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.
TOGETHER! 2018 FESTIVAL CALENDAR
Full venue details are at the end of the calendar
Friday 23 November 2018 7-9pm:World Premiere of ‘When You See Me’ & Festival Opening This new drama (pictured), commissioned by us from our associate company Act Up! Newham, and written and directed by Trevor Lloyd, is inspired by the Circus 250 anniversary. Stratford Circus 1.
Sunday 25 November 2018 1-2pm: Paracarnival Parade Fresh from winning the Judges Choice award at Hackney Carnival, Paracarnival comes to Newham with a procession of locally based Disabled artists and friends. Gallion’s Reach Shopping Park Beckton.
Saturday 1 December 2018 2-5pm: ‘VIBE: The Art of Transatlantic Inclusion’ A simultaneous symposium and exhibition about our two-year tactile sound project with Concordia University, Vibrafusion Lab Ontario and Disabled artists in Montréal. Vicarage Lane Community Centre Stratford.
Monday 3 December 2018 11am-1pm: Reading for Human Rights On International Day of Disabled People, join us to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights by reading from this and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People at Beckton Globe Library. Easy Read, BSL and different languages texts available. The event will be live-streamed.
Friday 7 (6-8pm), Saturday 8 (12-8pm) & Sunday 9 December 2018(12-8pm): Together! 2018 Disability Film FestivalOur international film festival brings together films of all budgets and genres, by Disabled filmmakers or featuring a central Disabled character. Old Town Hall Stratford. We also offer a two-day workshop for emerging Disabled filmmakers on 6 & 7 December – email email@example.com for further details.
Tuesday 11 December 2018 11am-2pm: Newham Disabled Reps Forum host a musical celebration of Disability History Month, including lunch and a raffle. Speakers include Disability History Month director Richard Rieser. Vicarage Lane Community Centre Stratford.
Friday 14 December 7-9pm: Together! Music Club and end-of-festival party Celebrate this year’s Disability History Month theme of music with an Open Mike night featuring Together! 2012 artists and friends, compered by Ju Gosling aka ju90. Vicarage Lane Community Centre Stratford.
Plus the Together! 2018 Open Exhibition, bringing together amateur, community, emerging and mid-career Disabled artists with a local connection. Vicarage Lane Community Centre Stratford. Dates tbc.
We aim to be as inclusive as possible of audience members as well as artists. All venues have step-free access and limited Blue Badge parking. Live audio-description is available on demand; productions are amplified with induction loops. BSL interpretation is provided for performances where speech is the main communication form. No need to book unless you wish to reserve seats (advised for groups of 5+). To reserve seats and find out more, firstname.lastname@example.org
Beckton Globe Library 1 Kingsford Way, London E6 5JQ. Nearest station (accessible): Beckton (DLR). 020 3373 0853. Bus routes include: 101, 173, 262, 300, 366, 376, 474.
Gallions Reach Shopping Park, 3 Armada Way, Beckton, London E6 7ER. Nearest station: Gallions Reach DLR (fully accessible). Bus routes include: 366, 262 & 101. Large free carpark. Click here for further details.
Old Town Hall, 29 The Broadway, Stratford, London E15 4BQ. 020 3373 7033 /07791 291 685. Nearest tube, overground and DLR stations: Stratford (fully accessible). Bus routes include 25, 69, 86, D8, 104, 108, 158, 238, 241, 257, 262, 276, 308, 425, 473, N8, N86, 010, A9, 741 & UL1. Blue Badge holders can prebook parking; others are advised to use the (old) Stratford shopping centre carpark.
Stratford Circus, Theatre Square, Stratford, London E15 1BX. 020 8279 1001. Nearest tube, overground and DLR stations: Stratford (fully accessible). Bus routes 257, 69 and 308 stop outside Stratford Circus in Great Eastern Road; 25, 86, 104, 108, 158, 238, 241, 262, 276, 425, 473, D8 alight at station. Very limited Blue Badge parking nearby; otherwise use the (old) Stratford shopping centre carpark.
Vicarage Lane Community Centre, Govier Close, E15 4HW. Nearest tube, overground and DLR stations: Stratford (fully accessible). Bus routes include: 101, 104, 300, 474. Street parking.
DWP breaks law over secret reports on universal credit deaths
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to release evidence that would show how many secret reports it has compiled into the deaths of claimants of its new universal credit, in a fresh breach of freedom of information laws.
DWP compiles an internal process review every time a “suicide is associated with DWP activity”, as well as in some other cases involving the deaths of disabled or “vulnerable” benefit claimants.
The last batch of reviews released by DWP were published in heavily redacted form two years ago.
But Disability News Service (DNS) is keen to secure evidence of how many reviews have been carried out since then relating to the introduction of the much-criticised universal credit benefit system.
Repeated concerns have been raised about the introduction of universal credit and its impact on claimants in vulnerable situations.
Disabled activists have warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core” and have warned of “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.
In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.
In July, employment minister Alok Sharma was asked by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled universal credit claimants were apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have had to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the system.
In the same month, further concerns were raised by the committee about disabled people with high support needs who claim universal credit and face the possibility of strict conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.
And MPs on the public accounts committee heard, also in July, how claimants were facing “considerable hardship and considerable deterioration in their mental health” because of universal credit.
As a result of earlier concerns about universal credit, DNS submitted a freedom of information request to DWP on 21 June, asking how many internal process reviews had been carried out since April 2016; how many involved a claimant who had died; and how many involved a claimant of universal credit.
The request also asked for DWP to release the recommendations made by each review.
But DWP’s freedom of information team has failed to respond to the request, and to a follow-up email on 7 August asking why it had not replied, even though it is legally obliged to respond within 20 working days under the Freedom of Information Act.
The information rights tribunal ruled in 2016 that DWP should release recommendations from all the peer reviews it held, although not any information directly related to the people who died.
A further batch of redacted reviews into another nine benefit-related deaths was released by DWP later in 2016, following pressure from the Information Commissioner’s Office, but it is believed that no further reports have been released since then.
Last week, DNS revealed how DWP had refused to release other secret reports connected with its welfare reforms, this time those written by disabled people who had been recruited as “community partners” to work with its jobcentres.
When asked why DWP’s freedom of information team had refused to respond to the internal process review request, a DWP spokeswoman said: “As explained last week, any issues relating to FOI requests can be dealt with by writing to email@example.com.
“If you are unhappy with the handling of an FOI request please contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.”
DNS will be lodging a complaint with the information commissioner about DWP’s failure to release the internal process reviews.
23 August 2018
Minister snubs DPOs – and ‘breaches UN convention’ – by refusing meeting
The minister for disabled people is refusing to meet a coalition of disabled people’s organisations, in an apparent breach of the UN disability convention.
The coalition wrote to Sarah Newton yesterday (Wednesday) to express its “deep disappointment and concern” about her refusal to meet them to discuss the UK’s failure to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The letter, signed by 14 prominent disabled leaders, asks Newton: “How can the government improve the lives of disabled people if it is not engaging directly with disabled people?”
The UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government last September in its “concluding observations” that it needed to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.
In its review of the UK’s implementation of CRPD, the committee raised concerns and made recommendations on all but three of the 33 treaty articles the UK could have breached.
It also says (article 33) that “civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully” in monitoring the implementation of the convention in each country.
Newton’s letter appears to breach both article four and article 33 as the coalition has been seeking a ministerial meeting since February.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, one of the coalition’s members, says in yesterday’s letter: “We are extremely disappointed that as minister for disabled people you are not able to find the time to meet with the only UK wide coalition of disabled people’s organisations set up to monitor and engage with the UK government on CRPD issues.”
The coalition’s letter also reminds Newton that she previously stated that she strongly welcomed a meeting to discuss how the government was implementing CRPD.
In February, the coalition wrote to the prime minister, Theresa May, to question the lack of progress since the UN committee produced its “damning” report and to ask for a meeting to discuss their concerns.
In her response, sent on 25 April, Newton said: “I strongly welcome your proposal of a meeting to discuss how Government is implementing the concluding observations of the Committee for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and planning to work with organisations led by disabled people.
“This closely fits with work I have been leading with the Office for Disability Issues within government.”
DWP had not been able to comment by 1.30pm today (Thursday), after being approached yesterday afternoon.
23 August 2018
Leonard Cheshire facing care regulator questions after third Greathouse death
A disability charity is facing questions from the care regulator after a third former resident of a care home died within a month of its sudden closure.
But it has now emerged that a third former resident – who was believed to have been terminally-ill – has also died after being moved to a nearby care home.
Another former service-user, a disabled woman who used the home’s respite service and was said to have been deeply upset at not being able to visit Greathouse, is also believed to have died since the closure, while as many as five or six former residents have had to be admitted for hospital treatment.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has now told DNS that it has asked Leonard Cheshire for information about the deaths.
Debbie Ivanova, CQC’s deputy chief inspector of adult social care, said yesterday (Wednesday): “Any death is a matter of concern – and all providers are obliged to notify us whenever a person has died in their care.
“Exactly how we follow up this information will vary according to the circumstances in each case.
“We are aware of the concerns in this case and we have asked [Leonard Cheshire] to provide us with further information – and we will decide what action we take once we are aware of the full circumstances.”
Last week, Anne Keat, whose son Richard was a resident at Greathouse and has now been moved to another home nearby, said she and other relatives were convinced that the deaths and other serious health problems were connected to the closure.
Although it is impossible to prove that the deaths and health problems were caused by the sudden closure of Greathouse and residents being forced to move to new homes, some research has suggested a link between involuntary relocation from residential homes and a negative impact on residents’ health.
Earlier this month, Leonard Cheshire was also criticised over its decision to sell 17 residential homes to other care providers and was accused of making “a complete mockery” of its supposed commitment to service-user involvement.
Three former Greathouse residents are believed to have moved to Leonard Cheshire homes that are among the 17 listed for sale next year and so are likely to go through a further period of uncertainty and upheaval.
About 20 residents were given just three months’ notice of the charity’s plans to close Greathouse, with Leonard Cheshire blaming staffing problems, a drop in the demand for places and the cost of repairs.
Leonard Cheshire refused to say yesterday (Wednesday) if it was taking any responsibility for the deaths or if it would be investigating what had happened, claiming it would be “inappropriate” to do so.
In response to the death of the third former resident, a spokeswoman said: “We were sorry to hear this news and our thoughts are with [his] family.
“Any unexpected death is always reported and investigated by the relevant regulatory authorities so it is inappropriate to comment further at this point.
“In line with best practice, detailed support and care plans were in place for the former residents of Greathouse prior to their move.
“This included health checks and the transfer of records around complex conditions to the new providers.”
Wiltshire County Council said today (Thursday) that it would be contacting all the local authorities that had funded residents at Greathouse, after it learned of the deaths.
A council spokesman said: “There were 21 people who were residents/received support at Greathouse (of which we fund eight) so we are also making contact with all of the other funding authorities to speak to them about the situation.
“We already have regular direct contact with the people we fund and are not aware of any issues related to their ongoing care.”
He had said earlier, in a statement: “We are very sorry to hear that some former residents of Greathouse have passed away since the home closed, and our thoughts are with the families affected.
“We currently fund the care and support needs of eight people who were previously receiving care services at Greathouse [four residents and four who received respite and day services] and their needs are now being met by other providers.
“Although the closure notice period is out of our control, we always ask for as much notice as possible when homes have to close but this depends on the individual circumstances.
“As soon as we were made aware of the closure, we put processes in place to work with partners to ensure a smooth transition of residents to a new care provision of their choice.
“Our safeguarding team work to protect vulnerable people’s right to live in safety, free from abuse or neglect.
“We are in regular contact with the residents whose care we fund and we have not been made aware of any safeguarding issues related to them.
“We are happy to speak to anyone who has any concerns about the ongoing care of the former residents at Greathouse.”
A CQC spokeswoman said earlier this week that it was “unable to influence a provider’s decision to close a service” and that its priority was to ensure “consistently safe, effective, responsive and high quality care is given to people who use services and we will always take action when we consider it necessary to do so”.
She said CQC had been contacted “by some relatives and people who used the service raising concerns about the closure and the way and manner it was being handled.
“In response to these concerns we maintained regular contact with the provider, [Leonard Cheshire], and received regular updates from them notifying us of how and when people were moved to alternative accommodation.
“Our understanding is that the provider also worked with the various local authorities involved to ensure that suitable alternative accommodation was found and in addition provided support to people and their relatives, including discussing options and facilitating visits to their new homes prior to moving in.”
23 August 2018
Deaf campaigner takes court action over BSL jury ban
A Deaf campaigner has launched a legal action aimed at stopping the government discriminating against users of British Sign Language by preventing them from serving on juries.
