Category Archives: Disability

MP Backs Campaign for Sight Loss Advisers

Dame Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, is backing a campaign by sight loss charity RNIB to ensure that everyone diagnosed with sight loss gets emotional support to come to terms with their condition.

Dame Anne attended the launch of The Royal National Institute of Blind People’s (RNIB)  new report ‘Being There When it Matters’, which is calling for every eye department in the UK to have access to a qualified sight loss adviser so that people are properly supported as they adapt to life with reduced or no vision. The current picture is bleak; only 30% of eye departments in the UK have access to a qualified sight loss adviser.

Sight loss advisers offer dedicated practical and emotional support. They can offer advice on everything from remaining in employment, to being more independent around the home and reducing the risk of falls whilst out and about. Recent research has revealed that sight loss advisers create significant financial savings for health and social care budgets with every £1 invested in the service delivering a return of £10.57.

The move comes as a new survey, commissioned by RNIB, reveals that 44% of UK adults said they feared losing their sight more than any other long-term health condition.

Adults in the UK are more afraid of losing their sight than they are of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease or having to use a wheelchair.

More than half of the 2,000 adults surveyed (53%) also said that they believed losing their sight would have a bigger impact on their life than other long-term health conditions, with nine in 10 saying they would lose their independence and eight in 10 concerned they would lose their job.

Dame Anne said: “I think that it is vital that blind and partially sighted people receive quality and timely support to help them to adapt to their sight loss.

“Sight loss can have a profound impact upon a person’s life. Without the right support people can become unnecessarily isolated and can struggle to adapt. I support RNIB’s campaign for every eye department to have access to sight loss adviser.”

Whizz-Kidz urges disabled people to rate and review wheelchair services, in ‘world first’ website

In a world first, a pioneering new facility dubbed ‘TripAdvisor for wheelchair services’ aiming to give disabled people a voice to rate and review their experiences, is being backed by national disability charity Whizz-Kidz.

Disabled people unhappy with the wheelchair service they get, who have had to endure lengthy waits, or those wanting to praise a service that’s helped them can now do just that – anonymously – on patient experience website www.iwantgreatcare.org.

Whizz-Kidz is proud to support and encourage users to engage with the new service, with CEO Ruth Owen OBE claiming it will paint a true picture of the experiences of wheelchair users across the UK:

‘Whizz-Kidz knows from listening to the young people and their families who have to turn to us, that in many areas wheelchair users have lengthy waits and often aren’t given appropriate equipment by their local NHS wheelchair service,’ she said.

‘We believe iWantGreatCare.org affords us all – including me as a wheelchair user – an opportunity to reflect the reality of wheelchair services across the UK, and affect lasting change by having our voices heard and concerns acted upon.’

The site already provides a platform for feedback on other aspects of healthcare including doctors, hospitals and pharmacies, the latest service is aimed at giving a voice to wheelchair users. Already a number of users have documented their experiences, with claims of a postcode lottery of services, and unsuitable equipment for young people.

Others have commended their local service for putting the user at the centre of the consultation for a new chair and keeping them informed throughout the process.

iWantGreatCare.org.uk site founder Neil Bacon said: ‘It’s time to listen to the previously unheard voices of wheelchair users and their families.’

Wheelchair user Dame Anne Begg – MP for Aberdeen South, and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee – said: ‘This is a really important step in giving a voice to wheelchair users across the UK.  As a wheelchair user myself and an MP representing wheelchair users and their families in my constituency, I am really excited by this development which, for the first time, will give wheelchair users the opportunity to rate and review the services they receive. I hope we will see improved services and better outcomes for wheelchair users as a result.’

To rate your service visit https://www.iwantgreatcare.org/reviews/search.

Whizz-Kidz estimates there are still over 70,000 children in the UK waiting for the right equipment to fit their young lives. The right wheelchair and mobility equipment is not automatically provided on the NHS. Whizz-Kidz aims to work where possible with local NHS services, and aims to ensure that much-needed improvements are made in delivering wheelchair services for children in the UK. www.whizz-kidz.org.uk.

What does a yes or no vote mean for disabled people in Scotland?

A recent survey found that almost three-quarters of people living with a disability in Scotland feel that their voice has not been heard in the referendum debate so far.

