How fabulous are the Paralympics?
I love seeing how the athletes have worked so hard and triumphed over such adversity. They are inspirational. It's quite staggering to see how far some of them have come in their lives and their sport. And - well, they're fantastic athletes.
However, there is something of a backlash amongst the disabled and chronically sick community, especially as regards to one of the Paralympic sponsors, Atos Healthcare. One has to wonder why a company that has a £112 million contract to assess sick and disabled people for DLA and ESA, yet costs the taxpayer £60 million in appeals against decisions, 40% of which are successful, have been allowed to sponsor such an event. Especially considering the fact that many of the athletes making up TeamGB will have relied on Disability Living Allowance throughout their lives in order to do what they have done and become the athletes they have succeeded in becoming.
DLA is not an out of work benefit, it is a benefit helping disabled people to live lives with some possibility of fulness, not to mention to keep them alive. Disabled and chronically sick people need extra money just to keep existing with their disabilities. Transport, heating, technical aids, carers. The list goes on. And yet Atos have been tasked with assessing people on this benefit - even those given a lifelong award, with doctors' support - with the end view of reducing it by 20%. Even though fraud rate has been assessed at around 0.5%. Figures don't add up? Go figure....
I'll post a video explaining it more, for those who are interested. This video explains Atos' role more clearly, against the backdrop of a protest by disabled people that took place yesterday.
Equally concerning me in all this, and running throughout it, is the attitudes being fostered towards sick and disabled people. While it's great to comment on how the athletes have come through difficult situations and achieved incredible goals, there is an underlying rhetoric taking place which fits nicely with Atos' seeming aims. Basically, that disabled people can achieve such things, so if you're not, you're not trying hard enough. You're so much use, you're a scrounger, because you haven't given it your all, like these people, you haven't triumphed over your own personal adversity. You're sick: So what? So are they!
It's a worrying trend which is intensifying through society, from welfare cuts to newspaper articles. But think about it. You wouldn't think this about an able bodied, healthy person, that because they weren't running like Mo Farah they weren't trying hard enough? It's scary when you feel judged on being ill and judged even more on not trying hard enough to not be ill. Or to be fabulous anyway, within your illness.
I sometimes wonder if this attitude is somewhat prevalent in the church, too. The whole 'pull up your socks and get on with it' thing. Amidst praising the triumphant, we need to remember those who, for whatever reason, simply cannot triumph, or at least triumph in the way we may want them to. Remember those who are too sick to work, and even too sick to go out, and who are stuck there, and no amount of talking up what people 'can' do as opposed to 'cannot' will help them be able to. It also leads into the whole area of usefulness and uselessness. Seeing reports of such bravery can be very inspirational and can encourage someone to go for it; but we need to remember that for some it simply feeds into their own sense of uselessness. I will never be able to do something like this, I will never be able to work, I will never be able to contribute. I am useless.
I've had times of thinking like this (still do, on a fairly regular basis) and know how it is to be trapped in a body that simply won't. Simply won't ever be a body of an athlete, whatever I do, however hard I try. It's not possible for me. But does that make me of lesser worth than the athlete? Society is at risk of beginning to categorise sick and disabled people: Those who can, those who can't, those who won't, those who are worthless. Does church do that too?
I know someone who doesn't....