I haven’t written much lately on the Coalition Government’s policies for those of us with disabilities. Believe me, it’s not because I don’t care or that I think they’re doing such a great job but more that I don’t find myself comfortably situated in the space allocated to 'person with disabilities'.
Don’t misunderstand. I support pro-disability campaigns as best I am able and applaud all successes gained but I hate the negativity of the whole debate. It focusses, so much, on our differences, our inabilities and our misery, identifying us as separate from the rest of society and creating division even amongst those of us with disabilities - who is the worst off, best helped, most deserving.
Last week, I read an article by Zoe Williams in The Guardian’s Comment Is Free section titled: If we can’t afford for people to be disabled, what’s the plan? Worth reading in its’ entirety (follow the link here), I found the extracts below of particular interest:
[Spending on the disabled] is there to make it possible for people with severe disabilities to live in the world, rather than in one room … without it, they'd be reliant on the local authority care package.
This is about the most severely disabled people in society, people whose disability brooks no ambiguity, having money stripped from them until they can no longer live dignified, fulfilling, stimulating lives.
Disabled people with the greatest needs make up 2% of the population, and yet they are weathering 15% of the cuts. By 2015, the combination of measures targeting this group will amount to losing more than £8,000 each a year. It's the difference between being a trustee of one of the country's most dynamic charities, and having to go to bed at 5.45pm – because that's when your 15 minutes of care has been allocated.
Simply on a practical level, if people aren't looked after properly their needs increase … They will end up in residential homes, the solution which has the distinction of being both the most expensive and the most feared.
But the expense is even greater when you consider what you lose as a society: [people who have had] an active life, as enriching to their communities as it has been fulfilling to them. They've done jobs and voluntary work and fought campaigns and won them; they've brought other people into the thick of society who would otherwise have been isolated.
[The] political statement [of the government] is much deeper than "we can no longer afford disability rights". The political statement, here, is "we can no longer afford for people to be disabled".
This is a massive shift in perspective from any political party, let alone one in government – and before they go any further along this path … it's time to ask: well then, what's your plan? What's your plan for these people whose lives we apparently can't afford?
Yes. This is the argument I wish we would make. Consistently. Again and again. It is such a strong argument against cutting generic welfare spending for the disabled AND the most likely to resonate with both disabled and non-disabled people. As Zoe Williams says, if we are not prepared to support people with disabilities, what is the plan?
By focussing on who suffers the most, we serve only to reduce the debate to divisive issues within the - disabled and able-bodied - community around who is ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ which suits current government rhetoric and policy, fragments both our focus and support and doesn't help us all live better lives. It is disgraceful that so many are expected to live with such low life quality and, more, to squabble over how much worse is 'acceptable'.
Shouldn't we shift focus from skivers and shirkers, the personalisation of misery and responsibility for system failures to that of discussing what is a reasonable quality of life for the state to support and how to deliver it? The expectation of quality must be equivalent to that of an able-bodied person not the minimum required to ameliorate the horrendous suffering of a tiny few. Turn the negative - what we need - into a positive - what we contribute … and make sure that is not a debate just about finances! That sounds like a plan to me - anyone out there doing it already?
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