Britain's Government hit the international headlines in recent months for betraying Britain's 'Windrush generation', in an assault upon 'illegal' immigration in which many of the Windrush generation were predicted to get caught in - and subsequently did. In short, Government deliberately created a 'hostile environment' policy designed to be so intolerable that it would deter immigrants from staying within the UK illegally. Deporting those who were found not to meet revamped immigration regulations and 'incentivising' those who knew that they did not meet the new requirements to leave on their own accord (before they were pushed). However, that policy also targeted people who had come to this country perfectly legally as children with their parents and who lived legally within the UK for the past 50, 60 years or more. Going to school here, working here and paying taxes here, with some even entering retirement age here - on a British state pension.
Government had tried to argue that those caught up in this latest, very British farce was simply a consequence of a terrible administrative error and one where nobody is apparently reasonable for. Unsurprisingly really, considering that the chief architect of such a cunning plan was the UK's current Prime Minister, Theresa May - in her previous disguise as Home Secretary. However, a bank of evidence quickly emerged highlighting that those at the very top of Government were not only repeatedly warned that this situation could happen and long before the policy was implemented - but had repeatedly been made aware that it WAS actually happening. Yet, despite those warnings, Government carried on regardless and it was only a subsequent media storm highlighting a policy that was based simply around the principle of 'deport first-appeal later' that something was finally done.
Certainly, MPs and Peers making up a Parliamentary Human Rights Select committee concluded in a report released in June this year that the description of the scandal by Government as being one of a "a series of mistakes" was neither "credible" nor "sufficient". Therefore, if the Windrush scandal wasn't down to 'mistakes', we can only come to the conclusion that the misery and chaos created was not only deliberate but malicious.
All well and good I hear you ask, but what has this got to do with disability?
Interestingly, there seems to be parallel between those 'British' citizens who have been caught up in a deliberate policy aimed primarily at slashing Britain's immigration numbers, and Britain's disabled people caught up in a similar assault upon slashing the numbers of people receiving state welfare. In both cases, a deliberate and intentional policy of state hostility was employed solely in order to make life so intolerable for people that it would 'incentivise' the required response. In the case of Windrush, that response was simply one of being deported or leave under your own volition. In the case of disabled people failing to meet similarly revamped administrative criteria - the correct response was to either to get a job or.....starve to death while waiting for your appeal to be heard.
Certainly, anybody can make mistakes, while the wheels of machinery of any Government can whirl very, very slowly and deliberately so at times. That said, as regards the Windrush scandal as it became to be known, Government has worked extraordinarily quickly to alter its immigration policy and arguably in order to divert both home-grown and international accusations of institutional racism rampant at the very top of Government. Even offering some level of financial compensation to those caught up in these political shenanigans. However, after 8 years of a similar level of evidence building, of a similar level of media scrutiny and of protest, and of a similar level of distress caused, disabled people are still waiting, not only for any resemblance of Government apology but for any small sea-change of direction concerning welfare reform itself.
On the contrary, Government still deny any maltreatment of its sick and disabled, deliberate or otherwise, and still deny that any sick and disabled people have lost their lives because of it. After all, they do spend £50 Billion a year on disabled people - as the Department of Work's and Pensions mantra normally goes. So, the fight continues. But as a bare minimum, the horrors suffered by the Windrush Generation offer some validity at least to the argument, if it was ever needed, that some social groups within Britain are not just treated appallingly by the state when it suits, but can become completely 'disposable'.
Exposing human beings to a tide of state sponsored hostility is certainly not the actions of a nation that claims to be free, tolerant and democratic. Arguably, if some British citizens can become targets of state organised hostility, or at best, become perceived to be acceptable, expendable, 'collateral' damage of Government policy, then it would be disingenuous to suggest that they are the only victims of a Government that can implement virtually any such policy it wishes, when it wants and without much that the general public can actually do to prevent it.
