Activism

2023 was very, very tough for disabled people – but we can’t let the Tories win

Last year it felt like the world was against disabled people more than ever, but hopefully there’s change coming

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Images: Alamy

2023 was a tough year for disabled people. It was tough for everyone, with no end in sight for the cost of living crisis and the Conservatives still unfortunately being in power – but even more so for disabled people.

As we know too well, disabled people often feel the negative affects of government policies the harshest, but this year there seemed to be even more than usual aimed at us. You could say it was targeted and deliberate, it certainly felt it at times.

Kicking off the year we had the DWP being ordered to release the scale of disability benefits deaths, but being the DWP they fought that decision and of course there’s no sign of these figures. Meanwhile they set out to make it even harder for those on disability benefits.

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We saw a huge return to the deeply disgusting era of demonising disabled people on benefits as scroungers and benefit fraudsters, with the then-minister for disabled people Tom Pursglove playing a starring role in their propaganda videos of dawn raids. “We will track you down. We will find you. And we will bring you to justice” said Pursglove in his best Liam Neeson impression.

This would lead anyone to believe that disability benefits play a huge part in benefits fraud, but disability benefits fraud and error make up just a small part of the £8.3bn lost in fraud and error last year. For PIP, fraud is £40m but error is £160m. In ESA, it’s £180m for fraud compared to £260m in error, this however is totally wiped out by the amount that’s underpaid claimants annually. Last year that was £900m for PIP and £230m for ESA.

And the DWP weren’t done with demonising disabled people yet. This farce was only priming the public for the proposed changes to benefits they announced in the Autumn. The constant narrative they’d been weaving to the press that disabled people on benefits are “languishing on the sick” and “workshy shirkers” meant it was easy for them to roll out THE next stage of their plans.

These included snooping on benefits claimants bank accounts, proposed changes to the not fit for work categories of benefits like universal credit and employment support allowance and of course their grand “back to work” plan. These changes really were the final nail in the coffin for many disabled people.

Speaking of press narrative, it seems to have only gotten ten times worse this year, with what seems like a constant barrage of reporting that disabled people are taking hardworking people’s tax or with debates on places like the Jeremy Vine show asking if disabled people deserve benefits.

I was on one such debate where a right-wing commentator I appeared with later took to Twitter to proclaim that I only wanted to work a couple of hours and then nap – I mean, yeah, doesn’t everyone? The hatred I received from this and tweeting that disabled people on benefits deserved nice things such as getting their nails done – something which 89% of the public think they shouldn’t be allowed – cemented how much the governments plan to turn the public against disabled people was working.

It’s always worth pointing out though that in the same YouGov survey 26% said those on benefits shouldn’t be able to afford basic food and 27% said they should be able to buy school uniforms for their kids.

There was also the constant slew of columns and opinion pieces claiming that the increase in neurodivergent diagnoses like ADHD were all the fault of TikTok making it trendy. As a self-diagnosed ADHDer who was watching their friends struggle with medication shortages this made me want to hide even more.

As if the government haven’t shown us just how little they think of disabled people enough, at the beginning of December we saw the absolute spectacle of the mysteriously reappearing minister for disabled people. With Pursglove running off to hate immigrants, the post being vacant for a week, ITV confirming they’d axed the minister for disabled people, then three hours later the government appointing Mims Davies in a downgraded role as undersecreatry.

It wasn’t all terrible though, we did have some wins. Representation wise we had the incredible A Kind of Spark which showed autistic teens being aspirational, messy and real without having to be tragic or aspirational, with a majority cast and crew of neurodivergent people including the incredible Lola Blue and Ella Maisy Purvis. Tasha, a deaf woman appearing on Bake Off with an interpreter and even shows such as Loose Women having specials on hidden disabilities. There was also of course the incredible victory in stopping the government from closing ticket offices in train stations. Something disabled campaigners fought at every turn.

2023 was a year when it felt like the world was against disabled people more than ever, but it’s important to remember that those most powerful often have control of the narrative. But hopefully there’s change coming. The government can’t be allowed to win and hopefully an election next year will stop them.

I want my final message to disabled people of 2023 to be a reminder that there are always people fighting your corner. We’ve got a fight on our hands in 2024, but so do the Tories.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more

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