Friday, 1 April 2011

A Response to a Critical Review of my Hyde Park Speech

AC, thanks for your critical review of the speech I made on Saturday. When elected to act as spokesperson from the TUC Disability Committee I knew the biggest challenge would be the speech. As we know disabled people are at the brunt of both the cuts and are indeed, in some quarters, blamed for the deficit. Off the top of my head I can’t recall how many different areas we are facing cuts, somewhere between 14 and 16 I believe.

So, I was presented with this challenge. To make a speech on the effects of the cuts on disabled people coming from all directions over a two or three-year period. Cuts that will impact on people with visible and invisible disabilities; cuts that will hurt people with sensory and physical disabilities; cuts that will attack the benefits and resources of people with mental health and learning disabilities – and, all this in three minutes!

From time to time I’m invited, as Chair of Unite’s national disabled members committee to speak at Branch meetings on various areas of disability, mostly employment related, but as is so often the case on disability benefits and resources which are inextricably linked to the daily lives of our disabled members.

At these meetings I have the luxury of time. So, I’m able to translate the DLAs, the ILFs, the WCAs, the AtoWs into commonly held language. Here I can, in words of one syllable (though that’s hard with disability) explain how for instance Access to Work can be accessed; or, how Disability Living Allowance can act as a gateway to other resources.

The weeks running up to last Saturday were filled with emails and phone calls from people making suggestions as to the content of the speech. Someone wanted me to distinguish between visible and invisible disabilities; others asked that mental health issues be highlighted; a couple wanted me to say how disgraceful it was that ILF was being scrapped; and, someone even wanted me to make a special plea for people with neurodiverse conditions – this was fast becoming more of a Gettysburg Address than a three minute speech!

Finally, I was advised to try to keep it general, avoid specific impairment groups or organisations which, with one exception, I managed to do. Rather than attempt to tackle the main benefits’ changes and cuts, DLA to PIP, IB to ESA or JSA, cutting-back of Access to Work, etc I could have, for instance, focused on one area. The scrapping of DLA for a PIP would quite easily have occupied a three-minute slot.

Implying that most of the audience wouldn’t understand technical benefit words or jargon is perhaps to suggest that they have somehow or other totally ignored the media bombardment that disabled people have endured for the past 15 or more years – as evinced on these boards. It’s to imply they’ve not been reading or listening to the more serious end of the media who give coverage of benefits’ issues, most recently reports from the Budget.

Yes I could have delivered a three-minute speech that explained in lay terms what we, disabled people, are going through. For instance, I could have explained the purpose of Disability Living Allowance (around 30 seconds) going on to give an outline of its replacement, the Personalised Independence Payment (another 30 seconds). Then, the migration from IB to the two levels of ESA; explaining the losses in benefits if you draw the JSA short straw (60 seconds). And, finally giving a mere flavour of the viciousness that Work Capability Assessments produce would have, to do it justice, deserved a minute or two.

Life has taught me that the gift of retrospect is the most coveted above all others. While I take on AC’s criticisms in the constructive way they were offered; I’m not convinced three minutes is adequate time to convey a message of such enormity and complexity unless it generalises, which sadly means explanations on greater detail suffer.

Tonight I’m attending my local SOS’s meeting. This is the kind of venue where I’ll be able to explain more fully exactly what DLA is and how damaging it can be to an individual if they lose the benefit. Similarly, I can talk in greater depth about eligibility criteria for care support. Personally, I believe that local fora are better to get this kind of message across than a crowd of 300,000+ who, often, attend such events to add their weight and solidarity; who, on Saturday, attended to demonstrate their disquiet at the dissolution of the welfare state.

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