Catherine Hale spoke at It’s Our Community, a conference on social care reform. Catherine explained the high prevalence of energy limiting conditions and the psychological impact of not being believed.
I was a social care user back in the 1990s. I’ve had my chronic illness for over three decades and when it was really acute, and I couldn’t wash feed myself, or go to the loo, I had a care package. But later years when things were less severe, my needs were harder to grasp because my impairment was invisible and poorly understood. The social care system completely let me down. As a disabled lone parent I had no support.
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).
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.
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.
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?
Patricia de Wolfe is tired of saying ‘sorry’ on account of her energy-limiting illness.
I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.
Sorry I can’t make it to your birthday party, your family gathering, your funeral. Sorry, no, I can’t come over for tea on Friday. Why? No, I’m not doing anything else. But I’m going out for lunch the Tuesday before. Yes, I know that gives me Wednesday and Thursday to recover but Friday would still be pushing it. And tea is a bit late in the day for me. Yes, I am sure. Perhaps we could meet next week? Yes, I know I cancelled last time. Yes, of course I understand you’re very busy… Sorry.
I want to stop apologising. I want to stop explaining. For me, inclusion would mean, at the very least, living in a society in which it is generally accepted that some people are ill. Chronically. Perhaps permanently. And in which we are not regarded as freaks, or hypochondriacs, or scroungers, or, for that matter, just “poor things”, but as people valiantly trying to cobble together something that feels like a life in the teeth of gargantuan obstacles.
Ella Sumpter talks about fluctuating mobility levels and reactions to her wheelchair use.
I have been given a power wheelchair that used to belong to my wife’s grandfather. I am very grateful. It will be very useful when I have to go to the local shops, or be somewhere where I am expected to stand around or stay on my feet a long time. It will also mean that I can go to protest rallies which I have so far been left out of.
I have a problem though. I have a very large psychological barrier to actually using it.
So what is the problem stopping me using it? Put simply, fear. Fear of what people will think and say, and embarrassment at people seeing me in it. I’ve already blogged about using a walking stick and my fear of abuse as well as fear of people thinking I use a stick to look more ill and claim extra benefits.
Rebecca Boot tackles the painful subject of employment for the chronically ill.
I’m back at university, studying again after my body threw a fantastic tantrum the last time I tried it.
My university has a real focus on employment and one of the highest graduate employment rates in the country. That is great, everyone wants to be able to get a good job when they leave university right? Isn’t that the point of going?
Not really, not for me at least. I applied to Uni because I love learning and my brain likes to be busy.
But here’s the rub – I am not employable, not really, not as I am now. I have plenty of skills, I am smart, I’m a self-starter, I have a whole bunch of somewhat impressive things on my CV, I meet the person specification for a whole lot of jobs already. But I’m not employable.
Geoff Jones recalls his experiences of education as a child with severe chronic illness.
Access to education is often overlooked when considering chronic illness and social exclusion. Education is particularly relevant if those affected become ill during childhood. In today’s Britain, where a university education has arguably become the norm, those becoming chronically ill during childhood may find themselves placed at a significant disadvantage, adding to the societal exclusion already imposed through their physical disabilities.
I became ill aged 13 with glandular fever and was subsequently diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Over the next three years various attempts were made to provide me with an education, either via home tutoring or part-time attendance at school. Eventually I was sent to a comprehensive with a special unit for those with various medical conditions. Unfortunately, due to a lack of understanding of my condition, I experienced a major relapse and, as I reached the age of 16 shortly afterwards, the educational authorities (probably with some relief) ended their attempts to educate me.