Can we stop the cavalry?

Not so long ago I read Iain Duncan Smith’s piece we’re building a welfare state that is finally fit for purpose and began writing a response called Buy a Dictionary, Iain Duncan Smith!. Then I read some of the stuff coming from the other side, and thought the exact same thing.

Time spent reading is never wasted. Looking at articles written by both sides, I noticed a bit of pattern. Here’s the highlights:

On one side: “… billion pounds blah blah system blah bla-blah savings blah into work”.
On the other side: “heartless blah blah failings blah bla-blah resign now blah targeting most vulnerable in society”.

Read around; prove me wrong.

As a person with a disability, I instinctively want to write an article of the second kind. I know people who have been negatively affected by recent changes, people who are going through tough times, and people who are worried about the future. There are days when there would be few things I’d enjoy more than heckling a politician. Nevertheless, we have to ask ourselves: What are we achieving here?

People have been demanding the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith for months, but has he gone yet? No. If he did resign, who would replace him? Can we guarantee they’d be any more soft and cuddly? Probably not. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions doesn’t sound like the kind of role that attracts political teddy bears.

The DWP have been trying to ‘incentivise work’ and ‘make it easier to get back into work’ for an equally long time. Has it worked? No. The government’s own figures show that people in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance have a high rate of ending up ‘stuck’ in unemployment, even if they comply with every measure. Will the next set of changes to the amounts that people receive get more people back into work? Probably not. There’s more to a person’s welfare than finance alone. It takes more than money to make the world go round.

What does it take to make the world go round? Depends which part of the world you’re in, and which way you want to spin it. Whichever part of the world you want to spin in your chosen direction, you need the knowledge. Often, the knowledge you need is in the heads of other people, and getting it from them to you is the challenge.

What we have here is the classic communication problem. The policies and practices of the DWP have some serious flaws. The lack of any apology or recognition of these problems by the DWP and Iain Duncan Smith has led to a lot of mistrust and ill-feeling. Would you trust any department that faked quotes to persuade people of their view? No. Has anyone publicly owned up to being responsible for this? No.

The journalists and politicians highlighting the failings of the DWP also have their role in the communication problem. They point out flaw after flaw without making suggestions of how to fix any of them. There’s vitriol without discussion, shock without statistical analysis, and unrealistic demands. Would you listen to any argument accompanied by a direct insult? No.

Some of you may be thinking: “There’s just no talking to these people”. That’s our entire dilemma tied up with a bow. The people who know what does and does not work are people with disabilities themselves. The people who need to know are the DWP. Until this communication barrier is broken down, the knowledge is not going to be passed from one to the other, and we’re not going to see the changes we want.

I’m not saying we should be sat on the same side of the table. Far from it, I want to park my sparkly little wheelchair facing the politicians head on. But can we please sit down and be civil to one another?

When both sides are shouting at each other with their fingers in their ears, it’s hard for anyone to think, let alone listen.

By Fleur Perry

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