Coalition: Put your own house in order before you patronise foreigners about disability

Lynne Featherstone: Her speech may have been well-intentioned, but was also patronising and hypocritical in the light of the Coalition's treatment of disabled people in the UK.

Lynne Featherstone: Her speech may have been well-intentioned, but was also patronising and hypocritical in the light of the Coalition’s treatment of disabled people in the UK.

Today the Coalition government announced it is showing the developing world how to treat people with disabilities (don’t laugh) – by ensuring that schools built with direct UK funding will have easy access for the disabled.

According to a government press release, Liberal Democrat International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone used the High Level Meeting on Development and Disability at the United Nations in New York – the biggest disability rights meeting in five years – to call on the international community to tackle the ‘great neglect’ of a billion people globally who face unequal access to education, employment, healthcare, social support and justice as a result of disability.

Did her speech make any mention of the ‘great neglect’ of people in her own country who face discrimination on exactly the same grounds, caused by her government?

“Those living with a disability are disproportionately some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world – part of an unseen great neglect,” she told the meeting. “It is telling that of the 57 million children currently out of school in the world today, over a third have a disability.

“As a global community, we have a duty to safeguard the most vulnerable. If developing countries are to move forward into prosperity and greater self-reliance, they must take everyone on the journey.

“That’s why from this day forward, all schools built with the direct support of British taxpayers will be designed to allow disability access.

“With the ongoing discussion of what development should focus on when the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to finally put disability on the agenda.”

Leaders of developing countries would have been justified in looking askance at the British minister while she was making this speech, with her hypocrisy on display for everybody to see.

They would be right to ask themselves: “Is this not a minister from a country that demonises its disabled people? That treats them as a burden on the community? That is trying to purge its society of them?

“Did her government not drive 73 disabled people per week to suicide or death through the exacerbation of their health problems – both brought on by cuts to state benefits and the threat of destitution – during 2011? And is her government not now refusing to provide up-to-date figures on the deaths its policies have caused?

“Does this not mean that deaths of disabled people caused – directly or indirectly – by UK government policies have increased dramatically during this time period, and the same government is trying to cover up the fact?”

It is notable that the government’s announcement landed on the same day that disability activist Samuel Miller received the following correspondence from the office of the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights:

“On behalf of the Special Rapporteur, thank you very much for your communications… Ms Sepulveda is observing very closely the situation with the UK welfare policies and their effects on persons living in poverty, including persons with disability.

“She is doing her best within the limits of her mandate to address such situations not only in the UK but globally through direct engagement with Governments.

“She would like to commend you for your tireless efforts and wishes you all the best in your endeavours.”

In the light of all this, would leaders of developing countries not be right, while thanking the UK government for its well-intentioned offer, to ask why Ms Featherstone feels justified in talking down to them about the disabled when her government refuses to allow those in its own country an opportunity to live with dignity.

46 thoughts on “Coalition: Put your own house in order before you patronise foreigners about disability

      1. Matt

        liberal democrat or not, the line has been blurred by the “coalition” and over the last few years the conservatives and the lib dems have been chewed up by tory ideology, so much so that the line between what they are and what they have become doesnt even matter any more because they are pretty much just tories under a different name.

  1. Pingback: Coalition: Put your own house in order before y...

  2. Verns

    It is sickening that the Coalition can simply ignore the reality that disabled people in the UK are being treated appallingly by their policies, and are suffering disproportionately as a result. The bedroom tax is just one example where disabled people are being discriminated against on a regular basis, being forced to cut back on essentials and facing eviction through an inability to pay the shortfall between the rent they have to pay and the benefit that is supposed to fund it.

    It is supremely ironic that, in many cases, they have been allocated homes that have been specifically adapted for their disability, which I suppose persuades the Government that they are ‘putting disability on the agenda’.

