Nice ‘n’ Sleazy does it every time

nice n sleazy

By @briantheroomie

When one considers representation and inclusion within the arts then it seems there is a huge omission in relation to people with a learning disability. Goddard (2014) argues that people have very little or indeed no say in the in the development of the inclusion agenda when considering the professional arts from a UK perspective. The lack of any real and meaningful engagement with the arts would undermine any notion of being taken seriously as a starting point. The field is highly competitive and success is often based on existing relationships. Menger (2006) asserts that any work or opportunity is generally ‘piecemeal’ this then links to reputation or standing within the immediate community or group. Accordingly this then serves to magnify the power of differences in talent and work opportunity to increase inequality.

When considering people with a learning disability as a “professional artist” then one could argue that identity and the ability to grow and understand self are the prerequisite within “creative learning” but if as Menger offers the field is limited then how are people going to access the chance to perform on their own terms and equally develop a sense of self value as an artist? Fundamentally if access is the issue then where are the spaces where people can access the arts and contribute on equitable terms?

I was introduced to the “Nice n Sleazy” festival four years ago and it has been overwhelming watch it grow and develop. The festival is named after The Stranglers hit song from 1978 and has been part of the live music scene for fifteen years. I initially I thought it was a ‘punk’ festival though defining that term is virtually impossible. Tait Coles (2014) refers to punk as a state of mind” and attitudinal. Danny Baker writing in 1977 in the D.I.Y magazine ‘Sniffing Glue’ argued it is “something new” and furthermore that confusion is all part of the underlying philosophy of the movement and therefore “f*ck it, you go and figure it out” Baker (2104)

With this in mind then what has been created by the organisers is a music festival – Nice ‘n’ Sleazy.

The difference here however is that it is evident that the team have adopted an approach to support equality, diversity and inclusion through their own understanding and definition of punk. If ‘actions speak louder than words’ then one can see the huge push to creating a space that is safe for all. It equally provides opportunities for employment and performance and then sets the scene for four days of music and entertainment.

In 2019 the festival was awarded ‘Disability Confident’ status. The tangible reality of this is that people with learning disabilities both perform and work on site For the full duration of the event. The Disability Confident scheme claims to support employers “to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace” (on-line 2020) Moreover the scheme is seen as a way of addressing how employers engage with people with a disability.

According to the web-site there are 8.1 million people in the UK that have some form of disability. Defining disability can be problematic however Shakespeare and Watson (2001) perceive the term as complex and assert that one cannot reduce a definition to just biological circumstances. Equally important are psychological and socio-political factors”. This seems to capture the idea that a disability could be a social construct, Hiranandani (2005) and here in is the overriding philosophy of the Festival.

When viewed through this prism ‘disability confident’ argues that by adopting more inclusive strategies for support then an organisation can change behaviour and cultures within “businesses, networks and communities “on line (2020) The reach is measured way beyond the immediate employer. By embracing inclusivity and by people having a visible and valued presence the potency of the message is magnified.

Running parallel with this is the notion that whilst exploring and having access to arts people with learning disability have a very real chance to “express themselves through different creative opportunities and media. According to (2020), people can “gain confidence” in terms of self-development. More importantly though is the idea of the person being seen and valued as an artist or performer in their own right. Creating our own selves through the arts reflects Stuart Hall’s concept of identity being understood as identification, that is an evolving process rather than a fixed identity that is often ascribed to us by society and particularly for people with a learning disability (Hall, 1990).

Whilst trying to steer clear of labels, Becker (1963) and being mindful of respecting how people may want to self-define it is noticeable that “Sleazy” has given a platform and equal standing to the following bands

The latest track by the White Ribbons band is available for download with the funds going towards supporting the EC-Tix to be supported to tour Norway during summer 2020.

It is easy to see why the bands sit well within the festival due to their own punk ethos. Aligned with this therefore one could argue that “Sleazy” is a world away from how other festivals organise and promote what they do. There is no fuss and no huge banner proclaiming and asserting inclusivity. This reflects Beresford and Croft’s ‘democratic / citizenship’ approach to inclusion that emphasises people’s rights as citizens (as artists) to create and set their own agenda and identities, rather than as ‘consumers’ or ‘service users’ to be consulted in an often reactive manner to ‘tick the box of inclusivity’ (Beresford & Croft, 2003).

