May 062013
 

Adding Insult to injury
The majority of disabled people, whether service users or not, are unlikely to know that this event is taking place. The fact it is ‘about them’ rather than an event seeking to involve them perhaps gives us the clearest message yet regarding the utter disregard the Coalition government has for the rights of disabled people. Sadly, with the shadow spokesperson on disability issues also participating in this patronising farce, it would seem we have a tri-partisan approach to displaying disabled people and service provision in the brave new ‘market place’. Every aspect of this National Disabilities Conference stink to high heaven – ideologically and politically – it adds insult to injury by stealing the language and concepts of the Disabled People’s Movement and transforming them into tools that will assist in the dismantling of the Welfare State.
Janus politics – creating a new culture of social exclusion
On the agenda are issues such as employment, independent living and disability hate crime, however, none of these subjects are likely to be discussed in the context of current government policies; policies that have contributed to disabled workers losing jobs, done nothing to challenge disabling barriers in the labour market, resulted in claimants losing benefits and many severely impaired people having their services reduced or removed. How can there be a discussion on independent living against a backdrop of the closure of the Independent Living Fund? How can people listen to a presentation on Disability Hate Crime and not round upon the role played by the Department of Works and Pensions in feeding material to fuel the ‘scroungers’ agenda? The answer is these issues will be discussed in terms of ‘opportunities’ – providing workfare programmes, making money by providing services within the voluntary and private sectors or increasing marketization in the public sector.
Since the mid-1990s we have seen the development of Janus politics where disability charities, parts of the voluntary sector and certain disabled people’s organisations have launched a new Disability Movement that speaks of rights on the one hand, whilst seeking to serve the neoliberal agenda on the other. The NDC is populated by individuals and organisations who want to foster the Big Society and buy a piece of the action as the services are hived off – it is an auction and disabled people’s lives will be placed under the hammer.
Nothing about us – without us!
This Conference employs patronage and an oppressive methodology. The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Disabled People advocates self-determination – nothing about us without us – yet, the blurb for the NDC is clearly at odds with the methodology that underpins the Convention because it portrays disabled people as passive receivers of ‘care’. Consider the following:
This event will provide delegates with the opportunity to debate and discuss the key issues around supporting disabled people across the UK. With key speakers, high level policy makers & drivers and important stakeholders present, this event is one not to be missed.

Add to this statement, the central purpose of the event:

Network with peers from across the health, work, crime and academic sectors, as well as stakeholders for central and local government. Just in case you are still unconvinced by the social exclusion of disabled people from this “Disabilities” event, take a close look at the Delegate price list: 1. Private £470 + VAT
2. Central Government £420 + VAT
3. Local Government £370 + VAT
4. NHS/Emergency Services/Police £350 + VAT
5. Third Sector/Charity £320 + VAT
6. Academic £350 + VAT
7. Trade Association £325 + VAT

Can you imagine the shock among disabled people who have come across this Conference and its agenda? Disabled activists fighting the austerity measures and promoting disability politics are being encouraged to take a stand against this Conference because it upholds everything the Disabled People’s Movement has fought against for the last forty years. The NDC 2013 epitomises the very essence of Janus politics by employing a dependency model approach to those sick and disabled people cast in the role of ‘deserving of care’ and a phoney ‘rights approach’ to those considered ‘lazy and workshy’ – in the words of Iain Duncan Smith, “….a hand up and not a hand out.” The Conference therefore can be seen as a watershed; it sets out the market stall for future government policies and draws a line in the sand vis-à-vis any progressive steps towards inclusive practices or the equalisation of opportunities for disabled people.
Protest and Resist
It is time to say enough is enough to this sheer hypocrisy; time to defend our struggle for emancipation against the patronising service providers who seek to exploit us and keep us dependent upon them; now is the time to demand Esther McVey sticks her disablist policies where the sun fails to shine!
There will be those who will fail to see what the fuss is all about; it is only a conference. The truth is the NDC is more than a conference; it is the first glimpse of a route map that will take us away from building an inclusive society and towards further marketisation, social exclusion, poverty and greater exploitation of both disabled people and those who work alongside them. It is vital to see this conference as yet another ideological and political attack on disabled people’s rights and welfare. We cannot afford to how the NDC to go ahead unchallenged.

Bob Williams-Findlay, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts and member of the Social Work Action Network steering committee.
May 2013

update: cartoons by Dave Lupton aka Crippen

 Posted by at 17:32  Tagged with: , , ,

Apr 162013
 

If you missed it all -the Disability Action Alliance or DAA[i] has had a strange and tortured beginning. It was set up in 2012 to help with the new disability strategy. The merged organisation of RADAR, Disability Alliance and the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) AKA Disability Rights UK (DRUK) got the’ job’ of co-organising the DAA. This was a great surprise to all, not least the United Kingdom Disabled Peoples’ Council (UKDPC). The great surprise was that this ‘job’ hadn’t been advertised or put out for tender. After initial rumbles of shock and discontent DRUK said that they would not be paid for this ‘job’ so it didn’t matter, or words to that effect -and we all forgot about it.

