In the twenty-first century, the way social problems have been presented
have largely follow Cohen’s (2011) theoretical model. Cohen (2011) states that
social problems are often presented in a way that creates ‘moral panic’. This
‘panic’ reaction is “based on fantasy, hysteria, delusion and illusion or being
duped by the powerful”. Here, it is important to consider the age of ‘celebrity
politicians’ (Street, 2004) whereby they wield influence through
‘scaremongering’, often in response to pertinent issues. An example Cohen uses
is the Stephen Lawrence case, concerning the murder of an 18-year-old boy. It
attracted huge media attention, and therefore £3 million was spent on the
Judicial Inquiry (Macpherson Enquiry) alone. Consequently, social problems that
do not invoke such ‘panic’ as it were, such as disability, are often sidelined.
Government are able to pass legislation as a means to deal with ongoing social
problems such as disability as they pose less immediate threat to society and
are less beneficial for them to respond to (in regard to electoral popularity).
However, legislation does not always deal with specific difficulties such as
play opportunities, as legislation can be very broad. MENCAP (a leading
charity, who campaign for the equality of disabled people) argue that young
children with disabilities are often excluded from play opportunities outside home environments. This can either
be due to an associated prohibitive physical need or just psychological issues
which means that they will have sensory or behavioural needs; however the
majority of existing play settings does not meet these needs. This exclusion can
have a large impact on both the child and the family, financially and socially.
The cost of inclusive equipment is expensive and therefore, in the age of
austerity, not a priority for the government.
One of the issues with disability and its
portrayal is that many people, including politicians, do not come into contact
with it in their day-to-day lives and this can create apathy towards disabled
people and their rights and needs. Disability Politics UK (2016) states “there
are over 10 million disabled people in the UK. Yet there are only a handful of
MPs who have declared that they are disabled.” This under-representation often
means that disability is not seen as an important social problem and can also
be misunderstood. Arguably the most influential politician for disabled
children’s rights was David Cameron. Cameron’s son Ivan, born in 2002, had
Ohtahara Syndrome, a rare brain disorder, which meant he had to live with epilepsy
and cerebral palsy. In a self written interview in 2009 (The Independent),
Cameron argued that “for parents of disabled children life is complicated
enough without having to jump through hundreds of government hoops”. This
portrays that until politicians (in government) have to deal with disability in
their immediate lives, they often do not consider the emotional and physical
difficulties and long term impact this has on both parents and children.
There are a number of campaigning organisations who do not
feel that the government is meeting the needs of disabled people and campaign on
their behalf. MENCAP is one of these and this is demonstrated by their slogan
which is “The voice of learning disability”. They aim to wield influence
for those who are sometimes considered as secondary citizens in society.
Through MENCAP’s own campaign (for integrated health, education and care support), where they look at the
work of academics, (such as Gardener and Ward and Coalter and Taylor) and their
own research, it is clear that play is extremely significant in relation to a
child’s development. For all children there are developmental phases of play (Mastrangelo, 2009),
although this may be harder and slower for disabled children with various
needs, where they may encounter specific barriers in relation to their
progress. Academic studies show that playing enables children to form
friendships and attachments to adults and to places, allowing for the development
of familiarity and intimacy with both. It can provide opportunities for
independent learning and building confidence, resilience, self-esteem and
self-efficacy (Lester and
Russell 2008; NICE 2010; Coalter and Taylor 2001). Play is also an
invaluable part of family and community life. However, while play can bring
families closer together, strengthening parent–child relationships (Gardner and Ward 2000),
playing away from adult supervision is equally important, allowing children to
acquire independent mobility, explore the world on their own terms and create
their own identities (Armitage
2004). Due to advances in medicine and science, more children are now
able to live with complex medical needs. They may require assisted ventilation,
oxygen therapy and gastronomy ‘peg’ feeding (Hewitt-Taylor, 2009). The need to attend to
medical and physical demands can prevent play experiences for children with
profound and multiple learning disabilities (Youell, 2008). Where older children have personal
care needs, there is sometimes a lack of suitable toilet facilities in play
facilities. Parents may need to take along a changing mat to use of the floor
of the disabled toilet as most facilities do not have a height adjustable bench
or hoist (Hewitt-Taylor, 2009).
