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Human Trouble – Austerity and Disability

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10965719_10152994709230661_1015473881_nBy Dan J Broadley

The 2012 Paralympics seem like a lifetime ago, but its legacy still chimes today. But was this legacy used by the government to make itself ‘look good’ whilst slashing disabled benefits? How are Britain’s relations with its disabled citizens? These were the questions discussed on Monday evening at the Humanities in Public event ‘The 2012 Paralympic Legacy? Disability and Austerity’ held at Manchester Metropolitan University as a Question Time style panel.

The panel was made up of Katharine Quarmby (award winning journalist and author and contributing editor of News Week Europe), Debbie Jolly (co-founder of Disabled People Against the Cuts), Amit Sharma (co-director of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics) and Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole (Disability Studies scholar) all chaired by MMU’s Dr Lucy Burke.

The 2012 Paralympics are often remembered as a turning point in changing the public’s awareness of disability sports and disabled people in general. The government were quick to heap on the praise, as government minister Sajid Javid said the games shed “a light on the abilities and achievements of disabled people in an unprecedented way”. Yet, concurrently, his government was slashing away at our welfare system – from ATOS assessments to closing the Independent Living Fund – wrongly punishing disabled people across the UK by damaging their standard of living and basic human rights. This was the first area of discussion that the panellists broadly agreed on.

Amit, however, was quick tohuman trouble point out the role of the media in fabricating the narrative of ‘benefit scroungers’ in helping to justify the Tory government cuts and even get the public on board. This, he said, was far more widely covered than stories of how cuts have negatively affected disabled people.

The panel then compared Britain to other countries and concluded that, it could be a lot worse, but could also be a hell of a lot better. Debbie talked about Bulgaria and Turkey and how disabled people there get nowhere near the help they get in the UK. Katherine discussed Iceland and pointed out families with disabled children are better off than disabled people’s standard of living in the UK, which has dropped since the Tory government’s austerity measures kicked in. Debbie Jolly agreed, saying,

“It’s not just us, austerity is all across Europe, affecting disabled people everywhere.”

Points were raised about how the government was ineffective at helping disabled people in the first place and spending was never originally fairly distributed. Amit said, “The decision makers have NO understanding or experience of being the consumer of the support they give.”

Katharine thought that disabled people have a lot of unfulfilled political potential, in that, “lots of powerful groups of people are not voting. One of these are migrants, whose vote would rival all that of UKIP. Next is disabled people. Instead of looking at the power you don’t have, use the power you do have.”

There are supposedly 1.5million people with learning disabilities who could vote, but the panel discussed how the lack of accessible information prevents them from doing so.

Further discussion followed on themes such as whether or not sport is inherently disablist and how it reflects the competing nature of capitalism, how the UK’s highly reported hate crime signifies that it is being fought rather than ignored like in certain other parts of Europe and how anti-austerity party, Syriza’s, victory in Greece could be the start of standing up to cuts in social funding across Europe.

Humanities in Public delivered yet another interesting, engaging and thought provoking event and are set to do so again with a stand-up comedy night at The Dancehouse Theatre at 7:30pm on Thursday 5th February and a further lecture at MMU from the University of Sheffield’s Professor Dan Goodley on Monday the 9th.

Dan is an English and Creative Writing student at Manchester Metropolitan University. His interests include music, festivals, bass guitar, writing poetry, having ideas for novels and meditation. Follow him on Twitter @DanJBroadley. Dan’s personal blog is odd dan.wordpress.com.

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