Archived News

April 2015

20 years of change (and short-change!)

December 2014 is a very important month for The Citizen Online. It’s exactly 20 years since the publication of the first ever issue of its predecessor, the Disability Times newspaper.

Editor, Theresa Moore (later to receive the MBE for her services to disabled people) and Deputy Editor, Marilyn Graves together with a handful of reporters were responsible for that first issue and many others to follow. All were volunteers and all, themselves, had a disability or had first-hand experiences which led them to care deeply about the rights of disabled people in our society.

That first edition featured a roundup of direct action carried out by disability rights activists throughout 1994, pressing for what was then known as The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill sponsored by Labour MP, Dr Roger Berry. The “short-change” referred to the government’s response to this aim to introduce legislation to outlaw disability discrimination in the UK. At least the government agreed that changes were needed, but their proposals were so much weaker than what was clearly needed, that the battle lines were redrawn with renewed vigour.

Disability Times placed itself at the forefront of the battle. Primarily acting as a “voice of conscience for a caring nation”, our role was ostensibly to report. However, it was hard not to be directly involved and members of team were usually to be found actively engaged in the direct action events. Editor, Theresa Moore, was even arrested on one memorable occasion for her activities in support of the protesters.

The late Alf Morris MP, (to become Lord Morris of Manchester), Britain’s first Minister for Disabled People, became the Chairman of the Disability Times Trust, and a guiding beacon and inspiration for the newspaper. It was a proud moment for us when he told us that, without us and without Disability Times, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) would not have happened. I’m sure it would, but maybe it would have taken a little longer!

Looking back at that first issue now, our inexperience is clear - but so is our passion for change. We had no idea then how that little newspaper would grow in importance over the years. Of course, we had no idea either that the advent of the internet would enable us to reach disabled people around the world in the way it now does.

But, while the 1994 front page reminds us just how far the disability movement in Britain has come, the headline “Disabled people short-changed”, also reminds us that, sadly, sometimes things don’t progress as far, or as fast, as we would like. How many times could that headline still be used today?

Also in that issue 20 years ago, Martin Etheridge, a paraplegic ex-soldier disabled on manoeuvres, wrote a stirring article on the lack of access for disabled shoppers in Oxford Street. Yes, things have moved on, but looking at our lead item for Christmas 2014 on Disability Update, highlighting problems for disabled shoppers even in major stores, we realise that there is still so far to go.

Celebrating victory!

Older and disabled people were joined by Trade Unionists in a rally in Sheffield on 8th December to celebrate the victory of the now famous 'Freedom Riders' of South Yorkshire.

The 'Freedom Riders' took direct action against cuts to concessionary travel on their local public transport. Throughout 2014, around 800 pensioners and disabled people boarded local trains and refused to pay, in some of the biggest acts of civil disobedience so far in protest at this Government's Austerity spending cuts anywhere in the country.

In June 2014, unrestricted free travel was restored on all bus and train services, including into West Yorkshire as before. However, it was decided to introduce half-fare for pensioners instead of the previous free travel on local trains. While this was a victory for the 'Freedom Riders', it was agreed to continue the protests to try and win back free travel on trains for pensioners.

However, on the next protest, an intimidating police and security staff presence faced the peaceful campaigners. Several elderly and disabled people (some of whom were in wheelchairs) were pushed to the ground. Two "ringleaders", Tony Nuttall and George Arthur, were specifically targeted by police and roughly manhandled and arrested.

The two scapegoats were scheduled to appear in court to face public disorder charges when, at the last moment, the Criminal Prosecution Service dropped all charges thanks to public pressure. A planned rally organised by Unite trade union members was turned into a victory celebration.

However, as Dave Gibson Chair of Barnsley Trade Union Council says, the campaign for the restoration of free train travel for pensioners will continue. "We obviously consider this climb-down to be very significant, not just for George and Tony, but for our campaign. We endured a campaign of heavy policing from June onwards which culminated in kettling 60 of us on Sheffield station on June 23rd – and the two arrests. Their tactics were designed to intimidate us. So their retreat gives us the renewed determination to press on harder for free train travel for older people."

Wanted: your views!

