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.

General Election 2017. Deaf young people matter.

Martin-Mclean-cropped

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Less than half of young people aged 18-24 are expected to vote on June 8th. Personally, I think this is a tragedy as it means that politicians may be less focused on trying to win young people over because this will not be the key to winning elections. It can be argued that policies on housing, benefits or higher education, for example, might be different if more young people voted.

We at the National Deaf Children’s Society want to make sure that the needs of young people are high on the agenda. We have some key asks for each of the parties to help ensure deaf young people have bright futures. For this year’s general election they are:

    1. Ensure deaf young people receive access to specialist careers advice. Imagine as a deaf young person thinking about what you want to do in the future but you did not know you had rights under the Equality Act or that there was funding for communication support and technology in the workplace (Access to Work). Sadly, this is the reality for many deaf young people and we believe it influences their subject choices at school and college. We want all deaf young people to have access to specialist careers advice so that they are better informed to make choices about their futures.
    2.  Revamp the Access to Work employment support scheme. As a user of the Access to Work I can say I probably could not do my job without it – it pays for the communication support I need to access meetings and training. However, when applying for the first time you will need to very clear about what support and how much of it you need. We don’t believe the application process is friendly for young people and would like to see specialist advice from dedicated champions when they apply for the first time, as well as support that it is flexible and tailored to their needs.
    3. Make it easier for deaf young people to complete apprenticeships. The main political parties are keen on apprenticeships. So are we. High-quality apprenticeships can be a good way of ensuring deaf young people gain vital work experience alongside achieving qualifications. We believe the funding system for additional support on apprenticeships is currently unsatisfactory and needs to be improved and simplified.

Help us put the needs of deaf young people on the agenda by asking the parliamentary candidates for your area what they would do on the above issues if elected to parliament. Also, if you know any deaf young people over 18, encourage them to register to vote- they do matter!

The government is capping deaf young people’s ambitions and aspirations

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

One of the biggest fears that parents of deaf children have, when they find out their child has been identified as deaf, is that they will never be able to have a job.

That misconception can be quickly dispelled by looking at the range of careers that deaf adults have successfully forged including GPs, lawyers, teachers, chefs, and so on. Deafness in itself is not a learning disability and, at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), we firmly believe that, providing deaf young people get the right support, there should be no limit to their ambitions and aspirations.

For many deaf young people that support is provided through ‘Access to Work’. Often described as the government’s ‘best kept secret’, this is a scheme that offers funding to disabled employees to cover the costs of any support they might need as a result of their disability. Deaf people may use this support to fund sign language interpreters or ‘speech to text’ notetakers, who capture word for word dialogue in meetings.

The government has set itself a target to halve the disability employment gap over the course of the next parliament. Access to Work support will be central to meeting this target. However, there are plenty of indicators that the Department for Work and Pensions, which runs this scheme, may well fail in this endeavour unless they rethink their approach on how this scheme operates.

Firstly, it is not yet clear if the government will increase funding to the scheme. In 2013/14, the budget stood at £108m, slightly up from £105.5m when the coalition government came into power in 2010. Unless the government provides additional funding, it seems clear that the only way they can provide support to more disabled people is by squeezing the support provided to existing users.

This seems to be the approach the government has been taking over the past year. In March, the government announced it would ‘cap’ the total amount of support that any individual can receive. An ‘equality analysis’ by the government has revealed that over 200 people will be affected by the cap, of whom 90% will be deaf. Whilst to some people a cap may seem a good idea, we believe it’s a bad decision, badly made. This is because:

1) Civil servants have failed to do any cost benefit analysis of Access to Work. There is a real risk that deaf people might lose their jobs as a direct result of the cap. It is not unreasonable to assume that the government saves more from having disabled people in work, paying taxes and not living on benefits, than it spends on Access to Work. Yet this government has no idea whether or not this cap will actually save money.
2) The government has not considered the impact the cap will have. It has failed to do any kind of public consultation or even to engage with the people who will be affected or their employers. A general commitment to “monitor the impact” will be of little help to any disabled person who loses their job as a result of the changes.
3) The cap punishes deaf people for the cost of communication support, something they have little control over. The government could have chosen to invest in a training and recruitment programme for communication support professionals. To date, the government seems content to leave it to the ‘market’ to resolve the current shortage of communication support professionals.
4) The government says that a cap is needed to save money. But, as Limping Chicken has recently revealed, there is actually an underspend of £3m on the overall Access to Work budget. So why is the axe falling on deaf people who may need more support?

Official policy and written ministerial statements tell only half the story, however. On the ground, NDCS regularly comes across stories of Access to Work advisers trying to reduce support packages. Some of these examples are documented in a blog by Charlie Swinbourne for The Limping Chicken website, which suggests that some deaf young people are being ‘bullied’ by Access to Work officials, rather than supported in their jobs.

