Coronation Street actress Cherylee Houston has hit out at the closing of the Independent Living Fund, the provision that provided financial support for people with disabilities across the UK.
Houston, who has used a wheelchair since being diagnosed with rare connective tissue disorder Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, said to RadioTimes.com of the scrapping of the ILF:
“It’s appalling and I’m dreading what the government are going to do to disabled people next. They’re taking away everything that links us to society.
“People who had ILF will now have to go to bed and get up at whatever time their council says. They won’t be able to work or socialise. They’ll just be at home, washed and fed. It’s dreadful, considering this is an affluent country. It makes me want to cry.”
Since 1st July, management of the ILF has been handed over to local councils to distribute as they see fit. The move leaves thousands of severely disabled people in the UK facing uncertainty because the money does not have to be ring-fenced and could be used for other purposes.
Added Houston: “Some councils have said that they’ll freeze the money until they decide what they’ll do. For others, it’s gone. It’s become a postcode lottery and whether you get more help is now dependent on where you live.”
The amount of money set aside by the government will also be changing – £262m is now under the control of local authorities, down from £300m in the days of the ILF.
“It terrifies me,” said the actress, who plays Izzy Armstrong in the ITV soap. “Shouldn’t the system be protecting the vulnerable? But what we’re doing in this country is protecting the rich, which is astounding. If the big companies paid their tax bills, then none of this would be happening. But what we seem to be doing is targeting those who haven’t got a voice.”
Cherylee Houston as Izzy on Coronation Street with co-star Mikey North
Houston was talking ahead of the broadcast of The Dad who Fell to Earth, a Radio 4 play written by Toby Hadoke and recorded close to the Coronation Street studios at Media City in Salford.
The drama (to be aired today at 2.15pm) sees Houston play Jan, the wife of a man who – in the wake of his dad’s death – finds out that he was secretly an alien from a distant planet.
“I play Jan, who’s the man’s wife and the voice of reason in the play,” she explained. “But it’s left up to the listener to decide what’s going on. Was the man’s dad really an alien? Or is this just a manifestation of his grief? It’s a very clever and charming piece of work. Really warm.”
Houston said that she hopes to continue to mix radio work – including a new series of the drama Tinsel Girl – with her ongoing role as Izzy on Corrie, a part that she cherishes for giving greater visibility to people with disabilities.
“Now disabled people have role models. When I was a kid, you didn’t. These days, there’s my presence on Coronation Street, Lisa Hammond on EastEnders, Liz Carr on Silent Witness, plus a few others who are now starting to come through.
“It takes away people’s fear. Fear is built out of ignorance and the way disabled people are treated is down to a lack of understanding. We have been hidden away from view, but now that we’re on TV, people are actually seeing us as human beings.”
The Dad Who Fell to Earth is on today at 2.15pm on BBC Radio 4
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