I spotted two news articles today, which were reasonably interesting in themselves, but didn’t have me salivating with rage or frothing with indignation. Taking them both together though, they threw up a couple of interesting numbers.
The first article was this 37 Tory donors with a combined fortune of £10,258,000,000, have gifted the Tory party with £2,891,436 in the last 13 weeks. on Eoin Clarke’s blog “The Green Benches” .
I’ll be honest, although I’m fairly left wing, I don’t hold that it’s immoral to earn money, or indeed to amass wealth, and if you’re wealthy, why not donate some to your favourite political party ? Seems reasonable.
I noticed on the list a couple - Carol & Eddy Haley, – who have an estimated wealth of one and a half billion pounds. An astonishingly large amount of money. I’m not going to speculate on whether they deserve it – I’ve no particular reason to doubt that they do. I do know that they suffered a particularly nasty violent robbery some years back – for which they have my sympathy. They donated a large amount to the Conservative Party in the last three months – as they are entitled to I believe.
Elsewhere in the news we have the spectacular story of Annunziatino Attanasio Cardiff waterslide woman jailed for £20,000 benefit con who’s own home video of her lapping up a luxury holiday, and sliding down a water slide, when she was claiming the highest rate of Disability Living Allowance helped to land her in big trouble. She has been found guilty of fraud and has received a prison sentence. I could speculate about the fairness of this – but let’s not. I’m not going to second guess the court – she pleaded guilty and is therefore deesrving of the punishment meted out. She has after all diddled “the taxpayer” out of almost £20,000 over 5 years.
Hang on though – that number – almost £20,000 – actually it was £19,374 – and she was claiming the top rate of disability living allowance for 5 years ?
So forget what she’s done for a minute – that’s the amount that a disabled person – on FULL benefits, can expect to receive over FIVE years !
That’s right : £3,874 per year – £74.51 each week to live on.
£10.65 per day
Meanwhile, Carol & Eddy could if they so choose, place all their money in a savings account. Times are not great for savers, but they’d easily get an account that GUARANTEED them a return of 1.75% until 2015 Top Savings Accounts (They’d probably get a lot more, but let’s choose a low interest example for now).Then they could go to sleep, loaf around, slide down waterslides or do whatever takes their fancy – secure in the knowledge that their savings would net them £26.25 million per year – or if you like, £504,807 per week
£72,115.38 per day
Now I know these figures are misleading a little – they’re liable to tax on all that for a start, and if they liquidised all their assets, which presumably make up that total, then the assets themselves would probably fall in value because of the very fact that they were cashing in.
However – the difference here is stark. The difficulty we have is not that the Haley’s are doing anything wrong. Nor that it’s wrong to prosecute those who defraud the benefits system.
But when a severely disabled person is only able to receive crumbs from the table – some 0.174% of the income that a donor to the Governing party can receive by doing nothing except put his money in the bank, then there is something wrong somewhere. The pretence that we’re all in this together is offensive, and the Government’s determination to villify and demonise disabled people is so very very wrong.
Around six years ago, my wife started getting excruciating headaches for no apparent reason.
They seemed to be non-stop, and whatever she took for them, they never disappeared completely.
Six years later they still haven’t disappeared, and my wife, now out of work, disabled, and almost always in pain because of a condition diagnosed as Hemicrania Continua, is due to be admitted for surgery on Wednesday of this week, in a bid to alleviate her difficulties.
I’m hoping to blog about this over the next few days and weeks to let people know how she gets on, how our family gets on, and to bring her disabling condition – Hemicrania Continua – to the attention of a wider audience – that they may understand it more thoroughly, and hopefully help society become better disposed towards helping people who have it.
So what is Hemicrania Continua ?
Well the dry medical definition is that Hemicrania – or HC – is a rare form of “primary headache” – that is a headache for which no cause can be found – it is that it is. (and if that sounds as if it doesn’t make much sense then do please tell my wife about it !). It’s related to other forms of primary headache conditions such as Cluster Headache – CH . Cluster Headache is usually several extremely severe headaches coming rapidly one after another in a very short time. Although attacks can be very frequent, or perhaps not so frequent, there are periods of respite in between. Hemicrania is a usually a left sided constant bi-lateral headache – it’s down one side of the head only and may vary in intensity, but is usually ever present. It’s a disabling condition, many sufferers have to give up their jobs, and medication used to treat it can cause a large number of side-effects – some of them very unpleasant.
