Manifesto could provide ‘rallying point’ for disability movement

Four leading disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are hoping a new manifesto will provide a “rallying point” for the disability movement in the lead-up to the next general election.

A draft version of the Reclaiming Our Futures manifesto has been produced by Inclusion London, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), the Alliance for Inclusive Education and Equal Lives (formerly Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People).

They hope as many disabled people and DPOs as possible will put their names to the manifesto, and use it to lobby politicians and campaign in the run-up to 2015.

And they hope the final version of the manifesto will allow the movement to develop a united voice, and fight back against the “systematic and unprecedented level of attack” disabled people have faced under the coalition’s austerity measures.

But they also see their manifesto as an action plan for the government to “live up to its responsibilities” to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The draft manifesto stakes out policies in six key areas: inclusive education; independent living; access, inclusion and participation; work; welfare support and housing; and achieving “real” co-production.

Among the policies, it calls for all disabled learners to have the right to attend courses in mainstream education; independent living legislation that fully implements the UNCRPD; and true portability of support.

It also calls for the Independent Living Fund to be saved from closure, and for the government to set up an independent living taskforce, as well as a co-produced review of care and support to flesh out the need for a new national care service.

The manifesto says social care should be free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, and with that funding ring-fenced, like the NHS.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the manifesto recognised the need for a “fundamental shift” in social care, which “should have the same priority as the health service”.

She said: “By no means do we have all the answers but we think there is enough to point us in the direction that we should be going.

“The detailed mechanisms? That’s why we are calling for a review. But we know that social care cannot carry on being the poor relative of health.”

Other policies include a fully-accessible public transport system; a disability employment task force to review the provision of employment support; and user-led disability equality training for employers.

The manifesto also says there should be adequate and long-term core funding of DPOs to ensure “meaningful, resourced and accessible co-production with disabled people and their organisations at a local, regional and national level on all issues affecting us”.

The four DPOs are also suggesting that both the hated “fitness for work” test – the work capability assessment (WCA) – and the coalition’s new personal independence payment (PIP), should be scrapped.

They want to see PIP replaced with a new disability living benefit, co-produced with disabled people, and fitness for work determined instead by GPs and other health workers.

The draft version of the manifesto has now been put out for a short, three-week consultation that ends on 12 August.

The hope is that disabled people and DPOs will see the “achievable, realistic” manifesto as an attempt to reclaim their rights.

The final version will be launched on 29 August, to coincide with the start of DPAC’s UK-wide Reclaiming Our Futures week of action.

Both the manifesto and the week of action came out of last September’s national conference, Rethinking Disability Equality Policy and Practice in a Hostile Climate, which was organised by the four DPOs.

Lazard said it would be a “tough challenge” to unite the disability movement around a single manifesto.

But she said: “We hope it is going to be a tool for the movement and DPOs and individuals to use with campaigning and lobbying in the lead-up to the next general election.

“It is an attempt to reclaim our rights and to start to look at the kind of life and society that we think is needed and wanted.”

She added: “It is exciting and we hope it will be a kind of rallying point for the movement to gather around and to use, and we are very excited that it is being linked in with DPAC’s Reclaiming Our Futures week.”

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‘Shrinking schools’ threaten inclusion of thousands of disabled pupils, says ALLFIE

Government plans to “shrink” new school buildings will threaten the inclusion of thousands of disabled children in mainstream settings, campaigners have warned.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) spoke out after the Department for Education (DfE) released new “baseline” designs for the construction of primary and secondary schools.

The Education Funding Agency claims its designs will mean less “wasted space”, with costs cut by 30 per cent through its Priority Schools Building Programme.

But the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said it was “seriously concerned” by the plans to standardise the design and construction of schools, and warned that the government’s “flat-pack” approach was “far too restrictive” and had “too much focus on short-term savings”.

Among five key concerns, RIBA said it had “serious reservations” about whether the designs could “accommodate” disabled students and staff and meet legal access requirements.

ALLFIE said the proposals to “shrink” new schools would “threaten the inclusion of thousands of disabled children and young people in mainstream education across the country”.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns officer, said: “We are deeply concerned that disabled people’s access to mainstream education is at severe risk as part of the government’s cost-cutting exercise.

“The government proposal to reduce the size of school buildings will result in more disabled children being forced into segregated school provision.”

The DfE says the new designs will provide “a light, bright and airy learning environment for students and teachers” and were drawn up following advice from “environmental, architectural and teaching experts”.

A DfE spokeswoman added: “They enable every new school to be built more efficiently and will improve quality, reduce costs and limit the opportunity for error.

“We worked with accessibility experts to ensure these new designs meet the needs of all disabled staff and children.”

The DfE believes that the designs – which do not apply to special schools – comply with building regulations and meet the provisions of the Equality Act, while it says schools could easily adapt the layouts to meet their own needs.

1 November 2012

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‘Fantastic opportunity’ of direct payments ‘could be derailed by colleges’

Pilot schemes that will give direct payments to disabled students so they can choose their own support should be a “fantastic” opportunity for them to flourish in mainstream further education (FE), say inclusive education campaigners.

