disability within the UK, because it helps us to focus upon the relationships that disabled people have with other social groups. By focusing on the relationships that exist between disabled people and the able-bodied, between the disabled and their employers or between the disabled and the state, we can pick out the highly visible inequalities exposed by the social norms and social practices that currently exist. The inequalities that have created the 'human catastrophe' that the UN recently illuminated.
Within hate crime perpetrated against disability, my own research over the years has noted that in most cases of abuse, harassment and violence, the re-occurring key characteristics of 'Exploitation', 'Incarceration', 'Accusation' (as a precursor to violence) and 'Entertainment' are often visible - either in isolation from each other or in combination. For some time now I have argued that these key elements intentionally or unintentionally mimic or mirror the historical treatment of disability within British society. Where disabled people were often segregated from society, either institutionalised (or incarcerated in other words) into hospitals, schools or care-homes and often after accusations was made about their physical, mental or moral 'defectiveness'. Many of whom were subjected to exploitation and severe emotional or physical abuse. Sometimes we also witnessed disabled people being exploited purely for entertainment value and titillation, either put on display for medical curiosity, or on wider public display in the Victorian 'freak-shows' or circus's.
Whether people agree or not that the roots of today's negative treatment of disability within the UK can be traced back to the social and cultural norms of yesteryear, behaviours that somehow get reproduced and normalised from one society to another, we cannot avoid pointing out some similarities at least. For example, today we may view whole groups of disabled people being exploited for money or sexual favours, physically and psychologically abused for 'fun' or accused of being layabouts, scroungers and even paedophiles. Discriminated against for employment because they are perceived to be 'unproductive' or subjected to welfare reforms, accused of milking and abusing the welfare benefit system. What hate crime, discrimination and government welfare reforms arguably have in common with the past, is that all three factors are often based on some level of accusation, working to marginalise disabled people from society (intentionally or not).
It's a marginalisation process that is akin to formal institutionalisation, by informally segregating disability from the able-bodied within society. Abuse, harassment and violence that limits disabled people from going about their daily lives in public spaces. Discrimination that stops disabled people getting jobs or more suitable housing, making them more dependent upon their families, charity and the state. And welfare reform that has ramped up an increase in the political, media and social scrutiny of disability itself, and arguably stirring up both prejudice and discrimination along the way. Reforms that has driven large numbers of disabled people to be removed from the welfare system via sanctions or falsely designated 'fit for work'. Reforms that many disabled people argue has actually made life more difficult, further limiting their opportunity to be visible within society and contribute towards society.
The UK government has continually argued for years that it is simply trying to reduce the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people, making employment more 'attractive' to disabled people, and largely by making the welfare system seem less generous and thereby less appealing. Presenting figures that seemingly support their claim, were the employment of disabled people has indeed risen by around 5% over the past three years or so. However, investigate those figures more closely and we find newly employed disabled people living pretty much a hand-to-mouth existence on the minimum wage, working part-time or placed upon zero-hours contracts. Rising employment figures that also include disabled people who have worked for only one hour or who are actually on government training schemes. In effect, government statistics that are little more than a cheap propaganda tool, a crude piece of government PR that intentionally distorts the real picture. Statistics, where the devil is firmly hidden within the detail and where the detail is there for all to see, simply by talking to disabled people themselves.
Arguably, it's not morally acceptable to witness vulnerable people being pushed into taking any old job, and simply in order to get them off the welfare system in a highly simplistic policy of.....sink or swim. Any employment for disabled people has to be sustainable employment. But what government is forcing disabled people into is something that is not just unsustainable, but something totally catastrophe. Where disabled people with serious heart conditions have died shortly after being forced into taking employment that was far too demanding, and where adults with the mental age of 5 year-olds are being sent for work capability assessments. Surely, it would be disingenuous to argue that the powers that be are still not aware of the problems it is creating for disabled people after all these years, and as the huge bank of evidence continues to be piled up against them. Evidence seen and validated by the UN itself?
