Friday, 28 August 2009

A Lesson in Social Justice.

"Dear Tony,

'The Battle for Hearts and Minds - Gaining Social Justice and Inclusion"

The world is not and sadly never will be entirely fair or equal but true "Social Justice" should, and must be, achievable in any civilised society.

If you are listening Mr Blair, that is a legacy worth having, demonising those unable to obtain or simply incapable of work through illness and disability is not.

What you, and government as a whole, seem to have forgotten is that the value of an individual is not diminished by an inability to obtain, let alone be capable of, paid employment. Each and every one of us contributes something to the whole regardless of our situation in that regard.

The problem then is how we achieve acceptance, rather than merely lip service, to the notion that we should all be seen as equal members of society, each contributing according to their ability and each supported according to their needs.

What is needed, and I would argue Equality 2025 and the EHRC must be about, is not just establishing equality of opportunity in work and other aspects of society but, perhaps more importantly, ensuring an acceptable degree of minimum outcome sufficient to ensure true social inclusion for all.

Equality of minimum outcome is therefore how I would define "Social Justice" as it is the only definition that includes the need for full "Inclusion" as the ultimate goal of that "Justice".

Yes it is true that removing obstacles to work is the best chance for all disadvantaged groups, but especially the disabled, to escape from poverty.

Gaining decently paid, meaningful employment provides not just the financial resources necessary for social inclusion, but also helps individuals gain self respect and promotes the acceptance of their worth by society as a whole.

Removing disincentives to work is thus clearly part of the solution, but only a part. Other less obvious obstacles need to be overcome first. Not least of these is the need for such solutions to be applied in a way that doesn't serve to discriminate against those still unable to obtain, or are simply incapable of, such gainful employment.

The social inclusion of those able to gain paid employment can not and must not be at the cost of the social exclusion of those that can't.
The reality of Britain in the 21st century is that entrenched attitudes to the disabled will not disappear overnight. It will take years and maybe decades even to get those that can work into work.

It therefore is imperative that any welfare reform recognises this and that the disabled in or out of work are provided with the minimum funds required to allow a reasonable degree of social inclusion.

I believe this minimum level of support for all working age adults with disability whether working or not should be at least equal to that provided under the Pension Credit guarantee arrangements for those over 60, as in many ways our financial and physical situation is often on a par with non-disabled pensioners.

Working Tax Credit already achieves this for those fortunate enough to be both able to work and also the help a few receive to overcome some of the hurdles in finding and maintaining meaningful paid employment.

But what of those for whom these two vital criteria do not apply?

Interestingly, even before the detail of the Welfare Reform Bill became public last year (2006), I had proposed the following solutions as part of my contribution to the then DRC "Debate" forum. (The Disability Rights Commission now part of the new EHRC)

1. For those considered able to work, but as yet unable to overcome the barriers that already exist because of their disability, maybe what is needed is a special 'Disabled but looking for work' premium which reflects the desire to work but recognises it may take time to remove the barriers preventing that desire being fulfilled.

2. For those with no realistic prospect of ever being able to work, even if all the barriers could be removed maybe what is needed is a special category of disability that encompasses this added difficulty and adds a 'Disabled and unable to work' premium.

The reality is disability covers a broad spectrum of ability and there will always be individuals at every point on the scale from able to fully unable to gain paid employment due to that disability and so focusing just on getting people off incapacity benefit and back to work will never be a cure all.

3. Maybe what is needed instead is a new way of looking at individuals that recognises the disabled are, more often than not, simply doing the best they can, so perhaps a 'Disabled and doing the best I can' premium could also be introduced.

Welfare reform should also recognise the many other forms of direct contribution the disabled make to society as a whole particularly when they are parents. This includes the love they give their children but also the voluntary work they so often do for others.

For all groups though, the key welfare reform needed is a work and benefits system that truly allows the disabled and their children to fully participate as equal members of society with nobody left behind simply because of being unable to obtain paid employment particularly when this is due to disability.

