“I’m a social worker and I’m trying to start up a community farming business.”
So much of the media and political rhetoric around cuts to support for disabled people focuses on the alleged fraudsters, people who are said to have no ambition but to live off the state. It was such a different story outside the High Court in snowy London today.
“I’ve recently travelled to Spain, Portugal and Thailand and I run my own small travel agency. I can only do it because of the Independent Living Fund.”
These are what I heard from just two of the people I met today. Their stories are of people living their lives, no matter that they have severe impairments. The support of the Independent Living Fund and social care allow them to do that – and it’s brilliant. Talking to them, it was clear they live fuller lives than many non-disabled people I know. They’re people with big dreams and independent lives, as we’d all aspire to be.
But that’s all in jeopardy. Soon, for some of the people who need this support, just being able to leave their house could be a distant dream.
The reason we were there in the snow was to join a vigil protesting the Government’s closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), as the High Court was about to hear a case challenging the Government’s consultation about the decision to close it.
“What kind of country are we? What kind of country do we want to be? Closing the ILF would isolate many disabled people, making them invisible. This is unacceptable in Britain in the 21st century.”
“This is not just about us now, it’s about the future too.”
These were the words of two of the eloquent and moving speakers, spelling out what it would mean to lose the support of the ILF. I believe passionately that we in Britain do care about being a fair society where everyone should be free to lead their life. But the danger now is that we backtrack 30 years to a horrendous vision someone today described as “a ‘feed and clean’ culture in which disabled people are forced to lie in bed in incontinence pads and eat sandwiches”.
Read some of the stories that people have shared recently about what the ILF means to their life and you can’t help but feel the importance of the ILF and social care.
Freedom. Independence. Dignity. These can feel like grand, empty words — until you hear the heartbreak of the everyday realities when care and support is taken away. Having to go for days without a shower; having to make your six-year-old son care for you; simply not being able to get out of your house and do what you want to do, as Scope and four other charities detailed recently. You and I wouldn’t stand for it: no-one should have to.
It’s no wonder pressure is growing on the Government to deal with the crisis in social care for disabled people. As one activist wrote today, “even in these difficult times, can the Coalition rise to this vital challenge, or will the life chances of disabled people be destroyed for a generation?”