Opinion with Christine Tongue: War, wheelchairs and a hostile environment

Extra challenges faced by people with disabilities

I expect like me you’ve been horrified to see disabled people trying to escape war devastated Ukraine.

Old ladies in wheelchairs amid the rubble of their homes, people on sticks being helped over the debris of the latest bombing. We see the horrors on our TVs but who can imagine what happens to these poor souls later?

Disabled people in your own neighbourhood are not in a war zone, of course, but they can tell you about  being helpless in the face of a hostile environment.

Imagine getting transport to a safe border as a wheelchair user. How do you get into the bus or the train? I would need ramps and helpers and someone to lift me out of the chair into a seat and out again.

Imagine a long journey in pain and no medication because it ran out when your pharmacy was bombed. How do you provide toilets for people whose legs don’t work? I need a raised toilet seat and grab rails — and my legs still work a bit and my arms are ok. I couldn’t use a train loo at the moment with my poor balance and I would need help getting off normal loos. Humiliating.

Who will help these people up stairs? Who will push the wheelchairs in a bombardment? I have a stair lift but steps anywhere are a huge challenge to me. So what do you do with no electricity and people with no strength to lift you?

When you can’t walk, your normal life stops. You can’t prepare food or cook. Bathing and washing needs special equipment and there are extra risks from slipping. Putting on clothes involves helpers and is more time consuming than leg users could ever imagine. I’m glad I can still wash and put on clean clothes. Many refugees can’t and the elderly disabled are in an even worse position.

The facilities available in refugee centres are not necessarily adapted for disabilities and families get separated. Or killed. It’s hard enough getting medical help for refugees, let alone other support workers like occupational therapists who have been invaluable in helping  me with equipment.

In one heartbreaking news report, a women talked about her disabled mother who preferred to risk the bombs in her own flat, rather than take on the extra danger of travelling.

I wonder what I would do.

We may not be in a war zone but here in the UK disabled people are suffering from the neglect by politicians: living in unsuitable accommodation, lacking basic equipment, fighting for benefits in a system that hates to fund the vulnerable unemployed, choosing between paying for warmth or eating properly. And dying from interminable waiting lists and inaccessible health care.

I can afford to spend my savings on my scooter and my lift. Most elderly disabled people can’t. But savings don’t last forever and only a better funded NHS can reduce waiting lists.


  1. Human nature is such that when push comes to shove, people rally round. What’s happening in Ukraine is absolutely appalling. But all around the civilised world people in their millions are rallying round to provide help: from organizing charity fundraising events to taking folk into their homes.
    Indeed, the situation in the UK is dire, and not just for less able folk. From tiny babes to the elderly, many of us are struggling with the consequences of this government’s policies of underfunding social and health care.

  2. I would far rather be a disabled person in the UK than an able-bodied person in Ukraine !

    Just stop moaning and think how lucky you are to both have savings and to be in receipt of government benefits and the facilities that you have got.

    Your weekly diatribes about how difficult it is to be a disabled person are becoming too repetitive and boring. Enough of the self-pitying nonsense thank you. Just be grateful that you are still alive, have a roof over your head, food on your table and money in your pocket.

    • Do you think that disabled people should just be silent and not point out what they need? I try to give a voice to what I hear from many people. If it comes across as just me moaning about my own problems, I apologise for not making it clear that I am talking about issues that affect far too many people. Please stop reading if you find it depressing.

    • Christine’s articles discuss the difficulties disabled people face in the UK. Your comment highlights the problems of how they have to deal with the public’s ignorance and lack of empathy towards them.

    • I think you’ve totally missed the point here- Christine Tongue is showing complete empathy for disabled people in more difficult situations. She said exactly that- that she feels lucky to have savings to help her.

    • Christine writes to raise awareness of the plight of disabled people in general. It’s not about her!
      People need to realise that they too could become disabled, through accident, illness, Long Covid or just old age. It’s about all of us.

    • You wrote:
      “ Your weekly diatribes about how difficult it is to be a disabled person are becoming too repetitive and boring. Enough of the self-pitying nonsense thank you.”
      It is this kind of pernicious invective that insights the thousands of hate crimes every year that are committed against Disabled People like Christine. He demonstrates the social acceptability of belittling disabled people, and putting them in harms way.