David Buxton, chief executive of the London-based disabled people’s organisation Action on Disability, is seeking a judicial review of the government’s failure to allow him to sit on a jury.
He was called up for jury service at Kingston Crown Court earlier this year, but when he told the Jury Central Summoning Bureau he was Deaf, he was informed that he was not required.
A crown court judge later deferred a decision on whether he would be allowed to serve as a juror.
In his claim for judicial review – which is being funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – Buxton is arguing that justice secretary David Gauke is discriminating against him and breaching the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, and the Human Rights Act, by not allowing him to serve on a jury with the assistance of an interpreter.
The Ministry of Justice said this week that allowing a non-juror into the jury room during its deliberations breaches common law.
But Buxton’s call is backed by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which said last September that the UK government should enable BSL-users “to fully and equally participate as jurors in court proceedings”, under article 13 (access to justice) of the UN disability convention.
The committee, in its concluding observations on the government’s implementation of the convention, said it was concerned that “regulations exclude persons with hearing impairments from participation in jury proceedings, and that personal assistants/interpreters are not deemed to constitute procedural accommodation”.
The refusal to allow BSL-users to take part as jurors is a long-standing source of frustration for many Deaf campaigners.
The Labour government said it was considering a change in the law at the time, but successive governments have failed to take steps to do so in the last 19 years.
BDA said it had persuaded the Ministry of Justice to look at this and other issues affecting d/Deaf people across prisons, courts and juries, but that the government had yet to take any “meaningful action”.
Now Buxton, himself a former BDA chief executive, has launched another legal bid to force a change in the law.
He spoke out this week as the high court rejected his separate judicial review claim that the government had discriminated against him and other BSL-users by imposing an Access to Work cap that affects those with the highest support needs (see separate story).
Buxton said that ruling showed that the Equality Act “does not sufficiently protect Deaf people using BSL despite ministers and MPs repeatedly saying that it does.
“This judicial review judgment shows how hard it is to protect our rights as Deaf people using BSL as our first or preferred language.
“The government supports the economies of cost over our basic human rights, therefore we have to campaign for the Equality Act to be strengthened, especially as there is no legal status for BSL in this current act.”
He said that one reasonable adjustment that would solve the problem of the “13th person in the jury room” would be for the court to provide an interpreter in another room while he watched a video relay screen in the jury room.
The failure to allow BSL-users to serve on juries is further evidence, Buxton believes, that the Equality Act 2010 does not provide sufficient protection to Deaf people who use BSL, “despite ministers and MPs repeatedly saying that it does”.
A BDA spokeswoman said: “The current UK practice of denying Deaf people the right to sit on a jury is an overt form of institutional discrimination and failure to accord Deaf people their rights as full citizens.
“Justice should not only be received but also dispensed by all sections of the community including Deaf people.”
Louise Whitfield, Buxton’s solicitor, from legal firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, said the jury case would “further test the government to show its commitment to the spirit of the Equality Act or to continue simply ignoring the fact that it is possible for Deaf people to serve as jurors in this modern, inclusive and accessible society without any direct or indirect discrimination”.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “It would be inappropriate to comment while legal proceedings are ongoing.”
23 August 2018
Deaf boss forced to appeal for charity support after Access to Work court defeat
A Deaf chief executive is having to appeal to charity to fund the support he needs to do his job, after the high court decided that a cap the government imposed on Access to Work (AtW) payments did not breach the Equality Act.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) set an annual cap of £42,500 on AtW payments in 2015, but later increased it to £57,200 (twice the annual salary) after David Buxton launched a high court challenge, funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Buxton argued that the higher cap on AtW payments – which fund workplace adjustments for disabled people such as support workers and travel costs – still had a disproportionate impact on the job and career prospects of Deaf users of British Sign Language (BSL) and other disabled people with high support needs.
He said this placed them at a disadvantage when trying to get into jobs and develop their careers.
Now Mr Justice Kerr has ruled that the higher cap did not breach the government’s public sector equality duty and was not “indirectly discriminatory”.
He said the cap was not introduced as a cost-cutting measure but “as an intended cost-neutral measure, changing the distribution of available funding but not its overall level”.
And he concluded that the higher cap “strikes a balance” between funding more low-level cost awards and the needs of existing high-cost recipients, who must “forego some of the available funds to provide the money to spend on achieving the government’s aims”.
But Buxton, chief executive of the London-based disabled people’s organisation Action on Disability, said this week that the court’s ruling means he will now have to seek support from charitable trusts or donors to pay for the BSL interpreters he needs to do his job.
Buxton, whose first language is BSL, believes that Deaf people are being “punished” by the government for their high support needs through the “ideologically driven” cap, which was “directly discriminatory towards d/Deaf people”.
The cap means he currently only receives enough support to pay for one BSL interpreter for four days a week.
He said that this forces him to spend large parts of the week re-arranging his schedule to ensure there is an interpreter in the office when he needs one.
He also has to pay for a second interpreter to cover meetings that will last more than an hour, to allow the first interpreter to have the necessary breaks.
Evening meetings are an even greater stretch on his AtW support budget as they are more expensive.
This means he is frequently left with enough interpreter support for just three days a week, or sometimes just two.
And he can never predict when he will receive unexpected phone calls, or if staff will need to see him urgently at short notice.
He said: “This cap has caused me a lot of stress and isolation. Some days I don’t have any funds to pay for interpreters, mainly because I booked co-workers on other days, [and because] evening meetings cost more.
“I had to organise my AtW support nearly every day, planning ahead, making sure that I have enough cover. This is overbearing and unnecessarily creates hours of extra work.”
He added: “DWP did not assess or meet me at all. They simply decided to give me funding at the level of the cap, expecting me to sort myself out by getting less support every day.”
Buxton said he had worked “so hard for many years” to reach his current position, which he achieved because of his skills and experience, not because he was Deaf or a BSL-user.
He said: “The cap has real and lasting effects on my ability to do my job.
“This is not about greed, it is not about having every whim catered to – it is about ensuring that of the many things that I have to think about in my role, that communication and language access are not among them.”
And he questioned whether such a cap would be appropriate for a minister who used BSL as their first language.
He is also concerned that ministers have refused to say how much revenue is returned to the Treasury for every £1 spent on Access to Work, through taxes paid by recipients and their support workers and interpreters and the benefits that ATW-recipients do not need to claim if they are in work.
Previous research has suggested a return of as much as £1.48 for every pound spent on AtW.
A DWP spokeswoman refused to respond to concerns that the cap meant that disabled people – particularly BSL-users – with high support needs would never be able to achieve full equality.
She also refused to say if DWP accepted that the cap was imposing a limit on how far the careers of some Deaf professionals could go, and whether the minister for disabled people would expect a Deaf minister to cope with less than full-time communications support.
She also refused to say if DWP had calculated the financial return to the Treasury for every £1 invested in Access to Work.
But she said in a statement: “We welcome the high court’s judgment.
“We’ve set out a commitment to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027, and Access to Work forms an important part of our plans.
“When making changes to Access to Work we work closely with stakeholders from the deaf community, including the UK Council on Deafness as well as deaf individuals.
“We’ve decided to increase the limit on the amount people can claim under Access to Work by £15,000 to up to £57,200 a year, and last year 25,000 people had their request approved by Access to Work, an increase of eight per cent from 2015-16.
“The award limit was introduced to enable the programme to continue to help as many people as possible, and we’re taking steps to make more people aware of the scheme by working with employers, charities and health professionals.”
But Louise Whitfield, Buxton’s solicitor, from legal firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, said: “Despite the very real gains of the massively increased cap, it is extremely disappointing that the government failed to recognise the significant adverse impact on Deaf people of preventing them from working in roles that need high levels of support.
“We will never see equality for Deaf and disabled people if this remains the government’s position.”
And the Stop Changes To Access To Work campaign praised Buxton for taking the case and said the ruling “highlights the fragility of our rights protections whereby government can decide to implement measures that discriminate and curtail the equalities of Deaf and disabled people so long as they prove they have considered the impacts and cite funding constraints.
“It also fails to give any weight to our concerns about the impact of the glass ceiling that the cap sets for Deaf BSL-users and wider social impacts on inequality.”
The campaign said the judgment showed there was “far more to do in the fight for the rights of Deaf and disabled people to work on an equal basis with others in line with article 27 [on work and employment] of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.
23 August 2018
Minister condemned for ‘woeful’ response to residential special school review
Inclusive education campaigners have condemned the government’s “woeful” response to a review of the experiences of disabled children and young people in residential special schools.
Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, who co-chaired the independent review, said last November that she had found the quality of support in residential special schools “extremely variable”, while there was “far too little focus” on educational outcomes.
Far too often, she said, the disabled children and young people who ended up in residential special schools had been failed by the system.
And she called for a system which enabled disabled children to attend schools in their local communities.
Dame Christine’s review, which was commissioned by the government, concluded that “experiences and outcomes for these children and young people are too often not as good as they should be”.
About 6,000 disabled children and young people are educated in about 330 residential special schools and colleges, in the state, non-maintained and independent sectors, costing about £500 million a year, with each placement costing between £35,000 and £350,000 a year.
In his response to the review, education secretary Damian Hinds said in a letter to Dame Christine this week that he recognised there had been “a steady movement of children with special educational needs out of mainstream schools and into specialist provision, alternative provision and home education”, with increasing rates of school exclusions.
He said it was “right that the presumption in law is for mainstream education” but that he was also “clear that specialist provision can be the right choice for many of those with more complex needs”.
He said he wanted to “equip and incentivise” mainstream schools “to do better” for disabled children and young people, and said the government had begun a review of the national minimum standards for residential special schools.
Hinds also pointed out that the government had put in place a contract with the Whole School SEND Consortium – worth £3.4 million over two years – to “embed SEND [special educational needs and disabilities] within approaches to school improvement in order to equip the workforce to deliver high quality teaching across all types of SEN”.
But ALLFIE said it was “very disappointed by the government’s lack of action to eradicate residential and day special schools and continued failure to turn the tide against increased segregated education, resulting in too little being done to improve inclusive education practice”.
It pointed to the comments of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities last September – in its “concluding observations” on the UK’s progress in implementing the disability convention – in which it said it was concerned about “the persistence of a dual education system that segregates children with disabilities in special schools”.
The committee called for “a coherent and adequately financed strategy… on increasing and improving inclusive education”.
The UN has separately made it clear that inclusive education means that all disabled children and young people are educated in mainstream settings and that the right for disabled students not to be discriminated against “includes the right not to be segregated” into special schools.
ALLFIE said the contract awarded to the Whole School SEND Consortium was a “distraction” from the findings in Dame Christine’s report that £500 million was spent supporting just 6,000 disabled young people in residential special schools every year – an average of about £80,000 per pupil – while mainstream schools were facing “substantial cuts” to their budgets.
It said that the suggestion by Hinds that parents “actively make a choice” of specialist provision was not based on evidence, with Dame Christine finding that “many of the children and young people currently in residential special schools and colleges could be educated in their local communities if better support was available”.
An ALLFIE spokeswoman added: “We know of families who have been offered residential special school placement in lieu of no suitable provision being made available in their local mainstream schools. It’s not a choice.”
Our Festival of Resistance highlighting the hypocricy of the UK and Kenyan governments hosting a Global Disability Summit kicks off in ernest today/Saturday as our overseas activists arrive in the UK to join in with our fun.
On Sunday we are holding our own global summit which is very over subscribed with guest speakers including -:
Rose Achayo from the National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (who will be talking about the particular barriers disabled women in Uganda face, the work of her organisation including its work with disabled refugees)
John Clarke from Ontario Coalition against Poverty (who shares DPAC’s concerns over universal basic income as a proposed solution to the future of social security)
Next week DfID will be jointly hosting a Disability Summit with the Kenyan government. While we fully support all and any initiaitives to improve the lives and circumstances of disabled people in other countries we can only say that the UK government’s choice of partner for this summit seems shameful and inapprpriate. Of course there is nothing new in that and no-one who has endured the never ending attacks against disabled people’s human rights in the UK will be surprised.
The Government of Kenya criminalises and persecutes LGBTQI+ Disabled people
It is hard to imagine a less suitable partner to co-host a Global Disability Summit than the Government of Kenya — apart from its neighbor, Uganda. It is illegal to be gay in both countries, and as a result many LGBTQI+ people develop lifelong impairments.
LGBTQI+ people in Kenya are routinely banished from their families, denied work and accommodation, imprisoned and persecuted. They face severe barriers to forming and maintaining relationships and to living as a couple, the ‘Right to Family Life’ that every human is promised. This results in widespread damage to their mental and physical health, creating impairments where none previously existed.
