Disability activist and writer Fiona Robertson says the UK’s most vulnerable are screaming for help
IT IS to their credit, and to our collective doom, that the Conservative Party are masters of controlling narrative.
Although, much of the groundwork was done during Tony Blair’s days of rhetorical tricks and language manipulation to sow doubt about the veracity of a person’s disability, to seed suspicion and harden attitudes. It is these linguistic and narrative tricks which have been used to make people think of the tens of thousands of deaths under austerity as a sad but necessary evil, or to make people ignore them completely.
They speak as if what they say is reality, and we usually just go along with it until it is.
Theresa May’s General Election announcement included a lot of these narrative devices, accusing anyone who doesn’t agree with her of treating politics as a game, and framing the vote as entirely a vote regarding Brexit and the mandate she needs in order to negotiate from a place of strength.
We cannot, under any circumstances, allow the Tories to reframe the concept of a General Election.
This is not just a vote on Brexit, it is a vote on their entire manifesto and a judgement on their policies on everything from crime to social care to housing to international relations. Voting for the Tories may well be a vote for Brexit, but it is also unquestionably a vote for certain death for some, and permanent damage to the health of tens of thousands of disabled people.
Never, ever forget that.
When I and my fellow disability activists woke up on the morning after the last General Election, we spent an unrelenting few days tag teaming as we tried to keep people in our community alive. We were not always successful. Over and over, hour after hour, we saw iterations of the same message: “I do not think I will survive this government.”
The day of the election, we had all taken a few moments to remember the people who were not there to vote because of the actions of the coalition government. We took a moment to think of the people who would not make it to the next election if we lost.
Amid the elation so many in Scotland felt at the sweep of SNP seats, we disabled people also felt utterly betrayed and hopeless, because the population of the UK had voted to enforce extreme, frequently lethal, damage to our health.
If you do it again, if you do this to us again, we will never forgive you. You can’t pretend you don’t know, you can’t pretend that other things are more important, that it’s not the killing of disabled people you’re voting for really; it’s the other stuff.
The point of civic nationalism is that we have to take responsibility for the choices we make as part of a society. We cannot tick a box and say ‘I didn’t know’, or ‘I care about this bit but not the other bits’.
We have to weigh our decisions, weigh our actions and inactions, and live with the results. We have to accept responsibility, and we have to ensure that others accept their responsibility. We have to not look away.
There were 30,000 extra deaths in England and Wales in 2015 as a result of cuts to health and social care, according to research by Oxford University. There were hundreds of suicides by the very lowest estimates, though we who spend our days working with people who are struggling to survive this government know there are more which aren’t counted; that there are many, many deaths because the stress and fear and pain and malnutrition and isolation exacerbated a person’s condition to the point of lethality.
More than 50,000 people have lost their motability vehicles and become chronically isolated. Every one of those is someone who was considered disabled enough to require high mobility care until the Tories changed the narrative of who deserved assistance, against all the evidence from expert organisations who responded to the consultation.
There has been “almost universal” deterioration in and frequently permanent damage to the mental health of people going through the Work Capability Assessment.
We have to be completely clear to the people we speak to. We can no longer afford to mince words or be neutral because, again, the narrative is that neutrality is rationality. In situations like this, anger and bluntness are the only rational responses.
We need to tell them, with no platitudes or appeasement: “You will be voting to allow the government to kill us. We will not forget, and we will not forgive.”
Nothing else is more important than this.
Do not let them change the conversation.
Picture courtesy of Flickr
Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.