Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Councils paying for disabled people to have sex! - Part 2

Following on from my previous blogs, I have been somewhat intrigued by the level of interest that has been shown in the subject matter, namely disabled people and sex. Normally, I would be pleased to hear that disabled issues were being discussed but unfortunately most of what I have heard has not been very positive.

Having listened to a discussion on this subject on BBC Radio 5 Live it is evident that the topic is not as clear cut as everyone thinks and I feel that there are three main issues/questions that are raised by my blogs and I wanted to clarify these.

If a local authority is paying in full for a disabled person together with the support that is needed to go to Amsterdam to have sex, then I think that this is quite questionable and is something that I do not entirely agree with.

If a local authority is paying for the disabled person to have sex in Amsterdam due to the barriers faced by the disabled person that impacts on their ability to form personal relationships including those of a sexual nature, then we have to look at the motives further. Is it that Holland has been chosen because they have a more liberal attitude towards sex and a better level of disability equality? If so, then this argument would be extremely questionable and we have to ask ourselves whether the local authority would pay for a non-disabled person to travel to Amsterdam for sex purely because they may find it equally challenging to form personal relationships. I suspect the answer to this one would be a resounding no and therefore taking a different view towards the disabled person is clearly discriminatory against the non-disabled person.

If a local authority is purely paying for the support that enables the disabled person to travel to Amsterdam for sex but the disabled person meets the cost of the actual sex service and their travel etc, then this is more understandable and one that I would fully endorse. This option can be seen as an extension of independent living and disability equality. The fact that the act itself takes place in Amsterdam is irrelevant as the venue has been chosen as it is legal there and is not so in the UK.

It is extremely concerning that we may all be making assumptions on this subject without being in possession of the full facts but the attitudes and solutions to this difficult issue must be examined closely to ensure that a fair and understandable outcome is attained. I do feel it may be almost impossible to find a solution that is beyond scrutiny and the moral outrage of many.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Councils paying for disabled people to have sex!

A recent story caught my eye in the Daily Mail and whilst I have to be mindful that this particular paper has a history of sensationalism when reporting disability issues, I did think it tied in with my previous blog.

The headline and the story itself will cause a certain amount of controversy particularly at this moment in time when all benefits are being heavily scrutinised to weld the axe on the cheats and it will be seen by those who have no real experience of disability as society gone mad! However, we need to look at the genuine facts behind the story.

The emphasis of the story is that some Local Authorities are paying for fun and frolicking in Amsterdam for sexual pleasure but this is most misleading. The person in question is in receipt of a Personal Budget from their Local Authority and has made an informed choice and that choice should be theirs alone. The only thing that is important here is that they have a personal need and the need can be met – the actual need is irrelevant and should not be questioned.

The Personal Budget scheme is in place to empower the independence and well-being of disabled people and let me tell you the process for applying for a Personal Budget is not easy. Every aspect of your life and needs are delved into. At times the process is extremely intrusive and for many this can deter them from continuing with any application but it does identify the genuine needs of the disabled person and identifies clear outcomes.

Personal Budget funds provide a disabled person with independence and an enhancement to their lives. If we want to look at this fully, we need to understand and be broadminded enough to accept that disabled people do have sexual needs and for some, establishing committed relationships can be difficult. Therefore, paid sex can seem the only option.

More importantly, we need to remember that like everyone disabled people have Human Rights, namely the freedom of choice i.e. how to spend their personal budgets and freedom to have a sex life in whatever form they choose.

Yet again the headlines do not convey the true facts behind the story and another negative representation of disabled people hits the streets fuelling the moral outrage against disability.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Disabled People & Sex

Sex is always a sensitive subject to talk about and disabled people engaging in sex is even more so. However, everyone has the right to sexual expression but the way we act as a society often makes it difficult to speak about and many disabled people feel they have no right to speak about this very subject but this is precisely what I, and many others, who are Social Model Practitioners, are trying to change.

As a disabled person, if I mention the subject of sex than many people will gasp aloud or giggle outrageously but why? Disabled people like all others should have the right to a sex life! It is after all human nature. Admittedly there may be challenges, things may be more difficult and even time-consuming but the end result is a feeling of satisfaction and emotional enhancement that everyone deserves.

Let’s get one thing straight – disabled people are very interested in sex and surprise surprise can enjoy sexual activities just like non-disabled people.

There are a number of widely misconceived notions around this subject. For many, there is this myth that disabled people lose all interest in sex, particularly if the disability is caused by injury, but disabled people have healthy sex lives and most, if not all, of the myths out there should be dismissed as nonsense.

