Sunday 19 February 2012

"In order to save disabled people we have to destroy them"

One of the most famous and risible statements of the Vietnam War was “In order to save the village we had to destroy it”. The origin of the phrase is unclear, but it is attested sufficiently often for it to be historical and not just a figment of someone's imagination (Peter Arnett  and Michael Miller). It became emblematic because it was how the US approached the whole Vietnam debacle as recognised for instance by Vietnam Veterans Against the War “Somehow we had to destroy Vietnam in order to save it”. It is recognised today as the expression of a futile, purposeless. long drawn out and immensely destructive policy that wrecked a country, killed 58000 of the American soldiers who carried it out and wrecked the lives of many more.

You'd think people would learn from history, but apparently history is in short supply at Iain Duncan Smith's Department of Work and Pensions because that is exactly what they are doing to disabled people. There are too many, in Iain Duncan Smith's view and they're too expensive. Unum flog the DWP a perversion of the biopsychosocial model. The perverted version says disability isn't a problem, it's the way you view it that's a problem. Take up thy wheelchair and walk. And even if thou can't walk, thou canst still get a job, if only thou wouldst change thy mind about thy disability. (Those unemployment figures put out by the Office for National Statistics are a myth, Maria Miller says.)

But Iain Duncan Smith and his junior ministers assume that nobody wants to work, and also nobody with MS, Parkinson's, cancer, Crohn's Disease, ME. or any other illness or condition actually wants to change their mind about their condition, so they must be made to. So they will be redefined. They are being reassessed and will be found either fit for work (Job Seekers Allowance), or fit for work some time in the future (Employment Support Allowance: Work Related Activity Group) or so shot in mind or body or both that even ATOS can't say you're ever going to be fit for work (Employment Support Allowance: Support Group).

So if you're back on JSA you have to look for work, and may have to do up to eight weeks workfare. If you're in ESA: WRAG they want to force you to take work for no pay, not just for eight weeks but indefinitely. No matter how much you shit yourself, no matter whether you have major heart problems, no matter what condition you are suffering from, you have to be saved from yourself. But it's all for your own good, so it's called "support".

They are doing the same with Disability Living Allowance. The avowed purpose of their change to Personal Independence Payments is to cut 20% from the bill. Never let it be thought that some disabled people are of their own volition using DLA to keep themselves in work. They would never do that, would they, so they have to be helped back into the work they haven't gone and got for themselves by having money taken away from them. And this is called a more active and enabling benefit.

That is the universe that the malicious Iain Duncan Smith and his colleagues live in, one in which disabled people must be destroyed in order to be saved. I live in another universe, where disabled people are ordinary, decent, honest people, trying to get by the best way they can. Just like able bodied people. But because Iain Duncan Smith's universe reaches into mine, their lives are being wrecked by his futile, purposeless and destructive policies.

Saturday 18 February 2012

The politics of disillusionment

I've never agreed with Iain Duncan Smith's views, but I've always seen him as at least a  decent sort of chap. I was quite pleased when his leadership of the Conservative party turned out to be a long slow implosion, but that was not because of who he was, it was because it ensured the Tories would not get back into power for a few more years. He managed to exit that episode with some personal dignity, and then spent his time doing things that suggested at least some sort of feeling for the poor and the dispossessed. Again, I don't agree with kind of policies the Centre for Social Justice suggests, but there is at least a hint that they have understood that the poor are human. Perhaps I was naïve. Perhaps others could see through him more readily than I, or maybe they were just more cynical about a politician, any politician.

You can be disillusioned in lots of ways. Some ways are more painful than others. I started life pretty cynical to be honest, but there was still room for disillusionment. I remember for instance when the teacher who had encouraged me to play chess first snubbed me when I lost an important game; when I realised my headmaster was more interested in my results than in me; when I realised some of my fellow social workers were more interested in their careers than in their clients (yes, I was a kind of cynical naïf). But few disillusionments are so powerful as the realisation that someone who you thought was moral in fact was not. I can remember the almost personal sense of betrayal when we discovered that the nice Mr Major, the only decent man in that generation of Thatcherite pimps, had committed adultery while in office, just like all the other shits who had done it while pretending to be the party of the family.

And so it is with the decent, upright, Catholic Iain Duncan Smith. He and his Department for Work and Pensions team - Chris Grayling, Maria Miller, and the failed businessman David Freud - have been deliberately and persistently working to wreck the benefit system, and the lives of those who need it. His campaign against claimants in general and disabled people in particular is quite stunning for a man who claims to believe in justice. The aim of his work is to cut the budget, regardless of the price paid for that by claimants. But he is not honest even about that. He does not simply say "We're going to cut the budget. It will be tough. Live with it." He has to pretend that it is justifiable. So the language becomes more Orwellian than Orwell himself would ever have dreamed possible. The overriding justification is that work is good for you, which is treated as if it were a new discovery. If Mr Duncan Smith and his minions admitted that disabled people knew that and were quite keen on getting jobs, then they would not be able to justify cutting benefits and using force and maladministration to get them off benefit. So disabled people have to be vilified, and he and the reptilian Chris Grayling, and the inept Maria Miller have set about organising this very thought change with relish. They publish press releases which the tabloid press simply have to cut and paste into their front pages in order to pontificate about scroungers. They treat publication of, and commentary on, statistics in such a way as to draw rebukes from the UK Statistics Authority, and they don't care. Internally the language is almost worse - claimants are described as "stock". Stock is what you get in a cattle yard. Claimants are people - something the self proclaimed religious person, Mr Duncan Smith, would do well to remember. Mr Duncan Smith himself resorts to telling lies on air: he said the disquiet about the benefit cap was exaggerated because people were using a definition of homelessness that included two children having to share a bedroom. The head of Shelter, and the other housing NGO heads, went on air immediately to rebut that claim and to say that they used exactly the same definition as the DWP. But it served Mr Duncan Smith's purpose of getting people talking about the definition instead of the proposal.

So it is that I have come to the realisation that Mr Duncan Smith, far from being decent, is in fact just grubby. Decent - no. Christian - I'm afraid not. The tragedy is that his grubbiness is going to materially affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people a good deal less fortunate than himself, driving them from a basic level of living into deeper poverty.

And our latest discovery pulls Iain Duncan Smith's DWP even further than they were already into the land of Kafka. The proposal in clause 54 of the Welfare Reform Bill is that people in the work related category of Employment Support Allowance can be made to undertake work placements indefinitely. Let's examine that for a minute. On Job Seekers Allowance people can be forced to work for up to eight weeks. (Though Chris Grayling says it's absurd to call it forced labour - another interesting use of language.)

So - eight weeks max for able bodied people. Permanent, unending for people on ESA. People on ESA have been defined by ATOS as unfit for work. That in itself is pretty remarkable, given that ATOS's computers are all hard wired to find people fit for work if they have a breath in their body. Those who might be fit for work one day are put in the work related group, with the idea that suitable support will enable them to work one day. But they are currently unfit for work. So where is the logic in adding a provision to say that they can be forced to work permanently in order to keep the benefit they have been deemed to qualify for because they are unfit for work. And in a further perversion of language, this is called "supportive".

I never thought I'd say this - but you couldn't make it up. (There's more here. And here.)

Of course all of this obfuscation and twisted logic would be unnecessary if Mr Duncan Smith were honest and decent. But he isn't. He is as devious and mendacious as Cesare Borgia. And the effects of his malignity are being visited on thousands and thousands of decent and honest people whose misfortune is not to be able bodied.