Accessible Travel Week: helping disabled people travel the world

Martyn Sibley is the CEO of Disability Horizons, and a wheelchair user with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Martyn is an experienced traveler, and on March 30 is launching Accessible Travel Week. He hopes it will help more disabled people take on the challenge of exploring the world. In this blog he shares some of his top travelling tips.

Have you ever wanted to travel the world but let your disability stop you? Do you fear that travelling with a disability will be too stressful, time-consuming and problematic so you just stay at home instead? Do you wish there were some simple resources on accessible travel to make it smooth, effortless and straightforward?

I know exactly how you feel. For years I let that stop me from pursuing my dreams and travelling around the world. There were so many countries I wanted to visit. I was constantly jealous of seeing my friends and family boast and show me pictures of where they went on their adventures, but the thought of travelling with all the extra equipment (like my wheelchair) and all the extra arrangements I needed was just too stressful and overwhelming.

5 e Mount Teide Tenerife (2)

There are so many aspects to consider when travelling with a disability. Accessible travel can cause some real difficulties. I’m not going lie to you and say accessible travel is a walk in the park and you have nothing to worry about. I’ve faced countless problems, barriers and difficulties when travelling. Here are just a few examples that might sound familiar:

  • Just simply getting on and off the plane. I’ve travelled with countless airlines, and some just haven’t thought about those travelling with a disability. The worst start to your holiday would be realising that your airline can’t fully cater for your needs, or they’ve lost or destroyed your wheelchair.
  •  A hotel they say is accessible but isn’t fully accessible. There’s nothing worse after a long, uncomfortable, stressful flight than arriving at your “accessible” hotel and realising there are in fact a few “small” steps, a bathroom not big enough for a wheelchair or even a bed that’s too high.
  • Not knowing which venues or sights are accessible when you arrive at your destination. Numerous times I travelled and didn’t fully research the area, which resulted in not knowing which attractions were accessible while I was there. Not only did this stress me and my carer out, it also wasted a lot of time, meaning I wasn’t able to visit as many places as I initially hoped for.
  • Not knowing how to travel around the destination. This is something many people don’t think about before they travel, but is essential. My first holiday abroad I had absolutely no idea how to travel around, I didn’t know any taxi numbers and had no idea of the bus systems. It wasn’t until I arrived that I realised that many of the paths were cobbled, making it extremely difficult to travel in a wheelchair.
  • Arriving at your destination and realising you don’t have or can’t access some vital equipment such a manual hoist, a shower chair or a profiling bed. Trust me, this is the worst thing that could happen on your holiday, and unfortunately it’s happened to me! In my circumstance it wasn’t a case that I had forgotten to bring one, but the fact that my hotel ensured they would be able to provide one, and then let me down.

Introducing Accessible Travel Week

I am here to help you follow your dreams and go on that holiday you’ve always dreamt of going on. In order to do that, I’m running an awesome social campaign called Accessible Travel Week, where we will give you the lowdown on how to travel with a disability in order to have a stress-free, easy and relaxing accessible holiday.

Throughout the campaign I will specifically help you through the various aspects of planning a holiday of a lifetime. I’ll provide you with vital information on:

  • How to find accessible accommodation in your chosen destination; what to look for and what questions to ask to make sure you have everything you need. We have an interview with Holiday Inn, who have agreed to show us some of their awesome accessible accommodation, so we can show you what’s possible when you find the right place
  • How to get all of the information on the best way to travel around your destination
  • How to go about air travel with a disability. We have an exciting collaboration with Virgin Atlantic to show you all the various equipment and solutions there are for accessing air travel with a disability, regardless of what airline you use
  • Information on how and where to get all of the equipment you need, so you don’t go without your disability home comforts

Martyn and friends at a Ski resort During the campaign you will also find handy tips and advice, words of warnings and at the end, I’ll introduce you to something I’ve been working on that may help you take the holiday of a lifetime.

Because after all, why should we hold back on a holiday of a lifetime just because we have a disability? Travelling is not just about relaxing by the pool, it’s also a time to find peace, happiness and solace.

It took me years of persuasion, courage and determination to start travelling, but I can honestly tell you it’s the best decision I’ve made, and I am here to ensure you create memories that last a lifetime.

Accessible Travel Week is part of something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s my dream to make travel, accessible to all disabled people, so it would mean the world to me if you could check out the campaign. I sincerely believe it will help you.

Disabled Artistic Director talks about his work and the importance of inclusion

Robert Softley Gale is an Artistic Director at Glasgow-based theatre company, Birds of Paradise. He’s been acting and working in theatre for 15 years.

For World Theatre Day, he talks about his work and why inclusion is so important.

Getting in to theatre

I was at Glasgow University studying Business Management and I got a phone call from a theatre company in Edinburgh looking to employ disabled actors. At that point I’d never done any performing so I thought there’s no way I’ll get this job. I’d done a bit of amateur theatre but only ever backstage – directing or writing, stuff like that. But I was your typical cocky 21-year-old so I thought I’d give it a go, and I got the job. After that I just kept going.

Creating my own work

The amount of opportunities for disabled actors have come and gone over the years. I felt if I wanted to keep working I had to start creating my own work. I worked with the National Theatre in Scotland on a piece called ‘Girl X’ which did well, and I did a one-man show called ‘If These Spasms Could Speak’ that toured all over the world. When the job at Birds of Paradise came up, I felt ready to go in to making more of my own work and on a bigger scale.

I think there’s much more pressure on disabled artists. If I make something that’s crap, people go “oh he’s disabled, of course it’s crap”, but overall it’s a great challenge.

Making the arts more accessible

There are so many barriers for disabled people to work in the arts. A lot of it is attitudinal. People just don’t think disabled people can do the job. As a disabled actor there will be things you can’t do – but everyone has limitations. Every actor brings what they have to a role.

I worked for the Scottish Arts Council for two years, helping organisations become more accessible. When that role came to an end I set up flip with a colleague, to continue that. When organisations are advertising for roles, for example, where do they advertise? Do they say that they want to employ disabled people? If you don’t say that specifically, a lot of potential disabled employees will presume that the company won’t want them, because that’s been their experience over the years.

It’s also about expanding their networks. A lot of directors in Scotland say “I want to employ disabled actors but I don’t know any”. Well get off your bum and meet some – I can introduce you to about forty! On the whole, organisations want to do better. There’s just a lot of fear around getting it wrong and because of that, some people would rather do nothing.

Why it’s important that the industry is inclusive

I think the visibility of disabled artists is going to change attitudes generally. The fact that there are now disabled characters in soaps is a massive step forward. It normalises disabled people. They’re part of society so they should be part of film, TV, theatre or whatever. Disabled people’s stories haven’t been heard, so by putting us on stage, you’re putting our stories on stage. And that creates more interesting, more dynamic theatre that’s better for everyone.

I imagine a lot of non-disabled people think that if you’re disabled, all you’re ever thinking about is your disability but it’s not the case. It would be so boring if it was! To me, talking about gender or sexuality or politics, any of these things, it’s how we become more human and more real to people. That’s what I try to do with the work I make. Because if non-disabled people can look at us and go “well actually you’re not that different from me”, then we can change their perspective.

Robert’s latest show – Purposeless Movements – has been touring in Scotland.

‘Wendy Hoose’ by Johnny McKnight runs at the Soho Theatre, London from 12 April to 7 May. 

A fresh ‘voice’ in theatre

32 year old Kate Caryer has cerebral palsy, no speech and uses a communication aid. She co-runs The Unspoken Project CIC, a company that is currently fundraising for the stage premier of Speechless, a unique coming-of-age play about someone without speech.  

Kate believes it’s time that the authentic voice of disabled people is heard and what better day than World Theatre Day on 26 March to make a pledge to make it happen.

My name is Kate Caryer and I am a rude, pink-haired theatre lover, who also happens to have cerebral palsy and no speech.

I use a communication aid to speak (think a punk Stephen Hawking), but the words that come out of my computer will quickly shatter any stereotypes you might have about disabled people.

Alongside my mate, Paul C. Mooney, trained actor and director, I run The Unspoken Project CIC.

A poster for the Unspoken CIC theatre group

We are an inclusive theatre company set up to give opportunities to disabled and non-disabled actors, writers and theatre-makers. We also believe that it is time to hear the real voices of disabled people, beyond the sob stories about pitiable, pathetic caricatures, desperate to ‘overcome’ their tragic disabilities.

Our first major drama production Speechless – written by me – intends to set the story straight.

The story of Speechless

Kate with her cast members

Speechless tells the tale of Rebecca Walker, a teenager with cerebral palsy and no speech nor access to the communication support to allow her devious teenage thoughts to be heard.

Like most teenagers, she is keen to rebel against her parents, and craves the freedom of being an adult. We follow Rebecca on a journey of dark humour and disabled villains to arrive at an important conclusion: you don’t need speech to have a voice.

Will Eddie Redmayne be playing the teenage protagonist? For once, all the disabled parts will be played by disabled actors – company policy for the inclusive theatre company.

Speechless provides opportunities for disabled actors to be part of a professional production that tells their stories from their own perspectives.

The Unspoken Project CIC, is currently fundraising for the premier of Speechless. It is time the authentic voice of disabled people is heard. For more information, or to pledge to support this project, please visit our Kickstarter page.

The Unspoken Project also provides opportunities for disabled performers through their variety nights, quiz nights and workshops in schools. Our Rude Games Night is coming up on 21 April from 8pm in the Clisshold Arms, 105 Fortis Green, East Finchley, London, N2 9HR. All welcome. Over 18s only!

Inclusive dance at Beaumont College

Sarah has worked at Scope’s Beaumont College since 2007 and was originally employed as Dance Artist in Residence. She was blown away by the students, their ability and potential, so she studied to become a tutor and is now a Pathway Coordinator for Independent Lifestyles and Vocational Skills, with a focus on creative arts.

She teaches and makes sure the students are maximising their opportunity at Beaumont as well as having plans for when they graduate.

Part of my challenge here in Lancaster is to develop more opportunities for young people with learning and physical disabilities within the arts. I do this by developing links with arts organisations, which is how I became involved with The Big Dance.

Here at Beaumont, we’ve taken part in The Big Dance since 2012. A group of students from the college who have since graduated, learnt and then performed The Big Dance choreography. They were invited to perform it in a short film at the Olympic Village in London, and it was played across the world as the dance premiered.

This partnership led to further discussions with Richard Parr, the Producer from People Dancing, to think more about accessibility. These changes could really be seen in 2014’s choreography, where a broader range of people were included in the launch film.

Every year, here at the college we’ve adapted and interpreted this fantastic opportunity to dance and it has brought the community together to enjoy sharing movement. We have worked with local schools, community centres and brought a little bit of sparkle to the everyday grind in corridors at the college too.

This year, I was invited to be a Guest Artist Adviser as part of the creative process, in which they choreograph the Big Dance and the Schools Pledge. You can watch Akram Khan, internationally acclaimed choreographer talk about why he wants everyone to embrace dance. Amran Khan talking about the Big Dance

“I work in an outstanding college”

Fortunately I work in an outstanding college that supports and values innovation. I sit amongst many ‘Change Makers’, so I was supported to be able to impact on this national campaign. I hope also that it will help others who don’t identify with being a ‘dancer’ to get involved and have a go at expressing themselves.

On 6 November, after a 4am start, three trains and a long walk in the rain, I arrived at the dance studio in Roehampton University where I met Akram Khan and 30 dance students. They insisted that I participate in the warm up which was a great way to break the ice and fortunately not any of my muscles! After the warm up, I was able to watch The Big Dance choreography for the first time. It was a very rare treat.

But what could I offer? Well, that’s what I worried about to begin with. I’m a dance tutor at a specialist college in little old Lancaster and I’m not disabled myself. However, I could advocate for all the young people I’ve adapted choreography with and for. Young people who are unable to voice their own passions and needs.

Young people who explore their own physical capabilities, explore techniques and develop their creative and physical voice every day. I’ve learnt so much about dance through working at Beaumont, about the value and power of all movement and the contribution of all bodies as different, but equal.Sarah sitting with other people in a dance studio

I talked to Akram Khan about this and asked about what was important in his choreography.

I saw a change of emphasis from the creative team as they moved from specific movements being of great importance, to them considering and discussing what the significant points of the choreography are. They discussed what was more important: the convention of exactly mirroring the movement by these non-disabled dancers or the intention behind each movement being explored and interpreted.

They acknowledged the value in all responses to the choreography. Thankfully, my presence in the room was a significant development that showed a real shift in approach.

I’m excited to see how they’ve taken our input on board. I’ll continue to drive forward change for the young people I work with, and make sure their voice is heard to create new, exciting opportunities that provide rich and meaningful life experiences.

The Big Dance Pledge is now available,  with a worldwide performance day on 20 May. The Big Dance Week is 2-10 JulyFind out more and sign up!

Interested in Beaumont College courses? Visit their website and find out about inclusive dance

We need to understand epilepsy better

One of our Scope For Change campaigners Rebekka Smiddy has photosensitive epilepsy. In this blog she tells us why more awareness of epilepsy and its effects is needed.  

As Purple Day arrives (Saturday 26 March), it’s a great time to highlight some of the main issues relating to epilepsy.

Epilepsy is perhaps one of the better known conditions; pretty much everyone knows of epilepsy or someone with epilepsy, and it affects 1 in 100 people.

However, public knowledge about the condition remains limited. For example, there are over 40 different seizures, such as absences (blank spells) and head shaking. Despite this, most people only accept the stereotypical convulsive seizure and believe flashing lights triggers most epileptics.

Only around 5 per cent are photosensitive, and there are a wide range of triggers including tiredness, stress, fear, certain smells and noises, illness, alcohol and drug use to name a few. It is important to realise that this is a highly individualised condition.

“It can be a dangerous condition”

It can also be a dangerous condition due to the unpredictable nature of seizures, with a high level of accidents and in serious cases death, due to Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy Patients, although 39 per cent of epilepsy deaths could be avoided.

Most damaging are not the seizures, although they carry significant risk –  it is the isolation, impact on mental wellbeing and mishandling of treatment/seizures. The majority of epileptics can suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues – much is due to social stigma and mishandling of the condition.

Two examples highlight such issues; the Marriage Act of 1949, which prevented epileptics from marrying was only repealed in 1970, and the fact that epileptics still cannot give blood, despite rigorous campaigning by epilepsy charities.

Understanding epilepsy

Epilepsy is a weird one; it falls into the realms of a ‘hidden’ impairment and a chronic condition with physical manifestations you can’t escape.

Societal attitudes continue to have a negative impact. It led me to believe that I wasn’t disabled and, therefore, didn’t have the right to ask for understanding and support.

More generally, it can lead epileptics into risk taking behaviour in an attempt to normalise their lives, and take back lost control.

There needs to be a greater understanding of the condition to ensure that the right treatment, care and support are provided.

Interventions need to be well timed to prevent mental health issues developing, with a greater recognition of the impact epilepsy has on the sufferers everyday life, both in psychologically and logistically.

Seizures need to be dealt with in a proactive manner. During tonic-clonic episodes I have been forcefully restrained, stepped over and ignored, sustained further unnecessary injuries and taken unwarranted trips to A&E – all of which could have been avoid with a little education.

The majority of the public mean well, but sometimes ignorance of the condition and its needs can be damaging and dangerous.

Understanding that epileptics have ‘non-traditional’ accessibility issues is crucial for inclusion. The disability requires a highly individualised approach; basically, we just need to be treated as a person.

Most epileptics are happy to talk through their own epilepsy and needs. This is preferable to making assumptions and helps dispel lingering stereotypical views, and hopefully will reduce prejudice and discrimination.

So on Epilepsy Awareness Day, yes, wear purple, but more importantly, discover more about the condition.

Find out more about epilepsy on the Scope website

What is cerebral palsy?

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Scope helpline manager Veronica Lynch answers the most common questions she is asked about cerebral palsy, particularly the causes and effects of this condition.

Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition in which parts of the immature (up to age of 5 or 6 years) brain is injured or impaired. This injury generally affects muscles and balance and can result in a physical and/or sensory impairment. Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood disability affecting about one in 400 live births.

What are cerebral palsy symptoms?

The effects of cerebral palsy can range from extremely mild to profound with additional sensory or learning impairments. The condition is individual so no two people will be affected in the same way.

It’s impossible to give a list of symptoms as each person will be different. Doctors will generally look at any issues during pregnancy or at the time of birth, run neurological tests such as MRI scans (although a child could have cerebral palsy and this may not be depicted on an MRI) and observe the child as he or she develops. The average age for diagnosis is around 18 months to two years.

What is cerebral palsy caused by?

There could be a number of causes of cerebral palsy, such as an infection during pregnancy, oxygen starvation, failure for the brain to develop correctly. It is more common in twin or multiple births or in low birthweight and premature babies.

There is often no obvious cause. Recent research has shown there may be a genetic cause in about 14% of cases but more research is needed in this area.

Who does cerebral palsy affect?

Cerebral palsy can affect anyone although it is more common in boys than girls.

What is cerebral palsy life expectancy?

It’s possible for someone with severe cerebral palsy to have a shorter life expectancy either because the impairment to the brain is so severe that they do not survive to adulthood or because their posture and organs are affected causing respiratory or heart problems. However, in general, people with cerebral palsy will have the same life expectancy as anyone else. Read more about ageing and cerebral palsy.

We want to say a huge thank you to Veronica, who, after 26 years of working for Scope, is retiring at the end of March. Our helpline team especially will really miss her!

Disability Innovation: Citizen-led design that’s giving people more independence

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

In 2015, a new design challenge called Design Together, Live Better launched in the West of England. The challenge was run by the West of England Academic Health Science Network (WEAHSN), who asked designers at National charity Designability to deliver their human-centred design approach in order to engage people and work with them to develop new product ideas.

Gaining insights and generating new ideas

Over 100 people took part in the challenge, sharing their personal accounts of living with a disability or health problem, or caring for someone who needed regular help. Many of these people came to public workshops held across the West of England to participate in the challenge.

The workshops were a hive of activity and the result was a number of great ideas covering areas such as; mobility, personal hygiene, food preparation, travel and medication management.

Selecting ideas with potential to make an impact

Unfortunately only a few ideas could be developed within the challenge time frame and Designability along with WEAHSN had a tough job deciding which ideas showed the potential to have the greatest impact on independence.

When shortlisting product ideas, the following criteria was used:

  • Are there any products that already exist to solve this problem?
  • Does the idea have the potential to impact a number of people’s lives?
  • How much impact will the idea have on somebody’s independence?
  • Is the idea a potential, workable solution?

Taking three ideas further

The Design Together, Live Better team took on board all of the feedback and chose three ideas to be developed further and made into prototypes over the course of only two months. The people the products could help had regular input into the design and testing to provide insight into how they should look, function and fit into their lifestyle.

One of the three ideas was Pura; a convenient, portable bidet to promote dignity and independence

The team heard from a gentleman living with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair. He spoke of how he requires help from a friend or carer to clean himself after toileting whilst out and about. The need for this kind of support can be uncomfortable and undignified for both parties.

From this insight, Designability came up with the idea for a portable bidet that can be used with ease in public toilets without the need for assistance in cleaning.

