Category Archives: News and politics

General election 2017: Make sure your voice is heard

Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap general election to take place on 8 June. 

This week, with just six weeks to go until polling day, we’ll be setting out what we believe needs to be done by the next Government to achieve everyday equality for the UK’s 13.3 million disabled people.

Over the next six weeks we’ll share more information about the policies we think it’s important all political parties commit to, that we believe are needed to achieve everyday equality for disabled people. 

We also want to encourage people to register to vote, get involved and have your say this general election.

How can I get involved?

The next Government has an opportunity to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people and help deliver everyday equality by 2022.

It’s important that the voices of disabled people are heard in this election. Voting, as well as taking part in election events in your local area, gives you the chance to tell politicians what’s important to you and what you would like to see them do.

In the run up to the election there will likely be events and hustings in your constituency which you can attend. You can  ask the candidates questions about what they plan to do on the issues that matter to you, whether that’s about social care or making your local area tidier and safer.

Scope is encouraging everyone to register to vote in this election. Remember, if you don’t register or aren’t registered already, you won’t be able to vote in this election.

How do I vote?

 The deadline to register to vote is 22 May. You must register to be able to vote on the 8 June.

You can register to vote either online or by printing off the form (which is also available in Easy-Read and large print).

You can vote by post by registering for a postal vote online. Your ballot paper will arrive in the post and you’ll need to fill it in and send it back by the deadline on the papers.

You can also nominate a proxy to cast your vote for you. They will attend the polling station and mark your ballot for you. They will need to be a close relative and agree to vote on your behalf.

Find out more about voting by proxy.

Otherwise you can vote at your local polling station on 8 June. Your polling station should be open from 7am to 10pm. If you’re planning to vote on the day, find out where your polling station is and what you need to take with you.

Are polling stations accessible?

All polling stations should be wheelchair accessible and support disabled voters.  If you need to use a disabled parking space, these should be clearly visible and monitored throughout the day.

There are lots of ways you can be supported to cast your vote inside a polling station:

  • If you cannot mark your ballot paper, members of staff called Presiding Officers may mark your ballot paper for you. You may also attend the polling station with someone who you would like to mark your ballot paper on your behalf.
  • Polling stations should provide tactile voting devices. The tactile voting device attaches on top of your ballot paper. It has numbered flaps (the numbers are raised and are in braille) directly over the boxes where you mark your vote.
  • Polling stations should provide large print versions of ballot papers.

Polling stations should be accessible for everyone wishing to vote. If for whatever reason your local polling station isn’t accessible, Presiding Officers should provide you with a ballot paper and allow you to vote outside of the polling station. Find out more information about what happens at polling stations.

If you visit a polling station and find it inaccessible, you can complain to your local authority. 

The Budget 2017 – What does it mean for disabled people?

The Chancellor Philip Hammond has delivered the Spring Budget today. In this blog we look at the impact the budget will have on disabled people across the country. 

Ahead of today we were calling for sustainable investment in social care, a reversal of the reduction in financial support for those in the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG) and for Government to think again on changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

The Budget contained some positive news for disabled people on social care yet we were disappointed by the Government’s failure to mention, let alone reconsider, upcoming changes to disability benefits.

Social care

Following calls from disabled people, charities, MPs and local councils, the Government has provided a cash injection of £2 billion for social care over the next three years.

We hope this is good news for the 400,000 working age disabled people who rely on social care for assistance with everyday tasks such as cooking and getting dressed.

We were really disappointed when there was no further funding announced for social care in the Autumn Statement and so we are pleased that the Government has listened to calls for urgent funding.

The care system has been under immense financial strain over the past few years, with the adult social care budget reduced by £4.6 billion since 2010. £1 billion of new funding will be available this year, yet the King’s Fund has predicted the funding gap for this period will be nearly twice that at £1.9 billion.

The Government also today announced a Green Paper on social care, we will be campaigning to make sure this consultation and following action focuses on how the social care system will provide the support and outcomes important to disabled people.

