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Disabling the Economy

December 14, 2017

“Huh?” I hear all two of my loyal readers say, under their breath lest they should disturb their imaginary friend from their shenaniganning.  What? It’s a word.

Well, when debating about the reduced level of UK economic productivity on Wednesday 6th December in the Treasury Select Committee meeting, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond(Eggs) stated (transcript here):

“It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”Phillip Hammond & Theresa May

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas challenged this discriminatory statement and asked Theresa May, as Prime Minister and person with overall responsibility for her cabinet, to apologise and confirm the government does not believe disabled people are detrimental to the workforce as Mr Hammond’s comments imply, Ms May simply stated that:

“Actually the Chancellor did not express the views that she claims that he was expressing. This is a government that values the contribution disabled people make to our society and our economy and the workplace.”

I am pretty sure I am not the only person who nearly fell out of their seat in shock at Ms May(hem)’s blatant restructuring of the truth.  I’m trying to laugh at her about it.  I’m failing.

This government has an appalling record with regard to policy on disability issues.  Thousands of people living with myriad forms of disabling conditions have died as a result of the changes to the benefits system; 2,380 between 2011 and 2014 alone. ).  As for those who are in work, this figure has risen from 2.9million in 2013 to 3.5million in late 2016; from 44.2% to 49.5% of all disabled people of working age according to the Office of National Statistics.

But let’s take a closer look at what appears to be a positive statistic.  The ‘employed’ category includes anyone who has worked in paid employment for one hour or more in the week in which the statistical evidence was collected; yes, one hour.  Anyone on a zero hours contract, anyone working part-time, and anyone who is not counted as unemployed – given the wholesale rejigging of the benefits system, I’d be interested to see exactly how many disabled people that includes and how disproportionate it may be in comparison to able-bodied people in such types of employment, but sadly that figure does not seem to exist.

What’s more, those people with learning disabilities form markedly fewer employed people in this analysis.  7.1% (2011-12) of those registered with local authorities used to be in paid employment.  That figure is now just 5.8%.

Tory government policies are making chronic conditions actively worse by increasing stress levels, removing mobility aids (effectively removing disabled people from the job-seeking pool), cutting benefits available to help disabled people into work, changing the rules so disabled people don’t even count as ‘unemployed’ (although the Government has done that for myriad groupings, so the figures are properly massaged and misrepresentative – many have died since the Tories took power under David Cameron and he ran off to let Theresa May deal with the fall-out), and closing down the facilities that were set up to help disabled people get back into work.

It is not disabled people who are having a detrimental effect on the economy; the economy is having a detrimental effect on disabled people.

What exactly does ‘disabled’ mean anyway?  There are so many different conditions, syndromes, illnesses, chronic and acute, which have a life-limiting and/or shortening effect on those who are living with them.  It is a catch-all term which groups together a disparate number of people under an umbrella genus which has resulted in questions formed by officialdom which cannot actually be answered!  For example, when being interviewed for my free travel pass I am asked what I am like on my worst day – well, for which condition?  I have six chronic conditions, three of which come under the category ‘disabled’, one of which has a particular effect on my day-to-day life.  It is the osteoarthritis that has the most detrimental effect on my life at the moment.  I can work full-time, but the travel pass enables me to plan in advance knowing I will be able to get to work and home again if nothing else, but some days I am fine with walking and on my worst day I have had to hire a mobility scooter!

There are others whose conditions are far more life-limiting, those whose conditions are stable and unchanging, those whose conditions cause intellectual delay and/or restricted development, those who cannot work to a timetable because their bodies don’t work to a timetable… the differentiation goes on!

What disability really means is that society does not enable people who are in any way restricted to access all aspects of life which a ‘normal’ person can access.  The person with the condition is not disabled, they become disabled by the limitations of society.No Access

At the moment, places need to be adapted to be accessible; it is not even considered that homes or workplaces, or even benefit offices should be accessible to those with limitations.  This seems to me to be backwards thinking.  We ALL will end up with limitations in our lives, should we be lucky enough to live that long.  Everywhere should be automatically accessible, from inception.

A few ideas for en-abling society:

  • Instead of having to convert property to be accessible, make it accessible from the first architects drawing.
  • Pay a living (not minimum) wage to all.
  • Have firms offer flexi-time as a standard for all positions, enabling people with chronic pain for example to plan their working week.
  • Job-share as a standard for full-time positions should be standard also.
  • Have assessors for the new PIP scheme be trained and familiar with conditions, or if they are not, actually pay attention to and believe what the medical reports provided by the claimants say. GPs/Consultants don’t lie.
  • Publicise the Access To Work scheme a damn sight more than at the moment, to employers as well as potential employees.

Far from disabling the economy, it is society as a whole that chooses to disable people.  In doing so, surely the bare minimum that could be expected that those society disables should be supported?  We are all capable of far more than we are allowed to express; whether ‘disabled’ or ‘able-bodied’.  Why should it be acceptable that society should limit certain of us, especially as those are the very people who should receive the support so often denied.

For further reading on disability issues (activism and experience), try these blogs:



From → Ideology, political

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