Episode 28: Paul Carter and Victoria Wright are joined in the studio by guests Phil Friend, Phillipa Willets and Tracey Proudlock to discuss how the parties’ manifestos bode for disabled people. Also on the agenda are social housing and the portrayal of disabled characters in shows such as Game of Thrones.
The Download 28
Presented by Paul Carter and Victoria Wright
[Jingle: This is The Download from Disability Now!]
PAUL Hello, I’m Paul Carter and joining me for this edition of The Download is Victoria Wright.
VICTORIA Election 2015, who deserves the disabled vote, which could be decisive?
PAUL House sale, how will a proposal to sell off more social housing have an impact on disabled people?
VICTORIA And what can we learn from Game of Thrones? We look at the power and pitfalls of disabled characters on TV.
PAUL Our voice, our lives, The Download.
Three guests join us today. First, Phil Friend, who was the Chair of Disability Rights UK until the beginning of this year and he’s now on the Boards of several disability organisations. He’s also the co-author of a book called Why are you pretending to be normal. Phil, very briefly, what’s the book about?
PHIL It’s about managing rather than coping with your disability, targeting primarily those who are relatively newly disabled.
VICTORIA And Tracy Proudlock is an entrepreneur and expert on disability access. Hello Tracy.
PAUL And Philippa Willits is a freelance writer and a disability rights campaigner from Sheffield.
PAUL Welcome everybody. We’ll kick off the show, as we always do, by going round the table and asking what’s on your minds, collectively, individually, however you want to put it. Individually I suppose, we’re not a homogenous group here, are we? Phil, what’s on your mind at the moment?
PHIL Well, this morning I spent an interesting couple of hours with a bunch of people talking about sport and disabled people’s inclusion in the same thing. And in a different life, I’m the parent of children and one of them is a semi-pro footballer and he plays in the lower leagues, and I have yet to go to a single ground in those leagues, bar one, that has an accessible toilet. That’s on my mind. It’s even more on my mind at about four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon!
PAUL What team does he play for?
PHIL Potters Bar Town.
PAUL Excellent stuff. Philippa, how about you?
PHILIPPA I sometimes need to use speech recognition software on my computer, and I haven’t needed to for a while but I’m using it again now because my hands aren’t behaving very well. And I call it Mabel – it’s called Dragon Naturally Speaking, but that’s far too long, especially when you’re on Twitter as much as I am! So I call it Mabel and I’m a bit concerned about Mabel because she’s hearing voices that other people can’t hear! When I speak, she usually understands, and that’s all good. She sometimes doesn’t, but she mostly does, but then sometimes nothing is happening and it’s all quiet and then she starts dictating from beyond the grave.
VICTORIA Oh, you need to get Most Haunted in, don’t you?
PAUL It sounds like your accessibility software has an impairment issue!
PHILIPPA I think it does!
VICTORIA I think she’s just haunted really! I don’t think she’s ((0:03:04?)), I think you just have a ghost!
PHILIPPA Both possibly.
PAUL Is haunted an impairment?
VICTORIA It could be! I think we should go on Most Haunted and investigate!
PAUL This is going under the equality Act, being haunted! Tracey, hello and welcome back to the show. How about you, what’s on your mind at the minute?
TRACEY Well, I work for myself and that means I’ve got to get around London from A to B quickly, meeting customers, being out on site visits, and I do all of that in a car and it’s quite rare that I can get there on public transport. And so I’m feeling a bit stressed at the minute, like I’ve been doing all these bizarre things, driving around London and feeling like I’m a cab driver, trying to do U-turns and the knowledge, doing side and rat-running and trying to get places on time, and I feel like it could be lowering my life span because it gets so stressful being a cab driver! That’s my second job!
PAUL A nice bit of light-hearted disability chat there! One of the quirks of podcasting is that you could be listening to this after the result of the May 7th election is known, but as we record it, it’s still looking too tight to call.
VICTORIA And there are people who are saying that if there really are as many of us as the statistics say, around 11 million, then the majority of those will be of an age to vote, and therefore the disabled vote could be a decisive factor in who governs Britain for the next five years.
PAUL But which party deserves our vote and how far does the fact that we’re disabled influence the way we vote at all? Phil, let’s pick your brains with that to start with. Do you vote as a disabled person?
