Austerity Education

An Opinion piece by Chris Shipley – Disabled Students Officer at Keele Students Union

In 2017 the UK government was condemned by a United Nations report for failing to safeguard the rights of disabled people. Indeed the report noted that the situation for disabled people had drastically worsened since 2007 with the UK failing to meet its obligations under the UN convention on disabled people’s rights. The concerns of the report touch every aspect of government intervention in the lives of disabled people. Among the most puzzling was the recent uptake in students to so-called “special schools”, despite the fact that inclusive education has been acknowledged as the best practice for the education of disabled people since the late 1970s. My own experience of the special education system has driven a lot of my actions since. After seeing so many denied the right to a voice or basic autonomy (in the sense of being unable to move freely about the room) I resolved to be a voice to those who were denied the right to speak. Therein lies my motivation for penning this article. The upcoming election presents a singular opportunity to voters: to carry on as before, or for the first time to try something different.

Education is doubtlessly a huge barrier to the ability of disabled people to act independently and contribute to society, but sadly the difficulties inherent in the system do not end there, indeed the barriers to entry for participation in society are compounded for disabled people after leaving education by a system that seemingly seeks to disadvantage them at every opportunity. It was once suggested that commoditisation of services such as social care and education would drive competition and therefore, inclusion. The reality of the matter is rather bleak, and an individual can be denied “service A” because they already receive “service 7” the problem here is “A” has absolutely nothing at all to do with “7” and both can be vital to an individual’s attainment or wellbeing. Instead of supporting an individual to the best of their ability because it is the moral thing to do (or better yet because that individual has the inalienable right to support guaranteed by the United Nations) institutions are now shifting what they consider as the financial burden of supporting these individuals onto private interests which prioritise profit over the wellbeing and attainment of those they are supposed to support. On the other side of this issue, there are countless instances of support workers continuing to give support outside of regular hours despite the fact they are unpaid. I have myself been the recipient of such generosity on several occasions throughout my education. Only a system twisted to the core would force this choice on an individual, nor should any individual feel reliant upon the generosity of others to do everyday things most could do without a second thought.

Whilst my personal viewpoint into this issue is no doubt skewed by my personal experiences, the death toll of Tory changes to the disability benefit system (the so-called ‘personal independence payment’) is a number high enough to shock those on all points of the political spectrum: 17,000 people have died since 2013 while waiting for assessment or decisions on claims under this new system, which also cut entitlement to disability benefits compared to the previous system. A 2019 UN report suggests that the Universal Credit system only exacerbates these issues, adding to existing barriers for support with issues such as mental health, employment prospects and finances. The same UN report stated that some disabled people stand to lose £11,000 in 2020-21, (or a whole third of their annual net household income). This is by no means an issue which is unique to disabled people, statistics show a direct correlation between areas with a high degree of people receiving Universal Credit and abnormally high reliance on food banks compared to the previous system. So, these changes are clearly disadvantaging those who have the greatest need for assistance. This article has been focused on the struggle that many disabled people face under Tory austerity, but similar stories exist for the vast majority of people in Britain, accepting, of course, the few at the top who will never be concerned with the struggles of the majority. To the cohort of liberals, leftists and freaks, vote with your conscience. To the others, consider the evidence before you (because no one could believe that things are going well right now) and vote tactically, and not based on personality.

Concourse is Keele University’s independent student-run publication and has a long history of promoting student journalism. Having been established in 1964, Concourse has become an important part of the university and has been read by generations of Keelites.

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