Society at The Edge


We usually know how long most watersheds are likely to last. The gap between completing examinations and starting a vacation job was a matter of a couple of weeks. A week might be allowed between essays. Even periods of unemployment could be reasonably predictable. People with learning disabilities are to be admired for the way they manage long-term unemployment b y building voluntary work and education courses and even small-‘p’ political activities into their lives. The problem with the Brexit watershed is that we have no real idea how long it will last or even the shape it will take.

We are into real broad-brush territory here. It could be next spring before we really know which way the Brexit cat is going to jump. On the other hand, we may be in the thick of another election sooner than we think. Mrs May can safely announce the end of austerity because she knows very well coming events will ensure a good excuse for reneging on that promise. Even if those events are delayed, we have no real idea of the shape the end of austerity will take.  It is pretty certain that the brakes on public sector pay will be eased in certain areas, but more than that we know not. The transfer to Universal Credits will continue to be rolled out, something may be done to solve the crises in childcare or even care for elderly people. What it all will mean on the ground is a mystery.

As was said last month, worrying emptily about the next stage can lead to a breakdown, but kicking your heels during a watershed can store up trouble for the future.  What kind of strategic planning is appropriate now? What kind of constructive speculation can we indulge in?

Last month’s piece urged the reintroduction of consensus into the language of our politics, and a cross-party, cross-organisational agreement on the how the shape of the lives of people with learning and communication disabilities should take.

We are starting from a much better place than the one we occupied in 1983. The people that matter are more knowledgeable and positive about their own worth. By way of self-advocacy, they are better placed to be involved. Indeed, they are well placed to lead the whole debate. However, the obstacles to change are very similar to those that existed then. The goalposts may have been moved, but they are still the same goal-posts.

Segregated education has been recreated into a system for short-term intervention, but still isolates people with learning and communication disabilities.  People are still dependent on their parents. In many cases they live in quasi independence, but the overview of Social Services is poor and the ultimate back-stop remains the family. They often live in clustered and group settings which are watered down versions of institutional care. In England some true institutions still prevail. Perhaps this is why so many adults remain in the family home long into middle age.

Surely the new consensus needs to be framed around identifying bad situations and formulating a clear path to realising every individual’s potential to be a valuable contributor to Society. It will mean a massive program of attitudinal change within mainstream society.

One of the casualties of the post-consensus era has been the silencing of the voice of reason.  Since 1979 a new Dark Age has seeped insidiously into Public Life, culminating in the diminishing role of true expertise in the conduct of our affairs. Gone are the days when the products of great minds like Popper and Galbraith shone a light through the murky way ahead. They were first replaced by lesser lights like Keith Joseph and Milton Friedmann.  When their ideas led us deeper into the darkness expertise was discarded altogether, and so we fumble along.

I mention this because a lot is understood about change and the role of communication in the process. There is a vast literature on the subject but, by means of the gutter-press and quiet control of other media, this knowledge is never revealed by the media. Instead, it has been harnessed to lead us deeper into darkness. This knowledge has to be reclaimed by the forces of Good. Someone has to lead the way, and the organisations available to people with learning and communication disabilities can perform a great service to all disadvantaged people by taking on this role.

It is not for me to dictate to people at the coal-face how they should go about it, but the following suggestion is offered in all humility. A good slogan like ‘Let’s Reclaim the Decency of Consensus’ might be a start. A check list of obstacles to be removed could follow, and a funding strategy drawn up. No new money, but the gradual transfer of resources from failing government structures to new, dynamic structures driven by people themselves. Only then should  a conference drawing together the big guns of the voluntary sector, statutory bodies, campaign groups and the political world be called. No pussy-footing, these must be party leaders, senior civil servants and chief executive officers. The focus has to be on people with learning and communication disabilities, and the outcome has to be a Standing Conference, with a year’s program to be reviewed annually. If the appalling waste of human potential in the lives of people with learning and communication disabilities can be eliminated, the rest will follow naturally.

There is just one additional proviso: the debacle that accompanied the collapse of the All Wales Strategy of 1983-96 has to be avoided. A mechanism has to be put in place to short circuit the resentment of other disadvantaged groups. It has to be an inclusive strategy, drawing them in as the initiative progresses.

Look at the manifestos of the main political parties, the realistic contenders for government control. People with learning and communication disabilities do not get a mention. They themselves must use this watershed well, seize the agenda and take it forward. Take our country back from the greedy and self-seeking.

Thank you for reading this page.

© Ken Davies October 2018