2021.01.19, within EU_SHAFE project activities

Let me start with a short way back in history, to discover the origin of the deeply rooted values of social participation in policy design and policy building in Biscay, a small region washed by the Bay of Biscay, in the Basque Country.

In 1526 the New version of the Ancient Law of Biscay stated that “all born or living in Biscay (…) are recognised as Lords and can profit from every privilege of such a recognition; even when moving to other regions of Castile”. This Law, called Fueros, reflected the custom of their citizens giving formal and written reflection to the way of behaving in Biscay. Those equity values, expresses in the Ancient Law considered as our political constitution, stand still in our deepest beliefs, reflected in our more recent history.

Not that far in time, in mid twentieth century, some concrete constructive efforts took place in Biscay, as far as they were built in difficult times. By that time, Europe was building a new post-war social contract, named as the Welfare State. The Basque Country was under a dictatorship, which kept aside every self-government institution. In fact, Biscay province was declared “traitor province”, suspending its taxation and economic autonomy. While European Public Authorities were building the social right’s pillar, developing Health, Education and Social Security Systems, we weren’t, as our self-government policy tools had been suspended. At the same time, the dictatorship also assumed some autarchy, avoiding new tendencies to come into the Country.

As a matter of lack of self-government institutions and global tendencies influence, there was no social development. In fact, civil rights (1st generation) and political rights (2nd generation) were damaged; and there was no-news from social rights (3rd generation rights) development. It can be concluded that Biscay was aside of the inclusive prosperity floods that were washing Europe.

Nevertheless, as prior in time, our History teaches us that customs come before laws, that the power of people is stronger that power of law. It was Iike this in 1526 and it was going to be crucial during the dictatorship.

Those dump ages of war and post-war dictatorship, gave birth to a huge movement of Basque schools, leaded by parents and courageous teachers. They now are an awkward reality that accounts the 50% of the compulsory education system in our Country, which we guessed to protect through public-private concertation laws in the eighties.

Mondragon cooperatives are another great example of both lessons; the strength of people and the prevalence of customs. Even in the dumpiest valleys, with the highest levels of unemployment and drug consumption, a people leaded movement took place to change the way of doing business, which afterwards was reflected in the Cooperatives Act.

The third experience, much more connected to inclusion, is the response to social needs in Biscay. Disabled people were condemned to be locked and hidden in the privacy of parents’ house. It was God’s will, a holy punishment… but some people, in the sixties, started to collect information about disabled people in Biscay in a shoe-box, to organise day-trips… and founded an association. Nowadays, they manage a full network of resources to support disabled people, of public guarantee, accounting more than 60 million of operational expenditure, supporting 6.000 disabled people in Biscay.

It is not about History but sharing how we design our policies. A real understanding needs looking at the values rooted in our History. Based in those ancient values, we have progressively assumed the public responsibility of guaranteeing social citizenship through social support systems, in a way that preserves civic dynamism and individual & collective empowerment.

There are many evidences of how this has come to influence in our policy designing and building processes. As witness of that History, the role of people with disabilities and their relatives in the design of disabled related policy, gave birth to the “Plan for the Participation and Quality of Life of People with Disabilities in Biscay”.

In the beginning of this century, our Government leaded the development of the network of centres. The values appeal was to do it hand-in-hand, managed by people with disabilities, with full guaranteed support from public authorities. The principle beneath is that persons with disabilities have the right to self-organise the answer and take part in the responses to fulfil their inclusion needs.

The Plan for the Participation and Quality of Life of People with Disabilities in Biscay is the consequence of a cooperation pathway, that results in a shared approach to build policies, agreed and assumed by both parts, public authority and every association of users & families. At the same time, it points out priorities to be developed during the plan’s time-lapse, that give birth to four working groups to build new consensus about the new challenges identified. Through this policy building style users are specially empowered, new and innovative responses are being developed, and users & families are involved in the sustainability of the system, as far as they are directly or indirectly involved in the management of the network of facilities.

Current societal challenges appeal every agent and person in our society. In fact, longevity and inclusion overflow the limits of current institutional governance and stakeholders’ relations. Complexity demands a new cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder alliance at local and global level. A long life is a gift, the gift of time. The challenge is to make it a life full of possibilities for everyone. Our history can show us the path; rooted values of participation are a great step forward. Even though, many steps more will be needed from all of us.

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