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“There is reliable evidence that the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met in the State party” – United Nations
At 21 years old, I’ve spent the entirety of my years maturing through high school and college under a Conservative government. Born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type II, I was no stranger to hearing the adults around me discuss the state of our situation. My mum upset about benefit times, my doctors warning my mum of ‘lacking’ services once I mature. Not once did I realize the situation I was in as a disabled person until I grew up, and opened my eyes to who is actually in charge of providing all the care I so desperately need – and how fortunate I am that, unlike many, it’s never been taken away.
Nearly 14 million Brits have a disability. Half of the pension age population have a disability, and about a fifth of those working age. Each disability comes with its own set of stigma, hardship and annoyances, but we universally share an adversary. The treatment of disabled people by the Conservative party is beyond figures of long waiting times – it’s figures of body counts.
The average waiting time for disability benefits is 14 weeks,. This is a substantially long period the Tories expect claimants to be fine and sit through. A waiting time that has cost lives. 17,000 disabled people have died waiting for disability benefits since 2013 – approximately 9 per day – and this single fact alone should hold massive political power. Expanding on this figure, 25% of those losing their lives in the wait for government financial support are cancer patients. 270 of them have anxiety or depression.
A Personal Loss
David Clapson was close to his family. He cared for his mother in her fight with dementia and served his country in the Armed Forces. Through it all he had diabetes, which under government rules require check-ins at the Jobcentre.
David missed one appointment and had his whole benefit income cut off. With his £71.70 per week missing, he could no longer pay his electricity bill resulting in his fridge where he kept his insulin shutting off, and hardly any money left for food. Three weeks since missing his appointment and having all income taken, he was found dead in his home from diabetic ketoacidosis. By his body were a pile of CVs. He was looking for work. He was an active job seeker with a disability, but the government, deeming him fit to go without money because he missed one appointment, took his life from him.
Even when disabled people do end up finding jobs through the Government’s barbaric system of job seeking, we are not treated as equal. Disabled people on average spend £570 more per month than able-bodied people but have a 13.6% pay-gap to those able-bodied counterparts in the same roles. Intersectionality takes this rabbit hole of systemic oppression even further, as Bangladeshi men face a 56% pay gap – and Pakistani men a 36% pay gap – to those white and able-bodied individuals. This doesn’t just stop at pay however as
“people from ethnic minorities who are disabled are more likely to be subject to physical, mechanical and chemical restraint”.
Under the current system, I myself had to be checked a few years ago to ensure I was still disabled. No Karen – my chromosomes haven’t changed the past few years, I’ll be sure to let the Jobcentre know if I wake with the ability to walk. It’s no surprise the UN speaks of high levels of poverty for disabled people, “financial hardships for people with disabilities resulting in… cuts to housing and food”. Who needs food right? Typical disabled people, always whining for more. Actually, that’s another thing the UN observed. Even the United Nations note that high-ranking officers’ statements “regularly portrayed [disabled people] negatively as being dependent or making a living out of benefits”.
It is socially ingrained in the Conservative UK to see disabled people as lesser, objectively resulting in “increased aggressive behavior”. These are objective, tragic truths.
At least we have a life outside of work!
Well… 49% of disabled people actually “feel excluded” from society around them under the Conservative government, with 41% not “feeling valued” and less than half thinking the UK is a good place for disabled people. It’s not really hard to see why we’d feel this way when official UN investigations find the government;
“Failing to uphold disabled people’s rights across a range of areas from education, work and housing to health, transport and social security”
At every turn in daily life, we can find ourselves segregated. Steps and inaccessible pavements block wheelchair users, inhospitable social environments exclude the neurodiverse, and the healthcare system is woefully underfunded for how much some of us can rely on it.
The inhospitable environment disabled people face around them resulted in artist and person with mental illness Mark Wood to stay in his house from fear. The government denied him access to benefits despite the qualified doctors insisting he could not hold a job. Because these assessors thought otherwise of Mark’s situation, he starved to death in his home.
His sister Cathie goes as far as to describe the process as “deliberate”. She says “they will know in their hearts the harshness of how they’re applying the rules… they’ve been told about this repeatedly”, and she’s absolutely right. Mark’s doctor, Nicholas Ward, sent a letter directly to the Jobcentre that read as follows:
“Please do not stop or reduce his benefits as this will have ongoing, significant impact on his mental health. He simply is not well enough to cope with this extra stress. His mental and medical condition is extremely serious.”
The letter was ignored, Mark struggled, starved and eventually died.
The House of Lords in a separate investigation found the same thing; that to the government, disabled folks are a mere “afterthought”. The laws protecting us “aren’t working in practice” and the public at large “are still not adapting to [disabled peoples’] needs”. Baroness Deech says “the government bears the ultimate responsibility”, a position most at this point should agree with.
Unable to Accept Criticism
The only people who close their eyes to the needs of disabled people are the ones who are meant to be in charge of giving them support.
After the UN issued its scathing report on how disabled people are treated in this country under specifically the Conservative government, stating;
“there is reliable evidence the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities has been met”.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions at the time, Damien Green, claimed the government spend £50 billion on support for disabled people. A fact that sadly isn’t true.
This number took into account spending that doesn’t always include permanently disabled people and other benefits. In real figures, the government spent £13.5 billion on specifically DWP/PIP payments in 2014-2015 – and this is half of what disabled people got in 1995, comprising only 0.8% of the national budget. Support for 20% of the population comes from less than 1%.
The Tories aren’t actually very good at running the country, are they? The least we can do as a disabled community is to fight against it. That’s where the spying comes in.
In a deeply shocking move, police services around the country have admitted to spying on disabled activists when protesting. Some of this is recorded in video footage, such as in the case of a fracking protest, where a recording of the disabled person using their right to free protest is sent to the Department of Work and Pensions. This is sent with the expectation that there may be some glimmer of hope for the Tories that they can revoke their benefits in return for them using their voice to be, rightfully, critical of the government. We know the stripping of benefits has cost lives, the government does too, but that didn’t stop them before.
The argument of ‘fraudsters’ is the most common to use against disabled people. After all, if a person has at least one functioning limb surely, they can get a full time 9-to-5! No, they can’t. Not all disabilities are visible, not all of them will come with constant suffering, but they are all valid and all worthy of help. By the government’s own admission, only 1.1% of benefits are fraudulently claimed. This deep-rooted stigma of disabled people lying about their condition is not just prevalent in the government; it’s a stain on our society. 280,000 public claims of benefit fraud turned out to be wrong with no action taken.
This fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be disabled continues to be a problem, and educational actions should be taken to make the spectrum and validity of disability to be as clear to the public as it is to those of us that have to live with these conditions.
The stories above however go beyond party politics and beyond personal bias. There is irrefutable evidence that the policies of the Conservative government have caused people to die. They have not changed policy in the face of this, and the deaths and suffering continue. In a time where everything is about Brexit, it is vital that we as a country stop and reflect. Is it okay that we live in a country where the UN find “failure of the UK government to recognise the rights of disabled people to live independently”?
Is it acceptable that more than 4,000 cancer patients have died waiting for money from the government? Can we as a nation really avoid the victims much longer? Mark Wood. David Clapson. Seventeen thousand others. These lives are lost, these families are hit. Remember these names at the ballot box.
The Conservatives have their blood on their hands and, with a General Election looming, we must do everything we can to ensure they don’t find a way to stay in government.