To put readers completely in the picture about this issue. The name 'Windrush' comes from the Empire Windrush, the ship that brought the first large group of post-war West Indian immigrants to the UK on a voyage from Jamaica to London in 1948. The passing of British Nationality Act in 1948 made citizens of Commonwealth countries also citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. The 'Windrush' scandal as it has become known concerns the status of both African and Caribbean immigrants from Britain's 'Commonwealth' who were invited over by the British Government after World War II in order to help re-build a victorious but battered and bruised nation.
In 1971, because freedom of movement within the Commonwealth was ending, an Immigration Act was passed giving indefinite leave to remain to those Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK before 1973, including wives and children. However, the Home Office did not record the details of each individual, some individuals never applied for a British passport or have been formally naturalised, and in 2010 the landing cards recording the arrival dates of people coming over for work from the former British colonies were also destroyed. It is now difficult for anybody who didn't get documents at the time to meet the revamped and much stricter immigration requirements that have been implemented by the current Government.
Many of those effected are children who came over with their parents in the 1950's or 1960's, Commonwealth citizens who have been within the UK perfectly legally for the last 50 years or more, suddenly 'reclassified' as 'illegal' immigrants. That is unless they could prove otherwise. Most perceive themselves to be British, the majority thought the State perceived them to be British, and most thought other people perceived them to be British. They had been educated in Britain, worked and paid their taxes like any other British citizen, with many having had children themselves, born and raised in the UK. However, these people had suddenly become reclassified as potentially 'illegal' and threatened with deportation to countries that they can hardly remember. Sent to detention centres, lost their jobs, homes and been refused access to medical treatment. Some who had left the country on holiday or attended funerals abroad, had even refused entry back into the UK.
Despite Government first denying that any 'British' citizen had actually been deported under these new immigration rules, it quickly came to light that 63 people indeed had. In addition, in the 12 months leading up to March this year, just under 1,000 seats were booked on commercial flights in order to remove people suspected of being in the UK illegally - to the Caribbean. A policy of deportation that between 2015 and 2017 had cost the British taxpayer £52 Million.
As I said earlier, Britain's government had been in the process of deftly explaining away the problems caused by their revamped immigration policy, constructing a narrative that the victims of the Windrush scandal had somehow merely fallen foul of some terrible administrative 'error' - in short, an honest mistake. In reality, within days of the scandal becoming increasingly scrutinised (even by Britain's most 'right-wing' of media outlets) it slowly emerged that from 2010 onwards, Britain's Government had actually embarked on a deliberate policy to create a highly hostile environment in which it was extremely difficult for illegal immigrants to exist within. A hostile environment under which landlords, hospitals, businesses and civil society have been forced to proactively prove that their employees, tenants and service users have the right to be in the United Kingdom - and where Government 'targets' were set to both monitor and motivate the progress of such policy.
The fact that this 'hostile' environment for immigrants could impact upon British citizens themselves had also been known for some time. In 2014, Labour's current Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott raised the issue with the Home Secretary of the day, Theresa May (now Britain's Prime Minister). In 2016, the Home Office were warned about the problem after the Government of Barbados raised concerns with the Foreign Office itself. This is in addition to MP's of all parties highlighting within Parliament the issues some of their constituents had been facing with the authorities. While some of Britain's more honest media outlets also began publishing a stream of stories of personal anguish.
Interestingly, disability groups quickly spotted a parallel with the injustice(s) that the Windrush generation have found themselves faced with and themselves. On the surface, this scandal seems almost a carbon copy of the way disabled people have also been treated since this Government first came into power in 2010. Disabled people have not only had to endure a similar level of media and political hostility, but also a deliberately created hostile 'administrative' environment created in which disabled people are automatically assumed to be lying about or exaggerating their disability. A hostile environment were Government also used targets to monitor the performance of such policies, and arguably to motivate the compliance of those institutions tasked with their implementation.
