How far will we go with Austerity?

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It’s been two years. Austerity is well under way, and already, cuts that would have been unthinkable before, ease through with barely a murmur. I think we are more likely to think “Thank God it’s not me this time” than “Oh no! Those poor people!”

If we look back just two short years, the idea that hospitals would be closing, handed over to private contractors would have been laughable during the election campaigns. Widow’s benefits taken away, cancer patients to go to the job centre, Sure Start Centres closing – would we honestly have voted as we did if there had been any kind of honest debate? If we’d really known what austerity
meant?

But now we do know and we become more desensitized by the day. We find ever more creative excuses, we turn, neighbour on neighbour, poor on poor rather than believe them just as “deserving” as us. And we must be so, so careful, for once we allow ourselves to be desensitized, we will allow and excuse so much more.

A few weeks ago, there was a case of self-immolation outside a Birmingham job centre. After his benefits were cut, a man became so desperate that he set himself on fire. On a comment thread, a friend told me in shock that someone had excused it by saying “it wasn’t real self-immolation, he only set his legs on fire. “

This has troubled me ever since. What won’t we support? How far will we let things go?

A report released yesterday, “Past Caring” considers plans by Worcester County Council to introduce a “Maximum Expenditure Policy” when caring for disabled residents. We become desensitized in lots of ways. A “Maximum Expenditure Policy” is of course a cap, but language makes the unpalatable so much more bearable.

Effectively, the council are proposing to pay so much for social care and no more, whatever the disability whatever the needs, once the cap is reached, that is that.

Depending on how desensitized you already are, this might sound prudent. Until you wonder, for just a second what happens if care costs do exceed the “Maximum Expenditure Policy”

For this part, you need to know just a little about the history of rights for sick disabled people. For decades, there has been one overriding objective. One goal : Independent Living. For 40 or 50 years, sick and disabled people around the world have fought for independence. Simply for the right to live as anyone might. They have fought to have a home and to live in that home wherever possible. They have argued that independent living is fundamental to the integration and equality of people with disabilities.

It is only a decade or two since they opened the doors on institutions. Only a few short years since most disabled people got the chance to live independently. Only a few decades since this simple freedom was enshrined in UK, European and International law.

Well, Worcester Council’s plans effectively mean that thousands of local disabled residents could be forced from their own homes and into “residential care”. Or, if we call it what it really is, back into institutions.

The legality is dubious enough. “Past Caring” goes on to highlight how choosing to institutionalise disabled residents purely on cost grounds would appear to break just about every human rights convention there is. But that’s OK, because “Human Rights” are just something that make the Daily Mail froth at the mouth. Human Rights allow terrorists to live in mansions in Islington. We have been
so effectively desensitized on this one, that we instinctively flinch away from the mere mention of Human Rights.

Even now, you might be ready to leave a comment below. Something along the lines of “Well, if it’s cheaper for Worcester council to care for “these people” in “residential care” then it seems a sensible measure to me.”

To those people I ask them to consider the suggestion that it is simply too expensive to teach our children in normal schools any more. Imagine the announcement that a series of institutions would be built around the country, your children will be taken away to live in them and if not, they will have to choose to either starve or go unwashed and undressed.

If we remove the word “disability” from the examples it’s unthinkable isn’t it? What we choose for our own children is so easy to cast aside if we just make it about “the other,” if it doesn’t affect us. But Worcester affects all of us. If we take this step, then it makes it just a little easier to take the next. And the next. And the next

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