This is reflected in the high level of asylum applications to the UK from LGBTQI+ asylum seekers from African countries. Despite their experiences, the majority are then refused asylum in the UK and forcibly returned home, where many disappear or are murdered.
Just this April, President Kenyatta said that LGBT rights are “not acceptable” and not “an issue of human rights”. The Kenyan Government has also claimed this is a non-issue for Kenyans, and no doubt would argue that it has nothing to do with the Summit.
However, if you are Kenyan or Ugandan and are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or intersex, it is an issue that completely dominates and dictates your life. For many Disabled people from Kenya, it is the reason they developed an impairment in the first place.
Regard, the UK’s LGBTQI+ Disabled People’s Organisation, says: “The involvement of the Government of Kenya discredits any debate that takes place at the Summit. Whatever the political reasons for involving Kenya in co-hosting the Summit, the rights and welfare of Disabled people seem to have had very little to do with it.”
In response to the UN disability committee findings and criticism of their record on disability rights, the Tories have been using international comparisons. The previous Minister for Disabled People used her time up in a debate on the UN CRPD that the SNP had tabled talking about how when she was in the navy she had liberated all these poor starving neglected disabled orphans from “the socialist republic of Romania.”
The implication is always that disabled people in the UK are over-privileged and should be grateful for what we get here. This shows a misunderstanding of the UN Convention as a progressive tool for rights implementation.
The same day as a much criticised government strategy on disability, health and work was published, the previous Minister for Disabled People, Penny Morduant, made an announcement in her new role as Minister for International Development that the UK would be holding a global summit on disability at the end of July 2018. This has proved a very popular initiative with international organisations falling over themselves to be involved and the Tories are using it to its maximum to validate their self-proclaimed status as “world leaders in disability”.
It is also linked to a 27m international disability development support programme and you can see from the announcement about the focus on technology companies (and opening up new markets).
We obviously support better rights for all disabled people regardless of where they live but cannot let the Tories continue to pass themselves off as world leaders in disability rights when they have been found guilty of the grave and systematic violation of those rights and their policies have been called a ‘human catastrophe’ by the UN Disability Committee.
Therefore we will be holding our own summit on Sunday, July 22nd with input from disabled activists from the global South. This will be near the Olympic Park although the venue is still to be confirmed.
On July 24th the actual day of the summit please join us for some on-line activism.
Are you an artist, sculptor, film maker working around disability issues?
Would you like your work to play a part in building a Global Resistance Movement of disabled people?
Then here’s how
In July 2018, DPAC will be holding a public event around building a Global Resistance Movement of disabled people.
We need your creativity and energy to help make this happen.
We want to create an event which celebrates our shared experiences and aspirations; and which connects our struggles and campaigns. As a backdrop to this, we would like those attending on the day and taking part from afar to do so in a space filled with creative expressions of our lives and our politics.
We are calling for contributions, large and small to exhibit at the event. Artists can come and be part of our activities or can simply give us access to their material. We will store and exhibit your material and return it to you after the event.
We are asking for:
Imagery such as
If your work has supporting materials such as mounts, plinths, frames, description or requires these materials for exhibition, please let us know.
Statement for endorsement: We have drawn up the following statement on basic income (BI). It makes the case that, progressive hopes to the contrary notwithstanding, BI is being developed as a measure of neoliberal attack that should be opposed. We invite progressive organizations and individuals who hold positions in agencies and academic institutions, who agree with our arguments, to sign onto the statement. We hope that it will raise a voice of opposition and help develop information sharing and forms of co-operation among those, internationally, who reject the notion that basic income represents any kind realistic response to the neoliberal attack.
Endorsements and other responses can be directed to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— The Neoliberal Danger of Basic Income
We, the undersigned, are convinced that the emerging model of basic income, reflected in pilot projects and other initiatives in a number of countries and jurisdictions, is one that would intensify the neoliberal agenda. The hope that there is any realistic chance of ensuring a truly adequate, universal payment, that isn’t financed by undermining other vital elements of social provision, is misplaced in our view.
We are far from wanting to suggest that existing systems of income support are anywhere close to adequate. They provide precarious sub poverty income under conditions that are marked by intrusive regulations and forms of moral policing. Moreover, decades of neoliberal austerity have made these systems considerably worse.
However wretched and inadequate present systems may be, the assumption that basic income must or even could be an improvement on the status quo has to be tested by considering a number of factors. Historically, income support has been provided because those in political power concluded that outright abandonment of those not in the workforce would create unacceptably high levels of unrest and social dislocation. In the far from dead tradition of the English Poor Laws, income support has been provided at levels that were low enough to maintain a supply of the worst paid workers, in forms that were as punitive and degrading as possible. Again, the neoliberal years have seen these features intensified in what we must concede has been a highly effective drive to create a climate of desperation and a plentiful supply of low paid and precarious workers.
If austerity driven governments and institutions of global capitalism are today looking favourably at basic income, it’s not because they want to move towards greater equality, reverse the neoliberal impact and enhance workers’ bargaining power. They realize that a regressive model of basic income can be put in place that provides an inadequate, means tested payment to the poorest people outside of the workforce but that is primarily directed to the lowest paid workers. This would be, in effect, a subsidy to employers, paid for out of the tax revenues and it would be financed by cuts to broader public services. Such a model would lend itself to disregarding the particular needs of disabled people and, as a “citizen’s income,” could readily be denied to many immigrants, especially those left undocumented. Under such a system, you would shop through the rubble of the social infrastructure with your meagre basic income. The kind of pilot projects and other initiatives that are emerging offer severe warnings in this regard (we include some links that provide information on several of these)*.
However, some suggest that while regressive models could be developed and may pose a danger, a progressive and even “emancipatory” form of basic income is possible and realistic as a goal. Often, this is linked to the idea of preparing for a “workless future” in which vast numbers of technologically displaced workers can be provided for. The notion is that a universal payment would be provided unconditionally and that it would be adequate enough so that paid work, if it were an option, would be a matter of choice rather than necessity. While there are a few who suggest this could be won through large scale social action, advocates for a progressive basic income more often seem to assume that capitalist support and acceptance by the state can be won by way of a vigorous lobbying effort.
In our view, a truly adequate and redistributive, let aside transformative, basic income is not possible within the confines of the current economic system. Firstly, the present balance of forces in society, after decades of neoliberalism, does not lend itself to the conclusion that a sweeping measure of social reform, that would reverse this whole agenda, is immediately likely. Beyond this, however, an income support system that removed economic coercion in a way that progressive basic income advocates suggest, would be more than turning back the neoliberal tide. It would actually mean that the state was providing the working class with an unlimited strike fund. It would undermine the very basis for the capitalist job market. It would constitute social transformation, a revolutionary change that is, to say the least, beyond the capacity of any possible social policy enactment.
If basic income as emancipation is not possible, it can only too easily take form as neoliberal intensification. Yet, sadly, progressive advocates end up offering legitimacy to that regressive alternative but placing hopes in musings about basic income by Silicon Valley billionaires or by presenting cynical pilot projects, set up by austerity driven governments, as flawed but important first steps. However much they wish otherwise, the sow’s ear will not become a silk purse.
If faith in a progressive basic income is misplaced, we wish we could offer a shining and readily attainable alternative but this is not possible. We are largely fighting a defensive struggle against a virulent agenda to undermine social provision and increase the rate of exploitation. We can only offer the hard slog of building stronger inclusive movements of social resistance, rejuvenating unions and building a working class political challenge to neoliberalism. As we do this, we must fight for free, expanded and accessible public services. We must win decent wages and workers’ rights. We must struggle for income support systems that are based on adequacy, full entitlement and that are purged of intrusive rules and moral policing. We must infuse all of these movements and struggles with a sense of a very different kind of society from the capitalist one we are fighting. This doesn’t have the glitter of the dream of a progressive basic income but it does accept that reality that there is no social policy way around neoliberalism or a long and hard fight against it. The progressive welcome mat for basic income is a very big mistake.
2017 DPAC Week of Action #SummerofDiscontent #NotOneMoreDay #CutsKill
Friday 14th July – Opening ceremony – from 6pm
As the World Para Athletics kick off in London, join us at Queens Elizabeth Olympics Park for our own 2017 DPAC week of action opening ceremony. While Atos continue to be a partner of the IPC, disabled people’s participation in sport and physical activity is declining as a direct result of cuts. Please come to help leaflet those going in to watch the Athletics about the impact of the cuts and how they can get involved in supporting DPAC to fight back.
Meet Stratford station tube at 6pm.
For information on getting to the Park: http://www.queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/the-park/plan-your-visit/getting-here
For more information about the World Para Athletics or to purchase tickets to attend the events go to: http://www.paraathleticschampionships.com/
Sunday 16th July – Carnival Against Cuts
Join DPAC on the Fair Funding for All Schools Carnival Against Cuts. Education cuts are taking learning support away from Disabled pupils and undermining the right to inclusive education.
Assemble Victoria Embankment at midday
Rally at Parliament Square30pm
Family fun, picnics, art, songs, kids’ entertainment and speakers.
This is the day for local DPAC groups and supporters to organise your own actions on local issues that are most important to you. It could be a protest outside a benefit assessment centre, against the closure of a local JobCentre or library or at the Town Hall to oppose cuts to social care – the choice is yours. Don’t forget to tell the local media and please send us details to help publicise your action.
Wednesday 19th July – Lobby of Parliament for Independent Living
The crisis in social care keeps hitting the headlines but the focus is often dominated by older people’s care instead of violations to Disabled people’s right to independent living. Theresa May has promised a consultation on social care later in the year but Disabled people battling cuts to essential daily support need concrete action now. At the last Prime Minister’s Questions before the Summer recess, DPAC independent living campaigners will lobby our MPs to defend our rights to dignity and choice.
Assemble outside House of Commons entrance from 11am.
We are also asking Disabled people to write to their MPs about their experiences of social care cuts and the detrimental impact on our lives.
Thursday 20th July – Turn Up and Go protest
Driver Only Operated trains, the removal of guards from trains and rail staff from stations threaten Disabled people’s freedom to travel. On 10th July DPAC campaigners will be joining RMT staff on their picket lines as they take industrial action to defend our right to access public transport.
On 20th July we are inviting Disabled people to travel together en masse to the Department for Transport’s headquarters in London to deliver a petition demanding out right to ride.
Assemble outside the Department for Transport at 2pm. Department for Transport
Great Minster House ,33 Horseferry Road ,London,W1P 4DR
For our final day of action, DPAC will be returning to Atos HQ after a long absence. They no longer hold the contract to run the Work Capability Assessment but they continue to ruin the lives of disabled people through their contract to carry our PIP Assessments, notorious for assessment reports riddled with lies and inaccuracies.
Assemble 12.30 pm outside their offices at 4, Triton Square, Regent’s Place, London, NW1 3HG
The first ever DPAC protest in October 2010 saw campaigners march through Birmingham in the pouring rain. We were drenched, soggy, and our wonderful banner that co-founder Tina Hogg had made was destroyed by the deluge.
And once again November 16th 2016 we gathered in the pouring rain to pay tribute to the life and work of another co-founder Debbie Jolly and also to demand that the Tories act on the 11 recommendations in the report released last week proving the grave and systematic violation of our human rights by their actions.
Thanks to all who came and stayed in spite of the rain and cold. Thank you also to all those who were unable to but sent good wishes. Thanks also to all of you who have made a donation to DPAC as requested by her family instead of sending cards and flowers. Thanks also to all of you who would but can’t afford to. Part of the things Debbie wanted and fought for were a sustainable income for all disabled people.
In the afternoon Labour had tried to force through a vote against the loss of £30 a week from those in ESA WRAG which failed by a tiny number of votes. John McDonnell also paid tribute to Debbie “On a solemn note, I wish to send my condolences to the family and friends of Debbie Jolly. Some Members may have known Debbie, who was a disability campaigner. Over the years, she provided briefings for many Members of the House of Commons and, through Disabled People Against Cuts, was involved in many of the various lobbies of Parliament. She passed away last week, and I would like to send our condolences to her family and all her friends. We all hoped she would survive long enough at least to see this debate. I pay tribute to her for the work she did.“
Somewhat unbelievably the Tory Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Penny Mordaunt) also said “May I associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the shadow Chancellor about the late Debbie Jolly? She was a noted researcher and sociologist, as well as a tireless campaigner. I am sure that our comments will be just two of the many tributes that will be paid to her.” Well what can you say apart from they’ll jump on any bandwagon if they think it’ll benefit them.
It is with great sadness that we have to tell you one of our co-founders, Debbie Jolly has died following a short hospital stay. As disabled people everywhere we’ve lost a friend and advocate and a fighter for our movement.
