Thursday 1 September 2011

Enable us, Don't Disable Us

When I write about the cuts facing sick and disabled people, it's easy for that to become background noise in a society battling austerity on every front.

The Mum losing childcare, the school losing funding, the library closing, the young person who can't afford a home or a degree, the hospital shutting wards - we all know that cuts are hurting and will only hurt more over the next few years.

So why do I think that the onslaught facing sick and disabled people is so serious? Why, of all the battles, do I choose to fight this one?

Disability rights movements have fought for decades to change the way we see disability. Just 30 years ago, many sick and disabled people were locked away in institutions, excluded entirely from society. There is no doubt that we were considered second class citizens incapable of looking after our own needs. Work was a distant dream; living independently, taking part in society in any meaningful way was impossible.

With Care in the Community and the slow, painful birth of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), society changed the way it looked at disability. The whole emphasis shifted towards community living, personal funding and making the country a more welcoming and accessible place.

DLA (Disability Living Allowance) was introduced by the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher to acknowledge that disability involved extra costs - accessible transport, higher utility bills, specialist aids, modified homes - and was supposed to replace and reduce the eye watering costs of institutional care, putting a little control directly into the hands of those who's lives were affected by disability.

Schemes like Access to Work provided funding to make workplaces more accessible, social care packages meant that many more people could live at home, community mental health teams helped to break down the stigma and exclusion faced by those with mental illness The Independent Living Fund helped just 21,000 of the most severely disabled people to also continue to live in their own homes whilst, in theory, the DDA meant that our rights to equality, access, dignity and employment were enshrined in law. By the mid noughties, with general employment rates high, politicians felt that sick or disabled people had all the help and support they may need to live independent lives with dignity.

As is so often the case though, the DDA sometimes proved a blunt tool. Is it discrimination for an employer to choose a non-disabled person for a job over one with a disability? You bet, but it's very hard to prove. Did every workplace and shop and public space become magically accessible? Sadly no. Did everyone get the care they needed in the community? Did healthcare become so efficient that we never had to wait for treatment? Of course not.

Nonetheless, the shift was broadly in the right direction and here's the really important bit - it saved the country billions. Every pound spent on enabling sick or disabled people to live independently, saved at least as much as it cost. Institutions closed and residents who previously cost society thousands of pounds a month were supported in the community and with modest disability benefits.

Every mobility scooter or wheelchair meant that someone previously unable to engage with society could do so, saving care costs and reducing isolation and exclusion. Every ramp or special aid funded through Access to Work meant that someone could get a job who otherwise may never have contributed financially to society. Every care package reduced the need for lengthy NHS in patient stays or residential care.

Decent disability funding is not about somehow giving people "stuff" they haven't "earned". It saves the government money. Even if we don't wish to make a moral argument for disability policy that aims to include as many people in society as possible, even if we ignore that that aim is enshrined in international human rights law, we can make a financial argument.

If a disabled person is no longer entitled to personal care, the simple fact is they cannot wash or eat. They certainly won't be getting a job or taking part in society any time soon. Cutting care further disables and excludes us.

If we can no longer access the mobility aids that allow us to get out and about, we will need more home visits and more help with shopping or appointments. Most things that we could do for ourselves then need to be done by others, costing thousands more in the long run and acting as yet another barrier to work.

If we lose benefits altogether as DLA is reduced by 20% and ESA by up to 93%, we become more dependent on others. As sick and disabled people face greater poverty and hardship, other areas of the benefit system simply find themselves taking the strain as people fall through the cracks.

But the truly sinister thing is that if you cut ALL of these things at once and combine this with the cuts faced by everyone else - cuts to childcare, to housing, to pensions, higher VAT, higher inflation - we risk turning the clock back to a time when sick or disabled people simply "disappeared." Every cut will further disable us, further exclude us and ultimately push us back into institutions. If the institutions no longer exist what then? We suffer behind four walls, trapped, excluded and invisible.

A political class who saved billions by putting our own care into our own hands have forgotten that it ever saved money in the first place. If they now take away the much lower amounts designed to enable us, they leave us with nothing. Work becomes less likely, not more likely. Friendships and relationships face more pressure, not less. Integration and enablement become unimportant. We turn the clock back to a time when out of sight meant out of mind.

The bottom line is that enabling sick or disabled people costs money. Does that mean we can't afford to do it any more? Is that REALLY what we want?  Are we really not going to consider the implications of leaving people in filth and poverty and despair, simply because they were born or became less able? Are we going to abandon the aims of a Disability Discrimination Act that hoped to create a level playing field? Are we going to drift back toward a time when sick and disabled people didn't count, when dignity relied on benevolence and philanthropy?


Today is the 1st September. In a few days, the welfare reform bill faces it's 2nd reading in the House of Lords. There are lots of good articles appearing today as we all come back to the battle for a life of dignity and respect before it's too late. I will add links here as the day goes on, but please do join us in tweeting, sharing and linking articles wherever you can. On twitter, please use the hashtag #septembercomeback and let's show our politicians that we will not - cannot - accept a society that goes back to excluding us. 

Let's create a social media storm. Let's refuse to be "disappeared".

DAnewsflash On 22 Oct disabled ppl to protest in cities across UK saying: stop the cuts.