I could – and will – tell you more about HC later – but for the time being I’ll leave you with this recipe for Hemicrania Continua from Liz – a Hemicrania Continua sufferer who posts on the Ouch website – Ouch is the Organisation for the Understanding of Cluster Headache – and acts as an umbrella group for all rare headache conditions. Please do visit their site.
Here’s the recipe :
Recipe for Hemicrania Continua
Take some labour pain – increase the strength a little
Add: a burning sensation
a strong feeling of weakness
sensitivity to light and sound
on affected side
drooped and watery eye on affected side
Now pull the pain through the corner of your left eye until it goes right through your head so you can feel the pain of it coming out the other side.
Send stabs of strong sharp pain through the top of your head from time to time.
Boil well for at least 72 hours
Simmer for 12-24 hours
Boil again for 12-24 hours
Simmer again for a few hours
Boil again for 12 hours
Repeat this for the rest of your life occasionally swapping sides.
Oh by the way, I forgot to say, while you are doing this you must cook, clean and shop for yourself and go out to work.
Does that sound like fun ? No ? That’s right, it’s not !
Please check back here to see how my wife and our family get on.
I woke yesterday morning to see Chancellor George Osborne on Breakfast TV announcing his plans to scrap child benefit for Higher Rate tax payers from 2013 – as detailed here BBC News – Child benefit cuts ‘tough but necessary’ say ministers
There’s been a lot of talk already about this (as one would imagine) – much of it focused on the anomaly of married couples earning just below the higher rate tax threshold being able to earn a combined income of over 80,000 without losing the benefit.
Personally I think that this is one anomaly that will be smoothed out – and not really worth getting uptight over. However there are a number of things that really puzzle me about this announcement.
What hits me straight-away is that although Mr Osborne repeatedly said that this move has got to be done urgently because things are so desperately bad, and if they had any choice they wouldn’t do it, but what with the state that Labour have left things in, we can’t afford to waste time, and we’re all on this together and I’m sorry but tough times call for tough solutions, and we’re all in this together, and it’s all Labour’s fault, but it’s really urgent, and we’re all in this together, yada yada yada … Despite all this it’s not going to be introduced for three years. Three years ? If it was really urgent they could do this next week.
So it’s not really urgent then – it’s something that can wait three years.
But what intrigues me more is exactly why the Tories are trailing a cut which will primarily hit families with a single wage earner in the lower reaches of the higher rate tax bracket. Just the kind of people by the way, who would be likely Conservative voters.
Now there are those towards the left of the political spectrum who’d rationalise this quite easily – don’t give money to relatively wealthy people – give it to the genuinely poor who need it more
There are those on the right wing who’d defend it as well – don’t nanny us, make the state smaller and allow people to make their own way in life, without contributing to the welfare of others unless they choose to, and without resorting to ‘big state’ support.
In Britain though my feeling is that we have rather more people who don’t go with either of those views. We have rather a lot of people who are somewhere in the middle. People who don’t think there’s anything wrong with turning a profit, doing well in their chosen profession or business and becoming relatively well off, but who equally don’t have a problem with the state being structured in such a way as to help ordinary people – whatever their earnings – during the times when they need it the most – not just when they’re in desperate need, but also at strategic points in their life where they are relatively more in need of a little help.
When we think of “National Insurance” – we tend to think of it as insurance against the disaster of unemployment or disability. Insurance can provide for other less drastic eventualities though – and can be a way of providing for the future benefit of our families – and the nation’s families.
This is put fairly well (by a Conservative mind) in this article on Conservative Home : George Osborne’s child benefit cut shouldn’t be permanent – thetorydiary by Paul Goodman (who I confess I have not come across before – I believe he’s the former Tory MP for Wycombe).
I don’t think this measure naturally appeals to many in any political party right now – though perhaps some of the more extreme libertarians in the Tory party like it. It could conceivably drive a lot of middle income voters towards Labour.
It could of course be justified as an “emergency measure” – except as I said at the beginning – it’s not ! – We’ll wait three years for this.
So I really don’t what the Conservatives are up to with this – I am suspicious of the Conservative tactics. I don’t think they’ll ever implement this cut in its current form, and I worry about what they will actually do instead. I usually go for ‘cock up’ over ‘conspiracy’ every time – but this time I’m not so sure.
