You are not a scrounger: a letter to a disabled reader


A letter to a reader in crisis.


Picture: Milton Montenegro/Photodisc/Getty

Dear M-, 

A few days ago you wrote to me and told me you were planning to take your own life. You told me that your reasons for this are: because you are frightened about what will happen to you when you lose the disability living allowance you rely on to live independently, and because you want to take a stand against the government’s assault on welfare. 

Since receiving your letter I’ve agonised over what sort of reply to send to you. I hope you found the strength to call one of the helplines I forwarded –Samaritans in particular are a life-saving service – but I felt that something longer was needed, is still needed. I’m writing to you now not as a journalist, but as a human being, a former carer and a person who has experienced depression to say: please, please don’t do this.

I’m writing like this, in public, in part because you spoke about taking your own life as a political statement. You asked if I, as a journalist you respected, would report on your suicide after the fact. I’ve been told by fellow campaigners in the disability rights movement that you’re not alone in thinking that harming yourself in that awful, final way is the only way you have left to make a difference. But that’s not the case. Not yet, not ever.

I don’t know what it’s like to have a physical disability. Having dear friends with physical disabilities only makes me more aware of how many parts of that experience I can’t fully understand. I don’t know what it’s like to be mobility impaired, or to have a body that seizes up with pain on a regular basis. Nor do I know what it’s like to wake up one morning and be told that, because you can’t hold down a regular 9-5 office job no matter how hard you try, because you can’t do that you are just a burden on the state.

To my mind, the most venal, wicked thing this Coalition government has done has been to rewrite the social script of this country so that some people feel that life isn’t worth living any more. They speak in their poisonous way about giving the unemployed and disabled people back a sense of dignity – but telling people that they’re worthless unless they hold down a job, telling people that they have no right to a decent standard of living unless they can find and keep work that lines the pockets of the super-rich, work that isn’t there anyway at the moment – that’s the opposite of arguing for dignity. That’s shame as a social manifesto.

If you hurt yourself now, if you give up right now, I’m sorry to say that it won’t change the minds of those who are currently making decisions about whether sick and mentally people ill live or die in this country. These people don’t give a damn – or at very least, they do a good job of acting like they don’t give a damn. If any person’s unnecessary death were enough to sway this government’s mind, it would have been swayed before now.

Even one death is too many. There are other, better ways to make a difference.

This is the point at which I’m supposed to give you the routine about how It Gets Better. But you and I both know that that would be a lie. We both know that right now, for anyone who is disabled, or mentally ill, or unemployed, or a single parent, or a young person, or a student, or simply poor and struggling, a lot of things are getting actively worse. So no – sometimes it doesn’t get better. What happens instead, as a friend of mine told me recently, is that you get stronger.

Choosing to live doesn’t have to mean choosing to accept the ugly reality that those in power are creating for us. By coming together and working to create change, by building each other up and getting smarter and more adept, you get stronger, we get stronger, people who care enough to resist and fight back and create a different reality get stronger together. You don’t need to be well to be involved in the fightback. The internet has enabled people with all kinds of different experiences of physical and mental health to make their voices heard and join in the struggle against shame and despair as public policy.

I know that right now you probably aren’t feeling very strong and powerful. That’s understandable. But please believe me: you are powerful, and important, and special, and stronger than you know. We’ve never shared a cup of tea together, or laughed together, or hugged each other. I don’t even know what you look like. But I feel like I know you, because I know you feel the same way I feel about what’s going on in this country right now. What I want you to try to understand, if you can just hold on to one thing, is this: you are not a burden. 

No human being is “just a burden”. You are not a burden on the state, and you are not a burden on your family, who, much as you might find this hard to believe, would be devastated to lose you. Your presence makes this country and your family a better place.

I can’t promise you that after you make the choice to carry on living, life will get easier right away, this week, or this month. But I can promise you that one day you will feel stronger, and better able to navigate with the darker, more painful rapids of life. I believe that one day life in this country will be better than it is now, for every person who is disabled and unwell. And one thing I can tell you for sure is that the most important political statement you can make right now is to believe – even if it’s hard to hold on to – that you are not a burden, that you are a precious, unique human person who is valuable in and of himself. 

When society tells you that you are worth less because you are unwell, that’s society’s fault, not yours. They may be pursuing a doctrine of shame, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel ashamed. You have no reason whatsoever to feel ashamed. You are not a burden, and you are not a scrounger – you are just unwell.

