Disabled Turkeys Voting For Christmas

This post is written by Gerry Zarb, SCIL’s Policy and Information Officer.

Do turkeys vote for Christmas? Even if we made our polling stations more poultry friendly I doubt that they would. I have always suspected this to be an urban (or should that be rural) myth. Amazingly though there are disabled people who’d vote for cuts to disability benefits and even for cuts to social care. In his blog for Community Care On-line Simon Stevens Blog, ‘Anti-cuts groups risk undermining social model of disability’ – Adult Care Blog  claims that cuts are not only acceptable and necessary but that it is in fact disabled people’s ‘responsibility’ to accept them.

To be clear, this claim goes much further than simply saying we need to accept (however reluctantly) that we don’t have enough money in the kitty to maintain to maintain previous levels of public spending. Rather, Stevens is claiming that the social model of disability itself demands acceptance of cuts as quid pro quo for greater rights granted to disabled people and the responsibilities that came with them: “The government is now asking disabled people to honour this as greater accessibility and inclusion means there is a lesser need for compensation payments like DLA or its prospective replacement, personal independence payment, for some disabled people.”

But wait, he doesn’t even stop there because, according to Simon, by baulking at the idea of giving up benefits and support that they need, disabled people are reverting back “to a medical model concept of disability, where people with impairments are victims who are portrayed as unemployable and naturally inferior”.

This really is a novel idea and I suppose he scores points for ‘imaginative thinking’ at least. But, frankly, it is nonsense – and dangerous nonsense at that!

Simon Steven’s argument is that the welfare state was originally developed on the premise that there would always be a proportion of the population who were unable to make any active contribution to society, but that society has now changed to the point “where everyone can make some sort of meaningful contribution”.

Similarly, in the case of social care budgets, he argues that “financial cuts do not necessarily mean reductions in outcomes” because there are ‘technological’ solutions to meeting people’s support needs that didn’t exist in the past. He asks, for example: “Should someone have a shopping call when they are able to do online shopping?”

Even the briefest examination of the unemployment data – especially for disabled people aged over 50 – shows just how wide of the mark this is. According to the latest official statistics from the Labour Force Survey, the number of unemployed disabled people went up between September 2010 and September 2012, from 392,000 to 434,000. That is an increase of nearly 15 per cent. Yes, that’s going to make it a while lot easier to find a job isn’t it?!

And, telecare in place of shopping visits? Are there even any councils left that still class shopping as an eligible need? If there are, you could probably count them on the fingers of one hand.

As the latest ‘State of Health Care and Adult Social Care’ report from the Care Quality Commission confirms, local authorities are tightening their eligibility criteria, meaning that less people get any support even though they still need it. “For 2012/13, 83% of councils have set their threshold for eligibility for state-funded care at ‘substantial’. This compares with 78% in 2011/12 and 70% in 2008/09”.

So, no, the real disservice to the social model is to suggest that disabled people are somehow inflicting dependency on themselves. No one is arguing that we have a problem with public finances. But the negative impact this has on disabled people surely makes it more important than ever to try to defend our rights to participation and inclusion. People who are left poor through having no income, or isolated through having no support, are being excluded, pure and simple.


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