Many of the myths can be linked back to this unfounded belief within society that disabled people are somehow dependent and should be protected at all costs. We need to remember that whilst there may be some limitations, a disability does not make you any less of a person and most disabled people remain independent for most of their daily living and that includes sexual activity.

Disabled people have all the regular aspirations, expectations and desires that everyone else has. Therefore, please remember that a disabled person still has the fundamental features and qualities that make him or her attractive at some level. Sexual attraction comes in many guises; a simple look, a gentle touch, some loving words or that certain smile. Love and lust happens for disabled people just as it does for non-disabled people and with a little imagination you never know what might happen!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

FIFA World Cup 2010 - Accessibility

World Cup fever is definitely upon us! From the horrendous noise of the Vuvuzelas to the expectations for the England team, we have all been caught up in the spectacle of South Africa.

As a keen football supporter - a season ticket for Fulham FC - and a member of the FA London Advisory Group, I am passionate about making football inclusive for all. It is therefore disappointing to note that The South African Disability Alliance Group has stated that thousands of disabled people will not experience the 2010 FIFA World Cup live due to a lack of seats.

All 10 World Cup stadiums were jointly meant to have over 2800 seats allocated specifically for wheelchair spectators, but only just over a 1000 seats have been made available. The Cape Town Stadium was meant to have 340 seats for disabled people but will only have 110. Phillip Thompson, spokesman for The South African Disability Alliance Group has said there had been minimal effort to increase access for the disabled - “There are serious deficiencies in the various stadiums. There has been no undertaking from any of the stadiums to actually meet these adjusted figures. In Soccer City where we require 435 seats, it will be impossible to achieve 297," says Thompson.

I am afraid that FIFA must accept some of the blame for this unacceptable situation - they should have been monitoring the position and taking action to ensure that the promises of accessibility were met by South Africa. It is hoped that should England be successful in its bid for the 2018 World Cup, more will be done to be truly inclusive.

Friday, 11 June 2010

NHS Car Parking Charges

Having recently spent some time in my local hospital, I was shocked to see the recent findings by Which and the excessive charges made for use of hospital car parks. For patients a stay in hospital is fraught but it would now appear that family and friends wishing to visit are also subjected to stress due to the charges being applied across England and the unfair economic strain placed on long-term patients is unjust. Research into these charges have previously shown that parking made hospital visits more stressful for 49% of people.

My local NHS Trust, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust, clamped a staggering 1,671 cars and made an unbelievable £1,851,271 profit from its car park in just one year! These figures placed it in the top four biggest offenders for clamping, fining, charging and complaint generators according to research by Which.

The Which research rated hospital car parks according their capacity, convenience of payment methods, frequency and type of penalties, charging structure and profits, and communication with patients.

From their research, Which were also able to identify that Leeds General Infirmary issued 10,330 fines generating £142,000 from April 2008 to April 2009 and Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS trust has the highest minimum charge at £4 for two hours of parking (a tad expensive if your appointment only lasts half an hour).

The Trusts have all stated that they do not make a profit on car parking, but aim to cover the costs of providing and running these facilities including security and CCTV. They point out that without these charges the car parks would have to be subsidised by their patient-care budget. They also state that a number of groups are exempt from paying parking charges. These include people receiving cancer treatment, people with a family member who is critically ill, as well as parents of children who are staying overnight in hospital. In addition, drivers with disabled parking badges are exempt from paying charges, as are volunteers for the Trusts.

Peter Vicary-Smith, Which chief executive, said: "Visiting hospital is stressful enough without having to worry about being clamped or getting a ticket. Now we know which hospitals are scoring badly, they must take action and improve their parking services."

It is also worth noting that currently very few hospitals in the devolution governments i.e. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland apply these charges. Taking into account that prescription charges have been abolished in both Northern Ireland and Wales and cut to just £3 in Scotland, it would seem that within the UK we now have a two tier health service with England being placed firmly at the bottom. In such a vital service, can we afford to allow such segregation to take place?

It is a sorry state of affairs when you now have to consider the cost of a visit to your local hospital! All charges for use of NHS services and medication should be standard with no one area bearing the brunt of the costs. We must all insist that a just and fair system is rolled out across the UK to ensure that undue stress and worry do not become entangled with medical treatment.

Friday, 28 May 2010

What does the Human Rights Act actually mean?

I recently wrote about the Human Rights Act 1998 and my belief that it is the interpretation of the Human Rights Act that is the problem not the Act itself. The current interpretation of the Act seems to manifest itself as an abuse to common sense which has resulted in the extreme negative reaction given by many people when it is discussed. In its purest form, the Human Rights Act is a worthy legislation that can provide a strengthen legal foundation for many.

