I have such an embarrassing confession I feel that I need to share with someone: Last week I almost cried at Katy Perry's Firework. Yes, I know it's fromage of Camembertian proportions. I feel like I have to justify why it's on my iPod in the first place, but it's just the kind of song that gets stuck in your head and the only way to purge it from your BrainRadio is to play it repeatedly until you get sick of it.
"You don't have to feel like a waste of space," sang Perry. Thing is; if I didn't feel like I waste of space I would seriously need to examine the size of my ego. "Waste of space" is right at the upper end of ways I should feel given that I'm vilified in the press on a daily basis, and have been for the last couple of years.
Luckily I don't mean that I, individually and directly, have been attacked by the papers. The stories are part of an attack on a minority group I belong to: disability benefit claimants. We've all seen the news stories blaming "work shy benefit claimants" for "our economic mess". The papers call us "scroungers" and even the leader of the Labour party brandished us "irresponsible".
I'm intelligent enough to know that it's not true. I may not be the world's greatest numbers person, but I still understand enough economics to know that the financial crisis had nothing to do with disabled people claiming benefits. But when you're constantly under attack it grinds you down and really forces you to question your self-worth. "You're original, cannot be replaced" emitted my speakers. Well it appears the papers would view not replacing me as a good thing. One less scrounger messing up the economics of the country, hey?
These news stories don't just have an effect on how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror; they affect how we're treated. I know people who've been called expletives in the street for having the audacity to leave the house while disabled. Polling by charities indicates that disablist harassment is on the increase. The stories are commonplace. Three cases came to my attention in the space of only two hours on Wednesday.
I'm lucky to have so far escaped harassment in person, but maybe that's because I don't get out much anymore. I have, of course, been called a scrounger and told to "get a job" by people hiding behind the veil of anonymity online because I'm pesky enough to put my head above the parapet and talk about issues like welfare reform.
People who know no details of my mobility impairment or medical issues feel they have the right to judge what I am or am not capable of. Such is our culture of suspicion around disability that even people who do know me assume that I'm actually just lazy.
The media narrative is proving effective at not just fuelling hate crime and harassment; but also allowing the government to push through horrific reforms to the welfare system with very little public objection because people have been so convinced that all disability benefit claimants are fakers on the take. Apparently the suspicion has always been there, but there can be no doubt that the recent media claims that there are so many more 'fakers' than there actually are has ramped this up.
When writing harassing articles about benefit claimants the press often rely on the same thought process that most school bullies use: life has dumped on me, so I'm going to dump on someone else. Most articles like to remind readers how hard done by they are before offering up disabled people as a scapegoat. Stories frequently read along the lines of "costs of living are going up, incomes are coming down, and then these shirkers do nothing but watch TVs paid for by you!"
Katy Perry's Firework was one of a number of pop songs released in late 2010 and early 2011 to address the epidemic of young people killing themselves due to homophobic bullying. Homophobic bullying is not the only type of bullying that kills: the cases of Fiona Pilkington & Francecca Hardwick and David Askew are a testament to that.
The fact that the media hate campaign is paving the way for welfare cuts that will see hundreds of thousands of people in the same boat as Paul Reekie, Paul Willcoxson and Mark & Helen Mullins is even more terrifying: the public can effect change when they really want to - just look at how effective the Boycott Workfare campaign has been over the last week - but sadly no-one cares enough to speak out up for disabled people anymore because of the climate of hate. Instead of reading the news of people fighting the Welfare Reform Bill as a whole, I'm reading about more cases of disabled people killing themselves.
Another of the songs from the same movement as Firework is Lady Gaga's Born this Way with the line "whether life's disabilities left you outcast bullied or teased, rejoice and love yourself today..." which is hard.
It's really hard. When every time you pick up a paper you read about how you're bankrupting the country, when every time you use social media you fear getting judged by strangers, when every time you leave the house you worry that this will be the time someone attacks you: It's just about impossible to either rejoice or love yourself.