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End panel Brexit discussion

SISTERS FRIDA – DISABLED WOMEN’S VOICES FROM THE FRONTLINE

Blackfriars Settlement 9 July 2016

END PANEL DISCUSSION

Panel: Kirsten Hearn, Miss Jacqui, Pauline Latchen, Eleanor Lisney, Becky Olaniyi,

Jagoda Risteska, Jasmina Risteska, Annabel Crowley

Contributers: Michelle Daley, Dyi,

Eleanor introduced an update from Dyi. The Disability and Sexuality project that Djy

and Lani have piloted with an initial meeting last autumn has now got funding to go

ahead. The next meeting will be in July at the New Union Church Hall and thereafter

every month. The project will provide a safe space to discuss issues around

disability and sexuality. More information and details are listed on the Sisters of

Frida website.

Annabel noted that the day had involved lots of interesting and powerful

conversations. The Brexit vote had provided a focus for discussion: the situation

was already difficult before we faced leaving the European Union and things will be

likely to get more difficult: now is the time to make sure we have a voice.

Eleanor commented that if she had not been at this event, she would have been at

Conway Hall to support a rally of Black Activists Against Racism to protest against

spending cuts. As she was unable to attend that rally, Eleanor had written a letter of

support and solidarity which she read out.

Annabel asked everyone what were their concerns in the light of Brexit.

Becky said that she felt there was not a lot of clear information about Brexit,

especially for young people; they should have had an opportunity to contribute and

make decisions. Older people believed that leaving the EU would mean that the

money saved would be paid into the NHS etc. Young people had mainly voted to

remain in the EU but were not really clear why – and people needed to be clear

about that.

Dyi raised the issue of being an EU citizen living in the UK going forward. We need

to think about the reality of that situation, for example in relation to people’s status

with the NHS. This is a real issue for EU citizens in the UK who rely on the NHS –

though of course it may be different for those who don’t. However, Dyi pointed out,

there is also a lot of inequality in relation to healthcare within the rest of the EU.

Annabel asked if Dyi would be looking for wider consultation with EU migrants to

have more information about the implications of Brexit for them. Dyi replied that she

is looking into the legal implications and building up an information bank on relevant

services as a resource which she will be happy to share with others.

Michelle said that we don’t know what the future will look like. She had voted to

remain in the EU, and there was not, had not been, enough information about what

Brexit would look like, or how our lives will be changed by it.

Kirsten said that the whole Brexit campaign had been based on lies, especially about

the NHS and migration. Secondly, all the years of austerity have influenced people,

especially poorer people: these people see migrants and refugees as competing with

them for jobs, services and benefits and these myths are further spread by

politicians, who paint migrants as lazy scroungers. Migrants enrich our country,

however, and it is not true that all migrants come to Britain to claim benefits rather

than to work. Kirsten said that in her local community there has been an increase in

racial hate crime and that the referendum result is advisory rather than mandatory

and parliament should act accordingly. The government should now consider what

things can stay the same and what should change: for example things like

wheelchair spaces on buses and braille labelling, these sorts of things should stay.

Michelle said that when her parents came to the UK, there were signs in public

spaces saying ‘No dogs, no Irish, no Blacks’ and we are going back to those days

and with the same discrimination against disabled people.

Miss Jacqui said that the people who had voted to leave didn’t really know what they

were voting for. Whatever political party is in power, disabled people – disabled

women especially, will be at the bottom of the agenda. Politicians don’t consider

that the decisions they make now will still affect us in ten years’ time. Starting a new

political party is the only solution. She was not happy with David Cameron as prime

minister but is not happy at what may follow his resignation. We need to find and

develop our voice and consider where does it feel safe to talk.

Becky said so many politicians are leaving their jobs, and Michelle said it was their

job to have a plan (going forward). Becky said politicians exist in a bubble, all this

doesn’t affect them, they don’t think: it’s about the money they can make, the secret

deals and they only think about what affects them. Kirsten said she felt quite

depressed now.

Annabel said we do have voices however we express ourselves. How do we build

and expand on safe spaces to express ourselves? Kirsten said that we need to talk

to the communities that voted for Brexit, especially poor people, people who are

alienated. She is trying to talk to people in her street who voted leave, to try to

understand why they did – we haven’t listened to them in the past. One issue is

employment: people going for jobs, not that skilled, which go to migrants: ‘They’re

taking our jobs’. That, and well qualified people paid low wages for jobs they’re over-

qualified for and all the time the right-wing press reinforce the view that migrants are

to blame.

Dyi said that there is a history of colonialism, racism and imperialism and we should

consider what Sisters of Frida can do to support each other. Annabel said we should

consider what resources – communities and spaces – we can build on and share.

Pauline said that wages are being driven down but it’s not the fault of migrant

workers: low wages here are better than what’s on offer in their own countries. We

should blame the government and business owners, not the migrants. Miss Jacqui

said that some people are really picky about what jobs they will take: if you really

want a job you’ll take anything, you will find a job. Blaming migrants is just an

excuse. Michelle said the government is using a tactic of divide, rule and conquer

and what happened in the referendum is just history repeating itself.

In conclusion, Annabel said the discussion could continue on line: this is one way we

can add disabled women’s voices to the discussion. Maybe there could be a Brexit

forum page on the SOF website; a lot of disability rights have come from the EU and

therefore the discussion could link in disabled friends in Europe.

All present were invited to pass on their email addresses to receive further updates.

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