Shadows over the Paralympics

7 March 2014

Jane Harrisby Jane Harris

We're always excited about the Paralympics. Not because we think everyone should be an athlete, and not because we think Paralympians represent all disabled people — they don't.

But what the Paralympic Games show is that disabled people can do much more if — and this is a crucial ‘if’ — we give people a decent amount of support. 

It's deeply ironic then that the Paralympics are starting a day after Age UK published figures showing that over 160,000 older people have lost out on help to eat, wash and dress. And a day after the government announced that the Independent Living Fund (ILF), supporting 19,000 severely disabled people, will end in 2015. And a week after our giant mug and toilet travelled to Westminster to show MPs the terrible choices people are having to make due to flying 15-minute care visits.

The government says that councils will step in to fill the gap left by the ILF, but it's hard to see how that will happen if council budgets continue to be squeezed.

So it's not just the situation in Ukraine that is casting a shadow on these Paralympics. We in the UK too need to ask ourselves if we are doing enough to support disabled people to eat, wash and go to the loo with dignity, as well as working, if people feel they can, and competing in major international sports events.

We send our very best wishes to the British athletes in Sochi. Whether they are able to compete or not, they have already done us all a great service, by showing what amazing things disabled people can do, if given the chance. We hope their example will inspire the UK Government, councils and the public to invest in disabled people's futures — whether that's a Paralympic competition or a more ordinary life.

Jane Harris is managing director of campaigns and engagement at Leonard Cheshire Disability. She tweets at @jane_harris77.

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