A recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO), a government watchdog, has found that at least 69 suicides in the UK can be linked to problems with benefit claims over the last six years. However, it is highly unlikely that 69 is the actual number of disabled people who have committed suicide in the UK owing to austerity. Experts estimate the number to be far higher. There is no clear statistical data indicating the number of disabled people who have committed suicide owing to difficulties after benefits were cut from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). But experts estimate the number to be much higher. Now, the Labour’s shadow disability minister has called for an independent inquiry into these suicides especially after the DWP stated that it is “too expensive to gather information”.
If the death of Errol Graham, a disabled man who starved to death after his benefits were cut by the DWP, was not a wake-up call. Perhaps, this report is. It has effectively brought to spotlight the challenges that disabled people continue to face even today: physical, emotional and psychological. But it is not just the DWP that appears to misunderstand the challenges of the disabled people.
Physical exhaustion and emotional well-being
“I have had a disability ever since my childhood. I have a condition called Multiple Epiphyseal Dysplasia which means that my joints have grown differently.
“I had both hips replaced in 2002. I can walk today thanks to the NHS and assistive technology. But my condition affects all my joints and now they want to replace my shoulders. I can replace my elbows and knees depending on the number of operations I can bear. The truth is that my disability has impacted me throughout my life,” explains Kush Kanodia, a social entrepreneur, and a disability campaigner.
Nearly ten years ago, Kush gave up on his career in financial services and dedicated his life to champion the rights of disabled people. Having left the lucrative career in financial services, Kush has now developed a portfolio career wherein he has helped several charities, social enterprises and non-profit organisations with a majority of his work focussed around disability rights.
He is now the governor for the Chelsea Westminster NHS Foundation Trust Hospital, which is one of the leading hospitals in England. His Hospital Trust decided to charge for disabled parking last year, despite his persuasions a year ago and the councillor governors were strongly opposed to the decision.
“All tube stations from our hospital are 15-20 minutes walk away and only 25% of London Tube stations are accessible. So, I called the campaign #Nowheelchair Tax as I realised this amounted to direct discrimination against disabled people who may not have direct access to public transport from the hospital.”
Thus being instrumental in the campaign to abolish car parking charges for disabled people at all NHS hospitals across England. The law is expected to change from April this year.
The UK Government has now allocated an extra £1 million for disabled people who want to work by 2027. But Kush argues that if disabled people cannot access healthcare then how can other areas be addressed? He explains,
“I think that some employers misunderstand the legislation of the Equalities Act in the UK. Many employers still think that when they treat all equally it means that they are treating everyone fairly.
“It is a logical assumption. But the difference with a disability is that there is a requirement in law for reasonable adjustment which is specific to disabled people. That means if there are barriers for a person due to his/her disability then there is an obligation upon employers and public service providers to make reasonable adjustments to create a level playing field.”
Salary disparity and inclusive representation
But whilst legislation can be transformed and government watchdogs can be appointed to investigate the extent of discrimination that disabled people continue to face. It is not enough.
According to the Office for National Statistics In 2018, London had the widest disability pay gap at 15.3%. In the UK, there is no complete breakdown of disability pay like the gender pay investigation has provided but experts suspect that not only is there a disparity in salary structure but also with representation at executive and board management levels of these companies. And Kush believes that hailing from a BAME background alongside being disabled can be a double disadvantage for some. He says,
“If you look at organisations, there are Diversity and Inclusivity initiatives for protected characteristics around gender, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ and generally speaking disability seems to be the forgotten aspect. Most of them are still to measure the number of disabled people in their institution and where they are in the hierarchy of the organisations.
“So, in terms of inter-sectionality, you have a compounding effect of being a BAME disabled person which is currently either not understood or quantified in the organisations.”
Old age and hate crime
Now, some charities have also expressed concern around incidents of hate crime against disabled and old people.
There are various factors, including cultural, linguistic and other differences where Asian elderly and disabled people are more isolated, marginalised. Many are even going through varying degrees of depression and mental health disorders. The aggravated act of a violent break into their homes, often daylight robberies with incidents of knives, screwdrivers and other weapons pointed at them and being physically hurt have further distressed them. This can be fear gripping and can often drive some to suicidal tendencies,” concludes Zeenat Jeewa, CEO of Asian People’s Disability Alliance.
If you are in distress and need some help, then you can reach out to organisations such as Shaw Trust, Kaleidoscope Investments and Access to Work.