“Diversity is wonderful” – including BME people in the disability community

Julie Jaye Charles is founder of Equalities National Council (Equalities), Britain’s only BME disabled people-led organisation. Equalities is based in the London Borough of Newham and turns 20 this year.

Julie grew up in East London, with family originating from the Caribbean. In 2015 she won a lifetime achievement award for her diversity work. As we celebrate Disability History Month, Julie and her colleague Robert Modeste talk about Equalities’ approach over the last 20 years and their hopes for the future.

Back in 1995, I didn’t see anybody involved in the campaign for the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) who was from a black community. There wasn’t anybody around me who I could relate to. This is this why I founded Equalities National Council (Equalities).

By the year 2000 Equalities was four years-old and we had 18 advocates. We didn’t have funding as such, but we had a table and a telephone and people, all disabled people. At the time they were all disabled people from the BME community.

Cultural differences

A lot of BME communities don’t understand the social model of disability. As far as they’re concerned their GP is God. Their GP gives them their tablets and they go away and they feel better. They could be in a wheelchair, have one arm, but they still wouldn’t relate to being disabled because the GP is treating them on the clinical side, so the social model doesn’t come into it. The feeling is that it’s your fault, you get on with it. It’s your life, you get on with it.

Equalities offers advocacy and mentoring. Most people that come to us, some of them can speak English, but they bring somebody with them too. It’s a comfort to speak to an advocate. We’ve got loads of people from Somalia and Lithuania who visit us and they also come for advocacy – so they’re two different cultures and ethnicities that want the same things. We have a Romany advocate who came up here when the mental health team were downstairs because she was homeless, and then about six months later she came back and said she’d like to volunteer. She’s doing well. She advocates for any community. All my team does, because it’s not who we are, it’s what the individual is coming to us for. That’s what we’re offering.

Cuts are really affecting BME communities

Julie standing in a hallway wearing sunglassesJulie: It hurts me when I look at the communities out there, especially in Canning Town, in Newham that has such a deprived community. From the last Census there are 26,000 disabled people in Newham from a BME community.  People are so poor and they’re not getting the support. People are still coming here for the mental health team, but since they’ve been cut and have moved away from the building, our referrals have doubled. They want to talk about housing benefit being cut, they want to talk about social care, wanting things like direct payments, individual budgets – they’ve heard about them, but they don’t know how to get them, all bits like that. Also employment and further education, as unemployment rates are high.

Robert: It just seems that all the wonderful work that we do as an organisation – planning by Julie, countless meetings with ministers, larger organisations – when it suits, it’s great for people to support BME communities, but when it comes to actually funding the work, there’s no one there for us. So it’s very tough. But Julie has a dedicated team around her, myself included, who give up their time freely because they’re passionate about what they do.

Diversity is wonderful

Julie: When they have the Newham festival, if you see how many people go – its thousands. Diversity is wonderful. Food from all over the world, you’ve got Bangra dancing, you’ve got reggae playing somewhere else. You’ve got a place people can pray, no matter what religion you are.

Robert: Anybody that walks through the door, we will help them. That’s probably our unique selling point is as an organisation. I was in young offender’s rehabilitation and no-one wanted to invest in me. Equalities have given me that platform. We need real people out there. Our people, our mentors, have real life experience. I believe that you should give everybody a chance.

I want to set up a commission so we have a voice in politics

I read policies that no one else wants to read because it’s so important. Then, when I talk to some of the ministers, I know what I’m talking about. What I want is to develop a commission so that the whole world knows what the social model means and that disabled people don’t need to feel embarrassed about having an impairment. People can ring up and get advice, but also have round table discussions with ministers, strategists and ministerial advisors.

I want to get representation from all over the country. Since the Disability Rights Commission went, disabled people don’t have a place in society, or a place where we can talk about everything openly, and the ministers can take it back and change will happen. I don’t want to do it my own. I would like to think that people see me as someone they can aspire to and will come along with me.

