Archive | September 2012

Crimeless victims – living with a chronic illness

Originally written by Esther Mills, and available here: http://www.helium.com/items/1660416-chronic-illness

There are victimless crimes, and then there are crimeless victims. That is one of the most hateful aspects of chronic illness, that it is a crime with no criminal. A family may be torn apart by a cruel illness but there is no one to lash back at; it is the hit-and-run that keeps on giving.

When they do think of chronic illness, those on the outside may think mainly of the ill person himself, but the genius of illness is how thin it can spread itself and how many people it can devastate beyond just the person it touches. The man with multiple sclerosis suffers a great deal, and so does his wife: in mourning the loss of what their marriage used to be, in his daily care, in worry about the future, in having no one to talk with who understands. The children of the woman with fibromyalgia adju st to the “new normal” way of life, learning to care more for themselves or need less from their mother, learning to walk under skies that are never completely bright.

Like a predator, chronic illness isolates its prey and attacks. Few friends are able to understand, nor do they find it comfortable to imagine it for too long, and so they call less, visit less…or else the ill person himself finds it hard to reach out. He sinks into the depths and leaves phone calls unreturned. He turns his face from the window and embraces the lethargy of depression.

Chronic illness is the slow, insidious death of dreams. The once wide-open future has been reduced to only one or two possibilities, and neither of them is particularly exciting. Those who are ill shut themselves off, as well as they can, from what might have been, while those who care for them try to forget what else they had hoped to do. This is the new reality, and thinking of anything else is now an exercise in masochism.

Of course they tried fighting at first, tried flinging their fists at the invisible assailant, but inevitably they wore down. Now the world still revolves freely outside, but inside, here where illness lives, those taken hostage by it follow its rules and submit to its demands with a sort of glassy-eyed resignation. There is nothing else to do, after all, with no one to fight, and no one on the receiving end of an anger which rises, always, despite its futility.~jimmy~

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Welfare Reform has Public on its Side

So says one of today’s Telegraph headlines.[1]  Against a back-drop of criticisms from the Government’s advisors, many charities, lobbyists and pressure groups, and the new Cabinet Secretary, come the results from the latest British Social Attitudes survey.[2]

As reported by the Telegraph, 72% of the public believe the government should not spend more on welfare benefits for the poor.  59% think the government should not be mainly responsible for ensuring unemployed people have enough to live on.  54% think that less generous benefits would result in people standing ‘on their own two feet’ and 62% that benefits are too high and discourage work.

The Telegraph says this “shows that voters are squarely behind Iain Duncan Smith.”  The unusual hardening of attitudes during the worst recession since WW2 is attributed by the Telegraph to the public now accepting that “locking people into the benefits system is not just costly and wasteful: it is also socially destructive and immoral.”

The Telegraph goes on to say that, “An unreformed welfare structure will continue to act as a drag anchor on the UK economy and consign too many families to the wretchedness of welfare dependency. If there are faint-hearts in the Government questioning these reforms, Mr Duncan Smith should face them down, secure in the knowledge that most people share his views.”

In previous recessions, attitudes towards benefit recipients have softened.  This may well be because of the increased likelihood of any given individual needing benefits or knowing someone who needs benefits.  In contrast, this recession – the deepest since WW2 – has resulted in a hardening of attitudes.  The Telegraph suggests this is because people are becoming aware of the costly, wasteful, socially destructive and immoral nature of the benefits system.  But is any of this true?

The Telegraph pointed out that 72% of the public think the government should not spend more on welfare benefits.  They cite this as evidence that the public are “squarely behind Iain Duncan Smith.”  The Telegraph is wrong in its interpretation of the data, as the BAS report itself confirms.  In fact the public are neatly divided on this issue: approximately one third think welfare spending should decrease, one third that it should stay the same and one third that it should increase.  Therefore it is not the case that “most people share his [Iain Duncan Smith] views.”

The reasons underlying the attitudes towards benefits spending can be inferred from responses to other questions: 37% of the public agree with the statement “Most people on the dole are fiddling in one way or another;” 35% that “Many people who get social security don’t really deserve any help;” and 56% agree that “Around here, most unemployed people could find a job if they really wanted one.”  There has been a large increase in the percentage of people who believe that the welfare state encourages dependence (54%, from 25% in 1993). The BAS report authors conclude from this that “a significant minority of the population consider many benefit recipients to be undeserving.”

