People feel they have permission to abuse us, because austerity has rendered us second-class citizens, excluded from society. This has to be addressed.
The bullying of disabled people can often be subtle. Over time, I’ve become immune and also cynical. You filter out a lot of the abuse in order to get on with your life.
But last week, I was at a pedestrian crossing in north London, and here’s the question: am I being oversensitive if I react to a cyclist speeding towards me shouting abuse? He didn’t stop and neither did I, meaning the poor dear in his black storm trooper helmet had to swerve to avoid me because I dared to be on the crossing. He did shout “Fucking spastic!” – which I suppose means he fine-tuned his abuse to include a repellent reference to impairment. I didn’t respond. What would be the point?
These days something like this seems to happen to me on a weekly basis, and I can’t help thinking it has something to do with the way disabled people have come to feel like second-class citizens over the last seven years of coalition/Tory government. Because, apart from the odd heroic Paralympian, or the tragic-brave subject of yet another prurient Channel 5 documentary, we’re all fakes, aren’t we? Lazy scroungers.
A recent report by the equality and human rights commission shows that in many areas – the report highlights nine – the situation for disabled people has gone backwards. It notes that 18.4% of disabled 16-64s in the UK are considered to be in food poverty, compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people; at least 47% of the housing benefit claimants affected by the so-called “bedroom tax” have a disability; and material deprivation rates for families which include a disabled person are 59%, compared with 36% of the total population. The report also shows that disability hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales increased 44% in 2015/2016.
Crucially, the report emphasises continuing poor access to transport and other services, “creating a barrier to independence … and enjoyment of day to day activities.” The report also notes an overall increase “in the percentage of disabled adults who reported having difficulty accessing services in areas of health, benefits, tax, culture, sport and leisure”. In 2012–14, 45.3% of disabled people experienced these difficulties, compared with 31% of non-disabled people.