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We hear a good deal in the media about care in the community. At least, we hear about it when things have gone wrong. This is of course necessary in order to trigger rectification. What we do not hear about so often is when things have gone right; and that is just as necessary if we are both to reassure the disabled and to give proper recognition and encouragement to those whose hard work and dedication have resulted in the good news that reporters ignore.
Time was when communities assumed responsibility for the local disabled without question; when their charitable instincts were all the better for it; and when indeed the disabled had precious little other recourse. That is still the position today in many parts of the world: still, also, the position in rural areas of our own islands. Given the fact that as many as one-fifth of the child population may have a "special educational need", it is not surprising that in the small farming community in the Isle of Man where I grew up, we had our share of the congenitally disabled. But in so far as their handicaps permitted, they took part in the social, educational and recreational life enjoyed by the rest of us.
Let me tell your Lordships about Bessie, a deaf-mute girl on a neighbouring farm who, so far from being isolated, had the extraordinary effect of stimulating the dozen or so girls of her age-group to acquire the then current sign language (largely finger spelling, I think). I can recall the mixture of admiration and envy I felt as Bessie and my elder sisters enjoyed silent, giggly anecdotes I could not follow. Who taught Bessie and her mother, I do not know. Nor do I know how her friends learnt the system. What I do know is why they learnt it. Bessie was part of the social circle. Her place in it depended on the co-operation of the rest. Needless to say, she benefited by being able to join her peers in reading and writing, knitting, playing cards and Christmas party games. But her circle of friends benefited too, not only in her being an addition to the very small peer group, but because they discovered in Bessie talents she possessed in greater quantity than they
Of all the disabilities embraced for the purposes of this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, it is of those affecting communication that I have had most experience and it is on these that I should like to focus my few words. But they are certainly also among the most obvious of the disabilities that can be alleviated by active, informed, community support.
This is increasingly accepted within the education system, not least as a result of the inquiry conducted in the late 1970s by the lady who subsequently became the Baroness Warnock. In this respect, the Warnock Report of 1978 was following the recommendations of the Snowden working party of 1976, which on page 7 of its report stated:
Children with "special educational needs"whether it be learning disability, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, autism, or a specific language disorder such as dysphasia or dyslexiaare immeasurably helped in their communication difficulties by being thus integrated so far as is possible with their age group peers. And as in the case of my neighbour Bessie, the benefit flows not only to the afflicted.
A recent joint publication by the Dyslexia Institute and the City Technology Colleges Trust is illuminating in this respect. Sir Philip Harris's very successful career masks the enormous difficulties he suffered as a child through being seriously dyslexic, so it is not surprising that in the South London CTC that bears his name, there is a notably active Dyslexia Centre. This operates as the engine for a "whole school" approach to supporting the unfortunate minority whose maths, writing and reading are all adversely affected by their dyslexia. To quote from this publication:
I have paraphrased the document here with this phrase "every disabled child", for of course such a "whole school" approach fulfils the needs not only of dyslexics. As was said recently by the head of the Humberside County Council's Education Centre:
Her words reminded me of the Dublin working-class mother who noted just such a single muscle in her little boy and who, along with her neighbours, nurtured that single ability until the little cerebral-palsied boy became the world acclaimed writer, Christy Brown.
In the well-structured operation of a "whole school" policy, the disabled develop their fullest potential and the rest of the school learns how rewarding it is for the able to help the afflicted. So it isand has always beenin the world outside school: in the communities
How disastrously wrong such a conclusion is can be seen by a brief glance at speech therapy, the profession most concerned with the whole range of communication disability. As I was privileged to remind your Lordships during a debate in October, here is indeed a highly skilled, deeply motivated, superbly dedicated profession. But they number only 4,000 or 5,000 for the entire country. On top of their delicate task of diagnosis, assessment, design and prescription of treatment, they are also the people who, as their name implies, are responsible for carrying out the actual therapy. This means that most therapists have a dauntingly large caseload and can sometimes see a patient for only a single session per week. It is all too easy to see how the effect of any such splendidly prepared intervention quickly wears off if it is not strenuously reinforced by loved ones in the family, teachers in school, or friends at a social centre.
But this is what I had in mind when I referred earlier to "active, informed community support". Because, in an advanced country like our own, we have these expertly trained professionals like speech and language therapists, lay folk in the community should feel that they now have access to their skills and the chance of building up precisely the kind of informed support which can indeed reinforce the specialised but necessarily brief and infrequent therapy sessions.
