Review: Austerity’s Victims: Adults with a Learning Disability – Neil Carpenter

Austery's Victims

As the Conservative government continue to make cuts to public spending, people with disabilities continue to face the brunt of the cuts. Neil Carpenter explores how austerity has affected people with learning disabilities by discussing the lives of five men from Cornwall and how their lives and financial situations have been impacted.

The topic of austerity never seems to be out of the media at the moment – for good reason – but even with the many news stories on the subject, the impact it has had on people with disabilities is still too often brushed over. Carpenter’s book opens by setting out the political background in a summarised and accessible manner. Of particular interest is how politicians used carefully chosen language to create this us vs them situation between “hard-working families” and “people on benefits” that brought people from the general population on board. Even though disabled people are amongst the hardest hit by austerity, if politicians had used language to suggest they were going to be the people losing the most in the cuts – people would never have been as supportive.

Carpenter then goes on to create a benchmark for spending across multiple areas of life, referred back to throughout the book as he demonstrates the enormous impact austerity has had on the lives of the men he met. The tables throughout are carefully laid out so that they are not too overwhelming and so that too much information isn’t thrown at the reader in one go. While the most powerful part of this book comes from the case studies, seeing the numbers laid out throughout really helps to drive home the reality as it is easy for the reader to compare what they spend on items with what the men in this book have left to spend.

Then we meet the five men: Frank, Les, Thomas, Mark, and Danny and get a snapshot into their lives and how they have been affected by the continuous cuts to public spending.

Frank’s chapter brings up a particular irritation of mine as it details how multiple places were happy to have Frank as a volunteer, but that paid opportunities never seemed to materialise. This is not to minimise the importance of volunteering or volunteers but too often (and this was apparent during Employable Me) disabled people are given volunteering positions even though the work they do in those positions, non-disabled people are receiving a wage for. Frank also suffered starkly from cuts that can be demonstrated by the amount of support worker hours he receives. Under the guise of “encouraging independence”, support worker hours are often struck down to a bare minimum by cuts and this can have a big impact of quality of life and well-being.

Holidays and trips come up in multiple chapters but is a particularly significant part of Thomas’ chapter. It pulls the reader back into thinking about their lives and the comparison in spending (or lack of). Mainstream media has, at times, done it’s best to paint the idea of people receiving benefits going on holiday as extravagant or a waste of money. The discussion of holidays in Carpenter’s book is a more realistic representation. This is about people wanting a family holiday or a trip up to London or to watch their favourite sports team play every now and again. And as the title of Thomas’s chapters asks, ‘Why shouldn’t he have a holiday?’.

Carpenter expertly takes the reader through the many struggles and problems caused by the changes and cuts to the financial and human support in the lives of these men. The DWP, unsurprisingly, make an appearance when in Danny’s chapter the inadequacies of the Work Capability Assessment led to his ESA being cut entirely. The events that followed as Danny’s family fought the decision, leads to Carpenter to comment (as many people who have read similarly awful assessments have as well) that the DWP seem to turn down vast numbers of applications in the hope that at least some will drop off rather than appeal. A suggestion that is quite starkly supported by the appeal success rates.

These are just a few topics covered in the book as Carpenter puts faces, realities, and lives to the impact of the cuts that we are so often distanced from by the carefully chosen words of politicians and the media. Read this book because this matters.

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