The Fragility of Freedom for Disabled People

This page has been produced to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day 2024, and includes a film where Dr Ju Gosling, Sean Prentice and Rick Burgess discuss the contents and read related poetry. If you have further links and/or points that you think we should add, please email us Please note that the contents include discussions of murder and suicide, and strong language.

The Fragility of Freedom for Disabled People in the UK today: Poetry and Conversation with Dr Ju Gosling, Sean Prentice and Rick Burgess.

You can read the three poems that are included in the film, Admin and Natural Selection by Sean Prentice, and QuALitY of Life by Ju Gosling, at the end of this page.

The UK is a signatory (with some ‘reservations’) to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Despite this, many Disabled citizens have very limited or no freedom in the UK today, and all Disabled people are left legally disadvantaged and made vulnerable to further threats to their liberty and wellbeing. The UK has faced increasing criticism internationally for its failure to implement the UN Convention as it should have been.

3.7 million UK citizens who were deemed to be ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ were told to ‘shield’ – to stay at home and cut off all but virtual contact with the outside world – from 21 March-1 August 2020 and from January-1 April 2021. They were told to take ‘personal responsibility’ to protect themselves outside of those times by limiting their social contact and time spent outside their homes. They were warned that if they did not comply, they were not in a priority group to receive medical treatment. The reason for the shielding programme was not to protect the health of shielders, but to ‘protect the NHS’ – to ensure that capacity remained to treat ‘normal’ people who became ill.

Social care users In April 2020, the Covid Emergency Act removed a range of obligations on local authorities to provide services to Disabled people. This was despite the fact that services were only provided in the first place if they were essential for Disabled people’s health and wellbeing and ability to take part in society.

Residential care users Care home residents lost their rights to leave their homes and to have visitors throughout the Covid pandemic and beyond. The rights of UK care home residents to receive visitors and to go out freely are still severely curtailed following Covid.

People with learning difficulties Many people with learning difficulties in the UK are sent to institutions away from their home areas, where at best they have minimal contact with their families and little or no control over what they do. At worst, as many reports show, they are neglected, abused and tortured. These institutions are run by private companies on a profit-making basis, funded by the state.

Parents Many Disabled people are pressurised to be sterilised and/or abort their pregnancies, and Disabled parents frequently lose custody of their children, because they are believed to be unfit to be parents. Children are more likely to be removed if they are not themselves Disabled.

Community care users Hundreds of thousands of Disabled people in the UK are trapped at home – and so are many unpaid carers – because of lack of social care support to meet their basic needs. This is the case even when they are supposed to have ‘care packages’ provided by the state, because of widespread shortages of care workers. Most have no opportunity to achieve the ‘outcomes’ for living the full lives they desire, which is supposed to include the freedom to decide what they do each day.

Vulnerable adults Disabled people are often targeted by criminals who take over their homes, or take them into modern slavery, leaving them with no freedom at all. Some are murdered by their abusers. Find out more here, here, here and here.

Disabled children and young people are entitled to ‘Education and Health Care Plans’ that set out how their needs will be met until the age of 25. These Plans are difficult and time-consuming to obtain, and so families in poorer areas are much less likely to be able to obtain them. The Plans are now under attack from the Government, who have recently described them as ‘Golden Tickets’. This reference to Roald Dahl’s story also suggests that the recipients of Plans are ‘spoiled brats’ like his characters, rather than having genuine needs that can only be met through additional funding.

More one million UK citizens are continuing to shield from Covid today. They have to self-fund their masks, gloves and other Personal Protective Equipment, which severely restricts how much they can interact with other people. There are no Government or local authority campaigns to encourage other people to wear masks, even though 90% of mask protection comes from infected people wearing masks. Health and social care staff aren’t required to wear masks, and are not provided with any, which means that many vulnerable people have to choose between staying safe and accessing services. Instead, mask-wearing has widely been condemned by politicians as well as being deemed unnecessary. Mask wearers commonly report experiencing abuse on public transport, and even having their masks removed forcibly. If people who are extremely vulnerable contract Covid despite taking precautions, for example because they have accessed medical services, there is only a one in ten chance that they will be provided with access to an anti-viral drug such as Paxlovid.

The Holocaust, 10 Stages of Genocide and Disabled people in the UK today

At least 250,000 Disabled people were murdered before and during the Second World War under the Nazi regime, simply for being Disabled. You can find out more from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust here, and from artist Liz Crow’s Resistance project here.

