Thank you for playing a crucial role in our Legal Aid campaign

Last December, Scope called on supporters to join our campaign to Save Legal Aid for disabled people.

The absence of this advice would have an adverse impact on thousands of disabled people who use legal aid to challenge decisions when they are let down by the system. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which has been making its way through Parliament, plans to remove legal aid support for those appealing welfare benefits decisions.

Thousands of campaigners, keen to protect the provision of legal aid for disabled people when appealing welfare benefits decisions, took their seat in Scope’s virtual House of Lords. By March, over 2,000 campaigners had taken part in our campaign, telling the Government the adverse consequences this would have for disabled people and helping to pile the pressure on Ministers to revise their plans.

This led to a real breakthrough when Lords from across all parties expressed their discontent with the Bill and defeated the Government’s plans by 237 votes to 198. This was a great success and was the culmination of the efforts shown by all campaigners. Together, we made sure the Lords understood the significance of this issue and forced the Government to think again about its plans.

On 17 April, when the Bill returned to the House of Commons, MPs once again debated the impact of removing legal aid for welfare benefits cases. This time, the Government listened to concerns that legal aid advice is needed for appealing incorrect benefits decisions although they would restrict the help available to just a small number of very complex benefits appeals. Although we welcome the Government moving on this issue, Scope had concerns about how this promise would practically work and how many disabled people it would reach, so we asked the House of Lords to push the Government to go further.

Disappointingly, on 25 April, the House of Lords voted against our amendment which would have kept legal aid advice for disabled people appealing incorrect welfare benefits decisions.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has now moved on to the next stage and is soon to become law, without the crucial change that we were campaigning for.

Although we are disappointed with this outcome, Scope will be doing all that we can to press the Government to make sure that the concessions that they have made are workable in practice and help as many disabled people as possible.

The support of our campaigners was invaluable in forcing the Government to open up legal aid to a number of welfare benefits appeals, as well as putting them under considerable pressure to make more money available for the advice organisations who provide disabled people with much needed general advice.

The fight is not yet over, and everyone at Scope would like to thank you once again for playing a crucial role in this campaign.

Join our campaigns network

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2010-12

Over-looked Communities, Over-due Change

Guest post from Robert Trotter

It’s one of Scope’s ambitions to be completely inclusive. This means that we work hard to make sure that disabled people from all backgrounds have the same opportunities as everyone else.

But in the past it’s been difficult to support disabled people from ethnic minority communities, as there’s been very little research done to find out what kinds of support are needed, and how it can best be provided.

That’s why we’ve worked with another organisation – the Equalities National Council – to talk to disabled people from ethnic minority backgrounds to find out what their experiences of services were, and how these could be improved.

Our report – Over-looked Communities, Over-due Change – has some clear findings that should help us better understand this growing group of people.

Those we spoke to told us that life can be very difficult. Like many disabled people, money can be really tight. Life can often be very lonely. Sometimes it can be a struggle for people simply to know where to go for help, especially if their English isn’t the best.

Yet they also told us lots of simple ways that services could be improved. So in our report we explain how the Government, as well as those providing care for ethnic minority disabled people, can provide better support by involving communities better in the way that services are designed.

We hope that by reporting what ethnic minority disabled people told us, and offering ideas and solutions for improving their life opportunities, we can kick-start a journey of change – because as our report shows, it’s absolutely vital that we find ways to better support this often-overlooked community.

You can read a full copy of the report or an executive summary.

If you’d like more information, please contact Robert Trotter (Research Officer) atrobert.trotter@scope.org.uk

The Impact of Legal Aid cuts on Disability Equality North West

Guest post by by Melanie Close, Chief Executive of Disability Equality North West

Disability Equality North West is a Disabled People’s Organisation that started in 1996. We are run and controlled by disabled people and offer a wide range of advice and information services to support disabled people.