Equalities National Council is a national disability advice and information service. Find out more about Equalities by visiting their website.

Photo credits: Equalities National Council.

“The contributions and achievements of disabled people are largely left out of the history books” – Disability History Month

We continue to mark Disability Month with a blog about artist Frida Kahlo, an early 20th century artist whose work explored her feelings towards being disabled and how it affected her body as well as celebrating the life and culture of her native Mexico.

Sam Pugh, who is part of the Scope for Change campaign group and president of the Oxford Students’ Disability Community, writes about why Kahlo is her hero and why she should be remembered during Disability History Month.  

“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.” – Frida Kahlo

There are few disabled people as loved and iconic as Frida Kahlo.

It is thought she was born with Spina Bifida, a congenital defect of the spinal cord, and as a child she contracted polio. She was severely injured as a teenager in a bus accident, with her injuries causing her lifelong pain and ill health.

Frida Kahlo's painting Tree Of Hope - An abstract self portrait with the sun and moon in the background
Frida Kahlo’s painting Tree Of Hope

Following her accident she was unable to leave her bed for several months – it was during this time that she became serious about her painting and marked the start of her life as an artist.

Frida is famous for her surreal and intimate self-portraits, many of which express her pain, frustration, and anger towards her disabled body, but also her acceptance and self love.

Frida the revolutionary

Frida was a revolutionary, not just in her political leanings and open bisexuality, but in the frank way she depicted her disability. At a time when disability was very much hidden and a taboo subject, Frida Kahlo exhibited to the world the impact of her own impairment in striking detail and was unabashed in her portrayals of disability. She was a beautiful, intelligent, and fiercely talented disabled woman.

Frida Kahlo's painting The Broken Column - Showing the artist topless with a column running through her torso
Frida Kahlo’s painting The Broken Column

Frida Kahlo’s image is instantly recognisable, but this isn’t the case for many of the disabled people of our past. The contributions and achievements of disabled people are largely left out of the history books, and it is vitally important that we educate ourselves and others.

Frida Kahlo's painting Without Hope - showing the artist in bed throwing up a mass of body parts
Frida Kahlo’s painting Without Hope

Society’s attitude towards disability has for hundreds of years been one of shame, distaste, and suppression. Disability has always been something that has been hidden and stigmatised, and this is why Frida Kahlo’s depictions of her own are so striking.

Self Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill - Showing the artist sat in a wheelchair next to a portrait of an elderly man
Self Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill

Celebrating disabled people

By celebrating disabled people who have contributed to society throughout history and recognising their achievements, we can challenge the negative attitudes and stigma related to disability and disabled people that are still so prevalent in society today.

Disability History Month gives us the chance to do this, but we cannot rewrite the history books in a month. Recognition of the existence and contributions of disabled people is something we should strive to do every day, both from history and in the present.

We are so often excluded and stigmatised, and face particular hardship in education and employment as a result of these attitudes, which add barriers to us reaching our potentials. There is still a long way to go until disabled people receive truly equal treatment, and this isn’t something we can achieve until we rid society of the prevailing belief that disabled people are incapable of making positive contributions to it.

Celebrating historical figures such as Frida Kahlo and remembering their great achievements will not just change our attitudes towards the past, but allow us to alter our attitudes towards disabled people today and encourage a society which will never hold us back from achieving.

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month

“Loneliness tore me apart, but volunteering has given me a purpose”

On this year’s International Volunteer Day, Lisa, a volunteer with an adventurous spirit, talks about how volunteering has helped her to gain confidence and independence.

I was a busy working mum with a mortgage, a job in catering, and a love of the outdoors. I also regularly volunteered as a Beaver Leader at a local Scout Group. Then in 2007, I was diagnosed with a condition called Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction. It affects the joints in my pelvis and makes it difficult for me to stand and walk.

