Tag Archives: Tanni Grey-Thompson

Reasons I’m against legalising assisted suicide

A new Assisted Dying Bill is due to be considered by the House of Lords.

It’s prompted lots of debate – including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Lord Falconer on Radio 4’s Any Questions.

Scope’s Chair, Dr Alice Maynard, explains why she is against a change in law.

1. A change in the law sends a message to disabled people that their lives are not worth living.

Why is it that when people who are not disabled want to commit suicide, we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide, we focus on how we can make that possible?

I think it stems from a deep-seated belief that the lives of sick and disabled people are not worth as much as other people’s.

You only have to read the news to see that disabled people are still viewed by some as a burden on society and the economy – even by those in elected office.

People may well look at me, as someone with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and think that my life must be dreadful. But I love my life and I’ve achieved a lot.

My concern is what happens when people have the chance to act on these views. I don’t want disabled people, or others such as older people, to become vulnerable to pressure from their families, health professionals, or from society, to end their lives to stop “being a burden”. The current law gives us protection. We shouldn’t change it on the basis of a few understandably heart-breaking cases.

2. It not just about ‘terminal illness’ – it’s about disability

Of course it is about disability. Why is the person at the end of the Dignity in Dying campaign video disabled? Why did Lord Falconer poll disabled people to ask them what they thought if it’s not about them?

This Bill is all about looking at disabled people and saying ‘I’d rather be dead than be like you’. Disabled people hear this all the time – including me.

Lord Falconer even conceded three years ago that assisted suicide should not be offered to disabled people ‘at this point in time’.

Even now, who decides what is terminal? The line between a disabled person whose life-expectancy is shortened and someone with a terminal illness can often be blurred. Prognoses change, people’s circumstances change, and it is notoriously difficult to predict how long someone has to live.

3. International experience shows disabled people who are not terminally ill are using the legislation to end their lives.

Lord Falconer’s Bill is based on the one they use in Oregon, USA. There, 40% of those requesting to end their life do so because they feel a burden on friends and family.

I’ve met people who have experienced very serious accidents, and who begged to be allowed to die because their lives were changed beyond all recognition. Now they are really glad to be here. I worry that a change in the law would lead to people making the biggest decision they can make, when they aren’t in the right frame of mind.

Mental capacity can be affected by all kinds of things, including depression – which often accompanies serious physical illness- and the effect of medication. How can we make sure that the right safeguards are in place to stop people making a decision, when they don’t really have the right information and experience to understand the possibilities?

The key part of the Bill makes no reference to mental health. It would allow disabled people who have mental health problems or who are depressed to end their lives.

Doctors are against it; disability charities are against it; older people charities are against it; palliative care experts are against it. The experts say this is a bad idea.

4. Disabled people want help to live, not to die

I’ve had discussions with disabled people who want assisted suicide to be legalised, because they worry that they won’t get the support that they need when they get older. That shouldn’t be a deciding factor in ending your life.

Disabled people have experienced massive cuts to their support in recent years, leading to many feeling isolated, and unable to even get up and out of the house.

Rather than helping people to end their life, we should be making sure that the system supports disabled people to live their lives to the full, so they have a future worth living for.

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

Where is the Paralympics effect?

As visitors to the Scope website offer their thoughts in a new survey on attitudes to disabled people, one particular question is picking up momentum in the media. Have the Paralympics changed anything for disabled people?

Back in September the consensus was that “we would never look at disability in the same way again”.

For some, that feels like a long time ago.Last month disabled people took to the streets to protest against cuts. Report after report underlines the impact of spiralling living costs, stagnant incomes and the loss of national and local support on the lives of disabled people and their families.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson speaks out

It was Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson who finally said what many people were thinking. In a comment piece last week she described a sports dinner.

“I had to use the back entrance, nothing much unusual or offensive in that. However, I could have got in the front (there was a ramp there albeit tucked away) but the organisers just had not thought about it. When I wanted to use the bathroom it took several minutes to find a ramp. I was also asked if I really needed to “go”. While I was in the bathroom the ramp was taken away, so I could not get back down the steps.”

Tanni asks where the evidence is of a change in attitudes.

A couple of days later she posed an even more challenging question, this time in the Times. Have the Paralympics made it easier for the Government to strip disabled people of vital support by presenting an unrealistic image of what disabled can achieve?

“Don’t be fooled by what Paralympians can do. They are not typical of disabled people. They are remarkably good at the sport they do, but it is not a realistic view of disabled life, no more than Olympians represent anyone else.”

So is it time to write off the Paralympics effect?

Attitudes to disabled people

Disabled people tell Scope that greater visibility and public discussion of their lives makes a difference.

During the Games Ellie Simmonds, David Weir and Jonnie Peacock become national heroes. With Channel 4 leading the way, Disability was consistently, openly and widely talked about like never before. Three different polls taken straight after the games pointed to a change in public attitudes.

But it takes longer than a fortnight to change attitudes.

Times are undoubtedly tough for disabled people. But maybe rather than write the Paralympics effect off, we should be asking what we can do to build on it and keep it going.

What we can do increase disabled people’s visibility in the media, in politics, in the arts and above all in everyday life? (It’s certainly good news that Channel 4’s Last Leg is returning.)

How can use the Paralympics to make the point to the Government that the starting point for welfare should be what do disabled people need to live their lives – not what can we take away to save money?

As Tanni says we need to keep the fight going.

Take part in our attitudes survey

Scope wants to hear your views: take part in our new survey on attitudes to disabled people.