We are proud of the work that we do and the positive impact that the advice we are able to provide can have for disabled people. The advice that we are able to provide is largely thanks to the exceptional work by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, all disabled people.

We know that this advice and information is invaluable, without it many disabled people would not get the information, support and benefits that they are legally entitled to. However, there are some things that we do not have the expertise to give advice on. For discrimination, human rights or complex welfare benefits cases, legal aid can be crucial in ensuring that disabled people get the correct advice in order to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

However, the Government is proposing to remove social welfare cases from the scope of legal aid. The removal of legal aid for these cases will mean that the specialist advice provided by charities like the Citizens Advice Bureau, Law Centres and other independent advice agencies will not be available.

Furthermore, the proposals will mean that 78,000 disabled people will be denied specialist legal advice for complex welfare benefits problems – that is 58% of the total number of people affected.

As well as the devastating impact on disabled people, we have real concerns that such proposals will place real pressure on advice services such as Disability Equality.

We are anticipating a huge surge in demand for specialist advice that our staff and volunteer base does not have the specialist legal advice to deliver. Furthermore, when disabled people approach us for advice on a complex welfare benefits issue, there will be no-one to send them to so that they can receive the right advice.

The Bill is due back in the House of Commons on 17 April, where MPs will vote on whether to preserve this legal advice for disabled people. At Disability Equality North West, we have written to our local MP to make our concerns clear, and I would urge you to do the same to preserve legal aid for disabled people.

Shoe story

Shoe iconGuest post from Joanna Sholem

Five months ago when asked for our dreams and aspirations for the future as part of Scope’s re-brand, I contributed this (designed by my colleague David Hibberd) representing a wish for more ‘balance-able’ footwear. As someone whose impairment means I can’t grip with my toes or balance well, most glamorous shoes fall off my right foot or make me trip over. It may seem insignificant but is something else to set me apart. Then I found this Jagger shoe (thanks to an observant friend). Surreal!

I wrote to LK Bennett’s chief exec, founder and creative director to describe the impact that getting shoe design ‘just right’ can have. Will request that one of letters is cc’d to whoever created the Jagger shoe.

To the shoe designers of LK Bennett

This card does not contain sufficient space to tell you how much your JAGGER shoe has thrown me for a loop, a huge, beautiful, technicolour hoop. In the autumn, I created an icon for Scope’s (a national disability charity) new visual identity as part of our re-brand.

It was an image to represent my wish for the future that disabled women will be able to choose sexy, glamorous shoes, just as anyone who isn’t disabled can. (For those of us whose impairment results in poor balance, it often feels as though the pretty, elegant shoes for not for us and it’s just another thing that sets us apart, making us feel even more different). Therefore, I said I wanted a world where there are shoes that look hot, fit us, and that we can stand up and walk in.

One of our design team drew the shoe. Look for something you might notice… does anything jump out at you???

It’s as though in October, one of you had mind-reading superpowers. One of my colleagues was sent an ad for your shoes last Friday and was immediately struck by the coincidental similarity. I went to your St Pancras store and tried them on. Lo and behold, I can walk in them! It is very surreal but I wanted to i) thank you for bringing my dream to life, and ii) say, now that you know how amazing and empowering a shoe that makes me feel so wonderful is, please keep going!!

Kind regards, Joanna Sholem

Postscript The manager and two of the staff at LK Bennett/St Pancras have been absolutely lovely. They listened patiently to me try and explain and really ‘get it’. I’d like to publicly say how much I appreciated Ayesha and Cristina’s help.

@CarolineCooke Start by searching for Scope’s story gallery – scroll down to the image of a red high-heeled shoe. That’s mine – my icon to … represent what I want the future to hold. My colleague, David drew my dream shoe that I, with poor balance, could wear. Now, look again at the shoes LK Bennett have created. Notice anything familiar??? It’s as though their designer read my mind.

