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I’m Spasticus!

Way back in the mists of time 1981 was declared the “International Year of Disabled Persons”. A worthy attempt at what would now be called inclusion, you might think, but not all thought that way. Foremost among the dissenters was the late Ian Dury, himself left disabled by childhood polio. Dury saw the “honour” as being patronising and serving only to further pigeon hole an already isolated group. Putting his words where his mouth was, he wrote ‘Spasticus Autisticus’, a loud declaration of his disabled self which was promptly banned by the BBC.

Watch as the calendar pages of temporality flutter us forward to a time three decades on where in our modern society we no longer have to consider well meaning but flawed attempts at inclusion. Do we?

Earlier this week the Guardian published an article claiming that rhetoric used in the debate around government cuts is fuelling abuse of disabled people. To follow this up the paper asked for the stories of people regarding the issue, the results being published today. The article gives horrific examples of abuse and makes for disturbing reading in these allegedly enlightened times.

I then thought back to a recent time when a close friend of mine was attacked. She’s suffered with severe physical disability since birth and further medical complications have lead to her being wheelchair bound outside her flat. Due to her disability she’s in essence defenceless but this did not stop a healthy mid-30s man punching her full on the side of her head in a Tesco car park. As he did this his partner laughed and continued to throw abuse. They then drove off and left my friend on the floor.

My anger at this was initially wholly aimed at the fact that someone had attacked my friend, not that they had attacked her because she was disabled, or female even. But then consider whether this lowlife would have done the same to me, a 6′ 2″ brick outhouse, or even a fit and healthy woman? Is it a coincidence that the first time my friend has been physically attacked comes at a time when the government and media narrative is full of misguided rhetoric about disabled “cheats and scroungers”?

A major concern has previously been that the sufferers of “invisible” disabilities such as Crohns, ME and mental health problems face abuse and questioning as they “look OK”. I suffer with clinical depression and it’s even been said to me, although my disability would probably be conceded if people saw me at my worse. But as one of my primary coping mechanisms when things are bad is to hole myself up in my flat and cut everyone off, that’s not likely to happen.

Now, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that people are suspicious, and in some cases (violently) contemptuous, even when there are clear physical signs that a person suffers a disability. It’s hardly a stretch to draw the conclusion that the constant barrage of government statements concerning benefit fraud or benefits being wrongly awarded has played a major part in this, no matter how much coalition ministers and MPs may deny it. Add to this the fact that the majority of the press, and virtually all of the broadcast media see fit only to parrot the government narrative, and the case for the prosecution becomes overwhelming. It would perhaps help if we had an opposition willing to take on the misinformation and outright lies, but instead we have Eds Miliband and Ball, Liam Byrne and others colluding in the narrative in a desperate attempt to stay onside with the blessed “squeezed middle”.

In this race to insist that the problems we face have been caused by “public overspending” and are not the result of three decades of neoliberal deregulation in finance, anyone claiming any kind of benefit is being demonised and the blame for our ills is placed squarely at their feet. While the coalition speaks of scroungers and cheats, Ed Miliband talks about the deserving and undeserving poor. Attacks are made on council tenants being “unworthy” of their tenancies and contributing to the housing problem, while nothing is said of the devastation Right to Buy has caused to social housing, or of the severe lack of regulation in the private housing sector in the name of the markets.

Disabled people claiming benefits are by virtue of their claims already part of a marginalised and increasingly maligned group. Their disability then places them within a further marginalised sub group – marginalisation to the power of 2. In a society where divide and rule is the main government tactic, and where it is aided and abetted by the mass media and even its opponents, it is sadly no surprise that the “targets” of this misleading rhetoric are being attacked. Divide and rule always seeks to dehumanise in some way those deemed marginal by those ruling – combine that with Neanderthal attitudes which already dehumanise a group in society (and are affirmed by what they see in the news) and you end up with my friend being punched in a car park.

My friend is now “OK”. She does claim DLA but uses that to run a car which has enabled her to work for more than twenty years. She is my friend, not my disabled friend; a person, not a disabled person. But as long as this government’s rhetoric is allowed to go unchallenged, there are many who will see her as the enemy.

I’ll leave the last words to Mr Dury.

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  1. February 9, 2012 at 5:16 am

    Something that’s crept into the bodypolitic is the use of ‘neo-liberal’ used to mean ‘economic liberalism’ above ‘social liberalism’. Surely the social definition should be higher up the food chain, and if referring to economic liberalism you should say so. The Tory tactic of redefining what is linguistically more ‘important’ (i.e. Tory twats always place the economic-based definition higher) should be strenuously resisted and challenged.

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