Currently running on Facebook is a campaign lambasting the Comic Relief 'Red Nose' day because, they say: "(We) are annoyed and distressed at Comic Relief's decision to include David Cameron in the video to this year's charity single by One Direction. They then go on to list all of the atrocities committed by Cameron, aimed at sick and disabled people, and those on benefits or on a low income.
Firstly, let me make it clear that I agree wholeheartedly with this group's stance against Cameron and the present government. What the ConDems are doing to certain sections of our society beggars belief. I have, along with other disabled activists, been in the thick of the fight against them and will continue to take my place alongside those who challenge the government.
However, to boycott an organisation that is the very antithesis of Tory policy, just because of Cameron's appearance in the video is, in my humble opinion, not exactly constructive.
Many years ago, when Comic Relief, Children in Need et al first appeared on the scene, disabled activists throughout the country were appalled at the patronising crap which oozed from our TV screens. Not only did we boycott these appeals but we also tried to make sure that everyone knew why. We chained ourselves to the railings outside TV stations, we leafleted and a few intrepid souls even managed to gate-crash televised events to publicise our cause. "Piss on pity", "Rights not charity", "Nothing about us without us" were bold new statements way back then.
We all know what Mr Wogan and his cronies did. They ignored us and have pretty much continued as if nothing had happened. Lenny Henry and the other, original Comic Relief organisers, however, started up a dialogue with us and asked what they were doing wrong. They listened when we explained and took our criticisms on the chin.
From this small step many of us began working with Comic Relief (arguably the ONLY such charity to have agreed to work with disabled people on our own terms). Some of the results have been the increased involvement of disabled people in the organisation, funding being directed towards organisations "of" rather than "for" disabled people and changing the "tragic but brave" stereotype that so damages our struggle for equality and full citizenship. (And it became an approach they've used with other groups they support, too.)
Those of us who are really long in the tooth will remember that landmark training resource "Altogether Better" which was so vital to disability equality/disability action training throughout the 1990s and beyond. Perhaps for the first time, it enabled Deaf and disabled people of all ages to tell our own story through the video clips and materials it brought together and it tackled some highly controversial issues head on. Who funded it? Well, Comic Relief actually.
So please guys, hammer Cameron and his cowboys as much as you can. I'm with you on that. But don't risk sabotaging probably the only organisation of this type which, in my opinion, has worked hard to take our issues on board and provided a level playing field for us all to operate together on.
Thanks for listening. Rant over (for now!).
One of the things I enjoy about being part of the Disability Arts on Line (DAO) family is that it provides for me a unique platform on which I can present my more adventurous cartoons.
Take the Criptarts for example. I haven't a clue where it's going each week and the end result is usually more of a surprise to me than to you. Of course I've got a rough outline in my mind for each episode, but it's as though the characters come alive once I've started to lay them out in the strip and they just take over.
You've only got to look at the last but one episode for an example. I'd decided to make some sort of comment about the heavy snow we'd been experiencing. I'd got a story-line mapped out and was pretty sure where it was going when Bonk, the self-defined 'nutter' with the purple spiky hair, suddenly jumped in with his joke. Just as I was about to make some serious comment about reduced access. As Aadila said: "Gross!"
You can go to the episode by clicking here.
And last week. Inspired by Liz Carr's performance as Clarissa Mullery on Silent Witness, I'd decided to 'guest' her on the strip. But what happens? The characters take over again and use it as an opportunity to take a poke at the government!
Click here and you'll see what I mean.
It was the same when I invited Penny Pepper onto the strip. I still haven't got the felt tip off the laptop!
Click here ...
So as the strip continues, be prepared for further undisciplined behaviour from Bonk, Liz, Aadila, Ben, Ranj, Val, and their guests. I will try and exercise some editorial control, but as Colin Hambrook, DAO Editor, knows from past experience (especially with me!), I don't hold out much hope!
Hands up all those Crips who know what's going to happen in 2013.
Yes, you've got it, the Government are stopping Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replacing it with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment or PIP. This is the new system by the way that most disablity organisations claim is not fit for purpose and will leave some half a million disabled people without benefits after change over.
You'll remember that the government pushed through these changes under the Welfare Reform Bill* which received royal assent and became an Act on 8th March 2012. In a nutshell the act abolishes DLA and replaces it with PIP.
This is all part of the government's smoke and mirrors routine where they are trying to convince people that the financial sector is not responsible for creating the current crisis and are placing the 'blame' increasingly at the door of the poorest in society - those who need welfare support.
