I haven’t got around to watching I, Daniel Blake, although the angel of my better brain has. I’ve been avoiding it like sometimes I avoid the radio – a premonition that yep, things really are going to be as bad as they seem. For the occasionally fretful, doom-laden, check-the-clockers, wince-at-the-phone-ring and can’t-leave-the-room breed such as myself, it seems wise to manage our daily dose of despair. But I imagine that it will go something like this:
“Did you fill out these forms/look at these bills?”
“No, I couldn’t understand them/they freaked me out.”
“You do know you can get help with that, right?”
“There’s no Citizen’s Advice in my town, and the nearest operates every second Tuesday, under a full moon”
“Well, there’s a helpline?”
“They put me on waiting for an hour, and then just clicked off.”
“Why don’t you get a doctor’s/consultants/support workers help?”
“You can’t get to see your doctor, theres a six month to a yr waiting list to see a specialist, but you need a doctors referral before you get a support worker”
…and so it goes, as Kilgore Trout might say.
Just a few days ago, the UN released it’s initial conclusions on their investigation into disability rights in the UK, they have called the impact of austerity policies here “a human catastrophe”. With systemic abuses that see a disabled persons access to healthcare, employment, and even justice curtailed more severely than our friends and comrades. The introduction of Universal Credit, PIP, the Bedroom Tax, alongside changes to out-of-work benefits have even been directly linked to the deaths of disabled people, and not to mention the higher mortality rate linked to more general austerity measures.
Why does it seem so impossible for the Tory Government to recognise these problems? Should we characterise it as an unwillingness or an inability? Both, perhaps, as the Tory’s response to the UN’s statement, through Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green refuses to acknowledge any of the UN committee’s findings.
Understanding the disabled experience can be hard. It’s even harder living with these conditions. As with the above examples, disability isn’t the same as, say, a car with a faulty engine [fix it and move on], but a congruence of, I suppose you would say “soft” forces. Not only is there the dangers and implications of whatever conditions the person suffers, but also the elaborate and messed-up network that the disabled person is most likely to swim through. Over-stretched GP surgeries, under-funded specialist departments, de-funded social care groups, layers of complicated automation designed to have the least amount of human input, for “efficiency” purposes. Access to justice in the forms of work tribunals or legal aid curtailed (funding scrapped). Punitive control measures. The answer doesn’t rely on, say, hiring a few thousand private ATOS and Capita doctors with the express mandate to fail 50% of the current claimants. Or of introducing payment-linked-to-performance targets for Health trusts, social care sectors, entire councils [creating a postcode lottery].
This debate is about the social contract (a dirty phrase, it appears in modern times), and how our understanding of it has shrivelled to that of a mummified pea. It’s not a phrase that deals exclusively with voting, or with law and order, civic duty etcetera, but it does contain those things. The first clause of the social contract is the notion that if we are to be governed (have to abide by laws, have to pay mortgages, have to go to work for wages, have to pay taxes) then at the very least we should be afforded individual and collective respect. In essence then, every attempt by the State to attend to individual needs, whether in the form of the GP surgery, the Out-of-Hours service, the specialist, the advisor, the lawyer, the consultant, is another instance of that social contract. A hundred thousand network of contracts, hopefully operating every day. If the State undermines all of those instances by scrapping funding and reducing access, then in effect and quite simply; they are breaking their promise.