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Dear Comic Relief / 28 February 2013

Dear Comic Relief,

have your ears been burning lately? They should have been, because you have been a hot topic amongst members of the disabled people's community over the past month.

Things came to a head recently when Prime Minister David Cameron appeared on your fund-raising music video with One Direction. Many disabled people - who are being subjected to massive cuts in their benefits, allowances and legal rights - felt that this was one PR stunt too far! In fact, I understand that there's a campaign under way to get the PM removed from the video.

But this isn't what I'm writing to you about. In 1985 when Comic Relief was launched by Richard Curtis and Lenny Henry, many of us were disappointed that it seemed to be following the same pattern as the established Children in Need charity. This portrayed disabled people as being needy and vulnerable, tragic but brave, dependent and objects of pity. It all reinforced society's perception of us being unable to manage our own affairs and live without supervision, "care" and charity.

We approached Comic Relief and explained our concerns. We introduced Richard, Lenny and other members of the original team to the concept of various approaches to understanding "disability". We talked about ways in which disabled people had identified how medical and charitable "models" of disability damaged our struggle for our equal rights. We described how, if people were encouraged to feel sorry for us, they would never take us seriously as members of the community.

We also explained about the "social model" of disability, which describes the barriers in society that effectively disable us. Those barriers, we said, can be identified and removed, opening the way to our full participation as citizens. If our allies become indignant about the barriers we experience, we argued, we can then all work together to remove them.  How much more positive for us disabled people, than being patted on the head and patronised.

We were surprised and pleased by the original team's reaction to what we had to say. They listened, admitted that they'd got it wrong and wanted to know what they could do to put things right. They understood that what we were saying required them to hear directly from disabled people, not from non-disabled people who purported to represent us. A number of talented and clued-up disabled people were then invited to work with Comic Relief and to introduce the concept of disability equality to the organisation.

Disability equality training, provided by disabled trainers, was arranged for non-disabled people who were involved with Comic Relief. This was across the board, and involved all levels of the charity. Comic Relief also paid for the unique training material that was used and also funded its mass production as a training pack for use by groups and organisations of disabled people afterwards. The pack, called 'Altogether Better', included a video and printed training materials and was a hugely influential training resource for over a decade. It is still held up as a model even now.

On your own website, you talk about the important work you did with the (then) British Council of Disabled People (BCODP) so that disabled people could fight "to be involved in decisions that shaped their lives"

So what's gone wrong? We watch in disbelief as you provide funding to one of the richest and biggest disability charities, an organisation that is controlled and run by non-disabled people, and that has a history of abusing and oppressing disabled people and excluding us from having any real say in the running of their organisation. We are talking of course about the Leonard Cheshire Foundation who continue to portray us as needy, vulnerable and tragic in order to tweak people's heart-strings and get them to open their wallets.

Our offer to you, as the new generation of Comic Relief organisers, is to look back at what we achieved together over a couple of decades. To meet with us again and to address the core issues that seem to be raising their ugly heads again; to stop you decending this slippery slope.

I'm a bit long in the tooth now and unable, personally, to participate as I once did.  However, I know there is a network of young, professional disabled people who would be more than happy to work with you. Your organisation's mission is supposed to be all about social justice, about giving people the resources to help themselves, in order to create lasting change.  Maybe it's time to review that objective in relation to the way that you support those organisations who continue to oppress disabled people?

I look forward to a positive response from you.

Kind regards,

Dave Lupton
aka Crippen - Disabled cartoonist


jo oldale

4 March 2013

I won't be able to watch it this year.... it's just too dire.... here let's look at some potentially dying African children - creepy racist voyeurism especially given it's partly our imperialism and control of the global economy that has led to their suffering. And then our own people who've had their centres closed because of austerity measures, but a lucky few will get a grant from comic relief... woo hoo. Bit like the green coins at Waitrose where the middle classes get to choose who deserves our charity.... back to the Victorian era. And as for ONE DIRECTION.... shame on you boys!!!

miss Dennis Queen (was clair lewis)

3 March 2013

Spot on Dave. Glad to hear there was progress historically but while this event funds the massive multi billion global oppressor of our people Leonard Cheshire. LC are probably the biggest global incarcerator of our people - making money from warehousing our people. with a turnover like theirs how they even manage to pass for a charity goodness only knows. why are they even giving money to this business, they are loaded. they have a marble floored, glass fronted office in the most affluent area of London. I know cos we painted it on a protest one time.

Arty Farty

1 March 2013

Would it be OK if I cut and pasted parts of your excellent letter so that I can send a version of my own complaint to Comic relief? I think you sum it up really well. Ta Mr C x

Lynn Harrison via Face book

1 March 2013

Lynn Harrison good point about Leonard Cheshire... I don't think this is new though is it? If not, why haven't people objected before? I agree about Cameron, however, unlike appearances in Comic Relief stunts by previous PMs I don't think this one does Cameron any particular favours .. although, it would have been better if he wasn't in it altogether but I guess having set a precedent with Tony Blair it would have been hard to exclude him?

I look forward to hearing Richard Curtis's response. I think, unlike Children in Need, the reason why I have supported CR and why mh survivors have done so, is that it has always provided a large amount of funding for mental health and for advocacy in particular. Despite the efforts of many of us through organisations like NoForce, Outcry, Mindlink and Mad Pride in the early 2000s, which secured the provision of advocacy in statute in the Mental Health Bill, (it wasn't there before we campaigned and a lot of this was through direct action), that was immediately diluted as the responsibility for commissioning went to PCTs and contracts were awarded by non-mh survivors without any consultation, to 'preferred providers' (i.e. those who didn't rock the boat and could hardly be regarded therefore as truly independent) literally over a cup of tea with scant regard even for any form of 'tick box' tendering.

Therefore, it has been thanks to funding from Comic Relief that people with mh conditions have continued to have any voice at all, which has been crucial and has enabled people to assert their legal rights in many ways, get services they had been denied and most importantly feel that there have been organisations who have listened to them when it seemed like no one else did.

BTW Comic Relief also funds Time to Change and many of us feel similarly about that and have told them so countless times and some of us have even been conned into working for them for sweet bugger all!

Trish Wheatley

1 March 2013

Brilliant Dave, in terms of a really important letter but also an informative piece about the history of disabled people's relationship with Comic relief. Thanks for posting it publicly.


1 March 2013

Great letter Dave! Hope you get as positive a response as last time around.please keep us posted.

Merry Cross

28 February 2013

Dave is right. It does feel like a massive reversal to the bad old times. I for one, despite being an oldie, not one of the young professionals he mentions, would be willing to meet with you and discuss this.