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In light of Lord Freud’s so-called thinking aloud statement that some disabled people ‘aren’t worth the minimum wage’, it set me to think about how we – current society – assess the value of people.

First, some definitions from the OED, which is as good a place to start as any.

Worth – the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated.

Value – the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something; the material or monetary worth of something.

Pretty much interchangeable then, and there is that word ‘deserve’ rearing its pitiful head. Of late it seems disabled people exist on a precarious tight-rope of deserving or not deserving, and this state is a variable as those flying through the political ladder-climbing post of Minister for Disabled People.

Sometimes, if not all times, you are more worthy if you were in the military and are now disabled. There’s still an added hierarchy it seems; limb loss and spinal injury evoke more worth than mental distress and conditions such as PTSD. We now have the royalty sanctioned Invictus Games; the rather scant website ‘offers us highlights of an inspiring four days of sport, as well as a personal thank you message from Prince Harry.’

Deserving – and inspiring. Another indicator of worth?

I’m not attacking disabled people who have gained impairments through their military service, although the hypocrisy of successive governments through endless conflicts leaves me incredulous. It strikes me as a juggling act by politicians of seeming to have a conscience and making an effort towards social justice.

“All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.” A quote from Orwell’s Animal Farm, published in 1948; a parable of socialist ideas perverted into the Stalinist tyranny. It seems apt to say some disabled people are deemed more equal than others. And, is equality the same as worth? They are inevitably linked, because human beings should be ‘worth’ the same in the sense of striving for equality for all.

There’s a lot of talk about downwards slippery slopes for disabled people, and I suspect one is that which sees our ‘worth’ as being a method to further the bank balances of private care-home owners.

It’s bizarre. Many of us may be deemed of no economic worth and yet, here we may have use – a circle of money, passing through us. Without touching the sides. Without actually valuing us other than assigning us as ‘products’, which can be used to syphon money from the state (mostly) and forward it to company owners and those who have shares in these care industry bodies. Reading market analysis of the care home market such as this, is enough to bring on a depression, wading through terminology of bonds and transactional yields. Irony is, apart from foreign investors looking to scoop up these institutions, it seems profits are down…

Let’s reach for a higher level. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  • “…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”

The UDHR was drawn up in 1948 after the abominations of world war. I’m not sure we’ve progressed very far with this ideal, but for disabled people the rights towards equality we’ve fought for, are in danger of serious erosion.

The Convention on Rights for Persons with Disabilities, under pins the UDHR and adds more:

  • “…Recognizing the valued existing and potential contributions made by persons with disabilities to the overall well-being and diversity of their communities, and that the promotion of the full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of their human rights and fundamental freedoms and of full participation by persons with disabilities will result in their enhanced sense of belonging and in significant advances in the human, social and economic development of society and the eradication of poverty…

The language may be a little cranky and clumsy to our ears but it is important. We at least have ‘valued’ in there and it places us within a context of human beings that experience discrimination. Governments should take note. We are not the passive recipients of hand-outs that we once were. Indeed, article 19 of the CRPD may be helpful to the arguments to stop the closure of the Independent Living Fund.

November to December was UK Disability History Month – but let’s look beyond it to remember who we are, what we have done, what we might do – and that value and worth should never be interpreted in the coldest terms of monetary balance alone. That is to judge us by the worst aspects of capitalism unbridled.

And I wonder when those of us not protected inside the wealthy echelons of the few, will be told their dogs and cats et al are unreasonable extravagancies of no worth…