This philosophy is captured perfectly by Pauline Murray lead singer of Penetration who when asked what is it like being a woman in rock offered she never considered her gender an issue. Murray explains “I just thought I was part of the band” in retrospect however “it seems quite revolutionary, the way women were behaving. Females in bands were breaking down stereotypes” PR Intern (2017) Could the same be said of the bands appearing at Sleazy?

If pushed it is doubtful the bands above would describe themselves as having a learning disability. The idea that a group of musicians would want to be categorised in this way seems wholly at odds with my understanding of the rock persona. Joe Strummer of The Clash in defining ‘self-awareness suggested it has something to do with ‘an ability to trust your own judgement’ and more importantly “an ability think for yourself” as cited in Coles (2014) The chances are the respective bands just want to be musicians, performers and artists and consequently this is how they see themselves.. Doubtless that is exactly how the promoters at “Sleazy” make sense of it all. One is left to ask therefore, is there any other way to see it?

I wanted to do a piece here about inclusivity within the arts and I have focused on this festival as the yard stick by which others could measure their impact. In considering Sleazy I haven’t spoken about the broad range of opportunities it presents for people (with a learning disability) to work as sound engineers, stage managers, lighting technicians, stage runners and the wealth of talent it embraces to do this.

I haven’t discussed how the festival supports and promotes the White Ribbon Campaign which was founded in 2005 and is “part of a global movement concerned with ending male violence against women. “Much of the work we do is concerned with engaging men and boys regarding attitudes and behaviours, raising awareness, influencing change and providing resources to make change happen in relation to domestic violence and abuse of women and girls” White (2020).

I also would have wanted to raise the work that Sleazy have been doing since 2016 in promoting The Sophie Lancaster Foundation. As part of their developing agenda regarding equality and diversity the organisers have been instrumental in challenging ‘hate crime’. This has allowed a further opportunity to increase and raise awareness and address discrimination and prejudice on an individual basis. Sophie Lancaster was a young woman that was murdered and her death was treated as a Hate Crime by Judge Russell who sentenced the murderers accordingly. Under the current UK Hate Crime Legislation (Section 146), as the motivation behind the murder was hateful, he was able to use his discretion to class it as a “Hate Crime”. The work the foundation does focuses on creating respect for and understanding of subcultures in our communities. Where better to do that than at a punk festival?

It is probably worth mentioning that the team also support Morecambe food bank. There is a donation point in the foyer at the festival where food can be left and once the weekend is over the donations are then transported to the charity. Again this evidences how “Nice n Sleazy” has an alternative perspective when considering how to promote and host a music festival.

The tangible reality of this is not only do people with learning disabilities perform and work on site during the weekend, there is a massive emphasis on inclusion, diversity and equality. This is a world away from how other festivals organise and promote what they do, so in conclusion one could say “Nice and Sleazy does it every time” The Stranglers (1978)

Can you dig it?

wine bottle

I often see guidance for those completing mental capacity assessments which suggest that, while the person may appear to be lucid and capacitous at first blush, if the assessor “drills down” or “digs deeper” they will be able to show that actually the person lacks capacity to make the decision. Yet as the guidance from 39 Essex Chambers tells us, “the presumption that P has capacity is fundamental to the Act. It is important to remember that P has to ‘prove’ nothing.

It reminds me of the criticism of the way some professionals use the MCA; that people with a mental impairment often have to demonstrate a degree of understanding in decision making that people without a mental impairment don’t.

Consider this scenario. I know it’s daft, but please put yourself in the shoes of say a person with a learning disability wanting to go to the pub on their own;

You are a social worker, it’s a Monday evening and you have had one hell of a day. It started with back-to-back meetings, the first one at 0830 (who arranges a meeting at 8.30 on a Monday?). In the afternoon a crisis developed regarding someone and by the time you get back in your car for the drive home, it’s gone 7 o’clock. It has been a stressful day.

On the drive back home, you stop at the off licence for a bottle of wine. You know you shouldn’t, it’s a school night, you have to be back on the road the following morning but nothing winds you down like a bottle of wine.

You tell all this to the guy behind the counter, maybe feeling a bit guilty for having a drink on a Monday night. The shopkeeper says to you,

“Are you sure you should be drinking tonight?”

“Excuse me?” you say.

“Are you sure you should be drinking tonight? You just told me you have to be back on the road in the morning; did you know that 23% of all drink-driving convictions are where the person was still over the limit the day after?”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll be fine. But thank you for your concern.”