A timely demonstration of how ill-informed and poorly trained Access to Work advisers can be is the new interpretation of a rule, known as the ‘additionality’ rule, brought in earlier this year. This arbitrary decision saw advisers effectively telling employers they would be better off recruiting a hearing person because interpreters were effectively doing the deaf person’s job for them. The ill-judged interpretation was hastily withdrawn.

It is sometimes hard to know if advisers are just badly trained or if there is a policy to make it as difficult as possible to claim support. For example, many deaf young people have, in the past, been told they cannot make a claim for Access to Work unless they call a designated telephone number. Civil servants seem oblivious to the communication needs of the very people they are publicly committed to supporting.

The problems and issues have been noted by Parliament. A parliamentary inquiry last year received 340 responses following a call for evidence, including from the National Deaf Children’s Society and many deaf people themselves. The committee published its report in December last year. The report was scathing of the support provided, noting that some changes had “threatened the employability” of deaf people. However, despite three months to prepare a response before the election, the Minister, Mark Harper, broke a well-established convention by failing to issue a response to the report, citing lack of time. The same lack of time didn’t, however, stop his department from introducing new cuts to Access to Work in March 2015.

In light of these failings, NDCS does not feel optimistic about the prospects of deaf young people entering the workforce.

The Department for Work and Pensions reassures us that steps are being taken to improve customer service. But it remains difficult to see how deaf young people are expected to navigate the Access to Work process.

Many of the deaf young people we work with are unaware of the scheme or the different types of support for which they are eligible. If Access to Work was working well, there would be an extensive outreach programme for deaf young people leaving school. An advisor would support them with their application, and perhaps allow them to ‘test’ different packages of support. Instead, they are likely to be issued with a blunt demand to prepare a ‘support log’ of the work they will be doing over the coming months – a tall order for anyone, especially one starting a new job. They are then forced to accept or negotiate an inflexible package that may or may not meet their needs.

Access to Work is also still unavailable for unpaid and informal work experience opportunities even though – rightly or wrongly – these are a vital step on the career ladder.

And what of those deaf young people who need ongoing regular support in order to thrive and prosper at work? The cap has sent them a very clear signal – to cap their aspirations and settle for something beneath their hopes and expectations.

This is not the message any government should be sending to deaf young people or their families.

5 things to watch out from the new Government

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

So we have a majority Conservative government! Now the dust has settled on last week’s election results, we’ve looked into our crystal balls and picked out five things to watch out for from our new Government.

1) Education spending. In their manifesto, the Conservatives said they will protect funding for schools on a per pupil basis. This means that, if the number of pupils go up, schools shouldn’t lose out. But it also means that schools might get less money in real terms if inflation goes up. It also means that funding for early years education and post-16 is not protected. So what impact will this have on spending for specialist education services for deaf children? We know from the NDCS Stolen Futures campaign that local authorities have still been cutting services, despite the protection already in place over the past five years. Will that change?

2) Will Ofsted inspections make a difference? We know that Ofsted are planning to inspect local provision for children with special educational needs and that a consultation on how they will do that is due out later this year. What’s not yet certain is the extent to which Ofsted will take a proper, more focused look on how deaf children are doing as part of this. Will Ofsted, for example, inspect specialist education services for deaf children? Indications are that Ofsted are not keen to go into this level of detail. We may need to campaign to make sure they do. We may also need to campaign to make sure that inspections are carried out by inspectors with proper expertise in deafness.

3) Is Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for deaf children under threat? The Conservatives have indicated in the past they would like to look at reforms to DLA for disabled children, having already changed DLA for adults to a new benefit called Personal Independence Payments (PIP). The Conservatives have already pledged to reduce the welfare budget by £12bn, without specifying how they will do that.

4) Audiology services. How can we make sure that audiology services are delivering a good service? Our Listen Up! campaign has found that too many aren’t. Over the past 5 years, it was the government’s policy that audiology services should be accredited under a programme called IQIPs. Yet, to our knowledge, very few have to date. What will happen to those audiology services that don’t get accredited or don’t seek accreditation anytime soon? Will the new Government insist they be closed down or will they just allow poor audiology services to coast along? Will they improve transparency over which audiology services are seeking accreditation?

5) How will the Government halve the disability employment gap? This was one of their manifesto pledges. NDCS believes that many deaf young people will need support from Access to Work to make a successful transition into employment. However, we know that the Government are looking at ways to manage the Access to Work budget, with a new cap to be introduced later this year. Will this make it harder for the Government to support disabled people into employment?

Is there anything else we should be watching out for? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

The NDCS policy and campaigns team will be working to get answers to these questions. You can help us campaign for a world without barriers for every deaf child by joining our cool club, the NDCS campaigns network today.