This morning, I happened upon an article that is so ridiculous that I had to giggle at the fact that something so absurd had been written and then published as news. It was published on The Daily Telegraph.
NSW Disability Support Pensioners now outnumber Australia’s total war wounded by more than 44,000 – Exclusive by Geoff Chambers
At first I shrugged and figured that nobody would be silly enough to buy into the propaganda being sprouted in this article, however, then I had the horrible realisation that yes, they will.
I read some of the comments and had the equally horrible realisation that for every bigoted and ignorant person that took the time to comment, there were probably many more who shared these warped opinions and were just nodding along, silently blaming sick and vulnerable people for being sick and vulnerable.
Often, opinions are presented as news using manipulative language to mould the opinions of an audience. The theme of this particular article is to persuade the Australian people that many people, particularly young ones, who receive the Disability Support Pension are simply bludgers who don’t understand the concept of hard work.
As a young person who relies on the DSP, it’s hard not to take this slander personally. These accusations effect real people. Real people suffer because of this kind of ignorance. Some real people take their own lives.
I decided to take some time to write down why this article reads as absurd in the hope of reminding you why you should always look closer at the ways in which news and opinions are presented. Almost anything can be spun into something else.
Chambers’ article begins with an image and provocative caption.
‘Slackers and slouch hats…’
What is shown is a photograph of some people standing in a line. You are supposed to assume that this is a line of people waiting to receive their Disability Support Pension, but really, it’s just a line of people. Maybe some of them do suffer from disabilities, but you can’t necessarily see that. A more accurate representation of people with disabilities would include more crutches, canes and wheelchairs, however this image is being used to manipulate you into accepting the journalist’s opinion that people who rely on the DSP are “slackers and slouch hats”.
What’s a “slouch hat”? It’s an actual hat that goes on your head that is worn by the Australian military. It’s not a term used to describe a person on a disability pension, or even a lazy person for that matter, it’s an example of how clever this author is being with all of his army comparisons.
‘NSW Disability Support Pensioners now outnumber Australia’s total war wounded by more that 44000.’
NSW DSP Recipients: 270,415
Nation’s War Wounded: 226,016
There is no reason why these two figures are or should be comparable. There is no reason why the current number of disabled people in New South Wales should be less or greater than the number of Australian’s wounded in foreign conflicts since the 1880s.
Chambers is using this comparison to manipulate you. In this instance, you are supposed to be an Australian who is proud of soldiers and who views war as a necessary evil, therefore you view the people who go and fight for your country as heroes and thus any sort of disabling injury that they obtain in doing so is tragic and they deserve the respect and support of their nation.
This image of a tragic hero is being used to contrast with an imagined image of a person with a disability, who obtained their disability without fighting in any wars. You are supposed to consider that a war hero is a more valid human being than a person with a disability.
Twice, in bold, Chambers informs you that almost 20,000 people have joined the “disability welfare line” in the past three years. Apparently, this is the equivalent of five Australian army brigades, which is as relevant as pointing out that 20,000 people is the equivalent of 20,000 people.
This figure is included to manipulate you into assuming that the number is very large and that not that many people could be genuinely disabled, even though there is no reason why this number should be higher, lower, or exactly this amount. Nature doesn’t have any rules about how many human beings can be disabled at any one time.
In addition, you are being informed that ‘The size of the number of DSP recipients in NSW is double that of Ukraine’s active army personnel and exceeds the population of Pacific Island states, including Vanuatu and New Caledonia’.
These comparisons are entirely random. You are supposed to respond to this information by thinking “Wow, that’s a lot”, because Chambers is just comparing a number to smaller numbers. The amount of active army personnel in the Ukraine and the populations of Vanuatu and New Caledonia have nothing to do with one another, let alone anything to do with the number of DSP recipients in one state in Australia.
Chambers is quick to point out that the DSP claims for physical injuries have decreased since 2001, yet claims related to psychological and psychiatric conditions have increased dramatically. This is supposed to make you believe that a physical injury is more valid than a mental illness.
This concept is quickly backed up with some big numbers, because big numbers are scary and Chambers is really hoping that you don’t understand statistics and will simply be terrified that more people have been counted with mental illness than have been counted with physical illness.
