Over the last few months I, like many others, have been becoming increasingly angry and frustrated as I have watched the government plan the destruction of the welfare state. OK, so the world economy is in a mess. But surely the way to change that is not to withdraw vital services, benefits, support, and ultimately rights, from poor, sick and disabled people. By doing this it seems to me that common sense would dictate that many of these people will end up in crises much worse and much more often and will have to resort back to much more expensive intervention services from the NHS and Social Services. This week the DWP have claimed that this will not happen, but other writers have suggested that they have not produced any evidence to suggest they have carried out an impact assessment of these changes.
The even more scary option is that there won’t be increased spending on such services and people are to end up in the kinds of situations that we see in countries that we like to describe as ‘third world’ ie. if the government, NHS and social services are not going to support people are we going to see them begging on the streets and being fed and housed by charities? We are already going in this direction with the rise in the number and use of food banks. These images smack of Dickensian times. I have visions that if we carry on in this way before long people will be visiting Britain from countries with emerging economies such as India and going home to report to their friends that ‘The sights of London were fantastic, but the poverty was terrible – so many beggars and homeless people’. This sounds far-fetched, but at the moment I really feel we could be heading for exactly this kind of situation.
Anyway, back to the original point – I have got angrier and more depressed at every turn: The welfare Reform Bill, The changes to Employment Support Allowance (ESA), the appalling stories around the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and ATOS, The abolition of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the inadequacy of the proposed Personal Independence Payment (PIP), The removal of Education Maintainance Allowance (EMA) for many young people, Closure of Remploy factories, cuts in spending on Social Services, The closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new claimants, the reforms and re-organisation of the NHS, the abolition of free school meals and the changes to the legal aid system. All of this, and more, at the same time as reducing tax rates for high earners. Even as I write this I cannot understand how anyone thinks that this can be morally justified.
So, as I get more and more frustrated I have begun to think about what I can do to change this situation. I can’t sit back and let it happen without trying to do something.
I work for a local user-led organisation of disabled people and I’m on the Board of Directors af another disabled people’s organisation. I have been involved with these organisations since the very beginning of both and am very committed to developing both. One, the one for whom I work in a paid capacity, is a campaigning organisation. Our aim is to campaign for rights and equality, it is not specifically set up to provide services, although as the organisation grows, it may develop that way if those services fit within a general campaigning remit. Even with this job and these organisations I have still felt at times that I could do more.
I recently started this blog, mainly to share some of the experiences of our unique family, in the hope that it might provide some positive encouragement for other people, and also as a release for me to share some of my thoughts and frustrations. At around the same time as starting the blog I also started to use twitter. The main reason for that was because I thought it would be useful for work. I thought it would be a way of following what the relevant issues were and would help us to build networks to share and work together to challenge, what I believe are, the appalling decisions of this Government. In the month or two I have been using twitter it has indeed fulfilled those expectations, I have learnt about all sorts of groups and issues that I knew nothing about before and our organisation has been able to make initial links with other organisations of disabled peoples organisations.
Yet, I am still frustrated. As I wrote last week, I have read all sorts of blogs written by people who write powerfully about personal experience, I have read well written articles arguing the wrongs of these, so-called reforms. and I have read blogs written by academics, researchers, economists, social scientists and journalists who argue in their various coherent ways about the consequences of these actions. As I read I think to my self, in my usual self criticising way; ‘I can’t do that, I can’t write like that, no one wants to listen to me’. I tend to watch twitter and engage in a bit of re-tweeting, but I’m not much of commenter. I have a terrible fear of saying the wrong thing or of not being witty enough or succinct enough to get my message across in 140 characters. Again with blogs, I read, but rarely comment and if I do It’s usually to say ‘thank you’ or ‘I agree’. The only exceptions to this are the personal blogs I read about experience of impairment and autistic spectrum experiences, because I feel on firmer ground when sharing personal experience.
However, it was whilst reading comments on a blog a couple of days ago that made me realise that I and others do have something to give to the growing movement to challenge the long list of unforgiving reforms. Some of the blogs I have read are those of some of the people involved in producing ‘The Spartacus’ report and the unofficial guide to the PIP consultation. Fantastically useful pieces of work, which have been invaluable to many individual disabled people and organisations like mine, in helping us to formulate our own responses to the DWP and our MPs about the inadequacies of the proposed pip assessment criteria. Many people have posted comments expressing their thanks and gratitude for the work done on these pieces of work and extending good wishes to the writers.
OK, so nothing wrong with that is there? Surely its nice that people are saying ‘Thank You’. Well, on the whole it is. It’s much better to say thank you than not to bother acknowledging the help at all. However I know how frustrating those ‘thank you s’ can be sometimes. One comment stood out among the ‘thank you s’ which I really related to. It was from someone who was frustrated with people just saying thanks and urging the ‘thank you’ brigade to get involved and to help because a few people cannot achieve these changes on their own. We can make a difference if we all do a bit, but we cannot expect to rely on one or two people to carry the flag for the rest of us with just a few ‘thank you s’.
I related to this because It is how I feel a lot of the time at work. This will be no surprise the people I work with who may be reading this. It is a view that I regularly share and it is an issue that we struggle with. There is so much to challenge at the moment, but how do we engage with people and get them involved?
It was then that I stopped to think, after all these people were only being polite and saying thank you and, much as I could relate to it, the comment urging people to do a bit more seemed a bit harsh. There are many different ways that people can contribute to bringing about change. Some will write expressively and coherently, often in extreme circumstances about intense experiences, others will argue through academic ideologies, some may observe and give the odd casual comment and virtual nod or agreement and word of encouragement and support, others will organise events and marches. Some will write and perform dramas, songs, poems and films. Others will write and email their MPs, some will run local groups and try to spread the word with ‘ordinary’ people who do not have contact with blogs, twitter, Facebook and the internet etc. For some of these people their only knowledge of what is happening may be by reading the kind of rhetoric served up by the likes of Ian Duncan Smith. There will be people out there who do not have the confidence, knowledge or opportunity to know how their experience can make a difference.
That was when I realised. ‘ That is what I can do’. I have to believe that the work I do and building up our two little local user-led organisations (ULOs) can make a difference. I will get frustrated about the difficulty in engaging people, and I don’t know at the moment what the answer is, but I, with the help of my colleagues, have to keep trying.
Apart from explaining my personal revelation, the real point of writing this is to say that there are many ways that different people make contributions and there will be many different experiences and different views about details, but in order to achieve change at the moment we need to recognise the broader issues and to acknowledge that many people are trying to highlight them in a range of different ways. One of the challenges is how we bring all these aspects together in order to really get the message across and how we engage with those who do not have access to the instant digital community and who may not be politically astute enough to realise that there are other views than those reported in the mainstream media.
This is very unlike me, but if this has struck a chord and you think it makes sense I would be really grateful if you could share it.
Thanks for reading