Financial security

PIP is intended to help disabled people cover some of the extra costs they face as a result of their disability, on average, £550 a month. Therefore we think it is vital PIP focuses on the extra costs disabled people actually face, and not their impairment or condition. We are concerned about the Government’s move to tighten up access to PIP and have been speaking to Ministers and MPs about our concerns since the legislation was announced.

We wanted to see the Government use the Budget to reconsider this change and take the opportunity to review the PIP assessment process. Our helpline has seen a 542 per cent increase in calls relating to PIP over the last year, with many people successfully appealing their original decision.

We are disappointed the Government intends to go ahead with these changes, and will keep raising our concerns with Government.

Employment

The Government has made a welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap and we’ve been working hard over the last year to set out the reforms needed for disabled people both in and out of work to help make this goal a reality.

However, next month new claimants in the ESA WRAG will see a £30 a week reduction in their financial support. We don’t think that this will help disabled people find work and have been campaigning against these changes since they were first announced. Disabled people are already less financially resilient than non-disabled people, with an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets. A reduction in financial support could end up creating an additional barrier to work.

We are concerned the Government are pressing ahead with this reduction. Having missed the opportunity to halt the reduction in the Budget, we, alongside other disability charities, will continue to push for this to happen before the change takes effect.

The Prime Minister has set out her vision of a country that works for everyone, yet following this Budget there is much more that needs to be done to include specific needs of disabled people in that vision. We’ll continue campaigning on all of these issues and more to make this case.

Budget 2017 – Will it deliver for disabled people?

The Budget outlines the Government’s spending priorities for the year. How can the chancellor Philip Hammond make his first budget work for disabled people? 

Ahead of the Budget next Wednesday (8 March) we’ve been responding the Government’s announcement that they intend to tighten up access to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) following two court rulings which widened access. We are really concerned that this could lead to disabled claimants missing out on the financial support they rely on to live independently.

We have spoken to MPs and Ministers about this change. It has also been debated in Parliament and raised in Prime Minister’s Questions. Disabled people spend around £550 a month on costs related to their disability and on average are less financially resilient than non-disabled people.

That’s why PIP, which helps disabled people meet some of these extra costs, is so important.

We want the Government to clarify the numbers of people who won’t be eligible for PIP following their decision and we have made them aware of our concerns. The PIP assessment must focus on the extra costs people face not their impairment.

In the Budget the Government should provide more reassurance that the financial support disabled people receive now or in the future will not be negatively affected.

We also want them to take action to drive down the extra costs disabled people face, properly fund social care and provide support for disabled people both in and out of work. We responded to the Government’s consultation on employment and submitted these points to the Treasury.

The extra costs disabled people face

As well has helping disabled people to meet the extra costs they face by protecting PIP, it is also important the Government take action to drive them down. We’ve asked the Government to develop a cross-Government strategy to tackle extra costs. We also want them to draw up a definition of a vulnerable consumer – with a particular focus on the energy industry – to ensure consistency in the support provided for disabled energy consumers.

Social care

The funding crisis in social care has remained high on the political agenda this year. Along with a number of MPs, local councils and other charities we have been calling on the Government to provide the social care system with the funding it so urgently needs.

400,000 working age disabled people rely on social care support for everyday tasks such as cooking and washing. It’s vital that everyone who needs it is able to access good quality social care that supports them to live independently. When we asked disabled social care users about their experiences of care, over half told us their care never supports their independence.

The Government has already committed to a review of social care. This is welcome but they must consult with and listen to disabled social care users as part of that review, something we have asked them to do.

It has been widely reported the Budget will include some money for social care and we hope will be used to improve care for disabled people. However, a short-term injection of cash won’t be enough. We need to see the Chancellor set out a sustainable long-term plan for funding social care as demand continues to grow.

Employment

Last year the Government launched a consultation on the support disabled people receive to find, stay and progress in work. That consultation closed last month and we want the Government to use the Budget as an opportunity to set out what they’ll be doing next. We want to see a package of real reforms set out in a White Paper as soon as possible.

