Merry Cross, a member of Disabled People against the Cuts and Reading Left Unity looks at the need for the left to support disabled people:
Left Unity supporters agreed to prioritise campaigning alongside disabled people who are being savaged by austerity measures at its national meeting in Birmingham in January. This is probably unprecedented in the history of political parties, let alone newly founded ones.
It has happened for a number of reasons: the genuine commitment of those at the heart of the party to including disabled people, which has involved real practical support and the unusually high level of involvement of disabled people as a result. It is also a recognition of the horrific attacks on the well-being of disabled people at the hands of this government.
But, why has it taken the left as a whole so long to recognise the necessity to do this? In the natural and correct overwhelming concern with the fate of working class people, has it been forgotten or not realised that disabled people are massively overrepresented amongst the working class?
When many of us use the term working class we still conjure a picture of a strong white man! Yet the reality (quite apart from the fact that there are millions of women, people from minority ethnic groups, etc etc who are working class) is that it is the work that many have to do that causes their impairments.
Some become deafened by their jobs; others develop back problems because of too much heavy lifting (for example women in caring jobs, like nurses and home carers). Then there are those millions around the world seriously and permanently injured in industrial accidents, often because of poor or absent health and safety measures.
So if you recognise that perhaps your image has been skewed, do think about how to support the struggle of disabled people. It cant be discussed too often because this government (and in particular Iain Duncan Smith) think up new ways to make our lives even more desperate, with alarming frequency.
It’s hard to tell the difference between the propaganda the coalition government has put out about the cost to the nation of welfare for disabled and ill people and a Nazi poster depicting a disabled man and declaring that he costs the nation so many thousand Deutschmarks a year. This led to disabled people being the first to be killed in the gas chambers. The fact that I feel the need to say this is a reflection not of my own fear alone but of a view expressed by a large number of disabled people.
Most of you will already be familiar with tales of the torture of repeated ATOS assessments and have probably heard that millions have been wasted on appeals because the number of dreadful decisions has been astronomical. But now it’s even worse. Since April we have not been allowed to appeal in the first place to ATOS for reconsideration. It has to go to the DWP which has no time constraint on how long they take to make a decision. Meanwhile disabled and seriously ill people are expected to exist on reduced or no benefits at all, often for months on end. One woman contacted me recently who had paid for her disabled friend’s electricity because she was cold and starving.
There are countless examples of people who have been denied Employment Support Allowance and put in the Work-Related Activity Group who have been sanctioned and lost all their benefits when they have either been too ill to attend for a job interview or even at a hospital appointment.
You are probably also aware of people who need an extra bedroom for equipment or for carers to sleep in, who have been forced to pay bedroom tax. On that subject, did you know that anyone who meets both of these conditions is EXEMPT from the bedroom tax:
1. They have continuously received Housing Benefit (full HB or 1p per week) on or before 1 January 1996, AND
2. They have lived in the same property since 1 January 1996
I won’t list every attack here, but every welfare cut affecting all benefit claimants has affected us too, often disproportionately.
So, please see whether you have a local branch of Disabled People Against Cuts and ask them to notify you of their events. You can also check out the Disabled People Against Cuts website for advertised events.
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
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