Monthly Archives: November 2016

A public history of Manchester UPIAS – the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation

Draft  (2 Dec 2016)

Summary

UPIAS was a private and radical group of British disabled people for eighteen years from 1972 to 1990, active mainly in London and Manchester. The Manchester group left a strong legacy in other, more public organisations, including the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People.

Details

The full name of UPIAS was the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation. It was created following a letter by Paul Hunt (1937-1979) printed in The Guardian newspaper on 20 September 1972, and in the Magic Carpet newsletter of the Disabled Drivers Association, calling for a radical union of disabled people to fight for mainstream rights and to fight against segregation.

Many members of UPIAS lived in residential institutions run by big charities and they feared for reprisals or discrimination if their membership and views became known to the organisations that controlled their lives, hence the private and confidential nature of the organisation. Membership of UPIAS was by invitation only and would now be comparable to a private group on Facebook.

Over time it developed a working routine of local meetings (private), and two newsletters: the Confidential Circular (private) and Disability Challenge (public). In 1976 UPIAS published its Fundamental Principles of Disability which became its manifesto and a seminal document for the British disabled people’s movement. It took as it basis the social model of disability.

Nationally, UPIAS members invested a lot of energy in the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP) and the Disabled People’s International (DPI). However, although both organisations adopted the social model of disability and the importance of being controlled by disabled people, they did not manage to thrive as had been hoped for.

Some of the key national UPIAS members identified in the public domain were:

Ann Rae
Dick Leaman
Judy Hunt
Ken Davies
Liz Finkelstein
Maggie Davis (nee Hines)
Paul Hunt
Phillip Mason
Stephen Bradshaw
Vic Finkelstein

Some of the key members of Manchester UPIAS were:

Bernard Leach
Cathy Avison (1963-1992)
Judith Holman
Ken Lumb (1941-2009)
Kevin Hyett (1958-2004)
Linda Carroll
Lorraine Gradwell
Mark Todd
Martin Pagel
Neville Strowger (1939-2015)

and key allies and facilitators included:

Anita Clokie
Anne Plumb
Chris Drinkwater (1951-2015).

A few UPIAS meetings took place at the offices of Rochdale Voluntary Action, especially as Chris Drinkwater was working there at the time and he was a close friend of Ken Lumb. When members started to achieve their independence the Manchester UPIAS group meetings started to be held in people’s flats and houses.

Potential new members were given an introductory pack to read first. There was a discussion about adding associate membership on 3 September 1985, but there was no resolution and a decision was deferred.

Manchester UPIAS was also central to determining disabled people’s strategies for engaging politically with Manchester City Council and determining the key campaigning priorities such as access and employment.

Confidentiality

The collection of the UPIAS Confidential Circular documents remains restricted for reasons of ethics and data protection, not least to avoid any future discrimination against living individuals who had an expectation of privacy when writing in the journal.

Further reading

About eleven years after UPIAS closed, Judy Hunt, wife of Paul Hunt, gave a talk called – A revolutionary group with a revolutionary message. A copy of this talk appeared as an article in Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People’s magazine Coalition in 2001.

The Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds holds a full set of UPIAS Confidential Circulars in a restricted access archive, as well as making available a range of public domain articles online.

Denial, and where it gets us

At a time of a major crisis in the historic child abuse being uncovered in football’s youth teams and the woeful current handling of the issue by various clubs board members, I found this week a business book on the issue of denial with a refreshingly honest approach. The extract below is an excellent summary.

Denial is a book by Richard S. Tedlow in 2010 that confronts why we sometimes choose to ignore or deny something we know. 

Choosing not to know is a human trait and it helps us in the short term, for example in times of grief. But long term it is a problem.

The book is in two parts: firms that failed in a crisis; and firms that successfully tackled a major crisis and survived.

A good case study is Johnson & Johnson which faced customer deaths in the USA from medicine tampering in the 1980s and here the company board responded in a model manner with excellent ethics and leadership.

EXTRACT:

How best to deal with corporate denial:

  1. Don’t wait for the crisis to peak
  2. Acknowledge and confront the facts
  3. Encourage team straight talking and comms
  4. Lead from the top
  5. Think long-term
  6. Don’t trash talk the issue or the opposition
  7. Tell the truth
  8. Be unconventionally right. 

“Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face — and What to Do About It.” Richard S. Tedlow, 2010.

The free movement of all disabled people within the EU might become more restricted if a soft Brexit is agreed

Across the EU the free movement of people is considered to be a fundamental and non-negotiable cornerstone. Up to the early 1990s it was only the free movement of workers that was allowed, but the treaty definition was then expanded to include non-working people.

But for disabled people there have always been additional barriers to free movement within the EU. And politicians are now talking about increasing those barriers still further.

Following the EU membership referendum in the UK there is now a debate between a hard Brexit and a soft Brexit. The idea of a soft Brexit is to keep some kind of affiliate relationship with the EU, like Norway or Switzerland.

But currently in the UK both the Conservative and Labour parties are saying that immigration from other EU countries must be controlled, which is a non-starter for the rest of the EU because free movement is a cornerstone.

So now the UK politicians wanting a soft Exit are saying – “OK, we might keep free movement, but if someone moves to a different country we should all agree that their welfare benefits cannot be paid in the new country for the first x number of years.”

And clearly this new barrier would impact on disabled people the hardest.

Just after the UK general election I was writing (link below) about the forthcoming EU referendum and its possible impacts on disabled people across Europe.

Unfortunately, recent press reports on soft Brexit proposals suggest that this discussion is still relevant.

And as an EU supporter it pains me to say this – the reality for disabled people across the 27 EU member states could be that a soft Brexit might be worse for everyone’s free movement than a hard Brexit, because of the compromises now being suggested by the UK on everyone’s transferable welfare rights.

———

From May 2015: https://tonybaldwinson.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/british-welfare-for-british-people-versus-the-free-movement-of-disabled-people/

The Trump and Brexit turmoil – the root cause is there has been no planned future for unskilled and semi-skilled labour

The year 2016 has been one of political turmoil. The lurches in the polls, from Brexit in the UK to the USA presidential election, are said to indicate a huge backlash of public anger.

The reasons given for this backlash vary across political positions. The right-wing claim it is against metropolitan liberal elites, be they in Washington or London. The centre-left claim (which I agree with) the backlash is fuelled by racism and xenophobia, and sexism in the USA. Both sides, to some extent, blame globalisation, trade, and neoliberalism – especially for a loss of manufacturing jobs which have been moved overseas to China and India.

False promises have been made to the communities worst affected by these changes: especially to the Rust Belt in America and the Northern Heartlands of England – promises of more local jobs and lower unemployment by allowing less trade and fewer migrants. Take back control. Make America great again.

The danger now is that, when these promises fail to deliver, just how much deeper and darker will be the next backlash? As we head into an economic repeat of the 1930s depression, the political lessons are surely plain to see.

And it soon will get worse because of the increased automation of jobs which is only a few years away. From automatic self-driving lorries to online algorithms to electronic control systems, there will be less work in future for drivers, receptionists, call centre staff, caretakers, cleaners, and many other people doing routine jobs.

What can we do to stop this descent into despair and right-wing extremism?

Well, one trite answer to date has been to blame the people with few or no skills and tell them it is their fault and that they need to learn new skills for all the high tech vacancies in the economy. A moment of reflection here should be enough to realise that, firstly not everyone will acquire high skills, and secondly that many of these vacancies are not a sign of an expanding labour market.

Every board of directors wants to hire a computer project team to produce a magic online algorithm which reduces staffing and doubles the company share price, so they advertise in hope. But in the same way that haulage companies have signs for driving jobs permanently painted on the back of their lorries, that doesn’t mean that an additional job exists. Usually it is a sign of a company wanting to displace the current driver with someone willing to work for less.

Another trite answer is to say – don’t worry, the free market will always sort out economic problems. It is simple supply and demand.

Call it creative destruction if you like. The argument is, yes, unskilled and semi-skilled jobs are currently in a long-term decline, but hey, does this decline have to be a problem? In England the first census showed that a massive proportion of the population were agricultural labourers. Every one of the 16 further censuses – spanning 170 years – has shown a continuous decline in agricultural employment. Manufacturing, transport, and clerical office jobs took up the slack. See, we are told, you can always trust the market to adjust and provide.

