A woman’s blog is never done
My last posting was a catalogue of horrors, a list of the ways in which the past four years have not been a good time to be a disabled person.
Will 2015’s general election bring forth a kinder and more just government? One can only hope. I'm no optimist, yet I heard myself tell a disabled person with learning difficulties today that things can only get better...
In my last blog I forgot to mention David Freud, the man in charge of benefit reform.
Freud was heard (and secretly recorded) agreeing with a Tory councillor that some disabled workers are not worth the mimimum wage. Freud also suggested their actual market value might be nearer £2 per hour.
This man of compassion said the system should be more elastic and generous, so as to enable more disabled people to work if they want to. Employers should be allowed to pay disabled people as little as they like.
In Parliament, Miliband (smug) and Cameron (haughty) went head to head. Cameron said he didn’t need a lecture on how to look after disabled people, thank you very much. (His disabled son died age six in 2009).
David Freud is great grandson of Sigmund Freud, the inventor of masturbation and toilet humour.
He was brought into our midst by Tony Blair, prime minister of the pevious (Labour) government, to review welfare. This despite Freud's lack of experience in these matters, or possibly because of it. This happens in politics a lot, I’ve noticed.
Freud’s background and forte is in the financing of bad deals, money for old rope. Thus he’s uniquely qualified to devise better ways of getting the hard-grafting poor to prop up the idle rich.
A media mini-storm
I tweeted that £2 per hour isn’t a wage, it’s an insult.
On the radio, Ian Macrae, editor of Disability Now, said talking about ‘worth’ in terms of so much per hour simply devalues disabled people, which was wrong in itself.
In her blog and on television, Penny Pepper said the government was making it harder for disabled people to work by withholding support, a reference to the ILF closure and restrictions in Access to Work.
I expect this issue will return and bite them all in the bum. But whatever the result for now, disabled people lost again. And we’re angry, again.
Next day, Shape Arts launched their #2fingersto2pounds selfie Twitter campaign and I duly responded, as you can see here.
My fingers are the other way round, the sign of an old hippie and pacifist, for which I make no apology.
I was growing accustomed to feeling OK about myself, after nearly a lifetime of self-hate, all-purpose anger and general internal mayhem. At last, maybe I CAN be a proper artist, I was thinking.
But look what I'm up against:
- Goodbye social welfare
In May 2010 with the arrival of the coalition government, the future for disabled people began to look bleak. The recent past (since 1995) felt like the good old days; the Disability Discrimination Act a fart in the wind.
Bit by bit the entire welfare system was being dismantled. The world had been thrown into reverse gear.
And then the unthinkable, the eradication of the Disability Living Allowance, a non means tested benefit that allowed thousands of disabled people to go to work, raise children, do the shopping, ordinary stuff that non disabled people take for granted.
- ATOS and the Paralympics
- KILL! Campaign for assisted suicide
After four years of retrogressive cutbacks designed to hit disabled, sick and poor people the hardest, July 2014 was the perfect time for another attempt to legalise assisted suicide. Lord Joffe vilified opponents and critics (e.g. Baroness Jane Campbell) of Lord Falconer's Bill as homophobic, pro-slavery, religious extremists.
- CUT! ILF
In 2012 the government announced it would close the Independent Living Fund and donate the money to local councils instead. The decision sent shockwaves through the disability community. To date, I have neither read nor heard anything positive about this move.
Closing the ILF is universally condemned as a monumental act of savagery that will have disastrous impact on many, if not all, recipients.
Closure is a direct threat to the fundamental principles of independent living as a human rights issue, about which I have spent 20 years campaigning, working and arguing.
I've experienced institutionalisation. As regular readers of this blog know, I spent 11 years of my childhood, age 5 to 16, in a residential school and hospital for disabled children.
Many friends and contemporaries left Chailey and went straight into another form of segregated provision, either ‘sheltered’ employment or residential ‘homes’ such as the anachronistically named British Home for Incurables in Lambeth, where less than half the rooms have private bathrooms.
Inspection reports reveal nothing about what it’s like to live in such places, the lack of autonomy, voice, choice and basic freedoms, the sense of separation from ordinary life, the indignity of being ‘cared’ for poorly paid staff, communal living…
Inspections cover only the basics, barely scratching the surface of what goes on.
- CUT! Access to work
Access to Work is a government scheme that funds aids, equipment, transport and a whole load of other stuff to level the playing field in the workplace. Without it, many disabled people (including me) would find it harder, in many cases impossible, to do their jobs on equal terms with non-disabled people.
- CUT! Disabled students allowance
DSAs are grants that assist with the extra costs a disabled student faces during higher education study.
In June 2014 Disability News Service reported on government plans to restrict eligibility for computing equipment, while non-medical support like note-taking will no longer be covered under DSA, shifting greater responsibility onto institutions.
See what I mean?
Indeed, it wouldn't be an over-statement to say that disabled people have been under sustained attack, from our own government, since the 2010 General Election. It feels like war.
So what’s the answer?
And keep blogging.
BBC Three is casting for actors for a new laughter-filled fantasy entertainment series featuring a couple of young disabled parents.
As in real life, the characters are lovely, full of fun, and in complete denial. They watch too much television. Life is but a dream.
As a full-time paid-up member of the disability rights movement, I've known and knocked around with hundreds of disabled people, not all of whom would subscribe to that label, which isn't the issue, here. Ask me about that another day.
Today we're concerned with smiling.
Indeed, when are we not? For if ever there was a definitive test for the genuine disabled article, it is the capacity to emit sunbeams whatever the weather, to exude jolity and upbeatness in all circumstances.
I know what I'm talking about. I have the badge, the tee-shirt and every conceivable credential. I come from a long and distinguished line of grinning crips.
As a Girl Guide I learned to smile and sing under all difficulties. Easy.
Easy as acting. Put on a mask. Pretend.
Make believe. You want happy? I'll give you happy: "Cheese!"
You want grateful? For what, exactly?
In 1962, when I was resident at Chailey Heritage, a BBC radio crew came to record our happiness. By the time the technicians arrived we were pitch and word perfect. We'd rehearsed for weeks, over and over, every nursery rhyme known to every man, woman and postwar snotty-nosed kid with a basin haircut.
As instructed, we bellowed forth in tuneful unison about Contrary Mary and her bleating (expletive deleted) sheep. Our joyfulness knew no bounds.
Shortly after, I went down with TB menengitis. This would have wiped the smile off many a non-disabled face. Fortunately, I was true crip, through and through.
Six months in a side-ward and I was sorted. Come September, back into the fray I was sent, happier than ever. Because I wasn't dead. Unlike my best friend, Kathy, who'd bought it, under the knife, on the table; at the front, as it were, at RNOH Stanmore.
We never said goodbye.
You couldn't make it up.
Fragmented conversation reconstructed
They are not the problem.
He died alone, a monologue.
Your proximity matters.
Surrounded by statues, so close.
Our distance fills the spaces.
Creeps up, screaming.
Words under lines.
A statement, misguided.
National Poetry Day 2nd October 2014 website