The simple fact the current Welfare Reform Bill has the need to "protect" the benefit levels of those currently in receipt of Incapacity Benefit clearly indicates that neither the "conditional" work related activity supplement or the "support" element of the new ESA will make it equivalent to, let alone higher than, current levels of Incapacity Benefit.

Even this would still be nowhere close to the Pension Credit Guarantee figure I proposed earlier should be the absolute minimum considered as appropriate for working age individuals with what the DRC would call "Severe workplace disadvantage".

Sadly we already know, from your earlier refusal to answer my earlier simple questions about reforms that you are not prepared to even guarantee the net effect of the reforms will not simply be that individuals such as me actually continue to go backwards in terms of our social inclusion rather than forward as full and equal citizens of the UK.

Yours respectfully

Peter J Farrington ."

Sunday, 9 August 2009

RNID: "Do as we say, not as we do."

In order to be able to engage effectively with employers, the Department of Work and Pensions as well as local public authorities should be capable of acting as exemplar employers in terms of the recruitment, retention and progression of disabled people. Currently, the public sector has a poor record in this area, and RNID would like to see a strategic and measurable commitment to increasing the numbers of deaf people working across both DWP, Ministerial Government Departments and the public sector in general.

From: A Response by RNID (A pdf link.)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Charity Commission

One of the particularly ugly hallmarks of the ‘New Labour’ government is their propensity to forsake established principles, such as non ‘conflict of interest,’ the ‘right to be heard’ and many others. One way in which they do this is to wave the word ‘debate’ around as if it is a magic wand that can make these pesky principles disappear. Wearing a mask of pseudo- innocent reasonableness they chirp and chirrup ‘I just want to start a debate!’ before elbowing established maxims and morals into the dustbin.

On the Charity Commission’s website, they make the following pious statement about what their role is:

“Whatever their size or purpose, an essential requirement of all charities is that they operate for the public benefit and independently of government or commercial interests. Our job is to ensure this happens.”

That’s strange; because I’ve noticed a large number of charities bidding for lucrative government contracts to carry out Welfare Reform objectives. The Welfare Reform Bill proposes to commit a number of human rights breaches against deaf and disabled people. I know this because the Joint Committee on Human Rights has written to the Secretary of State expressing concern that some things in the Bill are not compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations. Certainly to my mind, forcing disabled people into slavery, referred to euphemistically as ‘work related activity,’ is driving and reversing a Sherman tank over disabled people’s human rights.

Enraged, I wrote to the Charity Commission to point out this glaring conflict of interest. Charities are supposed to be looking after their beneficiaries, yet here they are, bidding for contracts which give them the power to force disabled people to attend ‘work-focussed interviews,’ to force disabled people into slavery and to cut the benefits of those who don’t comply, sending them even deeper into poverty than they already are! I thought that there was absolutely no way that a charity could claim to be operating independently of government and commercial interests at the same time as bidding for lucrative government contracts that allow them to piddle on the human rights of their beneficiaries. So I didn’t expect the lawyerly, weasel-worded reply that I got from the Charity Commission.

In their usual highly condescending tone, they explained that it’s up to charity trustees to decide whether or not these things are in the interests of their beneficiaries (!) I guess that we humble pawns, I mean beneficiaries, should just butt out then. Clearly it’s very important what the government thinks. It’s very important what the charities think. It’s very important what the Charity Commission thinks. But the people who are the ones who are supposed to benefit from all these shenanigans - the beneficiaries – well, who gives a rat’s behind what they think?

‘It is not illegal for charities to carry out their purposes by undertaking work under contract with government,’ the Charity Commission’s response chirped. For some reason I remembered numerous MP’s declaring that they ‘haven’t broken any rules’ over the expenses fiasco. Well, that’s all right then! It's easy for those who are a law unto themselves to abide by their own laws.