It is evidence that implies that Government is not merely introducing ill-thought-out policy that has somehow and inadvertently had negative and totally unforeseen consequences, but policy that is argued by many disabled people to be deliberate and where the consequences are pretty much well-known beforehand. The aim, to reduce the numbers of disabled people perceived as being....disabled, hereby instantly reducing the numbers dependent upon state welfare. Actions that become a simple, ideological, warning shot across the bows of all sick and disabled people (as well as the rest of British society in general) that contain the very clear message....."Everybody is expected to 'work' and if you cannot or will not 'work', then expect VERY severe consequences as a result". In short, it's a message of - no work, no money. Or to put it another way - no work and you will most likely die. The powers that be have therefore decided and often in spite of medical expertise, that the majority of physically disabled people can do more than they say they can. While those with severe intellectual or psychological challenges are to be 'encouraged' to work for less than the national minimum wage - in order to make themselves more competitive in the jobs market. The £2 an hour for example, that a senior government welfare reformer once argued for.
Most of us could easily guess what the consequences would be from enacting short-sighted and highly drastic 'reform' where state welfare is deliberately switched off and withdrawn from Britain's most vulnerable - and simply in order to correct any potential 'idle' behaviour of its citizens. Even if the end result isn't a deliberate attempt to kill off millions of sick and disabled people, who really cares if that actually happens? As the UN recently illuminated, sick and disabled people now consider themselves to be second-class citizens within British society, often threated as valueless, a burden upon society and a very easy target for both formal state abuse and the informal abuse, harassment and violence that we see from any Tom, Dick or Harriet who is passing by.
Even after thousands of vulnerable people have died after being declared erroneously 'fit for work', government still carries on regardless with its policies unchanged - despite continued and hostile criticism from the UN itself. Something that speaks volumes of the confidence that these politicians have in the actions they take and the lack of embarrassment they show over the use of stats that can easily be shown up as bogus, nor the sleight of hand they often employ in order to justify themselves. We therefore should not kid ourselves that government doesn't know full-well the consequences of its actions, although they well may not sleep well at night because of them.
Although some people may be shocked by the assertion that a modern-day society such as Britain would intentionally treat its most vulnerable people in society in such a deliberate and callous manner, it's arguably not a new phenomenon. If we look back throughout British history, we can easily find instances where similar political red-lines have been drawn up for Britain's most vulnerable in society. For example, British laws dealing with the laziness of its poor date back to the mid 1500's. Including the introduction of laws on begging and vagrancy, some of which have even been dusted off in recent times to be used again, applied by those local authorities who see a growing homelessness problem and pinpoint the causes to a similar lack of motivation on behalf of its unfortunate victims. Going back even further to the 1400's, we find the 'houses of correction' that were established simply in order to control what was perceived to be a growing idleness or homelessness problem - where vagrants were locked up and punished for their 'laziness'. In later years, as Britain's prisons became over-crowded with the idle-poor and debtors, our political whizz-kids then preceded to send thousands of prisoners off to the colonies that had recently been established in North America and Australia - in order to ease the problem.
I therefore make no apologies for accusing the current UK government of plotting similar absurd controls over today's poor - people who are equally perceived as just being lazy and unmotivated. An old-fashioned and authoritarian policy of kicking the poor up the backside rather than giving them a timely and helpful hand. A detailed report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last year found that almost half of people in poverty within the UK are indeed disabled people, or at least live in a household with a disabled person. So, when a government is made up from a political party that proudly declares its economic ideology to be based in the philosophy and economics of the 1700's, wearing those colours like a badge of honour, we should not be too surprised when a similar kind of hostility and a basic lack of understanding is shown towards those in poverty. With the likes of Adam Smith, economic liberalism and free-market economics at its core, it's an economic philosophy that still fervently and religiously promotes self-interest and competition as the sole generator of economic prosperity. Economic philosophy that was developed when the UK's population was a mere fraction of what it is today, and arguably it's a philosophy that is also clearly, long past its sell-by-date.