As an unwell person, you have every right to support, from your family and from society. Please try to hold on to that belief, because right now that belief is the best weapon we have against the austerity consensus. You are not a burden. You are not a scrounger. You are valuable and important because you are human and alive. Believe it. Believe it because that belief is a torch in the darkness of an austerity winter. With love,

Your friend,


Editor’s note: You can contact the Samaritans on  08457 90 90 90 or through their website at We consulted the Samaritans in the editing of this piece.

The New Statesman


‘Case for third-party press complaints’ ~ Our joint letter published by The Guardian



34 thoughts on “You are not a scrounger: a letter to a disabled reader

  1. steve davies says:

    Tragic but more and more disabled people will see suicide as a means of escape from a world that does not care. The behaviour of our , so called , government leaders is beyond contempt……the disabled often see themselves as the bottom of society, shut off and isolated at the best of times, however with 2 years or more years of continual negative media coverage and the deadly reality of a life without benefits plus hideous medical examinations I believe that it is inevitable that suicide is seen as an escape from these things. Samaritans are an excellent ” front line service” but GPs can direct into a psychological therapy known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or C.B.T. This treatment , perhaps combined with anti-depressant medication could look at structuring the way one views problems and self harm.

  2. DAVID A SHAW says:

    Tragic, but when the New Stateman turns against the government along with the Torygraph, it is only a matter of time before they will be out on their asses, and we can only hope that no one else will have to suffer or lose their lives as has occured so tragically in the two years since these nazis have been in office.

  3. "Anon" says:

    I’m a full-time carer for my wife. (N-stage emphysema (COPD)) basically I work for about 15 hours per day looking after her.
    Recently I have felt so uncomfortable going in the chemist and having to sign the back of my scrip, that I have stopped taking my meds. Thankfully I’ve only got blood pressure so it’s not that major.
    My point is that people have become so brainwashed about “scroungers” shirkers” and “parasites” it not only affect the way they perceive people on benefits, bit it also makes you look at yourself and think “Well I must be a scrounger if everyone says so”

    1. Susan says:

      You must take your tablets. Only blood pressure can be a fatal illness or result in you becoming very disabled yourself if you have a stroke. You are saving the country a small fortune in nursing home fees so are contributing to the country. Take your tablets, you are entitled. Please

    2. Mo Stewart says:

      I am concerned to learn that you have chosen to stop meds for BP. This is potentially very serious so please think again. I am a retired healthcare professional and should advise that doctors don’t prescribe these medicines for no reason. Stopping such drugs suddenly could risk your life. Please think again.

      The reason given for stopping the drugs is an even greater cause for concern. It’s the PRESS trying to win new readers to buy their papers that write the nasty stories about sick & disabled people being ‘scroungers’ and three years of research has demonstrated that it’s gvt funded propaganda.

      You are a full time carer, a very valuable person and so you should be proud of your selfless actions. Don’t let these people win. Please take your drugs and speak with your GP if feeling alone and helpless.

  4. Humanity2012 says:

    Things are Hardly Likely to get Better all the While those Wreckers are in Office

    Con Dem Regime Out of Office Now

  5. jed goodright says:

    1. The Samaritans only offer a ‘listening’ service. They do not advise or provide contacts for people – so let’s not over glamourise them. Often being heard is all that is needed and for this the Samartans are invaluable. They are not a panacea.

    2. Being heard in this country at present is impossible. Not sure about laurie Penny’s motive here – she is after all a supporter of the labour party who are happy with this country’s welfare provision and were the instigators of it!!!!

  6. Boadacia! says:

    That was very well written and an indictment to how we all must not give in and comply to the wishes of these slime from the political Mafia!

    I LIKE being a burden on the state, because I PAID for it in the 37 years of work that damaged me and gave me licence for compensation. I might annoy the Reichstag staff remaining, by not giving up and dying, but they irritate my bowels by their wonderful caring ways too!

    Remember IDS was once the ‘Quiet Man?’ Well, now it’s time for him to go and be invisible too! I will try to help him on his way!

