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Keys to Citizenship

We can be equal and different by becoming citizens and supporting others to achieve citizenship. This model was developed to set out the key elements of citizenship.

Simon Duffy's book Keys to Citizenship describes how we can achieve citizenship in practice. Although the book focuses on people with learning difficulties it is a framework which applies to all of us.

Citizenship is a funny word - and it can have several meanings - but it is a useful word, because it can be used to describe how human beings can live together - with justice and mutual respect. Citizenship means:

  • Being respected - being able to hold your head up high and getting respect from those around you
  • Being equal - citizens all have the same fundamental worth or dignity, they don’t believe that just because someone has more money, power or a better-paid job that this makes them a better person
  • Being different - citizens are not identical, they have many different gifts which they bring together to build a better world

Citizenship is important because it reminds us that we can each live a good life, in our own way, while also being able to live together with mutual respect. Citizenship means rejecting the idea that people’s worth can be measured by money, power, fame, intelligence or any of the other ways that make people different and which some people imagine define ‘what is important’.

The seven keys to citizenship

Of course this an ideal, and citizenship is not achieved by simply talking about it, wishing it or even demanding it (although all these things may help). Citizenship is something we build - together - for each other. 

And there are real ways of achieving citizenship:

  1. Freedom - being a citizen means being in control of your own life - being able to make decisions, make mistakes, make your own way. For people with significant communication difficulties this also means lots of thoughtfulness, love and attentiveness. But everyone can be in control - especially if we listen to those who know and love the person most.
  2. Direction - being a citizen means having a life of meaning - your own meaning. When our lives don’t fit our passions, interests and abilities we are diminished - but if we can find a path that is right for us then we help other people to see us with respect.
  3. Money - money is important, but may be not for the reason we all think. Money gives us the means to be independent, to set our own course and to achieve our own goals. But too much money is an obstacle to citizenship - mad consumers and millionaires aren’t citizens - but citizens do pay their own way.
  4. Home - we all need a place we can call our home, not just a shelter, but a place where we can have privacy, where we can be with those we love, where we belong. When we have no home we appear almost rootless and disconnected - when we say someone has gone into ‘a home’ we mean they’ve lost their home.
  5. Help - we live in a world where we imagine that needing help is bad, even though we all need help everyday and the giving and receiving of help from others is the key to a good society. The challenge today is to get help without having to give up your citizenship 
  6. Life - and it is by giving something back to our community that we can really help others to understand our worth. And there are so many more ways to give back than we think. We can contribute by just being there, by buying, by joining in, by working, by laughing or even by crying. But we cannot contribute if we are absent. 
  7. Love - the beginning and the end of citizenship is found in love. Through meeting, working with and joining in with other people we can form relationships, friendships, find lovers and make a family. Love is also the best guarantee of bring into existence a new generation of citizens to help build a better world.

Citizenship is not dead, but it is flourishing - we are somewhere in between. But it is certainly not true that citizenship means nothing to people with learning difficulties. Meeting with a group of people with learning difficulties recently in Derbyshire it was very clear that people knew what it meant to be respected and they knew very well what it meant to contribute to community. 

We looked at many aspects of community life together:

  • Travel - 19 out of 20 had a regular holiday, travelled and saw new things
  • Family - 18 out of 20 people were in active contact with their families
  • Neighbourliness - 17 out of 20 got on well with their neighbours
  • Friendships - 16 out of 20 said they had good friends
  • Hobbies - 12 out of 20 had hobbies or interests, from thimble-collecting to fishing
  • Work - 10 out of 20 had a job
  • Fun - 10 out of 20 had fun regularly, went to the shops, dancing, theatre or pubs
  • Learning - 10 out of 20 people were active in adult education, attended classes, we’re learning new skills
  • Politics - 10 out of 20 voted at the last election, many were active in attempting to improve local services
  • Voluntary work - 4 out of 20 were doing some kind of voluntary work

It would be good to get 20 out of 20 on all these questions. But this may not be possible and I am sure many people who don’t have learning difficulties would also struggle to say yes to every question.

It’s also clear that many people were limited by factors that we could do something about: poverty, benefit traps, social isolation or lack of appropriate support. These are all things we can also do something about - although some problems are more difficult to solve than others.

But perhaps the most important thing, the thing which costs nothing, is to start thinking and talking about citizenship. If we aren’t raising our own expectations and the expectations of those around us - or if we are accepting the emptiness of fame, money or power as the meaning of life - then we are not just putting the lives of people with learning difficulties at risk. We are demeaning ourselves.


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Keys to Citizenship © Simon Duffy 2006.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.