  3. jeffrey davies

    ah they sprout out to the rest while quietly killing their own off starvation and benefit fraud they tell us but she telling the rest how to but kills her own off hitlerscomes to mind but until those 99percent wake up then they have more of us missing that roll call

  4. drewdog2060drewdog2060

    I am registered blind. There are many things wrong in the UK, however the position of people with disabilities in this country is far better than that in many other nations. In China, for example eugenics is still openly advocated and enforced on people with certain disabilities. Again I used to work with a colleague involved with a charity which helped people with disabilities in Africa where it is common for those with disabilities to be locked awayfrom society by their families. Certainly not everything in the garden is rosey but the Equalities Act which consolidated the Disability Discrimination Act together with other anti-discrimination legislation has improved the position of people with disabilities. There are people in the All Party Group on Disability who genuinely do wish to improve the condition of people with disabilities (concern is not confined to the Labour Party). I do have concerns regarding aspects of policy and have raised (and will continue to raise) these but simply to bash the Coalition generates more heat than light.

    1. Mike Sivier

      But you will be aware that Coalition policies have run against the Equalities Act, and you MUST be aware that the position of disabled people in this country is far less secure than it was even a few years ago.
      I’m not saying that the UK is on the same level as a country in the developing world, but it could be – if Coalition policies are allowed to continue; they have intentionally created hard times for disabled people.
      That is why Lynne Featherstone was patronising developing countries in her speech. She was talking down to them when her own government is reversing the good work of many years.

      1. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        Thank you for allowing a somewhat different perspective to your own. That is the mark of a democrat and in all sincerity I congratulate you for that. I am currently not a member of any political party so have no party political axe to grind, however there are individuals of good will in all the political parties (the Disability Discrimination Act was brought in in 1995 under a Conservative government and has been strengthened, with the introduction of the Equalities Act) with cross party support. I have successfuly used the DDA (now part of the Equalities Act) to obtain redress when I, as a blind guide dog owner was refused access to a restaurant. I’ve also used the legislation to obtain material in accessible formats (in my case braille). I can’t see any government reversing this legislation. I do have concerns regarding Disability Living Allowance which, incidentally was brought in under the Conservatives, and I’ve raised those concerns via my MP. Whichever party wins the next election there will be proposals some of which may come into effect which people with disabilities will oppose (concerns won’t stop merely because a Labour rather than a Conservative government is elected). Do you really think that all Conservatives are wholly unconcerned with the position of people with disabilities and, conversely that all Labour politicians have the interests of disabled people at the top of their agenda?

      2. Mike Sivier

        Nope.
        In fact, some of us are working hard to convince people at Labour’s top table that it matters at all.
        The people on the Conservative/Liberal Democrat front bench aren’t interested at all; they see disabled people as livestock to be slaughtered, it seems.
        Tory backbenchers certainly hold varying viewpoints – we’ve witnessed that in Parliamentary debates – but they will never persuade the Cabinet members.

      3. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        Thanks for your honest response regarding the position of some in the Labour Party and your attempts to convince them of the importance of listening to people with disabilities. I take issue with your statement that “The people on the Conservative/Liberal Democrat front bench aren’t interested at all; they see disabled people as livestock to be slaughtered, it seems.” As you are no doubt aware under the Action T-4 Programme in Nazi Germany thousands of disabled people where sterilised against their will and (later) killed in facilities such as the Castle Hartheim centre in Austria. Obviously the Nazi atrocities are unique in their barbarity even taking into consideration the fact that forced sterilisation programmes had been taking place in America and other countries prior to the Nazi policy, however these policies although indefensible stopped short of murdering people with disabilities. The Coalition has no intention to implement such policies but reading your comment could imply that this is, in fact their wish. I think that it is important to express opinions without using language which could give the impression that Coalition policies are the same as those pursued by a monstrous regime, namely the Third Reich.