In the Charity Commission’s leaflet, Andrew Hind and Dame Suzi Leather (the CEO and chair) declare ‘[b]ut the last few years have seen increasing numbers of charities undertaking this work and the debate has certainly moved on.’

That ‘debate’ magic wand again!

I hope to return to strictly RNID issues in my next post.

Thursday, 25 June 2009


I was reading a 'disability' messageboard recently and came across the following fine comment:

It is shocking how often the people who surround the disabled will attempt to exert power and be abusive. Power over what they will provide - even if you know of a better and cheaper option - power over how you are to be perceived and represented, even if you can do a better job yourself and are actually better qualified - power over how you are supposed to feel and express your emotions, and if you don't do as they expect you are unpredictable, abusive, dangerous and the all time favourite angry and Filled With Self Pity!

I couldn't have put it better myself. We have a right to be heard and one day disabled people will unite effectively and demand that right.

Friday, 19 June 2009

EHRC Ignoring Disabled People.

Some time ago I wrote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission because I felt that they were not doing anything to make life better for disabled people. Here is my letter:

Dear Mr Phillips,

I recently e-mailed your off ices at Manchester on October 2 to express my concern about the EHRC’s approach to disability issues. Basically, I feel that disabled people are being treated as the poor relation in the equality movement; here is the content of my e-mail:


It was reported recently (see enclosed link) that the EHRC is not working for disabled people. It seems that many disabled people, including myself, agree with this sentiment. I would like to ask the EHRC if they have any comments or reassurances to make on this issue in the following discussion:


Unfortunately, I have still not received a reply to my points, even though I received an automated response saying that ‘a full response will follow in due course.’

Please may I ask if you are concerned that some disabled people do not at present have confidence in the EHRC. It does not seem as if the EHRC is at all bothered that disabled people are underrepresented in politics, the workplace (especially at executive level) or even in their own organisations.

Yours sincerely,

I did not receive a response to that letter. I did receive a response to a later letter that I wrote to them about disabled people's human rights being abused by the Welfare Reform Bill, but they did not answer my questions or points.

So while disabled people are being neglected and ignored by the EHRC, what do they actually sit up and pay attention to? According to their website, they will respond with a full page when people decide to vote for the BNP.

Further reading:

Grumpy Old Deafies

At the Rim

Equality body 'failing Disabled.'

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Debate and Logical Fallacy.

One of the things that I find quite fascinating is the study of logical fallacies. You might very well think that I am a bit of a nerd and not share my enthusiasm at all, such is the nature of subjective things. However, regardless of whether you find it interesting, I think the importance will always hold. When somebody causes others to arrive at an improper conclusion through a crooked line of reasoning, then in the very least they are being quite reckless about whether or not the truth will come out. If somebody deliberately continues to use fallacies even after their mistake has been pointed out to them, that, in my opinion, comes very close to lying.

If you suspect that somebody has hoodwinked you in the course of a debate or discussion, it’s always worth doing a google for ‘logical fallacies’ and then running through the list to see whether one has been used. They usually involve a sneaky intellectual sleight of hand which misdirects the audience. There are many good resources to be found via google, such as The Nizkor Project.

To give you an example, I can remember an occasion when an RNID apologist packed not one, not two, but three logical fallacies into a mere two word portion of one sentence. You may think that my claim here is rather outlandish, but let’s see what you think after I have broken it down in a scientific manner. The speaker, in response to a criticism of RNID referred to the critics as a ‘vociferous minority..’
‘Vociferous,’ according to Chambers means ‘loud and forceful, especially in expressing opinions.’ The first question you should ask of such a statement is ‘how does this relate to the actual criticism it is addressing?’ The answer was that it did not; it was an irrelevant misdirection. If Solomon expressed his wisdom a bit louder, that fact does not make his wisdom less wise. The only thing that would make it less wise are the words themselves.

