I have so much swilling round my head now on this all.

Because of a system that sees people primarily as money making objects millions of people are dehumanised, cast as burdens, forced to live in poverty, to undertake humiliating assessments designed to fail as many people as possible to access even basic sustenance. Millions are forced to seek work in a system that does not want to employ them and will not make adjustments for basic needs and access. We are punished for not ‘doing enough’ to manage our conditions when we are often offered no help in the first place and often have to fight to get what we little we do have. We are expected to compete in a system where we have been denied equal access (or any access) to education, training and employment, a system that in addition to denying us this access then says we are not good enough as we don’t have the education or training! Furthermore this is marketed as being ‘positive’ about disability and accessing the support we need to even attempt to participate as ‘equals’ is writing us off as ‘hopeless’ charity cases. This all casts disability and illness as a personal issue for the individual to overcome whilst ignoring the structural barriers we face in addition to illness and disability. It puts all the responsibility on the oppressed and none on the oppressor. This is neo liberal capitalist BULLSHIT. I can honestly say it is ruining my life and I am one of the ‘lucky’ ones.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror a former ATOS worker states “The system is set up as if disabled people are trying to steal something from the Government”. It is this level of mistrust, the practice of seeing people as criminal and asking them to prove otherwise that is so damaging. It hurts psychologically, indeed I would say it’s a form of psychological violence, it leaves people without the ability to meet their basic needs; food, shelter, medical care. It kills people. This goes far beyond saving money and deep into the realms of social cleansing, creating a society where people have to prove their humanity and that humanity depends on their ability to make money and succeed in a world where they face many barriers, yet those barriers are deliberately cast as personal failings as opposed to the structural oppressions they are. The rise of the biopyscho social model (another link here)with regards to disability and illness mirrors the rise of ‘bootstraps’ rhetoric that poverty is the fault of the individual and absolves wider society of any responsibility. In short, it’s bollocks.

This is, one reason out of many, why I am not a reformist. I cannot in good conciencse advocate reform of a system that thrives on oppression, a system that NEEDS oppression to survive, when reforms can only ever hope to mitigate suffering and oppression as opposed to eradicating it.  I’m not about asking anyone nicely to maybe give me a little bit of agency or power or to recognise my basic right to sustenance. They say you get more right wing as you get older, but I get more revolutionary. The more I see, the more I try to carve out a life in a system that sees me a nuisance and waste of money, the more I want to smash it. I can’t and don’t want to ‘lean in’ or some such bullshit, I cannot advocate for ‘equality’ within the existing social structures and systems because they are fundamentally unequal.

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In my last post I suggested that some people were likely to use the paralympics as a political tool to demonise disability benefit claimants.

Lo and behold, we have this tale of a local newspaper editor telling motability claimants to ‘hang their heads in shame’. The disability news service reports an odious arse dribble named Tony Hines claimed ““fake” disabled people “do not work or contribute to society one iota and just sponge and bitch all day while sitting at home eating cream cakes watching Loose Women”, and compared them with Paralympians, who were “genuine people with some bad disabilities but not giving into them and actually trying to overcome them”. In a festival of anti-benefits rhetoric, ableism and classism and a general scorn for humanity. There is this idea that you must always be striving to ‘overcome’ your disability and if you accept that it’s probably realistically going to be a part of your life for quite a while and you admit to needing support, you’re not ‘trying hard enough’. Believe me I have tried to carry on like I’m fine, fit and healthy and sooner or later, usually sooner, it all ends up with my body and mind going ‘erm we can’t just ignore this, help!’ and crashing. As much as I hate to admit it, I have limits and if I push them too far I make myself worse, why should I be ashamed to ask for help and support if I need it and that help comes in the form of benefits?

This is a perfect example of the kinds of attitudes I worried about. The  rise of “armchair ATOS” crusaders who feel fit to judge the disability of strangers, people whose daily lives they have no idea of and thus have no idea how a person’s health may be affected. This is a dangerously narrow minded view of disability, it assumes one can ‘spot’ a disabled person. Millions of disabled people look perfectly healthy, but it doesn’t mean they are. Sadly these attitudes are not just confined to wankers whining from a newspaper column, or on-line or letters to the editor. These attitudes are responsible for incidents of harassment and disability hate crime. Rebbecca of Half a Giraffe  has an excellent post about her experiences of being judged by a nosy busy body whilst daring to use the blue badge she is perfectly entitled to use.  More than 9 in 10 people surveyed by Disability Rights UK linked the hostility in the press and from government towards disabled people with the rise in disability hate crimes.

