We spend our days raising the profile of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). We work on solutions to ensure earlier identification and we battle for more support for children who struggle. We win some (quite a lot); we lose some (too many) and we continue to fight the good fight.
But this morning it occurred that there is a bigger fight at hand. As unemployment figures rise, as young people are demonised in the media as illiterate yobs and as the language of government moves towards “ the disabled and the tax payers” as if they were two polarised groups that never overlap what world are we sending the young people we work with into?
Of course the work that we’re doing means that they enter that world with the best possible chance and the best possible skills and, of course, many young people who struggle to communicate will end up in wonderful jobs, pursuing their careers and interests with great outcomes. But we run the risk of a generation adrift – where communication skills matter more than ever and those who struggle have their life chances limited by bad policy, a judgemental media and employers who do not see the talent that they are missing out on.
It’s not all doom and gloom – employers like the wonderful Co-Op in Nottinghamshire, winner of our Employer Shine a Light Award are doing wonderful work providing meaningful opportunities for young people with SLCN. Charities like SCOPE and MENCAP do great work in modelling best inclusive working practices.
However, they are working against the tide. When Ministers suggest that the disabled should be forced into unpaid work, and the front pages of the papers are full of stories of the grunting youth, we have our work cut out.
But do we collude? Of course services should be efficient but when we make the case that a service should continue because it provides an economic benefit downstream; when we tell employers that they should care about those with disabilities or SEN because they represent a significant part of their market; when we don’t collectively react with rage when parents have to pay for half their child’s AAC because while admitting the need the local authority says it’s just not got the budget, are we colluding with the underlying message that money, and from this an individual’s economic worth, is all that matters? Of course we can deploy these messages to good effect – and they are not wrong - but maybe we need to apply some balance.
To have the services that you need for your health and education; to have the best possible chance of employment and a decent living wage; to be supported if you cannot work; to be valued as an individual and included within society – these are things are not privileges if there is enough cash. These are rights. That’s the bigger fight.