On Disability, Fraud, Distrust & Abuse

This post is going to be about the bits abuse and bullying I have had since becoming disabled. It may be triggering for some.

Edited to add: A version of this post is on the Guardians CiF peoples panel with regards to negative attitudes faced by disabled people.

I think the most humiliating thing to happen to me is when (often drunk) men try to grab at my breasts and face if we go out on an evening. Something that fortunately didn’t happen to me until I became a wheelchair user*. I think it’s because I’m an easy target, if my breaks are on I can’t turn away and, anyway, who would believe someone would grope a wheelchair user? We are often thought of as asexual and almost alien. I don’t often talk about it because I feel ashamed and embarrassed which is made worse by having been treated a couple of times I have complained like I am either making it up or should be grateful. A nice mix of sexist and disablist stereotypes fuels those myths. I’ve never contacted the police, I doubt a drunken boob grab from someone I can’t identify will be acted on. All that would happen is they would ruin whats left of my evening.

Where that is humiliating, the bit that actually hurts the most isn’t sexual harassment. It is that people regularly approach me when we are out (especially when my carer has stepped away for a bit) to ask questions like “Do you really need that wheelchair or are you doing it for the money?” and “I saw you move your leg! Are you just too lazy to walk?”. Every where I go I’m subjected to a grilling from strangers with regards to my disability, my employment prospects and my lifestyle choices. I feel like I have to defend myself to these people because if I don’t they assume I’m a faker, but in defending myself I have to share the painful story of my disability and some very personal details about how it effects my ability to live. I have developed a fear of being left alone in my chair because that’s when people most often come to ‘talk to me’ about my disability – just to make sure it’s real. Last December my city held a big Christmas market and I decided to attend. I was told to “Go home” repeatedly and mocked loudly by various people for both my appearance and for having a wheelchair all the way through. Not all cruelty is direct, the indirect “This isn’t a place for you” when it is clearly a public area is also very damaging. It’s like you are being pushed out and told you don’t belong in public. If it was done online I’d call it concern trolling. I came home and cried and couldn’t go near the city centre again until after it had gone. That kind of thing happens every time I try to go out to somewhere with lots of people and it’s just not good enough.

I associate this rise in abuse with a huge rise in public distrust & vilification of people who are disabled. I think that is fuelled by disproportionate the amount of negative stories in the media (often coming straight from the DWP) which paints the majority of those who claim disability benefit as fraudsters land manipulative scammers. There are a lot of faulty assumptions made by the which are fuelled by poor reporting such as; the assumption DLA is an out of work benefit – it isn’t, the assumption you just get a free car when of course you don’t, and the assumption you don’t need evidence to claim disability benefits which just isn’t true.

In reality £16 billion in disability benefits goes unclaimed in the UK. There is a 0.5% fraud level (ignoring DWP error) yet thanks to the unbalanced reporting in the media the general public assumes the level is much much higher. As a result of this kind of distrust we can see a witch-hunt beginning. Disability hate crime is up 75% according to government statistics, many reporting that those attacking them often use scrounger or similar as a term of abuse. In 2009/10 a massive 96% of calls to the national benefit fraud hotline were found to be malicious or time-wasting though I’m sure most of the people that rang in were sure they were shopping a scrounger. The government needs to take serious steps to address these issues and to raise public awareness of the reality of living as a disabled person in the UK. 

* although I am aware it happens to other non-disabled women a lot too
  1. I find when I fall, I'm overwhelmed/disoriented for a few moments. It's not at all uncommon for men to 'help me up' when I'm like that, using the opportunity to grope my breasts, bottom or even my crotch. As someone who has survived multiple sexual assaults including rape, it paralyzes me with terror for a few moments, which is when the apparent 'Good Samaritan' escapes.

    It's now got to the point that if I fall in public alone, I automatically say 'DON'T touch me!'.

    I hate it.


  2. I'm so sorry to hear that it happens to you as well. It's really vile how people try to dress up sexual assault as being a 'kindness'. It also makes it so much harder to deal with as you know they will just say “my hand slipped, it was an accident” than call you ungrateful 😦

    I hate that we live in a world where people think it's ok to do that sort of thing.


  3. I have protested about it exactly once. The guy doing it laughed, dropped me and walked away, and comments from passers-by included 'isn't she ungrateful!' 'All these nutters and their fantasies should be locked up' 'she's a scrounger, probably wants to put a claim in' and the truly hideous 'as if! She's a freak, why would anyone want to?'


  4. ~hugs~

    It is so horrible when that happens. You really do have my sympathies. The feeling afterwards is so nasty. Not only have you suffered twice (falling then being groped) you have to suffer disbelief. It's heartbreaking.


  5. All this makes me want to scream….I wonder if there is a case to sue the Government & vitriolic right wing press for misleading people and inciting hate crimes and assaults against disabled people. Every time another article is published I cant sleep and get scared to go out.


  6. Labour whip in Lords told me last night focus on Tuesday will be trying to reverse govt's rejection of the Lords' amendments. So nothing expected on DLA/PIP but will be considering eg time-limiting contrib ESA. Hope that helps!


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