Just a thought !
- Is this the coalition’s 10p tax moment? (newstatesman.com)
- Letters: Child benefit must be universal (guardian.co.uk)
- Child benefit changes ‘fair’ insists David Cameron (independent.co.uk)
- George Osborne’s child benefit plans make things awkward for Labour (guardian.co.uk)
- Benefits feel the squeeze – but the City doesn’t (independent.co.uk)
- Child benefit row: David Cameron holds out promise of tax credits for couples (telegraph.co.uk)
- Top earners to lose child benefits (independent.co.uk)
- Top earners to lose child tax credit benefits (independent.co.uk)
- George Osborne: good cop and bad cop in one (economist.com)
- Ten policy headaches for the government on child benefit (leftfootforward.org)
- PM facing child benefit criticism (bbc.co.uk)
- Time for Ed Miliband to speak up on child benefit (newstatesman.com)
- Child benefit plans could be revised, says Children’s Minister (telegraph.co.uk)
- Tory right warns George Osborne over child benefit curbs (guardian.co.uk)
- Cameron faces criticism over child benefit cuts (guardian.co.uk)
- Government set to introduce tax break for married couples (guardian.co.uk)
- Tories raise alarm as George Osborne ends child benefit for all (guardian.co.uk)
- George Osborne’s patriot act (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Osborne buries universal child benefit (newstatesman.com)
- Conservatives scrap child benefit for high earners (guardian.co.uk)
In one of the more astonishing little stories of the silly season, we’ve been treated by several websites to video footage of a woman – apparently one Mary Bale, aka Cat Bin Woman stroking a domestic cat she was passing, before throwing it in a wheelie bin.
Well as every Daily Mail reader knows, this is the kind of behaviour up with which the British public will not put. Cat bin woman Mary Bale: Please forgive me, says bank worker | Mail Online . Just have a read of some of those indignant outraged comments :
(and remember that they’ve been ‘moderated in advance’ ! )
Clearly these people are in no mood for forgiveness -
You think you deserve to be forgiven?!?!=
Absolutley no forgiveness here lady. Despicable evil specimen
(all spelling errors are verbatim by the way – not mine !)
Remember though, this woman’s been subjected to death threats. Over the top ? Not necessarily …
Death threats over the top? If they were actually carried out, yes.
On the other hand, I would say that the fear this woman now (rightly) feels for her personal safety is more or less proportionate to the terror felt by her small, uncomprehending, innocent victim trapped in the wheelie bin.
And in case we’re in any doubt about just how low the Cat Bin Woman has sunk, and how swift and harsh society’s vengeance should be …
Let the public reaction to this case put the nation’s law enforcement authorities on notice that a weak response (such as that with which the public has become depressingly familiar in recent years) will not be tolerated. This behaviour warrants a custodial prison sentence. The public snivelling the woman has treated us to today certainly demonstrates that she has a classic criminal mindset.
And plenty more commentators agree :
Keep covering this monster!!! Make her life miserable like she made the cat’s life miserable.
Not even if hell froze over could i forgive you for what you have done to this animal.
But some of the outraged members of the public are worried that the punishment might not fit the crime :
… this wicked,cruel woman … deserves all the criticism she gets. No doubt in our present sick society she will end up with her own TV show or a judge on the X-Factor.
A judge on X factor ? – whoo ! – that’s going some – you’d have to be pretty evil to deserve a fate like that.
Lest we allow ourselves to diminish her wickedness though, another commentator reminds us -
some people are just instinctivly evil, and shes clearly one of them.
This disgusting woman represents all that is wrong with our society
And while we’re occupying the moral high ground let’s get another thing straight :
she is pretending to be a “good woman of god” wearing that dispicable karaoke compere style pearl sequin blouse
The mob is well and truly baying now …
Miss Bale, honestly..who are you to decide to mess with innocent lives?
and this time it’s personal …
No wonder she’s not married.
which clearly makes her even more worthy of eternal damnation. After all …
I don’t see what the police protection is about, she’s only a rather unpleasant spinster.
Yes this is Britain damn it ! We can’t be letting unpleasant spinsters do what the hell they like. Wait though, it’s not as though this unpleasant old spinster is really all that old …
I can’t believe this woman is only 45 years old !
