Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation

Response to the DCLG consultation on community cohesion

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion – ‘your chance to tell us what you think:’ consultation response. This is a joint response from the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation, Breakthrough UK, Dialability UK and the Greater Manchester Coalition for Disabled People.
 
The Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation (www.gmcvo.org.uk) is the voluntary sector support (infrastructure) organisation for the sub-region of Greater Manchester. We represent, promote and develop voluntary organisations, working in partnership with other relevant local and national support organisations.
 
Breakthrough UK(www.breakthrough-uk.com) tackles barriers to employment and independence which many disabled people experience. The company is controlled by disabled people and over 60% of the staff are disabled people.
 
Dialability (www.dialability.org.uk) is a user-led organisation and a member of DIAL UK and Assist UK. Dialability offers a helpline and demonstration centre for equipment and assistive technology. It aims to inform, empower and inspire people to act whilst being flexible to their clients’ needs, values and choices for independence.
 
The Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (0161 273 5154) is an organisation controlled and run by disabled people. Its aims are to promote the independence and integration of disabled people in society, identify and challenge the discrimination faced by disabled people and encourage and support the self-organisation of disabled people.
Seven key questions for local bodies
1. What does ‘cohesion’ mean to you? What does ‘integration’ mean to you? What might a community which is both integrated and cohesive look like?
 
GMCVO and its partners decided to respond to this consultation on behalf of groups that work with disabled people. Although the consultation apparently focuses on how to ease the tensions between people from different cultural and racial backgrounds it was thought that community cohesion is an issue that affects disabled people to a large degree too.
 
A cohesive society in this respect would be one that views disabled people as equals and endeavours to removes the barriers that prevent them from participating fully. Disabled people would then be able to ‘integrate’ fully into society and fulfil their potential.
 
From the perspective of a voluntary, independent user-led organisation contracted to provide services, the fragmentation of statutory services and continuing lack of communication between departments that impacts on service delivery is of major importance. This means that the services for disabled people that have been established, produce best value and are respected, fragment themselves or produce a much strained and weakened service. The individual is naturally affected by this lack of continuity and ‘jump starting’ in terms of empowering people. The knock-on effect is that disabled people are not getting the support they need to fully integrate into society and play their part.
 
Finally, a community that is both integrated and cohesive would be a place where everyone has equal access to public and shared spaces, and/or to community activities. Organisations of disabled people campaign to highlight the fact that many buildings and services are still inaccessible to disabled people, despite legal requirements laid down in the Disability Discrimination Act. Exclusion due to inaccessibility cannot foster integration.
 
2. What, if any, are the tensions between different groups in your local area? What do you think tends to cause these and what are your thoughts about how to resolve them? What role can local leaders play in tackling them? What are the organisations in your community which would help when an incident is leading to tensions or when conflict resolution is needed?
 
There exists a tension between disabled groups and ‘mainstream’ society in that the latter tends to exclude disabled people by either erecting, or failing to remove, barriers that prevent disabled people from accessing jobs and services. This tends to be caused by a lack of understanding of the access requirements and a lack of knowledge about how to properly involve disabled people. This could be resolved by building stronger relationships between disabled groups and agencies such as employers and service providers. Local leaders can help raise awareness of these issues and lead on initiatives that aim to reduce the exclusion of disabled people.
 
There are many organisations in Greater Manchester that campaign for the rights of disabled people and advocate for their needs and views. Some of these are managed and run by disabled people themselves. Such organisations are ideally placed to tackle the tensions that exist as a result of discriminatory practices, particularly in the work place.
 
There is a tension between disability groups themselves which is not understood by policy makers who are frustrated at the lack of foresight and communication between disability agencies. Organisations that work in disability need to produce a co-ordinated response to certain government policies.  Campaigning disability organisations should respect the work of moderate disability groups who are also service providers.
 
3. What activities help bring people together, build friendships and get a better understanding of people from a different background? Where do these activities take place – at school or college, socially, at work or in the neighbourhood? What are the shared spaces in your community where people can come together? What celebrations are there of local traditions in your area?
 
Activities and projects run by voluntary organisations often focus on helping both disabled people to access employment and other opportunities as well as working with designers, companies, schools, universities and service providers to make their buildings and services more accessible to disabled people.
 
The whole community would benefit from a more visible presence of disabled people in ‘shared spaces’ such as the workplace and in society in general. All too often, however, disabled people find themselves excluded and unable to realize their goals.
 
Local strategic partnership structures would be an ideal vehicle to include disabled people in local planning.
  
Finally, the involvement of disabled people in all sorts of activities – employment, sport, and leisure – would be beneficial to the whole of society.
 
4. What schemes in your community build a sense of belonging to your neighbourhood or community? What schemes in your community try to build or teach a set of values or ‘ground rules’ about how to live together? What schemes to address poverty, crime and anti social behaviour in your local area have improved how people feel about one another?
 
Rather than consider specific “schemes” for disabled people and/or their groups the involvement of disabled people should be provided for in all schemes – disabled people from BME communities, young disabled people etc.
 
That said, sport and leisure activities, information sources and integrated employment schemes all help disabled people to feel more involved in society. Joint open days between agencies can also help reduce social isolation and tackle prejudice.
 
5. What schemes in your community help new people when they arrive? What schemes in your community aim to counteract people’s negative perceptions of and attitudes to people from different backgrounds? In what ways can communities steer people away from extremism?
 
