Presentation at the Bristol ‘Untold Stories’ event: Arnolfini; July 27th 2019
In my last novel, CULL, published at the beginning of the year, I envisioned a dystopian ‘other England’ where life for disabled people was almost unbearable, where a bill had been passed to force the elderly and disabled into huge institutions and where the government was developing an experiment in state sponsored euthanasia as a cost cutting method.
It’s a blast! No seriously! I made it as funny and sexy and sharp as I could and it is, I hope, an exhilarating read BUT my research for it included real stories from our community, real experiences of abuse and isolation, fear and aggression from the last few years of welfare ‘reform’ as well as extended research into the Nazi T4Aktion programme of the 1930s. I wrote CULL as a warning. We are precariously close to the arse end of discrimination. It is a novel intended to shake the trees.
Although I must tell you this excellent novel is available in all good bookshops, including the bookshop downstairs, I am actually here today to start a discussion with you about another area of movement and change that needs our close attention.
We now know that climate change is a reality. Not only climate change but RADICAL climate change – protracted periods of heat and cold, storms, hurricanes, drought and flood – mass migration.
Possibly, hopefully, we are beginning to finally wake up to this. Extinction rebellion, Greta Thunberg, and we as disabled people need to leap right into the centre of this potential upheaval. Why?
Because if we don’t get in on this, we might die. Simples.
In May last year Marsha Saxton and Alex Ghenis from the World Institute on Disability wrote:
The clear evidence from past and current natural disasters and refugee situations shows that people with disabilities have a lower survival rate than those without disabilities, and may even be neglected or left to die. Photo journalism showing the impact of Hurricane Katrina in the southeast U.S. in 2005 documented this with tragic photos of dead people in wheelchairs as crowds of other displaced people streamed by.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina’s death toll was 1,836 people. Old age was a contributing factor. Of those who died, 71% were 60 years or older. Half of them were 75 or more. There were 68 in nursing homes, possibly abandoned by their caretakers. Two hundred bodies went unclaimed. Over 700 people were unaccounted for. The storm killed or made homeless 600,000 pets
A key issue was poverty. Poorer people could not afford to evacuate. And, in America, as in UK – as all around the world – disability and poverty often share a bed.