      You are a very nasty person indeed!

      • WoW ! That’s a bit strong. I voice an opinion and now I am accused of hate crime !

        As a registered disabled person myself, I consider myself lucky to be alive. There are things I can no longer do and places I can no longer go – and everything I can do takes me so much longer in any event.

        Rory – you have stated that I am ”a very nasty person indeed”. By your own set of rules and standards, that in itself is very clearly a hate crime. Perhaps you should reconsider your position and start to live by the same restrictions you seek to impose on others.

        • What would make life easier for you as a disabled person? Are there positive things that you think I should be writing about? Of course I’m grateful not to be in a war zone but I can see so many things that could easily be changed if our politicians were motivated to fund them. If it came to a choice between summer fireworks and funding the lift, what would you choose?

    • John your a Pillock get help! Recent ONS sums show there are 8.5million economically inactive” people in the UK! Some 22% are Carers, 27% are students, 26% are long term sick, 13% early retirees! You sound like your a smug git! Oh! Nearly forgot, this Tory government still hasn’t “fixed” the Social Care system, and people who have some funds, and property are still going to have to pay for their care should they need it, and someone who does not have the funds, probably in the next room, will not have to pay, is that fair? No, its not, its outright discrimination thanks to the blustering, party loving Boris Johnson who can pay £840.00 a roll for wallpapering No 10’s flat!!

      • . . .and once again – Wow ! Do please keep the insults coming.

        Firstly I am accused of hate crimes and now I get called a pillock and a smug git.

        What is it with you people ?

        What happened to expressing an opinion ? Why do you then have to reduce yourselves to unfounded accusations and personal insults ?

  3. For a ‘world beating’ country, the government has paid scant attention to the poor, disabled & vulnerable. Rather, they choose to enrich their chums by privatising the NHS & other utilities. Why don’t they help people to live with their disabilities by inclusivity? You never know when you may be affected!

    • It’s easy enough, and no more expensive, to include accessibility into a new design for a building or a road layout.
      Retrofitting, on the other hand, can be very expensive to the point of impossibility.
      Take Underground stations, for example. All new LUL, DLR etc stations have lift (and hence wheel chair) access to all platforms. But there are many older Underground stations where access is via escalators. And to replace them with lifts would cost enormous amounts of money and vast upheaval. Who should pay for this?

      • Our government can and should pay. The Bank of England is a Government department and can issue however much money is needed. It’s not borrowed, there’s no interest to pay and it doesn’t ever have to be paid back. This would create jobs for people designing. Manufacturing and fitting these modifications.
        Perhaps having escalators with larger platforms, to accommodate prams and wheelchairs, would be easier than installing lifts in some tube stations.

        • Yes – excellent idea.

          However, your naivety is beyond belief. The Bank of England is not a money tree that just prints more money as and when it needs.

          Government funding comes from taxation.

          Are you prepared to pay more income tax or VAT to fund the works required at railway and underground stations ?

  4. I think some of your comments relating to the plight of less able people are probably well-meaning, but misplaced.
    How many ships do you know of (for example) where the life boats are “wheel chair accessible”?
    None, I dare say.
    But if the ship sinks, there are life boats available, and crews to help people get into them, able bodied or not.
    In the Ukraine, there’s the most dreadful things happening to civilians. Young, old, men, women, fit, less able.
    All need help.
    In the space of a couple of weeks, organised charities and generous individuals have risen to the need, and provided money and resources. There simply isn’t time to arrange for particular sorts of help for people in particular or peculiar circumstances.
    If you were a vegan wheelchair user on a sinking ship, and none of the lifeboats were “wheelchair friendly” and the only emergency rations available was salt beef, what would you do?

    • I’m afraid life in the UK feels a bit like that for many disabled people! Stuck in a wheelchair in a building with steps and trying to live on benefits that are liable to be stopped if someone in authority thinks you can work, for example.

  5. There is, surely, a gulf between the obstacles and hazards facing less-able people in the UK, and those faced by Ukrainian refugees?

    • But disabled people can imagine those hazards more vividly as they know whst obstacles they face themselves.

    • But we’re not at war and we’re one of the very richest countries in the world, so why are our disabled people made to suffer? Because we have a government and voters who don’t care?

