The austerity programme was initiated in 2010 by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. It has brought in its wake the destruction of many social support systems for all of us but for disabled people it has meant a severe decrease in our ability to engage in life. The demise of the Independent Living Fund, reductions in social care, the unwillingness to consider medical evidence, the restriction on support … the list goes on.
Whether you accept the concept of equality or not, the fact remains that our world is essentially constructed for bipedal creatures with a given capacity for sight, hearing and mobility. The world is eminently suited for all those who can climb stairs, read basic instructions, have a basic understanding of language and its usage and can perform a given set of functions on command. Fail in any of those and you are considered disabled.
In relatively primitive societies when babies were born with the clear indication that they would never attain the full physical capacity they were exposed on hill sides and left to the elements. One society we know of was Sparta. Plutarch, aka Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, gives us the Greek story that ancient Spartans threw their stunted and sickly babies off a cliff. Whether this story is true, or a myth, is at this moment immaterial. The fact is that the belief that this was true has fed into social movement such as the Hitler Youth. In the early 1920s, the Nazi party had established a youth movement to train them to become Stormtroopers.
The idealisation of perfect people with the full capacity of bipedal motion reading basic instructions, having a basic understanding of language and its usage and capable of performing a given set of functions on command was the underpinning of much of the Nazi Party ideology. They of course took it one step further still in that they also held that the Aryan was the only perfect exemplar of these perfect people. But that is by the by. What is relative to this article is that the Nazi ideology led to Aktion T4. Starting as a euthanasia program that eliminated disabled infants and children deemed unfit to live and expanding in time to cover disabled adults and the elderly.
Aktion T4 was a direct result of a new bureaucracy with a mandate to kill anyone considered to have a “life unworthy of living”. The Nazis themselves referred to the victims of Aktion T4 as “burdensome lives” and “useless eaters”.Criteria for inclusion into the programme was not exclusively medical or genetic. People were assigned to the programme largely on ‘Economic Productivity’.
Aktion T4 killed 70,000 people during its first two years of operation. Initially by starvation and lethal injection. Later, efficiency led to the development of asphyxiation by poison gas. The program officially ended in 1941 amid a welter of protests from many quarters of German society. It however did go on more covertly. The total number of victims are estimated to have reached 200,000 plus. Furthermore, it was the lessons the Nazis learned from Aktion T4 that helped them later on in their ‘final solution’.
We have all heard about the Yellow Star that Jews were required to wear under the Nazi Regime. This was but one of the classification symbols Nazis employed. Notion that the star is but two triangles, one inverted on the other, was employed to classify people depending on their origin, their sexual orientation, their political affiliations, their religion and their overall productivity towards the Nazi war effort. Disabled people, those considered unfit for ‘economic productivity’ and eventually all others who were deemed ‘anti-social’ by the regime were accorded a Black Triangle. Which, incidently, is why the DPAC logo contains a black triangle at it’s centre.
Coming forward to the present day, prior to the Austerity programme, there were still many matters lacking for the ability of disabled people to fully engage in public life. But things were improving slowly, admittedly, but surely. We were gradually getting the notion of the Social Model of disability accepted. The notion was become accepted that people were disabled not by their impairment but rather by the society they were living in. All that went to the wall with the Austerity programme. We are currently facing the basic notion that impairment is a personal fault that society does not have to make room for, make concessions to or accept responsibility for. Unlike Aktion T4, the Austerity programme has not quite taken an active hand in killing disabled people. But disabled people are still dying as a result of austerity.
Many disabled people do view the assault on their ability to engage in public life by the myriad of cuts, both in personal support and in social support, as akin to the intent of Aktion T4. I posit that this view is far from irrational. In fact, it is the only logical way to see the impact of the Austerity programme which is essentially a means of minimising Governmental responsibility for those it governs.
Governments are there to set the stage on which we live our daily lives. If it makes it more difficult, or rather impossible for some of us the traverse that stage then government policy is wholly responsible for our inability to live full lives.
Austerity is responsible for killing each and every person who has found it impossible to live up to the expectations of economic activity as set by the governments that have initiated, and followed, the precepts of Austerity. Further, call a rose by any other name, and it still has thorns. Saying that Austerity is over has not meant that the impact of Austerity is no longer there. As long as disabled people are forced, through the actions and lack of action, by this or any other government, to live restricted lives, through lack of social support, we will, quite rightly, continue to see their actions, or lack thereof, in the same light as Aktion T4.