Mikey Erhardt – The UK doesn’t work for Disabled people. Neither party will change that

A largely substance-less UK General Election debate has ignored the real plight of millions of Britons, including disabled people.

Mikey Erhardt is campaigner at Disability Rights UK (DR UK), a leading pan-disability Disabled people’s organisation.

Cross-posted from Open Democracy

Picture by UK Parliament

“This election is about who our country works for — the patriotic belief that Britain can be better and must be better,” said Kier Starmer concluding the first leaders’ debate earlier this month.

There are at least 16 million Disabled people in the UK – we make up a quarter of the population. We know this country doesn’t work for us, we’ve known that our entire lives. We disproportionately live in poverty, achieve poorer outcomes in education, and are more likely to be unemployed or earn less.

Yet every leadership debate so far has given more time to talking about Starmer and Rishi Sunak’s parents than these problems, which face millions of Disabled people up and down the country.

The general election campaign has solidified that neither the Labour leader nor his rival, incumbent Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak, has any interest in improving our lives.

It is not as if the Conservatives or Labour don’t know about the issues we face. A United Nations report published in April confirmed that the UK is violating our human rights; a parliamentary committee last month found that “Disabled people undeniably encounter unnecessary and severe barriers to accessing suitable housing in England”; and the Department of Work and Pensions is under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission over its treatment of Disabled claimants.

Disabled people in the UK are not a homogenous group. Some of us experience greater injustice than others. But we also have many things in common. We all want to live in an inclusive society where everyone has a fulfilling life and feels connected and valued.

We know politicians do not place the same worth on our lives as others; every day we experience discrimination, oppression and barriers to our inclusion and full participation in society because they won’t take the action needed to change it.

Years of deep cuts to services and neglect mean societal infrastructure, such as housing, transport and street environment, consistently fails to meet our needs. This structural decline has coincided with anti-migrant, anti-trans and racist policies, leaving ever-increasing numbers of us in poverty, homeless, incarcerated or dead.

The UN report was clear: “There has been no significant progress for Disabled people throughout the UK concerning their right to living independently and being included in the community.

“While some reforms and policies have been undertaken to provide financial support, accessible housing, and transport, this has been inadequate considering the cost-of-living crisis.”

One would expect this damning conclusion to be a key feature of the election campaign. But over the past four weeks, Labour and the Tories have both failed to provide anything of substance to help Disabled people.

Sunak’s Conservatives have instead pledged to shave £12bn a year from the cost of benefits, much of which would come from a crackdown on the personal independence payment (PIP) given to people with extra care or mobility needs. The party also seeks to tighten the work capability assessment (WCA), which would see more Disabled people declared fit to work and denied their benefit.

Labour’s manifesto, meanwhile, is notable for what it lacks. Previous promises to overhaul the welfare system, end punitive sanctions and co-produce disability-related policy with Disabled people are all missing – as are commitments to end care charges, increase carers’ allowance and ensure better provision of accessible housing.

Labour’s vows to improve SEN (special education needs) provision in schools and introduce changes to support Disabled people to gain and retain jobs are sticking plasters at best. Its manifesto sports a glaring lack of immediate investment in disability and carer benefits and social care – and we all know you can’t fix things without investment.

With so little real change on offer, Disabled people must unite and fight back. We can draw inspiration from the experiences of UK-based Disabled activists and the radical disabled resistance of the past 40 years. No changes affecting us have come through without collective struggle and organising.

As part of the DPO Forum England, a collective of Disabled people’s organisations in England, we are committed to joining forces nationwide and unifying our demands. That’s why we came together to create the Disabled People’s Manifesto, which contains radical policy demands for systemic overhaul and transformation. 

We, as Disabled people, must now come together and demand our politicians take up the manifesto and commit to creating a country that values equity, dignity, respect, trust, and support as much as we value anything else. Our political system should be focused on supporting Disabled people to live the lives we have a right to, which no candidate sweating under the bright studio lights can deliver on their own.

Together, we can create space for ourselves and our ideas, and integrate the energy, dedication and skills of our community to create a new future.

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