Outrageous – not really an old witch at all (who’d obviously be quite entitled to put a cat in a bin), not someone who casts spells or puts plagues on people.
No that’s left to our commentator from Australia who sends her hex halfway round the world to dissenting Mail readers :
I’d like to wish a special pox upon every person who said ‘it’s just a cat’. It was part of somebody’s family and a little girl’s pet. That sort of remark just proves that the humanity has been totally sucked out of the human race.
All of which obviously demonstrates the Mail readers’ compassion for those living beings less fortunate than themselves, and if they are so vociferous in defence of a mere cat (not ‘just’ a cat – I don’t want a special pox !), then surely they will be even more compassionate about unfortunate human beings.
What about this man -Manchester railway staff ignored disabled man’s pleas for wheelchair ramp | Mail Online who was ignored (allegedly) by railway staff in Manchester as he sat helpless in his wheelchair, unable to board his train. Surely the Mail readers will give those guards a piece of their mind !
But wait – what’s this :
Looks like the thin edge of a compensation claim to me. Where were his family? why was he not accompanied by them knowing he would need assistance getting on and off public transport, had any effort been made to notify the station of his needs. A set up if ever I saw one.
i do think there is more to this than the disabled man just being ignored. I find it disturbing that one of the first comments he makes is about the other driver being sacked. I find it amazing to believe that 3 men all working on the railways would put their jobs at risk just to cause him an inconvenience. We only have his side after he started recording and I am sorry but he came across to me as someone out to cause trouble
Being disabled does not exclude you from being a prat.
Maybe he should go back to Saudi Arabia or wherever he’s from
maybe he’s the kind of guy who loves causing trouble and stirring things up! He’s acting like a dork – no sympathy for him…
What a real nasty little man being in a wheelchair ..does not give him the right to be rude & offensive..he se out looking for trouble ..and will no doubt now be asking for compensation..
This tells the story of a young 18 year old Afghani refugee was stabbed to death near the Gare du Nord in Paris – and within a few hours someone else was found near the channel tunnel – imagine that – I mean there’s a railway line linking Paris and Calais – if this young man had wanted he could have gone there too. If he hadn’t been stabbed to death.
I’m not quite sure about the details of this one, as the story says they were illegal immigrants who were fighting, but since they hadn’t come to Britain yet I don’t know how they could have been illegal immigrants. Anyway though, if it says it in the Mail – it must be true. Fact is, a very young man was murdered – 18 years old. Whatever the ins and outs of this, it’s a tragedy. As the French Police said “He was just a kid who clearly fell into the wrong company”
Surely the Mail readers were up in arms about this. Let’s have a look -
Well thats one less parasite we have to worry about. We doesnt this stupid Government stop all the benefits and hand outs. they will soon stop coming.
That’s the best rated comment – surely some mistake – this man’s from Afghanistan – the country where our troops are dying each day in order to make it safer for the people who live there, surely he’s our friend not a parasite.
A spokesman says ‘Tragically this man was stabbed….’. The real tragedy is ours, the people of Britain, seeing more and more scum like him
Well I don’t know anything about him, except he was only 18 and came all the way from Afghanistan to Paris only to die of stab wounds. Sounds like “real tragedy” to me.
Have we not got enough violence in this country without more dangerous people heading for the UK
Well there’s a fair bit of violence in the UK. Not many roadside bombs. Not many Improvised Explosive Devices, not many Rocket Propelled Grenades. Not many troop surges by thousands of foreign troops. This man was a refugee – maybe he was looking for somewhere with a little less violence.
Well I had thought the Mail readers might care about this but no -
I really don’t care, sorry. If your stupid enough to get into such a horrid trade, then I don’t care what happens to you
and the bottom line is :
Oh dear, what a shame…one less person to ruin this country…
Joking aside, I can’t defend anyone who puts cats in bins. It’s a stupid act which anyone with any knowledge of the United Kingdom would realise is guaranteed to deeply upset many millions of animal lovers – it’s what our country is like. It’s not a particularly evil act though.
Evil is more like murdering an 18 year old man with a knife. Or perhaps hearing of such an atrocity, and saying that the victim was merely a parasite – an animal. If only he was an animal - perhaps Mail readers might have more respect for him.