      4. Mike Sivier

        Coalition policies are compared with the Nazis all the time! – and policies toward the disabled are known to have led to the deaths of thousands. This government is trying to hide the number of deaths it has caused by refusing to release any figures from November 2011 onwards – and other methods will have to be used (than official figures) to find out how many, who were thrown off-benefit, have since perished.
        It isn’t a Nazi policy because Coalition employees are not directly responsible for killing these people – but they have been dying nevertheless. And that, it seems, has always been the intention behind the policy.

      5. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        I think that you do a disservice to political debate by comparing the atrocities of Nazi Germany to the policies of the Coalition. Your view reminds me of some on the left who in the 1930’s argued that there was no difference between parties of the centre-right (Conservatives) and the regimes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. There was a massive difference and the stupidity of those who argued there was none arguably contributed to the consolidation of Hitler’s power in Germany. I can see that we will have to agree to differ on this.

      6. Mike Sivier

        We will – and I would recommend that you try some of the other articles on this blog that tackle the subject matter – to get a taste of WHY people are saying that.

      7. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        Thanks, I have looked at other articles and will continue to follow your blog with interest. As a historian though I do object most strongly when people bandy around terms like Nazi and Fascist with gay abandon. Anyone who has truly studied the horrors of the Action T-4 Programme and the other atrocities of the Third Reich really can not contend that the present government whatever one does or does not think of them is in the same mould as the National Socialist German Workers Party (yess they had elements of both left and right in their make-up). As I said I have concerns regarding aspects of the Coalition’s policies as they pertain to people with disabilities but genuine concerns can be expressed without descending to the level of applying inappropriate labels like “Fascist” or “Nazi”.

      8. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        There is a detailed scholarly article on Hitler’s attempt to eradicate people with disabilities, http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi/people/r/rogow.sally/hitlers-unwanted-children. I’d wholeheartedly recommend reading it. Every party has skeletons in it’s cupboard as regards it’s attitude towards people with disabilities. The Labour MP Will Crooks famously described the disabled as “almost like human vermin” while the Webbs advocated for the introduction of eugenic measures. On the right Winston Churchill spoke in favour of eugenics so no party has a clean slate on the issue.

      9. Mike Sivier

        For the Liberal Democrats, Beveridge believed in eugenics as well – and he was the father of the modern welfare state.
        But none of that changes the way this government has come to be seen.

      10. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        Indeed he did. I think that we will have to agree to disagree on this one although I, personally have never met a person with disabilities who said, with a serious face that the present government was “fascist” or “nazi”. Nazi Germany systemmatically set out to eliminate the disabled and the gassing of those with disabilities was employed at an industrial level in the 1940’s to exterminate at least 6 million jews in the Final Solution. Those who use terms like “nazi” and “fascist” should reflect on the horrors of Nazism and ask themselves whether the Coalition is “Nazi”. Where are the concentration camps in which racial minorities, gay people etc are being exterminated or employed as slave labour? Where are the centres in which disabled people are being gassed or receiving lethal injections? They don’t exist and by employing terms like “Nazi” and “Fascist” those who use them show a woeful ignorance of history and politics. Kind regards, Kevin

      11. Mike Sivier

        It’s all a little more subtle than that. But disabled people have been dying in large numbers, whether the Coalition government was directly responsible or not, and there are plans for new camps, collecting disabled people together to carry out Workfare (as this blog has discussed). Those would follow the accurate description of concentration camps, as they would concentrate a certain kind of person in a single place.

