The truth about disability and the Scroungers rhetoric


One reoccurring theme that has plagued this government’s welfare policy is an accusation that they, along with their ‘right wing’ media, are responsible for unnecessarily labelling disabled people as ‘Scroungers’. The accusation has been successfully used by activists and charities alike to reframe sick and disabled people as victims, suggesting it is practically immoral to consider them has having an ability to work (with the right support).
The term ‘Scroungers’ means I believe, people who could and should work but have chosen not to because of the ease of claiming benefits. The vast majority of people are legitimately on benefits, and I do not believe the public generally has any issue with that. But there is a small proportion of people, disabled or non-disabled, who know how to play the system, and it is unfortunately their actions that has created a distrustful culture within Jobcentre Plus, and I believe has resulted in the liberal use of benefit sanctions.
So if the general public is smart enough to understand who is being genuine, and who needs a kick up their backside, why have disabled activists steadily tried to portray disabled people as being seen as ‘Scroungers’? I think the first thing to explain here is when I say disabled activists, I really mean people who are focused on the issues of working aged sick and people with hidden impairments, a very vocal group that has dominated the way disability has been politically framed over the last few years.
For them, many of them who are either new to impairment or new to politics, I get the feeling that they believe the way they feel, as oppose to their level of function or need for resources, is not being fully recognised and so they can frame their disharmony in terms of their belief society does not care about their issues. While they may be on an emotional journey towards some kind of employment, the fact they may not understand they are on a journey will make them defensive, and so accusing others of labelling them scroungers is a way to handle the situation.
This is very different to the experiences of people with visible impairments, especially those with lifelong and/or significant impairments. The first thing the public feels when they see us is pity, people who obviously can not work and should be protected. We are regarded as burdens, in terms of the social care we need or our supposed dependency on unpaid ‘carers’, but it is wrapped up in kindness and tolerance that fuels the support of ‘assisted dying’, to put us out of our misery. While people’s behaviour towards disabled people has improved, I am unsure if deep down and within the fabric of society, these negative attitudes have changed.
So for me personally, I would love to be considered as a ‘scrounger’ if I was not working for no other reason than I did not have to. I would regard this as a step forward in the liberation of disabled people because it would demonstrate that for the first time, I would be seen as an equal citizen who has the same responsibilities as anyone else. I know this is the point many readers begin choking on their cornflakes, shouting at the screen that not all disabled people can work, but I still fundamentally believe that with the right support, and adapting the meaning and practicalities of paid employment, it is only a matter of time before work is accessible to everyone. But this is not the point here, the point is so many disabled people are written off as unemployable before they are given any chance to try, sometimes as soon as they are born, because it is considered horrible to believe they are citizens with responsibilities.
I therefore worry that the ‘Scrounger’ rhetoric is being used by Charities and others, to reinforce and protect the portraying of disabled people as victims who ‘need them’ to function, ensuring they remain disempowered using their services, rather than empowered in mainstream society. Their mindset they wish to suggest is that it is wrong to believe disabled people could work, and so it is a clever way they undermine the citizenship of disabled people.
At the end of the day, I believe we get what we ask for, and if disabled people unconsciously wish others to regard them as scroungers in a negative way, that will happen. I always saw myself as an equal citizen, so for the most part, that is what I enjoy.


– If you like what I say, have a look at my website at http://www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

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