Pat’s Petition team and Carerwatch would like to congratulate Tom Shakespeare on the ground breaking lecture ( read in full here ) that he gave to the British Sociological Association on Friday ( podcast will be available soon ). It was a breath of fresh air in a debate that has been hi-jacked by politicians and subverted for their own ends.

In his speech Tom Shakespeare emphasised that:

I do not think that equal treatment will liberate all disabled people, in the same way as it has the potential to liberate other disadvantaged groups.  I believe that a level playing field is not enough to equalize opportunity for disabled people.  It may work for those disabled people who do not experience major limitations in their functional abilities, but it will not work for people with more significant or complex impairments.


That may sound controversial and does not sit easily with the models proposed by disability ‘leaders’. But it is reflected in the statistics for attitudes to disability amongst disabled people:

•46% of disabled people believe that health problems alone are responsible for them not leading as full a life as non-disabled people
•Of those disabled respondents who said they were not able to lead a full life, 87 per cent said it was because of their disability, while only two per said that it was due to attitudes and barriers in society and 8 per cent said it was due to both (ODI, 2008).

Government policies follow directly from the belief that disabled people can be liberated to compete in the competitive labour market on equal terms.  We have always argued that this is not appropriate for everyone, and that our society needs to ensure that those who cannot compete are supported with a safety net.

But disability leaders have fought for equal rights and removal of barriers. While that was well intentioned, it gave Iain Duncan Smith an open goal. He doesn’t need to pay support to disabled people who he thinks could get jobs and he doesn’t need to pay subsidies or insist on quotas for employers. It’s win win for him.

But it is now obvious that disabled people are not getting jobs: Employment Support Allowance is collapsing. We have millions of people who felt safe on Incapacity Benefit now being terrorised on the assumption of a false premise. We have to find a way of changing the accepted message to include the reality for disabled people and subsequently getting these policies changed.

So we are delighted with this lecture and hope it leads to a fresh look at campaigning on the basis of the reality out there in the job market.