Notes from a hostile environment


I write this reflecting on a range of recent events, some personal, others more general to me.  I first came across the term hostile environment in relation to immigration policy.  An informative publication from Liberty outlines the sites where this hostile environment is in operation, ranging from education to employment to housing.  Of this, the guide says:

De facto hostile environment policies, designed to limit migrants’ rights and deter them from accessing services, have operated for decades

As I’m reading this I nod.  I nod because I think that increasingly the ‘hostile environment’ applies to disabled people.  It applies to disabled people who are denied education at an increasingly earlier stages of their lives.  It applies to the awful Bedroom Tax, which denies disabled people the space they need to store their essential possessions and forces them into unsuitable property.

The disability employment gap continues to yawn away, obscured by technical arguments about statistics.  Whatever the measure used, the fact is that people with an impairment do not fare as well as those without one in the workplace, and this has been the case for years.  As if to prove the point, Inclusion London have today released some research showing that disabled people are being pushed away from the workplace by the operation of the benefit system.

Which brings us to benefits, including PIP and Universal Credit.  Regular readers of this blog will know my thoughts well on the former.  On the latter, figures have emerged suggesting that people will lose up to £200 a month.

Yet still the hostile environment is allowed to continue.  The front pages dominated by Brexit and the antics of someone whose name I don’t even know in Strictly Come Dancing.  Every morning it seems, I read the newspaper headlines and shake my head.

Closer to home, I had to go to a hospital appointment with my wife last week. Without me she was greeted with comments such as ‘Where is your carer?’ With me, she was taken seriously and given time to have her questions answered by someone who actually made eye contact and shook her hand.

There are people who are out there who are making a difference, who are highlighting the issues, whose work I applaud and from which I draw strength. Much more of this is needed.  Much, much more.  Then there is also the notoriously fractious disability community, for whom consensus on the key issues seems to be illusive, to the detriment of so many.

The charges are too easy to sweep away.  A particularly pernicious feature of the hostile environment is its stealthy and subtle nature, its creeping norms steadily chipping away.  It also has a teflon like quality, armoured with an ability to swiftly and confidently dispel any critiques, stubborn enough to resist even the sternest of critiques.

So where are the solutions?  Unusually dear reader, I am not so sure at this point in time.  Something has to change though, and some new responses are needed which are effective in highlighting the numerous manifestations of this hostile environment.

Let us hope some counter measures can be swiftly deployed, and that the responses are forthcoming.  I’m tired of shaking my head.

About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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