An announcement by disability charity Scope that it will sell all its residential homes and special schools, and re-position itself as a “social change organisation”, is an attempt to invade the ground occupied by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), say critics.
The shake-up appears to be designed to distance the non-user-led charity from its roots as a provider of segregated services for disabled people.
But one disabled activist said the decision would mean Scope would “hoover up some of the money” currently going to DPOs, and probably put the futures of many of them at risk.
Another said the move was just an attempt by Scope to “reposition itself in the marketplace”, and compared the charity to “an old pig wearing new lipstick”.
Scope’s new strategy will cut its income by 40 per cent – it was £99.5 million in 2015-16 – and reduce its workforce by two-thirds, by selling off 50 services across England and Wales, including care homes, and special schools and colleges, to other service-providers.
The money from these sales will be re-invested in new services and products, which it says will “help support disabled people and their families from an early age, to live independently and to get and stay in employment”.
Mark Atkinson, Scope’s chief executive, announced the strategy in an article published by the think tank New Philanthropy Capital (NPC).
Atkinson said the world had “moved on” since the charity was founded in 1952 – as The Spastics Society – by three parents of children with cerebral palsy and a social worker, and that Scope had been left with “a patchwork of different services that had been established over seven decades” and now reached just a few thousand people.
He said the charity needed to take “radical” steps if it wanted to “become relevant to a far larger proportion of the 13 million disabled people in the UK”.
Its services will now focus on providing information, advice and support, mostly delivered online, while it would also concentrate on campaigning and seeking to influence public policy.
A Scope spokesperson said services would be paid for by “a broad base of funders, including corporate partners, trusts and foundations, individual donors and our network of shops”, as well as “tens of thousands of very committed supporters who we are confident will continue to support our work in the future”.
Although Scope said it would not seek any employment contracts under the government’s new Work and Health Programme, it “may still seek and receive government funding for some specific areas of work, like research, on a case by case basis”.
And instead of taking part in the Work and Health Programme, Scope said it would build on its “current range of independent, specialist, personalised employment support services”.
From Disability News Service
Last October, Scope backed the government’s new work, health and disability green paper, with Atkinson praising it for setting out “bold ideas for reform” in the Department for Work and Pensions’ own press release.
This allowed work and pensions secretary Damian Green to claim in the House of Commons that criticism of the green paper – which has been heavily-criticised by disabled activists – was “completely out of touch with those who represent disabled people”.
Atkinson said in the article that he wanted the charity to “focus on the areas in which disabled people face the greatest barriers and move away from being a charity that ‘does’ to one that ‘facilitates’”, creating a platform “that allows disabled people, through Scope, to drive change” and so move “ever closer to everyday equality”.
These words are similar to the slogan used by the DPO Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which describes itself as “disabled people leading change, working for equal participation for all”.
Atkinson’s article has raised concerns among some disabled activists that Scope wants to establish itself as the leading voice on disability, and will crowd out disabled people’s user-led organisations with far fewer resources.
When asked if there was an argument for saying that there was no reason for Scope to continue to exist at all, and that it should pass all its resources to DPOs, the spokesperson said: “As our strategy, developed with disabled people and their families, makes clear, life is still too tough for many disabled people.
“We believe that disabled people should have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we’ll be here.
“Scope will continue to work closely with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations and continue to put disabled people at the heart of everything that we do.
“We believe that we can achieve more by working together than we can alone.”