The disability charity Scope is to “put its money where its mouth is” by closing a third of its remaining residential homes over the next three years.
The plans to close or “change significantly” the 11 institutions have been under discussion since last year, following a new “strategic direction” set by the board of trustees.
This week, the charity began to inform service-users and staff working at the 11 homes about the closures.
Scope’s disabled chair, Alice Maynard, said the services that were being closed were “incapable” of delivering true choice and control and independent living for disabled people.
Scope has previously altered or closed 10 homes in the last five years, but she said: “This is the first time that we have made the decision on principle to do this kind of thing in a big way. I think that’s important for the organisation in terms of demonstrating our intent.”
She said Scope had decided it was “not OK” to be doing things that clashed with its aim of campaigning for equality of opportunity for disabled people.
Scope’s approach in her time as chair and under the last two chief executives, she said, had been: “If we are going to say this stuff, we have got to do it.”
Maynard, who stands down next October after six years as chair, said that as a disabled person the planned closures made her feel “excited and keen”, because Scope was “at last putting our money where our mouth is”.
But as a businesswoman, she said, they made her “very nervous”, because they were “going to have to manage the organisation really carefully going forward”.
Maynard said the decision to close the homes was made long before a protest last month by disabled activists outside its north London offices, which called on Scope to close its three remaining special schools and its “institutionalised and segregated” residential homes, and to campaign more vigorously against government cuts.
She suggested that – in the long-term – Scope will also look to close the remaining 21 residential homes, or at least ensure they offer a more “independent living” type of environment for their service-users, but that it did not have the “organisational capacity” to close or change all 32 at once.
She said: “We have said, ‘Where are the services that least enable disabled people to live independently?’ and that is where we are starting. And we will learn from this process. We absolutely want to do this properly.”
When asked whether she could see the three schools also closing at some point, Maynard said: “I don’t know, because I am not going to be around.”
But she added: “We have discussed the nature of the learning opportunities we want to give to young disabled people, and they are not about segregation.”
Scope will incur considerable short-term costs by closing and altering the 11 homes, and making staff redundant, although it may eventually make a surplus after it sells what are “some quite valuable properties”.
She added: “This organisation has not been able to do this kind of thing before because we were not financially stable enough to do it.”
Scope’s ownership of 32 residential homes, three special schools and a specialist college has made the charity a continuing target for disabled activists, furious that the charity was making money from segregated services.
Despite the continuing criticism, the charity has been making overtures to the disability movement for many years.
When asked why it had taken so many years to close homes “on principle”, Maynard said: “My take is that there was so much of a focus on the campaigning side and getting close to the disabled people’s movement that the actual ‘is what we are doing reflecting what we are saying?’ was not considered.”
She said: “I would love disabled people in the movement to understand that we genuinely want to work co-productively with the movement and to be an ally of the movement.
“I am not naive enough to think that is going to be easy. We seemed to be more popular when we were running residential services and not talking about closing them than we are now. It is frustrating.
“Hopefully people will see it as a positive move on the part of Scope. My experience of people’s reactions is that they will be very mixed. There will be many people who will say this is not far enough.”