The Liberal Democrats have admitted that they probably “overlooked” the need for a detailed policy on the care and support needs of working-age disabled people.

The admission to Disability News Service (DNS) by the party’s health spokesperson in the Lords, Baroness Jolly, came after party members criticised its new NHS and social care policy paper for ignoring those needs.

The policy paper refers to the “devastating” impact on health and social care posed by Brexit, and particularly a no-deal Brexit, including the effect on the country’s ability to recruit health and social care staff, and to source medication.

It says the party in government would raise an extra £6 billion to boost spending on social care, public health and mental health.

There are policies on carers and people with learning difficulties, including a pledge to give every person with learning difficulties the right to a named advocate to help them “navigate public services and access health, care and advice services”.

There is also a promise to set a new national target to reduce the gap in life expectancy between people with and without learning difficulties by one year every year.

And there is the promise of a more “ambitious” target for reducing the number of people with learning difficulties forced into assessment and treatment centres.

But despite the spending pledge and a mention of the “postcode lottery” in care, there is no discussion of how the party in government would address the support needs of working-age disabled people.

The failure comes at a time when backing for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) – proposed by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) of disabled people’s grassroots groups – is gaining momentum.

A NILSS would see a legal right to independent living, with support provided free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, managed by central government, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

Baroness Jolly, who chairs the learning difficulties charity HfT, told the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth this week that the only way to secure the future of social care was through setting up a cross-party commission on health and social care.

This, according to the policy paper, would aim to set a “realistic” long-term funding settlement for the NHS and social care, and introduce a dedicated health and social care tax to fund it.

But there was frustration among members who spoke in the debate at the lack of a proper social care policy, with detail about how a Liberal Democrat government would reform adult social care.

Cllr June Greenwell, a Liberal Democrat member of Lancaster City Council, told the conference that she could not endorse the “deeply disappointing” policy paper because social care services were discussed “almost entirely, indeed entirely, through the prism of their effect on the NHS”.

She said: “Social care services matter because the people who need those services matter and they matter whatever the impact on the NHS, and we should be saying so.”

Greenwell said the party had failed to offer “a vision, an ambition to radically improve access to social care services”.

The party’s candidate to fight the North Warwickshire seat at the next general election, Richard Whelan, who himself has a council-funded support package, said the motion “does not go far enough”.

He told members debating the new policy paper: “For someone like me, we need more than just the basic care needs, we need personal assistance.

“We need help to live an independent life. Allowing me to get here today to speak to you… involves not just the care in the home, it involves help outside the home, but it also involves help with getting educational qualifications and getting into work.

“All these things go beyond the remit of this motion and this paper.”

He called for the party to set up a working group to discuss the issue, and to bring it back to conference next year “so that disabled people can live an independent life”.

The policy paper was approved by members and has now become party policy.

But Whelan told DNS after the debate: “It’s frustrating to me that all they have talked about is linking health and social care and care workers.”

He said the party did not seem to have a policy on the support needs of working-age disabled people.

Whelan appeared to support the NILSS idea, and a legal right to independent living, as proposed by ROFA.

He said he was pushing the party to set up a working group to report back with a motion on independent living at next year’s conference, and he added: “We have to do it properly.”

Baroness Jolly told DNS that the issue of the support needs of working-age disabled people was probably “overlooked rather than ignored” by the policy paper and the motion.

She blamed the party’s lack of resources to fund detailed policy work, caused she said by its performance at the last general election, which led to a lower level of funding for its parliamentary work.

She said: “We are a very under-resourced party.”

She said her message to working-age disabled people was: “Lib Dems look forward to the next general election where we would hope to increase the number of Lib Dem MPs which would then give us the capacity to expand our policy base.”

But she said she would also speak to senior people in the party and “ask them to plug the gap in today’s paper and today’s motion”.

Although the health and social care policy paper offered little to address the issue, another paper, on social security, poverty and access to services and skills, said the party wanted to reintroduce “a form of” the Independent Living Fund, which was closed by the Tory government in June 2015.

The social security paper, which has also now become party policy after being approved by members at the conference (see separate story), said a Liberal Democrat government would “reinstate a form of the Independent Living Fund to help people who need it to live independently in their community”.

But it also said it would “increase the role of local authorities in administering the support to ensure that it is properly responsive to local needs”, which could clash with calls for a NILSS.

The idea of a return of a form of ILF was not mentioned in either motion debated by the conference this week.