“Well, I’m not sure I should be selling you alcohol. The effects of alcohol wear off differently depending of the age, gender, weight of the person. It can take over twelve hours for the alcohol units in that bottle of wine to wear off.”

“Well, I’m not sure it’s any of your business. I’ll be fine, I’ll just take the wine and pass on the advice, but thanks all the same. Anyway, I have one of those breathalysers at home, I can check in the morning if I am over the limit”

“What make and model is it”?


“You just said you have a breathalyser. What make and model is it? I need to be sure you are going to be safe. And it’s not just you I am worried about, supposing you hit a pedestrian? I have a duty of care…”

Ok, that conversation would never happen and if it did, you would tell the shopkeeper where to stick his bottle of wine and go elsewhere.

But it does happen all the time for people with disabilities. Last night I was at a gig in Bradford to raise money for musicians with learning disabilities to fund a music tour of Norway.  Brian Mitchell (social work lecturer at Bradford University and lead singer of The White Ribbons) pointed out that we all go out on a Friday night and take it for granted – no risk assessments, no best interests decisions, no risk management plans. But people with learning disabilities and autism, or people with a brain injury, mental health needs, dementia etc all have many hoops to jump through before they can do what we all do without question.

So by ‘drilling down’ or ‘digging deeper’, an assessor will eventually be able to prove any person could not make a decision, and then with a few typed words, easily link that inability to the mental impairment. And sadly, it is unlikely that assessment will ever be challenged. (By the way, it remains the case that since 2007, while I have been challenged many times about the outcome of my capacity assessments, not once has that been when I concluded the person lacked capacity; everyone agrees when I say that, I am only challenged when I say the person is able to make the decision).

Many readers will be wondering about the first Principle of the 2005 Act, that we have to assume the person has capacity unless proven otherwise? I wonder the same. I also wonder what efforts those professionals challenging me about my assessments made themselves without success? I ask to see their assessment in which they will have demonstrated they did all they could to help the person make the decision without success. Nine times out of ten, there is no assessment, and when there is, it is usually so poor it’s not worth the paper it is written on. For example, I saw one recently by a consultant on an acute ward, it said “Mrs Miggins has dementia and therefore lacks capacity to make wise decisions.”

But back to drilling down, digging deeper and raising the bar; the law and policy guidance does not tell us to do this. It is possible that a practitioner can so want a person to be autonomous and make the decision that they don’t ensure the person is truly making a capacitous decision. But that’s rare compared with people simply wanting the person to be incapacitous so they can then go on to make a decision for them and invariably it is a decision contrary to what the person wants, which is often what initiated the capacity assessment in the first place.

However, I met a man once who appeared lucid and able to make the decision but during the assessment it became evident that he did not understand his limitations, he thought he could walk and climb the stairs at home and that if he fell over, he would be able to pick himself up again. No matter how much I showed him the evidence he could not do that, including inviting him to demonstrate his mobility to me, he wouldn’t have it. But that was not determined by digging deeper, it was simply that I applied the MCA and found that he could not understand the relevant information and that on a balance of probabilities, it was because of his dementia.

Of course, it could have been that the man was afraid of admitting to me his limitations, fearing I would make a decision for him. It is a massive judgement call we have to make. As Lucy Series tells us, “Capacity assessment is not some kind of scientific process where capacity is ‘measured’, it’s a social interaction – often with hugely high stakes for the person being assessed. If I were having a conversation with a person and something I desperately wanted hinged on it, I think I would probably try to convince them that it was a good idea and minimise the risks. That’s how some people argue. That’s a pretty standard persuasive tactic when arguing a point. It may not mean that a person doesn’t understand the risks – it might mean they don’t want to hand a person they regard as powerful any more ammunition to deny that it’s a good idea.

So it was a judgment call, and I hope I got it right when I concluded the man did not have the mental capacity to decide to go home. But we must reflect continually on our practice, on our values and on our competence and prejudices.

I undertook a capacity assessment recently where the woman had a speech impediment. She struggled to get her words out, she sometimes lost track of what she was trying to say, such was her anxiety. In my mind, I was thinking she was incapacitous, but when I looked down at my notes, her responses were all logical and reasoned.  I had to allow for her being nervous and anxious. She asked me what the consequences of the assessment were, she said, “What happens if I fail?” and I wondered; Who gave me this power and why does she think I have power over her? The answer of course was no-one, I don’t have a power at all; a capacity assessment provides a defence, not an authority.

