Is the Prime Minister keeping his promises on help for disabled children?

One of my favourite campaigning organisations, Every Disabled Child Matters, have launched a new campaign action. They are asking people to write to the Prime Minister to give some good news to families with disabled children for Christmas.

In the days before David Cameron was busy pulling hissy fits in Europe, he promised that he would “never do anything that would hurt disabled children.”

This begs the question why the Government is pushing ahead with changes to disability benefits that effectively amount to a 50% cut in help for families with disabled children. As Every Disabled Child Matters explain, currently, low income and out of work families who claim DLA on behalf of their child are entitled to a ‘disability addition’ worth £53.62 per week. Families with a child in receipt of the high rate care component of DLA also receive a ‘top up addition’ worth an additional £21 per week. Proposals under the Universal Credit will see lower benefit ‘additions’ drop by over 50%. It might not seem much but to families already struggling without support, this may push them over the edge.

The worse thing? By the Government’s own admission, this change won’t have any impact on the overall benefit bill. That’s right, the cuts are completely unnecessary.

I’m fast becoming somewhat disillusioned about the widening gap between what the Government say and do on help for deaf and other disabled children. If there’s ever a time for cynicism to be dashed, it’s just before Christmas. So fingers crossed, the Government come up with a better gift for disabled children in the UK today.

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NDCS campaigns at Labour conference 2009: day 4

Picture3 002On our final day at the Labour party conference, on a day the sun disappeared, we were on the hunt… for someone to take responsibility for building regulations.

Our Sounds good? campaign on school acoustics has got the attention of Ministers and officials at the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), but to get what we want – a requirement for acoustic testing in all new schools – there needs to be a change to the building regulations which govern how school buildings are built. Which is the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).

Sadly, though, having spoken to four Ministers who work at the Department, including the Secretary of State who in theory has overall responsibility for everything in his Department, none of them seemed entirely sure who was responsible for this issue. It was slightly worrying. In the end, one of them agreed to look into it further and get back to us.

Otherwise, the day was spent networking and going to more fringe meetings. Overall, there have been some really interesting fringe meetings over the past week. Some of the highlights include:

* The Every Disabled Child Matters meeting which featured four ministers in total. Our acoustics campaign got a mention when someone else asked about the accessibility of new school buildings. I raised a question about whether Access to Work, to pay for additional help for disabled people in the workplace, should be extended to disabled people doing unpaid internships, to help them get up the career ladder. The answer from the Minister for Disability, Jonathan Shaw, was that he would like to, but there wasn’t really any money for it. So that was that.

* At a NASUWT fringe meeting, we asked a few questions about acoustics. DCSF Minister Vernon Coaker, who used to be a deputy headteacher, asked my boss to “come and see him afterwards”. Fortunately, it was not for a detention or corporal punishment but to convey his desire to see this problem sorted out as soon as possible. He said he would ask officials to update him.

* And at a fringe meeting by Action for Children, with Baroness Morgan, Children’s Minister, in attendence, we again raised the concerns that the social care needs of deaf children are being overlooked.

Overall, it’s been a busy few days getting NDCS mentions here and there, introducing Louis Kissaun to MPs, and raising awareness of the needs of deaf children. Now we’re going to get busy drafting letters and doing all the things we promised MPs that we would do, before the next conference for the Conservatives in Manchester…

Any points you want us to raise at the Conservative conference about deaf children? Leave a comment and let us know.

Campaigning for deaf children at the Lib Dem conference 2009: day 2

BournemouthDay two of our Bournemouth Liberal Democrat party conference adventure started with a morning of meetings on the patio of a cliffside hotel in the beautiful morning sunshine. It sounded like perfection at first. Two hours later, we were stumbling off the patio, blinded by the sun and with a deep tan on the half of our face facing the sun.

But the meetings went well. We met Baroness Garden, who works on children and education in the House of Lords for the Lib Dems. I got asked lots of questions about childhood deafness which put me on my toes but was quite nice since it showed an active interest in deafness and a desire to find out more. She was aware of our work to get the law changed on acoustics which was positive. Our message is getting out there before we’ve even come to party conferences…

We also met with Annette Brooke who also asked lots of questions and made a few requests for further information. She raised a new issue – how we do make sure that deaf children who are home educated get the right support from their local authority? A good question and something we’ll be coming back to her on.

There were lot of other charities there all waiting to meet MPs too. At times, it felt a bit like a political form of speed dating with MPs moving between different tables to talk to different charities. All that was missing was a little bell ringing at the half hour mark.

Once that was done, the afternoon was spent stalking MPs and getting their views on our simulation of acoustics in the classroom. One MP said she thought it sounded like a baby listening to the world from the womb!

