A Service users view: Service user movement scarred by infighting

At a recent event about service user-led organisations, I met people from around the country who were active in the grassroots disability movement. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, writes Simon Heng.

I was hoping for a forum where we could exchange experiences, share difficulties and solutions, and use the day as part of a slow process towards building a unified national voice. I left feeling as if I’d been transported back 25 years in time, when I had been involved in radical left-wing politics.

What is it about the politics of oppressed people that encourages divisiveness, paranoia, self-promotion and in-fighting?

Each item on the agenda seemed to be met with an attempt to divert the discussion towards a person’s or group’s own hobby-horse. People with a certain disability claimed to be getting a worse deal than another this was met with a counter-attack by the “privileged”, who had to point out that they were, actually, worse off than the first group. People from one locality claimed to be more progressive than those from another area, which had to be rebutted.

Everyone I met during the breaks seemed to want to impress by introducing themselves, not just by name, but with a list of every organisation they belonged to, and their position within it. The message was clear: “How can you be any more important (or committed to the cause) than me?”

There were also several conspiracy theories: disabled people are becoming too vocal, so the government will cut funding to user-led organisations (and this at a consultation event set up by a government department) changes to the benefits system/access to work/eligibility criteria are designed to intimidate disabled people from becoming politically active (this was after we’d met a member of Equality 2025 – a government advisory body entirely composed of disabled people).

It is as if the disability movement didn’t have enough to work on such as ignorance, stereotyping, institutional discrimination, insufficient resources. Why do we have to invent even more problems?

What do you think? Can the user movement be its own worst enemy? Have your say on our Discussion Forum

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