Following the Second World War, in 1948 the United Nations Genocide Convention defined genocide as any of five “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. These five acts were: killing members of the group; causing them serious bodily or mental harm; imposing living conditions intended to destroy the group; preventing births; and forcibly transferring children out of the group. Victims are targeted because of their real or perceived membership of a group, not randomly.

Disabled people and LGBTQI+ people were the only victims of Nazi mass killings to be left out of the definition of Genocide. This means that genocidal acts against Disabled and LGBTQI+ people are not covered by the laws against genocide. Disabled and LGBTQI+ people have also been left out of most discussions about ‘democide’, defined as the murder of any person or people by a government.

However, the lived experiences of many Disabled people living in the UK today have a great deal in common with the ’10 Stages of Genocide’ discussed below, as well as with the definition of ‘Democide’. For more information about the 10 stages of genocide, see Dr Gregory H. Stanton’s work here.

1) Classification: distinguishing people into “us and them”.

  • Disabled people must come forward to be classified if they wish to receive welfare benefits such as Personal Independence Payments (PIP), Employment Support Allowance and/or related services, or if they have no income and are unable to work due to disability. Disabled people are not allowed to self-define, being seen as inherently dishonest and likely to perpetuate fraud. Classification takes place by using a ‘normal’ person as a comparator, and focusses on what a Disabled person can’t do that a ‘normal’ person can. The people operating the classification are non-disabled or ‘normal’ themselves — classification is not carried out by people who understand the issues and have lived experience of the impact.
  • Patients are also classified by the NHS using medical records, regardless of whether they wish to access specialist services, and regardless of whether they have given permission for this. So, for example, the Government’s shielding list was created in 2020, not from people who were registered as having high care needs by the DWP because they had applied for disability and health-related benefits, but from NHS records. Again, Disabled people themselves played no part in identifying themselves as needing to shield.
  • In order to minimise Disability benefit and service claims, many Disabled people are effectively classified as liars, in that there is deemed to be nothing wrong with them. There have been numerous reports about the problems with the private sector contractors who are funded to classify Disabled people, including the lack of qualified staff, and the associated deaths through starvation and suicide. The majority of Disabled people who have the resources to appeal the decisions succeed. Despite this, nothing has changed, and the Government has fought hard against the disclosure of related statistics.

2) Symbolisation: giving names or symbols to the classifications. 

  • The best known symbol used in the UK to denote disability is the manual wheelchair symbol, which suggests that Disabled people are helpless without technology and support from other people. This is despite the fact that only 8% of Disabled people in the UK use a wheelchair, and the majority of them can also walk a little.
  • In 2016, the ‘Sunflower lanyard’ was introduced by service providers, including the police and NHS, in order to make all Disabled people visible to them and not simply those who used identifiable disability aids. The lanyard system allows everyone around a Disabled person to identify them as ‘having something wrong with them’, however ‘invisible’ their condition. In some parts of the UK, Disabled people report that there is now considerable pressure being applied to wear the lanyard. This is despite the fact that wearing the lanyard exposes Disabled people to targeted discrimination and abuse, while everyone deserves good service.

3) Discrimination: a dominant group uses law, custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups. The powerless group may not be accorded full civil rights, voting rights, or even citizenship.

  • Disabled people are the only group in the UK who can legally be discriminated against. Legal justifications outlined in the Equality Act include financial costs and planning aesthetics.
  • Many UK polling stations are still inaccessible, and many Disabled people also have no access to the postal service to vote.
  • To access NHS treatment, all patients are classified under the QALY system. This allocates a value to a year of a ‘normal’ person’s life, and then deducts value for each failure to meet this. No one can receive treatment that costs more than their life is valued at. So if, for example, you need support from someone else to lead a full life, the state won’t spend as much on your medical care as it would on a ‘normal’ person.
  • In 2020, the NHS began adding ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) notices to the medical records of many shielders, including care home residents, without discussing this with the patients or their families. With a DNR notice in place, many patients died of Covid without an ambulance being called, because it was regarded as being unnecessary. 
  • Discrimination impacts on all groups of Disabled people. On average, men with mental health conditions in the UK die 20 years earlier than the general population, and women 13 years earlier.
  • In just one area, Norfolk and Suffolk, an official report recently found that an average of 45 people with mental health difficulties are dying ‘unexpectedly’ every week. The deaths are associated with widespread failures to provide the services that patients were entitled to receive. No one knows if the pattern is being repeated across the UK.

