Against a backdrop of government rhetoric demonising people on benefits, disabled benefits claimants have revealed the prejudice and discrimination they face in their daily lives in an online poll, reports Sunil Peck.
“He asked if I was in work and I replied that I didn’t work and that I received disability benefits,” says Danielle Aghanian, who has a mental health condition, about an exchange with a salesman in a branch of Carphone Warehouse when she tried to buy a new phone contract. “He probed me about my disability and I said that I didn’t have to disclose anything to him because he was selling me a phone contract and it was nothing medical. He said that their policy was that people with learning disabilities and mental disorders can’t take out contracts because of the potential customer having diminished responsibility.”
Puzzled by the prejudice she had experienced, Aghanian spoke to a salesman in another branch who initially said that he wouldn’t sell a contract to someone with learning disabilities or a mental health problem. “Then he said ‘I’ve spoken to you now and I would give you a contract’ and I thought he was trying to shut me up and I walked out. I’ve never ever experienced that kind of discrimination.”
Danielle Aghanian, who objects to the retailer’s assumption that all people with learning disabilities or a mental health condition are incapable of making an informed choice to buy a contract without a guardian, was not involved in the opinion poll commissioned by the Who Benefits? coalition of charities and community groups, but her experience reflects worrying trends revealed in the survey of more than 450 disabled and non-disabled benefits claimants.
The poll of people in receipt of housing benefit, incapacity benefit, employment and support allowance, DLA, personal independence payments, carers allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and tax credits, put the figure for people facing verbal abuse at 800 thousand and physical abuse at 200 thousand. It found that nearly 40 per cent of benefits claimants felt that they were perceived in a negative light, something which affected their self-esteem.
It also found that 18 per cent had faced prejudice by a potential employer; 18 per cent had struggled to open a current account; and that 16 per cent had been denied the chance to rent a home. Katharine Sacks-Jones from the Who Benefits? campaign told Disability Now that although the findings were ‘shocking’ they were not surprising. She said: “So much of the debate and coverage of people who need support from benefits is really negative.”
Sacks-Jones said that she was worried that the prejudice faced by people on benefits was getting worse and added: “We want to see the way that benefits are talked about being far more respectful and accurate. We want politicians to focus on the real reasons people need support from benefits which is the high cost of living, housing being expensive, low wages and people not getting adequate support to help them with mental and physical disabilities.”