My earlier post ‘Dissing Ability’ has left me wondering.
If, as I suggest there, most employers and most members of the public are at worst incurious about impairments and, at best willing to be encouraging and supportive, from where comes this habit we have acquired of identifying ourselves first and foremost by what hinders us: “Hello, my name is David and I have CP.”
Increasingly, anti-discrimination legislation is regulating what we regard as acceptable behaviour carried out in the public eye. We are all guaranteed access to retail outlets, to cinemas, to public pools and all forms of transport; we can expect respect in speech and in public gatherings of all sorts. Even smoking and littering are punished with a fine. So, if the public at large have few problems and are willing to see progress in more tolerant attitudes, whence cometh the idea that we must define ourselves by what we can’t do? Naturally, it seems that such attitudes are dying out gradually, and good riddance. No-one I know seems to miss them.
Is it the form-filling? The questions – on very long forms – that we have to answer, in order to qualify for public assistance? Is it the expectation, even in this day and age, that all our income must be justified and scrutinised, earned and worthy? I wonder…
Claiming benefits these days is a very complex process, designed, so many suspect, to put people off claiming their share of what should be a universal entitlement based firmly around need. But why make the system so complex? Increasingly, claimants are required not only to navigate a system that makes Mensa members look slow-witted, but to answer personal questions – can you dress yourself? Can you go to the toilet unaided? Can you climb steps? – which have no place being logged in the public sphere. Having answered questions like these to the best of their ability, service users are often penalised for later failing other requirements, time limits, box ticking… It’s not just adults with various impairments who are affected. The long-term incapacitated, single parents, those with caring responsibilities… Many people claiming benefits have to answer rather oddly prejudicial questions about their personal circumstances.
Personally, I favour a system of Universal Basic Income, which would allow us to get away from needs based assessments, encouraging us all to get on with their lives in any way we wish, without undue intrusion from the State, and without salacious and misinformed information gathering. Such as step as universal basic entitlement would remove most of the pretexts that currently exist to allow the collection of personal and private data.
Because service users become used to a system, numb to its cruelties, does not make it right, or worthy of one of the world’s richest nations in the twenty-first century. We need a system that allows its citizens to go about their lives, living as they choose to live, without undue intrusion and respecting their rights to privacy, peace of mind, honesty and personal dignity.