Life took a turn for the worst

My job at the time was very physical; I worked in a school kitchen, so was constantly lifting and moving around. I tried to make it work after I became ill; my employers were understanding and made adaptions for me. During the day I was working hard to provide balanced meals for children, but was too tired to cook a proper meal for my son in the evenings. I knew something had to give, and reluctantly handed in my notice.

During this time, my health continued to deteriorate, I was in constant pain, and was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia. My house was about to be re-possessed, and my doctor advised that I should give up my home as I was too ill to fight it. On top of this, I was having fits and muscle spasms, and eventually found out I had a spinal condition too. I really missed the mental stimulation of work, and the loneliness of being at home all day was tearing me apart.

Volunteering kept me going…

However, the one thing that kept me going was volunteering with the Scouts. I wasn’t able to continue as a leader, but I agreed to take on a new challenge and manage the administration for Scouting in my county. All I needed was my laptop, Wi-Fi and a phone to enable me to carry on volunteering. As I progressed in the role, my confidence grew, and I started thinking about a new challenge.

Despite my health issues, I’d still always made sure I took part in other volunteering events with the Scouts, such as camps and activity days. They were a great way to catch up with friends and helped me to keep active. In January 2015, I decided to take myself out of my comfort zone and be spontaneous. After hearing about a project at the Scout headquarters in London that needed extra pairs of hands, a friend and I packed a bag and drove through the night to get there. My son was a young man by now, and assured me he was happy to stay with family, and that he wanted me to have an adventure. We were welcomed with open arms, and spent an amazing two weeks mucking in and working with volunteer and staff colleagues.

Disabled woman in wheelchair with a colleague
Lisa with a colleague from the Scouts

I was exhausted after my little adventure; I’d taken time out from my volunteering to rest while I was there, but it still took a while for me to recuperate at home. I’d made some new friends while I was in London, and was thrilled when one of them invited me to come back in the summer for a new project. A Scout Jamboree was happening in Japan, and they needed volunteers in the UK to help support the event and share stories across local media. Despite being apprehensive, as I wouldn’t have a friend from home with me this time, I decided to go for it. It was challenging at times, there were moments when I questioned whether I was well enough to do it, but I stuck it out and managed 16 nights in a tent.

After this, an idea began to develop and I couldn’t ignore it. Since becoming disabled, my confidence had taken a real knock. I used to think I couldn’t do certain things because of my condition. However, volunteering helped me to realise that there are still a lot of things I can do. A plan took shape and I decided that 2016 was to be my year of volunteering adventures.

My volunteering adventures

This year I have travelled the length and breadth of the country, and beyond, undertaking different volunteering projects, making new friends, and challenging myself. I’ve been abroad for the first time since I became disabled. I’ve directed traffic from my wheelchair. I’ve become a member of a camp site volunteer team in Ireland. I’ve been to a festival. I’ve danced at a wedding. I’ve inspired a friend to do a bucket list trip of her own, and many more once in a lifetime experiences.

Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing and there have been trials along the way. At times I felt as if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. There have been tears. Some days I could barely lift my head from my pillow. Lots of rest and recuperation were needed after each event, but I have no regrets.

disabled woman having fun with arms out wide
Lisa having fun and enjoying life.

What volunteering did for me

Volunteering has given me a focus ever since I became disabled. It has given me a reason to leave the house. When I’m having a bad day, it helps to give me a sense of purpose and to turn things around. Being disabled isn’t easy, but you can’t give up. Volunteering gives you a reason to get up in the morning, and can open so many doors for you. A few years ago I never would have dreamed I could have done all this, but volunteering and being a Scout has helped me achieve so much.

If you’re feeling inspired by Lisa’s story, take a look at the volunteering opportunities available with Scope and the Scouts. Or find other volunteering opportunities in your local area by searching on Do-it.org.

We’ve made the world’s first disability emoji keyboard – download it today!

We’ve launched the world’s first disability emoji keyboard – available to buy in the Apple store from today!

