It isn’t often that I get political in these blogs but I feel the need to vent.
Not satisfied with wreaking havoc on disabled people resident here with its welfare and independent living reforms, the UK Government are going back on its protection commitments to disabled people elsewhere – namely Syria.
Under David Cameron’s leadership, the Government reluctantly pledged to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees from camps adjacent to Syria’s borders. That sounds a lot until we look at the numbers. 20,000 over a period of 5 years and split between 392 local authorities making an annual intake of around 10 people (2-3 families) per local authority per year. Not so threatening when put in those terms. Or so you would think? Sadly though in the 2 years since launch of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme in 2014 to August 2016 just 68 local authorities have ‘re-homed’ refugees.
So what does that tells us? Well it tells me that the battle for hearts and minds in the local authority sector charged with the responsibility to do the rehoming has yet to be won. Many will say lack of central funding to local authorities is the main issue. Some will say it’s the lack of affordable accommodation. And others will say there isn’t enough ‘appropriate’ support – whatever that means. But I say it is simpler than that, and far, far more crafty.
The apparent U-turn in the Government’s original position to accept disabled Syrians under the SVPR programme has been justified by fact that disabled people’s needs are “too complex”, and by implication too costly for local authorities to accommodate. Conversely the aim of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 sought to ‘target’ spend on disabled people requiring a higher level of support. The net result of this reform actually plunged thousands of disabled peoples lives into chaos overnight as those with less severe disabilities, but limiting nonetheless, had funding for their care and mobility cut drastically.
Its a cheap shot, but what the Government is doing with these changes is playing one set of vulnerable people off against another. In other words it is using changes within one area of tricky, foreign policy to stem the flow of unpopular public opinion in an area of domestic policy which is closer to home. Don’t let them win!
It might be crap for us, but rest assured it’s a lot crappier if you have a disability and are stuck in a refugee camp for 23 years which, says the World Bank , is the average length of stay in one. That is twenty-three years living in makeshift accommodation (usually tents) with no running water and long walks to supply tents; limited access to education (mostly this is primary education and generally not available to disabled children); and few opportunities to earn a livelihood let alone develop any sort of career.
Sound familiar? Thirty years ago I could certainly relate to some of that, although gladly not the tent part. So I say, if the battle for hearts and minds can be won anywhere it can be won between those with a shared experience and a desire to see justice is done.