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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Glimpse into the Future?

I have been reading British newspapers with great interest the last few weeks. I believe disability issues as they are being played out in the British press maybe a precursor to how disability will be discussed in the American presidential campaign this fall. The British Disability Living Allowance has risen sharply in recent years and is being subject to extreme budget cuts. All people on Disability Living Allowance will be reevaluated. It is expected that 500,00 people will lose their disability benefits. This is the work of Iain Duncan Smith who is seeking to slash the budget. In Smith's estimation fraud is rampant and among the primary reasons why the Disability Living Allowance has increased. He thinks that there is a significant problem with lifetime awards. "Something like 70% had lifetime awards which meant that once they got it you never looked at them again. They were just allowed to fester". Fester? Seriously, fester? In defending his reforms, Smith used the example of a person who had lost a limb or limbs. He believes that once provided an artificial limb there was no reason for such an individual to receive a Disability Living Allowance. Smith conveniently ignores the rampant unemployment among people with a disability. 

What Smith is trying to do is not original. Think back to the 1980s and Ronald Reagan's role in de-instituionalizing millions of people with mental illness. Reagan did not do this out of the goodness of his heart but rather to save money and close institutions. In a British twist to an old story Smith is trying to cull the ranks of people eligible for the Disability Living Allowance. Like Reagan, he is doing this to slash the budget. Do not be fooled. A Girl with the Cane, a wonderful Canadian blog, points out Smith's efforts to mislead the public.  Fraud accounts for 0.5 of Disability Living Allowance but 30% of claimants will have their supports cut or eliminated. She posits is this not just a tad bit excessive? 

What is left unsaid is the belief people with a disability who receive Disability Living Allowances are sponging off the public. They are charity cases whose demands are excessive. They are, to use Smith's own words, a "festering "problem". The press wants to know who is to blame? First, and foremost cheaters. Those individuals who are not really disabled and take money away from those with a real disability. In the estimation of Christina Odone in the Telegraph, "Iain Duncan Smith Must Not Give in to the Disability Bullies" writes: "The system allows alcoholics and drug addicts take away from more than someone who's blind: it allows anyone to fake a back ache and stay off work, earning money as they do so". This too is an old story. Pit people with a disability against one another. Establish certain disabilities as inherently in need of charity while others are dubious at best. Blindness, deafness, paralysis, these are socially acceptable. Mental illness? This is inherently bad. Obesity? Sorry this too is bad. Not content to merely divide, Odone goes on to blast the people with a disability that are willing to defend themselves. She wrote Smith:        
is taking on a powerful and often extremist lobby. He got a taste of the uproar to come a year ago last Saturday, when hundreds of disabled marched and rode in wheelchairs in protest in central London. Organised by the UK Disabled People's Council and the Disability Benefits Consortium, the "Hardest Hit" protest marked the first anniversary of the Coalition government. Some threw fake blood on the pavement, others wore gloves to show, as they told the BBC that the government cuts had cut off their hands. Hard-hitting stuff – and more is sure to follow with IDS's defiant stand in today's Telegraph: he will not be derailed from reforming the disability benefit system. The system clearly needs radical changes...Yes, there are many who are truly disabled; but some are milking the system. Even the BBC, in a memorable Panorama, began to investigate "Britain on the Fiddle", finding that benefits claimants were sailing yachts and driving Bentleys.
Please show me the people with a disability that are sailing yachts and driving Bentleys. The disability activists I know are living on shoe string budgets, barely able to survive. And what happens in this country when they fight back? Well, if you are a member of ADAPT and you take an action like they did last month in Washington DC. 76 people get arrested including a woman, Martina Robinson, I once taught at Purchase College. She is a member of ADAPT and lives in Massachusetts. As of today, she is being required to appear in court. It will cost her $367 to get to Washington DC by train. A night in a Washington DC hotel that is accessible will cost about $200. Robinson may be forced to spend $567 to defend herself. Like other members of ADAPT she cannot spare that money she uses for luxuries like rent and food. I call this economic abuse and intimidation. But in Odone's estimation Robinson is a disability bully. I suggest Odone spend time with Robinson, a member of ADAPT for 16 years. Robinson is not driving a Bentley or sailing in a yacht. Instead, she is fighting the good fight. She is fighting for herself but more than that she is fighting for those who cannot escape a nursing home and live in the community.