(from Freedom, March 2012)
Some time ago a colleague had a serious accident. It meant that for a time he couldn’t walk or put any weight on his legs. He coped okay with all that, but found it really difficult when he tried to get anywhere, and the reaction of people to him once he was seen as ‘disabled’. Buses would drive straight past the stop even though they were empty and, even when they did stop, he would have to wait for several to pass until one arrived where the wheelchair space wasn’t taken up by a buggy. The driver didn’t see it as his job to ask the parent and child to move; therefore a bus journey becomes entirely unpredictable.
Once on the bus, or at the shops, people would stare and just talk to his wife, ignoring him. Some would glare and make comments like “you don’t look disabled”. He knew he would get better, but learned a real appreciation of the struggles faced by another colleague who was permanently disabled, and deteriorating.
I recount this because if you are not disabled or in regular contact with someone who is, you might miss just how hard it can be. And it’s about to get harder. I’m not going to address the use of the term ‘disabled’ or what it means in today’s society. Some things which are classified as disabilities only really apply in capitalist society, other conditions may not be recognised.
I believe in “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” I suspect the government and their chums in big business find this whole idea a bit threatening. If someone needs extra support because of their disability, they should get it. The government and their allies in the right wing media have whipped up a storm about “disabled scroungers”. As part of their blatant divide and rule strategy, there has been a constant flow of stories about bogus claimants, taxpayer funded cars and people on disability allowances performing amazing physical feats. People lap this up and some imagine that the majority of claims for disabled benefits are fraudulent. In fact, the actual proportion is 1 in 200, and it is less than the proportion of mistakes made by officials.
In this climate, people start to get hurt. A man with MS in the North East was taunted and had his house attacked by a neighbour. In 2007 in Leicestershire, Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her daughter, who had learning difficulties, after a campaign of bullying by local youths. She had reported it to the police over thirty times. Charities are reporting a rise in calls from people who are afraid to go out. One woman using crutches reported being abused for “scrounging” on her way to work!
Bear in mind this is being driven by Ian Duncan Smith, a “compassionate conservative”. Who knows how bad it would be if one of the real vicious bastards was in charge?
Disabled activists have responded on several levels to the government’s attacks. They have taken apart the government’s plans with the Spartacus Report, written by activists, which went viral on the internet and contributed to some of the government’s plans being voted down. The report showed that the government had “entirely misrepresented the views submitted as part of the consultation, giving a partial and biased view.” Or lied, if you want to use plain English.
They have also organised demonstrations and other actions. This self-organisation is excellent, but it needs solidarity, particularly as the very act of fighting is itself a stress. The solidarity of others better able to fight is not just an ideal though, it is in our own interests. After all, if we live long enough we will all end up disabled in one shape or form.
(this article originally appeared in Freedom, March 2012)