As Britain gears up for its impending General Election, the disabled population is wondering what will be in store when the results are announced in June. We are a group who has been made increasingly vulnerable under Conservative rule, and as a result many people are becoming more disabled (in the social model sense, that we are disabled by society not by our bodies) as barriers and inequity grow.
Since the Tories gained power
When the Conservative Party joined with the Liberal Democrats to form a government after the vote was split nationally, failing to provide us with a single party that had a majority, a systematic attack on disabled Brits began. Disability benefits were cut again and again and again, leaving people in poverty and needing to use food banks, with over 1,180,000 sets of food supplies given out in the past year, 436,000 to children.
At least one disabled person has even starved to death. And in the first three years of the coalition government, 2,380 people died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by the flawed and dangerous benefits system.
Homelessness has increased by over 50%, and even the Human Rights Act is under threat. The country’s beloved National Health Service is also being quietly privatised, which will disproportionately affect disabled people who rely on it, too. Richard Branson’s Virgin company is one corporation that has already taken over some healthcare provision, while outlets such as pharmacies and newsagents within hospitals have been handed over to profit-making companies.
Opposition to the Conservatives
The Labour Party is fighting hard to save the NHS, even though its own Public Private Partnerships laid the groundwork for this privatisation to happen when they were last in power. However, they offer a better hope than the Tories do, on both the NHS and benefit cuts, especially with left-wing Jeremy Corbyn in charge.
Campaign groups have also shot up, desperate to make the world a better one in June.
#CriptheVoteUK has launched a ’10 minutes to save 10,000 lives’ campaign. They say “This commitment refers to the 10,000 people whom disability rights actvists and researchers estimate have lost their lives in relation to having their benefits revoked by the DWP, and encourages people to use their vote this spring to save the thousands more disabled people whose lives are at risk under this government.”
It is a selfie campaign, with CripTheVoteUK asking people to “Share a selfie with your poll card or one of our campaign signs, a statement that you will be using your vote to support disabled people’s rights, and the hashtags #CripTheVoteUK and #10for10000”.
Dennis Queen, a #CripTheVoteUK activist, explains that “Right now, disabled people are quite literally voting for our lives. We need ALL voters to know this is an emergency for thousands of disabled people and help us fight back.”, she added.
Eleanor Lisney, another disability activist and a co-founder of #CriptheVoteUK, said “We must vote if we are to have a chance to survive the coming onslaught against our human rights. Disabled people should make politicians aware that, with 13 million potential voters, we cannot be ignored.”
Mencap’s Easy Read campaign
Mencap is a large disability charity that has launched a campaign for the major political parties to produce an Easy-Read version of their manifestos to help adults with learning disabilities to decide who to vote for. Just as those of us who can read dense, political documents choose who to vote for based on policies outlined in manifestos, so adults who struggle with those documents should also have the right and ability to make their own decisions when it comes to the voting booth.
So, Mencap has joined with disability activists to call for Easy Read documents from the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Ukip and Green parties so that learning disabled adults can take part in this important decision-making process.
Mencap has also launched some Easy Read guides to voting and campaigning.
Voting the right way
There is no single party that is flawless on disability rights, and many parties have at least a few problematic policies. There is little doubt, however, that the Conservatives and Ukip are those that are least concerned about the rights of minority groups, and that the Liberal Democrats, when in coalition with the Conservatives, enabled some of the most damaging cuts we have ever seen.
All predictions are that the Tories will, however, win with a landslide. Yet this is not an inevitability. With effective campaigning and rallying of unsure voters, people can be mobilised to campaign and to vote, even when it feels pointless and everybody feels powerless. If all those who have been punished in some way by this Conservative government use their vote, the scales could certainly be tipped.
Photo: Tim Green/Creative Commons