Sundry Thoughts: Rogue One – Crips and Twists.

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Here be spoilers…

I liked Rogue One but it was a bit of a struggle. My fault for going 3D. My eyes are too wobbly for it these days. Yes, things loom out at me but often I can’t work out who the hell they are, as the action unfolds in a sort of grey murk.

What did loom out early on was a few CRIP characters. Not crip actors, you understand, don’t be ridiculous. When Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) stomps forth on steampunky metal limbs, sucking at an oxygen mask, I turned to my friend and hissed “Crippled baddie alert?” But I was wrong! Saw – who I imagined was called Sore till I read up on the characters – was one of the heroes. As was Donnie Yen’s blind Chirrut Îmwe, in a slick Force themed take on the Blind Martial Arts hero legends, sending endless stormtroopers to their doom. Our lead hero GIRL, Jyn Erso (Beau Gadson), is appealing and believably gutsy, not remotely doe-eyed, even when she gets a snog near the end.

The story is a side-plot set somewhere in the faraway galaxy, months before the one which unfurls in the very first Stars Wars with the Death Star stuff. Which I went to see as a teenager, never guessing we’d still be lapping up these new adventures.

Darth Vader is in RO, and a horrible CGI creation of Peter Cushion, who I have much affection for, being a child weaned on prime Hammer. No. Wrong.

There’s a lot of shooting and explosions, in decimated desert landscapes, aliens and humanoids alike, scuttling – and screaming – through ancient temples, dressed in vaguely Arabic style garb and face coverings. Hmm.

As the tension builds – there’s information to find for the rebels, and baddies to avoid – RO becomes loud and exciting in its grip. There’s a gargantuan battle. Several. My mouth was dropping and I couldn’t imagine the outcome.  Surprisingly, most people die. Including an entertaining sarky robot called K, who like a number of the cast, is very British, which I found obscurely funny.

In a closing scene, fittingly, if sadly, Princess Leia played by the late Carrie Fisher lights up the screen with a young luminous smile.

May the Force be with us all.

Advertisements

You Should Know Better: a regular blog on stereotypes and disabled people

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No 1: housing

I’m an even-tempered person. I don’t get hot angry very often, but I do know cold angry, of course. I burn with righteousness to fight the social injustice concerning the many ills in our world.

Sometimes I sigh, weary but beady with a determination to expose some shit. Today’s stereotype is that around housing.

I’ve always lived in social housing – council and housing association – for 31 years. Before that I lived with my mum and in long-term medical institutions until I was 24.

I’m urged to write this blog today because I’m making my first tentative steps to buy my own house and also because their really isn’t equality in housing.  Disabled people know this, but non-disabled people may not.

So, we do not get housing on a plate, we don’t get palaces, and when we don’t really need it. We don’t get priority over everyone and we often live in worst conditions because we have to make do.

For a start, there is a very limited stock of suitable housing, especially if you need access for a mobility impairment or steps are not possible because of a long term health condition – which incidentally, may not be visible. (Another stereotype for another blog – “she doesn’t look disabled!”). You can wait and wait and wait. I’ve heard of one friend waiting fifteen years on a housing list. I fought for 4 years to get into council housing in the 80s. In my early 20s, I still had to get permission from social services.

Then there’s often draconian  rules about how many properties you can be offered before you’re left with nothing – creating awful dilemmas non-disabled are not likely to face. For example, do you take a property away from family with more appropriate space? Or something not so good where you may struggle, but have family to hand.

Shall I delve into the Bedroom tax? That most abominable attack on many living in poverty, and certainly a bullseye in attacking disabled tenants.  It exacerbates a situation that’s already horrible.

I am a soft-centreed anarchist; I don’t really believe in owning my own home. But in social housing a disabled person is limited and stuck, more than most. I have no literal mobility in terms of moving to where I might wish to live. I have no right to buy my flat – the purpose built accessible stock is so low, and morally I agree it shouldn’t be sold for profit. But it highlights an inequality. In truth, more accessible properties should be built.

