We need to change our attitudes towards disability

6 Sep 2014

It has been suggested that the current government is mistreating a very vulnerable group of people in our society; the disabled. Those who suffer with a mental illness or a physical disability are facing difficult times. As someone who has a learning difficulty myself, I cannot help feeling deeply dejected about this. It speaks volumes if a government is letting those down who are in need of the most help, and it appears that Cameron’s government is letting down the disabled in droves.


One case that particularly struck a chord with me is that of Wadih Chourey, a 44 year old man living in London who has Down’s syndrome. He recently lost both his parents and sadly, as a result, could face deportation to his home country of Beirut, which Wadih’s family fled from due to gang violence 17 years ago. In essence, it would be deporting Wadih to almost certain death. This, combined with the fact that he needs around the clock care, makes me seriously question the humanity of whoever is behind the decision. There is currently a petition asking the government to reconsider his deportation; I’d urge anyone reading to sign it. Wadih’s distressing situation may be a case of bureaucratic error, but the fact that this was almost green-lighted in the first place is deeply concerning. 

In my previous article On Robin Williams and Depression, I discussed the topic of mental health. I mentioned some statistics that I feel are equally important to be brought up here. The NHS reports that 90% of individuals who commit suicide suffered from a form of mental illness and 2/3 of people with depression do not get effective treatment, whilst many people go without a proper diagnosis of mental illness. It is time the NHS urgently addressed its own attitudes towards mental health. Even after the loss of Robin Williams opened the conversation on depression, it seems that the desire to change our attitudes has already started to fade. Suicide is likely to be a major cause of death in Europe next year. If we simply treated metal illness like it should be treated, not as something akin to having a ‘bad day’, but as a condition whereby people are genuinely in need of help, we would reach out to individuals who feel they only have one choice - suicide. 

The United Nations (UN) even believes that the current government’s reform of disability benefits is in need of an investigation. Although many right-wing MPs have branded the decision as “politically motivated”, the very fact the UN has to investigate a liberal democratic western country over "grave or systemic violations" of disabled people's human rights, is a damning indictment on Cameron and his government’s attitude towards disability. 

Earlier this year, the report ‘Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era’, laid bare how much this government has failed in its treatment of the disabled. Indeed, one particularly poignant line noted how Cameron has transformed from a champion of disability rights to a “systematic violator of these same rights”. A spokesman for Disabled People Against Cuts also said, when asked about the UN investigation, that “DPAC is not in a position to comment on the UN inquiry on the UK’s breaches of the UNCRPD, but we would share the view that there have been grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights especially, but not exclusively, articles 19 [on living independently and being included in the community] and 28 [on providing an adequate standard of living and social protection].”

This government is letting the disabled and their families down. Wadih’s case reveals just how callous this government can be. The UN investigation will, I suspect, reveal just how far reaching and damaging current government policies are on disabled people in our society. Mark Harper, the Minister for Disabilities, has been reticent in commenting on the UN investigation, and whilst Tory MPs lampoon the decision, are they concerned that the UN report may uncover issues that prove unsavoury come May 2015?

I can only hope that the findings of the report will spur the government and our society into improving its attitude towards those with disabilities, whether they are mental or physical. 

By Rory Claydon

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