Category Archives: Who do we need to convince?

“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire.”– Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point

We have big ambitions to change public attitudes and get major political action to raise disabled people’s living standards. Who’s most important to reach? Who’s most influential? Who do we start with who can spread change across society?

Check out our thinking and let us know your ideas.

Attitudes meet actions: how does Britain feel about disability?

The game changers

joeJoe Hall is National Campaigns Manager at Scope

As part of developing our next campaign, we’re trying to build a clearer picture of what’s happening in Britain in 2013 and how it’s affecting disabled people’s lives. We’ve just completed two pieces of research to begin finding the answers to some big questions.

1. What are the public’s attitudes to disabled people in Britain today?

One of the main aims for our campaign is to shift negative attitudes. Disabled people have told us for a long time that this is a problem. Last year, around the time of the Paralympics, surveys pointed to an improvement in the way the public thought of disability. But you don’t change attitudes in a fortnight and a year on, disabled people and their families say we need to challenge ignorance, prejudice and especially the belief that many disabled people are ‘benefit scroungers’.

We recently worked with Opinium to run a survey of more than a thousand people, gauging their knowledge of and attitudes to disability. There’s some sobering reading in the early results.

  • Most people believe disabled people face some prejudice. It’s thought-provoking that there is awareness – and could be useful as a basis for getting the public behind campaigns for change.
  • Nearly half the respondents said that some or most of the time they have a negative view of disabled people – whether it’s feeling disabled people are ‘getting in the way’, ‘not as productive’ (linked to the idea of ‘benefit scroungers’) or feeling ‘discomfort and awkwardness’ around them. It’s striking as people often tend to give more positive answers in surveys – answering what they think they ‘should’ say, not being this blunt.
  • Dig a little deeper and people admitted to being especially uncomfortable around learning difficulties and mental health issues.

The results show that not everyone thinks the same, and this could tell us where we need to focus our efforts.

  • The initial findings indicate that if you’re younger, a man, better off and / or live in urban areas in the Midlands and South-East, you tend to have the most negative attitudes towards disabled people.
  • Conversely women, older people, those less well off, people in the North and Scotland, are all more likely to have more positive views of disabled people.

What shapes people’s attitudes?

It’s likely to be a mix of things that influence each person. But it’s revealing that the vast majority of people had little or very little knowledge of disability and many said they didn’t have a close relationship with a disabled person.

Hold this evidence about public attitudes in your head as you get the flipside.

2. How does this fit with disabled people’s experiences?

The other main aim of our campaign is to influence the next Government to improve disabled people’s standard of living. That means the things we all need and expect, like:

  • being supported when we’re young
  • having a decent education
  • having a good job
  • making our own decisions
  • having enough money to live and being able to save for our future.

If you’re disabled, too often you don’t get a fair shot at these.

Why do disabled people think this is happening?

We recently surveyed disabled people and family members on their experiences in major areas of life. What do they feel is holding them back?

What looks likely is that people’s attitudes are having a direct impact on disabled people having lower living standards. They aren’t two separate issues; they’re interrelated. Here are a couple of areas where it came out strongly.

  • In mainstreams schools, half of disabled pupils said the greatest barriers to their learning was feeling self-conscious about their disability and feeling there was nobody that they could talk to. Things like physical access were an issue too, but some of the greatest obstacles they faced were about the social environment: can their teachers and their peers relate to them? Is it ok to talk about disability at school?
  • In employment, the two changes disabled people most wanted in the workplace were modified working hours and modified duties to allow for their impairment. But only a minority of those who wanted these changes could get them from their employer. Could this be partly due to negative attitudes about what disabled people could achieve in the workplace and / or a lack of understanding about the support disabled people need? Are there parallels with what disabled people say about their experiences in schools: is it ok to talk about disability at work?

What this adds up to – and hope for change

It’s not surprising that there seems to be a link between society’s attitudes and disabled people’s experiences. Individuals make up institutions, whether it’s schools, companies or political parties. The attitudes of your teachers and colleagues affect your experiences of education and work. And broader public attitudes shape Government decides policy. It works the other way round too ‒ the institutions, systems and communities we’re part of shape our attitudes.

