Introduction to the 1960s

The sixties saw low unemployment and rising wages, enabling millions of families to buy their first cars, televisions and washing machines. However, the decade was marked also by a large trade deficit and a fall in competitiveness in Britain. Despite ‘Buy British’ campaigns, the government was forced to devalue the pound in 1967 and the political view was that the country needed to enter the European Economic Community to revive its economy…

The sixties also marked a more liberal society as the death penalty was abolished, the Abortion Act made it easier for women to have an abortion and the Race Relations Act was introduced, the first legislation in the country to address racial discrimination.

In the 1960s, it was not uncommon for people with a learning disability to be confined indoors, sometimes in unacceptable conditions and the majority lived at home. Mothers faced stigma as they were blamed for their children’s disability due to bad genes. The alternative was the care offered by the state in mental hospitals, also called asylums. However, during the sixties a number of studies were making the case for residential care and social skills training. There was growing concern for people with a learning disability being isolated and increasing criticism of the poor conditions in institution-based services, with a number of public scandals and government inquiries into inhumane conditions in big institutions. It is during this decade, in 1961 that the influential book Asylums[i] was published, which was key in developing the arguments for reducing the number of people in institutions. In the same year, the Health Minister announced that asylums would close within 15 years. The Seebohm committee[ii] report in 1968 influenced the end of the idea that people with a learning disability could not be educated and the establishment of a Social Services Department to manage community-based services, which initially were largely in the form of day centres.

It was against this backdrop that the father of a disabled son, Kenneth Newton Wright was struggling to find suitable care. Unwilling to accept his son being institutionalised[iii] and driven by a belief that all children should have the same opportunities to receive an education and to achieve their potential, Newton-Wright had the vision for MacIntyre.[i] Asylum was a health care institution for the care of people who are mentally ill. In the sixties they also looked after people with a learning disability.[ii] The Seebohm committee was appointed in 1965 to check how local authority personal social services in England and Wales were doing, and to think about what could be changed to improve family services. In 1968 the committee published their report about what they found out.[iii] Institutionalised: when someone with a learning disability lives in a long-stay hospital away from family and community.

[i] A trade deficit is when the prices of a country sells to other countries is cheaper than the prices that country pays to buy products from abroad. This makes the country spend more money than the country has, creating debt.

[ii] Competitiveness is the ability to do well in the market in comparison to other countries

[iii] Buy British or I’m Backing Britain was a campaign that flourished in the sixties, aimed at boosting the British economy, by encouraging people to buy British products instead of those produced abroad.

[iv] Asylum was a health care institution for the care of people who are mentally ill. In the sixties they also looked after people with a learning disability.

[v] The Seebohm committee was appointed in 1965 to check how local authority personal social services in England and Wales were doing, and to think about what could be changed to improve family services. In 1968 the committee published their report about what they found out.

[vi] Institutionalised: when someone with a learning disability lives in a long-stay hospital away from family and community.

1960
1960