Magazine article The Spectator

Disability Allowances

Magazine article The Spectator

Disability Allowances

Article excerpt

An insidious paradox lies at the heart of the modern thrust for disability rights. This agenda is supposed to promote equality and fair treatment, goals to which no one could object.

Yet the official definition of disability is now so wide, so all-embracing, that it includes the feckless, the antisocial, even the criminal. In the madhouse of today's Britain, even the crack addict and the violent thug can be classified as disabled under anti-discrimination regulations.

Such absurdities have arisen because of the influence of the psychiatric profession, which has decided that almost any selfish or dangerous conduct can now be categorised as mental illness. In this twisted world all concepts of morality and personal responsibility have been lost, replaced by a determination to medicalise every behavioural problem. So an ill-tempered, wilful child is said to be suffering from something called 'Oppositional Defiant Disorder', while the aggressive bully is treated as a victim of a 'Bipolar Disorder'. And because all types of mental illness are regarded as a form of disability, so those with difficult personalities are treated as disabled. Those who were once regarded as immoral or destructive are now seen as worthy of our support. Any attempt to tell them to behave in a civilised manner is a form of discrimination in itself.

This is not how the general public, of course, would view the battle for the rights of the disabled. Most people would imagine that the term disability is meant to cover those suffering a permanent physical or mental impairment, such as those with multiple sclerosis, blindness, cerebral palsy or Down's syndrome. But in reality, such conditions apply to only a small proportion of the disabled. Despite all the signs dotted around our public spaces, for instance, just 5 per cent of the disabled are actually wheelchair-bound. The term has become so loose that, according to one government survey, some 11 million people -- one quarter of the adult population -- could be described as disabled. This grand army of 11 million includes those with stress problems, asthma, bad livers, poor nerves, and pains in the back or neck.

The ever-expanding definition of disability is no frivolous matter. For it has allowed those with personal problems, like alcoholism or drug addiction, to wallow in a permanent sense of grievance, regarding themselves as victims of a medical condition. And, in the name of challenging discrimination, this has created limitless opportunities for the pursuit of vexatious claims against employers. Under two recent Disability Discrimination Acts, in 1995 and 2005, companies and public bodies have a duty to 'make reasonable adjustments' to remove any barriers to the employment of disabled people.

Though the legislation specifically states that the definition of impairments should not include a tendency to start fires, to steal, to indulge in sexual abuse, exhibitionism or voyeurism, in practice a wide range of dubious activities can be treated as symptoms of mental illness and therefore indicators of disability. In one particularly grotesque case in 2003 a certain Mr Murray applied for a job with the Citizens Advice Bureau in Newham. Now Mr Murray can hardly be described as an ideal candidate. A paranoid schizophrenic, he had once been imprisoned for stabbing a neighbour.

Understandably, the CAB were reluctant to employ him in an office where he would be dealing with often vulnerable or abusive clients. So his application was turned down.

But Murray claimed that his enthusiasm for knife-wielding assaults was a symptom of his mental illness. He therefore sued Newham CAB on the grounds of disability discrimination under the 1995 Act. His claim was initially rejected by an industrial tribunal, but then it was upheld by an employment appeals tribunal, which argued that the CAB had failed to carry out a proper investigation of Mr Murray's condition and had treated him unfavourably, given that he had a recognised illness, paranoid schizophrenia, as a consequence of which he had a tendency towards violence. …

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