  7. Sparks says:

    I am one of those disabled (temp I hope) that exists in this country, up to last year I was a hard working care assistant working on a dementia unit, I loved my work, but last year I became seriously ill and am still suffering side effects from it, It isnt safe for me to work at the moment but I am made to feel worthless and a burden on this country!
    I dread the post-lady bringing the brown envelope that spells the end of my benefits! I had my so called medical assessment a week ago and now am waiting for the results, my hospital consultant and my GP says I am not fit to work but I am betting ATOS/DWP say I am and that my benefits will be stopped. If they say this I dont know what I shall do, it isnt safe for me to do much work and even standing for more than 5 minutes is so painful its over whelming!
    Going to stop now as I dont want to show my children how upset I am

  8. jeffery davies says:

    every one of them should hang their heads in shame at whot they allowed this goverment to get away with beating the sick and disabled daily even now through to the unemployed ,yes the carring camerooon hes not however much he sprouts about it ,the whole lot should go quickly but that their heads coudnt get around this they not liked or wanted ,and to those who do think about taking your life please dont as its whots they want you to do one less and the way htey going it could very welll make a 100 a wk no its not us who are the real scroungers but them with their fingers in the till daily asking for more so its not you or me are the social scroungers but they ,please look at your self and say im worth more than they and going to stick at it giving them pain by writing daily to them emailing showing how much greed they have and its not you or me but they are the social scroungers yes they are if ones lost and cant find the way back please log into and sign up it cost nowt and we there been through it so help is at hand jeff3

  9. Bennet Kingston says:

    You are not a burden on the state, although the state is, at present, a burden on the people of this country.

  10. Pink Parrot says:

    I agree with Boadacia, we mustn’t fall for the guilt trip this evil government is trying to put on us. We must all stay alive as long as possible, for one thing, because we haven’t done anything wrong, it is not a choice to be ill or disabled, it is just that we are. I refuse to feel guilty abou something I had no choice over.
    We do have a choice how we respond though, and I say keep yourself alive as long as possible. Eventually there will be a change of regime as nothing lasts forever and I want to see the lies and propaganda shown for what it is.
    Can I just say to “Anon” – get your prescription filled…you must need the medication or you wouldn’t be prescribed it, don’t feel guilty about it, and know that if you lived in Scotland or Wales, your prescription would be free anyway, you wouldn’t have to fill in the back of the form. All carers need to look after themselves for the person they care about – what would they do without you? You are more valuable to society than these greedy bankers who bleed the country dry. Also, for your own sake. Do take care of yourself as much as possible.

  11. Ewan says:

    I have never felt as bad about myself as I do since the rhetoric started. I will never ever trust the condems again.

  12. Mike Llywelyn Cox says:

    Indeed, first thing: high blood pressure is not unimportant and it is essential to taake your preventive medication.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve come to the point where all our energies should be focussed on getting rid of these horrific condem psychopaths. Nothing else is going to make the slightest difference. Surely this is the point reached by Jack Cade and Oliver Cromwell. Nothing we say is going to make the slightest difference to Cameron, Osborne and the rest of their cruel and murderous crew. In no other country would their dictatorial forced labour and starvation be tolerated. Words don’t work. Direct action is the only way.

  13. Rogr says:

    As one of those with a permanent and slowly worsening disability I have to say that these changes fill me with fear. There are no jobs that want to accept us even when there are jobs we might do. I realised things were getting serious when yet another person tried to set himself ablaxe in a Torquay Job Centre and saw the news suppressed. When that sort of thing gets buried instead of initiating change I know it has got very bad indeed.

  14. Mary Anson says:

    It’s tragic that people with genuine disabilities have these terrible hoops to jump through just to prove they are genuine. They are victims of the truly many people without genuine disabilities who over the years have been able to fraudulently claim disabilities in order to avoid working as an able-bodied individual. There should be more money invested in the system which screens people in order to do a proper job of helping the genuine and ensure most of those without genuine disability do not take money they do not need or deserve.

    I’m a tax payer (with some level of disability myself) and I want to see my taxes used to support those who are genuine. I may need help myself one day, and I strongly object to my taxes going to those who are just ‘milking the system’. I may need this myself one day, and I’m happy to pay now while I can, for those who need it now. There would be more money for the genuine if most of the fraudulent claimants were weeded out.

    The problem is not to knock the government for trying to do that; but to insist they should ensure the money they spend on agencies to identify the many genuinely people is spent to better effect. There are so many people who win on appeal that something is going seriously wrong with this somewhere. It won’t solve anything if the genuine object to being assessed as this only helps the non-genuine. And we’ve all got non genuine neighbours and colleagues (current and former) who are just claiming for whatever they can get without any justification. I could give several examples that I am aware of just from my own knowledge! These people hurt the genuinely sick and disabled (who really need and deserve our support), and they MUST be weeded out!!

  15. Boadacia! says:

    Yes, let us all remember these are the spawn of similar people who were subject to the Nuremberg trials, and maybe some of them are their direct descendants? Thousands of them escaped unpunished.