What I should like to see, in fact, is the health professions diverting some of their time from a one-to-one treatment of individual patients and using it to devise delegable strategies of treatment and support which can be implemented, not for one hour a week by a professional expert, but for several hours a day by family, friends, volunteers: in short, by the community.
Lord Addington: My Lords, the Motion before us tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, draws attention to the wide diversity of the disability problems that we are faced with in this country today, as have the speeches that we have heard so far.
I first began to talk about one type of disability when I made my maiden speech in this House. I spoke about dyslexia. On many education Bills we have tried to get more attention paid to special needs. There are other people who know about other types of disability and they have made contributions. When discussing these Bills and these problems, we have discovered the different perceptions of what should be done, where we should go with help for the disabled and we have found out about the different kinds of problems.
I have used the example of someone who has had his movements restricted by being in a wheelchair. The case I had in mind was a classroom situation with that person being unable to go into a classroom, but being quite capable of taking the lesson. As the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, has mentioned, we have dyslexics. I am one myself and we have a different learning curve and we need different teaching processes. It may be that for certain lessons a dyslexic can very easily get in and out of a class but needs different types of tuition.
Usually, both situations can be accommodated if there is sufficient will. That is what is required to help all these groups: it is the will. The Government have legislation pending which will take steps towards giving better rights, no matter what those rights are called, whether civil rights or basic human rights. It is a question of giving disabled people rights which will enable them to be treated on a par with others. That is vitally important. We are not asking for special consideration or favours for the disabled of this country. We are asking for them to be shown enough consideration to enable them to be treated on even terms.
The legislation which we have in front of us is not as all-encompassing as many of us would like, but at least it is a start or, rather, one further step along the path. We have made progress before. The code of practice for special educational needs was a great step forward in that field. We are now moving into the world of work, but the Government are approaching it in rather a piecemeal fashion. I believe that most of us feel that they are taking a great deal of pushing to achieve their goal, but at least their appears to be some movement. One can only hope that we have overcome most of the initial inertia and that we shall make progress rather more rapidly in future.
We have to try to take on board the fact that we are dealing with a vast range of disabilities. We have to take on board the fact that we have to give knowledge about the vast range of disabilities. We have to try to educate people. Because something is not understood it should not be distrusted: one should try to get information. That means that we have to make it readily available, but at the moment it is not.
Various organisations and charities are involved in certain activities which are generally called in the charities field "awareness raising". That involves arranging a meeting, a press release or the celebration of an achievement. Then one talks about what has been achieved in that field and emphasises what could be done and also talks about the problem. The Government have not really taken that full level of activity under their wing. They have left it to the charities. I can understand that the Government would not want to try to replace all the things which charities do, but certainly they could become more involved in this field. Surely the Government should become more active in explaining consistently to people what, for instance, having dyslexia or having a learning disability means and the difference between those two types of problems and the different types of appropriate help.
When the new legislation comes to fruition the new advisory body will have a formidable task in terms of employers. When the Minister replies tonight I hope that he can give us some idea of the actual composition of that body and from where it will be drawing its expertise. That would be a help because then we would know to whom we can make suggestions.
Another subject which has been touched upon in this debate is that of research. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, mentioned the need for research into various fields. Another noble Lord mentioned the idea of being able to give better assisted joints and limbs to people through other types of research. This is an area where the Government really must take the lead because charities cannot do that. Many of the disabilities which have a genetic base have, possibly, a bio-chemical origin. There is the example of gene therapy.
It is possible that these problems can be avoided. Some kind of remedial action can be taken once the danger has been spotted. Those problems cannot conceivably be addressed by the charities or other private groups. We are talking about major funding with vast amounts of resources. We are talking about open-ended funding. How many charities can afford to pump possibly millions of pounds into an area of research which may well turn into a dead end, because that is the nature of research?
I have a connection with several small charities. Putting this kind of project to them is something which may make them turn white with shock or just laugh. The charities cannot carry out such projects. The Government have to state their claim here because the charities cannot do it. If we manage to alleviate these problems or prevent them occurring again, we will be saving vast amounts of money in the long term. Not only will human tragedies be avoided, but we will also please the Exchequer.
One would have thought that this kind of investment, which may even be sold afterwards, would be something which the Government would take on and that they would say "Yes, we shall help". There is much more that can be said on this subject for the simple reason that it is so vast.
I leave noble Lords with one thought: we shall always have new problems in this field, but we can take mighty strides towards alleviating many of their symptoms even if we cannot eradicate all of them, by making sure that people know that the disabled persons whom they are dealing with are, first and foremost, people. I very much look forward to the day when we shall have it in law in this country that such people are entitled to basic rights be they civil, human or any other kind.
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