On June 8th, we must protect the future of disabled people in the UK

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(Original post at Tremr)

Over 13 million people in the UK are disabled. On average, disabled people spend an extra £550 a month on living costs due to conditions outside of their control, and over the last seven years they have been disproportionately affected by changes to benefits and social care.

In November, the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability estimated thatapproximately 1 million disabled adults are without adequate social care. This damning statistic is indicative of the increased strain on the lives of disabled people across the UK following cuts to vital services.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the system introduced to replace the Disability Living Allowance, has been widely criticised by disability organisations. In 2014, the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts Margaret Hodge called the implementation of PIP  “nothing short of a disaster.”

Thousands of people are wrongly rejected for PIP, with approximately 63% of appeals against PIP in the last quarter of 2015-2016 ultimately succeeding . The DWP’s ‘fit to work’ tests, the method by which disabled people are assessed for welfare benefits, have received intense backlash. Since their introduction, approximately 2,380 people have died within two weeks of being deemed fit to work, and another 1,340 died within two weeks of appealing the decision.

Accounts from potential claimants have revealed bureaucratic incompetence throughout the application process, and the Work Capability Assessment has been  linked to relapses for those with serious mental health issues .

Without the support of PIP, many disabled people are unable to live their everyday lives with the autonomy and dignity they deserve, facing further restrictions to daily activity. For example,  more than 50,000 disabled people have had their Motability vehicles, such as cars, scooters, powered wheelchairs, taken away since changes to disability benefits in 2013.

According to the Health Service Journal , 37 NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are considering measures that would force disabled people who are unable to financially contribute to their treatment into residential care against their will. Two of those CCGs expressed concern that the policy may violate an individual’s right to respect for their private life, but justified the move based on cost.

Existing issues of accessibility have been exacerbated by austerity measures, and transport problem that briefly caught public attention remain unresolved. In January, Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike revealed that she had been forced to wet herself on a three hour CrossCountry train journey as the disabled toilet was closed.

Despite vows for action from rail minister and disabled MP Paul Maynard, such incidents have not been eradicated. Last month, retired IT engineer Christopher Stapleton was also forced to wet himself after the toilet on his Virgin train was closed, despite booking his ticket 6 weeks in advance.

The effects of cuts to disability benefits are extensive and often lethal.  Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be living in food poverty , and between 2010 and 2016, the number of homeless households deemed vulnerable due to a mental health problem or physical disability  increased by 53% and 49% respectively . 

Personal tragedies induced by the benefits cuts have become almost quotidian, and new stories emerge with alarming frequency. Take former soldier David Clapson as an example, who died after being deprived of his jobseeker’s allowance. At the time of his death, he couldn’t afford food or electricity to power his fridge, in which he kept his insulin. A pile of CVs was found beside his body.

What’s clear is that the opposition parties must offer a clear alternative to the dehumanising policies put forward by the Conservatives. The voices of disabled people ought to worry the government in future, as research by disability charity Scope has revealed  89% of people with disabilities intend to vote in the 2017 general election.

Disability rights movements are becoming increasingly prominent as the election draws closer, and pressure groups such as Disability Rights UK and Crip The Vote UK are doing vital work to challenge societal barriers to disabled people. At the beginning of June, over 16,500 people and a coalition of 80 charities  signed a letter urging party leaders to end disability benefit cuts.

Yet there is still much work to be done to ensure disabled people are not disenfranchised.  A survey by charity Mencap revealed that 60% of respondents with a learning disability who wanted to vote in the past but couldn’t found registering to vote too difficult, and 17% were turned away from the polling station. Leonard Cheshire Disability also found that in the 2015 election,  24% of disabled voters found polling stations inaccessible due to a lack of level access, disabled parking, or other vital support.

Disabled people make up approximately 16% of the adult population, but less than 1% of sitting MPs have disclosed that they are disabled . In 2017, the campaigns of candidates such as Mary Griffiths Clarke and Ben Fletcher are to be admired, but numbers are still low. The relative dearth of openly disabled MPs needs to be overcome to truly include the views of disabled people in politics.

Yet there is still much work to be done to ensure disabled people are not disenfranchised.  A survey by charity Mencap revealed that 60% of respondents with a learning disability who wanted to vote in the past but couldn’t found registering to vote too difficult, and 17% were turned away from the polling station. Leonard Cheshire Disability also found that in the 2015 election,  24% of disabled voters found polling stations inaccessible due to a lack of level access, disabled parking, or other vital support.

Disabled people make up approximately 16% of the adult population, but  less than 1% of sitting MPs have disclosed that they are disabled . In 2017, the campaigns of candidates such as Mary Griffiths Clarke and Ben Fletcher are to be admired, but numbers are still low. The relative dearth of openly disabled MPs needs to be overcome to truly include the views of disabled people in politics.

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