4) Dehumanisation: one group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. 

  • Disabled people are used to being called a wide range of offensive names that dehumanise us – mong, spastic, retard, window-licker… These attitudes are reinforced in ‘mainstream’ comedy. Racial, gendered, and homophobic slurs of a similar frequency are now widely considered unacceptable in UK society (although trans people are being similarly targeted).
  • In the UK and across the world, Disabled people are the only group whose human rights are routinely breached.  Disabled people are often denied access to education, employment, appropriate health and social care, and the right to a family life. Disabled people are not regarded as being of equal value to non-disabled people.

5) Organisation: genocide is always organised, usually by the state, often using proxies to provide deniability of state responsibility.

  • Vulnerable adults are often targeted by groups of people and subjected to sustained abuse over the course of months or years, leaving them with no freedom at all.
  • ‘Cuckooing’ is common, with gangs taking over a Disabled person’s home and using it for socialising, drug dealing and prostitution. 
  • Disabled adults may also be taken by groups and used as modern slaves, sleeping in appalling accommodation and labouring every day.
  • A number of Disabled adults have been murdered or taken their own lives as a result of sustained abuse by groups of people.

6) Polarisation: the groups are driven apart. For Disabled people, this can be achieved simply by making it impossible to participate in society on an equal basis, along with an official rhetoric that describes Disabled people as lazy and dishonest.

  • Less than half (48%) of the non-disabled people taking part in sport and physical activities reported that they knew a Disabled person when asked by Sport England. This is despite the fact that Sport England is responsible for developing grassroots sport, where Disabled people should be routinely included.
  • Disabled people are commonly told by strangers that if they were Disabled they would kill themselves, with the implication being that Disabled people have a duty to suicide. This echoes the Nazi designation of Disabled people as ‘life unworthy of life’ (Lebensunwertes Leben).
  • The 2021 UK Disability Survey, produced by the state, found that at least some of the time: 21% of Disabled people responding felt unsafe at home; 45% felt unsafe in their neighbourhood; 54% worried about being insulted or harassed in the street or another public space; and 45% worried about being physically attacked by strangers. 58% had been mistreated because of their disability; 31% had experienced hostility online; and 15% had experienced violence.
  • In 2022, Scope reported that 3 out of 4 disabled people (72%) have experienced negative attitudes or behaviour in the last 5 years. Nine out of 10 disabled people (87%) who had experienced negative attitudes or behaviour said it had a negative effect on their daily lives.

7) Preparation: Plans are made for genocidal killings. 

  • The classification of Disabled people by the state and NHS; legalised discrimination; the state’s failure to protect Disabled people from Covid; the failure to act on Disability hate crime; and new calls for assisted suicides for Disabled people; have all prepared the UK to go further in its treatment of Disabled people.

8) Persecution: Victims are identified and separated out because of their identity.

  • Disability hate crime has doubled between 2017-18 and 2021-22. More than 11,000 (11,224) Disability hate crimes were reported to police between April 2021 and March 2022. 
  • Disability hate crimes include crimes committed by care workers. The vast majority of complaints are not investigated, because Disabled people are seen as ‘unreliable witnesses’ within any legal proceedings. Many social care users are afraid to complain at all because of the risk of losing the care on which they rely. LGBTQI+ Disabled people also report that they have to hide their sexual or gender orientation from social care workers in order to receive support. Find out more here and here.
  • Just 1% of Disability hate crime cases resulted in a charge or CPS referral in 2021-22.

9) Extermination: it is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. 

  • In 1999, the UK Government changed its policy in order to standardise pre-natal testing and promote it to all pregnant women.
  • 90% of foetuses with Down Syndrome are aborted in the UK after testing.
  • In 2022, the Court of Appeal ruled that it is legal to terminate the lives of foetuses with Down Syndrome and other conditions up until birth, regardless of whether they would otherwise be capable of surviving without medical intervention. 
  • Foetal conditions that trigger a referral for abortion counselling include cleft palates and ‘club’ foot, regardless of the fact that these conditions have no long-term impact following medical treatment.
  • Pregnant women who have opted to continue with a pregnancy that is likely to result in a Disabled child are forced to reconfirm that decision at every subsequent ante-natal appointment.
  • ‘Normal’ babies who are born extremely prematurely, on the other hand, receive intensive care to save their lives.

