Further to my last blog, I recently attended an event where I met a fellow disabled person who was the card to hold when playing disability Top Trumps. Not only was he a wheelchair user who had a weakened right arm, but he also was loosing his sight due to Macular Degeneration, and his hearing too, and he was also Dyslexic and Dyspraxic. So he was Physically & Mobility Impaired, Hearing Impaired, Sight Impaired and had a Learning Disability… and he had just had his Disability Living Allowance stopped, and he didn’t even get the full amount in the first place!. Now if this guy is considered to not be disabled enough to fulfil the criteria for DLA then who the hell is?
It’s plain that there is a plan behind this new policy on disability benefits. Many years ago I worked as a Fresh Claims Clerk in Luton dole office. There was a kind of unwritten policy there that every now and again a group of claims would be stopped and then we would see who could spare the time to come in a spend all day sorting out their benefits. Yeah it did weed out some fraud, but it caused a great deal of upset for the majority of legal claimants. This policy looks like is being applied to disability benefits. Surely only those who are in real need will battle to ensure they keep their benefits? But what about those people who are too disabled or sick to be able to spend time on the phone, attending offices and filling in forms? Or what about those who have a disability that means they can’t understand what is happening?
The thing that makes me most angry about this new Tory policy is while they are hammering the disabled they don’t seem to care if their members act like Barnet council has recently. Brian Coleman and his fellow Conservative councillors on Barnet council have awarded themselves huge increases in the allowances, some of nearly 40%. Now whatever your views on this bonanza pay day, I feel that the fact that this they are members of the same party that is telling us we all have to tighten our belts and prepare for job losses and massive cuts in services does have an element of hypocrisy. If a disabled person get the highest rate of Incapacity Benefit and DLA their annual income is around £11000, but Mr Coleman is now earning an annual wage of £113,735 (plus the pay from any private sector jobs he holds of course). Both is from the public purse, yet who is more deserving? Let’s not mention the massive pay packets and bonuses of company bosses and bankers. So this government really is attacking the poorest while ignoring those who could easily afford to put more into the public purse.
But what really upsets me is this attitude that if a disabled person is not working or fighting to find work they are a useless drain on society when society isn’t exactly an equal playing field. I recently spent a day with a fantastic group of young disabled people at a charity called HertsPASS. They help disabled people get ready to try to go into the work place, and are staffed almost entirely by disabled people. It was a real eye opener to see how much these young people wanted to work, and an inspiration too. Especially as they knew the barriers they would be facing as they as they tried to become independent and employed. One of the guys there worked as an advisor to companies on issues of access, yet he had been waiting for 6 years to find a flat where he could live with his PA. So since he left college he had been forced to live with his parents. He had finally found somewhere and was going to be moving in soon. We also discussed how few clubs and bars and other places a young man who had just left home might want to visit were accessible to him where he was going to live. So even though he had managed to find work, and was now doing what the government says all disabled people should do, he still didn’t have access to the same experience of living able bodied people have. Surely the way to get disabled people into work is to move towards making all of society accessible. If the policy was to create fully integrated education, make the built environment out there fully accessible and change in attitudes towards disability and difference then everyone would be playing on a equal playing field, and would get the same chance to work and the same rewards from it.
This week it was brought home to me when I attended an event at Shape in Kentish Town that examined the portrayal of disabled people in the past. We looked at paintings and engravings of disabled people from the 18th & 19th centuries and discussed what the portrayal might mean. Most of the people who looked at made a living as side show exhibit. Some made a good living showing their amazing abilities despite their disabilities to Royalty and Nobility while others appeared in Freak Show style events. Some where event the property of the people who ran the event. Yet if we examine how they lived they could almost fall into the hoped for future of disabled people that this government is championing. They all worked, and paid their way. So what if hey had no dignity and had to live off the attitude towards their disability? So what if they had no security? Could it be that this government is forgetting the Tories old love of Victorian Values and going for Dickensian Values instead?
Whatever, I worry that if these changes are being put in place by our government after such a short time in office will we end up with a situation that means we look back on the past, and the discrimination we faced, as a golden Utopia?