By Declan Carey
WHEN former Chancellor George Osborne introduced austerity measures to tackle Britain’s debt in 2010, few predicted that disabled people would bear the sharpest cuts.
Yet ten years on, Guardian journalist Dr Frances Ryan’s book ‘CRIPPLED’ reveals that the disabled were not only targeted, but lined up ‘to take the greatest hit’ all along.
With facts, stories and personal experience, Ryan outlines how politicians and the national press painted people with disabilities as ‘the phantom workshy’ – to disastrous effect.
“I’d get emails, tweets, even hand written letters most days from disabled people saying they were struggling to eat after having their benefits removed or were trapped inside because they couldn’t get social care,” Ryan told Redaction Politics.
“I’d been reporting on the cuts to disability support since 2011-12 when they were first brought it and was quickly struck by the scale and speed of this change.
“It seemed a hidden scandal to me and I wanted to help bring mainstream attention to it.
“There’s a belief that people with disabilities get the support they need, even after years of austerity.
“Wheelchairs is one really simple thing I talk about in chapter three – how surveys show the public think you should get a wheelchair quickly (and many believe this does happen).
“It seems so obvious. If you broke your leg, the NHS would get you a cast. How could the state leave someone with MS without mobility?
“In reality, we know people are left in desperate situations, unable to leave their homes.”
Each chapter of the book focuses on different struggles disabled people in Britain experience, from work to housing and maintaining independence.
But it also reads as a tragic history of the dismantling of the welfare state, which left so many in dire circumstances.
The introduction of Universal Credit for example, the all in one replacement for benefits, ‘will see a £175 million cut to child disability payments’ Ryan explains in chapter six.
Among the most heartbreaking stories is that of Gurpreet, a fifteen-year-old girl who has endured seventeen surgeries over her life due to her disabilities and needs a significant amount of support.
When funding for Gurpreet’s local respite centre was removed in the summer of 2017, mother Satnam lost any time for herself, becoming a 24/7 carer without break, Ryan reports.
Accounts like these, combined with cold hard facts, reveal the scale of unimaginable pain suffered right across the country.
Internationally, people with disabilities in the UK had a 25 per cent chance of being at risk of poverty compared to 21.1 percent across the EU, according to a 2012 report by the European Foundation Centre.
The report goes further to reveal that the UK was among a handful of EU countries to discontinue employment services for the disabled, including the closure of 29 sheltered employment companies which made 1,700 disabled people redundant.
But Ryan hopes ‘CRIPPLED’ will help Britain to see the true extent of austerity, and encourage everyone to play a part in making things better.
“One of the best things about writing the book is hearing disabled readers say how much it means to them” she said.
“For a lot of people, they’re used to being pretty ignored by politics – and politics books – and kindly said they felt seen for the first time.
“That’s wonderful to hear. But I’ve also said this is a book for non-disabled people too and it’s written to actively encourage them to get involved.
“Disability is often seen as separate and ‘other’ but it’s related to every one of us. I really hope people of any health pick up a copy.”
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