Chronic Illness Inclusion spoke at an event hosted by Disabled People Against Cuts to discuss the need to reinvigorate the social model of disability.
This blog piece follows a discussion on the 6th of July 2020 in response to Ellen Clifford’s new book ‘The War on Disabled People’ from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) about ‘Reinvigorating the Social Model of Disability’, to which Catherine was invited. You can watch Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
We completely agree with Ellen Clifford that the social model of disability is intended to be a tool for uniting disabled people to take collective action. Now is a time for such unity if ever there was one. The global response to COVID-19, on top of ten years of austerity in the UK, has shown just how little disabled lives matter to the political classes. However, people with chronic illnesses have struggled to unite with other disabled people under the banner of the social model.
Catherine founded the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project as a programme of action research aimed at developing an advocacy movement for people with chronic illness. The project discovered that, although people with what we call ‘energy limiting chronic illnesses’ (ELCI) are potentially a big constituency of disabled people – 32% of working age disabled people in the UK experience impairment of stamina, breathing or fatigue – there is a disconnect between us and the rest of the UK Disabled People’s Movement (DPM).
CII is among a huge number of disabled activists and Disabled People’s Organisations calling for NHS England to respect our Human Rights
The full letter, published by Disability Rights UK, reads:
“The NHS is built on the principle that we are each equal in dignity and worth. It expresses our commitment to protect one another’s right to life and to health, no matter who we are.
We recognise that the NHS faces unprecedented pressures. We know that its staff will have to make difficult decisions about who gets treatment and care and who doesn’t. We understand that they will have to judge whether people will benefit and we know that people’s existing health will be taken into account.
Stef Benstead discusses her new book on welfare reform and the treatment of disabled people in austerity Britain.
#IsItOk that disabled people have written books about the harm that the UK government is doing to us?
In the modern hegemony of identity politics, a person is only allowed to comment on something if they have direct experience of it. So one answer is that yes, it is okay that sick and disabled people write about issues affecting them, because in fact they’re the only people who have the right to do so.
But the reality is that, whilst it is okay that sick and disabled people write about their experiences as sick and disabled people, it is not okay that those experiences are so overwhelmingly negative in breadth and depth. It’s one thing when one part of your life goes wrong and everything else is fine: you can probably manage. It’s quite another when every part is wrong: your health, your house, your income, your medical care, your local area, your support to live in your home, your support to get out of your home.
On the face of it, organisations are getting better at facilitating “flexible working”. Inevitably, some are moving faster and more innovatively than others.
Some of those others have yet to acknowledge that flexible working is an employment right that has been enshrined in UK legislation since 2014 rather than a reward for productivity. Nevertheless, you’d struggle to find an office-based organisation that hasn’t realised that flexible working is something they need to be thinking about.
So far so things-are-improving. That said, it’s a very limited definition of “flexibility” that is incorporated into most flexible working policies. What it usually means is a policy to allow employees to work outside the office. Which is important for those who benefit from it, including disabled people with energy limiting chronic illnesses (ELCI*), like me, who are well enough to work part-time but cannot physically spend all of that time in an office.
Fran Halsall on the consequences of a late diagnosis and living with multiple chronic conditions.
Humans do not cope well with uncertainty, yet I am forced to confront it every day. People like me, with multiple diagnoses, can find that each new one brings not only clarity but also an extra layer of complexity that can be hard to live with.
When trying to explain my medical situation there are six diseases/disorders to choose from. Yet I often talk about multiple sclerosis first, despite the fact that on any given day it might be the least of my problems. There are reasons for this: people have heard of MS and it is taken seriously. It is an easy shorthand for establishing why my life has not turned out as originally planned.
1. As you say, the meaning we attach to the term “chronic illness” in this project does not reference medical definitions but considers chronic illness as a social identity. Does that make it invalid?
2. And in my struggle to develop a more precise language, such as “energy-limiting chronic illness” or “stamina impairment”, am I creating unnecessary divisions and excluding people who share a common cause, especially people with chronic pain conditions? Why can’t we simply unite under the umbrella of disabled people and fight our common oppression, you might ask?
Victoria Clutton highlights the barriers to work faced by the chronically ill.
In May, I started my first ever job which I found through a wonderful charity called Astriid. My job is five hours a week, working from home, with no set hours and amazingly supportive co-workers – the holy grail of employment opportunities for the chronically ill. Even so, it’s been a huge adjustment and ongoing struggle. A few years ago I was declared fit for work despite protestations by my doctor and two other medical specialists. The experience was a year of ludicrous horror before I eventually relapsed badly enough for it to be worth re-applying for benefits. These contrasting experiences have caused me to reflect on the changes that are necessary to allow more chronically ill people to work.
Jayne Linney looks at the benefits system and its failure to take account of mental health.
Recently I completed almost two years of Psycho-dynamic Therapy, and after dedicating more than 100 Tuesday afternoons to an intense examination of my life, I am now well enough to stop.
This doesn’t however mean I am ‘cured’ or that my mental health issues have gone, it means I am presently no longer at risk of taking my own life. Therapy has resulted in me relearning how my Depersonalisation and Depression affects me and has given me the confidence to better manage it.
Leonora Gunn discusses society’s role in improving the lives of the chronically ill.
The big idea of the social model is to distinguish between ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’: ‘impairment’ is someone’s condition, ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’) in my case, whereas ‘disability’ describes the way that impaired people are oppressed and excluded from society on top of their impairments. This challenges the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ or changed to fit in to society, and suggests that society needs to be changed to include everyone.
This might seem like a funny thing for someone like me, with a chronic illness, to believe. Surely illnesses, like ME, need ‘fixing’? And how can it be society’s fault that I am ill?