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Dec
2014
Thursday 18th
posted by Morning Star in Features

The High Court decision to close the Independent Living Fund is just another reason to be frightened and furious as a disabled person living in Britain, says MARY GRIFFITHS CLARKE


A weather bomb may be on the horizon but nothing quite prepared me for the s**t storm that washed over thousands of disabled people this week after the High Court upheld a government decision to close the independent living fund. 

Does the government seriously think that by handing over the responsibility to councils to support the most severely disabled to live independently that they will gladly do so out of the goodness of their hearts when they are being given no extra funding and are facing 20 per cent cuts to their budgets? 

All it will do is accelerate unprecedented levels of misery and suffering. It will propel people into crisis and ultimately cost a whole pile more to sort out the whole sorry mess. Add a UN investigation for crimes against humanity into the mix and you end up with chaos. Avoidable chaos, and this is the saddest thing — it doesn’t need to be this way. 

The media shouldn’t be allowed to get away with their medieval mentality towards disability — see Rod Liddle’s article in the Sun on Emily Brothers. The Sun doesn’t even see fit to apologise because for the gutter press disabled people are fair game. It’s bullying plain and simple. 

How it even got past the editor to the print room astounds me. 

Like it or not, what appears in the papers shapes attitudes and articles such as this put others at risk. 

The only upside to this sorry saga is the  massive backlash against the paper. 

Disabled people don’t need to be segregated from society. Disability hate crime doesn’t need to be through the roof. People don’t need to be suffering in the inhumane way that they are. 

Disabled people are not bearing the brunt of cutbacks to balance the books as the sacrificial heroes of austerity. No — they are bearing the brunt of the cuts because of political ideology. Google it. 

Where is the dignity in this elitist ideology? Where is the dignity in dividing people? What happened to the Big Society? 

What happened to caring within communities, of valuing all sectors of society no matter how big or small their contribution to the economy? 

Volunteers are doing work which would once have been paid for through state support of the third sector, but that’s been ravaged. 

Key services are ticking over solely due to the goodwill of volunteers working round the clock to ensure their organisation clings on by its fingernails in the hope of short-term survival. 

But that caring malarkey is out of fashion now. Caring for others is a sign of weakness in Con-Dem Britain. Dog eats dog is where it’s at. 

Values that used to be held with esteem are now ridiculed by many. Perhaps I belong to a bygone era, and I most certainly wish I did, because the disintegration of civil liberties over the past five years is not a world I want to live in. 

I’m trying to be optimistic, really I am, but whichever way I look, I see basic rights for disabled people diminishing. 

I know it’s not the done thing for people like me to express emotion. I’m meant to be controlled and measured, calm and collected. Except I’m not, I’m human. I’m disabled. I’m apoplectic with fury. I’m exasperated, but most of all I’m frightened. 

Like so many disabled people in this country, I wake up in the middle of the night, every night, dripping wet with fever, trembling with fear over the future. 

If the human rights of disabled people are being violated, then surely it is just a matter of time before disabled British people start claiming asylum? 

We can’t go on living like this — locked out of work, education, politics, independent living, society. Living in fear shouldn’t be our only option, saving up for Dignitas instead of a flat shouldn’t be our aspiration. 

We should be able to walk down the street confidently and proudly for who we are as individuals, not cowering in fear and waiting for the inevitable hollering abuse and being spat on by people as we walk by for the crime of using a mobility scooter or stick. Yes, that’s happened to me. 

I don’t want to feel ashamed of my disability, to feel like I’d be doing everyone a favour if I stopped inhaling oxygen — but when even relatives disown you for being disabled where else have you left to turn? 

Where is there to go? What would happen then? Things have to change. 

The ongoing bedroom tax saga is mainly hitting disabled people — clearly the importance of having a home does not apply if you are in social housing, it’s just a dispensable commodity right? Note my irony. 

A home is everything. Without an anchor of somewhere to call home and the support networks of living near friends and family, many people are lost. 

We need the basics to function and flourish and right now far too many of us don’t even have that. Thankfully Ed Miliband sees this and will abolish the abhorrent bedroom tax. 