Debbie has played a hugely influential part in the development of DPAC since 2010 and she and I have worked together virtually every day since dealing with the day-to-day things that needed to be done to make DPAC the successful campaign group we have become.
Debbie was one of the main people involved in initiating the UN inquiry into the UK’s grave and systematic violation of disabled people’s human rights which will be a lasting testimony to her life and work.
Debbie was a warrior and tireless campaigner for disabled people’s human rights and most of all she never wanted to be hailed as a heroine or praised by others for the work that she did.
All of the steering group and our allies from Black Triangle campaign are in deep shock and I have felt very lost in the past few weeks without Debbie to support me and be by my side. Many thanks to those who have responded to my requests for help during this time.
However we know Debbie would want us to gather ourselves together and fight on so we are asking that people join us in her memory to protest next Wednesday, November 16th at parliament. Meet Old Palace Yard at 5.30 pm highlight the damning findings of the UN report.
We will also now use all means at our disposal to toxify the Tory “brand” so thoroughly that they will be remembered for generations as the party that perpetrated grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s human and civil rights and we will not rest until this government is no more than a terrible part of our history.
It’s often said that history only remembers the victors. Recently, the Equality and Human Rights Commission produced a video to, and I quote, “Celebrate twenty years since the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.” For disabled people who were involved in the struggle to have the inequalities we face acknowledged and addressed, I doubt there are many of us who will be putting the flags out or popping champagne corks in celebration of the Act itself.
The bulk of us who were actively involved remain true to the belief that the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was a significant defeat for disabled people and the struggle against social oppression. This is not to say the passing of the DDA had no positive impact upon disabled people’s lives or had no influence on social change, it did, but acknowledging this shouldn’t detract us from recognising the fact the DDA restricted our progress, was of limited use to disabled people and was never likely to challenge the status quo.
It is impossible to produce a balance sheet of the DDA’s true impact because all kinds of external factors operate to mask the truth. It can be argued that the overall struggle for anti-discrimination legislation and specific actions such as the Campaign for Accessible Transport were more instrumental in bringing about organic social change. Over the last twenty years the whole of society has radically changed, and how disabled people have been both seen and treated have been part of that process whether that’s been via Tony Blair’s “rights and responsibilities” agenda or the neoliberal business case for ‘including disabled people’.
To fully appreciate our position on the DDA it is necessary to strip away the sugar coated presentation of this historic piece of legislation in order to reveal how the collective voice of disabled people and their many allies were silenced by acts of betrayal and brute force. The real story isn’t really about the twenty years since the passing of this piecemeal, ineffectual and oppressive Act, but rather it is about how the Civil Rights Bill and the ideas contained within it were buried both physically and politically by those who felt threatened by the potential impact it would’ve had on society.
The aim here is not to romanticise the campaign for full civil and human rights for disabled people, but instead to recall the major events that led up to the Tories introducing their own Disability Discrimination Bill in order to head off the Private Member’s Bill on Civil Rights Bill and why the passing of the DDA should be viewed as a significant and negative watershed in our emancipation struggle. Neither is it possible to critique the nature or merits of the Disabled People’s Movements campaign, although there’ll be signposts to various opinions on it.
Over the last twenty years we have seen various ‘interpretations’ of the struggle for our emancipation and many of these place tremendous emphasis on the fact that legislation was adopted to give disabled people ‘rights’. Here is a lengthy quotation from one such interpretation:
‘The Disabled People’s ‘Rights Now!’ campaign had a rich and diverse membership, including representation from many trade unions. It encompassed direct action, mass lobbies of parliament, petitions and awareness-raising campaigns to support civil rights for disabled people, and the issue was raised in Parliament on 14 separate occasions. The campaign won over a number of MPs and Peers, including Alf Morris, Roger Berry, Tom Clarke and Harry Barnes, who provided much needed political support and sponsored various Disabled People’s Civil Rights Private Members Bills.
The campaign reached a turning point in 1994 when the Conservative Government and the then Minister for Disabled People Nicholas Scott were found to have misled Parliament by stating that the cost of implementing civil rights legislation for disabled people would be greater than the sum previously calculated by civil servants.
In 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) became law and although it was a watered-down version of what disabled people wanted, it was nevertheless a huge victory for the Rights Now! campaign.’ (Aspis, 2011:3)
There are many aspects of this account that needs to be placed in a wider context and, as a consequence, it can then be viewed differently. Let’s begin by looking at important historical moments as a backdrop to the Rights Now campaign. Barnes and Oliver remind us that:
…the move by disabled people to form their own organisations…
fostered a growing collective consciousness amongst disabled people…. [which] began a process of reformulating the problems of disability, shifting the focus away from the functional limitations of impaired individuals towards contemporary social organisation with its plethora of disabling barriers. It also set in train a political divergence between organisations for the disabled and organisations of disabled people. (Barnes and Oliver,1991: 4)
The political divergence spoken about here between organisations for the disabled (sic) and organisations of disabled people permeates right through the history of the struggle for anti-discrimination legislation and beyond. Significantly, Barnes and Oliver go on to say:
Many of the traditional organisations for the disabled had advised the government that discrimination was not a problem for disabled people and that legislation was unnecessary. Yet in 1979, the Silver Jubilee Access Committee drew attention to a number of ‘blatant acts of discrimination against disabled people. The official committee which investigated the allegations was unequivocal in its findings: discrimination against disabled people was widespread and legislation was essential. (Barnes and Oliver,1991: 5)
Ian Bynoe picks up the story when he writes:
….1992 marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Report of the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People
(CORAD).This is the only report on disability and discrimination ever to have been received by a UK government. It found discrimination to be commonplace in the experience of disabled people and recommended anti-discrimination legislation. Its
proposals were dismissed by the government of the day and there has since been no evidence of a change of mind to revive hopes that the CORAD proposals might be implemented. (Bynoe, 1991: 1)
For the record the CORAD committee defined discrimination as: ‘the unjustifiable withholding whether intentional or not, of some service, facility or opportunity from a disabled person because of that person’s disability’ (Large, 1982:7)
The stark reality is that since the early 1980s there were no less than fourteen attempts to introduce anti-discrimination legislation via Private Members Bills largely introduced, but not exclusively, by backbench Labour MPs. Not only did each fail, they nearly all followed a similar pattern where in Parliament the Tory spokesperson would state that, ‘there was nothing but good will towards the disabled’, and of course, ‘education was better than legislation’ if any problems were to exist. On the other hand, the supporters of the various bills would mainly focus upon employment issues. Meanwhile outside of Parliament there was the ritualised farce of the big disability charities shipping in bus loads of disabled people to parade around Parliament Square before sending them home again.
Barnes and Oliver inform us that:
The formation of Voluntary Organisations for Anti-
Discrimination Legislation (VOADL) was a sign that many organisations for the disabled had been converted to views articulated by disabled people themselves. However, there
remain, perhaps inevitably, significant differences between the
philanthropic and liberationist elements of the disability lobby.
(Barnes and Oliver,1991: 5)
Those of us who were involved with VOADL and later, Rights Now, might take issue with the view that the “for” organisations were actually ‘converted’ to the views held by disabled people. Their practice then and since would cast a long shadow over this assumption. An alternative view is that for a long time disabled people’s organisations were only granted observer status within VOADL however the growing momentum behind the British Council for Disabled People’s campaign for anti-discrimination legislation (ADL), began to shift both the focus and the exercising of power and so this ‘conversion’ by the charities had more to do with their fear of being outflanked by BCODP than [it did to] any serious commitment to disability politics.
John Evans provides us with information on BCODP’s campaign when he says:
It was 1991 when BCODP (British Council of Disabled People) which is the national, representative and democratic organisation of disabled people in the UK launched its ADL campaign as its future main objective. (Evans, 1996: 2)
There are two important points raised here. Firstly, the fact BCODP made this their main campaign has been debated off and on within the Disabled People’s Movement ever since and it’s an issue that continues to divide opinion. This article isn’t the place to unpack the issues, however, the significance of the decision will be returned to later. Secondly, a major contribution to the launch of BCODP’s ADL campaign was the publishing of commissioned research undertaken by Colin Barnes into discrimination against disabled people in the UK. Evans points out that “Discrimination and Disabled People in Britain” was so comprehensive ‘…. it provided more than enough evidence supporting the whole case for ADL and it became a very useful tool in the campaign and a symbol for empowerment and inspiration. It was the first authoritative piece of research done in this area and was carried out by disabled researchers and disabled experts.’ (Evans, 1996: 2)
The momentum generated by BCODP’s campaign and the emergence of the Disability Action Network (DAN) made VOADL look staid and stuffy. As mentioned previously the differences between the philanthropic and liberationist elements of the disability lobby became increasingly marked. The Executive Committee of BCODP recommended that VOADL had a make-over and with a bloodless coup, Rights Now was launched under the stewardship of the Disabled People’s Movement. John Evans again broadly captures the period between 1992 and 1994 when he writes:
Direct action no doubt heightened the profile for the need for civil rights legislation in the eyes of the general public and did a lot to shake up the politicians complacency on the issue but it could never be enough by itself. Without the lobbying of parliament and meetings with politicians putting forward constructive arguments based on available evidence of discrimination and seeking their support the cause would have been lost. Any changes in the law have to be done through Parliament so you have to get some politicians fighting for your cause. At the same time disabled experts and lawyers have to work alongside other lawyers and politicians in writing up the Bill. This work was co-ordinated by a group called the Rights Now…. which was a coalition of about 50 disability organisations and charities who were formed to work together to help bring about ADL. (Evans, 1996: 3)
Two central features mark the difference between VOADL and Rights Now. Disabled people drove the agenda and increased the public profile of the ADL campaign, but at the same time worked directly with members of parliament to put together the Civil Rights Bill. Many of us believe that this displacement of the ‘big six’ disability charities resulted in them watering down their commitment to full and comprehensive legislation and a growing willingness to accept compromise as the price of regaining their power position over disabled people. This watershed moment sees the birth of what has subsequently become ‘Janus politics’ – where the charities look back towards the radical language and concepts from the Disabled People’s Movement, but actually creates ‘new meaning’ which transforms them into tools which then help maintain their status. For example, the concepts ‘independent living’ and ‘choices and rights’ now employed by organisations such as Scope and Disability Rights UK are a million miles from their original meaning.
Mike Oliver noted that:
Speaker after speaker from non-representative organisations for disabled people claimed the social model as their own in the Trafalgar Square demonstrations of 1994. Additionally, the Disability Rights Commission established in 1997 by the New Labour Government declares that it is guided in everything it does by the social model of disability. (Oliver, 2004: 28)
Caroline Gooding and Bob Findlay advised the opposition parties on behalf of Rights Now, including writing a briefing paper on the social model and the definition of disability. Once in power New Labour set up a Disability Task Force, but this body steadfastly declined to change the traditional definition of disability to one in keeping with the social model.
Stepping back a little, the first test for the new wave militancy and Parliamentary campaigning came when Harry Barnes tried to push through the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.
Ian Parker, in an article called ‘SPITTING ON CHARITY’ which appeared in the Independent, wrote:
In May 1994, however, a private member’s bill, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, was killed messily by the Government, and the minister for disabled people, Nicholas Scott, eventually had to resign. (Parker, 2011: unpaged)
This caused an outcry and came about because as Parker acknowledged:
Last year – another Great Leap Forward – the civil rights argument was won. At some point, legislation may follow. (Parker, 2011: unpaged)
Parliament was finally ready to pass ADL, but the Tories and big business weren’t prepared to see the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill go through. As Lorraine Gradwell states, ‘… the Tory government were so concerned about the increasing popularity of anti discrimination legislation that they brought forward this fudge of a compromise’.(2015)
Their only course of action was to head off our Bill by introducing the weaker Disability Discrimination Bill led by William Hague. This was eventually passed into law twenty years ago as the Disability Discrimination Act.
What followed was a two horse handicapped chase. Roger Berry picked up the gauntlet and re-introduced the Civil Rights Bill, but Hague had the advantage of proposing a Bill supported by the Conservative John Major government. It was under these conditions that the ‘big six’ charities made their move.
Thanks to his position at the head of a fairly well-funded “for” organisation, and thanks to his support for incremental methods, and thanks to his recent claim to see some (flawed) virtue in the Government’s Disability Discrimination Bill, Massie is regarded with great hostility by many “fundamentalists”. Rachel Hurst, a radical with a sharp political sense, says, “Our voice has been shut out by the established charities. Some staff at Radar I’ve got more time for than I can say. [But] I wouldn’t mind shooting the man at the top. He is an Uncle Tom, Mr Massie… He actually doesn’t care a toss about the rights of disabled people.” (Parker, 2011: unpaged)
Evans also recalls in 1996 that:
The DDA took only 6 months from beginning to end in becoming law.
