They Don’t Care About Us: What the Government Actually Mean When They Speak
Let me break it down for you: they think you don’t matter, but you do.
Last night I was honoured to be invited to attend the #NoGoBritain debate alongside some prolific members of the disability community. The debate was a chance to speak to members of the government about the barriers that exist to accessing all areas of life; and it had real potential to raise some important issues. It was a difficult task, handled deftly by the team at Channel 4. When you have a room full of disabled people and you put a conservative politician in their midst, it’s the equivalent of sending a lamb to slaughter.
The government’s record on disabled people is inhumane. Literally. The UN investigated us for the human rights abuses of disabled people, a report that the government have quietly neglected to release. People are literally dying as a result of welfare changes. It represents, at best, a significant life change for disabled people. People are at risk of losing their care packages, independence, mental health and rights. Applying for PIP is so dehumanising, complication, inefficient, bureaucratic and scary. The Government benefits from the vulnerability of disabled people. Systematically disenfranchised and less likely to be able to fight. They’re forcing people into Hobson’s choices. The kind disabled people are forced to make are not choices we should — as a society — be endorsing. When you get a politician in a room who can be held as a figurehead responsible for ruining people’s lives, he becomes prey to be ripped apart as punishment for what he’s done.
The debate got heated. People were hurt, frustrated, and felt lied to. To their faces. Barefaced lies were told by a minister ill-prepared and set up to fail by his party. But, the thing is. He’s done nothing. He’s responsible for very little of my suffering and can do almost nothing to make it change. What we actually need is for the government to acknowledge that their ideology is fundamentally flawed. He said that mistakes were made but he believed in the changes. That’s the issue. That’s not how knowledge works. When you go on an endeavour, you try something. You go for a proof of concept. You test it out to see if it works. Then, there’s an important step. Evaluation. When you try something out, you need to see if it’s working.
If you’re in a room and you’re having disabled people share their experiences with you, their anger, frustration, detailing the humiliation that they are experiencing because of policies you’ve endorsed — it’s at that point you need to stop. That’s the point you need to accept that you have failed. You can’t keep going on like a bull in a china shop, you need to stop and just recognise that there are things we’ve chosen to believe and then there are truths that we acknowledge because people have lived them. When there is an overwhelming level of evidence. When there is a wave of emotion crashing into you because not only are you wrong, but you’ve destroyed people in the process of being wrong — that’s when you need to stop.
And if you don’t stop
If you just keep insisting that you are right
If you can’t re-evaluate your position based on a room full of people living the effects of your Government’s decisions, that’s when you’re saying “You don’t matter.”
That’s when your actions say, “What you’ve been through and lived through do not matter to me because I believe in this. My ideology is more important than your life.”
I’ve read people write about the tone of the debate, how the passion that people expressed wasn’t helpful or wouldn’t get anything done. I still don’t know how I feel about that but what I do know is that this pain is what happens when you repeatedly oppress people. This has been six years of disabled people bearing the brunt of the Government’s austerity programme, and there are at least £13bn more of cuts still to come. This happens because of a fundamental Conservative belief: you must work to have the right to exist here. You must earn your human rights.
It’s a crude summary, but it underlies so many conservative policies — refugee policies, tax, education (grammar schools).
That’s what the Government are saying, if you cannot earn your place here — if you cannot meet our criteria, you don’t deserve to be here and fundamentally — you don’t matter to us.
Hannah-Rebecca is a disability consultant for Bright Charity Services. She works on the intersection between faith and disability, and is currently involved in a project to build a disability group in Birmingham. Media enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
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