It is worth mentioning the continued role that voluntary organisations play in tackling prejudice and preventing the exclusion of disabled people.
 
Community leaders, local government and local institutions such as schools all have an important role to play in setting an example in ensuring their workforces reflect the communities they serve in all its diversity, including of course disabled people. By also ensuring their policies and practices are as inclusive as possible of disabled people these agencies can help address prejudice and discrimination.
 
This is a big area for development – but information is crucial in all the main areas: in libraries, on the local authority website and the local TV network.
 
6. What schemes in your area aim to get people involved in local decision making? What role do representative organisations for communities have in building communities in your area? How are you encouraging the formation of such organisations? How are people encouraged to get involved in your local community to make a difference?
 
There are many organisations and projects in Greater Manchester and elsewhere in the country that aim to give disabled people more of a voice (please see examples below). They play an important role in representing the views of disabled people and empowering them to get involved in decision making. Of particular importance are those groups that are led by disabled people themselves, as they have first hand experience of the difficulties disabled people face.
 
Breakthrough UK is a successful and growing business which since 1997 has led the way in tackling barriers to employment and independence which many disabled people experience. The company is controlled by disabled people and over 60% of the staff are disabled people.
 
Their Mission Statement isto promote the rights, responsibilities and respect of disabled people’ and their aims are to support disabled people to play a full, economically active role in society by:
  • Working with individual disabled people to support them to be independent, to seek employment and develop their careers.
  • Working with employers and providers to promote best practice in recruitment, retention and progression.
  • Tackling the barriers and discriminatory policies and practices which disadvantage disabled people in the labour market, economy and society.
 
Breakthrough has supported the Trafford Disability Partnership Board which has recently been invited to sit on Trafford’s Local Strategic Partnership. It aims to advise and influence all LSP partners.
 
Manchester Disabled People's Access Group is an organisation of disabled people promoting best practice in access design and access standards and campaigning to improve access to buildings, transport, the environment, information and services.
 
Its services and activities include access audits, surveys, training, publications, consultancy and the provision of information on the Disability Discrimination Act.
 
MDPAG has also worked with GMCVO on assessing the infrastructure needs of disabled groups in Greater Manchester and advising local infrastructure organisations on how to better support groups that work with disabled people.
 
Dialability runs projects in Oxfordshire that enable disabled people to get involved in delivering services alongside professionals. It has some fears that consultation is often seen as a token gesture and that there is a need for disabled people to be trained in professional negotiation with policy makers – disability groups could play a key role in this. Disabled people also need to think outside their own ‘box’ to be fully representative.
 
Dialability also showcases new technology and design that are making disabled people’s lives easier.  
 
The Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People campaigns and lobbies on behalf of disabled people and challenges discrimination. Of particular relevance to this consultation is their Disabled People’s Refugee Project. This was a highly successful one-year funded project that reached 53 disabled refugees and asylum seekers from different areas of Greater Manchester. Meetings were held on a range of topics including how to access local services, disability rights and benefits, accessing public transport and the social model of disability.
 
It was found that many participants did not feel their needs as disabled people were being met, not only by service providers, but within their own particular community. Some expressed the view that they did not always feel welcome in ‘mainstream’ (ie. non-disabled) groups set up to bring together people from their own culture/country. This raises the question about integration in a different way, not just integration into mainstream and neighbourhood life, but within specific community networks.
 
Unfortunately, GMCDP has been unable to continue this project due to a lack of funding. This highlights the need to provide longer-term government support to initiatives such as this.
 
GMCVO aims to help build the capacity of voluntary organisations in Greater Manchester, including those that work with disabled people. We facilitate such groups to keep informed of government policy, respond to consultations and represent the views of their client groups. This work ensures that local decision makers take on board the views and needs of disabled people.
 
7. What role do local schools, workplaces and faith groups have in building communities in your area? What role do local authorities, public services and charities (e.g. the Police, Hospitals, Housing Associations) have in building communities in your area? How can the media help to build communities?
 
As mentioned already, all of these agencies have an important role to play in fostering community cohesion, tackling discrimination and promoting diversity. The particular focus of our response has been to highlight the important work being done by disabled people’s charities and voluntary groups in ensuring that people with disabilities are not excluded from society. The recent Disability Equality Duty requires all public sector bodies to be proactive in involving disabled people in their planning and delivery of services, including through the services they commission. Meeting this duty would ensure that disabled people become more a part of the community.
 
There is a huge need for education and enlightening of groups in society but most of all the general public.The public generally does not understand how attitude automatically imposes barriers.
 
It is important to engage the media in a better understanding of equality for all but disabled people must be ready to meet this challenge too. With empowerment comes the responsibility to be co-operative with our partners. Like the feminist movement we have gone through the ‘aggressive’ phase - moderation and education is the next stage.
 
Information is crucial to enlightenment whether provided by church, schools or the local authority. With appropriate funding a collaboration of disability groups should set up an educational trust to network and improve this.
 
Finally, a cohesive community accepts people from all walks of life - of different ethnic backgrounds and cultures, sexuality, ages and social class – and celebrates its diversity. A cohesive community also works towards the removal of social and economic barriers that all disabled people face, regardless of such a background.
 
Contributors:
 
Caroline Beard, Breakthrough UK: c.beard@breakthrough-uk.org.uk
Caron Peachey, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People: caronpeachey@bevc-uk.co.uk
Sue Butterworth, Dialability: manager@dialability.org.uk
John Hannen, Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation: john.hannen@gmcvo.org.uk