Prior to October 2000, it was necessary to go to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to claim your human rights. Cases were long and drawn out and the expense to do this were high and for many this option was beyond their financial means. However, the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 ensured that the human rights contained within the European Convention became enforceable in UK courts. Whilst procedures may still be long and drawn out, the costs have been somewhat lowered and it has given more people access to claim their rights.

As highlighted in my earlier blog, for many the Act is open to extreme abuse and this has resulted in a negative acceptance of the Act but what does the Act actually ensure? Many people do not know or do not want to understand the Act in its simplest form and, therefore, I felt it would be interesting to go back to the basics of the Act.

The rights under the law are:-

The right to life;
The right not to be tortured, also not to be treated or punished in a degrading or inhuman way;
The right not to have to do forced labour or be a slave;
The right to liberty and security of person;
The right to a fair trial;
The right to freedom from retrospective penalities or laws;
The right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence;
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
The right to freedom of expression;
The right to freedom of assembly and association; and
The right to marry and have a family.

The right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions;
The right to education;
The right to free elections at regular intervals; and
The abolition of the death penalty.

At the present time, it is fair to say that the Human Rights Act does not have a particularly good public image mainly due to the fact that the true and honest cases do not make as clever headlines as when the act is abused by criminals or by those charged with upholding the law. To try and rebalance this I show below some positives that have come about because of the Human Rights Act and I hope it may just sway you to see the benefits of this legislation.

Rachel Gunter is severely disabled and requires constant nursing. After caring for Rachel 24 hours a day for 6 years, her parents were no longer able to give her the physical support and mental stimulation she required. Mr and Mrs Gunter approached the Primary Care Trust for help. The Trust, reluctant to provide care in the Gunter's home, hoped to put Rachel into a residential facility. However, Rachel’s parents felt this would deprive her of the mental stimulation that they could provide, and that had already increased Rachel’s confidence and communication skills. In 2005, the courts ordered that the Trust reconsider its decision on the grounds that taking Rachel from her home would infringe on her right to family life under Article 8.

The right of same-sex couples to succeed to a tenancy in the event of the death of a partner was established in the case of Antonio Godin Mendoza in 2004. The House of Lords concluded that the less favourable treatment of the survivors of long-term homosexual partnerships resulting from the literal reading of the Rent Act provisions could be remedied by altering the definition of ‘spouse’ to include persons of the same-sex. This would be to ‘read and give effect to’ the Defendant’s right to respect for private life (Article 8) and the prohibition on discrimination (in Article 14).

Smith v Oxfordshire Coroner 2009 defined that British soldiers were protected by the human rights act and that a government was therefore under a duty to take all reasonable steps to protect them. The ruling doesn't mean that soldiers can't go in to battle and risk their lives, but it does mean the government is under a legal obligation to properly equip soldiers and can be held responsible for their deaths if a soldier dies when the government could so easily have prevented that death.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK government CANNOT keep DNA records of innocent people - it also put a time limit on the DNA records of "minor criminals".

Prior to a woman taking action against the British government, rape victims in England were subject to lengthy cross-examination in person by men who were alleged to have violated them. As a result of a judgment protecting her right not to be subject to "inhuman and degrading treatment", the law in this country was changed.

In fact in the last few weeks those of you who voted in the General Election benefitted from the Human Rights Act. That is the right to vote in free elections.

And every one who enjoys slating the Human Rights Act is doing so under the Human Rights Act - the right to free expression.

Maybe we should all take another look at the Act in its purest form and be proud that we respect the human rights of people, even if they don't, at times, strictly "deserve" it.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act 1998 received Royal Assent on 9th November 1998 and, for the most part, came into force on 2nd October 2000. Its aim of this Act is to "give further effect" in UK law to the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Act, therefore, makes available in UK courts a remedy for breach of a Convention right, without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

From its introduction the Human Rights Act 1998 has been somewhat controversial and there have been many high profile cases that, through media exposure, have given the Act a bad name. For many, the Human Rights Act has been seen to be legislation that helps only the villain to the detriment of hard working honest citizens.