      12. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        I, personally do not have an issue with people being asked to carry out work in return for benefits provided that the working conditions are humane and that people are not exploited. There is a problem recognised across the political parties of welfare dependency where individuals come (often through no fault of their own) to dependend on welfare. Giving people a meaningful task to perform under a well run workfare programme is, in principle a good idea irrespective of whether they are disabled or otherwise. So far as I understand it, the Labour Party would, if elected run a programme along such lines although it would be called something other than workfare. I no there are tensions within Labour over this but I suspect that some form of workfare will emerge. Obviously great care needs to be taken to ensure that those who are incapable of work through severe health or disability issues are protected, however many people with disabilities want to work but due to discrimination or, in a minority of cases due to having become comfortable living on welfare choose not to. As a blind person I have come across disabled people who are capable of work but through a combination of welfare dependency and generous financial support from their family choose not to. As I say there is still far to much discrimination out there and more needs to be done to tackle this by, for example strengthening anti-discrimination legislation but this does not remove the fact that those disabled people who are capable of work but choose not to work should be strongly encouraged to take up employment. Before the introduction of the welfare state disabled people survived through a combination of charity, family support and a few benevolent employers. The almost complete lack of a welfare state (other than the harsh workhouse) did not equal fascism it equaled laisez faire capitalism. I am certainly not advocating a return to the social conditions of the 19th century, I am simply making the point that the removal of welfare does not equate to fascism. Fascism in contrast is corporatist in nature and rejects many aspects of the free market. Of course we need a welfare state but the removal of benefits does not equate to fascism it equates to doctrinaire classical liberalism which most politicians now reject.

      13. Mike Sivier

        Workfare IS exploitative. If a company wants someone to carry out full-time work, it should employ a person at a living wage.
        From my point of view, the only reason a person would depend on social security is if they are physically or mentally infirm and are unable to carry out work to an expected standard. This view differs from that of the government, the DWP and its string-pullers at Unum, who are all working hard to create a narrative in which people who are sick or disabled are actually malingerers with nothing wrong with them. Parkinson’s disease? You’ll get better. MS? Give it time and you’ll be fine. Blind? Let us know when you grow a new optic nerve.
        I fear you are correct and Labour would run a scheme similar to Workfare; this is because the party has received similar advice to the Tories and has a Tory (in disguise) as its Work and Pensions spokesman (Liam Byrne). The answer to that is, teach Labour the error of its ways.
        Currently no care is taken to protect those with severe health problems – this is why thousands have died, and why the blame is laid squarely at government Departmental doors.
        People with disabilities, who wanted to work, used to have a place to go. It was called Remploy and the Conservatives in the government have been merrily shutting its factories down.
        As for people with disabilities choosing not to work: I would be surprised if they managed this due to generous benefits but, if they found a way, wouldn’t it be better for the economy if they stood aside and allowed others, in greater need, access to work? As long as they’re not suffering, I see no benefit in forcing them to work when they shouldn’t have to.
        Also, if I were you I would not suggest that large numbers of sick or disabled people find themselves in such a privileged position; they don’t.
        I’m glad you approve of Labour’s plan to strengthen anti-discrimination laws.
        I think your appraisal of what happened to disabled people before the welfare state is inaccurate but my reading on the subject was a while ago and I will have to look it up again. In Victorian times, I seem to recall, there was a similar scheme to the Workhouse – which would have been state-run.
        Nobody is saying the removal of welfare is equal to fascism. The overly harsh treatment of benefit claimants, however, is another matter. Where a government’s policies drive to their deaths thousands – THOUSANDS – of people who would otherwise have survived, and for whom that government had a duty of care (whether it admits the fact or not) – there is a problem. And we all know that these policies are driven by a small number of large corporations that are influencing DWP policy, so your comment about corporatism is correct and fits in well with the description of the current government as fascist.
        And if you think the market in the UK is free, think again. It is very seriously influenced in favour of large corporate vested interests.

