Austerity is key challenge says outgoing boss of disabilities group
PUBLISHED: 15:54 29 March 2018
The continuing and devastating impact of austerity will be the major challenge faced by a disabled people’s organisation for years to come, according to its outgoing chief executive.
Mark Harrison is stepping down after nine years in his role at the helm of Equal Lives, which campaigns for and offers support to people with disabilities in Norfolk.
He said: “Austerity is here for the next two, three, four years and for the forseeable beyond that. The danger is that austerity becomes permanent.”
Mr Harrison first joined as a trustee of the organisation in 2005, which was previously known as the Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, before becoming its chief executive in 2009.
The group’s achievements include campaigning to move Norwich’s disability assessment centre from St Mary’s House because it was inaccessible to wheelchair users and contributing evidence which led to the chairwoman of the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) describing the government’s cuts to social services as a “human catastrophe”.
Another success was helping to overturn the government’s decision to restrict Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for people with mental health problems.
He said: “The fact that we have a vibrant disability community that’s about self-direction, self-empowerment and about equal rights is really important.
“Over 50pc of our staff are disabled people and many of our volunteers too.”
Mr Harrison, who is originally from south-east London, started his career in youth and community work, before studying and teaching development studies.
He is a founder of Social Action, which promotes user-led and community-led approaches in social care, the youth service and international development, and said: “What runs through all my work and social work is a belief that communities can find their own solutions, which tend to be more relevant and cost-effective than top-down, state-imposed solutions.”
The 60-year-old still plans to be involved in campaigns, but will be offering social action training, project development, evaluation and research for community interest company Social Action Solutions.
Ben Reed and Dan Lummis will be taking on the shared role of acting chief executive of Equal Lives when Mr Harrison leaves.