When society denies Social Justice
It should come as no surprise that, as founding Director of the Diverse Diversity Campaign, I am no fan of the Equality Act 2010. I see it as crude, inflexible, and setting in law Wokist concepts which might or might not be real. Having defined categories, some of which lack evidence beyond the desires of those who wish to put people into them, most of the Act is devoted to identifying exceptions. Of course, it cannot list every fair exception to an unsound method of trying to protect people from unfair treatment and it therefore can never be truly just.
However, in the current emergency climate, even the flawed provisions of that Act are of little value to those it purports to protect, for the emergency legislation under which we all now live is even cruder and makes no provision for those who can only suffer intolerable distress from its provisions.
One such category is children with learning disabilities. Many of those are unable to understand either the need or the rules for social distancing, and cannot therefore obey those rules. However, indoor public spaces are only open to people who can. Such children are therefore excluded from indoor public spaces, which means there is nowhere they can go to get out of the rain. This has been a huge problem for carers when these children have been excluded from school for the last six months and will continue to be a problem as Winter approaches and weekends become increasingly cold and wet.
But, I hear you ask, haven’t children with special needs been permitted to continue attending school along with others classed as vulnerable? The answer is; only those whose disability is mild enough to enable them to be cared for by mainstream schools. For those more severely disabled, who attend specialist schools, different rules apply. Their schools were not required to take them and were free to choose which children they might take. Therefore, the more specialist the needs of the child, the less likely that child was to have his or her needs met. The greater the need, the less likely the provision. That already seems unjust.
Let us think of what this could mean for a single parent bringing up such a child in a small flat. If the child is active he or she needs something to do to stay occupied. A child who doesn’t have a particular interest cannot settle down to a quiet activity in a corner. Instead he or she (shall we for the sake of argument assume it’s she?) will look around the flat for things to do. Her eyes will fall on all sorts of objects around the flat to experiment with. They may be items of furniture or electrical or electronic equipment, books or breakable ornaments, crockery or knives. All sorts of objects can take the fancy of a child with limited understanding when sufficiently bored. Children normally pass throught that stage when they are very small and only just mobile. Carers will protect them by keeping such objects out of their reach and perhaps using gates or guards to deny access to hazards, all of which can work when the child is small. However, a child with learning disabilities might not be so small. She might be much older, taller and stronger. Surfaces beyond her reach might be fewer, and she might be able to move furniture in order to gain access to high shelves and cupboards. She might be strong enough to pull gates from walls or to dislodge fixed cupboards and overturn them. She might use a pole or broom to dislodge objects on high shelves, with the danger of being hit on the head as they fall. In short, such a child cannot be left unattended even for a minute, lest she damage the home’s infrastructure or injure herself. The carer must watch constantly and cannot even stop to eat a meal or prepare a cup of tea. This will continue throughout the child’s waking hours, day after day after day.
It might now be obvious one way to keep such a child safe is to take her out; to the park in fair weather, or to some indoor equivalent if wet, which is where the social distancing rules become a problem. For even those few indoor public venues which are open, require their users to observe social distancing, a concept quite beyond our hypothetical little girl. She will automatically gravitate towards other people, even total strangers. She will want to explore the space at her leisure. She will not understand or see any need to obey prescribed routes. She will not queue for access. None of these concepts mean anything to her. She will regard any attempt by adults to guide her as an interference with her own desire to roam, and will respond with extreme distress and anger, leading to violence as she seeks to defend herself against her perceived indignity. She cannot understand subtle boundaries. She will insist on going through any door unless it is locked. She will not even heed Staff Only signs or stay out of the Gent’s toilets because she cannot understand concepts the rest of us take for granted. Such a child cannot be taken to any public indoor space unless special provision is made for her and her carer despite the rules which apply to the rest of us. That means on a rainy day she is trapped in her tiny flat where boredom will drive her to becoming a danger to herself and others.
Although I have changed a few unimportant details to protect anonymity the situation I have described is real for at least one child as it is based on my own experience over the last six months, and I have observed the effect closely. It will come as no surprise that the child and carer are both exhausted and the carer shows signs of depression, worn out by the strain of it all.
When will we wake up to the fact that the lockdown, as currently implemented, is causing serious harm to our most vulnerable citizens? We need to understand the need for exceptions to require those of us who can to observe strict rules while those who can’t are still allowed to live. If a society is to be judged by how it treats its weakest members we are not currently doing very well.