Cases such as:-

Venables and Thompson v. News Group Newspapers – The James Bulger murder case tested whether the Article 8 (privacy) rights of Venables and Thomson, the convicted murderers of Bulger, applied when four newspapers sought to publish their new identities and whereabouts, using their Article 10 rights of freedom of expression. Dame Butler-Sloss granted permanent global injunctions not to publish the material because of the disastrous consequences such disclosure might have for the former convicts, not least the possibility of physical harm or death;

Afghan hijackers 2006 - In May 2006, a politically controversial decision regarding the treatment of 9 Afghan men who hijacked a plane to flee from the Taliban. It was ruled by an Immigration Tribunal, under the Human Rights Act, that the hijackers could remain in the United Kingdom; a subsequent court decision ruled that the government had abused its power in restricting the hijackers' right to work;

and most recently

Abid Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan - won the right to stay in Britain even though the court accepted they were planning an “imminent” attack in Manchester when they were arrested last year. The judge said he was “satisfied” that ringleader Naseer, in particular, “still poses a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom” but his hands were tied by the Human Rights Act because the two men might be tortured if they were sent home to Pakistan;

have done little to enhance the general opinion of The Human Rights Act.

However, in my opinion, it is the interpretation of the Human Rights Act that is the problem not the Act itself. In its purest form, the Human Rights Act is a worthy legislation that can provide a strengthen legal foundation for many. It is unfortunate that abuses of its aims have occurred but the law will always be tested to the extreme.

As our Coalition Government begins its working partnership, it will be interesting to see how they address the Human Rights Act. In the past, David Cameron and the Conservatives have stated that they want to see the Act scrapped and replaced with a Bill of Rights but Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats oppose this idea.

One thing is for sure, they need to work on improving the image of the existing Act and we need to see more positive stories of how the Act has been implemented.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The New Equality Act 2010

Within the UK there is specific legislation on equality that outlaws discrimination and provides the mechanisms for individuals to address issues through the courts when they experience unlawful discrimination. At the present time, the legislation focuses on specific areas of equality and as such there are a number of different Acts in place i.e. The Race Relations Act 1976, The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and, of course, Disability Discrimination Act 1995. However, during this year changes will take place that will result in all the equality strands being dealt with under one new Act – The Equality Act 2010.

This fundamental change will mean that existing legislation will no longer apply. Many people seem to be unaware of the changes and the impact it will have. Most people have a generalised understanding of The Race Relations Act 1976 or The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 but very few understand the intricate measures that are addressed by the lesser known Acts such as The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 or Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006. It may be that these lesser known Acts lose some of their identity when encompassed within the new Equality Act and we need to ensure that this is not the case.

The Equality Act itself was passed through Parliament on 6th April 2010 and received Royal Assent on 8th April 2010. The time line for introduction of the Equality Act 2010 is as follows:

October 2010: the main provisions of the Equality Act will become law and the DDA will no longer have the force of law.

April 2011: the integrated public sector Equality Duty, the Socio-economic Duty and dual discrimination protection apply.

2012: the ban on age discrimination in provision of goods, facilities, services and public functions applies.

2013: the private and voluntary sector gender pay transparency regulations (if required) and political parties publishing diversity data applies.

In the meantime, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and other existing legislation still effectively applies until October 2010. Don’t let ignorance be an excuse – take a little time to find out how the changes to the existing legislation will impact on every aspect of life within the UK.

Should you wish to find out more about the new Equality Act 2010 feel free to contact Oisin@dpconsulting.org.uk who will be happy to provide details of workshops currently being run to enhance your understanding of the Equality Act and its application.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Coalition Government

Well what a couple of weeks it has been in politics! I have to admit I was a little frustrated with all the Hung Parliament business as it seemed to take an age to sort although in truth it was only five days. Many seemed to agree with me as over 58% of the electorate were disgruntled with the situation we faced but we only had ourselves to blame – after all we were the ones voting.

So what now for the UK Parliament.........

Our new Prime Minister, David Cameron has set out his government which has included Nick Clegg as the new deputy prime minister and several other Lib Dems. Whilst I appreciate that no party gained a majority, it does seem somewhat weird to have the leader of the party that came third and his ministers in such key positions. Of course, this coalition is the first time there has been a Conservatives and Liberal Democrats power-share at Westminster and the first coalition in the UK since the Second World War so we will all have to wait and see how it works in practice.

As I listened to Gordon Brown’s resignation speech last week, I have to say I did feel a little compassionate for him. It seems to me that for once we had a leader that actually told it how it was without the spin but his downfall was somewhat governed by global events and his prickly personality. It was quite nice to observe him as he spoke about his family – he seemed totally relaxed and far more approachable than I had ever seen him. I wish him the very best for the future and hope that he does not disappear completely into obscurity – after all there are many areas in which he can still excel in - maybe a role within the International Monetary Fund beckons.