Read more about what we said to Government on the specific changes.

We also want to see the Government halt a proposed financial reduction to people who receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

From 1 April this year new claimants will receive £30 a week less than current claimants. We don’t think that will help disabled people to find jobs, it will just make life harder.

Scope has been campaigning against this reduction since it was initially proposed and this is the Governments last chance to act.

On the day we’ll be tweeting as the Budget takes place and sharing our response to key announcements on the website. 

PIP is a lifeline for disabled people and needs to be protected

We know that life costs more if you’re disabled. Personal Independence Payments (PIP) play a key role in helping disabled people to manage some of these extra costs.

Last week the Government announced plans to tighten up access to PIP. We are concerned that this reduction in financial support will make it harder for many disabled people to live independent and fulfilling lives.

The extra costs of disability

Scope research shows disabled people spend on average £550 a month on costs related to their impairment or condition. For one in 10, these costs amount to £1,000 a month.

The additional costs disabled people face broadly fall into three categories:

  • Expensive purchases of specialised equipment, such as wheelchairs or screen readers.
  • Greater use of non-specialised goods and services, such as energy or taxis and private hire vehicles.
  • Paying more for non-specialised goods and services, such as insurance or higher tariffs for accessible hotel rooms.

These costs have a detrimental impact on disabled people’s financial stability. For instance, disabled people have an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets than non-disabled people, whilst households with a disabled person are more likely to have unsecured debt compared to households without a disabled member.

The financial barrier of extra costs makes it harder for individuals to get a job, access education and training opportunities, pay into savings and pensions, and participate fully in their community.

The role of PIP

The role of PIP – and its predecessor Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – is to support disabled people to meet the additional costs of disability.

Unlike other aspects of the welfare system, PIP is not an income replacer like Employment and Support Allowance or Jobseeker’s Allowance, nor is it designed to boost people’s income when wages are low like tax credits. It serves to level the playing field between disabled people and non-disabled people by helping to tackle the financial penalty of disability.

This puts disabled people in a stronger position to contribute to, and benefit from economic growth as employees, savers and consumers. In research we carried out with over 500 recipients of either PIP or DLA, over half said that PIP was important in helping them to work. A further 58 per cent said that even a small reduction in their PIP award would have a significant impact on their ability to live independently.

Our concerns with proposed changes to PIP

Scope has welcomed previous commitments by Government to protect the value of PIP and keep it free from any taxation or means-testing.

However, last week proposed changes to PIP regulations were announced that would make it harder for many disabled people to score points for certain descriptors in the assessment.

This follows two recent legal judgements which ruled in favour of awarding higher points during a PIP assessment for people who need help taking medication, or who can’t travel alone due to “psychological distress”.

Since the announcement, Scope has received a number of queries through its helpline, online community, social media and customer contact teams from current disabled claimants who are worried about whether these new changes would affect them.

A new PIP assessment

We are concerned that the changes Government are proposing make a crude distinction between those with physical impairments and mental health problems, which will lead to many disabled people missing out on vital financial support with disability-related costs.

However, we know that someone’s impairment or condition is not an accurate indicator of the additional costs they face. Disabled people have unique experiences of additional costs, which often arise as a result of barriers to participating fully in society. For instance, somebody with an anxiety disorder who finds it difficult using public transport may have to consequently spend more on taxis to get around.

We want to see reform of the PIP assessment so that it accurately captures the range and level of disabled people’s extra costs. Disabled people with lived experience of these costs should be directly involved in designing and setting a new assessment criteria.

What Scope is doing

We are calling on Government to think again about these changes and are briefing government officials about why it is so important that they don’t go ahead.

Our Chief Executive has also spoken to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to raise our concerns and ask Government to rethink its decision to reduce access to PIP.

We will continue to raise our concerns with PIP in the media to ensure Government hears disabled people’s experiences of extra costs.