An independent research team (NatCen) would like to talk to people who have been detained by the police either in relation to suspected crimes or mental health issues. The aim is to understand what works well about the process, what could be improved and how this could be achieved.

The researchers are particularly interested in hearing from adults who have been detained and who have mental health needs and/or are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The research is being done for an organisation that tries to improve the police service – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). HMIC will then make recommendations about how things should be improved for others.

Taking part in this work would involve an interview with an experienced researcher in November or early December 2014. It would be arranged for a time and place that suits you and would last around one hour. You will receive a £10 voucher as a thank you for sharing your experiences. We may not be able to speak to everyone who is interested in giving their views.

If you or someone you support may be interested in taking part, please contact Ashley Brown (NatCen) on ashley.brown@natcen.ac.uk or 020 7549 7035.

Visit the website (http://www.natcen.ac.uk/views-on-police-custody/) for more details or contact the research team if you would like more information.

An easier life for pet lovers

They say that dogs are a man’s best friend – though some would argue cats are! - and everyone knows that pets can help reduce stress, improve health and provide valuable companionship. There are occasions though, when looking after your pet can become more difficult.

Many people suffer from back pain and our elderly population is growing rapidly. If you are suffering from a bad back or from stiffness in the joints, bending to pick up your pet’s food and water bowls can become more of a challenge.

A new product, easybowl, has been specifically designed to address this issue to make it easier to pick up and put down pet food and water bowls. It comprises two bowls which fit neatly into a plastic holder with a 30cm ‘arm’ attached to the back of the holder. This means you no longer have to bend to pick up bowls. Light enough to lift with one finger, easybowl is a convenient and easy way to help you feed your pet.

In addition to being practical, the contemporary design will be a stylish addition to any kitchen. So whether you’re disabled, dealing with back pain or simply looking for a convenient alternative to traditional pet bowls, easybowl is the solution.

Easybowl is currently available in white but will be available in a range of colours later this year. Price £19.99. www.easybowl.com or www.amazon.co.uk

The Alf Morris Fund for Independent Living

A new fund in memory of the late Lord Alf Morris, the world's first Minister for Disabled People, has been set up to help disabled and older people stay independent for as long as possible. The goal of the Alf Morris Fund for Independent Living is, to quote Alf's own words, all about "adding life to years" rather than just years to life. He was a firm believer in maintaining the dignity that comes with having the right information, support and advice regarding aids to daily living, rather than forcing people into institutional care.

The Fund was launched earlier last year by the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF, with whom Lord Morris had been involved since its establishment in 1969. He was its longest-serving Vice-President, remaining active in that role until his death in August 2012.

The Rt Hon The Lord Owen CH, paying tribute to his former colleague, said "Alf demonstrated that an individual MP's commitment to a cause could create major change in public life."

The inaugural Alf Morris Lecture will be delivered by the renowned journalist and historian Sir Harold Evans at London's Shaw Theatre on the evening of Tuesday 10 March 2015.

Please click here to view further details and book tickets for all or part of this unique event.

Education reforms don't go far enough

New major education reforms for children and young people with special educational needs have come into effect, but many feel the changes do not go far enough.

The new Children and Families Act will offer simpler, consistent help for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), extending the provision from birth to 25 years of age. A new Education, Health and Care plan for young people will also provide more tailored support to families.

However, many like Simon Shaw, Policy and Parliamentary Manager at the National Autistic Society (NAS), says the reforms do not go far enough "A joined up system of redress is needed to counter this, with education, health and care plans underpinned by a single point of appeal", he says.

Currently nearly half of all parents of SEND children are passed from pillar to post for over a year as they fight to get the right support. NAS says the ultimate test for the reforms is whether they will end these battles for support and create a system in which parents are equal partners in decisions about their child’s education and the planning of local services.

Contact a Family, a leading charity supporting parents of disabled children, also welcomes the changes but has concerns that not all children with special education needs will be eligible for an Education Health and Care Plan, and may still struggle to get the support they need in school.

