If you’ve realised your ambitions and done something that only a few non-disabled people have accomplished – well then you can’t really be disabled.
At least that is what Lord Freud, Welfare Reform Minister, appeared to say on Wednesday 11 May. In a debate about the new assessment for the Personal Independence Payment (‘PIP’, which will replace the DLA) he said that a person climbing Mount Kenya on prosthetic limbs should not be treated as disabled – for that person would be doing something that many of us cannot do. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110511-0001.htm#11051171000240)
With this comment Lord Freud seemed to imply that this person should not be getting the PIP. Radar would be very concerned if personal achievements became a yardstick against which to measure entitlement, for it may well be because of the benefit that this person is able to make his or her dream come true.
No matter how high a person’s achievements, they may still have extra costs of living with a disability – for an amputee this would include costs of taking a taxi as transport is often inaccessible with steps or stairs; replacing clothes more often as artificial limbs cause wear and tear; buying light-weight items which tend to be more expensive. Being an amputee means that you have good and bad days, so that on some days you may need much more assistance than on other days.
The DLA has been the benefit that allowed disabled people choice and control over their lives, regardless of their income. Whether an amputee may find fulfilment in baking pies at home or in scaling the highest mountains in the world – these are personal choices that the Government shouldn’t intrude upon.
But Lord Freud’s comment goes deeper as it betrays a patronising attitude towards disabled people.
It doesn’t happen to disabled people only – we’ve heard that USA President Obama is not really black, high-powered women in the City are just like men; and “that old man is very active given his age.”
But for disabled people the impact can be much worse as their support may be withdrawn. It shows in the stories of disabled people who are reported to the benefits line because they can walk to the shop, or are being interrogated by members of the public about their entitlement to a Blue Badge. (http://www.scope.org.uk/news/attitudes-towards-disabled-people-survey)
It shows in the low expectations that disabled children and adults have to contend with, when they’re told to adjust their aspirations as their disability will stop them achieving their ambitions – and thus being denied the support to move on in the world.
We have still got a long way to go in the fight that started over 30 years ago, when disabled people stood up en masse, and said – we want full citizenship. Stop telling us we can’t. Together with Bob the Builder and President Obama we say – Yes We Can. But give us the support that we need.
What we need to hear from the Government are positive messages about disabled people conquering the world; not denying our identity or withdrawing much-needed support because we’re doing too well to be really disabled.
Marije Davidson - Radar Public Affairs Manager