Opinion: To be free from poverty, ignorance and conformity, our society must have robust support for disabled people

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015. It’s the tenth annual day for disabled and non-disabled people to blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination (known as disablism or ableism). It aims to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made.

An online acquaintance of mine said he was going to write for #BADD2015 in terms of the political parties’ manifestos. Good Lib Dem that I am, I looked forward to hearing some positive stuff about my party. I know there’s lots to talk about.

The Lib Dems have budgeted the £8 billion a year the NHS will need during the next parliament, which is bound to be relevant to the lives of people with disabilities and other long-term conditions, as many of us do seem to see doctors, nurses and specialists often enough to be on a first-name basis with many of them!

The Lib Dems’ unique dedication to improving mental health care is also relevant to many disabled people, both those whose disability is primarily or entirely a matter of mental illness, and those who experience poor mental health as a result of other disabilities. Mental illnesses are some of the most common, and most “invisible,” disabilities in the UK, and at the moment the mental health care many people receive (or fail to) not only doesn’t help them but can actually make their mental health worse.

The Lib Dems have a manifesto for disabled people outlining policies concerning human rights, employment, education, health (including mental health), transport, and carers. From devoting another £3.5bn to mental health care in England over the next Parliament to protecting the Human Rights Act others parties want to eviscerate or get rid of all together, from scrapping Job Centre sanction targets and league tables to tackling disability hate crime, there’s a lot that could be mentioned.

So I must admit I was a little disappointed that the only Lib Dem-related thing mentioned was Nick Clegg leading a meeting of a “mental health taskforce” of “ministers from across government” (ie they’re not all Lib Dems!) which gained infamy a few weeks ago for suggesting mentally ill people could get cognitive-behavioural therapy at the Job Centre – a place many people have very poor experiences of and thus believe this would not help anyone’s mental health.

No mention of any of the other stuff I’ve mentioned here, though it’s all trivially easy to find.

As always, no one is going to make the Lib Dem arguments for us. We have to do it ourselves.

When members of other parties are comparing Ed Milliband to a stroke victim on Facebook it might seem like the bar for being a good party for disabled people is not very high.

That’s still no reason for us not to be ambitious in our attempts, not to make ourselves look good when there’s an election coming up, but just because we know It’s impossible for our society to be free from conformity, poverty and ignorance without robust support for disabled people.

* Holly is an immigrant, bisexual, disabled, and probably can tick most other diversity boxes that you have handy.

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6 Comments

  • A very good message. I

  • Eddie Sammon 1st May '15 - 11:54pm

    I don’t know much about disabilities policy (maybe we don’t talk about it enough), but in general helping the disabled has to be a priority.

  • This is an excellent article, Holly Mathies.

    You have highlighted what’s good in the party’s approach and basic aims.
    You have also accurately shone a light on some inadequate “campaigning, or lack of it, as well as some shocking attitudes.

    Reference to a little disappointment on your part is very restrained. It would appear that every ten years or so we have to remind a new bunch of high flyers in the party that “conformity” comes wrapped in all sorts of prejudices spoken and unspoken.

    I look forward to your next article in LDV.

  • Stephen Campbell 2nd May '15 - 5:01pm

    Indeed, it is a good article.

    But the Coalition’s record when it comes to disability issues is beyond abysmal. Disabled and mentally ill people have faced the harshest cuts from this government. The DWP’s regime of nonsensical sanctions and the not-fit-for-purpose WCA has become increasingly cruel and has led to at least 40 suicides (source: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/mps-report-benefits-cuts-driving-5388705).

    Danny Alexander used to be a strong campaigner for those on welfare who were too mentally or physically ill to work. The Lib Dems as a whole used to be a champion for disabled and mentally ill people, whether they were on benefits or not. Sadly, as soon as the ink on the coalition agreement was signed, we soon saw Mr. Alexander on the telly supporting cuts aimed at disabled people. The Lib Dems went silent on the DWP regime (when they used to campaign to make it more humane during Labour’s administration). And with IDS in power, the regime instantly became more cruel and inhumane than when it was run by Labour.

    Is driving some of the most vulnerable citizens to absolute poverty and suicide a record Lib Dems can be proud of? I don’t think so. Disabled and mentally ill people did not crash the economy. They are not responsible for the deficit. Yet they have been punished for the mistakes of the financial and political class. How many high-class bankers or politicians have been driven to such desperation by austerity that they took their own lives?

    Of course, most of society and the right-wing media don’t care that austerity is causing deaths. After all, the people hit hardest are often painted by them as “scroungers”. They’re not a member of Dave’s “hardworking people” or Nick’s “Alarm Clock Britain”. I keep saying this, and I will keep on doing so until action is taken, but if any other section of society (say, comfortable middle-class people) were committing suicide due to austerity, it would be a national scandal.

    This sends the message that the lives of sick and mentally ill people on benefits just don’t matter. It sends the message that if you are not working or generating profit for someone, you are worthless and unwanted. And as, inevitably, austerity intensifies, worse could be to come. This is a dangerous road we have embarked on. After all, calling someone who is too ill to work a “scrounger” or “shirker” is not that far removed from one notorious regime’s use of the term “useless eaters”, is it?

  • Thank you Stephen Campbell.

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