This excellent article appeared in the Guardian.
When David Cameron came to power in 2010 I thought he and I had a connection; stuff in common, a sort of unspoken understanding of sorts. I wasn’t with him on privatisation or lower taxes, but both of us had a real, lived experience of disability that I thought might make us somehow birds of a vaguely similar feather. I was partially deaf and partially sighted, and he had a son, who later died, and a father with disabilities. Perhaps on some level, this shared understanding of the nuances of disability was where my red would meet his blue and merge into some sort of purple swirl of commonality. (I don’t mean Faragian purple – let’s not even bring him into this, it’s far too messy already.)
I, along with many other voters with disabilities, had expectations of Cameron. I never expected him to know what poverty feels like, what state education feels like, or what it’s like to be on a zero-hours contract, or 40 and still living at home because you can’t afford a place of your own. I never expected him to know about real issues and real people. He hails from the land of the silver spoon with plum juice running through his veins. As he himself said, “I’m not here to defend privilege, I’m here to spread it.” I never expected anything different.
But disability crosses all social strata. The roulette of genetics and chance means that anyone can have a disability, anyone can have a child with a disability. There are some things an education at Eton and big pile of money just can’t buy you.
Disability is easier with money and privilege. You take a private car everywhere, so there is no issue about having to get on the bus or the tube with a pair of wheels. You can pay for respite care, a nanny, private healthcare, someone to help clean your house and mow the lawn. You can afford to pay for private education and private physio and private everything. Life with a disability may be easier with money, but money won’t make disability go away. There are some frustrations you will never get rid of with money or medicine or privatisation. I thought Cameron would know this.
I naively expected policy from Cameron and the coalition that began with a true understanding of disability that can only come from living with it, either yourself, or through a close family member, day in, day out. Perhaps the personal should not affect the political, but our experiences surely shape our outlook in some way. I expected Cameron to have seen the nuances first-hand. To know there are good days and bad days, to know the difficulties and the achievements.
I expected him to know what it feels like to be stared at in the street for using a wheelchair or white cane, to have people give you pitying glances as you take a family stroll pushing your child with disabilities on a joyous spring day. I expected him to truly understand the additional costs incurred in raising a child with disabilities, the adaptations that have to be made across all areas of life. I expected him to lead a government that would carry on the progress we have seen since the 80s, when people like me and Cameron’s late son would frequently have been asked to leave a shop, refused entry to a restaurant, or turned down for a job with no legal recourse. “You’re a fire hazard,” they could say, “You’re putting off the other diners,” and we could do nothing except walk away with an overwhelming feeling of frustration mixed with shame.
The Tories like to tell us the economy is rising like a phoenix out of the ashes, employment is up, the deficit is down, people are getting rich on property again, at least in the south-east. They are patting themselves on the back for all this “progress” and vying for another term in office telling us there’s a “good life for all” if they win a second term. But in truth, life under the coalition has been a disappointing railroad of retrogression for people with disabilities. A great big roll back. How much further can it roll?
Under Cameron and the coalition acceptable discrimination of disabled people has been reframed from the overt exclusion from public life and employment of those pre-disability discrimination days, to discrimination by suspicion and scrutiny. In the interest of lowering the deficit and balancing the books, some of the most vulnerable in society have be framed as frauds, thieving benefits and leeching the system.
Disabled people have been vilified by this government. It has been suggested they are worthy of working for less than the minimum wage. They’ve had benefits cuts and been subjected to humiliating medical examination by incompetent private sector assessors to prove their entitlement. The Access to Work budget has been slashed at the same time as the Tories have been telling us there will be jobs for everyone. Hearing aid provision has been cut. Adult social care has been slashed. In the pipeline £12bn of welfare cuts are waiting if Cameron and co are re-elected that will hit people with disabilities the hardest.