My mother has had skin Cancer, thankfully non-malignant and easily treatable. But she also has an undiagnosed/diagnosed lung condition; I don't know for sure, she won't say anything about it. Her coughing keeps me awake in the early hours, like now while I'm writing this post. My brother has anxiety and periodic delusions, stemming from a history of Schizophrenia which doctors did nothing about and could not because his case was unusual as a child; he did not lack awareness of his delusions and was embarrassed about them. My sister has Depression. Her fiance has a form of Motor Neurone Disease, which ended his cherished competitive kick-boxing career. She worries that my eldest niece, her daughter, is at risk of developing an eating disorder and I'm inclined to agree. I fear that the most healthy and stable family member I have is my youngest niece, who this week proudly declared "I know how to kill bad guys now because I'm four".
For most people, knowing someone with a diagnose of something, a disability or illness, is considered a matter of chance. It isn't. That I exist in a cluster of people with such circumstances is chance. It tells me that for most people, knowing someone living with a life-limiting condition, at least one, is a definite. If people think these things are rare just because they don't know anyone like that, then the greatest likelihood is that at least one close friend or family member has been keeping a secret from them. Sick and disabled people downplay their struggles and where their pride and esteem overrides their trust, they hide it first and most from the people they really value. You can tell people forever that these things do not discriminate, they are not non-disabled or healthy but simply 'not-yet-disabled' and 'temporarily healthy', but it doesn't give because that's a maybe. You tell a smoker that 1 in 5 smokers will die prematurely of something related to smoking and they will actually consider this new information to be greatly improved odds on the ones they've previously reckoned on and continued it anyway; a total backfire. Ask a single individual to try to imagine the struggle they would face if they had to feed themselves on not much more than two pounds a day; they'll always come up with a budget for the same semi-nutritious meal that they can stand to eat every day for a whole week.
The whole world individually becomes 'I'm all right Jacks', something brainless and somewhat less than human. But would they still be happy with their children smoking? What would they do if their children refused to eat beans and rice? Let starvation take over as a parent and teach them to eat any meal? Like that would cause no long-term damage.
So as welfare reforms begin rolling out between this year and 2016(on a timetable very stretched out from originally planned as everything the critics said turns out to be right), most people will not notice. The people they don't know to have life-limiting illness and disability will not peep, they'll try even more desperately to keep it under wraps. People will not know what this government has done until long past it being too late; when that season finally rolls in and millions of them discover that all this time they were not trusted enough to be given some crucial facts by their secretly sick and disabled friends. They'll ask themselves if it was them, if their relationship had problems which they ignored, if it was the political environment in the country, or if it was their own media-cultivated politics they were courageously opinionated about.
They don't know who is targeted by welfare reform, but they do care- they care because they think it's the kind of people they imagine some of their neighbours to be, the kind of people weekly paraded in the national press. Even the Guardian has now given up any pretence of ethics on that one and has joined in. If they find out it's their own, their friends, their family, they don't stop caring. They are forced to confront their own misplaced concerns. When this happens there is no 'we told you so' and I feel there will be considerably less of us to make that point by then. The rest of us will be too busy doing basic survival to be idealists.