Answered this week by Alice Maynard the chair of Scope
Should Atos, the company employed by the Government to assess “fitness to work” but denounced as unfit for purpose by thousands of disabled people, be sponsoring the Paralympics?
The Government’s fitness for work test is massively flawed and having a devastating effect on people’s lives. Sponsors play a big role in making these great Games happen, but they get a lot of kudos out of it.
So the fact that the company running the test is sponsoring one of the world’s biggest celebrations of disability is difficult to stomach.
Do the Paralympics put extra pressure on disabled people and, if so, in what ways?
I’ve heard people say that. And some might come away feeling they have to be a sporting champion to be valued. But most disabled people are excited by the Paralympics, and feel positive seeing the likes of Jonnie Peacock and Ellie Simmonds compete for ParalympicsGB. The Games are an opportunity to get people thinking differently about disability. At a time when we hear that attitudes are getting worse, the discussion, the questions, the visibility have to be a good thing. And if you have to be a sporting champion, then I’m stuffed!
Is it as unhelpful for disabled people to be categorised as inspirational heroes as it is for them to be thought of as benefit scroungers?
Absolutely. The stereotype of the triumph-over-tragedy Paralympian where it’s the “taking part that counts” is just as dangerous as the stereotype of the benefits claimant caught skydiving. Let’s use the Games to banish both of them. Let’s celebrate when an athlete wins, not be afraid to point out when they don’t. And above all, let’s remember that most disabled people are like most non-disabled people – not athletes at all.
Do you think this year’s Paralympics will change people’s attitudes, temporarily or permanently, towards disability?
I think the Paralympics has the power to change people’s attitudes permanently. Disabled people tell Scope greater visibility and better understanding of their lives are the key to improving the way people treat them. For the next week and a half, yes, there will be great sport, but we are also going to be seeing, talking about and getting to know disabled people like never before.
What is the most important thing the Government could do to help disabled people?
Tell a different story about disability. The Government has put benefits scroungers at the heart of the welfare debate – this despite fraud rates for disability living allowance being less than 1 per cent. When we ask disabled people why they think attitudes have got worse, they point to the scrounger issue and tell us they are being challenged in the street about the benefits they receive.
Is Nick Clegg’s idea of a time-limited wealth tax worth considering?
There is talk of a further £10bn of welfare cuts. Disabled people are already struggling with spiralling living costs and the impact of local and national support falling away. I believe we’re stacking up serious economic problems for ourselves in the future because of the cumulative effect of this. We should give serious consideration to any alternative to further cuts to vital support for disabled people.
Do A-levels and GCSEs serve our educational needs?
We have the same debate every year. But when I was at school, it was extremely rare for a disabled person to sit exams. So when it comes to education, I think we should be celebrating the fact that more young disabled people than ever before have the opportunity to get qualifications. But it could still be better. We should be asking how we can make sure every young disabled person has the chance to sit exams.
Should there be a third runway at Heathrow? Or Boris Island?
If the UK is going to remain attractive as a place to do business, our infrastructure has to be up to the job. There are lots of different ways to do that, and even more opinions about what’s best. But if we’re going to keep the country moving, we need to make sure what we’ve already got works for everyone – like making sure the bus stops for a blind person at a bus stop.
Alice Maynard is the chair of Scope and founder and managing director of Future Inclusion Ltd, a consultancy supporting organisations to deliver services to hard-to-reach sectors of the community. She has worked with corporate, public and third-sector organisations and was head of disability strategy at Network Rail. She is a lifelong wheelchair user