While the welfare reforms has brought a large amount of attention to the supposed plight of disabled people, I fear it is often ignoring the bigger picture, and ignoring the experience of disabled people living in the UK, in comparison to other countries. I would like to propose that even if we take the cuts at face value, that Britain is the best country for disabled people as a whole.
In making this conclusion, I have considered many factors including the rights disabled people have in terms of anti-discrimination legislation, the array and amount of financial and other benefits provided to disabled people, the percentage of buildings and public transport that is accessible to disabled people, the general attitudes of the public in terms of how they see disabled people, the efforts made to include disabled children in mainstream schools and the array of health and social care services provided to disabled people including independent living and direct payments.
While someone may argue that America is a better country because it was the first to enact anti-discrimination legislation, the reality is America fails disabled people in so many other ways including the fact it has no coherent social care system, meaning from state to state, the experiences of disabled people can vary enormously. There are of course pockets of good practise in countries all over the world, but when it comes to a total experience, Britain leads the way.
I would argue Britain has particularly led the way in the development of disability social theory and policy, from a medical model approach to a social model approach, where the focus is not the deficiencies of the person but the social barriers they face. I believe living in the UK at this time, when so much has improved for disabled people over the last 40 years, has provided me with a true level of independence and self-autonomy over my life as someone with a significant impairment, particularly with speech difficulties, that would not be possible in any other country.
It is so easy to berate this country for not being as people would like it to be, and I agree it is not a perfect country, and we can and should always constructively campaign to improve things. But we must also recognise what we have in comparison to other countries, where true poverty and exclusion often exists, and be thankful for what we have in the UK. I challenge anyone who moans about the welfare reforms and how disabled people are supposedly mistreated by the state to find a better country to live in, because I am not sure there is one for disabled people.
I think it is also easy to romanticise how accessible cities are and how 'friendly' people are in other countries from the perspective of a tourist, but it is no way to constructively and critically make a comparison between places since people often compare somewhere they live and know inside out, with somewhere they just spent a few days visiting as a tourist. During last week's Tube Strike, I was fed up of hearing disabled Londoners sneering at how the Tube is always inaccessible to them, especially since many of us living outside London would love the transport services available to them.
While the tube needs to be more accessible, the moral argument was won 20 years ago, and it is only the age of the London Underground, and the enormity and cost of rebuilding this complex system that as made achieving a fully accessible network a slow process. Cities with younger underground systems, designed for a different era, are of course going to be more accessible, especially recently built ones.
We must never accept the status quo and always campaign for better things, but at the same time, we should be proud of Britain as I do believe it is overall the best country to live in if you are a disabled person.