Would You Break the Silence in a Hushed and Crowded Train Compartment?

08/07/2013 15:41 BST | Updated 07/09/2013 10:12 BST

I have to admit that I am that person. You know. The one who fixes you with a penetrating look and says in a clear voice "Would you like to give your seat to this lady. I think she would like to sit down."

I wasn't always. I would stand there, inwardly tortured, hating myself for letting the frail, older gentleman or pregnant woman suffer on the long hot journey, knowing that I was part of the problem, by colluding in the great British conspiracy of train silence.

But a funny thing happened to me the first time I nerved myself to say those words out loud. Knowing that whatever painful, blush-making embarrassment followed, it could not be any worse than the unending self-recrimination if I didn't speak up. Instead of silently and awkwardly hiding behind their newspapers as I had imagined, my fellow passengers smiled and nodded. Several immediately offered their seats to the heavily-pregnant lady, some apologised for not noticing her sooner standing there in discomfort. Some thanked me for mentioning it. In short there was genial, pleasant, kindness - an outbreak of love on the District Line.

That's when I realized, it's part of our culture - the thin crust of silent, English reserve. But inside the crust is the warmth and generosity and simple good-heartedness of freshly baked bread. And that's just as well because it's never easy to speak up.

We all see things every day that we are uncomfortable with, and would wish to see different. But where is the tipping point?

When do we take a stand and speak out?

For me personally, it's when you first think, not in my name. When you feel I'm not proud to be part of this. That's when you know the moment's come.

That's why I announced yesterday that at Leonard Cheshire Disability we have stopped bidding for future contracts providing 15 minute home visits for personal care of disabled people. I believe that now is the time to take a stand on the disgrace of the care and support that is provided to disabled and older people in this country today.

I call on all other providers of social care to join us in making this stand. I call on local authorities to join us in refusing to commission any more visits of this type. And I call on you to join our campaign and to show how much this means.

Most of all I call on the Government to use the Care Bill before Parliament now to outlaw these visits once and for all.

At Leonard Cheshire Disability we work with disabled people in many ways, and an important one of these is in providing care and support. So we have first-hand experience of this issue. And this is something that not only do disabled people feel passionately about, but so do our staff.

For those of you unfamiliar with how care is provided to disabled people in their own homes let me give a short explanation.

For many people the way that their home visits are arranged is that their

local councils will assess them to decide whether they are eligible for care support, and will then decide how much care (how many visits of how many minutes) a person is entitled to throughout the week. As pressure on council budgets grows, the time allowed for care visits is decreasing and providers are now being asked to deliver care slots of only 15 minutes by nearly three-quarters of local authorities.

This means that a care worker may have only 15 minutes to support someone to get up and dressed in the morning, to take a bath and to prepare breakfast. I don't know how long it takes you to do that (link) but for me it's an hour minimum. And 15 minutes is never long enough to support someone with care and respect. It's box-ticking.

As a charity that has been providing high quality care for over 65 years, we know that 15 minutes is not enough time to give disabled people decent personal care and support.

The test of a decent society is how it supports the vulnerable. When money is tight it should go to those who need it most. Does the care and support currently offered allow people to live. Or does it just allow people to exist? Are you proud of the support that we are offering to disabled people in these 15 minute visits?

As part of our #MakeCareFair campaign to end 15 minute care, we have conducted a confidential survey with care workers up and down the country. They have told us it is impossible to carry out everyday tasks such as feeding, bathing and supporting someone to get dressed with any decency or consideration in this short time slot.

I have heard shocking instances of disabled people being forced to make the difficult decision on whether to have a hot meal or a wash. Or being left to sit all day in a cold flat with wet hair because there's no time to dry it.

This makes me so sad. What an appalling way for us to ask someone to live. How would we feel if this was our mother, our daughter, our sister, our neighbour or friend? Or indeed, us?

As the Care Bill begins Committee Stage in the House of Lords, I urge Peers to support the amendment that would give the Government the power to stop these visits being commissioned.

We all have a role to play in this and we need your help. Please write to your MP - many MPs say they receive no letters at all on this subject. Please don't sit there in awkward silence. Please break through your crust of British reserve and show them how much you care. Please speak up for disabled people. It is the MPs responsibility to represent your views. This is our moment to make a difference. Join us at and campaign for an end to this disgraceful care.