We’re keen to hear from you about why PIP is important to you or about your experiences of getting PIP. If you’d like to share your story, please comment below or email stories@scope.org.uk.

For further information about PIP, visit Scope’s website or call our helpline for free on 0808 800 3333.

Health and social care must work together to improve the lives of disabled people

Today the House of  Commons Public Accounts Committee, an influential cross-party group of MPs who monitor Government spending, will start taking evidence into the integration of health and social care and how well it’s going. 

At the end of the inquiry the Committee will make recommendations to Government about how to improve the social care system.

400,000 disabled people rely on social care to get up and get dressed and good social care can support disabled people to work and participate in their communities if they want to. Yet too often disabled care users report poor experiences and poor outcomes and we are campaigning to improve social care for disabled people.

Social care has been high up the political agenda recently because of the funding crisis so this inquiry comes at an important time. We think it’s vital the Committee carefully examine how the social care system is working for working age disabled adults and hope they tell the Government how to improve the care disabled people receive.

What is integration and why is it happening?

Traditionally the support people receive from the health service – such as getting up and getting out of the house or in a residential care setting –  has been funded and organised separately from social care support.

Integration aims to get health and social care working together, focusing on a person’s needs and ambitions regardless of whether what they need support with is classed as a ‘health need’, a ‘care need’ or both.

The aim is to avoid unnecessary delays in people accessing the support they need and to ensure support is joined-up when they do receive it.

What we want the Government to do

Working age disabled adults make up a third of all social care users but our research found that 55 per cent of them think social care never supports their independence. So, the Government need to do more to ensure local authorities prioritise the needs of disabled care users.

When the Government announced the Better Care Fund they set out a number of ways they were going to measure how effectively local areas were spending the money.

Currently, these measures look at issues such as whether the number of hospital admissions has reduced rather than whether an individual receiving care is being supported to live independently in the way they choose. Our research found that of the 91 Better Care Fund Plans approved in October 2014 just 14 included schemes specifically aimed at disabled adults under 65.

We want the Government to change to the way they measure the success of the Better Care Fund and other integrated care schemes so that they include outcomes relevant to working age disabled adults. This could include things such as whether social care is supporting disabled people to access employment or education or have contact with their local community.

We asked young disabled social care users aged 17 – 30 about their experiences of social care and they told us they would like more support in areas such as transport, where to live and employment. 60 per cent of respondents said they would like support with employment but do not currently get this.

We think integrated care teams supporting young disabled people should build partnerships with local specialist employment services, in order to support people who use their services to access up to date information and support that is relevant to them.

Finally, the extreme financial pressure both the NHS and social care system are under makes successful integration more difficult. In order to make integration work for working age disabled people the Government must also commit to sustainably funding social care.
That’s why we are calling on the Government use the Spring Budget to provide the social care system with the funding it so urgently needs.

Read more about our work to improve Social Care for disabled people.

Why we need to see changes in support for disabled people in work

Today we are publishing the findings of a poll which asked disabled people about their experiences of looking for work and being in employment. 58 per cent of disabled people have felt at risk of losing their job because of their impairment.

Tomorrow new statistics will be published that will unveil the size of the disability employment gap. This is the difference between the employment rate of disabled people and non-disabled people, which has remained at around 30 percentage points for over a decade.

The Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability was launched in October and outlines the Government’s thinking about the future of employment support. The accompanying consultation provides an excellent opportunity to feedback on the document and shape future Government policy but closes at the end of the week.

New findings on disabled people’s experiences in the workplace

We surveyed over 200 working-age disabled adults in employment and uncovered that 58 per cent of disabled people have felt at risk of losing their job because of their impairment. To address this, we would like to see Government introduce a new flexible approach towards sick leave and the Equality and Human Rights Commission publish a new code of practice on workplace adjustments.

Text reads: Fifty eight percent of disabled people have felt at risk of losing their job because of their disability
Source: Scope polling of 216 working age disabled adults in employment in England, December 2016

Our research also unearthed how one in five disabled people surveyed (18 per cent) had requested support or an adjustment but their employer didn’t provide them. Employers are legally required to try and make adjustments to support disabled people in the workplace. One in four disabled people (24 per cent) say their current employer does not support them to do their job.

