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  • Writer's picturePhilip J Connolly

Disability Unleashed

The right to remove poor policy: the Disability Resilience Network goes countercultural.

All policy requires some form of legitimacy. It has to point to being the product of consultation especially with disabled people themselves. It has to provide a rational response to an identified problem. It has to have active support if not the willing compliance of the people it is intended to support. It cannot demand legitimacy instead it has to earn it. Therein lies the power of individuals to reject it.

The Disability Resilience Network in addition to these points wishes to argue that where policy is outmoded and serves only ideology and not disabled people it should be junked. If Governments make bad policy, the people must be supported to make good policy. If poor policy impoverishes us we must have an alternative that enriches us. There have been people who have starved themselves to death whilst waiting for a decision on their benefits so there has to be a timetable for restitution that the individual affected can influence. When required it should be quick to fix poor policy.

The disability movement largely focuses upon influencing policy development through meetings and written submissions with decision makers but could it not go further by withdrawing legitimacy and instead instigating non-compliance in response to bad or inadequate policy. I think so! To some extent Governments have already accepted this argument. There was a contestability argument in the commissioning framework, there is the right to challenge in procurement and there is mandatory reconsideration and appeals in the benefit system. But these opportunities for challenge seldom lead to changes to bad policy. The courts too have their constrictions. Case law is expensive to secure, uncertain in its outcomes and tends to apply only to the circumstances of the particular case. Politicians too are in a bind, by the time they have learnt their brief it is time to move on. The present Secretary of State for DWP is the sixth since Iain Duncan-Smith resigned in March 2016. The existing culture is therefore set against meaningful change. Hence the need for disabled people to think and act more counter-culturally.

The starting point of being counter-cultural is your determination not to have your life mapped out in the statistics that describe the norm or disadvantage that your health condition presents. Replace your marginalisation with support, educational attainment for a lack of accredited skills and employment for unemployment. I recall seeing a community of aborigines refuse what was termed sit down money and work with a welfare NGOs to acquire an asset that they could earn a rental income from (an excavator) and then use that income to replace the sit down money. They had disrupted the story line that they had been assigned and now had agency in the fate of their own community. Asset based approaches can disrupt the likelihood of future generations being poor.

The Disability Resilience Network is to be a network of individuals and organisations. Individuals can bring their life experiences to our work and organisations can bring their accountability and institutional memory. Individuals coming to the issue may well bring a creativity that is free of the restrictions of the past and so have a greater capacity to disrupt our own understanding and ways of working. We ourselves must be open to being disrupted and we must encourage others to disrupt the staid and boring. Young people are especially valued for their ability to disrupt and we see this attribute as a powerful driver of innovation. We deplore group think and see it as the antithesis of being resilient. There is much group think on disability and as our world strives to be more resilient the policy arena is ripe for disruption.

Organisations too could become more counter-cultural. The organisations within the disability movement could promote the Access to Work scheme given the vacuum in marketing created by DWP. The Disability Confident Scheme could be grafted with a level four awarded where a disabled person is actually recruited and retained so setting a new and more meaningful auditing practice that the exemplars in the business community and disabled people find credible.

Business especially technology is increasingly seeing value in disruption. Clayton Christensen has documented the way in which established markets are disrupted by innovation. All culture is of course open to disruption be it in fashion, music, literature, architecture. Once the vibe sets in everything constant is set in motion. Disabled people are in the right place to push and pull to accelerate the motion because there are so many of us, so many thwarted ambitions, so much patience waiting for the moment to redefine and redesign things in our image or from our imagination.

The Government too is gradually embracing disruption as it seeks to nurture innovation for example in the DEFRA funded coastal and flood resilience programme. Currently around half of the committed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions require technology that doesn’t currently exist. This is going to necessitate a more widespread culture of innovation. Non-elite for starters. This innovation in turn is going to require disruption of existing conventions, processes and attitudes. Where resistance is encountered counter-cultural trends will emerge. Why wait for them? Why fight them? Why not make room for both inclusive innovation and counter-cultural responses so that the forces promoting change are magnified and the chances of disabled people being the leaders of both are increased?

If this challenge is not responded to in the national disability strategy currently in preparation then in a globalised world people of diversity could opt to work for the people of other countries rather than their own. That’s a brain drain we simply can’t afford. That’s got to be worth disrupting.

Join the Disability Resilience Network and disrupt the predictions.

The UK Treasury forecast in March of 2021 that close to three hundred thousand job losses would occur amongst disabled workers over the next five years.


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