A few months ago I very quietly announced to some of you that my gender is nonbinary and requested that people use gender-neutral they/them/their pronouns to refer to me. I also said I don’t feel like I’m a woman and I don’t intend to transition or take hormones.
Turns out I was wrong. I am a woman.
Some of you will have already guessed as much, not least from my increasing comments about gender and my social media posts about transgender issues. On the other hand, some of you definitely have not seen this coming. My gender has been a matter of intense distress, self-examination, questioning, despair and anguish – as those friends kind enough to listen to me know all too well. I didn’t know (or didn’t admit to myself) what I was before the last few months despite years of questioning, but now that I do know, the problems I faced in the past make so much more sense.
Now that I understand more about myself it is time for me to do something about it. I have asked my GP to refer me to a gender identity clinic and I am starting out on my transition.
But that’s not the important part. The important part is this:
This time last year we took the Department of Work and Pensions to a judicial review to decide if they properly consulted about cutting help for people who can only walk a few metres.
The original consultation did not make clear the plan to cut the qualifying maximum distance from 50 metres to 20. In quite strong language for a judge, the court noted that the consultation was “Mind-bogglingly opaque”, “At best ambivalent”, and “Convoluted, inherently unclear, ambiguous and confusing. No construction allows for full coherence.”
Nevertheless, the court found – very narrowly – in favour of the government and said that the second consultation, started after this judicial review was in motion, was enough to make things right.
This week we are back in court to appeal that decision. We argue that the second consultation could never have changed the decision that had already been made. The hearing will take place in the Royal Courts of Justice in London from 10:30 on the 14th and 15th of July. The judgement will follow a few days later.
It is frustrating that this case is about whether the consultation on PIP was fair rather than about the cut itself, but the courts cannot decide on government policy. As part of their defence the DWP pointed out that they are fully aware of the impact of their policy, and are removing DLA from “individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need” and “removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.” The DWP did do a consultation on their policy though, and that consultation wasn’t fair, so that is what we are fighting.
As part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 the government replaced Disability Allowance with Personal Independence Payments. Their main reason for the change was to introduce repeated frequent testing to see if claimants have miraculously healed. They also changed the maximum distance that you can walk and still qualify for help towards regaining your mobility. Under DLA the cutoff was recognised to be 50 metres. Under PIP it has been slashed to just 20 metres. This means that if someone can walk more than 20 but less than 50 metres (subject to a few caveats) then they will no longer get the highest amount for the mobility component of PIP. Assuming the person still qualifies for the lower rate of mobility, this is a cut of £35.65 per week. But worse than that, the higher rate mobility component is a gateway to all sorts of help including the right to lease a car or wheelchair through the Motability scheme. As a result of this cut more than a hundred people are losing their car every week, and many thousands more will follow when they are reassessed for PIP. Losing independent transport means losing independence and access to services.
Today my sister used a wheelchair for the first time. (We share the same inherited mitochondrial condition.) Her husband has little experience of pushing a wheelchair so I tried to give him some tips, which resulted in what I have written below. Believe it or not there is actually some skill involved in pushing a wheelchair and keeping the person in it comfortable. These are just observations from my own experience of being in a wheelchair pushed by someone else, but everyone is different. If you’re pushing a wheelchair for someone new then you should ask them if they have any preferences.
Communicate. Ask if there’s anything you need to know first. NEVER touch or move a wheelchair without permission.
Don’t overshoot checkouts and reception desks. If you are level, your passenger has gone too far past it.
Don’t bump your passenger’s feet into people, objects or walls. Particularly in lifts.
Don’t follow anyone too closely. (See previous point.) Your passenger is closer to them than you are, and seeing backsides that close gets tedious.
Watch out for oddly sloping pavements, especially near dropped kerbs. The wheelchair WILL veer sideways into traffic if you are not careful.
Look ahead for bumps. Dropped kerbs are often not dropped very much. Be prepared to walk a long way around via the road.
Always approach bumps straight on. If you are not straight, stop and turn first.
It can be easier to go backwards over bumps if the wheelchair has large wheels.
Pay attention to the surface you travel over and take the smoother path. Cobbles can be painful or tiring for someone in a wheelchair.
Don’t let the wheelchair run out of control. Consider taking slopes backwards so you can hold back the wheelchair. CHECK FIRST!
If your passenger says stop, STOP immediately. (And, indeed, follow other instructions – see comments below.)
Try going through heavy doors backwards so you can push the door with your body.
Some wheelchairs have brakes operated by the passenger. Never assume that those brakes are on or off, always check.
If someone speaks to you when they should speak to your passenger, tell them so.
Be forgiving of your passenger. They have no control and that may make them grumpy. Wheelchair users: be aware that you might be shouting at your assistant more than you realise.
If you’re pushing a wheelchair very far then you’ll probably want to get some gloves.
Thanks to @knitswift, @chmasu, @missnfranchised, @lisybabe.