Scope would like to see schemes which support disabled people in work, such as Access to Work, better funded and publicised so that employees and employers are more aware of their benefits.

Workplace bullying or harassment

Text reads: 53 per cent of disabled people have experienced bullying or harassment at work
Source: Scope polling of 216 working age disabled adults in employment in England, December 2016

Our research revealed that 53 per cent of disabled people have experienced bullying or harassment at work, 21 per cent of disabled people had been bullied by colleagues and 27 per cent had experienced bullying from their employer. One in five (21 per cent) go as far as not disclosing their disability to employers, whilst one in eight (13 per cent) of those disabled people we spoke to felt they had been overlooked for a promotion.

Government are rightly focussed on removing barriers to get more disabled people into work, but the barriers that prevent people from progressing and advancing their careers, once in work, must also be addressed. The Green Paper highlights the importance of working closer with employers and changing attitudes towards disability, so it’s important the Government improve conditions for disabled people in the workplace.

Government consultation on disability employment 

Scope want to see the Government deliver on its commitment to halve the disability employment gap and to deliver a strategy that tackles the barriers disabled people face to entering, staying and progressing in work.

The Green Paper is an opportunity for disabled people to share experiences of being in and out of work and feedback on the Government’s plans. At Scope, we think there remains a huge amount of work to be done to tackle the barriers disabled people face entering and staying in work. It’s vital that the whole Government now listens to disabled people’s views on how to do this.

Read more about how you can respond to the Green Paper consultation

The Green Paper doesn’t pay enough attention to the barriers that disabled people face

Having been born deaf, Natasha has always been interested in equality and social justice. She currently works as a photographer as well as an equalities consultant at Disability Wales/Anabledd Cymru. In this guest post Natasha gives her view on the Government’s plans for changing the support disabled people get in and out of work.

The UK Government has published the “Improving Lives: Work Health and Disability” Green Paper. This document highlights the issues of the disability employment gap, access to healthcare and employment support for disabled and people with long term health conditions.

There is much that can be said about the Green Paper, both bad and good.

Taking a medical model approach

The language of the Green Paper is very medical model and highly individualised. The social model of disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, whereas the medical model used here, says people are disabled by their impairments or differences.

Natasha smiling for the cameraIt is also a forceful advocate of the “work is good” mantra. They take care to qualify that by saying ‘good’ work, but most disabled people will be aware that the opportunities for good and meaningful work are far fewer for us. It isn’t simply a case of disabled people trying harder, taking pills or going to physio in order to be ‘fit to work’. It often feels that this is the focus of the Green Paper.

This serves to depoliticise disability and that is dangerous for us. We are not disabled by our impairments or health conditions, we are disabled by the external barriers and attitudes in the world around us. That is political. No one individual can change that. It takes all of us together as a political movement to challenge and change those barriers.

What isn’t included in the Green Paper?

Opportunities to work are heavily dependent on many other factors which are barely mentioned in the Green Paper. Do we live in accessible and safe housing? Do we have access to transport to get us to work and back? Are education and skills training opportunities accessible to us? Do we have appropriate support, whether in the form of PAs, social services or appropriate and timely healthcare?

If our most basic needs aren’t being met, the stress of just trying to get by from one day to the next is considerable. How then, are people to cope with the additional stress put on them by a benefits system which isn’t designed to accommodate their needs?

My view is that the Green Paper doesn’t pay enough attention to these extensive but often subtle barriers that disabled people face, whether in work or out of work.

Challenges for disabled people who want to work

For disabled people in work and for those who want to work, there are a range of issues. Do employers understand the importance of reasonable adjustments? Do they value the skills, experience and perspective that disabled people bring to their workforce? Do Jobcentres and Access to Work provide enough support? The answer for many is a clear “no”.

