Benefit cuts: a call to mobilise the disabled

So now we are here in another New Year and, in the UK, the savagery of social welfare cuts continues to slice through our society.

We have had:

06 January: ‘Soldiers, nurses and teachers hit by benefit curbs’

07 January: ‘Benefit cuts will see more children taken into care’

09 January: ‘Pensioners could face universal benefit cuts after election’ 

13 January: ‘Benefit cuts threaten women’s refuge services’ 

14 January: ‘Benefit cuts: reforms will leave disabled people ghettoised and excluded’

Happy New Year from the British Government!

You have to wonder, half way through their term office, quite why some of these people went into politics in the first place.

They continue to use the ‘economic deficit we inherited from Labour‘ as their excuse for all this misery but, as I have posted before, surely there must be a time when cutting becomes the last resort, not the first as seems to be the case now.

Or are they driven by some other political ideal?

In my last post, I discussed how Aristotle defined kindness as:

‘helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped’.

Do you get the impression that our Government, not in return for anything or for the advantage of themselves, have done everything they can to avoid the suffering they cause?

I don’t.

Of the list of cuts identified above, let’s take the disabled as an example.

Since my post ‘Disability Living Allowance Disgrace‘, featuring a true story about a person living alongside you in society today, I have taken a greater interest in disabled people – and, kindly, some of them have shown their support of what I had to say.

So I have asked myself if there is anything I can do to find a less cruel solution.

In seeking an answer, there are two insights I think I can provide.

The first is to inform you that disabled people are enslaved by their disability. Unless they attend to their disability on a daily basis, they cannot function.

Their disability dominates their lives.

If they are lucky, this could be a regime of medication to which they must adhere.

If they are unlucky, they suffer pain or depression or both and their ability to function will fluctuate on a day-to-day basis.

If they are very unlucky, like my paralysed friend Roger, they will need someone else to clean their teeth, wash them and wipe them which makes getting out of bed a two-hour process.

Believe me, although the extent of this varies, disabled people are slaves to their disability.

The other insight is that the ‘normal’, able-bodied world runs in strict order. We live more structured, less flexible, lives than we like to think.

For example, I know the Liberal Democrats are pushing for more ‘flexitime‘, but flexitime remains the exception rather than the rule.

For small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), and for most trading companies, ‘normal working hours’ are still Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.

Yet, if you are disabled, ‘normal working hours’ are difficult, if not impossible.

Furthermore, many disabled people are physically incapable of using public transport, or are capable of getting about easily at all, especially in the rush hour.

For the disabled, mobility is a major issue.

Can we liberate the disabled from these constraints by flipping these two insights – the enslavement of the disabled and the rigid structures of ‘normal’ working hours – to find a new way forward?

I think we can.

Despite the ‘public sector job cull‘ announced in last year’s budget (there they go again!), the total number of public sector employees in the UK sits at around 5.5million people, with the NHS, it says here, employing more than 1.7m people.

Yet when was the last time you saw a disabled person working in the NHS, let alone in any other of the public services?

Put simply, when did a person in a wheelchair last greet you in a hospital?

And how many Chief Executives of hospital trusts, or people holding other senior executive positions, are disabled?

However many it is, it is not enough.

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 requires public bodies (sic) to have ‘due regard’ to the need to:

  • promote equality of opportunity between disabled persons and other persons
  • eliminate discrimination that is unlawful under the Act
  • eliminate harassment of disabled persons that is related to their disabilities
  • promote positive attitudes towards disabled persons
  • encourage participation by disabled persons in public life; and
  • take steps to take account of disabled persons’ disabilities, even where that involves treating disabled persons more favourably than other persons (e.g. the provision of an accessible parking bay near a building, where parking is not available for other visitors or employees.) 

What a load of bureaucratic guff.

It doesn’t exactly inspire you to take positive, imaginative, innovative action does it?

Why can’t the ‘public sector’ develop positive methodologies where ‘working norms’ can be adapted to the needs of disabled people and the daily requirements that enslave them?

Why can’t these public bodies, as a default option, be forced to fit the jobs to disabled people rather than fit the people to the jobs?

I am not normally one for positive discrimination, but that is what I am calling for now.

To be clear, in any and all public sector vacancies, priority must be given to disabled applicants – even if it requires two or three of them working for three or four hours a day.

It seems the disabled were more integrated into the London Olympics than they are to British society as a whole. There certainly seemed to be more of them whizzing round the Olympic stadium than I have seen working in the public services.

What we need is a new, bold, nation-changing approach.

I implore the Government to inject some creativity, humanity – and leadership – into this issue.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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