The disability benefits system takes your dignity in exchange for money

It's not pleasant to have to ask for help. The cuts to the Independent Living Fund - delivered in a court room that wasn’t accessible to wheelchairs - are a stark reminder of the reality of life as a disabled person in Britain.

I haven’t been well enough to work much recently. I feel I should say that, though it’s none of anyone’s business. It doesn’t feel good. The fatigue, the pain, whatever. Yes. But the confession of it. Stripping off your privacy in front of strangers. Admitting that you are not doing the things you’re supposed to be able to.

No one should have to do that. No one should have to invite anyone into the most personal aspects of their lives. No one should have to present their incapability and sit with the shame that comes along for the ride.

But, as a society, we force people to do that constantly – that is, after all, how a benefit system works. We take people’s dignity in exchange for money and judge them for needing it.

We could pretend we don’t - or perhaps, increasingly, admit we do and term it the "right choice for difficult times". It does sound uncomfortable when you start to acknowledge it. It begins to feel like the sort of thing that good people shouldn’t talk about. As time goes on, and progression looks more like regression in this country, good people are the ones who start talking very loud.

The disabled, the chronically sick, have always had to lay themselves bare to be deserving. That’s just how these things (apparently) work. There’s a dominant group, and the needy are judged to see if they meet the standards the former in order to get help. Lately, as the welfare system shrivels and shrinks, and our collective empathy seemingly with it, we’ve been judging people for even asking. We’ve been getting very good at that.

It isn’t pleasant to need help. Perhaps, on a pile of falsities and illusions that keep this whole thing going, that’s the central myth that needs to be destroyed. The idea that there is something easy or enjoyable in asking for someone to help you meet basic needs, and that this is such a common, logical trait to being human that swathes of people do it daily.

It is not pleasant to need someone to help you. It is not enviable to have to ask, to admit that you – person, adult – are not able to take care of yourself. That feeling will only ever increase when who you’re having to ask for help makes it clear they’ve really no desire to give it to you. Perhaps they talk badly about you; they might even have nicknames they use behind your back. They might feel so confident that others share their opinion that they say it to your face. Maybe they give you the help but do it begrudgingly, deceiving and demeaning whilst expecting you to be grateful.

And what do you do? You take it. There is no avoiding that. When meals consist of sandwiches and biscuits because you can’t cook hot meals or you’re incontinent but can’t afford the toiletries to clean yourself, there is no avoiding any of it.

That’s the moment of vulnerability; the state that well-meaning supporters often find themselves referring to. It’s a myth that it comes earlier; that a group of people, by virtue of sickness or disability, are simply ‘the most vulnerable’. As if it’s a fixed, natural position, unaffected by how others act. Vulnerability is potential; the risk that one day, on the whim of political pandering the support system crumbles, and you will be lost. Vulnerability is the wait. When you know the fabric of your life is at the mercy of others, the threat is more than enough.

In Britain, that threat has become real. The Independent Living Fund, which has been cut or abandoned to local authorities, is the latest loss to respect and dignity. This particular benefit gives, by definition, life and independence to 20,000 severely disabled people. Although it is a number on a spreadsheet to some, to others it is the personal assistant who comes to help you to the toilet in your own home. A handful of disabled people took the Government to the High Court over it but today lost their case. The news was delivered in a court room that wasn’t accessible for wheelchairs, reminding the excluded and the isolated of their place.

There will probably be talk of the consequences over the next few days. Perhaps stories of how the fund helps recipients get washed each day, or avoid sitting in adult nappies in their home, or being put in residential care. No one should have to say those things but at this point there is little choice.

The system has always demanded that you parade your pain and now the fight against it demands the same. Dignity is donated to the cause. The cause is protecting as much dignity as you can.

A mobility scooter. Photo: Getty

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

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Theresa May enjoys the honeymoon bounce Jeremy Corbyn can only dream of

It's back to October 2009 in the polls. 

Back in October 2009, The Telegraph reported that backbench MPs were planning a coup against their unpopular leader, Gordon Brown. 

The simmering discontent was attributed not to ideological angst but management, specifically the anger at Brown's insistence that MPs pay back their expenses.

Days earlier, The Sun had switched allegiance with a front page declaring: "Labour's Lost It."

That was the last time Labour's poll rating was as low as it is now, according to pollsters ICM. 

The latest poll surveyed voters between 22 and 24 July 2016. The findings are stark. Of those intending to vote, 43 per cent would choose Theresa May and the Tories, while just 27 per cent would go for Labour.

The Tories now enjoy a 16 point lead, and for this party too, the last time such a figure was recorded was October 2009. 

Of course, the new prime minister may be enjoying a honeymoon bounce. When John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher mid term, the Conservatives overtook Labour in the polls. Brown’s ascension to Labour leadership in June earned him a double-digit lead by September, but after that his popularity rapidly crumbled. 

Theresa May could experience something similar. YouGov pollster Anthony Wells noted: “The current polls look wonderful for her, but on past timescales they won’t necessarily be so rosy in a couple of months’ time.”

But Jeremy Corbyn never enjoyed such an edge. In the heady days of September 2015, after he clinched a surprise victory in the Labour leadership election, ICM found Labour enjoying an immediate honeymoon boost of one point. 

That still put Labour lagging four points behind the recently victorious Conservatives, with 32 per cent of the vote.

The gap has widened. Immediately after Brexit, the Tories had 36 per cent of the vote and Labour 32 per cent. Both parties were tested in the following month, and the Conservatives triumphed. 

For the hard left backing Corbyn, a 27 per cent slice of the vote is welcome after years as political outcasts. The centre left, on the other hand, must hope May trips up – or that Owen Smith can claim a honeymoon bounce of his own.