      14. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        I didn’t say that there are large numbers of disabled people who choose not to work. I said that there are some disabled people with whom I, as a disabled person am personally acquainted who feel that they have a right to live off the state rather than trying to find employment. There are many others who suffer discriminination which can in no shape or form be defended. However disabled people who play the system do exist. I agree with you that Remploy offered an opportunity for some people with disabilities to maintain themselves in gainful employment. It was interesting to see The Daily Express, a Conservative paper arguing in favour of the continuation of Remploy (I’m sure anyone who searches the paper’s records will find the articles). While Remploy offered a valuable opportunity for some disabled people to work people who are disabled are individuals and many would rather engage in occupations other than manual labour or factory work. For example there are a number of disabled lawyers including blind ones and the public sector has, traditionally employed people with disabilities to a greater extent than have many private enterprises. What I am saying is that schemes like Remploy have their place, however disabled people should not be pigeoned holed into such schemes, they should be given the opportunity to excel in a variety of occupations rather than being perceived as people who are only capable of performing factory work. There is no dignity in being a passive recipient of welfare unless one is so severely disabled or sick as to be rendered incapable of work. The corporatist state under Hitler and Mussolini differed greatly from 21st century Britain as most historians will tell you. I feel that you and I may be engaging in a dialogue of the death or at the very least we are speaking past each other.

      15. Mike Sivier

        We’re not conversing past each other – I was trying to avoid misunderstandings that either of us might be claiming many disabled people make a choice not to work. There are always a few who think they have a right to – I think the word is – ‘game’ the system – in a country of 60,000,000 that number becomes considerable (but not overwhelming). Remploy offered more than manual labour and factory work. Your comment about the public sector is interesting but, again, the current government is hacking the public sector to pieces and so such opportunities must be running short. Nobody was suggesting disabled people should be pigeonholed as any particular type of worker. What I was saying is that opportunities that have been available in the past are being systematically removed by the current government, leaving increasingly fewer places for people who have impairments to seek gainful employment. Your comment about Hitler and Mussolini is rather obvious, if you think about it – these are more sophisticated times and the methods used by similar people are more subtle.
        You seem to be trying to employ increasingly convoluted means to get me to say something I don’t accept. My advice is: Give up. The bottom line is that disabled people are being persecuted in this country and many have been driven to their deaths. The amount of effort being expended by the government in doing this, RATHER THAN finding ways for them to perform a useful function, with dignity, is entirely disproportionate and this is why it has been labelled ‘fascist’ or ‘Nazi’. People who have suffered this kind of persecution feel entirely justified in doing so, and it is not for you (or I) to dispute their experience.

      16. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        There are, of course many problems faced by disabled people in the UK (I have and never would deny that). The issue of the replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by Personal Independence Payment (PIP) cocontinues to cause concern among people with disabilites and the organisations which represent their views, for example the RNIB which as you know works with and on behalf of blind people. Due to the lobbying of the RNIB concessions have been made (it is my understanding that being registered blind will now qualify more blind people for the higher rate of PIP than would have been the case under the original proposals but concerns regarding the benefit still exist). . The fact that the Coalition listens and, sometimes adjusts it’s proposals as regards people with disabilities is not the mark of a fascist government. Fascism, communism and nazism are marked by totalitarianism with those who oppose the system being imprisoned or exterminated. We are not in that position here in the UK and those who use intemperate language to describe policies of which they disapprove risk alienating people who would otherwise be sympathetic to the legitimate concerns which disabled people and their organisations raise. Colourful language has always been part and parcel of political debate (for example Churchill’s statement that the socialist state under sir Staford Cripps would be like the fascist state under the blackshirts or Bevan’s comment that the Tories where “lower than vermin”, however such language should not be taken seriously nor should that of those who label the present government as fascist. David Cameron had a severly disabled child, Ivon who tragically died. Quite rightly sympathy for his loss was expressed across the political spectrum with one of the most moving expressions of compassion coming from Gordon Brown who had also lost a child. To imply that a man like Cameron who has loved a disabled child would have any truck with nazi or fascist policies is morally reprehensible in the extreme. More should be done to widden the employment opportunities of disabled people and the increasing sophistication of technology has broadened the possibilities. For example screenreading software enables blind people to work in offices and with other “reasonable adjustments” perform tasks which would, in the past have been impossible for them to accomplish.

