I started writing this post in the early hours of yesterday morning. I was feeling tense and restless and initially I couldn’t work out why, but my mind kept coming back to my wheelchair. Two weeks ago I wrote with joy about collecting my new chair from NHS Wheelchair Services. It’s narrower and lighter than my old one, which makes it much easier for me to get about by myself. Using it makes me very happy and I’ve regained some of the independence that my chaotic leg tics have taken away.
On Thursday afternoon I had a ‘ticcing fit’ during which my back arched and my pelvis thrust forward with such force that the belt holding me in the chair popped open. My tics pushed me over the backrest, the chair tipped backwards and I tumbled out. I wasn’t hurt, but the chair was. The force of my tics bent its frame.
As I lay awake early yesterday morning I worried about how I’d manage the next few days with a broken chair. My mind also drifted to the longer-term, and how it would feel to go back to using a chair that I couldn’t move by myself. Thinking about losing the freedom my new chair has given me made me cry.
What stopped my crying was the certainty that my occupational therapist (OT), if I called her in the morning, would help me resolve my immediate problem and that, longer term, she’d be able to find the right balance between my independence and my safety.
I was right. I called, and by lunchtime my broken chair had been replaced with an emergency stand-in which was brought to me at work. I’d also been able to talk through the longer-term options with my OT and the wheelchair technician. They’re now looking for a chair that’s strong enough to withstand my tics but lightweight enough for me to move about independently.
This may not seem like a big deal, but imagine how you’d feel if you were suddenly unable to get to the bathroom unaided or had to crawl to get around at your workplace. You may not have had to think much about Wheelchair Services, but for me they make the difference between being safe, mobile and in work, or being in danger, stranded and not at work. I don’t know if there’s anywhere else in the world I could expect such a responsive, free, service.
This is just one example of the many public sector services on which I rely. And the services I use are only the tip of the iceberg. There will be thousands more that play a similarly crucial role in the lives of people up and down the country: the speech and language therapist who gives an autistic child a way of asking for something to drink; the diabetes nurse whose careful monitoring helps prevent loss of sight and limbs; the therapist at the end of a phone for someone with agoraphobia; or the palliative care nurse who, as you read this, is making sure someone is not alone or in pain.
These examples are a tiny glimpse of what the health service provides, and the NHS itself is only one example of all the crucial public sector services that are under threat from the current government’s brutal spending cuts.
Today thousands of people, many of them public sector workers, are marching through London to demand a future that works. Austerity isn’t working! The economy isn’t growing and services that protect the most vulnerable are being dismantled. Today’s marchers are calling for a future for everybody, not just a wealthy few.
It’s not just the degrading of vital public services that’s putting millions of people under pressure. It’s that many more people are going to be denied access to the help they need. For example, earlier this week a report by the Children’s Society concluded that the government’s proposed Universal Credit is going to have a big impact on disabled children and their families, with around 100,000 children losing support.
The Universal Credit isn’t a disability-specific benefit. It’ll be a single payment that replaces a number of existing benefits supporting people looking for work, unable to work, or on a very low income and it will affect disabled and non-disabled people alike.
If you’re not disabled, ill, out of work or on a low income at the moment it’s you who should be particularly worried by Universal Credit. Our Prime Minister says existing claimants will not lose out. So what about the disabled child born tomorrow? The young person leaving care who can’t find a job? The mother who has a stroke in a few months time? The daughter whose car skids off the road next year? Or the brother whose mental health hits a crisis years further down the line? Who’s safeguarding their futures and the futures of their families?
The government’s also busy renaming benefits at every turn, and cutting them in the process. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being changed and re-named the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and 20% of current recipients will lose the money that helps cover the additional costs of living with a disability.
The Prime Minister proudly says that his government has decided to focus support on the most severely disabled. This might sound good and be hard to argue with, but in reality it means that half a million disabled people will lose essential support. While these people may not be the most severely disabled according to the medical view of disability, it doesn’t mean they don’t have significant levels of need.
I make no apologies if all this seems long, complicated and emotive. It reflects the breadth and savageness of the cuts. The safety net of benefits and services that support people when they need them most is being torn away. We need to act now.
If you’re not able to join today’s march here are some other ways to fight back:
• Visit the DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) website and find out about future marches and online protests. They have a buddies for rallies scheme for people who need additional support to attend actions.
• UKUncut’s website also has a list of actions happening all over the UK.
• Check out the TUC’s ideas for ways to get involved and campaign online.
• Find and sign petitions against cuts and reforms. Here are a few to start with: Protect your local NHS, Stand up to ATOS, Save Legal Aid, Crack Down on Tax Dodgers.
• Stay alert to the effect of cuts in your local area and tell other people about them. Keep abreast of how our country is being changed – not allowing cuts to happen quietly is critically important.
Yesterday my wheelchair’s bent back meant I got the benefit of a responsive, expert, empathetic NHS. Services like these are far too important for us to allow them to be damaged by bent policies. To everyone marching today, congratulations – a fair, inclusive country that supports those in need is worth fighting for.