Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews’ recent announcement that eligibility for the disability pension was to be tightened was a masterful demonstration of political weasel words.
Full marks to the speechwriter, it was a textbook example.
The first thing that Andrews did was to reclassify those on disability pensions. He did this by saying young people on the disability pension sat on couch all the watching television. The reclassification or label that comes with this description is “lazy” and this combines very nicely with “young”. So the new label is now “young and lazy.” It’s very easy for the idea of “young and lazy” to morph into the idea of “dole-bludger.” It’s also interesting to understand that and that the new labelling stresses the young and lazy idea and de-emphasises the idea of disability.
Once the re-labelling has been done it is necessary to construct a narrative to support it. This is Andrews’ narrative: Young people sit on the couch at home all day watching television because they don’t want to work. It’s seductively simple. The stereotype of lazy young people sitting around watching television resonates well with many prejudices.
The skilful thing about the construction of this narrative is it works so well to support the new labelling of people on disability pensions.
An alternative narrative would be: Because there is no work for them, young disabled people have nothing to do except sit at home all day and watch television.
The technique is quite simple once you understand it: always put the most important idea at the beginning of the sentence. Andrews places the emphasis on sitting at home all day watching television. The alternative narrative places the emphasis on the idea that there is no work for young disabled people.
The other great thing about the Andrews’ messages that fits into the wider context of the economic muscularity of Joe Hockeys’ heavy lifting message. These lazy couch potatoes aren’t doing their share of the heavy lifting.
The solution to the problem is to provide incentive for people to work by cutting their disability pensions.
This simplistic message shifts our attention away from the real nature of the problem. The first problem is that there is very little work available for people with disabilities. This is coupled with the lack of employers who are prepared to provide the workplace support necessary to employ people with disabilities. The second major problem is the lack of training for people with disabilities to fill specific jobs in the workplace.
It’s a complex problem and one that the simplistic approach of Kevin Andrews and the government he represents is unlikely to solve.