Joanna Sholem ‏@BookJo I’m still a little dazed by the coincidence – determined to celebrate it and encourage shoemakers(!) to make wide variety of… shoes that make disabled women feel that glam, sexy shoes are for them, too. It’s a small step toward an inclusive world.

Joanna Sholem ‏@BookJo These aren’t just shoes; putting them on my feet is transformative. Feel ready to take on the world. Being able to wear… glamorous shoes like anyone else without worrying about if I can walk in them is magical. Could fasten delicate straps of dream shoe without struggling/having to ask for help and for all good shoe companies to include balance-able shoes.

Joanna Sholem‏@BookJo Just dropped into LK Bennett St Pancras to speak to Ayesha, the amazing manager, to tell her that I didn’t hold out against temptation #Shoe

@Marikacobbold @elizabethbuchan Guess what I did at about 7:45 last night? Yes. That’s right. I did.

@Marikacobbold @elizabethbuchan Decided that as is extraordinarily rare for one’s dream to be realised, I just had to do it. Will be walking… up and down lots of annoying hills to get my legs into state worthy of such beauty. For fun, would you two try them?

“This photo has a work-related story behind it, besides the joy of trying on a pair of beaut – i- ful sandals.

Now, when Scope was developing its new visual identity as part of our re-brand, we were asked to come up with a personal story about what full inclusion and limitless potential’ d mean to us and an icon to represent it. Guess what mine is?

Here is the story I wrote months ago:

“I’d love to have a wardrobe full of stylish shoes that fit (industry set up for those that can grip with their toes – makes many shoes impossible or painful to wear).”

Anything look familiar?Jo Sholem

Under-representation of disabled people in public and political life

While disabled people have a vital contribution to make to public and political life, they are significantly under-represented throughout our political system. The reality is that Parliament is nowhere near reflecting the proportion of disabled people in the UK, and local government reveals a similar story in terms of the level of under-representation.

The consequence of this is that the quality of our government suffers from the existing lack of representation. As the Government presses ahead with a wealth of reforms that will have a real effect on disabled people’s lives, it is essential that their voices are being heard – now more than ever.

Tackling under-representation of disabled people

The different barriers that prevent disabled people from standing for elected positions have been widely examined by the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation a few years ago. The Government has already acted upon some of the recommendations, for instance by committing to establish a dedicated fund to address the extra costs faced by disabled people in standing for election.

We know the additional financial disadvantage – arising, for example, from the cost of employing an interpreter or from the extra cost of taking a taxi rather than a bus due to the inaccessibility of transport – is a real concern to many disabled people who want to put themselves forward and stand for election. Over the last months, Scope has been working with the Government to help develop the fund.

With the fund set to become operational by later this year, this will no doubt represent a crucial moment in terms of improving disabled people’s participation in public life. In the meantime, we are seeing welcome progress on a number of other proposals.

Following the consultation last year, the Government is now publishing guidance for political parties to ensure that parties are clear about their legal obligations. Many disabled people fear that their reasonable adjustment requirements would not be met if they were to stand for election.

In light of this, the guidance is welcome indeed. All political parties have important roles to play in making sure that disabled people feel confident about seeking support and are provided with the reasonable adjustments they need, thus enabling them to perform to the best of their ability.

In addition, the Government is also currently working with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to develop a training package for disabled people wishing to access elected office – which is due to be launched in the months to come.

We still have a long way to go before there is any prospect of achieving an equal representation of disabled people in public life. More needs doing, but as Lynne Featherstone, the Minister for Equalities, writes, “These policies are just the start of what we are doing to make Parliament and councils more representative of the people they serve.”

What is absolutely clear – and as the Minister acknowledges – is the positive effect this would bring in terms of decision-making: “As the Minister for Equalities, it seems obvious to me our democratic institutions make the best decisions when they have a mix of people with different skills, backgrounds and experiences, from right across the country.”