I hate that people Out There do assume it’s all easy. I’m about to embark on the journey to move to Hastings. Hold my hand! Next, to understand about mortgages – to see if I can get one – as a self-employed freelance writer it will be tough. Let alone before we bring in my disability. Can a mortgage company discriminate against me in terms of my medical condition? I’m getting on a bit now – and still it’s a fight and a struggle. Not giving up though, that’s not the Penny way…

Tell me your stories, your experiences. Another blog soon, on another stereotype.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Journals: Invasions and Legacies

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m glad the sun is out, the sky impossibly blue for central London, though meaning there’s pollution probably.

I don’t care. We’re creatures entwined with the rhythms of the natural world, if we allow ourselves to remember that. The sunlight is a blessing. So there!

I’m picking through my journals for the writing of my memoir First in the World Somewhere, which starts in earnest very soon. And you can pre-buy it through that link. Please!

Begun in 1979, what do I see in these journals? I’m a teenager, naive, assuming hilarious worldliness, yet layered with anxieties from years in institutional settings. I’m afraid that World War Three is starting.  The USSR invaded Afghanistan on December 24th 1979. In a physio rehab hospital, I talked with friends in scared tones of nuclear threat and where we want to be when The End comes. The staff tell us off, insist we’re being silly little girls. I reckon they were scared too, the prats.

This experience and hatred of nuclear weapons stayed with me. Thatcher might have been elected in May that year – I joined CND, I donated to the Greenham Common Women. I wrote an anti-nuclear song called Four Tonnes – about the amount of nuclear weaponry per capita. And I support Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Trident now. MAD is…mad.

Of course, the journals also contain embarrassing comical outbursts of my teeny yearnings. I wrote a novel that year The Isis Promise (now lost) believing I would be an international literary star immediately. Haha, still yearning for that one!

And I ached to bonk Lewis Collins from the Professionals, Marc Bolan and a cute porter who worked at the hospital – a committed socialist. I think he fancied me, but I was too much the shy punky little crip, too damaged to believe it possible.

Other stories for other times.

Penny Thoughts: The World Gone Crazy.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m distancing from my personal Facebook page. It’s ragging my nerves, which are quite ragged at the best of times. People get nasty too fast. I’m not engaging. Much better to prattle on here and make brief Penny pronouncements for those interested.

I’ve got a broken shoulder. In fact, I’ve had a broke shoulder for some months which severely limits my typing. Don’t mention voice dictation software. I use it, when I have enough mental stamina to manage it. It has no soul and does not compute creative subtlety. Give it a poetic word and it goes into a brainless meltdown and makes a word like ‘penniless’ into, yes, penis. Therefore it’s taken me a long, long time to write this blog.

Meanwhile, I was at the House of Lords last night, doing my bit as a “disability sexual activist”, which is an interesting label to add to my CV. It was a good event, though I am weary. Crip sex is still a taboo and there’s still a lot of About Us Without Us. It is improving, that’s a hopeful thing.

Visiting the House of Lords is always a weird experience for a poor little working class bumpkin like me. It smells. Age, polish. Wealth? The building is extraordinary, I can’t deny that. It caresses my writer’s dizzy brain, and as a friend once said, it’s like Hogwarts. I did get to meet – briefly – Black Rod, due to the inevitable confusion with parking. Not every one can say that, and perhaps they wouldn’t want to.

I’m chugging on with the crowd-funding efforts for my memoir First in the World Somewhere. I’m glad the publisher Unbound are looking after me. They are real people. I feel they care about their writers, and they wanted the memoir. It’s hard at times to be telling the world this is a great thing and please, pledge. But it’s not a begging bowl-it’s a transaction. And outside of my personal story, I know this tale has not been told in this way. My disability weaves within the pages, implicitly social model, as I fight – shyly at first – to follow my dreams as a writer, singer-song writer and bohemian. Discovering sex, writing about sex, enjoying sex – connecting with like-mind crips in arts and activism, is also in there. Join me if you believe this book should be out there, pledge if you can. Robert Wyatt, dear man, has done so and is happy to me to shout his endorsement from the treetops.

My cat Bessie aged 17, gets noisy at night these days. Apparently it’s akin to the confusion of an elderly person. She miaows in a long pathetic fashion, often in the echo chamber of the bathroom. Advice is to not respond as it reinforces the behaviour. That’s tough, even though I know she’s well, fresh from a mani-pedi and gaining weight. I  want to reassure her and gather her to my bosom, so we can sleep peacefully together.

