A new article from the excellent Disability News Service describes Kate Green, Shadow Minister for Disabled People, speaking at the launch of the Just Fair consortium’s new report on the rights of disabled people (and how the Coalition has systematically eroded them), and noting that many of her Labour colleagues need to be educated on the Independent Living movement. Disturbingly she directs this at the newer Labour members, who we might hope would be rather better educated on disability rights, rather than at the old dinosaurs, some of whom have been some of our strongest defenders in a party whose recent stance on disability has been woefully lacklustre. But read on in the article and you come to the second and third last paragraphs, and I'll frankly admit my jaw dropped:
The disabled activist and
consultant Simon Stevens told the launch event that he was “very angry”
with some disabled campaigners who focused on welfare issues when
inclusion “isn’t even on the agenda”.
Green told him that she had
criticised some disabled campaigners herself because “in an
understandable need to fight for what has been lost and expose how very,
very difficult that has been, people have lost their ambition for… a
very, very different future”.
Taking these out of turn, I'd like to challenge Kate Green's accusation that 'people have lost their ambition for… a
very, very different future'. That's simply not a statement that can bear the light of day. I've known many of the currently prominent campaigners since before they were either prominent or campaigners, as many of us were active on the BBC's Ouch bulletin boards back in the early 2000s. One common factor we all came away from there with was an absolute belief in the need for a society which implements the Social Model of Disability at its very core (and if we differed on the Social Model it was on whether it went quite far enough in adequately covering directly debilitating disabilities such as Crohns, EDS and ME). By arguing for a society that implements the Social Model we don't just point out the need for physical access provision, that's a completely inadequate reading of what the Social Model means; a society implementing the Social Model has to implement access and disability equality in every aspect of its being, not just in its physical built environment, but in its organisations, its businesses, its social structures, and ultimately in the very way people think of disability. We want to change the way people think, is it possible to be any more ambitious for our future?
But fighting for that future, fighting to change the way people think about disability, because only through that change will we reach that future, means challenging the poison spewing daily out of the DWP and the Tory rags, libelling us as frauds, workshy and scroungers, and to do that we need to concentrate our fight in the here and now. However ambitious our aims for the future, if they are built on the foundation of a population that overwhelmingly sees us as frauds and scroungers - a belief I had people repeating to me just a couple of days ago - then everything we achieve will be worthless. The fight for our future begins here and it begins now, and if it cannot be won here and now, then it can most certainly be lost.
Nor, ultimately, is Green's statement one that should be made even were the facts to support it. The mantra of the disability movement is Nothing For Us, Without Us, and the more I work with that statement, the wiser it seems, because Nothing For Us, Without Us, is really the Social Model in five words, and if we say something is a priority, then it behoves the Minister for Disabled People, Shadow or actual, to listen to what we say and not lecture us on what we should be thinking, because that is the antithesis of Nothing For Us, Without Us. If Green thinks we have lost ambition, then is that our fault? Or a symptom of the situation her party has stood by and allowed to develop over the past five years? It's difficult to care for the future when you're being abused by Atos and DWP in the now, and the proper response to that is not criticism, but to get in the trenches with us and fight so that we gain the breathing space that will allow us to craft a strategy to regain everything that we have lost since Labour's disastrous adoption of the poisonous BioPsychoSocial Model as the basis for ESA/WCA at the behest of US insurer Unum Provident. The tragedy of the last two governments is that between them they have destroyed forty years of progress in the position of disabled people in society, and if Kate Green thinks that we are not focussed sufficiently on the future, then perhaps she should reflect on our having forty years of past progress to reclaim first....
Turning now to the comments from Simon Stevens that Kate Green was replying to, the idea of Simon Stevens criticizing anyone else on Inclusion is enough to make me laugh until I weep. This is a man whose regular abuse of other disabled activists led to Leonard Cheshire withdrawing sponsorship for him to attend the 2013 Labour Conference, as documented in an earlier DNS story: Activist dropped by disability charity over offensive tweets Stevens is someone I've run afoul of myself, with him accusing me of supporting the Holocaust. What had I done to deserve that utterly horrendous accusation? I'd told him that disability benefits should apply to all disabled people who met the criteria, regardless of disability. And there we see why the idea of Simon Stevens advocating Inclusion is so risible, because he is a disability activist who actively campaigns to exclude disabilities he does not approve of. Stevens has been open in attacking disabilities such as Crohns, EDS, FMS and ME, and rather that just say 'I don't think these should count', his attacks have been ludicruous accusations that campaigners with these disabilities are actively seeking to murder disabled people with disabilities such as his CP. As the DNS article noted:
Much of his anger has been reserved
for the grassroots network Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), on one
occasion saying – in response to the claim that “Atos kills” through its
work on the WCA – that it was “DPAC who murders disabled people with their lies and hatred for disabled people”.
Nor was it solely DPAC Stevens has attacked, Spartacus, and its report authors and spokespeople, have come in for similar attacks, as have many individual activists, with vitriolic accusations such as “only the fake disabled care about ATOS” (notably Stevens admitted in a blog for DNS that at the same time he was launching these attacks he was attempting to get a job with Atos as a consultant). If there is an antithesis of Inclusion, then surely it reaches no higher peak than knowingly declaring a disabled person to be a fake for reasons of personal political difference.