The seventies saw the birth of modern computing with the development of the world’s first microprocessor[i], and other technological advances. The transmission of the first email and the first mobile phone call were all accomplished during the seventies. However, the decade also saw the return of the economic crisis in most developed countries. In Britain the seventies has been described as the dark years, a reference to the power cuts. It was a period of industrial turbulence ranging from the miners’ strike, to the so-called ‘winter of discontent’, and ‘stagflation[ii]’ due to the high levels of unemployment and enormous inflation which hit 27 per cent in 1975. This was the decade of the decimalisation[iii] of the Pound, and the hung parliament[iv].
The critique of institutional care initiated in the 1960s by sociologists such as Erving Goffman, and social researchers like Jack Tizard was augmented by the publication in 1971 of Maureen Oswin’s book The Empty Hours, which in heart rending terms charted the dismal and emotionally impoverished lives of disabled children in long-stay hospitals.
This was soon to end. Children with learning disabilities were finally included in the education system, no longer classified as ‘ineducable’ with the passage of the Education (Handicapped Children) Act in 1971. Finally, all children, however disabled, were entitled to a school place.
There were also some visionary new ideas coming from academics and activists. Normalisation had originated in Scandinavia in the 1960s, with Bengt Nirje and others advocating ‘normal patterns of life’. In the 1970s, a US movement associated with Wolf Wolfensberger began to influence thinking in the UK. This variant of normalisation was more strident about the importance of closing institutions, rather than reforming them, and insistent on integrated rather than specialist services. Such ideas influenced important reports, such as the Jay Report (1979) which advocated that people with what were then called Mental Handicaps should have the right to live ordinary lives in the community, enjoying the things everyone else took for granted. This sounds obvious now, but was revolutionary in the 1970s.
The village community concept was a family led initiative to counter hospital care but a pre-cursor to community based services. They were designed to be safe, happy, purposeful, and to provide care for life- and as such very popular with parents. MacIntyre, along with some other social care providers started with this intention and it wasn’t until the 1980s that it fully embraced the idea of care in the community and stopped expanding Westoning and starting looking at alternative, more inclusive support for people based at Westoning. This work was finally completed in 1997. Although there remains a minority interest in safe self-contained communities among some families, MacIntyre made an early decision based on the Normalisation movement to embrace the normal houses in normal streets ideal as a guiding principle.
[i] Microprocessor is like the brain of a computer. It is where all information is stored and processed.
[ii] Stagflation is a time of slow economic growth and high unemployment
[iii] Decimalisation is the process of converting a non-decimal currency to a decimal system, i.e. A pound can be divided in 100 pennies
[iv] A hung parliament is when no party has the majority of votes, which means no party has more than half of MPs in the House of Commons. In that case, the party that wins the election will not be able to have enough votes to pass laws without the support of members of other parties.