Just 2 years ago, this coalition government, led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg launched the single biggest attack on the lives and livelihoods of sick and disabled people this country has ever seen.
They did it as wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. They lied about their intentions, justifying their attacks with pretty words. They told the people of this country that they were “supporting us” into work, but there is no support. They told the country so many of us were just cheats and scroungers, not really sick or disabled at all, but leeches on the state, sucking money from hard working people. But fraud is less than 1%.
They whipped the media – and so the country – into a frenzy of hate and disgust. They said we were “mugging the state” (Osborne) “festering on benefits” (Iain Duncan-Smith) or referred to us as “stock” (Freud) like so much cattle.
Just two years ago we were alone in our horror. We could see the truth, but few cared. The media would not report our stories, eager to believe the dangerous rhetoric of millionaires crushing those with nothing. Politicians of all parties too, were eager to turn away from a regime of cutting support, cancelling services and a harsh and degrading “assessment” process that saw hundreds of thousands wrongly re-classified as “fit for work”
As cancer patients on chemo were sent to the jobcentre, those with kidney failure were stripped of support and 32 people a week died having been found “fit for work”, we fought alone.
But how we fought!
We told our own stories on blogs and twitter and facebook. We sent our stories to our MPs – not just once but endlessly, we insisted that politicians could not turn away from this disgrace. We built up relationships with journalists until they saw for themselves how clearly we were being betrayed.
On Wednesday, the Paralympics opening ceremony will dazzle us all. Those incredible athletes will amaze the people of Britain.
This Paralympics will be covered by Channel 4 as no games for disabled people has ever been covered before. The advertising for the games cleverly thanks the Olympics for “the warm up” putting disability sport front and centre as never before.
With the games being staged in the UK, we have a chance to show our disability credentials to the world. For all our many faults, this country is accessible to disabled people in a way many are not. It values the lives of sick and disabled people as many do not. It values equality and inclusion as many do not.
At least it did.
Many of the athletes competing from Wednesday relied on the Disability Living Allowance to achieve their great success. A working benefit, it is designed to pay for the extra cost of sickness or disability. To pay for transport or mobility aids or extra heating or food. It will have helped very many disabled people competing to get to training sessions or to afford the extra costs of the modified equipment they use.
This allowance is being scrapped by this government, replaced with a benefit that will only help the incapable or the housebound, and trapping so many more in a life where just getting up and dressed in the mornings will be a challenge just as great as winning Paralympic Gold.
David Cameron will take his place in the stadium, smiling and complacent, knowing that half a million people who previously qualified for DLA will be cut adrift as a direct result of the policies of his government.
He will bask in a glory that is not his, as he callously strips sickness benefits from over a million more.
He will pay lip service to independence as he scraps the Independent Living Fund
He will ask you to wonder at the great achievements of those with severe disabilities as he scraps the Severe Disability Premium.
He will encourage young sick and disabled people of today to strive for greatness as he halves tax credits for disabled children
He will perhaps feel a terrible pain as he remembers his own disabled child who tragically is no longer with us, yet will choose to look away from children just like his own who will no longer have the opportunity to achieve what the great athletes will achieve from Wednesday.
I hope he is met with silence as he takes his place.
But today, I wanted to contrast the isolation campaigners felt in 2010 with the media this week.
Here is Polly Toynbee on slashing DLA and the Paralympics : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/23/paralympians-state-help-disabled-benefits-cut
Here is Owen Jones in the Independent : http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/owen-jones-david-cameron-praises-paralympians-but-his-policies-will-crush-them-8082036.html
Here is Disapatches and Panorama on the failure of Atos and “fit for work tests” http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/links-to-panorama-dispatches.html
Here is the BBC : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19244639
And there are many more. We are no longer alone. The country is waking up and despite the efforts of ministers, every day, fewer people believe their lies, and fewer are willing to stand by and allow sick and disabled people to suffer in their name.
As the saying goes, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”
So if you are reading this article, if you clicked on a twitter link or facebook page, if it is sent to you by email and you are going to the Paralympic games 2012, by all means, marvel at the unbelievable endeavour, wonder at the great sacrifice and bravery that brought the athletes to the pinnacle of success, but don’t forget that it was only possible through support. Your support.
Like the Olympians who went before them it took family sacrifice, amazing support and personal will. But it also took state assistance and cold hard cash. It took a country prepared to make the lives of sick and disabled people as equal as possible and all of that is under threat today. In the case of ex-military competitors, it often took months – if not years – of intensive rehabilitation, exercise regimes, committed physios and caring nurses. These are never free.
If we ever again want to see a Paralympics like we are about to see here in the UK, we must oppose the systematic destruction of independence and inclusion sick and disabled people have fought so hard for.
And please, when David Cameron or Nick Clegg take their seats, smug and smiling, hoping to bask in a little of the glory of others, remember that the glory is not theirs.
But whatever you do, do not clap these men. You will be giving credit where it is not due. They aim to dismantle the very support that made the Paralympics possible at all.