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Have the Paralympics improved the daily lives of disabled people?

To mark the anniversary of the Paralympics we wanted to know if disabled people thought London 2012 has improved their lives.

Lord Coe says legacy is a ten year task, but this is a useful point to ask how things are going.

In July the Government argued that the “Games improved attitudes to disability and provided new opportunities for disabled people to participate in society”.

Two well-known former Paralympians – Ade Adepitan and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson – have recently had their say.

But the views of ordinary disabled people are missing from the debate.

Over the last month we’ve been gathering their comments and opinions – through a poll of a thousand disabled people, through social media and also by looking at what they’ve been telling Scope recently about their lives in 2013.

We think this provides pretty compelling evidence that the Paralympics Legacy hangs in the balance.

There’s lots of ways to tackle the issue of legacy.

But we thought we’d take as our starting point, what the Government said it was hoping for: a change in attitudes and improvements participation in sport and community engagement.

We review these ambitions below and also on the Scope blog publish a collection of quotes and comments from the disabled people we spoke to.

Changing attitudes

Disabled people feel strongly that what’s said publicly is crucial in shaping attitudes. Behind this is the shocking fact that 90% of Britons have never had a disabled person in their house for a social occasion.

So it’s no surprise that disabled people, charities and the Government all saw the Paralympics as an opportunity improve hardening attitudes.

And – in the short term at least – most people think it did just that.

Surveys in the aftermath of the games pointed to an improvement in public attitudes. Lord Coe declared that ‘we’d never view disability in the same way’.

Scope’s new poll backs this up. Some 70% of disabled people think that the coverage of the Paralympic games had a positive effect on public perceptions.

Scope’s chair Alice Maynard describes the Paralympics as “a breakthrough moment”. She says: “Disabled people had never been so visible. Disability had never been talked about so openly”

But where are we one year on?

Recent Government figures show that over half of a sample of the public (regardless of whether they are disabled or not) said the Paralympics gave them a positive view of disability.

There have been moments when – like in 2012 – positive disabled role models have had a high profile in the media. Channel 4 brought back the Last Leg. Comedian Francesca Martinez hailed comedy as the new Paralympics following disabled comedian Jack Carroll star-turn on Britain’s Got Talent.

British double leg amputee and Paralympic Gold medalist, Richard Whitehead, is running a marathon a day this summer from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

But our new poll suggests that despite all this, disabled people remain concerned by public attitudes to disability.

81% of disabled people say that attitudes towards them haven’t improved in the last twelve months – with 22% saying that things have actually got worse.

Of the respondents who have experienced a decline in people’s attitudes over the past year, 84% think media coverage of benefit claims and the welfare system has had a negative effect on public attitudes.

That last point is crucial.

Despite welfare fraud being 0.7% of the benefits budget, the Government regularly contrasts the hard working person gets up early for work, to his benefits claiming neighbour’s whose blinds are pulled.

Cabinet members have had their wrists slipped for misusing welfare statistics. But people continue to think benefit fraud is worse than it is.

Tanni Grey-Thompson recently summed up the impact of the myth that most people who claim benefits are scroungers: “I’ve lost track of the number of letters from disabled people who have been spat at in the street…One letter I received described how a disabled person was in a bus queue and someone came up and started asking them how many thousands in benefits they were costing.”

The Government’s own analysis of 2012 legacy raises this as an issue. Against this back drop, it says: “How long the uplift in public attitudes will last is more questionable”.

That’s why Scope is using the anniversary to call on the Government to halt the scrounger rhetoric once and for all.

Participating in sport and engaging in the community

One important fact first: the 2012 had a huge impact on Paralympics sport. As the head of the British Paralympics Association recently underlined, its profile and its funding are both greatly improved. Paralympians go to Rio with huge confidence.

But for ordinary disabled people the jury’s out.

The Government says “Participation in sport and recreational activity by disabled people increased by 4.2 percentage points in 2012 from 2005/06”.

Sport England says 362,000 more disabled people now play sport than in 2005, but it is estimated that only 18% of disabled adults undertake physical activity for more than 30 minutes a week, and those with impairments are still around half as likely to be active than their able-bodied counterparts.