Back in July we released a series of disability emoji designs in response to the fact that despite there being nearly 2000 emoji, only one represents disability.

Given that there are 12.9 million disabled people in the UK alone, having one emoji was nowhere near enough, given how diverse disabled people’s lives are.

♿ The wheelchair-user sign is often used for accessible toilets and we hope the emoji keyboard will better represent disabled people and the diversity of their lives.

So, to mark the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December) we’ve partnered with US firm Kapps Media to turn our designs into a reality.

The downloadable keyboard features 35 new Disabilitymojis to play with and use on your iPhone or iPad in messaging apps like Whatsapp.

How to download and install the disability emoji keyboard

Emoji download instructions

  1. Download the emoji keyboard from the Apple Store
  2. On your iPhone go to Settings
  3. Go to General > Keyboard > Keyboards
  4. Add new keyboard Disabilitymoji
  5. Disabilitymoji > Allow access
  6. Hold the world icon to swap keyboard and start using

US-based company Kapps Media will sell the keyboard for just $0.99 which is just over 79p.

Half of the profits from sales of Disabilitymoji will go to Scope and our ongoing work with disabled people and their families.

At present the app is only available on apple and requires iOS 8.0 or later. It is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. 

Please note: Some screen readers users have had problems using the app. We’re working with the developers to make this product as accessible as possible.

You will be charged your standard network rate for a picture message when sending a disability emoji sticker via your text messaging service. Free messaging services such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage don’t incur these charges but do use data or require wi-fi.

Download and install the Disabilitymoji app from the Apple store.

Man signing “thank you”
Man signing “thank you”

What does HIV look like? – World AIDS Day 2016

Steve is 30 and has been living with HIV for over a decade. He works for local government and lives in Hampshire with his partner and their cat. For World AIDS Day 2016 he shares his story. 

What do you think of when you hear ‘HIV’? What does the face you see look like?

For me, I’ll be honest, it was those ‘Red Nose Day’ videos of children crying and adults getting thinner and thinner.

I never imagined that one day it would be my face, but just over ten years ago that is exactly what happened.

Coming out is always tricky, I told my family I was gay when I was 15 (Mum cried). Having to do it all over again at 20 to tell them I was HIV+ was not much easier (Mum cried again), but surprisingly, it was not a great deal harder either.

I’d been dating a guy for a while who had HIV and never told me. I was diagnosed on the 1 August 2006, at around half past four in the afternoon and was surprisingly calm. I remember that after being told, I didn’t panic, or cry. I just sat thoughtfully for a moment then asked; “So, what happens next?”

Living with HIV

Stephen presenting at a conference
Steve presenting at a conference

Since then, for the past ten years, I have lived with HIV and continued to try and face it in the same, relatively calm, way. I have always been open about it, and told my friends, lovers and employers the truth.

They are usually surprised because, in all honesty, I’m not a face people would normally associate with HIV. If I may take a moment to describe myself, I’m 30, relatively slim (though with a fondness for cake), ginger and I work in an office.

It amuses me sometimes, that under the Disability Discrimination Act, something that the HIV positive community and those living with disabilities came together to secure, I am disabled.

With HIV I was considered to be disabled from the moment of diagnosis.

The Disability Discrimination Act is now 21 years old, older than I was when I was diagnosed.

There are thousands like me and HIV is not picky – despite the fact a politician elected to the Northern Irish Assembly didn’t know that heterosexual people could be affected by HIV –  it does, and thousands of them too.

What does HIV look like to you?

My opinion has always been that if I don’t talk about HIV or AIDS, if I try and keep my HIV diagnosis the secret, people will think that there’s something about it that I need to hide.
By accident of birth there isn’t.

I was born in a country where health care is free and the medications you need to keep you alive are given to you. The anti-retro-viral drugs that are now available can control the virus.

This means that if you test positive, as long as you test early and start treatment, you can expect to live as long as someone without HIV and not just live, but have a life.