But now these newer sectors are declining in employment too. Until recently, the public sector picked up some of the slack, before austerity pushed public sector employment down as well.

And this employment decline is concentrated in disadvantaged areas – mining communities, steel towns, textile valleys, seaside resorts. The Rust Belt and the Northern Heartlands, typically.

The solutions here will vary from community to community, and from time to time.

But I want to suggest that a prime candidate for resolving the pressures on unskilled and semi-skilled work is the idea of a universal basic income. People criticised the tax credits regime of the 2000s as being a subsidy to employers to pay low wages. Maybe. But if it wasn’t tapered or means tested, and becomes universal, then it becomes a subsidy for local employment regardless of the skills level.

In the 1980s in the UK many a middle class creative industry was born using the Enterprise Allowance wage subsidy as the midwife. Why not now give the working class the same opportunity?

Campaign case study: Manchester Night Shelter

No-one would seriously argue that Manchester Night Shelter in the late 1970s was anything but a doss house. It was almost derelict, having previously been a run-down Victorian school building. The large rooms on each floor stank of urine, with sodden bare boards, wet stone stairs, and beds and mattresses thrown everywhere. The staff did what was possible but the conditions were awful. There had been a room set aside for homeless women, but even in these desperate circumstances this room was a horrendous place, so the night shelter became for homeless men only. Many were heavy drinkers, and being destitute this meant a drink called Jake, a mixture of surgical spirit and water. The building closed during the day, whatever the weather, to allow the minimal of cleaning possible.

I was one of a group of student volunteers who went in on an evening rota, mostly to talk and make sandwiches which we sold at cost price, about 2p a round. We bought the supplies from the cheapest shop and mashed margarine and fish paste together in large tubs to spread over loaves of basic sliced bread. I was also involved in a local campaign to have the night shelter closed and replaced with better alternative housing. A few others of the staff and committee members were also members of this campaign. Looking back, I can see that some of my colleagues – both in the volunteering group and in the campaigning group – couldn’t understand or perhaps trust my position of being active in both. But to me it was clear. The volunteering was for surviving today, and the campaigning was for a better tomorrow.

Manchester Night Shelter was a charity and a limited company. After a year or so volunteering I was elected onto the management committee. Nearly all its income came from the Department of Health and Social Security, the DHSS. There was a small grant from Manchester City Council, but the council at the time was in no hurry to either improve the provision for homeless people in their area, nor to close the place down for public safety and health reasons. Homeless people didn’t matter, and any doss house was a good enough alternative to street sleeping, in their view. There had been a new law recently, the Homeless Persons Act 1977, but councils were only obliged to provide for homeless families with children, not for homeless couples and not for single homeless people. Hence the campaign.

The night shelter staff took careful details of each occupant when they first arrived, and would make sure the person visited the DHSS office nearby the next day to start getting what little benefits they could. This gave the person a small weekly payment and the night shelter a minimal rent. The low rental payments and the small council grant were not enough to cover costs, and fundraising from charity appeals and trusts was a perpetual task just to pay the bills.

So, now being on the management committee we had a discussion on income, and we were told that the local DHSS office had rule whereby they would only pay a limited amount to the night shelter for each person because the provision was so awful. Which left us in a bind, because we could not afford to improve the conditions until the income grew.

At this point I went to a shop in the city centre called Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, HMSO, where they sold all the government publications including copies of each law. The DHSS was administering payments called Supplementary Benefit, which was paid to people as a safety net when they were not eligible for more generous benefits. The rules for Supplementary Benefit were set out in detail in Statutory Instruments, a type of law which can be used to add the fine detail to an Act of Parliament. I bought a copy of the relevant Statutory Instrument and took it home to study.

As suspected, nowhere in the law did it give the power to a local DHSS office to impose a lower rent ceiling for overnight accommodation because of poor conditions. The assumption was that it was the job of the local council to close down anywhere that had unacceptable housing standards.

So I drafted a letter to the local DHSS office saying just this, including an exact extract from the relevant pages of the legal powers. I added that our staff had been making this point in various ways to them for some time now so we expected back payments as well. I just managed to type all this on one side of paper, which I felt was important as I saw it as a campaigning leaflet as much as a letter, and I co-signed it with the General Manager who was the head of the paid staff.

