This week has been so mad, there is so much going on here. So many issues and so many things to talk about. I don’t really know where to start and I haven’t got a lot of time to write about it.
If you saw my post last week about Anxiety and Things to do you will have some idea of all the stuff we have going on.
We had a fantastic weekend, which I hope to write about in the next few days, the reality of the transition to high school is beginning to become a reality for B and the stuff I am involved with at work is becoming ever more important with the current threats and cuts to services and benefits to disabled people.
There is so much going on with my work and my voluntary role that I haven’t managed to get away from the computer until past 10.pm for the past 2 or 3 nights. In one way this is a good thing as it means that the organisations I work with are growing and becoming successful. The difficulty is that we lack capacity to do all the things we want to do. Both these organisations are small voluntary bodies, which rely on a group of voluntary trustees to run things.
It does feel like a bit of cycle. At the moment we need more funds to enable us to employ more people, to pay for office space and may be pay for some short term / sessional help, but in order to successfully bid for funds we need to have success to demonstrate, we need the resources to gather the evidence and put together the bids. It’s a case of being stuck between a rock and hard place.
We are definitely having successes, which feels great, but the challenge is to maintain the momentum of the success and to build on it.
For Disabled people there are many barriers that prevent them from doing the things that non-disabled people take for granted and there are many threats to vital services and benefits at the moment, but one of the issues that has always been a big one for disability campaigners is the access to transport. However accessible you make a shopping centre, office, pub, restaurant, theatre or any other building it makes no difference if you can’t get from where you live to that place because public transport is not accessible.
Currently the government is cutting services and benefits to disabled people. They are saying that disabled people should go out to work. This may surprise you, but many disabled people would love to go to work, but can’t. This may be for a number of reasons including; not being able to afford to pay a personal assistant to help them get ready early enough in the morning, not being able to carry out work for the required number of hours because many tasks take longer or make someone tired because the simple efforts of getting to places, eating and personal care take so much energy. Or it may be that many disabled people lack appropriate qualifications to secure employment because of lack of access and opportunities for a decent education. However, one of the most common reasons disabled people give about the difficulty with getting out to find work or do anything else within the community is the lack of access to accessible public transport.
The UK government is removing benefits from disabled people and expecting them to work. At the same time they are proposing to change Disability Living Allowance which is the non-means tested benefit paid to disabled people to help them cover the extra costs of living associated with disability. The government has stated that it expects to withdraw this benefit from 500,000 people. As well as providing income to people to puchase specialist equipment etc. these benefits also act as ‘passports’ to other services such as ‘blue badges’ and ‘motorbility’ schemes which are designed to make it easier for disabled people to get out and about.
So you see, with the removal of these benefits and services many disabled people will be faced with the choice of either staying at home in isolation, with the resulting psychological impacts or having to use the public transport system if they want to get out and access the community. The problem is that our public transport system is not fit for purpose.
As the Government is expecting disabled people to work many will be stuck in a ‘loose loose’ situation, being denied benefits which give them access to taxis and other accessible transport options, being expected to work with no means of actually getting out to interviews and to work.
On Tuesday this week disabled people held a Right to Ride protest. This was organised by Transport for All and Disabled People Against Cuts met with MPs at the House of Commons to explain these difficulties and the impact of the current changes to benefits and services combined with the lack of access to public transport. The plan was to follow the meeting with MPs by catching a bus from Westminster to the office of the Confederation of Passenger Transport in Covent Garden to deliver a letter stating a list of changes that would need to be made to make the transport system more accessible.
I went to this event with a colleague from our local organisation. We had hoped that many more of our members would come with us to meet MPs and show support for this vital campaign. Indeed many people did express their wish to attend but they couldn’t. We live in South West London, the choices for me of getting from where I live up to Westminster would be to use the underground or to travel by train to Waterloo. I’m sure there is also a bus option too. However for many of the people I work with none of these options were available.
There are several reports of what happened on the day.
The reason I am writing about this is to highlight the lengths that disabled people are again having to go to in order to highlight their rights to live life like everyone else. 20 years ago when I was only just beginning to learn of the disability rights movement people were having to make these kinds of public demands for rights and equality. And by doing this a number of significant policy changes were achieved and it finally felt like governments and policy makers were beginning to recognise the rights of disabled people, but over the last few years it appears that we, as a society are going backwards very fast.
I never believed that I would have to go and stand with people while they sat in front of buses to make their point I really thought that, as a society we had moved beyond people having to resort to this, but it seems that disabled people are going to have to find any way we can of making our voices heard because it seems that no-one is listening or understanding.
The event did receive quite a bit of publicity and was filmed as part of the channel 4 No Go Britain series.
I am proud to be a disabled person, I am proud that I was able to represent my local members by attending this event. However I am also sad that we had to resort to people feeling that the only way to make our point was to stop a bus in order to be heard. Disabled people have nothing against the travelling public. We have no issues with bus drivers per se. All we are asking for is to have the right to join the travelling public.
As a working mum with disabled children I would urge others to get involved with local campaigning groups and disabled people’s organisations. Groups like ours need all the support from other disabled people, friends and allies at the moment. We are facing a lot of challenges and any form of help and support would be appreciated.
Please get involved and help us to persuade the government and politicians to listen.
If you can understand where I am coming from and know people who struggle to access transport please share this and if you have a local campaigning group find out and help them, even if it is just a bit of envelop stuffing, giving out leaflets, helping out at the odd meeting by pouring the tea etc.
Happy campaigning and lets hope we don’t have to keep this up for too long.
I will try and write about some of our other trials and triumphs later. Thanks for reading xx