Dr Lucy Burke introduced the Human Trouble series of events, co-convened by herself and Katherine Ruswick-Cole, by saying its aim, “is to think about what it is to be disabled today in the UK, particularly in the context of austerity and these cuts which are making a difference to people’s lives.”
Katherine introduced Sara Ryan, whose son, Connor Sparrowhawk’s story drove the #justiceforLB campaign. Connor, who had learning difficulties, drowned aged 18 at an NHS unit he was residing in. A report following his death found the unit did not meet the required standards of care and Connor’s death was preventable.
Issues initially arose surrounding Connor before his death as he was being kept in the unit when he would have preferred to be at home. Sara said, “When he was a child he was just part of a really loving family but when he was 18 he was thrust into the adult world where he was just seen as a budget”. As often is the case, disabled people’s views are ignored as financial concerns are prioritized.
Sara shared a video of Connor that perfectly captured his nickname, which now is the title of the new bill, ‘Laughing Boy’. Before the tragedy, Sara Ryan used to blog about her son and his unique way of interpreting the world. On the day of Connor’s death, Sara’s blog post allowed the message of injustice to be heard. News of his ‘preventable’ death then quickly spread across social media, which in turn highlighted issues with how the state treat the disabled and from that, the LB campaign was born.
George Julian explained the LB campaign in more detail. George said that the promise of the NHS Trust report for Connor’s death was delayed, which enabled people to get behind the hashtag, ‘justiceforLB’. She said, “I didn’t trust the Trust.” From this initial momentum, a more structured campaign was built around spreading the word of the injustice Connor suffered.
Mark Neary provided another example of how the system has failed his own son, Steven, who has autism and learning disabilities. Mark fell ill and asked for Steven to be taken into a respite centre for a couple of days so he could recover before resuming care for his son. It took one year for Steven to be returned home as Steven was moved away from his family home and into a treatment centre. Mark recognised that the role of state made it impossible for his son to voice his wishes for life and this is why the LB bill is important. The state claimed Steven’s behaviour meant that he must remain in the treatment centre. Mark, however, knew the centre was responsible for his son’s behaviour. Mark said it is important to implement this so that Steven’s future is secure.
Steve Broach, meanwhile, came to discuss the LB bill in terms of its clauses and how the law stands now. He said, “The trouble with the law is that we constantly lose sight of the human.” The point of the LB bill is to give disabled people’s views and wishes a status within society. The clauses of the bill include community support, which allows disabled people to stay within society and also involves needing an approval for removing the disabled from their homes. But the need to improve existing laws such as the Mental Health Act is also necessary. Steve also said that culture needs to change for disabled people to be respected as humans.
The event not only promoted the LB bill but also allowed members of the audience to share their stories in terms of personal difficulties dealing with disability and the state. The evening was a success and as a collective, in the words of George Julian, showed that, “people do really care.”
The next event in the Human Trouble series is MMU Question Time: Disability and Austerity. This is a free event, taking place on Monday 2nd February at 5:30pm in Geoffrey Manton Building Lecture Theatre 4.