And on that note I realise I am tired. There was the awfulness of the Syrian air strikes to talk about; the utterly tiresome squabbles of politics and the biased media. But I can add little to that right now, and need to retreat to the stuff in front of my noise.

Be happy for the holidays. Be pragmatic. Remember, the light returns after December 21st. You can always rely on natural phenomena to give you a reasonable constant. Sort of.

 

 

A Little Penny Blog: Poor Building, Poor Futures and Insomnimonster

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I didn’t sleep till 3am. About. Why is it, I can fall asleep in the car in startling sunlight, but squirm in my too-hot bed in a wretched state past the witching hour? Counting cats, fussing my cat, doing a crossword, sitting up, laying down. Staring at my eyelids. Any ideas, my friends how to slay the Insomnimonster?

I did think, hey, I’ll start doing some little blogs. Stop all this fretting for the Big Idea. This is the big idea.

I’m in a state of flux. Oh lots going on, such as working for the marvellous Mslexia people with a blog, and around the near corner there is more. Meanwhile…

Look, I’m not apologising. I hate a government that pushes profit above people and makes poverty a crime. I’ve read history, I know the Victorians.

We’re reliving that era now. Is anyone looking into the even darker recesses of  Tory plans? Have any property barrens done deals with them Bullingdon Boys to build (cheap crap) places where the very poor can be parked yet? A working rehabilitation centre? Ahem. A Big Society All In It Together Work Hub? Drop-in Back To Work “Counsellors” on hand, all trained online by a Maximarse type programme, naturally, to incentivise you away from being damnable lazy plebs.

As for us Cripples of all types, I can see it now. Vast rebranded warehouses with us all in little truckle beds, cheap po-pots underneath, emptied by those press-ganged from the Job Employment Reassignment Korp…

Oh dear. More for another day. It’s still good to be alive. Honestly.

Down in the BBC Bunker: Me on the Newsnight Welfare debate

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The BBC, at Broadcasting House, is a strange old beast. Somehow reassuringly familiar and ragged at the edges, despite the shiny high tech news centre that beats at the heart of the renovated building.

I’m back for Newsnight, for a discussion on the government’s record on welfare. Down, down in the bowels for the studio, it strikes me as a carpeted nuclear bunker. Corridors, so many corridors, annexes, and turnings. Once in the Green Room, I’m given coffee and go into make up. As usual the BBC staff are polite and helpful, always eager to please.

I’ve done a touch of research – such as scanning through the main parties’ manifestos for new welfare policies and looking up official benefit fraud figures, which incidentally are negligible. Looking through these papers calms me, because while I rarely get nervous in the obvious sense (been around too long!), I am consumed with an anxiety to do my best and make this count. I know there will be a programme agenda – we will be gently coaxed and kept in order – so it’s important to be ready for all opportunities to make a point.

As other guests arrive, I’m struck, as I often am, with a sense of otherness, the Me and Them. Only someone who has experienced exclusion would understand this fully. Everyone was polite. ‘White’ Dee, who shot to fame via Benefits Street, and Lucy Hardwick, from the Accrington Food Bank, were the most approachable. Fraser Nelson, from The Spectator, bore a passing resemblance to Nick Clegg, which was scary in itself. But Nelson did not make eye contact. We waited in an intermittent silence punctuated by small chat, ready to be lead into the studio space. Rumours abound through my Twitter feed that the Tories were scared off, so Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People, pulled out. Is the Pepper really so fearsome?

I’m reasonably happy with how I did. Pleased I managed to cover some key attacks that the coalition government has landed on us: the closure of ILF; the caps on Access To Work; the sanctions hitting people with learning disabilities and mental health issues, and the demonising of disabled people. Yet there’s always room for more, especially with the election only two weeks away.

Emily Maitlis was charming and skilful; at one point she asked me has the government helped disabled people in anyway? What could I say but ‘Absolutely not.’ I never hide my socialist leanings but, honestly, show me anything remotely of worth that has been done by this government that actually supports and understands the challenges disabled people face.