We don’t yet know enough to say how we can conquer these challenges. How can negative attitudes, discomfort and awkwardness be overcome? A few other initial findings from the survey of the general public give cause for hope.

  • The better you know a disabled person, the less likely you are to feel uncomfortable or awkward around disabled people in general. Finding ways to broker or strengthen personal relationships could be a powerful route to change if done in the right way.
  • The more people know about disability, the less likely they are to think negatively about disabled people.
  • People who value equality, freedom and independence tend to be more accepting and more comfortable around disabled people. Appealing to these values in what we do and say could shift deep attitudes.

These might not sound like earth-shattering insights, but it’s all too easy to overlook  that there are ways to break down barriers.

What do you think?

We feel there’s an important picture beginning to emerge from these findings. We have further to go to work out what it means for our campaign – and we’d love your views. Contribute to the thinking ‒ please leave a comment below.

Please note, this is just the summary of a rich study. We can’t share all the results at this stage as we want to keep some back for possible media work next year – as we said we’d have to do sometimes in the community guidelines. But we’d love your take on these initial findings.

How can we change attitudes?

The game changers

Guest post from Jo Davies, who is Campaigns Lead at Mencap.

Most campaigning organisations want to change society’s attitudes in some way or another. For an organisation like Mencap – which is working towards a society where people with a learning disability are valued equally, listened to and included – it is one of the main things we want to do. Our reasons are simple: most people don’t know much about learning disability – or any kind of disability – and this lack of knowledge leads to all sorts of misconceptions, uneasiness and prejudice.

Let me give you an example. I was telling some friends of mine about going to my colleague’s hen do, without much intrigue, until I mentioned that the hen had a learning disability. This group of well-educated, open-minded (and also very nice) people was totally unaware that someone with a learning disability would want to, or even could be allowed to, get married.

It’s no wonder that so many people lack awareness or understanding of what having a disability is like – the ‘average’ person will not go to school, work, or live alongside someone with a disability. So there is no reason why they should know, or want to know, much about these people who are invisible in their world. And this invisibility makes it possible for huge numbers of disabled people to be victims of hate crime, to die needlessly in the NHS, and to have their financial and social care support stripped away, without much opposition from most people.

So what can we – as an organisation, as a sector and as a society do to change this? There is of course no easy answer to this question, and no simple solution to this very complex problem. While we must focus some of our efforts on long-term change, part of our job must also be to challenge attitudes towards disabled people that aren’t what they should be in the here and now.

At Mencap we recently found ourselves responding to two separate incidents of vitriolic anti-disability sentiment from one would-be and one current local councillor, both advocating that disabled children should be killed – or not allowed to be born – because they cost taxpayers too much money and were a burden on their family and the state. As you can probably imagine, it was hard to put into words just how we felt at hearing such hateful views. But rather than fight fire with fire and spread the hate, we encouraged people to respond on social media with messages of love and strength: parents sharing stories of how much joy and pride their disabled children bring to their lives, adults with a learning disability writing blogs on the contribution they make to their families, workplaces and communities, all using #notaburden. Thousands of people took part in the discussion on Facebook and Twitter, and potentially hundreds of thousands of people saw the tweets and posts.

This was such a powerful way to refute the uninformed and hugely insulting comments, putting real disabled children and their families at the heart of the outrage. It also gave us the opportunity to give uninitiated people an insight into the life of a dad, aunt or sister of a disabled person, with one clear message: ‘I wouldn’t change it for the world’. While this alone may not have had a big impact on society, it is an example of how negative attitudes can be challenged and positive attitudes instilled. All it took was people with real experience of disability – disabled people, their family and friends – to give others a glimpse into their lives, and let them see for themselves.

If you would like to submit your story or find out more about the Game Changers community, visit the Game Changers website.