Currently within the UK, we are in the middle of the yearly political conference season. For the first time in many years, Britain's Labour Party now stand firmly on a platform of (mildly) socialist principals, with policies that attack the model of economic liberalism and its associated free market. A model that has been employed to various degrees over the years, not only by the present government but previous governments, including Labour itself. It was a platform that was largely expected to be roundly rejected by the electorate at the ballot box during this year's rather hastily arranged general election. Socialist influenced ideas or ideology that was expected to be assigned to the rubbish bin for the rest of eternity, and arguably, so that British politics' could quickly get back to its usual monkey business of maintaining the status quo.
However, as we all know, Jeremy Corbyn's brand of socialism did far better than most expected and predicted, lagging a very respectable 2% behind the Conservatives at the polling booth. Still a defeat, but one that lost the Conservatives its previous majority in the House of Commons, forcing them into yet another coalition government - this time with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland. A controversial alliance whose birth was delivered by an equally controversial £1 Billion handshake to the DUP, made up of taxpayer's money, and despite assertions that government doesn't have a 'magic money tree' where funds can simply and quickly be found in order to solve all of the UK's ills. As they say around the parts of Britain were I live, at least Dick Turpin, an infamous highwayman, had the decency to wear a mask.
What Corbyn's success has inadvertently generated is a belief that Britain's public have now moved away from the political right-wing, leaving Corbyn arguably in the 'new' centre ground of British politics. A centre ground that believes in the re-nationalisation of Britain's utilities, its railways, and yes, more money to be put into the NHS, social care and its welfare system. Whether that also means more money for disabled people too, only time will tell. However, all evidence points towards benefit reforms not only having a disastrous effect on disabled people's ability to live independently, but that negative attitudes toward disabled people still remain highly prominent. With people with mental health conditions, learning disabilities or memory impairment, particularly prone to abuse, stigmatisation and marginalisation. Certainly, there was a suggestion only a couple of years ago that Brits had become much more wary of its benefit system, perceiving it as both overgenerous and open to abuse. In fact, one of the key arguments of the European Referendum campaign to get Britain out of the EU, was that EU rules wouldn't let the welfare reformers go as far as they would have liked. A rather chilling notion when we consider that Britain actually voted to leave the EU and will do so in March 2019.
Despite that, there is an argument circulating in the political arena now, that the economic system of the 1700's cannot adequately cater for the huge populations of people we see today - a population with its various abilities, disabilities, interests and skills. Even Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics would arguably reject the path that 'capitalism' has taken over the last three hundred years or so. Despite the continual hype of the free-market system in producing prosperity, Smith wasn't so short-sighted in spotting its flaws, warning that capitalists rarely gather together without planning some kind of collusion against the public. He would perhaps also be surprised to find that rather than the benefits of economic growth being passed around the whole of British society as he suggested, it is the capitalists themselves who disproportionately consume the benefits of the free market.
If the 60-odd million people within the UK today are indeed all self-interested individuals as Smith once intimated back in the 18th century, then it would probably also come as no surprise to see the most competitive of those trample and steamroller over the rest of us in a rampant display of social Darwinism at its most aggressive. Particularly without any kind of serious economic regulation put in place to control such urges. A highly competitive but completely dysfunctional society, where the rich and famous get offered very kind of freebie under the sun, while the homeless get chucked into prison for even daring to go through the refuse bins of the local supermarket, looking for something to eat. A dysfunctional society in visible free-fall, where even working hard won't necessarily guarantee you a share of the spoils, and may still mark you out as someone who was just far too lazy and unmotivated to be 'successful'. And it's a lack of motivation that may finally eventually kill you off, if Britain's government has anything to do with it.