Negative attitudes towards disabled people are a problem, and one that the Government has arguably perpetuated in recent years. A huge culture change is needed to shift the views, aspirations and opportunities focused on disabled people.

The barriers we face go beyond access and attitudes to disabled people. We live in a culture that serves the employer and the profit margin. This is a culture that has created the growth of zero hours contracts; of low paid workers taking multiple jobs just to pay the rent and put food on the table; of a culture that values unhealthy presenteeism and excessive working hours. In short, society values money and not people.

Society values disabled people even less. When discussing disability, I so often find myself saying “if you improve the situation for disabled people, you improve it for everyone else too.” It is a point that too many still fail to understand.

An opportunity to influence change

On a more positive note, the Government is saying “here are some of the issues we’d like to address and we recognise we don’t have all of the answers”. That at least presents disabled people with an opportunity to influence change.

The lived experiences of disabled people are crucial in influencing change. It’s going to take a considerable effort by the Government, the Department for Work and Pensions and others to make good things happen for disabled who want to work. It’s going to take even more effort to create an environment where disabled people can trust the ‘system’ to be there to support and not sanction.

Please take the time to provide feedback or respond directly to the consultation. There are a number of ways you can do this.

To make the world of work better for disabled people, it needs to be better for everyone and there are bigger issues that sit outside of the remit of this Green Paper.

Take part in the Green Paper consultation which closes this Friday 17 February, and tell the Government what you think about the support disabled people get.

Nothing will change until disabled people are included in identifying the barriers they face getting into work

Jane Hatton runs Evenbreak, an award-winning not-for-profit job board run by and for disabled people. It helps inclusive employers who understand the benefits of employing disabled people to access that talent pool. In this guest post, Jane explains some of her concerns about the government’s plans for “Improving Lives” with its latest consultation on disabled people and employment

The Evenbreak logoJane runs Evenbreak lying flat, as her spinal condition makes sitting difficult.

As a disabled woman running an inclusive not-for-profit job board for disabled candidates, I welcome any initiative which reduces disabling barriers in the workplace. The new green paper, “Improving Lives”, should therefore warm the cockles of my heart.

However, I have some grave doubts about some of its suggestions.

Reducing the disability employment gap

The government’s laudable aim is to halve the gap between the number of non-disabled people who are employed (80 per cent) and the number of disabled people who are employed (48 per cent).

However, if we continue with current approaches, reducing the gap from 32 per cent to 16 per cent will take nearly 50 years. Drastic action is required.

The government are right that they need to take action to reduce the disability employment gap. I’m not keen on putting a figure on it, because I believe disabled people should have exactly the same opportunity to be given a job they are capable of doing as a non-disabled person, not just a less-worse chance. There is plenty they could do.

Appropriate work

The green paper talks nauseatingly often about the evidence that shows “appropriate work is good for our health”. As a general principle, whilst remembering that a significant number of people are unable to work or for whom working would be damaging to their health, I can mostly go along with this.

However, the crucial word here is “appropriate”. For many people, their working conditions have contributed to their impairments (e.g. nurses, paramedics and labourers with back injuries, or people working in stressful conditions with mental health issues). My concern is that “appropriate work” will be misinterpreted as “any work being good for everyone”.

The challenge that our candidates face is finding employment which is appropriate for them, with employers who are prepared to be flexible in both their recruitment processes and working patterns.

What changes should the government make?

Any measures to help disabled people into work should only apply to those who are really able to work (as opposed to many of those that Work Capability Assessments have deemed fit for work who clearly aren’t).

Some of our candidates struggle to find the bus fare to attend interviews. Social security needs to reflect the fact that people who are worrying about bedroom tax, benefit caps, sanctions, social care, food banks and homelessness are not in a good position to be looking for jobs.

People who rely on Motability to travel around should be assured of that facility. Someone who is unable to use public transport is unlikely to be able to look for or travel to and from work without a suitable alternative.

