Care provider faces up to nimbys

Local opposition means disabled people and those with mental health conditions may not get the best care, reports Kathrin Ohlmann

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Prejudices against disabled people and people with a mental health condition can impede setting up new services in communities, warns one of the biggest care charities.

Voluntary organisation Community Integrated Care (CiC) is calling for a challenge to the nimbyism residents display in opposing care homes and supported living programmes being established in their neighbourhoods.

It wants to educate people who still hold “old-fashioned and misinformed views” and harbour “false fear” when living near disabled people and people with mental health issues.
Nimby stands for “not in my own backyard” and describes someone resistant to new developments in their locality.

Cath Murray-Howard (pictured), responsible for new services at CiC, said the organisation has encountered nimbyism in recent months.

“We were asked by a commissioner to open up a respite home for people with learning disabilities, which meant buying a property,” she said.

Weak argument

The property had been a B&B and it applied for planning permission. “There were 21 complaints from the neighbours saying that they didn’t want this home in their locality,” said Murray-Howard.

She didn’t receive any support when she spoke to the local councillor.

“He made excuses along the lines of ‘I’ve got nothing against disabled people but this will affect the parking’ or ‘This will affect children in the area’. They couldn’t have been more wrong.”

The planning permission was rejected on grounds of a weak economic argument: removing a B&B would mean less tourism. But, said Murray-Howard, the fact that it hadn’t been viable for two or three years was not taken into account.

She said: “In this case nimbyism actually masks plain old discrimination.” But often that discrimination comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding of vulnerable people, she added, and how much of a positive contribution they can make to communities.

This example was not the only one faced by Widnes-based CiC.

“When you inform the local residents, for example, that someone with a mental health condition might move in, the reaction from the neighbourhood can be disproportionate to what actually will be the case,” said Muarry-Howard. “But often it is the case that vulnerable people moving in can be more frightened of the local people.”

But there are also cases with a more positive outcome. A few years ago CiC supported eight people with a mental health condition who were moving into their own flat.


Murray-Howard said: “We had 25 very angry people turning up to a residents’ meeting, completely misinformed. The neighbours expressed all sorts of horrible and really outlandish views, such as calling people with learning difficulties ‘paedophiles’.

“We had to explain that these were individuals who had the right to live in their own flat and the right to live without being intimidated by their neighbours.”

A core of people was still against the development at the end of the meeting but the vast majority had turned around – a few even asked Murray for a job – because “they realised their views were misguided at best”, she said.

The newcomers moved in and have lived happily as part of the community since, with several enrolled at the local college.

For Murray-Howard, nimbyism can be the beginning of fear and discrimination, and has to be challenged to prevent consequences such as disability hate crime at the extreme end of that spectrum.

“A real society isn’t about the most fortunate, but about protecting and supporting the most vulnerable people,” she said. “If we don’t do that as a society, we have to question whether we are a society at all.”

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