If we take immigration first. Over the past number of years we've had a deluge of anti-immigrant/anti-refugee stories printed in Britain's media, particularly concerning the 'impact' upon British culture, the increased risk of terrorism and the strain put upon housing, jobs, crime levels, social services, hospitals and schools etc. Studies on how the media reports such issues indeed found that around a quarter of newspaper coverage consistently taken up with negative stories concerning immigration and asylum seeking (and sometimes, highly misleading stories at that). Something that helped to create an already 'hostile' social environment for anybody not perceived as being 'British', stories arguably aimed not only at informing the public, but shaping public opinion.
For example, a study in 2003 found that the words used in racist attacks and street harassment directed at immigrants actually mirrored themes current in daily newspapers. So much so, that the Polish authorities had to intervene in 2016 following a rapid increase in the number of violent attacks upon Polish communities living within the UK. Followed by concerns voiced by the United Nations urging Britain's Government to tackle its growing 'hate speech' problem, while the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance called upon Britain's media to "avoid perpetuating prejudice" - particularly towards Britain's Muslim community.
Secondly, running concurrently with this media barrage of anti-immigrant/anti-refugee stories, since the 1990's not only have we had similar political rhetoric but certain sections of the political world ramping up criticism of the European Union, claiming that it was dominating Britain, bombarding us with daft regulations and generally ripping us off financially. While also destroying our borders, forcing us to take in swarms and swarms of migrants. In fact, 'Brexit' is now widely considered to be a consequence of such public perceptions, particularly over Immigration levels.
Finally, we have had a tightening up of both policy and legislation that has sought to create a highly hostile 'administrative' environment for illegal immigrants, and expressly designed to spread fear in immigrant communities aimed at motivating or incentivising some to willingly disappear back to where they came from. As well as frightening off others from coming here in the first place, of course. In short, amongst rising public concerns and anger over immigration motivated by both media and political rhetoric over the years, the Home Office has now been accused of using persecution tactics in order to reduce the immigration statistics. And the argument that the Windrush scandal was simply the result of some terrible 'clerical' error or oversight, shown to be a completely bogus one.
Now let's get this right.
It is clear that Government brought in a policy in which its potential dangers were well pointed out beforehand and once those dangers had actually came to fruition, still carried on with those policies regardless. Which is exactly the same thing that happened as regards disability welfare reform. In 2014, government also removed a key protection against any deportation of members of the Windrush generation. While in 2015, official deportation handbooks were reprinted offering advice to those being deported back to countries such as Jamaica, giving pearls of wisdom and advice such as how to 'fake' the local accent in order to not to attract hostility from the local population. For some social commentators, a handbook that has become pretty much the 'smoking gun' of the whole affair.
Arguably, the deliberate reclassification from valid citizen to illegal status and pretty much by the swipe of a pen, together with the deliberate generation of both a media and political 'hostile' environment are rather disturbing acts for any modern country to pull off. It certainly has disturbing undertones of Nazi-ism, particularly if we consider that the Nazis made sure that the German people would support them by using propaganda against any social group it targeted. And no matter how many times we Brits bang on about freedom and democracy, particularly freedom of the press, sometimes it's very hard to distinguish between what is 'fake' news and what is actually supposed to be 'real' news, printed within our daily mainstream media or broadcasted upon our TV screens.
Political 'Spin', manipulations of the truth and cherry-picking of statistics are as much 'fake' news as anything found on any dodgy Facebook page - and primarily because they give us a deliberately false and misleading picture of what is really happening in the world. Of course, that doesn't mean that people can't differ over possible solutions to a problem. But first, we need to know what that problem is and if it is indeed a problem at all. Time and time gain in recent years Government has been reprimanded for its misuse of statistics in its pursuit of lobbying public opinion, and time and time again, journalists have simply been found to be disseminating press releases from Government departments without any interrogation of the details.
