Birmingham City Council

Implementing the Social Model of Disability

What is the Social Model?

In 1975 a group of disabled people in a recently formed group called the Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPAIS), published a short book called the "Fundamental Principles of Disability." Shortly after that a disabled lecturer Mike Oliver was trying to introduce the concepts contained in the Fundamental principle to a group of social work students. This is when the term Social Model was first used.The Social Model since has become internationally recognised as the driving force behind the disability agenda and a cornerstone of the disabled people's movement.The Social Model in its simplest changes the focus away from people's impairments and towards removing the barriers that disabled people face in every day life.

The barriers can be




For example : Lack of accessible information

For example : Segregated provision

For example : Disabled people being seen as expensive, useless or needy

In the main it is not the impairment that is the problem, or the disabled person, rather it is society's failure to take into account our diverse needs. The Social Model shifts policy away from a medical, charity, care agenda into a rights led, equalities agenda.

The Individual Model of Disability

Much of the way in which society is organised and resourced is still based on what was identified as the Individual Model of Disability. This includes the City Council. Disabled people are split for convenience into medical groups and doctors still know best and tend to be the gatekeepers and adjudicators for resources going to assist disabled people.

Disabled people in the main are still seen as "done to" and are meant to be grateful for what they receive. Indeed disabled people are seen as an extra expense to councils and the government. Equality for disabled people comes with a price tag.

Disabled people contend that if the barriers to disabled people were removed systematically disabled people could play a full part in community life working and paying taxes like everyone else. In the long run we argue it is cheaper and more economical to support disabled people being independent that providing services which foster and maintain a dependency throughout their lives.


In 1995 the Council decided to implement the Social Model. In 2000 the Equalities Scrutiny Committee (as it was then known) decided to find out what had been done to implement this instruction.The interim report clearly showed that this instruction had gone little further than the original report in 1995 and that there had been no overall corporate plan to implement it.

The final report in 2001 recommended that :

  • A corporate steering group should be set up chaired by the Acting Chief Executive to draw up an action plan to implement the Social Model across the Council.
  • A consultant be appointed to advise and guide the Council through this process.
  • An action plan be drawn up by autumn 2002.

These recommendations were agreed by Council who wanted to make sure that officers carried out their instructions.

In late 2001 we were very fortunate to secure the services of now Professor Mike Oliver from the University of Greenwich who had first coined the phrase back in 1975. He brought with him a colleague Peter Bailey as a co- consultant. They consulted disabled people from a wide spectrum of organisations for their input into the process and worked with a cross-departmental steering group chaired by the then Acting Chief Executive.

In March 2003 the action plan was agreed at cabinet and this has become the cornerstone of developing and implementing disability issues within the council.

We believe that Birmingham is the first council to move from policy into action on implementing the Social Model. Our work around disability will be referenced within the Single Equality Framework which will replace the existing equality schemes.

Related links:
Corporate Equality Scheme (Single Equality Framework)
UK Disabled People's Council