Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not Out To Get You.

The media rhetoric around, and the threatened government cuts to, disability benefits are filling people with fear. They are contributing to deep suspicion and even aggression from the general public towards disabled people, and lots of us are feeling more than a little petrified.

From Nadine Dorries' Shop a Twit campaign, to virtually everything put out by the Daily Mail, many disabled people are becoming scared to go out, to have occasional treats, to try something normally outside of their limits, such as walking a few steps, or to put their name to anything they post on the internet at all, in case someone should see them, report them for benefit fraud, and accuse them of 'faking it'.

Of those who have continued to post on twitter, despite previous threats, many feel more limited about what they can say, lest they are judged to be faking, scrounging, or wasting taxpayers' money. Still more are finding they feel they have to justify everything they say, just in case somebody is watching. And programmes like the BBC's Saints and Scroungers do little to help, either people's attitudes, or the overriding fear and paranoia experienced by disabled benefit claimaints.

So I was saddened, but not surprised, to see one person's response to this build-up of fear.
I started to worry that my heavy use of twitter could be used against me in this process. I have already explained how and why I can use twitter without that meaning that I am fit to work, but I also worried that my tweets could easily be taken out of context. For example, a tweet about undertaking an activity of some sort could be used as proof that I can do that all the time. What an investigator would not see is how good or bad a day I was having, how much I had to prepare for and work around the activity, or how much pain and exhaustion that activity would cause for days afterwards.

So Steven Sumpter, aka latent existence, took, "the drastic step of deleting all 12,272 of my tweets". All of them. And why? Fear. Fear they would be used against him. Fear that they would portray an image of him actually being fine. Now, I follow him on twitter, and it's not like he's endlessly talking of weekends away skiing and trekking up mountains, and decided he'd better suddenly get rid of the evidence. This is the twitter account of someone who is clearly not well enough to work. This is someone who talks about a good day being when they open their curtains 'without fleeing in pain from the light'.

This someone who nobody could accuse of faking it. Anyone with a chronic illness can recognise straight away that these aren't a series of made-up tweets by someone imagining what it might be like to be ill, and even so he felt so threatened by the current atmosphere of suspicion and attack, that deleting over 12,000 tweets felt like the only way forward.

But he's not the only one scared. It's not a paranoid or psychotic illness which is making him have these suspicions, some of the most mentally healthy people I know concur with him. And I want our progressive, equal society to take a look at itself, and wonder just how progressive and equal it is.

(Cross posted at Where's the Benefit? blog).