Social Care Crisis and the Birth of the Disabled People’s Movement: Institutionalisation, deinstitutionalisation, and the response of disabled people: 1948-1973

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk


Institutions have dominated histories of disability as a social phenomenon, but have been curiously absent from histories of disability politics until very recently.
In the traditional view of the emergence and development of disabled people's self-organisation: Activist groups interested in welfare rights splits to form new networks pushing for social rights, which in turn broaden to form civil rights oriented campaigns – each correcting the limitations or weaknesses of their direct predecessors. In this view, institutions are simply arbitrary evils that disabled activist networks confront, as opposed to as a distinct part of disabled people’s oppression, or a distinct tradition that movements have learned from.

I argue, instead, that the early Disabled People's Movement (DPM) must be understood in the context of a crisis of institutions (and social care more generally) in the ‘60s and ‘70s. This was partly a crisis of cash (particularly in regards to capital costs); but primarily a crisis of deinstitutionalisation - as charities who had initially positioned themselves as alternatives to institutional life became, themselves, institutionalised and institutionalising under pressure from the welfare state.
Deinstitutionalisation, and the segregative charities who’d promoted it, had promised disabled people freedom from control and domination, a dignified standard of living, and integration into mainstream life. The DPM emerges as it becomes obvious these promises are failing
Period21 Sept 2022
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Disability politics
  • Social Movements
  • social policy
  • charity history