Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith is facing fresh calls to quit or be fired after suggesting in the House of Commons that disabled people were not “normal”.
Duncan Smith (pictured) told MPs during work and pensions questions this week that the government was trying to increase the proportion of disabled people in work “back up to the level of normal, non-disabled people”.
His comments drew an angry reaction from disabled campaigners.
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “We talk about unreconstructed chauvinists. He is an unreconstructed disablist.
“If that is the way he is thinking he then has not got a clue about the social model of disability.
“It’s appalling, extremely offensive, especially coming from the secretary of state. It requires an apology.”
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “The real danger is that it is this kind of comment which ‘trolls’ and elements of social media use to increase hostility and have a laugh at our expense.
“Terminology is a driver to hostility, and it is one of the biggest battles we who are challenging disability hate crime face.”
WOWpetition’s Michelle Maher said on Twitter that Duncan Smith had “vilified and ‘othered’ disabled people”, while disabled comedian Francesca Martinez told her Twitter followers: “If Iain Duncan Smith is ‘normal’, I’m glad I’m not.”
Disabled social affairs journalist Frances Ryan wrote in the Guardian: “Yes, it is important to bring disabled people up to the level of ‘normal’ people.
“Similarly, I often think it would be wonderful to bring the competence and empathy of the secretary of state for work and pensions up to the level of a trained chimp.”
She added: “Am I disgusted that on one afternoon Iain Duncan Smith spoke of disabled people as if they are less than other people? I am more disgusted that, through five years into a decade of power, that is exactly how he treats us.”
Vicky McDermott, the disabled chief executive of Papworth Trust, said the charity was “surprised and shocked” at his comments.
She said: “At a time of such sensitivities around the future of sickness benefits and the comprehensive spending review, Mr Duncan Smith should have chosen his words far more wisely.”
Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, who has repeatedly tried to call ministers to account in the Commons over social security reform, asked David Cameron during prime minister’s questions this week if his work and pensions secretary would face investigation for breaching the ministerial code.
She said Duncan Smith’s department had “admitted to falsifying testimonies in leaflets”, while he had published data on the deaths of people on sickness benefits, despite telling MPs that these figures did not exist, in addition to his latest “offensive remarks”.
Abrahams added on Twitter that these remarks were “more evidence that #IDSmustgo”.
Disability News Service asked Duncan Smith’s constituency office yesterday if he would respond to criticism of his comments, and whether he would apologise, but had not heard back by noon today (Friday).
Meanwhile, Labour MP David Lammy, a contender to be the party’s candidate for London mayor, has backed the WOWpetition’s attempt to shame the government into assessing the overall impact of its cuts and reforms on disabled people.
Lammy said: “We should be gravely concerned by the government’s relentless offensive against the country’s most vulnerable groups, including those who are disabled.
“As a London MP, I’ve met with many individuals affected by the government’s austerity agenda – a cumulative impact assessment [CIA] is clearly needed to assess the extent to which the country’s disabled population are bearing the brunt of the government’s cuts.
“I’m backing the WOW campaign because the failure of the government to carry out a CIA is indicative of [an] agenda which marginalises those who need support in order to live their lives to the fullest.”
Last night, the WOWpetition had attracted 17,764 signatures, nearly a fifth of the way to its target of 100,000 by 13 February 2016. If it reaches that target it should ensure the petition is debated by MPs.