Live in Wales? Here are 4 reasons why you should take our General Election campaign action

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales

NDCS has recently launched a campaign action– the action enables supporters to get in touch with their local general election candidates and make them aware of key issues affecting deaf children.

The core services that deaf children and young people encounter (education, health, social services) fall within the power of the Welsh Assembly and its Assembly Members. The MPs elected on 8 June will sit in Westminster and won’t be part of the Welsh Assembly. Why, then, does our general election action include Wales?

  1. Westminster still has power over some areas that have an impact on deaf children and young people. In particular, laws made in UK parliament about welfare benefits and Access to Work directly affect us in Wales.
  2. MPs are appointed to represent you. As well as attending parliament, they should also spend time meeting their constituents and helping to raise issues that local people draw to their attention. MPs, as well as Assembly Members (AMs) and local councillors, can help make sure that issues with local services are addressed.
  3. Deaf children in England need our help too. It is true that laws made in Westminster around areas such as education, health and social care will be for England only. However, our Welsh MPs are able to contribute to these discussions and hopefully help deaf children in doing so.
  4. Dealing with issues in one area of the UK can help to put pressure on the other nations in the UK to look into the issues too.

Taking part in our online action is really easy to do and should only take a minute. Click here to take part.

Scottish Election 2016: Employment and welfare

Katie-Rafferty-cropped

Katie Rafferty, Policy & Campaigns Manager, Scotland , National Deaf Children’s Society

The future of jobs and welfare in Scotland has taken centre stage in many of the debates ahead of tomorrow’s Scottish Parliament election. How does each of the main parties plan to improve the experience of deaf young people in these two vital areas?

The Scottish Conservative party

  • Commit to halving the disability employment gap and say that the welfare system should support the most vulnerable.
  • They also say we should consider whether Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments should be managed more locally.

The Scottish Green party

  • Recognise that too many people are marginalised in the labour market, including disabled. They also support the devolution and expansion of the Access to Work scheme.
  • They recognise the move from DLA to PIP has disadvantaged thousands of disabled people and they will push for all PIP claims to be granted initially to avoid delays in accessing support.
  • Further information is available on how they believe Scotland can ensure equal opportunities for disabled people.

The Scottish Labour party

  • Commit to supporting those furthest from the labour market, such as disabled people, to get work through being provided with the specialist support they need.
  • They support the Scottish Government’s commitment to delivering 30,000 apprenticeships and increasing the number of disabled trainees. In addition, they commit to every part of government offering internships, with places guaranteed for those who are disabled.
  • They also want to create a new agency, Skills Scotland, to deliver inclusive skills training.
  • More information is available in their Disability Manifesto 2016.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats

  • Commit to increasing the number of those with disabilities in Modern Apprenticeships.
  • They make no specific commitments with regards to DLA/PIP but more generally to a fairer welfare system.

The Scottish National Party

  • Commits to maintaining the level of disability benefits and making assessment processes fairer.
  • They have pledged to deliver 30 000 apprenticeships, and ensure these are open to all by increasing uptake by disabled people.
  • They believe the DWP’s Work Programme has failed unemployed and disabled people and commit to investing a further £20 million a year into services for those with significant barriers to the labour market.
  • More information is available on what they’ll do for disabled people.

So far over 2700 emails have been sent to local candidates reminding them about the needs of deaf children. Take action today by contacting your future MSPs and help us reach every candidate in Scotland.

Email your candidates

An update on Disabled Student Allowances

Martin McLean

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

Back in August last year, I wrote about the Government’s plans to make changes to Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs) and our fears on how deaf students might be negatively affected. Six months on, it is time to revisit the situation and see where we are following our campaign.

The Government carried out a public consultation in September. Following the consultation, they announced they were going ahead with their plans to cut DSAs. Our main concern was that funding would no longer be available for manual note-takers who take notes for deaf students in lectures whilst they are lip-reading or following a sign language interpreter. I have some good news to report – the Government has recognised that this could put the education of deaf students at risk and have granted an exemption to the DSA changes for specialist note-takers for deaf or visually impaired students. This is someone who has received training on how to write comprehensive notes for deaf or VI students.

Provided that a DSA assessor makes a recommendation for a deaf student to receive a specialist note-taker, DSA funding will be available.

However, less good news is that there are some deaf students who make use of proof-reading services to ensure they are not unfairly disadvantaged when writing assignments by literacy difficulties. Proof-readers will no longer be funded by DSAs and responsibility for funding of this support now lies with universities.

