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?