June Maelzer (1942-2004)

A disabled people’s rights campaigner, in the 1980s the first disabled person in Greater Manchester to use direct payments to employ personal assistants.
June Geraldine Maelzer was born on 29 June 1942 in Delhi, India, where her father was working as an engineer. June was born with paralysis on her right side. Despite the doctor’s prognosis that she was “a cabbage” and not to bother taking her home, her parents Aileen and Basil refused to treat her differently from any other child. When she was four the family returned to London, where she attended a day school for disabled children.She learned to stick up for herself playing with other neighbourhood children, but her life changed dramatically when, at 11, her father died and her mother had to go to work. June was sent to a boarding school for “delicate children”, a tough experience during which she quickly learned to assert herself. Later, she attended Thomas Delarue school in Tonbridge, Kent, run by the (then) Spastics Society, and Oakwood Further Education Centre, in Essex.

She applied to many universities to study psychology, but was rejected as being a “fire risk” because she used a wheelchair. Eventually, in 1969 and aged 27 years, the University of Manchester accepted her as an undergraduate and, despite the assumption that she would live in an institution, June found a flat and arranged au pair help. Her flat was filled with friends, and she reportedly partied avidly.

After gaining her degree she applied, unsuccessfully, for more than 200 jobs; she wanted to do social work but, at that time in the early 1970s, social workers found it hard to conceive of a potential client becoming a colleague. Nevertheless, June gained valuable experience in the early 1970s working voluntarily in a day centre for drug users, running a Hell’s Angels club and a hostel for homeless boys.

When she became pregnant June Maelzer said later she faced the toughest challenges of her life. She was implacably opposed to doctors who suggested a termination and who insisted she was selfish and irresponsible to have a baby. She was delighted when her son, Frank, was safely delivered in 1976 and determined to make their lives as ordinary as possible.

After a routine post-natal check-up June discovered that a case conference of various professionals had been convened without her knowledge and a decision taken that, whilst in the first instance she would be allowed to keep her baby, “social services would be on the sidelines waiting to take the baby into care”. She found her parenting constantly undermined.

When her son began walking at the early age of 10 months, he was scrutinised for bumps and bruises by health professionals. At a clinic, when she said he mainly ate fruit and vegetables, she was told that if he did not begin to eat meat he would be taken into care. When he gained weight normally, the gaze of professionals turned to assumptions of “maternal deprivation” because June couldn’t cuddle him without physical assistance. She felt she was expected to fail.

In the late 1970s and still living in Manchester, she struggled for cash and faced a traumatic time until she eventually found an au pair agency prepared to support her; and later Community Service Volunteers began to send volunteers into the home.

After many years of enforced dependence on volunteers for personal assistance, in the early 1980s she became involved in a group of disabled people who shared her experiences of inadequate service provision.

In late 1981 June attended a meeting to discuss housing provision in Greater Manchester for disabled people held at the office of North British Housing Association on Quay Street in Manchester. The chair was Peter Norman of Irwell Valley Housing Association. June was representing the Manchester committee of that year’s International Year of Disabled People. Records indicate there had been previous meetings of this group.

June remained a member of this group for some years. The group organised a Conference on Housing and Care Support held on 30 September 1982 at Greater Manchester County Hall near Piccadilly Gardens, and produced a video titled, Independent Living – the alternatives to segregated residential institutions for physically disabled people. The group became known as the Greater Manchester Housing and Disability Group.

A friend suggested that she initiate her own support group, and the idea of a personal trust was born. Manchester City Council reportedly funded the project, though records show that Irwell Valley Housing Association were also closely involved as a conduit for funds to June because then the funds could not be paid direct to individuals. Further reports indicate that unallocated funds to support families were available within the southern team area of Manchester Social Services in 1983, and this may have been when June’s first involvement with direct payments began, albeit via a housing association. The housing and disability group was a forum for policy rather than casework, but June used her contact there with Peter Norman to set up a scheme for herself. It is fair to say that June was not shy in holding back from asking when she needed something doing by a friend or colleague.

These arrangements, probably starting in 1983, enabled June to hire and fire her own staff, train them herself and pay them the same rate for the job as on social services payscales. The first such arrangement in the country was probably a scheme starting in 1982 involving Liz Briggs at Project 81, and June’s scheme was the first of its kind in Greater Manchester. It was a bit unorthodox but it worked, and she was in regular contact with other disabled people across the country, a pioneering group of disabled people all beginning to set up their own direct payments schemes.

June and her family lived in Broadfield Road, Moss Side in Manchester. Irwell Valley Housing Association managed her financial allocation and payroll, and also provided accommodation for her personal assistants in a shared house nearby. She did all her own interviewing, selection, rota organising, training, holidays etc. It was a big job. There would be four PAs on her team, each doing 24-hour shifts.

