The truth about disability and the Scroungers rhetoric

One reoccurring theme that has plagued this government’s welfare policy is an accusation that they, along with their ‘right wing’ media, are responsible for unnecessarily labelling disabled people as ‘Scroungers’. The accusation has been successfully used by activists and charities alike to reframe sick and disabled people as victims, suggesting it is practically immoral to consider them has having an ability to work (with the right support).
The term ‘Scroungers’ means I believe, people who could and should work but have chosen not to because of the ease of claiming benefits. The vast majority of people are legitimately on benefits, and I do not believe the public generally has any issue with that. But there is a small proportion of people, disabled or non-disabled, who know how to play the system, and it is unfortunately their actions that has created a distrustful culture within Jobcentre Plus, and I believe has resulted in the liberal use of benefit sanctions.
So if the general public is smart enough to understand who is being genuine, and who needs a kick up their backside, why have disabled activists steadily tried to portray disabled people as being seen as ‘Scroungers’? I think the first thing to explain here is when I say disabled activists, I really mean people who are focused on the issues of working aged sick and people with hidden impairments, a very vocal group that has dominated the way disability has been politically framed over the last few years.
For them, many of them who are either new to impairment or new to politics, I get the feeling that they believe the way they feel, as oppose to their level of function or need for resources, is not being fully recognised and so they can frame their disharmony in terms of their belief society does not care about their issues. While they may be on an emotional journey towards some kind of employment, the fact they may not understand they are on a journey will make them defensive, and so accusing others of labelling them scroungers is a way to handle the situation.
This is very different to the experiences of people with visible impairments, especially those with lifelong and/or significant impairments. The first thing the public feels when they see us is pity, people who obviously can not work and should be protected. We are regarded as burdens, in terms of the social care we need or our supposed dependency on unpaid ‘carers’, but it is wrapped up in kindness and tolerance that fuels the support of ‘assisted dying’, to put us out of our misery. While people’s behaviour towards disabled people has improved, I am unsure if deep down and within the fabric of society, these negative attitudes have changed.
So for me personally, I would love to be considered as a ‘scrounger’ if I was not working for no other reason than I did not have to. I would regard this as a step forward in the liberation of disabled people because it would demonstrate that for the first time, I would be seen as an equal citizen who has the same responsibilities as anyone else. I know this is the point many readers begin choking on their cornflakes, shouting at the screen that not all disabled people can work, but I still fundamentally believe that with the right support, and adapting the meaning and practicalities of paid employment, it is only a matter of time before work is accessible to everyone. But this is not the point here, the point is so many disabled people are written off as unemployable before they are given any chance to try, sometimes as soon as they are born, because it is considered horrible to believe they are citizens with responsibilities.
I therefore worry that the ‘Scrounger’ rhetoric is being used by Charities and others, to reinforce and protect the portraying of disabled people as victims who ‘need them’ to function, ensuring they remain disempowered using their services, rather than empowered in mainstream society. Their mindset they wish to suggest is that it is wrong to believe disabled people could work, and so it is a clever way they undermine the citizenship of disabled people.
At the end of the day, I believe we get what we ask for, and if disabled people unconsciously wish others to regard them as scroungers in a negative way, that will happen. I always saw myself as an equal citizen, so for the most part, that is what I enjoy.

– If you like what I say, have a look at my website at or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

The System Teaches Disabled People to be Passive

I believe that someone’s attitude to life can determine their future, more than anything else, and that a positive attitude can reap enormous benefits. This means also that a passive attitude will result in a poor quality of life, regardless of the amount of money they may have. I would like to suggest that for disabled people, the system of government, charities and society generally teaches disabled people to be passive as they impose their fears of their own mortality and vulnerability upon disabled people.

For the purpose of this article, I would like to suggest there are two ways disabled people become disabled, and each way has a ‘system’s pathway’ that is generally designed to teach disabled people to be passive.

The first way disabled people become disabled is they are born disabled or become disabled during their birth or early on in their childhood, where they would not know any different. Here, parents may have a huge role in shaping the attitude of their children and the parent’s own attitudes towards disability can be initially negative, or poorly shaped by the professionals around them. Healthcare professionals’ approach tend to be to judge someone’s ability in terms of the probability it can be rectified with typical remarks like ‘they will never talk/walk properly’.

Once these labels are set in stone at an early age, they determine a child’s educational experience, as well as their interaction with family. If a 3 year old is labelled as having a learning difficulty, there will have an education limited by that label, so creating an adult with learning difficulties. It is therefore hard to determine if the learning difficulty is from birth, or from the obviously poor education they would have received. And it is often not just academic learning that is missed, but also social learning, that causes the passive attitude I fear. Without a decent education, disabled young adults are perfectly positioned for adult day services, where the passive attitude can continue to be reinforced, often to continue the need for day services, keeping the system going.

The second way a disabled person becomes disabled is through sickness, injury or a dramatic event like a stroke. While a person’s general attitude will be a factor, their resultant attitude will be shaped by their ability to cope with the adjustment process, as well as their relationship with healthcare and other professionals. Having an impairment or disability in adulthood will generate a grieving style process, including the stages of grieve such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and as I discussed before, celebration. Everyone will handle this process in their own way, taking days, weeks, months, years or even decades to travel through each stage. Many disabled people may have never reach the acceptance or celebration stages, and therefore this will have a big impact on their attitude. If someone is stuck in the depression stage, they will be more engaging to negative attitudes and low expectations.

Once again, healthcare professionals can be very unhelpful since they will tell people what they are unable to now do in the manner they used to, without examining how they can overcome barriers with adaptations and doing things differently. Newcomers to disability can be wrapped up in the cotton wool of the sensitivity of primary care, where empathy for their situation means they are not duly challenged, enabling a long term passive attitude to form. This is why many newcomers can feel confronted by the realities of long-term impairment, including the benefits system and an expectation on them by others to work.

I would like to suggest that the reason little is done to challenge how disabled people are taught is because too many jobs within the health and social care fields feed upon this passivity. If a large population of disabled people smelt the coffee and started realising they did not need all these professionals supposedly supporting them, and can happily manage their own lives as normal citizens as opposed to being pigeon holed as special, then many charities and government funded services would find themselves unwanted and facing closure, putting non-disabled jobs at risk! This is why everyone fears the true enablement and empowerment of disabled people.

While money is always made out to be the problem for disabled people, whether that’s benefits, social care or the funding of other services, I believe it is attitudes of disabled people themselves that create the biggest problems. Let remove the incentives to keep disabled people passive, and then properly look at what other problems disabled people face.

from Simon Stevens