An insidious paradox lies at the heart of the modern thrust for disability rights. This agenda is supposed to promote equality and fair treatment, goals to which no one could object. Yet the official definition of disability is now so wide, so all-embracing, that it includes the feckless, the antisocial, even the criminal. In the madhouse of today’s Britain, even the crack addict and the violent thug can be classified as disabled under anti-discrimination regulations.
The local people who turned out to see Princess Helen Louise open the new wing of St Leonard’s Hospital in Sudbury, Suffolk, in 1938 would not have recognised the term ‘stakeholder’, but they would seem to have fitted perfectly Tony Blair’s vision of a breed of socially responsible citizens helping to run the country’s public services. ‘They paid for the hospital through voluntary subscriptions of a few pence a week,’ says local historian Barry Wall.