The experience heightened my belief that there remains a huge gulf between politicians, certain sectors of society (mostly the rich sectors) and disabled people. Maybe the gulf has always been there, but it is at the heart of the discrimination we face now. We are still defined as separate. We are not part of society, in the sense of living within and belonging to communities, families and networks. At least, that’s the perception I come up against throughout my work. We know the opposite is true. We know there have always been disabled people and there always will be. Us today, you tomorrow; that’s how it goes for humanity.

Any other view is frankly a lie and unsupportable. Our definition as ‘other’ and our absence from mainstream consciousness is caused by the barriers and attitudes that we tirelessly fight. I don’t want to reinforce the Them and Us schtick, but I do believe it is ingrained, meaning disabled people have the add burden of these unhelpful, unwanted preconceptions.We make Them uncomfortable and they don’t like it.

I don’t know how we change this, other than chipping away, chipping and chipping as always, which is what I’ve tried to do for 30 years – as have many of us.

At the very least, I suppose it’s a good thing that they have Us on a programme like BBC Newsnight. And so to end I would like to dedicate the poem below to that august programme in thanks for inviting me on-till next time

Scrounger

I’m a sponger, a scrounger

A lazy-arsed lounger

A raspberry* in rainbow

I pose you no danger.

I’m the bottomless pit

Of your pity and debt

On the sick since John Major

I’m still on it yet!

 

I’m the latest cheap target,

Tabloids dark darling

Draining the markets –

The unit of measure

Economic displeasure.

 

I’m a blamed useless-eater

A foul fraud repeater

Do I make it all up?

They say that I suck

The money from purses

Of rich bloated bastards,

The kicks and the curses

Fall from our leaders

On us liars and bleeders,

We’re pariahs and feeders

Gorged on too much –

From the big nanny state.

Yet you’ve condemned us already

There is no debate.

 

We can’t be sustained

Because bankers are greedy

We’re lazy, we’re rank

we’re targets of hate

To e-rad-icate!

 

But I’m a rouser with words

To shout and to hit,

Saying who are the Nazis

Raking over this shit?

 

I shout and I spin

At the string of their lies,

I’m a new Boadicea

Together we rise!

 

They have no compassion

Yet we have rebellion,

and rage with our passion.

As time it is rushing

defiance it chimes!

 

We dare to fight back

We dare to fight loud.

 

WE

DARE

WE

DARE

WE

DARE

 

*raspberry (ripple) cripple

 

A short blog with a poem for the election

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The sun is lovely when it’s out in London but the election is a gruelling, dispiriting experience, even with my efforts to avoid party political broadcasts and any hint of leaders’ debates.

Meanwhile, a poem to remind us of the type of people we are dealing with. Not much else to say this week other than bring on May 7th and I pray to any Gods that will listen that we do not have to suffer another five years of right wing greed-fuelled anti less-than-wealthy people, government.

Fraud

You poke and prod my pocket 

As servants clear your moat,

While I’m wheeling and I’m walking

In a ragged shabby coat.

     

You snatch and crush our wages

As servants shine your Rolls,

While we’re shouting and we’re swaying

In old seven-hand clothes.

You cling onto your work tests

A posh brat with a dummy.

While we scrape in our gutter

For a glimmer of some honey.

Granddad struggles in the morning,

Whimpers gently towards the night.

Sitting in his own hot shit

‘Cause his care scheme’s not paid right.

What kind of warped out world

Is this one I see unfolding?

Our rulers fudging porno, second homes,

And any chi-chi small holding.

Independent Living Fund

It helps us live full lives –

You want all cripples in a home

Our freedom to deprive.

Hypocrisy, it is on trend

And avarice shouts loud;

Bankers greed, bloats richest schemes.

Tax dodgers smirking proud.

We’re scratching and we’re scraping

At food banks for a crumb.

Recession, it’s a game of blame –

But decry the posturing election scrum.

The Circus Is In Town and It’s Looking Rather Dull

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So it begins. Each time I swear I will hibernate or retreat to a cave to swear, and fume and howl.

Politics is banned in my home, particularly the TV ‘debates’ (more like sweaty mass-debates fnar fnar). There’s a saying: ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ – which means for plebs like me: ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ Much overused but I don’t care. Every time I hear a politician open their mouth, I’m in a time-machine of dreary rhetoric, promises made to be broken; the robotic banality of party leaders who are so enamoured of the media circus that they come across as not just squeaky clean but less than human, and when stripped down to their nasty bones, I suggest there’s very little that defines a difference between them.

