Tag Archives: disability

It’s time to re-open the debate on attitudes to disability

XIV Paralympic Games
One year on from the Paralympic Games – have attitudes changed?

This week the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey published her plans for “further lasting change to attitudes and aspirations”.

In a couple of months we will be marking the one year anniversary of the Paralympics; a whole year since Lord Coe said we’d never look at disability the same again.

If we want to make this a better place for disabled people we have to start by improving public attitudes to disability.

Disabled people tell us that attitudes continue to be an issue

It’s all about visibility. Most non-disabled people don’t meet disabled people, so what gets broadcast is crucial in shaping attitudes.

The Minister told parliament she wants to “harnesses the inspirational power of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – aiming to deliver further lasting change to attitudes and aspirations”.

She is right that the Paralympics were a break-through moment. Disability has never been talked about so openly; disabled people have never been so visible. Positive portrayals of disabled people out-weighed the benefits scrounger rhetoric. Polling straight after the games showed an impact on the public’s view of disability.

You don’t change attitudes in a fortnight

Lord Coe recently told the Lords that you have to talk about legacy in terms of ten years. However one year on it is the right to time to start asking where things are at when it comes to attitudes to disability.

Jack Carroll came second in this year’s Britain’s Got Talent (Photo credit: University of Salford)

Over the last year, parts of the media have built on the legacy of visibility. We’ve seen mainstream films tackle disability and sex. We’ve seen channel four stick to its commitment to disability programming and pushing through disabled. We’ve seen a young man with cerebral palsy finish second in Britain’s Got Talent.

But elsewhere we’ve also seen a ramping up of the ‘benefit scrounger rhetoric’ and the on-going misuse of welfare stats. We’ve seen a councillor in Cornwall compare disabled children to deformed lambs, which should be put down. Glastonbury 2013 may have been the best yet, but recent research showed that festivals are less than committed when it comes to giving disabled people the chance to attend.

Scope wants to know what you think

Do you think attitudes to disability are a problem? Have you seen them get better or worse in the last year? Comment below, tweet us or let us know on Facebook.

Six talking points from the Spending Review

Young disabled man outdoors with personal assistant

1. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

Good news? Okay… the Chancellor has announced a £3.8 billion investment – including £2 billion of new money – in social care: the support disabled people get from their council to get up, get washed and dressed, and live independently.

The official document says, “This shared pot includes an additional £2 billion from the NHS and builds on the existing contribution of around £1 billion in 2014–15, with the aim of delivering better, more joined-up services to older and disabled people, to keep them out of hospital and to avoid long hospital stays”.

Here’s why this cash is welcome. The social care system is on its knees. Cash-strapped councils have been upping the bar for support eligibility, with 83% 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.

At the same time councils are squeezing the support for those that are in the system. A Scope survey found almost 40% of disabled people who continue to receive social care support are not having their basic needs met including eating properly, washing, dressing or being able to get out of the house.

Take away the preventative support and people fall into crisis. Have a listen to Angela Murray explain why social care is so important to her.

2. The ‘how’ is really important

Given that we now also know that councils are facing a further 10% cut in their budgets, a crucial piece of detail is how the cash gets to frontline social care. ADASS have said that previous injections of cash have instead disappeared into the black-hole of council budgets.

The documents talk about pooled budgets and NHS money being made available to councils through ‘local health and care systems’, which – in an exclusive for the HSJ – Jeremy Hunt explains will be achieved through Health & Wellbeing Boards. A cross-part panel of MPs and Peers recently argued that this would give it a better chance of reaching the people that need it. The official document explains that the Government is “putting £3.8 billion in a single pooled budget for health and social care services to work more closely together in local areas, based on a plan agreed between the NHS and local authorities”.

3. Britain Cares about social care

Today’s spending review announcement follows six months of campaigning. The innovative Stephen Fry-backed Britain Cares campaign, has seen over 25,000 people contact their MP about social care for disabled people – a thousand of who have sent personalised photos to show they care.

At the same time a young disabled woman from Luton – and former volunteer of the year – Angela launched a petition on Change.org which has received more than 45,000 signatures. She handed it in to 11 Downing Street on Monday.

4. But don’t celebrate just yet

The crucial question is now who gets care and who doesn’t. The announcement comes as the Care Bill is debated in the Lords over the coming week. The reforms seek to tackle the crisis in care by introducing a cap on costs, a new means-testing threshold and national eligibility to end the postcode lottery in care.

But under the current  plans – reiterated in the Spending Review – the Government will raise the bar for eligibility to social care to a level which London School of Economics (LSE) says will leave 105,000 disabled people with significant needs outside of the system altogether. They need that support to live independent lives. Without it, they are left isolated and in crisis.

