By Jos Bell
Yes, Philip Davies is ignorant, ill informed and a disgrace to the institution of Parliament. This is the man who told me a couple of years ago in a one-liner email that legislation to protect people from death and injury in the workplace is only “so much red tape”.
In hope of an ironic twist, perhaps his disgusting words today have proved to be a much needed wake-up call.
Yes, disability and sickness can happen to anyone. Surprising as it may seem to those on the government benches, it is not deliberate or planned – indeed the way the disabled are currently being described it would almost seem to be a lifestyle choice.
It is certainly a label very few people would seek out.
Please remember at this point – only 1% of benefit payments are later found to be fraudulent. Even allowing for a 2% variability rating, that really means the disabled should be portrayed as being amongst the most honest people on Earth.
There is no fun in being disabled. Zilch, Nul, Nada; aside from pain and discomfort, it is often considerably more expensive to manage life as a disabled person – not least because of inaccessible public transport (and not purely for wheelchair users), specialist diets, medication that goes beyond prescription subsidies, extra fuel costs, cleaners, carers, housing adaptations etc. etc.
Only in an inhuman society will the disabled have access to work blocked and then be pilloried for being unproductive ‘scroungers’, as whipping boys and girls for the bankers’ ineptitude, thence to have essentially day-to-day living funds withdrawn.
Unless the government simply wants a raft of uncharted deaths on the country’s conscience (albeit the streets are a pretty visible location for impecunious expiry), the legislators need to make fully informed decisions, not simply those based on prejudice and a misguided ideology which is a crass misinterpretation of medical knowledge, couched not one iota in the reality of life with a body that doesn’t necessarily work very well, either some, or all of the time.
Of course disabilities do not always equal wheelchairs. Many disabilities are invisible to the naked eye and are now being disparaged in a warped existentialist ‘I don’t see it therefore it does not exist’ corruption. Should we call it Graylingitis?
So in the face of all this opprobrium let’s think positive.
In order to enable rather than disparage and disdain, legislation needs to be introduced to ensure that employers are more flexible (and not just in terms of installing DDA ramps).
• A right to home working instead of being made to feel inadequate on the days when it’s impossible to make it to the workplace;
• More job sharing;
• Widely advertised grants for specialist equipment and adaptations;
• An understanding of a need for rest breaks;
• Understanding that the use of chemical cleaners etc can exacerbate conditions;
• No insistence on lifting or using equipment which is unsafe for the unsteady;
• The acceptance that sick leave is not skiving, ‘pulling a sickie’ etc. etc.
Frustratingly, for those with an entrepreneurial streak who would like to set up a small business, the current lack of small business support from the banks makes this a fools’ errand.
Only once the government tackles the full scale lack of engagement from the banking industry in the overall economy, will those with a disability be able to engage more fully in the small business community. Perhaps the government might like to think about that one?
Additionally, the banks are proving to be completely unsympathetic to those whose circumstances change and seek to downsize to more affordable and more suitable accommodation. Disabled? Oh yes, we will ‘generously’ allow 20% of income to assess against your mortgage application. What of the rest? ‘Oh you need that to live off’.
Well so do able bodied applicants. ‘That’s different’. Catch 22 discrimination alive and well at all levels of the institutions upon which we rely.
At the same time, those who are unfortunate enough to be unable to work for periods of time (it happens), need to have a fast track lock-in to a universal benefit to cover these times (and yes, potentially for longer than 12 months), to prevent the disabled from collectively accruing vast quantities of debt culminating in epidemic levels of homelessness and starvation.
Where next otherwise? The 21st-century workhouse? Orphanages? The fine line has started to be drawn…
These are the realities which have to be recognised if disabled people are to be treated with respect, retain a home and where possible be enabled to work and engage in enterprise, instead of being blocked, barred and pilloried. Such measures would also enable the disabled to take an active part in the re-growth of the economy.
Can we afford not to?