Another issue was that this Alliance would include charities, presumably big disability charities as well as small ones, and private companies or corporations. This caused more rumbles of shock and discontent because some of us had been taught and still believed that any ‘disability movement’ was about disabled people leading it, was user-led and rights not charity based, we weren’t sure how to deal with this astounding corporate thing being added on either.  DRUK said DAA would be advising on government policy and would not supplant the role of disabled peoples’ organisations so it didn’t matter, or words to that effect -and we all forgot about it.

Then there was a flash new website called unsurprisingly: Disability Action Alliance. At the link if you want to have a look http://disabilityactionalliance.org.uk/ or join

A site with pictures, a bit government branded in style, but what can we expect.  The ‘About us’ section says:

During the development of Fulfilling Potential – Next Steps, the idea of a new way of working in partnership emerged and ODI agreed to set up the Disability Action Alliance.  Disability Rights UK agreed to convene the Alliance to ensure ‘nothing about us without us’ – so that disabled people’s voices and experiences drive change, locally and nationally.

The ODI or Office of Disability Issues (an adjunct to the DWP) also set up a network called the ‘Network of Networks’ in 2010 so that disabled peoples’ voices could drive change, locally and nationally’ with a pure base of 12 user-led disabled peoples’ organizations, which they then disbanded, unceremoniously, shortly after the development of Fulfilling Potential.  So the ‘nothing about us without us’ does ring a bit hollow, especially with the potential corporate business and big disability charities in the ‘us’ bit.

Maybe a more apt chant would be ‘something about us without us again’ led by Government departments, sorry ‘disabled peoples’ voices’

Alliance Declaration and Membership Agreement

There was some more shock and discontent over the DAA ‘membership agreement’ on the web site. For example the section states members must:

‘Respect the views of other members, and not represent their views unless they are given permission’

It is unclear what this means exactly, but it doesn’t sound particularly empowering to disabled peoples’ voices. Does it mean that a group cannot represent another groups views ‘unless they are given permission’? or that they cannot represent their own views? It all seems a bit defeatist to us. Also included is that members must:

‘Protect the integrity of the Alliance and not bring it into disrepute’

Again, what does this mean? Why would any group want to bring the alliance into disrepute? And what is the ‘protect’ element about?

We also see members must: ‘Not campaign or lobby in the name of the Alliance (this would not affect whether members campaign or lobby on behalf of their own organisations)’

Oh well, that’s good then and…in the spirit of incorporating others into the new world order, members must:

‘Identify existing groups/alliances/networks who may already be acting and could be engaged’

Already be acting….?

Anyway, the drive for members of the quango, sorry, new exciting network of disabled peoples’ voices was launched and anyone could join up, presumably providing they could understand exactly what the Alliance declaration and membership agreement actually meant. At the time of writing there are 102 members. As we seem to have waited so long to find out who they are let’s see if our anticipation has paid off…

Members of DAA so Far….

Members include some disability type organisations, plus: the Department for Works and Pensions, the Department of Climate and Energy Change and presumably the ODI. Also Lloyds bank is there and big charity Shaw Trust. There are a number of companies but no big names such as Atos or Capita which is reassuring, for the moment anyway; a couple of DIAL’s (taken over by SCOPE a few years ago), a regional unison, and a local council.

For those who filled out or took part in completing the consultation on the disability strategy (Fulfilling Potential), the outcome of the DAA is all slightly surreal. There we were with our disabled voices trying to affect change and here we are with a hotchpotch of unforeseen organisations who are going to talk about it-providing they get ‘permission to represent’ their? Our? the DWPs? Views-oh who really knows anything about what’s going on with this anymore?

There was more surreal stuff to come when the TUC Disabled Workers Committee were approached by the government to join the Alliance- eh? –‘approached by the government’ must have been some kind of an elongated typo on the TUC website there…but anyway they said no. Why did they say no?

TUC Disabled Workers Committee says no to DAA

According to a piece in Disability News Service and on the TUC website: the TUC disabled workers committee were approached by the Government-OK-so not an elongated typo- to join the DAA. They said no. According to the TUC web site, they said no because:

Disabled trade unionists feel very strongly that joining the DAA – an organisation recently set up by the Office for Disability issues to encourage groups representing disabled people to work together – would restrict the TUC’s ability to campaign against government policies that are affecting disabled people.

Representing disabled people? Does Lloyds bank really represent disabled peoples’ views or do the DWP or those other government departments?

No, we didn’t think so either. But Sean McGovern (chair of disabled workers committee) gets to the heart of the matter and maybe to the focus of the real disability strategy when he says:

The government has been attacking the living standards of disabled people for almost three years now and things are getting worse.

Unions are working with disabled people against these brutal and inhumane cuts, and are campaigning against the government’s unnecessary and damaging austerity drive.

The ATOS work capability assessments, the closure of the independent living fund, the switch from disability living allowance to the personal independent payment, and the bedroom tax – every single one of these changes is punishing and impoverishing disabled people and their families.

