My book, Six and a Half Years on a Dunghill: Life in Specialist Disability Accommodation, has been reviewed by Frank Stilwell. He is an emeritus professor, and the review has been published on the latest edition of The Journal of Australian Political Economy.
Six and a Half Years on a Dunghill: Life in Specialist Disability Accommodation
CCB Publishing, British Columbia, 2019, 226pp., pb. $24.95.
At a time when public policy for people with disabilities is much in the news, this is a timely book. It is a real insider’s view of what it is like to be dependent on policies that determine, for example, the accommodation and services provided to people with disabilities. The author has a particularly severe disability – Friedreich’s Ataxia – that began its debilitating effects during his teenage years. The disease has progressively limited his capacity for physical movement and destroyed his speech. He is now also suffering loss of vision. Yet his disability did not prevent him from completing two degrees at Monash University, followed by a PhD at the University of Melbourne that was awarded when he was 43. During his doctoral studies, although consigned to a wheelchair, he travelled inter-state, interviewing prominent Australian social scientists such as Hugh Stretton, whose political economic views strongly influenced his thinking about social justice and public policy issues. He adapted his thesis for a book called The Politics of Disability, published in 2014.
Peter’s new book takes its title from the years he has spent living in shared supported accommodation in Melbourne. It details problems such as the high turnover of carers, a process that requires each new worker to be taught by the people in their care about their individual needs. This is tough on everyone concerned, not least the people with disabilities themselves. Peter writes positively about the principle of choice which are embedded in the new NDIS policy, but he also points to the limitations of the ‘medical model’ of disabilities that has for a long time being the dominant frame for provision of disability services. He also presents, especially in chapter 5, a strong critique of the influence of neoliberalism in public policies and it impact on people with disabilities. He weaves in some interesting, ethical economic reasoning. For example, he draws attention to the crude misinterpretations of Adam Smith’s views that produce the alleged case for basing society solely on self-interest. The nexus between poverty and disability gets similarly strong emphasis. The result is a powerful blend of analysis and ‘down to earth’ personal experience.
Bruce Wearne, a former academic who has been supportive and helpful to Peter over many years, says in the book’s preface that it should be read as the author’s ‘pushing back’ against his debilitating condition and seeking ‘to keep his own responsibility as an advocate for social justice on his and our horizon’. Indeed, the very existence of the book is a tribute to the author. More than that, it is a courageous and commendable contribution to broader thinking about public policy in this difficult area, blending progressive social policy concerns with an insider’s view of how even quite well-intentioned policies can fail if they are insensitive to personal needs.
This is not standard political economy but, of course, that is just the point. Applying a universal standard, even one nominally centred on freedom of individual choice, can be catastrophic where people have inescapably different abilities and disabilities. NDIS policy-makers and all care-providers, please note.
Thank you Frank!
You can also order directly from me.