Disability bullies, City fans and Batmobile lessons

What I’ve been reading today:

Ah, the Telegraph. It really is the Daily Mail with longer words, isn’t it? But where the Mail Online borders its spittle-flecked articles of incitement to hatred by captioning pictures of women with twenties slang (‘Blushing Mila Kunis slips on a 70s wedding dress…’), the sidebar adjoining the Telegraph blog instead carries the titles of previous posts by the author you’re currently reading, to remind you why you don’t like her. ‘Heterosexual marriage? I’m sorry, you can’t discuss that’? Ah, this’ll be Cristina Odone.

Even by her standards, however, this piece – “Iain Duncan Smith must not give in to the ‘disability bullies’” – seemed as though it must surely be a joke. But since she apparently meant it, let me just run through what’s wrong with it.

1. The picture. As an example of the bullying poor IDS has to put up with, Odone gives the example in her article of the Hardest Hit march in London last year, where some of the protesters ‘threw fake blood on the pavement’ (how messy!), while others ‘wore gloves’ (…eh?). Leaving aside the question of whether such behaviour is really worse than contributing to a disablist culture and forcing vulnerable people further into poverty: I can’t help noticing that the placards in the photo all say ‘Blair’ on, and it’s not preceded by ‘bring back’. If the ‘disabled lobby’ have been so unreasonably vile to this government, why couldn’t the Telegraph find a more recent picture?

2. This sentence: “The system clearly needs radical changes: it allows alcoholics and drug addicts to take away more than someone who’s blind; it allows anyone to fake a back ache and stay off work, earning money as they do so.” A few points here. Taking benefits off half a million people is not a radical change. It is lazy. It is a lazy, badly-thought-out attempt to recoup the £1bn annual cost of benefit fraud because going after the £15bn cost of tax avoidance is just too damn difficult. (Side-note: did Britain’s richest people have to chuck paint about to get the government to scrap the 50p tax rate? No. They just didn’t pay it. Would that we could all afford such quiet dignity.)

You know what else is lazy? Setting “alcoholics and drug addicts” up against  “‘real’ disabled people”. DLA is based on how much, as a result of your disability, you need extra money – not how much you deserve it. That’s because we still, for the time being, have a welfare state, not a panel of society ladies distributing alms. If you’re on daily dialysis, you probably do need DLA more than if you are, say, David Blunkett. But the idea that addicts receive more than people with sensory disabilities as a matter of course is simply false.

Speaking of which:

3. This sentence. “Few claimants are ever seen or checked, and stolen identities are now a huge factor.” I reckon someone who fakes a back-ache to stay off work probably still puts in more effort on a daily basis than Cristina Odone appears to have done on this article. Confirming that this sentence is simply not true would have taken all the journalistic endeavour required to just ask someone who has ever claimed DLA.

Stolen identities a huge factor? Huge? The fraud rate for DLA is 0.5% (figure from a PCS pamphlet, which you can download here). But let’s say it was huge – how is chucking half a million people off benefits going to combat identity fraud? Come to that, how is it going to deal with people faking back-ache? Here’s the thing about liars – they lie. Making genuinely disabled people jump through hoops in an attempt to catch the 0.5% of claimants who are already willing to deceive is as ineffective as it is cruel.

4. Finally, the entire basis of this article is backwards and wrong. Bullies? Bullies use power to get their own way. As a group already substantially more likely than the rest of the population to live in poverty (again, the DWP’s own figures!), what power do people who rely on DLA have in their fight against the government? The vote? No elections for a few years. Legal help? Not since the government scrapped legal aid for social welfare. Well, why don’t they write and present an exhaustively researched report calling the basis of the government’s proposed changes into question? Oh, that’s right – they did! And the media largely ignored it.

With every other avenue closed off, to criticise disabled people for loudly exercising their right to protest is appalling. If you haven’t done so already, have a read of Polly Toynbee’s summary of the coalition’s Monday, and ask yourself – who’s bullying who?

Video of the day:

On a much lighter note, I was lucky enough to the in the Town Hall during the Man City celebrations. I’m not a City fan (or a football fan at all, for which I apologise to everyone in Manchester) but it was still an exciting event to witness, as this picture from the clock-tower demonstrates:

As the square filled up I was watching from the safety of the members room thanks to my new discovery – the Albert Square webcam! Turns out the Manchester Digital Development Agency have webcams in various locations around the city centre, so you can watch the progress on the Central Library too. I really like it. But since that’s not technically a video, have this instead: Andrew Lansley faces the righteous anger of the Royal College of Nursing!

And finally – the coolest thing I’ve seen on the internet today:

Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky hosted their first How-To Festival, an opportunity to learn how to do 50 things, in 5 hours, in one day, all for free. From work-related training like networking and ‘creating a brand for yourself’, to life skills like making omelettes and changing your Facebook privacy setting, to fun stuff like hip-hop dancing, winning at Scrabble and HOLY HELL THEY TAUGHT HOW TO TURN YOUR CAR INTO A BATMOBILE – I can’t think of a better way to promote lifelong learning and encourage people to use their local library. Photos are on their Facebook page (sadly none of the Batmobile).

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