This World Aids Day, we come together again to remember those who fought against stigma and stood up for equality protection under the law but aren’t with us today, and we say thank you.

Wear your red ribbon with pride.

If you’d like more information or support about HIV and World’s AIDS Day, visit the Terrence Higgins website or the National AIDS Trust website.


Disability is often written out of history. We need to ask why

As we continue to mark Disability History Month, Bekki Smiddy writes about  chemist and inventor Alfred Nobel. His legacy are the Nobel Prizes.  Nobel experienced epileptic seizures throughout childhood and here Bekki talks about her own experience of epilepsy and why it’s important we recognise that disability is not a bar to achieving great things in life.

I was diagnosed with idiopathic generalised epilepsy when I was eleven, after several years of unexplained seizures. I had no idea what any of it meant. And I didn’t really care. What I did care about was the way people had started to look at me.

Before I was diagnosed, I figured epilepsy meant I fell down and couldn’t remember sometimes, it wasn’t a big deal. It was other people that made it a big deal.

Every time the word epilepsy came up, everyone in the room would look at me.

My classmates would whisper the word “freak” as I went by.

I got sent out of the class by my teachers for having seizures.

I felt embarrassed and ashamed for something that was completely out of my control.

Leaflets on epilepsy are filled with medical jargon and only explained what was going on with my brain, and scared me with talk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy Patients (SUDEP).  What I needed to know was how it would affect my life, how it would change it, and how to not feel so alien.

Looking through history

When first diagnosed I searched for historical figures who had epilepsy. I needed to know that I wasn’t going to be limited; that I could still achieve what I wanted with my life. That I wasn’t “wrong” somehow.

Throughout my adolescence and education I used it as rebuttal for those that attacked me or belittled me for my epilepsy.

We have been authors, military and political leaders, philosophers, scientist, composers and painters. Having a neurological condition didn’t have to hinder me in any way.

Nobel didn’t hide his disability, in fact he wrote poetry about what are perceived to be childhood epileptic seizures.

“…the convulsions followed, til I gasped

upon the brink of nothingness – my frame

a school for agony with death for goal”

But it appears to be written out of his history like so many “invisible conditions”,

Disabled people need role models

Epilepsy charity websites I viewed had sections listing famous people with epilepsy. Yet, it is missing from many disabled people’s biographies. We all need role models, but especially disabled people as we struggle for equality and to enjoy the same life chances as non-disabled people.

Disability History Month is important because many people don’t see disabled people as an oppressed group or understand that the language often used and how our impairments are described, can be so damaging. When people talk about the economy being ‘crippled’, or say that someone is “having a fit” when they mean a tantrum can be so hurtful.

We need to know more about the lives of disabled people and I hope that Disability History Month will help dispel the myths and help improve attitudes.

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month.

“All disabled women should be sterilised” – Disability History Month

Psychotherapist and writer Antonia Lister-Kaye is 85. She is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to The Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, Antonia looks back at how attitudes have changed to disability during her extraordinary life.  

I was kept in a chicken incubator!

Antonia with nanny
Antonia with nanny

My mother was a Christian Scientist, and she didn’t like doctors. I think it was explained to her that we must at least have a nurse. My father got a chicken incubator from his brother, who was a farmer, rushed to the house, and I never went to hospital. I was kept in a chicken incubator in my father’s study, and they did have this nurse, that was a compromise, but my mother didn’t see me for weeks and weeks, because she was quite ill. I don’t think she wanted me anyway. I know she didn’t, because she was only very young, and, you know, didn’t know much. She wouldn’t have had me if she’d known anything. But I think that’s how I came to be how I am.

“All disabled women should be sterilized.”

My mother-in-law was absolutely furious because I had a disability, and she thought it was genetic. A fortnight before my baby was born, she suddenly said, ‘Well, you know, personally, I think all disabled women should be sterilised.’