**Due to great success, the #septembercomeback will now run all week :)


  1. I got a box today from a major supermarket (as ordering shopping online is the only way I can shop these days thanks to mobility issues as mentioned above and the complete lack of getting it sorted any time soon). The box says "Made by the disabled to get them back into society!" with a catchy slogan which, I presume, is supposed to give you a good feeling that the disabled are working against and you're to feel like a proper helpful person for buying stuff so they can keep making boxes.

    And honestly all I could think of was "boxes...seriously? Boxes?!"

    I am sure there are people out there who do want a job, hell -any- job but I can't help but think of that article of the person with Down's Syndrome who actually said they'd be happy to work for nothing, and how quickly people jumped on that as proof positive that disabled people should be doing SOMETHING and that they'd fall over themselves out of gratitude for screwing the caps onto tubes of toothpaste or something...even if said person was originally a rocket scientist, or wizard of maths, or something similar.

    Is making cardboard boxes the best work I could possibly secure? Seriously? After I've exhausted myself every day to hold a job, spent money to get transport, money on specialist sitters for my autistic son, money on uniforms and food because I no longer have the energy to cook, money on a cleaner because I have no energy to clean, potentially get fired because I'm too tired to go into work or because my son has had a meltdown at school and assaulted someone ....the best I can do is making cardboard. The perfectly good business I had going, and which I would STILL be doing if they hadn't scrapped the Access to Work programme, is obviously too good for me, and boxes will have to do. "Hey, we're all miserable! You should have your share of misery!" is not a good reason to shove people into a crap job.

    I like the job I do, thanks; and it is a job, not just a fancy way to say unemployed...but I'd be doing a LOT better if all the tools I previously had to keep going weren't all be cut and thrown away - sort of like myself, really.

  2. And before the usual suspects show up and start to moan in despair - no, sorry, I don't accept this. I refuse to accept it and I shan't. I'm still gritting my teeth and painting though my production is down considerably, I'm still making stuff and trying to sell it and putting together a portfolio. Yes, honestly, being an artist IS sort of like being unemployed, and yes, I'm sure there are people out there who would begrudge the tax credits I get for it when I sell so little. And yes, the sad fact is I'm actually pretty well off compared to other folks - even MORE sad is I'd be worse off if I was working a mainstream job - but I simply won't accept what is being done. So I'll rant and yell from a computer chair, but I won't be buying the "oh, we're doomed" thing at all.

  3. And what about the carer whose allowance is tied in with the present DLA ?


  5. The company's dont want less abled people in the first place that's the issue here

  6. Not written today, but relevant:

  7. You are seeing the Libyan people coming together because they want to rebuild their country”
    David Cameron

    and that's what the sick and disabled must do and that is to stick together and fight these cuts and help each other as much as possible and if anyone dies as a result as David Cameron also says then at a later date to make sure the guilty are brought to justice."

  8. There are many multiple examples of how accounting penny pinching actually cost far more than the cuts save in other spending let alone the benefits lost too, it's about value for money, although money is not an issue for a monopoly currency issuer like in the UK, US Japan or Australia but not the Euro, the way it's set up.

  9. To understand the horror and abuse we face today it is worth reading up on how politicians came to have so much power over us in the first place and why they can get away with it with impunity.

  10. "[...]directly into the hands of those who's lives were affected by disability."


    Sorry, couldn't help myself. It's in the name. ;)

  11. Well, I didn't know that one FNGN! After all the lives belong to the disabled people. Thanks for edificating me ;)

  12. Thank you for your excellent piece,Sue.
    The thought occurred to me,when reading it,that the enacting of the care in the community policy coincided with the increase in uptake of Invalidity Benefit.
    The received wisdom is,I realise,that the increased uptake was due to unemployed people being encouraged to switch benefits.
    But,when individuals are housed in NHS accommodation,they are not claimants.Once 'in the community' though,every ex-NHS-housed person had to claim at least Invalidity Benefit.
    So,what impact did that have on the figures?

  13. My only problem with this approach is that it perpetuates the 'them and us' myth. There is no 'them' or 'us' - only 'we'.

    As long as the perpetrators of this attack on disabled people can sustain the mind-set that there is a distinct group in society dependent on and beholden to the able-bodied majority - who will never need the help they receive - then the process will continue.

    Only when the able-bodied majority realise that the benefits they are cutting are benefits they may well need to rely on will the penny drop.

    Most disabled people weren't born disabled. They worked, paid taxes, and were as unconcerned about the situation of disabled people as most other able-bodied people - until they were suddenly struck down with a debilitating condition, or had a disabled child or other family member to care for, and found that we really are 'all in this together'.

    So, my message to able-bodied readers of this blog is: stop thinking about disabled people as some 'other' that deserves either sympathy or contempt, depending on your political persuasion, and ask yourself how YOU would cope if you woke up tomorrow unable to ever work again, and found that the safety net has been removed.

  14. Toptastic comment Charlie, thank you so much :))

  15. Oya's daughter. Sorry I just saw your comment!! Hell, I share your ire at that one!!!

    I would have raged for a full hour if I'd got that box, then phoned the company, then blogged it. FFS, words fail me.