This evening is the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics, which looks set to be an impressive and widely enjoyed celebration of disability sport. It’ll showcase incredible athletes and hopefully promote discussion of issues affecting disabled people amongst a wide audience – which is good because we need to be talking about disability.
We’re living in a time when many disabled people are being failed by the systems designed to support them. It’s hard to get excited about the games knowing that, day in day out, disabled people up and down the country are battling to have their basic needs met. Disabled people are being hit hard by sweeping spending cuts, welfare reform, anti-disability rhetoric and an increase in disability hate crime.
The link between the Paralympics and the hardship many disabled people are facing is not an abstract one. In an act of audacious hypocrisy, this international celebration of disability sport is being sponsored by ATOS healthcare, the company commissioned by the Government to slash spending on crucial disability benefits.
ATOS are paid £100,000,000 a year to test sick and disabled people to see if they’re fit for work. They were awarded the contract on the understanding they’d completely remove benefits from 20% of disabled people who currently receive them. To do this they use a computer tick-box programme and rudimentary assessments that systematically fail to reflect the complexity of people’s disabilities and health needs. Already over 1,000 people ATOS found fit to work have subsequently died.
Our Government will doubtless bask in the achievements of disabled athletes in the coming weeks. But they won’t be cheering for all the disabled people who fight to survive and maintain their health, safety and their families, while their support is relentlessly dismantled around them.
Two weeks spent celebrating disability sport isn’t going to undo the degradation of services and widespread vilification of disabled people as ‘Scroungers,’ but it will put disability in the spotlight. Now is the time for every disabled and non-disabled person to read up on welfare reform and speak up against the startling hypocrisy and extreme inequality.
Do watch and enjoy the sport at the Paralympics, but also consider joining the ATOS Games organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). This is something everyone can get involved with to help fight for a fairer system.