As we move forward into our new Parliament we can only hope that in-party squabbles are kept to a minimum and that the Coalition Government can offer our country some stability and solid foundations to move firmly out of recession. No-one can deny that the priority of the new Coalition Government must be to cut our national debt but any cuts must go hand-in-hand with measures and incentives that will boost growth and confidence within our businesses.

We must all play our part and heed the words of our new Prime Minister when he said “If we pull together, we can do it.”

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Economic Plans

UK GDP only grew by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2010, lagging behind the predicted 0.4% growth rate widely expected by many. This minute growth shows that we are far from being out of woods where economic growth is concerned. This country now needs strong economic strategies to increase the growth and to prevent a further dip back into recession.

At present, the country’s deficit is some £167 billion this year. In 1997 when Labour came to power our national debt stood at £350 billion – today it has more than doubled and stands at £776 billion with interest rising at a rate of £5,000 per second. Frightening figures to say the least!

As we enter the last days before the General Election on 6th May, we need to be considering the main issues that any future Government must address:-

• This country currently has a high unproductive public sector with high finance leaks and little accountability;

• This country currently has a small wealth-generating private sector which constantly has its hands tied by taxation;

• This country has an aging population, which will only increase, who are struggling to survive on low pensions forcing many onto the poverty line;

• This country has a million unemployed youngsters who feel despondent about their futures and are empathic to the political arena as politicians fail to engage with them.

The future of this country is very much dictated by implementing the correct economic policies that will not only see us through the current economic climate but also steer us into a brighter and more stable growth pattern.

Our political parties now need to define clearly their strategies and plans for this future growth to ensure that the voters can make an informed decision when casting their votes.

Labour have failed to give a clear and workable recovery plan to date – it would appear that their policy is more of the same which has clearly not worked.

Conservatives sprout figures convincingly but do seem to be relying on huge cuts in public spending – let’s hope this does not mean poorer service levels across the board. They have also failed to see the advantages of tax increases and closing of tax loopholes that only benefit the wealthy within our country.

Liberal Democrats seem determined to trash the pound and join the Euro. As Greece tips over into bankruptcy their economic situation can only have a negative effect on the Euro. Timing for the Liberal Democrats could not be worse as entering the Euro at the present time can only spell disaster for our fragile economy.

Let’s stop the chat and the bickering and see some strong and workable economic policies that will nurture our economy and see the national debt decrease and confidence increase.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Labour's Shocking Insensitivity!

Many things incense me and few things surprise me! Both these comments can apply to the information sent to me recently by a friend relating to a poster posted on The Labour Party website. She was so shocked that she rang her local Labour Party to complain and then contacted me.

Such was my rage that I needed several minutes to calm down from a raging storm to a heavy shower!

Over the years there have been many distasteful and ridiculous advertising misdemeanors but this one from The Labour Party must surely jump to the top of the list. Over the past months, the Labour Party has displayed pretty poor judgment but allowing such a poster to appear within their election campaign advertising is a disgrace. You cannot tell me that no-one within their marketing department raised the issue of just how offensive this poster would be to wheelchair users.

Following a number of complaints, The Labour Party has now removed it from their website but surely the question must be who in their right mind allowed it to be there in the first place?

As I deliberate who to vote for on May 6th, I will consider the attitudes of all the political parties towards disability issues and I must say that this certainly does not give me the impression that The Labour Party understands and comprehends the issues disabled people face on a day-to-day basis.

My blood is still boiling over at the insensitivity they have shown.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Election Fever & Voting

Election fever has hit us – well the politicians at least. For most there is a sense of empathy hanging in the air and I feel this is probably because most of us cannot make head nor tail of the real actual policies of the different parties. I have now assumed that where the main three political parties are concerned, they do not want us to know their policies as, in truth, they haven’t actually developed them!

I felt certain that the live television debates would give the general public a clear idea of what each party stood for but alas the only subject that seems to make the headlines are the popularity polls. Unfortunately being popular because you wore a nice tie or you talked into a camera does not necessarily mean you are fit to be Prime Minister and that you can deliver the strategies your party feel are best for the country.

For most, visiting the polling booths on 6th May will involve remembering where you put that damn voters card that was sent to you weeks ago in the post, going to your correct polling station and putting your cross in your chosen box. However, disabled voters need to be more aware of the assistance that is in place to help them cast their vote. Below is a brief overview for you if you are not fully aware of the arrangements.

Polling stations and local information

Under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), service providers are legally obliged to make any 'reasonable' physical adjustments to their premises to make them accessible to disabled people. This legislation covers polling stations.