19 September 2019.  News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

The needs of many disabled pupils in England are not being met, while councils are under growing financial pressure because more children are attending special schools, parliament’s spending watchdog has warned.

The report from the National Audit Office (NAO) says the number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who attend special schools or alternative provision rose by more than a fifth between 2014 and 2018.

It comes after nine years of policies from Conservative-led governments that have been aimed at educating more of the 1.3 million pupils in England with SEND in segregated special schools.

Those policies have followed the party’s 2010 general election manifesto (PDF), which pledged to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”.

The report from NAO yesterday (Wednesday) warns that, although the Department for Education (DfE) has increased school funding, particularly for pupils with high needs, this has not kept pace with the rise in the number of pupils, while local authorities are “increasingly overspending their budgets for supporting pupils with high needs”.

It adds: “The main reason why local authorities have overspent their high-needs budgets is that more pupils are attending special schools.”

The report says there was a 2.6 per cent real terms reduction in funding for each pupil with high needs in the four years between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

At the same time, local authorities have “sharply” increased the amount they spend on independent special schools, with a real terms increase of nearly a third (32.4 per cent) between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

NAO says there are concerns that demand for special school places is growing because “the system incentivises mainstream primary and secondary schools to be less inclusive”, with mainstream schools expected to cover the first £6,000 of support for a child with SEND from their existing budgets.

Schools with high numbers of children with SEND may also appear to be performing less well academically in government performance tables.

About one-fifth of pupils with SEND have education, health and care (EHC) plans, which give them legally enforceable entitlements to support, with the other four-fifths identified as needing a lower level of SEN support at school.

The report says NAO is concerned that many pupils with SEND “are not being supported effectively, and that pupils with SEND who do not have EHC plans are particularly exposed”.

The report also points out that pupils with SEND – particularly those without EHC plans – are more likely to be permanently excluded from school than pupils without SEND.

In 2017-18, children with SEND made up 45 per cent of permanent exclusions, while survey evidence in 2019 suggested that pupils with SEND are more likely to experience off-rolling – in which mainstream schools force pupils off their books to boost their academic results – than other children.

Among its recommendations, the NAO report says the government should make changes to “encourage and support mainstream schools to be more inclusive in terms of admitting, retaining and meeting the needs of pupils with SEND”.

And it says DfE should share good practice on how mainstream schools can meet the needs of pupils with SEND who do not have EHC plans.

It also calls on DfE to assess how much it would cost to ensure proper funding of the system for supporting pupils with SEND created by the 2014 reforms that introduced EHCPs.

Last week, education secretary Gavin Williamson announced a review of support for children with SEND.

But NAO made it clear to Disability News Service yesterday that DfE had seen an early draft of its report in late July. This suggests Williamson’s decision to launch a review was heavily influenced by NAO’s concerns.

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said: “ALLFIE welcomes the NAO’s conclusion that the current SEND funding system is financially unsustainable as a result of increased spending on segregated education provision that often leaves disabled pupils with poor outcomes, and recommends that government invest in mainstream education and removes the funding bias away from segregated education.”

She said this supported the recommendations of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) that the UK government should invest in a fully inclusive education system, as required under its obligations in article 24 of the UN disability convention.

She said: “The DfE have announced another SEND review. We see all these reviews as a distraction from the government’s total disregard for the continuing systematic attack on disabled pupils’ and students’ human rights to inclusive education.

“We do not need any more reviews. We need action now.”

What was needed, she said, was for the government to implement CRPD’s recommendations around removing the current “parallel education system and have one sustainable inclusive education service that includes everyone regardless of ability”.

A DfE spokesperson said yesterday that the department was not able to respond within the deadline set by DNS to questions about the report, including whether successive Tory-led governments were to blame for the rise in the number of pupils in special schools because of the “end the bias” pledge by the Conservatives in 2010.

But she said in a statement: “Helping all children and young people reach their potential is one of the core aims of this government, including those with special educational needs.

“That is why the prime minister has committed to providing an extra £700 million next year to make sure these children get an education that helps them develop and thrive as adults.

“We have improved special educational needs support to put families at the heart of the system and give them better choice in their children’s education, whether in mainstream or special school.

“Last week we launched a review of these reforms, to make sure every child, everywhere, gets an education that prepares them for success.”

12 September 2019. News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

Three disabled peers have pledged to do all they can to avert the significant impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit, with one warning of a “time bomb” that is now likely to “detonate”.

