New Year Honours: Activist pledges to use OBE to fight cuts


A leading disabled activist recognised with an OBE in the New Year Honours is to use the award to campaign against government cuts to disability benefits.

Jim Elder-Woodward, convenor of Independent Living in Scotland, a disabled people’s organisation set up to develop Scotland’s independent living movement, was awarded the OBE for services to disabled people’s equality and human rights.

Elder-Woodward has spoken out frequently on cuts to disability benefits and to care and support, and in a speech last February warned that the “forthcoming cuts to our welfare will devastate our quality of life and deny our human rights as never before”.

He said then: “Never in the history of welfare reform will the lives of so many in need be so ravaged by so much, to meet the political agenda of so few in power.”

Elder-Woodward is a former social worker, and has worked for central and local government, the health service, the voluntary sector and universities, and written extensively on disability and independent living, and is chair of Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living and a director of Inclusion Scotland.

After his OBE was announced, Elder-Woodward said: “Aristotle once said that honours should go to those who could make best use of them.

“I intend to use this honour to bring greater gravitas and grit to the voice of disabled people, particularly at a time when their equality and citizenship are being undermined by reductions to their income and support services.”

He also pointed to increases in hostile press stories about disabled people, the rise in disability hate crime and continuing calls for assisted suicide to be legalised.

He said he decided to accept the award because his family “felt my work to promote the equality and human rights of disabled people should be recognised”.

He added: “I am most grateful to them, and indeed to West Dunbartonshire Council, because without their continual support, my wife and I could not even function within the community, let alone actively participate within it.”

Other disabled people recognised for their campaigning and voluntary work include Brian Mister, a founding member and former chair of ecdp (formerly Essex Coalition of Disabled People), who still supports younger disabled people through ecdp’s mentoring programme, and chairs other voluntary groups in Essex.

Mister, who was a sales and marketing director before he became disabled, said the MBE was a tribute to the work of ecdp, which he said was “where I earned my spurs in the disability field”, and to the disability movement and the importance of the social model of disability.

He said: “The principles of independent living and the social model, they are what has driven me and still do. I always try to keep them in my heart.”

Steve Carey, ecdp’s current chair, said the MBE was “a well-deserved honour for someone who has worked tirelessly and for many years to strengthen the rights of disabled people in Essex.  He has boundless energy and is always willing to get involved and create positive change.”

Another disabled person rewarded for his public service is Vidar Hjardeng, who receives an MBE for services to visually-impaired people and broadcasting.

Hjardeng spent more than 20 years working on regional programmes for ITV and is now diversity manager for ITV news and regions, has written for publications such as the Financial Times and the magazine Art Disability Culture, and is a trustee of several disability organisations.

University student Kirsty Ashton receives her MBE at the age of just 21, for services to children and families.

She has raised £90,000 for the When you Wish Upon a Star charity, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.

She has also written a book about living with neurofibromatosis and scoliosis, and runs her own website providing support to other people with those conditions.

She said: “To me, what I do is a hobby. It’s my interest.”

5 January 2012


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