Open Forum: 14 December

An opinion: Gimme Shelter is the best song the Rolling Stones ever recorded. In 2001, Valuing People identified “inclusion” as a key white paper principle. Six years on, a storm is rising. For years people with learning difficulties were segregated into long-stay hospitals with shortterm planning. New Labour promised to change the habits of an awful lot of lifetimes. Today such aspirations line up alongside the 9/11 legacy, exploited Africa and global warming.

Valuing People promotes person-centred planning as a means of achieving inclusion for individuals within their own communities. Being person-centred places individuals at the heart of the matter, in an unknown territory of environmental, social and political confusion. Being included means a lot more than direct payment initiatives; asserting independence involves joining the crowd. People with learning difficulties are about to witness the shock and awe of equal citizenship. Inclusion is sheltering in a world where the rivers run dry even as the tides are rising and bombs are hidden in backpacks.

It is Friday night at a small music venue for young bands: warm beer, low lighting, the place is heaving. At the bar, guitars eat up my ears. A song finishes and a short scenario plays out before me. A teenager to my left probably has a mild learning difficulty; he is Asian and is dressed in a leather biker jacket and jeans. He is among a group of white friends drinking lager. They seem relaxed and happy.

An older woman wanders over. It is obvious that she knows everybody. She turns to the Asian teenager and says: “Hi Raj, I like your jacket. You’re not wearing your usual pyjamas in here!” I cringe, yet she is not causing offence. The young man replies: “No, not in here, I didn’t want to stand out from everybody else.” Count in the next chord, here comes a shaky version of Gimme Shelter. Raj was included, possibly even transformed, but already he knew he was also someone else’s potential target.

Steve Day is assistant director of the Brandon Trust. 


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