Opinion with Christine Tongue: On the front line

Christine Tongue

Disabled people are on the political front line. Not in the Ukraine war, though some are. Nor in our  councils – though God knows the battle goes on to keep our seafront lifts open and stop cars parking on pavements

No, it’s worse than that.

Most disabled people are not your standard issue voter – promise tax cuts and we don’t care. We probably don’t pay tax on our pensions and benefits and we desperately worry that any party promising tax cuts knows where they’ll get the money from – from the people whose voice will be heard last: the unproductive scroungers eating up our country’s wealth with their outrageous demands for unearned income. In other words, the likes of me.

We spend our time fighting for what we need to survive – carers, equipment, transport and most of all, understanding and empathy. Anyone can become disabled. You could fall downstairs today or have stroke and next week be needing a mobility scooter, regular physio, expert surgery and a load of expensive adaptations to your house.

You can’t cater for that kind of event as an individual. You’d never  be able to afford it unless you’re Elon Musk. (And he’ll have wasted his wealth soon on building Disneyland on the moon or something silly like that.)

But isn’t that what a functioning welfare state is about? We all fund a universal health system, a tax system that doesn’t let the vulnerable starve, a social care service that looks after people at home or in suitable, state run institutions when their needs are too great to be dealt with at home.

Getting anything near that ideal involves fighting on an epic scale.

My friend with a severely disabled child referred me to a Facebook page that can give advice about specialist wheelchairs – which I thought I might need at one point.

Some of the comments are the stuff of  nightmares. The page is mostly used by parents of children who can’t walk, often can’t speak for themselves, or speak at all, are incontinent, or need to be tube fed. Here’s an anonymised example, a mum asking for advice about wheelchairs:

“My daughter’s current wheelchair is wildly unsafe and unsuitable. She’s in constant pain slumped over to one side and won’t stay in it longer than half hour. She slips forwards under the lap belt as well.

“She’s a big girl at 25kg, needs lateral and hip support, she rocks hard when feeling any extreme emotion and can topple the current buggy.

“She is completely non mobile so proper hip and spine support is so important.

“Perhaps I’m being unreasonable but she has over an hour journey to school each way in her chair and I would actually love to be able to leave the house with her without her being in pain.

“Has anyone had any luck getting something that’s actually fit for purpose from wheelchair services?

“One stressed and cabin fevered mum here after being cooped up all week during half term because she can’t cope in her chair.”

So when I see politicians drooling over a man in uniform asking for fast jets from our government, i think of these kids who need a bit of fancy technology and a huge amount of funding chucking at their problems.

Where do you want your taxes to go?