    Human nature doesn’t change in a couple of generations, and we all know many still exist.

    We see every day MP’s that have stolen hundreds of thousands of public taxes, but get off with technicalities, and their claims of being too ill to go to court, even.

    They can afford the best barristers, and the poor and disabled are denied any representation, but suffer unbelievable disproportionate sentencing if found fiddling even 0.001% of what these MP’s have. It’s time for change! And only we can bring it about.

  16. Paul Davidson says:

    Hi all. My thought’s are with -M – At the moment and all those who have passed away so tragicly. Im very much of the same feeling – M – If your looking in. But please ”DONT”

    I have swollowed my misguided pride on line several time’ of late when stating similer. but here I am. no matter my intence pain ”Im ALIVE”.

    Alive to one day feel freedom from Tyrany and see many a justice get served.
    But it cant happen untill a tipping point of public outrage and with genuine support from the FREE MEDIA’ Wherever they may be hiding ?

    Perhap’s they can come with us to the Jobe Advisor miracle cure meeting where said God like Advisor will advice us of how we are cured yet still advice on how to pretend we dont have illnesses that prevent us from said miracle job ready status.

    Giz a Job said yosa. On your bike said Norm.

    Let’s not forget it’s well over 3 years sinse small charities were lining up for lucrative contract’s but whinging that big companies’ would get most of the £14.000 per scalp under Blair. All the Charities were demanding money up front some may recall.

    Money up front for those still deemed to ill to work. yet these greedy charities were colluding with Government to force the hardest to reach in to non exhistent work for a jaw dropping 2 years.

    It’s just a pity the hard working tax payers did not follow the news as they admired our curtain’s.

    But it’s never to late as they say to learn.

    Sadly the many will learn the hard way when it’s their turn next.

    Brown preeched a ”New Horizon” while Scammeron plan’ed the pending

    ”EVENT HORIZON. Where so many victims have already passed the point of no return.

    One more victim is to many more. so please let there be NO more.

  17. Brynski says:

    There are basically two types of suicide.

    1. The threat of committing suicide sometimes followed by an attempt that sometimes go wrong. This is usually a cry for love, help or attention.

    2. Those that say nothing and just do it.

    P.S.This will be my last Christmas, I am disabled and I just can’t take anymore

    1. Boadacia! says:

      I know it’s easy for some to say, but do *not* give in to these pigs, and their servants. Stick around and rejoice when the time comes for their shaming, and humiliation.

      Meanwhile, perhaps all we due to appear at the appeal courts could wear *armbands* to signify our feelings towards our treatment by our captors, if someone could design one?

  18. Aletheia says:

    What a beautiful article from Laurie. I hope many people who feel suicidal read this and take comfort that there are still some decent caring individuals, who are doing their bit to make a better society for everyone.

  19. Sasson says:

    Sorry in advance for the length of this comment.

    Along with many thousands of others I felt like m, that the only way out was to give up on life; I still have days like that. I spent the first 2 years of this government’s rule thinking it would be my only way out.

    Then I started to think about it, and the only way to make the biggest impression on people is for us to keep going no matter what so that public see what the government’s welfare and services cuts are doing to us.

    For example, the local authority have cut elements of my care plan. Originally they wanted to cut it by 75%, but I fought it, with the help of information available on this website, and as a result they cut it by only 25% instead. The thing is that they removed certain elements that I now have to pay for. I already pay back £3000 per year to the local authority (I do NOT have any assets or savings; free care is a myth), but I now have to pay an extra £1500 a year for petty little jobs they no longer fund. This has meant that my mobility element of DLA is completely eaten up, along of course with the care element.

    Now, the LA will fund ‘day ops’, someone to accompany me out, but they used to also fund the activity, so that paid for a taxi, the actual activity (for example a meal out or cinema, and mileage for the carer who has the car. They no longer fund the travel costs or the activity. Being that I pay back so much now, I have nothing left to transport me anywhere, so now I rarely go out, only on a special occasion and I have to get into debt to do it (not pay a direct debit or bill).

    On weeks that I was well enough, I was able to go for 2 hours each week to the pub for which the transport was funded (but not the beer of course). I used to feel guilty about this, with all of the propaganda in the media: ‘beer swilling welfare claimant’. But, there again, I’m long term ill, I’m not going to get better: does that mean I should stay in for the rest of my life? Well no of course it doesn’t, that’s why the government used to fund activities.

