|Posted on February 20, 2012 at 6:50 PM||comments (0)|
In this post I’m trying to decide whether society has become more hateful of people with disabilities over the years, or whether it’s just the nature of the discrimination and abuse that has changed.
“Live Eels and Grand Pianos” tells the story of Kathy and Charlie Bradford from before World War I to the 1980s. Most of the people that my parents got to know (neighbours,workmates, officialdom, etc) could not have been more supportive of our family.Sometimes Charlie and Kathy depended on the kindness of strangers, as this excerpt from the book (it’s describing the 1950s and 1960s) explains:
“Sometimes Charlie would fall over in the house or garden and couldn’t get up. By the time I was eleven, I could get him up if I was there, but there were many occasions when I wasn’t. When that happened Kathy would wait outside the front door for an able-bodied male to come past, and ask him if he would come into her house to pick her husband up. As soon as I left school and earned money I paid for a phone to be connected.”
We lived in Edmonton, North London, about 400 yards from the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, just on the edge of the area that was torched by riots last summer; and I dread to think what the result of inviting a stranger into the family home under those circumstances might be today. But of course it wouldn’t be necessary, as a family like our swould have “emergency button” access to care services and would be able toafford a telephone.
However, not everybody was sympathetic or supportive of the many thousands of people who were very visibly disabled by Polio at the time. You can read the first chapter of “Live Eels andGrand Pianos” here to see when and how I first became aware of this at the age of ten.
Two further extracts from the book give an idea of social attitudes to disability in the 1950s:
“In 1950 the Infantile Paralysis Fellowship published a fund raising brochure, and our family featured on page three. The national press picked upon this story, and ‘The People’ newspaper printed an article about us in November. I would not see this article for sixty years, as nobody kept a copy of it. This publicity had some unwelcome and unexpected consequences. The old man who sold the Evening News at the bottom of our street read it, and not only verbally abused Charlie for bringing up a child that would grow up crippled, but also spat at him.”
This second extract describes the experiences of Fred and Joyce Prudence, friends of my parents:
“Fred was married to Joyce, who also had Polio, and they had adopted a girl of about ten; a relative of Joyce’s. Fred worked for himself, as a watch repairer, from home. In 1959 Fred and Joyce decided to buy a house in Palmers Green. They needed a mortgage, which was granted. While their house purchase was going through, some neighbours got up a petition to the building society.They didn’t want cripples living in their street. The building society sent the protesters away.Fred and Joyce bought their house.”
So, negative attitudes have always existed, and in the time that I wrote about they took different forms, such as low-level bullying, as well as organised campaigns to deprive people with disabilities of their civil rights. But they existed alongside positive attitudes,in particular the positive attitudes of local authority social services departments, politicians and the popular press. I left home at the age of twenty-one in 1969, and the following year saw the enactment of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, the first such act in the world to recognise and give rights to people with disabilities.
The Act gave people with disabilities the right to equal access to recreational and educational facilities. It obliged local authorities to provide telephones to people who were isolated as a result of disabilities, and in the first decade Post Office Engineering Union members installed 70,000 telephone lines in their spare time for a nominal charge of 2p per fitting which was then donated to disability charities.
The press was overwhelmingly positive. My family was written about by the National Press several times,because we were so unusual, but they wrote positive things about us. Contrast that with the disgusting,abusive and inaccurate coverage given to the subject by the Murdoch press today.
Three things are fundamentally different today to the times that I wrote about in “Live Eels” Firstly we havea government that is trying to renege on forty years of enlightened legislation,and is prepared to blame these changes on “scroungers”; secondly we have a rabid right-wing national press that seeks to whip up hatred about anybody (refugees, people with disabilities, to name but a few) who looks different and blame them for the economic recession.Thirdly we have a breakdown in large aspects of civil society that has led to riots in our cities, as well as examples of prolonged harassment and cruelty to those who the perpetrators think cannot fight back.
Please let me have your views. Feel free to comment.
This is the "People" article from 1950 that cased Charlie to be verbally abused:
|Posted on August 9, 2011 at 3:25 PM||comments (5)|
My thoughts on the Tottenham riots and the economic decline of the area where I grew up
Wednesday 9 August 2011
I’m trying to understand what went on in Tottenham last Saturday. Of course I condemn it, unreservedly; and I condemn the copycat crime that’s taken place since then as well. But why did the problem start in Tottenham?
