10 thoughts on what next for disability in Wales
Our innovation partner, Phil Madden, shares his thoughts on disability in Wales. Phil is Acting Chair of Learning Disability Wales. He has worked in local authorities and the voluntary sector in various front line and strategic management roles. He has also worked extensively internationally. His main areas of expertise are disability, service user involvement, the needs and strengths of family carers and the prevention of abuse. He is particularly interested in helping people to preserve their rights and services to systematically involve those they support.
I have been involved in disability since working as a nursing assistant for the ‘mentally subnormal’ in Llanfrechfa Grange in 1968. I’m now semi-retired and Vice Chair of Learning Disability Wales. My professional life was in local authorities and the voluntary sector in England. What strikes me coming back to Wales is it feels more of a social democracy. Also, being smaller there is also a closer connect with central government. These are precious positives. Here are some thoughts (unranked) about the challenges we face.
1. Recognise disability is increasing, for good and bad reasons.
- More young people with severe disabilities are surviving into adulthood and living longer because of medical progress.
- There is an obesity crisis (for contended reasons) with associated disability.
- People are (happily) living longer, but for most with age comes disability.
2. Remember why sometimes things have got better.
For example, large institutions have closed and disabled children have the right to education (they didn’t once!).
They got better because people challenged.
3. Nothing can be taken for granted.
We need eternal vigilance. Politicians, media and the public need constant and clear reminders of the social and financial cost of cutting services. Personal stories are the best way to do this.
4. Well-being or well-meaning?
The Social Services and Well-being Act is here. It has exciting ideas and good intentions. However, it will simply be the ‘well-meaning’ Act unless we measure it against people’s lived experience. Welsh Government must commit to systematic evaluation.
Fewer people are getting services and people are getting fewer services. Cash strapped local authorities are tightening eligibility criteria and reducing the range and frequency of services.
5. Social care is in crisis
There are staff shortfalls. Most staff are untrained. Services may not survive on the prices local authorities can pay, even without factoring in the minimum wage
There are already huge knock-on effects on families and health services. This can only get worse unless extra funding is urgently provided.
6. We have a poisonous crisis of language.
We need to reclaim the narrative. I am tired of hearing:
- disabled people being called skivers
- that there is no alternative to cutbacks
- that we should be ‘freed’ from state ‘dependency’
- that the answer is leaner, meaner and more imaginative services.
Of course efficiency improvements can always be made.
But it is both cynical and wrong to say that is the answer. The sheer volume and complexity of need requires money taxation. It is a fundamental part of the social contract. It is a fundamentally political issue.
7. We need stronger alliances:
- across disability
- with others in the community. Healthy communities need partnerships.
8. We need to ensure research is more effective and focussed on priorities.
Too often, in my experience, research can be esoteric and not focussed on changing the reality of people’s lives. Also, researchers could improve how findings are communicated. And services need to think why they ignore research findings that make them uncomfortable.
9. There are good people out there – cherish them!
Despite all the difficulties I keep coming across great people who inspire me. We need to look after staff too!
10. Really listen to and involve disabled people.
We could do much more to systematically listen to and involve disabled people and their families and then change what we do. The new Act, for instance with its emphasis on co-production, gives real opportunities to do this better.Back to blogs