Katherine Runswick-Cole, Senior Research Fellow, Disability Studies & Psychology, The Research Centre for Social Change: Community Wellbeing.
This blog was first posted on Metropolis, Manchester Metropolitan University’s Policy Think Tank
30th November, 2015
Last week the mother of a disabled teenager from Sale grabbed the headlines when she challenged Tory MP, Matthew Hancock, on BBC’s Question Time.
Speaking from the audience, Sally Wheatman said: “My son has no social worker, no care plan, his transport to and from school is threatened and his college place has just been withdrawn… We feel as if he has been written off by Cameron’s government.”
While the media, in general, has offered a broadly sympathetic response to Sally Wheatman’s question, the disability activist, Jenny Morris, used her blog to focus, not on the question, but on Matthew Hancock’s reply. Hancock said:
“Hold on, if we don’t have a country that can live within its means then we can’t fund those sorts of public services that people like you rely on”.
As Jenny’s analysis suggests:
“There’s a revealing use of the words ‘we’ and ‘you’ in this response. The phrases ‘we can’t fund’ and ‘people like you’ separate the population into two distinct groups – those who pay for and those who use public services.”
Jenny’s blog is a timely insight into the mindset of the neoliberal-ableist state and chimes with what I have also argued elsewhere that:
“Neoliberalism is sustained by identifying the responsible compliant citizens – ‘us’ – and those who fail to live up to the neoliberal ideal type– ‘them’”.
So in the aftermath of the comprehensive spending review, what does the future hold for ‘people like you’ in terms of work, social care and independent living?
The government aims to halve the disability employment gap. The difference in unemployment rates for disabled and non-disabled people currently stands at 30% and employment rates for people with learning disabilities are woefully low, with only 6% of people so labeled in paid work. Existing Work Programmes have notoriously poor outcomes for disabled people, and disabled people currently receiving support from Access to Work (AtW) are having their support cut. Worse still, thousands of people have died within six weeks of being found fit for work following the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and recent research has linked 590 suicides to the WCA.
Organisations of and for disabled people all agree that social care is critically under funded. As a result of the comprehensive spending review, there has been a 2% council tax boost to social care but this, even when combined with the money that has been made available to the Better Care Fund will not go far or fast enough to address the funding crisis. To make matters worse, council leaders have already warned that more deprived areas will lose out under the plan and that a postcode lottery will operate in the delivery of social care.
£4.6 billion has been removed from the social care system over the last five years and this has had a devastating impact on independent living for disabled people. The disability charity Scope found that 55% of disabled people who use social care can not get the support they need. While the Government has also promised to do more to integrate the health and social care systems, vague promises of future change offer little reassurance to disabled people and their families.
Sally Wheatman’s Question Time challenge follows hot on the heels of Who Will Care?, a report by the disability charity Fitzroy that sets out the issues faced by parents of adults with learning disabilities. The report found that parents of people with a learning disability are so anxious about the future that they hope that their sons or daughters will die before they do.
It is surely a matter of national shame that, in twenty-first century Britain, parents of adults with learning disabilities, including me, should be forced to contemplate, even for a moment, the idea that it might be better for their sons and daughters to die before them.
Sadly, the comprehensive spending review seems to offer little to end this shocking state of affairs.