On Thursday March 31st I appeared on ITV's This Morning, alongside regular presenters Ruth Langsford and Rylan Clark, as the show featured the story of Gordon Frazer and his daughter Lucy's fight to get a stair lift fitted to her home to enable her father to get up stairs. At present Mr Frazer is left to have to crawl up stairs, which has led to several injuries and is causing his condition to worsen while the family battles with their local council. I was there to give advice on accessible design, adaptation of buildings and the laws around equality and provision for disabled and sick people. Later in the show there was a phone where other families contacted the show with their issues and questions, but what happened after the show has really shocked me. Almost as soon as I got home my Facebook page became flooded with people seeking me help, with stories that broke my heart. Just how many people were in difficulties following changes to the support disabled people receive broke my heart. If I don't know how bad it is, how can the rest of the public have any idea?
The weekend before the This Morning slot my wife and I spent a night out with two of our best friends. We soon started debating politics and the resignation of Ian Duncan Smith and the recent budget. My friends were amazed when I explained how disabled people didn't really see IDS as a hero for highlighting the injustice of the changes to the Personal Independence Payment out lined in the budget, or praise him for the fact they have been withdrawn... for now. I found myself having to explain how during the coalition and this government's term disabled people have been at the coal face of a series of cuts that have undone so many of the provisions created to allow us to live empowered and independent lives. They sat open mouthed as I described the change from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance, which just had £30 per week deducted from it following a vote that IDS was well behind. The new benefit's name alone creates the impression that the people claiming it are not unable to work and plays into a stereotype reinforced by government and media spin that there are untold people fraudulently claiming benefits. When I explained the real fraud for benefits paid to people unable to work was less than between 0.3% and 0.5% they nearly fell off their chairs. Not exactly rife then, and I obviously pointed out that if you are fraudulently claiming a benefit for disabled people then you aren't disabled!
When I detailed how the closure of the Independent Living Fund has led to many disabled people, who require a very high level of assistance to live, finding their support being cut from twenty four hour seven days a week to two to three half hour visits per day tears came to their eyes. The ILF was a system that allowed disabled people to hire the people who were to provide their daily care, and design their care package to suit their own needs. All the people I know who received the ILF work, thus paying tax, and lived happy empowered lives. All of this has been undone by the closure of the ILF, and everyday I hear of another friend who is having their care package shrunk to almost nothing endangering all areas of their lives, including their ability to work. Rather terrible coming from a government that is always banging on about getting disabled people into employment eh?
The benefit changes that caused the recent IDS/Budget brouhaha were to the PIP. This used to be the Disability Living Allowance, which gave a small weekly payment to disabled people to cover those extra costs of being disabled. For example, my wheelchair costs over £5000 and it's pretty essential to my getting around. The Mobility component was created as it was obviously cheaper to pay disabled people who needed help getting around a few extra quid a week than to suddenly make the entire UK public transport system fully accessible and inclusive. In London alone this would run into billions. Another part of DLA was a little cash, £80 ish at the most, for those people who required help with day to day activities. For example, rather than have to pay a specialist to visit daily to help with dressing DLA was a little benefit to help a family member to give assistance. PIP was introduced and part of the roll out is the reassessment of all recipients of DLA, including those who have conditions that are life long or even progressive. Each reassessment has a cost so how the government can claim to be wanting to save money is beyond me. All this change really does is lessen the amount of support disabled people received while filling the pockets of the private companies hired to run the reassessments. My friends and I changed the subject to something less depressing and had a great night out.
Then yesterday I popped up to my home town to visit my family and by brother Steve showed me an article in The Sun criticizing my input into the This Morning program. Believe it or not, rather than focus on the real life stories of the people we chatted with, The Sun decided to be outraged because I said the phrase "don't have a leg to stand on". This encapsulates why disabled people face so much discrimination at present. A national news paper ignores the truth of how our government has targeted support for disabled people and feigns shock that person who cannot walk might use a term about standing. Or something, I'm still not sure what their problem was. But it explains why my friends had no idea of what is going on for disabled people right now, and why the last question I am always asked when discussing disability issues is "but it's getting better isn't it?". Short answer, no.
Photos by Diane Wallace, by permission