The progress in our lives that has been made over the last forty years to foster inclusion for adults with impairments in the workplace and the social scene is significant.
However, the legal framework that exists to promote inclusive living, lacks teeth – would we rather that people ran businesses, or used the ardours of compliance as a reason not to do so? – and many organisations which are well placed to take on some of the provisions as they relate, for example, to making reasonable adjustments with an employee’s expected role in the workplace, seem to be remarkably ignorant that the world of work has moved on. How many local authorities know about the provisions of the Equality Act and enforce them with updated workplace policies? Not many, I fear.
The other problem, of course, comes down to money. As public services come under financial pressure, budget restraints are a fact of life for many of us. And it is too easy, as financial purse-holders take the broad-brush approach that seeks to solve as many problems as possible with the smallest budget, to spare a cursory glance at an individual’s life circumstances and decide, “This is what we have determined you need, so you will take it, and like it or lump it, (whether it actually helps you or not).” User-led organisations that produce good outcomes for their users tend to involve short-term investment in time and money that many think could be better spent in other ways.
But this talk of rationing is also, I feel, a bit of a red herring intended to keep us all in our places, grateful and a bit unsure. There is enough money in the system to give everyone the basic decencies. It’s just that the purse strings are controlled, at the moment, by many people who believe in the value of Trident and the arms industry, who promote fracking, and whose priorities are frankly different from my own.
For my own sake, I have to believe that talk of rationing and shortages is unhelpful, (in much the same way that if I tried to be too conscientious about environmental concerns, I would live no life at all). I have a healthy mistrust for people who talk about the value of multi-billion pound procurement contracts – for machinery, tax systems, computers, prison services, the police, the DWP – all the machinery of enforcement – yet who argue about the cost to the taxpayer of benefits, the need to incentivise the work of the poor, and so on.
So there has been progress, in many ways, but which appears to be undermined by a continual agenda suggesting that the needs of adults with impairments, the needs of asylum seekers and single parents in low-paid work should take second place to the needs of larger, more prestigious projects. I disagree. I feel that the welfare state, as it was conceived, was designed specifically to help care for those in our society who find themselves down on their luck, vulnerable or unable to escape from difficult circumstances; because it was recognised that every person’s contribution is valuable. If we lose that awarenesss, I believe we all lose a great deal.