Is the UK government breaching the rights of disabled people?

As disabled activists visit Geneva to tell the United Nations that the British government is breaching the rights of disabled people we at humanactivism.org look at the evidence.

Yesterday, a number of organisations of disabled people from the UK, represented disabled people in Geneva to discuss the plight of disabled people in post-austerity Britain. Here at humanactivism.org, we have been documented the impact of austerity - and imaginative responses by people with learning disabilities and their allies - for well over a year. Our research with people with learning disabilities and their organisations reveals a number of clear messages:

While the language of the British government suggests a retrenchment back from the practice of austerity people with learning disabilities continue to suffer with the consequences of impact.

Employment rates for people with learning disabilities remain stubbornly low - less than ten percent of people with learning disabilities in the UK are in paid work, and this figure has changed little over twenty years.

Regrettably, perceived un-employability has become part of the way the identity ‘people with learning disability’ has been constructed. And as jobs become scarce so the idea that people with learning disabilities are incapable of work becomes a convenient lazy stereotype to peddle.

Local authorities that commission supported employment providers have experienced swinging cuts that have reduced their capacity to support people with intellectual disabilities into work. No support, no work.

On top of these cuts to vital support mechanisms that get people into work, austerity has damaged the capacity of civil society groups to enhance the potential of people with learning disabilities to meaningfully contribute to their communities. Many people find themselves socially isolated and lonely.

For evidence from our research please visit here

New research institute launched - iHuman

This summer 2017 has seen the launch of a new research institute at the University of Sheffield: iHuman.

All of us at humanactivism.org have been a little quiet recently. This is because we have been working with colleagues to launch the new research institute at the University of Sheffield: the Institute for the Study of the Human. This initiative draws on research expertise from across the social sciences, the humanities and STEM disciplines and brings together academics, community groups and third sector organisations. We promote risky conversations between and across disciplines and do this primarily through our funded research projects. We also host a number of events that grow our collective and enhance debate.

At the heart of our work is the central question: what does it mean to be human in the 21st Century?

Such a question, of course, resonates with the focus of humanactivism.org because we are continuing to witness people with learning disabilities being treated as less than human by wider society. Over the next few months we will bring together the work of both ihuman and humanactivism.org in order to further illuminate human questions in relation to the lives of people with learning disabilities.

For more information on ihuman please click here

Trump, Brexit and the marginalisation of disabled people

This week has brought us the hard Brexit language from the British government and the inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump. These are uncertain times but what does it mean for disabled people including people with learning disabilities?

We are living in difficult times. One feels light-headed even trying to decipher the actualities of the global political system and cultural order in light of the events of Brexit and the President Elect Trump. One trope that needs to be carefully dissected is the play and presence of ableism as a logical conclusion of neoliberalism. Let us explain.

Ableism is a worldview that emphasises self-sufficiency, autonomy and independence. These same ideals fit well with the ideology of neoliberalism; which places faith in individuals to play the marketplace to work and shop enough that will lead to their individual freedom. These ideas were key to the Trump and Brexit campaigns; setting up a vision of the individual and nation as an island (distinct and separate from others). When neoliberal and ableist ideals work together they threaten to make us ever more isolated from one another; each and everyone one of us responsible for our own life choices. And this feeling of remoteness is further emphasised in a time of austerity (where welfare rolls back to leave many vulnerable people in our communities).

There has been much talk about the end of neoliberalism in these post-truth times. Here at humanactivism.org we are not convinced. Our own sense is that Brexit and Trump hail in a new kind of neoliberalism; one associated with the rolling out of ableist ideals. And we know from history that ability and disability – or dis/ability – are used to restructure political orders. Only those people who are able and willing to step up to the plate in these 'brave' new worlds of post-Trump and British isolationism will be able to flourish. We are witnessing a revision of what it means to be able-bodied and minded. Never have people needed to be so self-sufficient than they are today. But this means that the human reliance on others for support - what we might term interdependence - risks being crushed. No human being is an island wrote the English poet John Donne. Sadly, Brexit and Trump invite a new era of individual and national segregation that risks breaking apart our communities and bonds with one another.

It is absolutely imperative then that we listen to the expertise of disabled people's organisations because they have always emphasised the interdependent support that sustains us as humans. We have never needed disability politics more than today.

For a more developed version of this argument click here

Get Brandon home for Christmas

As Christmas approaches, television is awash with adverts picturing families enjoying happy time together. Yet for many people with learning disabilities this idealised picture of a family Christmas is far away from their reality. Too many people with learning disabilities are being ‘cared for’ in unsuitable and inappropriate settings when, with the right support, they could be living happily with their families.

We were shocked and saddened to learn about the case of Brandon Reid whose family are fighting for him to be returned to the family home from his current placement in a care home. The family have set up a petition in the hope of persuading social services to get Brandon out of this specialist housing and back to his family home for Christmas. Brandon has the label of Asperger's Syndrome and, according to his mother, Helena, is a much loved son and brother. Helena has spoken of her outrage at Brandon being forcefully removed from the family home by 12 police officers after Brandon had left his care home to visit his family. The family are now locked in a fight with Brandon's social work team who insist he is not ready to come home. Sadly, Brandon’s story is not unique. We are reminded of a number of high profile cases where families have complained that their children and young disabled people have been taken away from them against the wishes of the families and young people. A recurring complaint from families is the lack of responsive respite, social care and housing for people with learning disabilities. Too many people with learning disabilities are being ‘cared for’ in unsuitable and inappropriate settings such as Assessment and Treament units and other settings when, with the right support they could be living happily with their families. Brandon’s story is sadly yet another story of the poor support given to people with learning disabilities in British society.


At times, like all young people, people with learning disabilities and their families might require additional support. Growing up brings with it a number of challenges. But we know that austerity cuts to essential services are putting young people at risk at precisely the same time that our communities are exhibiting increased incidences of hate crime. Our research found that with the right support people with learning disabilities can be active and valued members of their local communities.

Brandon should be living with those who love him. Unfortunately, in these times of austerity, these loving relationships and community risk being eroded.