Ukip activists are aggressively defensive about their party's attitude to the disabled. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ukip should examine its own record over a disability “tirade”

There’s a lot of intellectualising about Ukip at present, but a simple truth is that they’re not very nice people.

A toad, a lying piece of excrement, vile, thick, a “dick”, dangerous, supporting “paedos, gang and child rape”, a “dog,” hateful, a “vile excuse for a human being”.

These are just some of the more polite (and hence printable) insults thrown at me by some 500 Ukip representatives and supporters in an apparently organised attack through social media this week.

I’m either Trotskyite or fascist, they say (difficult to comprehend how those two go together).

Although I regard it as pathetic, many people would find sinister their messages to me saying they are “looking forward to my demise”, “the sooner extinct, the better” and I’ve got “nowhere to hide”.

What has generated all this manufactured fury?

It seems they’ve noticed a two-week-old comment in which I drew attention to a blog by the protest group Disabled People Against The Cuts (DPAC), who are by two-thirds victims of the iniquitous bedroom tax, which lambasted unsavoury and offensive statements about disabled people made by Ukip candidates or in Ukip policy.

The article showed how Ukip defended the right of one of their local candidates who they described as “excellent” to argue for forced abortion of disabled foetuses; how their 2010 manifesto contained proposals for learning disabled people to be put in segregated communities, and how Ukip’s leader personally said another local candidate could not stand for the party because of his physical disability.

DPAC carefully referenced these claims, and I saw that each was based on reporting by independent journalists in national media, where Ukip had been given a right of reply and to correct any factual inaccuracy.

Nevertheless, the blanket denials and torrent of abuse from Ukip against me for simply drawing attention to the article continues unabated.

Although those sending the messages profess to care about disabled people, without a jot of irony or self-awareness, one declares me to be a “loony”.

But that’s hardly surprising when one of their MEPs who’s bothered to ask me directly about this, is the very same one who the parliamentary record shows used the word “autistic” in a pejorative way to attack a political opponent.

So what does all this say about Ukip and its supporters?

That too many of them appear to hold offensive and discriminatory views against disabled people.

That they embrace an unbelievable hypocrisy by repeatedly defending their own statements as “free speech”, while denouncing the right of those of us who disagree with them to do the same.

That they have been cushioned by the free ride they have enjoyed for too long in the British media, and are totally unused to being held to public account for their views and conduct, in a way other parties standing for election always have.

Ukip members should be angry if they really cared about disabled people. They should share the rage of disabled people who are by two-thirds of the victims of the iniquitous bedroom tax, have suffered the indignity of Atos “fit-for-work” tests unfit for a civilised society and that families with disabled members have been made five times worse off than others by this government’s spending and benefit cuts which the Hardest Hit coalition calculated has taken £9bn out of the pockets of Britain’s disabled people.

The newly-elected cohort of Ukip MEPs could share my own anger about Britain’s record, when comparing it to the increases in disability benefits in France and Belgium despite austerity measures, in a laudable attempt to protect disabled people from the worst ravages of the economic crisis.

But instead all we see is a mock anger from Ukip, defending the indefensible within their own party, and attacking a group like Disabled People Against The Cuts who – by the way – have robust criticisms of all parties, including Labour.

To make my own position clear.

I worked with a disability charity for nine years before being elected to the European Parliament and am unapologetically a lifelong campaigner for disability rights.

As either chair or vice-chair of Europe’s all-party Disability Rights Group of MEPs continuously since first being elected, I have and will always hold out the hand of friendship to other parties who sincerely want to work together to improve the rights of disabled people.

But like any other equalities campaigners, if I see or hear discriminatory actions or behaviour, then there is an obligation to challenge them.

Richard Howitt is the Labour MEP for the East of England and vice-chair of the European Parliament All-Party Disability Rights Group of MEPs

Getty
Show Hide image

A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear