Training gets under way

Guest post from Pippa Robson who is Project Co-ordinator for Scope’s Our Generation project.

February saw the start of the first Our Generation Mentoring and Befriending training course, held at our office in Wakefield. As a relatively new member of staff, I was looking forward to seeing the training being delivered and finding out more about the participants.

I was pleased to see four new potential mentors arrive for their first session (and quite delighted that they all came back for the second one!). There is a lot to learn on the course but the variety of methods – lots of discussions and activities – keeps it interesting. Before long our new group will be trained up and ready to match, which is good news as referrals for people needing support are continuing to arrive every week.

In other project news, we had the second steering group, which generated lots of useful ideas. In particular, we are getting an ‘afternoon group’ up and running, which will take place every Monday from the end of March onwards. This group will be open to mentors and mentees, and will offer opportunties to share skills and interests. It will also offer a chance for people who might otherwise be isolated to get out and about and meet new people. We also agreed at the steering group to run a course in Pontefract – more details to follow.

Of course, the blog should really reflect the voice of the people who are engaged in Our Generation, so I’ll be handing over to the mentors next time…!

Why changes to DLA should put disabled people first, not targets

Guest post from Eugene Grant – Scope’s Public Policy Advisor on poverty and welfare.

In 2013, with the economy in recession, unemployment levels still high and wages flat-lining, times are tough for everyone. But disabled people in particular are struggling to make ends meet and the way ahead is hazardous and foreboding. Already disproportionately likely to live in poverty, be out of work or paid less than non-disabled people, disabled people are about to be hit from all sides by a barrage of cuts to much-needed welfare benefits and changes to social care services.

Among these, one of the biggest concerns for disabled people is the future of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). DLA is a life-line for millions for the simple reason that it costs more to live in our society as a disabled person. The little things so many of us do without thinking – like getting out into our communities, running errands or travelling to work – can be much more expensive – often prohibitively so – if you’re disabled. DLA helps people meet these extra costs. In fact, such is the impact of these costs on disabled people’s living standards that academics estimate that taking these into account when measuring poverty could put almost half of all disabled people in the UK below the breadline.

With this in mind, disabled people are understandably frightened by the government’s plans to bring DLA to an end and introduce a new benefit called the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the subject of tonight’s Dispatches on Channel 4. Come the new financial year and PIP is to be piloted in a select few areas; in June it will be rolled out for new claims only; in October those affected will include those whose current DLA award is due to expire around that time and thereafter. In 2015, everyone else receiving DLA will be told that their support is soon coming to an end and they will have to apply anew for PIP; they will not be moved across automatically. While the department for work and pensions (DWP) has launched an online toolkit showing people chronology of changes, lots of people are confused about how they will actually be affected when the reforms come into effect.

The government’s aim of creating a better targeted benefit through PIP is laudable, but what we and many disabled people are really worried about is that the assessment with which the government wants to re-test almost two million disabled people is not fit for purpose. As our past research shows and as we’ve said before, this is because it doesn’t take into account the range of practical and social barriers that disabled people face in daily life. We’re anxious because the government is set to get rid of the low rate of DLA care and that, under the new system, disabled people who might have less visible impairments but still face real barriers to living full and independent lives will lose out.

But most concerning is that the government is already predicting how many disabled people will receive support before PIP has even been rolled-out. As a result of introducing PIP, the department for work and pensions reckon more than half a million people who would’ve have received support now won’t get it. For us and disabled people across the country, this raises alarming questions as to whether the government is working to predetermined targets instead of what’s best for disabled people and their families. It looks set to repeat past mistakes it made with the much-derided Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The government has to make some difficult decisions in terms of the country’s finances; but, at the same time, some people need benefits. They aren’t feckless, they aren’t scroungers; they just need a bit more support to live the full and independent lives that so many of us take for granted. If the government is really serious about leaving a lasting legacy after the Paralympics – one in which disabled people can fulfil their potential – then they urgently need to reconsider their approach to welfare.

Michael Gove must stop ignoring families with disabled children – tweet #GoveUsABreak today!

On Monday, for the first time MPs are debating the Children and Families Bill – this is the biggest chance to improve support for disabled children in 30 years. For the 700,000 disabled children across the country, it could be a day full of anticipation.

But the reality for these children is that the Bill is bitterly disappointing. The proposed changes will make little difference to thousands of families, or ease the pressure on parents seeking support for their disabled children.

I spoke to Heidi last week, whose daughter has Down’s Syndrome. Like many parents, she feels let down by such a wasted opportunity. She said the Government don’t understand just how “time-intensive and emotionally draining” it is to be the parent of a disabled child.

“You feel like you’re continually battling to get services and support, just to try and get your child to be part of society.”

Heidi worries that her daughter is very socially isolated. Even the support she does get, like speech and language therapy, is under threat. Heidi has to fight to ensure her daughter keeps even this basic support. And shockingly, therapists are put under pressure by local councils to tell parents that their children don’t need their support.

We know Heidi is not alone. Every day, we speak to parents who tell us of an on-going battle and the constant feeling that their child’s needs are less important than council budgets.  Sharon, whose son has Asperger’s, feels the current system is “impossibly difficult”.

For Mums like Heidi and Sharon, and their children, we must make the Government see how important support for disabled children is.

Michael Gove MP is the Secretary of State for Education, it’s his responsibility and he can’t ignore families with disabled children any more – so let’s get his attention!

Join us and tweet using the hashtag #GoveUsABreak. Share a personal experience if you have one, or just say how you feel about families with disabled children being neglected, and encourage your friends to do the same.