MENCAP presents this problem as something which has a much wider social
implication on communities and families.
Having a learning or physical disability also
means that interacting through play with peers becomes more difficult. When a
child cannot access play settings this hugely affects not only the disabled child, but also other family
members, as parents and children often bond through play.
There is a large demand for parks and play spaces – in 2011, Fair Play for Children
found that there were 16,134 playgrounds in England alone, serving an estimated
11.2 million children aged under 16. Within these parks, there should be
adequate inclusion for disabled children. The Coalition Government passed a
landmark piece of legislation called the Equality Act 2010 in response to the growing
polarisation of many in society, with disabled people as one of the main focus.
Section 20 specifically relates to inclusion, whereby it states:
“the discharge of their provision puts
a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to others without a
disability; a physical feature puts a disabled person at a substantial
disadvantage compared to others without a disability; a disabled person would,
but for the provision of an auxiliary aid, be put at a substantial disadvantage
compared to others without a disability”.
However, this is very hard to enforce in certain settings, simply
because it is broad and vague. A council could argue that they have considered
for the provision of a disabled person, because they have made the gate
entrance wide enough for a wheelchair. In reality, this is insufficient,
because once inside the play area, the disabled child is at a substantial
disadvantage, in not being able to use any of the equipment. Inclusive play
apparatus could include a wheelchair adapted swing or a wider slide, so that a
carer can take the child down it. There is also little consideration that some
families may not have the financial resources to be able to travel afar,
especially those who have to travel special medical equipment. The Coalition
Government also responded by passing the Children and Families Act 2014. Three sections
that are of the most relevance here are:
26 places a duty on Education, Health and Social Care Commissioners to make arrangements
to jointly plan and commission services for children and young people with SEND
that pertain to the education, health and/or social care.
27 places a duty on local authorities to review the sufficiency of its local
education and social care provision and, where gaps in local provision are
identified, they should seek to act on this information.
30 places a duty on local authorities to develop a Local Offer that sets out
the provision available locally for children and young people with SEND.
Similarly, the Coalition Government kick started legislation to aid
Children and Young People
Public Health Outcomes. This was transferred to local authorities in
2015 and includes school readiness by the end of Reception year. Play is vital
to a disabled child’s development, and a key part of ensuring they are ready to
attend school. Under the Children
Act 2006, the Coalition Government endorsed council
implementations of holiday play schemes. However, when assessing this in the
wider context and therefore referring back to the Cohen Model, the Coalition
government had pertinent issues to deal with such as Syria, which caused mass
media attention. It proves that the government is more likely to respond to
things that have significant public attraction or importance.
The legislation passed by the
Coalition Government portrays child disability as a social problem that needs
to be addressed, but fails to tackle the specific issue of play. Because ‘play’
is not a social problem that hugely affects public attitudes, it is often
responded to through pieces of expansive legislation, missing specific topics.
However, specific and therefore enforceable legislation is vital to give
children an equal chance and start in life. MENCAP It is crucial especially for
families that are economically challenged, that they can access local play
facilities, as it is also an important time for children to bond with their
parents and other children. Campaigning organisations such as MENCAP are able
to work closely with families experiencing these problems and able to take the
time to research academic work that highlights the importance of play on the
development of disabled children. Government and councils (who have the biggest
impact on play in the local area) set out guidelines to try and reduce the
social problem of disability, especially regarding children, through equality
legislation. However, this legislation is broad and therefore due to their
expensive cost, specialised play equipment is often not installed in local play
areas as councils are not legally bound to do so.