Maybe they should have a fart debate – cue obvious joke about hot air.

The detestable Farage with his mock ordinary chap persona sickens me but the one positive glint – if we can call it that – is that he is memorable in his obnoxiousness. I hiss when he looms unexpectedly onto my TV, an emotional response not evoked by anyone else other than perhaps Iain Duncan Shit, who I am convinced is a robot, one that has certainly had his emotion chip removed.

I urge everyone to look at manifestos and pledges, even if for a laugh. It’s all so tiresome, though I must suppose that UKIP are going for the animal welfare vote by saying they will ban the live export of animals. Mind you, Labour will stop the badger cull, while in opposition, the Tories, with their hunting-shooting-fishing numbers, nervously say they will repeal the ban on hunting, saying the ban has done nothing for animal welfare. Er, unless you’re a fox…

There’s a good summary of the pledges here (BBC) which is as good a starting point as any. Although I note that not one of these mentions support to keep open ILF or ring-fence the money transferring to local authorities, which is crucial for severely disabled people to remain independent. Indeed, other than oblique mentions, the rights of disabled people do not feature in any significant way. Even while I cackle, grim faced, at the leaked document showing the Tories with their blooded axe held high proposing another £12 billion cuts to welfare, this isn’t to say I’m not scared. Damn scared – and angry.

I accidentally clocked stony-faced IDS on last Sunday’s Andrew Marr show and the deadly minister was in his element denying everything. In a parliament that has had endless cruel cuts, the suggested attacks on Carer’s Allowance, which saves the taxpayer so much money, has to count as one of the lowest.

As someone who has kept journals for 30 years, I’ve recorded the events of a fair few elections, from the dark Mordor days of Maggie to the glib spin of Blair; hopes raised, expectations halted. On it goes; on it goes.

Nonetheless, do push the bastards with verbals, with emails, with protests. Make them squirm. Make them give you answers. There are backbenchers who are good people, who will respond to you – who appear human. Engage with them.

We must vote. Those majority of us who are the Have-Nots. It’s all we’ve got.

The Theory of Everything but Not Quite Enough

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Imitating cripples and the winning of Oscars – by Penny Pepper – a disabled person

I took time out from the boredom of convalescence to watch this film. Yes, the story of everyone’s favourite cripple and his first wife Jane, the much cooed over, The Theory of Everything (TTOE).

It hasn’t been an easy blog to write, especially as Hawking appears to be lapping up publicity and endorsing Eddie Redmanyne’s performance from his appearance at the Academy Awards ceremony, to sound bites espousing ‘Well done Eddie, I’m very proud of you… at times I thought he was me.’

Thus freshly Oscar-ed Eddie Redmayne enters into the unhallowed annals of cripple impersonators – there should be a special award for this perhaps? A Spazzer? Spozcer? I’d suggest A Stephen but Hawking probably wouldn’t get the irony and it would no doubt be hijacked into something worthy.

So this year’s Stephen goes to… Eddie! In this perfect mimicry, Eddie drags his feet, curls his hands, twists his mouth a la Hawking for all he’s worth – the media is full of interviews about how he studied patients and even had speech therapy for this gold-star imitation. Oh my.

So, before judging any other aspect of this film I have to get this massive exercise in cripping-up out of the way. It sticks in the craw. I know the arguments against using a disabled actor and, you know, it’s not good enough and it is frankly shit.

It is not about urging casting directors into an equally disturbing ‘copy’ an impairment system. It’s to do with allowing disabled actors to bring their experience of what it is like to be disabled to a role about a disabled person. For fucks sake, let’s try harder, at least.

But I liked it – a bit, and more than I was expecting. And I like Eddie and think he’s an exceptional actor – he doesn’t need to cripple-mimic to show that.

I was slack in not realising the film is based on the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, Stephen’s first wife, and this lapse meant I found the initial perspective confusing.

Presumably the screenplay fleshed out Hawking’s own pre-Jane story and the early scenes are platitudes of happy young Oxbridge boffins on bikes. Then we have the Sad Music Moments of Stephen in hospital corridors at his diagnosis; I almost expected the film to go into Black and White Land, and a droll voice to start asking for money, and a text number to donate now to save this suffering species…of physicist.

