At last something resembling summer has arrived. I spent the whole of Sunday with my son at the Oval watching England’s cricketers being systematically and comprehensively taken apart. Not a pretty sight but at least the weather was lovely!
This week we hear the seriously disturbing news that the Independent Living Fund (ILF) is to be closed. For those of you who don’t know this is government funding which helps severely disabled people to pay for services that enable them to live inclusive lives. Many years ago when I was the Chair of the Disabled Association of Hillingdon (DASH) the fund was very new and we worked with a young guy who was quadriplegic to help him to move away from his parents into a home of his own. After training and support from DASH he employed his own support workers using a mix of ILF and local authority money. It’s safe to say that had the ILF not been available he would have been forced to live in residential care.
What does the government propose doing for today’s severely disabled people who want nothing more than to make the same choices as their non-disabled counterparts?
London 2012: Thousands of disabled volunteers will help to ‘make the games’
Disabled people are set to play a prominent and public part in both the London 2012 Olympics and the Paralympics, after organisers revealed that they would make up five per cent of the huge volunteer workforce.
The London 2012 organising committee LOCOG told Disability News Service (DNS) that about five per cent of the 70,000 volunteers who have been signed up – about 3,500 people – had described themselves as disabled.
The “games makers”, as London 2012 volunteers are called, will perform valuable roles across the venues at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Some will check tickets or direct spectators to venues, while others will assist in medal ceremonies, work as part of the London 2012 mobility service, transport athletes, or help with the games results service.
LOCOG said that about half of those disabled people who applied to be games makers had been successful, compared with less than a third of non-disabled applicants.
The figures are welcome news to LOCOG, after DNS revealed that fewer than 100 of the 3,000 adult volunteers set to take part in the Paralympics opening ceremony would be disabled, and that disabled people were also set to be out-numbered on the Paralympic torch relay.
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals, has spoken of how the recruitment of disabled volunteers would play a vital part in the success of the games.
She said two years ago that she hoped between five and seven per cent of the volunteers would be disabled people, and that having thousands of disabled volunteers would “help break down people’s attitudes to disability and impairment”.
A LOCOG spokeswoman said they were “very pleased” with the number of disabled games makers they had recruited.
She said: “We made a big effort to make sure disabled people knew there were opportunities, and to show them we would provide reasonable adjustments when we could and make sure they knew they could be a games maker and be supported.”
She added: “From the start we said we wanted the games to be for everyone. It will show the world that we took that commitment seriously and that we have worked hard over the last few years to make sure we have a diverse and inclusive workforce.”
She said LOCOG also hoped that its efforts would leave a “legacy” that would encourage disabled people to volunteer after the games had ended.
Pioneer warns of ‘disastrous’ consequences of ILF closure
One of the pioneers of the independent living movement has warned the government that its decision to shut the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2015 could force thousands of disabled people out of their homes and into residential care.
John Evans said that such a move, announced last week in a long-awaited consultation paper, would be “disastrous” and would “destroy people both mentally and physically”.
Evans was a co-founder of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL) and is now an influential disability rights consultant, a board member of the European Disability Forum, and a member of the National Co-production Advisory Group.
But more than 30 years ago, he was one of the five members of Project 81, disabled residents of a Leonard Cheshire home in Hampshire who negotiated a deal with the local authorities funding them that enabled them to move out of the institution and into their own homes in the community.
Now, three decades later, he fears that he and many other ILF-recipients – all of whom have high support needs – could be forced back into residential care.
He said: “My biggest fear ever since that day has been will I ever return to that. Right now it is looking like a reality.”
Evans said he believed that most of the nearly 20,000 recipients of ILF support were now thinking about this “potential threat”.
Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, announced in December 2010 that ILF – a government-funded trust which currently helps 19,700 disabled people to live independently – would remain closed permanently to new applicants, while the packages of current users would be protected until 2015.
But in last week’s consultation paper, the government made it clear that it also wants to close the ILF to existing users from April 2015, with funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Asked what his message would be to Miller, Evans said: “Realise the potential hazardous consequences of your decisions, look at the long-term impact on the health and security of those people’s lives.
“Would you like to have your money taken away if you were disabled and were being threatened by going into residential care and not being able to live in your own home?”
He said he doubted whether cash-strapped local authorities would pass on all of the funding given to them by the government when it closed ILF.
He said: “I have talked to local authorities. They don’t know what to do. They are struggling with their budgets at the moment. They are having to make cutbacks even before this comes in.”
Like many other recipients, he requires 24-hour care, and uses ILF to top up the funding provided by his local authority.
He describes himself as an ILF “success story”. He has used the funding to live in his own home and work as a self-employed consultant.
Evans said: “ILF liberated many disabled people and was instrumental in getting a lot of disabled people into work.”
He added: “The government says things have changed now and the ILF is out-of-date, but what it is providing support for is not. People like myself have not changed.”
Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK, said the government must explain how people with high support needs would be funded in the future, and that she doubted whether cash-strapped councils would pass on all the funding given to them.
She also said there was no guarantee that the ILF money distributed by the government to local authorities would be allocated according to the number of ILF-users in each area.
This could mean that those local authorities that had done most to promote ILF to disabled people would find themselves hardest hit by its closure.
