All Same All Unique

During the 1990s Council of Europe organised an anti-racism campaign called “All Equal All Different” as a part of their human rights education remit. They repeated the campaign a decade later but widen it to include all equality issues, including disability, and I am proud to have been involved in the campaign on behalf of European Human Bridges (EHB), a youth project running week long seminars across Europe for a number of years for disabled and non-disabled young people.

Within EHB, we had come up with our own version of the term “All Equal All Different”, which was as you may have guessed “All Same All Unique”. It is important to understand that my involvement within EHB was extremely important to my personal development as a younger disabled person and a lot of the values generated by the project remain central to my current values and therefore my way of working. So I see “All Same All Unique” as one of my core values, that is we are all the same and yet all unique in our own wonderful ways.

I do not regard this as just one of those feel good statements that bears no relevance to the real world, but a central idea to creating an fully inclusive society. I just had to stop myself saying ‘an equal society’ because while I believe in many of the components of equality, specific kinds of equality can lead to conformity and therefore stifle uniqueness. Like a lot of things in life, true equality is a contradiction because we are all different and can not be treated the same in some respects since we are unique, although we are all the same in our uniqueness. We all have different parts to play in the big movie of life, whether that may be the cleaner or the chief executive, which the bigger picture values equally.

For social policy, and particularly the daytime activities of disabled people, including paid employment, it is about balancing the fairness of opportunity and treatment with the understanding of people’s individual and unique abilities, strengths, difficulties and weaknesses. Supporting unique individuals can not be a numbers game and this is why ESA and other benefits are flawed, as well as increasingly toxic as the demand for equality of opportunity grows.

But balancing a desire for flexibility and personalisation from unique individuals with the need for fairness and transparency requested by society is probably going to be one of the hardest tasks to achieve because when you take away the numbers, you are left with subjective opinion from individuals, assessors, policy makers and opponents. While everyone can be provided the same opportunities at a specific time in our lives, only individuals themselves can choose to take up these opportunities, and this will have an impact on the support they may or may not need in the future.

Does society support those who have not made the most of the opportunities provided to them and/or struggling? Or reward those who are achieving to go further? The fairness of support will always be a headache to achieve because of the fact we all deserve to be treated the same, but we all are unique in our journeys.

I know I have more care and support than many people with my level of impairment, although I work and I am driven to make a bigger contribution to society because that is who I am, rather than anything I have chosen. This does not make me special because I just follow my journey. While I always received the level of support I needed, it used to be because ‘independent living’ was in fashion that year or because people feared me when it came to the bad times. It took years for my social services to understand my outcomes and why I needed the support I did since it did not fit into their idea of what disabled people needed. Because of the work of one very good social worker, who remains a good friend and colleague, who was prepared to go into the Lion’s Den and understand my uniqueness, I now have a support plan that is about me, and anyone reading it is now reassured as to my needs.

I think “All Same All Unique” is a great phrase to convey the complex nature of equality to a wider audience and it is relevant to all aspects of society and situations.

from Simon Stevens


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