PHIL That’s a really good question. I don’t think I’ve thought of it before. That’s a really good question. I vote as a person who has a serious interest in disability stuff, so I am going to be swayed. I generally have a very strong political sense, so I’m not a floating voter and never have been. My biggest issue is whether my vote makes any difference in the area where I live really. But the answer to your question I think, Paul, fairly, is that yes I probably do think quite a lot about disability when I’m thinking about my voting, yeah.
VICTORIA So do you already know? Are you always voting for the same party but you’re always very careful to have a look and see what it is that they’re going to do for disabled people? You said you’re not a floating voter, so I assume that you have got a party you tend to follow?
VICTORIA But if that party maybe is suggesting things you disagree with, would that make you sway your vote somewhere else?
PHIL Yes, it might, but the problem I have is the geography, so for me, I’m really quite interested in PR, because I think proportional representation offers scope for people who live in areas where they think their vote is wasted. And I do feel a bit like that, I must admit, and where I live it’s always going to be the same party winning, and so registering any protest, even if it’s against the party I want to vote for, doesn’t have any impact. So I think I would probably not vote for that party if they were doing stuff that really I totally disagreed with. The present government, for example, the coalition, when they get into stuff like welfare cuts and benefit cuts and so on, I understand some of the rationale for that, but I am totally opposed to it, and if they were the party I supported, I wouldn’t vote for them.
TRACEY Reading the manifesto doesn’t always help you, because you’ve got to read between the lines very, very carefully and what people are saying is not actually what they’re going to do. So, to me, I don’t look at manifestos because I don’t think that has any bearing on what happens after the election. So like Phil, I think you’ve got an inner voice, a touchstone, something you go back to when you’re making judgements, and so I’ve got that. But if I’m being honest, I probably look at local things. I do say, ‘Has this MP been next to me, shoulder-to-shoulder, locally on things like libraries, accessible bus stations, school problems?’ I do see the Welfare Reform as being a massive issue, but because of the recession we’re in right now, it’s not been talked about enough. Because of the recession, people are terrified to talk about human rights. They’re terrified to talk about misdemeanours and problems we’ve had, because the bigger picture right now is incredibly complex. So I do think local when I’m voting.
VICTORIA And Philippa, I’d like to know what you think. Do you think that the disabled vote does actually exist? Do you think that there are millions of disabled people in the country who are going to be looking to see, ‘What are these parties going to do for disabled people like me and who are going to make careful decisions based on disability?’ Does the disabled vote really exist?
PHILIPPA Absolutely I think it does, especially if people can get into their polling station and get themselves registered and all those things! But I think a lot of disabled people are probably like me in that they vote as a disabled person but not exclusively. I vote as a disabled person, I vote as a woman, I vote as a lesbian, I vote as somebody interested in fairness and equality and looking for that all over. So certainly looking at the disabled people I know, who do tend to be quite radical and political, it’s a big issue when we go to vote, but I think most people, it’s a proportion of their overall reasoning.
PAUL I think we could spend a whole show going through each of the party’s manifestos for disabled people, but Tory, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and the UKIP – the UKIPs? – have all come up with policies for disabled people and we’ve all seen summaries of what they plan. Have any of them impressed you, Phil?
PHIL Not particularly. I kind of build on Tracey’s point and I think the realities of being in government are different from the realities of campaigning to be in government. And it’s rather interesting that the previous government left a note on the desk of somebody, saying, ‘There’s nothing left in the cupboard,’ kind of thing. So whoever gets in is going to have to face certain realities, because you know that the government that’s leaving is not necessarily telling the whole truth about just what the state of the play is. So from that point of view, I agree with Tracey with the manifestos.
I think Philippa’s point is the one I’m really interested in, in that kind of fairness, equality, treating people with humanity, those kinds of things are not spoken about hugely in the manifestos. Some of them are. I mean the Conservatives are on record as saying they’re going to amend the Human Rights Act. Well, that immediately worries me, whereas I know that the Labour Party are saying they won’t do that, there are efforts to move out of Europe. Well, Europe for disabled people is quite important because Europe does control some of the legislation that we live by, so if the Conservatives, UKIP, for example, want to pull out of Europe, then I’m looking at that and thinking, ‘Well, that’s not going to be helpful.’