Unfortunately the DDA was flawed from the start as being a weak piece of legislation which was unenforceable and was considered a drop in the ocean, as it was certainly not going to protect disabled people from the many forms of discrimination which existed. It outraged the disability movement because it denied them the fully comprehensive civil rights legislation which they had worked so hard campaigning for and consequently they refused to have anything to do with it. (Evans, 1996: 4)
Perhaps even more forcibly Marian Corker wrote in ‘The UK Disability Discrimination Act – disabling language, justifying inequitable social participation’:
What has been ‘achieved’ is a legal instrument that has variously been described as ‘confusing, contorted and unsatisfactory’ (Gooding 1996); ‘a dissembling law not an enabling statute’ (Doyle 1997: 78); and ‘one of the most ill-conceived pieces of legislation ever to reach the statute books’ (Corker 1998: 115). This is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) (Corker, 2000)
She went on to say:
However, there is little doubt that the DDA represents a muddled combination of prohibition, justifiable discrimination and reasonable adjustment that can themselves act as a barrier to claimants who may be ‘isolated, possibly ill-informed and under-resourced’ (Gooding 1996: 6). Further, because the DDA legally justifies direct discrimination on the grounds of ‘disability’ in what Gooding (1996: 6) describes as ‘dangerously vague’ terms, and fails to incorporate a notion of the indirect discrimination experienced by disabled people, it seems an ineffective legal instrument for tackling the institutionalised oppression of disabled people. (Corker, 2000)
The DDA, unlike the Civil Rights Bill, wasn’t designed to tackle the institutionalised oppression of disabled people. Any hope of repealing and replacing the DDA with the Civil Rights Bill when New Labour came to power was quickly dashed. First, Labour’s Tom Clarke refuted BCODP’s claim that Labour in opposition had promised to do just that. Second, the Task Force already mentioned was hand-picked with more radical elements of the Disabled People’s Movement blacklisted throughout Labour’s terms in office. Margaret Hodge in 2000 when Minister for Disabled People, instructed the BBC to ‘edit out’ criticism of the DDA in its Disabled Century TV program. Third, Labour looked towards the new ‘Disability Movement’ driven by the charities and DPOs willing to buy into Blair’s ‘Third Way’ and the neoliberal market economy. Finally, it was New Labour who brought in Atos to hound sick and disabled people.
So, when we’re told the DDA was a victory, what does this mean? There has been a paradoxical development; just at the moment when inadequate legal rights were established for disabled people, the movement for emancipation was outflanked by the big disability charities and made an outcast by successive governments. Since 1995 the Disabled People’s Movement has gone into decline. Internal division and criticism followed the defeat of the Civil Rights Bill, with senior disabled activists accusing BCODP of ‘putting all its eggs in one basket’ by having ‘legislation’ as its prime focus and failing to cultivate grassroots structures and organisation.
Does this look like a victory? Merely getting legal recognition that disabled people have limited rights not to be discriminated against? Are they saying we should be celebrating being granted crumbs from their table? In 2005 the Public Interest Research Unit reported, ‘Ten years of the Disability Discrimination Act: Anniversary research indicates qualified failure.’
The DDA gave individual rights, but simply asked for employers and service providers to behave ‘reasonably’. The last five years in particular has witnessed savage attacks on both disabled people’s rights, services and lifestyles. A reverse of disabled people’s fortunes added to by the threat of legalised ‘assisted suicide’ is the reality, not this empty rhetoric of ‘equal citizenship’. Disabled people have been silenced and sidelined for the majority of the last twenty years apart from piecemeal changes in the social environment and attempts at tokenistic ‘inclusion’ here and there.
Now the whitewash begins. We see video clips from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Scope on 20 years of the DDA, producing ‘false history’ via safe narratives and the worst of all, the Heritage Lottery Fund supporting Leonard Cheshire’s empire to write ‘disability history’ (sic). Ellis’s piece for the HLF on the DDA is another example of revisionism with a dash of criticism thrown in.
Those of us who lived and fought through the 1980s and 1990s see no cause to celebrate. Politically, we were defeated in 1995; our slogan, “Nothing About Us, Without Us”, has still to be realised. Although the last twenty years has been an uphill struggle to keep the fight for emancipation alive, we are seeing yet again a new wave of determination among disabled people; people who believe in freedom and social justice. These green shoots are what we should be celebrating today, not the results of the falsification of history written by our oppressors and shameful or misguided collaborators.
Aspis, S. (2011:3) Campaigns in Action – Disabled People’s struggle for Equality
Barnes, C. and Oliver, M. (1991) ‘DISCRIMINATION, DISABILITY AND WELFARE: FROM NEEDS TO RIGHTS’ in Bynoe, I. et al.,
Equal Rights for Disabled People: A Case for a new law – IPPR.
Bynoe, I. (1991) THE CASE FOR ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LEGISLATION in Bynoe, I. et al., Equal Rights for Disabled People: A Case for a new law – IPPR.
Oliver, M. (2004) ‘The Social Model in Action: if I had a hammer’, in Implementing the Social Model of Disability: Theory and Research edited by Colin Barnes and Geof Mercer (2004); Leeds: The Disability Press, pp. 18-31
Gradwell, L. (2015) Comment on her Facebook page, 4th November.
Corker, M. (2000) ‘The UK Disability Discrimination Act – disabling language, justifying inequitable social participation’, in: The 10tk Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, edited by Anita Silvers and Leslie Francis, Routledge
A recent article in the Guardian drew attention to the BBC’s current efforts to increase the numbers of disabled people on and off-screen. Tania Motie and Tanni Grey-Thompson argued that there are three stereotypes applied to disabled people – we are heroes, scroungers or brave victims. The BBC, they wrote, has a role in challenging this, and that:
Sophisticated, multi-faceted, authentic portrayal influenced by disabled people will really help to break down barriers and allow disability to become part of the DNA of our society.
This reminded me of how, 23 years ago, in 1992 – which like 2015 was also a general election year – the BBC launched a series of programmes made with and about disabled people, together with a booklet and poster advertising. The series and the booklet were called Disabled Lives:we wanted to call it Disabling Society but Channel 4 had got there first with their own series that same year. The initiative resulted from an Advisory Group made up of disabled people brought together by the BBC to help them develop programmes which challenged the stereotypical and unrealistic ways in which disabled people’s lives were portrayed.
It sounds familiar doesn’t it? But there were some differences.
The key difference is that, in 1992, disability was increasingly being identified as a civil rights issue, whereas today public debate is dominated by arguments and counter-arguments about whether we are ‘scroungers’ or ‘vulnerable’.
The 1992 booklet said that it, and the BBC series of programmes, was about:
one of the most exciting civil rights issues of our times, the right of disabled people to participate equally and fully in the communities in which we live….Today, there is a growing movement of disabled people who insist that our lives have value and that we want to be treated as equal citizens with equal rights.
This was before the Disability Discrimination Act which was finally passed in 1995 after many years of campaigning. The programmes and the publicity gave a voice to this demand for an end to discrimination, but also emphasised the importance of changing the dominant cultural representations of disabled people, arguing – as Elspeth Morrison (one of the Advisory Group’s members) put it:
If we have no representation of ourselves other than those images used in charities’ advertising, crippled witches in children’s books, brave and tragic media stuff, theatre and film’s metaphorical use of disability as social inadequacy, social decay – if there is no expression of life as we live, it, how do we begin to validate ourselves and learn about each other?
One of the photographs (taken by David Hevey) used in the booklet and in the posters – was of the Direct Action Network holding up a bus in Manchester. No buses were wheelchair accessible at that time and access to public transport was an important part of the campaign for anti-discrimination legislation.
Independent living (having choice and control) was also a key focus, for people with the whole range of impairments and across all ages. The Independent Living Fund had been established in 1988 and more and more people with high levels of support needs were accessing it and starting to live the kind of lives their non-disabled peers took for granted. In general, more disabled people were demanding, and getting, their entitlements to support to enable them to go about their daily lives.
Organisations of disabled people (as opposed to the charities speakingfor disabled people) were increasing in number and influence in the early 1990s, reflected in the fact that the people on the BBC’s Advisory Group were mainly from organisations of disabled people. The initiative encompassed Deaf people, people with physical and/or sensory impairments, people with non-evident impairments and health conditions, people with learning difficulties, mental health service users and older disabled people. As People First (the organisation of people with learning difficulties) said:
We are for difference
For respecting difference
For allowing difference
Doesn’t matter anymore.
In the early 1990s, the most influential stereotype of disabled people was of us as objects of pity, as tragic victims who, at best, could be admired for ‘overcoming’ against all odds, at worst were considered to have lives not worth living. The response of a government Minister to one of the petitions calling for anti-discrimination legislation was to say that he didn’t believe employers discriminated against us, rather they felt sorry for us.
Nevertheless, in 1992 things were shifting. In the run-up to the general election, the Conservative Party (in government since 1979) devoted a specific section in its Manifesto to commitments to disabled people, celebrating that:
Under the Conservatives, more disabled people than ever before are getting the help they need and deserve. Since 1979, the number receiving Attendance Allowance has more than trebled; the number receiving Mobility Allowance has risen six fold; the number receiving Invalid Care Allowance has risen 25-fold. Today we spend some £12,000 million a year on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people. Even after allowing for inflation, that is 2½ times as much as Labour spent in the 1970s.
The Tories promised to introduce “new disability benefits [Disability Living Allowance and Disability Working Allowance] which will, in the next Parliament, bring extra help to at least 300,000 people. By 1993-94 these and other improvements will mean that we will be directing an extra £300 million a year to long-term sick and disabled people.”
They were proud of the “great success” of the Independent Living Fund and gave a manifesto commitment to maintaining it.
The Labour Party had very little to say about disabled people in their1992 manifesto. There was a nod to ‘training’ opportunities, to health services for people with long-term conditions and to better community services for people using mental health services and for people with learning difficulties. The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto had more, committing them to introduce a Citizen’s Income with a specific disability component, human rights legalisation (to include disability) and a Charter of Rights for disabled people.
In those days, very few people argued that too much was spent on disability benefits. Very few people thought that disabled and sick people were making false claims for out of work or disability benefits.
In fact, in 1992 the Conservative government felt that not enough disabled people were being helped and introduced new benefits for which more people were eligible. Today the Coalition government argues that too many people are receiving help with the additional costs associated with impairment and disability. The Disability Living Allowance – which the Conservative government of the early 1990s was proud to introduce – has been abolished and replaced with Personal Independence Payment with the aim of reducing the budget by 20% and accompanied by such long delays in responding to claims that aJudicial Review has been granted of the process.
In 1992, the government were proud of the Independent Living Fund and vowed to keep it. Today, they have abolished it and many people with high support needs are at risk of losing the ability that ILF funding gave them to live ‘ordinary lives’.
In 1992, public debate was about whether disabled people were to be pitied as the objects of charity and needed to be ‘looked after’, or whether we should have equal rights to access education, employment, independent living. Today, public debate is about whether we are avoiding our responsibilities to seek employment and need conditions and sanctions to get us ‘off benefits’, or whether we are ‘vulnerable’. Instead of recognising the additional support, and the removal of barriers, which are required in order for us to access the same opportunities as others, we are – in order to avoid being labelled as ‘scroungers’ – once again forced into the role of tragic victims, where the legitimacy of our requirements is to be measured by how ‘vulnerable’, ill and/or impaired we are.
So if we are to avoid being identified as ‘scroungers’, we have to prove how ‘vulnerable’ we are made by our impairments, illness and/or age. Yet ’vulnerability’ is created by the society in which we live – by lack of appropriate support, and by prejudicial attitudes. ‘Vulnerability’ is created, for example, by removing benefits from someone because they failed to fulfil conditions which illness, impairment and/or poverty made difficult for them to do. ‘Vulnerability’ is created by threatening to stop providing support to enable someone to go to the toilet when they need to. ‘Vulnerability’ is created by a lack of suitable, affordable housing for a family affected by illness and disability.
Tackling discrimination, removing barriers, providing appropriate support which gives us choice and control in our lives – none of these are on the agenda for public and policy debate anymore. Instead, our social worth is to be measured by whether we are ‘hard-working’, which means engaged in productive labour. Other important social roles – looking after others, bringing up children, contributing to our friends, families and communities – are not deemed worthy of support or celebration.
The BBC’s current initiative – all these years after the 1992 initiative – to increase the numbers of visible, ‘happen to be’ disabled people on screen and to increase their employment off screen is laudable. But we also need to change the language of public discourse about sick and disabled people.
