Wednesday 1st February was a dark day for our country. It was the day that the House of Commons used the little known financial privilege to overturn seven amendments made to the welfare bill by the House of Lords. Financial privilege is a tradition where the Lords cannot challenge the Commons on financial matters. This means there will be no further debate on this issue and the welfare reform bill will continue.
For vulnerable people, this poses a real threat to their quality of life. Coupled with the swathe of cuts that are already starting to affect local services, support for ill and disabled people will diminish, exposing families to greater impoverishment. For my family, it is the changes to the disability living allowance which I already posted about here, along with restrictions to the employment and support allowance and cuts to local services that is likely to affect my son in the future.
Equally troubling is the Government rhetoric and media sensationalism that has portrayed all ill and disabled people as scroungers who are using their disability to access benefits and fund what is being described as a “lifestyle choice”. What Duncan Smith and his cronies fail to realise is that for many people it is not a lifestyle choice to become disabled or ill. It is not a lifestyle choice to become paralysed as a result of a road accident, it is not a lifestyle choice to be born with autism, it is not a lifestyle choice to develop alzheimer’s disease. It is simply not a choice. Anyone of us can become ill or disabled something that was conveniently forgotten by those who stood in the House of Commons and voted against the Lords’ amendments.
Such irresponsible language threatens the vulnerable in ways that don’t just risk pushing them into poverty. With such cruel stereotyping comes the worry that harassment will increase as people buy into the idea that all disabled and sick are scroungers who deliberately use their disabilities and illnesses to avoid work. This is something that troubles me. Do we want to have a society where those that are unlucky enough to become ill or disabled are seen as undeserving of help in achieving a decent quality of life? I don’t. I want to live in a society that shows compassion and care to its most vulnerable people. As I have experienced it is a privilege to care for others; it is one of the most enriching human experiences. It is something that as a nation we should be proud to do. To pitch people against one another, as the government is doing in its quest to sell the idea that “work pays” is a huge disservice to us all and a huge step backwards in the progress of humanity in our country.
As for me, I am deeply worried for my son’s future. He has already suffered enough without his government punishing him for being disabled. His autistic spectrum disorder was not diagnosed until more than seven years after I first mentioned his early symptoms to a health visitor. A prejudicial attitude to parents, ignorance about autism and a preoccupation with budgets led to my son’s needs being ignored by his school. It was only by following our gut instinct and perservering that we eventually got our son diagnosed.
Nevertheless due to the lack of support in school, my son developed mental health problems which have severely disrupted his education. Now at the age of 13, he has made little progress over the last four years; if anything his academic levels have deteriorated and his autistic behaviours have become more pronounced. With such difficulties, I am worried for his future, a feeling that has become even more heightened now that we are at the point of thinking about his options when he reaches 16. After attending a recent exhibition, we were starkly reminded of the hurdles still ahead of us. There is no specialist provision in our area; if students can’t manage mainstream college then they have to travel out of the area, at their own expense as the local authority has withdrawn transport. If we do decide to seek specialist provision there is likely to be another battle to get the authority to refer my son but I remain ironically hopeful that my son’s pitiful education to date may make it easier to get such support.
However, even if he was to get a specialised college place, what will there be for him afterwards? Will there be jobs suitable for him? With so few autistic people in employment and a society with so few opportunities for young people, I remain worried that my son will end up depending upon us until we become too old to care for him. What happens to him then? Who will look after him? Visions of my son living alone in a grotty bedsit unable to properly care for himself is a vision that increasingly haunts me.
If these worries aren’t enough there is then the concerns over my aspergers daughter. Her passivity, her ability to express herself, fools many professionals into believing that there is no problem. The reality is that there is a problem. Behind those big dreamy eyes, hides a multitude of difficulties that makes the world a confusing and frightening place for her. Yet according to her teachers there is nothing wrong. She is, they say, almost achieving the levels prescribed by the government though I have my reservations that this is indeed the case. What is the future for her? What is the future for my beautiful daughter who shows such artistic promise but who struggles to understand language, who finds crowds and noise frightening, who struggles with social interaction and more worryingly has days where her moods swing so much that I’m starting to worry about her mental health.
It breaks my heart to see my children suffer because of our education system and whose suffering may worsen under a heartless government that shows little regard for disabled and sick people. All I ever wanted for my children was for them to live in a fair society where everyone has the chance to flourish. It is tragic that in 21st Britain that this still isn’t the case and that families like mine face marginalisation in a society that is becoming increasingly intolerant of difference and disability.
You may also be interested in this blog post by Rainbow Over The Wall, an excellent commentary on disability, politics and the Welfare Reform Bill http://rainbowoverthewall.blogspot.com/2012/02/why-i-give-f.html