Certainly for me at least, the world of politics and the world of media within the UK are too far closely linked for comfort, and a link that arguably produces 'information' and 'messages' that are not that far removed from the German propaganda machinery of the 1930's and 1940's. As a bare minimum, both worlds have the power to set the agenda for what is to be discussed and what is not, and therefore what policies are to be supported by the general public and what are not. A situation that has undoubtedly created an ethos where public mistrust and anxiety over issues can be generated at will and in which political hostility can therefore be easily and quite casually directed at any social group it chooses.
Research indicates that people tend to perceive welfare fraud, immigration levels or the probability of terrorist acts to be far greater than they actually are - so no wonder people become anxious and fearful of such things. But those fears have arguably been carefully cultivated by our media and by our politician's over a long period of time. Therefore the Windrush scandal is an illuminating phenomena, particularly when we consider the similar experiences disabled have argued to have suffered too. The idea of being a legal citizen one minute and illegal citizen the next is also quite interesting if we consider that the term's 'invalid' and 'invalidity' were often common terms to describe disability itself for many years - at least within the UK. The power to define someone's status of validity or legality within a country is therefore something we should all carefully be aware of.
Clearly, judging by the by the hostility directed recently at Labour Party politician David Lammy, born in London to Windrush migrants and who received letters from the public telling him that he should be grateful that he was 'taken in' by Britain and told to 'go home' if he didn't like living here - and all for highlighting the plight of the Windrush scandal in Parliament. A person's status of 'validity' to exist in Britain can perhaps be considered to be an extremely flimsy thing. Go home? At least the poor bloke wouldn't have far to travel.
Of course, a number of these people would probably argue that those affected by changes to immigration policy are not actually 'British' citizens at all, but indeed illegals and members of the former colonies who were given leave to stay, provided they arrived before 1973 and provided they could prove it. Therefore for some, Government is arguably correct to deport those who are seen as not being 'proper' Brits. And the fact that in some cases where people were wrongly deported or threatened with deportation, Government already had much of the proof it needed of their legality within easy reach, buried away in its tax offices (if they had actually bothered to ask for it) matters not one jot. So, if somebody like David Lammy is considered as not being a valid, true and proper 'Brit', and where being born in this country doesn't automatically grant you the validity to exist within it. At least in the mind of Britain's public and particularly if you speak out about unfettered prejudice, then what does?
Similarly, the use of the term 'invalid' to refer to a disabled person would be a rather 'interesting' choice of terminology in any decade of British history. Not only referring to a person with disabilities but a term that carries a message that something invalid is not deemed to be legally, officially or socially acceptable within society itself. Society could therefore not have been any clearer about what sort of social status disabled people were thought to have. However, by treating Britain's Windrush generation in an equally disrespectable and throwaway fashion, we perhaps not only get some insight into the way officialdom threats 'immigrants', but of society's overall perception of immigrants in general. In short, citizens who hold second class status within society and who are simply to be temporarily tolerated or accepted until not needed anymore (or start to kick up a fuss). However, if disabled people are not automatically considered to be valid or acceptable human beings in their own country as the terms 'invalid' or 'invalidity' imply, then is it hardly surprising that other people are similarly perceived as not being valid citizens either.
I've argued in the past that disability, illness and sickness are arguably an anathema to those politicians who perceive welfare benefits and charity as things that only encourage dependency - thereby eroding the 'work ethic'. In reality, you don't need to go far to find a politician actually spouting off about unproductive Brits or the need to 'incentivise' lazy people into employment. While references to disabled people as 'invalids' may not be as widely used as much as it once was, that is arguably only because the social model of disability has challenged and continues to challenge a society that not only defines disabled people in terms of work capability, but also primarily hell-bent on pushing disabled people out into the margins of it. And it is interesting that while disabled people have arguably won 'concessions' from society in the way they are to be perceived, as well as treated, the state has actually kicked back strongly with a series of its own reforms that arguably aim to do much more than simply reduce the welfare bill. Reforms that perhaps roll-back many of the concessions won by disabled people over time by reclassifying, redefining and downgrading disability within an environment of hostility. An ethos where disabled people are generally to be treated with suspicion, automatically perceived to be able to do much more than they often say they can or perceived to be faking their disability completely.