Teaching in a night school under Apartheid

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki

One of my students, for a short time, was Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa. He was a very clever man, and he was a very beautiful man, too. He was about 19, I suppose, when I taught him. We followed syllabuses from London External Examinations. You could do exams which were called ‘London External Degrees’, in those days, and we based our teaching on those. I taught History, and they were all mad keen to do the French Revolution and the feudal system, that was their two favourite topics… I think I only taught him for a short time, but there were equally interesting students, but he was the cleverest.

Hear more of Antonia’s experiences of the apartheid regime. 

Legalise cannabis campaign

Antonia smoking a joint in a Amsterdam cafe
Antonia smoking cannabis in Amsterdam

My naughty daughter, Frankie, used to get hold of cannabis; this was in the seventies, and bring it home and smoke it, so I said, ‘Oh hey, give us a go,’ and because I knew people who smoked cannabis in the fifties, in Hampstead, you know: well, they do everything in Hampstead, before they do it anywhere else, and so she gave me a joint, and I smoked it.

I did, I’m not a smoker, so I didn’t inhale properly, but I said, ‘God, Frankie, the pain’s dropping out of me fingertips,’ and so she said, ‘Oh Mum, isn’t that interesting? Have another one. I’ll roll you another one.’ … and after that, I read an article, in The Independent, written by somebody with MS, called Liz, who lived in Leeds, and she wrote about the marvelous effect of cannabis on her MS, so I thought, ‘God, I must find out more about this lady…’

Listen to Antonia’s life story on The Disability Voices website.

You can also buy Antonia’s memoir, Broccoli and Bloody Mindedness on Amazon. 

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month.

Disabled people and domestic abuse – we need to do better

Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse than non-disabled women, yet support services aren’t always accessible. Disabled people can also face unique challenges in recognising and reporting abuse. It’s an issue that isn’t often spoken about. This needs to change.

With this in mind, domestic abuse charity Safe Lives is doing a ‘spotlight’ throughout October and November, focusing on how professionals can better support disabled people experiencing abuse. They have been posting resources, webinars, blogs and podcasts and they are doing a live Twitter Q&A on Friday 2 December.

We spoke to Carly, an advocate for autism and girls, about why this is so important.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 32 which is a late diagnosis, but autism in girls wasn’t really understood. I have three daughters; two of them are autistic as well, which is how I found out that I was. I was looking up everything I could about autism and girls and thought “I’m autistic too” – I ended up being diagnosed on film!  The consequences of not being diagnosed can be severe, including being in unhealthy relationships.

Recognising and reporting abuse can be harder for disabled people

For us all in society, disabled or not, the very nature of what abuse is can be murky. All too often we see adverts of women with bruises as an image of domestic abuse. Abuse, however, takes many forms. It’s difficult enough to recognise and report abuse for anyone experiencing it, but for disabled people it can be even harder.

The choice for a disabled person to leave their abuser is not an equal choice to those who do not rely on their abuser for their daily care as well. And how can a person with a social and communication condition have the equality of access to leave, when they may not even realise that what they are experiencing is abuse?

A lot of autistic people are vulnerable because of our lack of social imagination which is about understanding “If I do this, what happens next?” – consequences. We’re very often so consumed in our own thoughts that we think other people have the same wants, needs and agendas as we do, which can lead to us being very vulnerable. Another thing is our theory of mind – we imagine that other people have similar thoughts to us. So if you knew you were experiencing abuse, you may not report it because you think that other people already know. Because you know, they must do too. It can lead to an autistic person being very angry and resentful because they think “Why aren’t you helping me?” – it’s because that person doesn’t know. You need to ask us direct questions, basically.

