It turns out yesterday’s attacks on us in the Mail and Express were not the DWP’s only pre-emptive strike against the disastrous revelations of Dispatches and Panorama. The DWP puppetmasters also convinced the Daily Telegraph to launch an attack on disabled people, this time with a rehashed version of a Christina Odone blog (apparently the Telegraph were too lazy even to write an original piece).
This being the Torygraph, the primal hate of the Mail and Express would not suit their house style, so the article is framed to claim that the ‘disability rights lobby’ (a term she uses repeatedly, apparently in an attempt to paint us as no different to any corporate lobby group, rather than as an actively disparaged minority subject to spiralling levels of hate crime) are attempting to have their cake and eat it, by demanding both the right to work, and the right to have out of work benefits on demand. She even drags in the Paralympics, writing:
Aren’t the Paralympics proof that even the most physically challenged can achieve awesome feats? Their disabilities did not prevent Nelson, Byron, FDR, JFK from achieving their goals.
Apparently if we aren’t winning gold medals or becoming living legends, then Ms Odone considers we are letting the side down.
She is actually articulating a view many of us have been afraid of, the use of the Paralympics as a tool to beat us with, rather than to celebrate our achievements, while her selection of disabled heroes make an interesting choice: Nelson who was already marked for high office (and had patrons to ensure that) before he ever became disabled; Byron, whose club foot did little to limit his poetry (but which does demonstrate the psychological damage caused by negative views of disability); FDR, who was again a major figure prior to disability, and who did everything in his power to hide his disability, to the extent that most Americans did not realise they had a disabled president, and JFK, whose political career was the vehicle of his media magnate father, and who suffered from the back pain she goes on to deride later.
There is much to celebrate in all four of these disabled lives, but also much to be critical of in the light of contemporary views of disability, and all four had assets and influence operating on their behalf that are available to very few people in our society, disabled or otherwise.
But it is in her final paragraph that Ms Odone’s mask slips and she descends to the level of the Mail and the Express, proclaiming:
A man who claims to suffer from a debilitating but unprovable backache, an alcoholic who refuses to tackle her addiction: they may be considered “disabled” but should they receive benefits? When they do, the truly incapacitated feel cheated. As do the rest of us.
As someone who actually has a ‘debilitating but unprovable backache,’ I had just finished speaking on Radio London about disability hate crime and the irresponsibility of vile tabloids like the Mail and Express in whipping up ignorant hatred against disabled people by teaching the mob that common disabilities are not real and that we are all ‘fakes’ and ‘frauds’ and legitimate targets for their hatred when I came across Ms Odone’s article.
To find the same hate-filled line being repeated in the Telegraph, supposedly a ‘quality’ broadsheet was utterly depressing.
My ‘debilitating but unprovable backache’ manifests itself as pain across the entire lower surface of my body if I sit at a desk.
Imagine feeling like you have a burn across everything from knees to buttocks, and feeling that every day across 20-odd years of disability. I worked for most of that, but every other day would see me curled up on the office floor, in so much pain that I couldn’t string two coherent thoughts together. It might not show on x-rays or MRIs, neuro-plasticity means that the only issue need be the internal wiring of the spinal cord, but multiple rheumatologists and my pain management specialist are in no doubt that my pain is very real, and utterly disabling. Yet apparently Ms Odone is medically qualified to the point of being able to dismiss them without even seeing me.
Forced out of work, even DWP accepted there was no hope of me finding work, but my WCA was a bitter farce that triggered a major flare-up in my disability which lasted months. Never mind the problems shown in last night’s documentaries, the ATOS doctor was verbally aggressive from the outset, criticising me for my knowledge of the process, dismissing evidence later proved to be absolutely true as my condition worsened in front of him, and actively trying to prevent me giving the one piece of evidence that qualified me for ESA outright. My report of what happened now forms part of the Work And Pensions Select Committee report into the WCA.
And then last year, no doubt because of the encouragement of hate-filled articles like this, someone reported me to the Benefit Fraud Hotline as working full time.
I rarely leave the house more than once a week for a couple of hours, my car sits on the drive in open view for all of that time, yet someone felt able to assure DWP I was a benefit fraudster, because they had been taught by the tabloids and by articles like this that all of us are.
The DWP investigator may have dismissed the allegation before she was even through my front door, but the consequences for me were a massive flare-up, lasting months, leaving me barely able to snatch an hours’ sleep at a time. And when it came time to renew my ESA claim at Christmas, I was simply unable to do it, every attempt triggering panic attacks.
That is the reality that articles like this create for disabled people, that is the climate of hatred we live in.