Even the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) agree that 500,000 current DLA claimants will not receive any PIP at all. They base this on their own figures that show only 1.7 million people between 16 to 64 will receive PIP. They state that, if there was no reform, the number of people getting DLA in the same age group would be about 2.2 million, which the country could not sustain.
So, why are the Government pushing ahead with a replacement system that would appear to be even more flawed than the current one? And why are they ignoring all of the feedback that came as a result of a nationwide consultation process which recommended that they undertake a full equality Impact Assessment before pushing ahead with this new scheme? Oh yes, I forget, Cameron has just abolished Impact Assessments hasn’t he!
Already ATOS and CAPITA, two of the big private sector organisations have been handed great chunks of the PIP assessment process and are rubbing their hands in delight at the prospect of yet more profit to be made at our expense.
BTW by abolishing DLA and introducing PIP the Government has by sleight of hand removed 20 years of case law. All DLA Tribunal decisions are now just history!
Welcome to Cameron's caring Big Society!
* The Welfare Reform Act will not only be responsible for those disabled people not qualifying for PIP losing their 'passport' to other benefits and entitlements, but is also responsible for a large reduction in local authority funding (who are expected to provide a safety net for those people effected by benefit cuts). The Act also places a cap on housing benefit, ends legal aid for welfare and benefits issues and is closing down the Independent Living Fund (ILF) which many of us rely on in order to remain in the community.
Living on an island we could be forgiven for thinking that the harsh cuts that are being inflicted on us Crips in the UK are unique and out of step with the rest of Europe.
Listening to disabled people in France, Greece and especially Spain, we hear that the exact same policies of cuts to benefits and services, along with an orchestrated move to get us all back into institutions, is taking place throughout Europe.
Thousands of disabled people rallied in Madrid last week to protest against a €60 billion cut in spending. Similiarly to the UK, many of these cuts have been targeted at the disability community.
Speaking on Spanish television, Luis Cayo, president of Spain's Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities who have over 4 million members, said:
"This is an historic day. Disabled people [in Spain] have never taken to the streets before!"
Another protester Ricardo de Lugo told a BBC reporter:
"This is our cry for help. They are taking away our aid which has taken us many years to achieve ... why are they doing this to us?"
Alberto Alvarez, a disabled activist from Barcelona told reporters:
"It is as if this is part of a big move to get us all off the streets and back into the institutions that many of us were forced to live in. They think that by allowing the blind to work on the streets with their lottery that this is sufficient. We are here to tell them that it is not!"
With this amount of concentrated activity across Europe aimed at disabled people one wonders why there's not a pan European disabled people's organisation taking the lead in these protests. Why are we not sharing our resources and our expertise with other disabled people across the length and breadth of Europe, people who are being threatened by their governments in the same way that we are?
The right wing strategy of 'divide and conquer' has never needed to be challenged more than now.
We can only do this effectively by working in solidarity together.
Solidarity - Solidaridad - Solidarité - Solidarität - Solidariedade - αλληλεγγύη - Solidarność - Solidaritat
This week I’ve handed my blog spot over to an artist whose medium is being creative with the airways.
Her name is Merry Cross who, apart from being a presenter on Reading community radio, is also well known as a disabled activist and one of the organisors of the Berkshire Disabled People Against Cuts movement.
Here’s her contribution:
Community Radio for disabled presenters
"Years ago, it struck me that radio is an ideal medium for virtually all disabled people, except obviously you Deafies!* I even drew up schedules for an entire radio station devoted to our issues, and tried, naively to float it (it sank without trace).
But then the internet and community radio stations came along and I leapt at the chance of a weekly show on Reading’s ‘Make Yourself Heard’ - blissfully unaware of how much work it would be! But I’m so glad I did it, because not only can it publicise local issues and give local Crips a voice, there’s nothing to stop it covering national issues too. And then there’s nothing to stop English speaking people from all over the world contributing or hearing it!
Also, not being part of a posh outfit run for profit by a bureaucracy, there is no pressure to support the status quo. FREEDOM! What’s more I’ve found some hugely supportive people through it, and formed many new relationships.
So, whilst I’d quite like never to have any competition (!) I’d recommend daring to take the step to anyone.
And of course there are some other disabled people doing radio shows, with 'Alan Commonly Known as Maglite' trying out Skype as his prefered medium. So I’ll just have to keep upping my game!
*And it’s finally dawned on me that I could at least make the scripts available on request, to make it somewhat accessible to Deafies."
You can find out more about Merry and her work with Reading community radio by clicking on this link.
Several people have commented recently that my cartoons have become more 'dark' of late.
I suppose that it's inevitable considering the subject matter to hand these days; disabled people dying after having their benefits stopped, the government disassembling the welfare state and taking equality back to the dark ages, what can you expect?