Scope’s Radio 4 Appeal: Behind the scenes

If the words Rod, Hull and Jelly mean something to you then read on. If not, first hunt out some clips of Fist of Fun on YouTube. Richard Herring and Stewart Lee’s first TV sketch show back in the mid-90s was anarchic, surreal, comedy genius. So it was tough to stay cool when I found myself opposite Richard Herring in a Turkish cafe a couple of weeks ago, particularly as he was casting his eye over a script I’d written for him. Luckily I had Scope’s celebrity manager sitting next to me; it’s his job to remain calm in the face of legend.

The script was for a two-and-a-half minute slot on Radio 4 to encourage people to donate to Scope. It was tough. I had to squeeze into just 420 words our big, big vision (a world where every disabled person has the same opportunities as everyone else) and illustrate it with a moving story about parents that had just discovered their child is disabled.

And as if that wasn’t enough, in typical Scope fashion, we decided that we’d also throw in some humour, and something else I can’t tell you about. All in just two-and-a-half minutes.

There was every chance that Richard Herring, an accomplished writer, would hate it. And then probably refer to it in stand-up sketches for evermore. He took a long look at the script, and asked to change just one word.

We then headed to Broadcasting House, the stately West End home of Radio 4, to record the appeal. Sally, the producer, guided us into a small studio. The soundproofed room was split in two. One side was a small table mounted with a microphone. Richard Herring sat down there. On the other side of the half-glass partition was a mixing desk behind which Sally positioned herself next to the engineer. He had an enormous cup of tea, which suggested we might be here some time.

In fact, Richard Herring, writer, comedian, columnist, is also a highly accomplished broadcaster (as anyone that listened to his brilliant Objective series will know… Radio 4: please commission some more). We did a practice take, then a real one and then another. And that was all it took. Richard nailed it. Listen out for his skilful handling of the tongue twister: “finally a third physio” and a wonderful Tony Blackburn impression (yes… and again I can’t say any more).

After the recording Richard did a couple of interviews. We’ll be sticking up the footage on the appeal page soon. Then Sally demonstrated her experience of hunting out pockets of light in the dim studio, as we took a couple of photos. Sadly we didn’t grab one of her balanced precariously on a wheelie chair, which I was trying to hold still as she tried an aerial shot of Richard Herring.

The appeal will be broadcast at 7.55am and 9.26pm on Sunday 1 April and at 3.27pm on Thursday 5 April. Find out more at www.scope.org.uk/richardherring

 

Film with Beaumont College students seen by Queen

Beaumont IT Technologist Zak Sly reports on an exciting development:

Over the past six months a group of students from Beaumont College, Lancasterhave been working with the BBC R&D (Research and Development) on a research partnership to make television more accessible for disabled people.

As part of the partnership some of the students got to opportunity to visit MediaCity in Salford, the BBCs new centre in the North. The students had a great day and thought this couldn’t be topped… Well…

On Friday 9 March three students Rebecca Hall, Jodie Turner and Hannah Dilworth were asked if they could have one final session with the BBC to do some filming. They were told that the short show reel will be shown to a VIP at MediaCity on 23 March. The VIP’s identity was secret at the time of the filming taking place.

The three students were filmed using a switch and a head mouse.

For those of you interested in the technical details – the switches were used to control a grid set from ‘The Grid 2’ on a normal laptop, which was connected to another computer (via a router) running a modified version of Mythbuntu (an open source Linux operating system with a media centre application built in). The operating system has been adapted to implement BBC R&D’s Universal Control API, and the Universal Control Mythbuntu files can be downloaded from GitHub.

The switch and head mouse allow the person using them to control a communication aid, which as well as giving them a ‘voice’  means they can do lots of everyday activities from talking to their families to controlling their environment (lights, heating, TV) and ordering a take-a-way or booking tickets to the cinema.

A couple of days later an email came from the BBC  to let us know that VIPs due to watch the show reel were Her Majesty The Queen, while Lord Patten (Chairman of the BBC Trust) and Mark Thompson (Director-General of the BBC) had seen it at a previous screening. Read more about the opening of the BBC’sMedia City and the Queen’s Jubilee Tour.