In particular, we need politicians, and all those participating in public debate in the run up to the election in May, to change the way they talk about disabled people. We need to revisit the language and images the disability movement tried so hard (with some considerable success) to promote during the 1980s and 1990s – language which returns to some of the hopes reflected in the BBC’s booklet all those years ago:
Disabled people are fighting for a society which celebrates difference, a society which does not react to physical, sensory or intellectual impairments, or emotional distress,, with fear and prejudice. We want a society that recognises the difficulties we face, but which also values us for what we are.
Our hopes for the future are based on the justice of our wish for control over our lives, the strength of our demands for equal participation, the passion of our belief in the value of our contribution to the communities in which we live.
Ian Dury had it right when he sang What A Waste, says Mark Harrison.
In the words of Ian Drury – What a waste! I am referring to the exclusion of disabled people in society and the attitudes and behaviours of Government, both local and national, towards us. As a society we need to turn our approach to disability on its head.
This Government has initiated a poisonous discourse in order to justify targeting disabled people through austerity. By the 2015 election, more than £28bn in benefits and entitlements will have been taken away from disabled people. At the same time, disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. In Austerity Britain, where the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer continue to claim “We are all in this together”, disabled people will pay 9 times more towards reducing the budget deficit than the average citizen. Those who are severely disabled will pay nineteen times more.
We are not benefit scroungers or burdens, we are not too expensive or units of costs that we as a society cannot afford, we are not brave, courageous or ‘special needs’. We are human beings like everybody else. If you cut us we bleed. You call us names and bully us, we hurt. You pity us and stick us in the charity box, we behave like charity cases. You segregate us in separate institutions and we become institutionalised. You do everything for us and wrap us in cotton wool then we become dependent. You have low expectations of our abilities and you damage our growth and development.
Disabled people don’t want this; we just want to be treated equally. We don’t want to be labelled as ‘special needs’ and charity cases. We want to live in the mainstream like everyone else. We want the barriers to us leading equal lives removed. If you label us as charity cases then what happens when you lose interest and move on to the next ‘good cause’? Labels are for tins not disabled people!
So what is to be done to address this waste? It is our responsibility – all of us – to remove these barriers. The barriers are ‘man made’ so it is our responsibility to break them down and consign them to history together. Disabled people can’t do this by ourselves we need allies. We need non-disabled people to get along side us and not accept the apartheid lives many disabled people are forced to live. We need disabled and non-disabled to be passionate about disability equality just like we are about women’s, racial and sexuality equality.
Disabled people have enormous amounts to give if afforded the opportunity and responsibility. Let’s end this waste and call time on out of date 20th Century attitudes and behaviours. Together we can consign them to the dustbin of history where they belong. Let’s get passionate together about disability equality and removing those barriers, wherever they are. Our Government has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities http://www.un.org/disabilities/
This provides a comprehensive road map for achieving disability equality – let’s implement it.
Mark Harrison is CEO of Equal Lives,
formerly known as the Norfolk Coalition of
The British Library began archiving the DPAC site from 2011 so know that all on this site will stand as an historical testament of this governments actions towards disabled people and what they are doing to the lives of millions-we will not give up fighting!
DPAC have had an odd kind of non-relationship with DRUK. We’ve disagreed about many things. For example, DPAC is for saving ILF, DRUK’s Sue Bott suggests this is something we should probably forget about, and that ‘Whilst the ILF has benefited many disabled people, claims that it has been at the forefront of independent living are a little exaggerated’. This is not the view of ILF users. See their stories, their lives, their experiences It is amazing that anyone can believe that passing ILF to local authorities who already say that without ring-fenced funding many ILF users will lose support and/or be institutionalised is something we need to accept while we all get together to talk about ‘new visions’.
The DRUK conference dedicated to a ‘new vision’ for independent living is also a confusing affair, not only are they embracing Simon Steven’s approach ( He who accused DPAC of murdering disabled people and was dropped from Leonard Cheshire’s sponsor program because of his outright abuse to other disabled people), but one of their advertised partners for this conference are Craegmoor .
Craegmoor are part of the Priory Group owned by Avent International which is a US Equity Company- changing times you may say-and you’re right. Maybe that’s what these new visions are about: capitalising on the market, private equity companies taking public money, and disability organisations getting in on the act- maybe neo-liberalism rather than disabled peoples’ rights and equality now make up ‘new visions’ of independent living
Craegmoor ‘s target market are those labelled with autism, learning difficulties and mental health issues. They take 85% of their funds from public funds. Craegmoor’s web site boasts of its residential homes:
We provide understanding and support for people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health problems in a variety of settings based on the individual’s abilities and needs. Our nationwide residential care services support people to develop the skills they need to live as independently as possible’.
Wait, since when were residential homes part of independent living? Weren’t these the very oppressions that early activists fought to get out of, and current activists (and ILF users) are fighting to stay out of?
Their brochure goes further:
Craegmoor is part of the Priory Group of Companies. From education to hospitals, care homes and secure facilities, the Priory Group of Companies offers individually tailored, multidisciplinary treatment programmes for those with complex educational needs or requiring acute, long-term and respite mental healthcare’.
Treatment programs? Not sounding very independent living or social model. As well as residential homes, secure ‘hospitals’ and segregated schools. It all sounds very daunting.
But there’s much more on the Priory group of companies too which is even less palatable concerning cover-ups and abuse. Until July 2013 Phillip Scott was Chief Executive if the name isnt familiar, he was also the Chief Executive for Southern Cross. Itself a subject of inquiry on institutional abuse and 19 unexplained deaths Craegmor say they transform lives, but in what way?
In May 2013 there was Melling Acres, ‘where inspectors reported major concerns about the care and welfare of its seven residents – care plans were poor, with scant information about physical health needs, there were limited activities and a lack of advocacy to enable people to express concerns about their care’. In September 2012 ‘following an anonymous tip, inspectors found residents at risk of abuse in Lammas Lodge, a home for young adults. There were not enough staff and what staff there were, inspectors found, were not properly trained to meet residents’ complex needs. There were six major areas of concern, including care and welfare, medication and safeguarding. The home, which was warned it must improve or face closure, has since been given a clean bill of health by the regulators’. Both homes were registered under Parkcare Homes’ so neither Priory or Craegmoor got the fall-out despite ownership.
This was not the case in 2012 when concerned relatives hid CCTV cameras in the room of Highbank hospital in Bury Manchester to reveal abuse by staff, not so with the Bentley Court home in Wolverhampton suspended by the council for what it called ‘safeguarding issues’ in 2010, a council that stopped sending those with dementia to Bentley Court, and not so in 2012 when what was described as the ‘Priory mental hospital’ in Windes on Bennet Lane was closed due to not meeting 10 standards of Government quality and safety including: Patients not being fully protected from the risk of abuse and their privacy, dignity and independence not being respected, staff not receiving necessary training, a lack of systems to assess and monitor the quality of the service provided, care plans did not always cover patients’ needs. There were also reports of patients attempting to escape during supervised visits into Widnes town centre.
So as said definitely NOT independent living.
In 2004 the then CEO of the Priory group Chai Patel said ‘My view is, if there is ever a conflict that involves choosing between care and profit, then we should not be involved in that environment,’ Given the examples above it seems profit is the defining factor.
It didn’t take long to find this information, it didn’t take long to realise that these are not the partners who should be with any organisation claiming to support independent living, even ‘new visions’. So maybe the question that needs to be asked is what exactly do DRUK support?
There are a few clues, in a recent blog piece by DRUK (dated 16th July) mentioning a very good Guardian piece by independent living activist John Evans, an ILF user, the last paragraph says: ‘Sue Bott, Director of Policy and Development at Disability Rights UK, has written a new blog which also discusses the role of the ILF but proposes that disabled people should concentrate their campaigning towards achieving a single integrated system that assesses people’s needs and allocates assistance and support based on the outcomes people could achieve in their communities and contribute to society’.
John Evans says everything we need to know-we have a vision for independent living and we already have a model forged by international independent living activists. There is nothing wrong with that model. There is no reason to stop fighting for it, abandon it or develop ‘visions’ or hallucinations of lesser systems in which we divide disabled people by perceived contributions to society-all disabled people are of value, all deserve to be supported. It is the ILF model that needs to be built upon and expanded to all-something that promotes real independent living.
The fact that a so-called user led organisation is putting forward anything different with the spectra of institutionalisation added to the mix is a tragic condemnation of all that disability activists have ever worked and fought for. We are appalled that DRUK are willing to sacrifice disabled people’s futures in this way and sadly can only assume this is to ensure on-going funding from the government.
DPAC is delighted to extend an open invitation to celebrate Independent Living Day with us on the 4th of July at the ‘Independent Living Tea Party ‘.
The party will begin at 2pm at the DWP, Caxton House in Tothill Street SW1. There will be fun & games, and entertainment; and of course, some civil disobedience.
We have come a long way since the demand for Independent Living was first made nearly 50 years ago. Then, as now, IL was our solution for how society supports disabled people to take our place as equals. For how society addresses inaccessible institutions, structures and process it created, which do more to disable people than their impairments ever could.
There are many strands of Independent Living, and all are under threat. Cuts to:
Support funding – such Social Care, the ILF & Disabled Students Allowance;
Education – in areas like the wholesale destruction of SEN Statements and the continued segregation of disabled children into ‘special’ schools;
Transport – the withdrawal of Taxi-cards, freedom passes and the halting of planned works to make infrastructure more accessible, amongst a host of other cuts combine to make disabled people second-class citizens in society.
But we have fought this fight before – and won. Our Disabled Peoples Organisations, legal gains and the policy victories we have won previously are testament to the power, know how and skills disabled people have to develop solutions to problems created by society. We must celebrate these achievements and remind ourselves that each of these successes have had to be earned, no-one ever gave them to us without a struggle.
So celebrate with us, or alternatively create your own party. Get together with friends and supporters, and create the kind of vibrant, positive spaces we have always created. Bring the noise – bells, whistles, drums, pots & pans etc. Bring food to share. Bring your enthusiasm.
if you are planning your own party, here are some suggestions:
1) Choose your target –
focus on the important issues locally; support, education, transport etc – its up to you. Identify what you want to celebrate and who represents the biggest threat to that locally. Is it your local council or Uni? Is it a transport provider? Or is it someone else?
2) Tell everyone –
yes, EVERYONE. Media, campaign networks, activists, local people. DONT FORGET TO TELL DPAC so we can list and support your action!
3) Be heard, be seen –
make your event loud and proud. Bring music, choirs, drum, bells, whistles. Remind everyone out there that we won‘t be separated from society, we are society. We won ‘t go quietly.
4) We’re also holding a Twitter Party on the Hashtag
#IL4JULY so that people at the DWP and at other events round the country
can tweet in pictures of their events and we can all join in. Further
details to follow, watch this space.
The famous Boston teaparty led to a revolution against the British government let’s see where our teaparty leads…..
As part of DPAC’s Who 2 Vote 4 campaign Anita Bellows delves in to the history files, to examine who made the decision to move Incapacity Benefit Claimants onto ESA and the warnings that were made about that at the time.
Even before the full reassessment of Incapacity Benefits claimants was in full swing, academics predicted a disaster with 600,000 claimants forced off Incapacity Benefits, particularly for those living in regions of high unemployment.
But the CRESR was not the first, and certainly not the only opponent to the IB migration, and to raise doubts about IB reassessment, the Work Capability Assessment, and the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) regime.
As early as May 2010, the Social Security Advisory Committee, the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, and the House of Lords all separately warned first the Labour government and then the Coalition government of the potential negative impacts on disability benefit claimants if the IB reassessments went ahead, especially with a tougher test and a standard of assessment which was “not always good enough, especially for people with mental health and cognitive difficulties”.
Both governments decided to ignore these warnings and to go ahead, even before knowing the findings and recommendations of the first review of the WCA.
Background to the reassessment of existing Incapacity Benefit claimants
Employment and Support Allowance did not initially affect existing claimants of incapacity benefits, but the Labour Government made it clear from the outset that existing claimants would be reassessed for ESA.
Budget 2008 [para 4.5] announced that all existing Incapacity Benefit claimants would be required to take the Work Capability Assessment from April 2013.
March 2010 regulations
Regulations laid before Parliament by the Labour Government on 29 March 2010 provided for the “migration” of the remaining incapacity benefits claimants customers to ESA between October 2010 and March 2014, provided they satisfied the Work Capability Assessment.
The draft regulations were subject to full scrutiny by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), who published its report in March 2010 with the response of the government.
