Great Britain

The fuel crisis is having a brutal impact on disabled people

“I can manage. Just about. At least I’m not going to be sitting in my own piss.”

That quote came up in conversation with a disabled friend while I was lamenting my failure to reach a Harry Potter show at the Royal Albert Hall that I’d booked as a treat for my daughter a couple of years ago. Covid, had obviously, forced its postponement. Using public transport to get to the venue was not an option for me, particularly given recent malign developments in my battered body, so we had to drive.

We had sufficient fuel for the journey. Trouble is, the roads were so clogged with people who presumably didn’t, that we had to turn back. Two hours in and we hadn’t even got halfway there, at an average speed of about 1 mph. My friend, meanwhile, was wondering whether his carer would be able to get to him. They help out with household jobs he finds difficult because of his physical condition.

Neither of us faced a real crisis, merely some disappointment (me) and a build up of washing and some other bits and pieces (him). Neither of us were in any real danger of ending up sitting in our own piss. But someone, somewhere, will be. It’s almost inevitable. If I couldn’t get where I was going, there’s a high chance someone on a more essential journey couldn’t get through.

Thanks to the fuel crisis, Britain has found itself effectively strapped to a wheelchair with punctured wheels. Hey, welcome to our world!

As a result, we have seen an outbreak of punch-up porn. Put a bunch of people in cars and make them queue up for hours on end for something that’s usually readily available – that they want, maybe need, feel entitled to – and it’s almost inevitable.

Conflict is catnip, especially on social media. Videos have been posted, reported on, and reposted, all so people can watch other people behaving like those rutting stags that smash into each other during the mating season. Actually, that’s unfair on the stags. At least they have a reason for their antlered combat.

So, let’s tell it like it is: The battling boors at petrol stations are behaving like a*******s; yet the impact of the crisis on disabled people hasn’t been reported quite so well. Having a family outing mucked up is a relatively trivial consequence of it, although the cost wasn’t – and people have (kindly) told me I am quite justified in feeling annoyed, because all of this is completely unnecessary.

My friend also has the right to feel angry. He shouldn’t have to worry, he shouldn’t have to put himself at risk – and he shouldn’t find himself in difficulties as a result of this situation, either. As for the person who can’t move to get to the loo without the help of a carer who can’t get to them… is this really what we’ve become?

To the flag wavers and keyboard warriors who proclaim Britain is the “greatest country in the world”: how can you possibly say that when this is happening; when you can wander outside and stumble across a free boxing match at the local garage (without shelling out for an absurdly expensive pay-per-view package); all while disabled Britons are left to swing?

I don’t actually blame the goons who’ve been making out like pugilists filming trailers for the petroleum-sponsored rumble on the forecourt. Okay, maybe I do (a bit). But it is also true that among the people in those queues will have been those who genuinely needed fuel; feared they weren’t going to get it – and weren’t willing to listen to a government whose default response to issues arising from its ineptitude is to add lies to a hefty dose of denial, before stirring it all up and spicing it with a dash of gaslighting.

I blame that government, which has once again failed to consider that Britain has a sizeable corps of disabled people who were first forgotten while the pandemic was (and still is) killing us; have once again been left up a famous creek – sans paddle (obviously). Did you know that Britain is officially signatory to the United Nations on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

A few years ago, a panel arrived to assess its compliance. The verdict was fairly damning. This was at a time when the government had decided to classify large numbers of people with disabilities as not disabled at all, because of austerity (obviously).

I wonder what they’d say if they arrived today? Now, despite the fact that we supposedly have a National Disability Strategy (a joke without a punchline, that), those almost look like halcyon days – or at least a period of relative calm before the current storm.

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