So, in that sense, at the moment there’s a bidding war going on, ‘Who’s going to give me the most?’ and every day we listen to the next party say, ‘We’re going to give you this for children and that for health and this for dentistry and that for prescriptions.’ It’s just a list of things and the reality is going to be very different, I suspect.
VICTORIA Do you think disabled people generally are just all really cynical about politics?
TRACEY And understandably so!
PAUL I’m glad you added politics at the end there! Because I feel very cynical just generally.
TRACEY About everything!
PHILIPPA I feel totally sceptical when I look at the manifestos. I feel like I’m not taking it with a pinch of salt, I’m taking it with a whole bag of salt. I believe some of what they say and you can get a kind of idea of the ethos of a party from a manifesto, but I don’t read the promises and believe that that will happen should they get in power. And especially because the austerity measures over the last five plus years have been so stark that I think a lot of us are quite scared. It’s not just who we’d like to get in and what might happen, but I know people who were genuinely scared about certain parties getting power because of what that could mean in the future.
PHIL I suppose the other thing is, I guess there are two groups of disabled people – and a big generalisation but here it comes – one group are perhaps like us, who are deeply interested in disability as an issue, human rights as an issue, de-de-de, and therefore take how they’re going to vote and so on and so forth and think about that differently, and may well see there being a disability vote. For the ordinary person that’s really just trying to get by, where their disability is an occasional kind of encumbrance, or where they’re not aligned to the disability ‘movement’, I suspect they’re like everybody else, some will be swayed by what they’re told, some won’t; disability won’t necessarily play very high on their agenda when they’re voting. So in that kind of mobilising disabled people to vote in certain ways, I’ve been around a long time and I’ve never found a lever that we could use that would get everybody who’s disabled to vote somewhere, just as they haven’t, for example, with older people, the grey vote, for example. And many disabled people, as we know, are in the grey vote, they’ve acquired their disabilities in later life, so it’s a really interesting but difficult area I think.
TRACEY I think I’m feeling cynical because firstly, I think a lot of the manifestos could have been written ten years ago. Was this written for 2015 or did I get it wrong? Because they’re not very up-to-date to me, they’re not speaking volumes. But reading between the lines, the
Conservatives have said they are going to help those people who have significant high needs. You think, ‘Oh that’s big hearted, something extra to look forward to,’ but no, actually what they are saying is, it is their intention to help the absolute smallest number of people possible. That is cynical, but not honest.
PHIL Well the comment, and if I hear this once more I’m going to smash my radio, ‘hardworking family,’ and where does that leave …
PAUL Philippa’s got her head in her hands!
PHIL … a lesbian woman who lives alone and has no children?
VICTORIA Philippa’s got her hand up!
PHIL There you are! I just thought I’d give her a plug!
PHILIPPA Thank you!
PHIL But where does that include people? Not everybody’s a hardworking family.
PHILIPPA I always say, when that comes on the radio, ‘I’m hard-working but I’m not a family!’ And similarly, I know people who are families and even they don’t want to be put in that bracket because it’s so … what’s the word?
VICTORIA It’s just a cliché, it’s become a cliché.
PHILIPPA Yeah, it shrinks you down into nothing really.
PHIL What about an unemployed family? There are a lot of those and are they malingerers, are they shysters? That kind of says what Tracey’s saying, in a sense, that we want to support hardworking families, but what we actually mean is we want to help people who are working.
PHIL Anyone who isn’t, ‘We’re going to try and squeeze you as far as possible,’ and some of that is led by austerity, yes, but some of it is led by political dogma. ‘We believe in a state-run thing,’ says one party, and another party says, ‘We believe in a private-run thing,’ and depending on who you vote for, you’ll end up with whatever.
PHILIPPA And a few weeks ago there was a Labour woman who came out and said something like, ‘We don’t want to be the party for people who aren’t working and we don’t want to be the party for people on benefits,’ and it shocked a lot of people. You wouldn’t necessarily position the Labour Party as The party for people on benefits, but for them to explicitly say, ‘We don’t want to represent those people’ was quite a shocker.
PHIL Well you think of them as the party for the underdog.
PHILIPPA You do.
PAUL But relative new kids on the political block, I suppose you could call them, are the Greens and UKIP, or the UKIPs, as I enjoyed referring to them earlier, they could, in theory, hold a balance of power going into the next election if predictions and things are true. Do you think there’s any hope from parties such as them?