Key features include:

  • Ease of transportation – Pura is a sleek, compact product that can be carried with you wherever you go
  • Contemporary – the designers ensured that Pura looks good with a simple, smooth appearance that is easy to clean
  • Simple to use – Pura has been created with easy-to-use clamps to secure it to the toilet, and a large button to activate the wash facility without difficulty
  • Safe and secure – Pura’s size means that it fits the majority of standard toilets and sits securely in place when used

The two other ideas developed to a prototype stage during this challenge were a companion walker trolley for use at home and a child seat harness, which can be fastened with just one hand.

What next?

We are hopeful that these three products will move further towards being available on the open market, and we are working hard with the people that would use them and commercial partners and manufacturers to ensure this.

Designability are always happy to hear about your ideas for a product or solution that may help to transform someone’s life. If you have something in mind which may enable you or someone you know to gain more independence, please get in touch:

Web: www.designability.org.uk

Email: info@designability.org.uk

Tel: 01225 824103

To find out more about the prototypes and the design challenge, please visit the Design Together, Live Better website: http://designtogetherlivebetter.org/

Designability invited people to share their daily living experiences and ideas for potential new products that could improve their quality of life and enhance their independence.

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

Diary of a job hunter with cerebral palsy: interviews

Self-confessed ‘geek’ Jessica Talbott has three degrees in maths. She’s just finished a short contract for a great company where she could work from home, but now she’s on the hunt for a permanent job again. 

She’s writing a series of blogs for us about her search for work: job applications, interviews, rejections, warts and all. Here she talks about her experience of taking her dad along to interviews as her interpreter. 

Growing up with unclear speech

I used to filter friends according to whether they took the time to listen that bit more carefully to what I wanted to say. Children do everything at 100 miles an hour, so I never blamed the ones who wanted to move on to the next game. Now, my partner understands every word, and I realise that I took people not understanding the odd mutter for granted, because he knows when I’m being rude – it’s very unfair!

Preparing companies ahead of my interview

Jess smiling, and sitting in front of her desktop computerI don’t need an understanding friend when I go for a job interview; I just need a person who sees enthusiasm, intellect and commitment. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m a bit of a stalker. In my experience, it’s better to email companies directly to offer assistance and to explain about my disability. If they want to meet, I clearly reiterate that my speech is unclear, and that I need an assistant to accompany me in case they struggle to understand at first. It’s important it shows I care about making it easier for them, and not that I’m special and need some kind of entourage. My dad or stepmum help out on these occasions – they are both professionals and are really supportive. I try to keep it from the company they are my mum and dad,  but dad sometimes slips! Besides, the chances of me having a 60-year-old male carer are quite slim, so I’m sure they guess.

Getting ready to impress

My voice is negatively affected by fatigue, anxiety and stress. Interviews clearly stir up the latter two to a great degree if I’m not careful. And if I’m anxious and stressed I don’t get much sleep, so it’s really important I keep calm. The day before the interview is about relaxing; I try to do all preparation before then and get a lot of rest and sleep.

Overcoming obstacles

You learn tricks over the years when you have speaking problems; if people don’t understand something, you re-phrase the statement or use more simple words. In an interview, ideally you don’t want to simplify things, as you want to demonstrate you know the technical language of the business.

I tend to brief my dad on words or concepts that I might want to bring up, but sometimes even he finds it hard if it’s a word unfamiliar to him. One time I was determined to ask an intelligent question using various buzz words, but was forced to simplify due to the interviewers knowing the word, but not understanding my voice, and dad knowing my voice but not the word!

Be flexible and resourceful

Each interview is different. Some ask about the practicalities of you working with them, so it’s important to know what you’ll need and where to get it. Reassure them it’ll all be possible and their company will take on you, not a headache of sorting support out for you.

If luck isn’t on my side and I don’t get the job, I ask for feedback and make it clear I’d still be available for work. This takes a little bit of cheek, but I’m so glad my step-mum encouraged me, as it got me two short-term contracts this year. It’s good to take the feedback and brush up on skills they feel you lack, as it shows you’ve listened.

