Government turns their back on deaf children

Maria Miller MP, Disability Minister

One thing that has always made me feel angry is that the way that deaf people are forced to “cope”. Other disabled people are much worse off. But deafness still poses huge barriers. In a civilised society, deaf people shouldn’t have to go through life “coping”. Deaf people need support to help them become independent and thrive and to manage the additional costs that come with being a deaf person in a world that still isn’t set up for deaf people.

Tonight, MPs have voted to cut benefits for deaf children. Where families with deaf children receive tax credits, some were entitled to “disability additions”. These additions are going to be cut by half, at a cost of £1,400 a year, to some families. A briefing by Every Disabled Child Matters explains more.

Lords tried to overturn it last night. Baroness Wilkins made a powerful speech about the impact of this cut on deaf children. But MPs – including a large number who signed a National Deaf Children’s Society pledge to support deaf children – have voted to ignore the Lords, close any further discussion of it and proceed with a cut to help for deaf and other disabled children.

Yes, we are in difficult financial times. But I don’t remember reading anywhere that deaf children caused the global economic recession.

Yes, other disabled people need more support. But I think all disabled people would say that this shouldn’t be at cost of support for deaf children. Anyone who thinks that deafness is “disability-lite” needs to see the world through the eyes of a deaf child struggling and their parents.

Yes, deaf people can succeed in life and do well. But I don’t think the Government should accept that “coping” is a fair way for deaf people to live their lives.

This is going to have a devastating impact on many families with deaf children and push many into poverty. The Government is trying to balance the budget on the backs of deaf children. It’s just wrong.


Saving services for deaf children launch – rolling blog

Image courtesy of NDCS

6.03pm Am going to wrap up today’s blog. Very pleased that NDCS’s Save Services for Deaf Children campaign has made a splash today, with even MPs tweeting about it. We’re expecting some more media coverage over the next few days which will hopefully spread the word about the injustice of councils cutting budgets for some of the most disadvantaged children in society, when this funding has already been protected by central Government.

There’s loads you can do to support the campaign if you want to:

1) Visit the map, find out what’s happening in your area and share any intelligence you might have.

2) Contact your MP and ask him/her to help save services for deaf children.

3) If cuts are being made in your area, read our guide on how you can take action to fight these cuts at a local level.

The scale of the cuts, and the way in which they’ve been made, in many areas really is just outrageous. So I’m hoping this campaign will force local and central decision-makers to think again.

4.22pm The NDCS Save Services for Deaf Children map shows you what’s happening across the country, but if you want to see a list of which councils are making cuts, you might be interested in taking a look at the NDCS press release that went out today.

3.19pm CYP Now are the latest to cover today’s campaign launch in their online article. It includes a strong response from a Department for Education’s spokesperson:

“Local authorities have a statutory duty to identify children’s special educational needs (SEN) and provide the services to meet them – no ifs and buts.

“We’ve protected schools’ cash levels nationally and made sure local authorities can maintain specialised SEN provision – the best possible settlement considering the dire public finances. We expect local authorities target resources at the most vulnerable children, who need the most support, including deaf and hearing impaired children.”

No word on what action they will take though. NDCS wrote to the Secretary of State for Education earlier today asking him to intervene.

2.41pm “Vital services being cut, meh, happening everywhere, what can you do, what time is Britain’s Got Talent on?” is something I imagine a few people may be saying in response to NDCS’s Save Services for Deaf Children campaign.

Well, yes, these are difficult economic times, etc. But there are 3 things to take into account here.

1) The Government has already protected money for specialist support services for deaf children. The schools budget was kept at flat real per pupil in the last Comprehensive Spending Review. And what’s more, the Schools Budget is ring-fenced so you’re not allowed to spent it on other things, like Kit-Kats. So local authorities shouldn’t have any less money for these services. Other children are seeing their education funding protected, so why is it, in 28 local authorities, deaf children are facing cuts?

2) There are lots of things councils could do to save money. For example, NDCS is keen to see more councils join forces on services for deaf children. This would achieve economies of scale, whilst also helping to ensure a more comprehensive service can be delivered. Most local authorities seem to be rushing rather quickly to make front-line cuts before considering whether they can make savings this way.

