I agree with Peter Beresford’s recently reported view that the disability movement in this country has found itself at something of a crossroads.
At a time when disability legislation, including the new disability equality duty, promotes inclusion and bans discrimination, when direct payments (and the prospect of individual budgets) off er many disabled people unprecedented autonomy, when documents like Improving Life Chances acknowledge the social model of disability and commit this government to including disability issues into mainstream politics, what is left for the disability movement, apart from overseeing these changes?
Inequalities and stigma still exist, particularly for those with mental health issues. Many people, whose needs are defined as low or moderate, don’t get the help they need. Many older people don’t even ask for the help they are entitled to, often because they don’t want to be stigmatised as disabled.
Disability activist and academic Tom Shakespeare argues – my apologies for oversimplifying – that the disability movement should ditch the politics of difference and acknowledge the diversity of disabled experiences. Fellow activist Colin Barnes thinks disability politics has become too rights-focused, and that we should become part of the wider struggle for a more egalitarian society; you could see the establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights as a step in this direction.
A political movement needs a philosophy, an ethos. But this needs to inform and refl ect the experiences and ambitions of its constituents.
Recently, when I described my local service user organisation to someone he replied: “Oh, you mean it’s a trade union for disabled people?” Perhaps that’s the next step: after campaigning for civil rights, like the gender and race equality movements, we need to move on to campaigning for further integration and greater equality and, on the practical level, supporting and representing individual members and groups who are being treated unjustly – just like a trade union.