Non-disabled film-makers plainly can’t help regurgitate the idea of impairment as fearful tragedy and only tragedy. An individual might see it like that; other individuals do not, and as yet we have no balanced representations to show the experience of an acquired impairment in any other way than this. Hawking clearly hasn’t lived his life in a tragedy mode; it wasn’t the end of everything for him. I yearned for alternative metaphors – swirly black-holes, fiery supernova damn it – unconventional idioms to show the experience of the diagnosis, anything to get away from how film has handled this before (and before, and before).

While TTOE does sometimes strike me as a tame TV film, once Jane comes into the story, the film develops a tone of intimacy. I smiled at the scenes showing the couple in bed together, still making babies, still being ‘normal’. Sex and cripples, always a topic of intense curiosity, though of course the joke is this is a non-disabled actor pretending, so the taboo factor isn’t really much to go on about.

There’s many lost opportunities which would have expanded this beyond a staid biopic. Stephen gets what many disabled people would recognise is a Personal Assistant, Jonathan, albeit in an informal capacity at first. Swallowing my ire at the casting always, I enjoyed these moments when the family frolic on the beach, Jonathan enabling Stephen to get onto the sand, and to paddle his feet – something I myself have done through assistance of a PA.

It all swims along in a gentle, genteel manner, reeling out formulaic scenes of Stephen struggling, Jane Struggling, Babies Bawling, Stephen “giving in” to a wheelchair, a power chair and so on. Just occasionally we are reminded that Stephen is a genius and has disproved his own theory about black holes – yes, he is a physicist!

I must mention the TTOE pen scenes, (and I note with glee this was picked up on in a disparaging tone in a blog on The Slate). Early on Stephen-Ed does the weak hand tremble; he drops pens but he picks them up. Near the end of the film when on stage in his wheelchair, basking in applause and feted by his peers, a pretty woman drops her pen in the audience – and in his mind Stephen-Ed throws off that crippled body and strides to her side, an abled-bodied gallant, picking up the pen – before going back to the prison of his dreadful impairment (etc etc). I did swear aloud at this trite fancy – though of course, I cannot say if Stephen (or Jane) relayed this episode to the filmmakers. The film certainly holds up disability in a sickly glow of inspiration porn; a pure able-bodied perspective of a disabled person. The reviews effuse with off-putting superlatives and clichés. “Defy… impossible odds”, “earnest and profound”, “tasteful and affecting”. And so on, ad nauseam.

I did crave to know more about the practical and pertinent details of Stephen’s social care. I admit this wasn’t within the remit of this story, of Jane’s story. But how did he get his staff (eventually) in place? From a disabled person’s perspective, I need to know these things; there can be a strong validation in seeing aspects of your life echoed in that of a famous disabled person’s. After all, it doesn’t happen every day or even every year.

And I have to bring in class, sorry. Hawking the recognised genius, is supported by a devoted wife, and colleagues, as his impairment progresses. As Stephen is supporting the film, we can only trust that this is true – but it’s a long way from the struggle with disability if you are poor, working class and not remotely privileged. There’s a nod to Stephen being a –‘liberal socialist’ – but I get the sense that he was never on the rough end of a government sponsored drive to get scrounging disabled people off benefits, and that his extraordinary brain found him the gilded life at Cambridge, allowing him to bypass many of the challenges we ordinary cripples face. I also wonder if many a Con-Dem hasn’t speculated unhelpfully that if Prof Hawking can work, why can’t the bloody lot of you lazy shirkers? There’s much irony then that this film is primarily about the world’s most famous disabled person.

Did Hawking receive the now doomed Independent Living Fund, set to close in June of this year? The Prof does support our fight to stop it closing; the redoubtable disabled activist Gabriel Pepper has letters to prove it. A shame that our fight to save ILF, which supports severely disabled people like him to live independently, cannot link into the PR around this film.

I know that I’ve raised issues outside of the remit of a gentle and middling biopic made by non-disabled people and supported by one disabled person, who dare I say, seems utterly disinterested in disability politics.