People are entitled to be outraged and angered by a crime against a cat. I’d like to suggest though that they’re only entitled to, if they are just as angered by offences against human beings as well.
I was intrigued by this article on the BBC’s website Supermarket parking limits ‘breach’ disability laws Which claims that many supermarkets, by now limiting parking time for all customers to 2 hours, are in breach of the law by discriminating against disabled people parking in their car parks.
It’s a fairly innocuous piece – resisting the temptation to rant about non-disabled people (or people who don’t look as if they have a disability) parking in disabled bays ( although they’ve looked at this in the past : “‘Shocking’ rise in disabled parking abuse” (2004) ); and steering well clear of the “disabled people = benefit fraudsters” angle that some sources might have taken. It can be looked at in so many different ways though.
At first glance it does seem rather unfair not to give disabled people a fair chance to park freely – after all Blue Badge disabled parking generally allows up to three hours parking even on double yellow lines – so well done the BBC for flagging this up.
A second level of inspection would be to investigate the reasons why the supermarkets are limiting time, and the legal framework around disabled parking. Well supermarkets have started to do this partly because many of them have increased the size of their stores by building over parts of their car parks, and spaces are often reduced – so to ensure that spaces are available to customers they introduce restrictions. The other part of that equation is that in many supermarket car parks – especially those near town centres, or facilities like railway stations, non-costumers have often blocked spaces in the past by parking there for long periods of time. Hence the two hour limit.
Does this discriminate against disabled people though ? Well the provider of the service (the supermarket) has a duty to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to ensure that it is not unreasonably difficult or impossible for a disabled person to have access to that service . Which clearly they do if they provide parking spaces reserved for disabled people. Note that there is no compulsion to make these available free of charge. So the question of whether disabled people are discriminated against would appear to revolve around whether they charge more for disabled people to access the disabled spaces (which as far as I’m aware they do not), and whether it is reasonable to expect a disabled person to complete their shopping and leave within 2 hours. I would argue that it usually is.
In any event, I’ve known many supermarkets waive the two hour limit during busy periods such as in the lead up to Christmas on production of a till receipt. I actually don’t know anyone who’s been fined for a supermarket parking violation. So on closer inspection this becomes a little bit of a non-story. I feel also that any problems that do exist, would be very easily overcome by making the disabled bays four hours, rather than two.
So contrary to what the BBC says, they don’t seem to be breaking the law. Even if they were, it would seem to be an oversight that can be very quickly remedied
There’s another level still at which we could look at this story though. The supermarkets are private companies. They don’t have to provide parking spaces, they don’t have to make them free, and they don’t have to make any of them disabled bays. Neither do they have to impose a two hour limit.
They choose to do all these things.
What I’d like to have seen the BBC’s article explore is not what the supermarket is compelled to do, but what benefits the supermarkets could provide to the communities in which they exist, simply by choosing to do things a little differently – and wouldn’t we all be grateful if they did ?
As an example – the South Bedfordshire commuter town where I live has experienced problems in the past from commuters leaving their cars in Tesco’s car park, and then clearing off to London for the day. It may save them six quid – but isn’t particularly fair on either Tesco’s or their customers.
On the other hand, parents of children at Town Centre schools often use the same car park when attending Parents Evenings and other events during weekday evenings, and despite the car park to the 24 hour store being virtually empty at this time, many have returned to find their cars locked in the car park, or with leaflets threatening future fines if they repeat this “offence” again. To Tesco’s credit, I have not heard of any parent fined (or locked in for long) in an incident of this type.
It would be so much more public spirited of them though, if they approached the schools and said – if you let us know when you have events planned you can use 50 spaces in the car park – tell us when it is, and use those 50 over there.
In fact there are a great many occasions when the sheer volume of space which they have, could greatly improve congestion and convenience in the Town Centre with just a little more goodwill from the Supermarkets – and I’m sure that’s the case all over the country – and for a good many other retailers and other businesses as well.
Companies like the Supermarket giants, make up such a large part of our urban, and even rural, landscapes around the country – and are amongst the most profitable organisations in our society. Surely their responsibility – not legal responsibility but moral responsibility – extends beyond generating profits for their shareholders – surely if they want to be deserving of our money, they should be able to use their corporate might to make things easier for everybody – car parking, disabled parking, work experience, hosting of community services – these should be just the tip of the ice berg.