Disabled people have therefore pointed out a remarkably similar pattern of experiences compared to those the Windrush generation have experienced. It's an experience that also began with a media campaign and one that wildly distorted the impact and level of welfare benefit fraud within the UK and the cost upon the taxpayer. Secondly, we witnessed a political campaign that painted Britain's welfare system as not only being used and abused by the feckless and the lazy, but called for the system to be radically slashed and made less generous in order to incentivize and motivate such people 'back' into work. Finally, the creation of a much more hostile, less sympathetic and much tighter administrative environment for anybody deemed 'unemployed' for whatever reason that may be. One that subjected disabled people to an ever increasing barrage of rules, monitoring, sanctions and assessments.
A hostile environment also arguably designed to spread fear amongst disabled communities - with the motivational purpose of discouraging people claiming benefits. Many disabled people indeed complain of the worry they feel every day of hearing the letter box go, and fearing a letter marked "Department of Works & Pensions" landing on their door mat.
The similarities continue if we also regard both Windrush migrants and disabled people as people who are considered to have held some kind of 'special' status within British society. Let me explain.
When the Windrush scandal broke earlier this year, Britain's media began romantically portraying the Windrush generation as Knights and Lady's in shining armour riding to the rescue of a society ravaged by the Second World War. A people welcomed in and respected because of a shared goal, a shared culture and primarily, a shared religion.
However, the truth of the matter is that many of the Windrush generation suffered horrendous racism and discrimination from the moment they first arrived in the UK. In contrast to the romantic media narrative of being 'welcomed in', Britain's media, many of its politicians and much of the British public arguably perceived such migrants not as people riding aid a war-torn nation, but as a real and genuine threat. Not just in and terms of competition for jobs and housing, but also culturally. A threat to the existing social order of things that was clearly illuminated by Conservative MP Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of blood' speech in 1968, and the rise or revival of fascist groups such as the National Front and the British National Party from the 1970's onwards.
As a teenager, I was also drawn briefly towards political groups like the National Front and primarily suckered into the whole shebang by arguments that immigrants were indeed coming over here stealing our jobs and houses. For a relative youngster knowing little of the world nor its workings, such arguments made some kind of compulsive common-sense. However, it didn't take long to discover that rather than immigrants coming over and stealing our jobs and houses, it was our very own Government(s) that was primarily a major stumbling in that department - by the socio-economic policies they employed (and still employ).
For a start, many of my old school friends left school at 16 or just before, with little or no formal qualifications, with some barely able to read or write. Many even lost the jobs they had when the full effects of Thatcherism kicked in during the early 1980's, when unemployment hit record highs. Margaret Thatcher's two major housing acts, implemented in 1980 and 1988 also fundamentally changed the UK's housing system for ever. Changes that have had long-reaching effects on social housing that still reverberate around today's housing environment - that even sowed the seeds of the 2008 global financial crash. Even if immigrants were coming over stealing jobs and houses, worrying about it seemed akin to leaving your window open while your own Government proceeded to burn the whole house down - around your very ears.
And despite all this lovely talk of shared goals, culture and religion, the reality of the matter is that violence towards race and ethnicity still make up the majority of hate crimes committed within the UK today - around 78% according to Home Office Statistics. And it would be nonsense to suggest that none of this is ever directed towards members of the Windrush generation themselves. Academics who have focused on hate crime committed towards race have also argued that rather than it being 'deviant' people who generally carry out such crimes, it is actually quite ordinary people who are found to be the perpetrators. So, the narrative of the Windrush generation being perceived within British society as being 'special', a narrative used recently by certain sections of the media and also by the Prime Minister herself, actually contradicts reality.
