So it is General Election time. NDTi is a non-party political organisation. We exist to promote a society where all people, regardless of age or disability, are valued and able to live the life they choose. We believe that all people should have choice and control over their own lives, that their human rights be respected and that they are valued as equals.
At the risk of ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ the capacity to achieve these things is significantly driven by how the government of the day approaches its responsibilities. We cannot and will not say which Party might do that most effectively, but we can certainly highlight the issues that are important and which we hope voters will pay particular attention to. Here is my take on that.
I’m going to steer totally clear of Brexit – even if the election is significantly about that – and definitely not getting into questions of leadership competence (though applying some of the content of our leadership programme would flash up clear warning signs about some politicians). Instead, I’m suggesting five areas where the views of candidates and Parties merit particular scrutiny before an X is put in any box.
I nearly steered clear of this one as well – but you can’t. The system is more than creaking under the strain. Demand is increasing with knock-on effects on the NHS. We are in what has to be called a crisis and throwing more money at social care will not resolve it. Dilnot, despite its positive reception when published, appears to be past history. We need a comprehensive, bi-partisan review of social care, which doesn’t just look at funding, but also asks how the funding model and levels will address my next four points – rights, inclusion, voice and poverty.
Hustings Question: How should the funding and operating model of social care change so that people experience better life outcomes as a result of the work of the social care system?
The people whose lives NDTi is most concerned with often face threats to their rights, with their life chances constrained by the attitudes of others in society. Our human rights framework exists to provide leverage to address those negative attitudes. The legislation needs not only to continue, but also be backed up by positive action and support from government, the public sector, businesses, communities and others.
Hustings Question: Do You support the Human Rights Act and our continued membership of the European Convention on Human Rights? If not, which rights do you propose we no longer need?
Whether that be separate special schools for children, so-called assessment and treatment units for people with learning disabilities or large-scale residential and nursing care for older people, the way in which we support and care for many people is still based on segregation. Operating in a way that enables people to live life in the community, alongside family and peers, should be the starting point for public services.
Hustings Question: What changes do you propose making to ensure that disabled children and adults and older people receive services and support in ways that mean they are able to live their lives as full members of society and not be confined to segregated services?
The Brexit debate opened up the question of whether we can trust experts, but the one set of experts we absolutely should be listening to are experts by experience, i.e. those with experience of living with a disability or the experience of ageing. Ten years ago, it was becoming the norm that people should always be involved in discussions about their lives and services – but that momentum has significantly been lost. National funding for representative bodies has been cut and there has never really been a strong national voice of some interest groups (for example older people).
Hustings Question: What action should be taken to ensure that the voices of disabled and older people are central to decision making about their lives and the services that they need?
There is an undeniable connection between disability and poverty and between being a carer and poverty. The employment levels of disabled people are unacceptably low. If you are a carer, it is often impossible to be able to work. There are often additional costs associated with having a disability or ill-health or being a carer. The benefits system is part (but only part) of the answer to this challenge. Poverty is a real issue facing the people that NDTi works for. Services and support are important, but addressing poverty could have a more long-lasting impact.
Hustings Question: What steps do you propose to take to address the clear evidence of how disabled people and carers are disproportionately living in poverty?
These are intentionally broad ‘big picture’ questions. Whilst specific policy commitments are important (though we know they are often ignored post-election), I would suggest that the general attitudes towards people at risk of societal exclusion that politicians will bring to their role are far more important. My questions are intended to help surface people’s underpinning mind-sets that will, amongst other things, determine how they will address new issues that arise during a term in office.
When it comes to June 8th, NDTi’s staff, Associates and Board will no doubt cast their votes in a number of different ways (a quick canvass has already identified support for four different political parties). I am sure though, that the answers to questions like these will be driving our individual decisions as we enter the polling booth.
Rob Greig is the Chief Executive at the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi)
NDTi is an organisation that promotes equal and inclusive lives for people in their communities, particularly where ageing or disability are issues
Rob Greig's blog is a personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the NDTi.