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All you need is love

Sam Sly’s blog reflects on people’s right to love and citizenship. She currently works as a regulation, health and social care consultant.

The lyrics of the Beatles song say “all you need is love”. I believe that love is the central key to citizenship which is something that every one of us has a right to.

Keys to Citizenship is a nationally acclaimed concept conceived by Simon Duffy and was published as a guide to getting good support for people with learning disabilities in 2003. The principles were adopted by many working alongside people with learning disabilities.  Increasingly other groups of people have found that its principles apply equally to everyone. It was a book that helped people to improve people’s lives. It was at the forefront of developing true citizenship for all.

In 2014 Simon Duffy and Wendy Perez published a revised and accessible version of Keys to Citizenship called Citizenship for All. Importantly the new model for Keys added a seventh key – love and in 2016 I published Citizenship a Guide for Support Providers to help embed these fundamental building blocks for a good life for people with disabilities, especially learning disabilities.

I would go as far as saying that the most important thing in the world is love. Love exists even when citizenship is missing, but true citizenship strengthens the force of love in the world. Disabled people can love and be loved just like everyone else. But sometimes the world makes it harder.

Also, in the world that is “serviceland”, where lots people with people with learning disabilities find themselves, love in all its many forms - friendship, family, community, sexuality, and sex is rarely prioritised - the reasons why this is the case are varied but I wonder whether some reasons might be that paid “support” is still very focussed on practical, personal care tasks? It may be that those providing paid support to people with learning disabilities don’t know how to help someone find love? Or from a more depressing view - do we still see people with learning disabilities as not needing love and as being asexual?  Is thinking about love for people just too uncomfortable? Some controversial and thought-provoking questions that people should ask themselves.

Love has many layers, all as important as the next. C. S. Lewis (The Four Loves, 1960) talks about two different kinds of love - ‘need-love’ that of a child for a parent, and ‘gift-love’ the love we give to one another through humanity. Love is important to everyone and most people’s hopes and dreams (people with and without disabilities) are to find and develop love through family, friends, relationships, sex and children. It is only through giving and receiving love and kindness, and feeling the range of emotions (both highs and lows) that people become alive. Love as a citizen is also about being responsible for others and respecting people’s differences.

All types of love need developing and nurturing, and a person with learning disabilities will have often not learned how to do this, because of isolation, segregation, discrimination, and congregation. People’s relationships reflect how they think about themselves. People we support may have been badly treated, discriminated against and may not seek positive relationships because they do not respect or trust others. They need support to feel good about themselves and develop and nurture loving relationships.

Lewis talks of four loves, which may be a useful way of support providers thinking about how they can help the person they support develop and nurture love.

Affection – the love for those who are “family” or who get together through chance. This is a love without coercion, love that transcends discrimination and is without condition. It may be described as natural love, and love born out of familiarity however, the vulnerability of affection is that it appears to be ready-made and is therefore expected. It is extremely hurtful and destructive if it is not there. 

Friendship – the love that is developed as a strong bond due to common interests, activities, histories, traits, and characteristics. Friendships are freely-chosen and can be life-long or can last as long as an activity or interest does. People may have a wide circle of acquaintances but much fewer true friendships. Choosing friends and going on to form lasting relationships may need support if people have not had chances to do this in the past.  They cannot always differentiate between kind honest people and people who may take advantage of them.  

Romance – the strong sense and feelings that come with “being in love” through attraction, desire and longing for a connection of body and mind. This love is very powerful and can sometimes grow out of friendship but not always and people sometimes get confused about this especially if they have had little experience of friendships. Most people want to experience sexual relationships which may lead to commitment and having a family or may not. Having sexual experiences, lasting or not, choosing a partner and being seen as loveable and desirable by others is very important to people.

Gift-love – love for others through their connection as people with humanity and giving without expectation of love in return. This is the love that binds communities together and those who give love in this way are often viewed highly by others.

So, if like me you believe in love and think love is the right of every citizen I would like you to reflect and consider in whatever job you do with people with learning disabilities, or whoever’s life you touch.  Can you put your hand on your heart and say that you strive to increase the love in someone’s life every day? Do you ensure people understand relationships, develop new ones, nurture important ones, explore sex and their sexuality and have opportunities to give and receive love?  Life is not worth living without love.

Sam Sly

Regulation, Health, and Social Care Consultant


07900 424 144


The views expressed in the Supported Loving blog are not necessarily those of Choice Support.

Join the Supported Loving network here or contact Dr Claire Bates for more information about Supported Loving.

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