There’s a new piece up in The Guardian on the vilification of people with disabilities as “scroungers” in the current conservative UK speech and beyond. The author, Aditya Chakrabortty, argues that this discursive move not only helps justify cuts in services, but also leads to violence.
The coalition has so thoroughly vilified “scroungers” that hate crimes against people with disabilities are rising year on year: up 13% since 2011. Forty per cent of incidents are violent. Take the visually impaired man walking in Brighton last year, who was asked by a stranger what it was like to be blind – before being set on fire. Campaigner Paula Peters tells me she’s been spat at in the street, while friends in wheelchairs have been shoved into oncoming traffic.
Austerity is the incompetent treatment of the symptoms of a dysfunctional economy rather than its cause. Housing benefit bill too high? Don’t build more council houses, cut welfare! Paying too much in tax credits? Don’t get employers to pay more, cut benefits! Rather than help create decent jobs, Cameron and Freud prefer to drive Britons off welfare into cut-price employment. That logic is at its most naked and futile in the treatment of disabled people. They are being beaten harder than anyone else; yet no amount of guff about shirking will suddenly make them less disabled.
For me, this conversation invokes the hubbub around Kanye West and our general, broad, suspicion that people with disabilities are getting away with something. These extreme cases cited by Chakrabortty are not the products of a few extremists, but rather extreme acts of violence emerge from the constant chatter, the structural ableism informs murder and torture.
“Scrounger” dehumanizes, pushing the idea that people with disabilities are burdens on society, less than human, less valuable. We’ve seen it in the US, too, as right-wing discourse seeks to divide and conquer on state benefits. First, right-wing politicians separate “good” recipients of benefits – old people and people with disabilities – from “bad” ones (black and brown people on welfare). Then, the same politicians separate people who are “not really that disabled” from the “good” disabled (people in wheelchairs).
So there’s a contiuum from the low-key “scrounger,” the “faker,” the “worthless” (or to be worth less) to the target of violence. But it’s all of a piece.