What if this becomes an issue? The Government has introduced an Exceptional Case Process. Where a DSA assessor has made a recommendation for support that is to be provided by a university (e.g. proof-reading) and the university refuses to put in place this support, the student can apply to the Exceptional Case Process for temporary DSA funding to be put into place whilst a complaint is registered with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).

We had concerns about the role of the OIA because traditionally it has taken a very long time to reach decisions (In 2014 cases took an average of 207 days to close). However, the Government has assured us the OIA will be expected to close the majority of its cases within 3 months in line with a European directive.

Finally, as well, as the changes to DSAs, the Government is introducing a registration system for providers of support funded through DSAs. We are uncertain as to whether this might mean there will be fewer interpreters and other forms of support available to deaf students.

We will be monitoring the impact of all of the changes and to do this we need your help. If you are a student at university or applying for support from DSAs and you do not have the support you need in place or have any problems, we want to hear about it. Contact our helpline to tell us about your experiences.

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who took part in our DSA campaign. Your campaign actions helped to raise awareness of the potential impact the changes could have had on deaf students and played their part in ensuring that higher education remains accessible.

The changes in Martin’s article affect students applying for DSAs from Student Finance England only. DSAs will remain the same for students applying from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the Welsh Government is currently considering whether to bring in changes to DSAs for the 2017-18 academic year.

MPs want to hear about your experience of PIP assessments!

 

Arthur Thomas Campaigns Officer

Arthur Thomas Policy & Campaigns Officer

MPs want to hear about your experience of the PIP (personal independence payments) claims process, by this Thursday!

They want to hear:

  • Your experience of the PIP assessment process
  • If you have experienced backlogs
  • About the quality of assessments
  • Any difference between Atos and Capita

As part of our PIP’d Off campaign NDCS are working closely with the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) to campaign to make the PIP claim process accessible and fair. The DBC have set up a survey so that people can submit their experiences  as a group. The closing date for submissions to the PAC inquiry is this Thursday, 28 January 2015, so  lets get cracking!

Complete-the-survey-button-red

 

You can also tell MPs your story via twitter by tweeting comments to @CommonsPAC on Twitter with the hastag #disability.

If you have any questions, you can contact the NDCS Campaigns Team at: campaigns@ndcs.org.uk

PIP’d Off Campaign Update – Justin Tomlinson meeting…

Jessica Reeves Campaigns Manager

Jessica Reeves, Campaigns Manager

Last week, after over 800 of our supporters wrote to him, we met with the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson to talk about why people are so PIP’d Off with the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) process. NDCS Chief Executive, Susan Daniels and I met with Justin and representatives from the Department for Work and Pensions to explain how deaf young people are currently missing out on PIP.

We discussed the following issues, which you had raised with us:

YAB member Liam O'Dell meeting with Justin Tomlinson at party Conference

YAB member Liam O’Dell meeting with Justin Tomlinson at party Conference

  • Why so many deaf young people are missing out on PIP because the current guidance fails to recognise the support that many deaf young people require to communicate with their hearing peers
  • How face to face assessments are putting deaf young people at a disadvantage by placing them in unrealistic situations which do not take into account the difficulties that many deaf young people face in the real world, in noisey environments, trying to engage with non deaf aware people
  • The fact that deaf young people currently have to telephone to ask for an application form and how NDCS can help make sure that a digital claim process is available quickly and is accessible to young deaf claimants

The meeting was really productive and Justin was interested to hear about the issues that young deaf people are currently facing and he has said that he is keen to improve the system.

We will now be working with the Department of Work and Pensions to improve the current PIP guidance and improve deaf awareness at assessments.

I want to say a big thank you to all our supporters and Campaigns Network members without which this excellent result would not have been possible.

We will keep you posted!

Another day, another problem with DSA

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

I have recently written about changes to Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs) that the Government has been consulting on. These are planned for the academic year 2016-17 and will affect new students starting their degree courses that year. However, for students starting this year, there is a new policy that might affect them.

The Government has introduced a cancellation policy for bookings for support workers paid for by DSAs such as interpreters, notetakers, speech to text, etc. DSA funding will now not normally be available for bookings cancelled with more than 24 hours’ notice. This policy is somewhat ill thought-out as most communication support providers have terms and conditions of booking which state that cancellations must be made at least two weeks in advance to avoid cancellation fees. This means that deaf students or university disability teams risk being left to cover the cost of cancellation fees which can be up to 100% of the cost of the booking (two BSL interpreters booked for two hours could cost £250 in total). Ouch.

