Eric Pickles is in the New Years’ papers lambasting local authorities for being slow to follow the Coalition’s directive to publish all expenditure over £500 on the Net. On the surface, this sounds like a splendidly sensible idea for putting councils under pressure to eliminate waste. But is it really a good idea at all? Could the reality be that we as disabled people will find it to be just one more Coalition diktat that turns around and bites us as soon as the headlines have faded and all the publicity about fiscal responsibility has been milked. Criticism is good, but only so long as it is informed criticism, and the needs of disabled people within the community are an area where the public are woefully ill-informed. Do we really want ‘Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells’ and his local fellow-travellers pouring through council accounts and pressuring councillors and officers to reduce care costs and associated spending because £500 is obviously far too much to pay to put safety railings outside a disabled person’s house, or £1500 clearly extortionate for providing a ceiling-mounted hoist?
Other idealogy-driven fads flowing out of Pickles’ department may well have similarly problematic results for disabled people. Pickles talks about local people deciding local spending priorities and wants to drive funding down into parish councils and newly created ward councils. It’s difficult to top the BBC coverage which used the parish council from The Vicar of Dibley to illustrate this; but do we really want the local self-selected-great and maybe-good deciding funding policies when their idea of ‘Nothing For Us, Without Us’ is patting us condescendingly and telling us not to worry our little heads?
The problem at the core of the whole idea of ‘The Big Society’ is that it depends on society understanding the needs of those of us who need its support, and a huge swathe of society just does not comprehend what we as disabled people need to allow us to function in society as equals, or even just to survive from day to day. The practicalities and costs of actually providing for that are far beyond their understanding and we risk the Coalition’s ‘Big Society’ trampling ‘Nothing For Us, Without Us,’ underfoot.