Today, comes the claim by the Sunday Telegraph that some local authorities are using money to finance things such as (exotic) holidays, internet dating subscriptions, prostitute services and lap dancing visits for elderly and disabled people. I wish to focus on disabled people, it is also important to account for the fact that many elderly people are also disabled.
As expected, the right are focusing on how this is a perfect ‘typical’ example of public spending waste, as they pathologise those concerned. Whilst I agree with Liz Sayce, chief executive of Radar, that we should consider this on a case-by-case basis, there are several issues I wish to highlight.
Firstly, it illustrates some of the prevailing attitudes that society has about disabled people. For example, Iain Dale proclaims:
We’re entering a big taboo here, because no doubt most able bodied people don’t like to think about the sexual needs of the disabled. One thing I learned when I was a nurse in Germany at the age of 18 was that just because you have some sort of disability does not make you a different class of person. You have the same emotional and physical needs as anyone else.
This is true. Many people ignore this, they are repulsed by the very thought of a disabled person having sex or even thinking about starting a family, for example. Whilst studying disability last year, we were taught about how many disabled mothers were approached by people who were startled to find that a disabled person could have a child/children.There are many complexities surrounding the reports, but the fact that disabled people feel the need to use money for this is very telling of how much society needs to change. It is not, as the Telegraph puts it, “the case of an angry and frustrated young man, meant paying for sex” it is instead very symptomatic of the still many social barriers that exist in society.
As usual, there is often a neglect to consider the reasons for why this may be happening. There is no real consideration for example, that sex education at school is often ignorant to disabled people’s sexuality – the very thought is often constructed as ‘abnormal’. The many media representations of disabled people are often used to reinforce this engrained perception in society of disabled people’s sexuality. For Iain Dale to make the statement: “If that is the case, perhaps every virgin over the age of 30 should take the government to the European Court of Human Rights” is ignorant to the different circumstances and attitudes disabled people have to face daily.
I am not so much taking a stance on whether it is right or wrong for what the local authorities have or may not have done (as these are just allegations), but more reflecting on reasons for why if it is true, it is happening. An article that we were advised to read at university regarding this issue is of particular relevance and I think sums up well the central point I am trying to communicate. Most disabled people don’t want to have to do this, but the structure of society needs to change, attitudes need to change so that there is no longer a real pressure to do so. As I have mentioned, the article was a real eye opener – and I strongly recommend you to read it. It is important to remember however, that there are obviously some disabled people who will want to pay for prostitutes regardless, I am not generalising here.
Everything down to improving education, pay and work conditions for disabled people would alleviate many of these cases – it would enable them to gain more freedom and feel more integrated within society. This would result in attitudes in society changing. There has been tremendous increase and success of disability activism over the last few decades (in particular) and this can only go from strength to strength. But there is a need for more policy change too – but the current government’s onslaught on vital services such as DLA and their promotion of ‘special schools’ – well it is totally illogical.
NB: There are many dimensions to this, including feminists debate around prostitution, which I have commented on before, and surely will talk about more in future.