Carly sitting at the UN with a few people in the background
Carly, speaking at the UN about autism and girls

A “one size fits all” approach to domestic abuse doesn’t work

It’s only in recent times that coercive control has become a legal offence. For someone on the autistic spectrum who requires support with their routine, the control of their lifestyle, the control of their access to social events and family and control of their money, this could easily disguise an abusive relationship to an onlooker. Mix this with an autistic person’s fear of dramatic change, delay in emotional processing and the theory of mind differences described above, and you can see how someone may not seek help.

We need our safeguarding explained in a different way and support services need to be more accessible. The stuff that’s out there is really good but some little add ons would help. I’ve had a meeting with the NSPCC about their schools workshops and I’ve created a short online course on safeguarding for people with autism, which is free to do. Hopefully it will help people think differently.

Including disabled people in these important conversations

Safe Lives’ spotlight on this issue is vital. The protection of disabled people from abuse is a multi-layered complex matter that simply is not covered by standard safeguarding projects. The media also all too often leave our unique needs and experiences to one side in the vital adverts  and workshops on abuse – how to recognise it and how to seek help.

I think for many people, disabled adults are either viewed as not having relationships or sex and therefore void from these conversations, or seen as just being able to access the same sexual health and abuse information as everyone else. Of course, in reality, this is not the case. The most vulnerable in society are often the last to be supported. Disabled people aren’t asking for special treatment but we are asking for a fitting reflection of our experiences in society and to be part of the conversation, a seamless inclusion and not an afterthought.

If you have been affected by the content of this blog, you can contact the Samaritans or your local Refuge service for support.

You can find all Safe Lives’ content on their website and take part in the Twitter Q&A on Friday 2 December.

Disabled Survivors Unite is an organisation working to improve access to services for disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence. Visit their website to find out more.

Autumn Statement 2016: A missed opportunity to invest in social care

During his first Autumn Statement as Chancellor, Phillip Hammond spoke about creating an economy that works for everyone and helping ordinary families.

However, we heard little from the Chancellor today that will help support the UK’s 12.9 million disabled people.

Social care

Despite calls from across the sector and from his own MPs the Chancellor didn’t take the opportunity to invest in the social care system.

Social care is the support disabled people rely on to get up, get dressed, get out, and lead independent lives. However, after years of underfunding the system is under extreme pressure and needs urgent investment.

Without long-term and sustainable funding for the social care system more disabled people are at risk of slipping into crisis without access to the support they need. Nearly a third of young disabled people told us they already aren’t getting the support they need to live independent lives. The Chancellor wants everyone to be able to share in economic growth but without adequate social care many disabled people will be unable to work and contribute to their communities in the way they choose.


The Chancellor said he was privileged to report on an economy where unemployment is at an 11 year low, however the disability employment gap has remained at around 30 per cent for a decade.

Scope analysis also shows that disabled people are almost three times as likely to fall out of work as non-disabled people. If the Government are going to achieve their manifesto commitment of halving the disability employment gap they need to do much more.

Disabled people need a broad package of support to find and stay in work. This includes challenging negative attitudes, a greater focus on flexible working practices and investment in the Access to Work Scheme.

Despite last week’s vote in the House of Commons calling on the Government to pause changes to Employment Support Allowance for those in the Work Related Activity Group, the Chancellor did not reverse this decision today. Half a million disabled people rely on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and are already struggling to make ends meet. Reducing their financial support won’t help more disabled people into work and we will continue to campaign against this decision.

Responding to pressure from MPs and charities, the Chancellor did announce changes to the Universal Credit “taper rate”.

This change to the rate at which someone loses their benefit as they increase their hours in work will be a slight improvement for some disabled people.

Extra costs

The Government today announced  further investment in digital infrastructure, including a £1 billion investment in broadband. For disabled people to benefit from the investment the Government must work to close the digital divide. 25 per cent of disabled adults have never used the internet compared to six per cent of non-disabled adults. We need to see targeted investment in digital skills training for disabled people and action to improve web accessibility.

