The Bill of Rights Commission’s final report misses the point

It’s been a long wait, but the much anticipated report by the Bill of Rights Commission has finally seen the light of the day.

The strength of feeling of support for preserving existing levels of human rights protection is something that the Commission will have heard loud and clear, at least if one is to judge by the responses to its consultation exercises. There has been an unequivocal call from disabled people as well as many other groups not to erode the crucial safety net provided by the Human Rights Act (HRA).

It can only be welcomed then that the Commission’s report – though otherwise largely mired in differences of positions between the various members on the Commission – stresses that there should be “no less protection” than is currently contained in the HRA. However, the prospects of a different language being used in a future Bill of Rights does raise at least some doubts of how this will be achieved in practice.

UK Bill of Rights

More important is, however, what the report identifies as being the need for change. This would appear to mostly come from the need for a rebranding exercise insomuch as a UK Bill of Rights is seen to provide a way to bring about a greater sense of ownership among the public. The majority of the Commission appears to believe that given the polarised nature of the debate, it is unlikely that “public perceptions are likely to change in any substantial way” through public education.

If we were to go down this route, repackaging the Human Rights Act as a UK Bill of Rights would not only be potentially dangerous as it would risk diluting current protection, but also amount to a missed opportunity. Disabled people have been clear that consideration of a Bill of Rights need a discussion about how best to progress protection further and how to afford greater recognition to the rights contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On that count, the Commission’s report fails to deliver. Both the Government’s disability strategy and disabled people agree that the UN Convention needs to be at the heart of reforms moving forwards. In considering the future of our human rights laws, the Government should recognise that rather than an exercise about mere cosmetic re-branding, the prospects of developing a Bill of Rights should be driven by a need to look where additional protections could be brought in, and set a path towards incorporation of internationally recognised standards into domestic law.

Birchwood resident’s painting raises funds for disability design

Mark Urwin's painting

Mark Urwin is a disabled resident at the Scope Birchwood service in Cheshamwhere weekly exploratory art classes have been running for four years. Mark’s beautifully created impression of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergeres has proudly been sold to raise money for DEMAND (Design and Manufacture for Disability) in thanks for their specially designed easels.

The artists at Birchwood have very specific needs to help each individual artist to paint. Personally designed easels created by DEMAND have enabled the group of artists much more freedom and control in their creations where previously the class volunteers had to hold the canvas, making certain angles to paint more awkward.

The vibrancy of colour and appealing scenes of modern life depicted in Manet’s Impressionist portraits have drawn fascination and inspiration for many artists since the 19th Century. A great painting can evoke excitement and offer a compelling insight into the life of an artist. The story behind artist Mark Urwin’s recent interpretive portrait is the perfect depiction of how DEMAND’s creations can help artists like Mark to realise their imagination.

Impact of community art classes at Birchwood

Anita Osbourne is one of the community art tutors at Birchwood and says, “With the painting came this extraordinary outpouring of themselves and they have just been amazing.”

Another great part of DEMAND’s design is that the easel allows the artist to keep their talk boards on their laps so that they don’t lose their voices whilst they are painting. This easel enables and empowers the artists. Without the right equipment the extraordinary talents of artist Mark may not have been discovered.

During the art classes Mark showed a passionate interest in History of Art, particularly the works of impressionist painter Édouard Manet whose colourful scenes of everyday modern life have captivated art lovers worldwide. Inspired by the his new found freedom in painting, Mark recently contributed some of his work to a DEMAND charity fundraiser to help raise funds for further equipment.

“When I paint, I feel free and excited. I think about beauty and I picture love. Some colours excite me. Green is very promising; it lifts my mood.”

Mark’s portrait of A Bar at the Folies-Bergeres is a remarkable display of his artistic skill and passion. It is wonderful to witness how much can be achieved through the help of DEMAND’s designs by offering a simple yet vital form of freedom. Mark’s work has recently sold to a private buyer for over £300. The enjoyment and ease that the DEMAND’s easels have given the artists at Birchwood has inspired many others people with disabilities to take up art. With the help of Mark, more funding is being raised to produce the artist’s easels.

Support Mark’s art

Those wishing to contribute to Mark’s easel fund can donate online at http://www.justgiving.com/Markseasel

Contact Birchwood if you would like to buy one of their artists’ 2013 calendars.

Your Christmas Wish Stars tell MPs to keep families close

It was around 9 in the evening. A group of us were gathered late, sorting through the hundreds and hundreds of Christmas Wish Stars we’d received — more than 1,300 in all. And that was when I saw this message written on one star:

“I was a disabled child and felt abandoned and I’ve only recently got over that 30 years later.”

I read it out to the rest of our Scope team who were there, and for a minute we all stopped what we were doing. It was an incredible reminder of why our Keep Us Close campaign is so important, to get better local support for disabled children and their families. Here’s another that’s really powerful (and crazy to hear!):

“We are having to consider moving 400 metres into another council boundary to receive the help we can’t find in our council area. How can this be right?”

Last Monday we were so pleased to be able to take your messages into Parliament on International Disabled People’s Day. We wanted to bring them straight to MPs who will be deciding on the Children and Families Bill that could change the future of services for disabled children.

We’ve had good news recently as the Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson, has made an important new promise: families will have more say in the support they get and councils will have to listen when they decide which local services they provide for disabled children.

This is a great step in the right direction. But listening isn’t enough of course. What hundreds of thousands of families really need is a guarantee that councils will actually provide the support they need in their local area. It’s a vital missing piece and we believe we can get it. Now we need to keep the pressure on.

