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Disability Bitch vs volunteers

16th February 2011

• Disability Bitch is published every Thursday.

Readers, this week Prime Minister David Cameron has been talking about his 'passion', his effort to get the citizens of Britain to 'take more responsibility' and create what he calls a Big Society.
David Cameron
Actually, he's been banging on about his Big Society since even before the general election in May last year, and thus far everyone except him has been a bit vague about what it means.

This Monday he told us: "What this is all about is giving people more power and control to improve their lives and communities." He wants people to volunteer more and take over services that were previously run by government. Startup project money will come from the Big Society Bank which gets most of its money from bank accounts that people no longer seem to be using.

These plans to harness the power of volunteers come at a time when government is cutting funding to councils, meaning councils will have to lay off many hundreds of thousands of employees, meaning unemployment will rise, and presumably more volunteers will then be available to do unpaid work. Genius, really.

Councils around the country are presently announcing what cuts they will make to their services. We have to hope that schemes like Dial-a-Ride are maintained because, with DLA recipients being reassessed, it's possible that some disabled people will lose the money they previously used to spend on things like taxis to get them to the shop or out to see family and friends and will have to rely on old-fashioned scheduled group transport schemes like this.
Ed Miliband
I for one am hoping that my neighbours turn out to be good at this Big Society stuff.

Labour leader Ed Miliband (the one who took over from Gordon Brown last September? Remember him?) has also expressed support for changes to Disability Living Allowance, but various Labour spokespeople are dismayed that the cuts are undermining the Big Society plans before they even start. In basic terms, if councils cut the budgets of organisations that mobilise volunteers, the focus for volunteering disappears, and the services could disappear.

Perhaps tellingly, it was revealed this week that the level of charitable giving in Britain hasn't changed much since the 1980s, so maybe the prime minister is right to prick everyone's social conscience and remind us of old fashioned values. Why does everything need big budgets behind it? How did everything become so strangled up with money? And why can't people just be nice, for free?

My gran would say something about mourning the loss of the milk of human kindness. But getting the people of this country to be generous with their time and resources might be an uphill struggle.
A cobbled street
My entire existence as a disabled person living independently 'in the wild' among people who are fully able of body and mind has given me exclusive insight into the generosity of spirit displayed by the average citizen in this country. Mr Cameron, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but sometimes your people aren't very good at helping the needy.

I'd like to draw your attention to the following incidents:

  • I found myself on a packed station platform, waiting for a delayed train. I hung out beside the solitary bench, packed as it was with able-bodied posteriors. Weary as I was after a long day at work, I asked politely if one of them was able to offer me a seat. They all looked the other way and pretended they'd neither seen nor heard me.

  • Two years ago, I tripped over on some cobbles in a very busy central London shopping area, during the pre-Christmas rush. Usually I bounce, but on this occasion, I couldn't get up. Scary, huh? I tried to attract attention. My fellow humanity almost universally looked down its nose at me, and people started stepping over me as if I were a draft excluder.

  • Walking back from my local supermarket with a small supply of groceries, the sub-standard plastic bag I'd been given split and all my groceries rolled out of the bottom, the apples rolled down the hill, the milk carton burst, and the eggs smashed. Desperately, I chased after the food I thought I could salvage, and was left with an armful of assorted vegetables and a walking stick flung on the ground. I could go nowhere. All I needed was a friendly citizen to grab my stick and find me a functional bag. My neighbours walked by, looking me up and down as if I were an art exhibit. I suspect one of them of stealing my chocolate.
It's not that I'm bitter, but there are many more incidents like this stored in my memory banks. I'm just thankful I'm only reliant on unpaid strangers once in a while, and not for getting from A to B, cooking my meals, or helping me get up in the morning.

And now to my final sentence: The very crucial point here is that you can't rely on them in the same way you can if you are paying them.

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