"In order to be successful and to work properly, there needs to sufficient cash in place but the need for additional funding has not been addressed," says Amanda Batten, chief executive of Contact a Family. "Many of the families we speak to are feeling anxious and worried about the changes and what it will mean for their child. Contact a Family will now be closely monitoring how the new system is translated on the ground and whether it will make the difference that has been promised to families with disabled children."

If you are worried about how the changes might affect your child, you can call Contact a Family's freephone helpline on 0808 808 3555 or click here

Sainsbury's new shopping trolleys developed with parents of disabled children

Sainsbury's has responded to calls from parents with disabled children for a more secure shopping trolley and, after months of testing a prototype with parents and children, the retailer is introducing nearly 600 of the new trolleys to supermarket stores across the UK.

The new trolleys are fitted with a special padded seat and harness designed for maximum comfort and security and all Sainsbury's supermarkets will have at least one of the new trolleys by the end of October.

In April this year, after reading articles by parents Maria Box and Stacie Lewis about how difficult they found shopping with the current trolleys used by supermarkets, Sainsbury's invited them to trial the prototype trolley at their local Sainsbury's store. Their feedback was used to develop the perfect trolley.

Stacie Lewis mother of May, aged 5 who suffered brain damage at birth, said: "Before my daughter, May, could use an accessible trolley, our choices were severely limited. We could use her wheelchair in the store and carry a basket; pushing her and a shopping trolley was impossible. But, a shopping basket only fits enough food for an evening and even then, it was very difficult to push her wheelchair while carrying one. The only real option was leaving her at home and excluding her from a normal family activity.

"Now, she can go shopping with us again. She enjoys the sounds and stimulation of shopping. She is not excluded from normal life and we are not either. Because this is what people don't realise; as soon as an activity is made inaccessible to May, it is made inaccessible to our whole family."

British children show poor developmental skills in new study

Almost half of five-year-olds in this country are not ready to start school, having standards of literacy, numeracy and physical skills far behind those of almost every western country, according to a major study.

Researchers from University College London's Institute of Health Equity ranked the educational performance of British children starting school as 5th bottom of 29 western countries, worse than Estonia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Poland. The study shows too many children being left damaged by early years in which they did not get enough time cuddling, chatting or reading with their parents. It concluded that just 52 per cent of those starting school had reached a "good level of development" – meaning they were able to accomplish tasks such as being able to count to 20, or write a letter to Father Christmas.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the Institute, said researchers were shocked by the data. "How can it be the case in England, one of the richest countries in the world with our long history of being a brainy country, that only 52 per cent of children can have a good level of development?" he said. "It is unacceptable." He added that the quality of parenting, and the amount of time adults spent interacting with children was critical to their development and that poor performance was also closely linked to levels of deprivation and the quality of services to support children and their parents before they start school. He also criticised the closure of Sure Start centres in recent years, saying services were needed to help support parents.

In the best performing area, Greenwich in south east London, 69 per cent of children age five had reached their expected level of development. However, in Leicester just 27.7 per cent attained this.

Care home cap a betrayal, says union

The cap to be placed on care home costs is being criticised as being inadequate and a betrayal of hundreds of thousands of citizens according to GMB, the union for care staff. The organisation is calling for a move away from what it terms "a mess of means-testing capping", and replacing it with a patently fairer system of integrating elderly care with the health service and funding both from general taxation.

From April 2016, the government will introduce a £72,000 cap on eligible care costs for people in England of state pension age or over paying for their own care. However, the union warns that, based on current figures, only a very small minority of elderly residents who pay for their own residential care will live long enough to benefit from the cap which is more than double the £35,000 recommended in 2011. BUPA figures suggest that the average length of stay in all care beds was 832 days or 2.3 years. This means that nearly 90% of the people who have to go into a care home will not live long enough to reach the cap which will take an average of 4 years and 9 months to reach.

Justin Bowden, GMB National Officer, said "This is a betrayal of hundreds of thousands of citizens who contributed to this country all their working lives and were promised a cradle to grave system of care would be there if they needed it, free at the point of use".

"Instead, those whose health forces them into a care home will be expected to empty their hard earned savings or use money from their houses long before reaching the cap. The shocking reality is that nearly 90% of them will die before they reach the cap. Does this government policy really represent the full value as a society we place on our elderly and vulnerable?"