Philip J Connolly
The Disability Resilience Network is asking for two years of your free time, say about five hours a week. Over that time we aim to help two million disabled people or those with a long-term health condition fulfil their own ambition to become successfully economically active and engaged in wider society.
You don't need to remember lots of facts, you don't even need to need to know where the facts are, you just need to make a connection to power but if you do want analysis of disabled people's experience of Government policy check out the website of the Disability@Work team of academics and if you want to understand the depth of the connection between disability and poverty look at chapter 5 of the Institute of Fiscal Studies Report from 2018 at R145 for web.pdf (ifs.org.uk). I think it’s good to know the arguments and even better to know the detail of the underpinning evidence but a local branch of the Disability Resilience network can share the knowledge and skills required including making a connection to power.
That power may be in the possession of elected people such as councillors or MPs, non-elected people such as the media or social media influencers or simply public opinion or key elements such as disabled students. It is worth thinking of how these people live and how they come to make decisions. Certain stories are illustrative of what works. When President Kennedy was considering signing the "Partial Test Ban Treaty" in 1963 the story goes that he looked out of his Oval Office window and gazed into the rain. "You mean that the fall out nuclear ash is in that rain", he asked. "Yep" his advisor replied. When Reagan went for a walk in the woods with Gorbachev during a visit to Iceland he connected with the Russian Leader over the simple act of walking. They agreed deep cuts in their nuclear stockpiles and paved the way for the I.N.F. treaty in 1987.
However you seldom need to meet world leaders. Your social services budget is administered by your lead council members and they can be scrutinised for the quality and value for money of their decisions by an inquiry of backbench councillors. You can approach the chair of the scrutiny panel with evidence, arguments and suggestions for the terms of reference for an inquiry. You can even obtain that evidence through freedom of information requests to the lead officer for compliance for the council. It is possible to mirror this process with the select committees of MPs in parliament. You can add weight to your arguments through your choice of witnesses and the places you choose to visit. Though in both cases the recommendations are not binding the inquiries can call senior officers and/or senior politicians to answer questions and provide a written response and through this process exert considerable influence on decision making.
Public sector contract (above a threshold in value and duration) issued by either central or local government can now be assessed for their impact on disabled people. This process is possible following the Social Value Act of 2012. In 2020 following guidance 6/20 the metrics adopted included a metric on disability employment. The metric becomes a contractual term and can be monitored as part of the delivery of the contract.
There is power within the social connections of disabled people too. The power to trade, exchange and collaborate. You may opt to exchange units of time as in Timebanking or units of alternative currency as in Local Exchange and Trading Schemes (LETS) for mutual aid tasks. You can share the capacity to save as in credit unions or form exchange schemes around specific needs e.g. Driveshare.
Developers submitting planning applications are required to include a "Statement of Community Involvement" and these statements could or should include dialogue with disability organisations or access groups. This dialogue has the potential to advance disabled car parking provision or M (2) standards for disability access in housing standards. The planning gain known as section 106 (under the 1990 housing and planning act) can potentially be used to deliver further access improvements in the street environment such as crossings, lighting, speed restrictions etc. In London further funds can be levied on developers in the form of the community infrastructure levy or CIL (a precept set by the Mayor) and 25% of the allocation can be spent in the affected neighbourhood following the results of local consultation.
Greater political influence can be leveraged by working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Disability to conduct local inquiries into the impact of Government policy or practice on disabled people. By obtaining qualitative and quantitative data at constituency level reports can be sent to MPs and local media outlets so that key decision makers understand the local dimension of the national picture.
It may sound like a slog but it may also be the case that the current disability sector is not maxing out on the currently available opportunities for change. In other blogs such as "Disability Unleashed" I discussed how to challenge poor policy making and in future blogs I will consider how to transfer power to disabled people but its important for us to know where the current opportunities lie and what the limits are too. Not least because it is so often the people who have done that are the people most likely to successfully challenge the present power imbalance.
The Disability Resilience Network would like to ask if you will be our lynchpin in your constituency. Tell us your story of winning and losing with officialdom. We invite you to go to www.disabilityresiliencenetwork.org and fill in a form for free membership and include your story.
You could opt to bring your story to the first meeting of the new year on February 9th. The meeting will be a hybrid meeting. It will mark the launch of the network locally by being chaired by David Gregson in Leeds. On February 9th it won’t be that all roads lead to Rome but instead we can say all roads roam to Leeds.
To be disabled requires more than a splash of defiance so here it is. As Banksy put it in one of his pictures "I fought the law and the law lost." Let’s be winners!