At best, government welfare reform aimed towards Britain's sick and disabled border on what some people have actually argued to be 'corporate manslaughter' - a systemic failure that breaches the governments duty of care. At worse, it is policy that may even drive a not-so-covert policy of genocide through a very wide gap in the back-door. We only have to refer to Gordon Allport's theories on prejudice to see how prejudice can escalate into something much more sinister and brutal. And we only have to refer back to Nazi Germany to see what happens when state prejudice is taken to the max.
So, does the UK Government really want to see more disabled people enter the world of employment or is it really pushing through a sinister policy of genocide? The honest and sad answer is..... Probably a little bit of both. Yes, I believe government does want to see more disabled people within employment. However, there is a caveat to my answer. Of course, government arguably wants ALL of its citizens to be able to work, be they disabled or abled-bodied. Or to put this more accurately, it doesn't want a welfare system were millions of people are supported by the state, disabled or not. Basically, you are to be increasingly left to fend for yourself, regardless of your life situation and circumstances.
The economic doctrine of the 1700's states that you are meant to be self-responsible and self-reliant. Therefore from the get-go, sickness and disability blatantly flew in the face of this basic corner-stone of economic liberalism. If Britain's Labour Party of the moment offer a vision of an equal society that works for all, today's economic liberalists of the year 2017 still only offer a vision of equality where everybody has to work, regardless of life circumstances and where everybody is expected to pay the same taxes, regardless of income. In addition, there is no economic value to be had in a body that is unable to work or one that is 'unproductive' - you might as well be dead for all the use you are.
Interestingly, the urgency by which the current PM dashed to the electoral polls this year in order to take advantage of a 'terrible' opposition party that was seemingly led by an dithering, incompetent, commie pacifist, also attempted to push through another series of economic changes aimed at rolling back Britain's welfare state even further away from its most vulnerable. An agenda that planned to strip millions of pensioners of their winter fuel payments and a social care plan so bad that it was immediately dubbed the 'dementia tax'. An agenda that caused so much controversy that it had to be dropped even before the election took place. All this from a PM who was initially handed power on plate from her own party, without a general election, but stating that she would be:
"....fighting against the burning injustice that if you're born poor you will die on average nine years earlier than others". And.....
"The government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives".
A loud guffaw was heard across the land from people who sensed that despite a change in Prime Minister, it was still going to be business, pretty much as usual.
The equality goal-posts for disabled people have undoubtedly shifted so much over the last 10 years or so, that for many British politicians, disabled people are no longer perceived to be a social group automatically deserving of or automatically entitled to state help. Listen to politicians of all parties and rarely will there be any mention of sickness or disability by name. Only the 'working' poor are mentioned and it is only the 'working' poor and those who are seen to be doing the 'right thing' who are ultimately deserving of state intervention.
Today's disabled have effectively been 'redefined' by British politics into an deviant and potentially bone-idle group who indeed need to be monitored and kept under state control - like they used to be in the dark and distant past. People who could work if they wished and who can often do more than they say they can - something that is a key premise of the Work Capability Assessment. An assessment process of sickness and disability that was actually introduced by a previous Labour government, but one that was arguably driven more by economic liberalism than by Corbyn's new brand of socialism. A process that at its heart, believes many people to be faking their inability to work, for financial gain. And it's an assessment that is little more than a welfare removal process, where both government and state departments set targets in order to remove as many welfare claimants as possible from the system.
But's it's a shifting of the goal-posts that has arguably also redefined what 'equality' really means. For today's economic liberalists we are all born equal, but it is our own actions in life and lack of motivation that make us 'unequal'. We are therefore all to be treated the same, regardless of income, with any inequality basically perceived as completely of our own making. There are no structures that create inequality and there are no barriers to social mobility or progression. Life is therefore a bunch of sweet smelling roses. This redefined definition of equality is purely about everybody paying equal taxes and having a government that does not interfere in the relationships of human-kind. Even if some people want to dominate and exploit others for their own economic, social or psychological advantage.
