Attacks on disabled people still rife - one year on from Paralympics triumph

Success of GB athletes fails to alter attitudes, as poll shows widespread verbal and physical abuse

Cahal Milmo
Thursday 29 August 2013 09:30 BST
Sophie Christiansen
Sophie Christiansen (Getty Images)

The vast majority of disabled people in Britain feel there has been no improvement in attitudes towards them a year after the Paralympics and many feel stigmatised as “benefit scroungers” while suffering hostility and abuse, a leading charity has warned.

Campaigners said the sea change in perceptions of people with disabilities generated by the London 2012 Games has been eroded by misleading rhetoric from politicians and within the media about welfare payments and a crisis in living standards for the disabled caused by spending cuts.

Twelve months to the day after the opening ceremony for the Paralympics, the host city for the Games – which thrust athletes such as Jonnie Peacock and Ellie Simmonds into the same spotlight as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis – has one of the highest rates of attacks on disabled people.

A survey of 1,014 disabled adults by Scope found nearly one in four of those living in London has suffered hostile or threatening behaviour or been physically assaulted since the Paralympics. Across the country, 17 per cent of those with disabilities said they had been attacked.

Some 81 per cent said they had experienced no improvement in the attitudes shown towards them, while more than one in five of these said behaviour towards them had deteriorated since the Games. London also had one of highest rates of respondents saying attitudes had worsened with 24 per cent saying their treatment had declined.

Alice Maynard, the chairwoman of Scope, said: “The Paralympics were a breakthrough moment. Disabled people had never been so visible. But you don’t change society in a fortnight. Speak to disabled people and the same issue comes up. Disabled people say they feel like they’ve done something wrong, because they need support to do the same things as everyone else. If the Government wants to make its legacy ambitions a reality it needs to tackle the crisis in social care, re-think its cuts and call a halt to benefit scrounger rhetoric.”

The charity has catalogued incidents of abuse and hate crime suffered by disabled people, from the trolling of Twitter accounts dedicated to disability issues, to such an extent some sites are forced to close, to incidents of physical and verbal assault.

One woman recounted how she was pushed while on crutches into a supermarket display while shopping and abused as a “scrounger” in front of her children while another victim recounted how she was told her disabled baby should be killed because she “will never be useful to society”.

Campaigners said a modest increase in participation in sport by the disabled following London 2012 was being offset by a wider crisis in the cost of living for those with disabilities amid the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with a new payment which it is claimed will eventually see 600,000 disabled people lose the benefit.

Research has shown that disabled people are three times more likely than average to take out high-interest “doorstep” loans. Nearly one in five has been unable to make the minimum payment on their credit card in the past year.

Sophie Christiansen, Britain’s triple gold medal-winning equestrian from the Paralympics, told The Independent that her status as one of the country’s most decorated athletes was no protection against casual prejudice.

The 25-year-old, who has cerebral palsy and a first class maths degree, said: “I have had people call me names when I’m out with friends or making some flippant remark about me being drunk when they don’t realise my disability. But that is their problem and their ignorance.

“The Paralympics was actually about a very small proportion of the disabled population. What happened last year was phenomenal in starting to change perceptions but we also need to widen the understanding of the abilities of disabled people beyond sport and move away from the dreadful idea that they are somehow scroungers.”

Hate crimes: Roll of abuse

“I’m leaning on my crutches by the broccoli when a lady in her late fifties walks up behind me, shoves me hard into the broccoli box – face first – and calls me a disability scrounging unrepeatable in front of my children. My most embarrassing moment.”

Tinna on Facebook

“Someone walked into the back of my wheelchair whilst in supermarket queue, which apparently is my fault as ‘Your sort shouldn’t be cluttering up the shops’.”

Teddy on Facebook

“I had a female idiot tell me my one-year-old daughter Abby should be killed. I looked into her eyes and snapped ‘Who are you to say my daughter should be murdered? Don’t you know that is a form of terrorism?’ She also added Abby ‘will never be useful to society’. To which I retorted ‘I don’t care, my daughter has taught me about perspective’. She scowled and I glared at her.”

Tara, via email

“I’ve had ‘friends’ explain how I have to accept romantic rejection because disability is ugly.”

NQ, via Twitter

“I was accused of stealing a disabled person’s bus pass. It had my name and my photo on. I am partially sighted. You can’t see the damage I have to my optic nerves. I’ve had someone tell me I shouldn’t be on [benefits] because there’s nothing wrong with me.”

Sofie on Facebook

Remploy to close factories

Three of the last remaining Remploy factories are to close, threatening 160 disabled workers with redundancy, the company has announced.

Remploy said no viable bids had been made for its furniture business, so it will close sites in Blackburn, Neath and Sheffield. All 196 employees, including the 160 disabled workers, are at risk of compulsory redundancy, although they will be consulted over the next 30 days.

The company added that a potentially viable bid had been made for its automotive factories in Birmingham, Coventry and Derby. Detailed negotiations will now be held to complete a transaction as soon as possible.

The Government said last year it would cut its Remploy subsidy, after an independent review, lead by Liz Sayce, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, recommended funding should focus on support for individuals, rather than subsidising businesses.

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