Disability and the return of blame culture

From newspaper columnists, to politicians, to nightclub owners, myths and distortions are spreading.

It’s no longer enough to be disabled. One must, in modern Britain, be a type. Are you the real type? The genuine that is, the sort that sits there quietly and is grateful for any hand-out they receive. Showing a bit too much life, there? Then you’re a faker, dear, undoubtedly a scrounger – and that objecting attitude means you’re a manipulative threat. It’s not enough to be disabled in these days of cuts and exclusion. There’s a right way to be lame and a wrong way, and if you spot someone doing it wrong it’s your duty as an able-bodied to let someone know.

Cristina Odone did her bit this week in the Telegraph, valiantly supporting Iain Duncan Smith’s “defiant stand” in reforming disability benefits despite him basing it on six inaccuracies. Using lies and distorted facts to win a fight against people deemed liars and fakers is an irony we’re not meant to talk about – or call the nasty hypocrisy which it actually is.

The good disableds stay quiet, as the myths and distortions spread. Myths that now include the power – and desire – to close down entertainment premises, that is according to Royalty’s favourite licensee Howard Spooner. It wasn’t fighting, urination or swearing in the street that led to his club’s late license being withdrawn but angry dwarves and wheelchair users who just wouldn’t move out the way. “If a dwarf says he can’t live opposite a nightclub,” he stated with apparently full mental function, “then it is impossible to have a nightclub there because able-bodied people are having fun.” Though not having the pleasure of Spooner’s personal acquaintance I’m assuming he needs no help to play the entitled fool. It’s saying something though when licensing laws are blamed on people with disabilities – and when it’s a correlation a person is confident in declaring out loud.

But the real disableds don’t scream about the blame culture, the one that’s been given new life by dire economic conditions. They sit by as it grips and excludes and pushes them outside, only brought back in when something on the inside needs to be declared their fault.

The true disabled take whatever’s done or said to them, dutifully lifeless in body and the mind. When they get a little vocal though, when they dare object and campaign and speak the truth – that’s when they become a different type of disabled, the type that Odone took the time this week to warn us against. This type are “savvy activists”, she told us; having the potential to succeed appears to be a reasonable ground on which to criticize the opposition. They favour “manipulation and shock value”, she distorted, citing the menacing vision of a few campaigners wearing a symbolic glove.  

True disableds fit the box that’s been made for them. Passive, needing and accepting. Just not enough to make Odone or the compassionate conservatives start to feel guilty; then it’s probably time to take your offensive need and go indoors. Luckily that’s starting to happen anyway, thanks to cuts to the benefits and services that enable many disabled people to leave the house. Taking a human’s dignity and freedom is all well and good of course, but one doesn’t want to have to look at it whilst it occurs.

Don’t worry though! There’s nothing to fret about, not if you’re the real disabled. These measures will only affect the liars and the fakers, the ones all this is out to get. The slashes to welfare and the hateful rhetoric is, as Cristina tells us, “for the sake of the disabled” and that’s something we shouldn’t forget.
Disabled people are enduring vilification and the arbitrary withdrawal of life-defining welfare. They’re now being told to be grateful for it.

Disabled protesters walk past the Houses of Parliament. May 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

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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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.