Post from Scope’s Chair Alice Maynard.
The anniversary of the Paralympics has sparked a nationwide debate about being disabled in 2013. The Government’s hope that the games would improve attitudes to disability has rightly come under scrutiny in the media. I’m just one of a diverse bunch of activists, experts, writers and sportspeople who’ve been touring the studios warning that the divisive scrounger rhetoric undermines any positivity from 2012.
In this blog I wanted to pick up on something that hasn’t had quite the same air space over the last couple of days… the Government’s ambition to get more disabled people involved in sport and the community more widely.
The Government’s independent evaluation points to small increases in participation in sport and the community. But there’s a bigger picture here. As Tanni Grey-Thompson argued recently if you can’t get out of bed or get washed in the morning, you can’t take part in sport and you are not going to be involved in the community. In 2013 there is a crisis in living standards for disabled people. Nearly one in five (16%) disabled people say they cannot keep up with rising costs of living. Disabled people are three times more likely to take out high interest, high risk loans to pay the bills. Yet the Government has stripped away £28.3 billion of financial support for disabled people. Meanwhile 100,000 disabled people are being pushed out of the social care system, with many struggling to get support they need to get up, get dressed and get out of the house. That’s why our Britain cares campaign is calling on people across society to tell the Government they really are concerned – they care – about this issue.
It’s not just adults. At the same time parents across the country tell Scope that too often local services segregate rather than provide support for greater independence and inclusion. The Government must take the lead. And it has two big opportunities: the Care Bill and the Children and Families Bill (which has been the focus of our Keep Us Close campaign), both of which are being debated this autumn.
If the Government wants disabled adults and children better included in sport and the wider community, it needs to end the squeeze on local care and place duties on councils to make local services more inclusive. Scope is one of many organisations making the case for a tougher legislation. But legacy is not just a job for Government, though they have a crucial leadership role to play. We all have to play our part in helping to realise a world where stereotypes and attitudes don’t hold disabled people back, and where inclusion and opportunity is a reality for everyone. Our actions must speak at least as loudly as our words; not always something that comes naturally to charities.
People rightly ask what we’re doing on the ground to create a society where disabled children and adults are better included in their local community. We’re proud of some our new services that are doing just that. Scope is running a pilot where parents of disabled children are supported to pool personal budgets from the council to buy accessible activities within their communities. And we’ve just brought out a toolkit for teachers to support them to better include disabled children in mainstream education.
At the same time we are transforming the more traditional local services we run so that they promote greater independence and inclusion. For instance, we have changed or closed a number of residential care homes in the last few years. This is absolutely crucial, but it’s not something that can be done without a great deal of consideration as it is often hard for the disabled people, families and staff involved. So when we make changes like this, we do our best to do it sensitively and respectfully, supporting everyone affected to understand what the changes mean and what choices are available to them. Where it is no longer appropriate for us to provide support for people, we want to work with the relevant authorities to help ensure that those people’s needs can be properly met elsewhere. We know that many disabled people find the pace of change frustrating and we know that a number of groups will be making this point as part of the ‘Reclaiming our futures’ week of action from Monday. But for organisations like Scope, there’s a real balance to strike between taking the time to manage change properly whilst not using this as an excuse to change too slowly.
To bring it back to Paralympics legacy. Although attitudes underpin everything, I hope we can debate how we better include disabled people in the community. The Government has to take a lead. But charities like Scope can’t simply shout from the side-lines. We have to make sure that we develop our services to embody inclusive education and independent living, however difficult that may be. When we get challenged on this, we must welcome that challenge and use it to help us make progress.