Pushing the disability ministry to take disabled access seriously

A minor little campaign victory achieved at NDCS the other week: the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepted that deaf people should not be forced to use the phone to make a claim for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit. Usually, I do a little jig and get the Bucks Fizz out when a campaign victory has been achieved. But this was a very small, unsettling one and which left an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

How come? Because the only real concession is that deaf people have been given a postal address that they can write to to ask for a paper form instead.

And why is it an unsettling one? Because it was such a small issue that should absolutely never have been an issue at all. And because it’s revealed some rather interesting things about how the Department for Work and Pensions, which has responsibility for disability issues across Whitehall, seem to approach issues around access for disabled people.

For example, who at DWP thought it was OK to propose that the only way that a disabled person could make a claim was via a telephone?

If an online system is being created, why not wait until this is developed before rolling out the new benefit so that more people can access?

And, the worse one of all for me, who on earth thought it was acceptable to suggest that if a deaf person couldn’t use the phone, it didn’t matter too much because they could ask a family member to call DWP for them?

Something has gone very horribly wrong when the Minister and officials responsible for disability have to be hectored at some length and for some time to take a tiny step to improve access.

Official were seemingly operating in ignorance of the Equality Act 2010 and its central tenets to remove discrimination and promote access for disabled people. Throughout the whole exchange with DWP, it was abundantly clear that the needs and the convenience of their ‘system’ was far more important than the physical access needs of disabled people.

And this is before we’ve got to the raft of spending and welfare cuts that are going to impact on disabled people (and which the Government refuses to assess the impact of – another legal requirement). This was a small issue. But it said big things about the Government’s wider attitude towards disabled people.

I despair. It makes me angry and depressed. But equally it makes me more determined to keep challenging the Government. And I hope others do too.

P.S. If you’re not sure what this new PIP benefit is all about, both the National Deaf Children’s Society and Action on Hearing Loss have recently produced some information resources on PIP for deaf young people, parents and deaf adults.

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Does the Government know what they’re doing on benefits and disabled children?

Time for a confession – I’m what the tabloid newspapers would call a benefits scrounger. Yes, I receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Been receiving it since I was a child.

So what do I use my DLA for? Well, obviously, I use it for to pay for wild reckless parties, luxury holidays, a 5 a day in the pub and a dirty dozen daily Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I sometimes wonder why I bother going to work – with that £14 a week I get being on the sick, I could be totally living the dream!

Not really. Instead, I use my DLA to pay for special equipment like flashing fire alarms in my home. A special digital recorder thing so I can watch and record TV with subtitles and be able to chat about modern stuff with my friends. A decent phone to help me communicate with people on the go. And various other things to help me handle the horrors of what I call the “hearing” world. *shudder*

I may even get a textphone one day if relay services improve and make use of technology that was developed after I was born 30 years ago.

Though I sometimes ask myself whether I really deserve it, I value the fact that I live in a society that recognises that disability comes with extra costs and that it is just that disabled people should receive financial support to cover the costs of this.

I may not be living in such a society for much longer. The Government is planning to abolish DLA and replace it for adults with something called PIPS -Personal Independent Payments. They also plan to cut the costs of the benefit by 20%. Though they can’t say what it is, there’s obviously a clear rationale for the 20% figure – the Government would never just pluck a number out of thin air when it comes to vital benefits for disabled people. Ahem.

Image courtesy of NDCS

If I lost my DLA or it was reduced, I’d manage and get by. I might even write an angry blog about it. I can defend myself. But what worries me is what will happen to deaf children, for many of whom the benefit is vital. Lots of parents of deaf children have been writing in to NDCS to explain how important the benefit is to their families and helping their deaf child lead an independent life.

So what is happening to DLA for disabled children?

Well… nobody really knows. Despite the fact that the Government has legislation going through Parliament now that will abolish DLA, they haven’t yet said what they’re replacing it with for children.

Just a small detail. I’m sure they’ll explain their intentions at some point. Maybe before they’ve abolished DLA. It’s not as if the Government is just making it up as they go along and treating deaf and other disabled children, some of the most vulnerable children in society, as an afterthought.

If you, like me, would prefer to see some answers sooner rather than later and make sure that welfare reform doesn’t disadvantage deaf children, NDCS has set up a campaign action whereby you can email your MP. The action is urgent as MPs are debating the Welfare Reform Bill this week on Wednesday.