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Tuesday 4 September 2012

Mel And A Disability Howler

Sometimes the logic employed by pundits defeats any attempt to understand what on earth they are going on about. In the case of Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, her latest rant has defeated herself. Mel is trying to justify cuts in disabled benefits while simultaneously praising the achievements of Paralympic athletes. The result is not a pretty sight.

The voice of knowledge and tolerance, or maybe not

As with so many of her columns, Mel starts off straight and level, praising the competitors, although her observation that “Most of us never realised that disabled people could be capable of such astounding physical achievements” suggests that she was elsewhere when the preceding competitions in Sydney, Athens and Beijing were under way.

But then, also as with so many other Mad Mel pieces, angry Mel appears and the frothing starts: “what the Paralympics have exposed is the lazy equation of disability with incapacity”. Wrong. What this article has exposed is Melanie Phillips’ lazy equation of disability with incapacity. Because she then starts banging on about disability benefit, which is not about “welfare dependency”.

What is at present called Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is not paid to keep its recipients out of work, as Mel implies. Many of those receiving the allowance are unable to work, but many more depend on the allowance precisely in order to allow them to work – to have access to a Motability car to get to and from their workplace, for instance – and not be left out of society.

Had Mel looked in at her old paper, the now detested and reviled Guardian, she would have known this, as the subject has been revisited by their staff, with several current and former Paralympic competitors voicing their concerns. Indeed, there had already been a warning about DLA reform last May from Tanni Grey-Thompson, past winner of eleven Paralympic gold medals.

The significance of DLA was also echoed by Ade Adepitan, the Paralympic medallist who is now part of the Channel 4 presentation team. And those concerns are underscored by another six Paralympic athletes. What DLA does is not to cast anyone as a “victim”, as Mel bizarrely asserts, but gives the less able their independence, and an ability to be part of mainstream society.

It’s got stuff all to do with condemning them to a life of dependency. It helps them to be more productive, and thereby benefits not merely the recipients, but the whole of society. If only Melanie Phillips could be bothered to do some research and quit banging on about “political correctness”, she might be able to see this for herself. But instead readers are subjected to a confused and ignorant rant.

But it keeps Mel independent and part of mainstream society, so that’s all right, then.

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