Change that leads to better lives

Rosa Monckton does not speak for us or our children

Two stories from parents voicing their concerns over the claims made by Rosa Monckton and supported by Libby Purves in a recent article claiming that “We are letting down people with learning difficulties if we allow the minimum wage to price them out of jobs

Alex’s Story

Author: Marianne Selby-Boothroyd, Mum to Alex and Director of Development at Certitude.

Alexs Story

My son Alex is 8 years old; he is the youngest of my three boys yet the only one who willingly helps me unload the dishwasher, change bedding, hoover, cook… Those who know Alex – his family, friends, his teachers all have high aspirations for what he will go onto achieve in life. When last asked, his brothers thought Alex would be a good paramedic or teacher because he is so good at looking after people – yes, he’s 8!

It is therefore so disappointing to read Rosa Monckton’s latest limiting view on what people with learning disabilities are able to achieve in life – that they are not deserving of equal pay for the work they do and should accept less than the national living wage.

I refuse to write my son off before he has even had the chance to live. At his most recent school review, one of his greatest strengths was identified as his inclusivity – to Alex, everyone is welcome, everyone has something to offer and contribute (most commonly demonstrated at break time in the playground!). Even world leaders with vast salaries can often seem to lack this most basic and essential value and skill set.

I expect all my children to work, to contribute to their local community and if possible society more widely. Why should the fact that Alex has Down syndrome be a reason for this not happening? What are we teaching him and his generation if this isn’t a basic expectation? What on earth is he meant to do with his life?

For all of us, working means different things at different times in our lives – and the salary associated with working varies too – being a student, apprentice, working full time, part time, being self-employed, a volunteer are all things lots of us do at different stages. But at no point do we accept that being paid less than everyone for doing a needed job is acceptable. It isn’t. Its discrimination – no more, no less.

The issue really shouldn’t be about people with learning disabilities earning a lower wage, the real issue is why we continue to perpetuate these outdated and untrue perceptions of what people with learning disabilities can’t do. The issue is the deficit approach we as a society have. Why can’t we accept that people with learning disabilities have skills, strengths, talents and experience that make them valuable and equal members of the workforce?

Luckily, Alex and I have role models that show us how it can and should be done including Linda and her daughter Ellen, as well as the many people I work alongside within Certitude whose learning disability is simply one part of who they are. Their skills and experience which they bring to their work and the resulting impact they make (and for which they are paid above the national living wage) very much sets the standard for the future I hope Alex has. Rosa Monckton does not speak for me and she does not speak for my son and his future. Its time other voices were heard too.

Ellen’s Story

Author: Linda Jordan, Mum to Ellen and Senior Development Advisor at the National Development Team for Inclusion.

Ellens Story

My daughter Ellen is my best friend. Well, her brother Michael is my other best friend but here I am writing about Ellen! Ellen is 34 and we still love spending time together. We usually see each other on Sundays (when Ellen is not with her boyfriend). We go to the gym and shopping, and sometimes to the hairdressers or beauty salon we often visit family and then in the evening we meet up with Michael and his wife Emma for dinner. Ellen and I also have short holidays together. Before Christmas we went to a spa for a long weekend and we are currently planning a trip to visit Ellen's cousins in Cumbria.

Ellen is such good company. She is incredibly perceptive, intelligent, funny, generous and kind. We keep in touch with each other during the week by text and maybe once or twice by phone. Ellen has a busy life as she works in an office, is an actor and does quite a lot of public speaking and training on inclusive education. She is also is very creative. Apart from working as an actor, Ellen writes poems, stories and song lyrics. Ellen lives in her own flat with a flat mate and she has a large and lovely circle of friends.

Ellen has Down's syndrome. She has taught me so much about life; what is important. I have never wished she did not have Down's syndrome in the same way that I have never wished her brother did - they are who they are and are both part of the rich array of humanity. What is difficult to bear is knowing that there are people who think that the world should not include people with Down's syndrome and that they are a burden. This hideous thinking just reinforces the idea that some human beings are better and more important than others. It saddens me that Rosa Monckton is not able to celebrate her daughter's life and realise that she is privileged rather than somehow burdened. My daughter earns above the living wage for her office job and the training that she does, and Equity rates when she is acting. She has been supported by people who believe that she has the same rights as everybody else.

Rosa Monckton does not represent me or my beautiful daughter - nor does she speak for any of the many families I know who have sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles with Down's syndrome. Please can we be given a voice too?

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