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The Economics of Disability

A couple of weeks ago I heard an astonishing phone in on Radio Five-Live. One caller actually argued that disabled children should effectively be abandoned at birth and that her taxes should not be used to care for people who were unlikely to be a productive member of society. Her comments produced outrage but she raised an important point: Why should we care for the disabled when the economics of disability just don’t add up?

 

As the father of a disabled child I have a vested interest and it will come as no surprise that I find such views odious. However, I am not blind to the reality of the situation that I am in. Like most parents, I constantly worry about how my children will turn out. For my able bodied daughter Meri, these are the simple things like will she be happy and healthy, will she go to university, will she find a fulfilling partner, will she ever make me a proud grandfather? For my disabled son Arun my worries are rather more profound: Will he survive to adulthood, will he ever grow up to be independent, will he be victimised and what will happen to him when we are no longer able to care for him?

Arun is already a burden on the state. The medical and education services he calls upon cost thousands of pounds a month. When he was in intensive care in hospital I was told that his bed cost £8,000 a night. Going forward, it isn’t going to get any cheaper. It is entirely possible, even probable, that he will continue to need expensive help for the rest of his life. The flip side of this is that the taxes he will earn are unlikely to ever pay the Exchequer back. So why should we pay for citizens like Arun?

Because they are our babies.

I believe there is a social contract.

The worth of a civilisation is not measured by its GDP, its literature, music or its monuments. Its worth is measured by how well it looks after the needy, the worthy and the vulnerable. The strong and the rich (and I would count myself in both these categories) have an obligation to care for the weak and the poor and there is no section of society more needy, worthy and vulnerable than sick children.

It is an uncomfortable fact that we are not all born equal. The lucky ones are strong, intelligent and good looking. Whilst nurture plays a great role in defining who you will end up being, one cannot deny the role of nature. Because we have decided that we will not throw our unworthy babies from mount Taygetos as the ancient Spartans did; that we will not practice the warped eugenics promoted by the Nazis, we must do our utmost to care for those that most need our protection.

I believe it is the duty of everyone to do what they can to help those less fortunate than themselves. In fact, if I could live my life again I would become a Paediatrician because I can think of nothing more noble than saving a child’s life.

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