Over the twentieth century there was a growing recognition that all citizens, at vulnerable times in their lives, should be entitled to support – when very young, old, sick, unemployed, or in poverty. This included those who would face challenges throughout their lives, because of some form of disability.
All this culminated in the Welfare State, planned by a Liberal, William Beveridge, enacted by the 1945 Labour government, and supported by the Conservative opposition. There was a consensus that a contract existed between the state and the people, without whose taxes and sacrifices the state would not exist. Support to the vulnerable was key to the contract.
The spirit of this contract, and those shared beliefs, is now at serious risk. In our January 2019 issue of Community Living three excellent but disturbing articles suggest that the state no longer sees itself as obliged to support its vulnerable citizens, but is rather on a mission to sever its obligations to them.
Sean Kelly interviews Jackie Downer,(LINK) a woman who has devoted her life to advocating on behalf of her fellow citizens with learning disabilities, and has received an MBE for her work. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) sees her differently. She describes being driven to the very edge by their blundering attempts to transfer her to Universal Credit.
Charlie Callanan’s article on benefits (LINK) describes how over 10,000 carers face prosecution, fines or repayment orders from the DWP for overclaiming Carer’s Allowance. For the vast majority this has happened because they have been unaware they have lost their entitlement when their employment circumstances have changed.
Finally, Brian Collinge (LINK) explains the gross financial injustice brought about by the Minimum Income Guarantee, which enables local authorities to take all earnings above a certain level from people with disabilities to pay towards their care. Is this an accidental oversight, or a conscious and deliberate attack by Government on those least able to bear it and argue against it?
Put these stories together, and a picture emerges of bureaucratic persecution and hostility towards the most vulnerable and their families. When did carers and people with learning disabilities living in poverty become enemies of the state? The DWP, and the politicians who oversee it, must address the poisonous culture that infects their practice. They should feel shame for persecuting the people they are paid to protect, and focus instead on rebuilding the Welfare State contract. Their job is to protect, support and enable those most in need. They should not be at war with their own people.
Being noticed is a matter of life or death
The Music Man Project (LINK) which Natalie Bradford writes about in our January 2019 issue demonstrates yet again the amazing work being done in the performing arts by people with learning disabilities. Their performances at the Royal Albert Hall and the London Palladium are part of the emerging vibrant public face of learning disability. In a very different way the BBC drama series There she goes (LINK) is bringing to public attention the struggles that parents of a child with learning disabilities can face, managing to be both gruelling and humorous at the same time. In both cases people with learning disabilities are firmly in the public eye.
On a much darker note, the dangers of what happens when people slip from public view are apparent in two of our other articles. Following on from our recent features on the scandal of unmarked mass graves from former institutions, Jan Walmsley and Pamela Dale (LINK) explain why it is that these deaths happened, and continue to happen, in closed institutions. Hidden and forgotten about, people are literally at risk of their lives. Our review of Edith Shaffer’s book on Hans Asperger’s activities in Nazi Austria (LINK) shows how, given a conducive political atmosphere, death through neglect can slip with horrifying ease into systematic murder.
Being noticed, and cared about, is quite literally a matter of life or death.