Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Lord Freud and the rhetoric of disability hate

The odious remarks of welfare reform minister Lord Freud, who implied that disabled people were "not worth" the minimum wage and should be paid below it when employed, have justifiably incited public and political outrage. But there is nothing new in terms of the sentiments of Freud's remarks. They are merely a reflection, or a consistent continuation, of the prejudiced, discriminatory hate-driven attitudes towards people with disabilities, chronic illnesses and mental health conditions that are ubiquitous and normalised within our society and political and media discourse, in which the scapegoating of disabled people in receipt of state benefits as "shrikers" and "scroungers" who are emblematic of the "something for nothing culture" is viewed as fair game. Such is the depth of the hate in this venal propaganda that comparisons to dehumanisation of disabled people in Nazi Germany cannot be cited as a superficial example of Godwin's law, but rather a legitimate historical comparison.

Labour have sought to make political capital from the backlash of Lord Freud's remarks. But it was Labour, during the Blair and Brown administrations, who brought Freud into government in the first place. Their neo-Thatcherite New Labour ideology is responsible for facilitating his influence. It was Labour, following Lord Freud's advice, who introduced private sector contracting into assessment for incapacity benefits, which led to the creation of Employment Support Allowance and a Work Capability Assessment administered by the profit-driven Atos Healthcare, which began to strip severely disabled and chronically sick people, including terminal cancer patients, of their welfare benefits, in total contempt of the medical evidence and facts about their conditions. Under Lord Freud's guidance, Labour introduced a regime of benefit sanctioning blackmailing the same incapacitated people with financial deprivation, even destitution, if they failed to pursue or partake in employment (including unpaid workfare) after being deemed "fit for work" by this non-medical and pseudoscientific assessment system.

Despite the destructive nature of this regime, which could easily be described as a grave human rights violation as defined by international law, it has been vastly expanded and accelerated under David Cameron's government since 2010, with Lord Freud staying put in the Department of Work and Pensions led by Iain Duncan Smith. As well as innumerable mental health crises, there have since been dozens of anecdotal cases of deaths directly caused by the sanctioning and stripping of severely disabled people's benefits by the system designed by Lord Freud. There are potentially hundreds if not thousands of deaths it is responsible for. The technical term for murder by government is democide.

Under the Cameron government, Lord Freud's next contribution to society has been the bedroom tax (or under-occupancy penalty), a policy that financially sanctions social housing tenants (invariably people on low incomes) for rooms that are deemed to be "spare", and which hundreds of thousands of disabled people (including disabled children) have been effected by, including for "spare" rooms meant for overnight carers or storage of mobility and medical equipment. Many also have homes with special adaptions for their impairments. Despite the chronic housing shortage that makes downsizing into a new property impossible for most, the only relief for the disabled people impacted are discretionary payments from local authorities which are themselves rationed, so frequently unavailable to them. Many have gone without food and heating to pay the bedroom tax and face the threat of being evicted into homelessness by bailiffs when unable to pay. Lord Freud, country mansion resident, is unrepentant.

As well as remorselessly and enthusiastically imposing Lord Freud's brutal sanctioning and assessment system and bedroom tax, it is the same Cameron government (Tory, but aided and abetted by the moral non-entity Liberal Democrats) that has inflicted a wholesale assault on disabled people including: below inflation freezes to benefit increases, the replacement of Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments that have new claimant terms resulting in real term benefit cuts for thousands, cuts to social care and mobility support, the closure of Remploy services providing employment opportunities, cuts to council tax support creating a new poll tax additionally diminishing impoverished disabled people's incomes, as well as a general pandering to the aforementioned media propaganda which has, likely beyond a reasonable doubt, contributed to a statistical influx in disability hate crimes being reported to police forces across the country.

Thus one vacuous remark from Lord Freud regarding disabled people in paid employment incites indignation, yet the reaction to these state-sanctioned human rights abuses against disabled people seems tame in comparison. The dehumanisation of this "life unworthy of life" and the resulting injury and death is evidently viewed as morally legitimate by our political and media establishment.

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