3) For heaven’s sake, deaf children are already among the most disadvantaged children in society today. The last time I looked, there was still a massive attainment gap between deaf children and other children, even though deafness is not a learning disability. They need more support, not less. So why are deaf children’s services being targeted for cuts?

1.59pm Already quite a few parents have been leaving comments on the map to share intelligence about what they know about any cuts or changes to services for deaf children in their area. Given the reluctance by many local authorities to be open about their funding plans, NDCS is relying on parents to help them identify where cuts are being made.

Comments can be left anonymously and the locations don’t appear as exact on the map (so don’t bother trying to go and visit anyone). As an aside, a relocation of one of the parent comments went amiss the other day and a parent accidentally ended up being located in the middle of the North Sea before being placed correctly in Glasgow. NDCS – campaigning to save services for deaf children, but also saving parents in distress in the North Sea.

Interested in how NDCS created the map? More information here >

12.44pm With NDCS, it never rains but… As well as launching our new interactive map and our guide to parents for saving services, NDCS is also launching today a new campaign action for supporters. NDCS is asking all supporters to contact their MP to highlight these cuts being made to vital services. NDCS’s website makes it quick and easy and, through some voodoo wizadry that I don’t understand, it can also insert extra information for your MP about what’s happening in your own area.

11.45am One of the reasons NDCS wanted to publish its interactive map of cuts to deaf children’s services was that so parents could see if their local services were under threat… and take action if so. In many areas, councils are not coming clean with parents of deaf children. In 45 cases, NDCS had to issue Freedom of Information requests to force the council to reveal their plans. One parent of a deaf child in Stoke on Trent only found out about reductions when her child mentioned he hadn’t seen his Teacher of the Deaf for a while. If I were a cynical man, I’d say that councils are trying to make cuts by the back door and hoping that parents of deaf children won’t notice, or by the time parents do, it will be too late. There are still a sizeable number of local authorities who haven’t given us enough information. It’s just outrageous.

Where cuts are being made or services are still at risk, NDCS has produced a guide for parents on how they can campaign to save services for deaf children locally. NDCS is also continuing to directly support local parent campaigns in a number of areas including Stoke on Trent, Cumbria and Wiltshire, to name but a few.

11.24am Guardian journalist Cathy Heffernan has done a great comment piece on why Teachers of the Deaf are so important and the “gut-wrenching” cuts – well worth a read.

11am As well as our cuts map, NDCS has an image which shows where education services for deaf children are being cut or are at risk.

9.47am Lots of radio interviews happening, including Sky News radio and BBC London Breakfast. I will see if I can root out some transcripts. NDCS is also working hard to secure local press coverage in some of the areas where swingeing cuts are being made.

8.55am Here’s the NDCS news story on the campaign relaunch for Save Services for Deaf Children. Very pleased to see it’s already been covered in the Guardian.

8.26am The focus of today is going to be the “map” that I talked about earlier. On this, NDCS has put everything we know about what each local authority is up to on funding for education services in 2011/12. And it makes for grim reading – 28 local authorities have told us they are making cuts. That’s nearly 1 in 5 local authorities that are targeting deaf children’s services for cuts. On top of this, a further 24 have yet to confirm whether or not they’re making cuts.

The map also shows the feedback we’ve had from parents about their services and any cuts that have already happened. The map is a great place for parents of deaf children to go and find out what’s happening in their area, and share with NDCS any new information or their views on what’s going on.

8.10am Yes, the rolling blog is back for today’s relaunch by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) of the Save Services for Deaf Children campaign. The aim of the campaign? To remind key decision-makers that deaf children are already among the most disadvantaged children in society today, and should not be forced to bear the brunt of public spending cuts.

Sadly, NDCS has uncovered lots of evidence that swingeing cuts are being made to education services that deaf children rely on. NDCS is publishing what they’ve learnt so far today – via a new fancy interactive online map.

NDCS is also seeking to spread the word far and wide that we need help from parents and other NDCS supporters to save these services, and hopefully NDCS will be in the papers, on the radio, everywhere. This blog will obviously be the place to be though.

I’ll do my best to do regular updates throughout the day. I’ll also do my best to avoid typos but apologies in advance for any incoherence.

Any questions or comments, leave them below and will try and respond asap.