So no digging deep, no drilling down, no raising the bar higher and higher or judging people because they cannot remember your name from a previous visit. We just need to follow the process as described in the MCA, in the Code of Practice and in the subsequent caselaw. If the person is capacitous, and I have followed the process, what the person goes on to do is no more my business than it is the business of a shopkeeper whether or not you have a bottle of wine on a Monday evening.

39 Essex Chambers, “A Brief Guide to Carrying Out Mental Capacity Assessments”, March 2019

Lucy Series, The Small Places, “A serendipitous judgment”, September 2012









Now ain’t the Time for your Tears


It wasn’t the abuse at Whorlton Hall that made us cry. It was the footage of it. High definition images secretly filmed and brilliant audio technology that enabled us to hear the piercing screams right in the heart of our living rooms. Very 21st century. The abuse is significantly older. But really, what were we expecting?

We are the great and the good. All of us. Especially us in professional jobs in health and social care. We are the Mr Bumble & Mrs Corneys of our day. We know abuse goes on. Whorlton Hall is not new. Ely Hospital Inquiry, 1969. Normansfield Inquiry, 1978. Cornwall, 2006. Winterbourne View, 2012. Veilstone, 2017. Mendip House 2018. Whorlton Hall, 2019.

And we are in the thick of it, the administrators, greasing the wheels, occasional apologists for it, secret exponents of it, beneficiaries of it. All of us. Especially us. Because if we weren’t, we would stop it from happening again, and again and again.

Our Big Bed Time audit found that 7 out of 10 learning disabled people living in the modern version of workhouse, the group home (see Goffman’s definition of a total institution) were in bed by 8 o’clock on a evening. Not due to exhaustion of a week of activity but due to the banality of the unit’s staffing rota. How does totalitarianism start? Hannah Ardent will tell you, it starts with banality, boredom. The bored care workers, flicking through their mobile phones, rocking back on their chairs, rolling their eyes as they casually dished out abuse was when the cruelty on display led to calls on social media that this was beyond cruel, it was willful torture of one human being by another. It makes the days goes quicker. It makes the staff night out anecdotes funnier. It makes the flirting easier. Industrial organisational culture. The people on the receiving end just happen to be people. They could be sheets of metal or customers to cold call, or buses to drive. And really, even if the people are accepted as people they aren’t people like us. The very fact that they are living and breathing seems to be reward enough given the contempt they are held in. As Mr Bumble says of those in the poor house, “What have paupers to do with soul or spirit either? It’s quite enough that we let ’em have bodies”.

Our learning from the Bedtime Audit wasn’t what we thought. When we went out to ‘disrupt’ care providers, we naively thought we would be highlighting problems with providers. But, the truth is that we knew people were going to be in bed at 8pm on a Friday night before we even went out. It’s why we went out at 8pm. We knew what we’d find. I knew it when I was a social worker and I was involved in helping people move to those places. I knew it as a team manager encouraging social workers to help move people to those places. I knew it as a senior manager rubber-stamping the support plans in panel that enabled people to move into those places. I knew it as a strategist sitting down with with planners, commissioner and financiers that enabled design and build of the system which moves people into those places. We couldn’t pretend to be shocked when we knocked on doors at 8pm on a Friday night and found people in bed. The challenge is ours, those who broker and commission and support plan people into settings where their lives are no longer their own, where people who love them can no longer ensure their happiness and their safety. We are not only in on it, we are it. We know what we are exposing people to when we move learning disabled and autistic people into “secure hospitals”. And yet still we do so. We are the architects, the Bumbles and Corneys of this age.

