Labour leader Ed Miliband has horrified disabled activists by using a major speech to blame some incapacity benefit (IB) claimants for failing to “take responsibility” and “shirking their duties”.
In a speech at a community centre in London – described by one commentator as “an attempt to rejuvenate his ailing leadership” – Miliband talked about a man he had met when campaigning for May’s local elections, who told him he had been claiming IB for a decade because of an injury at work.
Miliband claimed he knew there were “other jobs” the man could do and that it was “just not right for the country to be supporting him not to work, when other families on his street are working all hours just to get by”.
The Labour leader went on to say that such IB claimants were “just not taking responsibility” and were “shirking their duties” and that he understood why other people – those who “act responsibly” – were “getting angry”.
Furious disabled bloggers accused Miliband of feeding discrimination and the demonisation of disabled people that has resulted from politicians and the media describing disabled benefits claimants as “workshy scroungers”.
Sue Marsh, blogging at Benefit Scrounging Scum, said there was a “collective gasp of horror” from sick and disabled people when a transcript of the speech was posted on the internet.
Kaliya Franklin, at The Broken of Britain, said Miliband had characterised IB claimants as “irresponsible scroungers” who should “just try harder”, and said he had “hammered home” his message in the first paragraph of his speech that the Labour party was “more than happy to be seen as the party demonising disabled people”.
She wrote: “The increasing scrounger rhetoric is terrifying to those of us knowing that no matter how much we wish to work, how much we try, not only is the system stacked against us, but that the health issues we face are inescapable.”
David Gillon, blogging at Where’s the Benefit?, wrote that disabled people were facing “day to day discrimination” because of being branded “workshy” by the Department for Work and Pensions’ “campaign of demonisation”, and that Miliband had “worsened the acceptance of every disabled person in the country”.
Lisa Egan, also blogging at Where’s the Benefit?, said Miliband’s anecdote “sums up the Labour party’s attitude to ill and disabled people: No qualifications in assessing people’s health but meet someone for a minute and deem them ‘fit for work’ without any additional info besides that minute meeting.”
She added: “No wonder strangers in the street feel it acceptable to deem someone a ‘scrounger’ when our political leaders are doing the same.”
Egan pointed to a disabled blogger who described last month how a young man had shouted “scrounging c**t” at him when he was out walking with his stick.
Miliband’s press secretary declined to comment.
16 June 2011