March 2010 Social Security Advisory Committee’s report
The Committee believed that the migration arrangements in the draft regulations could not be implemented without the risk of “operational stress and adverse impacts on significant numbers of vulnerable people” before adding: “In our view, the Department should not embark upon the proposed migration until the well-documented problems with current ESA processes and procedures (including those with the WCA) have been resolved, any changes to the Pathways programme have been implemented and bedded-in, and improvements have been made to the support available for JSA claimants with a health condition or disability”.
The Committee raised also several concerns:
Lack of a solid evidence base for the decision to migrate or the proposed migration arrangements.
Underestimation by DWP of the support required by this group of claimants, in terms of both their participation in a more active benefit regime and the support required to move them closer to the labour market.
ESA evaluation for new claimants is not planned to be completed until 2011, by which time the proposed migration arrangements will have commenced.
And the Committee recommended that the migration to ESA did not proceed to the current timetable but waits until:
a stronger evidence base on what works and whether ESA is achieving its aims is available
the new regime for claimants with a health condition or disability (as an outcome of the Pathways review) has bedded down
DWP’s review of the WCA is complete, recommendations have been considered and any necessary changes have been made
demand-side approaches to stimulating the labour market have begun to have a positive impact on local demand for labour, particularly in areas with a high concentration of IB claimants.
And in case the migration did proceed as planned the Committee made several recommendations, notably that the quality of the WCA should be improved, particularly for claimants with mental health problems and cognitive and learning difficulties, and that Incapacity benefits claimants currently exempt from the PCA should be automatically treated as meeting the conditions for the ESA Support Group.
March 2010 Government’s response
In its response in the same document, Point 141, the Labour Government rejected the Committee’s call to alter the timetable for migration, but took on board some of the Committee’s concerns and undertook to continue to engage with “stakeholders” as the migration proceeded, stating:
“The Government has carefully considered the Committee’s concerns in relation to the ESA transitional Regulations and their wider concerns about the migration programme. However, for the reasons outlined in this response it does not accept the Committee’s recommendation that migration should not continue to the current timetable. The Government considers the migration of existing incapacity benefits customers to be a key element of welfare reform and one that will greatly benefit customers at a time when support to get back to work is urgently needed. The Government does not believe it would be right or fair to delay this support for customers who have been without it for too long already”.
June 2010 House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee’s report
In June 2010, after the General election, the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee published a report which echoed the concerns voiced by the SSAC about whether there would be sufficient support for these groups of claimants, and the lack of evidence on how ESA was working for new claimants, notably that the Committee, from the limited evidence they have seen thought that a
“major project with a potential impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable in the community is being conducted in a rather ad hoc fashion. The second phase is being rolled out before the first has been evaluated and although better information will be sought on the outcomes, the Department’s intended course of action, and evidence to support it, all seem rather vague”
It voices also concerns about the capacity of only 20 Benefit centres to absorb and process the transition of 10,000 cases per week, the arrangements put into place by DWP for Job centres, as “many of the customers will have special needs”, and the quality of the Work Capability Assessment.
The Committee also asked DWP what percentage of those ESA claimants sent down the JSA route obtained work, and what happened to the 30% who moved off benefits, to which DWP replied that the Department did not hold the information centrally, but that it intended “to carry out a qualitative piece of in-depth research on unsuccessful ESA claimants who do not qualify for ESA, have their claim closed, or withdraw their claim”.
The House of Lords then debated a motion to take note of the Merits Committee’s report on 20 July 2010 which criticised the reassessment of existing IB claimants, the WCA and the ESA regime and which quoted Professor Gregg, the architect of the sanctions regime in the two most recent Welfare Reform Acts as saying: “To start moving people who may have been on incapacity benefit for years straight onto jobseeker’s allowance is ridiculous. Before wading into the stock, the system has to be right“.
To which Lord Freud answered by providing reassurance that everything was fine and under control, and that even this year in March (2010), “a DWP-led review of the work capability assessment found that generally it is accurately identifying individuals for the right support”.
The General Election is one year away and the choice is likely to be between the two main parties.
Both of them were alerted in 2010 to the risks people claiming incapacity benefits could be exposed to, if IB reassessments went ahead.
Both parties knew there was a real capacity gap in Job centres and Benefit centres to deal with the number estimated by DWP to be found fit for work.
Both parties were warned about the issues already plaguing the Work Capability Assessment.
Both parties chose to ignore these warnings and to proceed with a flawed reassessment process.
While the Conservative party, through Iain Duncan Smith, and the various Ministers for Disabled People has shown itself to be indifferent to the plight of people who need support because they cannot work, the Labour party should not be let off the hook.
Would Labour have done things differently? Maybe, but the fact is we don’t know, and while they were in power, they did not show any willingness to protect these groups of people from harm.
Before being trusted again, the Labour party has to acknowledge its errors of the past and make concrete proposals to put things right.
From the Independent newspaper 9th April 1995 with thanks to Steve G- A lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same:
Disabled people aren’t going to take it any more: for today’s new militants, patient progress is not enough. They chain wheelchairs to buses, court arrest, scorn their gradualist brethren as “Tiny Tims” – and “piss on pity”
On a freezing morning two weeks ago, 20 or 30 disabled people met outside Parliament to protest. One man was blind, most of the others used wheelchairs. They spoke to Japanese television reporters and were photographed by teenage tourists from France and Germany. And they explained their unswerving opposition to the Government’s Disability Discrimination Bill – which was that day starting its Report Stage in the House of Commons. With the wind rushing across Westminster Bridge, the protesters made their way from Parliament Square to Downing Street, where the ambition was to present John Major with the means to provide a ramp to his residence: cement, a cement mixer, a shovel. Or rather, the ambition was to have these items photographed by the press. A demonstration organiser – a wheelchair user – kept in touch with his office and with the media by mobile telephone, but also kept up the cry: “What do we want? Civil rights! When do we want them? Now!”
Stuck into the cement mixer was a life-size, floppy model of John Major. And on its lapel was a badge that might have been taken wrongly by the shivering spectators – it might have been thought a satirical prcis of Mr Major’s position on disability. But the badge carried one of the rallying cries of the organisation that had set up this demonstration: the badge said, “Piss On Pity”.
Things are happening in the world of disability that never used to happen. There used to be charities called the Royal this and the Royal that, and there used to be Jimmy Savile, and bring-and-buys, and hard-won concessions from British Rail or Parliament – a ramp here, a statute there. Now, although the old system is still partly in place, and still bringing improvements to people’s lives, it has to seek an accommodation with a new, modern, radical politics: press stunts, mobile telephones, Piss On Pity badges, anger. (If you want to check the radicals’ progress against other liberation movements, it is useful to note that the word “crip” – like “nigger” and “queer” before it – is already being put to work by at least some of those once oppressed by it.)
But any accommodation – between the old and the new, between the organisations “for” disabled people, and those clearly “of” – has not yet been made, which leaves room for conflict. Today, inside the politics of disabled people (not – it is generally agreed – “the disabled”, not “people with disabilities”, not “the differently-abled”) there are bitter interdenominational battles, there are left and right wings, vanguards and rear-guards. Today, a conversation with a person who works at the political end of disability issues is likely to feature quick and robust abuse of a man or woman in the same business – someone is an “Uncle Tom” – or, better, a “Tiny Tim” – or “a sound bite expert” – or just “an arsehole”. Disabled politics are in something of a heightened state, and this is because the question has not yet been settled: which will work best – patience or impatience?
ALAN HOLDSWORTH, who is impatient, is a leading light – if not exactly the leader – of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN). DAN is the most radical, visible, publicity-accruing part of Britain’s disability movement, and it was DAN that was responsible for the event at Westminster.
Holdsworth lives in a comfortable, cluttered suburban house in Wood Green, north London. Although he uses a wheelchair over longer distances and during demonstrations, he walks to open his own door: a big, muscly, long- haired, youngish man. He unclicks a leg brace after he has sat down. He will not tell me the nature of his disability – the cause of his impairment – because, he says, that would then get stuck to his name in my article: and that would be no less unsound, he says, than attaching a woman’s name to the colour of her hair. “So no comment. We’re trying to move the press off that. It would be `Alan Holdsworth, polio victim’. They’d know that before they knew anything else.”
Holdsworth speaks with the well-practised passion – turbo-charged, now and then, with hyperbole – of any other single-issue campaigner. (“What’s the difference between the treatment of disabled people in Britain, and apartheid?” he asks me. He sees none.) His slogans are “Piss On Pity”, and “We Will Ride” and “Rights Not Charity”; Jimmy Savile is a “patronising old git”. Other campaigns will follow, but DAN’s immediate stated ambition is to end the discrimination represented by inaccessible transport – DAN has a banner that reads: “To boldly go where all others have gone before”. If you ask Holdsworth what he wants, he says: “All new buses accessible by law by a certain date, all buses under 15 years old accessible by the next refit, all national coaches and buses accessible within seven years … the Tube within 15 years…” Critics have alleged that the “disabled lobby” is in an impossible hurry. But even Alan Holdsworth is not absurdly unrealistic: he is impatient to see change, but he seems more impatient to see change started; for this is he would be willing to go to prison.
And here disability politics divides. Holdsworth has no time for the old “for” organisations that have seemed willing to wait. Indeed, Holdsworth sells a T-shirt that is specifically scornful of the long-established and relatively conservative umbrella group Radar (the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation). The T-shirt reads “Rights Not Radar”. Holdsworth says: “I got a letter from Bert Massie [director of Radar], saying, `I thought we were working together, is this thing really helpful?’ I haven’t written back, it’s not a priority for me, but when I do I’ll say, `Dear Bert, it sold 40 shirts; and that means that two people can get to one of our actions. If he wants to put `Fuck Alan Holdsworth’ on a T-shirt and it gets two people to an action, I don’t mind.”
In his living-room, Holdsworth gently interrupts his young daughter’s Pingu video to play a compilation tape of news coverage of DAN actions: the demonstrations at Parliament, the chainings to buses, the giant letter delivered to Downing Street last summer – the gestures that have suddenly become a part of the British political landscape. Now and then he corrects the screen – “Victoria Scott wasn’t a `protest leader’!” – or he remembers: “That was a slick demo, that was great fun…” Holdsworth’s daughter echoes the marchers on the tape. “What do we want?” she says. “Civil rights! When do we want them? Now!” Then her concentration wanders: “What do we want?” she says, “Pingu!”
It depends a little on definitions, but it seems that the history of disabled direct action goes back no further than the late Eighties. There were demonstrations before then, but no concerted efforts to break the law – and none of today’s focused, flamboyant, therapeutic, photogenic gestures. In 1989, Holdsworth and others protested in Chesterfield against the decision to pedestrianise the town centre without making allowance for cars with disabled orange badges. In that action, disabled people parked, were given tickets, and refused to pay the fines. Either this event, or one of the actions carried out at around the same time by the Campaign for Accessible Transport (CAT) can probably be regarded as the start of disabled direct action in this country.
In 1990, Holdsworth and colleagues targeted the ITV Telethon, by then a decade old. “It was showing disabled people leading horrible lives,” he says, “very tragic – `Isn’t it a shame?’, all that – getting the public to pity us rather than feel angry, with us, for the situation we were in.” Holdsworth started ringing disabled friends, proposing some sort of demonstration, and he was taken aback by the vehemence of the response. “I thought, well, this is going to work, people are so angry about it. That was the explosion in direct action terms.” Five hundred people turned up to demonstrate at the LWT studios on the South Bank. “That was the Great Leap Forward,” says another disabled man on the demonstration, Michael Oliver. “It was a street party, but we won all the arguments.” The next Telethon, which drew 2,000 demonstrators, was the last.
The direct action movement now had momentum. DAN was officially formed, and, since then, has made its presence felt at the Christchurch by-election in 1993, at the Tate Gallery in London, at Kenneth Clarke’s surgery, at Harrods… Last spring, DAN held an action at Leeds City railway station. “The local authority had spent £40,000 on disabled people. But what they’d done is build a garden at the end of the platform, which was being opened by Jimmy Savile, who is one of the most hated figures in the movement. A hated figure. He drew at least half the people to the demo – because it was him who was opening the garden. So we all went down there, a little farty garden. We camped on it. We just covered it with wheelchair-users.”
In his office in his front room, Holdsworth laughs, and flicks a cigarette butt out of the window. His daughter comes in with a small globe and asks where we are.
DISABLED direct action – and “Piss on Pity” – are part of a broader British disability “movement” that has still not come of age. It is a movement whose history is written differently depending on what position you take in the current debate – the debate between “ofs” and “fors”; most ofs would not regard the fors as any part of their history. Michael Oliver, quoted above, is a radical, the Professor of Disability Studies at Greenwich University; he passes over the histories of the grand old “for” institutions, “the dead hand of charity”, and concentrates instead on such milestones as members of the National League of the Blind and Disabled taking their place in the Jarrow March.