Leading by example

The government itself is a huge employer. It should be leading the way in inclusive employment and removing barriers in the workplace. However, in my experience, it is the private sector who are much more willing to, for example, use our specialist disability job board. Very few public sector organisations have used Evenbreak.

The answer to this complex issue is relatively straightforward. If the public sector – all government departments, all NHS trusts and local authorities – were to remove disabling barriers in their organisations and encourage all their supply chains to do the same, there would be a rapid change in workplace culture.

Investing in support

Support to help disabled people into work is already happening successfully in many DPULOs (disabled people’s user-led organisations) up and down the country. Resources could be distributed to increase this valuable provision more widely.

Including disabled people

Most of the problems occur through non-disabled people making and implementing decisions based on what they think disabled people want and need. Nothing much will change until disabled people are included in identifying the barriers and in making decisions about removing them. Until then, “Improving Lives” is unlikely to apply to disabled people.

Would you like to respond to the Government’s plans?

Anyone can give feedback to the Improving Lives Green Paper.

The paper is available in a range of accessible formats, and people can respond online or by post by Friday 17 February.

If you’d like to let the government know what you think about being disabled and finding work read our blog on how to respond to the consultation.

Mental health – “It’s a conversation for everyone”

Abbi was born with a genetic bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as ‘OI’ or brittle bones. She also has mental health conditions.

In this blog, she responds to the speech the Prime Minister made at the annual Charity Commission yesterday. The Prime Minister made an announcement of additional support for those in the workplace with mental health issues.

On my ninth birthday, I was given a fluffy, purple, ‘Groovy Chic’ journal. It was one of those lockable ones which came with a set of tiny keys and quickly became one of my most prized possessions. Inside, I kept all my innermost thoughts – lists of my favourite Beanie Babies, ways in which I could become more like my idol, Jacqueline Wilson.

And regular updates on how much I wanted to die.

We need to feel able to talk about mental illness

In her speech at the annual Charity Commission yesterday, Theresa May noted that 50% of adults with mental health problems began to develop their illnesses before the age of 14. If that seems scary, it is. In fact, by the time I was 14, the only thing I detailed in my diary was my food intake and the number of sit-ups I’d done that day. Yet it would be seven more years before I finally received an intensive course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to treat my anorexia.

Since the days of my fluffy, purple diary, my mental illnesses have cost the government untold amounts of money in hospital admissions, medications and police call-outs. They have had a tangible effect on my performance at school and university and they continue to cause trouble in both my personal and professional life.

As Mrs May identified yesterday, early intervention is both critical to the recovery of those with mental illness, and of great long-term benefit to the economy. If we want to increase the recognition and treatment of mental illness in children and teenagers, then we urgently need to feel able to talk about mental illness ourselves.

Abbi, a young disabled woman, smiles and sits in her wheelchair behind a table

Mental illness isn’t palatable, but it’s a fact of life

When we talk about talking about mental health, we often make a comparison with how we talk about physical health. Whilst that’s not entirely helpful – our societal and medical treatments of physical illness still have a long way to go – it’s nevertheless often easier to discuss most physical illnesses than it is to discuss most mental ones. I’m happy to publicly disclose that I have both, yet even I regularly blame psychological symptoms on my physical conditions. After all, ‘my arthritis has flared up’ sounds a lot more palatable an excuse than, ‘I’m afraid that if I leave the house, the voices in my head will make me throw myself in front of a bus.’

Mental illness isn’t palatable. It’s rarely an easy fix. But it is a fact of life, and when we make it difficult for people to talk about – when we make employees feel uncomfortable disclosing mental illnesses, or brush off symptoms of self-harm as ‘teenage angst’, or refuse to believe that children might be capable of suicide – then we allow those illnesses to flourish.

Closing her lecture yesterday, Mrs May made an important point – ‘Mental health problems are everyone’s problem.’ Mental illness isn’t just a conversation for doctors’ offices and psychiatric hospitals. It’s a conversation for classrooms, and car rides, and water coolers. It’s a conversation for teachers and parents and friends. It’s a conversation for everyone. Join in.