Terms and conditions can of course be negotiated and it may be that some providers agree to waive their cancellation fees for the benefit of deaf students. However, it’s likely to turn many off from wanting to work in HE if they risk being cancelled at short notice. Ah, you might think what if you cancelled the booking with less than 24 hours’ notice? No, think again. Yes, the booking would be paid for through DSAs but if you miss or cancel at the last minute two or more times in one term then DSAs could be withdrawn altogether.

Now, the two missed sessions clause, we really do have concerns with and it could potentially be discriminatory under the Equality Act. Unlike hearing students, a deaf student who has an interpreter or notetaker booked for them will be required to attend every single lecture or their DSAs will be at risk. If someone is being a typical student (cue flashback to those wild nights), then we might expect them to miss a class or two. But now deaf students will have pressure on them to be paragons of virtue.

I’m not suggesting that it is acceptable for deaf students to have a disregard for any support that has been booked for them through the public purse. Where a student has continuously missed sessions for which support has been booked there are questions to be asked. However, this policy seems somewhat harsh as it means a student who is unable to attend a lecture for whatever reason (oversleeping, transport problems, illness, etc) have the additional stress of having to worry about whether their DSAs are under threat. Without the right support, deaf students are at risk of dropping out of university and this is not good use of public money either.

The Government have yet to publish full details of the new policy and they have told NDCS that our concerns will be passed onto the team developing the detail. When this comes out NDCS will develop guidance for young people as soon as we can. It is regrettable that as deaf young people start university over the next couple of weeks, starting an exciting new period in their lives, that we are having to warn them about this threat hanging over them.

Help us protect the future for deaf students

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

I risk being accused of bragging here, but in my lifetime I have managed to complete not one but three degrees – a BSc, a PGCE and an MA. I could not have completed any of them without Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs). This is government funding that disabled students can apply for to pay for equipment and support costs at university. For me it has covered the costs of radio aids, note takers, BSL interpreters and speech to text reporters. Thanks to DSAs thousands of deaf people can now call themselves graduates.

However, this is an age of austerity and public spending is being scrutinised. Last year the Government in England announced that it wanted to make changes to DSAs in order to redress the balance between funding from DSAs and the contribution Higher Education (HE) providers make towards disabled students’ support costs. These included:

  1. Removing DSAs funding for some types of less-specialised support workers such as note takers, proof readers and study support assistants. Instead it is proposed that they will now be funded by universities as reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.
  2. Removing DSAs funding for adaptations to student accommodation managed by universities.
  3. Removing DSAs funding for some types of IT equipment and accessories.

NDCS is concerned. I do not have enough word space to talk about all of the proposals in detail here but let’s focus on note takers as they are currently used by lots of deaf students. They provide a valuable service for those relying on lip-reading or BSL interpreters which make it very difficult to take comprehensive notes during lectures and classes (trust me – try writing and lip-reading at the same time!). We fear that if note takers are no longer funded through DSAs and left to universities to fund we could see universities seek alternatives such as:

  • referring deaf students to lecture handouts. From my experience, handouts from lecturers can be very variable – some will provide detailed documents whilst with others you’ll be lucky to get anything more than a reading list they put together in 1995.
  • or encouraging deaf students to photocopy the notes of a fellow student. Thinking back to my frequently hungover and half-awake peers I dread to think what would have happened if my education had been dependent on quality of the notes of whoever happened to be sitting next to me!

Earlier this year NDCS Youth Advisory Board member Zanna Messenger Jones initiated legal action to challenge the Government’s proposals on the grounds of insufficient consultation (among others). The Government backed down and last month launched a public consultation which is now open to individuals and organisations to respond to. There is a response form consisting of 25 questions that can be completed online. Click here to see NDCS’s draft response.

We are encouraging deaf young people to contribute their views to the consultation. The 25 question response form is not particularly easy to complete. Therefore, NDCS has created a friendlier version of the form that the government has agreed to accept. The views of deaf people who currently are at university or have recently finished are particularly welcome as they will have experience of requesting universities to make reasonable adjustments.

It should be noted that the government is not proposing that more specialised support such as BSL interpreters or electronic note takers should no longer be funded by DSAs. However, these services still fall under the scope of the consultation questions.

It is not only England that these changes are being considered but Wales too with the Welsh government having carried out an engagement exercise earlier this year. NDCS believes that without sufficient safeguards the Government’s proposals risk making Higher Education less accessible to deaf young people or leaving disabled students in limbo where they get no support because the university can’t agree what reasonable adjustments it should make. It would be a crime if the achievement rates of deaf people in higher education were to fall in the drive to cut costs.

To respond to the consultation visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/disabled-students-in-higher-education-funding-proposals.

Or young people can complete our modified version.

Make sure you get your response in by the deadline of 24th September.