Mental health and other ‘invisible disabilities’ seem to suffer disproportionately from accusations of ‘scrounger’ and the associated bullying, there is a widespread lack of education about disability, with common perceptions focused on visible impairments. There is little recognition that one can ‘look fine’ but be disabled, often severely so. Mental health also bears the stigma of not being seen as a ‘real’ and there is still an unfortunate amount of people who assume you can ‘snap out of it’ or just ‘try harder’ . Even amongst those who claim to be supportive there can be a real lack of knowledge of just how severe conditions such as depression can be. To use an example from comments on my blog which, in asserting that depression is not a disability, it was stated; ‘Not being able to return to your job or participate in a majority of the activities you once loved, this is the reality of disability for me’  a statement which I assume implied that this wasn’t the reality for people with depression and mental health problems, when in fact I am sure many of those with mental health issues recognise this as an all too familiar daily reality. In addition to often being unable to look after ones self, being unable to cook, go shopping or keep on top of housework or even get out of bed without help and encouragement. Again all things I that I have had people assume I, or any other person with mental illness, can manage without difficulty and are thus ‘not really disabled’ and don’t deserve any support we may get and spend our days rolling in wads of cash, watching giant tvs and riding round in free cars.

Hearing the trumped up opinions of armchair ATOS, back-seat doctors, medical geniuses who can judge a person’s health by snatching a glimpse of them getting out of a car or just by hearing the name of their condition, day after day, in general discourse, in the media , from the politicians in charge of the welfare state and healthcare, hearing all that, it hurts. Having people assume you’re not ‘really ill enough’ or ‘lazy’ or not entitled to whatever support you might get and casting  aspersions on your personality as a result; insinuating you are a cheat, a liar, lazy or seeking a pity party, it really fucking hurts.

It’s discrimination based upon false assumptions and lack of evidence. It has to stop,  to see people using the exceptional achievements of the few to belittle the everyday hardships of the many makes me sick, it makes me fume. Doubly so when it is candy coated with a layer of ‘but I don’t hate disabled people, I’m being nice to paralympians!’ doublethink, enemies dressed up as allies. When terms such as ‘depression’ , ‘fatigue’ and ‘bad back’ are used as shorthand for ‘making it up’ or ‘faking it’, it hurts, especially when the proportion of fraudulent claims is minute, by backing these reforms you are de facto backing denying support to genuinely ill and disabled people. This hatred is often framed as being for the benefit of ‘genuine’ disabled people and thus those spouting this discriminatory , outdated and just plain wrong bullshit claim it as ‘support’ for disabled people in society and as somehow progressive and for ‘the greater good’, words haven’t been invented yet to describe how angry it makes me. It’s still shit under the candy coating.

Image source

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All the fuss around the paralympics, which I have only been half watching as I have no interest in sport of any persuasion, has made me think about he representation of invisible disability. Reading Latentexistence’s  excellent post entitled ‘why the paralympics tell us nothing about most sick or disabled people’ has also spurred things on too.

The Paralympics – The Help Effect?

I also feel a bit nauseous from the whole ‘ohh aren’t disabled people wonderful!’ shtick from people who think that everything is now fine for people with disabilities and long term illness because a few exceptionally talented people are exceptionally talented at what is, to my non sporty mind, just a really fancy and expensive school sports day. Most of us however remain as boringly average and unremarkable as the vast majority of people without disabilities. People with disabilities can be mediocre too! Personally it’s possibly the one thing I do excel at.  As if the Atos logo everywhere didn’t make me want to projectile vomit enough now we have hordes of people who have no idea what it’s like to live with a disability or chronic health issues go all patronising by telling us we’re ‘inspirational’. I dunno, it seems a lot of the Paralympic hype is a lot of able bodied folk feeling better about themselves as they ‘just see the sport not the disability’ or whatever and having a big love in at being all non discriminatory and wonderful and telling people with disabilities that things will be great from now on ‘cos they’ve realised some people with disabilities can run fast and they’re totally like ‘normal’ people too. Call it ‘the Help effect‘ if you will. White people solved racism now able bodied people are solving ableism/disablism!

Scrounging Scum Redux

Meanwhile, the press is still full of the usual guff about ‘scroungers’ and benefits, ATOS still exist and are being their usual inhuman selves endangering peoples lives and livelihoods, the tories still exist, disability hate crime still exists,  bazillions of mediocre non athletic people with disabilities who’d just like to get on with life without having to fight for every tiny scrap of everything we get and not be either sainted for being some sort of ‘inspiration’ for just doing what we have to do and/or being an evil scrounger for doing what we have to do. Many of us are told we don’t have ‘real’ disabilities because we ‘look fine’. We even have the ‘overcoming depression to be an amazing winner ‘ trope in the media reaction to Victorian Pendleton’s admission of her past problems. The fact she was helped by a therapist swiftly provided for her by British Cycling is skimmed over whilst the rest of us grow cobwebs waiting for anything even resembling therapy on the NHS. Amazing recoveries and achieving against the odds are not the norm, framing these extraordinary achievements as ‘proof’ that many people with disabilities could really do everything if they just tried harder and we’re just lazy or seeing ourselves as ‘victims’ if we want any help to enable us to even attempt to live a half decent life, this rhetoric is disingenuous and dangerous, as skwalker1964 points out.