The schemes – part of the new Education Act – will see young disabled people and their parents given direct control of funding that is currently used by schools and colleges.

One of these sources of funding is additional learning support (ALS), which is handed to colleges and other training providers.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said that giving disabled young people direct payments instead of forcing them to accept the educational support provided by colleges will make it easier for them to take mainstream courses.

The government has decided that the 36 English local authorities taking part in the pilot scheme will first have to ask colleges to release the ALS funding so it can be used as a direct payment.

But ALLFIE has warned that FE colleges could sabotage the pilot scheme by refusing to hand over the ALS cash, which is sometimes used to subsidise segregated courses, such as those on preparing for work or learning independent living skills.

ALLFIE said students with learning difficulties were four times more likely to be enrolled on a segregated course than a mainstream course.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said: “ALLFIE would like these pilots to establish fantastic practice in providing disabled young people with the support they need in order to flourish in mainstream further education.”

But she added: “For this to be achieved, government policy on further education funding needs to be amended so that education providers have a new requirement to provide one-to-one support packages for disabled learners.”

ALLFIE also wants the government to stop education providers using ALS funding to subsidise segregated courses.

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Liberal Democrat conference: Concerns over SEN provision

A flagship government policy to expand the number of academies and set up new “free schools” will damage the education chances of disabled pupils, according to delegates at the Liberal Democrat conference.

A succession of party members raised concerns that the new academies and free schools that will be set up as a result of the coalition government’s Academies Act could damage support for disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN).

And they said they feared the impact on disabled children of local authorities losing responsibility for ensuring fair admissions and exclusions policies in the new schools.

They also criticised the decision to hand responsibility for overseeing the new schools to a quango, the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA), which only launched in April.

Kath Pinnock, a local councillor in Kirklees, where there are moves to set up a free school, told the conference in Liverpool that setting up such schools “takes funding from SEN” and from local authorities, and warned that the new schools would not accept children with SEN.

Pash Nandhra, a teacher, told the conference that there was a “large chunk” of students who needed support and a “huge department” of learning support staff in every school.

She added: “It seems from the academies and free schools that there is no provision for that. They haven’t given it a thought.

“Are they going to dump them onto the other schools or are they going to segregate and take the best ones?”

Former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris said he was concerned about the exclusions policies of the new schools, and added: “We are concerned about the risk of it damaging SEN provision.

“The reason we feel so strongly about having local authority control of admissions is we do not want admissions procedures to be more unfair. I thought fairness was something we cared about at local level and parliament.”

After the debate, the Lib Dem peer Baroness [Shirley] Williams, told Disability News Service that she was concerned that academies would be reluctant to take on pupils with SEN because of the impact on their academic results.

And she said that the mechanism for oversight of the new schools – through the YPLA – was “extremely weak”.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education said after the act received royal assent in July that “virtually no real attention” had been given to what the act would mean for children and young people identified as having SEN.

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‘Deep concerns’ over Ofsted’s SEN review

Inclusive education campaigners have raised “deep concerns” about crucial parts of a review of the special educational needs (SEN) system by the education watchdog.

Ofsted’s review, which was commissioned by the Labour government, points to “widespread weaknesses” in provision for disabled children and “evidence that the way the system is currently designed contributes to these problems”.

It says that, since 2003, the proportion of children with a statement of SEN – for those needing the most intensive support – has decreased from three to 2.7 per cent, while those needing less intensive support has risen from 14 per cent of all pupils in 2003 to 18.2 per cent in 2010.

About one in five children – approximately 1.7 million – are currently categorised as having SEN.

But the report claims as many as 460,000 of these children should not be classed as having SEN and, rather than needing “relatively expensive additional provision…simply need better teaching”.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said it was “deeply concerned” about this claim and “does not share” Ofsted’s view.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s campaigns and policy coordinator, said: “We know how difficult it is for parents of disabled children to access the support they need to thrive in the mainstream environment. From our experience, a lot of those [460,000] children are those with undiagnosed conditions.”

ALLFIE said it was also very concerned about Ofsted’s recommendation that there should only be legal rights to provision for those disabled pupils covered by the Disability Discrimination Act [soon to be replaced by the Equality Act].

Aspis said this was “watering down” and “weakening” disabled children’s right to access the support they needed, and added: “When the child’s needs are identified, the provision must be provided – no ifs, no buts.”

But she welcomed the review’s call for simpler legislation and a more transparent SEN framework, and Ofsted’s acknowledgement that there was a lack of choice for disabled learners in further education.

Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, director of the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, said the Ofsted report shows the need for a “thorough” review of how provision is organized and the “significant discrepancies” between provision in different local authorities.

She also welcomed the call for simpler legislation, a “huge issue” which CSIE has been pushing the government to act on, as well as the demand for clarity on the different terms used by agencies to refer to disabled children.

And she praised the emphasis on the outcomes disabled children themselves said they wanted from their education, such as relationships and independence, rather than a narrow focus on educational attainment.

She added: “I hope this report challenges the government to develop a system where parents no longer feel they have to fight for the rights of their children.”

The government is due to publish a green paper on disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN) this autumn.

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