Institutional care creates institutionalised abuse

Institutional care creates institutionalised abuse

While Andy Rickell praises the principled stance of one politician, he still fears the law of unintended consequences when it comes to residential care.

Rarely will you hear me praise any politician because rarely do they stick their neck out for a policy that would truly improve disability equality.

So step forward Norman Lamb MP, former Minister for Care and Support, in his advocacy whilst minister of moving support for people with learning difficulties away from institutional hospital settings in the light of the horrendous abuse perpetrated at Winterbourne View. What I particularly liked was the insight in the policy that it was the institutionalised nature of support that created the environment in which abuse could flourish. This is of course what activists for independent living and disability rights have been saying for decades.

That was the good news. However, the bad news, what we now know a year or so on from that policy announcement, was the “abject failure”, in the minister’s own words, of that policy. Basically his directive had been completely ignored by senior professionals, and people with learning difficulties continued to be sent to hospital settings. The minister was very honest about his feelings, and used words like “completely frustrated”, “very distressing” and “cynical”. Welcome to our world, sir, you are amongst fellow travellers here.

It is sad though to see in 2016 the same sort of indifference to empowering models of support that caused disabled people to take up the fight against the “care” system over 40 years ago. Sir, we would be keen to compare notes with you about how to achieve the cultural change necessary, and which has been achieved in some parts of the country.

The clamour of disability activists for “choice and control” over the state support we receive is not just a nice to have, but to remove power from professionals and civil servants who can make decisions contrary to our interests, and hence improve our security and well-being.

The next Winterbourne View – and there will be one – may not be what these professionals intend by operating their unwanted policies of institutional incarceration. But now that they have been told to do otherwise, such abuse cannot be other than on their heads. And the very willingness of the system to institutionalise these disabled people is itself a signal to the abusers that society does not care as much as it should, and offers an unconscious green light for abuse.

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