By Jane Johnson of Fleetwood
Iwas 14 when I started working in my auntie’s hotel after school and at weekends.
I still went to school but left as soon as I could to get a job and help my widowed mum support my five brothers and sisters. Ours was a big family and each and every one of us had the work ethic.
My children still do. But both are long term unemployed. There is little to no chance of them securing work in this area - and even a university degree (the first ever in our family) has not helped my son. He’s worked in bars and hotels in roles that have precious little to do with his qualifications or inclinations.
Now we’re about to be dealt a further bombshell thanks to David Cameron and Minister for the Disabled Esther McVey. My disability living allowance will become personal independence payment. Toodle PIP. And I will be assessed on what I can do rather than what I can’t. I know what I can do - I can think for myself. But I can’t walk any distance. I can’t use my arms too well. I am on medication and relief pads day and night for chronic pain. My brain is as active as ever but I am trapped in a body which doesn’t work properly since I was involved in a car crash. Not for me some phoney whiplash claim from insurers. This was the real deal. My GP recognised this, the surgeons at Royal Preston - for I lived and worked in Preston at the time of the accident - knew it and my claim for DLA was a relatively painless process. The only painless process involved.
Could I work? Well, I’m old enough, just, to still be considered of working age - under 64. But the level of the support it would require for me to do a job rather than get one is beyond the average employer’s means. I’d need aids to assist me to anwer the phone, use a keyboard. I’d need a lift to get up to an upstairs floor. I’d need specific seating and an adapted desk. I’d need the sort of adaptations to the toilet facilities that I have at at home - negotatiating a normal disabled loo is already troublesome. I’d need people to appreciate that while my thought processes function at the usual pace my speech can be impaired.
I’d also need people to stop seeing the wheelchair and start seeing the person within it - and stop talking above my head as if I don’t exist. It’s the does she take sugar? syndrome. It’s the reason i don’t have my picture taken because all I see is the chair too - and remember how I used to be.
I don’t lack courage or commitment but I don’t want to hear some colleague asked “does she work here?”
The poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, are easy targets in today’s economy. My family were socialists back in the day when that really meant something. My mother was an old school Conservative all her life, the odd one out, a bit of a snob, but proud of her family’s contribution to East Lancashire community where we grew up prior to moving to Preston and later here, to Fleetwood, the open landscape and flat roads proving easier to nagivate by chair, the people more open and friendly and approachable. Being disabled, let me assure you, is seldom a matter of choice.