CotL member Caroline Walsh gives her thoughts on the Guardian article ‘Disabled people are to be warehoused, we should be livid’ stating ‘I want to live in my community and play an active role. Not in an institution.’
I genuinely try and live in expectant hope and entrust in God.
However, I have been shaken since 2010, and most especially in the last year with the Brexit Vote and the election of a World Leader who opening mocks the disabled (and denies it). A leader who has potentially such a negative impact on disabled rights through his international influence that I regularly have visions of Dickensian London and poor houses (and those are the less dark visions I have).
So, reading this: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/ has done nothing to lighten the mood, quash the fear or fill me with expectant hope. Quite the opposite.
Where to start? The flawed economic argument? Human rights argument? Or both?
Warning: This isn’t likely to be the most forensic of arguments and debates with facts and figures, I warn you now, it’s a very personal account, potted social history, narrative, and sharing of story.
Life took an uncomfortable turn for me in 2010 with Osborne’s ‘scoundrel / undeserving & deserving poor rhetoric’ where the discourse became ‘disabled people need care only’ not personal assistance (the stripping away of the language of empowerment is important).
I naively thought we had left those arguments firmly in the 1980’s (the decade of my childhood), where people would on occasion equally openly pity or mock you on the streets.
When it was actually illegal for those like me in a wheelchair to travel on the underground and busses (not just inaccessible but actually illegal), when it was ok, if you could actually get on the train to be separated out and put in a freezing cold guards van not in the carriage (doors weren’t wide enough), when architects won awards for designing state of the art disabled toilets in London, down a flight of stairs with no lift.
The 1980’s, the decade where integrated education was ‘an experiment’ after the 1981 Education Act, where if you had walking aids or needed help carrying books and needed more than 20 hours of support, it was cheaper to send you to Special School.
Or if you had walking aids you had to have close adult supervision in the playground in case you were a Health and Safety Risk to others. (Did wonders for my South London ‘street cred’ in my teens (not), not to mention the strain it places on relationship and friendship building).
But ‘please be grateful’ because in the 1970s you were considered ineducable because as a society and with government institutions if you were disabled you were disabled. Dis-enabled by societal and attitudinal barriers that reinforced the physical ones.
I have literally peacefully fought, through persuasion and dialogue, to educate society my entire life to show that persons with impairments were not something to ‘other’ and to focus on the person and their abilities. Trying to change attitudes to making a better society for all.
I thought we were making progress, I thought we had left my childhood in the past. I was wrong. Never have I seen a rhetoric as Osborne’s cut through so quickly and so profoundly, and in the form of how we could no longer afford the ‘add on’ accessibility and inclusion. The ‘reasoned’ discussion with friends, family (not close) and stranger alike of the un-affordability of the welfare budget. As if suddenly without question and without interrogation that whole budget was about disability.
The bit that frightened me the most about that debate? You could see the direction of travel about the ‘economic cost to society’ of disabled people. The sudden vanishing of any context of the social model of disability, and the shrinking back into a pure medical model and focus on welfare. Lives are more than the sum of that. For people with impairments, lives are definitely much more than the sum of that.
I returned to the Labour Fold in 2013 after years of being lapsed, to honour a silent vow I gave at my Grandmother’s funeral to join the collective fight for the NHS for all of us (aka the greater good), to embrace my slightly neglected family and Christian duty in honour of their blood, sweat, tears, toil, struggles and their tireless contributions to the Labour Party, and to fight for a Labour Government. How easy to make such a vow to God for family and community in equal measure, much harder to keep (another debate for another day).
In the 3 and half years since, I find the fight is much more frighteningly fundamental. It is now a fight to barely be recognised as a being, and have the UN rights to life, flourish and thrive. For me it’s not an individualistic thing, for me it’s about being able to do my duty, be the change, make a difference and be enabled to enact my responsibility to society and our communities. I do not want to go back to the days where it was legitimate to talk at dinner tables about ‘keeping out of sight or mind’ or objectifying as a subject of pity or abuse.
I want to be Caroline, someone who makes a positive difference to others lives, someone who gets things done,the servant of our community. Not shut away because of some false argument or economy.
I want to live in expectant hope, give and receive Christian love and fellowship. I want to live in my community and play an active role. Not in an institution.
I entrust in God. I entrust in us all. We need to make a stand. For inclusive hope.
Caroline is a member of the Labour party, a trained mediator and restorative practice facilitator. She has been a a campaigner for equality and disability rights for over 35 years.