Following the news in Britain feels increasingly like living the Smiths’ lyric, “Good times for a change”. The onslaught of cost-cutting, short-termist, outright nasty public policy can sometimes make it hard to believe any progress is possible. Well, here’s some good news.
Last month, I reported on cash-strapped Bristol city council’s proposal to move disabled people into residential care if it was deemed “best value” compared with providing support in their own homes. Readers took to social media with their outrage. Others used the council’s public consultation to voice their objections. Next, campaigners in Bristol engaged pro bono lawyers to challenge the legality of the proposal.
Then came the U-turn. In light of the growing backlash, the council has now scrapped the policy entirely. It declined to comment when I approached it, but did share correspondence from councillor Helen Holland, cabinet member for adult social care and chair of the mayor’s disability equality commission, which confirms: “the policy will not be taken forward at this time”.
It is a reprieve. A policy that should never have been proposed in the first place has been rightly consigned to the dustbin. “I feel marvellous,” emails Mark, who featured in my column and campaigned for months against the proposal. “I couldn’t believe when I heard. I just wanted to thank and tell everyone.”
What has happened in Bristol is not just a niche regional story. It is reflective of the crisis facing local authorities across the country: the shrinking finances, the assault on the social safety net and the way in which, time after time, marginalised communities are the first to be harmed.
But it is also a lesson that change is possible – and that we need not wait for a general election to achieve it. In the end, Bristol’s policy was toppled by a domino of ordinary citizens: a grassroots group of disabled campaigners, an independent disability media that broke the story, a local paper, a pro bono legal team and an army of Guardian readers.
This will not be the last time such efforts are needed. In Bristol, Mark tells me that he and his fellow campaigners from Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living (BRIL) have been invited by the council to help produce a new social care policy; but he is wary of the details. “The inquiry must be independent and genuinely co-produced with disabled people,” he says.
Other councils – under pressure to meet growing social care demand against a backdrop of cut budgets and higher costs – will probably consider similar measures to those threatened in Bristol. As I write, some younger disabled people are already languishing in nursing homes or trapped at home with no support at all.
Westminster, for its part, seems unconcerned. Only hours after news of Bristol’s U-turn was leaked, it emerged that the Labour party has rowed back on its pledge to create a new national care service in its first term.
You would be forgiven for feeling defeated. Or just plain tired. In the coming months, the same headlines will be appear over and over: which councils are going to cut what services and for who. When you see them, remember the handful of disabled people in Bristol who took on the state and held on to their rights. As Mark signs off his email to me: “There’s still plenty of work to do. We’ve won the battle, but not the war.”