Here are a couple of examples:

‘You win one battle, then onto the next. It’s never-ending.’ Disabled children’s families need Children&FamiliesBill to do more #GoveUsABreak

I’m stunned at how tough it can be for parents of disabled children. Why doesn’t the Children&Families Bill do more? #GoveUsABreak

We must tell Michael Gove to do something now for families with disabled children. Join us and together we can show the Government that they must give families with disabled children a break.

If you’re not already part of our Thunderclap action – please join now! On Monday we can make sure MPs know how valuable local support is for disabled children.

Harry’s cards

Anna, Harry’s mum, talks about how they came up with the idea for Harry’s cards, and the benefits he has found using them.

“After chatting with him about what to do, we came up with the idea of a set of small cards designed just for him, about him. Each card would have a question and a simple answer to that question. To make them personal we picked a photograph or picture that meant something to Harry.”

In Harry’s own words…

“I came up with the idea when people started asking me “why do you talk funny?” and “what is epilepsy?” so instead of trying to explain it I made these cards and gave them one. It has the question on the front and the answer on the back. They are my very own as they are about me and have a photograph of me on them as well. They help me.”

Anna continues, “We had them designed and sets printed. They are business-card size and a set of them can be kept in a little plastic box. Now when Harry is asked or even if he wants to volunteer the information, he can simply hand over a set and let people read. They also act as a good ice breaker and support in other discussions on cerebral palsy.

“He has presented them in his class and sets of them are available at his school, they are small enough to carry around in his bag or even his pocket. They can over time be added to and changed as Harry grows and develops.

“A simple idea but one which has proved to be very useful in removing the ‘elephant in the room’ (discussing his condition).”

Keep Us Close Family Memories delivered to MPs in style

“What on earth are all these?!” As I piled up five large cardboard boxes filled with almost 300 memory boxes on the counter of the Westminster post room, the disgruntled security guard seemed quite confused. I could have given him the long answer: “This is a collection of over 700 fond family memories, shared by Scope supporters. They’ve written to us, to share memories of sunny holidays and close Christmases, because they believe in the importance of family time together. We have sorted these, and wrapped them beautifully in memory boxes. They want their MP to unwrap this box, read their memories, and remember how much family time together matters, before they go to make important decisions on the Children and Families Bill. Really, what’s in these boxes, is pretty amazing.”

In the end, I decided to just tell him they were simply ‘message to MPs’ – he appeared to be in a bit of a rush. He accepted this, and all the boxes, and now they are on their journey through the corridors of Westminster to land on MPs’ desks.

I really believe that when MPs open their memory boxes, after some curiosity, they’ll be pleasantly surprised. We have been quite touched by the small insights into the family lives of Scope supporters. It’s difficult to not feel that family really is central to many people’s lives after reading the collection of memories that have arrived. When MPs read about their constituents’ day trips to the zoo, their sandwiches on the beach, or their first Christmas with their grandchildren, I hope they too will be reminded that the closeness of family is something to treasure – and is so important for families with disabled children.

It’s now down to them to take this feeling, and turn it into action when the Children and Families Bill goes through the next stages in the coming weeks. For Scope campaigners, it’s good to know what we hope will act as the final reminder, is safely on the way.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed by sharing their family memory, your support has been overwhelming. We’ll keep you updated on the progress of the Children and Families Bill, and the Keep Us Close campaign.

Abseiling for Scope

Guest post from Emma Goddard who is a Life Skills Tutor at Scope’s Roman House

I’m not sure if I am going abseiling as I have turned into a bit of a blog tart and wanted something exciting to write about..!

So, I’m in the office, Thursday afternoon, ticked off most of my to do list, and was caught staring into the middle distance, when Simon Pugsley glides into the room and announces that he is going to abseil down the side of Basingstoke Hospital for Scope, Roman House and Shop Mobility, who have organised this challenge. Now, as a side issue, over the Christmas break, I have been religiously listening to Paul McKenna ‘I can make you confident CD’  In it he says, you can do anything, imagine a day when everything goes perfectly etc etc, challenge yourself, I was thinking more upon the lines of learning to use the office scanner, but no, my inner mind has decided that it would be more attention seeking to jump of six floors with my extremely large arse.

Yes I pipe up, I can do that, and secretly pray that the fundraising admin will be so complex that I can wriggle out of it. Nope, thanks Fundraising team, you have made it really simple, thanks… thanks a bunch!

It’s all kicking off at Basingstoke Hospital, 10 February 2013, 10 am onwards.

Second thoughts?

So, last night, tucked up in bed, winceyette nightie on, (floor length, long sleeves) (no jokes, really own one, can’t beat it!) And I’m thinking, what to wear on Sunday for my abseil jump. I have had lots of helpful tips, no skirts, no dangly necklace, lest I hang myself, no flares, and the most helpful comment, if you do fall off, your only a hop, skip and a jump from A&E. I can’t tell you have grateful I am that Scope doesn’t have a cuddly mascot, the very thought of jumping off a building as a teddy with a bad eye… well, words fail me.

But, do you know, it’s going to be worth it. Customers at Scope, Roman House, have to face challenges that society throws at them daily. Accessing the community, getting people to see through the disability and see the potential within. It’s the assumption that is associated with disabilities, that they can’t do, won’t do and never will.

Well, I’ll let you into a secret, customers at Scope, Roman House, CAN do, WANT to do, and WILL do it, and I for one feel very privileged to share their journey.

Please sponsor our abseil!