Austerity benefits and sanctions: a panel on being disabled in 2017

The Disability Awareness panel event was held on 6 November in the Teviot Dining Room as part of Disability History Month.

Aiming to raise awareness of the challenges that those with disabilities face, the event was held in collaboration between the University’s Student Disability Service and the Social Policy Society.

In addition to addressing social stigmas, the panel discussed many policy areas that affect the disabled community.

The Family Resources Survey for 2015/16 shows that 21 per cent of the population in the UK, or 13.3 million people, have reported their disabilities.

This number carries a degree of controversy. Despite the large proportion of people with disabilities, there remains a large stigma attached to it and disability support is criticised to be not comprehensive enough.

Third year student Maya Wenzel, Secretary of the Social Policy Society, said, “after attending this university for two years, I have not noticed much emphasis placed on Disability History Month, or the disabled community.”

She identified the event as an important way to “take part in celebrating and commemorating the disabled communities”.

The panel consisted of speakers from a variety of backgrounds, including Dr. Jackie Gulland, Professor Sheila Riddell, Sandra Wilson, and Rachel O’Brien. The panelists shared a myriad of perspectives on the obstacles that people with disabilities in the UK face.

Much of the discussion revolved around barriers such as societal biases and financial constraints.

Some of the discussion was anecdotal, while other speakers focused on specific examples of discriminatory public policy.

One focal point in the event was the elaboration on the Equality Act 2010 and the criticism on how the legislation falls short of providing adequate financial support to households with disabled members.

Gulland and Riddell both questioned whether current disability support was in accordance with United Nations guidelines.

A Labour Force Survey from 2012 indicates a 30.1 per cent gap between disabled and non-disabled people in employment, which translates to a greater percentage of disabled people relying on government welfare programmes.

Whilst the panelists disagreed over some topics, a common consensus was reached that austerity measures dictating welfare benefits are harmful to the millions of disabled people in the UK.

Additionally, as increasing powers are devolved to Scotland, the panelists discussed the disparities between welfare systems across the UK.

Differences between regional policies, and local authority budgets, can lead to a lack of protection for the disabled.

The panelists were cynical about many current welfare policies, but did note that disability benefits are constantly amended and reworked on local, regional and national levels.

As the event came to a close, the panelists mused about their vision of the future.

Whilst Gulland and Riddell were somewhat skeptical of the future state of disability support, O’Brien was more hopeful. She was optimistic about disability activism, believing it reminiscent of activism in the 1990s.

 

Image: Sara Konradi / Photographer

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