The disability movement is at a crossroads as a raft of controversial new benefit reforms is introduced. We ask charities, campaigners and social media activists what happens next…

Sophie Christiansen
Paralympian, British equestrian team, gold medal winner

I do think attitudes towards disabled people have changed for the better since the Paralympics, but now, with the whole “benefit scroungers” thing and the further away we get from the Games, the more negativity is creeping in. There’s a gap between the way people view Paralympians and other disabled people. I’m trying to bridge that gap, because the public need to realise just how disability affects day-to-day life. Paralympians are not superhuman – they are normal people with the same challenges; challenges which should be highlighted. I don’t want to go and march outside parliament or chain myself to railings, but I know that if I speak out about the difficulties I have, it will get in the newspapers and on TV, unlike other disabled people who don’t have the luxury of being in the public eye and having their voice heard. I need my disability living allowance (DLA) to pay for my car, because public transport isn’t fully accessible, and for my wheelchair, scooter, adaptations, extra care and other costs. I know that if they cut DLA people won’t have the support they need to get into society and employment, and, more importantly as far as the government is concerned, off other benefits. When people truly understand the challenges we face, that’s when the changes will happen.

Kaliya Franklin
Social media activist and blogger at Benefit Scrounging Scum

One of the good things about the current protest movement is that different groups and people are all doing what they do extremely well. I’m never going to chain myself to a bus, but because people do do that it creates a space in which ministers think “We had better talk to the more moderate campaigners, because this issue isn’t going to go away”.

The personal independence payment (PIP) is going to come in to replace disability living allowance, the WCA [fitness-to-work test] is not going to go away. But as disabled people we can either be passive recipients or we engage with the government to try to make sure these things work the best they possibly can, while being clear they’re not something we support.The charity sector has a lot of catching up to do. Disabled people just aren’t going to accept the top-down charitable model we’ve always had any more. I think the charities know that, but they’re not sure how to make it different. I don’t think any disability charity should have less than 50% disabled people making up their workforce, including the board and leadership.

Disability isn’t going away. That’s the big thing that’s changed. It’s now a mainstream issue, and that’s the enormous success of all the different grassroots campaigns.

Lady (Jane) Campbell
Crossbench peer and key figure in the disability movement of the 80s and 90s

The disability movement has to join forces with other equality and human rights groups to combat our shared barriers to social and economic power, brought about by prejudice and discrimination. It’s the only way to survive and engage effectively in positive social change.

I was talking to Doreen Lawrence about this recently: we’re all working in our little groups and actually when we begin to compare what we’re fighting for the issues are very similar. Many people face discrimination on more than one front – for instance, if they’re disabled and old, or disabled and from an ethnic minority. When you have larger numbers, you have voting power.

This government seems to be using the tactics I recall from the 1990s: divide and rule. They are trying to divide up disabled people by our various impairments. That decreases our power. We then start fighting against each other for very scarce resources, and then we are doomed to failure.

Bert Massie
Disability Rights Commission chair, 2000-2007

I think what a small number of disabled activists calling themselvesSpartacus have achieved on peanuts is quite remarkable. What we need is a new generation of campaigners that operate like them. But they can’t do it on their own; there’s a role for the big charities, too, and they have more resources. The campaigns that got the Disability Discrimination Act through, and all the big changes of the 80s and 90s, were led by disabled people, but with help from others: charities, MPs, ministers, journalists. Disabled people should be setting the agenda but we need the assistance of non-disabled people, and not to use their talents would be barmy. If you’re trying to build an army and someone comes along and says “I’ve got a few regiments”, you don’t send them away. In the past we were assisted by some cracking civil servants. In 1980, the government started bringing together transport providers and disabled people to talk about accessibility. It was a superb coming together of disabled people, campaigners, government and industry, and we see the results everywhere in more accessible public transport. That’s what we’re not getting now and it’s exactly the sort of coalition we need to recreate.

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