While the romantic notion of 'specialness' tells us that Windrush migrants are to be perceived as making personal sacrifices in order to live in the UK, work in the UK, help rebuild the UK after war and even fight in the armed services for the UK, it is arguably pitted against a much more dominant view of 'specialness'. And one generated by both the media and by politicians themselves over many years that simply portray immigrants as receiving special privileges that the rest of us do not receive. Privileges such as jumping the queue for housing, of getting preferential treatment over jobs, of putting a strain upon schools, upon the NHS, upon social services and of being a general burden to society and generally increasing crime levels.
Similarly, this double-edged sword of 'special' status has also been wielded many times against disabled people, especially towards those with learning difficulties. People who have been considered for years as having 'special' needs and where disabled children are subsequently segregated from society into 'special' schools for their own good. But arguably it's another romanticised narrative that while perceiving disabled people as being vulnerable, dependent 'special' people receiving specialised care supplied by an unselfish, generous, liberal state, it is also a 'specialness' that perceives disabled people as receiving preferential treatment.
Once again, the reality is much darker, where rather than receiving preferential treatment, disabled people have consistently been oppressed throughout history, taken advantage of, portrayed as freaks, perverts, scroungers and layabouts, as well also being perceived an economic burden upon society itself. A people that needed controlling and who were deliberately marginalised and removed wholescale from society into institutions, hospitals, schools and workhouses. Suffering all manner of abuse and degradation along the way - including from family and friends. A need for control that arguably still exists today, especially as tougher welfare policy increasing polices the behaviour of sick and disabled people, and as science continues to work to eliminate disability completely.
Certainly, speak to disabled people today from a variety of backgrounds and you won't have to go far to find someone who has suffered negative experiences, either from the general public or from the state itself and almost as a 'normal' daily experience. While good things indeed happen, arguably we Brits tend to disregard most of the bad things that happen in our society as being some kind of mere blip on the landscape and not a true reflection of the real nature of our society. Another romantic narrative perhaps, but one generated around the perception that we Brits are also a special people and a special nation. Where any blips are caused by the actions of criminals and deviants, actions often not discouraged or clamped down upon by a liberal state gone 'too' far in its softness, liberalness, tolerance and freedoms. A state pulled and pushed by the loony-left, do-gooders and political correctness that allow all manner of deviant behaviour to flourish, thereby eroding the specialness of our character and culture.
A special nation that always play things by the book and by the rules, adhering to special values that compel us all to be nice to each other, treating each other with respect, tolerance, compassion and all pulling together in order to help each other along. In short, the bad stuff are simply mistakes that shouldn't happen or are being committed by very bad people and often without any logical motive. In reality, Britain for many years has been little more than a giant school playground, a war-zone where name-calling, bullying, harassment and physical, psychological and sexual violence arguably become daily displays of control by individuals within society looking to dominate others for their own ends. So such so, that many of these behaviours take on an air of normalcy about them - particularly in our schools, colleges and workplaces. It also becomes acceptable to consider any power discrepancies and imbalances between people as being normal, and any abuse of that power justified in some shape or form. And arguably because many of us believe that is the way the world actually works?
Over the years, academics have pinpointed a number of moral panics that Britain has seen, causing anxiety and fear amongst communities and a clamour for authoritarian solutions. Panics over an increasingly violent youth, violent movies and video games, illegal drug use, child abuse, paedophilia, gay sex & HIV, single mothers, welfare cheats, immigration, Muslims, refugees, asylum seekers, terrorism etc. Panics and fears that create and sustain powerfully persuasive images of some groups within society actively working against our national interest, as well as our own personal interest. In reality, moral panics are not just misrepresentations of reality but active attempts of coercion and highlight how certain sections of society has the power to represent and impose its views, interpretations and interests upon the rest of us. They do so by making some social groups appear as not only deviant, but a real danger to our very existence.
