Monday, 17 November 2008

Conductive Education, who cares?

Carers might

I’ve just had an email from Emma McDowall, one of the original RACE stalwarts from. She now fights her fight through Carers UK and has sent me a report by Rob Kay on Carers UK’s recent AGM.

Here are some extracts.

Attendance is up ... a good crowd gradually fills the main auditorium. Very mixed and diverse - all ages and races shoulder to shoulder. There is lots of chatter as old friends and comrades greet each other….

Phil Hope, MP, and Minister for Carers in England makes a speech, pleasant, the usual kind of placatory comments. I've been here before, heard the same things so many times. Anyone remember Paul Boateng back in 1997, or was it 1998? These spending ministers have far less real power than people think, they come, they speak, they make no real promises because they have no new money, maybe a few hundred million here, a few there, all quickly lost forever in the morass of local and health authorities budgets. In a year or so off they go again: either up the greasy pole or down it, never to surface again. We'll still be caring in ten years time, still hearing the same speeches no doubt.

I sense a new mood on the floor - carers are angrier than ever I can remember, frustrated by the slow pace of change, still polite and good natured but there is a new edge. A whiff of revolution in the air..... and it's about individual stories, individual situations.... there is so much wrong with the system, whether its health care, social care, or just plain poverty, rising costs and miserable financial rewards.

…it is Jonathan Shaw, Junior Minister responsible for benefits, who takes his place. He has been in post just a few weeks since the reshuffle, giving him a good excuse to give a short speech (with at least one gaffe using the word "informal carers" ) then take questions. A forest of hands is raised, and what follows is not so much a question and answer session as an extraordinary outpouring of short personal statements. Some delivered with passion, some with tears, some with anger, all totally convincing and from the heart. There isn't any personal rudeness - just an extraordinary sincerity. I can see the Minister visibly reeling, almost unable to take it all in - he did well to stay standing…

"I will work with you" he declared… Well, I believe that he probably will - the expertise is clearly on the floor - not the platform. But whether he will still be around for long enough to really honour that pledge of partnership, and whether carers will ever get a fair deal for their labours, is in the lap of Gordon and the hands of the electorate.

Emma’s idea

What a vivid piece of writing. I feel almost that I was there. Emma, who was, writes to wonder whether Conductive Education might get further in the United Kingdom if it joined its interests with a vigorous, consumer-led and national lobbying group (like RACE was in the old days) and fought the common ‘enemy’ over common ground.

If that were to be such a strategy then there is still little or no mileage to be gained from collaboration on the cerebral palsy front, nor through the adult disability organisations. They already have agendas of their own (it was always thus) and are professionalised out of the hands of the consumers. I suspect that one might say the same for analogous bodies in many other countries where Conductive Education struggles for political support.

But the carers’ organisations? Most fighting consumers in Conductive Education are parents – and many of these will be carers for much of the rest of their lives. It is commensurate with stated concerns within Conductive Education that the process should be life-long and concerned with a far, far wider range of social and psychological issues than any medical condition that constituted the initial reason for families’ identifying common ground.

I could of course argue the other side of the case, advocating Conductive Education as a stand-alone cause. but I might have to concede that, early days excepted, twenty-odd years of this strategy in the United Kingdom have brought little to show for our pains. Maybe this might apply elsewhere too.


What do people think? What other strategic approaches are open to Conductive Education? Rely on conductors as a disciplined, fighting political force? Look for international collaboration with (equally impotant) CE bodies overseas? Alternative strategies gratefully received...

At least the carers sound like they have fun meetings.


Carers UK

Emma McDowell

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