Secondly, the use of the word ‘minority’ is an argumentum ad populum; it is trying to say that because not all that many people share a view, that view must be wrong. There was a time when the overwhelming majority of people thought that the earth was flat and that the sun descended into the sea. In the 1930s many Germans thought that Adolf Hitler was the best person to lead Germany. The fact that many people thought something most certainly did not make it right. Conversely, the fact that not many people might think something does not make it wrong.

Finally, the two words combined, ‘vociferous minority’ is an argumentum ad hominem or personal attack - it is attacking the persons making the argument rather than attempting to refute the argument itself. This is a particularly unpleasant fallacy because it not only misleads the audience, but maligns the target. Even very clever people use this tactic because it gives them an ‘out’ – it’s a lot easier to shoot the messenger if you can’t deal with the message.

Watch out for those fallacies – they are nothing more than dirty tricks!

Friday, 6 February 2009

The Royal National Institute for Women.

Hello, allow me to introduce myself. I am Tim, the chief executive of the RNIW (the Royal National Institute for Women.) We are the largest charity representing the 40 million women in the UK. We aim to make the world a better place for women.

I acknowledge that my RNIW appointment has caused a certain amount of consternation among some ranks of the charity's membership indignant about another "him" being chosen to lead the charity. "Of course I expected those opinions to be expressed one way or another," says Tim. "And, of course, if there was an equally capable candidate who was a woman, the job should have gone to them. But the trustees have a responsibility to appoint the person they think best suits the role, and they thought that was me."

Although we have no women on our senior management team, we are pleased to declare that 10% of our workforce are women. Our stated objects include the better treatment, training and employment of women.

Although our trustees would very much like to hear the views of women, it is difficult for them to do so because of the sheer number of women and the trustees have very demanding jobs and due to the voluntary nature of the role, we feel it would be unreasonable to ask them to do so.

Your gift will help us to make the world a better place for women. Alternatively, you may like to remember women in your will.

Note: Women are not allowed to criticise RNIW because we help a lot of women.


Tim, CEO (Salary £120K)


Senior management Team (Salary £80K)

Any objections?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

RNID and Discrimination.

One of the principles that RNID like to adhere to is that of non-discrimination. They tend to state that they will always pick the ‘best person for the job irrespective of disability.’ Outwardly this sounds very noble and high-minded, but of course the real test is whether or not it withstands a close examination based on facts and reason. Once you have peeled away the gold plating, is this approach really as good as it sounds? Let’s see if ‘discrimination’ really is such a dirty word when placed in the context it is being used.

I would have thought that RNID saying that they pick the ‘best person for the job irrespective of disability’ is a bit like saying that we will pick the best person for the job of doctor irrespective of medical qualifications! It presumes, incorrectly, that the ‘disability’ – deafness – is irrelevant to the job. On the contrary, personal experience of deafness is an important involuntary qualification. Put simply, if you are deaf, you will know better about deaf matters.

But even if deafness were irrelevant to the job, would this approach be fair? I think not. All the evidence, including RNID’s own research has shown that deaf people face glass ceilings at every level of employment, thanks to discrimination. So by insisting that we compete with those who don’t face such discrimination, they are actually discriminating against deaf people!

And isn’t RNID supposed to discriminate in favour of deaf people? Where does it say in their stated objects that they are working for the ‘better treatment, employment and training’ of everybody, ‘irrespective of disability?’ RNID are very selective about when they are a charity. They insist on their right to exist as a charity and certainly to collect money as a charity, but all of a sudden they suspend their charitable status when it comes to giving out the jobs, especially the best jobs! This is why I have said time and time again that deaf people are being used.

On the surface, RNID’s ‘non-discriminatory’ approach seems noble and high-minded. But a quick examination of it in context shows that it is counterfeit, sham, bogus, phoney. I am not advocating that deaf people should be charity cases, but if RNID are going to insist that we are, they cannot pick and choose when to be a charity as it suits them.