Joining this government-inspired alliance now would be to pretend that none of this is happening.

We want to see all disabled people and the organisations that represent them continuing to oppose government policy and not conned into becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution.’

And this is exactly where any growth of a real disabled peoples’ led disability action alliance must be focused for anyone aware of what is really happening to disabled people under this government and its disability strategy

 You can join up at www.dpac.uk.net

We already have over 12,000 members and supporters, and not a government department in sight. You know it makes sense.



[i] Not to be confused with Disability Awareness in Action a user-led organisation

Dec 152012
 

Introduction

 A central feature of this article is an attempt to not only provide a response to comments made by leading figures within Disability Rights UK (DR UK) but also to offer a critical explanation as to why DPAC holds the positions it does vis-à-vis those comments. Our aim is an attempt to bring into the light important political differences that underpin the struggle against the Coalition’s attack upon disabled people. DR UK in their comments have raised historical issues relating to past practices of the Disabled People’s Movement therefore we are required to look back and consider how the past does indeed impact upon the present

Before embarking upon this journey we believe it’s necessary to reflect first of all upon some of the issues that have come to the fore over the last twelve months because they help us to understand and give context to the issues that will be under discussion.  

 How then should we appraise 2012?

 There’s little doubt that over the last twelve months the savage nature of the Coalition’s austerity measures have become a majority talking point among the community of disabled people. It’s also important to recognise that many disabled people have done much more than talk; there has been a massive influx into anti-cuts campaigns, the growth of campaigns led by disabled people, for example, the Spartacus Report, Black Triangle and our own organisation. We have also seen a range of alliances formed that have also impacted upon the struggle against the Coalition’s austerity measures, the most significant being, the disability charity led ‘The Hardest Hit Campaign’ and the formation of DR UK. If this is what has happened over the year, how should we appraise it?

 Firstly, it would be wise to say that large sections of the community of disabled people remain in a state of shock; many live in daily fear of losing their services, homes and benefits, with others seeing this fear turned into reality. The year has also been peppered with reports of both deaths and suicides linked to benefit assessments and removal.

 Secondly, whilst we have seen positive signs of a growing awareness amongst disabled people, nondisabled people and sections of the mass media about the true agenda of this Government, there has also been a steady diet of hatred, misrepresentation and rising hostility towards sick and disabled people. 

 A major factor that can’t be ignored, hence being a central feature of this article, is the fact that alongside acts of solidarity and common cause we have also witnessed divisions and an increase in political arguments between various factions within the community of disabled people. At the centre of these divisions and political arguments one specific organisation stands out from the rest; namely, DR UK. DR UK was formed through a unification of Disability Alliance, Radar and the National Centre for Independent Living on 1 January 2012 and since that date it has hardly been out of the news as far as disabled people have been concerned. Through a series of high profile projects, nearly all initiated by the Department of Works and Pensions, DRUK has found itself criticised by a raft of disabled people’s organisations and individuals. Before looking at this in more detail let’s provide some context. 

 Among disabled activists who are from mainstream politics the turn of events we’ve witnessed will not come as too much of a surprise because politics is primarily about a battle of ideas in terms of providing solutions to problems. In our opinion the existence of divisions within the Disabled People’s Movement were less obvious until the mid-1990s when things began to reach a crisis point. Up until this point in time activists sought not to wash their dirty linen in public and there was a genuine consensus at the heart of the Movement around the demand for an end to social exclusion and a call for social change. The divisions began to appear when different approaches towards achieving these aims were voiced and the Disability Discrimination Act became law. Activists such as Finkelstein, Oliver and Barnes questioned the direction the Disabled People’s Movement was going in.  

 Just as Cameron was spinning a line when he said, “We’re all in this together”, there is a certain political naivety within the community of disabled people which still believes “we all want the same thing” – a political analysis of the last twenty years of disability politics, we would argue, shows that this might not be the case. This article can’t provide such an analysis because there’s too much ground to cover, however, as part of our discussion on the different political perspectives that currently exist we will signpost to significant areas of debate.

 One of the problems with looking at current political perspectives among disabled people and their organisations is that there has been a historical break at both an ideological and organisational levels. The recent unification of Disability Alliance, Radar and the National Centre for Independent Living for example brought together one organisation created by the Disabled People’s Movement and two who were never associated directly with the Movement and are considered to have very chequered histories. How should this “unification” be viewed? Here’s a partial explanation.

 The legacy of the Disabled People’s Movement

 The word intent when used as an adjective can mean: ‘…having the mind and will focused on a specific purpose’. When DPAC was created its prime focus, as indicated by its name, was to stand in opposition to the draconian policies being put forward by the Coalition government. In this sense I would argue that the very reason behind the existence of DPAC was its intent to muster resistance to a full-frontal ideological attack upon the welfare state and as a consequence the lives of countless sick and disabled people.

