Issue 168 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1993 Copyright © Socialist Review
My brilliant career
Recently I, and others like me, have been found to be the cause of everything that is wrong with this country today, from the current economic climate and a rising level of juvenile crime right through to the housing shortage. No, I'm not a Tory minister, I am a single parent. There, I've admitted it... I feel much better now.
The barrage of abuse started when I accidentally switched on the radio during the Sunday service (is nothing sacred?). The vicar presented a picture of single parents as young women unable to cope with their children and desperately searching for a man who is going to make them complete. As a former battered woman, a new man is the last thing I'm looking for.
There followed a tabloid moral panic with such enlightening statements as, 'A bad father is better than no father.' Try telling that to a woman whose children have been sexually abused. Then we were called 'feckless young women'. While I realise that we don't yet live in a land of equality, there are such things as single parent men... I know, I've seen them. Single parents are widowed, deserted, flee violence, have no access to birth control or are raped. There's nothing feckless about that.
It was stated that we do it for the money. Well, at £70.55 per week (and a milk token) for a single parent with two children it was hardly my most brilliant career move to date, although it probably represents a modest lunch bill for those who set the benefit rates.
The government's solution was the launch of the Child Support Agency. The working parents, who are the only ones who can benefit from the agency, are told that they will have to wait as income support claimants are prioritised. Women fleeing violence are put at further risk while their benefit is deducted pound for pound for any maintenance received. The agency claims that it will not pursue claims where there is a history of violence but in practice requires documentary evidence. It also fails to recognise that emotional abuse is domestic violence. The formula for assessing maintenance is too rigid and does not take into account amicable court settlements, the needs of a second family and travelling and accommodation costs of access parents.
A friend of mine was summoned to the DSS six months before the introduction of the CSA. She was asked the name of her child's father, how many times she had had sex with him and where and when her child had been conceived. Failure to produce this information would result in a cut in her benefit of around £20. My friend could not provide the information... she had been raped. She was so distressed that she felt forced to find work, but the cost of her childcare means that in real terms she earns less than Income Support levels.
So incensed was I by all this unfair scapegoating that I rang a phone-in on Radio 4 and invited Redwood, or another Tory MP with an axe to grind, to spend a 'feckless' week with my family. No sooner had I put the phone down than it rang. Briefly my life flashed before my eyes at the thought of having to entertain a Tory for a week. It was a friend of mine thanking me for at least trying to redress the balance. My invitation still stands, but so far there have been no takers.
Sign of the times
Deaf people are an oppressed minority in our society. They are denied equality with hearing people, particularly access to education and employment.
Many things that hearing people take for granted, such as the telephone and television, are largely inaccessible. But the biggest obstacle is in comfortable communication with the majority hearing people in everyday life.
Deaf people are portrayed as helpless victims who lead unhappy lives because they cannot hear. But being deaf does not make anyone unhappy or sad, although some of the circumstances that can cause deafness (such as meningitis) are very unpleasant. It is the way society excludes deaf people that is the problem. They are seen as people with a difficulty that requires the help of social workers, welfare and charity.
The recognition of British Sign Language would recognise that deaf people are a linguistic minority with language rights. But the government continuously refuses to do so.
Much of the debate on deaf issues is centred around the question of 'methods of communication for deaf children'. Should they be encouraged and taught in British Sign Language (BSL)? Or is it better to learn to communicate by lipreading in English with the use of any residual hearing via the use of powerful hearing aids--a method otherwise known as 'oralism'?
A European conference which took place in Milan 1880, and attended by 'professionals' working with deaf children, favoured oralism over sign language. Only one of the 164 delegates was deaf. Thus oralism has been promoted by governments and 'professionals' for over 100 years.
Following Milan, the suppression of sign language and the modern day oppression of deaf people began. Most deaf teachers who worked in schools were sacked. Children were punished when they signed: such discipline included having their hands tied up or slapped or having to wear a notice around them saying, 'I must not sign'.
A few deaf individuals who had obtained high level qualifications were held up to demonstrate the 'success' of oralism. Many were successful in this way and continue to be so. But the mass, mainly working class deaf, and especially users of sign language, are excluded from society.
This method was not the right way to ensure deaf people were fully integrated. That is why sign language has begun to re-emerge having been kept alive by a minority (50,000) for whom sign is their only means of communication.
How can the barriers that separate deaf and hearing be removed? The socialist answer should be simple: cater for all deaf people's needs. Hearing aids and all other technological aids to communication are important because deaf people's needs differ and many do benefit from technology. Presently, equipment is beyond the reach of working class deaf people.
However, opening up sign language is the key. Sign language needs to be recognised and made accessible to both deaf and hearing, children and adults. It needs to be taught as a language in mainstream schools, alongside other languages. Teachers need to acquire the language as part of their training. In this way, not only will deaf children be able to freely sign and study in the classroom, so will hearing children.
But it is quite clear real equality will only be possible with the complete uprooting of a society which puts profit before any plans to meet people's needs.
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