Less than 25% (23%) think benefits are well targeted, while 35% think they are poorly targeted.  This fits with the finding that a “significant minority of the population consider many benefit recipients to be undeserving.”  Overall, “it seems the welfare system is widely viewed as inefficient and poorly targeted.”  Corroborating this, there is strong support for targeting benefits only at those who really need them (33% give this as their highest priority; 53% as first or second).  Ensuring provision for those who cannot work is of lower priority than rewarding those who work or look for work, or reducing fraud.

Evidence shows that supporters of a particular party tend to adopt that party’s views.[3]  Given Labour’s toughening on welfare[4] and this coalition’s actions with the Welfare Reform Bill, it is to be expected that attitudes in the public have also hardened.  Media reporting, which has become increasingly anti-benefit recipients and frequently refers to large numbers of unworthy recipients, is also likely to have had an influence.[5]  All of this means that the publics’ view of this matter is not necessarily based on truth – in this case the implied ‘truth’ that the benefits system is costly, wasteful, socially destructive and immoral – but is instead influenced by party politics.

None of this says anything about the truth of the Welfare system.  1 in 3 members of the public may believe that most people on the dole are fiddling, but the truth is that overall fraud costs only 0.7% of the total benefit expenditure.  More money is lost through customer or official error than through fraud.  The largest source of overpayments is for Housing Benefit at more than twice any other benefit, followed by Pension Credit which was still almost half as much again as the next benefit (Income Support).

35% may think that “Many people who get social security don’t really deserve any help,” but the majority are pensioners.   A huge 47% goes on pensions alone.   Only 3% goes to Jobseekers Allowance, and 8% on DLA – it is worth bearing in mind that this money goes to a group of people whom the public wish to see supported.

The slight majority may believe that most people could get a job if they really tried, but this does not fit the reality of a double-dip recession in which there are far more people unemployed, underemployed and otherwise unable to work than there are jobs.

Much of the support for reductions in benefits has occurred amongst the socio-economically more advantaged, and Conservative supporters, as opposed to the those in routine occupational groups or Labour supporters.  This division also occurs over whether unemployment benefits are too high and discourage work, and whether benefits prevent people from standing on their own feet.  This division is of high importance, given that those with negative views are from the people who are likely to be least affected.

Are people really locked into the benefits system?  There is little evidence to support such a suggestion.  Of people turned down for ESA, 15 months later many are still not in work – suggesting that in fact they were not well enough to work.  72% of those found fit for work have a long-term illness that limits their ability to work.  15months later, only 28% report an improvement in this condition; similarly only 28% are in work – this includes self-employment, which may reflect the difficulty of full-time regular hours for people with long-term health problems.   Far from being locked into dependency, these people were instead getting the financial support they desperately needed.

A lifestyle of living on benefits is rare – many people move in and out of low-paid menial work, but this may well say more about working conditions and wages than it does about the benefit system.  And there is little to no evidence of a culture of worklessness.

Is the system costly and wasteful?  There is very little wasted on fraud.  The current cost is comparable to that of other nations.

Is it socially destructive and immoral?  There are no reasons to believe this to be the case.

The data suggest that the public hold inaccurate views on welfare, particularly in regard to ‘deservingness’ and ‘fraud.’   A hardening in attitudes is not due to the public realising that the benefits system is costly, wasteful, destructive or immoral; in large part it may be due to lack of knowledge, exacerbated by the statements and views given by the government and media.  To suggest that the public support welfare cuts, when the public is ill-informed, is dangerous and misleading, and in this case it is made worse by the fact that the public do not support welfare cuts.


[2] 29th report of the British Social Attitudes survey. http://www.bsa-29.natcen.ac.uk/

[3] Butler and Stokes, 1974

[4] Curtice, 2010

[5] 29th report of the British Social Attitudes survey. http://www.bsa-29.natcen.ac.uk/

Noah’s Flood – Part 2

What the Bible says

Having looked at what science says, we now need to consider what the Bible says.  For Christians, the Bible is the ultimate source of truth, and if science presents a different story then it is science that is ignored.  At such times it is worth reconsidering our interpretation of the Bible, to ask if it is not science but rather our interpretation of the Bible that is at fault.

