Breakthrough UK - 20 Steps Forward in 20 Years

It is important to remind ourselves of what we have achieved over the past 20 years of disability rights activism, as we have charted our journey from objects of care and charity to becoming active, contributing citizens.

1998Breakthrough UK is formally launched in July. Lorraine Gradwell was appointed to set up the organisation by Manchester City Council.The first user led organisation providing employment, training and independent living support to disabled people.Unprecedented collaborative approach between a local authority and a user led organisation sets the standard for others to follow.
1999The Disability Rights Commission is established to investigate and enforce disability legislation, and to advise employers on how to secure equal treatment of disabled employees.Breakthrough welcomes the Commission – particularly as the HQ is to be in Manchester – but warns that the law is still too weak to be effective.The Commission begins to engage with disabled people’s organisations at a regional level to find out more about what needs to be done.
2000The Disability Rights Commission is set up with a majority of disabled commissioners.Breakthrough welcomes this but still express concern about the weakness of the law and the reliance on disabled people to have to take individual legal action against employers.The weaknesses in the law are recognised by the Commission and work begins to amend the law to create a more proactive approach to tackling disability discrimination.
2001The first DaDaFest, the Disability and Deaf Arts festival, is held in Liverpool.Breakthrough is proud to support this initiative – Lorraine Gradwell and Jackie Driver form part of the advisory panel and awards for best training and employment categories.The first disability led arts organisation included in mainstream arts. The festival continues to this day as a biennial event and remains truly ambitious and international in scale, attracting disabled and Deaf artists from around the world.
2002Breakthrough UK opens its employment support service in Liverpool.Liverpool City Council follows the lead taken by Breakthrough and Manchester City Council in providing disability led services and employment opportunities.Breakthrough establishes strong links with Liverpool City Council and together with local disability organisations embeds a strategy for disability equality in the city.
2003The European Union designated 2003 as the European Year of Disabled People (EYDP), to celebrate the achievements of disabled people throughout Europe, and to highlight need for further progress and change. Breakthrough worked in partnership with Merseyside Disability Forum to arrange one of the largest programmes of EYDP events in the UK.This event helped put the North West’s disabled people’s organisations firmly on the map. 
2003British Sign Language (BSL) is officially recognised by the government as being a full, independent language. This raises the status of BSL and leads to training more Deaf BSL tutors and interpreters.The public recognition of BSL is a crucial step in ensuring Deaf people have access to employment and services in the same way as others. There is still some way to go but this start was a significant step forward.Breakthrough’s Chair, Jackie Driver, was central to the recognition of BSL at local authority level, securing a foothold for the Deaf community of Manchester in getting BSL rights in provision of services across Manchester.
2004The roll out of the Disability Discrimination Act to cover goods, services and facilities and employers with less than 15 people widens the scope of the employment provisions. The sad death of our founder Chair, Kevin Hyett.Following Kevin Hyett’s untimely death in March, Breakthrough re-establishes its unique disability led position amongst the scrabble for disability ‘charities’ to lay claims to being organisations of disabled people.Breakthrough retains and reinvigorates its unique profile of being a ‘nothing about us without us’ organisation. Our unique profile helps us turnover our first £1M proving that our approach is the right one to be at the leading edge of real disability employment and independent living.
2005Amended Disability Discrimination Act is enacted in law. Meanwhile Lorraine Gradwell, as part of the advisory group, signs off the Life Chances of Disabled People report.In recognition of the burden of proof on individuals from the 1995 Act, this Act requires public authorities to promote equality for disabled people.Breakthrough’s central influencing role with parliament and in law starts to really take shape.
2006Lorraine Gradwell continues to contribute to the national Disability Employment Advisory Committee and strengthens our Policy Think Tank. We also plan for the opening of our training premises in Northenden to increase our local presence further.Working from a Social Model of Disability perspective we have supported close to 500 disabled people into employment whilst building our influencing strategies.Breakthrough increases its national presence considerably whilst maintaining a local and regional leadership.
2007The role of the Disability Rights Commission is transferred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has powers to issue guidance on, and enforce all the equality legislation, covering race, gender, disability, religion and belief, sexual orientation and age.Breakthrough view the streamlining of equality legislation as a good thing but are are cautious about the all too recent disability legislation not having been able to really take hold. They lobby for a statutory advisory committee for disability made up of disabled people.A statutory disability committee is set up in the new commission and helps to secure a strong presence and experience led governance for this important new body. Michele Scattergood, the second Chief Executive for Breakthrough, sits on this committee, and Jackie Driver, the Chair of Breakthrough, remains part of the senior executive team for the Commission influencing the strategic direction of the organisation.
2008Lorraine Gradwell signs off the Independent Living Strategy for disabled people.This strategy sets out actions aimed at improving the choice and control disabled people have over the services they need to live their daily lives.Lorraine, along with others, helped secure commitments to promote a shared understanding of the principles and practice of independent living and enabled the strengthening of the evidence basis to inform policy development and to redeploy resources from professional assessment to user-led support.