So when we cried watching Panorama on that night of the 22nd May 2019, did we really cry in anguish and distress as we watched Panorama, as we would if the footage was of our own family and loved ones suffering? Is it honest to say that we could empathise with learning disabled people watching in fear or with parent’s like Sara and Mark who have lived horror of their child being abused whilst in state care? Or, in our more honest moments did we really cry out against Whorlton Hall because we were made to watch the impact on human beings of our Monday to Friday jobs. Did we see the outcomes from all our panels, assessments, funding conversations between NHS Specialist Commissioning with CCGs and LAs, our pink papers and tribunal reports, our contracts and invoicing, our posturing over risk being conflated with danger, our satisfaction at negotiating funding splits and our big talk. Did we really cry with embarrassment at having to face what it looks like when it’s exposed bare and beamed back into our living rooms after we’ve clocked off. Did we watch till the end in fascinated horror, or did we avoid/switch off, did we choose to not watch as it was outside of work hours and we didn’t want to bring work home with us? After all, once our work is done, the placement brokered and the person is in the transport and whisked away to the care home, residential school/college or specialist hospital unit, we rarely have to face the consequences. They become someone else’s issue. Passed along the conveyor belt of social care to the next stage in machine.

This time we were forced to bare witness to our truth and that makes us cry – we are human, the great and the good. As we listened to the cries from people who have been dehumanised, stripped of their right to be seen as a citizen, who has a right to be loved, a right to be protected in law and right to have their inherent dignity and freedom protected by the very State that arbitrarily detained them in Whorlton Hall. Are we really as outraged as we like to think we are, or is it faux outrage which will lead to nothing really changing as we find ourselves moving on, sliding into business as usual, calming reassuring ourselves that Whorlton Hall is a problem and that if we plan properly we can eventually wipe all those rogue providers away?

So can it be different? Can we turn this around? Given that we have centuries of history that indicates the failure of the great and the good the solutions aren’t likely to come from us. We’ve no track record on sorting things for people with disabilities. However in realising this, in realising that we are an integral part of the problem we can actually aid the solution. The solution is with people with learning disabilities and those who love them, not those who are paid to process them like us. People who are rightly angry about what they saw when they watched Panorama.

Instead of leaping into action with another round of committees, reports, programme plans, we could choose to stand in solidarity with self advocates, advocates, families, the thousands of genuinely outraged people. Having spectacularly failed to transform care, the state must evidence some humility and respectfully accept that history is against it, it cannot deliver change, but those with love in their hearts can. And for those who argue it won’t be quick, I would respond with reminding them that Ely Hospital was 1969, 50 years ago. The great and good have had 50 years.

So let’s kick it off with a quick and easy win and devolve power to the genuinely outraged whose tears are genuine, driven by love. Instead of the great and the good doing the planning, integrating everything under us, let’s get on with trusting learning disabled people and their families to be the people doing the doing.

  • Imagine if for every £1 spent detaining people in ATUs, a matched £1 was put into a pot managed by learning disabled people and their families who were charged with getting the person home from the ATU.
  • What if all the ATUs, regardless of who runs them (private or public) were opened up to a group of local learning disabled people and their families who went in every day to monitor progress in closing the ATU down and reported into the group holding the funds?
  • What if every bed emptied was closed so it could never be used again and the capital receipt from sale of the former hospital was also pooled into the fund for learning disabled and autistic people and their families to invest in advocacy to safeguard justice for their peers in the future?

Anyway, panel will start again on Tuesday. We all have our jobs to do.

‘And you who philosophise disgrace

And criticise all fears

Take the rag away from your face

Now ain’t the time for your tears’

Is Social Work Rocket Science?


Is social work complex, like rocket science? I am still not sure. I’ve heard social work be described as being harder than rocket science (which I suppose isn’t hard if you are an actual rocket scientist) and I’ve heard it described as being simple common sense (which I am always sceptical about). I think I have come to the conclusion that social work practice isn’t really complex but as the Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers said in 2018, it is working with complexity. Social work is deep in the messy stuff, the grey areas of life which is then fused with primary legislation and mixed with the social workers interpretation of what we think we see in the smallest snapshot glimpse of someone’s life. And like all our lives its murky, confused, confusing, laced with double standards and things that you just can’t properly explain to anyone.

Despite the million and one different variables in peoples lives we experience, I do think as social workers we can identify much of what we hear and see in terms of peoples well-being & security (which equals happiness maybe?) into four outcomes that Neil Crowther brilliantly blogged about recently –

Love, Work, Home and Hope.

People don’t tend to want more than these four things. Complexity might attract the ‘professional’ (those who are also drawn to blue lights, rushing into the Big Cases ready to be the Decision Maker), however the genuine complexity (i.e. the messy stuff which isn’t easily solved with a set of pink papers or a court order) is usually left to someone else to sort as the blue light professional moves on to their next case, never looking back to check on how the person’s life continues.

