Friday, 27 November 2009

Supporting families affected by disability

I started the day with a meeting with Janice Jenner and Liz Farmer for a briefing on the work (and some of the frustrations) encountered by 'Contact a Family' – a social enterprise that supports and provides advice to families with disabled children.

When I worked for the Conservative Party as the Head of External Relations, one of the groups that I worked closely with was the Conservative Disability Group which developed thinking to help support disabled people in our community. It was Margaret Thatcher who introduced the first Disability Services Act in 1986 which required local authorities to think more about the responsibility they had to help ensure people with impairments could take their place in society and we can be proud of what has been achieved.

Today, one of the issues that needs to be looked at is how we help those who care for others. There are often issues with child carers who have to look after parents suffering from illness or disability. More often, families with disabled children need emotional and often financial support to help them care for their children and siblings can be affected too.

Many parents in this situation find themselves confronted with a barrage of bureaucratic processes - with seemingly endless, spirit crushing forms to fill out to get anywhere. I have always been quite attracted to some of the ideas practiced in countries like Sweden and actually piloted in some local authorities in Britain, where you simplify the process, have a single assessment of need and then give more power to families to determine how their budget is spent.

The thing about disability is that each and every situation is unique and so the system needs to have plenty of flexibility to respond to differing needs. All too often it fails to do that. There is no shortage of government guidance piled layer on layer from above but the system just doesn’t respond adequately to the unique needs of the individual case.

That is why I think there is a lot of potential for social enterprises in this field – because they can offer support which is more personalised.