 DPAC therefore right from its early days outside the Conservative Party Conference stood against the actions of people such as Osborne, Duncan Smith and Grayling. Some of the faces in government may have altered over time but their intent also remains the same.  What kept us apart from delivering our message directly to them that day was row upon row of police. This was the visible presence of the power of the State and it would be foolish for anyone not to recognise that the exercising of power is one of the major factors underpinning global politics. DPAC believes that the lack of power in many different forms is the reason why disabled people remain at the margins of society.  
 
The creation of DPAC wasn’t a spur of a moment thing; a knee-jerk reaction to what the Coalition was doing. The roots of DPAC were firmly within the politics of the social movement we often refer to as the Disabled People’s Movement. A social movement is a collective identity around key demands for social change and it can be argued that the Disabled People’s Movement has stood for seeing disability as a social issue rather than a personal one. Disabled academic Mike Oliver spoke of the Disabled People’s Movement as a social movement because:

  • it was peripheral to conventional politics
  • offered a critical evaluation of society
  • embraced ‘post-materialist’ or ‘post-acquisitive’ values (e.g. non-exploitative or anti-capitalist in nature)
  • had an internationalist perspective

 Oliver also stated quite recently that a ‘…key feature of the disabled people’s movement has been its focus on social exclusion and oppression.’ As a direct consequence of this ‘shared perspective’ disability politics of the disabled people’s movement:

a) Placed an emphasis on self-organisation;

b) Had a commitment to radical political action to promote change;

c) Sought to improve the quality of disabled people’s lives and

   worked to promote their full inclusion into society

 It’s doubtful that many disabled activists would disagree with this broad picture, although some might suggest that over the life of the movement there were elements within the Movement that moved away from these politics or have subjected them to ‘reinterpretation’. One area that has been subject to detailed ‘reinterpretation’ is the idea of “disability rights” and it can be found in what is nowadays called the Disability Movement.

The rise of the Disability Movement

 Since the early 1990s there has been a growing tendency among charities, public and voluntary sector bodies to adopt both the language and concepts of the disabled people’s movement but in the process, gutting them of their original meanings and intent. It is quite common these days to see local authorities for example speak about supporting the social model or implementing what is called ‘independent living’ however any scrutiny of their policies and practices reveal their approaches are a million miles from those developed by the disabled people’s movement. The failure of the disabled people’s movement to address this issue and the unwillingness to discuss divisions within our own ranks openly has produced an unhealthy situation where the community of disabled people are witnessing conflicting approaches towards defending “disability rights” and not fully understanding or appreciating what lies behind these conflicts.

 There is not a single factor that led to these divisions. Tensions existed prior to and after the defeat of the Civil Rights Bill and the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). Vic Finkelstein who helped establish the disabled people’s movement believed there was a too narrow focus on obtaining ‘anti-discrimination legislation’ whilst others concluded that the DDA was in fact a victory for disabled people – which goes against all the evidence that exists. The differing positions taken on the DDA was the first indication of a fundamental split within the Disabled People’s Movement and it resulted in a tendency emerging with a focus solely on protecting and extending “disability rights”. Here was a clear division between those that stood for radical political action to promote change and a revision of the politics of disability which offered a reformist agenda. Although the actual division is clear, the forces who make up the two camps isn’t necessary obvious. As stated earlier, some disabled people’s organisations and individuals moved away from radical interpretations of social oppression and began to open a dialogue with traditional disability charities such as Scope and Leonard Cheshire Disability who were ‘using the right language’ (sic). People such Tom Shakespeare argued these organisations had ‘changed’, but time and time again these charities have been found to be employing double standards – speaking about ‘disability rights’ one minute and promoting ‘disability as a personal tragedy’ the next.

 Many of the organisations involved in the ‘Hardest Hit Campaign’, including DR UK, are sending mixed messages to both disabled people and the Coalition. The outcome of this new ‘disability rights’ approach spearheaded by DR UK, Scope and Leonard Cheshire Disability is the formation of a Disability Movement which seeks to present disability as an ‘opportunity’ within the marketplace. The notion of ‘disability rights’ becomes little more than a question of consumer rights – is it little wonder then that Disability Works* and DR UK have the ear of the DWP? Suddenly social oppression is assigned to the dustbin; we are informed that everyone favours ‘inclusivity’ in an age of austerity where disabled people are becoming less able to access mainstream provision or live independently. An Orwellian nightmare is unfolding before our eyes.

 What has all this to do with DR UK?

 At DR UK’s recent EGM and within an interview with Disability News Service (DNS) both Phil Friend, its new chair, and Liz Sayce, chief executive, made a stout defence of DR UK’s involvement in the report that supported the closure of Remploy factories, helping the outsourcing giant Capita win a lucrative disability assessment contract and convening the new Disability Action Alliance (DAA). There’s little point in going over old coals as DPAC has reported upon these issues at various stages of their development however a number of observations will be made in relation to these issues as part of DPAC’s response to DR UK’s defence of its own political perspective. It is our belief DR UK is attempting to justify its practice and political stance by distorting the history of the Disabled People’s Movement by reinforcing backward-looking interpretations of major concepts that came from the Movement. At the same time as calling for dialogue with sections of the Disabled People’s Movement it would appear they are trying to discredit the politics these sections represent.