Local councils should provide information about polling stations, including details about physical access - disabled parking spaces and entrance ramps; low-level polling booths and equipment such as magnifying glasses for voters with a visual impairment.

If you need help on polling day, you can apply to the presiding officer asking them to mark your ballot paper for you. Alternatively, they should allow you to vote with a companion's help.

Visually Impaired Voters

All polling stations must provide a tactile voting device and at least one large print display version of the ballot paper. This makes it easier to vote without another person's help if you're blind or visually impaired. You can also ask polling station staff to read the list of candidates and their details to you.

Ways to vote

If you find it difficult to get to your polling station, you can vote in a different way.

Postal voting
Postal voting is open to everyone and you don't have to give a reason to vote by post. You must apply to vote by post well in advance of the election.

Voting by proxy

If you can't vote in person, you can apply to vote by proxy. This means that you appoint someone else to act as proxy to vote on your behalf. Contact your electoral registration office at your local council for an application form.

With all this information to hand, I urge you to make your vote count on 6th May – that is, of course, if you can make out the differences between the political parties!

Happy Voting.........

Thursday, 1 April 2010

National Care Service could mean Disability Cuts!

The National Care Service being proposed by the Labour Government caused even more controversy with the publication of a white paper that revealed a possible £100m annual cut to disability benefits. Page 132 of the white paper contained an admission by the health department that spending on disability benefits will be cut in order to help pay for the free care pledge.

The Government, of course, have denied that they will effectively be waving a machete to the disability benefits to fund their proposed social care plans.

Andy Burnham, Health Secretary published the Government’s social care proposals yesterday and indicated that Labour aims to have the social care proposals in place by 2015 but investigations seem to point towards £100m being cut from the Attendance Allowance for disabled people in order to help pay for this policy.

Underhandedly, it should be noted that a draft of the white paper issued on Tuesday had the content of page 132 missing with a statement merely saying that “wording to be agreed by the treasury, No.10 and special advisers later today”.

The revelations of page 132 seems to negate the assurances given by the Labour Government that benefits would not be cut and their actions can only be viewed as sneaky and beyond belief.

Conservative Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley MP said that “Labour's health plans seemed to have fallen apart in disarray”

Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb, has said "Labour promised to protect disability benefits from any future cuts, but it looks like they're going to have to raid budgets to pay for their free care plans.”

It seems to me that not only were there huge potholes in the Budget figures recently but we are now seeing further evidence that financial planning by the Labour Government is awash with enormous black holes. Time after time they have failed to set out strategies that shows how their policies will be funded in the future and yet again disabled people are being seen as the easy targets. Shame on you Labour!

Gordon Brown says the national care service will be founded on labour's enduring belief in fairness and responsibility yet their actions do not demonstrate this ethos. Cutting budgets from those that are in desperate need of them is not fair and does not show a responsible attitude to their plight.

Care services minister Phil Hope pledged the creation of a national care service was "to provide care for people free, when they need it - and that includes adults with disabilities as well as older people”. He strongly denied that the government planned to change any of the rules affecting attendance allowance but their own white paper seems to indicate otherwise.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Call that a Budget?

As you are aware yesterday was Budget Day for the UK and probably one of the most important days of the last thirteen years for the Labour Government. Yes – it truly was a make or break day and I am sorry to say everything broke for them.

In light of the current economic situation, the vast debts Britain currently has and the prediction that by 2015 the country will be in the red to the tune of £1.4trillion, I for one, was hoping for a show of strength, for Alistair Darling to finally show us the plans the Labour Government have for steering us out of the recession and into more stability. Unfortunately what they gave us was a Budget with more potholes than our roads!

No surprise that Alistair Darling hit the usual money-grabbers such fuel, alcohol and cigarettes (luckily I don’t drive, smoke or drink Cider) as you can always depend on them to be at the forefront of any Government’s stealth tax plans but the real shocker was how badly the figures seemed to add up.

One example of this is the plans to abolish Stamp Duty for first-time buyers up to purchases of £250,000 and the respective introduction of a new 5% tax for homes sold for £1million. On the face of it this can only be good news can’t it? – surely it’s going to kick-start the property market? No – when you look a little deeper the expected figures are miles apart with the expected Stamp Duty break costing £550million by 2012 and the expected income from the “Mansion Tax” only generating some £390million – leaving us with a colossal shortfall.

For the small business owner like myself the figures are still as frightening and I can still see no long term strategy in place to assist me in keeping my business up and running. Yes, the Chancellor did announce a £2.5billion package and around 500,000 companies may benefit from a one year reduction in business rates but the increase in Employers’ National Insurance rates in 2011 will costs companies around £10billion.