Of course none of them would have to do this – they should choose to do this as good citizens – good corporate citizens. I’d like to see a lot more of this, and I’d like to see Governments taking steps to encourage it as well – perhaps by means of tax incentives for companies who “put something back” to the communities which they are a part of, and from which they derive their profits.
So if anyone out there is putting finishing touches to manifestos this weekend – please bear it in mind !
[ The Baywatch Campaign is a campaign to stop abuse of disabled parking in supermarket car parks; I've used the Equality & Human Rights website's section on Disability in putting together this article, together with the handbook that comes with a Blue Badge disabled parking permit ]
I was pleased to see this press release Ed Balls: More support for children with Special Educational Needs from the DCSF which came to me via email from my local authority.
I’ve blogged before on the way that David Cameron seems be cornering the market in the Special Education field (David Cameron’s right to flag up provision for families with disabled children.) and how the Labour party don’t seem to be providing any responses to the suggestions he makes (Still no response to David Cameron on Autism, Disability) .
Ed Balls statement is a welcome reversal of this trend. The part that caught my attention in particular (as Head of a school for children with severe, profound and multiple disabilities) was this :
To ensure pupils had the highest quality teaching in special schools, Ed Balls announced he was commissioning Toby Salt to lead an independent review into the supply of teachers trained to meet the needs of children with Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). He also announced that the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) would be taking forward a £550,000 project to develop special schools as leaders in teaching and learning practice for children with the most complex learning difficulties, meeting a commitment in the 21st century schools system White Paper.
This is welcome news indeed. I wonder how many readers are aware of just how many “special school teachers” for children with learning difficulties have actually received any specialist training to teach children with learning difficulties prior to entering those schools ? Well to give you a clue, there have been no specialist initial teacher training courses since I graduated with a Bachelor of Education in 1989. Many special school teachers have received no award bearing training after qualification either.
(That isn’t all bad news actually – mainstream teachers bring a great deal to special schools – and the shift of emphasis from specialist training of teachers for special schools, has helped facilitate some of the achievements in promoting inclusive practice in the education of children with special educational needs. Few people teaching in the field of Special Educational Needs would consider the situation ideal however)
It’s also clear to me as well that special schools – catering for the most severe disabilities – far from being institutions which promote segregated education, are actually the organisations best placed to provide help, advice and support to colleagues across the spectrum of educational provision, to promote the education of children with special needs in all settings.
Although David Cameron does echo the opinions of many parents in prioritising special schools over mainstream provision for children with special educational needs – he perhaps forgets that the overwhelming majority of children with special educational needs are – and should be – educated in mainstream schools. He is right to emphasise the importance of special schools though in meeting the needs of those with the most severe and complex needs – but does not I feel go far enough to recognise the key role of that special schools, and specialist teachers can play as centres of excellence, spreading good practice, and helping to ensure that the rest of the educational system is better equipped to meet all children’s needs in their own schools.
I’m hopeful that the SSAT project which Ed Balls announces in this release will be a move towards doing just that.
The two initiatives will certainly be led by people recognisable to education professionals – Toby Salt has worked extensively with the National College for School Leadership, and Professor Barry Carpenter is arguably the best known practitioner in Special Education in the UK today. He is known, liked and respected by many in the profession – including myself.
It’s perhaps worth noting that Ed Balls is in a very different position to David Cameron when it comes to making pronouncements about the future of education. David Cameron can effectively shoot whatever pitch he likes in order to garner public support and votes. He may or may not get a chance to implement what he says. He may or may not choose to. Whether he’ll have the funding to do so is also a matter of some conjecture as well.
Mr Balls on the other hand is the incumbent secretary of state. If he makes promises, he’s obliged to carry them out. Yet clearly he may not be in a position to do so – it’s unlikely that any changes requiring government legislation can be implemented before the election – an election which could be lost. Neither can he make rash promises though – it’s an election which could also be won !
So I’m satisfied for the moment with the promises made in this press release, but hope to see the issues surrounding the education of children with special needs, and with disabilities taking a higher priority as we move towards the election. I’m sure David Cameron will do that, but whilst I respect his position regarding these issues, I don’t feel that his party does, and would expect that this would be fertile vote winning ground for the more compassionate, and thoughtful Labour Party.
Only time will tell !
I blogged some months back that David Cameron was making the running on the issue of disability
, an important and potentially vote winning area for all parties, which I have a professional interest in.
I somehow missed however, this speech in July at a Research Autism conference. (and which is now being linked to albeit circuitously via Conservative Home (don’t ask me for the exact link – it’s buried in there somewhere – sorry !)
I’d like to look at this more fully in due course, but at the moment I’d say that it’s a strong speech addressing many of the concerns and worries of families with disabled children, and he deserves credit for that.
He misses the mark subtly though in his suggestions for responses – and I’m disappointed that Labour have not, to my knowledge, spoken up on these issues to demonstrate a still stronger concern for people with disabilities than David Cameron does.
He’s getting an easy ride, on what should be natural Labour territory – good for him – but we can, I hope, do better.
More to follow …
I don’t often agree with the Conservatives – but this time I did – I’m writing this in the hope that it will stimulate a little thought and perhaps encourage Labour to make it plain that they are every bit as committed to these issues as David Cameron.
I felt that David Cameron’s article outlining his position with regard to provision for children with disabilities for the Independent on Thursday was a very important one.
Of course I would do – I’ve spent my whole career working in special schools – but I feel that the article has far wider importance – and signals an attempt to place the politics of disability centre stage, as we approach a general election.
If so then he has made a very good start. He rings most of the bells which families of disabled children, and those working with those children want to hear.
He also has a personal interest through his own personal experience as parent of his child Ivan who sadly died recently. The authenticity with which he relates that experience will certainly ring true with many parents and carers. I applaud his article – and hope that it kicks off a wider debate about the issues which he raises.
What I’d like to do is to look briefly at each of the 5 areas which he raises, and state how and why I’d like to go further :
Lesson 1 : The importance of early intervention and help : The next Conservative government is going to increase radically the number of health visitors
It’s hard to disagree with this – but I’d go further – we also need therapeutic input – Physios, OT’s, Psychologists and Speech & Language therapists as well.
David quite rightly tells us of the trauma which parents suffer on finding out that their children are disabled. Much of the help provided, will need to be as much for parents as for their children.
There’s no mention of who will pay for this radical increase in health visitor numbers – but I for one will not be picking holes in his suggestion.
Lesson 2 : Life for parents of disabled children is complicated enough : a crack team of medical experts – doctor, nurse, physio – [should] act as a one-stop-shop to assess families and get them the help they need.
Well he’s absolutely right about the complications – the politics of statements, about who does what, which number to ring for what service, who pays for which piece of equipment. It’s ridiculous – parents should be able to access one point of contact to deal with all of their issues. My own feeling (and I freely admit to my bias) is that this should be via the schools.
I do like the idea of a “crack team” – and I certainly endorse the “one-stop shop”. I’d caution against seeing disability as a primarily medical issue though. Some disabilities can be of course, but many are educational, psychological, and sociological in nature and the professional input most needed is often not a doctor or nurse at all. In fact a side effect of viewing disabilities as a medical issue, is that it can encourage the view that the disabled person is “ill” – and the corollary that they can be “cured” – which almost by definition is unlikely to be the case.
I’d suggest actually that in many cases these “crack teams” already exist, which is not to say they can’t be improved. One suggestion I would certainly like to see is the re-introduction of specifically trained teachers in the education of children with special educational needs.
I wonder how many people reading this think that teachers in Special Schools for example, had specialist training in order to teach there ? Well some do of course (me for one) – but the last courses leading to qualified teacher status, and specialising in “Special Needs Education” closed their doors in 1989. Most teachers in special schools are mainstream trained teachers with no prior specialist training. I think it’s time we did something about that.
Lesson 3 : we’ve got to make it easier for parents to get the right education for children with disabilities we’re going to stop the closure of special schools and give parents more information and greater choice
If I could change one thing in the world of special education it would be the way in which disputes are settled with respect to special educational needs provision. I could write a book about it – and I’ll blog another time about the specific frustrations of securing out of placements in the specialist independent sector – but briefly here’s the problem :
The local authority has the responsibility to meet the needs of a child with a statement of special educational needs. The statement is a relatively complex legal document (especially if you’ve never seen one before – which most parents haven’t) – which is drawn up by the local authority. It has to be agreed by the parents, and reviewed annually, and any dispute can ultimately be decided by a Special Needs Tribunal under the auspices of SENDIST.
