Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Decision Time

In Parliament, there are only two options for which to vote. Abstaining is, in most circumstances, a cop-out. Likewise in the real world, politicians must make it clear where they stand. Staying quiet and trying to keep your head down is not an option.

Please send all MPs and others a message of support telling them that the more they openly resist the worst excesses of the attack on the welfare state, and particularly on ESA, DLA, and ILF, the more faith we will have in them. Now is an especially good time to send the letter below to Liberal Democrat MPs, who need a nudge in the right direction, but send it to others too.

Dear Member of Parliament,

Season's greetings! It is time for you to speak out against this Government's assault on the welfare state, if you have not already done so. Many of these attacks are aimed at the disabled people of this country - time-limiting contributions-related ESA, reforming and cutting Disability Living Allowance, scrapping the Independent Living Fund. This Cripmas Carol sums it up:

Disability rights group The Broken of Britain have compiled a campaign resource, suggesting things for MPs to do:

The more you openly resist the worst excesses of the attack on the welfare state, and particularly on ESA, DLA, and ILF, the more faith we will have in you.

Yours sincerely,

Monday, 20 December 2010

Disability Activism: A Just & Worthy Cause #TBofB

UK Uncut has published an article I wrote on behalf of TBofB about disabled activists and the anti-cuts movement.You can read the original here: Disabled Activists and the Anti-Cuts Movement

This is a guest post by Lisa J. Ellwood, disability & mental health activist. The Broken of Britain is a non-party political campaign providing advocacy for physically & mentally disabled people of Great Britain and their carers. You can follow Lisa on twitter here

"The moral health of a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members" – a new twist on an old saying that is itself rooted in religious antiquity. How sad it is that 3,000 years later this sentiment is still very relevant. Author and MS Philanthropist J.K. Rowling made much the same observation in her best-selling Harry Potter series with the following pearl of wisdom: "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."

Recent media coverage has shone the spotlight on disabled people, and that spotlight has been less than favourable. We are castigated as 'scroungers and 'fakers' not only by journalists and their employers, but also neighbours, friends and even family. It would seem that the vast majority of the great British public knows several people who are as fit as a fiddle and audaciously raking money in hand-over-fist thanks to bogus benefits claims based on faked illnesses. There is an endless stream of rhetoric to be found when reading any newspaper, blog or listening to talk radio. Too often I find myself reading the latest venomous shots fired by the disgruntled and wonder if the face behind the pseudonym is a familiar one.

It takes much more than one voice singing in the darkness to shed light on a given concern. It is this basic understanding which brings the most unlikely of people together to work towards a common purpose. While "The Broken of Britain" campaign is in its infancy, the core group of people involved are seasoned veterans when it comes to raising awareness about their lives as disabled people in the modern world. We come from differing backgrounds, have a wide range of illness physical or mental - and we all have differing perspectives on the contentious issues concerning disabled people. The one thing that brought us together as a collective was our tacit agreement that the current coalition government is waging wholesale warfare against the most vulnerable in British society: women, children, the poor and disabled people specifically. The irony is that funds and services for disabled people includes women and children from all backgrounds (including celebrities collecting benefits for their disabled children).

We have supported the various anti-cuts initiatives including boycotts, protests and petitions. That support will continue. The only thing that we have ever asked is that the not yet disabled keep an open mind and lend their support to our efforts in kind. Contrary to populist belief, disabled people do as much as we possibly can to help ourselves – as much by personal choice as driven by circumstance. However, we do need the active support of able-bodied people. What we bring to the anti-cuts movement is no different to what we've always had to do in order to get even a modicum of much-needed help with daily living.