I'm not consciously looking for bleaker material you understand. It's just that it's being thrust into our faces everywhere we turn. Even the so called 'right wing' press have started to recognise that all is not right with the way the government is running the country ... and that's saying something!
So you'll be pleased to hear that I've been working on a new strip cartoon for Disability Arts on Line (DAO) that takes a look at disability from a slightly lighter perspective. The characters all belong to a Disability Arts group ... but you're going to have to wait until we publish to see more!
But what was that I said about the dark ages? Now there's an idea for a cartoon ...
I read a letter in a local newspaper the other day. The writer was praising David Cameron for reducing the number of people who were on benefits and for making them work for a living instead of scrounging off the state. He seemed to think that some 60% of those people on benefits had now been found work by the government, freeing up a considerable amount of money from the welfare fund.
Where on earth had he got this evidence from? Surely he didn't just rely on the government or the right wing newspapers for his information? Surely he realised that the "facts" supplied from these sources would be biased?
Why didn't he know that the Department of Work and pensions (DWP) has subcontracted out this benefits reduction work to the French-based company ATOS, which has cost the country over £110 million to date. Or that some 20,000 of this year's assessments had been declared sub-standard, resulting in 37% of those disabled people who'd had their benefits stopped having them reinstated under appeal?
Why didn't he know about the estimated 25,000 people who have died whilst participating in this so-called welfare reform, many of them undergoing the Work Capability Assessment managed by ATOS? (The figure of 10,600 people who died during the period between January and November 20011 was recently substantiated by the DWP's own records.) Or that this 'fitness for work' test continues to kill, on average, 32 people each week, due to stress induced by the process or by suicide as a result of their benefits being stopped? (The actual death toll is estimated at just under 72 people per week, but this includes people who have died of impairment/illness related causes.)
Why didn't he know that Margaret Hodge, as Chair of the Public Accounts committee, has recently issued a statement to the effect that ATOS, during the period 2011 - 12, have been taking the DWP (and this country) to the cleaners and are still exploiting many loopholes created in the process?
The letter-writer could research the figures for himself. They're all in the public domain - though admittedly not published by the likes of the Daily Mail or the Telegraph - but available to everyone who has access to the internet. I've even made it easy for him by putting links to these various sources in my blogs!
The real problem with our letter writing friend is the true facts do not support his predudices. It's more comfortable for him to accept the pap he is fed, without analysis. He's been told that we're either super hero Olympians or despicable scoungers and he's bought it! He's lazily accepted the version that slots into his existing pre-conceptions.
Of course, he'll rationalise, there are bound to be a few genuine disabled people who get caught up amongst the fakes, but that's inevitable. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs can you?!
But at its core, our letter writer's perspective is one without compassion, without understanding, without generosity of spirit and certainly without intelligence.
There's a phrase for what's happening to disabled people you know. It's called colateral damage ... and that's what we've become. The colateral damage in Cameron's callous financial missile-firing.
Oh and by-the-way, welcome to the Big Society!
It is being stated that physical and sexual abuse has been prevalent within mental hospitals, disability institutions and care establishments throughout the UK for the past 50 years. Many of the incidents that were reported were allegedly ignored, either because the resident or patient was not believed or because it was not considered in the 'best interest' of the care community to make such allegations public.
Now we have a growing list of statements made by people who were institutionalised during this time who claim that they were also abused, not just by staff, but also by well know public figures, including the late TV celebrity Jimmy Saville.
Lynn Harrison who facilitates a FaceBook group of people with experience as a user of the mental health system told me: "Speaking with many other disabled people who have come up through the care system, they tell me that this represents the tip of a very large iceberg which has seen vulnerable people, particularly those with mental health diagnoses, learning difficulties and other impairments, being abused in many ways for far too long by organisations that have professed to protect them.
"This scandal has also highlighted the prevalence of vulnerable people being disbelieved and ignored in the past when they have been brave enough to try to speak out."
For too long the establishment has worked hard at maintaining the status quo that disabled people should be seen and not heard. They tell us through their words and actions that our complaints are not valid and we should be grateful to those organisations who have taken it on themselves to offer us both a home and the care which we need; we should be grateful, even when the people involved in these organisations physically and sexually abuse us.
In a climate where this government seem determined to push us all back into care, we say ENOUGH!
Disabled people across the country are furious following the Prime Minister's comments at the Tory party conference about his own experiences based on his late disabled son and father.
He painted a rosy picture of the lives of disabled people in the UK following the recent Paralympics and that people were now "seeing the person and not the wheelchair". Although as one pundit commented, thanks to his policies people saw neither the person or the wheelchair, but instead saw a welfare scrounger!
