When we think about modern slavery in the UK we imagine a small army of Polish workers being exploited on a farm, living in squalid conditions packed 20 to a room and working for next to nothing without any rights or recourse. I would like to suggest that there is another side to modern slavery which I experience myself as someone defined as a ‘disabled person’.
Since I was a teenager I have done a wide range of unpaid work. Much of this work has been by choice but some of it has been forced upon me either by expectation or compulsion. It is important to understand the difference and when volunteering becomes slavery.
I fundamentally support volunteering as I believe it plays an important role in our formal and informal learning, providing individuals with experience and expertise in a way there can not be gained in any other way. I have valued the many volunteering opportunities I have had in my lifetime.
But volunteering only works where there is an interdependency and an equal exchange of remuneration. While volunteers are rarely compensated financially they are instead paid by the experiences and expertise they gain, as well as enjoyment, which they can use in the future to obtain paid work. However, when an individual is no longer benefiting from the unpaid work they do when paid staff are benefiting, we are entering the realm of slavery.
The public sector and charities love consultations and ‘service user involvement’. On paper, this is a great thing, to involve service users in the design of the services they are often dependent upon. However, the problem is the power relationships in these situations are often wrong. The organisation doing the user involvement is now often legally or contractually required to do so, and therefore the only one benefiting is the staff involved, who often take credit for the suggestions provided by users.
Users are often blackmailed into taking part in consultations and other unpaid service involvement by suggesting if they want to decent service then they must get involved in making the service better. The reality is often paid staff are expecting unpaid users to solve the problems they have been paid to resolve, so they can take the credit and move up the career ladder shortly afterwards.
Another form of slavery is the complaints process used by most organisations. An average person may need to make a few major complaints in their lifetime which is in their best interests to do. But for people with significant impairments like myself who do not fit the system, complaining can be a full time job to obtain a decent standard of service from the many organisations they are dependent upon.
When organisations handle complaints, especially in the public sector, they are more than willing to take onboard the advice and suggestions provided, many that will save them money and time, but they are rarely willing to compenstate users for the stress and distress they have experienced, or to show their appreciation for the fact the complaints are solving problems for the organisation. And hence we have the other side of modern slavery.
A third example to briefly mention is the never ending unpaid work I need to do to employ my own personal assistants. While this activity is sold as something very liberating, which it can be, it is also something quite abusive and unfair. Simply because I need assistance with my daily living and any care agency would simply be unable to deliver a decent service to me, I am required to manage the staff I employ in the own home unpaid with no time off, no ability to go off sick or any rights. And if I don’t keep my staff happy all the time, regardless of how I am feeling myself they can take me to an employment tribunal, causing me more stress and unpaid work.
Being a slave to the organisations that are supposed to be supporting me, while portraying me as an vulnerable adult, does not offer me as much time as I deserve on trying to obtain paid work. This is very frustrating and leading me to start to put my foot down and expose the modern slavery I experience on a daily basis.
So to all the organisations who feel it is okay to treat me like their slave, I am no longer prepared to tolerate it and things are about to change. Even if I need to use the Modern Slavery Act, I will slowly make organisations and the wider society understand not paying people for the contributions they make to society is wrong, and this is a type of exploitation I would like to see made unlawful.
So from now on, I will be expecting to be paid what I am worth to these organisations without any ifs or buts.
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One thought on “I refuse to be a modern slave because I am ‘disabled’”
Hi Simon, I absolutely love your article about modern slavery. It’s so absolutely true and I am very glad that you have made this heard. Genius way of putting it across Simon, well done.