Trump, Brexit and the marginalisation of disabled people

This week has brought us the hard Brexit language from the British government and the inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump. These are uncertain times but what does it mean for disabled people including people with learning disabilities?

We are living in difficult times. One feels light-headed even trying to decipher the actualities of the global political system and cultural order in light of the events of Brexit and the President Elect Trump. One trope that needs to be carefully dissected is the play and presence of ableism as a logical conclusion of neoliberalism. Let us explain.

Ableism is a worldview that emphasises self-sufficiency, autonomy and independence. These same ideals fit well with the ideology of neoliberalism; which places faith in individuals to play the marketplace to work and shop enough that will lead to their individual freedom. These ideas were key to the Trump and Brexit campaigns; setting up a vision of the individual and nation as an island (distinct and separate from others). When neoliberal and ableist ideals work together they threaten to make us ever more isolated from one another; each and everyone one of us responsible for our own life choices. And this feeling of remoteness is further emphasised in a time of austerity (where welfare rolls back to leave many vulnerable people in our communities).

There has been much talk about the end of neoliberalism in these post-truth times. Here at humanactivism.org we are not convinced. Our own sense is that Brexit and Trump hail in a new kind of neoliberalism; one associated with the rolling out of ableist ideals. And we know from history that ability and disability – or dis/ability – are used to restructure political orders. Only those people who are able and willing to step up to the plate in these 'brave' new worlds of post-Trump and British isolationism will be able to flourish. We are witnessing a revision of what it means to be able-bodied and minded. Never have people needed to be so self-sufficient than they are today. But this means that the human reliance on others for support - what we might term interdependence - risks being crushed. No human being is an island wrote the English poet John Donne. Sadly, Brexit and Trump invite a new era of individual and national segregation that risks breaking apart our communities and bonds with one another.

It is absolutely imperative then that we listen to the expertise of disabled people's organisations because they have always emphasised the interdependent support that sustains us as humans. We have never needed disability politics more than today.

For a more developed version of this argument click here

Get Brandon home for Christmas

As Christmas approaches, television is awash with adverts picturing families enjoying happy time together. Yet for many people with learning disabilities this idealised picture of a family Christmas is far away from their reality. Too many people with learning disabilities are being ‘cared for’ in unsuitable and inappropriate settings when, with the right support, they could be living happily with their families.

We were shocked and saddened to learn about the case of Brandon Reid whose family are fighting for him to be returned to the family home from his current placement in a care home. The family have set up a petition in the hope of persuading social services to get Brandon out of this specialist housing and back to his family home for Christmas. Brandon has the label of Asperger's Syndrome and, according to his mother, Helena, is a much loved son and brother. Helena has spoken of her outrage at Brandon being forcefully removed from the family home by 12 police officers after Brandon had left his care home to visit his family. The family are now locked in a fight with Brandon's social work team who insist he is not ready to come home. Sadly, Brandon’s story is not unique. We are reminded of a number of high profile cases where families have complained that their children and young disabled people have been taken away from them against the wishes of the families and young people. A recurring complaint from families is the lack of responsive respite, social care and housing for people with learning disabilities. Too many people with learning disabilities are being ‘cared for’ in unsuitable and inappropriate settings such as Assessment and Treament units and other settings when, with the right support they could be living happily with their families. Brandon’s story is sadly yet another story of the poor support given to people with learning disabilities in British society.


At times, like all young people, people with learning disabilities and their families might require additional support. Growing up brings with it a number of challenges. But we know that austerity cuts to essential services are putting young people at risk at precisely the same time that our communities are exhibiting increased incidences of hate crime. Our research found that with the right support people with learning disabilities can be active and valued members of their local communities.

Brandon should be living with those who love him. Unfortunately, in these times of austerity, these loving relationships and community risk being eroded.

IDDP2016

On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it’s time for the UK government to listen to the United Nations

On the International Day of Disabled People, research shows that the government’s failure to accept the findings of the UN inquiry into the violations of the rights of disabled people will lead to more misery in the lives of disabled people.

Our research demonstrated the value of self-advocacy and supported employment in promoting the rights of disabled people but proposed cuts to funding of self-advocacy forums and a failure to address the barriers to disabled people moving into work in the recent green paper will do nothing to promote the community inclusion of disabled people.

