Is the Opposition to Sanctions Used to Justify Bigotry?

The current opposition to the welfare reforms appears to be focused upon Benefit Sanctions. I think it is firstly important to note that I do not know enough about benefit sanctions to understand if they are working or not, and I would suggest if people were honest, most people are in the same boat. We hear the ‘final’ reason someone receives a sanction for, and assume its minor, without understanding the history and circumstances of the offence. As someone who employs personal assistants, I have appeared to have sacked people for being a few minutes late, but in reality this was the last straw in a long list of problems I had with the person.

My real concern is not the sanctions themselves, but the methods those opposing them have employed to supposedly win the moral high ground. I believe they have specifically focused on sanctions involving people with learning difficulties and mental health issues to elicit sympathy and moral outrage. The first and obvious reason for this is they would not win the argument if they talked about the ‘Jeremy Kyle’ generation since public opinion is likely to favour sanctions for them, rightly or wrongly. This means they need to use or abuse ‘the vulnerable’ to sell their message.

Now, I believe by focusing on those the opponents regard as ‘especially vulnerable’, they are making highly emotive and degrading assumptions against people with learning difficulties and mental health issues, which I would regard as bigotry. Disabled people have the right to take risks, be socially responsible and make mistakes so they are able to learn. Whether people like them or not, sanctions are a learning experience, even it is a harsh one.

But we have seen the liberal and socialist media, along with Labour MPs, make negative assumptions about disabled people who have been sanctioned. It has specifically been suggested and implicated that disabled people who can not tell the time should not be sanctioned, and therefore regarded as incapable of working. What is worse is that a Conservative MP was lampooned by the media for suggesting people with learning difficulties with timekeeping difficulties had been failed by the education system, because ‘we all know’ people with learning difficulties can not be cured.

This implication that not only are people with learning difficulties unemployable, which is a horrific statement anyway, but now it is publicly acceptable and celebrated to suggest they are also uneducable. For such beliefs to exist and be proudly stated in 2015 shows utter bigotry towards disabled people. I have no doubt if we were talking about race or gender, rather than disability, the police would be involved and a number of Labour MPs and journalists would be forced to resign, if not jailed.

But those who supposedly represent the interests of disabled people, often without involving us, support this kind of bigotry, presumably because it is what they believe themselves. But their attitude appears to be so long as disabled people keep their benefits, and only work if they really want to, how they are portrayed is irrelevant.

I feel that it is now time we draw a line in the sand and state the internalised bigotry towards disabled people throughout society needs to be properly exposed for the hatred masked as kindness it is, which the opposition to benefit sanctions is exposing. Unfortunately, my voice in this matter is not ready to be heard and we may have to wait ten or twenty years for people to understand what I am saying now. But I know they will look back at this, and the debate on benefits sanctions, and be totally ashamed of their bigotry.

I wish everyone would start really examining what they are saying before using disabled people as pawns in their childish political games, but I fear too few people actually care about how disabled people are portrayed or desire us to be fully included into society as equal citizens.

from Simon Stevens


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