But, as Oliver acknowledges, much of this history is unwritten, unclaimed. The modern disability movement is too young to have done what other liberation movements have done – restore lost heroes, find Mary Wollstonecrafts and Nat Turners. And besides its youth, the movement has a problem those other movements never had: “Not that long ago,” says one activist, “if you had spina bifida you died two hours after birth; it’s hard to get much of a reputation in two hours.”
In Oliver’s view, the modern disability movement grew out the prosperity of the Sixties, and the failure of disabled people, among other disadvantaged groups, to share in that prosperity. In the Seventies and Eighties, as feminism, anti-racism, gay rights, animal rights began to find a place in national politics, disabled people started to understand their plight in political terms. Disabled people began to “come out”: this is a metaphor used fairly commonly in the movement. Oliver’s own experience is a useful guide: son of working-class parents, he broke his neck in a holiday camp swimming-pool as a teenager; he spent a year at Stoke Mandeville. In 1972, now a wheelchair user, he started a sociology degree at the University of Kent. “I became involved in student politics and other radical left organisations. But I hadn’t become part of disability politics. I thought the Socialist revolution was going to solve everybody’s problems.”
As a postgraduate, Oliver started to consider how hopelessly flawed most thinking and writing on disability was – it was produced by able-bodied academics working on the assumption that illness and disability were the same thing. Oliver “came out” academically. It dawned on him that there was a sociology of disability to be constructed; he could study himself. Twenty years on, Oliver can take much credit for setting the academic agenda. His great contribution to disability studies has been in getting the “social model” of disability understood as a serious challenge to the medical model. That is to say: in the medical model, a man in a wheelchair cannot get where he wants to get because his body is not up to it. The social model acknowledges that the man has an “impairment”, but sees the obstacle as the cause of disablement. “The fact that I have polio,” one disabled man told me, in classic social model fashion, “is nothing to do with the fact that there are 17 steps to the Town Hall. It’s the 17 steps to the Town Hall that I see as the problem.” This does not mean – except, perhaps, in the minds of those who are stratospherically extreme – that Ben Nevis should be wheelchair-accessible, but it does aim to put the ball back in the court of those whose job it is to organise the world – and its buildings and its transport.
It was against this background – and the examples of other single-issue political movements and of America’s disability politics – that the disability movement began to take shape in Britain. Institutions were established; individuals came out.
For example: Adam Thomas is a young man – dark glasses and headscarf, a former interior designer – who has to use a wheelchair following a motorcycle accident 15 years ago. Right up until last year, he was in a state that might be called denial. “I denied that I was being segregated. I blocked the fact that I couldn’t get into certain buildings.” The turning point was the kindness of his best friend, who told Thomas that, obviously, he wouldn’t move into anything but a ground-floor flat. Thomas, while touched, was struck for the first time how other friends had not done the same. And last year, for the first time, Thomas became aware of the “movement”. As soon as he was aware of it, he became a part of it. This is now his life.
Another example: Eddy Hardy is 29, a Liverpool-born artist with a fashion- beard. He uses a wheelchair, and is now active in DAN. “I’ve had my impairment from birth. It was only about six years ago that I came to accept my identity as a disabled person. I didn’t particularly like disabled people. But one day I was watching the TV news, and it was these militant crips in the road in the USA. I thought, yeah, I can have some of that.”
A DECADE ahead of DAN’s direct action, the first real institutional sign of the disability movement’s arrival in Britain was the setting up of an umbrella organisation – the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP) – in 1981. It was democratic, it was run by disabled people, it subscribed to the social model. It started with six affiliate members, and it is a sign of widespread individual comings out that it now has more than 100 affiliates – mostly local coalitions of disabled people. BCODP regards itself as having very little in common with, say, Radar, Mind, Mencap, RNIB, Cheshire Homes. “There is a degree of antagonism,” says Richard Wood, Executive Director of BCODP. “There is bound to be, isn’t there? Because traditional power bases are now being threatened by disabled people.”
To some in the old guard, BCODP unfairly underestimates the changes that are now taking place and that have already taken place in the traditional organisations. (The RNID has just appointed its first-ever deaf chief executive, for example, and the Spastics Society, under pressure from disabled people, has changed its name to Scope.) And more conservative disabled campaigners argue that the radical position unfairly underplays those institutions and techniques that – in a process that may now look painfully gradual – have so improved the lives of disabled people since the Sixties. “Improved by 100 per cent – improved attitudes, awareness,” says Sir Peter Large, an influential disabled man of an earlier generation, who has sat on many committees, helped draft legislation, argued with MPs. He talks of mobility allowance, attendance allowance: “These have benefited millions… BCODP have done very little in practical terms.” According to Sir Peter, the radicals are wrong to neglect the significance of, say, Alf Morris’s Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act of 1970: “He put disabled people on the map. He really started the whole move to improve things.” Piss on Pity? “I know exactly what they mean, but if you go up to an MP with that on I don’t think he’s or she’s likely to be warm to you – if they’re not already interested. But I know exactly what they mean.”
Bert Massie, who runs Radar, and is a wheelchair user, is a bte noir of the radicals. You get the impression of a man who accepted a job as a charity worker but who has found himself, suddenly, a politician. “In the past,” he says, “there was a greater acceptance of an incremental approach. People never rowed about disability.” The effect of the “fundamentalists”, he accepts, has been partly good. “I don’t know,” he says, “how Radar would have evolved if there hadn’t been fundamentalist pressure…” But he says that Radar cannot run too far ahead of its constituents. While the stereotype of a disabled person is probably a middle-aged man in a wheelchair, the most representative type, in truth, would be a elderly woman with arthritis, who might feel – along with many other of Britain’s 6.5 million disabled people – that she has little in common with, say, the members of DAN. There are disabled people, says Massie, who don’t regard themselves as disabled; there are disabled people who are Conservatives: “I’ve had people in here saying, wouldn’t it be better if you abolished social security, and had disabled people sponsored by private companies.”
Thanks to his position at the head of a fairly well-funded “for” organisation, and thanks to his support for incremental methods, and thanks to his recent claim to see some (flawed) virtue in the Government’s Disability Discrimination Bill, Massie is regarded with great hostility by many “fundamentalists”. Rachel Hurst, a radical with a sharp political sense, says, “Our voice has been shut out by the established charities. Some staff at Radar I’ve got more time for than I can say. [But] I wouldn’t mind shooting the man at the top. He is an Uncle Tom, Mr Massie… He actually doesn’t care a toss about the rights of disabled people.”
THIS, today, is the kind of observation one disability worker tends to make of another. But in this newly complex and sometimes hostile world of disabled politics, there is a miraculous and rather precarious piece of common ground – it’s a coalition called Rights Now! At Rights Now!, weapons are left at the door, and most of the important disabled organisations – both “of” and “for” – meet to promote civil rights legislation. Last year – another Great Leap Forward – the civil rights argument was won. At some point, legislation may follow.
The battle has been for legislation that, like its racial and sexual equivalents, would outlaw discrimination against disabled people (in employment, education, transport). The cost of implementing such a law has always been at the heart of resistance to it, but the Government’s figure of £17bn over five years has been widely disputed, and it has been shown how similar legislation in the USA has not, in fact, been as alarming to small businesses as was feared. The conversion of disabled people into employees and into more promiscuous consumers has had its economic benefits.
In May 1994, however, a private member’s bill, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, was killed messily by the Government, and the minister for disabled people, Nicholas Scott, eventually had to resign. But before his resignation in July, it became known that Scott had a daughter called Victoria Scott – young, non-disabled – who works for Radar. And, to the delight of the media, she was happy to give interviews on the subject of her father’s political shortcomings. To a great extent, it was due to this well-reported Antigone sub-plot that discrimination against disabled people became something of a hot media issue last year – the subject, for example, of a supportive Sun editorial. And because the press was now interested, demonstrations held by disabled people were widely reported. “I’d been trying get some coverage,” says one campaigner, “I was ringing the TV – the Big Breakfast, whatever – they weren’t interested. When the Vicky Scott story broke, they were ringing us.”
The penny seemed to drop. “People saw it,” says Rachel Hurst, “as a civil rights movement. Not just those poor sods can’t get on the bus.” Thanks to the failure of a bill about civil rights, the idea of disabled civil rights seemed to take hold. You could feel an earlier model of pity and passivity slipping away. MPs began to get many more letters and have disabled issues raised more frequently at surgeries. Consciousnesses were raised, not only among able-bodied people (“people with abilities” as one disabled radical has mockingly put it) but among sceptical disabled people who had remained politically “in” ; demonstrations swelled in numbers; individual (rather than institutional) membership of Rights Now! increased eight- fold in one year. And it was a mark of what had happened that articles scornful of “the disabled lobby” started to appear in national newspapers and magazines: as most campaigners would want it, sympathy – pity – had been removed from the equation.
THE FRIDAY night before last, DAN’s “Piss on Pity” mugs were selling fast in a rather overlit bar in the centre of Cardiff. After two days of a three-day series of actions in the city, DAN members had hired a room to have a drink, to contemplate the previous days’ events (an action each day, six arrests, the first ever actual charges, some fairly thorough TV coverage), and to consider the Big Action the next day, when they were hitting the bus station.
By 9pm the bar was filled with disabled people, full of solidarity and good humour and Carling Black Label. Inevitably, perhaps, DAN members are disproportionately young, articulate, mobile; although one regular protester, Sharon Mace, lies on a kind of horizontal wheelchair. (It is one of the brakes on the direct action movement that many people cannot get to actions, and once there, they cannot just sleep on someone’s floor – as they would have done, say, on a CND demonstration; the accessible hotel in a town is likely to be the most expensive.) In the bar, there was talk of “hip crips” and “crips with chips”. There were several radical- left cropped hair cuts (worn with the standard, tipped-back wool hats), there were copies of Militant on the tables (DAN’s treasurer, among others, is a Militant member). People who had never met before this week were testing new friendships by the use of exaggerated abuse, or hands left on shoulders. There was something of a chair-jam at the bar. A woman who imports the handcuffs that DAN members use to attach themselves to buses and trains was describing the problems she has with HM Customs and Excise. This is disabled politics at its most uncompromising, its most underground and – although this is not quite the point – at its grooviest.
As much as anger, the bar in Cardiff seemed full of people’s extraordinary sense of their own place at the start of a political process; people seemed light-headed not only with lager, but with the thought of making history. A DAN action – there have been about 60 – has an effect on several levels: it draws press attention to a particular, local issue; it keeps disabled civil rights on the agenda; it projects, through the media, images of disabled people looking rather less than pitiful or vulnerable; and for those on the action, it can be an experience of almost overwhelming personal empowerment. “There are disabled people,” says Eddy Hardy, “who watch us on TV and think [with disapproval]: `Oh God.’ But for every five or six of them, there’s one going, `Yes!’, thinking about it for the first time, coming out.” Once out, once on the street, “The feeling of pride and power is unbelievable. We’re told we’re weak; but today we stopped the traffic. We had an effect. It’s amazing… Today, I was lifted by the police, and everybody, all the others, were waiting for me. And cheering. And for a moment you’re a hero of the movement.” He checks himself. “But we’re all heroes. All heroes.”
In the bar in Cardiff, there was a lot of talk about pride (“We have our own culture”), a commodity which has been at the heart of other liberation movements, but you might have thought it was less accessible to disabled people. How far can you take the idea of disability pride if you would not wish your child, say, to have the same impairment as yourself? In more conservative disabled circles, people tend to say that a disabled child “would be no tragedy at all”. But in DAN, there are those who go the whole way: “If I have any kids,” says Hardy, “I hope they’re disabled. Then they’ll be militant bastards like me. If they’re crips, they’re going to learn what handcuffs are…”
The next day, shortly before he was arrested for his part in blocking Cardiff’s bus station, and inconveniencing its many passengers, Eddy Hardy joined the chant of 100 disabled people: “We’re DAN, you’re trapped, get used to it.” !
Bert Massey previously chair of the Disability Rights Committee, most recently chair of Labour’s Disability Taskforce commissioned by Liam Byrne MP. The taskforce also included Roger Berry, Neil Crowther, Agnes Fletcher, Kaliya Franklin and Ian Greaves
BCODP became UKDPC
Disability Discrimination Act replaced by the Equality Act (2010) became more diluted when the Condems removed Economic and Social impacts. Condems failed to have it removed as what they called ‘red tape’
Mind, Mencap, RNIB, Cheshire Homes and SCOPE still going and still speaking for us
“Rights Not Charity” more relevant now than ever
Jimmy Saville- we all know what happened there
Let us know the ones we’ve missed