My four month contract that just ended was great. Lots of people worked from home, so practicalities were never an issue. I could take part in conferences and meetings via phone or messenger. Yes calls were hard but being so junior didn’t really need to speak up at meetings! Over time my colleagues got used to my voice and were good at using email rather than the phone when communicating with me. Once my foot was in the door, my work spoke for me and I was just another colleague. In fact, due to staff leaving, I pretty much had my own project.

Enjoy it!

Above all, enjoy it! I love what I do, so I get in the zone and show them Jess the mathematician, not Jess with cerebral palsy and dad in the corner.

If you would like to chat to Jess, you can join her on our online community. 

And if you’re disabled and looking for work, check out these great employment tips.

What today’s budget means for disabled people

The Government announced measures on Extra Costs payments, employment support, and disability sport in today’s annual budget. In this blog we look at the impact this will have on disabled people’s lives. 

Lower economic growth figures and tax revenues meant the Chancellor announced today further public spending reductions of £3.5 billion by 2020.

Given that certain areas – such as health, schools and international aid – are ring fenced, this means that unprotected areas of Government spending will see further reductions.

Extra Costs and PIP

Today the Chancellor confirmed changes to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments which will affect 640,000 people and aims to save £1.2billion.

Scope research shows that disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on the extra costs of being disabled.

Extra cost payments – Disability Living Allowance and PIP – make a vital contribution in covering these costs – currently £360 a month on average.

The PIP assessment changes, announced last week, will see some disabled people receive a reduced rate of PIP, and others not qualify. This comes following a reduction to Employment and Support Allowance for unemployed disabled people from April 2017, as announced in the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

Scope hears from disabled people every day who are struggling with their finances and who are having problems getting the support they need. We are concerned at how these changes will impact on disabled people’s ability to make ends meet and save for their futures.

Disabled people already have less financial resilience than non-disabled people, with an average of £108,000 less in savings and assets. 49% of disabled people use credit cards or loans to pay for everyday items including clothing and food.

In announcing measures for young people to save, the Chancellor called his budget one for the ‘next generation’. With disabled people more likely to be out of work, or in lower paid jobs, disabled people are less likely to have money left over at the end of the month. This means that the Chancellor’s new saving incentives will be out of reach for many disabled people.

It is also vital that the Government tackles the extra costs of disability at source. The work of the independent Extra Costs Commission (ECC), which Scope facilitated, sets out the measures that business, regulators and Government can take to do this.

In particular, given the Chancellor’s announcement of an increase in the standard rate of insurance premium tax of 0.5%, we would like to see the Chancellor back the ECC’s recommendation of an investigation into whether disabled people are able to access affordable insurance.

The ECC found at least half a million disabled people have been turned down for insurance, and this increase in insurance costs threatens to exacerbate this problem further still.

The Chancellor also announced a new, slimmed down money guidance body, replacing the Money Advice Service (MAS). This new body will be charged with identifying gaps in the financial guidance market, and commissioning providers to fill these gaps. Scope worked closely with the MAS to provide information and advice for disabled people on money and debt. You can still access this advice on our website.

Disability employment

The Chancellor’s statement comes on the same day as the latest labour market statistics show a fall in unemployment, leading to the highest ever employment figures.

However, the disability unemployment gap has proved to be resistant to wider improvement in the employment rate. The gap between the rate of employment amongst disabled and non- disabled people has remained stubbornly static at 30% for around a decade.

Although the Chancellor didn’t mention it in the House of Commons, we were pleased to see the Government’s Budget Red Book confirm that later this year the government will publish a White Paper. This will focus on the roles that the health, care and welfare sectors can play in supporting disabled people and those with health conditions to get into and stay in work.

In particular, the Red Book states that the Government has accepted the recommendations of a taskforce on how to provide £330 million of additional funding for disabled claimants. This will include a new, tailored peer support offer to offered shared experiences and support to disabled people, and bespoke employment support. While this is welcome, it is important that this support is available to all disabled people who need support to find work and contribute to closing the disability employment gap.