Cuts watch survey – protecting services for deaf children

One of the key parts of my job – besides drinking gratuitous amounts of sugary tea – is collecting evidence to support our campaign work. And with the cuts coming, NDCS has been doing a lot of work over the past month to develop a survey using some fancy survey monkey software. No actual monkeys are involved, which is a shame, but there are a range of questions aiming to tease out from parents of deaf children across the UK:

1) Why specialist support services for deaf children are important;
2) What would happen if these services were cut; and
3) What cuts are happening already.

The results will be used in my campaigns work to lobby the purse-holders not to touch funding for specialist support services for deaf children.

The survey hasn’t been out long but nearly 500 parents have responded which is fantastic. But I’m hoping and working to get it up even higher. Maybe even up to a thousand? The more responses, the more I’ll be able to bang the results over the head of the purse-string holders until they agree that actually, yeah, it’s not a good idea to cut services for deaf children who are already among the most educationally disadvantaged kids around today.

Any bright ideas on promoting the survey to parents of deaf children much appreciated.

Watch this space for details of the survey results.

Update: BSL still not equal in status to other languages, said Government

Image courtesy of

Those with long memories might remember from a previous blog posting that the Government was proposing to introducing new laws which would require primary school children to learn a moderen foreign language. The National Deaf Children’s Society felt that these would discourage schools from teaching British Sign Language (BSL) and didn’t gave BSL the same status as modern foreign languages.

Do you want the good news first? Well, the proposals to make primary school children learn a new language were abandoned by the Government a few weeks back, just before Parliament was dissolved for the general election.

The bad news? The proposals weren’t abandoned because of a change of heart, but to get other new laws through in the short term then available. Judging by correspondence from around the same time, the Government hasn’t really changed its mind on BSL. Warm words aside, the Government is sticking to its definition of languages, not realising that the creation of a definition of languages which excludes BSL is arbitrary and therefore, discriminatory. As well as offensive to those who communicate in BSL. Why is BSL less valuable than Welsh or Mandarin that schools shouldn’t be free to teach it in schools if they want to do so?

Because there is no change of heart, it means that these proposals could return to Parliament, depending on the outcome of the general election. I’m on red alert.

More detail from NDCS on the issue is on their website. In the meantime, what are your views? What are your thoughts on how to make the decision-makers realise that, duh!, BSL should have the same status as other modern foreign languages?

How you can help stop cuts to audiology training

Image courtesy of

For the past month, the National Deaf Chidren’s Society (NDCS) has been looking into what’s going on with the Government’s plans to reform audiology training. What have we found out?

1) The cuts are definitely happening. We’ve seen a letter (though we weren’t meant to) from civil servants at the Department of Health saying that “in the current financial environment, this [Government plans] inevitably will mean some reductions in commissions”. We know that local health bosses in one strategic health authority is cutting the number of audiology training places by half. Others are telling existing students that they may not be able to finish the course.

2) The Department of Health consulted on changes to audiology training last year. The consultation closed in March 2009, but government Ministers still haven’t cleared a statement on a way forward nor explained how they’re taking into account views from the consultation. Yet the cuts are going ahead anyway…

3) Audiologists are up in arms. Nearly 2000 signed a petition (now closed) saying how unhappy they are about all this. That’s a lot of angry audiologists.

4) Even though the cuts are happening in England, feedback from professionals is that this is going to have knock-on effects for audiology services across the UK because many audiologists train in England.

5) Digging through audits from the newborn hearing screening programme, one of the most commonly cited problems is lack of audiology capacity. I read one report for an area in west London where 35 babies may been misdiagnosed by audiologists and “inappropriately discharged” because of there not being enough trained staff.

Crikey. With all this in mind, NDCS has decided to launch a campaign to stop the cuts. It’s called Hear for the Future (pun intended) and the aim is to ensure we don’t put audiology services for deaf children at risk. Deaf children need the best possible start in life to achieve their potential and be independent. They need more, not less audiologists, so they can be quickly assessed, fitted with hearing aids, and get the ongoing support they need. Personally, I would say that cutting the number of highly trained audiologists is, on balance, a pretty stupid thing to do.

So what is NDCS doing about it?

