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.

What are the parties promising to do on welfare and disabled rights?

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Our final blog on the election manifestos takes a look at what the parties across the UK are promising around welfare and rights for disabled people.

Disability Living Allowance
An earlier blog talked about how Personal Independence Payments (PIP) have been replaced by Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for those over 16 and our fears that a large number of deaf young people will see their benefits cut as PIP is rolled out. One of our big concerns is that any new Government will make similar changes to DLA for those under 16. This could result in many deaf children and their families losing out.

The SNP and the Green party are the only parties to specifically mention DLA / PIP in their manifestos. The SNP in Scotland have said that they will reverse the changes to DLA and the £3bn cutback to disability spending. And the Green party have said they will increase the budget for DLA / PIP.

Plaid Cyrmu in Wales make no specific commitments on DLA or PIP but their manifesto states they oppose further ‘austerity’ more generally.

The Liberal Democrats have made a general commitment to “limit welfare reductions”. Separately, they have also said that they will invest to clear any backlog in waiting times for assessments for DLA and PIP.

The Labour party have said they will cap structural social security spending. And the Conservatives have said they will cut the welfare budget by £12bn. As yet, neither party has given any detailed information on how they will do this so it remains unclear if disability benefits for children are at risk of being cut.

UKIP make no specific pledges on disability benefits for children but their manifesto indicates they wish to reduce government spending overall.

NDCS is calling on the Government to rule out any cuts or narrowing of eligibility criteria to welfare support for disabled children.

Support in work
Many deaf young people rely on Access to Work for support in employment. None of the manifestos indicate whether they will keep or ditch the cap on Access to Work payments announced by the Government just before the election. However, both the Green party and the Liberal Democrats have said they will do more to promote the Access to Work scheme. The Liberal Democrats also say they will streamline back to work assessments for disabled people – working towards a single assessment and benefit. They will also encourage employers to shortlist any qualified disabled candidate and provide advice about adaptations in the workforce.

Labour have said they will introduce a specialist support programme to provide disabled people with tailored help on moving into employment. It’s not yet clear how this will sit alongside the Access to Work scheme.

The Conservatives have said they are aiming to halve the disability unemployment rate.

Plaid Cyrmu state they will provide greater opportunities for disabled people to find jobs across Wales through proposals for a new Welsh job search service. They also pledge to involve disabled people and groups in designing any new Welsh employment and benefits system that supports individuals to find suitable jobs.

The UKIP manifesto states that they want any assessments for disability work benefits to be done by GPs or relevant specialists, rather than companies like ATOS.

Rights for disabled people
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to formally recognise British Sign Language as an official language of the United Kingdom.

Both UKIP and the Green party express support for the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities in their manifestos, with the Green party saying they will ensure it is enforced in law.

The Labour party has also said they will ensure that disabled people have a voice at the heart of government inviting disabled people to sit on cross-departmental committee that develops disability policy

The above is a very general summary of the pledges and we’ve only highlighted those that we think are most directly relevant to deaf children. We’ve included links to the manifestos above if you’d like more information about what each of the parties are proposing. More information about the manifestos from the Northern Ireland parties can be found on the BBC website.

Don’t forget, if you want to find out more about what the parties are proposing, you can ask your prospective parliamentary candidates. They need your vote and hopefully will be responsive to any questions you might have! Ask your candidates what they know about deaf children and call on them to protect the services that they rely on in the next Parliament.

The Your Next MP website has information on the candidates in your area and our website has more information on the election, including a detailed election factsheet.

What are the parties promising to do to improve audiology services for deaf children?

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

We’ve been taking a look at the manifestos to see what the parties are pledging to do to support deaf children. Each of the manifestos make a range of pledges in relation to health. But the bad news is that none of the manifestos contain any specific references to audiology services for deaf children. This blog sets out other, wider, changes that may impact on deaf children.

Funding

The Chief Executive of the NHS has said that the NHS needs £8 billion of funding in the next five years to make sure it can continue to meet patient’s needs. The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Green party have said that they will provide this funding. UKIP have pledged £3bn. Labour have said they will provide funding of at least £2.5bn. Many of the parties have been arguing with each other on how realistic their respective NHS spending pledges are.

How the NHS is funded will obviously have a knock on impact on audiology services. In an earlier blog, we mentioned there are increasing concerns over whether those audiology services are doing everything they should to ensure deaf children get the best possible support. NDCS’s Listen Up! campaign found that 1 in 3 audiology services were failing to meet basic government standards. On top of that, NDCS is increasingly being contacted by parents saying that they are noticing cutbacks in audiology ranging from having to wait long times for ear moulds or delays in diagnosis, to being denied funding for specialist auditory implants. Even small things, like offering coloured earmoulds are being cutback, even though this can really encourage deaf children to wear their hearing aids and make the most of their hearing.

