“August 27, 2012
Thank you for your letter, sent via e-mail, dated August 20, 2012.
For those who know me, and are familiar with my work, I am recognised as a writer who speaks from the heart. I have never been one to indulge in double-speak or management jargon, that is not for me. So, while I am not duplicitous, I can be blunt.
With that in mind I must tell you that my first reaction on receiving your letter was one of disappointment. A feeling that has been shared by others who are aware of your reply.
This reaction primarily stemmed from the idea that you have responded to a letter that you are not yet in receipt of. A point I had outlined in my second appeal to you.
I do appreciate that you will have seen the original ‘open letter’ through other means, particularly as it picked up a great deal of on-line attention and was also published on Mail On-line.
However, the problem is those versions do not contain the really important part – that of all the signatories and their damning and heart-breaking personal testimonies.
These are literally thousands of despairing people, some of them dying as they write, and they have turned to you – via me – to protect them as they are bullied and badgered in their last days.
It is those profound, and highly moving, appeals that I implore you personally to read, Ed.
However, despite my initial unhappiness at your letter, it is only fair to acknowledge that you have taken the time to address this issue while you are on holiday – and for that I am grateful.
I am glad you recognise that disabled people need support and compassion. Two essential qualities that are lacking with the current Coalition.
So it is that I came to my second disappointment with your letter.
The line: ‘It is also important to separate out ill health and disability from the decision not to work, which is taken by a distinct minority.’
It is difficult to know to whom you refer when you say a ‘distinct minority’. Might this be the distinctly underwhelming 0.5% per cent of people who are said to commit disability fraud? What about those claimants who are routinely underpaid, too? Do they not also warrant a mention?
I am alarmed at the Coalition’s obsession with benefit fraud, particularly when there are much wealthier people who have been left to fleece the system and have impacted more detrimentally on our country than the tiny minority of fraudulent claimants.
So it is that Government scapegoating has resulted in the deeply unsatisfactory and not-fit-for-purpose WCA being pursued – despite grave reservations from many parties, including GPs – around the basis of this questionable ‘distinct minority’.
The problem with such a general statement is that it feeds into ‘scrounger’ rhetoric. A form of hate-speak aimed at anyone in receipt of state benefits. Alarmingly, such an ideology has had a frightening knock-on effect.
Assault against disabled people, verbal and physical, is at the highest level since records began. A number of recent reports have linked this with the Coalition’s propensity to issue skewed statistics that are then relayed, with the same damning gusto, by much of our media.
The result is a climate of resentment towards those who require our assistance. That, according to the many disabled people who write to me in all their desperation, is contrary to a society that claims to want to protect its most vulnerable.
I, personally, have encountered people who ‘cheat the system’. However, is it fair to tar everyone in the same position – all benefit recipients – with having the same poor morals as the few?
I believe not.
I consider this would be equally as wrong to assume that you are going to be like the MP’s who have displayed highly questionable judgements in their roles. Whether that is in the company they keep, the reneging of their manifesto or the exploitation of their expenses.
The issue of who wants to work, and who doesn’t, is also frequently subject to misunderstanding. In my experience, there are very few people who do not want to work.
Like you, I have a very strong work ethic – I have been in paid employment since I was 13 – and I believe in the power of work. I certainly would not support anyone who chose to live off the State just because they can.
However, I believe it is quite wrong to assume that only paid work is of any value in our society.
There are thousands of disabled people who are carrying out important charity work, including contributing to their own communities. Equally, there are some who simply cannot work, because of ill-health and disability, and they must not be made to feel as if they are a burden to the rest of us.
It seems bizarre that we have a job shortage in our country at the same time that the Coalition is closing Remploy factories – designed to provide paid employment for disabled people – and yet we continue to beat people into non-existent jobs with the WCA system. That makes no sense.
I appreciate your offer of a meeting with Anne McGuire, MP. I understand that she is a hard-working minister who has the best intentions for our disabled community.
That said – and with the greatest of respect to Anne – I am not convinced that anyone would be able to convey to you what I have witnessed with regard disabled people.
This understanding is gained from a personal perspective – my brother has had a kidney transplant and has suffered numerous attendant conditions – and a professional one.
So it is that I am left in the position of asking if it may be possible to meet with you and Ms. McGuire, albeit briefly, to deliver the full version of our letter. I can make myself available to you anywhere in the UK, whether that is in London or at the Labour Conference.
I believe your intention for a fairer society is a good one and I wish to support it. As, indeed, do the many thousands who have signed the original letter to you.
I hope you had a pleasant holiday and that this letter finds you sufficiently refreshed.