Not Working, Not Whiling
There was an article on the BBC News website last week about the difficulty in gaining employment when you're in residential care, which raised the case of a highly qualified young man, Doug Paulley, who was struggling to get work that would pay.
However, what struck me was the familiar language used around his situation, stating that "...he is likely to while away his days in a residential home..."
Which reminded me of last year, when then Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of those who "...currently languish on benefits."
Discrimination in employment as well as an uncompromising benefits and social care system are vitally important issues for disabled people. I've written in the past about misconceptions around incapacity benefits and the alleged life of luxury we lead. However, there will always be some people who are simply not able to work and this doesn't mean that we are condemned to spend our lives doing nothing and not participating in society.
Even Doug Paulley doesn't while away his days at present; he designs websites for free for non-profit organisations and undoubtedly makes a significant contribution to society in doing so - even if it would be much better if he was allowed to have a career and the freedom and independence associated with that.
It strikes me that as it becomes less and less acceptable to assume tragedy when someone can't walk at all or see, the status of people who really can't work remains unchanged.
Truthfully, the inability to do conventional paid work is of great personal frustration to everyone I have ever known in this position, myself included. When people become incapacitated, it often involves an enormous shift in identity. And many people I know seem to have some scheme through which they hope to become self-sufficient; computer programming from bed, writing during the good periods, selling handicrafts and so on. And indeed, you occasionally meet people who've done it; people who couldn't do any other kind of work because of the severity of their ill health, but have found something they can do and some means to make it pay.
However, a human being is not an economic unit. The value of a person and the quality of their life has nothing to do with how much money they make or how much tax they contribute to the collective pot. I like to think a person's value is innate and when it comes to making a contribution, there are so many significant roles a person can perform outside paid employment. Leaving aside the huge amount of formal and informal voluntary work performed by people who are unable to work, our value as friends, lovers, parents and so on is immeasurable.
So while I am all for combating attitudes and systems which help keep disabled people out of employment, whether or not our lives are to be considered worthwhile should not be dependent on this.
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