Andy Greene is on the national steering group for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and is a long-term Islington resident who was born in County Westmeath, Ireland. He is a wheelchair user.
I’m running an online festival for disabled people on July 11 to mark the launch of World Indepen-dent Living Day. It’s a new organisation to promote the Independent Living Movement in Britain. It’s important to do this now because what’s becoming clear is that the world is moving very fast around us. Disabled people need to have some sort of agency, a collective body, to have a say on how the world reshapes.
Disabled people have been erased almost at the stroke of the pen during the Covid-19 epidemic. For example, the right to an assessment of your needs for care and support to live independently at home has been removed in all but the most complex of cases, where the State see’s someone’s human rights being threatened. However, every single application for support affects someone’s humans rights.
Data revealed by the ONS this month show that a third of all those who have died from Covid-19 have been disabled people. Disabled women with limiting disabilities aged under 65 are 11.3 times more likely to die than non-disabled females.
There are thousands of people who are in institutions with learning disabilities not allowed to walk around with their peers in public. Those institutions aren’t care homes or nursing homes, they are institutions where disabled people are kept for long, long periods of their lives. There’s been no real scrutiny on how these places have fared in terms of Covid-19 as they’re not covered in the numbers. On top of that, you have disabled people living independently who employ their own support workers who have not been provided with PPE. These workers care for a multitude of people and they cannot afford to not work either. We have been failed by the system. We, as disabled people, need to get ahead of this and set the tone, we need to be aspirational about our vision of the future.
The way we address this is to the acknowledge the harm caused, both by austerity and the decisions around Covid-19, and to hold people account for those decisions. We need to review all of the conditions that led to those decisions. For example, we need to examine the legislative environment, the lack of services and the privatisation of institutions and services that operate in this sector.
The UN, following an inquiry back in 2016, found there was a “grave and systematic violation of disabled peoples human rights” in the UK. We, as disabled people, must begin to ferment our col-lective vision of a society where those failings can never be repeated.
What we have found after previous global events, such as the Reformation and World War II, is that they’ve had a profound and long-lasting negative impact on disabled people and wider society.
Before the Reformation, the traditional places where disabled people lived – outside of family settings – were in religious settings such as nunneries and monasteries. The place profited from “caring” for disabled people. When the Reformation happened and Henry VIII went to war with Catholicism he smashed those buildings and institutions and turfed the disabled people out into the community. It was now down to civic society to look after disabled people. Due to a lack of infrastructure, society rejected the idea of a responsibility towards disabled people and that rejection resulted in the attitude and framework that still exists. Disabled people were seen as scroungers and shirkers and that kind of attitude still exists.
After World War II, there was a rampant form of corporatism in Britain that saw a scramble for re-sources. Rather than allow communities to gain resources, individuals only looked to resource their own needs and the limited support available was siloed. There was a one size fits all approach for housing and social care. What we saw was piecemeal offerings if you couldn’t adapt to the welfare offered. If you’re too costly or too complex those resources weren’t given and there was a scram-ble for people to access the services that were there. A tangible example of how this has continued from then is that the UK is one of only two countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee inclusive education for disabled children.
What did change in the 60s, in the Civil Rights movement, here and the US, was the birth of the Disability Rights Movement. This allowed a critique and analysis of the social, economic and political climate that was able to contextualise all of these historic decision and the forces at play in the treatment of disabled people. Whether that was market forces, politics, or income related poverty or whether that was the privatisation of support services. That critique and analysis revealed that everything related back to the growth of capitalism.
Books that have influenced me:
The book which had the most profound impact on me was the Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. I read it in a long stay hospital in Dublin, one long hot summer when I was a teenager. It’s the story of a relatively young pastor, in his 30s, from a Midwest one horse town in the US. He picks up his newspaper and reads the story of young teenage kids who had been arrested in LA. He drives 3,000 miles and spends the next few months trying to covert members of an LA gang to Christianity. I’m not a religious person at all, but was what powerful to me was his persistence and his results that took more than 20 years. A story thousands of miles away provoked him to take action. I thought it was a powerful story of one man giving up so much without any expectation or reason other than to have a positive impact on people’s lives.
Another important book for me is On the Blanket by Pat Coogan, the 1980 version. It’s about Re-publican prisoners refusing to wear prison clothing and protesting by smearing excrement on their cell walls. These protests failed and saw the hunger strikes happen the next year. But these pris-oners found a way, despite being tortured and tried in military courts with no legal standing, to strike back and reclaim their dignity.
The WILD Day In takes place on SATURDAY 11th JULY – a one-day festival streamed on an inclusive online platform which will feature British Sign Language and live subtitles. World Independent Living Day CIC have teamed up with dozens of poets, musicians, sportspeople, artists to celebrate Britain’s disability community. The festival will provide an escape and a safespace from the Government’s “lockdown” restrictions that have seen a further erosion of disabled people’s rights following years of austerity measures. Find more information at wildaboutculture.com