They spoke out this week as MPs and peers returned from their summer recess, facing the threat of the UK being forced to leave the European Union (EU) without an agreement at the end of next month.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson told Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday) from the House of Lords that a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous” for disabled people.

She said: “I will do everything I can to avoid it.”

She said she was “completely against a no-deal Brexit” but was unclear about what action she would take.

She said: “The action I’m likely to take is more likely to be in the chamber rather than outside and I’m just trying to get through each vote and plan around that.

“It’s unprecedented times in so many ways. We are going through procedures and debates that I’ve not really seen in the chamber before.

“I spent a lot of the summer trying to plan through all the possible scenarios and I’m not sure all the time I spent moved me any further on.

“At the moment it seems that things are changing by the minute at times.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson said it felt as though the impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit had “been forgotten and will be ignored”.

But she also expressed concern at the feverish political atmosphere, both within and outside parliament.

She said: “I worry about how angry everyone is on the outside. I don’t know how we heal some of those divisions.

“The atmosphere around Westminster is also quite challenging. This week it’s been more aggressive than before. People are feeling angry (from all sides).”

Another disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, also pledged to do all she could to avert a no-deal Brexit, even though she feared that it was now too late to do so.

She said: “In my view, it’s gone way beyond a surreal episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, to becoming an extremely worrying time-bomb about to detonate.

“I’m very dubious whether we can prevent the explosion now. The next few days will be critical and that’s why you will find me [in the House of Lords] until I drop on Saturday.”

She warned that a no-deal Brexit would be “very bad news” for disabled people.

She said: “Disabled people will suffer from all that Brexit will mean for them, especially if we crash out without a deal.

“Decreased protection from EU rights, shortage of vital medicines, a slowdown on vital medical research due to greater difficulty of UK/European data sharing, NHS and social care workforce shortages, affecting personal assistant recruitment and retention of EU workers, etc.”

She added: “For over two years now as I read and began participating in the detail of the EU withdrawal bill in the Lords, I have tried my hardest to amend and support amendments to secure disabled people’s equality and human rights, with very little success.

“Withdrawing from the EU is bad enough with a deal, but without one it’s very bad news for us indeed.”

The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said a no-deal Brexit could cause “incalculable” damage, and she was another to pledge to do everything she could to stop such an outcome.

She said: “I have on many occasions in the House spoken of the despair I, and many disabled people, feel at the way invaluable European workers in the care sector, the health service and the hospitality industry are being treated, with the environment becoming quite hostile to them.

“I was in hospital for two months 18 months ago and saw clearly how much we rely on European health workers in every sector.

“And now there is the worry, in a no-deal Brexit scenario, if we need certain medicines – and many of us do – they may not be available quite soon.

“Even if they are held up for a few days crossing a border, this could do incalculable damage to those who desperately need them.

“So I will do everything I can to stop no-deal Brexit. This doesn’t mean speaking in the House at the moment, because speeches take time, and time is something we do not have.”

The disabled MP Stephen Lloyd, formerly a Liberal Democrat and now sitting as an independent, was another to “wholly oppose” a no-deal Brexit.

As with other disabled parliamentarians, he was unable to say what action he might be able to take over the next week because of the unpredictable nature of the events in Westminster, but he added: “I’ve always been clear I’ll never back a no-deal.”

Lloyd quit the Liberal Democrat group in the Commons last December so he could keep his promise to his constituents to respect the result of the EU referendum, and he voted three times for the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May that was rejected on each occasion by MPs.

He declined to say if he still believed that the UK should leave the EU, but he said: “I have kept my promise to my constituency by voting for the withdrawal agreement (three times) but I will never back a no-deal and have said so for the last two years.”

He added: “Crashing out of the EU with no deal serves no-one, least of all our country.

“I also believe it would leave the UK so desperate to do a deal with President Donald Trump that our NHS will be up for grabs in any treaty with the US.

“Trump is all about America First and our beloved health service with its £120 billion budget is something they will demand the ability to sell into.

“And whatever this shambles of a government says, they won’t be in a position to push back.

“This will have an impact on the cost of drugs which many disabled people need to lead independent lives.”

The disabled Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who resigned from her position as shadow minister for children and families in March after voting against a second referendum – when the party leadership told its MPs to abstain on the vote – was not available to comment this week.

The disabled Tory peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin failed to respond to a request to comment.

5 September 2019. News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com