Paralympics legacy in balance as attitudes fail to improve
29 August 2013
One year on from the 2012 Paralympics, the paralympic legacy ‘hangs in the balance’.
The Government hoped the Paralympics would improve the lives of disabled people by changing attitudes and increasing participation in sport and the community.
Thursday 29 August is the anniversary of the opening ceremony. With the Paralympics legacy debate underway, we want to ensure that disabled people’s voices are heard.
Poll of disabled people
The charity has brought together a poll of a thousand disabled people, the opinions of Paralympians, experts and ordinary disabled people and big picture analysis.
Disabled people are warning that short-term improvements in public attitudes, sport and community involvement are being undermined by ‘scrounger rhetoric’, a crisis in living standards and a squeeze on local care.
- 81% of disabled people say that attitudes towards them haven’t improved in the last 12 months – with 22% saying that things have actually got worse and with 84% of those that say attitudes have got worse saying the ‘benefit scrounger’ rhetoric from politicians and the media has had a negative effect on views of disabled people. The poll by Opinium found that nearly one in five (17%) of disabled people report they have either experienced hostile or threatening behaviour or even been attacked.
- Disabled people share their experiences of being abused in the street and trolled online.
- Small increases in participation in sport and the community are undermined by a crisis in living standards for disabled people. According to a recent Ipsos MORI poll for Scope, nearly one in five (16%) disabled people say they cannot keep up with rising costs of living. Disabled people are three times more likely to take out high interest, high risk loans to pay the bills. Yet the Government has stripped away £28.3 billion of financial support for disabled people; some 600,000 disabled people are set to lose Disability Living Allowance. Meanwhile 100,000 disabled people are being pushed out of the social care system, with many struggling to get support to get up, get dressed and get out of the house are struggling to get local care. Tanni Grey-Thompson argued recently the ‘Paralympic legacy is slipping away’ because ‘too many disabled people are being abandoned by the system’.
- Improving physical access is a must; ONS data shows that nearly half disabled people have had issues access leisure activities. But attitudes also need to change. Too often the barrier isn’t a ramp or lift; it’s someone not willing to do things a little differently. 2012 polling for Scope shows that three-quarters of disabled people have experienced people refusing to make adjustments or do things differently.
- Disabled people are this week taking to the streets in a series of actions organised by a range of disability organisations and campaigns.
Paralympics legacy: comments from disabled people
Alice Maynard, Chair of the disability charity Scope, said:
“The starting gun has been fired on the legacy debate. Elite sport is in great shape. But legacy is about day-to-day life too. A society that’s great for disabled people is great for everyone. So, have the lives of disabled people improved since the games?
“We’ve been speaking to disabled people and the jury is very much out. Changing attitudes is at the heart of legacy. The Paralympics were a break-through moment. Disabled people had never been so visible. Disability had never been talked about so openly. But you don’t change society in a fortnight.
“Speak to disabled people and the same issue comes up: ‘benefit scrounger’ rhetoric; the divisive myth that most people on benefits are skivers. Disabled people say they feel like they’ve done something wrong, because they need support to do the same things as everyone else. The Government must stop the scrounger rhetoric once-and-for-all.
“The Paralympics has inspired a small number to be more involved in sport or the community. But ultimately it comes down a simple point: if you don’t have the support you need to get up, get washed and get out of the house; if you’re struggling to pay the bills – it’s a big ask to join a tennis club.
“In 2013 there is a crisis in living standards for disabled people. Many are turning to high interest, high risk loans to pay for essentials.
“If the Government wants to make its legacy ambitions a reality – and make this country a better place for disabled people – it needs to tackle the crisis in social care, re-think its cuts to vital financial support and call a halt to benefits scrounger rhetoric.”
Sophie Christiansen OBE, London 2012 Paralympic Games triple gold medal-winning equestrian, said:
“During the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Great Britain saw what disabled people could do. It was a turning point in perception. However, it was just the start. Just like not every able-bodied person is not going to run as fast as Usain Bolt, not every disabled person is going to be a Paralympian. The challenge is now bridging the gap between the disabled community and Paralympians.”
Gold medal winning Paralympian Richard Whitehead MBE is running 40 marathons in 40 days. He said:
“The 2012 Paralympics sent a powerful message that a disability shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals. We hopefully inspired disabled people. We hopefully made the public think differently about disability. For me it’s not about looking back. We need to look forward. You don’t have the Paralympics every day, so how else can we show the world what’s possible once you start living a life without limits?”
Martyn Sibley, co-founder of Disability Horizons, is travelling in his wheelchair from John o’Groats to Land’s End to celebrate the Paralympics effect. He said:
“I was spellbound by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and it wasn’t just the sport… it was the electricity in the air, it was the collective community consciousness and for me it was about the big bright light put on disability never before witnessed in the four corners of the UK.”
Ian Macrae, editor of Disability Now:
“The thing about the Paralympics always was that they happened in this bubble of hyper reality. Real life for disabled people was never going to be like that again. So now here we are with people under threat of losing their social housing homes, others left stranded on a work programme which doesn’t work for them, people dreading the all-too-real eventuality of losing a disability benefit.”
Notes to the Editor:
The Scope poll, run by Opinium Research between 7-17 June 2013, asked 1,014 UK adults whose day-to-day activities are affected by long-standing physical or mental impairments, conditions, illnesses or disabilities about their views on the London Paralympics one year on.
See the Scope blog for a the full legacy analysis and set of disabled people's comments and views.