to the Prime Minister: please avoid the usual Government vilification of people with disability

Submitted by convenor on Tue, 29/10/2013 - 08:41

A4 sent the following message to the Prime Minister in response to the usual media attacks on people with disability.

Dear Prime Minister Abbott

I write hoping to head off yet another round of Government vilifying people with disability.

In recent times, both the Howard and Gillard Governments decided to dramatically reduce the number of people receiving Disability Support Pension (DSP). The record shows that Governments (politicians and bureaucrats) believe a substantial proportion (over 40%) of people who get DSP are indolent bludgers. Governments' repeated Welfare to Work schemes aim to push people off DSP onto the pittance called NewStart … perhaps believing (despite substantial evidence to the contrary) that this will ensure people on the DSP will just stand up and walk into all the jobs waiting for them.

The extra attention in these minimally resourced, poorly planned and incompletely executed Welfare to Work schemes helped a tiny percentage of people with disability into jobs … but for every person who got into a (probably short-term) job, two others from among the nation's most defenceless citizens had their already inadequate funding cut even further and their self-esteem annihilated. This is an abysmal outcome.

The Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, says people with disability have difficulty asking for help. The political rhetoric Governments attach to Welfare to Work each time they drag it out makes it even harder for people with disability to ask for help.

These Welfare to Work schemes are popular with the media: the media cover panders to intolerance, allegedly promotes a “tough on welfare” image for Government and diverts attention from the inadequate contribution of big business in Australia to the community.

The early rounds of this process started very soon after your Government came to power. The Australian published its lies in ‘Fix disability support pension to get people back to work’ The Australian (5 October 2013),…. A more factual presentation is available from….

Please recognise that without affirmative action to increase real employment places for people with disability, Australian employers will continue to exclude people with disability from the workforce. Without much better political leadership on education and employment for people with a disability, Australia will continue to be the OECD country with by far the worst poverty for people with disability. And people with autism in Australia will continue to experience utterly disgraceful education and employment/labour force participation outcomes (see and follow the links to “Autism and Education” and “Labour Force Participation”). Please note, the outcomes that people with autism experience are substantially worse outcomes than people with disability more generally experience.

If you have any doubts about the claims/assertions in the above or want any additional information, please contact A4 via email or phone ...

Bob Buckley, A4 Convenor


1. What are the public’s attitudes to disabled people in Britain today?

One of the main aims for our campaign is to shift negative attitudes. Disabled people have told us for a long time that this is a problem. Last year, around the time of the Paralympics, surveys pointed to an improvement in the way the public thought of disability. But you don’t change attitudes in a fortnight and a year on, disabled people and their families say we need to challenge ignorance, prejudice and especially the belief that many disabled people are ‘benefit scroungers’.

We recently worked with Opinium to run a survey of more than a thousand people, gauging their knowledge of and attitudes to disability. There’s some sobering reading in the early results.

Most people believe disabled people face some prejudice. It’s thought-provoking that there is awareness – and could be useful as a basis for getting the public behind campaigns for change.
Nearly half the respondents said that some or most of the time they have a negative view of disabled people – whether it’s feeling disabled people are ‘getting in the way’, ‘not as productive’ (linked to the idea of ‘benefit scroungers’) or feeling ‘discomfort and awkwardness’ around them. It’s striking as people often tend to give more positive answers in surveys – answering what they think they ‘should’ say, not being this blunt.
Dig a little deeper and people admitted to being especially uncomfortable around learning difficulties and mental health issues.

The results show that not everyone thinks the same, and this could tell us where we need to focus our efforts.

The initial findings indicate that if you’re younger, a man, better off and / or live in urban areas in the Midlands and South-East, you tend to have the most negative attitudes towards disabled people.
Conversely women, older people, those less well off, people in the North and Scotland, are all more likely to have more positive views of disabled people.

What shapes people’s attitudes?

It’s likely to be a mix of things that influence each person. But it’s revealing that the vast majority of people had little or very little knowledge of disability and many said they didn’t have a close relationship with a disabled person.

Hold this evidence about public attitudes in your head as you get the flipside.

2. How does this fit with disabled people’s experiences?

The other main aim of our campaign is to influence the next Government to improve disabled people’s standard of living. That means the things we all need and expect, like:

being supported when we’re young
having a decent education
having a good job
making our own decisions
having enough money to live and being able to save for our future.

If you’re disabled, too often you don’t get a fair shot at these.

Why do disabled people think this is happening?

We recently surveyed disabled people and family members on their experiences in major areas of life. What do they feel is holding them back?

What looks likely is that people’s attitudes are having a direct impact on disabled people having lower living standards. They aren’t two separate issues; they’re interrelated. Here are a couple of areas where it came out strongly.

In mainstreams schools, half of disabled pupils said the greatest barriers to their learning was feeling self-conscious about their disability and feeling there was nobody that they could talk to. Things like physical access were an issue too, but some of the greatest obstacles they faced were about the social environment: can their teachers and their peers relate to them? Is it ok to talk about disability at school?
In employment, the two changes disabled people most wanted in the workplace were modified working hours and modified duties to allow for their impairment. But only a minority of those who wanted these changes could get them from their employer. Could this be partly due to negative attitudes about what disabled people could achieve in the workplace and / or a lack of understanding about the support disabled people need? Are there parallels with what disabled people say about their experiences in schools: is it ok to talk about disability at work?

What this adds up to – and hope for change

It’s not surprising that there seems to be a link between society’s attitudes and disabled people’s experiences. Individuals make up institutions, whether it’s schools, companies or political parties. The attitudes of your teachers and colleagues affect your experiences of education and work. And broader public attitudes shape Government decides policy. It works the other way round too ? the institutions, systems and communities we’re part of shape our attitudes.

We don’t yet know enough to say how we can conquer these challenges. How can negative attitudes, discomfort and awkwardness be overcome? A few other initial findings from the survey of the general public give cause for hope.

The better you know a disabled person, the less likely you are to feel uncomfortable or awkward around disabled people in general. Finding ways to broker or strengthen personal relationships could be a powerful route to change if done in the right way.
The more people know about disability, the less likely they are to think negatively about disabled people.
People who value equality, freedom and independence tend to be more accepting and more comfortable around disabled people. Appealing to these values in what we do and say could shift deep attitudes.

These might not sound like earth-shattering insights, but it’s all too easy to overlook that there are ways to break down barriers.