A return to normal telly

Also, I don’t like sport, some of it’s occasionally mildly interesting, but really I have no interest at all whether it be Olympic or Paralympic sport.  I resent the fact I should somehow view these people as ‘inspirational wonders’, yes they are brilliant and have done a brilliant job winning things but it’s still sport, something I have no interest in either taking part in or watching so it just doesn’t really inspire me much. I viewed being able to get out of PE lessons when I started to get ill as one of the few (if the only) plus side to the whole thing. Quite frankly I’m glad we have normal telly back now. Normal telly that has ooo fuck all people with disabilities shown in a positive light unless they have some big amazing triumph over adversity story arc and become some sort of human lump of amazeballs and climb Everest whilst solving global hunger and becoming the first person to find the secrets of the universe by racing round CERN in a wheelchair and colliding with a Higgs . Or are a dangerous nutter going on a rampage. gah. But hey some people with disabilities can swim/run/wheel/throw things/hit things/whatever really well so it’s all fine!

 

Edit: I have closed comments for the time being ad I have said all I can on the issues raised, which have been very triggering for me. I’m not willing to sacrifice my health for the blog. I shall hopefully post a follow up when I feel stronger but right now I need some time out.

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Watching Channel 4’s ‘Britain on the Sick’ and the BBC’s Panorama investigations into ATOS,the DWP, the work capability tests and disability benefit reform made me think; why is all the onus on us, people with disabilities and long term health issues, to become employed and fit work around our needs, why is none, or nowhere near enough,  placed upon employers to make work more accessible?

The fact that the ATOS test deems you fit for work if you can perform very simple tasks often with assistance from aids you might not normally use, such as a wheelchair, or a very basic knowledge of lip reading and braille amounting to a few scant words; things that in the real world do no make you employable especially when very few employers are willing to make such adjustments, despite the Disability Discrimination Act.

The whole system is designed to force disabled people into boxes we don’t and can’t fit into and not enough effort, if any, is put into making these boxes flexible so we can fit into them. This rigid, unrealistic fit into boxes and measure by percentage approach is reflected in the targets set by the DWP and ATOS, that they won’t admit to but on which evidence is seeping out.

Employers by and large have far more resources available to them and have the power to change things far more than any individual disabled person. The same government that is demanding we work is the same government that is busy eroding employment rights and support for those of us who do manage to work. Making it easier to sack workers, attempting to remove access to tribunals. It is setting up even more barriers, making access to work even harder and giving employers incentives NOT to make allowances and adaptations; yet still expecting us to hurtle through flaming hoops to be deemed a decent human being. The same government that demands we do all we can to manage and treat our illnesses and conditions is cutting NHS resources leaving us with little or no support, this is especially true for mental health conditions as  in addition to atrocious lack of funding in mental health care the government is making the new work capability tests focus so strongly on the physical that mental illness is barely given a look in. The ESA  (employment support allowance) form has one page of about 20 or so on mental health issues, the rest is largely irrelevant yet is what the bulk of the points needed to score as eligible for benefits will be awarded on.

There is a point in the BBC investigation in which a support worker tells the tale of a claimant who had taken many overdoses and was asked by an assessor ‘why aren’t you dead then?’ and then she was told if she stopped the interview due to emotional distress her benefits would automatically be terminated. All ATOS assessors are supposed to be trained medical professionals, that a trained medical professional (or indeed human being with a soul) whether in the realm of mental health or not, could act in such a callous way is despicable and an example of the prejudice those of us with mental health issues face every day. If didn’t have the wonder that is my supportive Mum during my assessment I would have been a wreck, I was a semi wreck as it was, biting and scratching myself for lack of a blade in the waiting room. In tears and anxious for days, weeks beforehand. Those without mental health problems report similar feelings of dread with assessments and re assessments always looming in the background leaving you little time to relax.

This is bullying, it is heaping the entire burden of employment upon disabled people, it is a system that sees us a guilty until proven innocent and even then we still have to be re assessed every five minutes. It fosters bullying and outright hate crimes as the propaganda from the DWP and government encourages us to be seen as ‘scroungers’ and ‘cheats’. The system is unfair and it doesn’t work. The governments own advisers have quit (or been forced out?)  or resigned as a matter of conscience , yet still they plough on proving they don’t care. This is not about saving money, as it doesn’t, not with the massive amount of appeals and minuscule rates of benefit fraud for disability benefits compared to say the billions lost by tax evasion.