DLA and the road to independence

The game changers


Amy Jones is a disability rights activist with cerebral palsy. She’s passionate about social justice and cake. She is also the author of the blog In Bloom.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – We’ve probably all heard of it, but not everyone knows how much this benefit means to disabled people. As a young lady with cerebral palsy, I want to share with you how precious DLA has been for my independence and ambitions. In case you don’t know, DLA is paid to disabled people to help towards the extra costs of their disability and to enable them to cope with the daily challenges their disability presents. In my case, DLA enabled me to move away from home and go to university. DLA gave me access to social care, which meant that I could get help with dressing, preparing food, food shopping, and household chores. Without this help, I would not have been able to go to university and fulfill my lifelong ambition of getting a degree, simply because I would be unable to perform the basic aspects of daily living.

I knew from a young age that a degree could prove invaluable for my future employment prospects, being physically disabled, I realised my options for jobs were limited. So DLA will probably inadvertently help me get a job because it has enabled me to go to university and study for a degree which will make me employable.

My story is not unique, DLA helps disabled people participate in society. It gives them help with daily living. It enables employment and education. And it allows disabled people to meet their friends, go places and better manage their disabilities. Put simply, DLA is the fabric of a compassionate and civilised society because if you remove disabled people’s DLA, you are actively removing their support, which will stamp out their dignity, independence and ambitions.

If you would like to submit your story or find out more about the Game Changers community, visit the Game Changers website.

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 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?”

Pat’s Petition

The game changers

Pats Banner - photo


Campaigning on any issue is a great way to get involved in something that you’re passionate about. Disabled people and carers used to feel left out, when every campaign involved a march to Hyde Park. But now the internet has made it easier to connect with others across the country, a new group of campaigners are finding it easier to get involved. The networks are growing.

Pat’s Petition

We came together in a heart beat with a message. Seven women who had never met – all disabled and/or carers – desperate about the tsunami of cuts and threats falling on disabled people and carers. We had no plan – just a petition on the government website.

Two years later we don’t recognise ourselves. We are a close, well organised team and above all we are friends. But hard work and a common cause will do that to you. Sadly during this time one of our members died, but her spirit is still part of our team

We have in our way achieved part of what we set out to do. When we started our campaign, not many had heard the term Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA). Now it is a key demand amongst disability campaigners. In July Pat and Rosemary went to Westminster and attended a debate in Parliament calling for a CIA. We set out to get a debate and we achieved that. But the fight goes on.

No one could possibly say this attack on benefits and services is over – this is only the end of the beginning. And we are fighting as hard as ever.
Do we have any advice for other campaigners?

If you look at our web site you can see the details of what we did. The words of our petition, the hard work , the people who supported us. But perhaps the secret doesn’t lie in the details.

The public are confused. They don’t necessarily have a lot of time or interest in disability matters if they have not yet had experience of disability in their own lives. Perhaps the most important thing is the message. If you can take the time to get that right, then the message will deliver itself. It needs your support and dedication, it needs your help. It needs every one to work together. But the right message will grow wings and fly.

Watch out for new messages from Pat’s Petition. But in the mean time – we don’t have that Cumulative Impact Assessment yet. Sign the WOW petition

Who do we need to convince?


Changing Britain to be a fairer place for disabled people is a big ask. We can’t convince everyone straight away; we need to start somewhere.

One of the things we know is that more than any other age, younger people tend to be against benefits for disabled people. Benefits are by no means the whole story, but disabled people tell us that they feel the benefit scrounger narrative is a big part of negative attitudes towards them. Why do young people feel this way about giving people support?

Younger people mistrust politics more than ever before, and they are less likely to vote, so do they really hold sway with politicians? Is it a lost cause because no-on listens to young people?

On the flipside, take the word “politics” out and young people can be a passionate, energised force for change. Many young people are involved in issues from the environment to human rights – could they be a big part of the solution on disability issues, too?

We’re inspired by what young people are doing, from young disabled people’s groups like the Trailblazers to (often younger) Oxjam organisers around the country putting on gigs for a cause. They’ve got time, energy and enthusiasm and they are the next generation who will run this country.

How important do you think young people are for our campaign? What role could they want to play?