 DPAC will forward a response under a number of distinct headings and will use material from the article written by John Pring for DNS in order to focus the debate.

 History, Politics and Practice

 Liz Sayce is reported to have said that if the disability movement had only protested in the 1980s and 1990s – and had not engaged with the Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major – “we would never have got direct payments; we would never have got the Disability Discrimination Act”. There are a number of issues here that need addressing because this paints a completely false picture.

 It is not clear as to whom Sayce refers to as the disability movement – there has always been a distinct difference between the nature of relationships Radar had with the governments of Thatcher and Major and the relations they had with the British Council of Disabled People. More crucially, we need to consider the position disabled people were in during the time of these governments compared to the position we find ourselves in today under the Coalition. Thatcherism was no friend – excuse the pun – of disabled people. It changed the nature of society, exploited the benefits system for its own ends and began the early stages of the ideological attack we’re seeing today. At no time, and we’ll return to this later, did any Tory government wish to introduce anti-discriminatory legislation. Despite this poor record there is a fundamental difference between the outcomes and intent of the Thatcher and Major governments and what is being done to sick and disabled people today under the leadership of Cameron and Clegg.

 BCODP did hold talks but the nature of those talks were based upon making demands on governments, seeking to influence and change policies – far removed from the world of undertaking projects on behalf of a government or working with the agendas set by governments. Sayce implies we would never have got direct payments or the Disability Discrimination Act without engagement with governments – once again, there’s more to this than meets the eye as they say. At no time did BCODP lend any support to Hague’s Disability Discrimination Bill (DDB) and once the Civil Rights Bill had been knocked back, the leadership of campaign group Rights Now sought work alongside the Opposition in order to obtain any many changes to the DDB as were possible. It should be noted however that the main six disability charities – those who now form the bedrock of what Sayce calls the ‘Disability Movement’ – were quite prepared to go behind the campaign group’s back and discuss the merits of the DDB with Hague! Is it the legacy of this opportunist, back stabbing that Sayce is drawing her inspiration from?

The history of the campaign for ‘direct payments’ is also an extremely complex one with various accounts which explore the political and social implications of the demand from a variety of perspectives. As noted elsewhere the notion of ‘direct payments’ is one of the examples where the meanings associated with it vary according to which agenda one is seeking to address. The Disabled People’s Movement had raised ‘direct payments’ as early as the 1970s as a cornerstone of ‘independent living’ however a sizeable number of activists would question whether or not the current practices around direct payment actually fulfil its original intent. Outside the core of the Disabled People’s Movement there have been differing political positions taken on direct payments with a body of opinion holding the view that the notion can quite easily be accommodated into right-wing ideologies which favour individualism, the free market economy and the weakening of dependency on the welfare state. It’s obviously not possible to explore these issues here, however, they do represent key considerations when discussing the relationship between the campaign for direct payments and the numerous Tory and Labour governments’ response to it.

 It is crucial therefore to understand that the campaign for direct payments was totally unlike any other campaign stemming from the Disabled People’s Movement – it didn’t seriously challenge the nature of society as the demand for anti-discrimination legislation had done; it was something the State could, if it had a mind to, accommodate. Similarly, the idea of direct payments, just like the concept of ‘Independent Living’, found itself subjected to both reinterpretation and transformation by governments and certain agencies working with disabled people as the shift towards neoliberal policies gathered pace. DPAC would argue that it is no accident that DR UK has hegemony over these two ‘policy areas’ and that this is part of an emerging pattern which fits quite nicely with Cameron’s plans for a ‘Big Society’.

 DPAC doesn’t accept the argument that one can compare the approach taken by the Disabled People’s Movement in the 1980s and 1990s with the current antics of DR UK and its allies in the Disability Movement (sic). The Disabled People’s Movement for the majority of this period took a principled and political stance vis-à-vis government; only with the arrival of New Labour did we witness fundamental divisions which seriously hurt disability politics. What we have never seen so openly, until now that is, are politics that are based upon the Janus approach – looking one way they seek to convince disabled people, by mingling among us and using our language and methods of organisation, that they represent us – looking the other way, they are sat with their feet firmly under the table of those who are socially oppressing disabled people and in doing so, are prepared to participate within projects which are tied, no matter how one might try presenting them, to maintaining the continuous attacks on disabled people without any real challenge to government.

 Let us develop this picture further.

 DR UK and the Government: the Janus approach

 Phil Friend said in the interview with DNS that DRUK had decided it would “rather be in the tent talking to the government than outside the tent chucking stuff in”. The statement makes a good “sound bite”, but does it stand up to close examination? Within the same interview both Friend and Sayce make contradictory observations which they not only fail to readdress but in the process went on to undermine their own argument.