In my experience, of the four outcomes Hope is first among equals. Hope is about ambition, a belief in a better future not only for ourselves but for our families and others. Hope should be about ambitions without ever been dismissed as over ambitious. For social workers, I feel that working with people to enhance hope and opportunity, means that we need to be able to critically evaluate everything and mostly ourselves and our own worth to the person and their family and friends. Do we enhance the outcomes that people want? Do we enable relationships to thrive regardless of the difficulties they may cause us (anyone wish to displace this troublesome Nearest Relative?). Do we take a risk enabling approach to enhance relationships and help provide loving relationships to replace us? Do we genuinely strive to support people to achieve social status? To evaluate everything means to evaluate ourselves.

We are at our best when we believe in people. We are the only profession who is taught to do that. We believe that people are good and where they are not we work to alter factors around them to facilitate change and ensure good. To believe in people is to believe in hope. If the outcome is a nursing home what is our approach to hope and ambition within that? Do you remember this blog?

If Andrew actually needed something to provide for occupancy of his mind, and it wasn’t just that others thought he did, perhaps our job was to recognise and respect that he loved football. Not to dismiss what his voice, his wishes, feelings and beliefs and instead confer onto him our solution of restrictive day centres and so called ‘supported’ housing. If people want to scale an active volcano, or become prime minister, or race high speed cars, is it not our job to hear their voices and positively engage with their wishes, feelings and beliefs to help them construct the world they want for themselves? One in which they can experience happiness?

Maybe it’s time for us to slightly reframe ourselves as social workers. I have felt I have peddled a worn-out bag of care management tricks for years and generally the tricks don’t work. The very things we do to keep people ‘safe’ are the very things that expose them to classical health risks for dull, restricted and inactive lifestyles. Our illusion and box of tricks is seen through (just ask people with learning disabilities and their families), the tricks may be disappearing, but we remain – social workers laid bare without the tricks and care plans (including the less than visible ‘fairer’ charges’). Social work reclaiming its purpose, upholding social justice by advocating for values of inherent dignity, equality, democracy and freedom.

So, are we ready to stand beside people and their families now without claiming we have a bag of magic tricks?. Can we talk honestly about the illusion that are and instead be clear there are no complex short cuts to life and no day care or home care or care home that’s likely to mend the broken heart or fulfil potential or lead to a world of things that we might have? And if there are 4 things that people want and need, Love, Work, Home. Hope, what’s our role? These things are messy and will involve us exercising humility. We are not the professional expert. People and their families are the experts of their own lives that we really know so very little about. Our unique professional role may be keeping the hope alive.

Her name is Yoshimi, she’s a blackbelt in karate


Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another” Carl Sagan, Cosmos (2002)

The final report was published this week on learning from the Named Social Worker for adults with learning disabilities pilots.  The key finding, just over 10 years since Putting People First was published, is that named workers are helping in putting people at the heart of social work.

Having been involved in both stages of the pilots over the last two years, it feels like this is a small but important outcome.  Verification that relational approaches secure better outcomes when backed up by legally literate social work case based reasoning which upholds the inherent dignity of all human beings.  The best outcomes, however come when the social worker sees their role as being one of fighting to uphold the person’s human rights and secure the adjustments they need to their environment and social networks.  These social workers see themselves as being armed with the power of justice and understand it is their job to wield their power with care in defense of the person so that their voice is heard, their wishes and feelings understood, and they are able to regain control and dignity in their lives.  Social workers who know when to use their power and when not to do so.

To quote Lady Hale:

“45. [it is] axiomatic that people with disabilities, both mental and physical, have the same human rights as the rest of the human race… This flows inexorably from the universal character of human rights, founded on the inherent dignity of all human beings.” “Cheshire West“ Supreme Court Ruling, (2014)

Our learning is that this isn’t a special “named” social work role, this is a roll all social workers should want to embrace.  Social workers are natural agitators, advocates, argumentors.  Making the case for social justice for learning disabled people is in DNA of social work.  rebalancing systemic inequality is what social work was designed to do.  As argued by @vasilios_ social work is by nature activist and radical.  The named social worker pilots have provided further learning that rights-based practice is who social workers are.  And that the best outcomes for people are secured by practitioners who confidently embrace this aspect of their role.

Easy Read Version

This blog is about people with learning disabilities having access to their own, named social worker.