As regards immigration and disability. Speak to people and you quickly discover perceptions that Britain is full of layabouts and scroungers, while the indigenous people are being replaced with immigrants, refugees and Muslims. Something that can easily be refuted by simply taking a look at the stats that show White Britons still making up more than 87% of the UK population, those pesky Muslims making up less than 5% and the UK unemployment rate lower than it was in 1975. However, research indicates that British people tend to have a heavily skewed perspective on the reality of life, where perceptions don't often tally with reality. And that is problematic. If some people genuinely believe that the UK is being overrun with migrants, Muslims, gays and benefit cheats, then no wonder there is so much fear, anxiety and hatred on display in our towns and cities.
According to recent data released from 29 police forces in England and Wales, hate crime of all descriptions is on the increase - be it against race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or disability. Something is driving this phenomena and looking at our antiquated political system, as well as a media machine run primarily by self-interested and powerful social groups, the cause of some of that violence at least, may not be all that far away. Of course, some refute claims that hate crime is rising at all, arguing that people's subjective opinions of the cause of criminal behaviour are simply taking priority over the evidence, and that police are also better at recording incidents. However, it would be disingenuous to dismiss all claims of abuse, harassment and violence as being false claims or simply because victims are being over-sensitive to name-calling or banter. Prejudice exists, get over it.
But certainly, we can't pin all hate crime simply upon people reading negative newspaper articles or watching some windbag of a politician spouting complete nonsense on TV day and night. Everybody is exposed to stereotypes and negative social representations but most of us do not indulge in violence or abusive behaviour. Arguably, some people internalise the prejudice and bias that is often dressed up as politics or news, accepting it as being accurate, truthful and authoritative information, while others don't. And there are probably any number of reasons why. However, we only need to remember Nazi Germany to see how easily propaganda works.
As regards Britain's Windrush scandal, it is argued by some social commentators that Britain had adopted a hostile 'deport first, appeal later' ethos, and primarily as one solution to its immigration 'crises. However, that ethos will also be familiar to disabled people going through Britain's benefits assessment system. A system of domination and oppression that seeks to quickly remove disabled people's incomes, and where claimants are then either forced to look for gainful employment or go through a long-winded and highly stressful appeals process. And the fact that around two-thirds of subsequent appeals are won by claimants should speak volumes about the ethos that governs these 'reforms'.
We know for a fact that some disabled people have died while having problems with Britain's benefit system. We know for a fact that thousands of British people have died after being wrongly classified as being 'fit for work', for whatever reason that may be. We also know of large numbers of sick and vulnerable people being sent letters threatening sanctions or of welfare benefits being removed for alleged minor rules offences. We also know of 'motivational' text messages being sent from Job Centres to people who were actually dying in hospital. And we also know of large numbers of disabled people who have committed suicide, with claims from family and from some state officials themselves, that they were driven to it by the unsympathetic officialdom of a deliberately hostile system.
Of course, most of which is also strenuously denied by Government. But we can only go on the facts as they stand and since the Windrush scandal broke, it hardly instils confidence when a Government is actually found on the record to be deliberately creating hostile environments in which its very own citizens can easily get caught up within. If we look back throughout British history, both Black people and disabled people have consistently been marginalised and oppressed. So arguably, a similar level of oppression continues to be enacted out today, at the very top of society not only at the bottom.
And just what happens when members of the Windrush generation also happen to be disabled? A Windrush pensioner who had lived in Britain for 62 years was landed last year with a bill of more than £33,000 for past disability benefits - and threatened with deportation. The pensioner came to Britain from Jamaica as a four year old on her aunt's passport after her mother and father had arrived in the UK a year earlier, just after the Second World War. She was educated in London and worked all her life until forced into early retirement in 2008 because of chronic back problems. Last April, she received a letter from the Home Office telling her she had "no lawful basis to remain in the UK and you should leave as soon as possible". If she didn't leave the country within seven days, she was told she could be deported at any time.
