What kind of country have we become? Try asking a disabled person

 By Frances Ryan From The Guardian-

‘I grew up in a Britain that said life would be full of promise for disabled people like me. We might not have conquered the media and corridors of power, but – unlike generations before me – by the 1990s we were no longer hidden from sight. Grim words such as “crippled” and “retarded” were no longer part of everyday speech. Charity tins that until recently symbolised the scraps handed out to us were now accompanied by concrete rights – from the groundbreaking disability civil rights law of my childhood to the welfare state’s tailor-made benefits and services for disabled people.

Progress, though, is rarely as permanent as it appears. Nearly 20 years later, in the spring of 2013, I watched as David Cameron’s coalition government launched what would become an unprecedented assault on disabled people: from the bedroom tax to the rollout of “fit for work tests”, and the abolition of disability living allowance.

Thousands die after being found ‘fit for work’. Food banks see people battling mental and physical health problems

Britain likes to tell itself that it is a fair and compassionate country. How it treats disabled people has long been at the heart of this. And over this past decade of austerity, ministers have relied on this narrative more than ever: that even in tough economic times, “the most vulnerable” would always be protected.

Listen to Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and you start to get an idea of just how far the spin is from truth. Disabled people have been “some of the hardest hit by austerity measures”, he warned in a damning report last month, with many “driven to breaking point” by cuts. A broken benefits system has led to thousands of people dying after being found “fit for work”. Food banks are packed with people battling mental and physical health problems. The threadbare social care system is leaving disabled people trapped in their homes, in some cases waiting 14 hours without access to their toilet.

It is not simply that Britain is shirking its responsibility to its disabled citizens. We have reached a point where negligence is so widespread that at its extremes it is tantamount to abuse. The British state has to all intents and purposes turned on the very people who need it most.

I’ve spent the last seven years speaking to hundreds of these people, and 18 months writing a book. What I found were individuals who had been fundamentally abandoned. Susan, who has multiple sclerosis, has lost 4kg (8.8lb) after skipping meals to pay for her care and even her incontinence pads. Paul, a homeless part-time wheelchair user, sleeps rough in disabled toilets and at Heathrow airport. Rachel, a former nurse, has had her entire social care package removed; without someone to help her into bed at night, she now sleeps fully clothed in her wheelchair.

Anyone who thinks these horrors are an aberration in Britain’s supposed long history of care for disabled people is missing the point. That brief period of gains when I was a child aside, the crisis befalling us is so horrendous not because it is new, but precisely because it is not. People forget how recently it was that disabled people were shut away in institutions in Britain, or effectively banned from public transport, schools or jobs.

The brutal cost-cutting of the last decade has been a lesson in just how quickly hard-won rights for minorities can be rolled back. Just ask the parents protesting last month after their disabled children were pushed out of education because of funding cuts. Or the young disabled adults threatened with being forced out of their family homes and into care homes for the elderly.

None of this has happened by accident, though. Rather, it has come about as a deliberate attack on disabled people. In a climate of disenfranchisement, squeezed wages and growing inequality, post-2010, ministers and large parts of the media saw the so-called “scrounging sick” as an easy target. Smearing disabled people as little more than a drain on the public purse was not only a means to distract from the real causes of people’s problems, but came to excuse and normalise any number of nightmarish results that, even a few years ago, we’d have said were unthinkable.’

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