Disability rights 40 years on: Sector leaders give their view

Leading disabled people give their views on the legacy of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, the first disability rights law in this country.

Opinions on the legacy and limitations of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970


John Knight: ‘Social care lottery is still shame of politicians’

lf Morris turned a private member’s bill into a seminal piece of legislation that not only changed public policy thinking about disabled people but triggered subsequent rights-based disability legislation. He created effect out of intent, wonderfully so.

However, we need to avoid complacency. Yes, great progress has been made but there is still a long way to go before disabled people can be confident about using public transport, getting a job and owning a house. Tackling the corrosive effects of disabled people’s poverty still remains a key challenge for future governments. The lottery of social care provision still remains an issue shamefully ducked by politicians. Good intentions but little effect. Any new government could learn a lot from Alf.

Harold Wilson rightly made Alf minister for “the disabled” in 1974. I was then a child in a residential special school. I remember Alf visiting and being interested in us kids and not the school. A rarity indeed.

Little did I think that 20 years later I would be embarking on a parliamentary lobbying career in the disability third sector that would bring me into regular contact with Alf. I don’t blame him for my career choice but do think that, like for many thousands of other disabled people, he made it possible.

John Knight is director of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability:

Peter Beresford: ‘Disabled people have found their voice’

Massive changes have been achieved by disabled people over the last 40 years. But sadly what they highlight most is the distance still to go. Over this period the disabled people and service user movements have come into existence and exerted an unprecedented impact.
Disabled people who would have been hidden away in institutions, made to feel inferior and kept in dependence, are now doing the ordinary things, like going to college, being part of gay pride celebrations, appearing on soaps and campaigning for change.
But while there is anti-discrimination legislation, the strong national network of local disabled people’s and service users’ organisations that we need to help enforce these laws remains an insecure aspiration. Older disabled people are still treated by policymakers as a burden and mental health service users still stigmatised as a threat.
Hate crime is increasingly coming to light. Disabled people are still routinely denied the human rights of freedom of movement,
family life, adequate income and equal access
to paid employment.
At the same time they are constantly presented as welfare scroungers. The old disability charities reinvent themselves to keep control. One thing, however, will never be the same again. We have found a voice as disabled people. We have learned to speak and act for ourselves.
There will be no going back. Things will now always be different.

Peter Beresford is chair of national service user network Shaping Our Lives and professor of social policy at Brunel University

Michelle Daley: ‘Eligibility rules the next battle’

There has been a shift in how the government understands, promotes and offers social care to disabled people and also how it thinks about the rights of disabled people. The improvement in social care has given disabled people greater choice, control and flexibility over the services provided by the state. Equality laws have reduced some discriminatory practices towards disabled people and increased their opportunities and life chances.

But far too many people are being let down by tight eligibility criteria for care and charging. This has resulted in many disabled people surviving without proper support structures, being forced to live in unacceptable conditions and therefore becoming a burden on others.

The diverse needs of disabled people continue to be poorly addressed by many service providers, who categorise disabled people as a homogenous group.

Disabled people still do not have equal participation in society. We should have achieved this by now, 40 years after the passing of the act.

Michelle Daley is a former member of government advisory body Equality 2025 and is a freelance trainer and consultant on disability equality

Caroline Cousins: ‘Businesses must do better’

There have been many key moments for people who are deaf or hard of hearing over the past 40 years, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and the recognition of British Sign Language as a language in its own right by the government in 2003.

These advances, combined with growing social awareness and significant technological and medical developments, have enabled greater equality for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and an increasing recognition of the skills and talent that would be otherwise lost to society.

However, most businesses and public services are neither deaf aware nor prepared to make reasonable adjustments for staff or customers, whether they use BSL or communicate in English. This attitude is something that we must all challenge, but RNID recognises its special responsibility in this area.

We need to ensure all providers are educated in deaf awareness so that deaf or hard of hearing people have full access to all of the same services as the rest of the population, and that they are actively encouraged to seek all the benefits, help and support that is available to them.

Caroline Cousins is a trustee for the RNID and is deaf

Nick Danagher: ‘Transport is much easier now’

Since I just turned 40, my experience should measure the impact of the act.

My parents understood that inclusive education was key to my life chances. I went to one of the first secondary schools to integrate disabled children, after attending a special school that refused on “moral” grounds to let pupils take exams.

At 18 I was off to university. As an alternative to funding the support I needed to live on campus, the local social services director suggested that “someone like me” would be better off staying at home and studying with the Open University.

However, disabled people are definitely out and about more these days. The activist Dave Morris, who died recently, played a leading role in getting every London bus made accessible. He described the opportunity to take any bus as “feeling like a kid in a sweet shop”. The novelty hasn’t worn off for me either, and I still find myself going on unnecessary journeys just for that warm feeling of inclusion.

The 1970 act played its part, but we now need far more robust rights to independent living.

Nick Danagher is an independent consultant on disability equality issues

Andrew Barbour: ‘1996 act had much more impact for me’

The 1970 act didn’t do much for me, and I’m not sure it did a lot for many people with learning disabilities either.

I was just 19 when it came out and had already been locked up in a mental institution called Calderstones in Lancashire for over four years. There I was treated as a number, not an individual. The act didn’t change that.

Six years later my dad died and my mum’s health got very bad. I just wanted to go home to be with her. A woman told me that she had arranged for me to go home. I jumped into the car and off we went, only to find out that I was being taken to a hostel for the “mentally handicapped”. I stayed there for the next five years.

Eventually I got a job and went home to look after mum. After she died social services moved me into a flat, I had no choice. The law that changed things for me and some other people with learning disabilities, was the Community Care (Direct Payments) Act 1996. I got my direct payment in 1998. I haven’t looked back since.

Andrew Barbour is vice-chair of Tameside People First and trains on advocacy and disability awareness

Andy Rickell: ‘Activists have been key’

Disabled people’s lives have broadly improved. A key change has been about the part disabled people have played in their own emancipation. Organisations were set up to champion disabled people’s rights via principles of independent living, developed by disabled activists.

Locally this led to the development of centres for independent living and direct payments schemes. Nationally this led to the civil rights campaigns resulting in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and direct payments legislation.

All government policy has been influenced by the disabled people’s movement, culminating in the excellent Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People report in 2005. On the contrary side, increasing rationing of social care and the rise of poverty among non-working disabled people have undermined these aspirations.

Disabled people require a truly national care service, free at the point of use.

Andy Rickell is a member of disability advisory body Equality 2025 and chief executive of the Vassall Centre Trust

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