The welfare of the visually handicapped in the United Kingdom
The care of the blind is a long standing British tradition. Until the early years of the 20th century there was a strong dependence on voluntary enterprise. However, under the 1920 Blind Persons Act local authorities assumed responsibility for the welfare of the blind in their areas, and after this a triple partnership between voluntary organisations, central government and local authorities became firmly established. By the mid-20th century, through a combination of voluntary and statutory endeavour, services for the welfare of the blind had reached a standard above that for any other handicapped group. The cornerstone of the service was the home teacher. However, following the Seebohm Report, in 1971 the blind welfare system virtually lost its specialist service, and technical and mobility officers, along with generic social workers, became responsible for blind welfare. Services declined in many areas. More and better trained specialist workers are required. Social rehabilitation services could also be improved. However, the Royal National Institute for the Blind's new development programme will help to improve the many services for which it is responsible. The blind could be helped in several other ways. The majority of blind people are elderly and doctors and others should use an outreach approach to help these people. Often simple modifications in home lighting can dramatically improve visual performance. The majority of the partially sighted with acuity in the range 3/ 60 - 6/ 60 should be redesignated registered blind. In this way more of them could be helped by the specialist organisations. Currently the blind do not receive a pension and a blindness allowance should be introduced to compensate them for the extra costs of blindness. The Thatcher Government's social security reforms will not help the blind substantially. It is essential that the blind are integrated into society, and a comprehensive programme of integrated education and a strengthened employment quota would help to achieve this. These are important components of a progressive social policy for the blind.