Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Well Feared: Open Your Curtains You Loser!

'Open your curtains you loser!!!': yes, that was what someone screamed outside my house at around 9.45am last Saturday morning; no doubt, I'm not the only person who has experienced this in recent years. But, why did that person shout this? What reasons could he possibly have for behaving in such a manner? Many believe it comes down to government propaganda, specifically statements released to the press since the coalition came to power.

During the Welfare reform debate on 1st of February last year, among other things, Iain Duncan Smith said to parliament:

'I've lost count of the number of people who've said: "I go to work early in the morning and on the way I pass neighbours with their curtains closed, lying in because they've chosen to live on benefits." This infuriates people - and with good reason.'

He has in fact subsequently - many believe irresponsibly - repeated that statement many times since then. It in fact makes 2 assumptions: firstly that closed curtains mean there is an individual/family living on benefits; secondly, that they choose to do so.

As people pointed out at the time in newspaper articles, and the comments underneath, there may be many reasons why your curtains are shut in the daytime: you may be a shift-worker; a pensioner trying to save money in the winter; a hard-working person who just fancies a lie-in; a depressed insomniac who can only sleep for a few hours during the day; a hard-working person who is on short-term sick leave; you could be seriously ill or even dying; you may even be dead and your family are following the tradition of leaving a person's curtains closed until after the funeral. 

Ironically, all of the bungalows that look onto our small housing association estate have their blinds closed all of the time, but of course, no one would think to accuse them of being 'losers'.

I'm not saying for one minute that there aren't people out there who do lie in bed, play the system, and don't make an effort to look for work or improve their situation; these are in the minority however. They also cannot get away with that now in any case due to the draconian 'sanctions' regime. Nevertheless, to make a blanket statement about closed curtains is a very dangerous thing that can lead to people making incorrect assumptions, and ultimately encourage disability hate crimes.

With regard to my circumstances, how does the person who shouted the abuse know about my life? We live in a semi- rural area and there are only four houses in my terraced row looking out onto fields, with just a path in front of us; we're not on the main road. The man at the bottom of the row owns his house and is in employment. The two houses in between house tenants that have not long moved in. One of them rents privately; the other from the housing association. The man who shouted came from one of these two middle houses; I know this as he was parked at the top of the path and I heard his car pull away afterwards.

I don't know these people well at all; I've rarely spoken to them as I'm mostly housebound now, and I don't sit in the garden and chat like we all used to years ago. But whoever this person was, he obviously shouted this based on his assumptions about me

He isn't aware that I'm 50 in a few weeks, and that I've worked most of my life, primarily in back breaking jobs before I gained a degree. He isn't aware that as a result of meeting up with friends 4 weeks ago, that I can hardly walk even around the house, and if I want to see another neighbour for a cup of tea, carers have to wheel me round there now. He isn't aware that I'm up half the night in agony. 

He isn't aware that although I'm not capable of working now, that in between severe periods of health that can last 4 months of a year with only a small window when I'm capable of doing much, that I'm trying to write a book in hope that I can get out of the situation I'm in. He doesn't know that I'm absolutely desperate to work. Conversely, for all he knows, I could own my house and be financially independent. But, he didn't know: he knows nothing about me at all. 

The presumptions people make, and their opposition to any help disabled people receive is nothing new to me however. While I was still working professionally, I had to start using a walking stick. I also have an 'alternative' look because of my dreadlocks and the way I dress. While I was at university, I worked as a music workshop assistant, I took in ironing to boost my income, and I was also a singer/songwriter in a band. On Fridays we'd meet up for one pint before rehearsals, and that particular day, I had dropped something behind the built-in seating. A man walked in and shouted: 'looking for your giro duck?'; I replied: 'I work for a living actually'. He 'assumed' because of the way that I looked and my walking stick that I was claiming benefits, but he was proved wrong.  
When working professionally as a disabled person, I also received 'Access to Work' payments to pay my taxi fares to and from work, and I was based all around the county. I've had taxi drivers give me lectures as to why disabled people shouldn't receive this help. I've had friends who have questioned why I should receive DLA, when my colleagues at work didn't receive this extra help; they reckoned that if disabled people could work, they shouldn't have any advantage over another person. When I finally couldn't work, they similarly said that I shouldn't receive any more than someone on JSA. It seemed that in work or out of work, I couldn't win. I've had people walking up to me in restaurants demanding to know 'what's up with your legs', and when I could still use public transport and used a free bus pass, I've had bus drivers glare at me and say: 'what's up with you then?'. 

People not only assume things about you, but seem to think that they now have the automatic right to know everything about you, even to lecture you about disability. For example, I read this experience on a blog Atos Victims Group today:

'A good friend took me & my wife out last night to a restaurant, it was a really nice gesture, until this guy came up to our table, shouting….  He went on, for ages, saying how he supported David Cameron and how he’s “putting disabled people in their place”…..He went on at us for about 15 minutes, it was very difficult and we were made to feel worthless…. My friend had to restrain himself, we thought he’d done, then he started making out all disabled people don’t work & get £500 a week….This idiot had been drinking, but he was well spoken, it’s alarming people can think like this and say such things. …What was bad too, there were others in the place agreeing with him. It’s very alarming, this Govt have created this mentality…I’ve felt attitudes have changed over past 2 years, I’ve never experienced so much abuse and discrimination. It’s both Govt and media.' 

 I had a similar experience in a restaurant last year, when I was discussing welfare reform with a friend. My friend nipped out for a cigarette, and I was left alone in a small section of the room with only 2 other tables. The family on the larger table started to loudly protest that they should decide what happens to people on welfare, because it's their taxes paying for us, and said other really horrible things.

I felt like going up and saying to them; 'Hold on a minute. My Grandfather was a successful local businessman, magistrate, counselor and school governor, and my grandmother a nurse before she gave that up to keep house; my Mother had her own business; my sister was a successful  executive; my eldest daughter is an IT professional: NONE of them claimed one penny of benefits in the WHOLE of their lives, so NO, I'm NOT going to feel guilty about living off benefits because they've cumulatively paid more tax into the system than I could ever take out in benefits, and most likely paid MORE than you will ever do so in the WHOLE of your lives'. But, I didn't; I sat there quietly finishing my meal, but seething nonetheless. I was taught more manners than firstly earwig what someone else was saying, and then answer loudly so that everyone could hear. We were in a nice, well respected country eatery too, and apart from their rudeness, their table manners were frankly disgusting.  

So I wasn't shocked at what happened over the weekend: sadly, I'm quite used to it now. Things have changed dramatically in the last few years for people like me, and the blame for that lies squarely on our government's heads and the media. People aren't just receiving this kind of verbal abuse, but more concerning is that it is also leading to physical attacks. Just today in fact, doing a simple search on the internet I found a newspaper article about yet another physical attack on a disabled person.
Of course, the people behaving in this way are culpable too. But as much as I prefer people not to judge me, I must try not to judge them either, even the rude people in the restaurant, because I can't possibly know what they have been through in their own lives to make them so bitter

We can suppose that people who behave in this way are undereducated, have never been taught manners, are not well-read, and that they are easily manipulated by what media they do access: some were sadly raised in abusive environments. Nevertheless, we can also suppose that members of parliament are educated, supposedly well-mannered, and well-read: so really, what's their excuse?

No comments:

Post a Comment