Left versus right – a Hobson’s choice for disability rights?

The right is focused on negative liberty, the free market and individual responsibility, albeit sometimes expressed through collective social action.  It is supportive of the idea that disabled people who have the physical and mental capacity to do so should be able to exercise choice, control and freedom and not encounter direct discrimination, but unwilling to recognise and fulfil economic and social rights, to address accumulated or institutional disadvantage or to guarantee the support some require to achieve or exercise freedom.  It is suspicious (sometimes with good reason) that State support fosters dependency which it views as immoral.  Support from the State is largely compensatory, linked to the presumed effects and severity of impairment or health conditions, criteria about which are constantly redrawn and subject to ever more convoluted tests, not an investment related to addressing the barriers people face.  Responsibilities are imposed via conditionality regimes, not nurtured, yet often without the commensurate opportunities and support disabled people require to assume them.   Sanctions are harshly enforced.   Campaigners on the right emphasise overcoming dependency without recognising the support some disabled people require to participate and contribute.  This has the effect of characterising disabled people in receipt of any State support as dependent, underpinning and consolidating existing prejudices.  It – and the general withdrawal of State support to overcome dependency – renders those requiring support or facing barriers objects of charity, which often fails to respect rights to choice, control and freedom both in practice and in relation to how disabled people are characterised to raise funds and perceived by the wider public as a consequence.

The left is focused on economic and social rights, social solidarity and collective responsibility. It is supportive of the idea that disabled people should not face discrimination or disadvantage, including accumulated disadvantage.  However, it frequently lapses into a default setting of objectifying the intended beneficiaries of redistribution, especially disabled people, describing them ‘our most vulnerable citizens’ to secure public support for spending,  and neglects civil and political rights to self-determination and participation.  It often appears suspicious (sometimes with good reason) that giving individual choice and control is ‘neo-liberal’ agenda of privatisation by the back door, which it instinctively views as immoral.  Support from the State is mostly compensatory in nature, linked to the presumed effects and severity of impairments or health conditions, criteria about which are constantly redrawn and subject to ever more convoluted tests, not an investment related to addressing the barriers people face.   Responsibilities are imposed via conditionality regimes, not nurtured, yet often without the commensurate opportunities and effective support disabled people required to assume them.  Campaigners on the left emphasise the vulnerability of disabled people, calling on compassion and describing opponents and cruel and uncaring.   They often place the interests of ‘producers’ (public sector staff) over ‘consumers’ (disabled people requiring support to live independently) resisting the transfer of power to disabled people necessary to advance rights. Overall the left’s agenda and rhetoric sustains the idea that disability precipitates inevitable dependency on State welfare, underpinning and consolidating wider prejudices.

Are we capable of an agenda which frees itself of these problems?  An agenda which respects disabled people’s rights to self-determination, inclusion and participation, but which acknowledges, in the words of Arnardóttir and Quinn (2009), that:

‘In truth, all persons (whether disabled or not) depend on social supports at least at some point in their lives (especially when young or at the onset of old age) to make freedom and choice a reality. This underlying reality is simply more obvious in the case of persons with disabilities (though not for all of them). If one sought tangible proof of the interconnectedness of both sets of rights [i.e., civil and political, on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural, on the other] then disability is the obvious example. It is plainly not enough to enact anti-discrimination laws to break down arbitrary barriers. It is also necessary to assist people in getting past those barriers. The deeper paradox — one that obtains for all persons — is that personal freedom ultimately relies on social solidarity.’[1]

[1] Arnardóttir, O. M., & Quinn, G. (2009). The UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities: European and Scandinavian perspectives.

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4 thoughts on “Left versus right – a Hobson’s choice for disability rights?

  1. It has been interesting watching these thoughts develop – particularly over the last 3 or 4 blogs. Of course our dominant ideology is to the right – but agree with emphasis of the left on on ‘our most vulnerable citizens’. Your explanation of the left referencing the need to justify and secure funding only goes to emphasis the the dominant right ideology. Spot on too regarding the over reverential attitude to providers/professionals and not people/customers.

    It also makes it very easy for the right to wrong foot the left. So personalisation turns into the commodification of care via an inadequate RAS and coproduction becomes do it yourself with no money or support – and we will flatter a few lead carers and disabled people so we can say we I included people in developing the system.

    Helen

  2. Thanks for your comments Helen – absolutely agree. Is one of the dangers of ‘triangulation’ – what starts out as an effort to make ideas with progressive intent palatable to the right but which in time are appropriated by the right, hollowed out and then opposed by the left – which is what has happened with personalisation, now distrusted?

  3. Pingback: Advancing disability rights under a Conservative government – bring on the negotiators | Making rights make sense

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