The ideas incorporated in this type of scheme later developed into UK law, becoming the 1996 Community Care (Direct Payments) Act, under which a person entitled to social services support is eligible for direct payments to organise their own care.

In early 1985 a few pilot examples of ‘official’ direct payments were started. Minutes of the Greater Manchester Housing and Disability Group meeting on 21 January 1985 indicate that two schemes involving direct funding were in place by then nearby, one for Carl Ford in Stoke-on-Trent (Stafford Council) and one for June in Manchester.

June was a member of many campaigning groups in Greater Manchester and the surrounding county, being active in:

  • Greater Manchester Housing and Disability Group,
  • Greater Manchester ADAPT group on disabled people’s access to public transport,
  • Greater Manchester Highways and Disability Group,
  • Manchester Disability Forum’s Access Group, and when created
  • Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People.

In the Annual Report of the Manchester Disability Forum in 1983-84, June is convening the Access Group and reporting back on its campaigns. This report includes mention of her interview on Granada TV’s This Is Your Right programme with Lord Winstanley. She also reported on the Lord Mayor of Manchester opening a photographic exhibition on access at the Town Hall by “ascending the Town Hall steps in a new chair lift”.

There followed years of paid employment, as a regular visiting lecturer in the Department of Psychology and Speech Pathology at Manchester Metropolitan University, and in research, consultancy and training in the field of disability and equal opportunities.

June knew that not everything was plain sailing politically in her work. Often she would be a strong advocate for the normalisation model of disabled people in her training, which was politically at odds with other people who advocated the social model. The social model is structural, where it is society that disables people with impairments, so requiring self-organisation and social change. However, on rights and choices for disabled people to live independently June was a pioneer.

She worked for Manchester City Council as a disability training officer from around 1985 to around 1990, as part of a group of equal opportunities training officers based within the personnel department at Crown Square (a concrete block now demolished and rebuilt as Spinningfields). Crown Square was also the home of the head office of the council’s education department. One day, after she’d been in the job for two years, she was in the lift when a very senior official said, “I keep seeing you in the lift. Why do you keep coming to this building?” In reply June growled, “I work here.”

She also took her work colleagues for lunch sometimes at Granada Studios canteen nearby, where she seemed to have free access to the place.

Nor had she lost her partying spirit, and many times she and her friends would burn the candle at both ends. John Evans recalls a conference of a certain disabled drivers organisation around 1986 when she and him “blew the audience apart” when they spoke out about disabled people’s rights and independent living. It seemed to them that the audience was not that receptive about rights but more interested about the accessibility of vehicles and driving. June with John and their PAs and friends, including Martin Field, were supremely unbothered and happily partied throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning!

There is also a story of June on holiday, staying in an accessible villa in southern Spain near Malaga run by Pat Sierra and her husband, when June managed to miss her flight home. Probably another time, but also on holiday in Spain, she shared a villa with Ken and Maggie Davis, highly respected pioneers in independent living.

June co-authored an academic book, Researching Disability Issues (1998), and became something of a personality in Manchester – easily recognisable crossing the city in her distinctive coloured taxi, one of the few forms of wheelchair-accessible vehicles at the time and indicative of her ingenuity in getting things done her way.

June carried out extensive research on the experiences of other disabled parents and felt passionately about the entitlements of parents with HIV and Aids-related illnesses. She was seen as having a sensitive and insightful advocate for people with learning difficulties. In 1995, Manchester Metropolitan University awarded her an honorary MSc in recognition of her commitment to improving the rights and lives of disabled people.

She continued as a daring participant in direct action, often challenging the police to arrest her. In Manchester around the year 2000, she joined other disabled activists in a three-day occupation of a housing office organised by DAN, the disabled people’s Direct Action Network.

June often experienced huge inconvenience and at times serious personal discomfort and indignity because her work was based in buildings with no accessible toilets, or with broken lifts, or rooms where the doors or desks didn’t allow space for a wheelchair to pass through. Once, finding herself assigned yet again to travel in the guards’ van on a train journey, she was caught up in an altercation about where she could smoke. “Don’t you think you’re sick enough already?” asked the guard.

Later in her career, she worked as an alternative health therapist and decided to move her business to Cornwall. Shortly afterwards, with her living arrangements still uncertain, she was diagnosed with cancer and the battle to live – and now to die – independently continued from her hospital bed. Once again she was determined, and somehow managed, to get herself home.

She died on 5 January 2004 aged 61 years in Hayle, Cornwall.

June’s family and friends felt she never saw a satisfactory outcome to her campaign for recognition of disabled people’s basic human rights. At her funeral many of her disabled friends were left stranded on the cemetery path.

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This short biography has been compiled from two obituaries in The Guardian and The Independent, plus some additional research and recollections. Further details and any corrections are welcomed.