Disabled people must beware of the “fakes” and “so-called friends” who try to jump on the independent living “bandwagon”, according to one of the disabled people’s movement’s key figures, in his first speech on disability in 10 years.
Professor Mike Oliver, the disabled academic who first defined “the social model of disability”, was speaking in public about disability for the first time since his retirement in 2003.
He warned that recent victories that will slow the implementation of the new personal independence payment and could delay the closure of the Independent Living Fund might prove to be only “pyrrhic victories”.
He told the London launch of UK Disability History Month 2013 (UKDHM) – which this year is celebrating the struggle for independent living – that there were six “lessons from history” that disabled people must learn in their continuing struggle for independence.
But he said that even if those lessons were learned, disabled people would still be forced into a “hard and bitter” fight for “our fair share of an ever-shrinking cake”.
Oliver said the first lesson was “never to forget where we came from”, and described how he and his wife had visited a luxurious retirement village that 40 years earlier had been a crowded, shabby, deeply institutional Cheshire Home, where the residents had to queue in corridors to be bathed and toileted.
He said that disabled people must remember that “we were the ones who escaped from our isolation and segregation, whether we were in homes or our families”.
He added: “No-one else did it for us. We created a strong and powerful disabled people’s movement which promoted independent living as one of the central planks of our struggles for full inclusion into society.”
Oliver said the second lesson was that independent living did not mean “living on our own” or “doing everything for ourselves”, but was about “having choice and control in our lives” and “autonomy and self-determination”.
He said the third lesson from history was to beware of “the fakes who seek to jump on the independent living bandwagon”, such as the big charities who “claim to promote and support independent living and yet continue to run residential homes and even export the residential model to other parts of the world”.
Oliver said the fourth lesson was to be suspicious of the movement’s “so-called friends”, particularly those who had hijacked the direct payments initiative and were using it to replace the welfare state with the “individualistic” personalisation agenda.
He said that direct payments had been intended as a way of “giving disabled people control over our lives and getting professionals to work with us on our terms and agendas, not theirs”.
Oliver said the next lesson was to “honour the many disabled people who never managed to escape from the isolation and neglect of earlier times, or those who died on the journey towards independent living”.
The final lesson, he said, was not to collude with the attempts of governments to “turn our ideas into their own agendas”, warning that the economic meltdown had allowed the coalition to “cut our services virtually unchallenged because they can claim they are giving us what we have asked for: independent living”.
He added: “The problem is that they don’t mean giving us the support to enable us to exercise our autonomy and self-determination, but to be independent from them and the state.”
20 November 2013