But do the great and good really want to see sick and disabled people killed off? Well, only the architects of Britain's welfare reform can truly answer that question. But if they do not actually want to see disabled people sent to a modern-day version of the gas chamber, any subsequent deaths from its welfare removal shenanigans may merely become tolerated as 'collateral damage'. An unfortunate by-product caused by policy born out of perceived necessary - actions aimed at both protecting and regenerating a seemingly 'eroded' work ethic. Not that any evidence as ever been presented to highlight such an erosion, of course.
While government planners witter on about the free-market and self-responsibility, once in employment ourselves, we are all generally tied into any amount of corporate rules, regulations and monitoring systems. No laissez-faire policy for us mere mortals, free from the constant interventions of over-bearing and overzealous managers or their sub-lieutenants. The work-ethic in this instance thereby becomes a very large stick by which people are constantly beat over the head with. Something highly dependent itself upon the availability of work in order to assert itself in all its glory - and based in an economic world where full employment is not necessarily seen as a good thing anyway.
Of course, once in employment, we are all cajoled to display the ability to work 'hard', but that may be the easy bit when actually finding employment is often the hardest job of all. Discrimination is rife amongst British employers, for all sorts of reasons and not only against disability. And not everybody in the UK can be innovators or inventors. So, many of us may indeed flounder in this aggressive, highly toxic world of economic-liberalist woe, where being available and motivated for employment doesn't necessarily mean you will actually find any. However, having no job at all, even in an economic recession will still be seen as your own fault and a reflection on your lack of effort, self-motivation and inability to be competitive. Arguably, a situation that will get steadily worse in a world where more and more jobs are being lost to both robotics and AI technology, something which the Bank of England estimated could be as high as 15 million in the fore-coming years. A huge sea-change in the making, work ethic or not, abled-bodied or not.
For disabled people, they are already in the midst of a huge sea-change. The de-institutionalisation of disability in the 1980's arguably raised the visibility and profile of disability within the UK. However, a moral panic has subsequently been created over the numbers of disabled people we now see, with many accused of faking sickness or disability, or at least exaggerating their disability - for money. Since laziness and sponging are historically obnoxious activities within British society, society is arguably and actively seeking to shove disability back into its margins. Political talk of an eroding work-ethic thereby becomes little more than a cheap and easy way to sell reform to a gullible public, and one who will certainly be the target of welfare reform themselves in the near future.
In reality, British society doesn't require a large scale work-force to exist anymore. But the continual promotion of the 'work-ethic' as some kind of eleventh holy commandment not only helps to hinder what plans the devil may have for any Brit with idle-hands, but arguably also aids any government that seeks to divide and rule its very own population. Disabled people have historically been painted as a morally deviant group, so welfare reform becomes a very easy sell to those who are already pre-programmed with this basic, background information.
The main point of this article is not actually to rant and rave about the continuing oppression of disability, but to put across some of the reasons why British disabled people feel totally abandoned now - placed into a hopeless position by an oppression that is unlikely to get any lighter. We hear a lot these days about the failures of capitalism and of free-market economics - and how capitalism faces a crisis of validity. We see and hear the protests of the anti-capitalists and the anti-globalists. We witness the run on British currency when something minor irritates the investors, and we gawp at the rampant corruption of the global banking system. And of course, we witness the brutality of a UK government seemingly determined to drive sick and disabled people into an early grave. Events all viewed simply as failures of 'the' system. Sure, more and more people from all political backgrounds are questioning events and watching developments much more closely. But are these political failures, really failures at all or are they just examples of a system whose practitioners are becoming so hyper-confident that they can simply keep on getting away with any wanton behaviour they wish? A system that is arguably becoming more extreme by the day and one seemingly growing in confidence - not diminishing in confidence.
