Government policy aims at community inclusion, encouraging and
enabling everyone to be part of the community. But what is meant by
“the community”? Is it the world of work, the geographical area
surrounding where we live, or perhaps a group of like-minded people
linked through a hobby or interest?
Day centres have been closed in an effort to include people with
learning difficulties. Older people are being encouraged to remain
in their own homes. Children with special educational needs are
being supported to achieve within mainstream education. Laudable
ideas, but do they work?
A teachers’ union has suggested that mainstream education for all,
without enough support resources, can discriminate against the
needs of both the individual and the class as a whole. Too little
support may be given to the child who needs it but the rest of the
class may have been disrupted anyway.
The closure of day centres has taken away the stigma of clubs for
those with learning difficulties, but it has also removed the
supportive group environment both for the individual and their
An older person discharged from hospital may find their care
package does not incorporate communication time to meet emotional
as well as physical needs.
A busy home care worker may not be able to spare the time to
“enable” rather than “do unto”, while neighbours may not have the
time to pop in for a chat. Unable to get out, our older person is
left confined within four walls. Is this inclusion?
Victorian philanthropists were proud of their efforts to give back
to the community. But in Victorian times communities were more
static. Today we may not even know our neighbours. Often we are too
busy keeping up with our own lives to be able to offer much, if
any, support to others.
To ensure that policies intended to include do not instead
discriminate, the government needs to recognise the dichotomy
between the ideal and the reality. It must ensure enough support
resources are available to meet the assessed needs of individuals
and of the informal care support network around them.
Val Newton is an external verifier for health and social