The Voice of Disabled People?

Amongst the various other things that annoyed me about yesterday’s shameful treatment of disabled people courtesy of the Lords (et tu, Lib Dems?) was a vomit-inducing self-congratulatory homily by Lord Low, who spearheaded this (admittedly influential) report on the withdrawal of mobility allowance for people in residential care.

Readers may remember that this nasty proposal was born out of invented assumptions that people in residential care have all their mobility needs met by their funding authorities, that they are similar to people in acute hospitals who don’t have mobility needs and (we suspect) due to an assumption that this seldom-heard and severely disempowered group would be unable to defend themselves. Others cynically (though perhaps correctly!) suspected this was the sacrificial clause designed to enable the Government to save face on the remainder of their cripple-kicking, disempowering, undemocratic and lying Bill.

Disabled people were naturally incensed. People from all sorts of backgrounds put in a huge amount of effort to point out the “inaccuracies” in the assumptions inherent in the proposal, and the dramatic negative effect this would have on residents’ lives. Some examples include Bendy Girl’s radio interviews, my oral and written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (PDF file), and our home’s residents who got our MP to visit to correct his assumptions and to raise our concerns. And these examples are a drop in the ocean compared to the huge amount of effort put in many different ways by a lot of disabled people to make the Government change its mind.

Yet in this extraordinary speech (with supposed false modesty!) Lord Low claims responsibility for the U-turn on behalf of the secretariat (provided by two charities for, not of, disabled people) and the other half for Members of Parliament’s common sense! Shamefully, he made no mention of the work done by disabled people up and down the country to overturn this odious proposal.

There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over 99 just persons who need no repentance. For that reason, I greatly welcome the Government’s decision to drop their proposal to withdraw the mobility component from those living in residential care. I have been given some credit for bringing this about with the review that I was asked to lead by Leonard Cheshire Disability and Mencap, but I think, in all honesty, I must disclaim this. Half of that is because I had a very good team working with me, supported by an extremely able and hard-working secretariat from both organisations; and half because I think Ministers, to their considerable credit, largely came to their decision of their own accord. Perhaps I may have provided a little cover for a U-turn-if so, I am glad to have been of service.

Pass the bucket.

Lord Low, as a disabled person himself, should be ashamed for continuing the traditional disempowerment of disabled people by continuing the enforced misapprehension that they cannot speak for themselves, that their words and actions don’t have power, that other people can more effectively speak for them. His lack of acknowledgement of disabled people’s actions yesterday is a breathtaking rebuff of the Disabled People’s Movement.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised as this sort of behaviour is by no means new. After all, as ex-chief of the Disability Rights Commission Bert Massie says, we shouldn’t expect publicly funded charities that act as proxy providers of public services to bite the hand that feeds them. (I’m looking at you, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Mencap, who provided such vital secretarial support to the Low report.)

He pointed to the “superb” Responsible Reform report – published this week by disabled activists – which accused the government of misleading parliament over disability living allowance reform, as a demonstration of why the voluntary sector’s independence was so important.

He said that any charity that decided it was unable to produce such a report because of the risk of annoying the government had immediately been “compromised” by signing a contract to provide services.

But Lord Low’s speech is such an inexcusable, self-congratulatory, brown-nosing, odious homily to disabled people’s disempowerment, I couldn’t resist this rebuttal.

2 Replies to “The Voice of Disabled People?”

  1. I sent this letter…

    Dear Lord Low of Dalston,

    I am writing to express concern at your speech yesterday in the House of Lords in relation to the U-turn on DLA for people in residential care.

    In this speech, with false modesty, you claimed sole victory on behalf of your secretarial support at two charities and of the sensibilities of the ministers involved.

    Nowhere in your statement did you give credit to the many disabled people who campaigned tirelessly and at great personal cost to overturn this nasty proposal.

    I know there were swathes of disabled people, from all sorts of backgrounds and despite many barriers and many disadvantages, who did an awful lot of work on politicians in all sorts of ways.

    I personally gave oral and written evidence to the joint committee on human rights. I was interviewed by the civil servants involved in the informal review of the proposal. I wrote to my MP on multiple occasions, correcting his assumptions about us. We as a group invited him to come and meet us all, then we raised the issue strongly with him.

    I’m just one example of the many, many disabled people who did similar and different things.

    I think it was disgraceful you did not acknowledge this in any way in your speech. By your words, you perpetuated the disempowering myth that disabled people aren’t able to organise and speak for themselves. I would frankly expect better, particularly from somebody who is disabled themselves.

    Even Leonard Cheshire Disability at least went through the charade of congratulating us (“you did it!” said one poster in our service, together with a nebulous instruction to celebrate over a defined period.)

    Perhaps have a rethink?

    Yours sincerely,

    Doug Paulley

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