 The last fifteen years of disability politics have been characterised by both Labour and Coalition governments being very selective about whom they “talk with”. Anyone who is ‘invited’ into government projects has been carefully vetted and no one with a radical agenda has made the grade. As we have already indicated, forces within the ‘Disability Movement’, including some DPOs, are working within a “disability business model” and have shown their willingness to trade with the Coalition – Essex Coalition of Disabled People and DR UK are prime examples of this approach and are often quoted in government documents. Logic suggests, therefore, to be in a position to be ‘invited’ into the tent one has to be seen to have something either worth listening to from the government’s point of view or something concrete to offer them. Okay, here’s where we employ a terrible pun: what intent is behind being in the tent? What is it that DR UK can say or offer the Coalition?

 Whilst we pause to consider this point, it should be noted that Friend is also reported to have said: ‘….he felt the current government did not care about how disabled people would be affected by the cuts and that the disability movement needed to “sit down and really reflect on how we are going to wake them up”’. So, let us consider this statement. If the government needs to be ‘woken up’, because they don’t care about the impact of their cuts on disabled people, what on earth is DRUK talking to the government about within the tent? Perhaps it isn’t DRUK “talking”; could it be that their role within the tent is one of sitting quietly as Iain Duncan Smith and company outline their orders? These two statements by Friend fail to add up.  

   To add fuel to the argument Sayce said Disability Rights UK was a “non party-political organisation” and would “work to achieve disabled people’s rights whatever government is in power”. This, of course, makes another good sound bite, but what does it actually mean in terms of what they’re actually doing? We hear a great deal from DRUK couched in the language ‘disabled people’s rights’ however this seems to be an abstract mantra that is never spelt out in any meaningful way and is always produced like a rabbit out of a hat when Sayce feels cornered. How does getting pieces of silver from the DWP’s piggy bank to legitimate the government’s closure of Remploy or to run their ‘selective’ Disability Action Alliance (DAA) further ‘disabled people’s rights’? Being a “non party-political organisation” doesn’t prevent any organisation undertaking projects on behalf of the State, so this statement doesn’t count for much, does it?

 DRUK does like to employ the Janus approach when it comes to articulating its relations with the government and the Disabled People’s Movement. One minute Friend is talking about his preference of being inside the tent talking with the government, the next he is advocating an array of activities:

“Some of that is direct action, some of that is sitting in rooms with civil servants, and some of it is getting Esther McVey to actually hear what we are saying.”  

 Wait one second Phil; you said the government didn’t care about how disabled people would be affected by the cuts, so why would McVey listen to what disabled people had to say? Sayce also contributed to this Janus approach when she said that, as well as campaigning against the “unprecedented threats to disabled people’s income”, Disability Rights UK needed to look for “opportunities where we can” within the government’s agenda, “just as we campaigned against the last government’s coercive mental health policies but still worked with them to achieve gains in disabled people’s rights”. Look, there’s that mantra again. 

 It’s interesting that Friend points out that DR UK does help lead the Hardest Hit alliance, which campaigns against the coalition’s cuts, and that many of its staff joined the TUC’s anti-cuts march in London under the Hardest Hit banner. This seems to imply they’re still “good guys” really, but does it? Isn’t it also the case that within the Hardest Hit alliance there are forces who also adopt the Janus approach by campaigning against the coalition’s cuts one minute, and are climbing all over each other the next in order to get a slice of the Workfare cake? 

 Another worrying and questionable statement from Sayce was her comment to DNS that: ‘…. the proposed rollout of personal health budgets, which could increase choice and control for people with long-term impairments and health conditions and ensure they were “much less likely to be stuck away in an institution”’. There is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support this view, in fact, the exact opposite opinion is held by many campaigners seeking to defend both NHS and Social Care services. It begs the question: exactly whose ‘voice’ are we hearing here?

 Part of the function of the Janus approach, not necessary a conscious effort, is to alienate and distort the politics of the Disabled People’s Movement – e.g. make the “radical agenda” look unreasonable whilst taking its concepts and making them fit for accommodation into the status quo. Here are two quotations to illustrate this point:

 ‘Sayce told DNS later that DR UK and grassroots campaigning groups such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – which has led a string of direct action protests against the cuts – “all want the same thing” but were just “different in their tactics”’. 

 And

 ‘Sayce warned that divisions within the disability movement over how best to campaign on disability rights would just “play into the hands of the government”’.

 Based upon the arguments outlined throughout this paper, DPAC would challenge these statements on a number of fronts. First, there’s no clear evidence that DR UK and DPAC share a common understanding of what is required or are seeking in material terms the same objectives. Simply broadcasting that one champion’s ‘disabled people’s rights’ doesn’t provide a satisfactory explanation of the mysteries of envisioned outcomes DR UK is seeking. Following on from this we would dispute the idea that the differences between DR UK and DPAC can be reduced to a question of “tactics”. In our opinion there are fundament differences regarding how we view the positioning of disabled people within society and the tasks required to alter this situation. DR UK may claim to adhere to ‘the social model’ however within central pieces of their work there are arguments presented that DPAC believes seriously calls this claim into question. Being opposed, for example, to segregated provision doesn’t indicate that there’s an understanding of disablism vis-à-vis service provision or inclusivity present. Any dialogue around the issue of sheltered employment coming from a social oppression perspective would and should include an analysis of the disabling nature of the labour market; especially within the current economic climate. Does Sayce’s report on Remploy operate from within such a methodology?

