Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Something Inside So Strong #wrb
It's an important day for welfare reform, the highly contentious Welfare Reform Bill returns to the House of Lords this afternoon after the government chose to apply financial privilege to the amendments the Peers had so carefully considered. Sue has been trying to explain what this might or might not mean for the Welfare Reform Bill so I wanted to look at what it means for our community.
Whether or not the Welfare Reform Bill continues to be amended, the campaign against it has been a huge success. For the first time in decades there is a tangible and determined disability rights movement emerging in the UK, forging strong links with other disabled peoples' movements around the world. Prior to the 2010 election there were only a handful of disabled bloggers trying to alert the rest of our community to the potential problems we were facing. So unknown and unheard were our voices that in September 2010 the Financial Times confidently declared that cuts to disability benefits would be the "easiest bit of welfare reform to sell", something the Coalition government were undoubtedly banking upon to avoid proper scrutiny of the WRB, based entirely upon ideological principles and an astonishing lack of detail.
Without resources or training, those with the least time and energy to give have been those who've given the most. We have pooled our skills and put aside our differences to emerge as a cohesive movement. Groups such as The Broken of Britain moderately focusing on how to use old and new forms of media as a campaign tool, Black Triangle taking a more feisty approach in dealing with the private sector elements of the welfare process, and Disabled People Against Cuts organising a daring and powerful act of civil disobedience. Having learnt from the successes and mistakes of disability rights icons such as Vic Finkelstein and Jane Campbell we have looked ahead, whilst ensuring we never forget to look over our shoulders and ensure that no group of sick or disabled people are left behind. We have worked closely with Carers, made sure that there is appropriate information available for those with learning difficulties and ensured support networks for those with mental health issues, understanding that our strength lies in our acceptance of our diversity and difference as disabled people, regardless of the reason for that disability.
Whatever happens with the parliamentary process this new disabled peoples' movement will continue. We have had one stunning victory, and that is changing the nature of the debate surrounding welfare from an almost universal assumption of scrounging to a gradual awakening of the potential dangers inherent in labelling one group of humans as less worthy than another. Some of the more heated debates, particularly online have fundamentally misunderstood this point, made so eloquently by people such as Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers and David Cameron's former speech writer Ian Birrell - the warnings of apartheid and potential fascism are not because a government wanted to cut some money from the welfare bill. They are because of the dialogue introduced to the public by the previous New Labour government and ramped up by a Coalition government dominated by inexperienced politicians. A dialogue which, without evidence to support its arguments rebrands the most vulnerable; the poor, the sick, the single parents, the carers, the disabled as being drains on society, unworthy of support and insinuates the idea that these people are somehow to blame for the wider economic challenges we face into the national consciousness. A dialogue so insiduous that less than two years after the Coalition came to power there are deeply disturbing increases in the level and nature of hate crimes against disabled people.
As a campaigner I understood long ago that we would lose the battle of the Welfare Reform Bill, but that did not mean we would lose the wider war. There are many problems with the details in the bill and potentially vastly more expensive benefit traps being created by it as those who drafted it had a remit to cut money quickly, not consider the long term consequences or complexities faced by those dependent upon benefits. However, the real war is to attack the damage which has been done to the identity and rights of sick and disabled people in the past two years, which threatens not just to undo all the progress towards equality made in the previous forty years, but to embed apartheid into the British consciousness.
And for those of us digging in to fight that wider war, there is just this to say to the government.
You may be Goliath, but we are David and working together we can and will be the slingshot and pebble.