Hardest Hit demo and stupidity on Radio 4

I took a day off work today to attend the Hardest Hit demonstration by disabled people against cuts (some masquerading as “reforms”) to benefits for disabled people. The march itself was pretty short, running from the bottom of the Embankment past Parliament and ending on Millbank, but some participants stayed around to meet with their MPs. I met up with Riven Vincent, the same lady I met at the earlier anti-cuts demo in March who challenged David Cameron over nappies for severely disabled children (like her daughter). The demo was much shorter this time than in March, although perhaps that was to take into account the fact that many of the participants could not manage a long march.

As part of news coverage of the event, Radio 4 yesterday devoted their You and Yours programme to whether disabled people really were going to be the “hardest hit”, and it featured a call-in from a blogger with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome who explained that her benefits pay for the equipment she needs to keep herself alive, and that she could not find proper employment as she could not guarantee being able to keep doing a job, as she could be fine one day (or at least appear fine) and very ill, even bedridden the next. This is, of course, a feature common to a number of illnesses, and it is why the current mode of assessment is so inadequate, as it may disqualify someone based on them having taken the test on a good day, or having saved their resources for the interview, regardless of whether they crash the next.

Later on in the programme, a guy called Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, appeared to put a pro-government view, namely that we could not expect to ring-fence resources for disabled people any more than anyone else, because that would involve cutting at the NHS or schools, and that tax money had not been invested wisely but had been spent. He also said that the country had been living beyond its means for the whole period since 1945 under both Labour and Tory governments. This is really unconvincing and smacks of a kind of new economic orthodoxy. This is not the first recession we have had since the War, and the money has been there that whole time. No previous economic crisis justified the kinds of spending cuts now being implemented.

Littlewood also suggested to people that, if they earn a reasonable salary, that they insure themselves against the possibility of becoming disabled. This would, of course, not cover those who acquire their disabilities at birth or inherit them, but a fairly large proportion of people do not have the regular income necessary to sustain such a policy. If you do not have the money to keep paying, of course, you lose the cover. But there’s another reason why we should not rely on the insurance industry to cover the costs of disability, which is that they have a vested interest in not paying out, and will look for reasons not to. Littlewood specifically mentioned that his insurance would cover him if he became bedridden, but as regular readers of this blog will know, it is possible to become bedridden from illnesses doctors in the pay of the insurance industry insist do not exist, or are not genuinely physical illnesses. So, you could pay your premiums for years, become bedridden from severe ME after a viral infection and get nothing.

I couldn’t write this yesterday because I was too tired after a 12-hour work day, but my blood did boil at hearing this man, who sounded very middle-class, lecturing the disabled about what they should have done. The fact is that disability-related equipment is expensive because it is assumed that insurers or the NHS are paying, not that an impoverished disabled person is buying it for their own use. Wheelchairs on their own — good quality ones, especially for those with the most severe disabilities — cost thousands of pounds, and we should not forget the reason why disabled people often cannot work: because, even if they are well enough to work, the buildings where the work is and (often) the means of getting there are inaccessible. Society prevents many of them from earning a living, so it is only right that the duty of keeping them falls on that same society.

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