The key point here was that I sent copies of the letter with covering letters to the local MP, to the Minister in charge of the DHSS, to the council, and to some national bodies. This was campaigning politics as I knew it would be the national copies that would matter.

Within just a couple of days the local DHSS invited the staff members in for a meeting, at which they conceded every point and more than doubled the rent being paid as well as paying the substantial arrears. After the meeting, a DHSS official said to a staff member that no-one wanted to handle the local meeting because there was such fierce interest from the very top of the department. Even the regional officials would not get involved to defend the local office. Our staff were careful to keep a good working relationship with the local officials, sympathising with them for feeling abandoned by their hierarchy.

We were clear what to do with the boost in income, and it wasn’t about putting the night shelter on a permanent footing. We could now pay the monthly salaries without staff fearing bankruptcy, we installed a proper fire alarm system and renewed the old electrics, we put down hygienic washable floor coverings, made the toilets decent, we installed washing and drying machines for the men to use, and we improved a health care room used by visiting nurses. It was a massive boost and a turning point for the organisation, which went on to wind down and close the doss house and replace it with a tailored range of decent hostels and supported flats for single homeless people.

Why tell this story now, 35 years later?

Just after we achieved this victory I was in the general office doing some paperwork when a radical member of staff came up and said to me in an aggrieved tone, ‘the staff did most of the work for this, you know‘. My reply was that, ‘I don’t want any medals‘, to which nothing more was said.

Why now, is, we need case studies of successful campaigns which are not loaded with ego.

The main lessons for me from this case study are:

1. Research and investigate the issue in as much detail as you possibly can. Go back to the original documents, the basic law, the facts of the case. Put the graft in.

2. Use letters like campaign leaflets, short but with the details where necessary, written to engage the onlooker as well as the recipient.

3. Be generous in victory, it is always a team effort, a collective result.

America. World power. (1918-2016)

From today’s election results we can imagine that America has given up trying, because the vote will be seen that way.

Given up on being a multi-cultural country founded by immigrants.
Given up on trade.
Given up on equality for women.
Given up on the environment.
Given up on shared defence.
Given up a world role.

A result for vocal angry white men.

Does this matter, globally? Maybe not. There has been long-standing political animosity in much of America against the United Nations. And for their part, much of the rest of the world wasn’t too pleased with cultural imperialism.

So we can imagine certain political discussions in Russia, China, India, Africa, Latin America, and the Arab Gulf States – all saying basically, “so be it”. If the USA is leaving the world stage, fine. Those political discussions in Europe will be more finely balanced, with the various right wing parties hoping that America has found a magic door to new wealth and opportunity.

The best role now for centre-left parties in Europe is to show America how to accept and live well with its loss of world influence while maintaining (or rebuilding) a tolerant and open society, as much of Europe did in the twentieth century after ‘their’ empires collapsed.

Of course, there will be a few big problems with America’s new direction. The nuclear capability of a rogue state is always a concern. The influence of the dollar in trade needs to be addressed. Probably, as with North Korea, the world policy towards the USA will become one of containment. And maybe some foreign exchange trips for the left-wing citizens to keep their hopes up.

As Barack Obama said after the vote, the sun will still rise.

Yes, and there is a saying in Africa – that the sun shines the same everywhere, no matter how small the village.

Kids Starry Night – suggested project

The problem:

Many children, especially living in towns and cities, never see a dark starry sky.

The solution:

When a cloud-free night is approaching, TV weather reports will give out locations where a starry sky can be safely viewed by accompanied children, accessible by public transport. Ages will probably be around 8 to 12 year olds.

The method:

1. Preparatory meetings are held between media, academic, transport, and public safety organisations: probably one grouping per county apart from media.

2. Suitable “dark sky” locations away from urban light pollution and accessible by public transport are identified. Suggestions: Shaw & Crompton; Town Green.

3. Plans are established, including transport timetables, station staffing, police and first aid cover, astronomy volunteers, near-to-station supervised viewing areas.

4. BBC and ITV regional weather forecasters decide a night-time is 24 to 48 hours away which has a high probability of no cloud cover. This is broadcast, along with a project web link.

5. Events take place, possibly different dates for different counties depending on the local cloud cover forecasts.