‘Glasgow City Council should take a leaf out the book of Cuba’ says mother campaigning for the rights of the disabled…
In Britain today people with disabilities claiming incapacity benefit, must go through a humiliating and daunting health assessment carried out by a private multinational contractor – Atos Origin – to determine whether or not they are ‘fit for work’. Ever more stories of injustice, abuse and trickery emerge as Atos ploughs its way through over two million people. 40% of those found ‘fit for work’ and kicked off their benefit have subsequently won their appeals. For the other 60% (which has included non-terminal cancer sufferers and people with mental health problems) it is straight to job searching or work; if they protest they risk losing all entitlement to benefit. To cope with such a situation, job centres have been giving staff training on how to deal with people threatening suicide.
For people with special needs and disabilities the cut backs are just as vicious. Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which provides a vital lifeline for those seeking to maintain a level of independence and personal dignity, is being phased out. The new ‘Personal Independence Payment’ is not due to come in until 2013 as part of the Welfare Reform Bill. The new bill will force claimants to submit to even more tests in order to assess their ‘eligibility’. Health Ministers say support will be conditional on disabled people acting on government instructions to ‘better manage or improve their situation if appropriate’, effectively blaming them for their disabilities. This strict and wicked means testing of benefits for the disabled has already been slated for breaking Human Rights legislation[i] and the Welfare Reform Bill has itself been repeatedly questioned, amended and rejected in the House of Lords.[ii]
Of the campaigns in Britain that have been organising against this attack on the disabled and unwell; Rock Around The Blockade (RATB) supporters in Scotland have found particular inspiration in the Save the Accord Centre Campaign in Glasgow’s East End. The Accord Centre is a specialist day care centre for adults with learning disabilities; it is due to be demolished to make way for a 2014 Commonwealth Games bus park. Glasgow City Council has already betrayed its promise to build a replacement centre and the service users are to be relocated to a couple of rooms in a community centre lacking the space, suitable environment and specialist equipment and facilities that they require. The Council says it cannot afford to build a new centre but yet around the corner they construct a multimillion pound Velodrome. If we compare this disgusting and inhumane treatment of Britain’s care for the disabled and ill to the outstanding achievements of Cuba in these fields, we can see the example of socialist Cuba can serve as weapons in the armoury of the Save The Accord campaign.
In the 1990’s Cuba experienced the ‘special period’ following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tightening of the US blockade. Cuba lost over 80% of its trade, GDP fell 34% between 1989 and 1992 and Imports fell by 75%.[iii] Despite these devastating blows to the economy not one single hospital or school was closed. Public services along with pensions and benefits, even at the height of the Special Period, were maintained.[iv] In 1995 the Action Plan for Care for Disabled Persons was initiated and the organisation of people with disabilities in Cuba (ACLIFM) held their first international conference on disability rights in the capital city of Havana. Today despite the harsh 51 year US blockade, Socialist Cuba remains committed and successful in protecting the well-being of its citizens. In 2001 members of Britain’s House Of Commons Health Select Committee were even forced to acknowledge ‘the success of the Cuban health care system’.[v]
In 2002 the Cuban government carried out ‘a nationwide clinical, psychological, pedagogic and social survey of the disabled’ in order to allow for a greater understanding of ‘their living conditions and health status’. Furthermore it was ‘to assess the policies in place up to that time and to get new programmes and studies underway with the aim of improving the quality of life and full social integration of these Cubans.’[vi] Whilst health care reforms are a means of improvement in Cuba, in Britain they serve to punish the sick and vulnerable for being sick and vulnerable.
Cuba has an employment programme for the disabled (PROEMDIS) which offers work for those willing and able to enter a job. If someone is unable to work because of their condition, they are offered free financial services, medicine and clothing. If they need someone to care for them, the welfare system assigns them someone.[vii] Cuba’s disabled aren’t thrown to the mercy of profit driven multinationals like Atos Origin or into unsuitable community centres. Rather in 2009 Cuba’s care for the disabled was praised at the Inter-American Institute on Disability and Inclusive Development.[viii][ix]
In terms of health care for the population as a whole Cuba is punching way above its weight. As the National Health Service in Britain falls into deeper crisis, Cuba continues on from a 5 year rise in health spending between 2004 - 2009 with a growth in staff and in the acquisition of costly technologies.[x] The Cuban infant mortality rate (IMR) at 4.9 per 1,000 live births is on a par with imperialist Britain’s (4.62) and below that of the US which stands at 6.06.[xi] As Reidpath and Allotey (2003) state ‘IMR remains an important indicator of health for whole populations’.[xii] As well as ensuring the health of its own population, socialist Cuba has medical brigades involving over 37,000 health professionals operating in 69 countries around the world serving the poorest communities.[xiii]
Clearly then, the principles enshrined in Article 50 of Cuba’s constitution that ‘everyone has the right to health protection and care’[xiv] are in no way gimmicks. One of the carers from the Save The Accord Centre Campaign has asked RATB supporters ‘How can Cuba with so little money look after the most vulnerable of their society, yet here in Glasgow, with billions of pounds being spent on the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the council are kicking the most vulnerable out of their day care centre…’. With Cuba’s annual expenditure on health per head of the population just over a tenth of the UK’s[xv] the only accurate answer we can give is ‘because of its socialist revolution!’
Viva Socialist Cuba!
Victory to the fight back of disabled people in Britain!
Dominic Mulgrew (RATB Brigade 2012 participant from Glasgow)