 DPAC, however, would agree with Sayce that divisions around how best to campaign on ‘disability rights’ (sic) plays into the hands of the government, but we understand that these divisions arise from conflicting perspectives and interests. Sayce and Friend are snugly sat in the tent happily assisting to create Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and being handsomely rewarded in the process, but they’re badly mistaken if they believe organisations such as DPAC are impotently standing outside the tent hurling stones. Disability politics haven’t developed over the last forty years through just ‘throwing stones’, they include well researched arguments, theoretical and practical concepts and ‘unity in action between disabled people and we intend to bring all of these things into play to bring the tent crashing down around its occupants because only by doing this will disabled people’s interests be furthered. As part of the process we hope to empower the Disabled People’s Movement to reclaim what is rightfully theirs and put an end to the political magpies growing fat by living off other people’s labours

 Sayce made an appeal for dialogue with parts of the disability movement that have been critical of its relationship with the government. As we have shown elsewhere ‘dialogue’ occurs when you have something worth sharing and this moment in time it is hard to identify any meaningful purpose – other than afford credibility – in talking with DR UK. The last twelve months has seen DR UK make their own bed to lie in and when criticism has ruffled the blankets they have suggested that it’s all down to misunderstandings, wrong interpretations and ‘differing tactics’ – sorry, DPAC is far from convinced. Here’s the reasons why:

 Remploy 

 DNS quotes Phil Friend as saying: “I am still of the view that the long-term future for disabled people is not separate workplaces and at some point that was going to have to be considered.”  What kind of argument is that? DPAC too understands the historical role sheltered employment has played in maintaining disablism, but this ‘understanding’ can’t be place in a vacuum where we can draw up a wonderful abstract ‘disability equality wish list’ that has no bearing on the reality of disabled people’s lives. Disability rights aren’t simply ‘entitlements’ to engage in the activities currently afforded to non-disabled people; they are social demands within specific areas aimed at transforming the nature of existing social relations to accommodate the needs and interests of disabled people. We are talking about social change that benefits disabled people. DR UK’s collusion with DWP vis-à-vis writing the Remploy report cannot be viewed by any stretch of the imagination as championing ‘disability rights’.

 On the one hand we hear Friend say they “… had supported Sayce’s decision to write a report on disability employment programmes for the government, even though there was “a chance that her report would recommend closures of Remploy facilities and that would mean disabled people would be badly hit”’ and on the other, DNS reports:

  Sayce added: “I believe the government was going to close the Remploy factories anyway. I think I got commitments to a lot of things from the government. We have to be vigilant in ensuring they actually implement them.”

 And exactly what can DR UK do if DWP stick two fingers up? The DNS article gives us a clue:

 They both raised concerns about whether those commitments were being implemented. Friend said he was not yet sure there had been “vigorous enough efforts to support employees in turning Remploy factories into social enterprises”. 

 An article in The Guardian quoted Labour Party sources as saying only 31 of the 1,000 workers had found fresh employment! 

 Disability Action Alliance (DAA) 

 It is interesting that when news broke about the new alliance the DWP’s Disability Unit was establishing, the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) knew nothing about it. Was it poor communication, a misunderstanding or a cover up? DPAC only asks because Sayce says, in the DNS interview that the Disability Action Alliance ‘…. would not replace existing engagement between disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and the government, and that its role would be to advise on “implementation” of government policy rather than suggesting new policies. Does this lead to UKDPC and other DPOs sleeping any easier in their beds at night; DPAC doesn’t think so!

 So why had confusion and concern been expressed over DAA? Firstly, there were mixed messages coming from both the government and DR UK regarding DAA’s function. It is now reported that: ‘ … DAA would focus on how existing policies could be improved at a local level, for example how DPOs could be more involved in the new health and wellbeing boards.’ This of course begs a whole series of questions about who is involved, the ownership and purpose of the agenda, not to mention its positioning vis-à-vis Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ agenda. Within the interview Sayce did make two very telling points in relation to ‘the market place’:  

 ‘She said: “If I thought it was to be advising on policy and supplanting the role of the disability sector being able to talk directly about policy with ministers, I would be very worried.”’ 

 Later she went onto say: ‘….no companies would be allowed to join “for commercial gain”, and added: “If Atos joined, I would have to resign from the alliance.”’  Note the use of the word, “I” here ….

 These comments are all the more bizarre because there was already something in place for this purpose called the Network of Networks (NoNs). This was a collection of some of the more radical user-led organisations with previous good standing in the ‘movement’- note not big disability charities and not private companies. These organisations wouldn’t have agreed to that. Instead, this was a group of small and medium sized Disabled Peoples Organisations  commissioned by the Office of Disability Issues (ODI), part of the DWP, precisely to avoid the problems of domination by large monolithic national organisations. What happened?

