I read this interesting article on Buzzfeed  “The 1970s Feminist Who Warned Against Leaning In” promoting a reissue of Sheila Rowbotham’s book ‘Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World’.

Whilst I found it interesting with some excellent points made I couldn’t help but feel the lack of any discussion about disability was a glaring omission. The issue of work, what is work and who is valued for working are important feminist issues, they are also important disability issues. Just as feminism has  highlighted the repression of women as their unpaid labour is undervalued and exploited under capitalism we need to highlight how disabled people are written off as ‘scroungers’ as we are often unable to work and become ‘economically productive’ (and therefore ‘productive members of society’) in an abled society that makes no or little adaptations to our needs. Feminism has highlighted the importance of women doing the vast majority of care work, such as looking after children and elderly and disabled relatives. But what about those of us who are the ‘looked after’? After all so many of us are women too.

For feminism to be truly intersectional we must consider disability issues, disability is a feminist issue. Many women are disabled. Many chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities affect greater numbers of women and are not taken seriously because of this. Women with disabilities are twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse and violence, disabled people are routinely ‘desexualised’ and this has effects on issues such as pregnancy and parenthood. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on, the way disabled people are expected to be passive, grateful and mostly silent in a role that echoes the restrictive ‘feminine’ role pushed onto women for example.

But back to work, in a climate where benefit ‘reforms’  and spending cuts are disproportionally harming both women and disabled people, disabled women are at high risk. When our very humanity and right to access basic support is debated every day, when we are cast as scroungers for accessing the support we are entitled to, when we are assumed to be faking it and have to jump through an ever increasing number of hoops to prove we aren’t the issue of work and disability is really important. When all this causes a massive rise in disability hate crime, It’s a matter of life and death, yet I can’t honestly remember the last time I saw a general or feminist discussion on capitalism and work which included disability as anything more than a footnote, if that.

I have written previously on how ‘leaning in’ in impossible for many women, including disabled women, and I still remain pretty much constantly disappointed by the lack of inclusion of disabled voices within feminism, even supposedly ‘intersectional’ feminism. Feminism is about giving women a voice, yet why are we leaving disabled women voiceless? We are rightly critical of the idea that women be ‘looked after’ by their husbands and not afforded any independence but where are the loud, critical voices when disabled women are becoming ever more reliant on being ‘looked after’ when our support allowing us independence is being cut? Where are the voices of those who cannot work in this society when we are discussing work, labour and class analysis? If the ability to get out the house and work has been so important to feminism and women’s ‘freedom’ then what about those of us who can’t ? I am a young woman who is intelligent, well educated and capable yet I am far from independent, I rely so much on my family because with chronic illness I am unable to work enough to support myself.

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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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Birthday went O.K, thanks for all the nice wishes, the internet does placate my ego sometimes. It’s nice to know this blog is read and it isn’t just me ranting into empty space .

Though I am still waiting for the letter of doom from the DWP for the dreaded Work capability assesment, which I guess is playing on my mind more than I like to admit, (though I suppose if I do end up in tears as a result of ATOS cruelty that may count in my favour; being embrassingly quick to tears has to have its upsides?).

I also had a minor ‘incident’ with the mother. I was having a bad day, so I was still in sweat pants and unwashed hair by the time mother decreed it was time for us to go the theatre, she sighed at me ‘not making an effort’ , I had one of my embrassing mini meltdowns and ended up in floods of tears (if anyone assumes us depressives do it for attention we don’t; crying infront of people is embrassing, especially the proper snot spraying red eyed crying fits). It all worked out in the end but it has highlighted the whole ‘pull yourself togther’ thing. Even my mother who does support me but doesn’t always understand can get like this, it’s hard, it’s infuriating dealing with those attitudes. Especially as it sets off the self doubt , maybe I am just pathetic and useless and unable to just ‘get on with it’ like a normal human being?

But the fact I can’t pull myself together often enough is why depression is an illness, if I could pull myself together I wouldn’t have this problem would I? I wouldn’t willing suffer this utter hell just becuase I’m a bit lazy. So telling me to ‘pull myself together’ is somewhat of a logic fail.

Yes sometimes I do do things that are ‘bad for me’ (like gin, reading the comments/unrestrained bile of assorted wierdoes with grudges on Comment is Free) that might make my depression worse, but why should I have to life the life of a saint just because of my illness? I hate the judgement that if I am suffering becuase of a tiny lapse of judgement it’s somehow extented to being my fault for the whole entire thing (even if said lack of judgment may be little more than a coincidence; sometimes I can ‘over do it’ and be fine, others I won’t be, sometimes I’ll just crash for no reason etc etc).  I was going to say something else relevant and profound but my brain’s just turned to mush. Meh.

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