Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Cuts in Education Funding

The affects of a recession are numerous and can take its toll in many forms often hitting the most vulnerable within society.

As the Labour Government struggle to take control of the recession and its long-term affect, harsh decisions have to be made but some are just unacceptable!

It is with dismay that I learned of the plans of Lord Mandelson’s department – the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. These plans will see budgets slashed for courses aimed at both people with learning difficulties and evening classes for the elderly. Instead funds will be directed towards re-training opportunities for people hit by the recession.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I fully support our need to re-train people where appropriate but not at the expense of others.

It was not a shock to see that these plans were published quietly and without fanfare as the affect they have will be extremely detrimental to those people seeking qualification-free courses which are most commonly people with learning difficulties and the elderly. The budget cut of £150m in reality will see the student numbers shrink from 583,000 this year to only 213,000 next.

Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, told the Guardian: "These plans will come as a bitter blow to the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people who will see their courses disappear. It is incredibly cynical of the government to slip this news out in an obscure policy document and not be upfront about the impact that these cuts will have.

"While it is vital that we take a strategic approach to skills, it is absurd to stop funding courses which bring a range of benefits to individuals and wider society. Not only are they important in keeping people active but they can also work as an important stepping stone back into education for those who may have had a poor experience at school."

Lord Mandelson’s department have tried to divert criticism by saying that priority will be given to courses for people with learning difficulties but many within the disability rights arena see this as a continuation of previous longer term cuts in dedicated courses. I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with them!

David Congdon, Head of Policy at the charity Mencap, said: "We have strong evidence that courses are already being cut. If they reduce the funding further, it will have a devastating impact. These courses are vital to people's quality of life and if they are cut we are doing them a great disservice."

It is imperative that learning opportunities are maintained and, indeed, increased for all disabled people particularly in view of the Labour Government’s aim to reduce the number of claimants of incapacity benefit. Many disabled people already find it a big enough challenge to find employment opportunities so to reduce any form of educational funding will only hinder that process.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Disabled People on Television

I have spoken often about disability within media, particularly the near non-existence of disabled people on television. Over the past few months it has been encouraging to see a few characters appearing in our popular soaps such as Eastenders and Emmerdale. However, on many occasions, TV production companies lean towards employing non-disabled people to take on disabled roles.


Surely the best person for such a role would be a disabled actor – and rest assured, there are many out there. By employing a non-disabled actor in a disabled role the TV companies are in some way hoodwinking the general public and we are often left with the stereo-typical portrayal of disability. A non-disabled actor can never inject the true emotion and understanding of living with a disability no matter how good an actor they are.

Entertainment has come a long way over the decades and mindless stereotyping and discrimination are, on the large part, unacceptable to the viewers. Whilst in the 1920s and 1930s the public were willing to watch Al Jolson playing a “black” character in the film The Jazz Singer, it would most definitely be scorned upon now. Similarly, the public are no longer willing to accept the stereo-typical characters seen in the 1970s in shows such as Mind Your Language. Therefore, this attitude must now also be adopted for disabled roles and it can no longer be acceptable to push disabled people’s involvement to the background.

Research conducted by the Independent Television Commission showed that 79% of TV viewers would not mind if a disabled person read the evening news. In addition, six in every 10 viewers stated that disabled people should be seen in a wider variety of roles including that of presenters. Many viewers would also welcome better inclusion of disabled people within television advertising, particularly where it actively promotes positive images of disabled people.

Whilst these statistics indicate that the television audience show a very high and real acceptance of disabled people on screen, it would seem that the broadcasters must shed aside their shackles that make them more cautious and must be less concerned with the perceived audience prejudices, ratings and other constraints.

A sensible approach would not only give a fairer reflection of today’s society but also help educate on the real issues faced by disabled people in everyday life.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Mental Wellbeing

We have all had to deal with stress within our daily lives and many of us have felt the effects of stress at work but did you know that recent research has estimated that the cost to UK employers for work-related mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety etc is placed at £28.3bn per year and an estimated 13.7 working days per year are lost.

On this evidence all employers must make a conscious effort to improve the mental wellbeing of its workforce. In turn, the benefits to the employers will not only be financial but also productive.

For many employees, there remains a stigma to admitting they feel stressed by their work obligations and workload. Many will suffer in silence rather than admit that they feel overwhelmed. It is therefore important for employers to recognise the signs of stress and offer help where necessary.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recently issued guidance for employers on how to promote mental wellbeing at work and it is important that employers take a more proactive approach to this subject. It may be that the little things like introducing flexible working will make a major difference to the lives of employees.

As a summary, the recommendations made for employers include:

• Promote a culture of participation, equality and fairness that is based on open communication and inclusion.

• Create an awareness and understanding of mental wellbeing and reduce the potential for discrimination and stigma related to mental health problems.

• Ensure systems are in place for assessing and monitoring the mental wellbeing of employees so that areas for improvement can be identified and risks caused by work and working conditions addressed. This could include using employee attitude surveys and information about absence rates, staff turnover and investment in training and development, and providing feedback and open communication.

• If reasonably practical, provide employees with opportunities for flexible working according to their needs and aspirations in both their personal and working lives.

• Different options for flexible working include part-time working, home-working, job sharing and flexi-time.

• Strengthen the role of line managers in promoting the mental wellbeing of employees through supportive leadership style and management practices.

Is your employer doing all it can to nurture an environment of mental wellbeing?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Feeling Poorly!

Hello everyone, sorry for not blogging recently but I have been unwell of late but I’m fine now – recuperating at home. Unfortunately, I was admitted once again to St Helier Hospital, Carshalton. Treatment was generally better than in the past but far from ideal. I will update you with all my news and views over the coming week.