His speech came at the same time as the results of a survey about the true cost of the government's welfare reforms were being circulated.
The survey, highlighted by Exaro, the investigative website and targeted at GPs, confirmed that many disabled patients have been driven to suicide due to the Government's fitness to work test.
Six per cent of doctors have experienced a patient who has attempted - or committed - suicide as a result of “undergoing, or fear of undergoing” the Government's fitness to work test.
The survey also found that 14 per cent had patients who had self-harmed as a result of the test and that a further 20 per cent of GPs had at least one disabled patient who had thought about suicide because of the test.
Alongside of these alarming statistics are the figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirming that 10,600 people participating in the welfare reforms had died during the period January to November 2011.
These figures are derived from administrative data held by the Department for Work and
Pensions and assessment data provided by Atos Healthcare and confirm that upwards of 72 people a week involved in the government's welfare changes have died and that 32 deaths per week are linked directly to people having undergone the ATOS Healthcare fitness to work assessments.
You can see more of Crippen on his alternataive cartoon blog. Please click here for a link to the site.
For those of you too young to have seen the 1973 film Soylent Green with Charlton Heston this cartoon won't have the same impact on you that it will to us oldies.
It was basically about a futuristic government getting rid of its dissidents and solving a world wide food crisis by turning them into food - Soylent Green!
We're being such a pain in the arse to the present Tory government that it's a wonder they haven't thought of this as a solution for us!
Remember ... you are what you eat!
For those historians amongst us you'll have realised by now that this Tory government is just another manifestation of the idle rich, raping and pillaging their way through the land with their eyes very much fixed on the short term.
As far back as ancient Rome, the various emperors manipulated public opinion and made sure that there were plenty of scapegoats to blame for the decline in the standard of living. They also became very adept at creating colourful distractions in order to misdirect the public.
Cameron and his henchmen, realising that the general public need to blame someone for the state of the country, have already been sowing the seeds of hatred in the Tory press.
Disability hate crime has risen considerably due to this, and a large percentage of the public now associate disabled people with benefit scrounging.
So what better way than to fulfill this manipulated expectation than to create yet another extravaganza and give the public what they think they want!
When these latest figures hit my in tray this week I couldn't help wondering if this was further evidence of the effect of the government's targeting of disabled people?
Police figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show that there has been a rise in hate crimes against disabled people during the past two years.
Although some of this could be attributed to an increased willingness to report such crimes, more than 2,000 such offences were recorded in 2011, which is up a third on 2010. This year's figures are proving to be even higher.
Hate crime monitoring began in 2008 to raise awareness of the problem. Perversely, hate crimes linked to race, religion and sexual orientation have fallen.
An offence is considered a hate crime if the victim, or any other person, considers it was motivated by hostility based on a person's race, religious belief, sexual orientation, disability or where the victim was perceived to be transgender.
Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, who heads the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) online reporting facility, True Vision, commented:
"The 2011 data importantly shows a further increase in disability hate crime.
"While we would obviously want to see reductions in the incidence of all hate crime, we suspect that disability hate crimes have been significantly under-reported in the past."
The Association for Real Change (ARC UK) launched a Safety Net campaign in 2009 - running for three years. They targeted 'Mate Crime' in which people would befriend someone with learning difficulties in order to rob or abuse them.
ARC UK is concerned that, without a sustained national campaign, more vulnerable adults with learning difficulties will be abused by people pretending to be their friends.
Rod Landman speaking for ARK UK said: "Identifying and tackling 'mate crime' is complicated. Victims often do not understand what is happening to them or are too afraid to tell anyone."
Mr Landman says that from his experience almost all of this type of crime goes unreported.
I've had several messages concerning limited access to the forthcoming Paralympics. For the most part it's been about poor information provision but other issues are now coming to light, one of which seems to involve a strange interpretation of PA support.
A disabled mum of two, along with her husband decided that they would like to go to the Paralympics. Well, here's her story ...
"The London 2012 Olympic Games were brilliant. My family - particularly my two children - loved it. I decided I wanted to take them to the Paralympic Games to sample the once in a lifetime showcase of disabled sport in London.
"I'm a wheelchair user, with a four-year-old autistic son and a nineteen-month-old daughter. Naturally we wanted to sit together and, particularly as it’s the Paralympics, I assumed there would be adequate provision to allow for this.
"So I was stunned to hear that there was no way that this could happen as there is a policy that wheelchair users can only be accompanied by one other person, meaning that either my children or my husband have to sit far away from me.
