SHARED LIVES SHARED COMMUNITIES?
In the 1980s and 1990s an over-whelming majority of disabled people with learning difficulties had jobs in the local factories, cafes, shops, pubs, and gardening centres. And that some of them would be employed by the local authority to empty the bins and sweep the floors or work in their offices. Whilst having a job, workers with learning difficulties would be known by their local shop keepers, launderette, bobbies on the street and the local post office and would feel safe on public transport knowing that the bus conductor would be on hand if needed. Many workers with learning difficulties could rely on the shops always giving them the right change, a co-worker may help out with paperwork such as paying bills, dealing with utility company and alike. When work and services focused on building relationships with their customers, residents and alike, there was less concern over people with learning difficulties being exploited. So David Cameron’s Big Society would surely support thousands of disabled people to live independently free from local authority funded support. However, we all know that the Big Society spectacularly failed many disabled people – incidents of hate and mate crime, bullying, social isolation and institutionalisation is on the rise despite many more of us suppose living independently within the community.
The Big Society is based on the state empowering local communities and individuals taking more responsibilities for themselves. Increasing we are expecting to become CEOs over our lives, sourcing our own self-help and other services for ourselves. We are becoming a nation of self-administers where we are expecting to do more of the admin ourselves. Increasingly more public services including housing and social care, tenants and clients are being asked to do more tasks on-line such as reporting repairs, making complaints and paying the rent and alike. As a result, there is less interaction between services and service users – Service providers are no longer building relationships with service users and are becoming less responsive in dealing with low-level issues that has a real impact upon disabled people’s lives. Increased reliance upon technology and automation has reduced the opportunities for disabled individuals to seek assistance from trusted and bodifa adults.
Whilst disabled people have always face challenges, I believe the informal networks are disappearing as we no longer know our neighbours and key public service staff by name. So increasingly, we have to rely on developing our own networks of supports to provide informal assistance for members of the communities that would otherwise be vulnerable. More and more disabled people are relying on their own resources and creating social capital, social trusted networks for themselves. Paid work, voluntary work, engaging in civic and political campaigning activities and local community groups, living within closely-knit families with extended friendships all provided people with learning difficulties opportunities to develop mutual and inter-dependent relationships. In work, we all rely upon each other to perform their jobs whatever they are for the work to be completed successfully. In family homes, people with learning difficulties would be doing earns, giving care and alike. It is through these bonds that creates social networks, a source of support, whether that is someone coming over to help with paying the bills, making telephone calls to the housing association or wooing away nuisance neighbours.
Increasingly disabled people are being expected to manage their own services through direct payments if they want to have a full-time programme of purposeful and meaningful activities. Parents and carers are taking on their daughter’s or son’s CEO’s role as local authorities’ care agencies does not provide the quality of assistance. So, parents are often have to hope that there are willing support workers out there willing to work with their children. And too often, disabled people are left without assistance because people do not want to take on a flexible job on a low salary and without associated benefits.
With increasingly segregation and institutionalisation of disabled people, there has been a tendency to view certain categories of people as strangers, reducing them to the unknown or unaccustomed. As a result of segregation disabled people are viewed as anything other than human, which allows others to do whatever they want free from punitiy. As a result, many people have not developed trusting social networks that comes from participating in shared lives, going to the same schools, youth clubs and community groups, work and leisure places. It’s only through shared lives that there is a sense of comradeship amongst humans. To provide opportunities for shared lived experiences, communities such as L ’Arche, Camphill Village Trust and other small scale village based communities have been set up where disabled and non-disabled people are learning, working, living and socializing together that provide the foundation for supported social networks that shield us from feeling and experiencing vulnerability. Whilst I am no fan of village communities as they are set up and controlled by non-disabled people, could what they do be replicated in our local areas. Could we establish places where there are shared-life experiences that draw us together that will foster genuine experience of independence?
Loneliness and Cruelty: People with learning disabilities and their experience of harassment, abuse and related crime in the community