Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Challenge of Physical Disability

In my presentation to the Fairness Commission on the challenges faced by people with physical disabilities I began by talking about some of the things we should treasure and protect.  First there is the National Health Service - a concept of Collective Generosity and practical goodness.  This concept of collective caring, of loving our neighbour, our fellow citizen and the stranger in our midst is our true national treasure.  We must protect this beating heart of practical goodness against the vultures who are forever circling, looking to health care as a moneyed carcass ripe for plundering.
Secondly I spoke of our Education System - a concept of expectation and a collective investment in potential.  My parents told me it was a big battle (I have limited mobility due to contracting polio, or infantile paralysis as it was called, as a baby) to get me into mainstream education.  Apparently they were told that I should go to a 'special' school where I would be 'more comfortable'.  "He doesn't need comfort," argued my mother, "he needs an education!"  At earlier meetings the Commission had heard of some of the difficulties of the attainment gaps in our schools, but we should acknowledge the great deal of extra support provided in Dundee's schools to pupils with both physical and mental disabilities.
Third 'treasure' on my list is our somewhat currently battered system of Social Security - the true expression of our all being in it together.  Whilst not wishing to stifle incentive, opportunity or responsibility, it would be dishonest to say other than there will always be those who will never be able to work or sustain independent living, and there are many, many, many others who for some periods in their lives will be shut out from paid work.  The vision of the safety net of social security is another expression of collective caring, of loving our neighbour, our fellow citizen and the stranger in our midst.  The other side of this coin was that those who were able to pay taxes would do so willingly.  Clement Attlee, who was Prime Minister at the time of the birth of the modern welfare state said, "Charity is a cold, gray, loveless thing.  If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money on a whim."  There is something of 'once upon a time' about that I'm afraid, but its a philosophy we would do well to recapture.
If anything undermines any sense of security that people with disabilities might have it is the introduction of the current Work Capability Test.  It was, we were told, a revolution.  People with disabilities were to be tested on what they could do, not on what they couldn't do.  Great!! Absolutely right.  But this proper concept with which nobody could disagree has been turned by the Government, through agents like Atos and Triage and JobCentre Plus into a tool of exclusion, a weapon for sanctions.  At the recent Tory Party conference, blatantly and dismissively Ian Duncan-Smith said, "Disabled people should stop relying on the State and work their way out of poverty." 
In preparation for my presentation I loitered around a few groups and agencies asking what they were saying and will post these shortly.

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