Of course, Government will issue apologies to those who went through similar experiences, offer compensation and promise to learn 'lessons' from their wayward behaviour. In reality, arguably the only lesson they will be willing to learn is how not to get caught doing this type of thing again. By all accounts, this scandal developed only because somebody in power saw a relatively easy opportunity to make the immigration numbers look better, thereby appeasing an electorate increasingly baying for blood over perceived, perennial Government weaknesses concerning....immigration.
Certainly as far as race and ethnicity is concerned, these issues are a far more sensitive subject for Government than disability will ever be. Britain has a troubled past of racial tension, riots and unrest, and for many people the Windrush scandal is indeed simply another clear sign of the deep-rooted and institutional racism that still permeates throughout British society. In short, once found out and backed into a corner, Government had to act in order to re-write its wrongs (if somewhat reluctantly) and primarily in order not to inflame longstanding racial tensions any further. On the other hand, disabled people do not matter as much to Government, as they are unlikely to be pose a serious policing or security issue.
While Government still deny that the social care and welfare reforms implemented after coming into power in 2010 have caused untold damage to the lives of millions of disabled people, reforms that have even killed a few of them off, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see welfare reform as anything but a deliberately prejudiced and vicious attack on a significant minority of the Britain's citizens - and simply because they can. However, as a bare minimum, the Windrush scandal at least exposes more cracks in the Government's credibility as a democratic, equality loving and freedom loving institution. The argument that "We wouldn't do anything so nasty" is increasingly challenged by a growing bank of evidence and exposed as the lie that it most certainly is. In reality, this Government can be just as nasty as any banana republic's. When it suits.
Of course, millions will disagree with this sentiment as simply being more left-wing extremist nonsense. But the fact of the matter is that you don't need to employ death squads to make people disappear off the radar nor to bump people off. You can achieve exactly the same thing with legislation that creates environments so hostile, so difficult and so intolerable that people simply cannot exist within them. And you only need to go back to the days of the Victorian work-house to see how similar legislation was deliberately designed and employed in order to deter all but the very desperate from seeking help.
For some years now, I have considered discrimination and hate crime simply to be two sides or faces of the same coin. Both may be driven by a similar self-interest that not only internalises prejudice and biased views, perceiving some social groups as being deviant, inferior and expendable but also motivating behaviours that primarily marginalise and oppress. However, with Government reforms having such an equally devastating effect and seemingly motivated by prejudiced views of disabled people as being able to do more than they say they can, of exaggerating or faking their disability, then perhaps our two-sided coin may actually be one of three sides.
This three-sided attack on disability therefore covers all the bases of oppression and domination, not only rolling back any gains in equally that disabled people have gained over the years but firmly pushing disabled people back into being 'invisible' again within society. While welfare reforms were primarily sold to the public as an assault upon benefit fraud, aimed at getting more disabled people into employment, the fact of the matter is that changes to employment legislation has exposed more disabled people than ever to harassment and bullying in the workplace - and a tidal wave of benefit cuts that has seriously undermined disabled people's access to mobility, employment and a life in general. So, while the political rhetoric argues that it wants to see more disabled people in employment roles, its actions are arguably aimed at doing the complete opposite. The question we need to ask is why?
The similarity of the Windrush scandal compared to the experiences of disabled people since 2010 at least illuminates to the rest of the World that disabled people are indeed not making any of this stuff up. Government certainly pushed its luck in deliberately trying to 'fiddle' its immigration statistics and by the most shockingly, anti-democratic and freedom-bashing means possible. However, it is still pushing its luck with disabled people. And despite the protests, despite the evidence building, despite the deaths and suicides, and despite the unprecedented condemnation from organisations like the United Nations - it is likely to carry on regardless. Shocking.
1 : 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...Full Story
3 : Disability discrimination in Europe averages 15%, but in Portugal this figure increases to 65% - Surprisingly, the Portuguese Government has no national strategy for persons with disabilities...Full Story