Other things we spotted:

  • All parties have pledged to ensure health and social care work more closely together, which could lead to better more joined up support for deaf children.
  • Labour have said they will ensure there is a “sensible commissioning framework” in place but it’s not clear what this might mean in practice for audiology services.
  • Both the Conservatives and the Green party say they will improve transparency. It’s not yet clear if this means that they will ensure that parents of deaf children have more information about the quality of audiology services.
  • Labour have pledged to provide disabled people with a personal care plan, the option of personal budgets and a single named person to co-ordinate their care. It’s not yet clear if this will also apply to disabled children.

The above is a very general summary of the pledges and we’ve only highlighted those that we think are most directly relevant to deaf children. We’ve included links to the manifestos above if you’d like more information about what each of the parties are proposing.

Health is devolved to the administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales so we haven’t covered pledges from parties in these nations in this blog. The below websites have more information on what these parties are pledging:

Don’t forget, if you want to find out more about what the parties are proposing, you can ask your prospective parliamentary candidates. They need your vote and hopefully will be responsive to any questions you might have! Ask your candidates what they know about deaf children and call on them to protect the services that they rely on in the next Parliament.

The Your Next MP website has information on the candidates in your area and our website has more information on the election, including a detailed election factsheet.

What are the parties promising to do to help deaf children in education?

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Last week, we took a look at the government’s record over the past five years. This week, we’ve been having a rummage through the manifestos from each of the main political parties to find out what are each of the main parties promising to do – if elected – in relation to education, health and welfare and how might this impact on deaf children? This blog kicks off with education.

Funding

The Conservatives have 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.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said they will protect all education funding in real terms. This means that if inflation goes up, early year settings, schools and post-16 colleges shouldn’t lose out. But, if the number of pupils goes up – which it is expected to do in schools by 7% – then education settings won’t get any extra money to cover this increase.

The Green party has said it will restore education funding to 2010 levels in real terms.

UKIP make no specific pledges on education spending but their manifesto indicates they wish to reduce government spending overall.

Over the past five years, schools funding has been protected by the Government. However, as the NDCS Stolen Futures campaign has found, this protection hasn’t been carried through at a local level. We’re disappointed that none of the manifestos contain any real pledges that would ensure that local authorities will be held to account if they fail to protect funding for vulnerable learners, such as deaf children.

Special educational needs

Over the past five years, the Government introduced significant changes to the special educational needs (SEN) framework (via the Children and Families Act 2014). None of the parties appear to be proposing any major changes to this new framework. Below we set out where SEN gets mentioned in the manifestos:

  • The Conservatives make no new specific pledges in relation to SEN but highlight that they have created 2,200 more special schools places through their free schools programme, introduced a new coordinated assessment process to determine a child or young person’s needs (known as Education, Health and Care needs assessments) and have asked Ofsted to formally inspect local areas for their effectiveness in fulfilling their duties to children with SEN and disabilities.
  • The Liberal Democrats have pledged to improve the identification of SEN and disability at the earliest possible stage. They have also pledged to enshrine the UN Convention on Rights of Child into law. This could potentially provide deaf children with a range of new legal rights.
  • Labour have said they will improve training for mainstream teachers on SEN and disability.
  • The Green party have said that every disabled child should have a right to mainstream education. They also support a key role for local authorities in planning, admissions policy and equality of access for children with SEN
  • UKIP state that they will reverse any policy of closing special schools.

NDCS is keen to see Ofsted take a role in inspecting local authority education services for deaf children to make sure deaf children are getting the support they need. A consultation is expected after the election – but it’s not yet clear if Ofsted will take a more detailed look at provision for deaf children, or just look at SEN in general.

Post 16

The Liberal Democrats appear to be the only party to make reference to Disabled Students’ Allowance – which provides support to deaf students in university and which the current Government is proposing to cut back. The Liberal Democrats pledge to ensure students with disabilities receive appropriate support in their university studies, and to review the impact of any recent changes.

The Labour party disability mini manifesto indicates that they will ensure that young disabled people have the same chances as non-disabled people to study for the vocational or degree qualifications.

The above is a very general summary of the pledges and we’ve only highlighted those that we think are most directly relevant to deaf children. We’ve included links to the manifestos above if you’d like more information about what each of the parties are proposing.

Education is devolved to the administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales so we haven’t covered pledges from parties in these nations in this blog. The below websites have more information on what these parties are pledging:

Don’t forget, if you want to find out more about what the parties are proposing, you can ask your prospective parliamentary candidates. They need your vote and hopefully will be responsive to any questions you might have! Ask your candidates what they know about deaf children and call on them to protect the services that they rely on in the next Parliament.