PHIL Let’s deal with UKIP straightaway. I just have no truck, personally, with anything that they say, I really don’t, and I think it’s a smokescreen for racism and various other things, so I just don’t even want to go there. But the fact of the matter is they may well win some seats and they may well have an influence. The Greens I think are more interesting and I’ve been around longer than some of the people round this table and I think Greens are newer and speaking to a different audience, a younger audience, an audience which has very real concerns about the future of the planet and that kind of thing, and I have a lot of empathy with that, I really do. And I think an alliance by one of the major parties with the Greens would be a very interesting concept in terms of the environment, ruling out waste, bureaucracy, dealing with some of the bureaucratic waste would be an interesting exercise if the Greens were looking at it as well as whether we’re burning fossil fuels or not, and so on. And so I think the Greens, I am persuaded by a lot of their arguments, but my worry is we’re back to that first point I made about are they going to do anything because they have no power?
PAUL I can see Tracey itching to come in on this!
TRACEY I think the Greens are a bit of a dangerous experiment. Most of the parties don’t have a position on assisted suicide. They lever to a free vote, the conscience, and the Green Party actually have come out, saying, ‘No, we think actually it’s cool to die early if you’ve got a medical condition or an uncomfortable, unbearable life.’ So, to me, I think the Greens, they’re naive, very risky, a very risky road to go down.
VICTORIA What do you think Philippa, any thoughts on the Greens?
PHILIPPA I have a lot of thoughts on the Greens and I won’t share them all! But I have a lot of time for the Greens in general and I like a lot of what they say. They do tend to prioritise fairness and those things that I like, but, as Tracey said, their position on assisted suicide is scary and
I’ve read up exactly what their position is and it doesn’t seem to me to even be very well safeguarded, even though that’s an argument in itself whether that can exist! But their position on assisted suicide has given me a lot of pause, because a lot of the other things they say seem to make a lot of sense to an old hippie like me!
PAUL Well, if you really are listening to us after May 7th, you can look back at what we’ve been saying with the smugness of those benefitting from hindsight! Doubtless, we’ll be reflecting on the outcome in later editions of the show. During the current campaign each of the parties have seemed to come up with something every day, the equivalent of pulling a succession of political rabbits out of political hats.
VICTORIA One of these, which was deployed by David Cameron, sought to capitalise on the apparent success of Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy housing initiative in the 1980s.
PAUL Cameron announced that a Conservative government would give housing association tenants the right to buy houses they had previously been renting.
VICTORIA While supporters of Right to Buy say it was a great success, detractors pointed out that what it really did was simply diminish the stock of affordable social housing, forcing poorer people into renting from unscrupulous landlords in the private sector, and even increasing levels of homelessness.
PAUL So how did this initiative go down with housing associations and what impact could it have on the availability of suitable housing for disabled people? Ian Macrae talked to Paul Gamble, Chief Executive of Habinteg, a housing association specialising in the provision of accessible accommodation for disabled tenants, and first of all asked whether David Cameron’s announcement had come as a surprise.
PAUL GAMBLE “I suppose yes and no. We were surprised about the predominance it had in the Conservative manifesto because it hadn’t really been discussed very much in the previous couple of years! But it has been something that’s been on and off the agenda for the last 15 years.”
IAN “In general, what’s Habinteg’s approach towards tenants buying properties?”
PAUL GAMBLE “New properties developed with housing association grants over the last ten years already have what’s called the Right to Acquire, which is a form of Right to Buy but obviously at a much lower level of discount than that’s being proposed. So it’s something that’s always been available. Obviously we’re concerned, along with a lot of other housing associations, that having that kind of blanket approach to Right to Buy would effectively mean you’d get a reduction in stock, and as housing associations are responsible for building probably the majority of accessible housing, effectively that’s a reduction in accessible housing available in general.”
IAN “For disabled people?”
PAUL GAMBLE “Yes, and I think a lot of housing associations, us included, are very keen to try and develop new products that enable people to gain a foothold on the housing ladder as owner occupiers, and that includes disabled people, but this, really we don’t think is probably the best way to do it.”
IAN “But one of the arguments that the Conservatives would put up against that would be that they’re saying what you should do is flog off the expensive stuff and that will give you money to build more affordable social housing at the lower end of the market, as it were. How do you respond to that?”
