An article from the last General Election.

With some right-wing voices calling for another round of Austerity to 'deal' with the debts incurred due to the pandemic, I thought it would be wise to put this up. It originally appeared in The Morning Star.The drumbeat goes on: the missing disabled people from the General Election campaigns.

Amidst the noise of an increasingly toxic General Election campaign, there is a group desperate to hear news of what might happen in the coming months and years. That group is the disabled who over the past ten years have faced the brunt of austerity-related policies.

In this campaign with political parties trying to outdo each other on the number of trees they will plant and how much money will be spent on the NHS, the country has been informed that austerity is over, yet it seems for the disabled, that won’t be the case.

On social media it can be hard not to notice the GoFundMe pleas as the disabled have struggled to fund the extra costs due to their disabilities along with essentials such as rent, food and heat. The disabled are fully aware as to what some in the Tory party think they are ‘worth’ and that is ‘less’ – less money, less opportunities, less services…

From every side they have been hit, losing support hours, no continuity of care, poor hospital treatment, lack of accessible housing, lack of employment opportunities, lack of access to get out and about.

While on the hamster-wheel of continual assessments –there can be nonsensical sanctions, errors, delays to payments that in reality mean disabled people dying early, either far too ill for the arduous process or taking their own lives as they are too sick of the arduous process.

It’s impossible to say exactly how many people took their own lives due to the changes and cuts to disability benefits, but the fact it can be shown that attempted suicides doubled after the introduction of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), means the numbers are high. The national mental health crisis grew just as the screw was tightened psychologically by WCA and Personal Independent Payment assessments. Many believe the timing wasn’t coincidental.

Hunger, fuel poverty, enforced isolation, an increase in hate crime all add up to an environment hostile to those with the most needs. It was hardly a surprise the Trussell Trust discovered in their latest report, that the disabled are one of the main groups using their foodbank services.

This didn’t go unnoticed, but it took outsiders to really investigate what was happening to disabled people. In 2017, the UK Rapporteur, Mr Stig Langvad raised deep concerns on the UK government’s failure to implement the rights of disabled people and also their failure to implement the recommendations of the 2016 Inquiry which found ‘grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights’.

The government, true to form, tried to minimise the impact of the report by discrediting both the authors and their findings, and as such, neither the 2016 nor the 2017 findings got the attention they deserved.

With all this taken into account, you would think pledges regarding the disabled would feature in the election campaigns, but like in everyday life, they are missing. Quite rightly there have been commitments regarding the calamitous and deadly Universal Credit, but so often connected with this are claims about ‘the working poor’.

Following the social model of disability, there are many barriers created by society which prevent educational opportunities and work. This can extend to the political arena, with a lack of a lack of representation, which ultimately can result in perverse policies such as the WCA.

Problems with social care have been raised but invariably that is linked with older people not those of ‘working’ age.

The disabled are often invisible to others or are made to feel that way by the actions of others. Making them invisible in the election campaigns seems to confirm all the ‘scrounger’ rhetoric drummed into the public over the years.

Yet,1 in 5 of the population are disabled. It may be a minority, but a sizeable minority. The chances are that everybody knows someone who has been affected negatively by the cuts, caps and changes to disability benefits or at the very least read stories about such people in the press. So, where is the empathy for those with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions?

If the disabled kids featured in Children in Need make us empty our pockets, why the failure to accept the difficulties the adults face? If there was more empathy it might result in more action nationally, but it is on the whole absent on an individual, collective and political level.

What will November bring? The disabled scour the news for hope. As Weldon Kees wrote in his (aptly named) poem, The Fall of the Magicians

Noise with complexity, however glum

Might give some clues to what there is in store

But there’s no sound except the beating of a drum

A Johnson-Trump-Farage-Yaxley-Lennon government would be catastrophic for the poor and disabled. For the many just hanging on - the drumbeat of avoidable deaths will continue. Surely, everyone should be clear, this treatment of those with the most needs can’t carry on, that it’s better to rise up than be trampled upon.

Whatever you’re going through you can call Samaritans free of charge on 116 123, any time day or night. Or you can email jo@samaritans.org

R.F Hunt is an author, a freelance journalist and a member of the disabled community.

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