General Election 2017: a queerly autistic plea for humanity

I am going to be brutally honest with you, denizens of the internet.

I’m scared. So scared that I have written a blogpost a day early.

I’m scared that we won’t survive the next five years if the Conservatives are re-elected tomorrow.

I’m scared of reliving that unbearable plummeting feeling in my gut, that ominous dread I last felt on that fateful night in 2015, watching the results churning out on my screen. I’m scared of the tears that gripped a hold in my eyes and the wail that clung forcefully to my throat. 

Back then, I was newly diagnosed, unsupported, in a zero-hour contract job that was desperately damaging to my mental health, and, as the reality poured through the speakers, I felt the unmistakable chant whirring in my ears…

what is the point in staying alive?

I had already witnessed first hand the devastation of five years of Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition austerity. I had watched the numbers of homeless on my streets grow at a rate I never thought possible. I had witnessed my wheelchair bound stepmum being told that she could walk fifty metres unaided (a conclusion determined by measuring her leg muscle), and watched the tole that fighting a nonsensically unjust system could take on an already disabled and weakened body and mental state. I had watched as my family struggled to survive, as we were dragged through the craggy bottom of hell, only to be awarded a minutiae more on appeal. I had sat despondent in a job centre, awaiting my weekly pittance, terrified that I had not recorded my jobs applications correctly and would therefore be slammed with a sanction. I had watched my friend be sanctioned for accidentally recording the wrong date of an appointment, her heinous crime so severe that it may have warranted starvation if her family had not been there to offer what support they could.

I had woken every morning feeling unsafe, frightened, and despairing of the future for myself, my family and my friends.

And, on that day in 2015, as the main orchestrators of austerity broke free from their coalition chains to continue their rampage unchecked, I did not want to be alive to watch any more.

Things are different now. But, in so many ways, they are unchanged.

I am employed on a full time contract, in a job that I love; I have support in place; my stepmum has reapplied for Personal Independence Payment and, finally, received something of what she deserves (including a car that has a wheelchair hoist and allows for life-changing independence).

I am lucky.

Because things have gotten so much worse.

The summer that the Conservatives gained their majority, a relative of mine attempted suicide; he had become so lost in the incomprehensible benefit maze he (a severely disabled individual) was required to navigate that he had made a mistake, all his money had been stopped, and he had barricaded the door, covered himself in morphine patches and scrawled ‘do not resuscitate’ on his skin.

Every day, there are calls that come through to the charity where I work: desperate people who feel abandoned by the system; sobbing voices detailing how they have no money or support and no one cares; parents whose disabled children were guaranteed support for life only to be told that they would now have to reapply; disabled people who desperately need support but, due to being disabled, cannot fight through the mountain of paperwork to ask for it; people who feel so worthless, unsupported and invisible that they threaten to kill themselves then and there and I will have to listen.

An acquaintance of mine even had representatives of the Department of Work and Pensions call around their house to conduct an assessment interview with her brother – her autistic brother who had been non-verbal and requiring round-the-clock care for the past forty-five years.

We know that hate crimes against disabled people have been not-actually-that-steadily climbing as the years of Conservative majority have sauntered on. Disabled people, as well as poor people, are increasingly seen as burdens on society. We are viewed with suspicion; idle liars scamming the system unless we can prove that we are definitely disabled enough. My stepmum only got closer to the level of support she deserved because her disability worsened – as merely not being able to walk without pain was not enough, she had to demonstrate that the slightest movement caused her to howl with agony before being rewarded with the pittance she now has.

This is a societal movement that comes straight from the top. When confronted on the campaign trail by a woman who had lost the benefits she had been receiving due to her learning difficulties, the Prime Minister could only offer a soundbite about ‘improving mental health services’. Setting aside the worrying fact that she did not see that learning difficulties and mental health problems are definitely not the same thing, her first response was one of putting services in place to ‘fix’ the disability rather than addressing the actual problem – the fact that some disabilities, like learning difficulties and autism, do not go away and therefore need continuous and reliable support.

Hell, an advisor to the government even went on record as saying that support should only be given to people who were ‘really disabled’, rather than to ‘people just sitting at home with anxiety’.

I am scared.

I’m scared that I will somehow lose my job – the charity sector being under ever-growing threat from legislation and cuts – and find myself back in a job centre, denied the correct support for not being ‘disabled enough’, with jumping out of the window seeming like a comparably pretty option.

I’m scared that they will suddenly change their minds and remove the support from my stepmum, leaving her without independence and my family in a financial horror story.

I’m scared that they will tear up our human rights laws, leaving the most vulnerable in our society to the mercy of the wolves in the night.

I’m scared that, on Friday morning, I will have to talk people down from killing themselves.

And I’m scared that I will fail to talk people down from killing themselves.

You may be, yourselves, better off were the Conservatives to be successful. Maybe you believe that only they can protect this country from terrorism, or that only they can deliver the best Brexit deal. And maybe you are willing to put us on the sacrificial pyre for that.

But please look inside yourselves.

If our children are starving as their parents work multiple zero-hour jobs, will a ‘good Brexit deal’ fix the grumble in their stomachs? If disabled people are living as animals, literally dying in our streets, then what do we really have left of our country to protect? If this is how we treat the most vulnerable in our society, then maybe our country doesn’t deserve to be defended.

I am queer. I am disabled. I am a woman. Every day that I live under a Conservative government feels like an uphill struggle. I am always frightened. I am always on edge, alert, ears pricked for the next slap that will inevitably come the way of myself or the people I love. Every morning, I awake to a world of dread. I am tired. There are deeper battles that should be being fought, battles for smaller and vulnerable oppressed communities, but the weight of basic human survival is too great to switch focus from.

Anthropologists have found graves of early humans – tens of thousands of years old – who have evidently lived long, good lives despite being physically disabled. Our ancestors – our ‘primitive’ selves – cared for the most vulnerable in their societies, even when they could not physically contribute to hunting, building or other active duties for the tribe. In fact, these disabled individuals were often looked after so well by their communities that they lived longer than their able-bodied counterparts.

It is natural human instinct to care for the most vulnerable. The state we are currently in is a wholly unnatural step backwards.

This election is the opportunity to show that we can be better again.


Author: QueerlyAutistic
Erin Ekins is a queer autistic writer, speaker and attempter of activism. She has an interest in all areas of autistic social justice, but has a particular passion for improving understanding and acceptance of the intersection of autism and queerness. She runs the blog and is the author of the upcoming book 'Queerly Autistic: The Ultimate Guide for LGBTQIA+ Teens on the Spectrum'. By day, she works in campaigning and influencing at a disability related charity, but, by night, she is inhabits a busy space between angry internet person and overly-excited fangirl.

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