We look forward to seeing what other measures on specialist employment support the Government will introduce through its forthcoming Employment, Disability and Health White Paper. Tailored support for disabled people is vital to overcoming the structural barriers to employment that disabled people face.

Disability sport

In the run up to this year’s Rio Paralympic Games, the Chancellor also confirmed in the Red Book a £1.5m NHS programme to provide activity prosthetics for children and fund new research. This will include a £500,000 fund for new child sports prosthetics to allow 500 children to participate in sport.

Scope welcomes this measure, particularly following our analysis that found over 4 in 10 (42%) parents of disabled children reported their children cannot access a local sports club.

If you have any questions or concerns about the changes made to your support, please call Scope’s Helpline on 0808 800 3333. 

Scope’s hopes for the 2016 Budget

Wednesday’s Budget will be George Osborne’s fifth set piece financial statement in the last 16 months. In this blog we look at the three key issues we hope the government will address: PIP and extra costs, disability employment, and social care.

A few weeks ago, the Chancellor said the UK economy is smaller than expected this year. On the Andrew Marr show he confirmed that he is looking to find additional savings equivalent to 50p in every £100 the government spends.

In the same interview the Chancellor also defended the Government’s decision to introduce new restrictions to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment, aimed at saving £1.2bn.

It is against this backdrop that the Chancellor will make his statement.

We will be looking closely at what the Budget will mean for disabled people in three key areas.

PIP and Extra costs

Last week – just days before the Budget – the Government announced new restrictions to the PIP assessment. These are expected to impact upon 640,000 people and the Government estimates that it will save £1.2bn.

This announcement was the result of a Government consultation which looked at how disabled people are awarded PIP for aids and appliances. Scope research shows that life costs more if you are disabled. Disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on disability related costs.

We’ve expressed our concern about the impact that these changes will have on disabled people who rely on PIP to help meet the extra costs of disability.

At the same time, the Government announced it is considering the case for long term reform of disability benefits and services.
We will be looking closely at what the Chancellor has to say about these plans. Any reforms must guarantee disabled people the support they need to live their lives.

We will also be looking for the Chancellor to take action to drive down the extra costs disabled people face. This was the focus of the Extra Costs Commission, an independent inquiry facilitated by Scope that reported last year.

In the run up to the one year anniversary of the ECC final report in June, we hope the Chancellor will be able to take forward ECC recommendations in his statement.

Disability employment

In the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in November last year, he announced that 2016 would see a new ‘White Paper’ focused on how to support more disabled people into work and fulfill the Government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

There is even greater pressure on the Government to deliver this since the Welfare Reform and Work Bill has all but completed its passage through Parliament, introducing a £30 per week cut in the rate of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) paid to disabled people who are in the Work Related Activity Group from April 2017.

Whilst the White Paper has yet to be published, he could be expected to give some further detail on how the £100 million fund for disability employment support (announced in the Chancellor’s last Budget) will be spent. We will also be watching for any more detail on the new Work and Health Programme, which is to be targeted at supporting disabled people to find work.

We will be looking to see if the Chancellor will set out how these funds will be effectively used and joined up to get disabled job seekers into work.

Social care

Social care was rightly a major area of focus for the Chancellor in his CSR statement. A third of social care users are working age disabled people, and they account for around half the social care budget. Social care has a vital role to play in enabling working age disabled people to live independently.

In the run up to the CSR, Scope published research on disabled people’s experiences of social care. Only 18 per cent of social care users said services consistently support them to live as independently as possible. 55 per cent said social care never supports their independence.

The Chancellor’s CSR announcements of a council tax precept that councils can charge to fund social care, and expansion of the Government’s Better Care Fund – to create better integration between health and social care, are therefore welcome. But, it is vital that the impact of this additional funding is properly monitored to see that the needs of working age disabled people are being met.

We will be live tweeting during the Chancellor’s statement, and look out for a further blog post on what is announced on Wednesday.