Disabled People and the Cuts

TUC Disability Conference 2011

 

Report by:  David Lawrence as observer

 

Disabled people are being affected by the cuts in every aspect of life. The cuts imposed by this coalition government are making life harder and more miserable for all disabled people. But the fight back is taking place. Thousands of disabled people took part in the 26th March ‘March for the Alternative’ and the ‘Hardest Hit’ march on 11th May which was the largest demonstration by disabled people for decades.

 

The new Equality Act 2010 came into force this year which replaces most of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The DDA and the new Equality Act say that ‘reasonable adjustment’ must be made but if the person has not been given the job, the’ reasonable adjustments’ do not have to be put in place. Delegates spoke of reservations and concerns about the new legislation. The small business lobby is pushing for some of the rules which now include them, to be watered down. A person who has been discriminated against can take the employer to an Employment Tribunal (ET) but has first of all to stump up £250 before taking the case to the ET.

 

Cuts to Disability Living Allowance: DLA claimants are all too often portrayed as malingering benefit dependents, but fraud is rare (but often shouted about in the tory controlled media). Recipients of the current benefit rely on it to pay for basic food and accommodation. Any cut in the allowance would reduce the living standards of disabled people, and risk leaving them and their children in permanent poverty. The governments appointed ATOS Healthcare which has the job of cutting down the DLA bill.  Delegates told harrowing stories of people who had been denied DLA on the flimsy evidence that the claimant could walk ten steps or something similar. We were even told of someone who committed suicide on receipt of a letter from ATOS. A disabled person would rather work than live off benefits but they face discrimination by employers because of their disability. The disabled are more than glad to pay their taxes and national insurance contributions; they do not want to be a burden on society. The slogan ‘ATOS kills’ was uttered many times during the two day conference.

 

There was a presentation of the timeline of prejudice from the American Eugenics Society to the holocaust death camps of Nazi Germany.  A further presentation by the Black Triangle Society told the delegates of the black triangle patch which had to be worn by disabled people in Nazi Germany (same principle of stigmatising people with the yellow Star or David worn by Jews). The group is campaigning against the constant media message that all disabled people are’ scroungers and freeloaders, a burden on society’. Blaming the economic crises on the disabled by constantly saying how high the welfare bill is, or how much extra services like “Access to Work” or “The Independent Living fund” cost so they are closed down to save money, is basically untrue and at odds with the much trumpeted “fairness” agenda the government constantly talk about.

 

Seeking Justice is not the same as Receiving Justice, if justice has been denied and you have to seek redress it is not like not having the injustice perpetrated against you in the first place. The Condem government has now extended the period of insecurity in employment from one year to two years, returning the probationary period to the Thatcher era.

 

Unemployed Disabled People:

 

  • Overall Unemployment – 8.5%
  • 18 – 25 years old – 20%
  • Disabled –  50%

 

Statistically, a disabled person over 55 years old has next to no chance of being reemployed.

 

The rundown in supported workplaces is accelerating; Delegates told the conference that Remploy factories are closing down despite their profitability and ability to stand alone without any taxpayer subsidy.

 

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC):  Staff and budget cut by 60% which will limit its ability to discharge its statutory duty. The Public Bodies Bill (PPB) will threaten the independence of the EHRC by giving ministers the power to modify the EHRC’s function without parliamentary scrutiny. The helpline is already closed which puts disabled people seeking advice at a disadvantage. The PPB is an undemocratic and vindictive piece of legislation.

 

Bullying and Harassment:  47% of disabled people are victims of bullying in the workplace. The conference called for more training for TU reps to recognise workplace bullying. Increased time off by disabled people is used by managers to reduce their workforce in times of recession. The threat of redundancy can set off invisible disabilities such as stress and depression in susceptible people. Mental illness is a hidden disability which can reduce a competent worker to a shadow if his/her former selves. Teaching representatives spoke of the stresses being put on them by ambitious governors wanting to increase the score so they can become academies or ‘free’ schools. The conference learned that 1 in 4 people each year suffer some form of mental breakdown. The cuts in mental health services from an already low point, is going to affect a lot of people.  TUs are urged to break down the prejudice, fear and stigma surrounding mental health by initiating a debate on the subject

 

People are afraid to register illnesses and disabilities due to bullying management using the illness to sack the worker.  HIV sufferers are particularly susceptible to harassment by bullying managers, some insisting the HIV victim wear gloves near children or handling anything that other people use. The conference urged the TU movement to take a stand against bullying.

 

Disability Discrimination in Schools:  A delegate told the conference about the fact that four grammar schools in Southend, did not have a single pupil attend in a wheelchair.  This was despite there being several bright children who qualified.  They are apparently, taxied to other schools outside the Southend area. The Equality Act permits a challenge to this discrimination in court.

The conference urged delegates to combat the rise in the number of academies taking over schools.

 

Disabled Access to Public Transport:  Disabled are unable to use many parts of the London Underground due the cut of 800 staff by the London Transport Executive.  Lifts are very often broken or switched off after a certain time in the evening leaving the disabled person stranded. Many mainline stations are often left unmanned with the same result as the Underground. The new London busses have only one wheelchair space, very often occupied by a pushchair which the mother refuses to fold up leaving the wheelchair user stranded.  Unions are to urge management to train workers to help the disabled and put systems and facilities in place to assist the disabled.

 

Union for the Unemployed:  There was a call, (not voted on) for the formation of a union for unemployed.

 

Overall, an inspiring conference with many disadvantaged people, their  only aim is to get justice for their fellow workers. The current coalition of Liberals and Conservatives led by millionaires who have no concept of what many disabled are enduring. The cuts in DLA, the hidden clauses in the Equality Act as well as the unaccountability of the Public Bodies Bill are all pieces of legislation designed to cut out the disabled who are seen by employers as a burden on society or a disruption of the workplace where they might have to put in special facilities for disabled workers. Health and Safety is under review with small businesses whinging about the costs of putting health and safety procedures and equipment. They have chosen to ignore the phrase ‘as far as reasonably practicable’. The warning when Mrs Thatcher took over ‘Do not be ill, disabled or poor, there is little future for you’ rings true today as it did in 1979.+ The call for a general strike was cheered by delegates and I personally hope it goes ahead. I will be on the picket lines.

 

David Lawrence. Telford & Shropshire Trades Union Council

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