The closure of the Independent Living Fund and cuts to the Access to Work scheme will lead to a massive reduction in the number of disabled people participating and working in the mainstream arts world, warns Helen Bayliss.
Mockney Rebel (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Government money for people with disabilities can be vital, giving much needed financial help for people struggling with everyday life due to physical or mental health conditions. However, recent cuts to these grants have devastated individuals and organisations, stripping intrinsic services to the bare bones. The Government’s closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), which provides support for some 18,000 severely disabled people, is set to be finalised in June. These claimants will now be at the mercy of hard-pressed local authorities, which have said that they will not be able to provide the same level of support that people have had under the ILF.
If the voices of disabled performers are silenced, the entire landscape of the arts in the UK will change
Earlier in the year, the ILF’s annual report revealed that more than 99% of disabled people who have used the fund believe that it improves their ability to live independently. So cutting off this support effectively signals the end of the right to independent living for disabled people in the UK and will threaten their right to live with dignity, enjoy meaningful lives and contribute to society as equals. It could force people into residential care or make it impossible to work or take part in everyday activities.
The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will now determine how users are supported within their care and support systems. The Scottish Government has announced that from July it will establish a Scottish Independent Living Fund to protect the funding of existing users in Scotland, but disabled people in other parts of these isles have no guarantees of help.
The DWP's Access to Work scheme is facing severe cuts. This money is used to cover employees’ access costs, so for example it might pay for sign language interpreters, access workers, adaptive equipment such as ergonomic chairs, screen-reading equipment, and also transport costs if public transport is not an option. It has been said to give crucial support to enable employees to work for arts companies which would find it difficult to employ disabled artists without it.
Earlier this year, Rebecca Dawson, Executive Director of Candoco Dance Company, wrote in DanceUK that the company was “increasingly concerned that this vital and excellent scheme is being eroded to such an extent that we will not be able to continue to operate as a professional company committed to employing disabled artists”. She said this would have a “profound impact on the future opportunities for disabled dancers and choreographers”. She went on to point out: “The time our small team and our artists are spending on trying to get support to work is becoming crippling, and more importantly, the stress and anxiety the constant questioning and justification is causing to the performers is overwhelming.”
Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director of disabled theatre company Graeae, requires help to do her job via the Access To Work scheme, as do other performers and staff at the organisation. However, these cuts are impacting hugely on the company’s ability to do its job, meaning artists, performers and others are struggling to access services they rely on to do their work. People are now unable to access support such as sign language interpreters, with the cuts compromising the company’s ability to operate and provide training and opportunities for disabled artists.
If the voices of disabled performers are silenced, the entire landscape of the arts in the UK will change. Arts and culture in this country could again be reduced to the realm of non-disabled people only, drowning out an entire section of the community and dramatically diminishing the cultural landscape thanks to the exclusion of performers and artists with a different perspective (see AP article). Surely a regressive slide back for our society, and something to be rallied against for the good of all in the arts world.
Helen Bayliss is a freelance writer.