The UK has been a signatory of the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities since 2007 but an inquiry by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) marks the first time that any nation has been investigated by the committee over human rights breaches.

The process was initiated in May 2012 by Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) under article 6 of the optional protocol within the UN convention. Dpac submitted evidence detailing the impact of a range of policies, including the work capability assessment “fit for work” tests, the bedroom tax, benefit sanctions, personal independence payments and the abolition of the Independent Living Fund on disabled people.The inquiry was conducted in private, with witnesses being asked to sign confidentiality agreements both to protect the witnesses and to ensure that the government co-operated with the inquiry.

In their report, published in November, 2016, the United Nations concluded that the austerity measures applied to welfare and social care by the government amount to ‘systemic violations’ of the rights of disabled people. Their damning report laid bare the burden placed on disabled people placed since 2010.

The government’s response was to reject the report out of hand and to say that it would stand by and is proud of its record. Some newspapers sought to discredit the report by attacking its authors.

Disabled people have been asked to bear the brunt of austerity since 2010, after Brexit, we face the prospect of austerity for the next fifteen years - a terrifying prospect for disabled people and their families and allies. It’s time for the government to listen to the UN and to stop scape-goating disabled people.

Watch Rob talking about what the UN Convention means to him here:

The right to go to the supermarket

The right to be helped by someone who isn’t slightly miffed

The right to sit on the sofa

Opinion piece: Brexit and the logics of ableism

The votes are in. And Brexit is a reality. But what does Brexit mean for disabled people with learning disabilities? And, as importantly, what does Brexit tell us about British society and the values that underpin this society? In a new article, written by Dan Goodley and Rebecca Lawthom, they seek some answers to these questions.

After the Brexit fall out those on the Left of British politics (and their media) have struggle to make sense of the decision to leave the EU. Common explanations include:

  • We are now Little Britain
  • This is the final nail in the coffin to the death of social justice
  • Leave is a cultural vent for the rise in racism and xenophobia
  • We are witnessing the expression of opposition to the bureaucratic machine of the EU project
  • A move to the right in democratic politics
  • A stance against immigration

But what does Brexit mean for disabled people with learning disabilities? And, as importantly, what does Brexit tell us about British society and the values that underpin this society? How might we read Leave if we were to think of it in terms of a rational decision that reflects a particular kind of guiding idea or ideological narrative? Those defending leaving the EU have developed an explanatory discourse that includes the following tropes:

  • Standing alone
  • Reclaiming our independence
  • Being self-sufficient
  • Seeking autonomy (economic, cultural and national)
  • Self-rule over our national concerns
  • Maintaining our sovereignty

These statements are familiar to those of us who do disability research. We know that each of these concepts is consistently fused with another in order to articulate an ideology of ableism. This ideology underpins our neoliberal, late capitalist societies in which the lone entrepreneurial citizen works to keep him or her self-sustainable.

We might, therefore, view Brexit as the writing large of ableism: the ideology that assumes independence lies at the heart of what it means to be a good British citizen. Brexit marks the nation state of Britain as an ableist ideal: capable of governance and trade devoid of reliance on interdependent relationship with other European nations. And crucially a nation state with non-porous borders; where non-European others are cast as threats to British ideals. Brexit might be viewed as a consequence of the actions of neoliberal citizens of this brave new world of self-sufficient independence. These individuals are the treasured subjects of austerity. Working hard. Shopping enough. Delighting in their lack of need to pull down resources from the welfare state. Standing alone. Pulling ourselves up by the boot-strings.

The timing of Brexit and austerity are not coincidental. What we have witnessed over the last four years is a fundamental rewriting of the British citizen’s relationship with government. The government rolls back and individual responsbility rolls in. Brexit should come as no surprise. It is merely another example of the neoliberal-ableist individualism that marks our communities. Why would anyone want dependence, mutuality or interconnection with the European project when we are all austerity subjects now?

Our task, then, is to reconnect with one another: to reform our links and emphasise our dependencies upon one another. We need to build a political commons that reaches us, that emphasises our shared vulnerabilities and builds bridges between fractured communities. Humanactivism.org is just one small attempt to make these connections. We are not alone in this life together; no matter what Brexit might stand for.

To read the full paper click here