The Invisible Protesters: Disabled in the UK

On the 18th of April, there was a protest that took place in London. The iconic Trafalgar Square was brought to a complete standstill for hours as over 100 protesters blocked every road leading in to it. It was a big deal, and yet, unlike the student protests, unlike the pension protests, it was kept under cover. But why?

Surely a hundred disabled people chaining their wheelchairs across the roads of London in protest to the severe benefit cuts affecting their lives would be top news, a moral and ethical journalistic jackpot. Not here.

UK media have been bad enough when covering the recent abhorrent NHS reforms, but when it comes to disability benefit, it is left notoriously invisible. Our most prominent news company in this country, the BBC, has not even given this so much as a mention. The Guardian’s piece on the event  is the only article from a major newspaper about the protest.

There is a reason behind this invisibility and it is called the Benefit Scrounger rhetoric. Employed first by the previous Labour government and strengthened now by David Cameron and his ilk, this rhetoric fuels public hate for anyone who might be “cheating the system” and stealing their hard-earned pennies. It is real, and it is sickening, because the actual rate of fraud for disability benefit is a meagre 0.3%. This rhetoric, constantly pumped out through media channels in misinformed articles and reinforced by our politicians who, by remaining blasé and dismissive, ensures that public support remains on the Government’s side, so when benefit cuts go through and protests happen, they are hardly noticed.

Thanks to social networking sites such as Twitter, many disabled people who were otherwise isolated were able to interact. In the past year, we have seen some of the strongest fight backs to policy changes ever. The Spartacus Report co-authored by campaigner Sue Marsh and Dr. S.J. Campbell, actually made it into Parliament for consideration. And this e-petition by Mrs. Pat Onions has been doing well collecting signatures on the Government website.

Yet still, it’s a tough battle to get any kind of help when you become ill in this country. You will find that all the money you’ve put into the system is not reclaimable as you were told it was. You will find this out right when you need the Government’s help the most.

Since the changes were pushed through and the company ATOS came in to do the disability assessments, things have become harder and more limiting than ever.

Here’s a few ways in which the new criteria are limiting:

  • It does not take into consideration fluctuating conditions, so if you have a seizure one day and cannot cook, but the next day you’re okay enough to microwave a ready meal, they say you need no help.
  • If you can walk at all, despite using walking aids and despite falling over, you will lose your mobility support allowance.
  • If you can wash your face, despite being unable to bathe or shower, you are judged as not needing help with personal hygiene.
  • Failing to turn up to your preassigned ATOS assessment on time, regardless of whether or not the assessment centre has wheelchair access, will result in all benefit being denied.
  • Wheelchair users able to advance more than 50 metres will lose their mobility support allowance.
  • Terminal cancer patients are now cut off from payments if they don’t “get better” within a short time limit.

And that’s just a small snippet of the changes made.

Between January and August last year alone, 1,600 disabled people who were labelled fit for work were so ill they died before their assessment ruling could be overturned. Others have been living in such hellish situations they have taken their own lives.

The DWP uses an assessment model known as the bio-psycho-social model. It’s pure pseudoscience, full of logical fallacies such as loaded questions and black-or-white thinking. In a nutshell, the bio-psycho-social model says that we make ourselves sick and disabled because it’s mostly in our heads, and if we’d stop having a negative attitude and being lazy, we’d be able to somehow integrate in society again. This is the actual model used to assess disabled people in the UK. It’s not a joke.

Furthermore it’s insulting, especially when you wake up every morning wishing, praying that your legs will somehow magically work again, or that you won’t be throwing up all day again, or that your tumour will magically disappear. It’s insulting to be told that it’s all in your head. In addition, this totally marginalises all the very real, and very debilitating mental health conditions that many suffer from, which are in the head but are far from imaginary, and cannot be cured by “thinking it better.”

The real stinger is that ATOS made a £42 million profit in 2010 after taking over the assessments.

There are real people out there, dying right now, or in extortionate pain, as a result of David Cameron’s austerity measures, and it’s not getting any better. My advice: if you’re feeling a bit ill, or augur a terrible accident happening to you any time soon, don’t move to the UK.

 

Image property of louisefeminista.


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