‘We demand a better future for disabled people’
Nick Wright, organiser, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Leicester
“You make a really good point about the disabled… There is a group – and I know exactly who you mean – where actually, as you say, they’re not worth the full wage…”
Lord Freud at a Tory conference fringe meeting
How much is a disabled person worth? According to Tory welfare minister Lord Freud it’s around £2 an hour. The reaction by the vast majority of the general public to his comment has, correctly, been one of shock and dismay.
In particular, the use of the word “worth” has angered many. People instinctively know that an individual’s worth is not measured in pounds and pence. And even if it were, it would certainly be a lot more than £2 an hour!
Labour shadow ministers have called on Prime Minister David Cameron to sack Freud over his derogatory comments. Yet it was Labour prime minister Tony Blair, in 2006, who appointed the City banker to produce a report on welfare reform, despite Freud admitting he knew nothing about the subject!
The mainstream political parties are doing their very best to build political headway by distancing themselves from his comment. On the radio and television we’ve heard a variety of responses.
But difficult questions have been raised and the establishment politicians are incapable of answering them. What if someone genuinely wants to work, but can’t find an employer willing to pay them the minimum wage? Is a minimum wage preventing people from participating in work, even though it is supposed to help protect our standard of living? How can we let everyone contribute to society when many people are excluded by employers?
The politicians can’t answer those questions because they are bound by the laws of capitalism. The problem is that, under capitalism, your “worth” is defined by your value to an employer. You’re measured by your ability to turn somebody else a profit. Other personal qualities are irrelevant.
The bottom line on your bank statement is your life high-score. The politicians are tongue tied because they cannot properly address the issues of people’s worth without also questioning the rules of capitalist society.
We can do better. As socialists, we advocate a society that’s run to meet people’s needs, in which everybody has the chance to work. A society where becoming disabled, getting old, or caring for relatives or children doesn’t automatically mean having to endure poverty. A society where everybody can live up to their potential. We also understand that a person’s disability is not defined by a specific medical characteristic. It’s defined by their ability to access and participate in everyday life.
Unlike like Lord Freud, socialists fight for genuine equality. We campaign for trade union struggle for a £10 an hour minimum wage, without exemptions, as a step toward a real living wage.
Over 50 disabilities, trade union and community activists protested outside the Department for Work and Pensions in central London on Monday 20 October to demand the sacking of welfare minister Lord Freud.
DPAC activists denounced the government’s scapegoating of disabled people as ‘spongers’ and ‘not wanting to work’, as an excuse for cutting financial support. There was also a call to support all workers facing attacks on wages and conditions of employment.
The protesters then marched to Parliament Square to join occupy protesters at the Democracy Camp.