This does not mean twisting the Bible to fit a particular view.  Rather this should mean that we try to remove all preconceptions of what the Bible ‘should’ say and come afresh to ask what it does say.

 

Several words and phrases in the Noah story can be interpreted in different ways.  How we interpret them has a large influence on whether we believe the Bible to be describing a regional or a global flood.  These are:

  • the word erets (אֶרֶץ) translated earth could equally mean land, and refer not to the entire planet but to a geographical region such as the Tigris/Euphrates basin (and in fact, the concept of ‘planet’ or ‘whole earth’ in our sense is arguably anachronistic for the period of the text’s inception)
  • phrases containing the word all (qol, קֹל) would then naturally be understood as relative to the region under discussion
  • har (הַר) translated mountain could equally mean hill or (as in Har Megiddon/ מְגִדּוֹ הַר/ Armageddon) city mound
  • ‘Mt. Ararat’ is a KJV mistranslation of hare Ararat (הָרֵי אֲרָרָט) which means the hills (pl.) of Urartu, and refers not to a 16,000 ft.+ peak in the Caucasus, but to foothills just north of the Iraqi plain

Other Biblical evidence comes from the use of this account by later writers of the Bible.

  • 2 Peter 2v5 [and] if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness and seven others…

The phrase ‘ancient world’ (kosmos palaio; κοσμος παλαιος) could as well be translated ‘ancient order of things.’  It need not mean the entire earth, any more than it means the entire universe.

  • 1 Peter 3:18-21a — For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.  In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that saves you also…

The universality of God saving mankind through Jesus does not depend on the universality of the flood, as some have interpreted this passage to mean.  The principle is the saving through water, and the universality of death applied to everyone in the area of the flood who was not in the ark.

  • Luke 17:26-29 — “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.  People were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark.  Then the flood came and destroyed them all.  It was the same in the days of Lot.  People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.  But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.”

The ‘all’ may mean those in Noah’s area, just as with Lot the ‘all’ meant those in Sodom.

  • Isaiah 54:9 — “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.  So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.  Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

God is speaking here to his people, Noah’s descendants, and thus the point made is not lost if the word erets is translated as land.  Given that as Gentiles we have been grafted into Abraham’s line, strict physical descendance is not necessary for us.

 

The existence of a global flood is possible on theological and textural grounds, but so is the possibility that it was a regional event.  Given that the scientific and historical evidence is firmly against a global flood, it makes sense to choose the interpretation that fits with other sources.

Noah’s Flood – Part 1

What Science Says

Like Creation, Noah’s flood can be a highly emotive topic for Christians.  There are those who insist it is and must be literally true in every detail and others who would prefer to say that some sort of flood occurred but some details could be interpreted differently.  Bitter arguments can quickly arise and division occur over this part of Scripture.

This is an area that science can comment on.  Because it describes an historic flood of potentially global scale, there should be evidence in the geological record of what happened.  Enough is known of the consequences and hallmarks of floods that it is possible to postulate what evidence a global flood would have left behind.  We can then look to see if such evidence exists.

 

When a flood occurs, particularly one of the extent and catastrophic nature of the flood described in Genesis, rocks become broken up and are carried away from their original place.  As the flood subsides these rocks are dropped into new resting places, creating a layer of broken-up rock.  It would be clear from the type of rock that they had not formed in their current position, but had formed elsewhere and then be carried to their current position by water.

In floods of high-energy and a catastrophic nature, a lot of material is carried of varying nature and size.  When the water loses its energy the material would be dropped together, creating a deposit of rocks that are very mixed in their size.  In other places, energy would be lost from the water slowly.  In these situations the largest rocks are dropped first, and as more energy is gradually lost increasingly smaller rocks are deposited.  This creates a layered deposit with the largest rocks at the bottom and the smallest at the top.

