The media has to take its share of the blame for benefit suicides

The welfare reforms has had a lot of criticism, but the harshest has been the accusation that the work capacity assessment has resulted in some people committing suicide. Activists and the media have highlighted a number of cases they believe shows the government is responsible and want the government to be made accountable for them.

My first reaction is wariness of the implications of these accusations. Suicide is a complex and sensitive issue where at the end of the day, even with a suicide note, no one else really knows what was in someone’s head when they took the action when they take the decision to end their lives. Receiving a letter to inform them their benefit has stopped, for reasons that may or may not be correct, may indeed have been the final straw, but there is likely to be many other factors that has caused someone to reach that point.

Politicising suicides is a dangerous game and one that I am very uncomfortable with. If we accept the government is ‘to blame’ for these death to the point that criminal proceedings for corporate manslaughter could be brought, what does this mean for other reasons of suicide? It could be that if anyone sends any person any form of communication material, email or letter, that becomes the last straw in causing them committing suicide, the sender could find themselves in prison! This would bring a new meaning to Dear John letters.

Activists have called for a public inquiry into the so-called benefit suicides, and I would welcome this myself, but not for the same reasons. I believe any inquiry would acknowledge that there are many factors involved in these deaths, and I would like to give evidence that the media has had a big part to play in pushing people towards a situation of hopelessness and despair, and towards suicide.

I am not suggesting in this instance the media has deliberately and knowingly pushed anyone on disability benefits to commit suicide. I am however suggesting they have created a contextual backdrop where the public’s and therefore claimants’ understanding of how the benefit assessment system works as been corrupted with deliberately misleading information for political reasons, particularly in the ability to receive a fair assessment.

Many activists now pride themselves on making the benefit assessment system toxic and unworkable, and the media has played a big part in this. There has been almost daily articles for a number of years on how people with impairments have been wrongly or unfairly found fit for work, whether that is correct or not, based on a culture of pity towards people with impairments. This bias reporting, that has not been balanced with positive cases, can only fill claimants with dread, causing them to experience unnecessary anxiety and so providing the foundations for suicidal desires.

So when people’s only defence to Labour’s appalling bigoted policies towards people with impairments is the uninformed quip that the government kills people with impairments, my response is that it is more likely to be the fault of the media. Not only that, but the media’s actions have so far been unchallenged by activists, other political parties, charities and organisations made up of people with impairments, making it a conspiracy as they all have something politically to gain from these suicides they blame the government for.

If you are going to use suicide as a political weapon, it is important to understand it is a dangerous and potentially immoral exercise. In blaming the government for so-called benefit suicides, activists and the media may have unwittingly revealed the blame actually lies with them.

Dysability is an issue with many sides

Every issue has at least two sides to it, and this includes dysability. It is only with honest and frank discussion from people with a wide range of views that increases the collective understanding of the issue. The issue of dysability is a very complex one to those who understand it, but I fear few people do.

Many current ‘disability’ activists and the media generally as simplified the issue into one about welfare and rights. There is a widespread assumption that there is a single right way to see disability, and an immoral and politically incorrect wrong way to talk about it. This is shown in how the media portrays the issue in terms of ‘discussions’ as a David vs Goliath situation, where an angry disabled person (David) is seen slaying an often ill-informed and certainly ‘non-disabled’ government representative. The outcome of the discussion is obvious and nothing but pre-empted self-congratulation on the part of the political correct audience.

If any dysability issue is going to be forced to be seen as a party political issue, then it must be understood that there will be people with impairments on both sides of the debate from both parties. In the same way other social groups will have individuals on both sides of the issue, where the media will seek an opinion from them in something like a BBC Newsnight discussion, the same has to start with the issue of dysability.

The problem is this polygon of opinion has to be seen within the media within the dysability ‘community’ itsen before the mainstream media will be brave enough to follow suit, but this is not happened. Those with the current majority view within this community is obsessed with the falsehood of appearing ‘united’, viciously stamping on anyone who refuses to conform to the community’s bible of restrictive thought. This is why people with impairments who are active in the Conservatives are legitimately abused and threatened by those who conform to what ‘the disabled’ must think.

John Pring’s Disability News Service should ideally be the platform to promote a wide range of views from many people with impairments but instead, it is a centre point for those who disapprove of open discussion and an emotional headquarters for those who need to hunt down anyone unwilling to conform to the ‘majority’ view with threats and abuse, now controlled by left-wing extremists with primitive answers to complex issues, like calling supporting people with impairments into work eugenics.

It is time all people with impairments had a real voice in the complex issues that affect them, and that the media should accept there will be people with impairments on both sides of the debate, rather than remaining compliant with the desire of left-wing activists to stamp out views they disagree with. I know many people often support my viewpoint on many issues but fear publicly saying them themselves because of the abuse of left wing activists. The media generally has to be better at challenging sources like Disability News Service, and serve the viewpoint of all people with impairments better.

Overcoming my speech impairment

 

Out of all my impairment related difficulties I have, my most challenging is my speech impairment. This is something I have needed to overcome all my life. I believe I have been extremely successful in how I manage my impairment although it has remained a key component in my impairment identity and something I had to embrace with pride.

On a practical level, the easiest way of overcoming my speech impairment is simply not talking. The improvements in technology over the years has made the need to talk much less with emails, texting, instant messaging and so on. I now only use of phone as a last resort when other methods are unavailable and only with the assistance of my personal assistant.

When I do need to talk, I prefer to speak unaided as most people can understand most of what I say if they are willing to try, which is sadly sometimes not the case. When this option is not working, the next solution is to use my personal assistant to translate what I am saying as I am saying it. I now do this at most of my meetings, especially my important ones, so I am sure I am heard and I can say more as opposed to sticking with terms I believe people will understand better, which can make me appear blunt.

My final option as a last resort, or in very noisy environments, is using a special app on my iPad as a communication aid. The aim of this solution is to support my speech and help listeners who are having issues understanding specific words or phrases. I am not amused when people do not bother to try to listen to me when they know I have my iPad as a communication aid, and I will not simply play ball as I demand they at least try to listen to me.

In understanding the limits of the social model, I acknowledge that with all the things society and I can do to limit the effects of my speech impairment, it is still a part of my identity and people who I meet face to face will have a psycho-social response to it. My speech, along with my jerky movements, still puts me in the realms of being a freak, where many other impairments have now been accepted into the social norm.

Being a freak is not a criticism but an observation, and a status that comes with the power of fear and embarrassment. People do not often know what to do when they meet me and that gives me the opportunity to guide the interaction. They often have no previous social norms in meeting someone like myself, and so in their confusion, I can dictate the norms I want to be used. It is a power that few people understand or able to consciously utilise.

The disadvantage of the appearance that my speech impairment provides is that many people assume that I have a learning difficulty to some degree. This can be very frustrated from me, especially as I know I am often the superior intelligent being in the relationship as a matter of fact, although I hope I do not come across as arrogant, I believe I am no more or no less equal than anyone else. When someone has made their mind up you have a learning difficulties, the only way to prove your intelligence is sarcasm as anyone can be programmed to say a list of achievements where making people laugh spontaneously requires great skill.

I would never wish my speech impairment away as I have built my whole personality and skills set around it, when you are very different, you have to play the game differently to succeed to shine my strengths and turn my weaknesses into what makes me strong. I believe I have embraced my speech impairment and turned it into an advantage.