Social Justice, Dignity, and Invisibility (Patrick Harvie got me thinking).

I recently joined the Scottish Green Party and attended my first branch meeting in Stirling. Patrick Harvie (co-convenor) spoke to the branch about a range of issues, but two things in particular wouldn’t leave my mind that evening and the following few days. Social justice, and dignity. It occurred to me that I had been affected by both – or more accurately, affected by the lack of both.
I became ill in March of this year when I experienced my first attack of Neuromyelitis Optica. I was paralysed from the chest down and lost a substantial part of my vision. After 2 months in hospital, I had learned to walk again and my vision had improved, but my partner Kirsty and I were forced to move to a more accessible property with the adaptations I needed to function as independently as possible. For a short period I received a small amount of housing benefit and a council tax reduction (18pence a week – very helpful), along with my statutory sick pay. I had taken a £700 a month cut in income overnight. I have been in dispute with the DWP over benefits since leaving hospital in May, and am yet to receive a penny (The DWP haven’t taken favourably to the fact I spent 2 years prior to getting ill travelling Australia and New Zealand, which means I don’t meet the eligibility criteria). My sick pay has now ended and as I am still unable to work, I officially have no income. We are at a loss. The organisations helping us have reached the limit of what they can do. We now survive on Kirsty’s student loan (which, even though she is council tax exempt, is used to pay my council tax) and her minimum wage pay from two days’ work a week in a charity shop.
So I ask, where is the justice in that? In a society that revolves around money, how can I live with dignity with an empty purse and the dregs of a rather large overdraft? Because I can’t contribute – not in tax anyway – I have been cast aside. I’m being supported by a mature student who is trying to further herself, struggling to balance caring for me with an increasing workload from university, and working. We’ve become invisible. Me, my partner, and my invisible illness.
You see, I don’t bear the scars of my battle. The electric shock nerve pain doesn’t illuminate my flesh like lightning bolts. The extra lines drawn by fatigue under my eyes aren’t apparent to a stranger. The weakness, the numbness – they can’t be seen. The tears that have fallen and the sleepless nights, punctuated with the fear of waking paralysed again, and blind; they all happen behind closed doors. The depression is hidden by a forced smile.
But also invisible to the naked eye are my triumphs, my successes. My legs just look like legs. A passer-by doesn’t see the hours spent wiggling a toe, raising each leg an inch, or trembling at a walking frame. They didn’t witness my second go at first steps, wobbling knees, laughter, tears and gasping breath as I walked into the arms of my partner. Society doesn’t see my strength, my worth, or what I have to offer that isn’t 40 hours of work a week and a lump of tax. Society doesn’t see me at all.
My partner and I are by no means the worst affected by this lack of social justice and lack of dignity. Inequality is rife. Homeless shelters are full. People with disabilities are ignored, or worse, punished. Minority groups are demonised. People on low wages can barely make ends meet. And somewhere at the top of the chain are people afforded privileges, unnecessary bonuses, and ridiculous luxuries. People earn more money than it is possible to spend, their bank accounts bursting at the seams. I ask again, where is the justice? What is dignified about knowing people a few postcodes away are relying on food banks, while you fritter away cash on excesses? I ask David Cameron, where is the justice in forcing low paid workers to pay back a debt they didn’t create, while big business booms? Where is the dignity in making people invisible, people like me?
I am glad I joined the Greens. I am glad I heard Patrick Harvie speak. And I am glad there is a party out there fighting for a genuinely fairer society, fighting for all of the invisibles. And I’ll be fighting with them.

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3 responses to “Social Justice, Dignity, and Invisibility (Patrick Harvie got me thinking).

  1. Pingback: In Praise of the Imperfect Ally | Heather Emmebolisms·

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