Monday 2 April 2012

♫...Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London; I'll show you something to make you change your mind. ...♫

Visit any American city and it's unlikely you'll get to the end of your first day before you've seen a rough-sleeping wheelchair user. Most seem to sleep in that awkward contorted position usually reserved for trying to sleep on a plane, though I have seen people try and achieve some semblance of horizontalness by laying with their head and upper torso on their chair seat and their butt and legs on a bench or low wall. That's the wheelchair users that haven't had their legs blown off in service of their country, of course. I'm assuming that if you laid down on the floor to sleep in a doorway that your essential mobility aid wouldn't still be next to you in the morning.

The first time I went to America it really shocked me. I'd never seen a wheelchair user sleeping rough in the UK. My parents explained that it's because our health service and welfare state were less brutal than there and we don't tend to leave wheelchair users destitute. I was 11 when I went on that trip and the only thing I'd known was Thatcherism: She was elected as PM 13 days before I was born and in October 1990 when I left this island for the first time she was still a month short of handing the reins over to Major.

Our system has always failed people with mental health and substance abuse problems and they make up a significant proportion of our rough sleepers. Wheelchair users aren't immune from ending up without a home to call their own - especially down to the fact that accessible housing is in such short supply - but we tend to end up as hidden homeless rather than living on the streets.

For 21 years since that first trip to America it remained the case that I never saw a wheelchair user sleeping rough in Britain.

As more and more applications for disability benefits are turned down disabled people are finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet. Things will get worse in the near future when people in WRAG claiming cESA start to lose their income, and yet worse still in little over a year when half a million genuinely disabled people lose their DLA.

The fact that cuts are already starting to bite can be seen on the streets of London: Over the last few months I've seen 3 different wheelchair users hunkering down for the night on the streets of my city.

Welcome to compassionate Conservatism: Even more brutal than Thatcher.


  1. I'm not really surprised that disabled people are ending up on the streets, knowing from my own experiences that mentally ill people have been ending up homeless for many years now, but its awful nonetheless.

    Sadly, society and the government doesn't care why people are homeless, or what problems they may have - all they want to know is they are being swept off the streets so they don't have to see them, or be pestered by them selling the big issue, etc.

    Hiding the homeless has been a Tory mission for some time (Labour also just as guilty), just as hiding the 'unemployable' millions is too - we are carefully omitted from the published unemployment statistics, so society doesn't get outraged and demand we are swept away also.

  2. I was one of the homeless mobility impaired, a part time wheelchair user without a home.

    But I wasn't sofa surfing, or street sleeping. I was alternating between squatting in a derelict caravan and B&B.
    Every 6 months the housing team would throw me out of the B&B by offering me unsuitable accomodation 50 miles away, and thus discharging their duty of care when I refused.

    It took over three years, and eventually they gave up offering the B&B, but "promised" to keep me on the housing list - nice of them considering I was legally entitled to be on that list...

    Eventually, after pushing some quite serious buttons, housing was "found", in fact quite a lot of housing was "found to be available" , housing that apparently didn't exist at any point during the previous three years.

    It took a lot of letter writing, research and blunt truths being uncovered before I was housed.
    Ironically, if I still lived there I would now be worried about losing that accomdation due to the Welfare Reform Bill.

    It took me a mere two years to be in a position to thank them and hand back the social housing, so someone else can benefit from it.

    Inevitably the person who benefits from it now may find that they are ineligable for it in a few short months.

    Meanwhile I will lose my new home in the same manner, due to the same "reforms".

    If anyone has a derelict caravan, can they please contact me?


    Note to readers;- I was not a substance abuser, neither did I have significant MH issues. I simply needed level access accomodation, and became disabled whilst living in tied accomodation which went with the job I had to give up.

  3. I suffered abuse from our local council housing officer when I needed accessible accommodation. Abuse mainly because I was disabled and found I was a single parent. 30 years ago this was common but it still hurts. And now despite the legislation that outlawed such abuse people haven't changed in their attitude to disabled people and their needs. Government policy fosters it and lack of the basics for the able bodied and media smears fosters it. I wonder if I 'deserve' to live at all.