The surprising general election result has left many disability campaigners and activists in shock, with immediate welfare based allegations of all round doom and gloom in what they see as an unfair result. But the nation voted and in England at least, their welfare based desire to exclude disabled people in the name of fairness and compassion failed.
While this Conservative government has a bumpy 5 years ahead, and there is much for everyone to be weary about, in terms of policies specifically relating to disabled people, the core legislation is in place, and now it is a matter of letting this bed in. The new welfare reforms are not clear cuts, but a redistribution of limited resources to better support those who need it the most. This story is rarely told as the activists and media has portrayed anyone with any kind of impairment, however minor, as helpless and vulnerable.
The austerity rhetoric failed to capture voters in this election, and if the message is used again in 2020, when the economy is likely to be stronger, it will fail again. Within 5 years, the conversation on disability issues by disabled people, charities, professionals and politicians must be very different to the last 5 years. The lives of 12 million disabled people, with a complex range of needs and desires, can not be hold to ransom by cheap welfare based headlines that use people’s fear of disability to win a moral argument.
More importantly, the rising and future leaders within disability issues, to which I cautiously hold my hand up to being, need to understand and embrace the fact that the government should not be relied upon to come up with all the solutions, like a bird feeding its chicks. It is time disabled people, in a wide range of groupings and forums, come up with their own self-sufficient solutions to meet their own needs and desires.
By this I am not referring in any way to a reduction of the support individuals receive from government. I am however saying that it is maybe not the government’s responsibility to ‘give’ a disabled person a job, as that will rarely be a proper job. Instead it is time disabled people set up ‘for profit’ socially motivated enterprises like recruitment agencies that enables and empowers disabled people’s talents to be uncovered, and sold as the top of the crème to prospective employers.
I believe the charity model of so-called ‘user-led organisations’ no longer has a place and that these organisations do very little for all but a few disabled people as they endlessly chase statutory funding regardless of how far it moves them from why they were originally set up. Their dependency of maintaining the status quo has hindered any development in disabled people’s engagement on many levels.
I further believe the answer to their replacement is simply not a new set of charity based organisations using new blood, if there is indeed new blood, but rather something which is far more organic, and something no one can currently predict. Twitter was a campaigning revolution which has its advantages, as well as disadvantages, namely to fact it has enabled disabled people to interact with each other in a manner previously impossible. We will have no idea what will be the key technology in 2020 or the impact that will have.
People from all backgrounds should be working in their own way, some together and some individually, to ensure that the life opportunities and experiences for disabled people in 2020 is better than they are now. This has to be more than just the amount of money they receive from government but about every aspect of their life. The focus should not be just on those who fit into the classic stereotype of being sick, miserable and not coping financially. It is important we meet what all disabled people, from all walks of life, individually require to be contributing members of society.
I very much hope that the issue of disability in 2020 is in a stronger position than it is now, and that it shakes off the image of just being a welfare issue. Achieving this is not about what the government is going to do for disabled people, but what will disabled people do for themselves?