"I cannot believe that this event, designed to inspire a new generation of athletes, has a discriminatory ticketing policy. It's essential that my husband sits with me as he helps me with things I need to do and clearly my kids can't sit separately.
"Aside from these practical considerations, I want to share this special occasion with my family, but I'm being prevented from doing so just because I use a wheelchair.
"Please join my campaign to get the organisers of the Paralympics to change this ticketing policy for these and future Games - so every family can share the Paralympics together. Thank you, Beth."
Beth has started a petition on Change.org calling on London 2012 to review this policy. Please click here to join her.
A further development has come to light regarding additional discrimination against disabled people who wish to attend the Paralympics. Click here to access the article.
This is an extract from an excellent article in Disability Now (DN) about disabled asylum seekers using art to express themselves through a painted mural in Bristol.
In the DN article, Disabled Iraqi Ahmed tells us a disturbing account about their lives and their treatment in Britain.
"People in Britain don’t seem to like the disabled. I see lots of disabled people. They drink in the park, they have nowhere to live. They try to kill themselves ...
"Britain says Iraq is rubbish but even in Iraq and Kurdistan people are treated better than this. My family send me money every month ...
"Who made me disabled? The government. Britain, America, Iraq. The governments fought. They made me disabled. They injured my leg in an explosion. I lost my mind. I lost my brother. My mother can’t talk properly now: she lost an eye and an arm in the explosion.
"The Government should be helping these people. They put me into a hostel with people who abuse drugs and drink. I’ve never drunk alcohol in my life. Why house me with drug users?
"Does this country respect disabled people? They make them sleep on the street.
"In my country, when someone dies, people come and check on you. My brother died last year. Only one person came to see me when I heard that he’d been killed. I was bleeding inside. I couldn’t talk. My family say “Are there any people around you?” I say “No.” My mother says “Be strong.”
"I’ve never seen such bad people as here. No one came to help me. I needed people to listen. I felt my insides going into a small hole. I needed a place to forget my pain. When I hear news about Iraq I just cry.
"I’m not here to slag off the Iraqi government or British government. I can’t talk properly. I don’t remember how long it’s been since I talked to my mum ... lots of people sleep on the street. My inside is always crying.
"Britain came to my country. They smashed everything, they killed people. When I came here I asked for help, but they wouldn’t help me. England has lost its mind ...
"People call me names. They say I come from the jungle. They don’t believe the things I say. They say I’m lying. I’m not lying ... it’s because I’m brown and disabled.
"They’re racist and the Government doesn’t do anything to help. They should be shouting, “Look after disabled people!”"
Last week at the Shape media conference I had the pleasure of meeting Kristina Veasey. She has taken part in two Paralympics and talked about her own experiences competing as a disabled athlete.
For most of us non-athletic Crips, and in particular those of us involved in disability arts, the world of the Paralympian seems remote to say the least. We see them as single minded Super Crips with no interest or involvement in disability politics and protest. What we do hear about are those sporty wheelchair users with amazing upper body strength telling non-disabled people that they don't need ramps!
The media love them as well, providing photo opportunities of 'good' disabled people (as opposed to 'bad' disabled people who are scrounging on disability benefit and can't be arsed to find a job!).
All this media hype of course goes to reinforce the stereotypes of disability that Mr and Mrs Jo Public know and love. The acceptable face of disability versus the unacceptable.
But having chatted to Kristina after her talk, I learned a few things. For example did you know that all Paralympians have to sign a contract that specifically prohibits them from taking part in any political protest during the duration of the games?
This means that if they did protest for the duration of the games, (against ATOS for example) they would have sacrificed years of training and would have to return any medals that they had won.
But some paralympians find ways around the system. For example Kristina told me that was why, as a retired paralympian, she became Amnesty International's paralympic ambassador during the Beijing games - "so I could give voice to protest."
Perhaps between us all - paralympians, activists, disabled artists - we could start to tear down the wall that the media & society have erected and start working together.
As ever the challenge is to be able to communicate more openly with each other and to be prepared to let go of those unhelpful stereotypes. I include myself in this as a veteran of creating and maintaining some of these stereotypes. My exchange with Kristina was a kick in my assumptions which I found very helpful and thought provoking.
Perhaps all disabled people, all working together could create a power base strong enough to bring this government and their draconian measures to a shuddering halt.
We can but hope.
BTW if you do have tickets for Paralympic events you may be asked to participate in an on-line survey. Why not use this opportunity to voice some of our concerns about the dichotomy between the experiences of paralympians and many other disabled people. Here's your chance to comment on the gap between the portrayal of paralympic athletes and the daily struggle against barriers that most disabled people face.