With the next election less than 12 months away, Mike Oliver wonders if the disabled vote can ever achieve positive change.
Shortly after the current government was elected in 2010 I posed a number of questions in my Disability Now column. Would the government succeed in cutting public expenditure? Would disabled people’s living standards be adversely affected? Would the new generation of disabled people be able to breathe new life into the ailing disabled peoples movement? Would the big disability charities be able to defend disabled people from cuts?
As the next general election approaches, I think we know the answers to those questions. The government has succeeded in cutting public expenditure, the living standards of most disabled people have been savagely cut, no new generations of disabled activists have succeeded in rebuilding the movement and the only things the big disability charities have successfully defended in the last five years have been their own interests.
Of course, there have been some attempts to resist what has been happening to disabled people, but generally disability politics has been unable to halt the government agenda in its tracks. It has steamed blindly on ignoring legal judgements against it. It continues to deny that its new privatised assessment strategy has brought much anger, distress and even premature death to some families while the companies concerned have trousered vast sums of public money despite failing to meet the terms of their contracts. And it justifies all this by claiming that it’s only taking money away from the undeserving and, in any case, it’s all the fault of the last government.
With the next general election less than 12 months away, the obvious solution for the millions of disabled people whose lives have been adversely affected is not to vote for the current incumbents. But are the alternatives likely to be any better?
Labour has already said it will not be able to change the public expenditure plans of the current government for at least two years even if it wins the next election. It’s also busy distancing itself from the report of its own taskforce on disability and poverty and is unwilling to offer any guarantees that things will improve for disabled people under them. The Liberal Democrats talk of fairness and equality but while in government they have shown a willingness and even relish at being part of the programme of cutting public expenditure and the debacle over student fees demonstrates that veracity is not one of their guiding principles.
The sad reality of our political system is that we are governed by groups of rotating political elites who are more concerned with staying in power than trying to change things for the better. They will say one thing and do the opposite as long as they can stay on the Westminster gravy train and the big disability charities will continue to support them as long as they can stay in business.
In the run-up to the next general election, the so-called ‘disabled vote’ will be courted by all the political parties but, in reality, even if the millions of disaffected and distressed disabled people could be organised into one block vote, how would that vote be used? It’s a question we may all have to ponder in the next few months. But we should all remember that if voting really changed anything, it would have been abolished years ago.