dogma. noun. A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.
hate. noun. [as modifier] denoting hostile actions motivated by intense dislike or prejudice.
Given the lessons we have been taught by history, surely it’s unthinkable that any government would marginalise a section of people to such an extent that its citizens would openly attack that section of people in public?
I didn’t know whether to blog this or not but there’s too much in my head for a series of tweets. I’d flood my timeline on just this one subject. This week, I’ve come across the tweets of Thomas Hemingford. Mr Hemingford is a man who cares for his disabled wife. I know nothing more about his personal circumstances than what’s written in his Twitter bio but I have read his tweets with a mixture of emotions and thoughts – incredulity, sadness, anger, empathy. Mr Hemingford was out for a meal with his wife and a friend when he and his wife were subjected to a diatribe from a man who Mr Hemingford describes as a “Tory”. He described this verbal attack on both him and his wife in great detail in his tweets which have since been collated via Storify. I urge you to go and read them. For one individual to behave in such a despicable manner doesn’t shock me as much as it should. I’m a realist and am resigned to admit that there will always be people who will attack disabled people – mostly through ignorance or a desire to disguise their own inadequacies as humans. What shocked me more while reading this is the attitudes of the other diners around them. I won’t relay the entire incident here – you can read that in the links above – but attitudes veered from open support to tacit approval signalled by doing nothing during this ‘15 minute’ attack on a disabled woman and her husband and friends.
I wrote above that the attacker was described as a “Tory”. Mr Hemingford’s tweets go on to say that the attacker said he “supported Cameron” and that the onslaught was like listening to the Daily Mail. I talk to a few people who are affected by disability and there are two things that make them angry. One is the current government, and the other is the Daily Mail. The present UK government is bent on cutting huge swathes from the amount spent on public welfare. On the face of it, the thrust behind these welfare cuts is to weed out fraudulent claims but what’s happening is more of an ideologically driven push against the welfare state. To assist in this aim, the Govt. has sought to cast aspersions on the character of those who take money from the welfare state. One phrase from a ministerial speech reads, “where is the fairness…for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next-door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits?”, whilst the Prime Minister speaks of generations languishing “on the dole and dependency”. This is the official line from politicians. Their right-wing supporters in the press will go even further using words like “lazy” and “scrounger” as part of their anti-welfare rhetoric.
This harassment has been extended to disabled people. [quick aside, the phrase “disabled people” feels a bit awkward to me but I don’t have an alternative at present] Disabled people have been portrayed as being freeloaders off the state in the press, in getting “free” cars at taxpayers’ expense**, being more capable than they’d have you believe. The comments sections of any UK paper or periodical that writes about the economy will include responses on how the disabled are a burden to the taxpayer, regardless of the editorial line of the original article. The New Statesman recently published an article about how media coverage of disability and disabled people has become more negative over the last decade and more. It makes interesting but very frustrating reading. Particularly as the coverage seems to have made some people feel “empowered” to openly harangue the disabled, with the relentless stream of invective from parts of the media shaping their opinion. It’s in the papers so it must be true, right?
As MW’s carer, I’m fortunate in that I’ve never witnessed any attack on her. And she’s not reported anything happening whilst she’s been out with anyone else. That’s not to say I’m not paranoid about it. Whenever we’re out I’m always watching the reactions of others towards MW, and us both. On the whole, people are understanding and kind. I have seen some facial expressions which might have belied a less neighbourly attitude but nothing has been said. And certainly nothing on the scale of that suffered by Mr Hemingford and his wife. From his tweets, both he and the friend that accompanied them displayed enormous dignity during and after this attack. I cannot say that I would do the same. I’d rather not have to find out. I’m sure the Hemingfords would have wanted to avoid it too.
I call what happened to Mr & Mrs Hemingford “an attack” and the person who perpetrated it “an attacker” because that exactly what it and he were. They’re as offensive as any other assault on an individual of a discriminatory nature – just because there’s not yet a crime of disability hate doesn’t mean it’s any less of an injustice. If we were discussing a similar attack of a racist or homophobic nature, for example, the attacker would have been dealt with far more harshly by those around him. Since no-one else (bar their friend) made any attempt to defend the Hemingfords, I can only surmise that discrimination against disabled people is acceptable to a significant section of society. That this individual seemed to assume he had implicit support for his views, and his attack, from both the popular press and from the Government of the day makes it more revolting still.
History teaches us that economic difficulty has been a catalyst for authority to behave in an abhorrent manner towards minorities and weaker groups within society for its own end – with appalling results. George Santayana was right, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
We have learned nothing.
** From the Daily Mail – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2005576/BMWs-thousands-friends-relatives-disabled-use-luxury-Motability-cars.html – sorry, I won’t link directly to the Daily Mail.