What else

IssueApril - May 2023
Comment by Rebecca Elson-Watkins

There are two different ways I am disabled. There is what my body, my individual biology, does that no one can change. I will always have chronic fatigue and I will always have pain. My medical team and I do the best we can to ameliorate both, but they are inevitable.

Then, there are the ways in which I am disabled by society: lack of accessibility, lack of support, lack of knowledge and rampant ableism, to name a few. These are far from inevitable.

The cost-of-living crisis is the latest societal thing to add to what disables me. Undoubtedly, it is disabling everyone except the super-rich. But when you’re already disabled, things start to snowball.

Thanks to a cruel capitalist system that devalues disabled people, we are woefully under-employed. Less than a third of disabled people with five or more health conditions are in work according to the government. I have 17 health conditions (I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two), some of them caused by the others. I was born with hypermobility syndrome; repeated dislocations led to osteoarthritis starting in my early 30s. In other words, once one thing is buggered, other bits follow suit. I am not unusual in this regard.

When we can find work, we’re often passed over for promotion. When I googled ‘why don’t disabled people get promoted?’ there were 172,000,000 results. How many disabled CEOs can you name? The only ones I can think of are in the charity sector. The private sector appears to have very little time for us disabled folx.

And so, many of us rely on: an increasingly brutal benefits system, partners, parents, friends and a charity sector being progressively squeezed of donations as people’s real-terms incomes fall. In short, most disabled folx are often a bit skint.

And then along came the cost-of-living crisis.

Those of us with lung disease and pain conditions affected by the cold, we can’t turn the heating down or off. To do so would worsen our conditions.

Those of us with painful hands and chronic fatigue, we often struggle to cook. Peeling vegetables is a genuine problem for me, so the cheaper do-it-yourself versions aren’t an option.

If I were to cook something like a cottage pie from scratch, that is the only thing I could do all day. And I mean the only thing – I wouldn’t have the energy left over to even shower.

Unfortunately, that means I am stuck with what is often called convenience food, the price of which has gone up like a rat up a drainpipe. Dietary restrictions can add another layer to this difficulty.

I know I don’t have to tell anyone what has happened to the price of electricity. But it has hit disabled folx harder, again.

For one thing, many of us are at home a lot. That means we are already using a fair amount more electricity on ‘normal’ day-to-day items. But then, many of us also have medical equipment that requires electricity too.

Some folx have electric wheelchairs that need to be recharged or oxygen machines that require power, or hoists. Me, I have electric heat pads to manage my pain, a variety of automatic massagers that loosen my knotted muscles, and a medication delivery system, all of which require power.

I’m sure some PN readers will have seen the same devastating news footage I have of pet owners giving up their animals because they can no longer afford to feed them.*

This is awful for anyone but, for disabled folx, our animals are often a lifeline. Many will think of guide and other assistance dogs, but emotional support animals can be just as important. I can say with complete certainty that my cats help to maintain my mental health in ways I cannot put into words.

These are just the ways that the cost-of-living crisis is affecting me. I can use public transport, so the increase in petrol prices hasn’t affected me. Many disabled folx do not have this option. Despite decades of action by disabled folx, vast swathes of the public transport network remain inaccessible, particularly to wheelchair users.

Almost no one is talking about this aspect of the cost-of-living crisis. And almost no one is talking about the fact that the government has the power to step in.

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