To blot people out of existence first you must blot them from your mind. Then you can persuade yourself that what you are doing is moral and necessary. Today this isn’t difficult. Those who act without compassion can draw upon a system of thought and language whose purpose is to shield them – and blind us – to the consequences.

The contention by Lord Freud, a minister in the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions, that disabled people are “not worth the full wage” isn’t the worst thing he’s alleged to have said. I say “alleged” because what my ears tell me is contested by Hansard, the official parliamentary record. During a debate in the House of Lords, he appeared to describe the changing number of disabled people likely to receive the employment and support allowance as a “bulge of, effectively, stock”. After a furious response by the people he was talking about, this was transcribed by Hansard as “stopped”, rendering the sentence meaningless. I’ve listened to the word several times on the parliamentary video. Like others, I struggle to hear it as anything but “stock”.

If we’re right, he is not the only person at his department who uses this term. Itswebsite describes disabled people entering the government’s work programme for between three and six months as “3/6Mth stock”. Perhaps this makes sense when you remember that they are a source of profit for the companies running the programme. The department’s delivery plan recommends using “credit reference agency data to cleanse the stock of fraud and error”. To cleanse the stock: remember that.

Human beings – by which I mean those anthropoid creatures who do not necessarily receive social security – often live in families. But benefit claimants live in “benefit units”, defined by the government as “an adult plus their spouse (if applicable) plus any dependent children living in the household”. On the bright side, if you die while on a government work programme, you’ll be officially declared a “completer”. Which must be a relief.

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