‘Since 2001, successful mental health claims for the DSP have jumped from 140,965 (22.6 per cent of overall claims) to 256,380 (31.2 per cent of overall claims). In comparison, the number of musculoskeletal and connective tissue recipients decreased by almost 17,000 claims since 2010.’
These figures are being included to further sway you into believing that “most”, not “some” of the mental illness DSP claims must be fakers. They absolutely must be people “rorting the system” because 256,380 just seems like a really big number compared to 17,000.
Once again, I must remind you that there are no rules about how many members of the human race, in one particular area of the Earth, can be simultaneously suffering either psychological or physical disability.
Along with being blinded by the big numbers, Chambers is also hoping that you take on the point that he is hammering home, which is that a musculoskeletal or connective tissue disability is somehow more valid and disabling that a mental illness.
There is no reason why these two states of disability, these two states of being a human, should be directly comparable, other than that there is only one pension payment that is designated to care for people suffering from either type of disability. This, in itself, is a failing of our current welfare structure because the support and cost of living with a disability is highly variable depending on each person’s individual symptoms of disability, be those physical, psychological, or both.
Oh yes, a person can be living with both a physical and mental illness. There’s this thing that happens after bad stuff happens, you know, when human people have reactions. Becoming physically disabled is a traumatic experience and the huge lifestyle changes that come with such a transition can cause disabling levels of Depression and PTSD, for example.
‘Regional NSW and western Sydney are fuelling welfare increases across the state, with more than 483,000 people now relying on payments from either DSP or Newstart Allowance, better known as the dole.’
Watch out! Chambers has dropped another big, scary number! This time, he’s added together the amount of people claiming the DSP and the amount of people claiming the dole – which you are supposed to believe is only for lazy people who don’t want to work. The author isn’t saying this directly, he’s just throwing the big number out and expecting that you will jump to the conclusion that DSP recipients must also just be lazy people who don’t want to work.
In case you couldn’t jump to this ridiculous conclusion all on your own, Chambers has then gone on to include a bunch of places where more people who live on the DSP reside than in other places. Apparently, the highest concentration of DSP receivers is in Sydney’s west, which Chambers describes as a “welfare wasteland”, as though it is a place where lazy people go to laze around instead of working.
Another explanation for a large amount of disabled people living in one area is because they share a level of poverty and the cost of living in this area is lower than in other areas of NSW. The cost of rent in Western Sydney is lower than the CBD, or the northern suburbs, perhaps this is why more people on a limited income are residing there.
‘Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews said changes announced in the federal Budget would help people back into the workforce and help ease psychological pressure on jobseekers.
The DSP, an income support payment for people unable to work for 15 hours or more per week due to permanent physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment, has seen a spike in recent years of psychological claims.
“More stringent payment conditions and activity requirements are essential to ensuring the sustainability of our income support payments. Support must be targeted to those in most need,” Mr Andrews said.’
This is further jargon to ensure that you come to agree with the Chambers’ belief that physical disability is more valid than mental disability. This is propaganda designed to stigmatise mental illness as something that is a choice, something that is the fault and ultimately sole responsibility of the sufferer. Stigma plays a huge role in the life of a person living with mental illness and limits them further than their illness already does.
Propagating the stigma around mental illness is a way to dehumanise those people who are living with it so that other, more privileged people can continue to enjoy their privileges without paying to support people with disabilities that those who are privileged do not want to accept as real.
Have you ever considered that mental illness might be a greater obstacle to being able to work than physical disability? That there are no mobility aids for a person’s mind?
Following on from this intentionally inflammatory article is another story describing a DSP recipient, Dean Burlock, who lost an appeal to have a suspension of his payments overturned after he surpassed the length of time he was allowed to stay out of the country without breaching his disability support requirements.
‘AAT member Dr Marella Denovan said the reason given by Burlock, who lists his address as Cairns on social media, for why he exceeded a six-week “portability period” when a DSP recipient can travel overseas was implausible.
Burlock claimed he became seriously ill while staying at a Los Angeles hostel in April last year while trying to find acting work. He said pollution and a “flu-like” infection caught from other people in his hostel had triggered the illness.
“He went clubbing with other residents, however had to stop when he became ill,” Dr Denovan wrote in her decision to uphold the suspension.
