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Crippled

Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

By Frances Ryan
15-minute read
Audio available
Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People by Frances Ryan

Crippled (2019) examines the treatment of disabled people in Britain’s “age of austerity,” which began in 2010 during David Cameron’s time as prime minister. Journalist Frances Ryan combines devastating case studies with grim statistics as she explains the effects the government’s policies and cuts have had on the people most in need of support.

  • Equality-minded people interested in disability rights
  • Concerned citizens interested in government policy
  • Political campaigners

Dr. Frances Ryan, a journalist, broadcaster, and campaigner, is well known for her work on disability. She has a weekly column in the Guardian and was highly commended in the category Specialist Journalist of the Year at the National Press Awards in 2019. In 2018, she was named one of the United Kingdom’s most influential disabled people by disability charity the Shaw Trust.

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Crippled

Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

By Frances Ryan
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People by Frances Ryan
Synopsis

Crippled (2019) examines the treatment of disabled people in Britain’s “age of austerity,” which began in 2010 during David Cameron’s time as prime minister. Journalist Frances Ryan combines devastating case studies with grim statistics as she explains the effects the government’s policies and cuts have had on the people most in need of support.

Key idea 1 of 9

The British government's austerity program has been catastrophic for disabled people.

Britain is one of the world’s richest countries and, historically speaking, its welfare system was pioneering. Yet in 2017, the United Nations declared that disabled people in Britain faced a “human catastrophe.” So what happened? Well, for starters, David Cameron’s Conservative Party took charge of a coalition government in 2010. 

When Cameron spoke as prime minister at the opening of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, he called the United Kingdom “a trailblazer for disability rights.” But ironically, that was just when his government’s austerity policies were coming into effect.

Austerity was officially the government’s response to the global financial crash of 2008. The message of austerity was that a period of lower public spending was necessary to balance the books in the wake of the economic crisis.

In reality, the choice to cut back on the welfare budget seems to have been carefully calculated. It reversed decades of progress in disability rights and forced many disabled people into desperate situations. Bankers were to blame for the crash, but it was people with disabilities who got punished for it.

Individual case studies throw this trend into a particularly glaring light. Jimbob, a 68-year-old resident of Ayrshire in Scotland, started work when he was young – first in a garage, later as an engineer. But in recent years, his multiple disabling health issues, including chronic lung disease and bone disease, mean that he can’t work anymore.

He lost his disability benefits in 2013 and now doesn’t have enough money to heat his concrete, two-bedroom apartment. To keep costs down, he effectively lives in a single room so that he doesn’t have to heat the others. He has to plan trips to the bathroom by turning on the heating in the hallway 15 minutes beforehand, so the apartment isn’t ice cold. He even tried sleeping in a tent to cut heating costs even further.

Jimbob’s situation brings home the reality of what Cameron’s cuts have entailed. Under austerity, disabled people faced nine times more cuts than an average British citizen, according to 2013 research by the Centre for Welfare Reform – and those with the severest disabilities faced 19 times more.

It’s hardly surprising that these cuts have left many disabled people destitute. But what’s particularly shocking is that, as the next blink shows, the cuts have been made under a false pretext: that disabled people were trying to take advantage of the system.

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