According to a recent report, “Disabled people are being ‘left behind in society’ and have ‘very poor’ life chances” (BBC). This report covered six key aspects: “education, work, standard of living, health and care, justice and detention, and participation and identity.” (BBC). In all of these aspects disabled people have faced an increase in disadvantage. It is very difficult for people to take care of the disabled and this burden often falls on the family of the disabled. These costs can be enormous and unduly burdening to those who of no fault of their own are disabled or have a disabled child or family member that they have to take care of.
The reason for this increase in disadvantage is due to the way we currently view the disabled. In our market society, we tend to value people on their perceived worth within the market. One might argue that this is not the case and we do not assign worth based upon labor value within the market but in a market society it is difficult to disentangle perceived societal worth from labor value. “The market is hardly ever avoidable in a market society” states Cohen, and this fact leads to the often unfortunate conditions the disabled find themselves in. Because the labor of the disabled is not as valuable the disabled are seen as less valuable and worth less.
According to this report, the disabled young have the lowest median earnings of any demographic group, they are less likely to own their own home, and families with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty. In response to this report, a government spokesperson said that the government was committed to “ensuring equality of opportunity for disabled people”. This is another way of saying they will continue to promote bourgeois equality of opportunity, the prevailing liberal egalitarian principle. However, trying to promote this equality of opportunity within a market society lends itself to a systematic complacency due to the insurmountability of the task. A disabled person can never truly have equality of opportunity within a market society because they will never achieve the wage labor value of a fully-abled person. Because of this a societal complacency exists where the public can never truly achieve its goal; so then why expend too much effort when more realistic goals are at hand? This complacency is clearly to the detriment of the disabled.
The solution is to reframe how we define our egalitarian principle. Cohen offers a socialist equality of opportunity where “differences of outcome reflect nothing but differences of taste and choice”. If this egalitarian principle were used in a non-market society the underlying motivation for helping disabled people would shift from trying to make the worth of the disabled (which is based on labor-value) equal to the fully-abled to making the quality of the lives of the disabled within the community “reflect nothing but differences of taste and choice” (Cohen). This would mean that the disabled would be part of communal networks engaged in planned mutual giving where the disabled are not simply viewed as less because their labor is worth less.
In a society based on Cohen’s socialist equality of opportunity and anti-market communal reciprocity the socially constructed inferior worth of the disabled is exposed and subsequently swept away. There is no reason a disabled person’s value should be less but in our current liberal society that emphasizes equality of opportunity we view the disabled as being worth less. This makes it impossible to make them equal to the fully-abled which encourages laxness and complacency in aiding and improving the lives of the disabled.
Cohen, G. A. Why Not Socialism? Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2009. Print.
“Disabled People ‘left behind in Society’, Report Finds.” BBC News. BBC, 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.