“Mr Burlock claims these symptoms were so severe he was unable to travel.”
The sudden illness occurred two days before the end of the portability period on May 20 and Burlock did not see a doctor until June 21.
Dr Denovan described Burlock as not being “a credible witness” and upheld a recent decision to suspend his DSP.
Burlock, who disputed he was looking for work in the US, said he had “no comment about the matter” and that he was “happy with the decision”.
The Daily Telegraph understands the pension is suspended but not terminated. Burlock would not confirm why he was on the DSP.’
This entire example of a person who is supposedly rorting the system is an invalid argument for anything because Burlock has chosen not to reveal exactly how he is disabled. The nature of his illness is the only factor that can explain whether or not pollution or a flu-like virus could incapacitate him so badly that he couldn’t travel.
Such a thing is very, very possible. I speak from personal experience, as somebody who lives with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a condition that effects my entire nervous system. My body can allow me to function sometimes and be unable to get out of bed at other times and my state at any given moment is not predictable. My symptoms are greatly influenced by the weather, I have increased sensitivity to chemicals and toxins and any sort of viral infection can incapacitate me for weeks.
The unpredictability of my condition means that I could be well enough to go out one night and then be unable to move for weeks. I also wouldn’t rush off to see a doctor because doing so can be an expensive waste of time for people with chronic illnesses who already understand what is wrong with them and that medical interference is not going to help.
Chambers states that Burlock was in Los Angeles looking for acting work and then later includes that this fact is disputed by Burlock. This is Chambers making an assumption about Burlock’s intentions and then including this assumption as though it is fact. This inclusion is also designed to make you look down on Burlock because he is an actor, who reportedly went clubbing.
Chambers is hoping that you will find such careers and ventures as frivolous and undeserving of support. He is hoping that you have such limited understanding of disability that you assume that somebody who is unable to work is also unable to do anything, anytime. He is hoping that you don’t realise that there is a huge range of how disability can impact on a life that is much more complicated than simply “bedridden or able-bodied”.
Chambers is hoping that you will use the limited information that he has included about this case to label Burlock as a person who has rorted the system without ever wondering if the appeal that was overturned was in any way mishandled, influenced by stigma, or influenced by the limited medical knowledge of those wielding the power. Because no judicial system has ever been corrupted, insufficient or ruled by bias, right?
Why was Burlock considered to not be a credible witness? We really know nothing about this case other than the tiny parts that support Chambers’ message that Burlock is a faker.
Chambers’ final inclusion in this article is to include the opinion of Indigenous leader Warren Mundine regarding levels of youth unemployment. This section of Chambers’ article is about an entirely different issue to the disability support pension, however he is hoping that you’ll read it as related and in support of his topic.
High levels of youth unemployment and high levels of unemployment amongst people with disabilities? It simply must be laziness. It must be faking. It must be the fault of the people living in poverty. There’s no way that this could be the result of problems within society rather than within individuals, that would involve more government responsibility and less ability for them to shift the blame onto vulnerable members of the community.
Chambers has ended his article by including a quote from one young person who is super motivated and willing to relocate to better his opportunities for employment. This is supposed to make you think that such a relocation is possible for everybody who can’t find work, including those people living with disabilities. This is supposed to lead you to believe that people who can’t work, or can’t find work, are unmotivated and that the whole problem is as simple as that.
In light of the recent Australian budget announcements, I am not surprised to see an article like this on a famously trashy news site. However, I worry about the number of people that read articles like this and simply take for granted that what they are being told is true, indisputable and is simply a story rather than a very calculated vehicle for a writer or group to push their own agenda.
Our society might yet be brought down by laziness, but it won’t be that of people who are disabled through no fault of their own. Even those people who do happen to rort the system (likely fewer than you are lead to believe, but we don’t have real statistics on this, just easy accusations) won’t be to blame.
Personally, I’m far more afraid of the laziness of the masses that allow the people in charge to oppress particular groups in our society, the laziness of people who don’t want to learn anything, or fight for the weak, or care about any cause that doesn’t affect them directly.
Those are the slackers and slouch-hats that we should really be worried about.
Love & …well, nothing, I’m obviously too lazy to give you an and