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  • Author or Editor: Alan Roulstone x
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In an era of scarce social resources the question of the changing social policy constructions and responses to disabled people has become increasingly important. Paradoxically, some disabled people are realising new freedoms and choices never before envisioned, whilst others are prey to major retractions in public services and aggressive attempts to redefine who counts as ‘genuinely disabled’.

Understanding disability policy locates disability policy into broader social policy and welfare policy writings and goes beyond narrow statutory evaluations of welfare to embrace a range of indicators of disabled people’s welfare. The book critically explores the roles of social security, social support, poverty, socio-economic status, community safety, official discourses and spatial change in shaping disabled people’s opportunities. It also situates welfare and disability policy in the broader conceptual shifts to the social model of disability and its critics. Finally it explores the possible connection between changing official and academic constructions of disability and their implications for social policy in the 21st century.

The book is supported by a companion website, containing additional materials for both students and lecturers using the book, which is available from the link above.

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Disabled people, policy and social inclusion

Working futures? looks at the current effectiveness and future scope for enabling policy in the field of disability and employment. By addressing the current strengths and weaknesses of disability and employment policy, the book asks Is the dichotomy of ‘work for those who can and support for those who cannot’ appropriate to the lives of disabled people? Does current and recent policy reduce or reinforce barriers to paid employment? What lessons from other welfare regimes can we draw on to further disabled people’s working futures? The book is original in bringing together a wide range of policy insights to bear on the question of disabled people’s working futures. It includes analyses of recent policy initiatives as diverse as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Draft Disability Bill, the benefits system, New Deal for Disabled People, job retention policy, comparative disability policy, the role of the voluntary sector and ‘new policies for a new workplace’. Contributions from academics, NGOs, the OECD and the disabled peoples’ movement bring multiple theoretical, professional and user perspectives to the debates at the heart of the book.

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Beresford provides a warning against any blithe acceptance of new terms in social care and support. He warns against the term ‘personalisation’ being seen as a new, inherently progressive and irreversible development and language. These assertions are helpful and sobering. So often, newly minted terms in adult social care arise and are aggrandised by use and exchange to take on proportions and promise that cannot be delivered, or that even distort reality.‘Empowerment’, ‘citizen control’, ‘user-led services’,‘emancipatory practice’, all in their time offered new visions or even relations of social support while strangely emanating from a traditional practice and policy context. What makes personalisation different is the apparent borrowing of the language of the Disabled People’s Movement and perceived convergence of Department of Health (DH)-driven policy and the more collectively based ideas that sprang from a radical rejection of a paternalist heritage. This convergence could be the result of a genuine listening and response of the DH and an attempt to deliver on the process of capturing the voices of the Disabled People’s Movement. Alternatively, personalisation and self-direction can more generally be seen as a cynical use of the term, as a sort of Trojan horse, for obscuring cuts and externalising risk to sick and disabled people in the longer term. For example, by simply changing the language slightly from ‘personalisation’ to ‘personalised solutions’, we can undertake a policy sleight of hand that increasingly expects self-determination and self-provisioning to prevail in an era of chronic austerity. This has already happened to some extent in the linguistic shift from ‘self-direction’ to ‘self-management’ and in the shift to personalised ‘condition management’ in the wider policy domain.

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In this chapter the current crisis in welfare to work is explored by contextualising longer run developments in the way in which work has changed and been redefined. The chapter argues that what was once a range of diverse and localised work activity has in time, and with industrialisation, been increasingly associated work with paid employment. This it is argued has major significance for individuals whose bodies or intellect are non-standard in a standardised labour process. One of the key reasons contemporary and recent policy makers have struggled so much to connect disabled people with paid work opportunities are the long-held views which associated paid work with valued and valorised social activity largely undertaken by standard workers. The implications of the chapter are that even major efforts to get disabled people to fit the current definition of work will only be successful if there are clear and systematic efforts to challenge the nature and value system that underpins industrialised processes.

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The question of disability policy, or more correctly social policies aimed at disabled people, has always formed a key feature of most modern welfare states. The British welfare state has historically seen disability as being central to many of its overt concerns. Beveridge’s identified giant evils including want, idleness and squalor have been particular issues and barriers for people with physical, sensory and intellectual impairments. Breaking the link between engrained poverty and disability remains a key challenge for contemporary social policy. Lack of access to paid work, to humane and robust sources of economic security outside of paid work and lack of choices in daily living have all ensured that wider policy measures have often been ‘stillborn’ in terms of their wider effectiveness. This book aims to pull together the most up-to-date and engaging materials on the nature and efficacy of ‘disability policy’ while placing these in a historical policy context. By so doing we have been able to highlight the longer-run policy challenges around supporting disabled people to live their lives to the full and in mainstream society.

A cursory reading of disability policy history or a visit to a government department website might suggest that disabled people in early 21stcentury Britain have ‘never had it so good’. While major steps forward in policy have characterised the 20th century, there remain many barriers facing disabled people that policies have not managed to erase or for which certain policies, particularly welfare transfers, may actually still be serving as barriers to participation in the mainstream of life.