      17. Mike Sivier

        You are going to have to accept that people feel justified in calling this government fascist. They would find your view reprehensible.
        We all know about Cameron’s late child – how can we not? He keeps raising the memory of that poor kid whenever his ratings need a boost or he wants support for a potentially unpopular policy! His behaviour with regard to that child was deeply disturbing – you must be aware that he claimed benefits for the boy, and now of course is shutting down possibilities for others in similar situation to receive the same kind of support. The man is a millionaire – if anyone could be said not have needed those benefits it is him! But he had the extra money and is denying it to others. And you want to talk about his critics being morally reprehensible. Have a good, hard think about that one.

      18. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        I do, of course accept the right of people to engage in political debate and to use labels in relation to the Coalition which are not, in my considered view either accurate or justified. I don’t accept that people are “justified” to use the terms fascist and nazi in relation to the present government for the reasons set out in my previous comments. People who use such terminology detract from the horrors of nazism and fascism. I think that your comments on how David Cameron reacted to the death of his child are beneath contempt so I won’t respond to them.

      19. Mike Sivier

        I didn’t make any value judgement on whether they ARE justified in making these claims. They FEEL justified in it and their response will be extreme if you try to tell them they are wrong. My opinion: Use of the terminology is a warning – this Coalition government is too close for comfort. Far too many comparisons can be made – appropriately and justifiably.
        As for the way David Cameron has used his late son for political purposes – I stand by my opinion. It is Cameron’s behaviour that is beneath contempt.

      20. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        I expressed myself rather inelegantly as regards whether people “feel justified” in applying the labels “fascist” and “Nazi” to the Coalition. The fact that someone feels justified in expressing an opinion does not render that opinion correct. The Stalin Society, for example feel justified in defending the legacy of Joseph Stalin. that does not mean that their revisionist approach to Stalin’s noxious place in history is justified. Likewise “”historians” (and I use the word advisedly) such as David Erving would no doubt argue that they feel justified in their view that Hitler was, on the whole a benign influence and that the atrocities of Nazi Germany have been exaggerated. Their belief that they are justified in expounding such views does not render their opinions correct.

      21. Mike Sivier

        I said you were going to have to accept that people’s opinions differ from yours. Why are you unwilling to do so? In my last response I made it clear that there are too many correspondences between the approaches of the Coalition and fascist/Nazi governments of the past for many people of good conscience ever to accept. Go to previous entries on the subject, in this blog and others, and you’ll see that.

      22. drewdog2060drewdog2060

        To state the blatantly obvious, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I have never contended that people do not have a right to express contrary opinions to mine. They patently do. All I have ever argued is that I disagree with the labels employed by some individuals and I have stated my reasons for doing so. Those who hold the opinion that the Coalition are fascist are, in my view wrong. There opinions are based on either a lack of historical knowledge or willful misrepresentation of the facts. I have seen precious few facts advanced by those who throw around labels like “fascist” and “nazi”. Misrepresentation of the facts isn’t confined to this issue. Those who argue that Ed Miliband is a “Marxist” are also guilty of misrepresenting facts. There is an unfortunate tendency in politics to get down into the gutter and hurl missiles/insults at one’s opponents rather than engaging in mature debate. That is not to say that I agree with Ed Miliband or the Coalition, merely that Ed Miliband is no more a Marxist than the Coalition are fascist

  5. drewdog2060drewdog2060

    I should add that I have visited both Sri Lanka and China, as a blind person so I do have some idea of the facilities available to people with disabilities in developing nations and I feel grateful to be living in the UK.

  6. Alex Casale

    I have written to my MP, (as pictured above), about this matter. I used some of your statements to get the case across, hope you don’t mind.

  7. Pingback: Coalition: Put your own house in order before you patronise foreigners about disability | PITA

  8. lewiepsmummyP

    How dare they? This government has secretly cut the Access to Work budget which aims to support disabled people into work – I only found this out when I managed to get a job after a period of unemployment (disabled benefit scrounger) but they will no longer pay for adaptations to the workplace.

Comments are closed.