10) Denial: the final stage that lasts throughout and always follows genocide. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims.

  • The UK Government has described the policies referred to above as being necessary to ‘protect’ the economy and National Health Service from the illegitimate and often fraudulent demands of Disabled people, who are therefore categorised as a threat to everyone else.

sean prentice: admin

thought it would be nice to live by the sea
with more than a concrete square patio for the bins
but they said our front garden was unkempt
they didn’t want to look at it and shouldn’t have to
but what they meant was that we
were unkempt
an eyesore
and they shouldn’t have to look at us
and over the fence
they shout “you’re unfit, unfit, fuck off, fuck off”
and there was that time
that they laughed at us in Tesco
as I struggled to reach the jam
and the time they pointed and took our pictures in the street
with their phones
and they keep parking on our driveway
and the nice police woman says
said without saying it
that none of it amounted to anything
that it wasn’t a hate crime
not really
because they didn’t say anything about our disabilities at all
if they’d called out “cripple” or “spazz” or “mong”
or mimed being Joey Deacon on Blue Peter
like kids used to do in the eighties
or Andy from Little Britain
who only pretends to need a wheelchair
which is all in good fun by the way
well, then that would be a different matter wouldn’t it
but it is clear what this is
they told everyone in the street that we were awful
disreputable reprobates
and shite to live next door to
that our lad had nits
and that our dog was too yappy
and our cat shat in their flower beds
who could doubt them
they had all that common sense on their side
all the ammunition in the papers and on the telly about benefit cheats
taking the piss
faking illness
living it up on the dole
it is enough that I shake
each and every time I receive a brown envelope in the post
that it might be another assessment form
this is where it begins
with the neighbours
Daily Mail reading
hard working honest tax-paying neighbours that the likes of us
are scrounging off of
and the admin
there’s always with the admin

it always begins the same way
Auschwitz also started with
the respectable step scrubbers
the curtain twitchers
and the pen pushers
and it doesn’t have to lead to
arbeit macht frei over the gate
and gas chambers
for it to end up in a really bad place
there are plenty of other routes
and destinations
with disabled folk ending up just as dead.

sean prentice: natural selection 

the disabled are the canaries
down the coal mine of
any given regime
the first to be targeted
the first to keel over
and die
we sing and sing and sing
but you don’t hear our song
maybe it is because so many of
us sound out of tune
to your ears
our music is often an acquired taste
uneasy listerning
anyway it is all just simple balloon theory
we are the first to be ejected
you know the balloon theory of how genocide happens
there are a party of people in a hot air balloon
this is another metaphor
there’s no actual balloon just in case you’re wondering
and the metaphoric balloon is losing height
just like capitalism is today
and the balloon is going to crash into a mountain
if it doesn’t jettison some weight
so some of the passengers in the balloon are thrown out
those remaining look the other way
pretend it didn’t just happen
they’re just relieved it wasn’t them this time
and really it had to be somebody
might as well make it the least useful people in society
the lives least worthy of life.

Ju Gosling: QuALitY of Life

How much is my life worth and how can I tell?
There’s a formula that I know only too well
My life is costed by ‘symptoms’ you see
Not the value it has to you or to me.

You can’t fetch top price if you roll round on wheels
Even a businessman making big deals
There’s a further discount if you can’t hold your wee
Even if you are an active MP
If you can’t see too far, or simply can’t hear
Your life is not considered so dear
There’s more off if you need support from another
Even if you are a competent mother
And pain is considered a definite no
Whether or not people with pain say so.

The Government costs you before they will give
The NHS treatments that you need to live
Your life must be ‘perfect’ to gain a full ‘Qaly’
Before you are even put onto a trolley.
If you can’t leave your house then your value is cheap
The state won’t spend much money for your life to keep
And maybe that’s one reason more people die
Of Covid 19 in the UK, and I
am afraid of the verdict if I become ill
Before I sleep I have miles to go still.

We may be a good parent, a partner or neighbour
Whoever we are we’re all more than our labour
Yet whoever we are our lives are still judged
On our cold market value not how much we’re loved.

These slavery values must come to an end
What kind of price can you put on a friend?
Your brother, your grandma, your child and your wife
How can a price be placed on their life?

The values that matter are those we all share
How much we give and how much we care
It’s time to abandon the cheque book approach
Love is the QuALitY that matters the most.