My 25 year old brother James calls me most nights from the home he house shares with a guy his age. We talk about the usual mundane occurrences that most people update Facebook with; what we’ve eaten for tea, what naughtiness my cat has been up to and he normally tells me about how things have gone at his work that day and what he’s been up to socially (often playing pool or going bowling).
Nothing unusual, right? All sounds pretty ordinary. That’s because it is, but ordinary hasn’t always been easy for James. James has Down’s Syndrome and all of his life we have been fighting for his rights to live as independent and fulfilling a life as possible. My parents fought for the necessary support for James to go through the mainstream education system, worked hard to get him into a college that could improve his independent life skills and thought long and hard about the best place for James to live. We wanted somewhere he could be independent of us and live with people of a similar age with similar interests – like any other 25 year old – but somewhere he would be safe and happy.
Around 15 months ago James started sharing a house with another young man with Down’s Syndrome and, because James struggles with change, it hasn’t been easy but he has now settled; he feels safe and secure in the place he now knows as home. He is helped by fantastic support workers, who remind him to take his medication, assist him with doing his washing and are around should anything go wrong. Care workers have received poor press recently but those who work with James are amazing; we couldn’t have asked for better. They help James to live as close to being independent as is realistically possible. We were all very relieved that James had settled somewhere and was happy.
On 30th September James was served with an eviction notice. Due to government cuts handed down to local councils, the level of support that James is currently receiving is going to be reduced and his support agency no longer feel they can offer a safe service for him - so they are closing down and he has to vacate his home.
After our initial shock and disbelief we decided we wanted to take positive action to try to keep James in his home. We asked for a meeting with David Cameron, who is James’ MP, and we set up a Change.org petition asking Oxfordshire County Council to reverse their decision. We hoped to get 1,000 signatures before meeting with David Cameron on Friday, 18 October and to raise a bit of awareness about how cuts are affecting people like our family. However the level of support we have received has been overwhelming – we are currently have excess of 60,000 signatures in five days - and we have been touched by messages of support from around the country.
We have heard of others in similar situations to James and some who, unlike him, don’t have a close family to fight for their rights to live an ordinary life. One of the messages from the petition signers pointed out the important lesson that “a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable”. I absolutely believe this to be the case and so we hope to use our campaign #JusticeForJames to show David Cameron how callously these cuts are affecting people right on his own doorstep.