Yet this film might purport to be a story about a rather engaging couple who find themselves in a set of unexpected circumstances, but especially as Eddie won the Oscar, it’s set to be a global phenomenon. It will move across the world’s movie markets and take on its own time travel. Hawking may be a genius but he ain’t no obvious activist. I’ll leave the argument of whether he should be for another day, but regrettably this film carries tired ideals and predictable messages about the fear of impairment, which do little to give average disabled person, the not-so-genius like me, anything much to celebrate.

I’ll end by saying like the paradoxes we are told exist in physics, this film is heavy with the contradictory – when considering Stephen Hawking, at the centre of it all, is the most famous disabled person in the world, and one I speculate, who is actually quite happy with his lot.

Bonds, Homes and Care for Profit: the Worth of Disabled People

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In light of Lord Freud’s so-called thinking aloud statement that some disabled people ‘aren’t worth the minimum wage’, it set me to think about how we – current society – assess the value of people.

First, some definitions from the OED, which is as good a place to start as any.

Worth – the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated.

Value – the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something; the material or monetary worth of something.

Pretty much interchangeable then, and there is that word ‘deserve’ rearing its pitiful head. Of late it seems disabled people exist on a precarious tight-rope of deserving or not deserving, and this state is a variable as those flying through the political ladder-climbing post of Minister for Disabled People.

Sometimes, if not all times, you are more worthy if you were in the military and are now disabled. There’s still an added hierarchy it seems; limb loss and spinal injury evoke more worth than mental distress and conditions such as PTSD. We now have the royalty sanctioned Invictus Games; the rather scant website ‘offers us highlights of an inspiring four days of sport, as well as a personal thank you message from Prince Harry.’

Deserving – and inspiring. Another indicator of worth?

I’m not attacking disabled people who have gained impairments through their military service, although the hypocrisy of successive governments through endless conflicts leaves me incredulous. It strikes me as a juggling act by politicians of seeming to have a conscience and making an effort towards social justice.

“All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.” A quote from Orwell’s Animal Farm, published in 1948; a parable of socialist ideas perverted into the Stalinist tyranny. It seems apt to say some disabled people are deemed more equal than others. And, is equality the same as worth? They are inevitably linked, because human beings should be ‘worth’ the same in the sense of striving for equality for all.

There’s a lot of talk about downwards slippery slopes for disabled people, and I suspect one is that which sees our ‘worth’ as being a method to further the bank balances of private care-home owners.

It’s bizarre. Many of us may be deemed of no economic worth and yet, here we may have use – a circle of money, passing through us. Without touching the sides. Without actually valuing us other than assigning us as ‘products’, which can be used to syphon money from the state (mostly) and forward it to company owners and those who have shares in these care industry bodies. Reading market analysis of the care home market such as this, is enough to bring on a depression, wading through terminology of bonds and transactional yields. Irony is, apart from foreign investors looking to scoop up these institutions, it seems profits are down…

Let’s reach for a higher level. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  • “…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”

The UDHR was drawn up in 1948 after the abominations of world war. I’m not sure we’ve progressed very far with this ideal, but for disabled people the rights towards equality we’ve fought for, are in danger of serious erosion.

The Convention on Rights for Persons with Disabilities, under pins the UDHR and adds more:

  • “…Recognizing the valued existing and potential contributions made by persons with disabilities to the overall well-being and diversity of their communities, and that the promotion of the full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of their human rights and fundamental freedoms and of full participation by persons with disabilities will result in their enhanced sense of belonging and in significant advances in the human, social and economic development of society and the eradication of poverty…

The language may be a little cranky and clumsy to our ears but it is important. We at least have ‘valued’ in there and it places us within a context of human beings that experience discrimination. Governments should take note. We are not the passive recipients of hand-outs that we once were. Indeed, article 19 of the CRPD may be helpful to the arguments to stop the closure of the Independent Living Fund.

November to December was UK Disability History Month – but let’s look beyond it to remember who we are, what we have done, what we might do – and that value and worth should never be interpreted in the coldest terms of monetary balance alone. That is to judge us by the worst aspects of capitalism unbridled.

And I wonder when those of us not protected inside the wealthy echelons of the few, will be told their dogs and cats et al are unreasonable extravagancies of no worth…