It is demanded that we  shoulder the burden, a burden that is not ours to bear.  A burden of which we already bear too much in the form of hatred, a society that does not adapt to differing needs.

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It hit me the other day  in the midst of a pre ATOS panic that what this government is embarking on and the way it goes about it is tantamount to psychological warfare. Everything about the process of claiming benefits, and especially the rhetoric of austerity and the ‘scrounger’ fallacy trotted out in every government speech about ‘reducing the benefits bill’ and all that, is designed to make you feel like shit, to have you questioning your self worth. It’s designed to make you feel like less of a person, designed to make it as clear as possible that you have to jump through every hoop to gain your pittance as you are at the mercy of their whims. It encourages people to express their prejudices by informing on you, the benefits fraud hotline has an estimated 94% rate of ‘malicious’ calls, something which is exacerbated by the government and media portrayal of those on benefits, often using grossly flawed statistics and misrepresentations if not downright lies presented as ‘fact’ and justification.

Today I saw this Image on twitter:

 

All thus austerity rhetoric? It DOES have a negative effect on your mental health, especially if you already have a mental health problem and pretty much hate yourself on a regular basis anyway and could do without the extra help, and are forced through a system which is clearly not designed for such issues. The rise of hatred against the disabled and those who are deemed to be ‘faking it’ ie not fitting the image of a disabled or long term ill person as imposed on us by those without disability, usually as some form of angelic ‘super crip’,  it all hurts, really, really hurts.

I feel it is no coincidence that the worst bout of depression, anxiety and self loathing I have suffered for a good few months has peaked around the time of my ATOS assessment. No matter how hard you try, all this shit gets to you. Barely a day goes by where I turn on the tv, read a paper, go on line or interact with the outside world in some way that I don’t hear at least one story about benefit reform, cuts and unemployment, stories which are more often than not dripping with hatred and scorn for those of us who ‘live of the state and don’t give anything back’ blaming us for everything. This stuff gets to me, how can it not? This isn’t about some abstract benefits claiming bogeyman this is about real people and I am one of those people so of course I take it personally, it’s about me.

I have been fucked over far more times by the system than it has ever helped me; yet I am demonised and forced to jump through belittling and dehumanising hoops to get a fucking pittance because it is politically convenient to paint people like me as taking everything and not giving anything back.

Every time I hear someone going on about ‘scroungers’   – it hurts
Every time I hear rhetoric about ‘benefit culture’  and getting ‘something for nothing’ – it hurts
Every time I hear more news about punitive benefit reform which has the ever present underlying tones of ‘you don’t deserve it’ – it hurts
Every time it hurts, it REALLY FUCKING HURTS.

Yes I have never ‘worked’. I am not lazy, I just happened to get ill when I was 11 and my parents generally frowned upon child labour. I spent longer than usual getting an education as I was cheated out of any post 16 educational support by the system meaning I was no longer eligible for support for help with education, such as a home tutor. By 16 I had 2 GCSES so it took me a good few years of catching up to reach University.

I am not a ‘drain’ on resources, I ‘work’ for free for local charities, I work for free in museums and galleries, allowing them to function as due to spending cuts they now rely on volunteers as they are making paid staff redundant, I am told it is good for me to volunteer yet my volunteer work is never seen as ‘real’ work so I am perpetually trapped in the cycle of ‘no experience’.

I have been offered noting but insubstantial and ineffective help to deal with my depression via the NHS etc, thus trapping me in the ‘too ill to work full time’ trap for longer and leaving me even more unemployable.

The way society treats people with mental illness means I am not at the top of the pile for any job, it means I have huge fucking gaps to explain on my CV. Any support I have tried to access for help with this has either been useless (or useful in theory but fails to account for the inherent shittiness of the real world) or non existent.

I am not a ‘special case’ and I will not hear people saying ‘but this isn’t about people like you it’s about the people who take the piss’.I am the same as millions of people out there being demonised, insulted and having our livelihoods threatened, squeezed and removed when we have done nothing wrong.

The fraud rate for disability benefits is LESS THAN 1%. More money is lost through the incompetence of governments and the DWP than is lost through fraud. People are not living a life of luxury at the expense of the ‘hard working people’. The media and the government lie and distort facts. 

How can we blame people who are having to rely on charity handouts for food, to demonise them as scroungers and cheats and the cause of all our financial woes.  How dare we call them selfish and the ‘something for nothing’ generation when we have people like Bob Diamond on fat bonuses and Emma Harrison profiting for forcing people into unpaid servitude?

The failures of the system have been far more instrumental in landing me in the unemployment/long term illness wasteland than anything I have ever done, yet this system is punishing me, and others like me, for failures and mistakes that are nothing to do with us.

 

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