This year's Children in Need was the most successful ever. Raising £26 Million it showed the very best of the UK. Even in these times of austerity - perhaps especially so - people emphatically and unstintingly showed that they will always protect the most vulnerable.
I felt the same sense of pride when the UK was by far the biggest donor to the Pakistan flood appeal and the famine in Somalia. I feel the same sense of pride when I remember that the UK is still the biggest donor of foreign aid, despite our own difficulties.
But at what point do all those brave, terribly sick and damaged children become scroungers? Is there a cut off point where our sympathy runs dry? Where a cute, worthy child becomes a lazy, feckless adult? There must be. When does the abused child become an adult statistic of alcohol or drug dependency? - The lowest of the low in the benefit system according to Maria Miller. When does a disabled child become a drain on the welfare system? When does a terribly unwell little boy become a man facing persecution and abuse by his neighbour? When do we decide that a little girl with learning difficulties becomes worth nothing more than a 12 mile round trip to a soup kitchen every week just to stay alive?
If politicians are now united on anything, it is that the "scrounger" rhetoric, so beloved by the Daily Mail, Express, BBC and other outlets must stop. It harms the case for welfare reform, disability hate crime is rising and society is becoming more and more polarised over the issue of sickness and disability support and care.
Chris Grayling says that he is "bemused" by the stories that appear in the paper, yet time and again, the DWP have been warned not to use their press releases in a way that leads to inflammatory, "scrounger" articles. They have been warned repeatedly not to use misleading statistics. Lord Freud says that it concerns him, the Work and Pensions Select Committee has repeatedly called for it to stop and even Iain Duncan-Smith has renounced attempts to paint the sick and disabled as workshy.
This week a report by Dame Carol Black suggested ways that people on long term sick leave might be encouraged and supported to stay in work. The report was heavily leaked to the newspapers days before it was released with accompanying quotes from welfare ministers and peers.
Dame Black said that said that she "travelled round the country" speaking to sick and disabled people and found that they wished they had "A sense of self worth" and that they had a job.
Well, I have a sense of "self worth" Dame Black. Self worth does not come from a paycheck. It comes from family and love and achievement, It comes from within, it is not dependent on the zeros on my salary.
Lord Freud went further. He seemed to imply that those signed off work sick for more than 4 weeks drifted into some kind of no man's land of despair, he claimed that politicians were therefore creating "An incubator for idleness" by not addressing the problem.
An incubator for idleness!! So now if you should become unable to go to work for a few weeks, for almost any reason you are "idle". Not unfortunate, not unwell, not disabled, but "idle"
In perhaps his most offensive faux-pas yet,** recently, during a committee debate, Lord Freud referred to sick and disabled people as "stock". Not claimants, not customers, not even the highly impersonal "flow rates", but "stock"
Can one hear that description and fail to think of cattle, herded against their will? What else does it make you think of?
So really, how mystified can our politicians be? Is it really so hard to see that language like this reinforces a general perception of worthlessness, failure and anonymity? How dare they, with their paternalistic, patronising, assumptions pass judgement on 1 in 5 of the population so flippantly?
In my experience, if nothing else, politicians choose their words incredibly carefully. Words win elections. One brilliant sound-bite can bring down a government. One killer slogan can topple heads of state.
It is inconceivable that our politicians do not know exactly what they are doing when they refer to idleness and worthlessness and "stock"
When Children in Need become Adults in Need it seems politicians will stop at nothing to ensure that your sympathy runs dry.
** Though telling Jane Campbell, a peer in a wheelchair, that his department was "leaning over backwards" to make committee stage accessible came pretty close
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