Disability Rights UK’s Newsletter – 26 March 2021
Government continues to fail Disabled election candidates
Questions have been asked this week in the House of Lords about why there isn’t a Government fund to support the reasonable adjustments of Disabled election candidates. The Government continues to argue that it is the responsibility of political parties, ignoring the fact that the structures and organisation of such parties don’t always provide the necessary support and that candidates may stand independent of political parties.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “Given the appallingly low representation of Disabled people in political office, the re-introduction of a fund that supports reasonable adjustments is a modest step to take. The Government could even ask political parties to refund the expenses, taking away the negotiation from individual Disabled candidates.”
The Government has failed to release two key reports, one evaluating the Enable Fund, which did provide support for reasonable adjustments, and the other outlining the barriers Disabled people face in seeking political office.
This week, Disability Rights UK has again written to the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, asking for a permanent fund to be re-introduced .
DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick said: “The voices of Disabled people need to be heard in Parliament and across local government. We make up 21% of the population and as the pandemic has shown, we are often overlooked or ignored.
“A fund which meets the reasonable adjustments of standing for elected office, where people can apply for mobility or communication support, is a very modest step and should be part of a wider plan with concerted commitment and effort to increase the number of Disabled people in political office.”
Coronavirus Care Act easements to be removed
The Care Act easements which allowed local authorities to remove Disabled people’s rights to social care under the Coronavirus Act, are to be removed ‘at some point’ after Easter.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that: “We are rightly ending as many national measures as safely as possible, while maintaining those which remain necessary and proportionate to help reduce and control infections further as we cautiously but irreversibly ease restrictions and our historic vaccination programme continues apace.”
Eight local authorities in England used the easements at the start of the pandemic, but the powers have not been used since 29 June 2020.
In a new report on its one-year review of the 2020 Act the government says that the decision has been made to expire twelve sections that are no longer seen as necessary to respond to the pandemic, including section 15 that relates to ‘Local authority care and support’ in England.
Coronavirus SEND easements to remain in place
Despite the Government’s decision to remove Care Act easements, measures which allow the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to amend parts of the Children and Families Act (CFA) 2014 to let local councils use only “reasonable endeavours” to provide named needs in Disabled children’s Education, Health and Care plans (EHC plans) will stay in place.
Under the Coronavirus Act, a school also no longer has a duty to admit a Disabled child if that school was named in the child’s EHC plan.
Disability Rights UK, The Alliance for Inclusive Education, Liberty and Inclusion London have written to the Education Secretary to ask him to remove the CFA easements from the Coronavirus Act.
DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “There is no consistency in scrapping the Care Act easements and keeping the CFA easements. It is just plain wrong that we are putting back the human rights of Disabled adults but not those of Disabled children.”
ALLFIE Policy and Campaigns Co-ordinator Simone Aspis told Disability News Service that some local authorities and schools had used the CFA easements last year when they were introduced, but: “some local authorities and schools are still acting as though those easements are still in place” even though they have not been switched on since last July.
“It is very serious in terms of the impact. It could end up with more and more children being out of school, being denied access to education and falling behind in the progress they could be making, and not having the same opportunities.
“We could be finding ourselves with a lost generation of Disabled people as a result of this.”
Special educational needs assessment system a ‘roll of the dice’
Schools are a ‘lottery’ and have the most bearing on whether a child will be identified as having Special Educational Needs or Disability (SEND) according to a new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI).
The report says that the school that primary school children attend makes more difference to their chances of being identified with SEND than anything about them as an individual, their experiences or what local authority they live in, and matters an awful lot as to whether they receive SEND support at both the lower and higher levels. The system of assessment is inconsistent and not well adapted to children’s individual needs.
This is in stark contrast to school attainment, where between-school differences explain only a small minority of the differences in pupil test results.
The report also found that there is a mismatch between what schools focus on in assessing SEND needs and what local authorities focus on. Schools focus mostly on communication, language and literacy skills, but local authorities make decisions that are more aligned with personal, social and emotional development.
Academy schools are associated with depressed chances of being identified with SEND. This is not just the case for children attending academies; in local authorities with the highest proportions of academised primary schools, the chances of being identified with SEND at the higher level are just one tenth of those in local authorities with the fewest academies. This is not explained by deprivation levels, ethnic mix or a range of other factors. This is likely to indicate under-identification of children with SEND.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “We welcome this report which backs up what parents have been saying for years. It is completely unfair to children that there is such inequality of SEND provision across the country. We know that the pandemic has compounded problems for families trying to access adequate SEND support. It is vital that the Government acts on the findings of this important report.”
Grenfell recommendations – DR UK open statement
Almost four years after the Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people died, including Disabled people, the Government has still not implemented the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations relating to the safety of Disabled people in high-rise buildings in the event of fire.
This week, Disability Rights UK has circulated an Open Statement to MPs (PDF) involved in the Fire Safety Bill calling on them to implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations relating to Disabled people.
DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “There appears to be strong resistance from some within the housing sector and fire service, to putting in the basic protections that Disabled residents need in the event of fire.
“Building owners and managing agents in the private and public housing sectors, rightly need to keep buildings well maintained and up to modern safety standards. Ensuring that there are evacuation plans for Disabled residents who cannot self-evacuate in the event of fire. These should be viewed as part of their safety obligations.”
Business leaders call on Government to improve employment opportunities for Disabled people
Business leaders, including the CEOs of the Post Office and Schroders, have written to the Prime Minister urging him to make changes to improve employment opportunities for Disabled people. In the letter, co-signed by (among others) Lord Shinkwin, Baroness Grey-Thompson and Mark Harper MP, former Minister for Disabled People, they advise that “Equality of opportunity at work is key to progress.” Further, government is urged to “…harness the talent of people with lived experience of disability, and ensure they are driving and leading the conversation…”.
Blind woman secures promises from government to provide accessible pandemic communications
A blind woman has won a legal case which secures fundamental promises of changes to how the Government communicates with people during the pandemic.
Sarah Leadbetter, who is registered blind, was due to have a judicial review hearing concerning the government’s failure to provide her with accessible shielding information.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “Accessibility should be standard across all NHS and government communications. It’s incredible that 25 years after the Disability Discrimination Act became law, that we are still having to bring cases like this to court.”
Students unable to access online exams
The Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT) is urging universities to review their exam practices, amidst fears that blind and partially sighted students will be unable to complete their exams remotely online.
Many new exam platforms block assistive technology and screen adjustments which blind and partially sighted students have to rely on to access on-screen information.
The charity has published guidance to help Higher Education Providers tackle the issue.
TPT Student Support Manager Tara Chattaway said: “These new circumstances demand changes to how we work, and we are all learning to adapt. We want to help universities understand what they can do to support their blind and partially sighted students and enable them to sit their exams remotely and independently.”
New CSJ report on Disability
The Centre for Social Justice’s Disability Commission chaired by Lord Shinkwin has released a new report including proposals for the forthcoming National Disability Strategy. It covers recommendations for a range of issues including education, employment, housing and transport. You can read the executive summary here.