Hardest Hit

I have to admit I’ve been quite shocked and angered by the vitriol directed at disabled people campaigning against the proposed Government cuts to the Disabled Living Allowance; for those of you who don’t know, this is a benefit for people who need help because they are physically or mentally disabled. It has a strict eligibility criteria and is divided into two components; one for personal care and one for mobility. Some recipients qualify for both components but a large majority only claim for mobility assistance to help with travel costs because they have severe difficulty walking or like me, can’t walk at all.

A few weeks ago thousands of disabled protesters and their families marched to Westminster, as part of the Hardest Hit campaign. I had planned to attend the rally but unfortunately was held up at another appointment. I was hoping to read more about it in that week’s press but sadly the coverage is next to non existent; another sad indictment of our “I’m alright Jack” society.

Listening to snippets of coverage on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 I found myself feeling increasingly frustrated at the listeners who were texting in their own comments; to paraphrase a few examples “I wouldn’t claim benefits if I was disabled” and “No one helps me, why should I help them?” What happened in their lives to create such animosity and such a dearth of compassion towards vulnerable people struggling with the most basic human functions?

Interestingly a recent survey by Scope has shown evidence that there has been an increase in verbal abuse and physical violence against disabled people and that this rise seems attributable to the Government’s publicity of their proposed cuts and reforms. Sadly, the Government’s reasoning for changing DLA perpetuates this pathetic idea that people with disabilities are all social scroungers, whilst I accept that there are some people who are fraudulently claiming IB and DLA, these cuts will do more harm than good.

We don’t want to be further isolated and excluded from society, we want inclusion and equality and that is what the DLA provides; it doesn’t give us a metaphorical head start, merely edges us a little closer to equal footing. There is no amount of money that can compensate a severe disability or give relief to stressed and exhausted family carers. Benefits simply help some families to live a very basic existence, not a lavish life of luxury on Lake Como.

Personally the DLA ensures I can travel independently, I work full time and it funds my car without which I would have to give up work. Isn’t that counteractive to the ideology that disabled people should be working? Without my job how can I contribute to society, to GDP or pay NI and tax? Contrary to popular belief not all disabled people can use public transport; I certainly can’t, so bang goes work life, social life, in fact any life at all. Would it more convenient for the Government to just lock me and others like me in a room and let us waste away? There is currently a proposal to remove the mobility component of DLA from people who live full-time in care homes funded by local authorities, essentially confining them to their care homes with no means of transport for occasional outings to see family or friends.

Is this how a negative change in attitude starts? The Government claims that the social and economic problems that they are experiencing are due in part to the burden of supporting disabled people; publishing data which stresses the high cost of supporting those with disabilities, and suggests that it is detrimental to society to pay for this support. Isn’t this the start of a slippery slope towards intolerance? It’s no coincidence that recent statistics prove that abuse and negative treatment of people with disabilities is on the increase. We are supposed to be living in a civilised society where we can ensure better quality of life for all, not just those fortunate enough to be able bodied. It’s a sad reflection on our society when more people campaigned against the Government selling off the forests than campaigned to ensure the basic welfare of millions of disabled people.

Let me re iterate a very basic point: None of us chose to be disabled; we were either born this way or acquired our disability through illness or physical injury. Do you think given the option I would choose a more difficult life, to have people stare at me in the street, to have travel restrictions forced upon me, to be overlooked for jobs, to be the butt of crap Frankie Boyle gags, to have my independence compromised and to be perceived as somehow less than everyone else? The answer is no, I didn’t choose this life, it was an accident. And to anyone reading this still ambivalent towards disability, remember in any one second it could happen to you; you’re only temporarily able bodied.

Imagine this: Walking across the road one day you’re hit by a car and suffer a life changing injury, you’re instantly paralysed from the waist down. You’re rushed to hospital and spend the next six months in a spinal injury rehabilitation unit, you’ll never see the inside of your 4th floor flat again, you never needed a lift before, but now you’ll have depend on your friends and family to empty the contents of your home for you and move all your belongings to an accessible home or possibly into storage while you spend months trying to find somewhere accessible and affordable to live, which is likely to be very difficult given that your employer has decided you can no longer cut it at work. Now you need to find a new job in an accessible building with parking seeing as you can’t use the tube anymore, (but hey that’s not such a bad thing!). However, in spite of your excellent CV now it’s much harder for you to find a job, employers doubt your capabilities and have concerns that you might be a drain on resources or even pose a health and safety risk; on average disabled people apply for 35 more jobs than an able bodied candidate. So, your personal life has been turned upside down, you don’t recognise your physical self anymore and you are struggling to cope financially.

Still think you won’t need to rely on additional financial support and social incentives?

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About Shannon Murray

I am an actress, broadcaster, writer and lawyer; not really that unusual but I am also paraplegic as a result of an accident as a teenager.
This entry was posted in Disability and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hardest Hit

  1. you hit the nail on the head sweetheart..couldn’t have put it better myself. not got time for lenghtly comment or response, but suffice to say people will never understands until it happens to them, or someone they love. you do an incredible job explaining though. soph xxx

  2. Pierre says:

    What a powerful piece of writing. Maybe you’re most thought-provoking posting yet. The “you’re only temporarily able bodied” line ripped right through me and proved to be somewhat of a chilling prophecy– encapsulated by this morning’s front page of the Daily Mirror. Perhaps there is a need for some cuts- but DLA? No. Why not stop spending money on fighting other people’s wars for example? Why not use that money to help many disabled people gain independence so they can live their lives as best as possible and contribute to the economy and society as a whole. The government is there to provide for, and look after the needs of the people….. all the people.

    The discrimination against disabled people is simply haunting and I was appalled to read about it. Are some people really that hearless and narow-minded ? Like you and Sophie say, no doubt things would be different if they were the ones desperate for a ramp or someone to help open the doors to somewhere. I commute everyday and whilst I have never witnessed it personally, I’d like to think that if I did, I would be big enough to stand up to the bully who doesn’t want to move to accommodate the woman in the wheelchair or help the chap with the white stick on to the train. Someone once told me people show ignorance towards a particular issue because they have not been educated upon it. Whilst I think there is a grain of truth to that, do you really have to be educated to know that you should not verbally or physically abuse another person- especially one with a disability?

    I don’t have a disability (and thus do not have any idea of what your life entails ) but I do like to think I possess the basic human empathy, compassion, and just plain common decency to perhaps understand and appreciate why you wrote this piece. Maybe you should send this to the people that make the decisions that can either improve or reduce the quality of your life. Maybe it will impact upon them in such a profound way as to sit back for a few minutes and contemplate life as a disabled person (like it made me do) to the point where it might awaken their moral conscience and they might just be influenced to make that phone call, type that e-mail or call that meeting that could make a positive difference to the lives of so many people.

    I think you are a real crusader Shannon. You constantly support and play an active role in the process of bringing about reforms/ changes for disability and you work tirelessly towards lending your voice to a cause you are very clearly passionate about. Your posts continue to make fascinating and compelling reading for all of us….. irrespectve of who we are. Keep it up 🙂

    I

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