Millions of people in Britain are using foodbanks, 93,000 children will be homeless this Christmas, many more without basic heating. 

We are the sixth richest nation in the world. This is a disgrace. This is why we need to get the cost of living under control, stop ludicrous benefit sanctions and have a bit more humanity. 

Again Labour is the only party with a cat-in-hell’s chance of getting into government that really seems to have got to grips with this. Albeit they need to speak more loudly about it. I was comforted to hear Ed Miliband speak on the International Day of People with Disabilities last week with compassion, which is very different from the scary things that come from the Tories, such as “disabled people get better.” 

Well, if that was the case, we wouldn’t be disabled would we? We’d just be ill. There is a massive difference. It’s just flabbergasting that the former minister for disabled people couldn’t distinguish this very basic attribute. 

What about aspirations? Disabled students’ allowances are being passed to universities to manage, but their budgets are being slashed.

If they don’t have cash to pay for tutors they sure aren’t going to have cash to support disabled students. 

This is so frustrating. Two thirds of disabilities are acquired during work and therefore retraining is probably one of the most valuable things that can be done to help get a disabled person back into work — if they can overcome thinly veiled employer discrimination at interview.  

Yes, that’s on the rise too and is something that any future government really needs to get a grip on. 

Access to Work, the programme designed to help disabled people in work meet disability-related costs, has a sky-high backlog of invoices and disabled people are losing jobs as a consequence. 

Apparently it’s going to take until at least February to sort it out. That’s not going to wash as an excuse when you can’t afford to pay for a new interpreter out of your own salary after waiting three months for their invoice to be paid. 

You’ve been muddling through for four months since but your boss has had enough and put you on a disciplinary for not meeting your basic job requirements. 

Yes, this really has happened to people. Others are being issued with court summonses for equipment that was approved by Access to Work but for which it has failed to pay the invoices and refused to respond to enquiries. 

Life shouldn’t be a postcode lottery. Disabled people should receive the same quality of support regardless of where they live, work or study. 

Pushing services out to private or regional providers without legal obligation to meet certain standards just increases inequality. There needs to be a regulatory framework, budgets need to be ring-fenced and safeguarded and governance procedures need to support the 2010 Equality Act, not undermine it.

The courts seem to be insinuating that the quality of disabled peoples’ lives lies in common sense and goodwill but let’s face it — there is very little of that about and unless authorities are forced to make provisions, 

I can’t see them doing so out of goodwill when they are facing unprecedented cuts. Disabled people in rural areas are particularly affected. 

So much for government intervention to level out the playing field — they’ve gone and built the mother of all mountains. This is some kind of sick joke right? Wrong. This is reality. 

Wake up people. The election is just around the corner. Disabled people’s rights may be being eroded by the Con-Dems — and, if Ukip has its way, obliterated — but for the moment we still have the vote. 

If you do one thing today, do this: register to vote and help disabled people you know register. The system has changed and now everyone has to register individually. 

Make sure everyone you know is aware of this. En masse you can make a difference. Visit: www.votebooster.org/register/odv


Surely there would be more common-sense policies if there were more disabled representatives in public office? 

Well, that’s not looking likely. The Access to Elected Office fund is closing in May. 

Notice has been given on the offices and staff, so there is no scope for extension. 

This £2.6 million fund has had less than 10 per cent take-up. 

Why? Because of all the other barriers disabled people face in running for office — financial barriers, inaccessible meeting rooms, discrimination in the selection process, lack of diverse campaigning opportunities to gain
experience that would qualify someone to become selected. 

If you can’t knock on doors, walk miles, enter the “who can put on their shoes quickest” competition, you are considered useless by many constituency Labour parties, no matter how much of a whizz you are at social media, fundraising or on the phone. 

This needs to change and is something Disability Labour is looking very seriously at. 

It is currently developing a CLP toolkit to help improve engagement and opportunities for disabled people in politics. 

You don’t have to be a member of the Labour Party to join.

 

For more info visit: www.labour.org.uk/pages/disability-access




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