Politics affects us all. If you don’t vote you aren’t making your voice heard; this is something we are all told endlessly but don’t necessarily take too seriously. Ever since my 18th birthday I have voted in every election; whether it be for the General Election or local council elections. This year more than ever your vote is necessary to get your voice heard but for the first time ever I am both engaged with the issues being debated and yet completely confused and torn between who to vote for.
Firstly I should point out that I live in Buckingham, which is the constituency of the current Speaker of the House, John Bercow. He has been our local MP for as long as I can remember. Before being the Speaker of the House John was a Conservative MP but now as the Speaker he is officially independent. Bare with me, this will become relevant soon. As Buckingham is classed as a safe seat the other main parties don’t contest the seat therefore the only other options are UKIP and Green.
I would class myself as more than a little left leaning however I always voted for John when he was a Conservative MP which always confused my friends and lead to many heated debates. Although my views didn’t ever match up with the Conservative manifesto I felt as a local MP he was a great representative and did a lot for the local community. He has always been very approachable and engaged locally. I felt this outweighed my dislike of some of the Conservative policies so he got my vote in 2010. This year everything is very different.
Without being too soapbox, the brunt of the cuts to the welfare system have hit disabled people the hardest. This hasn’t affected me just yet but there are very real worries for me and how my life is currently organised which makes this election particularly important.
First of all there are the reforms to the DLA, or the Disability Living Allowance. This is a benefit that all disabled people get once registered as disabled. I have had this for the majority of my life. There are two levels of DLA, higher and lower rates dependant on the amount your disability affects your life and the added costs that surround these factors. For me I am currently on the higher rate as my disability means I have some extra costs associated with it and how it affects me. I use my DLA to pay into a scheme that enables me to have an adapted car. My car is literally my lifeline and without it I wouldn’t be able to work, which I have done for my entire adult life. With the current reforms planned I will at some point have to be reassessed for my DLA. Should they for some reason decide to lower my rate or take my DLA away completely, my car will also be taken and with it my job and independence. It sounds dramatic but without my car I wouldn’t be able to do anything. Full stop. The reality of this happening is very real and is really quite scary.
The Conservatives are being very cagey about what cuts to the Welfare State they will be making other than stating that there will be cuts. The Access to Work scheme has had a lot of reform recently and caused a lot of problems particularly in the deaf community as they have restricted the number of hours deaf workers can hire interpreters. How can they be expected to be productive and equal members of a team if Access to Work are limiting the number of hours they can communicate equally? I currently use Access to Work to pay for taxis for me to get from the station in London to my meetings at Channel 4. Using the tube is impossible due to its inaccessibility and the reliability of buses and their routes mean it’s not possible for me to travel there in a timely manner. Currently my set up works, my boss has zero input into this and doesn’t even notice my extra needs as I’m able to manage and arrange it all easily and simply. If my access to Access to Work is limited or completely removed I wouldn’t be able to afford to travel like this. I wouldn’t be able to do my job, which could potentially leave me in a vulnerable position employment wise. My boss is great and I’m sure this wouldn’t happen, but not everyone is so lucky and like you’ve read in previous posts I like to be in control and without limitations.
Luckily for me I have no use for the ILF, or the Independent Living Fund which helps those that need to hire Personal Assistants, live in help or extra costs to ensure an independent life is possible but this may not be the case. It is a very real possibility that in 20-30 years this may be a reality for me so the fact that this is also being cut and taken away from those at most need is despicable and really very worrying.
These are just a few of the cuts that are affecting me as a real disabled person. The current Government have slashed the Welfare State claiming that it is being abused and yet leaving those that need it the most to bare the brunt of the mistakes of the most fortunate. Let’s be honest, if the Government was made up of wheelchair users and those with additional access needs we wouldn’t be in this situation. It boils down to a complete disregard, and lack of awareness and understanding for those that need our support the most.
And if you still have any doubt about the disgusting truth about how the Conservatives have treated disabled people and the duplicity considering David Cameron’s own experiences of disability I suggest you read this:
So this is why I’m confused. I’m confused because John Bercow is essentially a Tory even if he is currently standing as an independent. Morally I can’t give the Conservatives my vote but as a local MP he is great and I know he will listen to my concerns when I eventually find the time to sit down with him. But can I give him my vote and settle it with my conscience?
Whatever I decide I will be voting on Thursday, we are lucky enough to live in a democracy so I will be exercising that right. I hope you do too.
Some additional reading from The Guardian with lots of facts and figures to support the argument: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/30/devastating-impact-of-cuts-on-disabled-people