Comment: Iain Duncan Smith is undoing years of struggle for disabled rights

For IDS disability is an aberration that needs to be, and can be, fixed


Iain Duncan Smith’s latest gaffe shows clearly the direction he is taking the country in. It is a return to an age of prejudice.

Speaking in the House of Commons, yesterday, the work and pensions secretary talked about getting disabled people in work up to the levels of ‘normal, non-disabled people’.

A slip of the tongue? Maybe, but one that reveals the dangerous ideology which lies behind IDS’s welfare reforms, which is reversing decades of struggle for disabled rights.

For IDS it is now clear that disability is not something to be embraced, let alone celebrated as part of the diversity which makes us all stronger. Disability is an aberration. It is a problem which needs to be fixed.

And if those who are different get the right therapy, or where necessary they are sanctioned, they can be pushed into the workplace to become like ‘normal’ people.

This is one-size-fits-all welfare. It is how over four thousand people can die after being certified ‘fit for work’. It is why he is moving therapists into job centres, and why and the Conservative manifesto suggested sanctioning those who refuse medical treatment. It may well be why some people on benefits are taking their own lives.

When my own disabled son started in a mainstream primary school, he lined up to take part in the 100 metres with the rest of his classmates. What the teachers didn’t know was that his small powered wheelchair would only travel around half the speed that a child of his age could run.

The starting gun was fired. The children set off, and as the penultimate child crossed the finish line there was my son half way down the track, pushing the joystick on his chair as far as it would go. Suddenly, someone in the crowd started to chant his name: “Samuel, Samuel…”.  Soon everyone else joined in, and cheered him across the finish line.

As a parent of three children, I know that we always tell our kids ‘it’s not the winning that matters, but the taking part’. Deep down we all love it when our children win. But at that point, in that school, I can honestly say that every child, every teacher, and every parent really knew that it was the taking part that was important.

Over the next few years, that school changed because it had included a disabled child. And it changed for the better. The monochrome culture of testing, competition and league tables was challenged. There was first hand exposure to the reality of a world of diversity and difference. Prejudices were overcome. Everyone’s experience was richer as a result.

‘Nothing about us without us’ was a slogan at the heart of the campaign for civil rights and the anti-discrimination movement. It led to important victories for equal opportunities, empowerment, the removal of social barriers and changes in attitudes.

The position of disabled people in the UK improved with more accessible transport, access to work, independent living, employment and housing, culminating in the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.

Campaigners also recognised that equality required real social inclusion, not forced integration. Integration is about coercing the disabled to fit into a non-disabled world. But inclusion acknowledges the barriers that a non-disabled world creates. It then seeks to address them by changing the way it works, and empowering everyone to play a full part so they can help bring about further change. And when it does, everyone benefits together.

This was what lay behind the establishment of the Independent Living Fund and Disability Living Allowance. The former has now been abolished. The latter is in the process of being phased out.  And along with them progressive social attitudes are going too. A huge rise in disability hate crime should come as no surprise, when the disabled are told they must take on non-disabled notions of ‘normality’.

Iain Duncan Smith is returning us to dark times of inequality, social exclusion and discrimination.

Jonathan Bartley is the Green Party’s Work and Pensions spokesperson. Follow him on Twitter 

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111 Responses to “Comment: Iain Duncan Smith is undoing years of struggle for disabled rights”

  1. westerby1

    Exactly, even the dead are useful, draught excluder, hatstand? It is so easy to find employment, all those jobs you could do, sat at home, with a computer. If you search the number of jobs that are home based, not commission only, pay a steady, reliable, wage, aren’t a scam, don’t require an initial outlay, don’t require anything too physical, are in your area, don’t need previous experience, and offer the security of, holiday pay, sick pay etc must run into, well…, erm.., none up to press for me, but then again I’ve only been searching for 2 years… so…I’m sure I’ll find that “some sort of suitable work” IDS tells me is out there, & that the DWP has done NOTHING to help me find. Becoming self employed sounds brilliant, unfortunately, with my agoraphobia keeping me housebound, my OCD taking up a lot of my time, my severe arthritis making a lot of actions almost impossible, and my chronic digestive issues, even after surgery, causing severe pain, inflammation, sleep deprivation, and nutritional problems, I must admit I do struggle trying to determine just what I could be self employed as! Mind you, I’ll be a pensioner soon, so maybe I’ll die soon? Draught excluder it is then!

