Governments in the UK – and abroad – are showing “a clear lack of appreciation and respect” for disabled people’s organisations by ignoring their views and advice when developing new policies, according to a leading disabled campaigner.
Miro Griffiths (pictured) was speaking at the first annual Rushton Social Justice Lecture at Liverpool town hall, organised by the user-led disability arts organisation DaDaFest.
The two lectures – delivered by Griffiths and Liverpool historian Steve Binns – were held on the 201st anniversary of the death of the disabled social justice campaigner Edward Rushton, who fought against slavery and helped found the Royal School for the Blind in Liverpool.
Griffiths, a former government adviser and now a lecturer, researcher and teacher, said the only way disabled people would make progress towards inclusion and improved life chances was through both direct action and protests, and advising public bodies, parliamentarians and governments.
But he said that their views were being dismissed, with serious consequences.
He said: “We cannot ignore the evidence and data which highlights that the decision-makers are not acting on the demands of the disabled people’s movement and the reality is that individuals who require support are marginalised and trapped in their localities, with many over-represented in institutionalised support.”
He said that the UK government’s refusal to protect personalised support services – such as the Independent Living Fund, disabled students’ allowance or disability benefits – had not only had a “detrimental impact” on disabled people’s inclusion and contribution to their communities, but also demonstrated the “reluctance or aversion of government bodies to collaborate and work with disabled people and their organisations”.
Griffiths said: “Governments and powerful bodies need to agree that disabled people are experts by experience and should see disabled people as a valuable asset to society – working with us, not without us.”
He said that, even at a time when disabled people were experiencing “hostile behaviours” such as disability hate crime, as well as cuts to support packages, the role of the disabled people’s movement was “paramount” in protecting people’s rights and advancing their inclusion, or at least slowing their exclusion.
He pointed to comments made by Professor Mike Oliver at the 2013 launch of UK Disability History Month, where – speaking publicly on disability for the first time in 10 years – he warned of “the fakes” and “so-called friends” of the movement, who “turn our ideas into their own agendas”.
Griffiths said such action by these “so-called friends” had led to many families and disabled people rejecting or criticising the personalisation agenda, because the concept of “independent living” was being interpreted as “living on our own” or “doing everything for ourselves”, rather than “having choice and control over one’s life” and “autonomy and self-determination”.
He also told the audience that user-led organisations would need to think about how they support young disabled people to become future leaders of the disabled people’s movement, following the lead of organisations such as the European Network on Independent Living.
But he added: “If we consider that the number of grass-roots disability organisations continues to reduce and services are not meeting the needs of the people who use them… can there be a realistic expectation that the involvement of young people, as future leaders, is a priority for current individuals who identify as part of the movement?”
In his lecture on Edward Rushton and his “brave and honourable life” of “resistance”, Binns, who attended the school Rushton founded, said his hero was still relevant today.
He said: “In these last years, this great question of what the people should do if they believe themselves to be badly governed is just as important as it appeared to be to Edward Rushton in the eighteenth century.
“That spirit of demanding what is right, that spirit of rescuing people from desperate and difficult conditions, even sometimes at costs to ourselves.
“That idea of his, I think, that you should do the right thing and be damned to the consequences.”