The Chancellor said he wants to make sure the retail energy market is functioning fairly for all consumers. Life costs £550 a month more for disabled people, due to costs such as a higher fuel bills. It is vital that both the Government and energy companies think about how they can support disabled people with their energy costs more effectively and set out details for how they plan to do this.

The extra costs faced by disabled people mean many are just about managing and are the people Theresa May promised to help in her first speech as Prime Minister.

The Government must do more to include the UK’s 12.9 million disabled people in their vision of a country which works for everyone.   

What we would like to see in the Autumn Statement 2016

This Wednesday Phillip Hammond will give his first Autumn Statement as Chancellor, the Government’s first major financial statement since the vote to leave the European Union.

At Scope we’ve been campaigning and raising awareness of the important issues that disabled people face ahead of Wednesday’s Autumn Statement announcement.

Autumn Statement

There has been lots of speculation about what he will include. He has decided not to go ahead with previous Chancellor George Osborne’s formal target to create a budget surplus by 2020 which will give him some flexibility on how much he spends.

Theresa May’s first speech as Prime Minister set out her commitment to creating a country that ‘works for everyone’ and ‘allowing people to go as far as their talents will take them.’ A recent common theme has been a focus on those ‘just about managing.’ But what does this mean for disabled people and what are Scope been calling for?

Last week we saw passionate speeches from all parties about the need to rethink the implementation of forthcoming reductions in financial support to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), at the beginning of the month the Government launched its consultation to tackle the disability employment gap; and, last month we published research highlighting the crisis in social care for young disabled people.

Taken together, there are many disabled people who are ‘just about managing’.

Our Extra Costs work has highlighted life costs more if you’re disabled. £550 a month more. From the need to purchase appliances and equipment, through to spending more on energy. And yet payments aimed at alleviating these – such as Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – often fall short of enabling disabled people to meet extra costs, leaving many turning to credit cards and payday loans to help with everyday living.

Ahead of the Autumn Statement we think there are three key areas that need addressing.

Social Care

Social care has been at the top of the news agenda in the run up to the Autumn Statement with the Care Quality Commission, Local Government Association, Care and Support Alliance and even the Conservative Chair of the Health Select Committee saying the social care system is in desperate need of investment. Working age disabled adults represent nearly a third of social users.

We have long been calling for sustainable funding in social care. Reductions in funding to local government over the past six years mean the social care system is starting to crumble under extreme financial pressure. We have heard from disabled people who have had to sleep fully-clothed, in their wheelchairs. Scope research in 2015 found that 55 per cent of disabled people think that social care never supports their independence. And just last month we found young disabled adults’ futures are comprised by inadequate care and support.

Social care plays a vital role in allowing many disabled people to live independently, work and be part of their communities. That’s why urgent funding and a long-term funding settlement are needed.

Extra Costs

On average, disabled people spend £550 a month on disability related costs and when we asked disabled people about their top priorities for the Autumn Statement, 70% said protecting disability benefits. We want to see PIP continue to be protected from any form of taxation or means-testing and the value of PIP protected.

The Government is expected to announce significant infrastructure investment and there will be potentially be announcements on digital infrastructure and energy.

We hope energy companies are required to think more about how they can support these consumers with their energy costs more effectively. With 25 per cent of disabled adults having never used the internet compared to 6 per cent of non-disabled adults, any new digital skills funding should include specific funding for disabled people.


The Government made a welcome commitment in their manifesto to halve the disability employment gap and a plan on how to achieve this in the Improving Lives consultation.

The Autumn Statement provides an opportunity for the Government to take steps to support disabled people to find, and stay in work.

Last week, MPs debated the changes to Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group due to begin in April 2017. MPs from across political parties have been urging the Government to think again about the changes. Half a million disabled people rely on ESA and we know they are already struggling to make ends meet. Over the last year we have been campaigning against this decision as we believe reducing disabled people’s financial support by £30 per week will not help the Government meet their commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

Read more about the Green Paper and how to get involved with the consultation.

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

%d bloggers like this: