Saturday, 26 November 2011

Why the PCC Has to Go

The Leveson Inquiry into the press is drawing a fightback from the media, trying to claim, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, that the Press Complaints Commission is an adequate body to police the press from within.

@Latentexistence has just blogged the reply he got from the PCC into a complaint he made over a recent attack on people with ME/CFS and a bunch of other disabilities by the attack columnist Rob Liddle writing on the Spectator's website.

Liddle claimed that ME is not a 'real' disability. The PCC admit this is inaccurate, but claim it is an acceptable view to publish because it is clearly his opinion. By extension journalists can get away with any kind of offensive assertion by making clear that it is their own opinion. The problem here is that people read columnists like Liddle precisely because they consider their opinions to have weight. Effectively the PCC have granted journalists complete immunity from telling the truth.

The PCC then looked at whether the claim was discriminatory, and their justification why it isn't just beggars belief. They don't deny it is discriminatory, they just say that only individuals are protected from discrimination by the Code and that groups are fair game. Because discriminating against the group someone belongs to is clearly nothing like discriminating against them.... Again the PCC are granting immunity to journalists by creating a simple way for them to work around the Code.

Nor is this the only instance where the PCC have articulated similar views. A stream of complaints from disabled people about the concerted attacks on disabled people over the past year have drawn near identical responses. Essentially the PCC's view is that minorities can legitimately be abused in any way, shape or form, using any made-up fact, just so long as it isn't directed against a named individual. When the only arbiter of press standards openly considers minorities to be fair game for press bigotry, then it is clear that it not just time to get rid of the PCC, but to impose regulation on the press from outside, because clearly they are not fit people to impose it from within.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

On Being an Uppity Crip

"Mong-gate" rumbles on, with people now taking positions for and against Ricky Gervais' latest TV series 'Life's Too Short', which revolves around a talent agency for actors with restricted growth run by Warwick Davis, himself a dwarf. Friday's Guardian featured an article in the Comment is Free section interviewing Kristina Gray, mother of a child with one of the several forms of dwarfism, about her opinion of the programme. It's probably fair to say she's seriously less than impressed.

Now I haven't watched 'Life's Too Short', I'm not a fan of Gervais' style of humour, and my personal opinion is that whether he does a good job of it or not, the attitudes of the audience will overwhelmingly interpret it as just another message that people with dwarfism, and other disabled people by extension, are perfectly legitimate targets for attack. So essentially I think the idea is fatally flawed, even if he has done all the research needed, unfortunately 'mong-gate' makes it clear he hasn't.

The first I knew of the article was a tweet on Friday linking to it, with a comment that the trolls were out in force. So I went over to read the article and picked my way through the comments replying to some of the more egregious ones, particularly those which didn't seem to have any understanding of the level of disability discrimination out there. I was looking at the Guardian website again this morning and noticed I'd gotten a couple of replies after my last visit. Comments on the article are now closed, so I can't reply to them there, but I think one of them is interesting for the attitudes it reveals. Particularly as it got 11 recommendations, more than most comments in the thread.

"In a series of posts you have made a number of vague and tantalising claims about the physical and verbal abuse you claim to have suffered at the hands of the general public and organisations. If your claims are true"

Why the 'if'? Why report something if it isn't true? Is the reality that disabled people are being abused on the street so horrendous that it must be denied? Perhaps a more open interpretation would be 'I don't like your point, so I'm going to imply you're making it up.'

"If we are to have a worthy debate and if you want to be taken remotely seriously start giving detail."

So that would be strip yourself bare or be held a liar?

"Let's hear exactly what the nature of your disability is and a bit of substance on the attacks you claim are so frequent."

Again with the implication I'm a liar, and there's that attitude, so prevalent in modern society, that every detail of our disabilities is public property. It's an example of the way in which society interprets us as less than fully adult; because we're disabled, society believes that we haven't earned the right to privacy, but must instead be treated as small children, whose every thought can be pried into by any passing adult.

"I myself am not disabled but someone very close to me, my girlfiend, is disabled (wheelchair) and as such through her I have a pretty good knowledge of the day to day realities of disabled life in this country. And guess what? While there are often struggles that she faces on a day to day basis they in no way tally with your depiction of a nation where verbal and physical abuse against disabled people is a daily occurence. Not even fucking close."

Well that's me told. Or maybe not, maybe my friendly troll isn't so well informed as he would like to think. I mean it's not as if I was one of the disabled people asked to front a major report on the rise in disability hate crime with our personal experiences - oh, wait a minute, yes I was.

"Could it be that instead of sitting on the internet being a professional victim and whining on message boards she just gets on.and enjoys life and has a sense of humour? Perish the very thought."

So if I campaign then I must be a whinging professional victim. And if my disability means I have to do it online it's clearly because I don't have any real life or sense of humour. Or maybe I just don't like the attitudes I see in society and think that behooves me to do something about it. As for sense of humour, I'm afraid I prefer my biting social commentary to come from Pratchett, not Gervais.

"Oh and while you're at it perhaps you would like to substantiate the thinly veiled insinuation you made that a show like LTS could potentially increase backward attitudes towards the disabled. I can't wait to hear that one."

Thinly veiled? Damn, I thought I was being bitingly obvious. As for substantiating my views, I would have thought that was the last thing I needed to do when our acceptance in society has slid back so desperately far through the constant attacks on us as scroungers and frauds in the tabloid press, and with my critic being so closely connected surely he must have noticed too? Or maybe not.

What makes the post so striking is that in one of the posts he takes issue with I'd already talked about disabled people being attacked for daring to make themselves heard, clearly the inherent irony of his reply went straight over his head. I'm not sure I can say it any better here than I said it there:

Attacking the campaigners is always the first response in a campaign for equality - Afro-Americans were written off as 'uppity n&**^s', Suffragettes as demonstrating ‘the explosive fury of epileptics’, and so on. Dismissing us as failing to understand the humour, as having a chip on our shoulder, as being bitter over our disabilities, we've heard them all. We do understand the humour, we campaign precisely because we have accepted our disabilities don't make us any different, and if there is a chip on our shoulder, then it's there because the actions of non-disabled people have put it there, and isn't that something any decent person should take action over?

And if that makes the trolls on Comment is Free think I'm an uppity crip, then clearly I'm doing something right ;)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

38 Degrees – Negotiating the Avalanche

I’ve just had a very positive chat with David Babbs of 38 Degrees on the problems with how disabled people have perceived what has been happening with their voting mechanism.

David addressed the issues really openly and I’m happy to agree with him that the problems are cock-up, not conspiracy*; meanwhile he has had the opportunity to take on-board our message that, after years of demonization in the media, disabled people just won’t win popularity contests, and that therefore 38 Degrees’ vote-driven campaigning mechanism is a real problem for us.

That’s a problem 38 Degrees will have to wrestle with, everything they stand for says they should be standing up for the most marginalized and discriminated against in society, but the democratic model at the heart of everything they stand for also means that the demonized can’t access that support, because the population has been brainwashed by the media over how we should be regarded. 38 Degrees depends on its membership telling it what to vote for, the membership depend on the media to identify issues, and the media portray us as frauds and scroungers living a life of luxury.

There’s a real tension in how 38 Degrees deal with that, I understand the difficulty of working with two ideas that don’t play nicely together. Cognitive dissonance barely starts to cover it. And I think that David has offered us a way ahead on that which should hopefully hell leach away some of the anger people in the disability community are feeling towards them. But it is also a discussion 38 Degrees needs to have with itself. If they remain wedded so tightly to their democratic mechanism, then how do they ensure they don’t ignore those in the most desperate need? They also need to look at their own behaviour and decide if it is truly consistent. David admitted that opposing DLA changes should have been on their latest poll and was left off accidentally, but he doesn’t feel they need to do anything about that. I’m not so convinced and I suspect that others will feel the same.

So we’ve made progress and I hope we see more, but things aren’t entirely resolved and as disabled people we’ll be watching to see that 38 Degrees does take a hard look at how it makes sure disenfranchised minorities aren’t beyond its help. After all, no vote told Wilberforce to support the abolition of slavery, no vote told the Pankhursts to lead the Suffragette movement, and no vote should stop 38 Degrees from doing what is right.

* You can see that DLA issues have been on the past votes by scrolling done on the Future Campaigns page , but they aren’t on the current one and you can also see that our votes are falling – people simply don’t understand the depths of the attack on us, and if they don’t understand that, how can they vote for us? It really is a textbook example of disenfranchisement in action.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Disabled People, Betrayed By 38 Degrees?

You may detect a slight hardening of my language since Friday's blog, that's because I've been looking into the matter in more depth, and the more I look, the uneasier I become about attitudes within 38 Degrees towards disabled people.

Shortly after publishing Friday's blog, a friend tweeted and pointed out that disabled people had actually won the previous campaign vote, but that 38 Degrees had then shelved that vote and staged another at which the NHS won. Obviously that's a very serious allegation, the problem is that the facts seem to back it up.

If you go to 38 Degree's Campaign Suggestion forum, and order all suggestions by popularity, which this link will do, you'll find a list of the most popular campaign ideas.

Sitting at number 6 is "A campaign to stop the abolition of Disability Living Allowance - the measure of civilised society."

Sitting at number 9 is "The coalition "are considering" assessing children in their DLA shake up." But attached to that is this note:

  • "We're looking into a technical problem with the suggest a campaigns system. Last night we merged this with another DLA campaign after being asked to by the people who had originally created the suggestions. This follows on from previous problems we had with merging campaigns.  Unfortunately last night there was a problem with the system and when we merged the campaigns thousands of votes were removed from the total. I'm really sorry this happened. We're looking into this and trying to sort it out."
If we assume the minimum possible value of 'thousands', i.e. 2000 votes, then that would have been sufficient to boost this to just over 4000 votes, making it at a minimum the 4th most popular campaign suggestion.