 Three commissions were agreed, after one commission and a meeting for a second, maybe the ODI realised that these DPOs weren’t as malleable as they would like them to be. Perhaps they realised that groups arguing for the current authentic experiences of disabled people were unhelpful to any public relations exercise they might choose. By June 2012, communication was strained to non-existent with the ODI, by the time the Alliance was formally announced, it was suggested that these DPOs simply join DAA: there were no further plans for the Network of Networks-of the DPOs involved, one has collapsed, and several are struggling to remain viable at a time when active user-led DPOs are needed more than ever. The remaining DPOs still await a considered reasoning of their ‘dumping’ from Ms McVey and the ODI.  

 This new alliance has begun its work, however, gaining access to what it is doing remains difficult to obtain. There are disabled people who are still questioning how the DWP selected DR UK to lead this project in the first place.

 Capita, Atos and DWP 

 Sayce had to explain another confusion that had arisen in relation to DR UK’s role in helping Capita secure one of three regional contracts to assess claimants of the new personal independence payment. Once again a quotation from the DNS interview says it all as far as DPAC is concerned.

 ‘Sayce admitted her organisation had been involved in discussions with Capita to explore ways of “improving disabled people’s rights”, but that its trustees had decided – after the tender document was submitted to the government – that they would restrict their involvement to providing “rights-based information” about PIP.’

 Yes, read it again, because the nugget lies at the heart of this quotation. It was the trustees, not Sayce, who had changed DR UK ‘role’. The worrying thing about DR UK is the tendency it has to employ the Janus approach – flip-flopping between engaging and distancing itself from DWP and the department’s associates. Earlier in the year there was an article published in which DR UK said it was the DWP rather than Atos who should be criticised for the WCA assessment process, yet elsewhere they’ve pointed fingers at Atos itself. There’s an old saying: it’s harder to hit a moving target!

DPAC believes it can’t be alone in questioning the role DR UK has in relation to the Coalition and its policies. Friend and Sayce at their EGM and in the DNS interview go to great pains to demonstrate the ‘reasonableness’ of their position within the tent and at the same time infer the ‘unreasonable’ and ‘impotent’ activities of those outside the tent. It is a difficult balancing act – facing two ways at once, especially trying to wear other people’s clothes at the same time!

What we have sought to do in this article is to respond to Phil Friend and Liz Sayce by providing our own context and take upon the current political scene. We are working in difficult times where it isn’t always obvious who our friends and enemies are. One thing that is certain for sure, DPAC is intent to stay well outside the tent, because ‘we aren’t all in it together’.

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 We want to make it clear that DDA (Disability Action Alliance) has no relationship to DAA Disability Awareness in Action – an organisation with long standing credibility focusing on disabled people’s rights at the international level

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 John Pring’s Disability News Service which DPAC writers have used for some of the source documents for this article can be subscribed to here 

You can also follow John on twitter: @johnpringdns

Oct 062012
 

A successful conference held in London on the 27th September called for a new UK network to challenge the attacks on disability rights in the UK. The conference supported by DPAC, Inclusion London, ALLFIE, Norfolk Coalition of Disabled people and the Joseph Rowntree Trust brought together leading Disabled Peoples Organisations and leading disability activists.

Key speaker Jenny Morris said that the ‘disability movement’ was more vibrant than ever, and that this Government had launched a number of attacks on disabled people and their rights. However others suggested that there may not be a disability movement anymore, but pockets of activity. What was clear was that challenges by disabled people and disabled peoples’ organisations (DPOs) must increase. Speakers also raised issues of how ‘the movement’ could be more inclusive in the speakers ‘from the frontline’ slots.

DPAC was there to add commentary and information on what was happening to disabled people under the regime of Atos and the ESA processes as well as the everyday crisis disabled people were facing under this Government. The whole day was brilliantly co-chaired by Tracey Lazard ( CEO of Inclusion London ) and Tara Flood ( director of the Alliance of Inclusive Education) . Speakers included Jenny Morris, Andrew Lee, Eleanor Lisney, Chris Edwards, Debbie Jolly, Linda Burnip and Geraldine O’Halloran, yet, there was also plenty of time for discussion.

Catch up on conference and presentations with the livestream (with BSL)

Catch up on all presentations and discussions through live stream and see Stephen Lee Hodgkin’s brilliant time-line at http://www.inclusionlondon.co.uk/

Read the excellent John Pring’s ( Disability News Service) account of the day at

 http://www.thefedonline.org.uk/federation-news/item/1828-new-network-aims-to-unite-disability-movement.html

Another option to keep up with what’s happening and have a chance to dicuss your views is to tune into Make Yourself Heard on Tuesdays 2-4p.m with Merry Cross  www.Reading4u.co.uk 

Join up to the new UK network: be part of the increasing outcry on our injustices!

Send an email to mail@dpac.uk.net with subject line ‘UK Network’ to be kept in the loop on this exciting and much needed new network of DPOs and activists.

We can also put you in touch with any local DPAC groups in your area or help you set up your own local DPAC group. We now have 26 DPACs across the UK and along with our sister organisation Black Triangle in Scotland we have made sure that disabled peoples’ issues are vibrant and will continue to be-never again must we allow our ‘movement’ to get sleepy- join the challenge!