Our Christmas reception in Speaker’s House in Parliament was a brilliant way to bring your voices from all over the country to the politicians – and we got to put them on a giant 20-foot Christmas tree! We were hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, and joined by comedian and actress Sally Phillips. Families came from all over the country to meet MPs and talk to them firsthand.

Check out our short film to find out why the MPs featured are supporting Keep Us Close and if you haven’t yet emailed your MP please contact them here orsend your own Christmas Wish Star. We are now posting on every single one of the stars we’ve received to tell MPs they must help keep families close by providing better support.

Sign up for our Campaigns Network and we’ll let you know what happens next!

New co-ordinator meets the mentors

Pippa RobsonI’d like to introduce myself as the new Project Co-ordinator for the Our Generation project in Wakefield. My name is Pippa Robson and I’ve been in the job for two weeks now. I’ve been very fortunate to join a team that already has lots of experience in finding, training, supporting and valuing mentors.

Last week I was delighted to meet a group of mentors who have volunteered with Scope on a previous project and who have agreed to take part in Our Generation, which is focused on both mentoring and befriending for people who are over 50. It was fantastic to meet such a dedicated group, who obviously enjoy what they do.

The best part was seeing how engaged everyone was – I was asked some really interesting questions, and received some very useful information in return that will help in mapping out our work in the New Year. I look forward to our first steering group, and welcoming a new group of mentors in 2013.

We’ll be starting the first round of our new Mentoring and Befriending training on Thursday 7 February so please get in touch if you’d like to know more about it or book a place. Call 01924 256999, or email ourgeneration@scope.org.uk.

Find out more about the Our Generation project.

Sixty years of positive change

Post from Alice Maynard – Scope Chair

This has been a tough year for many. Half of all disabled people can’t find work, and of those who are employed, one in two work in low-paid, short-term and part-time roles. In a typical job, a disabled man’s annual earnings are £1,700 less than his non-disabled counterpart. For a disabled woman, the gap is more like £5,000. Disabled people are twice as likely to live below the poverty line as everyone else.

Nearly two thirds of all disabled people report hostility, aggression or name-calling because of their disability. Disabled people are more likely to experience crime than the rest of the country, especially young disabled people, who are eight percent more likely to be victims of crime. The continuing economic situation and government cuts are exacerbating these already substantial problems.

But the fact that times are tough means it’s even more important for Scope to be strong, positive and effective. Over the last year, I believe we have lived up to that. For example, we influenced the Government’s reversal of their decision to abolish the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance for people in residential care. We supported thousands of disabled adults and families with our services. In particular, we secured new funding for our Face 2 Face servicesthat support families in crisis to get through difficult times. Perhaps most importantly, we launched a bold new strategy for making change happen across society over the coming years. Armed with that strategy, I genuinely believe we should be optimistic that, together, we can rise above the current hardships and create a better future.

We have been making positive change happen for 60 years now. I know that many of you have played key roles in getting Scope to where we are today – a bold and ambitious organisation, providing direct support for thousands of people and influencing many more. Thank you for your support over the years and into the future – it really does make a huge difference.

With best wishes for Christmas and New Year,

UK Disability History Month

It was really pleasing to see that nearly 50 MPs signed an Early Day Motion supporting the launch of UK Disability History Month.

At a time when, quite rightly, MPs and disability organisations were focussing on the cost-cutting present, it’s worth remembering that history is important – it’s what makes us who we are, and there are many lessons we can learn from the past.

It’s also important that children today learn that the way disabled people are perceived has changed enormously within living memory. That’s not to say there isn’t ignorance and prejudice (in some so-called comedy, for example) but now disabled kids can see themselves in storybooks and can watch cool role models like Ade Adepitan and Cerrie Burnell on TV.

If disabled people are not visible in the community, the result is that nearly 40% of people (who are not disabled and do not have a disabled family member) don’t know any disabled people.

History and disabled people

And it’s the same with history. I have always felt passionately that history belongs to the people so I was glad that I could work with disabled journalist Chris Davies for Scope’s 50th anniversary to ensure that disabled people’s voices were at the forefront of his book, Changing Society.

One of the people we interviewed was the first disabled trustee and employee of Scope was Bill Hargreaves. Bill had been trying to publish his truly remarkable life story for years but couldn’t find a publisher. I promised him I’d get it into print, but sadly he died before I could – you can read Bill’s story in Can You Manage Stares?

I was pleased to lobby successfully for the inclusion of Bill as the third person with cerebral palsy in the Dictionary of National Biography, after the emperor Claudius (possibly) and Christy Brown, the author of My Left Foot.

Speaking for Ourselves

This got me thinking about who else was being ignored by history? That’s why I set up Scope’s pioneering oral history project, Speaking for Ourselves, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Sixteen disabled volunteers recorded 36 life-stories of people with cerebral palsy over 50. These 234 hours of recorded testimonies are at the British Library Sound Archive.

Our DVD teaching pack was launched in May 2006 and already there have been over 3,500 requests for packs from schools, colleges, local authorities and disability trainers throughout the UK.

As one of our volunteers said, ”Speaking for Ourselves is an exciting and valuable project. Why? Because disabled people are not included in social history. As a disabled woman with cerebral palsy, this opportunity to record our history is long overdue.”

UK Disability History Month is also long overdue; long may it continue!

All of the interviews for Speaking for Ourselves are available to researchers and the general public at the British Library Sound Archive.