This is echoed in Scope’s poll, which reveals only 10% felt that the Paralympics had inspired them to take up a new sport or re-visit a sport they once did.

Meanwhile when it comes to volunteering, the Government says: “The Games also opened up a range of volunteering, cultural and sporting opportunities for disabled people that did not exist before. Participation in volunteering by disabled people increased year-on-year to 2012, compared to 2005/06, and 4% of Games Maker volunteers had a disability.

But Research by Disability Rights UK and Community Service Volunteers has found evidence that many people with disabilities are experiencing a surprising level of difficulty in finding volunteering roles.

As Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said recently: “If you can’t get out of bed or get washed in the morning, then you can’t change the way people think, you can’t take part in sport and you are not going to be involved in the community.”

Disabled people have three big challenges before they even get to the sports club or volunteering centre: getting the basic support from their council, getting about and paying the bills.

Getting the basic support

Disabled people rely on support from their councils to get up, get dressed, get washed and get out of the house.

But councils have been upping the bar for eligibility, with 83 per cent of councils now setting the threshold at a higher level. According to London School of Economics 69,000 disabled people have been pushed out of the system. Support for those in the system is being squeezed. A Scope survey found almost 40 per cent of disabled people who continue to receive social care support are not having their basic needs.

Angela from Luton talks about the impact this has on her.

The Government recently committed to investing £3.8bn in social care and its Care Bill reforms are introducing a cap on costs and national eligibility to end the postcode lottery in care.  But the Government has also said the plans will set as standard the higher level that most councils have moved to. According to the London School of Economics (LSE) this will leave 105,000 disabled people outside of the system.

Paying the bills

Life becomes more expensive if you’re disabled and you’re more likely to be on a low income if you are disabled. Living costs are spiraling and income is flatlining for everyone. But recent research showed just how tough things are for disabled people.

One in ten disabled people have used doorstep loans, compared to just 3% of the general population. Fifteen per cent of disabled people – over double the rate for the public (7%) – use loans to make ends meet.

Here’s Susan from Ealing talking about her financial predicament.

What’s the Government’s response to the financial crisis facing disabled people? It is taking away £28bn of financial support, sticking with both the broken system for deciding if disabled people are entitled to out-of-work support and the discredited Work Programme, which has spectacularly failed to support disabled people into work.

Accessibility

There was an ambition for the 2012 Games to be the ‘most accessible ever’ and TFL in particular took measures to improve accessibility. But in 2013 it remains a fact that 66 of the 270 Tube stations are step-free. ONS data shows that nearly half disabled people have had issues access leisure activities.

Scope polling suggests the real issue when it comes to accessibility people’s willingness to do something different or be flexible to accommodate a disabled person. Last summer 76% of disabled people told us they have experienced people refusing to make adjustments or do things differently. We regularly hear from disabled people who talk about this issue. Buses don’t stop. You’re not let into a club or bar because you ‘look drunk’.

As Scope’s Tom Hall recently told Marketing Week, disabled people and their families represent 20 million potential customers. Both local businesses and big brands should be doing so much more to tap into the £80bn purple pound.

Paralympics Legacy – how do we keep on the right track?

I’ve just spent the weekend watching the Anniversary Games. Clare Balding and Ade Adepitan in the commentary box, Richard Whitehead’s amazing win, and Hannah Cockroft on the front page of the Metro on my commute today – it felt like a small piece of last summer all over again.

I’ve looked back at a rather excitable blog that I wrote last year, after spending the day at the Olympic Park.

I was full of Paralympic buzz, and as chief executive of a disability charity, it felt amazing to see so many people talking about and watching disabled athletes.

Research showed what we had all hoped – that, looking beyond sport, the Paralympics had the power to change attitudes towards disabled people.

But away from the euphoria of the Olympic Park and there’s another side to the story. We’ve been asking disabled people over the last few weeks to tell us whether they think the Paralympics change their lives for the better.

Many contrast the positivity of the Paralympics with how tough their life is right now.

The Government hoped more disabled people would play sport.

The jury’s out on whether this happened.

The Government points to small rise in the number of people taking up sport. But independent research shows just a handful of sports clubs had facilities for disabled people.

