Yesterday, the BBC published a survey commissioned from ComRes to mark the 40th anniversary of the ‘Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970’ which was the first piece of legislation that recognised ‘disability’
It is hard to imagine that it was only forty years ago. Even harder when you realise (as I hadn’t actually known before yesterday – possibly I shouldn’t admit to that considering how much time I have spent studying social care legislation) that it was actually a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Alf Morris (now Lord Morris). It was the first legislation in the world to give rights to people with disabilities and Morris became the first designated Minister for Disabled People in the world. And it was pushed through as a Private Members’ Bill.
Reading his words, from an article he wrote in the Yorkshire Post last year, gain an added poignancy in the light of both the survey and the general current political climate. He says
“If we could bequeath one precious gift to posterity, I would choose a society in which there is genuine compassion for long-term sick and disabled people; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where needs come before means; where if years cannot be added to their lives, at least life can be added to their years; where the mobility of disabled people is restricted only by the bounds of technical progress and discovery; where they have the fundamental right to participate in industry and society according to ability; where socially preventable distress is unknown; and where no one has cause to be ill at ease because of his or her disability.”
It is important to remember that the equality legislation and general societal attitudes today were achieved by those with vision and passion on whose shoulders the government now stands.
Anyway, back to the survey –
The headline figure is that 90% of people polled believe that people with disabilities should be provided with ‘necessary funds’ to make workplaces accessible. That’s a nice, comfortable figure. I have to say I do wonder about what the other 10% think though..
More concerning, to me at least, is that 40% polled believe that people with disabilities turn down jobs that they may be physically capable of doing. The question asked being
‘People with disabilities often seem reluctant to work even if they are capable of doing a job’.
That is a very high ‘agree’ figure in my mind. This is what the government want us to believe and have constantly pumped this rhetoric out to the grateful right-wing press.
Another interesting statistic is that 27% of people polled believe that
‘Government legislation to give disabled people access to work and independent living has gone too far’.
That surprised me. There is no such thing as complacency and patting ourselves collectively on the back for shifting social perceptions of disability.
Disability is and can be all of us. Our parents, our children, our friends and our colleagues. It is not ‘the other’ and can never be assumed to be. We all have a responsibility to providing that society that Morris spoke about where there is a genuine compassion where needs come before means. I fear we may be losing sight of that in the cuts rhetoric and the rolling back of services that encourage us to think about personal needs and gains rather than those of society as a whole.
I am mindful that some of the negative assumptions about disability exist because there are ‘invisible’ disabilities, particularly in mental health areas.
I used to work in a residential care home for adults with learning disabilities. We had a disabled badge on the car for the residents. The amount of times that staff were challenged by people who thought they weren’t ‘really disabled’ and didn’t ‘need the disabled parking space’ was almost comical. It was as if members of the general public needed to ‘see’ disability in order for the badge to be ‘justified’. That’s a very small, very silly example but without acknowledging and accepting that disability is broad and most often not visible, we can’t create the kind of society that Morris described so well.
As for ‘Big Society’ – we can’t create a better way of working inclusively without tackling prejudice, assumption and ignorance about what is and is not achievable and what can and should be done to help others living in our society with us. For me, the collective will seems a lot further away than it did before the election.