Support service for disabled people called to account
Who guards us from the people who appoint themselves our guardians? Disabled people in the UK have just received an important judgment answering this question.
Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) is one of the biggest and best known organisations providing support services for disabled people. Its operations are international. Its founder, a war hero VC, created a powerful legacy of public support.
The Creature Discomforts campaign developed for Leonard Cheshire by Aardman Animations of Wallace and Gromit fame, have given it even greater profile. Leonard Cheshire Disability has also recently strongly associated itself with campaigning for and securing the rights of disabled people.
A recent ruling however, suggests that there is still much that traditional charities like LCD have to do much closer to home. While LCD provides a range of services, it is still particularly associated with the provision of residential care. The case in question concerns one of its residential care service users. It highlights the gulf there can still often be between the media campaigns and PR spin of charities' funding departments and what actually happens behind closed doors within the walls of their institutions.
The Information Commissioner's Office has found Leonard Cheshire Disability in breach of the Data Protection Act. This follows their failure to respond adequately to a request for access to information from one of their service users. As the Information Commissioner's Office puts it:
The commissioner takes the view that damage or distress to [name removed] is likely as a result of him not knowing what information about him is processed by the data controller and being denied the opportunity of correcting what may be inaccurate or misleading personal data about him, which may be processed by the data controller or others. The commissioner is also mindful of the fact that [name removed] is reliant on the data controller for his care and accommodation.
What these neutral, very formal official words hide and what this service user now knows having seen 90 emails about him as a result of this judgment, are comments like the following made by LCD senior managers:
"H's a git."
"(Name removed) the pain"
"This is blackmail!" (A response to a request for recompense for being overbilled)
"If he becomes a trustee, I will resign."
A suggestion by a manager that they should stop a holiday he had booked, by imposing false bureaucratic blocks, because of the problems that they felt he caused them.
When we read this, we should perhaps be mindful of three things. First, people living in residential services can be in some of the most powerless and vulnerable situations imaginable to the rest of us, barring being in a conflict zone. They can be reliant on the respectful behaviour of others for help with intimate daily tasks, as well as to support them to do all the other purposeful and pleasurable activities of life. Second, discrimination against disabled people is illegal in the UK. Third, Leonard Cheshire Disability announces itself on its website as existing to:
change attitudes to disability and to serve disabled people around the worldโฆ The empowerment of disabled people who use Leonard Cheshire Disability services across the organisation is another key activityโฆ Campaigning for the civil and human rights of disabled people is also a key activity for us. Our breadth of experience, knowledge and constituency of disabled people gives us a unique platform from which to engage in public debate and to campaign on the social policy and civil rights issues that have an impact on disabled people.
It is time that this organization was brought to a public platform to justify these claims. I for one would be happy to debate them with it - as doubtless would this unnamed service user - given half a chance.
Peter Beresford is professor of social policy at Brunel University and chairman of Shaping Our Lives, the national user network
Country: United Kingdom of Great Britain
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