Over the last few weeks I have noticed a number of supposed news articles which appear to call for public anger at the legitimate process of claiming disability benefits rather than any apparent failures of the system. These lead me to suspect that it is now a trend and even fashion to find anything to bash ATOS, DWP, and the whole government with, regardless of any facts or proportionality.
I will offer three examples of what I mean with my observations but before doing so I must give the now obligatory disclaimer that while I have shown my intention to work with ATOS and have offered them my services, I am not an employee of ATOS and they do not know I have written this. My views on disability have not changed or will change because of whom I may or may not work with. And if it is worth anything, I am not a Tory and I find many of their policies repulsive.
The first example is Paul McCauley from Northern Ireland, who has been left severely brain damaged after a sectarian attack on him. His parents made the local headlines because they were angry and disgusted because they had to fill out a benefits form not once but twice, and how dare the government be so insensitive! My observation here is surely the parents would have initiated the application and any process can be frustrating and distressing but I am afraid this is life. The article does not suggest he will be refused benefit but simply how awful it is that the government can not read minds when the public demands pity over facts. As I have suggested before, a possible solution to this would be locally commissioned specialist teams and in this case a hospital based one who can match administration with sympathy. Other than this, what is newsworthy here?
The next example is now infamous Amy Jones, the woman who ATOS told her cerebral palsy would get better apparently. As someone with CP myself, I totally agree that the actual brain damage that is cerebral palsy will neither improve nor worsen in the way other conditions do, but the effects of cerebral palsy are a little more complex and over a lifetime, there will be fluctuations in one way or another that no one ever explains to you. She acknowledges she had a number of operations to improve her function and therefore this may had contributed to any observations made by ATOS. I also find it interesting that she intends to work but also intends to appeal the decision she is currently unfit but requires a review in six months, because she appears to want the right not to work.
All kinds of reports written since the dawn of time have contained errors and inappropriate wordings but that does not make these things newsworthy especially in this case we do not know the full picture. While she may be enjoying her five minutes of fame and increased twitter traffic, she does not realise she is only being used by the media in their relentless attacks on the government regardless of who gets hurt.
The final example is Ryan Norman, a severely impaired young man whose mother is angry and upset because now he is 20, his child benefit has stopped and she will face financial struggles before she now has to apply for 'his' benefits. The headline is that he will have to prove he is unable to work but makes no suggestion he will not receive what he is entitled to. I am simply bemused to how this has made the national press as this is what happens to every family when their disabled child reaches 20 and indeed for non-disabled children who leave school at 16, the child benefit stops then. No government has promised disabled people or anyone a stress free life and the issue of transition has been problematic for as long as I can remember. What I am more concerned about as how Ryan's mother called him nothing more than a baby to a reporter, is it really acceptable behaviour towards young adults, disabled or not?
These examples show how desperate the media are to find non-existent cuts to benefits for people with significant impairments, and I am sure there is a newspaper somewhere willing to pay handsomely for the first proper story of someone losing their benefits, double if it involves a former solder or paralympian! ATOS bashing is a trend that masks a deep dislike and pity for disabled people as 'other' rather than included members of society, and simply adds fuel for the eugenics movement since if disabled people are naturally and automatically unemployable, what is the next logical conclusion?
I call all this a fad because it is very easy to attack this government. I strongly believe that the very minute we have a Labour government, the media will change their agenda instantly, focusing on why are these supposedly disabled people not working, as a new fashion, and I believe the current media spokespeople of disabled people, like Sue Marsh, will find themselves being yesterday's news as the media seeks a fresh angle.