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The BBC, at Broadcasting House, is a strange old beast. Somehow reassuringly familiar and ragged at the edges, despite the shiny high tech news centre that beats at the heart of the renovated building.

I’m back for Newsnight, for a discussion on the government’s record on welfare. Down, down in the bowels for the studio, it strikes me as a carpeted nuclear bunker. Corridors, so many corridors, annexes, and turnings. Once in the Green Room, I’m given coffee and go into make up. As usual the BBC staff are polite and helpful, always eager to please.

I’ve done a touch of research – such as scanning through the main parties’ manifestos for new welfare policies and looking up official benefit fraud figures, which incidentally are negligible. Looking through these papers calms me, because while I rarely get nervous in the obvious sense (been around too long!), I am consumed with an anxiety to do my best and make this count. I know there will be a programme agenda – we will be gently coaxed and kept in order – so it’s important to be ready for all opportunities to make a point.

As other guests arrive, I’m struck, as I often am, with a sense of otherness, the Me and Them. Only someone who has experienced exclusion would understand this fully. Everyone was polite. ‘White’ Dee, who shot to fame via Benefits Street, and Lucy Hardwick, from the Accrington Food Bank, were the most approachable. Fraser Nelson, from The Spectator, bore a passing resemblance to Nick Clegg, which was scary in itself. But Nelson did not make eye contact. We waited in an intermittent silence punctuated by small chat, ready to be lead into the studio space. Rumours abound through my Twitter feed that the Tories were scared off, so Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People, pulled out. Is the Pepper really so fearsome?

I’m reasonably happy with how I did. Pleased I managed to cover some key attacks that the coalition government has landed on us: the closure of ILF; the caps on Access To Work; the sanctions hitting people with learning disabilities and mental health issues, and the demonising of disabled people. Yet there’s always room for more, especially with the election only two weeks away.

Emily Maitlis was charming and skilful; at one point she asked me has the government helped disabled people in anyway? What could I say but ‘Absolutely not.’ I never hide my socialist leanings but, honestly, show me anything remotely of worth that has been done by this government that actually supports and understands the challenges disabled people face.

The experience heightened my belief that there remains a huge gulf between politicians, certain sectors of society (mostly the rich sectors) and disabled people. Maybe the gulf has always been there, but it is at the heart of the discrimination we face now. We are still defined as separate. We are not part of society, in the sense of living within and belonging to communities, families and networks. At least, that’s the perception I come up against throughout my work. We know the opposite is true. We know there have always been disabled people and there always will be. Us today, you tomorrow; that’s how it goes for humanity.

Any other view is frankly a lie and unsupportable. Our definition as ‘other’ and our absence from mainstream consciousness is caused by the barriers and attitudes that we tirelessly fight. I don’t want to reinforce the Them and Us schtick, but I do believe it is ingrained, meaning disabled people have the add burden of these unhelpful, unwanted preconceptions.We make Them uncomfortable and they don’t like it.

I don’t know how we change this, other than chipping away, chipping and chipping as always, which is what I’ve tried to do for 30 years – as have many of us.

At the very least, I suppose it’s a good thing that they have Us on a programme like BBC Newsnight. And so to end I would like to dedicate the poem below to that august programme in thanks for inviting me on-till next time


I’m a sponger, a scrounger

A lazy-arsed lounger

A raspberry* in rainbow

I pose you no danger.

I’m the bottomless pit

Of your pity and debt

On the sick since John Major

I’m still on it yet!


I’m the latest cheap target,

Tabloids dark darling

Draining the markets –

The unit of measure

Economic displeasure.


I’m a blamed useless-eater

A foul fraud repeater

Do I make it all up?

They say that I suck

The money from purses

Of rich bloated bastards,

The kicks and the curses

Fall from our leaders

On us liars and bleeders,

We’re pariahs and feeders

Gorged on too much –

From the big nanny state.

Yet you’ve condemned us already

There is no debate.


We can’t be sustained

Because bankers are greedy

We’re lazy, we’re rank

we’re targets of hate

To e-rad-icate!


But I’m a rouser with words

To shout and to hit,

Saying who are the Nazis

Raking over this shit?


I shout and I spin

At the string of their lies,

I’m a new Boadicea

Together we rise!


They have no compassion

Yet we have rebellion,

and rage with our passion.

As time it is rushing

defiance it chimes!


We dare to fight back

We dare to fight loud.









*raspberry (ripple) cripple