As we've seen recently with the UN investigation over the violation of the human rights of disabled people, an investigation that has been ongoing for years, nothing has changed despite that investigation. In spite of the criticism of its policies, in spite of the deaths, government just keeps happily trucking along, doing what it does. The day after Jeremy Corbyn launched a vicious conference speech on the failures of capitalism and the free-market, the British Prime Minister herself felt compelled to quickly defend free market capitalism in a speech marking 20 years since the Bank of England was given the independence to set interest rates. Rather interestingly, soon after that speech, the Bank of England let slip that those 'independent' rates would more than likely increase soon - for the first time in 10 years. Interest rates that will increase both mortgage repayments and credit card repayments, something that obviously hits the poorest, the hardest. As the general public become increasingly restless for real change, even apparently shifting towards 'socialist' principles, it is a restlessness that is increasingly backed up by a willingness to undertake strike action in order to fight for the cause.
Call me an old fashioned conspiracy theorist, but as soon as this newly 'socialist' opposition party formally sets out its most radical plan for winning power. Including 'war-gaming' any potential economic attack that may be launched at them by the global financial system and its investors - should the Labour Party regain power. Then we see the economic liberalists go into full-frontal attack mode. And it's an attack that is arguably aimed at undermining Labour's support base, by making it less possible for Britain's working poor to risk losing money by taking strike action. As well as undermining a growing confidence to take on a capitalist system that can simply pull the economic plug on any government it doesn't actually like.
From 2008 onwards, trillions of US dollars and British pounds have been spent in order to bail out a 'failing' economic system. A bailout initiated by political parties on both sides of the US-UK pond who are often argued to be 'left' wing in nature. Yet, that system was kept fully intact, without any type of real reform or regulation. The question we really need to be asking then, is why? Rather than a system failure, it looks very much like a system that worked very nicely for those who got handed those trillions of US dollars and UK pounds. An economic-political stitch-up by those who may simply be passing power backwards and forwards amongst themselves, saying that there is very little they can actually do for the likes of me and you, because - "it's the economy, stupid".
Of course, I may indeed just be an old, conspiracy theorist. However, what I've argued is largely what many disabled people also feel is happening. That the deck of political and economic cards is firmly stacked against them, and no matter who gets into power under the current banner of economic liberalism, nothing will ever change. Clearly, those who WOULD like to change things for the better are highly likely to get nobbled in the process, one way or another. Sorry Jeremy.
But it is interesting at least that British disabled people continue to bear the brunt of aggressive 'austerity' measures put into place after 2010 in order to ease its national debt problem, a debt problem primarily caused by the hundreds of Billions the UK government used to bail out the dodgy activities of its banks and financial institutions from 2008 onwards. Especially when we keep in mind that when Britain's welfare state originated after WWII, its national debt was more than 220% of GDP, and these days that debt is down to 80% of GDP. Now, I'm not an economic expert, but even with a national debt near to £2 trillion, Britain is not so broke and not so on-its-uppers that it needs to squeeze its most vulnerable citizens until they bleed. Even before the global financial crash, it was clear that disabled people were being gunned for by Britain's politicians and primarily over benefit fraud. Yet, benefit fraud actually costs the UK much less than official error over welfare payments does. So, is something afoot? Yes or no?
As I said earlier, rather than these events being a failure of capitalism and economic liberalism, arguably they are what the capitalists would consider to be successes. Shoving disabled people back into the margins of society is one such success, since sickness and disability are a very clear abomination to capitalism, where disability is perceived to have no economic value to the 'system'. However, the proof of the pudding will always be in the eating and the validity of any theory will always be in its predictive ability. My prediction is therefore that disability hate crime will not be decreasing any time soon, neither will discrimination over employment and neither will disabled people be spared further welfare reforms. If those things do indeed materialise, then you don't need to be a conspiracy theorist nor a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. At least within the UK.
2 EESC hearing revealed almost a million EU citizens may be deprived of their right to vote in the upcoming European elections as a result of their disability, and many more may face obstacles casting their ballots...
5 Paul Dodenhoff writes on an interesting parallel between British citizens caught up in policy aimed at slashing Britain's immigration numbers, and Britain's disabled people caught in a similar assault upon slashing numbers of people receiving state welfare...