1) A letter has been sent to the Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham MP, to set out our concerns.

2) Letters have also been sent to strategic health authorities across England to get confirmation on their plans for audiology training and appeal to them to stop any cuts.

3) MPs are being briefed and NDCS hopes to get a few questions raised in Parliament on this issue.

And how you can help? Well, NDCS has set up a new campaign action where NDCS supporters can email their MP to ask them to support the Hear for the Future campaign. It’s dead easy – bang in your postcode, the website works out who your MP is and pulls up a template letter for you. If you’re happy, click on send, and Bob’s your uncle.

The more people who take part, the more the Government will take notice and stop the cuts before it’s too late. So please do get involved. And please do also spread the word to everyone you know.

PS Apologies if you had been unable to click on the link to the action earlier – a misplaced comma and the whole thing went haywire. It should now be working.

Government reshuffle: new faces for NDCS

The summer holidays are officially over with Parliament returning to business this week. But before that, the headteacher, Gordon Brown has been busy this week reshuffling his team of Ministers. And of the three Ministers that worked on the policy areas most key to us, ALL three have now moved on!

Lord Adonis, the Minister responsible for special educational needs at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, has been replaced by Sarah McCarthy-Fry.

Ivan Lewis, the Minister responsible for audiology at the Department of Health, has been replaced by Phil Hope.

And Anne McGuire, Minister for Disability, has been replaced by Jonathan Shaw.

Here are all of the new faces:

You can understand the need for fresh blood, and to rejuvenate policy. But to have the three Ministers we work with most closely go at the same time… At a time, when we just about to meet with one (now cancelled) and had just met with another… Hmm. I was also minded of a recent Action for Children report which set out in detail the amount of policy churn relating to policy towards children, and the impact this has on people working on the ground.

Still, it’s an opportunity as much as anything. We’ll be working to forge new contacts going forward. In fact, we’ve already met, by chance, one of the new Ministers which I’ll be blogging about soon…

Top of the NDCS Campaign Pops

I like lists. I’ve done lists since a child. I use to do my own top 10 of songs each week and then do a personal kind of Top of the Pops of Ian’s favourite songs. Kylie Minogue was number one a lot.

I should be so luckyKylie MinogueStep back in time

Er, anyhow, with lists in mind, I thought I’d do a list of five ways in which you can help support NDCS campaigns and and fight to create a world without barriers for deaf children too.

1) Write to your MP. MPs are there to serve their constituents and can be very responsive to your concerns (they won’t get re-elected if they don’t!). And if there are a large number of MPs concerned about a particular issue, the more a Government is likely to take notice, and take action.

We’re currently asking our members to write to their MP about educational under achievement of deaf children. Our website makes it easy for you to do this – just write in your details, and we can work out who your MP is and prepare a draft message that you can check out and send to your MP.

2) Complete our short surveys. You’re probably bombarded with people wanting to hear your views. But when we do it, its because having lots of data on what parents of deaf children think can be invaluable in getting MPs and Ministers to see the scale of the challenges that deaf children face. With the data from our short survey on accessible TV for deaf children, we’re going to lobby Government Ministers and broadcasters to improve the quantity and quality of subtitles and push for more deaf role models on TV.

3) Tell us your stories. Nothing brings a campaign to life more than hearing the real-life experiences of a family and a deaf child that have been affected by a particular issue. That’s why we’re always looking for families to tell us their stories and be a case study. We will never use your experiences unless you have given us explicit permission to do so. Send an email to my colleague Pippa McIntyre at if you’re interested in helping us.

4) Respond to Government consultations. From time to time, Governments from across the UK will ask for views from the general public. Responding to these can be a great way of ensuring that Government policy takes into account the needs of deaf children. An opportunity has just come up with a call for evidence issued on child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

5) Sign a petition. But gone are the days of signing a piece of paper on a dusty clip-board. You can now sign petitions online – and you can even sign petitions on the Downing Street website. In fact, there’s a petition online right now that encourages the Government to fully ratify a UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

These are just five ideas to get you going. The campaigns section of our website lists all of the current campaigns that NDCS are running, with an up to date list of all the ways that you can support our campaigns. If there are any other campaigns you think we should be running, let us know. It’d be great to hear your thoughts.