Rights Not Charity

“Rights not charity!” has become one of my favourite chants at protests, but I’m starting to realise many don’t quite get what it means (or what it means to me at any rate) so I thought I’d talk about it a little. sadly I’m on quite a lot of strong painkillers so it might be a bit jumbled – sorry in advance!

What is expressed by the phrase ‘rights not charity’ is the desire to have independent living and equality of opportunity as a human right rather than something that is provided by a benevolent philanthropists. Our government seems to be slowly trying to cut the amount of support* they are willing to give to sick & disabled people in the vague hope that charities will cover the gap. We can even see this in the way government incentivises donating to charity to escape being taxed.

To many onlookers that might seem like a good thing. They’ve seen TV shows where charities provide wheelchairs for veterans or holidays for kids with leukaemia so wouldn’t it be a good idea to let them do more? They are caring and loving after all. Well, I don’t think it would be a good thing and nor do many other disability campaigners. I shall endeavour to explain why now…

In a not very scientific experiment I’ve been asking family and friends to name some charities that deal with sickness and disability and most will said; British Heart Foundation, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Cancer Research, Headway, Scope, Whizz Kids, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Royal British Legion/ other military charities. Pretty much all the ones with charity shop presence. Thanks to some creative use of the bold button you may have noticed that pretty much all of those charities are set up to deal with a particular impairment or people meeting specific age or occupational criteria. In that list only Scope claims to deal with all disabled people regardless of age, past occupation or impairment. Unfortunately the service that they offer which covers those people is an advice line. Their community based services (like educational & employment services) to people living in certain geographical areas and/or people who have ‘complex care’ needs. This still counts many disabled people out. It’s also not like they can help fund equipment, PA’s, transport, retraining for those with disability but non-complex care needs or critical home improvements.

Charity is all well and good if you have certain conditions or meet specific criteria but you are stuffed if your need is as just great but you don’t. That’s because charity isn’t fair. When a charity dealing with a aspect of disability or (normally) a specific illness or impairment gets £1 million pounds it gets spent on it’s pet cause. When the section of a local authority that deals with disabled adults gets £1 million it gets spread over the all the service users they cover. Those who need extra help because they smoked or had problems with alcohol as well as those who have Parkinson’s or served in the military. For that reason I would rather see money to support the disabled going to LA’s rather than charities therefore I’d rather see big earners incentivised to pay taxes to help the vulnerable rather than to donate to charities.

I will use a personal story to try and illustrate this: When I first admitted to myself that I needed a wheelchair to get around I went to see my GP. She agreed with me and we filled in the application for one from the NHS. It was explained to me that the NHS will only give manual/attendant powered wheelchairs to those who can walk a couple of meters (even if it does cause severe pain etc… to do so). Whilst I was waiting for my chair lot’s of people asked me why I didn’t contact a charity to get one. The reason I didn’t was because there are no charities that provide wheelchairs for those over 18 who don’t have a specific disablement or have come from a specific background (like the police force or military. The NHS was my only option. The same happened when we needed adaptation to our home, it was only the council that could help me. It happened again when and when I needed help funding re-training, no charities could help my only option was the government (not that they would help either). I’m not saying this because I believe that because I don’t have access to charitable aid that no one should. I’m also  not for a moment trying to say charities don’t do some good work, they do. What I am trying to say is that they are not a good vehicle for providing for the needs of all sick, disabled and otherwise vulnerable people. 

Charities also very often help to peddle the idea that sick & disabled people are objects of pity. We’ve all seen the adverts with the sad disabled or sick person made happy by charitable donations. They propagate unhelpful stereotypes and damage the cause of disabled people trying hard not to be seen as pitiable and miserable. The image below shows a Damien Hurst sculpture called ‘Charity’ which shows the kind of image used by charities to highlight the ‘plight’ of disabled people. We want rights, happiness and as much independence as we can get. We do not want pity handouts going to a few whilst the many are ignored.


The harsh reality for many of us is that charities don’t help us. What would help us is seeing our rights to an independent life fully backed up by the law and a ombudsman so that the government couldn’t strip resources from us or use easily misinterpreted phrasing like ‘reasonable adaptions’ to stop us from accessing public services and living like others.

That is why I chant ‘Rights Not Charity’ and will continue to.


* removing 20% of DLA recipients (even though the fraud rate is 0.5%), removing the ILF, cutting social care budgets, making it harder to get Direct Payments, removing Legal Aid so that vulnerable people can’t challenge unjust welfare decisions, making it harder to get council housing or adaptations, the bedroom tax, the WCA, removing Contributions based ESA after a year and a whole host of other nasty initiatives.

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  1. I have other problems with relying on charities – although I do completely see your point.

    My issue is that I do not believe that we should rely on charities to do things that I consider to be “necessary” or “rights.”

    So for example; a charity that helps children go on a trip of a lifetime – sure. This is not a requirement of their disability (although being disabled may make it more difficult to arrange hence the charity helping) – it’s a treat. It’s a good thing to happen certainly; but still not a necessity.

    (I'm also all for charities raising money for non human issues such as the RSPCA; plus over seas projects such as Oxfam. Even if I think that our government could probably do a lot more to promote schemes that would actually help people overseas I recognise that this is a very complicated issue. And in the meantime I buy Fair Trade etc.)

    Your wheelchair is a need. Your adaptions to your home are a need. If we as a society have decided that disabled people should be given extra help (money; access to disabled parking etc.) then the basic needs of that disability – no matter what it is or how it happened – should be met by the governing body of that society. This is why I pay my tax – to allow said governing body to pay for things that we as a society have decided we need. I may not directly benefit from funding things like job seekers or DLA (or whatever they’re calling it now); but the simple fact is one day I may need it. I’ve claimed job seekers in the past after all. I’m not stupid enough to think I’ll never become disabled.

    I also strongly feel that although yes, obscure ailments and disorders may well benefit from a charity attempting to raise money to increase research etc. BUT we shouldn’t need charities to fund research into heart problems or cancer. They’re not strange or obscure; they’re mainstream issues. I also think we shouldn’t need charities to inform sufferers of such ailments about potential treatments etc. Put into contact with fellow sufferers for mutual advice / support – sure. Educating the public – maybe; but again I don’t see why we should have to rely on charity to do this basic society need.

    I also completely agree with the point that Person A with Disability A may well have completely different needs to Person B with Disability A – it’s entirely dependent on a huge variety of factors; not just the fact that both people have (for example) got Type 2 Diabetes. So it’s far more effective to do assessments regarding equipment needs (such as a wheelchair) and supply the basic equipment; and then add money into the equation which allows the individual to tailor their extra help into what they need. So maybe a cleaner; maybe a snazzier chair; maybe to pay for taxis – the only person who can actually say what they need to spend the money on is the recipient after all.

    So yes, completely agree with you. And I think the NHS should be given enough funds to actually supply the wheelchair that will actually help someone have as independent a life as possible; but I do see it's a restricted pot of money – so having extra money to be spent as you wish is useful. But they're rights. Not the kind of thing we should rely on a charity to supply.

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  2. And this was Kath – not sure why it's not showing my name up

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  3. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree.

    We should have the rights to an independant life (which includes aids & adaptations etc…) which is protected. I have no issue with charities helping cover extras & fund extra research (though I'd rather the gov funded the reaserch instead but that's another story) but covering basic living needs is wrong.

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  4. If you’re facing cancer, you want options—you want the cancer treatment that’s right for you. South Florida Radiation Oncology has options, and we’ll work to get you the treatment you need with the care you expect.

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