Crippled: Austerity and the demonization of disabled people by Frances Ryan

How refreshing. Frances Ryan pulls no punches and the result is a book that puts to shame the mealy-mouthed popular public and political discourse about equality, diversity and the ‘inspirational bravery’ of disabled people.

Frances Ryan is a journalist, and a mighty fine one at that; but even more, she’s a campaigner; and, perhaps even more importantly, an angry campaigner. As a disabled person herself, she knows of what she speaks and if you’ve had the privilege to hear her address a small lecture theatre full of students hanging on her every word, you’ll know that she’s also a top-notch communicator.

Crippled deals with difficult and distressing subject matter but despite that you’ll find it an easy and compelling book to read and if you don’t find yourself getting almost as angry as the author, there’s got to be something seriously wrong with you.

Ryan’s central argument is a straightforward one – that disabled people have been deliberately targeted as the front line on the government’s so-called ‘austerity drive’ and the cuts to and degradation of the services and funding that should be there to support them has been hidden or masked by a forked-tongued political rhetoric:

“…the austerity era has seen those in power abandon even a pretence of duty to disabled citizens and brutally turn against them. Disabled people – once a source of compassion and care – had become an object of suspicion, demonization and contempt. It was official: under austerity, the one group in society who had been supposedly untouchable was now said to be unaffordable.”

And Ryan doesn’t shirk the question about why, if you’re not disabled, you should be interested in what’s happening. More than 12 million people have a visible or invisible disability and millions more are living their lives as acknowledged or unacknowledged carers and, she points out:

“the human divide is not as clear-cut as it often appears to be: disabled people hold the same hopes, fears and values as anyone else.”

But more than that. This is an issue that goes to the very heart of our values both individually and as a nation – what kind of country do we want this to be?

“The book is a rallying cry against the shrinking of the welfare state…it is attitudes it hopes to challenge.”

The  book is structured around six key policy topics – poverty, work, independence, housing, women and children – and in each of these sections Ryan systematically sets up the nature of the political rhetoric and then dismantles it by the use of real-life interviews with disabled people that expose what’s really happening. It’s a simple but entirely effective way of illustrating the power of her argument and each interview not only brings out the emotional value of a human story it lays down layer upon layer of damning evidence.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a wholly depressing story but actually Ryan’s ire isn’t without purpose. Disabled people are well aware of what’s happening to them and, I’m delighted to say, aren’t about to take all this lying down. Already, resistance is building:

“The kind of history that seems to dominate our culture is too often centred on the concept of a benevolent ruling-class bestowing rights upon marginalised groups…..Disabled people, like the working class, have organised throughout the decades to gain our rights and – as those rights are threatened afresh – it is disabled people who are front and centre of the fightback…..

The rallying cry for our times is clear: how things are is not how they need to be. Disabled people’s lives depend on it.”


And for the non-disabled such as me, the issues are about what I can do to stand against these injustices because, as Ryan keeps reinforcing, this is about what kind of Britain we want to live in. If those of us who perceive the injustice fail to publicly denounce what they see happening, it makes us complicit in these social crimes alongside those who actually craft and implement these appalling policies.


Terry Potter

July 2019

( This article was first published on the Letterpress Project website)

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