The flow of the water causes rocks from very different areas to all be mixed together.  The water will carry plant and animal matter along with it.  When these are deposited, there will be plants and animals dropped together that are not usually found in the same place.  There may be land animals deposited in the sea; animals from mountains found with animals from plains; those from forests found with those from deserts.

Carbon dating would reveal that these unusual deposits occurred somewhere in the last 10 000 years (depending on your belief of when the flood occurred).  Some of the deposits on land would have unusually high salinity.  Whilst some land deposits might have been eroded, the sea bed should show a continuous layer of unusual deposits in which organisms normally living on land are found mixed with the deposits of those that live in the sea.

 

None of these features are present in the geological record.  In particular, the sea bed shows no evidence of a global flood of such size that everything, except Noah and those with him, died.  There are no deposits in which animals and plants from a variety of places are found together, and neither are there any high salinity deposits.

Most strikingly, no lakes show evidence of a global flood.  Lakes have characteristic deposits, as the amount of matter that is deposited and the rate at which it is deposited varies with season.  These clear annual cycles in some of our well-studied lakes clearly stretch back for over 10 000 years with no interruption by a catastrophic flood.  Floods have occurred, but they are regional floods such that a year in which a flood occurred in one lake is not matched by evidence of a flood in the same year in another lake.

There is thus no evidence that there was a flood that covered the entire earth.

Without such evidence, some have postulated that the entirety of the sedimentary rock sequence worldwide is the result of Noah’s flood.  But this theory has many problems.  Coral reefs live in shallow water, gradually growing upwards.  Fossil coral reefs would not have formed over a few months in the turbulent seas of a global flood.  Swamps show multiple generations of channels that also would have taken years, not months, to form.

The Grand Canyon has been cited as a feature carved out by global flood waters.  But the features of the Coconino Sandstone, a rock formation in the Canyon, show that it was formed by the sustained action of wind in an arid environment.  The rounded sand grains and steep sides are inconsistent with the jagged shape and shallow slopes that water would create.

 

A worldwide flood that wiped out all humans except Noah and his family would show a cessation in human activity across the globe, at the same period of time.  There would then be a gradual return of human activity, starting in the region of Noah and spreading outwards as humans recolonized the earth.  There is no such cessation and recolonisation pattern in the global record.

There is evidence of regional flood in the Mesopotamian basin, where Noah lived.  These floods were catastrophic for the local population.

Other historical evidence would appear as oral traditions of catastrophic floods.  We have the Genesis account, and also the Greek Deucalion myth and the Sumerian Ziusudra tradition which are from the nearby territories.  Other flood stories come from across the world, but these bear less resemblance to the Genesis account.

 

The science therefore tells us that there was not a global flood.

Making a god of God

Yesterday I went to Coventry with my sister.  We went to see the old cathedral, the one that had fallen down when bombs hit in during WW2.  As we sat and chatted we started talking about God and how we relate to him.

We are often told not to make a god of money, or beauty, or success.  Time and again preachers will stand and say that we should not make these things our goal, our aim in life; that we can serve God or money but not both.  We know we are idolising them, making gods of them, when we always want more and are not satisfied with what we have.   We start sacrificing our time, our energy, our health, our friendships so that we can get more and more of our god.

We are told not to make gods of these things.  But we don’t always remember the other side of this, the positive side, that there is a God who should stand in our life as God.

How many of us make a god of God?

Knowing God should be our goal, glorifying him the aim of our life.  We should want more and more of him, never satisfied with what we have.  All our time, our energy, our wealth and beauty should be spent in knowing and serving God.  We shouldn’t even hesitate when being God’s disciple means sacrificing our health and friendships.

The people who built Coventry Cathedral knew this.  They knew what was due to God and what he was worth.  Let us become people who build cathedrals.

A plea for help

S.O.S…

The battle of my life…

This following statement I am writing in the hope that it may fall upon the person out there I need to help me in this dire situation…I am writing it for anyone to use, re-post (if you would? Thanks) and to anyone out there who might listen and help…

We live in a country where we thankfully have the NHS, the benefit system, thank goodness that IS in place to help-but as they have cut off my benefits till some kind of proof of something or other is provided, I am now in a dire situation and unable to feed my children…The system is NOT working for me, but against me…Surely we’re the ones they are put in place for???

After my husband Alex Wood, suffered a severe brain injury on the 4th October 2011, my life, now nearly a year on becomes not easier, but ever more fearful and stressful.

After a few weeks now of insane trials, fighting against the benefits system, fighting for funding for Alex and my head spinning with where to go next, I am now writing this as I have to take this a step higher…

Yes, Alex is making progress, and yes, we do have some kind of future, yes, I am 100% behind him and on the frontline battling for him to continue making this progress, but for Alex to continue making progress, caught up, now in the dependent position of being a ‘single mum’ of four, aged 8, 7, 6 and 4, in order for me as their mother to feed, clothe them, keep a roof over their heads, I am fully dependent on the benefits system, and reliant on the council finding us a council house adapted to Alex’s needs, now blind and severely disabled and cognitively impaired…

The council tell me ‘there are no properties suitable’…Will there ever be?? Alex can visit for extremely short periods only as he is restricted by the lack of access and is, in effect homeless, as he cannot be housed in the temporary house we are in…

The situation is, that I alone am now responsible for providing for our four young children, for fighting to get the right and sustained funds for Alex’s rehabilitation and re-education. I have to be everywhere, and have to be everything for everyone, whilst running a house and making sure the kids have clean clothes amongst a myriad other chores…Whilst living with indescribable grief at the loss of the husband that Alex used to be…

Surely the system is there to help people in difficult situations, that’s why it exists doesn’t it? But my experience is that it is there to hinder and after receiving a letter telling Alex he has a job interview on the 28th September which if he doesn’t attend could effect his benefit (Employment Support Allowance) is just more than ridiculous…They tell me when I ring the job centre they’ll do it over the phone instead…??? Do they not get it? He is utterly and completely incapable of this…!

I fight daily battles, not just on an emotional level facing the fact that my soul mate, my whirlwind romance, my everything, is not the man he was, and all the grief that leaves me to deal with, but surmounting this, then further battles with the benefits system, a car which is on its last legs and not having any idea how I would ever replace it…

The system clearly does not work for people who genuinely need it. And I genuinely do!

I am not sat about all day on my bum wondering what I can do today with peace and quiet…I am out there making calls, thinking of and organising fundraisers for my husband, planning things for the kids we can do for free to give them a good childhood. Counselling them as they need it, their dad is not the dad he once was, and they grieve this terribly, as do I.

So who can help me? Who will share this? Who will help me get this to the right people who can make a difference and take my story on board and care enough to do something about it?

I have written to Boris Johnson, he might help?

The local MP, John Howell, in Thame was not interested, one of his secretaries emailed me weeks after I sent a desperate plea saying they did not deal with cases like mine, to go to the council…This does effect him actually, he is a government MP, under the noses of the government I am (as the child tax credits have been put on hold till I provide a particular piece of evidence) a mother of four under eights with no access to funds to feed my children…

I am going to approach the Labour Thame MP with what he might be able to do in light of this.

If you can share this post, spread the word, that will be doing me a massive service…

I am turning my fear for not being able to provide for my kids into rage and action…in the frontline now as I need help to get Alex the right rehabilitation, not at the mercy of the NHS and the fear that the indefinite funds will one day run out, and he will not have the chance he needs.

I have to fight for him, I have to fight for my kids, any other mother out there in my situation would do the same.

Thank you for listening, thank you for sharing, and I hope this gets my story out there and Alex does get the chance he needs…”

James Max, Atos and the Paralympics.

I haven’t read an article that made me angry for a while, but this one managed very successfully.  In the interest of accuracy, I have made a summary of the reasons why I disagree with various statements.

http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/business-news/business/james-max-atos-is-the-right-sponsor-for-the-paralympics/3323.article

Mr Max makes numerous statements in his piece that are not accurate.

He says, “Take something away from people that they have got used to receiving and they’ll be uproar. Add to the mix that it’s a benefit for disabled people and that it’s not fair that they go through a vetting process to achieve the government’s aims to ensure those who claim benefits really deserve them, and there’s every ingredient for an explosive mix.”

He appears to be unaware of what the controversy is about.  This is not about going through a vetting system to determine who does or does not deserve benefits.  This is about people who do need benefits being incorrectly turned down.  It is about assessments being carried out in places that are inaccessible and/or inappropriate for use by disabled people.  It is about Atos workers recording untruths.

No-one has ever said that that there should not be medical assessments to ensure that claims are genuine.  If there were no such process, then of course anyone could decide to claim.  Assessments are good and necessary; assessments also need to be accurate and fair.

The use of the term ‘deserving’ is a little inappropriate.  We’re not talking about who is ‘deserving’ here; deserving is far too inaccurate a term and open to many interpretations and ambiguities.  Is someone deserving because they managed to work for the majority of three years before becoming ill (the criterion for receiving National Insurance Contribution based payments)?  Is someone deserving if they receive a particular treatment for a particular condition?  Is someone deserving if they are generally a good person who is nice to their neighbours?  Is someone deserving if they don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t eat high fat, sugar or salt containing foods, don’t shop for clothes in anywhere more expensive than New Look, and don’t buy groceries from anywhere more expensive than Asda?  Is someone deserving because they have no children or live in a tiny house?

What about people who became ill before they were old enough to work?  What if the standard treatment doesn’t work for a particular person, perhaps because their body reacts differently or another health condition makes it inappropriate?  What if someone likes to have a glass in the evening, as many other people do (and incidentally thus helps the economy and the government through alcohol duties)?  What if clothes need to be sturdy so they don’t wear out, comfortable so they don’t cause pain, and warm because the person gets cold easily and this makes their illness worse?  What if specialist, expensive food has to be bought because the body is useless at processing standard food in a sensible way?  What if the person was actually earning enough to support three children very well in private schools, but then became ill?

The correct term is ‘needy.’  This is much more easily defined.  It simply depends on what is necessary for an adequate standard of living, and considers the extra costs that many disabled people face.

 

Mr Max goes on, “Perhaps the deficit we have in this great nation of ours is because of previous incompetence at government level?

Money was handed out in a modern day form of gerrymandering – buying goodwill through a benefits system that’s more generous than it should be. Now we are tackling the problem and making sure only those who deserve the benefits receive them.”

It is a dangerous argument and one I have seen many times before.  What I have never seen is any evidence that the current recession, either in the UK or worldwide, was caused or is prolonged by welfare spending in the UK.  Rather what I understood to be the problem was spending at the other end – reckless spending by people with a lot of money who didn’t make sensible use of it.

Mr Max has come back to his ‘deserving’ argument.  Interestingly, the idea for the welfare state was set up with the aim of helping everyone who is needy, and at a time when the country was poor, because it was currently engaging in a large military campaign otherwise known as World War 2.

 

Mr Max’s next argument is that, “Protestors claim the means testing exercise being conducted by Atos isn’t fair. Get used to it. Life is unfair. It’s unfair that some are born with a disability. It’s unfair that some have had limbs removed as a result of illness or injury or through having fought on behalf of their country. It’s unfair that some will live longer than others. Indeed it’s unfair that those who work have to pay tax to support those who, in many cases, cannot be bothered.”

Life isn’t fair.  I fully agree.  It is therefore the role of the government to assist in making life more fair.  It is not acceptable to turn to someone in need and I say, “I will not help you, because life isn’t fair, so why should I who happen to be well and well-off share my good luck with you?”

As for tax, there are many reasons for people to pay tax, and the public as a whole benefits from such spending.  A similar argument could be made about why taxes of people living in the South-East should not be used to improve the lives of people in any other part of the country.  After all, why should money taken from a well-off southerner be used to pay for roads, schools, healthcare and education of people living in the north?

Claiming that many people ‘cannot be bothered’ is empirically a wholly unfounded statement.[1]  42% of benefits go to pensioners (not including sickness benefits); Mr Max can suggest that pensioners ‘cannot be bothered’ to support themselves, but he may find himself with little support.  A further 20% goes on Housing Benefit and 15% on children, and 8% on Disability Living Allowance which is not an out-of-work benefit and therefore does not fit under the ‘can’t be bothered’ category.  These two benefits – Jobseekers and Employment and Support Allowance – together make up a mere 7% of benefits.  It is dodgy to suggest, during a recession, that many people in these groups ‘can’t be bothered,’ particularly when the majority of this group is made up of people who are genuinely too ill to work.

 

Mr Max makes some interesting statements regarding the suitability or not of Atos as a sponsor for the Paralympics.  “The firm provides IT services to the UK Border Agency. OK, so the firm was blamed for IT systems issues that caused delays in the run up to the Olympic Games. Not ideal, but not a basis for protest.

The second and more significant government contract is with Atos Healthcare, a sub-division of the main company employing over 3,000 people… The protests are unfounded. Just because the company is streamlining payments does not make them an unsuitable sponsor.”

On his first point, I would have thought that a company paid by the government to carry out a public good should not consider itself to have money to spare on sponsorship until it had first provided a good service.  It seems particularly inappropriate for a company to sponsor an event that involves two areas – Border control and disabled people – in which it had failed to provide a good service.

 

He then goes on to a discussion of protests against the current system for ESA: “Indeed, with any cut to any allowances there will be genuine cases where the wrong decision is taken. However, that is no basis for protests…

Most disabled people I know just want to be able to get on with their lives.

They don’t want sympathy or special treatment. They just want an opportunity to show that they are every bit as able, determined and capable as their able bodied counterparts. Shame on us for discriminating. And shame on us for allowing protests of this nature to cloud the real issues.”

In a situation in which very few people are incorrectly turned down, and those people are marginal cases where a judgement is harder, then there is no reason to protest.  But in a situation where many people are turned down and these include people who are very clearly ill then it is very right to protest, and we as a nation should be disturbed if we think that there is no reason to protest.

 

Mr Max continues with a reason why corporate sponsors are fine, even when they are ones whose service is opposite to the event sponsored, “Indeed many of us recognise that you have a choice. If you don’t want to go to McDonald’s or drink Coca-Cola, no one’s forcing you to. Personally I like what they do, support their globalised approach and appreciate that their size and commercial muscle (and money) makes our lives better.”

What upset people about McDonald’s and Coca-Cola was not about whether or not they liked buying these companies’ products.  It was because in general the products offered do not make our lives better; they are not health foods or exercise regimes.

McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are also not relevant to the matter here, which is the role of Atos.  Chronically unwell people who need government support in order to live do not have the luxury of going to a different provider of healthcare assessments.  It is a public service, but the provider was decided by the government and not by the public.

 

Mr Max ends with a complaint that the current benefit system does not work. “If the Paralympic Games tell us anything, it’s that for too long as a society we have made judgments about the skills and capabilities of those with some form of physical disability…

We have not provided facilities and help, training and opportunity but simply paid people off to keep them quiet. Strip benefits away from those who don’t need them by all means, but let’s make sure the legacy of these games is that never again will we treat those with a disability as second class citizens and never again will we criticise corporates who make a real and lasting difference by sponsoring the greatest events on earth.”

The Paralympic Games do not give us any insight into the abilities of the average disabled person.  The Paralympians are people who, through huge investment by outsiders, have managed in part to overcome some of their limitations. If we wish to use them as an example, then the example is that there needs to be a lot more money invested in disabled people to enable them to reach their true potential.  And there continues to be need for investment in society to make society accessible.

The government hasn’t ‘paid people off to keep them quiet.’  It has given financial support to people who are too ill to work.  If the government wants these people to be able to work, it needs to invest in healthcare research and development so that the treatments these people need will actually exist.  If the government has not done this, it is not the fault of the people who are ill.

In relation to people receiving DLA, then yes “facilities and help, training and opportunity” are needed.  What is also needed is an improvement in the wider society and workplace such that these things become as accessible to the disabled as they currently are to the able.  DLA is given because society presents barriers to people with impairments, and thus makes them disabled.  Until society is changed, disabled people will continue to need financial support in order to allow them to overcome the barriers that are the largest for them as an individual.

 

Disabled and chronically ill people will continue to protest for as long as they are refused the support they need.  It is good and right that they do so.  We do not have to be ‘victims,’ but neither are we all athletes.  If the Paralympics will leave any legacy, let it be this: disabled people can achieve extraordinary things, but only if someone else will pay for them to get there.