It’s hard to get across the extent to which planned cuts will affect people like me and my friends. Benefits aren’t just about money; they’re the only way we can leave the house
Last Friday I woke up and immediately grabbed my laptop to see who’d won the election. My newsfeed was filled with the collective groan of my friends. My disability groups were posting numbers to the Samaritans and other helplines for members to phone.
It’s not that we were merely disappointed that our side didn’t win. Five more years of Tories meant £12bn worth of welfare cuts. Like me, the vast majority of my friends are disabled. Most of us got ill and disabled young, live in isolation and, unable to leave the house (or bed), socialize almost exclusively online. Many of us have multiple conditions, with one causing another. I was diagnosed with my first in 1998, dropped out of school aged 11 and have been mostly housebound for the 17 years since.
I phoned my boyfriend. He said, “I want to say something on Facebook but I can’t think of anything. You have a go.” So I had a go. A friend shared the resulting message, and I made it public so that his friends could see. A few more friends shared it. At the time of writing this, over 5,000 people have shared what I’ve written and dozens of people have sent me messages with their stories and fears about the Tory cuts.
Illness and disability are deeply personal, but they’re also political. Ask most people what they think disability is and they will probably say something about wheelchairs or biology. Perhaps they will mention the loss of a limb or sense. Body and mind are starting points, but the significance of losing a function or sense is only so great because it changes how you interact with the world, and how the world interacts with you.
Disability isn’t only one way. It is imposed from outside as well as coming from within you. Just as we can disable or enable an internet connection, we all have the power to disable or enable human beings. If I go somewhere in my wheelchair and get stuck at the bottom of a staircase, it isn’t just my illness that prevents me from completing my journey: it is also the lack of ramps or lifts that disable me. Install a ramp or a lift and voila! I can proceed. My illness is about the way my body functions or fails to function, but my disability includes how accommodating or unaccommodating society is towards disabled people. If disabled people aren’t enabled by society, we simply become more disabled.
The reality of the cuts will hit the most vulnerable the hardest
The question at the heart of the fear that disabled people (and those close to us) have is this: how much more disabled is this government going to make us? How much worse is my impairment going to become under the strain? How is the rest of my life going to be affected by this? We feel it tangibly. It is a lie that those with the most have the most to lose. Those with the least lose far more. After seeing my status one man wrote to me that he wants to be positive but “feels overpowered by a nightmare existence”.
I don’t think abled people understand the threat and legitimate worry that the outcome of this election means for people like me and my friends. Unless you are intimately acquainted with disability, you can’t intuit the complex ramifications the cuts have on our lives. Benefits aren’t just about money. They’re the difference between leaving the house and not. Money is access. It makes the circle labeled “Things I could do” bigger and the one tagged “Things I can’t do” smaller, and that second circle is so big to begin with.
One friend told me: “I lost my higher-rate mobility allowance because of new stricter criteria, and because of that I can no longer afford to pay for transport. I needed that money to leave the house, and without it I can’t go out. I am much more disabled, more isolated, and I am far from being well enough to work.” Marginalizing the disabled doesn’t somehow improve things for anyone else. It makes it worse for the abled too. Even if you are not caring for, or a family member of, or friends with a disabled person, in the words of Richard Herring: “If you’re not disabled now, then one day you might be. When that happens you’ll want to go to the pub or get on public transport. You’ll want to be seen as a person, not as a disability. Purely out of selfishness you should be fighting for disabled rights. If you don’t, you are prejudiced against your future self. And your future self hates you and thinks you’re a dick.”
The reality of the cuts will hit the most vulnerable the hardest. My friends and I can’t take to the street to protest, we rely on the public. We don’t need fundraisers, we need educated voters, campaigners, and for people to remember us – especially those in power.
Source: The Guardian