Many disabled people feel that none of the main political parties represent us: while the Condems are inflicting an unprecedented level of attack on disabled people’s rights and entitlements, we remember that it was New Labour who introduced Atos and the Work Capability Assessment and, much as Labour now tries to distance itself from the Blair and Brown years, they won’t even commit to scrapping the bedroom tax while failing to take a stand in defence of the welfare state.
As things become ever more desperate for disabled people pushed into poverty and destitution, with independent living under greater and greater threat, people are searching for a way to escape the onslaught. One thing that is certain in these uncertain times is that UKIP is not the answer.
UKIP have undeniably rattled and inflicted defeats on the government. They have also succeeded in capturing the imagination of substantial sections of the electorate, pulling support away from the Tories. They are however nothing but bad news for disabled people.
UKIP has clearly been linked to racist, homophobic and disabilist attitudes. In December a UKIP county council candidate was investigated for advocating compulsory abortion of foetuses with spina bifida and Down’s Syndrome. Examples of racist attitudes displayed by UKIP members are too widespread to be disregarded as anomalies. The rise of a party linked so clearly to anti-equalities and intolerance of diversity is not something disabled people can afford to celebrate even when it does weaken the Tories.
There does appear to have been a concerted effort by UKIP to reach out to disabled people’s groups to offer support and thereby contribute to building its own base. This does not mean that UKIP supports the principles of disability equality and independent living. Its policies are reactive, opportunistic and bigoted. Its focus on immigration is divisive, having the effect of shifting all the main political parties to the right, while diverting attention from the real issues, from the dismantling of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS and the attack on workers’ rights. They might succeed in blocking votes for the Condems but they are also holding back the development of a wider political consciousness that would actively fight for disabled people’s rights.
After the raft of benefit changes and cuts brought in from 1st April we saw real media attention focusing on welfare and a growing awareness among members of the public not yet personally affected by the cuts about the impact on disabled people – in spite of the lies and misrepresentations from Iain Duncan Smith. The rise of UKIP and their success in the elections has distracted the focus away from government attacks on the poorest and disabled members of society. Increasingly the problems caused by austerity are being blamed on government being soft on immigration instead of holding all political parties to account for the consequences of neoliberalism.
UKIP is never going to protect the rights of disabled people but they are going to widen divisions in society and block the kind of collective mobilisation we need to effect the fundamental social changes necessary for achieving disability equality.