The three students were all really excited about this! Rebecca Hall said “When I got the email off Zak about the Queen I was really excited.” A staff member who was with her at the time said that when Rebecca read the email she screamed with excitement! Jodie Turner said she was very excited and Hannah Dilworth agreed.

Beaumont College welcomes the Bishop of Blackburn

Bishop of Blackburn with Beaumont College student

Beaumont College, Scope’s Further Education College in Lancaster, was proud to welcome the Bishop of Blackburn earlier this month as he met students to learn more about their life at college.

The Bishop took up his position in March 2004, and has since used his seat in the House of Lords to press the Government on issues relating to young people and disability. This was his first time meeting staff and students at Beaumont College – situated in his Diocese – and his visit proved to be inspirational not only for staff and students of the college, but also for the Bishop himself.

The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Rev Nicholas Reade, said after his visit:

“I was very, very deeply moved and impressed by everything I experienced at Beaumont College. For once it was neither hyperbole nor romanticism to talk of miracles.

“Futuristic technology, endless patience, imagination and care by tutors and support staff, and reservoirs of realistic compassion that ought to hallmark every Christian community, combine to proclaim for people with severe physical and learning difficulties new life in all its glorious potential.

“Everyone – students and staff – was so open about what they were doing, in helping me to understand what was being achieved. I came away deeply grateful for all I had experienced, and so better informed to be able to talk of the College’s wonderful work in wider communities.”

Tesco Mum of the Year

Guest post from Sharon Sambrook Face 2 Face Co-ordinator for Sandwell and Dudley

Unbeknown to me when I was shopping in Tesco last summer my son Ben picked up a Tesco Mum of the Year leaflet, nominated me and I won out of over 4,000 entries nationwide!!!

There were 8 categories and I won ‘Most Charitable Mum’ for the fundraising I have done following Ben’s diagnosis with an aggressive malignant brain tumour aged only 7. At that time I realised that brain tumour research was extremely underfunded and that treatments for Ben’s tumour type hadn’t moved forward in 20 years and so my fundraising began in attempt to change this staggering fact. To date I have raised over £90,000 and funded three research projects. I have also volunteered with various brain tumour charities and now I am the Face 2 Face Co-ordinator for Sandwell and Dudley supporting parents of disabled children.

The award ceremony took place at The Waldorf Hotel in London on Sunday 11th March and was a star-studded event, very different to my real life! Many celebrities attended including Pixie Lott, Amy Childs and Sinitta with the event being hosted by Fiona Phillips.

After a champagne reception and a three-course lunch, the awards were given out with a short film being shown for each of us Mums. The place was in tears with each story having an impact on everyone in the room and each of us getting a standing ovation when it was our turn to take the stage. My award was presented to me by Arlene Phillips OBE.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the next day we were taken to No. 10 Downing Street and had tea and biscuits with the Prime Minister David Cameron and I even got chance to tell him about Face 2 Face!

 

Trendsetters Blog by Bradley Roper aged 12

Guest post from Bradley Roper, aged 12.

The day after Kayne and I appeared in the BBC1 programme, Racing with the Hamiltons, I was a bit late for school so my Nan said, “Let’s catch the bus.”

The first Bus Driver wouldn’t let us on and wagged his finger at us. We are used to this and I had discussed my experience of bus drivers’ attitudes with Nic Hamilton on the TV programme the night before.

My Nan stormed away with steam coming out of her ears. Then a bus hooted behind and pulled up beside us. The bus was ‘out of service’ and the Bus Driver called out to us: “Where are you going?”

I said, “To school.”

He said, “OK, I’ll drop you off – I am going to change your opinion of bus drivers.”

Although the bus stop is near the school, he drove right down to literally outside the school gates – he had obviously seen the programme!!

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

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