The long fight…

The game changers
Sue-MarshSue Marsh is the author of the blog, Diary of a Benefit Scrounger. A sufferer of severe Crohn’s Disease, Sue campaigns to raise awareness of issues surrounding disability and long-term illness.

For as long as I can remember, sick and disabled people have campaigned hard for equality and inclusion. For the right to work, to live independently, to access transport and public spaces just like anyone might.

We’ve made great progress over the years, but of course there will always be more to do. Sick or disabled people are still less likely to be in work than those without disabilities. We will find that many places cannot accommodate us and all too often, we are still excluded from the choices that allow us control over our own lives.

However, in recent years something much more fundamental has become so important, it might seem that these very basic battles have been abandoned. Of course they haven’t, but before we can fight for true equality, we first need security.

Every human being has the right to security, and that right is enshrined in law. We are entitled to the security of home, family and dignity. We have the right to expect that we can afford to eat and to warm our homes. It is an inescapable truth that many – though of course not all – disabled people need a little help to protect that security. We might need help to get out and about or to dress ourselves. We might need help with personal care or to access transport. If our illness or disability leaves us unable to work or at least to work reliably enough to manage independently, we might need social security to supplement what we can do.

For some time now, that social security has been under threat. Up and down the country, sick and disabled people have seen the support they rely on cut back. They might have lost benefits that helped them to feel secure and to live a life similar to other citizens. They might have lost a mobility car that meant they were able to work or a carer they relied on.

Before we can do anything else, we must be able to dress and clean ourselves, eat and get about. When these most basic of securities are under threat, nothing is more important than making sure they are restored.

Many of us may have thought those battles were won, that we had moved on. Sadly, I believe we now find ourselves forced to fight them all over again.

Only by sharing our own stories, by sharing our lives, can we explain, once again, why security others take for granted is so important to us and why, in many cases, we need help to protect it. It’s frustrating and sometimes perhaps a little insulting, but unless the most fundamental building blocks of life and security are in place, for many, questions of wider access and inclusion are in danger of becoming academic.

Welfare policy undermines disability equality

The game changers

Jane-Young

Jane Young is a campaigner and consultant based in South West London. She is currently campaigning and co-ordinating the ‘We are Spartacus‘ grassroots movement of sick and disabled people.

In recent weeks some commentators have started to highlight the way in which, since 2010, as a direct result of the Government’s unfair and inept welfare reform programme, disability campaigning has become overly focused on the benefits system. A clear example of some of the problems this has created is the debate around Employment and Support Allowance, the Work Capability Assessment and the controversial issue of “fitness for work”.

Sick and disabled people face complex barriers to participation and employment but, in seeking to expose the lunacy of the work capability assessment, much of the media reporting has been guilty of playing right into the Government’s hands. Take headlines that read something like: “Double [lower limb] amputee told he’s fit for work” (shock, horror!). This kind of headline, whilst entirely understandable, misses the point and undermines the inclusion of disabled people. Many double amputees are able to work but simply finding such a person “fit for work” drives them further from the workplace.

A double amputee who has always worked in an occupation that necessitates, for example, the ability to walk without restriction, faces enormous barriers to employment. These barriers include those relating to their impairment – the need to adapt to the use of prostheses and/or a wheelchair, to manage phantom limb pain and stump pain – as well as non-impairment related barriers, including the need to acquire the skills needed for a sedentary job and to overcome the discrimination severely disabled people face in today’s labour market – where employers can choose, from hundreds of applications, an applicant who has no additional support needs. The Government’s Work Programme has been shown to be almost entirely incapable of providing effective support to enable disabled people to face and overcome any of these barriers, whether impairment-related or otherwise.

Most disabled people want to work, but an approach focused on compulsion and sanctions, confining the issues to the benefits system, is doomed to fail. What will enable disabled people to work, if their health allows, is effective, holistic support combined with equality laws that actually make a difference to the way employers behave. The issues go beyond the benefits system; the real question is “how does our society view sick and disabled people?”