It’s like déjà vu all over again

Fascinating to find such contemporary relevance in an account of the exchange between the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) and the then newly minted Disability Alliance from 1975, with the latter standing accused by the former of undermining inclusion by focusing too narrowly on benefits income.    I’ve copy and pasted some key extracts below but for those with an hour to spare you can read the full, seminal document here

Interestingly the position of UPIAS is to advocate for what might now be termed welfare to work and strongly against anything which fostered dependency among disabled people on ‘State Charity’:

‘”Benefits” which are not carefully related to the struggle for integrated employment and active social participation will constantly be used to justify our dependence and exclusion from the mainstream of life the very opposite of what is intended. This is why the Alliance’s appeal to the state for legislation to implement a comprehensive, national disability incomes scheme is in reality nothing so much as a programme to obtain and maintain In perpetuity the historical dependence of physically impaired people on charity. It does not even have the merit of revealing to the public it wishes to educate that its incomes policy is really a form of State Charity that is, help which essentially entrenches our dependence on the state instead of encouraging our independence and active participation in the mainstream of life. The Alliance’s appeal to the public on our behalf is still the same old appeal to pity, the begging bowl in modern form. A hundred years ago such an appeal for state rather than personal or voluntary charity might have made some sense. But today, when technological and social changes have radically altered the possibilities for us to take independent control over our own lives, to continue to stress our incapacity and helplessness is to bind us with more chains instead of emancipating us. What we really need is to be helped to make our maximum active. contribution to society as full members.’

And UPIAS go onto warn how any assessment process based around the degree of impairment actively encourages disabled people to play down their abilities and to become more dependent:

‘…..we find that by also ignoring the social cause of disability, and therefore the need to bring about integrative social change, the Alliance encourages us to see our oppression as a matter for detailed negotiation. Their narrow proposals immediately create for us a vested financial interest in claiming what becomes our main asset “disability”. In addition, since the amount of charity will be determined by the degrees of disability, physically impaired people will also have a vested interest in playing down our abilities. The best financial contribution we could make to our families would be to become, or pretend to become, more dependent.’

UPIAS foresaw that this would place the State in conflict with disabled people over the determinants of who is or is not eligible for ‘handouts’:

‘The State, of course, will automatically be in conflict with us for it will seek to limit its handouts, otherwise there would be no one at work. State Charity, therefore, creates a conflict of interests between the State and its social administrators on the one hand and physically’ impaired people on the other. Thus the Alliance logically sees the need to establish objective criteria which would enable the State’s social administrators to determine the “degree of disability” and to exclude the malingerers from benefit. A whole new generation of researchers and testers will be created to administer the incomes policy of the Alliance. ‘

Moreover, UPIAS correctly predicted the age of Atos:

‘The scene facing every physically impaired person, then, is of an army of “experts” sitting on panels which are set up all over the country. These “experts”, armed with the latest definitions and tests for measuring, will prod and probe into the intimate details of our lives. They will bear down on us with batteries of questions, and wielding their tape measures will attempt to tie down the last remaining vestige of our privacy and dignity as human beings. To calculate the “degree of disability” they will be forced to snoop and spy. How else could they decide whether a physically impaired person dresses her/himself, for example, or is helped? Just to test this simple act would require considerable investigation to make sure the person was not “malingering” (or, what would inevitably be the new jargon, “dress-lazy”). It should take physically impaired people little imagination to see where all this leads. Every single act would have to be performed in front of a panel while they measure and pry. Already the details are being worked out, the definitions constructed, criticised and reconstructed. The hated means-testing would seem like a formula for privacy compared to the Alliance’s proposals for assessing “degree of disability”.’

And UPIAS also correctly identified the impact that this could have on the status and psychology of disabled people:

‘Thus in practice the Alliance’s assessment plans, developed logically from the narrow incomes approach, can be seen to increase the isolation and oppression of physically impaired people. We would be required to sit alone under observation on one side of the table, while facing us on the other side, social administrators would sit together in panels. We would be passive, nervous, deferential, careful not to upset the panel: in short, showing all the psychological attributes commonly associated with disability’

Of course in the intervening period came developments such as Disability Living Allowance, the Direct Payments Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Equality Act and so on, each of which made some inroads into developing the framework for inclusion that UPIAS advocated.  Yet fundamentally it seems that, 40 years on, much of UPIAS warned against has come to be, entrenching rather than overcoming dependency.

Reform of the benefits system followed the Disability Alliance path, not the UPIAS one.  And today, mired in austerity, the political and philosophical division between those focused on income security and those pursuing inclusion is, sadly, alive and well.

Is it time to revisit the discussion?


3 thoughts on “It’s like déjà vu all over again

  1. The focus is always on the disabled person and/or the welfare system. Both are made out to be falling short in the effort to get disabled people into work. It’s constant ‘blame the victim’ in a suit.

    The focus must switch to government and employers, and ask what they are not doing well enough.

  2. Have we made any progress at all? The 1975 discussion flags up the circular nature of the question – can you work? It’s still circular. Who decides. You or them? Which is more empowering?

    Jane’s Mrs C feels overwhelmed and unable to work. The Assessor who has never had ME thinks she is exaggerating. Who decides? Is she the best judge or is she malingering. Short of King Solomon turning up we don’t know and so I say empower Mrs C to make her own choice.

    I’m with Mrs C but many won’t be.

    The nature of benefits – the miserable level of life they sustain seems enough of a motivator to me.

    If Mrs C still wants to opt for benefits – let her – her choice. This is the Green Citizens Income approach. It has far right and far left support (unusual but true) for all workers. I don’t think all workers as yet but definitely people with illness or disability.

    Then you can concentrate fully on how to improve labour market opportunities confident that Mrs C can be left in peace. Regularly invited to take part in work activity but with no threats.

  3. Pingback: Invest in me | Making rights make sense

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