There is no national organisation for self-advocacy in England, but there should be, says Gary Bourlet
To have a People First of England or not to have a People First of England? That is the question. It is a difficult one to answer. Scotland and Wales both have national organisations, so why has it been difficult to start something like this in England?
There have been quite a lot of people interested in this who have told me that a national self-advocacy organisation an excellent idea and is badly needed and they would like to see a People First England happen.
There are even allies that want to help in any way they can. I think the Campaign for a Fair Society, the Centre for Welfare Reform and other groups would give all the help possible to try and construct a truly independent voice to represent people in England. Also I think we could get advice from People First Scotland and Wales, which continue to do great work.
Someone suggested putting the message onto other networks of like-minded people. Others have asked to be kept in touch in how it is going. Others are interested in taking part. This sounds like a positive way forwards.
The self-advocacy movement in England needs a united front and it would be good to develop better ways of working together to support people with learning disabilities in leading campaigns against inequality. I am very open to discussion and ideas and would be delighted to help form this group. Together we are strong, divided we fall!
We can also learn from each other's experiences – good and bad – as it’s from our experiences that we grow, especially the nasty ones; once one heals the pain that is when we gain a lot of strength and insight.
We can network; exchange best practice and integrate in ways that suit the person’s/organisation’s needs.
The benefits of having a People First England are:
- To bring together groups across the country to speak as one national voice. People First England would be seen as an umbrella to all self-advocacy organisations, not just those called People First
- To help existing groups to keep going
- For those groups that have folded, to re-launch them
- Not to rely on funding from local authorities, but to be self-sufficient and generate our own income
- Easy access to self-advocacy support wherever anybody lives in England
- Offering capacity building support and advice to self-advocacy organisations
- To continue to have self-advocacy groups run by and for people who have a learning disability.
A People First England could also help to campaign for:
- There to be a range of self-advocacy organisations so people can choose what’s best for them
- Help to provide training and support for everyone who wants to speak up
- Council staff in England to be trained to know about and understand self-advocacy. That training should be done by people who have a learning disability
- Ensuring self-advocacy groups are more secure, in that they know whether they will get funding in plenty of time and can plan for the future
- Money to be available so that self-advocacy groups can plan and develop independent support with some level of security and consistency
- Supporting people who are struggling to make their self-advocacy group happen
- Fighting against funding cuts.
We need to put together a vision of what People First England should be like. Here is what I think the important questions are:
- What are People First England’s goals?
- What should its mission be? What’s its purpose?
- What do self-advocates and self-advocacy groups get out of it?
- What is the role of supporters in People First England?
- What kind of project would self-advocates and self-advocacy groups would be involved in?
- Would People First England have a board of directors or a parliament structure?
- Would other disabilities be included as well as learning disabilities?
- How would membership work?
I would be very interested to hear what other people think. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author
Gary Bourlet is a founder of the People First movement in the UK.
This article first appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Learning Disability Today.