  6. It’s about time that people took more of an interest in how disabled people are being neglected. Any of us can become disabled, through accident, sudden illness, Long Covid or just old age. So it’s in all our interests to campaign for improvements to our system.

  7. Christine I believe a few people here completely missed your point. As a fellow disabled person I totally agree with what you’re trying to say and point out.

  8. I’m a father of a disabled daughter and people that haven’t had to deal with bringing a children up with complex needs have no idea what you go through. They assume support is there and it’s all easy they even make out that “it was you choice to have a child” the ignorance of many in flabbergasting. Even in this very thread – at least one person that posts here regularly and is usually in my opinion sensible has shown an unbelievable level of ignorance.

    It’s the simple things that amaze me on my journey with my little one…

    A wheelchair is not “crash tested” unless the child is 22kg… so any children in wheelchairs under 22kg that you see on a bus to school or in a wheelchair converted car are not given the same protection and assurance as normal children that the seat they are in is safe! Who decided that? Would you use a seat that was not crash tested for your child?

    This is just one example of how disabled children are treated.

    Every taken your children to a sporting event? Did you all sit together? Would you have gone if your partner and one child had to sit apart from you? Because that’s how it is for parents of disabled children. Family days are impossible at such events – “a wheelchair and a carer” can sit together and that’s it.

    These are just two small examples of the hundreds of small challenges that make life seem like a constant fight for families with a disabled child.

    I could write a book of the challenges and issues we face daily all of them worse because of covid.

    I cannot imagine how a family like mine is coping in ukraine. From the equipment and supplies my little one needs to the practicalities of getting her to safety. Whilst compared to that we are “lucky” why do people alway want to tell disabled people it could be worse???

    Anyway. As you were.

    • You write really vividly! Happy to work with you on that book. It’s really important to get our stories to the public.

  9. @John. Our government’s money does NOT come from taxation!!! The government does NOT use taxpayers money to fund expenditure. Where do you think the £37billion for the failed track & trace came from? Were our taxes increased to pay this astronomical sum!? Of course not!!
    Taxation is used to balance the economy, to control spending and to control inflation, etc.
    Check it out. Try Richard Murphy’s blog. He’s a tax expert.

    • Wanda Lozinsksa. You talk of ‘tax experts’ there are many of different political persuasions some of the left some of the right some of the centre! I must read his blog to be educated! Out of interest are you any relation to Wanda Lozinska maybe from Stroud in Gloucestershire and possibly a once a supporter of Corbyn and Momentum?

    • Do please illuminate the uneducated amongst us as to where that £37m came from. Also please explain the funding for individuals and businesses in respect of furlough payments and other grants that were Covid related.

      Where does the government get its money to pay out many billions of pounds in state benefits to assist the unemployed, the sick, the disabled and the elderly ?

      You seem to indicate that this is all ‘free’ money – perhaps picked from a money tree or printed off by the Bank of England to meet the needs of the government.

      I look forward to your assurance that I will not be repaying any of this money through some form of taxation over the next decade.

      • John I’d wager you already pay less into the system than you take out. People with your views usually do not pay the highest in taxes.

        Where as many of us can safely say we have paid in way more than we have taken out and stand by and for a fair society that protect the most vulnerable.

        It’s not your fault but you need educating in the actual numbers of government spending/taxation system and not just half truth held beliefs you hold having read a few headline or article in the sun/mail.

        Disability payments and support are really not impacting your taxes in the way you believe they are.

        • Crikey. Not impressed you jump around a bit. Expert on the police and county lines gangs and now this. Well I am not impressed with your arrogance suggesting John needs educating. You epitomise the left wing bigots that often vent their spleen on people on here who dare to have different views.

          • One of the delights of this thread is that spleen venting bigots of every political persuasion, including far right neo nazis, impose their opinions.

          • I’m not even close to being a leftie.

            Not sure what gave you that idea. I’m not sure you know your left from your right so I won’t worry that you’ve got yourself confused.

      • I’ve already explained in an earlier comment. The Bank of England issues however much money our government needs. These days it’s created electronically. That’s where the £37bn for track and trace came from, plus money for wars, etc. Not from tax payers.
        Taxation is mainly used to control inflation.
        Look up Richard Murphy as he explains how our economy really works.

  10. Phyllis Quot. A question was asked of you. How strange you haven’t replied. That’s not like you is it?

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