Monday, 13 February 2012

Government attack on the disabled shames the country

Government attack on disabled shames the country
The Government led assault on people with disabilities is no doubt one of the most disgraceful acts of any party in power over recent times.
The now familiar approach of using the vast array of sympathetic right wing media outlets to trumpet a particularly vicious populist message has been seen in evidence with the disabled. This has led to a perception of disabled people cheating on benefits.
The Government declared its desire to cut Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2015 by 20 per cent. Another seemingly arbitrary figure arrived at who knows how but justified as with many other things on the back of deficit reduction. No mention of the £20 billion of benefits that go unclaimed or the ongoing welfare provision, now running into the hundreds of billions for the banks.
No, let’s target a weak vulnerable group as benefit cheats. Labour shadow work and pensions minister Anne McGuire warned of what was happening last December.
She claimed that media attacks on disabled people could be being fuelled by government briefings. “The feeding to the media of press releases and distortions of figures and the calling into question of whether people really are disabled is causing real harm,” said McGuire. “Some of the language used has perhaps fuelled a view of a stereotype of a disabled person as having a life on benefits, a benefit cheat.”

Now six charities have claimed the government’s focus on alleged fraud and over claiming to justify cuts in disability benefits has caused an increase in resentment and abuse directed toward disabled people, as they find themselves being labelled as scroungers.
Some of the charities say they are now regularly contacted by people who have been taunted on the street about supposedly faking their disability and are concerned the climate of suspicion could spill over into violence or other hate crimes.
The charities, Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the National Autistic Society, the Royal National Institute of Blind People and Disability Alliance said the inflammatory media coverage has played a role in bringing this situation about.
They blamed ministers and civil servants for repeatedly highlighting the supposed mass abuse of the disability benefits system, much of which is unfounded. “The reality is that benefit fraud is rare – in fact more money goes unclaimed than is defrauded. Our polling shows that this narrative has coincided with attitudes towards disabled people getting worse. Disabled people tell us that increasingly people don’t believe that they are disabled and suddenly feel empowered to question their entitlement to support,” said Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of Scope.
The charities criticise ministers for being "deeply irresponsible" in conflating DLA, which helps disabled people hold down jobs, and Employment and Support Allowance, a payment for those unable to work.
There have been similar moves in other areas, such as the attack on health and safety regulations. Again the media has played a supportative role with the cuts narrative, providing a number of exceptional examples to prove a norm that there is a health and safety culture out there. The fact that many of the abuses at work are caused by bad employers who behave in a negligent way never comes into this particular narrative. So just as Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith can call for a 20% cut in DLA, so Employment minister Chris Grayling says he is going to do away with a third of HSE legislation.
The approach of the government whereby it quite deliberately creates an often totally false narrative in a mainly compliant media over scroungers and benefits cheats as a backdrop to some cost cutting policy initiative is a new and particularly despicable way of operating. Government is there as the representatives of the people to provide just and equitable government not direct attacks on vulnerable groups by scapegoating them. It should be defending such groups.
Targeting the vulnerable in the name of deficit reduction is no way for a civilised country to behave. It is the rich and well off who have done so well out of the economic system that should now be being asked to dig deeper to meet the defict bill not the weakest and most vulnerable. Higher taxes on the wealthy and actually collecting taxes from companies domiciled in this country would be a start. These would be the basis of an equitable settlement that that the mass of people could accept. The present approach of targeting the weak and vulnerable is a squalid approach that does this country no credit

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