And then finally, we ended the day with an impressive fringe meeting hosted by Every Disabled Child Matters. This was the best fringe meeting I went to, primarily because it had two young disabled people interrogating two shadow Lib Dem Ministers – David Laws MP (who looks after education) and Steve Webb MP (who looks after benefits) – on what the Lib Dem manifesto will have for disabled children. The highlight for me was when one of the young people was asked if her teachers had low expectations of her. She replied that her teachers told her that she would only ever end up working in a fried chicken takeaway, and how this motivated her to prove her teacher wrong. Her advice to others was simple: don’t give up. She also suggested she did end up working in a fried chicken takeaway, she would get her revenge by spitting in the food! It was a very spunky and inspriring reply.

And that was it. Time for a late night train back to London to reflect on a good two days with the Lib Dems. Now the travelling circus moves to Brighton for the Labour party conference next Sunday…

Deaf and disabled children denied access to basic NHS care

Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) have launched an important new campaign today about disabled children’s access to health services.

We know that many professionals work their socks off to help disabled children. But EDCM’s report still makes for depressing reading, particular about the cavalier attitudes of some other professionals to the needs of children with complex health needs. In one example given, a disabled child was left to die and spoken of as if she wasn’t ever really alive at all.

Like other disabled children, deaf children spend a lot of their time at hospitals, particularly in audiology departments. It’s important that all health professionals are child-friendly and have the right levels of deaf awareness to be able to engage effectively with these children.

And a large number of children – around 40% – also have additional needs, of which many will have complex needs. It’s important that their rights to effective hearing aids and audiological equipment isn’t overlooked.

NDCS is supporting the campaign and joining the call for primary care trusts to improve the services they offer to disabled children.

Keeping Mum sweet: NDCS campaign planning

My Mum once made me promise that I would never become an MP because “MPs never keep their promises”. Well, if my Mum is reading this now, I hope this post convinces her that campaigners DO keep their promises – as promised in a recent blog, here’s where I attempt to compare how my rhetoric on campaign planning matches the reality. As it’s going to the main focus of my work in the coming month, I’m going to outline the planning behind our Close the Gap campaign.

1) Objectives:
Our overall objective is clear. We want to close the gap. In other words, we want deaf children to be achieving the same as their hearing peers. Deafness is not a learning disability – so I personally think it’s outrageous that deaf children are 42% less likely to get 5 good GCSEs at school than other children. I also find it incredibly depressing that some people don’t seem so surprised or think that deaf children are doing well if they are ‘coping’. As part of this, we have a number of secondary objectives to remove the barriers that hold deaf children back. I won’t list them all here – but they cover things like audiology services, family support, mainstream school provision and so on.

2) Targets:
Our principal target is the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), who have the power to remove many of the barriers that hold deaf children back, so we’ve been working and meeting with DCSF Ministers and their civil servants. To influence the Department, we are working with and talking to a range of other charities and think tanks who share our concerns, to work together in raising key issues. We are also working with the media to help them get them on board too.

3) Messages:
When writing about educational achievements of deaf children and the barriers holding them back, one of the challenges has been to try and keep the message simple. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of getting lost in the detail. For example, one of our objectives is to improve the local authority performance management framework. This means getting into policy on local indicators, disability equality impact assessments, the use of data and so on. Well, I’m bored already. And actually, at the end of the day, it kind of just boils down to making sure that council workers make deaf children matter and act on their needs.

4) Timing:
The scale of under achievement by deaf children is such that we probably would have been campaigning on this whenever. As it is, the policy mood has definitely shifted in the past few year and policy makers have been talking about the needs of disabled children much more. The Treasury did a report on Aiming High for Disabled Children and the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign group has been really effective in getting the needs of disabled children on the agenda. It feels like MPs and civil servants are really receptive to arguments and debates on the education of children with disabilities.

5) Tactics:
I could write a whole blog on this – and I probably will – but we’ve tried to use a range of tactics to get people talking about the need to close the gap. We’ve worked with MPs to try and raise awareness of the issue in Parliament. We’ve also been trying to get our members involved by getting them to write to their MP. One MP has tabled a motion (kind of like a parliamentary petition) to call for action on this. Others have spoken about the needs of deaf children in parliamentary debates. Our hope is that DCSF are taking note of MPs interest in this – and thinking about how to address their concerns.

Later this month, we’ll be deploying another tactic – a campaign report. This will set out in more detail what we think the barriers are, and what the Government needs to do about it. Watch this space for more information on that.

Again, lots of stuff I haven’t mentioned, but what do you think? Grateful for any thoughts on our planning for this – and any suggestions for improvements.

In the meantime, I’m off to tell Mum I’ve been a good boy today.