January 2011

Annus Horribilis

Jim Elder-WoodwardWell, it's 2011; a new year and a new start. For us in the Independent Living Movement it should be an exciting year - our first ever independent living festival will happen on the 17th February at the Thistle Hotel, Glasgow.

We will be celebrating with our friends from England and Europe, 50 years of the Movement in the UK. The ideas of the Movement - giving disabled people the freedom of choice and control over their own lives and lifestyles - are now part of mainline social policy, particularly here in Scotland. The Independent Living Movement, comprised of disabled people fighting for such freedoms, is also beginning to discuss such issues with senior Scottish Government officials on a regular basis.

We are a Movement, moving on and this Festival will be a rallying point for all disabled people throughout Scotland to come and join with us to make the freedom of choice and control a reality for all of us.

But, unfortunately, I'm a glass half empty kind of guy. 2011, to me looks to be our "annus horribilis" , for it heralds the beginning of a four year UK Government onslaught to the freedoms we have fought so hard for over these past 50 years.

Next month, as we celebrate our success at our Festival, the latest in a whole string of Welfare Reform Bills will be lodged in the Westminster Government which, over the next four years, will decrease the standard of living of the most vulnerable in society by the most drastic amount since 1931.

At that time, the Liberals in the then National Government persuaded the others to cut public spending by £96.5m, the biggest chunk of which was £66.5m on unemployment benefit .

It's interesting to note that every time the Liberals were in a coalition or national government during the last century, they cut social spending on education, housing and unemployment benefit. For example, during the Conservative Liberal Government in 1922, the "Geddes Axe" cut the spending on social expenditure alone by £13m; but by 1924 the coalition government had cut it by £30m. All the advances in housing, public health, education and unemployment benefit which the coalition had brought in after the First World War to make the country "fit for heroes" were done away with, for as Geddes said if they were not in place before the war, they were not "essential to the country" .

I just wonder if similar thinking is happening in today's coalition around the new thinking of independent living, despite what they say to the contrary.

However, by 2015, cuts in welfare benefits alone will be in the region of £18b. It is reckoned over half of this (£9.8b) will be achieved by moving disabled people onto Job Seekers Allowance and cutting other disability benefits like DLA. By 2013 Disability Living Allowance will be no more, as will the Independent Living Fund by 2015. This will affect 3.5m disabled people throughout the UK.

We still don't know how those receiving funding from the ILF will be able to continue with their support package. The Fund is now closed to new applicants, in any case.

We do know that the DLA will be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment which will take into account the cost of any aid to daily living, like a wheelchair or an aid to help you get dressed, when deciding the level of payment.

It's said people are not oppressed until they feel oppressed. As a Movement we haven't really expressed our oppression by the state and those in authority. Perhaps its time to start expressing that oppression by coming together to learn from each other; to give solace and support to each other; and for all of us together to say to governments, at the local level as well as in Edinburgh and London:

"Hold on a minute; we have rights too. We have rights not to be treated in an inhumane and degrading manner. We have rights to exercise our citizenship and participate in the lives of our families and communities. And you are denying us the opportunities and resources to exercise those rights. If "we're all in it together" don't put us in it more than others."

We need to come together, because only then will those in power take us seriously enough; and the Government's proposed attack on our wellbeing and quality of life, through cuts to our welfare, may well be cushioned.


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