Celtic Illumination, part 293, Survival of the fittest.
I have to say that I considered myself lucky in that I had a job I loved doing. Most of the people I encountered were very decent people always willing to listen and almost always willing to help, except for the management of TPT. They seemed not to be able to move their focus from making profit. When you can arrange and organise, for an unemployed fellow to be routed through various training courses that end up with him becoming a fully qualified pilot, why waste your time and talent chasing a few bob? So much more good could have been done for so many more people.
One of my favourite participants on the course had been John, he of the ginger hair, learning disability and epilepsy. I was aware that certain companies existed who concentrated on providing jobs for disabled people. The largest and perhaps most well-known, would have been the company known as Remploy. At the time a job for a person with a learning disability would have been sitting at a bench putting a number of nuts and bolts into a small plastic envelope. There were other similar jobs, and when I looked at them I was horrified. I didn’t dismiss them outright. Many of you would shudder at the idea of putting five nuts and five bolts into a small plastic envelope for eight hours a day and five days a week.
But what was the alternative? The person could sit in a day centre, or more than likely sit at home, alone. Despite you or I thinking the job horrific at least the person with the learning disability is getting out of the house, meeting people, making friends, having a social life. And who knows what they thought of the actual job. I know that I had sorted John a wee gardening job out which would keep him busy and interested and gave him a feeling of self-worth, but I had another couple of people on the course with learning disabilities and I wanted to create and establish something for them. I really did feel that it would be possible; all I needed was some time to think about it.
Then one day I came in and found John huddled in a corner of the classroom. He was in a right state. He was soaked to the skin and looked as if he had fallen off a mountain. I began to talk to him and was horrified at what I heard. His father was an alcoholic and the previous day had been benefits day. John’s father had been drunk and decided that he needed more drink so he had beaten John up, taken his benefits money and thrown him out of the house where he had been allowed to sleep on the front door step in the rain. Within minutes I was on the telephone to John’s social worker who explained that this was quite a normal turn of events. According to the social worker the father would sober up, not recall the incident and life would continue, as normal, until the next time.
I understood that John’s father had an illness and perhaps could not be held responsible for his actions, but as a caring society surely we had a duty to remove John from harm rather than, as the social worker explained, we wait for the next time. I was aware of a local charity that helped people who suffered abuse. I was so happy at their response; they had a flat that John could move in to immediately, all he had to do was furnish it. I went to the management of TPT and informed them that one of their trainees was being beaten senseless by his alcoholic father. They had a duty to help him. I should have expected it but they were like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights. First of all they were unable to decide if they had any responsibility towards John at all.
I explained to them that as Christians and fellow human beings they had a responsibility to John. It took a moment or two but eventually they realised that I was correct, now they would have to have a meeting to decide exactly what form of support they could give John. Once again I had to step in and inform them that on their site was a business who dealt in second hand furniture. They could not only completely furnish Johns flat, but by using the company van, and even the Wobblie Waggon, we could have the whole flat furnished and ready to move in to within the hour. It was like finding an old antique toy car, you want to play with it, you want to push it and make it go faster, but you are afraid that it might break if you push it too hard.
John was over the moon with his new living arrangements; it was to be an exciting new adventure for him. Action For Blind People were giving the matter some thought, as in how much support they could give John, but the local charity were convinced that they could provide John with all the support he would need. So once again everyone was happy, apart from the social workers, who complained that everything had happened far too fast. John should have been assessed by them, to consider if he was capable of living on his own. Then, and only then, could they start to teach him the skills he would need to support himself. Once they were convinced that John was capable of supporting himself they would begin to look for a suitable place for him to live. When, and if, he moved in they would support him, teach him how to access local amenities and use the local public transport system. John would have to move back in with his father and when they had the man power they would begin to assess John as to whether or not he was capable of living on his own.
I could not believe that no social worker had ever been positive about what I was doing. Every time I came up with an idea, or got someone a job, they put the brakes on and demanded that they approach the problem in their own fashion, after all, they were the professionals. I was still desperately trying to think of a scheme I could set up that would allow the people with learning disabilities, on my course, to start up a little company where they would be supported but where they also earned themselves some money and was a little more interesting than putting nuts and bolts into plastic envelopes. I went over to the main day centre one day to talk to people and listen to their views, see if they had any ideas on the subject.
I wasn’t going to talk to the professionals; I wanted to talk to the people with learning disabilities. I soon found myself being asked to come to the main office where I could have a chat with a couple of social workers. They were very nice, pleasant people, completely useless but very polite. They asked me what my plans were and I explained that I wanted to start a small company, probably backed up with support from Action For Blind People, but where disabled people could find meaningful work and be encouraged and supported to follow their own ideas. Guess what. Once again I was told that I didn’t understand. You would think that by now I would be sick of being told this, but I wasn’t, I was just used to it.
It was explained to me that the day centre we were in had a certain number of people it could cater for, at that moment they were up to full capacity, they even had a waiting list of people who wanted to join. There was a certain ratio used that equated the number of members of the day centre to the number of social workers employed. If I started getting people jobs and putting them on courses it would reduce the number of people who attended the day centre which would in turn reduce the number of social workers employed. Now did I understand? Of course I did, the social workers were not interested in the lives of the people they claimed to support, they were only interested in keeping their own jobs. Suddenly all the excuses they had used to stop my guys from taking up jobs or starting courses made sense.
I left there in a strange mood. In a way the social workers had warned me off, whatever I tried to do in the future they would simply come up with some excuse and make sure that the person stayed under their control. I think the social workers thought that they were dealing with a normal person, that I would go away and do what TPT wanted me to do, which was keep fifteen bums on fifteen seats for six weeks. It was a difficult position to be in, TPT didn’t want to help me and it was clear that the social workers were not going to help me. Action For Blind People were on my side, or I was on their side, whichever, but I was determined to beat the lot of them. Normally I am quite a determined person but this time I became even more determined. I learned that John had been returned home and that he wasn’t coming back to the course. The social workers hadn’t put the brakes on this one, well; not directly. It was a combination of a severe beating and sleeping on the front door step in snow that killed him. John wasn’t coming back, John was dead.