Bott said she believed there would need to be a new, separate source of funding for people with high support needs to replace ILF so that people like John Evans were “not faced with the prospect of being incarcerated in residential care”.
She said: “Ironically these people were the pioneers of the independent living movement and now they are being forgotten about and ignored.”
She added: “It is one thing to fight the cuts, but it is totally devastating when your whole life’s work is getting reversed in a matter of a few months.
“I cannot contemplate the enormity of what it would mean. The only comparison I can think of for myself is if I suddenly found myself back in special school.”
She called for the scope of the ILF consultation to be widened, so the government could consider widening the criteria for continuing healthcare, which – with the increasing use of personal health budgets – might provide new opportunities for health funding to be used in the same way as local authority personal budgets.
DR UK will be consulting its member organisations before responding to the ILF consultation, which ends on 10 October.
Government refuses to research hate crime impact of special schools
The Department for Education (DfE) has rejected a key recommendation of the equality watchdog’s disability hate crime inquiry, which could have undermined the government’s anti-inclusion stance on the education of disabled children.
Although most of the recommendations of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) Hidden in Plain Sight report were accepted by the government this week, the DfE refused to fund research that could have undermined its backing for segregated education.
The EHRC’s inquiry report, published last September, concluded that hundreds of thousands of disabled people a year were subjected to disability-related harassment, but that public bodies were guilty of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise the problem.
And it suggested that the failure to include disabled people in society – including the history of forcing disabled people to live in institutions, and segregated employment and education – had helped cause disability-related harassment.
It called for the government to commission research on how segregated education, or inadequate support in mainstream education, affected children’s schooling and the ability of disabled children to “re-integrate into wider society”, as well as the extent to which segregation “adversely impacts on non-disabled children’s views of disability and disabled people”.
But DfE this week rejected the recommendation, and said it wanted to see “the development of a diverse range of good quality provision for disabled children, whether in mainstream or special school”.
The government’s pledge to “remove the bias towards inclusion” in disabled children’s education has sparked anger and protests by disabled activists since the coalition came to power.
Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said they were “very disappointed” that the government did not want to commission the research.
She said: “It clearly indicates that the government wants to go ahead with providing a greater amount of segregated education provision without considering the long-term impact on disabled children and young people who experience segregated education.”
The only other major EHRC recommendation rejected outright was a call for the government to introduce national reports and plans on disability-related harassment. The Home Office and Ministry of Justice said it was “more appropriate” for these to be issued locally.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he would give the government’s overall response just “five out of ten”.
He said: “What they are doing is taking out the bits that are going to be costly and annoying and leaving in the bits that are up to everybody else.”
He said he was particularly disappointed with the government’s rejection of the need for national action to tackle disability hate crime.
Brookes welcomed the government’s praise for the partnership work on tackling hate crime that he had supported in his home town of Blackpool, which had led to a “dramatic increase” in disabled people having the confidence to report hate crime.
But he said the government needed to take a leading role and not just leave it to local agencies.
The EHRC said it was “pleased that the government has agreed with a significant majority of our recommendations”.
An EHRC spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing the detailed response, alongside the responses of nearly 50 other national organisations and bodies, and will be reporting on them in our Manifesto for Change report which will come out this autumn.”
Minister wants eight-year delay in new rights for disabled passengers
The government is seeking to delay major parts of a new European regulation that would have given powerful rights to disabled bus and coach passengers.
The European Union regulation on bus and coach passenger rights is due to come into force on 1 March 2013.
It includes a right to full compensation for lost or damaged wheelchairs, non-discrimination in booking tickets and boarding vehicles, and disability awareness training for all staff who deal with customers.
But EU states have the right to seek lengthy exemptions from other key parts of the regulation, and a consultation document published this week by Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker says the coalition wants to “make use of all available exemptions in order to delay costs to industry and give them more time to prepare”.
These other rights for disabled passengers only apply to journeys over 155 miles, but EU member states can still exempt their regular domestic bus and coach services from these rights for up to eight years.
The rights the UK government wants to delay include the right to compensation if a passenger has a reservation and has explained their need for assistance in advance but is still prevented from boarding the coach or bus.
The government also wants to delay a disabled passenger’s right to free assistance at major coach terminals and on board coaches, if they have notified the provider at least 36 hours before departure; and the right to be accompanied by their own assistant at no extra charge if the transport provider is unable to provide suitable support.
The Department for Transport said the eight-year delay would mean “significant monetised benefits” – of more than £8 million – for bus and coach operators and the bodies that run major coach terminals such as London Victoria and Birmingham.
But it admitted that the delay would cause “costs to passengers, including disabled people and people with reduced mobility” of more than £1 million.
The government also wants to take advantage of another exemption, delaying compulsory disability awareness training for bus and coach drivers by five years.
The consultation document points out that disabled people in the UK will still have the protection of the Equality Act.
Baker said: “We want people taking coach trips and long-distance bus journeys to get a fair deal. However, we also want to avoid tying operators up in expensive and unnecessary burdens.
“I believe that the approach outlined in this consultation finds the right balance between passenger protection and operator competitiveness and I hope that groups likely to be affected by these changes will agree when they respond to our proposals.”
The consultation closes on 11 October.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com