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This chapter provides a brief introduction to the myriad of factors and issues that have helped shape disability welfare policy in the latter half of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Alongside laying out specific policy influences and positive developments from paternalism to increased control, those longer-run factors that continue to limit coordinated and effective disability policies are highlighted. One important example of this can be seen in the growth of disability provision, whereby benefits are based on the causes of an impairment rather than the extra costs and social barriers faced by disabled people (Barnes, 1991). Drake (1999) provides a guide to the tensions and overlaps in disability policy that are needlessly divisive in terms of the disability welfare category. He devised a four-part typology of historical policy interventions for disabled people. Containment and segregation is synonymous with the English Poor Law and the rise of industrial society and began with institutional attempts to contain and segregate disabled people as perceived threats to non-disabled society. Notions of risk, contagion and moral hazard underlay many of these impulses to contain and segregate. With a growing welfare state in the 20th century and changing sensibilities, industrial and war-related impairment led to concerns to compensate disabled people for the specific losses incurred in social opportunities occasioned by war or industrial injuries. Welfare protection for people with a range of impairments did not happen substantially until the 1940s, with the advent of the British welfare state, and welfare provision, however generous, was based on a firmly paternalist stance that operated on the principle that professionals and the state ‘know best’.

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This chapter primarily concentrates on the period immediately after the Second World War, working its way through to the 1970s. Although Chapter One showed that individuals with impairments have been subject to public hostility for centuries (Barnes and Mercer, 2010), and such hostility was intensified by the onset of industrialisation with its concomitant demand for speed and dexterity from factory workers (Ryan and Thomas, 1980), time and space prevents a longer and more detailed historical exploration of the segregation, marginalisation and exclusion of disabled individuals in the UK. However, any book relating to disability from the 1940s onwards still needs to contextualise the pertinent conflicts, oppressions and concessions surrounding the developments that have driven a succession of political, attitudinal and socioeconomic changes. Suffice to say, such changes have not always been linear or intentional, nor have they been entirely consistent or convincing in terms of application and direction. In part, power struggles, vested interest, pragmatism and acquiescence help to explain the shape of social policies aimed at disabled people. As a consequence of these battles, institutional discrimination, whether it be intended or not, has embodied a culture of oppression against disabled people which: embedded in the work of ...welfare institutions, and is present if they are systematically ignoring or meeting inadequately the needs of disabled people compared with able-bodied people. It is also present if agencies are regularly interfering in the lives of disabled people as a means of social control, and/or to an extent, not experienced by able-bodied people. It is therefore a descriptive concept related to outcome.... It incorporates the extreme forms of prejudice and intolerance ... as well as the more covert and unconscious attitudes which contribute to and maintain indirect and/or passive discriminatory practices within contemporary organisations. (Barnes, 1991, p 3)

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The changing sensibilities and policy imperatives that led to wholesale deinstitutionalisation and the emphasis on community-based care led to major changes in the way in which policy constructions of disability, need, community and statutory resources were to be interpreted. Although notions of disabled people receiving support in the community date back to pre-history (Richardson, quoted in Grant et al, 2005) and were indeed common before the Industrial Revolution, modern notions of community care were different in assuming:

  • that segregation in long-stay hospitals was neither humane nor therapeutic;

  • that long-stay contexts were prohibitively expensive and unsustainable;

  • that the community is the best place in which social ‘care’ and support can be offered;

  • that a variety of formal and informal support should be made available;

  • that the family and wider networks would have a role to play in community care.

Community care was first mooted in official policy terms in the 1950s with the Royal Commission report on Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency (1957) while the Mental Health Act 1959 established the desirability of moving former long-stay mental hospital patients to community settings (Blakemore, 2003, p 205). The Minister of Health’s famous ‘Watertower Speech’ of 1961 added further to the philosophical backlash against institutions which served as little more than forms of incarceration for some disabled ‘inmates’. Historically those deemed mentally ill and those with learning difficulties (in the 1950s called ‘the mentally deficient’) were lumped together with assumptions going back to Galtonian eugenics that both groups represented a moral and social hazard that needed to be contained (Barnes, 1991).

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This chapter explores the responses to and position of disabled children since 1997 and the rise of New Labour. The treatment of children in the policy process is one that requires careful appraisal given that the impact of policy on disabled children will be mediated by wider policy discourses and treatment of adults, most especially where the latter are under policy scrutiny, for example, if they are out of work or a single parent (Ridge, quoted in Millar, 2003; Lister and Bennett, 2010). Even a cursory glimpse at child policy development since New Labour came to power suggests a major policy commitment to all children, with an attendant and clear commitment to disabled children which arguably knows no parallel in the history of disability policy (Barnes, 1991; Drake, 1999; Borsay, 2005). This commitment helped attempt to overturn a major rise in child poverty during the years of Conservative Party rule between 1979 and 1996 (Lister, 2009). The strength of this commitment was clearly articulated in New Labour’s commitment to halving childhood poverty by 2010 and to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

The issue of poverty reduction for disabled children is a significant one and suggests that any analysis of services for disabled children has to be explored alongside the broader socioeconomic position of disabled children and their families. There is evidence that a good economic start early in life can significantly aid socioeconomic status later in life (Burchardt, 2003). This view was largely shared by New Labour and was translated into the language of prevention, establishing opportunity and longer-term inclusion from childhood (PMSU, 2005).

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