Disability, ‘Care’, Education and Equality – Coalition Agreement

The equality section of the coalition programme says it all: it is not more than half a page. Whilst the areas included within this section are not as detailed and broad as they should be, it is particularly disturbing to see no mention of disability. Equality is central to improving disabled people’s position in society, and Labour partly grasped that when initiating things such as the Independent Living Review. The central notion of ‘care’ is also worrying – as ‘care’ is tagged alongside disability to produce one of the sections. This is ignoring the significant progress the disability movement has made with challenging this patronising conception of provision, and also ignores the importance of the Independent Living movement for disabled people.

There is no mention of the need to radically restructure society so a lot of people who currently are disabled would no longer be so, as it is society’s social barriers that make people disabled, not individuals’ impairment as the current government may like us believe. Words such as ‘burden’ are used when referring to the ‘cost’ of disabled people. That is patronising nonsense. The fact is, they don’t want to change society because they know that would cost a lot of money, instead, they like to pass the blame for disabled people’s position to disabled people themselves.

A particular area of concern is the government’s views around education and disability:

“We believe the most vulnerable children deserve the very highest quality of care. We will improve diagnostic assessment for school children, prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools, and remove the bias towards inclusion”

There are various problems with this. For one, special schools are segregating and they should be phased out so that we have a movement towards full inclusion for disabled people within mainstream schools. There is an interesting piece by Jonathan Bartley on the problem with the wording “remove the bias towards inclusion” (click here), as he rightly claims:

“The problem is that the agreement focuses on only one set of disabled children – those who attend special schools. It does nothing at all to help those thousands of children in mainstream contexts, or who want to enter mainstream contexts, who need to have more inclusive schools. As it is, they have to battle just for the right to attend their local school.”

What needs to happen is a proper restructuring of the mainstreaming schools so that disabled people are able to be included, not integrated. The former places emphasise on the responsibility of the schools and government to ensure that no child is segregated, whereas the latter places emphasise on the child, so in this instance the disabled child, to accommodate to the school’s environment. Jonathan Bartley, who has a disabled son, made an effective and relevant point on David Cameron’s campaign trail:

“You are saying you want to reverse the bias towards the inclusion of children in mainstream schools. At the moment there is a bias against inclusion, not a bias for it, as your manifesto says.”

Totally correct.

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6 thoughts on “Disability, ‘Care’, Education and Equality – Coalition Agreement

  1. Whilst I share your concerns about the scant reference to disable people in the new coalition program, I have to say I agreed with David Cameron with regard to children being placed in mainstream schools that simply cannot cope with it, just because it seems the politically correct thing to do, regardless of weather it’s actually right for the child. Of course a lot of the this could be partly addressed by training ALL new teachers in special needs as standard.

    I changed to a mainstream high school in 1986 and I would never do it again if I could go back in time, nor would I recommend anyone else send their disabled child to a mainstream school. The teachers had a very positive attitude (and this was at the time when the Warnock Report had just come out so integration was a new concept) the kids where just kids – I can’t say I actually made any friends, but neither was I bullied and I came away with 4 GCSE’s at grade C. The reason I feel with hindsight that this experience experience was a bad thing is because it made me think I could have a normal life and slip into society after school and be anything I wanted to be. That was not at all true because 20 years later, the same barriers to work exist and the general attitude of society is still yet to catch up.

    I don’t have a sense of belonging in the able bodied world and nor do I feel any affinity with disability culture. I’m in this sort of ‘limbo’ and I feel this is due to my experiences at school. As a result I am trying now to find a way back into disable culture to find some sense of belonging, but it’s hard when you see disabled people as ‘other’ to you and yet you don’t feel normal either. I almost view disabled people from the perspective of an able bodied person, something removed from me. Who I am in my head and what I see in the mirror are at such great odds with each other that it’s deeply discomforting.

    A well as my experience of being an integrated pupil, I have also worked as a teaching assistant for children with severe learning difficulties and there is absolutely no way any of the children I worked with would ever cope in a mainstream setting full-time, and some would not cope at all (it was tried and not successful). Some children do need special schools in order to reach their potential.

    What I would like to see is schools running the national curriculum so that students can take GCSE’s (or whatever they’re called now!), but also receive physical therapy (mine stopped when I went mainstream) and be with other disabled children.so they don’t feel alone.

