04/01/2016 05:49 GMT | Updated 03/01/2017 05:12 GMT

How to Make 2016 a Year of Social Change for Disabled People

As we move into 2016 the charity sector requires renewed leadership that harnesses the innovative ideas that exist across the different causes that we champion. For me, I will be working closely with other disability and social care charities to ensure that 2016 is the year in which innovation helps to end institutionalisation for disabled people.

At present, too many disabled and older people find themselves stuck in a welfare system that doesn't cater for them, an employment system that is short-termist in its approach, a social care system not fit for purpose and an NHS that cannot provide the necessary intensive treatment needed to allow patients to return home and able to live independent lives. And I firmly believe that at every level there is a role for disability charities to play in supporting government and public services to improve outcomes for disabled and older people.

I want to detail three areas how I believe disability charities can do this in 2016.


The government has set the ambitious target of getting 1 million disabled people into employment over the life of this parliament. We should applaud the ambition and dedicate ourselves to helping to make it happen. After the Comprehensive Spending Review I detailed how Papworth Trust has led the way in offering a catered Work Programme that has demonstrably worked.

The merging of the Work Programme and Work Choice which Papworth Trust campaigned for, will mean that disabled people are no longer segregated in the system. However, in order to plug the 'gap' of around 1.7 million disabled people who are currently in between those at one end of the spectrum who simply cannot work at all and those at the other end who are already enrolled on the Work Programme, we have to find solutions to more difficult questions.

There are three aspects to this.

Firstly, within the existing jobseekers framework, I believe that we have to change the philosophy that guides the route into work for disabled people. By this I mean we have to move away from the current system that continuously asks disabled people 'what can't you do'? Instead we have to put more of an emphasis on what disabled people can do.

Second, too many disabled men cannot read, write or add up, and they are too embarrassed to admit it when in work assessment interviews. Removing the stigma will enable more disabled men to get into work and we must do more to address this in the near future.

Finally, the third aspect to reducing the unemployment rate amongst disabled people is demonstrate the integral part that a job can play in aiding a disabled person to live the life that they want to. Parents and carers do amazing things for our young disabled people and now they have to inspire them to believe they can enter the world of work and achieve everything they want.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that a poverty of aspiration exists in large numbers of young disabled people. The challenge here for campaigners is to show young disabled people, their parents and their carers that a lifetime of work is every bit as important to their life prospects as it is to everyone else. In doing so, we will confront the, too often self-imposed limits that are placed on disabled people and move the conversation onto a question of 'why wouldn't you employ a disabled person given all that they can do'.

Creating a space for aspiration in 2016 is vital.

Collaboration with Public Services

There is also a role for the charity sector to play in working alongside the NHS to help ease pressures on hospitals.

In 2016 Papworth Trust will for the first time in our 99 year history, work directly with the NHS on a new programme called Reablement. We will offer an intensive service to disabled and older patients who are currently in hospital and in need of physio, occupational therapy and additional support to re-enable them to get out of hospital and back to living independent lives. The service will help them to do everything from enhancing mobility to feeding and preparing meals.

This will be a defining programme for our charity and a further example of how innovation from charities has a role to play in helping shape future public service provision. Our plan is for our pilot project to be a template for other charities to use, in conjunction with the NHS to help ease the pressures on hospital admissions.

We already have buy-in from the NHS and I know they are interested in rolling it out across the country. We will help to ease bed blocking through an innovative approach. That future starts here.

Political engagement

Finally we need to appreciate our political backdrop. With the General Election over the numerology is clear and the charity sector now knows that it has a decade of Conservative governments to work with.

Relationships that have been largely non-existent since 1996 now need to be forged and harnessed to maximise the input we have in the government's policy agenda.

We also need to be collegiate in our approach. That is why I will use my role as the Chair of the Care and Support Alliance to refresh the CSA mandate in 2016 to allow us to become a much more effective and accountable lobbying organisation with more political teeth and by extension, achieve better outcomes in the social care system

It is important that the sector is bold in its ambition for what it hopes government can help it to achieve and in shaping discourse. That means we have to be confident in our ability to represent our agenda, deliver it and transform lives as a result. We must provide credible policy proposals to ministers who may at times view the world through a different political prism than many of us have been used to in our time in the sector. However, the genius of the charity sector is that it is littered at every turn with innovative ideas to help change lives and provide solutions at local, regional and national level.

As we move into the New Year, charities should never lose sight of the fact that we exist to change the world for people. Innovation is the sector's best friend. It's full of it.

Now we must find ways to turn our innovation into a reality for millions of people. The means by how we get there has changed and will continue to change with every political, economic and technological shift and advancement. We must be ready to embrace 2016 and shape it in the image we think is best for the people whose lives we are seeking to change for the better.

I'm up for the challenge and I know the charity sector is too.

Vicky McDermott

CEO of Papworth Trust