Written by Cherylee Houston

In The News

We shouldn’t forget the tragedy unfolding in the disabled community

As the Paralympics comes to a close, Cherylee Houston explains why #RightsNotGames isn’t a criticism of our athletes, but a bid to remind us all that life is actually getting much harder for many disabled people.

Alice de Oliveira Correa, Omara Durand and Elena Chebanu compete in the final of the T12 100m at the Rio Paralympic Games. Photo: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

Alice de Oliveira Correa, Omara Durand and Elena Chebanu compete in the final of the T12 100m at the Rio Paralympic Games. Photo: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

#RightsNotGames is a hashtag that’s appeared a lot during the Paralympics. It’s not intended to be taken literally, nor is it directed against our Paralympians. We are extremely proud of our disabled athletes. They – along with the rest of the disabled community – are at the brutal end of disability cuts.

Take Carly Tait, a British wheelchair athlete who spoke out in April when her reassessment under PIP (Personal Independence Payment) left her no longer eligible for her mobility car. A car she described as her lifeline. It enabled Carly to study at university, be employed and get to training sessions.

Her story was echoed all over the country, with 45 per cent of people reassessed through PIP (as opposed to Disability Living Allowance) being deemed no longer eligible for their cars, scooters or electric wheelchairs. The very thing connecting them to the outside world has been taken away from them. Motability, the car and scooter scheme for disabled people, their families and carers, said it could eventually amount to 100,000 cars being removed. That’s 100,000 lifelines.

If you think that’s harsh, try being someone who has high support needs. Since the 1980s (and after years of lobbying), people with high support needs have been allowed to live independently within the community.

If your body’s dexterity meant you needed help with washing, bathing, feeding etc, you had your care needs met by the local council. Your life needs were met with the help of the Independent Living Fund (ILF). This meant people could manage their own care which enabled them to study, to work, to shop, and to socially interact with family and friends, all on an independent basis.

Finally, people with disabilities had the same opportunity to live their lives to their full potential as everyone else (as well as benefiting the wider community by virtue of their gainful employment, personal societal contributions and income tax payments).

Within the last six years, this Government has destroyed all of this progress and stripped disabled people back to the bone. A postcode lottery determines whether people with high support needs are being told that all that they need in life is available within the four walls of their homes.

“If an infant who didn’t need nappies was made to wear them, the state would class this as poor parenting. If that infant was left in a soiled nappy for 12 hours, it would be classed as child abuse – and illegal.”

Imagine being left to sit alone, unable to move for yourself and forced to wear an incontinence pad, even though you are not incontinent. No longer is it the choice of those in their 20s to stay up late if they want to. They’re put to bed as early as 8pm under council care.

If you are capable of putting a fork in a ready meal or a straw in a cup, you are deemed capable of preparing your own food. Many councils no longer provide help for food shopping, washing clothes, or cleaning the house. Forget healthy living: the only food ever on offer is a ready meal. It is certainly not considered that going outside of your home is an essential requirement.

People are being left in incontinence pads with a tea urn next to them for up to 12 hours before someone returns to wash, undress them and put them to bed at a predetermined time – decided by the council not the individual. As a disabled peer said recently, “Even dogs get taken out for walks, while prisoners are entitled to fresh air and have a panic button.”

The tragedy is that the disabled community is a disparate one, with no community centre or hub and not many voices being heard. And so today, all over our country, in your towns and on your street there are people who are suffering this systematic abuse. The tragedy is that most victims don’t have a voice or an arena to speak.

Disabled people have also become a scapegoat. Disability hate crime rose 41 per cent in 2015. People are now too scared to fight for their rights, too emotionally worn down by what their lives have been reduced to by the cuts.

I spoke to a double amputee in Manchester who hasn’t opened her curtains for years because of the stones that are thrown by her neighbours thanks to the negative light disabled people have been cast in by the press. These are the same neighbours the council suggested she call upon for help, now it has cut her care from 64 hours per week to seven.

The other option (suggested by Manchester City Council as an alternative to care) is to use people on Community Service: a stranger wearing an electronic tag invited into your home to help with intimate care, cleaning and washing, who you are expected to trust among your possessions and with your banking.

They also offer incontinence pads to cover toilet care: people who aren’t incontinent are expected to sit in their own waste until someone returns to help.

Due to a lack of coverage, I don’t think people are aware of what has happened to people with disabilities. Ridiculous restrictions and rule changes have altered people’s lives beyond belief. The criterion by which someone was deemed unable to walk was an inability to manage 100 metres unaided. This has now been reduced to 50 metres.

“People are killing themselves. People are dying through neglect. This is the heartbreaking reality, in this country, today.”

What benefit of life can 50 metres give you? Unless you live in a microcosm, where the shops, work, family, the kids’ school are all 50 metres from your house, not much. Take the disabled woman who can no longer get to work as there’s no access to public transport within 50 metres of her home. No longer can she take her kids to school, care for her elderly mother or volunteer (as she had for years) in the local Macmillan offices.

Her life has been curbed; she no longer has a car and because her disability benefits have been cut she can no longer afford to get to work. As Jane (a former ILF recipient) pointed out at the Houses of Parliament last week, if an infant who didn’t need nappies was made to wear them, the state would class this as poor parenting. If that infant was left in a soiled nappy for 12 hours, it would be classed as child abuse – and illegal.

Yet disabled adults are now forced to endure this every day. And, of course, many disabled people are more susceptible to, or imperiled by, infection, which is more likely to occur in these unsanitary circumstances).

It is heartbreaking that, after hundreds of thousands of people protested and fought to ensure we are entitled to the same quality of life as our non-disabled peers, this Government has wiped it out with one cruel swipe of its hand.

It has taken away the help that enables people with learning disabilities to fill in forms for care and talking support for those with autism. People have starved to death because they weren’t encouraged to eat or become sick because they didn’t manage to keep themselves clean and away from infection.

People are killing themselves. People are dying through neglect. This is the heartbreaking reality, in this country, today. Yet sadly the newspapers are full of stories of people forging benefits when the actual reality is that the rate of benefit fraud for disabilities is less than 0.7 per cent – lower than the unclaimed benefits of those who are eligible. But we have been tarred with this brush. Or that of being superhuman. What people with disabilities are saying is, let us just be normal: allow us to function within our society, family and relationships.

We feel, taste and experience life as tangibly as everybody else. And we feel a punch the same as anyone else. And my god, we’ve been punched.

That’s why we’re saying #RightsNotGames. And then soon there will be a new hashtag. Until someone starts to listen.

The United Nations has carried out an unprecedented inquiry into systematic and grave violations of disabled people’s human rights by the UK Government. Its findings currently remain unpublished by the same Government. I think that says it all.

@cheryleehouston

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Written by Cherylee Houston

Actress, writer and stick things on thingser.