Article: Dick Leaman - The Commodity of Care (1990)
Celebrating UPIAS's 50th Anniversary: Part 5
About this Series
The Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) was formed in September 1972, after Paul Hunt wrote letters to different newspapers and magazines asking disabled people to help set up a new organisation.
Hunt first suggested that this should be a ‘consumer group’ to look at the different kinds of support disabled people were getting and decide which gave them the most control over their lives. UPIAS quickly became much more than that. The group brought together disabled people who were sick of being let down by poor housing, segregated education, campaigns about ‘disability’ that were led by non-disabled people, and new kinds of ‘help’ from charities and governments that didn’t bother to ask them what they needed or wanted.
They decided that they needed to get to the bottom of why disabled people got such a bad deal: why were they so often poor; why were physical buildings and public spaces built in a way that shut them out; why were they kept separated from non-disabled people in special Homes, hospitals, clubs, and transport; why did non-disabled people think they had a right to make decisions about their lives?
During these discussions, UPIAS members realised that this inequality had nothing to do with their bodies or minds being different to anyone else’s. With the state of technology and know-how in the 1970s, there was no reason why a wheelchair user, a blind person, someone with no hearing, a pain condition, etc, couldn’t get a job, an appropriate house adapted, or use public transport if it was adapted for their mobility needs. This meant that there is a difference between an impairment – a person’s body or mind being different to other people’s – and their disability – the fact that society is designed in such a way that they are stopped from doing what other people do.
This idea, which was later called the "social model of disability" inspired the Disabled People’s Movement in Britain and worldwide. UPIAS members understood that the only way to change their exclusion was to change society and that only disabled people could see what changes needed to be made. They brought the idea to their local work, setting up Coalitions and Centres for Integrated Living, and made the idea national when they helped form the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP). Through BCODP, the social model went global, when British delegates convinced members of the Disabled People’s International of their analysis in the early 1980s.
Despite these achievements, a lot of articles written by UPIAS members have been out of print for decades. To celebrate UPIAS’s influence on us as disabled activists, we will be publishing articles by UPIAS members each week for the next two months to help activists today better understand our history.
Each article will be free to download, with large print and easier-to-read versions alongside a text-only, screen-reader-friendly version of the original.
The DPA are delighted to publish an article by Dick Leaman, an early member of UPIAS and one of the founders of the Lambeth Coalition of Disabled People and the Centre for Integrated Living; as well as an active member of other DPOs in South London in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Here, Leaman looks at the Tory government’s plans from to turn social care into something that is bought and sold, instead of provided by the state. Despite the government claiming it had an agenda for ‘Community Care’, Leaman argues its reforms have nothing to do with either ‘community’ or ‘care’. They are simply a financial reform, designed to make it easier to make social care cheaper and to cut taxes for the rich and powerful. According to Leaman, the government had opted out of discussions about what social care should look like, what services should be offered to disabled people, and who should make the decisions about what does and doesn’t happen in the sector.
The government’s retreat from these debates, Leaman argues, presents great risks and great opportunities for disabled people. Reforms to services are likely to mean cuts, and new battles between the disabled people’s movement and local councils over what is available. If the movement wins those battles, though, the fact that central government does not want to interfere gives them the chance to radically change the way support services are designed and provided.
This article was published in the September 1990 issue of GMCDP’s Coalition magazine.
Links to different version of this article are below:
14pt. The Commodity of Care by Dick Leaman
18pt. The Commodity of Care by Dick Leaman