5. And the really bad news…

The Government was briefing that there would be no further cuts on welfare. But that’s exactly what a cap on so-called Annually Managed Expenditure could mean. AME is Government spending which includes welfare and state pension bills. The Government is capping about half the budget. The Chancellor confirmed this will definitely include benefits for disabled people.

This means that regardless of how many disabled people need financial support, if the public finances take another nose dive, the Government could pull the plug on support for disabled people just when they really need it. This is ludicrous. Some disabled people will always need financial support. It doesn’t make them scroungers or skivers.

6. But let’s end on a positive note

The Chancellor committed to continue to spend £350m on employment support for disabled people. This mainly funds Access to Work and Work Choice. This support is especially important when you consider the growing consensus that the Work Programme (not linked to this funding) isn’t effectively supporting disabled people and ESA claimants. This will come to a head when the DWP publishes performance statistics for the Work Programme on Thurs June 27th.  It’s becoming ever more clear we need new solutions for getting disabled people into work.

With every Spending Review there’s is a lot to take in. But at a time when the Government is bringing in £11.5bn of cuts, an investment of £3bn into local support for disabled people is certainly good news.

Has the sector run out of steam?

From April disabled people – already struggling to make ends meet – will lose some £28 billion of financial support to help them with the extra costs of living in a world not designed for them.

This is on top of a squeeze in the support they receive from councils to do the basics such as getting up, getting dressed and getting washed.

Against this backdrop it’s no surprise that people are wondering what happened to the ‘Paralympics effect’.

It’s a bleak picture.

Where does this leave organisations like Scope and others, who exist to try and make this country a better place for disabled people?

Last year the Guardian’s David Brindle said that disability campaigners had come to a cross roads.

He suggested the Disability Movement – which has been leading the fight for equality for more than 40 years – might have run out of steam, having largely won the arguments for full civil rights and the right to live in the community, in principle if not yet in practice.

It feels like the right time to revisit this point.

I don’t agree that the Movement has run out steam. If anything, there is increased energy and drive.

For the first time in years disabled people have been taking to the streets. Campaigners such as the We Are Spartacus movement, Pat’s Petition andDisabled People Against Cuts, who use social media to connect, inspire and organise have re-invigorated campaigning.

The energy exists. For me the question is where to direct it?

The cuts are a natural galvanising point – some disabled people will be hit by six benefit cuts simultaneously – decimating their income and their life chances.

But it has to be about more than cuts. Disabled people have spent decades campaigning to be treated as citizens with rights and a contribution to make. The cuts agenda has revived the discredited deserving and undeserving poor labels that we rejected years ago and does nothing to advance disabled people’s citizenship.

At the same time it’s also too simplistic to say that we just need to build on the Paralympics effect. The Paralympics were a break-through moment – disabled people have never been so visible, disability has never been so openly discussed and celebrated. But we need to be asking how we can make all disabled people – not just gold medal-winning athletes and TV personalities – more visible and better understood.

One thing we do know is that we can’t change anything without working side-by side with colleagues in the Disability Movement, in Government, in Opposition and local government and the wider sector. It’s not always easy. At the heart of this has always been a healthy debate.

In this spirit I’d like to pose four questions. I’ll say upfront that I don’t have the answers. But I think it’s time to start the debate: #disabilitywhatnext?

  1. How do we make the general public care? A recent survey showed people’s support for disabled people receiving state support is dwindling. Disability is an increasingly common experience, it can happen to anyone, and with an ageing population, increasingly, it will. But it doesn’t resonate with the public. We can’t convince the Government to be more proactive and thoughtful if this issue doesn’t echo from their focus groups.
  2. How do we make politicians see disability as a pressing political issue? Disability is not a uniform experience, it affects people differently. The old distinctions between those who can work and can’t, those who need support and those who don’t, are no longer fit for purpose. As more and more people live with disability of some sort, our structures need to reflect this experience in a more sophisticated and personalised way. We can no longer afford to write off disabled people as scroungers or dependents with nothing to contribute.
  3. How can we mainstream the Paralympics effect? We saw a new openness when it comes to disability. People stopped walking on egg shells. They asked questions. They began to think differently. How do we build on this to lift the fear of talking about disability and creating spaces where honest but respectful conversations about bodies, minds and difference can happen?
  4. Despite the new voices the numbers of people who self-identify as disabled and are actively involved in advocating for improved life opportunities for disabled people remains small. There are 11 million disabled people in the UK. Where are they all? At a time when disabled people’s quality of life is threatened like never before, how can we do to get more people involved in the political debate?

To answer these questions we need to put aside old rivalries and come together, disabled and non-disabled allies alike, to forge a new vision of what life should look like for disabled people in 2013 and beyond. The consequences of not doing this don’t bear thinking about.

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.