Disabled people we speak to echo Tanni Grey Thompson’s point, which is that if you can’t get out of the house or pay the bills, it’s not easy to play sport.

You can’t separate Paralympics legacy from the squeeze we’re seeing in local care and support. And you can’t separate legacy from the financial difficulties facing disabled people right now.

Parents of young disabled children tell us a lot that they really struggle to find fun things that their kids can do – sports or arts clubs, for example – with other children who aren’t disabled. Lord Coe, speaking on 5Live, said there was more work to do when it came to disabled children and sport in schools.

At the heart of legacy is the idea of changing attitudes.

“Visibility” is a word that I kept using last summer. The best thing for me about the Games – beyond the adrenaline and the excitement – was the sheer visibility of disabled people.

The Paralympics achieved record ticket sales, and record-breaking viewer numbers on Channel 4. Many people visiting the Games were struck by the number of disabled spectators.

The fact is that shockingly few people actually know a disabled person. So what is said publically, and in the media, is shapes attitudes towards disability.

Jump ahead one year from London 2012 and open a newspaper. We are sadly now more used to reading headlines about disabled people which include the words “benefit cheat”, than ones celebrating success.

This is even acknowledged in the Government’s recent report into legacy, which highlights that any positive shifts in attitudes during the Games are likely to have been undone by the debate over welfare reforms.

Triple gold winner Sophie Christensian has called the Paralympics a “turning point in perception.” I love this description. But now we have turned, how do we keep on the right track?

Last summer was a breakthrough moment. But many disabled people think that the buzz of last summer is well and truly over.

Legacy is a long-term project. But we need to start by making sure disabled people can live independently, can make ends meet and can live in a society that doesn’t write you off just because you’re different and need a little support to get on with your life.

I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts – tell us on Facebook or tweet us @Scope using either #Paralympicseffect or #Paralympicsfail

UK Disability History Month

It was really pleasing to see that nearly 50 MPs signed an Early Day Motion supporting the launch of UK Disability History Month.

At a time when, quite rightly, MPs and disability organisations were focussing on the cost-cutting present, it’s worth remembering that history is important – it’s what makes us who we are, and there are many lessons we can learn from the past.

It’s also important that children today learn that the way disabled people are perceived has changed enormously within living memory. That’s not to say there isn’t ignorance and prejudice (in some so-called comedy, for example) but now disabled kids can see themselves in storybooks and can watch cool role models like Ade Adepitan and Cerrie Burnell on TV.

If disabled people are not visible in the community, the result is that nearly 40% of people (who are not disabled and do not have a disabled family member) don’t know any disabled people.

History and disabled people

And it’s the same with history. I have always felt passionately that history belongs to the people so I was glad that I could work with disabled journalist Chris Davies for Scope’s 50th anniversary to ensure that disabled people’s voices were at the forefront of his book, Changing Society.

One of the people we interviewed was the first disabled trustee and employee of Scope was Bill Hargreaves. Bill had been trying to publish his truly remarkable life story for years but couldn’t find a publisher. I promised him I’d get it into print, but sadly he died before I could – you can read Bill’s story in Can You Manage Stares?

I was pleased to lobby successfully for the inclusion of Bill as the third person with cerebral palsy in the Dictionary of National Biography, after the emperor Claudius (possibly) and Christy Brown, the author of My Left Foot.

Speaking for Ourselves

This got me thinking about who else was being ignored by history? That’s why I set up Scope’s pioneering oral history project, Speaking for Ourselves, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Sixteen disabled volunteers recorded 36 life-stories of people with cerebral palsy over 50. These 234 hours of recorded testimonies are at the British Library Sound Archive.

Our DVD teaching pack was launched in May 2006 and already there have been over 3,500 requests for packs from schools, colleges, local authorities and disability trainers throughout the UK.

As one of our volunteers said, ”Speaking for Ourselves is an exciting and valuable project. Why? Because disabled people are not included in social history. As a disabled woman with cerebral palsy, this opportunity to record our history is long overdue.”

UK Disability History Month is also long overdue; long may it continue!

All of the interviews for Speaking for Ourselves are available to researchers and the general public at the British Library Sound Archive.