PAUL GAMBLE “I think there are two points there. Firstly, that’s always been the intention of Right to Buy and it’s never been delivered. So, for instance, this present government did extend the Right to Buy in terms of the level of discount at the start of this administration with a promise to do one-for-one replacement, and actually it’s been one-for-ten replacement. That’s really been the history of Right to Buy in general, so I think we’re a bit sceptical about that.
The second real problem we have about the idea of selling more expensive properties is, again, especially for accessible properties and homes designed specifically for wheelchair users, they tend to be the more expensive properties to build. So just generating a receipt doesn’t necessarily mean you can build the similar property in a similar location, so it does present a lot of practical difficulties.”
VICTORIA So what’s your view, Phil, on the Right to Buy initiative?
PHIL It’s a dilemma. On one level, millions of people own their own homes in this country and why shouldn’t disabled people? That’s one line of thought. But actually I believe in social housing and always have done. I was brought up in a rented house which my mum rented from the local authority and it was the only way she could ever have afforded to have a decent place. And that was the era of people sending in Alsatian dogs to get tenants out that they didn’t like, so I remember all that stuff, and I think that social housing is part of equality; it’s making sure that everybody has a roof, that everybody has enough to eat, everybody has enough clothes on their back, that kind of principle. So if we could provide social housing in a way which didn’t mean less – let me rephrase that. If the Right to Buy could be done in such a way that we didn’t then have less social housing, I’d probably support it. But the fact of the matter is that what local authorities are then going to have to do is to sell off their better stock to pay for it. Now that seems to me to be a crazy position. So my overall sense of this is that the bigger question should be which party is going to bite the bullet and build more housing that’s affordable?
VICTORIA Tracey, how serious is the problem of affordable accessible housing for disabled people?
TRACEY Well, it’s a massive problem. Disabled people are in unsuitable housing, they’re in inaccessible housing, local quality housing, overcrowding, and often living with family to get their support needs. The David Cameron option here, it’s a bribe to the voter to say, ‘This is something in it for you,’ and so people are attracted to that. When they’re voting, they’ll all be going to cast their vote with their thought, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Because everyone says it, ‘What’s in it for me?’ So that’s my thought. But to be honest, I think it’s backward-looking and why do we go back to the 1970s when we’re trying to solve a current crisis in housing? And you can do so many other things with the New Build programme, different options to help people finance housing. There are some very good charities out there working with people who have disability benefits and they are helping them with a whole spam or whole options of housing, and I think disabled people shouldn’t be siloed into social housing, siloed into supporting housing that they might not be able to have ownership in. So to me, I was disappointed to be looking so far back in history to solve a current problem.
PAUL I can see Philippa vigorously nodding to my left. Is that something you agree with?
PHILIPPA I live in social housing, I live in council housing in Sheffield, and when I first moved into council housing in the late 90s, Sheffield had so much of it that it was advertising on buses, saying, ‘Do you want somewhere to live with no deposit, a secure tenancy?’ and I thought, ‘Yes I do,’ and I filled in my application form and got keys to a flat the same day, and that was incredible. And that was because I chose a certain area and had I wanted to go somewhere else I would have had to wait, but still, I got my keys the day I gave my form in. Now, waiting lists are years and years and years long, and I don’t blame individual council tenants for buying their properties, I don’t blame them at all, but the system that’s enabled that means now that we have a lot less housing. I wish we could have an agreement where if one is sold, two new have to be built or something. But certainly, extending that power to housing associations seems like an awful idea in a time when there is less and less social housing available.
PHIL It’s also important to remember that when Margaret Thatcher’s initiative came in, the money that the local authorities took in from the sale of houses they weren’t then allowed to spend on building new homes.
PHILIPPA It should be the opposite.
PHIL So I mean on one level you’d think, ‘Well that makes sense, we can re-distribute this money,’ but that wasn’t the case at all and they weren’t allowed to do that. And I haven’t heard anything in this present initiative that says, ‘The money we get for selling it off we can put into more social housing.’
PAUL In terms of rights as tenants, are disabled people in a worse place than others?