    Anyway, as a result, I had not been out to the pub since October, but I went last Friday (cancelled a direct debit to do so). My friends at the pub were so glad to see me and asked why I had not been for so long. I explained to all of them that the cuts mean that I cannot come unless I don’t pay a bill. They shook their heads and were absolutely disgusted about it. One of them said they would pay for my beer if I ever wanted to come out; another said they would pick me up so that I would only have to pay taxi one way. I was overwhelmed by their kindness. I won’t take them up on that though; I’d be mortified to.

    OK, I’ve beaten about the bush here somewhat, but the point I’m making is that I was able to tell a lot of people just why I wasn’t able to come out any more. Hopefully, they will tell other people. If I’d committed suicide, then I obviously wouldn’t have been able to make the point to these people.

    In fact, I regularly tell anyone I meet about how the cuts are affecting me from repair men to the food delivery men. Peoples’ opinions are being manipulated via the press and the only way to fight back is to tell as many people as we meet about what is happening to us.

    We HAVE to stay alive for all to see what we will be reduced to: we are the proof, they mustn’t get away with it. That said, many people are in so much psychological pain that they fell they cannot go on, and my thoughts go out to these people every day.

    Like the journalist, I do have hope that things will change. For now though, I’m preparing for the worst. All we can do is support those around us who are in similar circumstances, and that is what I’m doing to the best of my ability. We need to look out for each other and do what we can together.

    Great article.

  20. Humanity2012 says:

    Politicians who have Wrecked the Quality of Life Need to be made to Account
    for their Actions Not just Grin their Gormless Smiles and be Smug and Arrogant

    People of UK Stop being Sheep and Wake Up

  21. Living but Dead says:

    I feel so dead by this living life of pain and adversity due to disability. I am sure I will soon be re assessed for ESA and have convinced myself I’ll be put on JSA. That will be a huge reduction in benefit income. I already don’t use my heating and shower once a week to save money so that I can eat a diet well enough to control my diabetes. I have an idea. Charity or awareness campaigns use ribbons on lapels. How about a small stylised hangmans noose or a coffin shaped badge to signify support against welfare reform? or hang nooses outside Jobcentres or AT OS buildings overnight?

  22. Humanity2012 says:

    More Important than this Christmas Commercial Pahlava and the Trance it has
    put too many ” People ” in is Opposing Ignorant Suggestions by Out of Touch
    Politicians which will Only Further Degrade the Poor

    Poor would be Issued with Pahlava Electronic Cash Cards which will only be for
    ” Essential ” Items so whilst MPS Claim what they Claim on Expenses the Poor will
    have their Human Dignity Stripped Away

    Politicians who Support This Must be MADE to Resign in Disgrace

    The Con Dem Regime has been a Violation of Human Rights over the Past 2 and a
    Half Years of Tyranny and Enough is ENOUGH

    Depriving People of Privacy and Dignity is Relegating them to Second Class Citizens

    A Literal ” Cashless ” Society For the Poor whilst the Rich Politicians have their
    Expenses and Wealth

  23. Boadacia! says:

    There is no debate, these political slime are purposely causing unbearable misery, and death in many cases, and we are powerless to stop them, unless they are continuously shown to the public as the criminals and benefit fraudsters we are accused of.

    Bombard your MP’s and every other with complaints, even if they are in and part of this nasty party eugenics club, before they stop your freedom to even buy the postage stamps!

  24. Findlow says:

    That is a very moving letter by Laurie Penny, and I sincerely hope M can take some comfort from it, and from knowing that so many other people wish him or her well. We have to keep fighting. Look at what the disgusting Lord Fraud has said recently, it is appalling:

    “Whilst the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is legally responsible for all benefit decisions made by officials of the department on his behalf, there is no legal responsibility held by the Secretary of State for the well-being of benefit claimants.

    Therefore, neither DWP nor WCA healthcare professionals are liable for any adverse consequence suffered by a claimant following a decision that the claimant is fit for work or for work-related activity.”

    The Tories are getting spooked by the number of MPs raising the tragic issue of deaths related to benefit cuts:

  25. Mo Stewart says:

    You could always ‘bombard’ all your MPs with my website address to advise that these ‘welfare reforms’ are designed by the 2nd worst corporate insurance giant in America….

    The press won’t expose this info, but it was exposed at the Lib Dem conference, so don’t you think it’s time to tell the MPs?

  26. Humanity2012 says:

    From Loud Music Idiots to Gormless Politicians this Country is an Utter Disgrace

    People are in a Trance

  27. jed goodright says:

    Iain Duncan Smith has announced todat that all disabled people had better do their christmas shopping or they will lose their benefits

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