I’ve recently reviewed some spiritual memoirs, but I wanted to do a separate review for Cripped, which I think is a vital book that all should read, whether or not you’re affected by disability.
Crippled – Frances Ryan.
One in three of all disabled people in Britain are living in food poverty. David Clapson, a former lance corporal who died because he was sanctioned for missing two appointments, didn’t have enough money to buy electricity to store his insulin. There was no food in his stomach when he died.
David’s story is just one of the many France Ryan collates in her important book, Crippled. With plentiful case studies and alarming statistics, she presents a compelling case that the ‘austerity regime’ of the last nine years in the UK has been destroying disabled people’s rights and pushing disabled people into destitution. Frances Ryan’s impeccably researched book echoes the UN’s findings that the UK’s austerity politics are breaching human rights agreements for disabled people. In every area of essentials – housing, health, social care, jobs, representation, money – disabled people’s access and rights have been systematically pushed back, and it is causing an under-reported crisis for disabled people, and costing lives.
Ryan tells how disabled women have been pushed into ‘survival sex work’ for as little as £10 for penetrative sex in exchange for some clean clothes. They were ‘sanctioned’ by the DWP for being too ill to turn up to a ‘work assessment’ appointment. As a result, all their income is cut off, for months at a time, and this was the only way of getting money to live. Welfare should be a safety net, but the holes are particularly large when it comes to disabled women.
Ryan’s research shows that far from being ‘all in this together’, severely disabled people were nine times worse off than the average person because of the cuts. Disabled people are already having to grapple with their illness or disability as well as prejudice, but Ryan explores in each chapter the various attacks on disabled people’s ability to thrive and survive: their homes, jobs, relationships, transport, access to vital benefits and care – it’s the whole of life that has been affected.
It’s tempting to read these stories in the paper and call them one-off tragedies, but Crippled doesn’t allow that myth. Ryan’s work is a comprehensive account of the consistent withdrawal of the safety nets that allow disabled people to live with dignity. It is hard to read the facts that Ryan gathers and not conclude that the ‘austerity regime’ of the past decade has been targeting disabled people – and it’s costing lives.
In a civilised society, disabled people should have rights, not handouts; respect, not pity. In today’s Britain, disabled people are not even receiving pity – instead, we’re demonised for being leeches on society and told that we’re lying and faking our conditions and deserve to be punished.
When suicide rates go up in line with benefit sanctions, the government is quick to dismiss them. But compassionate members of society need to see through this – the problem is endemic. The Nazi regime targeted disabled people first as ‘useless eaters’. With the 75th anniversary of D-Day just gone, it seems more important than ever to remember the lessons of history and work now to fight to keep the rights of disabled people to not only survive but thrive.
The UN has declared that during the last ten years Britain has been guilty of human rights abuses against disabled people. Can we pause on that fact? This is a Western country that prides itself on its welfare system, being found guilty of human rights abuses on approximately 15-20% of the population. The fact that this news has gone under the radar, with the government dismissing the report, only shows that our society doesn’t truly believe disabled people are fully human, deserving of rights and equality.
If you’re able-bodied, it’s tempting to think that politics involving disabled people is irrelevant to you, and you can ignore the current assault on disabled people’s rights in the UK. However, as well as having compassion on those who struggle, the majority of people (like me) become disabled later in life – so if you aren’t disabled now, you could well be one day. We need compassionate politics across all parties.
Frances Ryan’s writing is well-researched but not dry, passionate but not sentimental, and she presents a convincing argument that this is the important issue of our time. It is important reading for all, but for those of us who are Christians, concerned about social justice, this is an essential book to read – and then act upon.
**** STOPPRESS Crippled is out now and for the next two days is available HALF PRICE from Verso Books https://www.versobooks.com/books/2972-crippled – Jump on this *****
Verso will be the cheapest for paperback. Alternatively, buy from your local bookshop or any of the links below. The links with an * mean if you buy anything at all, the store gives some pennies to me. (Hive doesn’t help me but supports your local UK high street).