Friday, 17 October 2014

Hairy Palm Freud And Friends

Days on from the recording of Minister for Welfare Reform David Freud's response to a question at conference about the minimum wage for disabled people, we're no closer to anything constructive emerging. That hasn't stopped the self-congratulatory classes in politics and media from having a debate though even if it consists almost entirely the following:
  • 'Freud was offensive and wrong to say such things'
  • 'Labour party and guardianistas taking his words out of context'
  • 'At least he's started a debate'
Of all these, the last one is what rustles my jimmies. I don't consider echo-chambers to be adequate venues for debate, but that is all there has been for the past two days. There are valid points made by those who say there are  purely technical questions of what the economic value of a worker is(distinct from their value as a person) and those who say this is a dangerous road and rather hypocritically those in positions of power and wealth do in fact base their own value as human beings on their success and what they earn; they can't say one thing when practice says something entirely different.

What would stand out most in Freud's comments for disability campaigners is something we've already known was missing but we could never get journalists to listen: Freud has no understanding of the real world as regards disability and low paid work and he doesn't even care about this gap because he's already filled it with policy brief material from the income insurance industry. He was handing out leaflets on 'malingering and illness' just prior to the second reading and vote in the House of Lords for the Welfare Reform Bill. That's as far as his understanding reaches and he was keen to spread that ignorance. Of all the nonsense I've read from talking-head columnists, none make reference to the social model and how that affects the idea that disabled people could take an exclusion from minimum wages on the basis of their estimated economic output and in that sense commentators share Freud's ignorance and excuse themselves from being able to make any comment of value. 

The social model of disability re-frames the medical understanding of disabilities being impairments and instead separates impairments from disability. Disability is instead defined as being caused by the aggregate conditions affecting the individual and not solely the impairment they have. This acknowledges that technology, accommodation by other people and education or lack of have far more profound impacts on a person than almost any impairment can. How Freud should and would have responded to the question he was asked if he cared one jot for this would be to say that giving disabled people this 'right' would turn it into obligation and common practice in employment and it would not be a case of people simply doing the best they can under their unfortunate circumstances; those circumstances are not something that just happened but something that is done to them and can be prevented. Solving the problem of disability unemployment by making a linear relationship between severity of disability, productivity and wage just shirks the responsibility to treat others with dignity. It means that there is no longer any incentive or reason to innovate, empathise and learn in pursuit of the 'everyone wins' scenario. 

Freud was right to say that he shouldn't have accepted the premise of the question, but it's entirely his own fault that he's unequipped with the means to have done so. How else could a man like himself, with the attitudes he has and the policies he designs explain what was wrong with the question? Despite identifying that there is a problem with the question, Freud can't say what that problem is and still hasn't since his public apology. It's probably down to some childhood trauma and tension with his mother. Unfortunately he's not alone, as our media classes aptly demonstrated they all have a blind spot and we all know what blindness- same thing that causes hairy palms.