By: A.C

Several libraries could be filled with the opinions, research and ideas of many intellectuals and philosophers, who have tried over the last few hundred years to understand why poverty, social need, disability and welfare is not something that can just be fixed by a one–size fits all type of solution.

A quote from the novel ‘Sybil’ by Benjamin Disraeli; “Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws … THE RICH AND THE POOR.”

This quote went to the very core of Victorian Britain which was exploiting its people in the rapidly industrialising towns and cities. Was the industrialisation causing more poor, or was it helping to lift people from poverty? Who would look after the broken and worn–out bodies in the rapid industrial expansion, as people crowded into densely populated areas with its hidden dangers of disease and vice.

In Scotland our Poor Law developed very differently to the English version. Basically, if one was poor but fit, then no aid was available. The Church of Scotland, managed and dispensed through its various Parochial Boards this aid, and set up schemes like digging small canals to get men back to work. Only the verifiably disabled received help from the “Parish”. Woodend Hospital and St Peters School in Aberdeen were, respectively, the West and East “Poorhouses”. This changed in the late Victorian times with changes to the legislation to try and help all.

It has taken many decades for campaigners, charities, churches, and enlightened politicians to fight for a just society to change and respect those who are ‘different’, to take awareness of age, disability and sensory deprivation and ‘otherness’ into schools and to teach and make aware our young people of what it feels like to be aged, disabled or indeed both. Governments have finally woken up to the need for legislation to protect the rights of the disabled, and ensure equality in access, and employment and mobility. We can see that in the legislation enacted only in the last ten years.

Politicians are populist by nature and they need a formal powerful legislation to keep them in check. In the press over the last few days  there has been much discussion of one politician threatening the position of Britain in the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.

It would seem that some have forgotten so easily, how our forebears fought for not only the disabled, but entrenching those rights in a national legislation and then taking the same arguments to Europe and the UN to ensure that decent human values of respect for all would make the legislators and politicians abide by these codes of behaviour.

The problem is that Treaties and Pacts can be walked away from.

This can be seen in the massive legislative change which brought about the changes in Welfare Acts and Incapacity Benefit. We are all now familiar with the Welfare Act 2007 which needs no research to know which Government brought in. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were engaged in Punch and Judy Show at that time, to see who would be Prime Minister. That legislation has probably changed our lives somehow.

I am sure that I am not alone when I state that my disability has not changed me, I am still the same person. My situation in life is still the same. The disabled, to my knowledge, are not a different species of human who have suddenly developed the ability to re–grow limbs. Or indeed repair genetic problems, or any problem caused in a myriad of ways or diseases.

However, for some reason we are seen as costing everyone else money, and therefore a target for legislative change which makes it difficult to claim in the first place, or when one is in the system, it is so dysfunctional, either by design or incompetence, it is the cause of worry, poverty, and the decline in the health of many.

Welfare Rights advisers have their work cut out as the Government change legislation and who can get access to welfare and benefits.

Years ago the charities for the disabled, campaigners on single issues regarding disease or health issues, and those groups within the field of providing care and compassion, like the churches, and local groups providing facilities food and care, were all campaigning separately for their issue and raise awareness.

What the campaigners, groups and individuals representing the disabled, sick and poor in society in the past couple of years have done is unite themselves in a way that has never been seen before.

Strong links and bonds are being made and the voice of the weak, disabled and poor is and will be heard – whether politicians like that or not.

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