Archive for October, 2013


October 17, 2013

A, B, C or D?
Speech for Disability Wales Conference, Thursday October 17, 2013. I’m going to talk about Activism and the revolution and what comes after a and b? Heres a bit of a rant!
Nothing I say today makes sense unless we understand this: The concept of the useless eater is alive and kicking in Britain today. 70 years ago, Nazi Germany experimented upon and then exterminated thousands of disabled people in the name of economics. Fuelled by fear and hatred of difference, they sought to expunge the world of disabled people.
The EHRC report, Hidden in plain Sight, exposed the institutional failure to take disability motivated hate incidents seriously. A failure that is systematic and embedded in our institutions today. Now where have we heard of Institutional failure like this before? Yes, in the initial Police response to the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Disabled people come from all communities. We experience discrimination on all aspects of our identity whether that is because we are women, BME, LGBT, younger or older. Whoever we are, discrimination and exclusion make the same pattern. It spells out the same word. It spells out hate! Inclusion London’s Bad News for Disabled People” report revealed the extent of media fuelled hatred of disabled people. Benefit scroungers, malingerers, they call us, and the hate crimes rise as we are insulted, attacked and sometimes killed. The gutter press screams in frenzy. `beat the cheats” they froth, egging on their readers to grass up their fraudulent-disabled-lazy-welfare lifestyle-living” neighbors. They dress up the reasonable adjustments our society makes which help disabled people to live in the community, as perks rather than as services which are vital to our well-being and independence.
And so forever it seems, disabled people have been blamed for existing. We are shunned, excluded and our right to exist challenged; challenged by attitudes that sees us as less, inferior or even unaffordable. The government says that there’s no choice, that there’s no money theyve made squillions of pounds of public spending cuts, carved great chunks off the welfare benefit budget, half of which are disability related benefit cuts.
We cost too much, they say and in a time of austerity, it is we, disabled people, who are expendable.
But the truth is this; it’s the world in which we live that puts up barriers to stop disabled people being equal, not our impairments. Being disabled isn’t the problem; it’s more the way the world is designed. . Medical labels package us for non-disabled convenience and we are denied a right to exist.
Discrimination, inaccessible work places, inaccessible transport, inflexible work conditions are some of the barriers that stop deaf and disabled people getting jobs. If we want full equality in society, we must remove the barriers that deny inclusion and not attack disabled people for existing. Lets see how much money that saves.
Government ideology majors on fairness but fails to see that for fairness to work, the playing field has to be leveled. Through the politics of envy, they divide and rule us. “It’s not fair) screams the right wing press! Fascist movements, EDL, the BNP and the like, pounce upon this notion ride it home, tearing working-class communities apart as they do so. Allegedly, there are green shoots. Oh yeah? Not if you’re disabled and on benefits or live anywhere but the south East. The government offers people who want to buy houses, some financial support to do so. But isn’t that just like the sub-prime mortgage racket which caused the recession in the first place? Most people want to have enough money to feed their family, to keep a roof over their head and enjoy a few humble creature comforts like a week’s holiday once a year, a telly, to buy school uniform for the kids, to pay to replace the fridge if it dies, and the occasional pint of beer down the pub. Safety of tenure and reasonableness of rents is more important than who owns the bricks and mortar surrounding us. Research launched recently revealed that it costs roughly £140k to bring up a child today. How much extra does it cost if that child is disabled? Poverty is a reality for many more disabled people now in Cameron’s Britain. The bedroom tax, the Work Capability Assessment, the attack on independent living, the molestation and ripping apart of vital services that support people to live in the community thanks to cuts forced by the government austerity measures, alongside a still shrunken jobs front plunges more and more disabled people into poverty every day.
The Welfare state has until now kept many disabled people alive and out of institutions. It has help many of us live fulfilling lives, including going to work and being involved in community life. WELFARE Reform will force thousands of disabled people from the community, imprisoning us in residential care, unable to work, denied the right to family life. Our lives will become impossible and some of us will die as a result. And some others of us will take our own lives. Rightly, we condemn repressive regimes abroad, which imprison, maim and kill their citizens. . BUT that is exactly what the Westminster government cuts are doing to disabled people!

