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Discrimination: The man on the floor is Nick Sheldrick, who is paralysed from the waist down. Protesters say police pushed him out of his wheelchair during an anti-fracking protest in Lancashire during July 2017. Police said they were moving him out of the way of a lorry, but they would, wouldn’t they?

Is this fascism?

People with disabilities who exercised their right to protest against fracking (in accordance with the United Nations convention) are being reported to the Department for Work and Pensions by Lancashire police, apparently in the hope that their benefits will be cancelled as punishment for daring to leave their homes.

According to Disability News Service, police forces have been accused of targeting disabled people involved in anti-fracking protests with violence [see the image above for a possible example] – and now protesters in Lancashire have accused their local police of passing information to the DWP.

DWP practices mean anyone investigated for fraud has their benefits stopped before any guilt or innocence is proved. This has prompted some to say that malicious prompting of disabled people for benefit fraud – without evidence – should be considered a hate crime:

It seems Lancashire Police had no such evidence, despite their tweeted claim:

Information to suggest fraud may be being committed, is it? John Pring of DNS asked the obvious question:

But what “clearly suggests fraud may be being committed”, if disabled people are out at a protest? Tom Artingstall put the question in its baldest possible terms: “So, to be clear, @LancsPolice officially consider disabled persons being outside their homes to ‘clearly suggest that fraud may be being committed’? Please confirm or clarify your official position.”

I have seen no response to this question. In its absence, members of the public have been led to draw their own conclusions.

Katie de Long, for example, pointed out: “You are encouraging officers to exercise rampant ableist bias in the hopes of frightening disabled people out of protesting. You can’t tell someone’s med status from looking at them- and encouraging reassessment of benefits is a form of retaliation. Shame on you, every one.”

FeistyWeevil picked up on the wording used by the police spokesperson: “Clearly suggests? How? Example: To be eligible for PIP a claimant’s impairment(s) has to affect their ability to complete an activity on more than 50% of days in a 12 month period, not ALL the time. You are meddling in something you have no place in out of spite. Unprofessional.”

Evander suggested: “So you aren’t “qualified to make any medical assessments” but still decide that simply being outside as a disabled person “clearly suggests fraud”? You know nothing about the sheer amount of diseases and conditions, including ones that fluctuate.”

And This Site’s old friend Paula Peters concluded: “There is a thing called the Right to Protest as ratified by the UN convention. The actions of your police force & officers are horrendous and disgusting. Attacking disabled protestors then reporting them Is the lowest of the low. No wonder you are called the enemy of the state.”

There is more to this story than meets the eye.

Consider the following thread by Mark Brown:

“As a disabled person your life is subject to others’ tolerance.” “Disabled people and people with mental health difficulties have been pushed to the edge of [our] community.” “As a result of 15 years of anti-benefits rhetoric, [the] public feels it has [the] right to subject those it does not like to scrutiny and try [to] grass them up maliciously.”

Isn’t that exactly the kind of “othering” that happens in fascist states? Minorities to be persecuted are treated as somehow less than the favoured majority and it is intimated that they should not enjoy the same rights as the rest of society. So, when they are persecuted by the public, the authorities turn a blind eye. And when they are persecuted by the authorities, who will stand up for them?

Mr Brown concluded: “In a different culture, one free from the suspicion of Disabled people, it would not cross anyone’s mind to even question someone’s right to benefits because they were demonstrating. In this one, it’s too many peoples first thought. ‘How dare you be in need and also a person?'”

The Labour Party has challenged the Conservative government on this attitude, likening it to the “hostile environment” policy inflicted on people from foreign countries who were invited into the UK to rebuild our nation after the ravages of World War II, and then persecuted them when Theresa May decided they were no longer needed.

And, as Marsha de Cordova pointed out in Parliament, the effects of this policy are more far-reaching than an attempt to cause trouble for a few disabled protesters:

So, again, I ask: Is this fascism? I think so. And I wonder – it isn’t very many years since the UK stood as a beacon of hope against fascist states and the discrimination – the persecution – they promote. How did we allow our nation to become the enemy?

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