Dorries, Disability and Benefit

When Nadine Dorries MP was elected to the Commons Health Select Committee, eyebrows were raised.  But, hey – she’s an ex-nurse, so perhaps she could be relied on to have at least some sort of insight into matters relating to health (even if she does think that a foetus is capable of reaching out of a uterus to shake hands with members of a surgical team).

I happened to follow a link to her blog – completely by accident, I assure you (it was via one of those bit.ly proxies: honest) – and found that she’s very excited about the amount of time that some people spend tweeting, especially if they happen to be Labour supporters and/ or on disability benefit.

If you are genuinely disabled, or like my mum [sic], retired and love to use the internet to chat to friends etc (she makes me look like a luddite) then that is fantastic and I wish you many hours of pleasure.

If you Twitter all day, every day about claiming disability benefit in one tweet whist arranging a night out in the pub in the next. [sic]  If you tweet about claiming six months rent from the social fund whilst tweeting how bad your hangover is and if you stride into political meetings and shout the odds with energy and enthusiasm with no sign of any physical disability and if you claim to work for the Labour party and write porn at the same time as claiming your disability benefit – then don’t expect someone like me not to a) inform the authorities and b) tell you to get of [sic] your Twitter and get a job.

Through gritted teeth, I’ll admit that Dorries is in the vicinity of correct about one thing: people who claim to be off work sick and then update their Facebook profiles or twitter feeds with news about their hangover are probably none-too-bright, and possibly deserve whatever they get.

But the rest of the quotation boggles the mind with its misunderstanding of – or contempt for – disability.  Let’s be clear – she seems to be objecting to people who are on disability support arranging a trip to the pub, and implicitly suggesting that “the authorities” ought to be told – and I’m assuming it’s so that benefit payments can be reassessed.  This seems to me to be the best explanation for the distinction that’s drawn between the “genuinely” disabled of paragraph 1, and the people in paragraph 2 who go to the pub or political meetings and who, it would seem, are therefore not genuinely disabled.

Because everyone knows that people with real disabilities must stay in bed all day.  Just like we know that people with disabilities never have good days and bad days.  Just like we know that being unable to do certain activities means de facto that you’re unable to do any others.  And just like we know that having “no visible sign of any physical disability” is sufficient to show that there really is no disability at all.

Nadine Dorries, let me remind you, is an ex-nurse, and sits on the Health Select Committee.

The post has, however, been picked up by Guido Fawkes, who makes the astonishing leap from “can use twitter” to “is perfectly able to work”, on the evidence provided by one of Dorries’ constituents, who – admittedly – does seem to have a very active Twitter feed.

She claims that she has chronic arthritis but it clearly isn’t affecting her thumbs. If she can operate Twitter there are plenty of jobs she could be doing on a computer.  Alarm bells should be ringing at the Department of Work and Pensions.

The first problem with this is that, just because you can send a tweet, it doesn’t follow that you can do much else.  For example, we might imagine someone who has had a stroke and fatigues easily, and struggles to maintain concentration.  A job – even one on a computer – may well not be all that doable.

The second problem is a bit more of a shadenfreude thing, and it’s that the constituent in question is in work, and doesn’t claim health benefits anyway –

I do not now, nor ever have received disability or any other “health” related benefits. […] Nor have I ever attempted to ask for a loan from the Social Fund.

– so it’s not wholly clear why alarm bells should be ringing anywhere.  But she does make substantially the point that I made above, and much more pithily, too:

However does claiming disability benefit mean you are not entitled to enjoy a night in the pub? Shall we lock all the disabled away nice and quietly, out of sight – they really don’t deserve treats do they?

And elsewhere, she writes that

I miss working. I also miss walking. I miss days out with my kids. I miss going to their sports days and plays. I miss having the life I took for granted just a year ago. But I have Twitter and I thank God for Twitter every day. […] I am deeply saddened by Nadine’s comments about tweeters. I know many people to whom Twitter is a lifeline, a distraction from pain /depression /generally shitty lives.

I’d’ve thought that the point communicated here is almost self-evidently true.

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Oh, throw me a bone.  It’s ages since my last ranty post.

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