However, it is a double-edge sword for us – standing up for ourselves, so to speak, by participating in protests typically elicits the salvo "if you can manage that then you are fit to work" or even worse "you asked for trouble just by participating". Disingenuous statements and worse have been levelled at Jody McIntyre, the disabled activist pulled from his wheelchair during a recent student protest and dragged across a London street by no less than four Met Police Officers. We are made to hold account for our unenviable predicament by the society which victimises us. Many disabled people hold back from activism because they are afraid of taking the risk and then having it used against them. We are broadsided on a daily basis by the insensitive and uninformed, no less because of the stigma attached to being physically disabled, mentally ill or wresting with the energy-stealing demons of "invisible illness". It's bad enough for someone who struggles with physical disabilities, but for those with 'invisible' and/or mental health problems there is added trauma in processing the searing hatred coming from wilfully ignorant and wholly unrepentant able-bodied people. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the US, “justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

For those that care to, it is easy to engage with disabled people; all that is required is communication. Yes, we will have missteps along the way and on both sides. But in speaking to members of the various students groups via social media, I have reminded them that once-upon-a-time I was student, able-bodied and thinking I had my 'whole life ahead of me'. The life I lead now as someone who lives with both physical and mental illness was not one I had ever considered for myself. As little as two years ago I could not have foreseen how drastically my life has changed in the past year alone. The only good thing that keeps me holding on is the fierce determination of those whom I work alongside. It is a great privilege to fight a good and just fight with people whose entire lives have included coping with chronic illness far more admirably than I have in my situation in the past year. The powers-that-be have come first for the most vulnerable of British Society. It's easy to close hearts and minds to a situation because you believe it's nothing to do with you. But one day it just might be you they come for, you who needs to fight tooth and nail to save your home, you child or even your own sanity.

The afore-mentioned Ms. Rowling has bequeathed to us a legacy of accessible wisdom. To paraphrase The Greatest Wizard of the Age, Albus Dumbldore, Headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry: it is our choices my friends, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. These are dark times and the moment is already upon us when we must choose what is easy and what is right. We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. All who are not in the decidedly comfortable position of an assured future must work together bound by the fears which concern us all. It is imperative that we fight, fight again and keep on fighting - for only then can the underhanded be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated. "We teach people how to treat us" – so the old saying goes. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open. Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike. The consequences are far worse should they be the result of simply giving up.

The 12 Days Of Cripmas

The 12 Days Of Cripmas is a topical take of a classic carol listing the benefits and services currently being removed from disabled people in Britain. The lyrics were written by a user of the Ouch messageboards, sent to Where's The Benefit and the track produced and directed by BendyGirl of The Broken Of Britain. We're all incredibly proud of Imana our 11 yr old singing star who's mum has Multiple Sclerosis.

Happy Christmas to you from all of us at The Broken Of Britain and Where's The Benefit 

Please share this track everywhere and let's see if we can get it some national media attention!

URGENT - e-mail MP with casting vote on housing benefit changes

URGENT - e-mail MP with casting vote on housing benefit changes

Disabled People Against Cuts are calling for urgent action today to prevent changes to Housing Benefit that will push disabled people further into poverty. The group, which organised last week's protest, is calling for us to e-mail MP Stephen Lloyd. He has the casting vote today on changes to housing benefits that could disproporiately affect disabled people. The government is trying to sneak these changes through with as little debate as possible.

Details and advice on what to say in your e-mail are at DPAC's page here - the address for his office is They suggest that we just write a short e-mail reminding Mr Lloyd that this could lead to more and more disabled people living in extreme poverty, having to be housed in temporary/unsuitable accommodation, or in care homes. It might be worth mentioning to him that we appreciate his vote against the tuition fee rise, and that we hope he'll show us the same bold support.

They'd also like us to e-mail Steve Webb, a Lib Dem DWP minister who has said that disabled people have too much money and therefore we do not need winter fuel allowance. This is not only an attack based on misinformation, but it also goes against the Lib Dem's pre-election policies. They promised us Winter Fuel Allowance. Given that they now can't keep that promise, they've U-turned with a cruel, damaging statement that chimes in nicely with the coalition's wider attack on disabled people. We can't stand for it. I'll be e-mailing Steve Webb today to tell him what I think -

The more of us that do this, the better. Protesting can happen from home, too.