The welfare bill is believed by those who don’t support it, to be a bottomless pit into which public money is poured unendingly. Disability Living Allowance is made out to be an unfair perk because it is not available to non-disabled people. But DLA is not a means tested, employment or skills based benefit. Like Child Benefit contributes towards the cost of bringing up children, its there to meet the additional costs of being a disabled person in an ablest world.
This society, aided and abetted by an anti-rules government in Westminster, continues to resists making reasonable adjustments, portraying these as over-zealous regulatory attacks. Society values individual freedom, celebrity, and a “do what you want mentality as long as you make money and don’t want support from anyone else.
But tell me this, why can’t we think of what we spend on Social care, health and welfare as economic stimulators not drains on the public purse? What would that do to change negative attitudes towards those who provide and those who receive care and support? If we give everyone the support they need to live full lives, we open the door to a huge amount of consumer and economic activity. WE also save lots of money because this good care leads to better health and well-being and reduces the numbers of people needing expensive health care. How many beds could we free up in hospitals if when their in-patient treatment is complete, people could go back to their homes with the right support to help them live and thrive?
When we free our people from imprisonment in their homes or institutions, we help them become active members of the community. With the right support, many are able to work (if there are the jobs and their impairment issues can be addressed through reasonable adjustments and access to work). The additional costs of being a disabled person can be met by a Disabled Citizens Income. If the tax system supports those who can’t work full time to have enough to live on, this can also help. But you know, at the end of the day, if there are people in our communities who need additional support to live in some kind of dignity amongst us, shouldn’t the state reach out to help? This, I believe is an indication of a civilised society. We need a non-means tested user led choice way of meeting these additional costs.
Seeing social care, health and welfare as economic stimulants rebrands these areas as positive things to be involved in. Caring and support are important jobs in our society. If we paid carers, support workers, health workers and others, a decent living wage, with good working conditions where they are respected for the important work they do, surely more people will want to do this work?
If we provide the support disabled people need to live as equals in our society, we will generate many more jobs for people to do. Disabled people are able to do these jobs too.

I get Access to Work and DLA. I have the equivalent probably of about 25 hours a week support at £15 an hour before tax. When I was a very senior officer in local government, I had a full time support worker, and along with the DLA could afford to buy additional support for daily living which I funded out of my salary. Many disabled people with more complex or higher care needs could probably employ more than 1 or 2 full time equivalent workers. Workers on a Living Wage are more likely to spend their money in local shops, stimulating neighbourhood economies. Unlike rich bankers and the high-paid, they are less likely to invest it in off-shore savings, cars, property and posh holidays.
We can’t solve the barriers Disabled people face in our society unless we can mirror the solutions across all impairment groups and all diverse groups within our community. The link between poverty and impairment has been well-made in recent Joseph Rowntree reports. Poverty has a deeper effect if you are also from another marginalised group as well as being a disabled person. A recent report by Equalities UK and Scope produced useful evidence about higher levels of impairment amongst BME communities and thus higher levels of poverty. There is a higher incidence of impairment amongst the LGBT community which aside from HIV status is anecdotally attributed to the effects of homophobia on health and well-being. The impact of impairment plus sex, race, sexual orientation, gender assignment, faith, age and class cannot be ignored when charting the incidence of poverty, its effects and solutions.
All marginalised and disadvantaged groups are under attack right now. concept of rights entitlement and inclusion are being dismantled. Equality and Diversity are now seen as bad words. What we need to do is unite and fight together against the attacks that face us all. Reclaiming our Futures is a manifesto drawn up by disabled people describing what needs to change to promote our human and civil rights as disabled people in Austerity BRITAIN. Our plan is to influence all political parties to adopt as much of it as we can persuade them. But mainstream political influence is clearly not enough. We have to drive the message home through our activism, via lobbying, tweeting, blogging, and direct action.
In my youth, I opened my mouth to protest, I took to the streets and I put my body in harms way to protest against discrimination. As I sit down again in the streets, aware that my late middle age knees creak as I descend to the tarmac, my fear dances with my anger. I have to do this, I tell myself, for what else can we do? How can we make them listen? I’m no economist, I’ve only got a CSE Grade 3 in Maths. But it’s clear to me, a numerically challenged disability rights activist and aspiring politician, that Plans A and B aren’t working. What about plan C for Care. Let’s invest in social care, welfare and health to build a better Britain. And maybe we might manage to convert plan C, to plan d for Dare!

Kirsten Hearn 16 10 13 Address to Disability Wales Conference, Thursday October 17, 2013:


/15 minute solidarity challenge

October 8, 2013

The 15 minute solidarity challenge
73% of local authorities still allocate 15 minute appointments, a Freedom of Information request revealed on Monday. I’m lying in bed this morning thinking about this and wondering just exactly what can be done in 15 minutes. I may be blind and live alone, but what if I needed help with daily activities associated with getting up and ready for my day? I’m calculating what I would do and what to leave out when my alarm clock shrieks urgently. Bugger, I’m going to be late, better get up!
As I struggle out of bed I reach for a timer and set it for 15 minutes. Let’s see what I can get done of my morning routine, I decide. Better get a wriggle on then.