Read Scope’s response to the Prime Minister’s mental health pledge.

For free information and support about disability, please contact Scope’s helpline at helpline@scope.org.uk.

You can also join Scope’s Online Community where you can share experiences, get disability advice and discuss the disability issues that matter to you.

Our priorities – influencing government in 2017

It already seems that Brexit is set to be the biggest political story of 2017 with the Government expected to trigger Article 50, beginning the formal process of the UK leaving the European Union, by the end of March. We think it is really important that disabled people’s voices are heard as part of this process and vital that progress towards equality made in recent years is not lost.

There will also be plenty of other important moments throughout the year and we will be working hard, with you, to make sure issues which affect disabled people’s lives stay high on the political agenda.

Social Care

Social care was hitting the headlines at the end of 2016, with warnings from the Local Government Association and Care Quality Commission that the system is in crisis. With the Government accepting a long-term solution to care funding needs to be found, social care is likely to remain high on the political agenda in 2017. Some additional funding will enter the system this year through an increase in council tax and from the Better Care Fund, but with a funding gap of £4.6 billion, this won’t provide the long term solution needed to meet rising demand and costs.

Social care is the support disabled people rely on to get up, get dressed, get out, and lead independent lives. Without that support disabled people can become isolated, can’t contribute to society and risk slipping into crisis. That’s why we are campaigning for long-term and adequate funding for care. Over 400,000 working age disabled people rely on social care, and with much of the recent focus on how care affects older people, we will be continuing to raise awareness with decision makers of disabled people as users of social care. 55 per cent of disabled care users tell us the system never supports their independence, so we are campaigning for a care system which supports disabled people to live independently and have choice and control over their care.

Employment

In February the Government’s consultation on disability, health and work will close. We want to see the Government take the opportunity to bring about real reform of the support disabled people receive both in and out of work.

The Government announced in October last year that people with severe conditions will receive continued Employment Support Allowance without needing repeated Work Capability Assessments. This is a welcome change but we want to see the Government go further in 2017 and completely overhaul the Work Capability Assessment so that it identifies the full range of barriers disabled people face to work.

We believe disabled people must be protected from any additional conditions linked to the support they receive. We would campaign against any attempts to impose requirements on disabled people receiving support.

The Government want to hear from disabled people about their experiences of employment support services and at work. Read more about how you can submit evidence to the consultation. Later in the year we are expecting the Government to publish a more detailed plan about how they intend to reform support for disabled people following the consultation, and at Scope we will be pushing for swift action.

Employers also have a key role to play in halving the disability employment gap. 85 per cent of disabled people think employer attitudes haven’t improved over the last four years and more needs to be done to encourage employers to create flexible modern practices. The Government should set out a long-term vision for Disability Confident this year and develop a campaign promoting the business benefits of disability employment.

Despite significant pressure on the Government from MPs from all political parties, the reduction in financial support for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance is going ahead in April 2017. We will continue to raise concerns about the harmful impact this will have on disabled people and call on the Government to reserve this decision.

Extra costs

Following the publication of the Extra Costs Commission Progress Review in late 2016, we’ll be continuing to campaign to drive down the extra costs disabled people face and working with businesses in a range of sectors to look at ways they can provide a better service for their disabled customers.

In 2017 we expect government to announce a consultation on consumer and market policy. We’ll be continuing to campaign for markets to work better for disabled people, and for a cross-governmental approach to tackle the range of costs faced by disabled people.

We are also expecting the Government to publish their second independent review into Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which will include recommendations for reform, particularly around the assessment process. We want to see the assessment for PIP more accurately capture the range of extra costs disabled people face from higher energy bills to the need for specialised equipment. Given that disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on disability related costs it is vital that the value of PIP is protected.

In 2017 we want to see long-term funding for social care so that all disabled people who need support can get it, reforms announced that will support more disabled people in employment and to halve the disability employment gap and the protection of financial support for disabled people. We will be working closely with disabled people to continue to raise these issues with the Government.