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The downside of individualised social services

By Peter Gibilisco - posted Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The dominant political agenda is ignorant of the belief that people cannot get ahead in life on their own, proclaiming the many positive actions that individualism can supply, all dressed in neo-liberal political rhetoric.  This is despite the fact that we are only human, and our behaviours and attitudes are formed by our environment.  In most cases, despite the independence that an individual may have, or how they may struggle to acquire it, we are social creatures and we have to work together in order to help each other.  As humans, most of us are social animals and therefore require society, contrary to the individual rhetoric of the dominant neo-liberal political agenda, shown, for example, in this quote by a figurehead of that agenda, Margaret Thatcher: “there is no such thing as society, there are individual[s]..…

The world-wide shift in support services for people with disabilities first took place in the 1980s, implementing a marketised style of reform to the disability sector.  This involves the more efficient delivery of support services for people with disabilities, based on calculations and therefore helping pave the way for budget surpluses.  In the 1990s, support services reforms to disability sectors around the world were driven by neo-liberal and third way political ideologies, which favoured the market and a minimal government approach that can be identified with the strategy of survival of the fittest.

This is highlighted by the political rhetoric of today, which can be identified by the rhetoric of individualized support services that are promised by disability services (idiosyncratic name: disability services); that is, created by the dominant neo-liberal political environments, and further integrated into both major parties in Australia (Federal, State, and Local government). For example, in a recent On-Line-Opinion article I stated:


"despite its rhetoric and references to social inclusion and social rights, the DHS approach to the State Disability Plan is a social policy that identifies the social supports required by those who need them as burdensome to a marketised economy, and to the ultimate goals of delivering budgetary surpluses. Its rationale to reduce social spending, does not result in the achievement of human rights and social justice, but an increase in individual human suffering and social exclusion."

These views of mine have been applauded and shared by the majority of people with disabilities, who have come across my opinions.

The individualised rhetoric of neo-liberal discourse is criticized by Hugh Stretton and Lionel Orchard, who question the ability of individually based social services to drive effective public policy.  Believing that if the policies are derived, one by one, from the citizens’ voices, one issue after another, the social initiative will stray from its original intentions.   As Stretton and Orchard point out in Public Goods, Public Enterprise, Public Choice: Theoretical Foundations of the Contemporary Attack on Government (1994):


“How could individual preferences in practice produce workable public policies? …The technical planning, budgeting and coordination which now strain the resources of elaborative public services would have to be designed instead by each voter as she registered her vote”.

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This article was first presented as a seminar at the National Disability Services conference.

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About the Author

Peter Gibilisco was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the disability's progression. However, he still performs research with the university, as an honorary fellow. Please read about his new book The Politics of Disability.

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