PHIL Some are. Learning disabled people, for example, do they understand the tenancy? When we talk about disabled people, we’re all guilty in some ways of the classical thing, aren’t we, but people with mental health conditions, people with learning disabilities making sense of tenancy agreements, managing their affairs in that way. I think they’re at a huge disadvantage. And Tracey’s point about supported housing, many people require that level of support enabled for them to live ‘an independent lifestyle’ and managing tenancies and so on is a complex business at the best of times.
VICTORIA Now from housing to houses of a very different sort.
PAUL Lannisterr, Stark, Baratheon, Targaryen, and if you recognise those as the names of four families then you’re clearly a fan of George RR Martin’s epic and continuing series of books, A Song of Ice and Fire or its incarnation on TV, A Game of Thrones.
VICTORIA And I’m a big fan so I was very excited when Series 5 has just stared on Sky Atlantic, set in the alternative medieval landscape of Westeros. The plot features low politics, which make the current election campaign look like a well-mannered tea dance! So there are four families and their allies battle, sometimes literally, for control over the seven kingdoms.
PAUL We haven’t gone mad, the shows also feature more disabled characters than you could shake a sword at. The most powerful of them is Tyrion, styled by himself and others as a dwarf, and exhibiting the kind of disability pride and outrage that will be very familiar to activists today, such as those in our studio.
VICTORIA And he’s so brilliantly portrayed as well by Peter Dinklage, who I’ve got a massive crush on, and I’m blushing as I speak!
PAUL She is!
VICTORIA And my bosom is heaving and thank God this is podcast, that’s all I can say!
PAUL I’m not commenting on that!
VICTORIA But is the presence of disabled characters on TV necessarily a good thing or is it, to coin a phrase, more of a double-edged sword? So, guys, what do you all think? Are you fans of the show, do you all watch Game of Thrones? Do we know what we’re talking about when we say dragons?
PHIL Yes I’m watching it.
VICTORIA What do you think of it?
PHIL I think there are some bits of that show that are really interesting!
PAUL Can I just point out that Phil’s blushing now!
VICTORIA And his bosom is heaving!
PAUL Yeah, it comes to something when you watch a programme like that with your own children! No, it’s a brilliantly put together thing and it’s a fantastic story. The disability piece, yes, what makes that programme from a disability point of view actually is that in some ways the disability is central to the character’s role and what’s going on around that character, but actually it’s the first time I can remember really where this was one of the main stars of the show.
VICTORIA And he gets top billing as well.
PHIL Yeah, and I think that’s interesting. That’s a first in my lifetime and I can’t think of another disabled role that was cast so high in a sense.
PAUL Philippa, are you a Game of Thrones fan?
PHILIPPA I’m one of about seven people in the world who’s never seen it, if my Twitter feed is anything to go by at least! Everybody in the world has watched it except me.
TRACEY Me and Philippa, we’ve not seen it.
PHILIPPA You’re number two!
VICTORIA You’re missing out! But it’s not to everybody’s liking, it’s got sex and violence and nudity, but there’s all sorts of nudity.
PAUL And there are some really boring bits as well!
VICTORIA It’s not perfect, but like Phil says, it’s got a disabled character who is played brilliantly and the actor gets top billing and that makes it a very interesting show.
PAUL Yeah, and we’re using Game of Thrones, in fairness, as a more narrow look at a wider issue of disabled characters on television and we can’t talk about that without bringing in The Downloads and Victoria Wright on this point. You were in a series which featured disabled characters in some numbers?
VICTORIA It wasn’t quite Game of Thrones! I must admit that when I heard you were going to mention this, I thought, ‘We’re not quite in that league!’ Yes, I was in a TV show in 2009 and I feel very old now because that was six years ago and it feels like it was just yesterday. Yes, I have dabbled in acting.
PAUL It was a fabulous show called Castoffs on Channel 4.
PHILIPPA It was brilliant, I loved it.
VICTORIA So you are a viewer, Philippa, you watched it?
PHILIPPA I’m a viewer, yes!
VICTORIA Oh that’s good!
PAUL I loved it too. I feel like I’m just trying to tag on to her accomplishment now!
VICTORIA I feel like I’ve got my own little Milly Fandom going on now! That’s great, I’m glad that some people actually watch it. But it was a very good experience and I wish it could have led to me being cast in Game of Thrones, quite frankly, but I’m not quite at that league. But it was very good for some of the other actors who have gone on to bigger and better and brighter things.
