Breeding slaves

by Laurence Clark

BBC Ouch 19th May 2008

My wife and I spent this morning looking around a promising local primary school for our son Tom. Whilst he doesn’t have any physical access issues, both of his parents most definitely do, and if we are to take an active interest in his education then the school we choose must be accessible to us.

However, when we got home and looked at their application form for his enrolment, the only question remotely pertaining to us being disabled parents was:

“Does the child have a caring role for any family member?”

I’ve mentioned before how media portrayals of young carers can damage people’s perception of disabled parents. Hell, even Ouch’s own Disability Bitch took time out from her usual hysterical rants to give us some uncharacteristically balanced views on the topic.

I now believe the point has been reached where we, as disabled parents, are all but accused of deliberately breeding our very own little gangs of slaves. Why sacrifice your DLA and pay all those ridiculous care charges, when just one shag can get you an endless source of free support for the rest of your days? After all, heaven forbid a disabled person should want a child for exactly the same reasons as everybody else in the world.

The question on the school’s application form made me think about what actually qualifies the child of a disabled person as a ‘young carer’. Where do we draw that invisible line between ‘caring’ and helping our children learn responsibility through making them tidy up and do other household chores?

Suppose I asked my son to take his dirty plate into the kitchen to be washed after breakfast. This, I think, would probably be viewed as teaching him to act responsibly and to clean up after himself.

If I then asked him to take his granddad’s dirty plate, this would also, I feel, be generally acceptable, in that I would be teaching him to show consideration for others.

But what if it was my dirty plate that I asked him to clear away? Suddenly my actions could be viewed in a completely different light. Instead of a father teaching his son social responsibility, the situation is now reversed and the assumption could be made that the son is caring for his father – and therefore, should be labelled as a ‘young carer’.

To my mind, the only difference between the latter two scenarios is that I am disabled and Tom’s granddad is not. Apart from this, Tom is being asked to do the exact same thing both times.

A quick web search reveals that a child becomes a young carer when their disabled parent asks them to do things that they themselves cannot do. However, millions of children outdo their parents when it comes to everyday tasks such using computers or setting the video timer to record EastEnders. What actually distinguishes young carers is that they are relied upon to regularly perform tasks that their parents cannot manage.

In other words, young carers are a symptom of Britain’s failing social care system.

Nowadays, local authorities are being actively encouraged to identify young carers and support them in their ‘caring’ role. But in my experience, nowhere near as much emphasis is being placed upon identifying disabled parents and supporting them in their ‘caring’ role. For example, why didn’t the application form for Tom’s school ask about my access needs as a parent? For that matter, why isn’t the lack of support for disabled parents given nearly as much media coverage as the lack of support for young carers?

I believe the bizarre truth of the matter is that our society chooses to place more importance on helping my child to look after me than on helping me to look after my child.

Of course, no child should be put in a position where their parents rely upon them for basic day-to-day support. But if disabled parents were given adequate assistance, then there would be far fewer young carers.

Instead, disabled parents would finally be able to fulfil their roles as parents, thus freeing their children to get on with simply being children.

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