I recently published “Live Eels and Grand Pianos”, a story about growing up in Edmonton inthe 1950s and 60s. My family lived yards away from the borough boundary; Tottenham wasn’t far from the bottom of our garden. At that time that part of the Lee Valley - Tottenham, Edmonton and Enfield – was an industrial powerhouse. For over seventy years Harris Lebus & Co operated the world’s largest furniture factory from the very same spot in Ferry Lane where a young black man was shot last week. At its peak in the 1940s it employed over 6,000 people on a thirty-six acre site. The factory closed in 1970.
Just down the road was the Gestetner Cyclograph Company which produced stencils, styli, ink rollers, etc, which enabled an ordinary typewriter to produce documents that could beduplicated in purple ink. People of my age will remember these purple ink pages from our schooldays. They were used to send out invitations to parents’evenings and school plays. The Gestetner works opened in 1906 and employed several thousand people until the 1970s when it lost its reason for existence.The photocopier had arrived. The Gestetner site is now the Tottenham Hale retail park that was trashed and looted last Saturday.
Almost every gas cooker used in British homes after World War II was made by Glover and Main at the Gothic Works in Angel Road Edmonton, which closed in 1983. The land was derelict for over twenty years until an IKEA Store opened in Glover Close (named after the factory) in 2005. Guess what happened – just before opening day IKEA distributed handbills that offered ludicrously low prices to every home in Tottenham; thousands of people turned up for the opening and there was a near-riot as security and police couldn’t control the bargain hunters.
In the 1960s the MK Electric Company employed over 3,000 people at twelve factories in and around Edmonton. MK produced virtually every 13 amp plug and socket that was fitted in the UK. MK was created and owned by the Belling and Arnold families; the same families that had founded Belling and Sons in the early twentieth century. Belling electric ovens and electric fires could be found in most British homes. Charles Belling was also a partner in Belling and Lee, based in Ponders End, the first company to manufacture mains radio receivers in the UK.
Belling’s electric cooker factories were in Southbury Road Enfield, next door to the huge Thorn Electrical Industries complex on the A10. Jules Thorn created an enormous industrial empire and Enfield was its heart. His local factories produced televisions and radios, lighting, the first MRI scanners, and his empire controlled EMI which brought the Beatles to our hi-fi sets – made by Thorns of course. Thorn’s researchers – based in Enfield –designed and engineered the first colour TVs that British families were able to buy in the late 1960s. Enfield was a centre of innovation, not just manufacturing when Jules Thorn was alive. He went on to buy out his local competitors, Belling, and Glover and Main. After his death his business was sold off in bits. Very little of it remains, none of it in Enfield.
Most of these industrialists – Lebus, Gestetner, Belling and Arnold - lived locally and contributed to the local civic society. The Belling foundation still exists to provide educational facilities for Enfield residents. The name of Charles Arnold (the MK founder) lives on as he left his home on the Ridgeway to the Leonard Cheshire Foundation which now operates itas a care home.
I am a trustee of a charity based in Edmonton. As we’re always on the lookout for funds, especially as local government funding has been cut – I tried to think of any substantial, nationally known business that was headquartered in this part of the Lee Valley and employed large numbers of local people and which might have the community’s interest at heart. The only one I could think of was Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, and that fails at least two of the tests – they don’ t employ large numbers of people (and few of those are locals) and their record as a corporate citizen is lamentable.
Even before last Saturday the north end of Tottenham High Road was full of boarded up properties. Why? Because Spurs had bought them all and was negotiating for planning permission to enlarge its stadium. Then it decided to abandon its roots and move to Stratford, leaving a legacy of economic decline and boarded up shops and homes behind. Spurs are not much of a corporate citizen today but that’s hardly surprising. For most of the club’s history it was controlled by people who were either born locally and/or lived locally. But in 2001 Alan Sugar sold it to Joe Lewis, a British born but Bahamas based billionaire who is reputed to have made his first billion dollars speculating against the pound on ‘Black Wednesday’ in 1992.
In the past fifty years thousands of relatively well paid manufacturing jobs that provided apprenticeships, a sense of shared community values and above all dignity have disappeared from Tottenham, Edmonton and Enfield. New jobs have been created in Central London in financial services and tourism, but they don’t go to local youth. London is the most unequal city in the developed world –London’s richest 10 per cent are worth 273 times more than the poorest 10 percent. Over 8% of Tottenham residents are claiming benefits. The London average is 4%.None of this excuses what took place last weekend in any way. But what it does show is that economic decline creates conditions where only evil people such as gangsters and looters flourish. They become role models for young people with few prospects.