07:00 First things first, I should clean my teeth. Can I pee at the same time? Hmm, a slightly unsavory activity, I think to myself and possibly hazardous what with my rather vigorous electric toothbrush. Ok, pee first clean teeth next.
07:03, running into the kitchen, I gulp down my morning supplements with a mug of water and fill the kettle and place it on the hob. I reckon I can shower before it boils.
07:05, “More haste less speed”, I advise myself, climbing carefully into the shower. I don’t want to break my neck.
07:10, the kettle shrieks demandingly. “Okay, okay,” I yell, clambering out of the shower. Dripping, I am at the cooker, filling a mug with hot water and dunking a teabag. I put the steaming cup of tea on the side. 07:11 I bolt into the bedroom to dry my hair… Jolly good thing its short as it only takes me 2 minutes. I’d be buggered if it was thick, long and curly.
07:13, “what’s the time? I ask myself. I grab a pair of pants and wriggle into them.
07:14, scampering into the bathroom, I seize the deodorant and having applied this, am just picking up the moisturizer when a crescendo of urgent beeps, stays my hand. Times up!
07:15, I’m knackered. “That was exhausting”, I think. If I can’t finish the job of preparing for my day without assistance, I’ll have to sachet down the road to the tube, clad only in my big black baggies and fluffy slippers, clean and shining, almost naked, thirsty and hungry. Pity anyone encountering me in such a state; grumpy would not be the word! Fortunately for me, I can complete the job without assistance. I throw on a robe and take my tea into the garden to think. It’s cool and quiet. Good thing I don’t need help to get into the garden to take that morning thinking time that really helps set me up for the day.
So that was 15 minutes to get up and dressed, watered and fed as someone so very charmingly put it yesterday. If that’s all the time I’ve got, I will need to prioritise. Is it better that I get clothes on and not have a shower? Clearly I don’t have time for both. And what about breakfast, I’ve not even started on preparing that. A cup of tea is not going to sustain me for my day. With only 15 minutes of support, if I needed help, that’s what I’d have to do.
Thousands of older and disabled people face these humiliating and life affecting choices every day. Thousands of ordinary people who don’t want to be pampered and indulged, just want to be able to start their day like everyone else. Some people think that washing or breakfast might be optional, but that’s their choice to make. ? If they want to squeeze their getting up and out of the house into a smaller space of time, then let them. They don’t need anyone else to help them get ready for the day. They can choose to give more time if they want.
There’s something inhumane about the violation of human dignity in forcing older and disabled people to have to prioritise what parts of their morning routine they do. My old mum is 87. Every other morning, she has a carer come in to help her have a shower. A bath-a-day woman for all her life, she has had to accept what she feels is a lower standard of cleanliness because she can’t afford to pay for more hours. Oh, and before you ask, she isn’t eligible for support towards her care costs because she is over the savings threshold by a few thousand.
An 83 year old woman confessed to a schocked John Humphries on the Today Programmed Yesterday that she hadn’t had a bath for 3 years. She talked of choosing between what parts of her morning routine could be done. She was also paying towards her care.

“Lib Dems should never be allowed to hold power,” I growl at the radio, stumping round the house completing my toilette. Norman Lamb, Lib Dem Minister for Care in the Coalition government bleats on about voluntary organisations befriending older and disabled people in local schemes designed to build communities. So washing, dressing, peeing and eating are optional activities to be chosen from, as and when there’s time eh? “It’s not like going round to tea with an 80 year old neighbour”, I snarl, plunging my hand into a box of earrings to brighten my all black ensemble I’ve just donned. “And who’d help someone whose hands don’t work anymore put on earrings? Would she have to not do something else? Earrings or teeth? Shoes or pants? ”

How can people live in dignity, contribute meaningfully to the world if they don’t have their basic human needs met. The closing of the Independent Living Fund will incarsarate many normally active disabled people to their beds or to residential homes. Some of those in work will have to stop because they can’t be got up in the morning in time to arrive to do a day’s work.
The government has slashed local authority budgets by a third since they came into power. Forcing councils up and down the country to choose between whose care costs they can and cannot meet. Meanwhile, the gutter press howls about lazy people on benefits. The demolition of social care budgets is only going to make things worse. It is already producing an underclass of people locked away in their homes or imprisoned inn expensive institutions , living in degrading circumstances, forced to rely on benefits, hounded because they have no choice but to live off the state. Millions will be spent picking up the pieces left by Tory ideologically driven cuts and foolish Lib Dem policies
. So, if you want to know what it’s like to have to squeeze vital support into ever diminishing time, try the 15 minute solidarity challenge. Set a timer for 15 minutes and see just how much you can do of your morning routine before the time is up. Tell the world what choices you had to make and what that meant. And why not send your pics and blogs to the bleating Mr Lamb.