Tax for the hardworking ordinary people also took an indirect hit. Whilst there was no tax increase, and for small things we have to be grateful, Darling did freeze the threshold levels. In real terms when this is related to the current rate of inflation of 3.7%, the Government will still manage to raise some £2.2 billion from us.

As I sit here pondering over the finer details of yesterday’s Budget, I shake my head in dismay. There are no positives here, there are no long term solutions here and there is no light shining at the end of the tunnel here. Darling and Brown have tried to temporarily fix the pot-holes and tried to keep the staunch Labour voters on board for the election but this budget had more water leaks than many of the London roads. Labour may well have hammered the final nail into the coffin – we will have to wait until May to see the real reaction from the voters.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Jobs Assistant

From my own personal experiences, I know just how difficult it can be for disabled people to secure meaningful employment. Unfortunately there is a long held myth that disabled people cannot or do not wish to work. In truth it is the exact opposite – many disabled people can and do wish to work. Unfortunately finding meaningful employment within mainstream society can prove extremely frustrating.

I see two main barriers for employment opportunities:- know-how and attitude. Let me explain......

Know-how – Many disabled people do not know where to source employment opportunities and many of the traditional methods such as Job Centres and Employment Agencies do not have the know-how to support them fully in their quest for employment. Now don’t get me wrong, I am sure these organisations do try to help but they do not understand how to provide the correct support and in many cases disabled people are merely encouraged to contact one of the many disability organisations for assistance. In turn, these organisations are inundated with potential candidates and their resources are stretched to the limits.

Attitude – As I have already stated, there is a long held myth concerning disabled people and employment and this misguided myth is, to this day, the main barrier for disabled people seeking employment. In addition, many potential employers are misguided in their attitudes as to what is involved in employing disabled people. Many see a disabled applicant and their first thoughts run along the lines of “we are going to have to make changes – how much is that going to cost the company” or “that person has a disability, so will probably need a lot of time off for sickness”. There is a need within the UK to re-educate employers. Whilst some changes may be necessary, it does not mean that there is a financial implication – it may just mean adapting the work patterns i.e. allowing flexible working hours etc and if there are financial implications, there may well be grants available that can assist with this. As for sickness, there is strong evidence to show that disabled people tend to take less sickness than non-disabled colleagues!

My company employs a number of disabled professionals and it was with this in mind that I began to consider what real opportunities there were for others seeking employment. Unfortunately, with all the best will in the world I cannot employ everyone! After careful consideration an idea formulated in my mind - why not set up an employment agency for disabled people. The idea took on a life of its own and in a very short timescale, I was able to set up a social enterprise called The Jobs Assistant which had a very successful launch in January 2010.

Since its launch The Jobs Assistant team have been busy putting in place the mechanisms that, I hope, will ensure its success. Contacts have been made with both applicants, partners and potential employers and we are still working steadily through these. The team are now entering the second phase of its launch – creating a strong presence in the marketplace.

To this end, I am delighted that The Jobs Assistant will be taking part in the Routes to Work event taking place on Tuesday 23rd March 2010 at the Europa Gallery, Sutton Central Library, St. Nicholas Way, Sutton, Surrey SM1 1EA.

This event will provide an opportunity for The Jobs Assistant to strengthen its presence in the marketplace, publicise our services and generally meet valuable contacts.

The Jobs Assistant team would welcome the opportunity to meet with you if you are planning to attend this event.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Assisted Suicide - New Guidelines

I have written a number of times over the past year regarding the issue of assisted suicide. This emotive topic always raises a number of opinions and whether you agree or disagree, I feel that having a clear understanding of the implications, particularly for the loved ones left behind, is long overdue. Therefore, like many others, I was pleased to see that clearer guidelines have now been set out and loved ones will know those implications which may impact on them.

For those who choose assisted suicide it has been a difficult decision as to whether they involve loved ones or not out of fear of prosecution. This fear has now been somewhat removed by the guidelines – helping a loved one to commit suicide out of compassion will no longer result in prosecution.

The Law Lords requested that guidelines be drawn up following their ruling last summer in the case of Debbie Purdy, who campaigned for dignity-in-dying (she had asked the courts for guidance on whether her husband would be prosecuted if he travelled to the Dignitas Clinic in Zurich with her). The guidelines set out by Keir Starmer effectively means the law will turn a blind eye to assisted suicide.

Mr Starmer said yesterday that mercy killing remains murder and that all cases where someone is suspected of assisting a suicide will be fully investigated.

