'Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC)', 'Black Triangle Campaign' and Never Again Ever!' gather today in outside Parliament to remember the disabled victims of the Nazi Holocaust. The groups want to highlight current injustices such as the 1,300 sick and disabled people who died after being deemed fit to work under this Government's austerity regime. Westminster, London.

British Newspaper Attacks Disability Benefits With ‘Calculator’ Straight Out of the Nazi Handbook

Presenting the disabled as an undue financial burden on the abled citizen was a Nazi propaganda tactic

Despite that it’s the only member nation of the United Nations to be subject to investigation for the abominable way its government treats disabled people, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph still thinks the U.K. is doing too much to help keep them alive and, in a move right out of the Nazi handbook, has created a calculator that helps readers work out just how much the “welfare state” is costing them personally.

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The article that accompanies this calculator, possessed of the deliberately inflammatory headline “Exactly how much of your salary bankrolls the welfare state” and the subtitle “Britain isn’t working – calculate what it’s costing you,” is a diatribe against the concept of both disability benefits and old age pensions. As a propaganda piece, it’s not subtle. “Roughly 3.7 million have been granted indefinite exemptions from finding a job” is a funny way of saying that 3.7 million disabled people, who cannot work due to their disabilities, have been awarded up to £515.40 a month (maybe going all the way up to £782.35 if they’re severely disabled) in order to keep them from starving to death on the streets.

Putting this number down to “a surge in claims of mental health issues and joint pain during the pandemic” is derisive and clearly intended to diminish the reader’s perception of what are, in fact, disabling conditions to live with that, yes, actually were caused by the pandemic—either a result of infection with the virus itself or the psychological impacts of lockdown, mass death, and the other sociological effects of a global pandemic.

But all of this is just to setup their real question—what is, for them, the heart of the issue:

It raises the question, just how much of our hard-won salaries are spent on the benefits of those who do not work? With the calculator below, Telegraph Money can now reveal how much of your salary goes towards bankrolling the welfare state.

Note the emphasis on “do not work” and how it conflates the people who cannot work due to age or disability with the fantasy figure of the refusenik, who lounges around at home, willfully choosing not to work, all on the government’s tab. It should be clear by now that the purpose of this article is to raise outrage against both the welfare system itself and the most vulnerable people who are dependent on it, but still, there’s more.

The authors of the piece, Alex Clark and Tom Haynes, go on to object to the marginal and long overdue increase of corporation tax (even though the U.K. still has the joint highest uncapped headline rate of tax relief among G7 countries), the freeze on higher rate tax thresholds (meaning the wealthiest aren’t getting a tax cut), and the fact that this didn’t coincide with a lowering of government welfare spending, as if the former requires the latter as a form of penance. They seem outraged that most public sector spending goes toward the welfare state, with around a third of the average individual’s tax bill going toward it—this despite acknowledging that the percentage of public spending that goes toward welfare benefits has actually gone down while overall spending has gone up.

But of course, the greatest outrage in this piece is reserved for the very wealthiest, who, due to earning significantly more than people in lower tax brackets, accordingly pay more tax and therefore contribute more to the welfare system. Leaning heavily on the fact that the highest tax bracket’s threshold was lowered from £150,000 pa to £125,140 this year, requiring the people in that gap to pay a whole 5% more on anything they earn above that limit, Clark and Haynes bemoan that a larger percentage of their tax bill goes towards maintaining the welfare system than lower earners. Someone earning five times the average U.K. salary pays up to nine times the amount towards the welfare system, we are told, as if this isn’t the entire point of staggered tax rates and how the system is supposed to work.

Now for a reality check. It’s incredibly difficult to successfully apply for disability benefits of any kind in the U.K. According to a recent government study, the release of which is suspiciously close this particular Telegraph article’s publication, “the health assessment system for deciding if someone can claim disability benefits is grueling and often incorrect.” 90% of PIP (the most common benefit) claimants are denied on their first attempt with 89% of them denied again on their second round.

The difficulty and sheer mental and physical stress involved in first applying and then attempting an appeal has led to a significant number of disabled people giving up, not because they don’t need the help after all but because the process is simply impossible for them to navigate with their disabilities. Reasons for denial are frequently absurd, and many disabled people have been reporting for years now that their assessor wrote down and submitted completely different information than they providedmisinformation that led to their claim being denied.

While 3.7 million people considered too disabled to work may seem like a lot, when the total number of disabled people across the country is taken into consideration, 12.1 million, it suddenly seems a lot more reasonable. There aren’t too many people in receipt of benefits, or capable of working but given a pass not to—it’s the exact opposite, and the amount of money disabled people are awarded by the government is, in most cases, barely enough to live on.

This kind of rhetoric is dangerous, and comparing this calculator, and the article that accompanied it, to Nazism is neither figurative nor hyperbole. One of the very first things that the Nazis did, as a deliberate first step on their path to the Holocaust, was stir up hatred and resentment of disabled people based on the idea that their continued existence is a financial burden to the state.

Labelling them as “useless eaters,” people who required care and support while being unable to contribute to the state, the Nazis distributed a flurry of propaganda focused on presenting disabled people as a financial burden to everyone else—a burden that prevented “good Germans,” who worked and paid taxes, from being able to access the resources they needed. This propaganda was so ubiquitous that it even made its way into children’s maths books, with school children being asked to solve questions like this:

 “The construction of a lunatic asylum costs 6 million marks. How many houses at 15,000 marks each could have been built for that amount?”

How many steps is a calculator—designed to let you know exactly how much enabling disabled people’s continued survival costs you personally—removed from this? How far off is an article dedicated to decrying the expense of disabled lives as an undue burden, especially on the upper classes?

Of course, I doubt very much that Clark and Haynes believe they’re stirring up hatred against actual disabled people. From the content of the article, it seems very likely that the authors have bought into the British right wing cultural obsessions of benefit frauds and disability fakers, a group of people that are vanishingly rare but which conservatives see as boogeymen around every corner. I’m sure they believe all those people now experiencing joint pain and mental health problems, as a result of a mass disabling event which caused those specific medical problems on a large scale, are just lying to get out of having to work.

It’s a very convenient thing to believe if you want to pay lower taxes and are resentful of having to share even a fraction of your wealth with people less fortunate than yourself. It ties in very nicely with all the other conservative ideals that The Telegraph and its readers stand for, and that’s why it’s so dangerous: That’s exactly how and why it worked so well the last time.

Painting a group of people as too expensive to keep alive is literally the first step to genocide, and given the political environment, in which hate speech against a number of groups as well as legislation targeting them has become normalized, in both the press and parliament, its very concerning that The Telegraph felt comfortable publishing an article that so openly expresses these sentiments.

I wonder how many people’s disability benefits the coronation could have paid for instead. Funny how papers like The Telegraph didn’t have an issue with taxpayers funding that.

(featured image: In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)


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Siobhan Ball
Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.