You might have heard some stuff in the media about disabled people.
You know the stuff. "Disabled people are claiming too many benefits"
"The Work Capability Assessment is a fair process".
"The country can't afford the benefits bill".
"We're all in this together".
Even if you harbour the suspicion that some or all of this is so much spin, it's not top of your own list of concerns though.
There's paying the mortgage.
There's holding on to your job and making ends meet.
You can't be expected to worry about what happens to a few disabled people, right?
I mean … you're sympathetic and so forth (poor dears). Some of them sound like they're not on the make.
But, it's not your battle, huh?
Here are some thoughts.
Tonight on their way home from work your husband or wife is hit by a car, breaking their back. They are never going to walk again. Tomorrow you are going to grapple with becoming the sole earner whilst learning to become a carer too. You are going to learn about housing benefit to make up the rent. Your house will be regarded as too big for your needs so you won't get enough. You can't afford to adapt the property so your partner can have some independence. Your partner will be unable to get into that favourite restaurant you both love because the wheelchair won't go up the steps and they are regarded as a hazard for other eaters. ATOS say your partner is fit for work but employers consistently tell them they've not been shortlisted for vacancies. From tomorrow you are going to realise that everyone suddenly looks on you both as burdensome and costly. You come to live with peoples' suspicion that any welfare payments you receive are probably fraudulent.
You don't have a partner?
Tonight whilst settling down with a drink in front of the telly you find you suddenly can't move one side of your body. Your mouth contorts. You try to speak and a strange slurred sound comes out. You can't raise your arm or hold the glass. Fortunately a friend is round and recognises the signs that you are having a stroke. They call 999 and your life and some of your future is saved. Tomorrow you wake up and come to terms with the fact that these symptoms might respond partially to speech and physiotherapy but you are now a disabled person. You can't go back to work. The savings you put aside for buying a house are counted as your living benefits are means tested. Add most of what's described above.
Young, fit? Not at risk of chronic illnesses yet?
Your Father died a while ago and your mother has been living independently on her own. Recently you noticed that she was forgetting things you had just told her. Now you learn from the neighbours that she has been wandering around the local streets without warm clothes and doesn't seem to have been eating. The doctor has informed you today that your mother has Alzheimer's disease and will become progressively less capable and aware. The disease will kill her eventually but she can have five years if looked after well. Your siblings won't hear of Mum going into 'a home'. One of you will have to give up their job to look after her … and the consensus is that that will have to be you. You need to give up your job and become a full time carer. You discover the complexity of claiming benefits to enable you and your mother to survive. You do this job 24/7 for every day of the year. The local authority has no funding left to pay for stand-in 'respite' care so you can have a break. The stress means you become ill yourself.
Someone else's problem?
There is a tendency when we are young and healthy to imagine that disability is something that hits other people. Yet it can visit all of us in the space of 24 hours and seldom goes away.
Disability isn't just something that people are born with. It can arrive in your life through accident, or illness, or simply the result of ageing.
So, when the government is pursuing policies which disabled people say are harmful to their lives shouldn't we be just that little bit more concerned?