We’ve got Peter Mitchell now, who’s been in Hollyoaks and Coronation Street, and Kareena is doing brilliantly and starring in the West End, and Sophie’s been in a few plays, and Tim, who was in the last edition of this podcast, is also continuing with his acting work and is hugely talented. But it was controversial and some people weren’t that keen on it. Looking at disabled characters on TV, do you think that there is still a lack, a big lack of disabled characters on TV, or disabled people, or do you think it’s improving?
PHILIPPA I think it’s improving, but the more representation we have, especially in normal type roles, just disabled people doing stuff rather than being disabled exclusively, but I think the more representation, especially of people with different kinds of impairments and different lifestyles and different situations, I think you can’t go wrong really with more and more representation.
PHIL I think the other point that’s changed is I can remember, do you remember Eldorado?
PHIL Well that was the very first time I ever saw a really genuine disabled person playing a disabled person.
PHILIPPA And that was Julie Fernandez, wasn’t it?
PHIL Yeah absolutely.
PHILIPPA She was brilliant.
PHIL Good old Julie Fernandez, who then went on and did stuff in The Office, didn’t she?
PHILIPPA That’s right.
PHIL But before that, Sandy in Crossroads famously became a wheelchair user and was seen in Meg’s kitchen crossing and uncrossing his legs, and we kind of sent him a note, saying, ‘Who’s your doctor? Because we’d quite like to know what you’re on!’ So I think the fact that there are more disabled characters that are visibly on TV is brilliant, but we need to ensure that they’re people who are genuinely disabled as well and not just actors. Tom Cruise in Born on the 4th July, for God’s sale.
VICTORIA Do you think, at the end of the day, it’s better to have maybe slightly crap representations of disabled people on TV than none at all, or do you think we should stick to quality?
PHILIPPA I think we have to be careful, don’t we? We don’t want necessarily a lot of very passive charity, pity type portrayals that do us damage as a group of people. Yeah, it’s difficult to know would we prefer crap or non? I’d prefer good.
PHIL But there’s a lot of crap non-disabled people on TV.
PHILIPPA That’s very true, and we don’t judge them all by that standard!
PAUL Going back to Game of Thrones if I may for a second, and I know there’re a couple of you who haven’t seen it, but Tyrion, one of the main characters that we spoke about before, I think for me why he’s such a refreshing disabled character on television is that he spends a lot of his time in brothels, drinking wine, he murdered his father on the toilet with a ((0:35:19?))
VICTORIA And you empathise with all of that, do you, Paul?
PAUL I could have said that was a massive spoiler alert before I said that. I’m so sorry if anyone’s not finished Season 4 yet, I’ve just ruined it for you! But I mean is there enough of that? We don’t have really ballsy disabled characters on TV, do we?
PHIL There’s a fine line though, isn’t there, because we are very used to – building on Philipp’s point – about the stereotypical role for a disabled person is either pathetic, sitting in a corner and being collected for, or is evil. Every single Bond villain is a disabled person, let’s be clear about that.
VICTORIA It certainly was in Skyfall, wasn’t he?
PHIL Yeah absolutely, absolutely, and you would identify a lot with that particular role, but Tyrion’s interesting because he is evil, but actually he’s also not. So there’s quite a clever piece of scripting going on there, I mean he does some terrible things, but he’s also wronged and misunderstood and stuff like that. So it’s quite an interesting one and I think the metaphor of evil for disabled people is one that I think we should really stop if we can.
PAUL We’ll chat Game of Thrones when we go off air.
PHIL Absolutely, yeah!
TRACEY And as opposed to having something on there or nothing, actually even if it’s terrible, have it there, because then we can bite back. There are always points of view in that type of programme!
PHIL Always moan about it, yeah.
TRACEY So put something up there and then we can have a good old fight about it, and then we get our issues out there. You don’t want a sterile community, do you?
PAUL And it gives us things to talk about on The Download, doesn’t it?
PAUL Speaking of which, that’s it for another edition of The Download.
VICTORIA So thanks to our guests Phil Friend, Philippa Willits and Tracey Proudlock, the producer Ian Macrae, and to the man with the buttons, Ross Burman. It’s goodbye from me, Victoria Wright.
PAUL And from me, Paul Carter. See you in the new government. Goodbye.
[Jingle: email email@example.com and follow us at disabilitynow.]