    I had an American teacher for a year whilst at the special school who came from a high school that had a special school and a regular school in the same grounds and pupils mixed where appropriate and went of for specialist tuition when it was needed. This seems a good solution for physically disabled children without a mental impairment, but they MUST have access to their own disabled culture if they are not to feel in limbo like I did.

    So, away from that and onto the benefits. It disturbed me to learn that your own doctor’s assessment will not be taken into account when you are called for the new work tests. I have a friend with ME who has twice had to fight to get her incapacity benefit back because the assessing government doctor didn’t ‘believe’ in ME and signed her off as fit to work despite the fact she can barely leave her bed most days and when she does it’s with the aid of an electric wheelchair. In her case it would be utter madness not to listen to her own GP who knows her case intimately and understands her particular condition.

    I’m not keen on this new benefits system they are proposing either. What if you have a car on Motability as I do now? If they scrap DLA, how will a person pay for their car? The way I read the proposals it also seems that you will have to exhaust your ‘Working Credits’ before you are allowed to withdraw ‘Life Credits’, and I just wonder if they realize how many people’s DLA actually goes on food and household bills.

    Fortunately we have the internet so we can keep emailing these politicians and making them aware of the finer points they seem to have failed to consider. I know you’re not terribly pleased with the lib-dem’s at the moment, but I have to say they were the only ones who bothered to answer me when I have raised concerns about disability hate crimes and other subjects relevant to disabled people in the past. We just have to keep making sure our voices are heard and they consult us before implementing any of these plans.

  2. Gaina,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I am not arguing for a like sudden closure of the ‘special schools’ – I was instead arguing for them to be phased out. The thing is, yes, at the moment it is hard to achieve full inclusion as the mainstream schools are build around providing services for non disabled people. This is why I argued for them to be radically restructured so that they allow all children to go there. I found a good bit by the Greens on it, and they were talking about moving towards including aspects within the actual mainstream schools for disabled people, its not fair that disabled people cannot take part in their local school just because the government or the schools fail to provide the services for them to do so. It is straight forward discrimination.

    I understand where you are coming from, but the fact that you didn’t feel totally included within school is the same reason that you haven’t in society, because there are so many changes that need to happen so we can remove those social barriers. But if we just say you know what it doesn’t matter, let those mainstream schools only be for the non disabled or whatever, it doesn’t help us address the problems and discrimination that stops everyone having the right to do what they want to do.

    I think that if you start having separate buildings you start to create a whole us and them problem. Instead, what is wrong with having specialist units within the school – and separating disabled people off from non disabled people doesn’t help counteract negative stereotypes too.

    Yes, the incapacity changes are very disturbing – I think its utterly disgraceful the way they are treating everyone who cannot fit within a capitalist mentally in a stigmatising way.

    In terms of the new benefits system, do you mean them putting it all under one system?

    I totally agree, we will have to keep putting the pressure on them. Yeah, the LibDems are not my favourite people atm, but I can see why they would be more responsive when it came to disability issues. Shame they have done nothing in this coalition to promote it.

  3. I think something we both agree on here is the American system that my teacher was used to whereby the pupils came together when it was appropriate and joined other classes where one-to-one attention was needed. I remember watching LINK on the BBC a while ago where they had a school for the deaf in the grounds of a mainstream highschool which worked very well and the deaf students actually came away with better qualifications that the national average for deaf students in totally mainstream schools so I think you’re right when you say that access to the necessary support makes all the difference.

    As far as the proposals for the benefits system overhall go, you can download the PDF at http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/default.asp?pageref=266

    Scroll down to the section marked ‘dynamic benefits’. And prepare to have your blood pressure tested to it’s absolute limits. Haha.

  4. Yeah, that is a good way to go about it, I agree. Segregation just promotes this view of ‘the other’ and so that’s why I am against the ‘special school’ system that Cameron is intent on promoting. Yeah, there just needs to be more restructuring of the mainstream school system to provide disabled people the same opportunities that other children have.

    Ah, this is Iain Duncan Smiths stupid think tank lol. I really don’t like him. Bad times he is at work and pensions.

    What so they want to have two types of benefits? That is actually insane. There is no way that people are going to get their individual needs tailored to. And you know the Universal Work Credits, that includes incapacity right? Well you have to go on a welfare to work programme, so they are going to force people into work aren’t they?

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