I was watching the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’ recently and noticed that the commentator referred to what is now the customary ‘taking a knee’ as a protest against all forms of discrimination. That, I thought, is a step in the right direction. Due to the disruption to the season caused by the pandemic, and the annual FA Cup competition, matches were also scheduled for the middle of the week. I was disappointed to hear in Wednesday night’s Match of the Day that the symbolic gesture of taking a knee was again reserved as a demonstration against racism.
Now please, do not misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that racism is not worth fighting against. This post is in line with previous articles that I have written on the subject of discrimination. I see prejudice itself as the root cause of all forms of discrimination, be those behaviours aimed at a person due to their age, gender, sexual orientation, race, creed, or physical and/or mental ability. I do not believe that a campaign aimed at any one form of discrimination will resolve the problems of all others. There simply is no evidence to support such a presumption.
One of the problems of focussing on just one form of visible discrimination is that, if successful and popular, it tends to make other forms seemingly invisible. I am not sure if campaigns for disability rights have ever been popular to be honest, certainly it has never attained the heights of the current campaign fronted by organisations like Black Lives Matter. I doubt very much that anyone in the public eye would ‘take a knee’ for a disabled person. There are people who have an aversion to the disabled, whether they suffer from a physical or mental impairment. Aeabella Kenealy wrote in 1911: “It was a source of perpetual pain and perplexity to me to see the most beautiful, the sweetest-natured, and the most finely-fashioned children suffer or die, while the ugly, the misshapen and the ill-conditioned suffer far less, and when ill fight with an uncanny eagerness-and success-for life.” Her opinion agreed with a general sentiment in society then and still seems to do so today.
In 2000 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published the report, Enduring economic exclusion: disabled people, income and work, which found that half of all disabled people have incomes below the 50% mark for the general population, which is an indicator of poverty. Three years later, a report by the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, Disabled People and Financial Wellbeing, suggested that in financial terms things had gotten worse. In 2014 the British Government recognised that ‘a substantially higher proportion of individuals who live in families with disabled members live in poverty, compared to individuals who live in families where no one is disabled’, in an official statistical report, Disability facts and figures.
Recently, BBC 2 featured the programme, ‘Targeted: The Truth about Disability Hate Crime’. It reveals the extent of abuse suffered by disabled people today. You might find it quite difficult viewing, but I would recommend it as necessary viewing all the same; certainly if you wish to understand in further detail my argument. In 2016 Donald Trump publicly mocked the Pulitzer Prize Winning report Serge Kovaleski, but it did not stop him from being elected President of the United States. The majority of voters in America were obviously not influenced by his behaviour. Indeed, disabled people have also been the subject of politicians’ disfavour. A paper published by BMJ Journals, Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis, that examined the economic impact of austerity policies introduced by the Conservative Government between 2010 and 2014 estimated 45,368 more deaths than pre-2010 trends.
Not much has changed.
Disabled people today remain largely excluded from society; that is financially, in employment, and in representation at higher levels. In many respects this is just an outcome of the then government’s public relations policy of representing the disabled as scroungers and benefit cheats. Of course, the politicians had am ulterior motive, they wanted to cut Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by 20% in 2013. They pursued this public representation with such vigour that many disabled people are both living with and suffering the consequences today.
The truth is that for the disabled the clock has turned backwards, to a harder, more unsympathetic world, and society is continuing to leave them behind. This is why I believe that a united campaign that targets prejudice directly is the only way to defeat all forms of discrimination.