Government austerity measures and their impact on the Social Model

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2012 National Disabled Members' Conference
6 July 2012

This Conference reaffirms UNISON’s policy position to support the Social Model of Disability as the appropriate interpretation of the cause of exclusion, discrimination and barriers that prevent equal participation of disabled people in society. We object to this Government’s austerity measures as the solution to economic recovery which are causing a retrograde position for disabled people by identifying them as medical commodities rather than offering economic reform measures within a social model context to protect the limited right to equality.

Conference confirms that disabled people are experiencing detriment as a result of government policies that lead to: a reduction of public services that are vitally needed by disabled people; reduced work opportunities in the open market; even worse living conditions when disabled people are unable to secure paid work; attacks on the terms and conditions of employment when in paid work and unfair scrutiny and punitive measures against those who need additional support through state disability allowances.

The Social Model was created by disabled people themselves in response to the institutional denial of opportunities, the restriction of choice and self-determination and the lack of control over the support systems in their lives, this led them to question the assumptions underlying the traditional dominance of the medical model.

Through the social model, disability is understood as an unequal relationship created within a society in which the needs of disabled people are often given little or no consideration. Disabled people are thus disabled by that exclusion from full participation in society as a result of physical, organisational and attitudinal barriers.

This is true of both disabled people whose impairments or assistance facilities are evident and of those disabled people with less visible impairments or assistive aids.

As we have seen above the social model starts with the premise that disabled people are not a problem; the problem is the way society is organised. If society was organised in a different way then a future that works for disabled people would be possible.

Disabled people should enjoy the same rights as everybody – to live in the same streets, go to the same places and do the same things as their non-disabled peers.

People do not “have” disabilities, like attachments compelling them to live different lives. It is society that disables people with impairments, by creating or approving institutional barriers like policies, procedures as well as the physical built environmental barriers or lack of facilities to public systems and buildings.

The social model considers what changes would be necessary so that all people might live ordinarily independent lives. Disabled people identify fundamental needs that have to be met for independent living to be a realistic proposition, these are:

Information independence – this is not about disabled people doing everything for themselves but simply about being in control of what happens to them. In order to make decisions about what happens, a disabled person needs to be in a position to make an informed decision based on information about the choices that are available, this includes those who may need help making those decisions from someone who has been in the same position, hence peer support or advocacy services.

Housing – Providing facilities that the disabled person can get into, move about in, live in, that which is in the right geographic place and with facilities that are relevant and accessible in relation to the disabled person’s impairment .

Technical Aids – Once accommodated in housing and employment disabled people may need equipment such as technical aids and accessible domestic tools to make possible the things disabled people want and can do for themselves.

Independent Living – For those disabled people who cannot do things for themselves, due to impairment reasons, they may need personal assistance support – someone with the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience to do some things on the disabled person’s behalf and in accordance with their wishes and needs. This should be provided by the personal assistance service of choice and through a service that can be tailored to the daily living, employment and social needs of the disabled person.

Environmental Access – In order to work or participate generally in society disabled people have to be able to get out of the house and get to a destination and utilise buildings. Access to the built environment is essential not just to people with mobility needs, but also those with sensory impairments, learning difficulties (including neuro-diverse impairments), those with learning disabilities and other impairments.

Education – Inclusitivity and independence in education start at a young age for disabled children. Education establishments, accessible learning, teaching staff that have received disability equality training and a zero tolerance to disability hatred in the classroom can change the lives of disabled children and lead to vital options later in the adult world of work. It is important to recognise the positive effects for all children and adults, including non-disabled children and adults in inclusive education and the union should be concerned that a decent education is vital for building a society where everyone is enabled to reach their full potential economically and socially.

The distinct need of choice of Deaf BSL users to maintain Deaf schools in the interest of upholding the government’s commitment to recognise BSL as the fourth indigenous language of the UK and the culture associated with the Deaf community is also accepted as a component of the disability rights framework for the union.

Access to information, accessible housing, assistive technological aids, independent living budgets, accessible and affordable transport, access to the built environment and access to education are critical to equality for disabled people.

Any attack on public services has an impact on equality for disabled people and should be challenged as a breach of disabled people’s rights as established in international law under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Conference instructs the National Disabled Member’s Committee to:

1)Treat the Social Model of Disability as providing core values for all its work

2)Use the Social Model of Disability, the right to Independent Living and the Public Sector Equalities Duties whenever it can to challenge government austerity policy on cuts to public services by promoting a model of inclusive living for the future.

3)Take action to ensure disabled members have the opportunity to be at the heart of all UNISON campaigns to end futile government actions on austerity.

4)Elect at its next committee policy meeting, interim lay officers to be responsible for promoting UNISON policy within the union, on the social model’s seven needs, such posts should be complimentary to the roles of the NDMC’s Co- Chairs and Deputy Co-Chairs

5)Bring forward proposals to NDMC 2013, as it sees fit, to enshrine such positions permanently within the constitution of the National disabled members committee.

6)Explore working with appropriate external organisations that are run and controlled by disabled people that support the ethos of trade unionism, to take forward our opposition to austerity on the basis of the social model as far as such work is consistent with UNISON’s rules

7)Use evidence from this conference to inform UNISON’s anti-cuts strategy to promote an organising agenda for disabled members

8)Make representations to the British Government that its policies are in breach of its responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Submitted by the National Disabled Members’ Committee