She ain’t heavy …

Yesterday William Peace AKA Bad Cripple commented on a recent case in Canada in which a French family were denied permanent residency because they have a daughter who has cerebral palsy (and, according to the authorities, “developmental delay”). David Barlagne and his family were advised when in France that his family would have no difficulty on account of the daughter’s disability if his business proved to be a success, and it has been, but they have been rejected, and face deportation, because the daughter is deemed “medically inadmissible”.

I was unaware that Canada had such a policy with regard to disabled dependants; I was well aware of it with regard to Australia. To an extent, one can understand this in Australia whose ecological position, exacerbated by climate change (desertification, chronic water shortages, wildfires etc), means that whether it can take many more immigrants at all is debatable. Canada is not like that; it’s a mostly sparsely-populated and rich country. It also seems to have a history of such discrimination, as when the Chapman family, from Wokingham in Berkshire (England), attempted to move to Nova Scotia to start a business. While their immigration application was in process, they attempted to visit the country and were told that their daughter had a life ban on account of her disability (Angelman syndrome, which results in mental impairment although it does not in itself produce other health problems.

There are a number of problems with developed countries holding such policies. First, if disabled people can move from the UK (or France) to Canada, they can also move the other way. This is how it works in the EU: anyone, disabled or otherwise, can move to any other EU country, stay as long as they like, work, marry, whatever (this does not universally apply to the eastern European member states, whose citizens can, to my knowledge, only settle freely in the UK and not other EU states). I haven’t heard of the British health service being overburdened with the health needs of disabled people from the other EU countries (and we have a more generous health service than in some other countries, which work on the basis of compulsory insurance rather than a state-funded health service) or any scandal about the state being “bled dry” by paying for care for severely disabled EU nationals (and there would be if it were happening). In any case, if people can freely move either way, no country — at least in this day and age, when the former colonies have reached a stage of development equal to ours — will be shouldering a disporportionate share of the burden of caring or treating another country’s disabled.

However, assessing someone’s value to society purely in terms of whether they have care or health needs ignores the contribution they might make to society, in terms of paying taxes, of any cultural, literary or scientific achievement, and so on. A disabled person is inherently less likely to become a violent criminal (not that they could not participate in white-collar crime), and we have plenty of such criminals in the UK, and the disabled commonly feature as victims as demonstrated in a BBC programme shown in Wales last week (anyone in the UK can watch it on iPlayer for the next four days). Most immigrants are not criminals, but most disabled people are, at worst, harmless.

Even if someone has a disability which does result in complex needs and a shortened life expectancy, this is likely to mean that they will not experience the disabilities and declining health associated with old age, to say nothing of conditions like Alzheimer’s. We have an ageing population in most western countries, and providing old age pensions is so costly that those who could afford it bought into private pension schemes (of course, several of these collapsed). In this particular case, the disability concerned is cerebral palsy, which although it can be severely physically disabling, in and of itself it only causes physical disability and does not have the ramifications of muscular dystrophy (which is degenerative) or spinal cord injury. However, the child’s disability is not being weighed only against their own potential contribution, but against that of their whole family; a country will turn away productive and law-abiding entrepreneurs who stand to provide jobs and pay taxes because it all counts for nothing when they bring a disabled child with them.

Immigration in most countries nowadays is always politicised, with laws which cause pointless expense and frustration to the immigrant and split up families for no good reason, all so that politicians can tell the press that they’re being tough on immigrants. I actually know a Canadian lady with multiple physical disabilities who is seeking to move to the UK to be with her fiancé, and I am pretty certain that she has much to contribute. As far as I know her disabilities will not count against her as long as she is able to manage them (which she is) but I am just hoping that everyone she encounters knows this. I have no problem allowing law-abiding people with disabilities into the UK, but it is sad that a British person with the same disabilities might have serious trouble moving to other parts of the English-speaking world, even to join family. There is no real reason why there cannot be free movement and settlement between them, much as there is in the EU, given that the countries are at similar stages of development and have much more similar politics and cultures than is the case among the EU nations.

I don’t know if Canada would gladly see the back of any disabled person who wanted to move abroad. One group they are more than willing to dump on us is people who moved there as children, with their parents, and became criminals, particularly sex offenders. Often, when they get sent back here, they have not set foot in the UK in decades. (The USA is also notorious for simply deporting immigrants who commit felonies, even if they came as children; in one case, a woman had to fight to stay in the USA after a domestic battery conviction, and she had been adopted from Germany but her adoptive parents never bothered to secure a passport for her.) I would much prefer my taxes to be used on the care of a disabled immigrant than on the behaviour-management or incarceration of a sex offender who wasn’t a sex offender when he left the UK.

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