The Your Next MP website has information on the candidates in your area and our website has more information on the election, including a detailed election factsheet.

 

Welfare and deaf children – a review of the past five years

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Continuing our series of blogs on what’s changed over the past five years in relation to deaf children, this blog looks at welfare policy.

From DLA to PIP

One big change to affect deaf young people is the replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for those over 16. Both DLA and PIP are benefits to support disabled people – whether they’re in work or not – with additional day to day costs associated with their disability. Deaf young people might use DLA to pay for, for example, specialist equipment to help them communicate or for the costs of travelling to audiology appointments.

The Government were clear from the outset that they wanted to reduce what the DLA budget would have been by 20% and to ‘focus resources’ on those who ‘most need it’. They also wanted to introduce a more rigorous assessment process.

When NDCS looked at the ‘thresholds’ for the new PIP benefit, it became apparent that there was a risk that many deaf young people who qualified for DLA may not qualify for PIP. This is because only those who have difficulties with communication all the time would get enough ‘points’ to qualify for the standard. This suggested to NDCS that only those who communicated entirely in sign language or who had additional needs would qualify.

Because of delays to the roll out of PIP, the full impact of these changes is not yet apparent. But we remain concerned that once it is fully rolled out, many deaf young people will lose out.

Access fails

Separately, there remain a number of issues with the claim process is designed. Frustratingly, the claim processed was based on an assumption that all disabled people can use the telephone. NDCS has found it challenging to get the Government to respond to the fact that many deaf young people may, because of their deafness, not actually use the phone. We do not believe that the benefit should have been introduced before checking that the claim process was fully accessible to everyone.

Some changes have since been made and claim forms can now be requested by post (though apparently not by email). However, this lengthens the process and the Government have said they won’t backdate the claim to when the form was first requested. NDCS continues to feel that this is discriminatory.

It should be noted that we do not know that the above changes would not have happened under a different Government and we are not aware of any commitments to reverse these changes.

More information on PIP can be found on NDCS’s website.

Our health warning from previous blogs applies here also – this blog is a simplified summary and does not attempt to cover everything or to touch on wider changes to welfare that may impact on deaf children. Again though, we hope it provides some food for thought though. Let us know what you think about our summary evaluation by leaving a comment below.

Audiology services for deaf children – a review of the past five years

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Continuing our series of blogs on the upcoming election, this blog takes a look at the government’s record on health and audiology services in England.

What’s changed?

One of the big changes over the past five years has been the Health and Social Care Act 2012. It’s fair to say that this got a rocky ride through Parliament, with some seeing it as another top-down reorganisation of the NHS and others seeing it as necessary to make the NHS more streamlined, less bureaucratic and patient-centred.

In terms of structures, deaf children and their families may not have noticed many changes in terms of where audiology services sit and who does what. But behind the scenes there have been lots of changes in funding and organisational arrangements, leading to uncertainty and confusion over how the changes impact on audiology services.

There have also been changes to how audiology services are checked to ensure that they’re providing a good service. The existing quality assurance programme, which looked at the patient journey from screening of babies for a hearing loss to diagnosis and audiological support and other support, has been scrapped. For audiology services, this has been replaced by an accreditation scheme called Improving Quality in Physiological diagnostic Services (IQIPs). Unfortunately, IQIPs isn’t mandatory and there is a lack of transparency over how has applied for accreditation. This means that parents of deaf children now have less information about the quality of local audiology services.

Are deaf children getting the support they need?

This matters because there are increasing concerns over whether those audiology services are doing everything they should to ensure deaf children get the best possible support. Before the old quality assurance programme was scrapped, it was found that 1 in 3 audiology services were failing to meet basic government standards. We have no real idea whether that has got any better – or worse.

On top of that, NDCS is increasingly being contacted by parents saying that they are noticing cutbacks in audiology, some of which are set out in the NDCS Listen Up! campaign report. These range from having to wait long times for ear moulds or delays in diagnosis, to being denied funding for specialist auditory implants. Even small things, like offering coloured earmoulds are being cutback, even though this can really encourage deaf children to wear their hearing aids and make the most of their hearing.

Deaf awareness

Deaf young people also tell us that deaf awareness in health settings also remains an ongoing issue, as set out in the NDCS My life, My Health report. The good news is that NHS England has started to wrestle with this issue and a new accessible information standard, is expected to be launched next year. As part of this, all NHS settings, including GPs, will be expected to do more to meet the communication needs of deaf people.