But 'that's okay' you say, 'the problem just happened last night, 38 Degrees will fix it on Monday'. Which would be fine if it was true, but I know for a fact - having seen it myself - that that message has been there for months with no action being taken, and all but a handful of the comments attached to it are 8 months or more old. Months with no action, months of wasted inactivity during which the Welfare Reform Bill has been trekking through Parliament side by side with the NHS Bill. Look at everything 38 Degrees have achieved in trying to stop the NHS Bill, look at everything 38 Degrees haven't done to stop the Welfare Reform Bill. The suspicion that disabled people, and the votes and activities of the 38 Degrees membership, have been sacrificed to concentrate on the NHS Bill is impossible to shake. In fact I can't find any sign that 38 Degrees have lifted a finger to oppose the Welfare Reform Bill or defend disabled people.

There's a word for treating disabled people as second class citizens, that word is disablism, or two words if you aren't familiar with the one, disability discrimination.

I don't want to believe that of 38 Degrees, but their own polls show opposing the disability related provisions of the Welfare Reform Bill at numbers 4 and 6 in their own members lists of suggested priorities, combine them together and they are the 2nd most popular suggestion with a minimum of 7,243 votes, within 350 votes of the most popular suggestion and nearly 1,500 votes ahead of the 3rd most popular suggestion.

Sitting down at number 18 is opposing badger culling, and yet that's currently splashed all over the 38 Degrees front page as one of their successful campaigns?! I can't help wondering if the problem is 38 Degrees HQ thinks crips aren't as cuddly as badgers.

So, opposing DLA changes has got more votes on the 38 Degrees website than any idea but fairness and equality for pensioners (and we all know the strength of the pensioners lobby), but when 38 Degrees put out 17 suggested campaigns, including issues as diverse as powerstations, tax avoidance, the Murdochs, and benefits for pensioners living abroad, disability issues don't feature at all? Forgive me, but something's not just rotten in the state of Denmark, but stinking to high heaven of disablist discrimination.

If you think I'm writing this to shine a light on 38 Degrees and shame them into treating disabled people as the equals this government is determined to ensure we aren't, then you're damned right I am.

So what's it to be, 38 Degrees? Do you really believe in democracy and equality, or is it just a sham to trick people into campaigning for your own hobbyhorses? Are you for disabled people, or against us?

Friday, 4 November 2011

Has 38 Degrees Abandoned The Hardest Hit?

The campaigning group 38 Degrees has been one of the features of the ConDem regime, challenging government policies on things as varied as the plans to sell off the forests and the NHS.

Yet there has been one glaring and continuing absence in their policies, any attempt to fight for the rights of the Hardest Hit of this recession.

Disabled people have asked them for support, we've posted on their fora, we've even received substantial voting support there from other followers, but somehow we never seem to be amongst the campaigns they propose they adopt.

38 Degrees just sent me an opportunity to vote on their latest proposed campaigning priorities:
  1. Continue the campaign to stop Lansley's NHS plans
  2. Run research and local campaigns to expose cuts to the NHS
  3. Continue to campaign for planning laws which protect the countryside and local communities
  4. Stop rip-off increases to gas and electricity bills
  5. Support proposals to make gay marriage legal
  6. Continue speaking up for our forests and challenge future attempts to sell them off
  7. Make sure that every child from a poor family receives a free school meal
  8. Continue to push for a Robin Hood Bankers Tax, a tax on banks that would give billions to tackle poverty and climate change
  9. Stopping the building of new coal power stations
  10. Step up the campaign to ban secret lobbying
  11. Push the government to do more to tackle climate change
  12. Continue to demand a real clamp down on tax dodging
  13. Campaign for British pensioners living abroad to get increases to their pensions
  14. Speak up in support of the British government continuing to give aid to poorer countries
  15. Show support for the "Occupy London" protests outside St Paul's Cathedral
  16. Campaign against government plans to scrap some employment laws
  17. Reform media laws to stop media moguls, like Rupert Murdoch, ever getting so much power again
I support the vast majority of these (the powerstation issue is presented too simplistically for me to take a position on), but the Welfare Reform Bill is almost law, 700,000 disabled people who even the government acknowledges are not fit for work face losing potentially all of their benefit, 20% of DLA recipients face losing their benefit by fiat, unknown numbers of families with disabled members face being forced out their homes because of the housing benefit changes, and the horrors of WCA continue unchecked, while support cuts mean disabled people are being told by the courts that it is perfectly acceptable for a council to let them lie in their own waste. Yet not one of these is addressed in the proposed campaigns, disability is simply not mentioned at all.

I'm forced to the conclusion that 38 Degrees have abandoned us, that the horrendous assault on disabled people and the benefits and support we depend on is beneath their notice. And if that's the case, why should I support an organisation that believes what happens to disabled people isn't important?

So come on, 38 Degrees, convince me that you value disabled people and recognise that what is happening to us needs to be fought against by the entire country.

Or are disabled people simply not trendy enough?

And that's why my response to their poll reads simply: "I'm sorry, I can't continue to support an organisation that refuses to recognise the assault on disabled people and the benefits and support they depend on."


In the short time since writing this, I've been reliably informed that supporting disabled people actually won the last 38 Degrees poll, only for it to be shelved and a second poll taken which opted for supporting the NHS. I'd really like to see an explanation of that.