‘The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim,’ he added. The policy does not change the law on assisted suicide. It does not open the door for euthanasia. It does not override the will of Parliament. What it does do is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not.’

However, the guidelines are not supported by many and some Disability charities are concerned that the guidelines could be used to pressure the vulnerable into death.

Richard Hawkes, of Scope, said: ‘We understand that assisted suicide is a complex and emotional issue. However, we do not support any weakening of the protection offered under the law on assisted suicide, which is exactly what these new guidelines do. Many disabled people are frightened by the consequences of these new guidelines and with good reason. There is a real danger these changes will result in disabled people being pressured to end their lives.’

I do agree with Richard Hawkes and I certainly feel that the guidelines should not be used as a tick box. Each case still needs to be handled with sensitivity but investigated to the fullest.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Disabled Parking at Supermarkets

A long time ago, I decided that I really could not be bothered with going to the Supermarket. I was fed up with the rude people who rush around as if the place is their own, the staff who cannot answer the most simple of questions and I absolutely hated the queues! I now choose to do all my shopping online - be it my groceries or my luxury items!

So you can imagine my pleasure when listening to a BBC news report recently on Supermarket parking, that I discovered that I was one of the lucky ones that did not have to worry about parking but once my initial self-satisfaction subsided I took a longer look at the issue and discovered that I was actually quite irate at the current practices operating within our major Supermarkets.

The BBC identified that the four major chains all impose parking limits on their customers in most of their Supermarket car parks. A survey by the BBC revealed that 124 large Supermarkets from the big four do not allow extra parking time for their disabled customers. It also revealed that the big four are opting more to use private firms to enforce their parking rules meaning that disabled customers are becoming increasingly easy targets for these overly-keen patrols. By not allowing extra time for their disabled customers, all of the big four supermarkets are breaking the current disability discrimination laws.

Neil Coyle, from the charity Disability Alliance, told the BBC “Supermarkets need to acknowledge there is a problem, and secondly, very quickly they need to ensure their car parking procedures conform with the law”. He also added that the supermarkets need to end the “unfair charges” or “they can wait until someone takes a legal case and potentially face a considerable compensation case”.

I know many drivers already feel that they are an easy cash-cow for raising revenue but for the Supermarkets to sit back and allow this outrageous practice to continue is unacceptable. They must ensure their parking controls conform with the law and make reasonable adjustment for their disabled customers.

After all, these disabled customers are only there to buy the products they sell!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Baroness Grey-Thompson

My hearty congratulations and a big round of applause must go to Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson on the announcement of her peerage to the House of Lords.

Baroness Grey-Thompson will put her considerable skills and intellect to the areas of sport, disability and youth.

On her appointment Baroness Grey-Thompson said “I feel incredibly honoured to have been considered for this, and to have been accepted into the House of Lords. I went through great nerves as an athlete, but I’ve had sleepless nights about my first speech there,”

By her last Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, Baroness Grey-Thompson had amassed 16medals (11 gold, four silver and a bronze) and 13 World Championship medals (six gold, five silver and two bronze) - certainly an inspiration to us all!

Baroness Grey-Thompson is a non-executive director for UK Athletics, sits on the board of the London Marathon and the Board of Transport for London (2008). She is also Chair of the Womens Sports and Fitness Foundation Commission on the Future of Womens Sport. She is also patron of a number of charities and is vice-chairman of the Laureus World Sport Academy, a trustee of the Sport for Good Foundation, a Council Member for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, and a UNICEF International Inspiration Ambassador.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Out of recession - I don't think so.............

January saw us mark the end of the recession – the longest economic downturn on record.

Whilst our Government will surely be patting itself on the back and thanking their lucky stars that we stayed out of depression, I and many others will have little faith in this news. We would be wise to remember that during this recession we have seen the economy reduced by over 6 percent and unemployment rise to 7.8 percent.

I do believe that this may be a temporary step forward. We have to remember that the figures used are for the last financial quarter which includes increased employment of temporary Christmas staff, increased purchases of luxury goods before the VAT rise took effect, the car scrapage scheme coming to an end and people spending slightly more in order to enjoy the festive season.

In April we may well see a step backwards as we see taxes rise as income tax and national insurance rise. As inflation rears its ugly head we may also see an increase in interest rates.

As I write I can see little is being done to stimulate the economy for growth and I do not see a sustainable economic strategy. We are unprepared to take full advantage of the small GDP figures and should not confuse the end of a recession with a start of growth.

We are a long way from seeing real evidence of our recovery and ordinary folk will see little evidence of the end of the recession in their everyday lives.