  2. Achilles

    Your condition in life is a result of your actions or inactions throughout your lifetime. . Don’t blame others or expect them to pay for you because you made bad decisions.
    P.S. Agoraphobia my ass, just another 20th century fabricated “mental sickness”

  3. Achilles

    Dear guest, are you for real? Don’t speak for the “public” as many of us want to dismantle the welfare state and return this country to the greatness it once had.l

  4. Achilles

    No I didn’t see the Panorama piece, but heaven help us even if Corbyn comes close to being elected. He is, as the Beatles said “a real nowhere man” with no fresh new ideas and total lack of historical prospective.

  5. Faerieson

    Mine is a comment from one month ago, but as you’ve responded…

    Would you rather that the English political ‘spectrum,’ or lack thereof, is shoehorned back into the same-old-same-old pro-neoliberal agenda? I had hoped that we might have finally rumbled the current excuses to redistribute the nation’s wealth, always into the pockets of so very few. Current political parties haven’t come up with any fresh new ideas either. They’re just re-labelling the same decades-old slight of hand lies.

  6. westerby1

    What on earth are you talking about!? So if a baby is born disabled it is because it made a bad decision? Or if a woman is raped, beaten, and is subsequently physically disabled, and brain damaged, it is because she made a bad decision? I assume all the Jews, who were gassed by the Nazis, just made bad decisions did they? You are either very stupid, or you just “get off” on winding people up, and will post anything to achieve your objective. I am pretty sure it is the latter, but my comment is in case it is the former. P.S You tend to find agoraphobia is based in your brain, but in your case, if you ever do suffer from it, your ass will probably be where it resides in you… think about it!

  7. Achilles

    I’m not sure what the “same-old-same-old pro-neoliberal agenda” is or what you’re referring to. My philosophy, is libertarianism. People should attend to their own issues w/o impeding on the rights of others. I don’t believe in group rights, socialism, clan-ism or tribalism. Mr. Corbyn, I believe, wants to control, via the State, our daily lives those functions which we should attend to our selves.

  8. Achilles

    1. A baby born with disabilities is the parents responsibility. More often than not, they were directly or indirectly responsible for the child’s condition.

    2. Women should never place themselves in situations where the possibility of being raped is eminent. All the women in my life have NEVER been raped and if they can do it all women should be able to do it.

    3. By taking a pacifist role in Germany, Jews acquiesced in there responsibility for survival for themselves and their families. Fighting back sometimes is the best solution. Not fighting back, was surrender.

    4. Agoraphobia, (i. e. Panic Attacks) I say again is 20th Century pseudo-disease fabricated by pseudo-scientists who couldn’t figure out why people were so timid of their own shadows. Agoraphobia “sufferers” are afraid of dealing with life and as such abrogate their responsibility to humanity to survive.

    5. I am not stupid and my brain is not up my ass. I am coherent, intelligent and I have a vast understanding of human behavior. Furthermore, I am liberated from quasi-political, quasi-sociological and pseudo-scientific hog-wash that you whole heartedly seem to embrace.

  9. Window Rooms

    If hard line right wing politics works then they must be far more dangerous than Socialism. If Socialism does not work it can be abandoned but something that is oppressive and dictatorial, right wing and workable will not be abandoned and people would be subjected to it forever more. We do not want any thing that takes away the freedom of people to work. Not even any hardline policies of right wing parties either if we really want the people to be free.

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