The one word that describes how I feel right now is pressure. Partly, pressure on me to deliver various types of work, both small pieces of work and more significant projects but, more significantly, the pressure of knowing how many are suffering and how little our Government and most of our politicians, across all parties, actually appear to care. And alongside pressure, my feeling about what is happening to our country is moving close to despair.
So I could barely bring myself to listen to David Cameron’s speech today. What I read about it on Twitter told me all I needed to know, anyway – a Prime Minister using personal, emotive anecdotes to give a totally hypocritical, even mendacious impression of his Government’s priorities. It feels wrong to criticise when he uses the example of the death of his disabled son Ivan, but this blogpost: http://sturdyblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/we-need-to-talk-about-ivan/ written in March makes the case much better, and probably more sensitively, than I can. Interestingly and concerningly, when I talk to my MP about the suffering being caused by Government policies I realise how powerless he is to make any difference to his own Government’s actions.
There are many reasons why this Government is getting away with cruel, abusive policies, but the relative weakness of Parliament against the might of the Executive is one reason. Another key reason is the torrent of hatred which pours from the tabloids, and even some right-wing broadsheets, accusing most disabled and sick people of being scroungers; what makes it worse is that this torrent appears to be fuelled, in part, by misleading press releases from the Department for Work and Pensions. This stream of bile about benefit scroungers is convincing the majority of the population that the Government’s approach, seeking to remove support from hundreds of times more people than the small number defrauding the system, is the right one. Even the necessary proliferation of food banks, for those who cannot even afford food, fails to persuade people that Government policies are causing exceptional hardship.
What I find so difficult is the realisation that this is a very, very long way from the social morality and sense of social justice I share with my Christian and my non-Christian friends alike: a basic morality which cannot bear to see the deprivation, hunger, poverty, despair and even suicide now rampant in our country, especially among disabled people and those living with chronic illness. Whatever has happened to our so-called civilised society, supposedly founded on the moral principles of the world’s great religions?
And I’m certainly not the only campaigner feeling the pressure. There are many very sick people, some of whom I’m working with, who are so horrified by the avoidable suffering being caused by current benefits policies that they’re neglecting their own health to gather evidence and write reports to expose the cruelty of Government – the neo-liberal hegemony of both this and the previous administration. What kind of society do we live in where those who are the most sick feel compelled to compromise their own health to expose the suffering being inflicted by the State on themselves and other disabled and sick people?
Compared with what my fellow campaigners are doing, my contribution is very small. Regular readers will know that I’ve worked with others to produce reports that expose the real implications of this Government’s benefits and social care policies. This week I’ve had two articles published, which I hope might, in some small way, help to turn the tide.
In the Guardian: my article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/oct/09/cuts-limit-disabled-people-independence briefly explains why the crisis in social care funding and the proposed closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) will fatally undermine the progress we’ve made towards equality for disabled people. Many severely disabled people who have used their talents to make a significant contribution to our society would have been unable to do so without support for independent living from local authority social care services and, in some cases, the ILF.
And on the Disability Rights UK blog: in my article at http://disabilityrightsuk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/disability-chronic-sickness-and-work.html I’ve explained why assumptions made about the ability of disabled and chronically sick people to undertake paid work are completely unrealistic. Some of us believe that if work itself was redesigned, many disabled and sick people who currently cannot work might be able to undertake some kind of paid work (although we must not forget that some are so sick or so severely disabled that any work is completely impossible). So the WeareSpartacus network has launched a new campaign – the Work Project – to explore what changes could be made to make work possible for some disabled and sick people. Significantly, while the Government bullies us with an abusive assessment process, useless work-related activity, sanctions and other punitive measures based on an assumption that we don’t want to work, our message is that most of us do want to work! Whilst some of us are too sick to do any work, and need support from the rest of us, provided on our behalf by the State, many more of us could work – but only if work was significantly remodelled.
But when it comes to work, surely all the work we do should be valued? Some very sick people have to work very hard just to look after their own health and need others to help them do so; some care for children or other family members; some do as much voluntary work as they can realistically manage; and some of us are working almost flat out to persuade our Government and our society that if only all were supported, all could contribute according to their capacity. The pressure is on because the hardship and suffering are all around us; we cannot stop working; pressure must be our constant companion.