2009Relative to the size of its economy, Iceland’s systemic banking collapse was the largest experienced by any country in economic history. The Icelandic financial crisis led to a severe economic depression in 2008-2010 and significant political unrest. It created a run on deposits in the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom and Breakthrough, along with many other organisations lost its entire reserves overnight.The planned budget we had been working to was no longer an option and a period of extreme belt tightening followed. All of our staff were to be congratulated on achieving a surplus for the financial year.As a result of the crisis, we overhauled our strategic objectives and re-established the organisation to make it fit for purpose – and taking from our lessons learnt – ensured we were ready for any future economic or political crisis. Our plan for change helped create future proofing for us. More good news followed as the governments ‘retail investors’ scheme protected our reserves and returned them to us in April 2009.
2010Richard Reiser, a friend of Breakthrough UK, sets up the first Disability History Month.Breakthrough support this important precedent and begin to influence authorities across the North West to engage and involve disabled people in uncovering the hidden history of disabled people.Disability History Month takes hold in schools and workplaces up and down the country. It is an important step in recognising a hidden history.
2011Breakthrough wins the contract to provide the first Right to Control trailblazer and Centre for Independent Living across the Manchester Area Partnership.This new legal right gives disabled people more choice and control over the support they need to go about their daily lives. Disabled adults are able to combine the support they receive from six different sources and decide how best to spend the funding to meet their needs.Increasing personalisation and putting disabled people in charge of their own decision making – instead of telling them what they can and can’t spend their money on – was a radical and welcome government initiative heavily supported by organisations like Breakthrough UK.
2012Breakthrough’s income from contracts with local authorities is reduced. We redesign the shape of Breakthrough’s future services and launch a number of new projects.The worldwide economic recession and its impact on government spending have affected ‘not for profit’ organisations like Breakthrough which deliver services on behalf of local authorities.Similar to other organisations, Breakthrough suffers reduced income from contracts with local authorities. Whilst this causes many organisations to close, Breakthrough responds to the challenge and diversifies into new areas of work.
2013We are commissioned by the Office for Disability Issues to create a discussion paper on the controversial topic of fundraising and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs). Lorraine Gradwell and Richard Currie lead on this sensitive exploratory work with other DPOs.Historically, fundraising has been avoided by disabled people’s organisations. Fundraisers often show disabled people in a negative light – charities for disabled people have shown disabled people as helpless objects of pity, to raise money for the support they think disabled people should have, without ever addressing the causes of inequality. However, DPOs are losing core funding and closing down. Could fundraising ever work for DPOs?Some DPOs, including Breakthrough, start to consider fundraising as a possibility if it is done very ethically and carefully. We eventually decide to fundraise, but only in ways which are sensitive to and considerate of The Social Model of Disability. We appoint our first fundraiser in 2014. Other DPOs start to accept donations too.
2014The new Care Act sets out in one place local authorities’ duties in relation to assessing disabled people’s needs and eligibility for publicly funded care and support.Key parts of the new Care Act will come into force next April 2015 at a time of major cuts in funding to local authorities from central government – as well as the closure 3 months later of the Independent Living Fund.We warn that a huge culture change within local authorities will be required to make this Act work in practice. We encourage local authorities to work with disabled people’s organisations to make sure that a co-production approach works in reality and the focus is always on independent living, choice and control, not “care”.
2015Breakthrough speaks out about the proposed Assisted Dying Bill. We believe that such legislation would inevitably result in disproportionately higher numbers of disabled people dying.Assisted Dying Bill runs out of time and then a second one later in the year is defeated in the House of Commons by 330 votes to 118.We continue to raise our voice with those of other DPOs and disabled people about this issue. No DPOs in the UK supported assisted dying. Whilst it is a very personal issue, we believe Assisted Suicide should not be legislated for in an environment where disabled people are both unsupported and disadvantaged.
2016The United Nations Committee on ‘the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ find the UK government guilty of violating the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD). They say breaches of the UNCRPD are “grave” and “systematic”.We work with disabled people every day who have been very severely affected by restrictions to their support, and who face huge daily barriers to exercising basic choice and control over their lives.Disabled activists from Disabled People Against the Cuts play a huge role in gather evidence that disabled people’s human rights are being violated. Further evidence and campaigning from disabled people and DPOs, and an examination of the UK by the committee in 2017, puts continued pressure on the UK government.
2017In advance of the General Election, Breakthrough calls on all disabled people, their friends, families and allies to use their vote towards creating a better society – and to hold candidates to account on that vision.Many disabled people do not vote or engage with politics because of entrenched barriers within the electoral system. Disabled people are also massively underrepresented in Parliament.Breakthrough continues to hold our elected representatives to account for the pledges they make, and their role in creating (or not) a fair, equal and just society. We also call on government to do what it can to ensure disabled people have access and opportunity to stand as candidates across all political spheres.

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