As with education, trying to do justice to five years of health policy in a single blog is a challenge and the above does not attempt to cover everything or even to touch on wider changes that impact on all children. Again though, we hope it provides some food for thought though. Let us know what you think about our summary evaluation by leaving a comment below.

Education for deaf children – a review of the past five years

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Apparently, there’s a big general election coming up on the 7th May. One of the factors that voters may be taking into account is the coalition government’s record over the past five years. But in terms of support for deaf children, what do we know about what’s changed?

With this in mind, our next few blogs will explore a few key areas in relation to deaf children. Starting with education:

1. Have deaf children achieved better outcomes?

Yes and no. Because the Government has changed the way that they calculate their GCSE figures on how many deaf children achieve 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) at grades A* to C (or “5 good GCSEs”), it’s difficult to make like for like comparisons over the past five years.

Back in 2010, 36% of deaf children achieved 5 good GCSEs. In 2014, the same figure was 36.3% under the government’s new methodology. So, on that basis, deaf children aren’t doing that much better. However, if the 2014 figures had been calculated using the same methodology as in previous years, the figure would have been 40%.

Between 2007 and 2010, the GCSE figures (also under the old methodology), the number of deaf children achieving 5 good GCSEs rose from 27% to 36%.

A key NDCS campaign is to close the gap in attainment between deaf and other children. The figures suggest a slight narrowing of the gap from 46% to around 42-44% since 2010. NDCS would hope to be seeing a much faster narrowing of the gap than that shown over the past five years.

NDCS’s website features more analysis of the government attainment figures

2. Have deaf children been getting the support they need?

The Government protected school funding for the whole of the five years and in 2014/15, the Government increased what’s known as the ‘high needs’ budget for those who need more support. They have also sent a clear signal to local authorities that they expect them to protect funding for the most vulnerable learners.

A less known detail is that the Government allowed funding for services for deaf children and other children with special educational needs to be kept by the local authority. The alternative – where schools were giving a slice of the pie and then expected to buy back support – could have led to the fragmentation of services so this was an important policy decision.

Disappointingly though, in our view, the Government has not done enough to ensure that local authorities do indeed protect funding for vulnerable learners. We know from the NDCS Stolen Futures campaign, that funding hasn’t been protected at a local level, or at least in relation to deaf children. We’ve had to campaign hard to prevent cuts to vital services for deaf children across the country.

There has also been a decline in the number of Teachers of the Deaf. Figures from the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education suggest a 3% decline in Teachers of the Deaf last year, with the number of qualified Teachers of the Deaf falling below 1,000 in England last year for the first time. This is despite the fact that that the number of deaf children has not gone down and that there is a still a significant number who are not achieving good outcomes.

3. Has the support that deaf children been receiving been good enough?

A big priority for the Government over the past five years has been to reform the special educational needs (SEN) framework, which outlines how deaf and other children should be supported to achieve their potential. This culminated in the Children and Families Act 2014 and new statutory guidance, the SEN and Disability Code of Practice. Key changes include:

  • A new requirement to publish a Local Offer, setting out what support will be available locally
  • More rights for young people over the age of 16, with a new joined up 0 to 25 system
  • New explicit principles around ‘co-production’ and involvement of parents and young people

More information about these changes can be found in the NDCS SEN reform FAQ.

These changes came into force in September 2014. The Government have been among the first to admit that it will be some time before these changes start to be felt in day to day practice and NDCS has yet to see a fall in demand for support from parents of deaf children to help them resolve issues concerning their child’s education.

There are a range of views over whether these changes were a good idea or not. NDCS was disappointed that the key question of how the Government would ensure that local authorities would actually follow these new laws was left until rather late in the day. Ofsted have now been invited to consider how local areas will be scrutinised for the quality of their provision but there is still considerable uncertainty over how Ofsted will do this and whether they will really look in detail into the quality of services of deaf children. A consultation is expected after the election.

One final area where the Government has taken action is around acoustics in schools. Prior to 2010, following a big NDCS campaign, the previous Government committed to a number of steps to improve the quality of acoustics in schools. These largely fell by the wayside when the new Government came into power and there were fears that acoustics regulations would be scrapped in a “bonfire of regulations”. Fortunately, the Government decided to keep them, sending a signal that schools should ensure they have the best possible listening environments. NDCS would still like the Government to go further, in introducing mandatory acoustic testing of new schools and ensuring that early year settings also have good acoustics too.

Trying to do justice to five years of education policy in a single blog is a challenge and the above does not attempt to cover everything or to touch on wider education changes that impact on all children, such as on curriculum and exams. We hope it provides some food for thought though. Let us know what you think about our summary evaluation by leaving a comment below.