When I was walking my dog Humphrey through the churchyard of Godalming parish church, I discovered the story of the new memorial bench, which is a replacement for the previous dilapidated wooden bench removed in 2018. Like the previous bench, the new bench is dedicated to the DIG campaigners, Megan Du Boisson, Berit Moore (Stueland), Mary Greaves and Sir Peter Large. So, who were these people and what was DIG?
The Disablement Income Group (DIG) was a disability pressure group formed in Godalming when Megan du Boisson and Berit Moore wrote a letter to The Guardian newspaper on 22 March 1965. DIG was one of the first pan-impairment pressure groups in Britain, and campaigned to highlight the inequalities in welfare provision for disabled people – at a time when married disabled women were entitled to no financial support – and to campaign for a comprehensive disability income. This campaign was instrumental to the creation of a series of new social security benefits in the 1970s. DIG was significant as its leaders were themselves disabled. For this reason, many consider DIG to represent one of the key organisations in the beginnings of the modern disability movement in the United Kingdom.
Berit Moore (Stueland) who died aged 75, was well respected in disability reform circles and is credited with providing the phrase that became the title to the BBC radio programme “Does He Take Sugar?”, while reflecting to a BBC producer on attitudes to disabled people. She never allowed her disability to stop her fighting for what she believed in. Amongst her many activities outside of disability campaigning, she translated into English The Little Red Schoolbook (1970), which at the time was a controversial manual for schoolchildren written by two Danish teachers featuring information about sex and drugs. When it was published in the UK it was the subject of a successful prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act.
Megan Du Boisson was a Director and the secretary of DIG, she contacted a number of sympathetic MPs and peers from each of the three main parties, supporting them to table repeated questions about provision for disabled people. She was also instrumental in organising successful rallies in Trafalgar Square in 1967 and 1968, the second of which coincided with the United Nations Year of Human Rights. In the first issue of DIG’s magazine Progress, in 1968, the continued failure of government to address the needs of all disabled people was presented as a human rights issue – an historic moment. Megan died in a road traffic accident in 1969, but she had already started the ball rolling for disability benefits.
Mary Greaves, worked as a civil servant until her retirement, when she was awarded the MBE. Then she travelled the country investigating employment opportunities for disabled people. The information she gathered became the basis of her book “Work and Disability: Some Aspects of the Employment of Disabled Persons in Great Britain” which was published in 1969 and became a standard reference work. When Megan Du Boisson died, Mary Greaves took over as Director of DIG. Mary’s parliamentary skills assisted Alf (later Lord) Morris in getting the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (CSDPA) on the statute book in 1970. That act introduced the orange (now blue) badge scheme. It gave disabled people rights to social care provision. She also worked with Harold Wilson to ensure that the Open University provided facilities for disabled people. She was awarded the OBE for her services to the disabled.
Sir Peter Large entered the scene in the 1970s, he was responsible for persuading the government to introduce what was then known as the Mobility Allowance. Without it, hundreds of thousands of disabled people today would not have a car through the Motability scheme. He was also the major player in having building regulations changed in 1985 so that new buildings had to be accessible to disabled people; the results are around for all to see. He also chaired the committee whose report eventually led to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in 1995.
Godalming should rightly be proud of the difference that DIG and those who supported it made in helping to create a more equal society.