In the last few months, a number of welfare activists have linked the term ‘work sets you free’ with the government’s welfare reforms. This term is regarded as sinister because in german the term is translated as ‘arbeit macht frei’, which was painted onto the entrances of Nazi concentration camps.
The inference is that the government desire to support more people with impairments into work is some kind of conspiracy to cause harm and suffering in comparison to the actions of the Nazis. It is somewhat distasteful and disrespectful to the survivors of concentration camps to imply the government’s action in supporting people with impairments is on the same par.
Portraying work is something evil and unobtainable for anyone with any kind of impairment is deeply harmful to people’s place in society as well as their personal identities. In defining work is the activity of helping others in any way, it is simply wrong to assume people with impairments can only be in a position of taking as oppose to giving.
I am very passionate about seeing people with impairments as capable human beings because work is fundamental to my identity and my liberation as someone with significant impairments. As someone who is self-employed, I have struggled to maintain a stability of paid income and so rely on tax credits, although I believe this is because I am offering a glimpse into the future that is very hard to market.
This however does not mean I stop working in one way or another because it is something I really enjoy. This blog is work, with the aim of expressing my viewpoint and further add interest with potential customers. It may be unpaid and indeed voluntary but it is still a form of work!
I personally can not imagine a time where I am not working, balanced of course with holidays and leisure activities. A lot of welfare activists say work is not good in terms of mental health, but I think work is fundamental to my positive mental health, as I am sure it is for many other people. Boredom can only lead to depression and unhappiness.
My self-worth is rewarded by helping others. This has kept me going when I have had periods of significant depression. I know I have always had a level of determination that has given me the courage to take up many opportunities available to me in a manner many other people with impairments may shy away from. But does this somehow make me special? An exception to the rule that people like myself simply can not work?
The welfare activists have set up a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people with impairments are deemed unable to work by mainstream society, then they are going to be less encouraged to work. It is an interesting paradox that the many hours of campaigning people ‘who can’t work’ do to defend their unemployable status is actually helping them develop skills that shows that by their actions, they are working and capable of working.
I need to work because it is what liberates me from the restraints historic oppression has attempted to place upon me. I am sure I am not alone in this and therefore I remain proud about the benefits that work has provided me. This is why I remain frustrated at those who feel the need to devalue the importance of work for people with impairments with such hostility.