I wrote this about fifteen years ago, when ‘regeneration’ was a major driver. Not really very pleased to see that not only have we not got very much further, as outlined in today’s House of Lords report on the impact of the Equality Act, but in some respects our current situation is worse.
The afterthought at the back of the queue?
More disabled people live in poverty than any other group, and we often
experience exclusion over and above that of all other members of society.
Many of us have little choice or freedom over where and how we live: some
cannot even choose such basics as when to get up or go to the toilet. At a
neighbourhood level we often cannot even get into the shops or the community
centre. Local initiatives do not take our needs into account.
Despite the fact that disability is now recognised, in law, as an issue of
discrimination, and that it is widely accepted to be a human and civil
rights issue, and that we live disproportionately in poverty; despite the
fact that we are three times as likely as any other group to be unemployed,
and that we remain unemployed, on average, twice as long, and that when we
do have work it tends to be in low-paid jobs: despite all this being
recognised – our very existence and our systematic exclusion from society
was not addressed in the government’s recent proposed framework for the
National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal.
Disability has been traditionally seen as a welfare, medical, or charitable
matter. Thanks mainly to disabled people’s own efforts a civil rights agenda
is now in place and disability is seen more as segregation and exclusion –
ironically, often delivered by those very agencies acting ostensibly “for
our own good”. Disabled people have been relegated to institutional “homes”,
to a lack of public transport, with little real access to education,
training, and real jobs. The services which are meant to exist for our
benefit fail us, and even abuse us. We are lucky when we can get out of our
homes independently. This is real exclusion.
The proposed strategy says “The waste of potential holds back the country’s
prosperity.” This is true also of disabled people. If we are, ironically,
excluded from current and proposed social exclusion remedies this is a true
waste. If neighbourhood renewal is to mean anything to the upwards of 10
million disabled people in this country then it must explicitly include
disabled people, and address the causes of our exclusion.
The Disability Discrimination Act has been on the statute books for five
years now, although some parts of it are still to be enacted, and additions
have been called for by the Disability Rights Task Force. Independent living
is becoming a reality for more people as the Direct Payments Act becomes
more extensively implemented, albeit without co-ordination. The Building
Regulations have been gradually improving physical access to buildings over
recent years, and are due to be reviewed. The coming into force of the Human
Rights Act is imminent.
However, despite a proliferation of agencies, there is no real evidence that
any of the current employment or regeneration strategies and programmes have
made a significant difference to the situation of disabled people in terms
of their exclusion from society. What legislation there is necessarily
devolves from a national centre and has little day to day impact on strategy
and / or policy at a neighbourhood level.
Access to training and employment support programmes; capacity building;
lifetime homes; accessible public transport; ability to take part in local
democratic structures – rarely, if ever, are such initiatives designed to
specifically include disabled people in neighbourhood renewal strategies.
So how could disability issues be addressed? Success will require the
demonstrable inclusion of disabled peoples’ issues in regeneration
initiatives, with a clear plan for monitoring and evaluating our real
inclusion in initiatives and activities. Disabled people would gradually
become more involved in local initiatives – they would cease to be
“invisible”. Non-disabled people would become more aware of how to organise
in an inclusive way and would no longer see provision for disabled peoples’
involvement as “special”. Ultimately, disabled people would be – and would
be seen as – contributing citizens with a potential which is realised,
rather than discounted and wasted.
Finally, a society which currently sees little or no injustice in excluding
disabled people even from the social exclusion debate would begin to
experience a more positive response to the existence of disabled people in
our neighbourhoods. And the government would avoid potentially putting in
place further exclusionary barriers which will remain for twenty years or
(estimated date 2000)
Featured in ‘A Liferaft in a Stormy Sea’ via Amazon