Once upon a time when I was much younger and more naive, I voted for the Conservative party and continued to do so until I realised that my naivety was blinding me to some obvious problems. I switched my allegiance to the Liberal Democrats as they appeared at that time to actually care about the majority of the population, not just the elite few. Then, due to ever increasing health problems, I moved to Spain. When I moved back to the UK, I discovered that things had changed a great deal. Conservatives and LibDems were ‘all in it together’ by which, it appears, they meant they were too busy patting their own backs, making sure their wages and expenses were as high as they could push them and generally ignoring the people who had voted them into power.
I never imagined a day would come when I would be actively thanking Labour MPs. However, today is that day. As regular readers of this blog and my other one will know, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Epilepsy. Yes, whisper it quietly, I’m disabled. I had naively assumed when returning to Britain that the system that had helped me when I first became ill would do so again now that I’m very much sicker. I really must get my head examined to get all that naivety removed!
Today, there was a debate in Parliament on the motion raised by the Labour Party which calls on the government to publish a cumulative impact assessment of legislative changes that affect disabled people by October 2013. Normally, I wouldn’t dream of watching a political debate but this one was personal, not just to me but to all the sick and disabled across Britain. I was watching the BBC and Twitter side by side on my laptop.
The current government has made massive cuts to the welfare budget. Now, I agree that we can’t just hand out money like there is no tomorrow, especially in the difficult circumstances the world is facing. However, finding out how the people they are supposed to be protecting will be affected by assessing the possible impact first seems to make perfect sense to me.
I was more than happy to agree to be properly assessed before any benefits came my way. I didn’t want to be labelled a ‘benefit scrounger’. Imagine my surprise when a person from ATOS, the group to whom the government has outsourced said assessments decided that I was in fact capable of work, despite my various specialists saying I wasn’t. So I started looking for work. Now, I am unable to stand or sit for any length of time, walk with a stick, have balance problems and have seizures. Would you employ me? No, neither it seems would anyone else.
Fortunately, I had the good sense to think carefully about where I would move to when I left Spain and chose Glasgow. I have been so lucky with my medical team and with all the care and support I have received. My Rheumatology team in particular insisted that I was not to work, especially as a new treatment I had been given caused me to have a string of seizures. I applied again for benefits and this time, I have managed to get ESA….for how long, I do not know. Thank you Scotland for making me so welcome.
Back to the debate. Members of Parliament on the Conservative side stood up and spouted the most ridiculous waffle about disabled people. One even went so far as to call people like me, who write about or campaign for disabled people, ‘extremists’. Seriously…we are extremists. Be careful world, we are coming to get you with our walking sticks and our wheelchairs! On Twitter, people already in despair, could not believe what they were hearing. Esther McVey, the Minister responsible for disabilities even went so far as to suggest that the charity, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, was somehow linked to the Labour Party. No charity is allowed to have political affiliation and the CAB is run by volunteers who do their best to help people with all kinds of problems.
Which brings me to the Labour benches, and in particular those MPs who had REAL facts and figures, had obviously actually spoken to their constituents and genuinely seemed concerned about the matter, despite the fact that the House was virtually empty for most of the debate. Particular mention goes to Anne McGuire MP, Debbie Abrahams MP, Fiona O’Donnell MP and of course, Liam Byrne MP who gave the proposal speech.
Then came time for the vote. Suddenly, the chamber had filled with MPs who seemed to just pop out of the woodwork. Most of them had heard less than five minutes of the debate, if that. When I tuned into the debate there was maybe 20-30 MPs sitting in the House. When the vote came back, the proposal was defeated by 227 for to 296 votes against.
So, basically, us extremist disabled people must be willing to be ‘assessed’ by whomever and whenever the government chooses but they themselves will not carry out a basic impact assessment before cutting the ground out from our feet first.
Everyone is affected by this, not just those currently disabled. As I have said before, one day it may be you or a member of your family. Please sign this petition to show your support.