The Government in England last week announced a public consultation on proposed changes to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) – which provides support to disabled students at university – after spending the best part of the past year resisting any attempts to engage more widely with disabled students.
Those with long memories will remember the campaign victory that Zanna, a member of the NDCS Young People’s Advisory Board, achieved earlier this year, when she took legal action against the Government over its failure to consult with disabled students on changes to DSA.
At the time, the Government agreed it would postpone its changes but didn’t concede that it was ever wrong that it attempted to force these changes through and consult only with selected stakeholders behind closed doors.
Though the legal action never had its day in court, the judge that gave the case permission to proceed commented that she was “not impressed” with the government’s arguments that it had no obligation to consult.
Happily, it now appears as if the Government has seen sense. In a debate last week, the Minister made a passing reference to plans to carry out a public consultation on its proposed changes.
NDCS remains concerns that the proposed changes will mean that deaf students would be more reliant on universities to provide any support they might need. We believe that the changes shouldn’t go ahead until proper safeguards are in place to make sure that no deaf students are abandoned without the support they need. It’s hoped that a public consultation will reveal the scale of these concerns but also hopefully prompt some constructive suggestions on how universities and DSA can better support deaf students.
NDCS remains extremely proud of Zanna, a member of the NDCS Young People’s Advisory Board, who had initiated the legal action. She has sent a strong signal to the Government that no changes that affect disabled people should be made without their involvement. It remains a disappointment that it was necessary for Zanna to take legal action to force the Government to listen.
It’s still obviously not quite the end of the story. When the consultation comes out, we’ll need to send a strong signal to the Government that it must ensure that deaf students aren’t disadvantaged by these changes. But the announcement of a public consultation gives us a chance to make the case. It also shows the difference that using the law to protect services can make.