Yesterday, my Twitter feed was alight with people being gobsmacked by the content of Panorama's so-called "investigation" into benefit fraud. Interestingly, I understand that neither of the major culprits "investigated" and plastered across the BBC's prime viewing have actually been charged with benefit fraud. More worryingly, it appears that several of the activities the "investigator" took umbrage with weren't actually activities that would preclude a benefit claim...
I didn't watch the programme, in the end. Being, y'know, disabled and all, watching lengthy TV programmes late in the evening isn't something I'm very good at. I was going to catch it on iPlayer but have since decided that it will only upset me. So I want to make clear that this post is not a complaint about the Panorama programme because complaining about a programme I didn't watch and don't intend to watch seems rather ridiculous.
But I am qualified to comment on some of the urban myths surrounding disability, because they do impact me and my friends on a pretty regular basis. Facts and figures unless stated otherwise are drawn from HM Govt's Office for Disability Issues overview of official disability statistics, which can be found here.
Myth #1: Disabled people claiming benefits do not work.
In fact, about 48% of disabled people are employed (although this is compared to 78% of non-disabled people). Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is not means-tested and is awarded based on the impact a person's impairments have on certain aspects of their day to day life, such as washing, dressing, cooking, communicating and moving around. Disabled people often incur unavoidable expenses in trying to meet these essential needs, and DLA recognises that it is unfair to attempt to force working families and individuals to try and meet these non-negotiable and unasked-for additional costs out of their earned wages. Some disabled people work and claim Tax Credits, which is another legitimate form of benefit available to working people. And ESA has provision for Permitted Work for people who can only work very limited hours or in a very supported environment.*
Myth #2: Disabled people are obliged to be poor, and may not own assets.
While "a substantially higher proportion of individuals who live in families with disabled members live in poverty, compared to individuals who live in families where no one is disabled," wealth does not make a family immune to disabling illnesses or injuries. If you own your own home and live in it, then in the long run it's cheaper to let you carry on living there as long as possible than to attempt to rehouse you and have to pay Housing Benefit to you once the capital has evaporated.
Myth #3: Disabled people should not engage in physical activities.
Show me any person with an ongoing long-term physical or mental health condition, and I'll show you a person who has been advised by their medical professionals to take up swimming and/or gardening and/or going to a gym in the hope of staying active and healthy in so far as that's possible. It's always recommended, even if it doesn't get formally funded by the NHS under the guise of physiotherapy. Also: Paralympics, anybody?
Myth #4: Disabled people should not have a good time.
This is the most ridiculous of all - the idea that if a disabled person attends a party, or goes to the pub, or goes shopping, or is seen outdoors laughing with their friends, it's an affront to all right-thinking taxpayers and incontrovertible proof that "there's nothing wrong with him".
We live with our conditions. It's not like being sick and miserable for three days, but it's also not like being sick and miserable for three decades. It's more like being sick and miserable for three months, getting an idea of what's happening, spending three months in a horrible chaotic whirl as you realise your life is changing forever, taking anything from a few months to a few years to grieve and come to terms with what is happening to you, and then... you live. Which means you grab every opportunity you can to have a good time and laugh with your friends, just like any other person. You abandon the "miserable" by the side of the road.** We laugh. So sue us. We're not locked in a box out of sight. We're disabled, not dead.
* This is a gross over-simplification because to properly and fully explain would take another ten blogposts.
** At least until the next time you find yourself and your community under attack in the media.