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Poundland's Nutters are not ok

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Stigma is something that those of us from minority or marginalised groups in society have to face on a daily basis. Women are judged on their looks and what they wear, BME (black and minority ethnic) people are the subject of microaggressions and racist abuse, and LGBT+ people encounter homophobia regularly.

Disabled people are amongst the most marginalised, they encounter enormous levels of stigma, abuse and institutionalised violence by the means of governmental welfare cuts. This includes people who suffer from a mental illness, whose lives are made worse by stigma in society.

Poundland has recently come under fire for their sweets “Nutters”, which are similar to peanut M&Ms, for perpetuating negative stereotypes related to mental illness. The packaging shows cross-eyed characters and the name of the sweets.

For some, this may not seem bad. However, for those of us who suffer from mental illnesses and struggle to access the help and services we need, this can be a kick in the teeth. For years, we’ve been called offensive terms like mental cases, crazy, insane, lunatics, morons… I could go on. In 2007, a study on mental illness and negative labels showed that “nuts” was one of the most frequently used terms amongst young people to negatively describe mentally ill people.

The article also talks about how teenagers learn this from the media and advertising, and how this stigma can prevent people from seeking help. 

When popular shops like Poundland legitimise the use of terms like “nutter” in a product, this comes across as legitimising it in wider mainstream society. If it’s on a product, why can’t I say it in real life? This is an example of ableist language. Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities and can manifest itself in a number of different ways – including in language. Ableist language is not limited to mental illnesses but many, many other kinds of disabilities – I won’t list them here but you can imagine the kinds of terms I mean, and here is a rather comprehensive list.

Ableism in society directly contributes to the oppression and stigmatisation of disabled people, and it kills. We have a system that has caused disabled people to die by declaring them “fit for work” when they definitely aren’t so they don’t have to pay their benefits.

Increasing demand means that there is less accessible housing or beds and appointment times for Mental Health services, with waiting lists of up to 50 months in certain parts of the UK. Compared to this, an ableist product in Poundland may just seem like a drop in the ocean – but it most definitely contributes to the stigma that makes disabled peoples’ lives more and more difficult, and potentially ends them.

This isn’t the only product that’s come under fire for being discriminatory in the last few years. I’m sure we all remember the Yorkie chocolate bar’s “not for girls” branding, which was deliberately and overtly sexist and wasn’t removed until as recently as 2012. This contributes to sexist ideas of women being inferior, that they can’t handle as much as men can or that men are stronger and more manly. Although intended to be humorous, this is still offensive and was rightly pulled off the shelves.

Overall, it is clear that the use of discriminatory branding – whether it’s sexist, ableist, or anything else – can have a direct negative impact on the lives of marginalised groups. Although Poundland has stated that these products are a ‘customer favourite’, this doesn’t change anything. Ableism should not be tolerated in favour of consumerism and money-making when it is so clearly contributing to the stigmatisation and harm of disabled people by our government. It is right that campaigners are criticising Poundland for this, and they should discontinue them.

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