Problems are usually sorted before that – but sometimes not. It can be a tough situation though.
I wouldn’t wish an educational tribunal on my worst enemy. They are heavy going even for seasoned professionals. For parents with no experience of taking on the great and the good, and worried about their children’s future they can be daunting in the extreme.
Like David Cameron, I want this situation to be improved and I suggest the following :
- SENDIST tribunals to be replaced with a non-adversarial arbitration and conciliation services, which provides a free advisory service to parents – and if necessary to local authorities.
- The removal from local authorities of the financial burden of funding non-maintained and independent special school places. This funding to be handled by regional bodies, drawing an averaged amount from LA budgets, allowing LA’s to reach decisions on suitability of placements on a purely needs driven basis.
The thinking behind the closure of special schools is a complex and philosophical one. I’m certainly encouraged that David Cameron appears to be in favour of a special school provision – but do remember : Most children with special educational needs, can and should be educated in main stream schools.
As of course they are. Some would do better in special schools though – but the nuances of where we draw the lines, how we decide who is placed where, though tiny in the national picture, are huge life changing decisions for some young people and their families. It is an area that certainly would benefit from further public debate.
I’d like to see :-
- A national review of LA policies on special school versus mainstream special needs provision, basing outcomes not on ideology, but as far as practicable on the choices of young people and their families, and the needs of individuals not populations.
Lesson 4 : Like all other carers, parents need a break.
Respite care is such a massive need for families with disabled children. It must become a major priority. Like David I feel that the voluntary sector will undoubtedly be key agents in addressing this need – but let’s not undervalue it – and if funds are needed they should be allocated.
Lesson 5 : “Here is the total budget for you or your child, you choose how it’s broken down.”
This is of course already happening for some –but not for others. I love this approach because it’s radical and progressive – in some respects extremely right wing, in others extremely left wing – it doesn’t matter. It’s an idea that is about enabling the most powerless, vulnerable, and disenfranchised people in society to make directly the decisions that will improve their lives and give them control over what happens to them. Get on the case Labour – and tell the world what we’re doing towards this !
If I was to offer a few words of caution, they would be to look at who really makes the decisions in the end – is it the parents, the person with the disabilities – or is it someone else ? Parent’s don’t always choose the things for their children that their children would choose for themselves. If you’re an able bodied teenager you tend to find that out and make yourself heard and make your choices accordingly. If you’re a severely disabled teenager you might not be able to make your feelings heard quite so easily.
In a similar way parents of disabled children are not necessarily skilled in managing the responsibilities of spending delegated budgets to meet their children’s needs – and may need help.
I hope I’ve given a brief hint of how I feel about these issues – and that it may stimulate a little debate elsewhere – hopefully within the Labour party – about these important issues. I’ve tried not get bogged down in detail – but if this article is a little on the long side it’s because I could literally write a book on each of these 5 “lessons” – they really do mean an awful lot, to an awful lot of people – who are still a tiny minority within our society.
I’d like to finish by drawing attention to a sixth area that David Cameron hasn’t covered : Our provision for children with disabilities is strong, but could be stronger. Yes – but many of them will need our services for their entire lives though, and there is a reality that provision beyond school age is no where near as intense in terms of either quality of frequency as that which they receive as children. I think this is a problem.
I’ll leave that one for people to think about.
This piece on “The Independent” website by David Cameron today (The five lessons I learned as the father of a disabled child) will resonate very powerfully with professionals working with disabled children, and with the parents of those children. Most of those people will agree with every word of it, and even those who don’t will agree with much of it.
I feel strongly that this is a powerful electoral battleground that the Conservatives are opening up, and hope sincerely that Labour responds in kind quickly and sensibly
I’m headteacher of a special school – and I’ll certainly be blogging on this in the next few days. Watch this space
For anyone who thinks David Cameron is cynically exploiting the sympathy value of his dead disabled son for a few votes – think again ! He has a well known history of championing the rights of people with learning difficulties in particular, not least in Oxfordshire where his constituency lies, and is one of only two politicians ever to have approached me as a head teacher to ask my opinion (long before he was leader by the way). The other was a certain Mr John Bercow – who I personally feel has a lot in common with David Cameron, and can’t understand what the Tories have against him. But what does a raving Socialist like me know !