The Department of Health wanted to find out if this is good thing. They asked local authorities to take part in the Named Social Worker project.

We got help from self-advocacy groups called Lead the Way and Bradford Talking Media.

We wanted to be part of this project because we want to improve the way social workers work with people with learning disabilities.

We think that social workers control the lives of people with learning disabilities too much.

We believe in the social model of disability. The social model says that people are disabled because the world is not accessible enough.

We think that people with learning disabilities are not treated fairly.

We are not happy that people with learning disabilities get put in long stay hospitals. This happens because staff think they are a risk to themselves or other people.

Social workers often try to protect people with learning disabilities from risk. This means that people do not get to make choices for themselves.

People with learning disabilities should be allowed to make their own decisions. Social workers and staff should not stop people making their own choices even if they disagree with them.

We think that people’s families should be listened to better. They should be helped to get support in the community.

When families do ask for help, their loved should not be sent to a care home or hospital. This is too restrictive.

We think that people are kept in hospitals and units for too long. Long term care does not help people.

We want more to be done to get people back home.

We think that social workers should always think about Human Rights. They should help people and not just tell them what to do.

Social workers should give advice and help people to access support. They should tell people what is available in the community.

We hope that this project will improve the way social workers support people with learning disabilities.



promote the ld vote

In 2015, social workers supported people to participate in the General Election. To find out more, the first 50 people to click on this link will be able to download the paper for free –

If you still need any persuading that #promotetheldvote matters – take 5 minutes to watch this:

Total Eclipse

In the main, people working in care choose to do because they want to be caring. But sometimes they don’t support people to live the lives they want to lead. Perhaps it’s the surprisingly ordinary, possibly even dull nature of an ordinary life which leads to workers talking up worries.  Leading to a reframing of the ordinary act of asking another person for advice or help can be turned around and become a problem to worry about, evidence of a dependency, a vulnerability the person needs protecting from.

A recent Community Care article highlighted the case of a Local Authority which breached a man’s human rights by forcing him to stop his sexual relationship with his wife when they asked for help.  Like any other ordinary couple they wanted to start a family.  But when they asked for help professionals began to worry.  Despite the couple having been married for years, a decision was suddenly taken that the learning disabled husband lacked the capacity to consent to sexual relations with his wife.  In attempting to turn around the implications from this hugely intrusive decision, the Local Authority was to arrange access to sexual health education  but then somehow failed to provide him with the education he needed.

The couple were kept separated for a truly shocking amount of time because the workers involved failed to understand their role in upholding their rights.  They had been married and lived in a mogonomous relationship for years. Just pause for a minute and really let that sink in.  Years.

Lucy Series has written a brilliant analysis of the issues –

However, equally brilliant (as always) was Mark Neary’s take on the case –

Mark’s timely reminder that married life is in the main outstandingly ordinary in nature, challenges the values behind the professional decision taken in this case to singularly focus on one aspect of the couples relationship when deciding not to support their request for help with fertility treatment but to instead force them to sleep apart for over a year.

The facts of this case aside, for spcial workers it is another prompt to be careful to avoid the “protection imperative”, that moment when professional worries eclipse clear and objective reasoning.  See Justice Baker in the case of CC v KK & STCC

Professionals and the court must not be unduly influenced by the “protection imperative”; that is, the perceived need to protect the vulnerable adult…. There is a risk that all professionals involved with treating and helping that person – including, of course, a judge in the Court of Protection – may feel drawn towards an outcome that is more protective of the adult and thus, in certain circumstances, fail to carry out an assessment of capacity that is detached and objective.”

If you think the community care report is of an “unusual case” you may be disappointed.  A self advocate recently described how he and his partner were subjected to 360 questions by professionals when they decided they wanted to become parents “because we have learning disabilities”.

There are many aspects to being a parent.  The right to experience all that goes with being dad or mum is a hugely important part of being human. Perhaps there is more we can do to make accessible information to those who want it beyond that which covers to act of potential conception.

In case you find yourself facing a similar scenario the link below will take you to accessible information and resources on sexual health and other things –

And here is the RiPfA case law summaries on working with parents with learning disabilities –

Article 8 ECHR right to a private and family life

Human Rights Act 1998 right to marry and have children; right to respect for a family life

UNCRPD right not to be discriminated against in marriage, family and parenthood

Care Act 2014 the general principle of wellbeing takes into account relationships