DSCN6709Fears about the ongoing reform of the welfare system, their ability to live independently, and the social care support on offer were the most pressing concerns given by those questioned in the survey.

Therefore, Disability Agenda Scotland (DAS) – a consortium of Scotland’s leading disability charities that cover everything from sensory loss to physical disability, learning disability and mental health organised a hustings to consider the question: What does a yes or no vote mean for disabled people in Scotland?

Anne appeared on the panel on behalf of Better Together. In delivering the opening statement, she spoke of the need to achieve social justice and civil rights for disabled people across the UK.

DSCN6706She highlighted that the Tory/Lib Dem welfare reforms have disproportionately affected disabled people but she said that a change of policy would improve the lives of people living with a disability rather than a change of the constitution. She also pointed out that welfare is currently distributed based on need rather than a postcode lottery and, therefore, being part of the UK has benefited Scotland as it has allowed resources to be pooled and shared leading to higher public spending in Scotland.

Anne also spoke of the achievements in civil rights for disabled people that have taken place over the last thirty years by people like Alf Morris and Bert Massie who fought for the rights of disabled people across the UK. And, while people with disabilities have difficulties getting their voice heard, she highlighted that it doesn’t matter whether they are trying to lobby Westminster or Holyrood. To make a real difference, there have to be changes to policies and politics to engage with disabled people rather than independence for Scotland.

DSCN6727She finished by saying that a yes vote is a gamble and often when gambling it’s those who have the least that lose out which means that disabled people will lose out. She believes that more will be achieved by standing shoulder to shoulder with disabled people across the UK and that’s why she is voting no.

Transport Minister Receives Birthday Message in Support of AV Announcements on Buses

Guide Dogs organised for the Transport Minister, Baroness Kramer, to receive a card for her birthday with messages from her parliamentary colleagues in support of for audio visual (AV) announcements on buses.Baroness Kramer with Guide Dog Dame Anne’s message to the Minister was:

“Best wishes for your birthday. I hope you have a lovely day.

On your birthday, I wanted to let you know that, having recently joined local Guide Dog users on a blindfolded bus journey, I have witnessed first-hand how disorienting bus travel can be for those with a visual impairment. However, public transport offers a vital lifeline for people with disabilities by allowing them to travel independently and it helps to tackle issues such as social isolation. I do, therefore, hope you will support Guide Dogs campaign and have audio-visual announcements installed on all new buses.”

Dame Anne Begg MP on board with Guide Dogs’ Talking Buses campaign

Dame Anne Begg MP showed her support for a campaign led by the charity Guide Dogs to make travelling by bus easier for people with sight loss.

The MP for Aberdeen South went to a reception at the Houses of Parliament on 2 July in support of Guide Dogs’ campaign to make sure all new buses have audio visual (AV) next stop announcements, which are vital for blind and partially sighted bus travellers.

AV systems are only fitted to around one fifth of the bus fleet nationally, with the overwhelming majority of these buses operating in London.Anne Begg with Guide Dog

James White, Guide Dog’s Campaigns Manager, said: “Buses are a lifeline for people who are blind or partially sighted, and we welcome the support of Anne Begg MP for people with sight loss to be able to travel safely and independently.”

Celebrating Guiding Lights

I attended an event to mark the funds raised by the sale of a collection of poetry and prose. The work was written by Aberdeen writers and celebrates Guide Dogs for the Blind. It is titled Guiding Lights and so far has raised over £2,500 which will contribute towards the training of young Guide Dogs.Guide dog photo 2

Having a guide dog can make a huge difference to a person’s life in giving them the confidence to get out and about as well as the companionship that the dog can offer. Guide Dogs receive no government funding and rely entirely on public support which is why fundraising efforts like this are so important.Guide dog photo 1

As well as training and providing assistance dogs to people who are blind or partially sighted, Guide Dogs continuously campaign for the rights of people with a visual impairment.  Locally we have a very active group of people who lobby, fundraise and support Guide Dogs and I am always delighted to have the opportunity to join them in highlighting ongoing campaigns and issues affecting those who are blind or partially sighted.

Changes to Disabled Students’ Allowance

DSA Photo
Paul Greene, Anne & Rory MacFarlane

On 6th June, I was delighted to meet with Rory MacFarlane, Vice President for Equal Opportunities at Aberdeen University Student Association (AUSA) and Paul Greene, President of Communication & Democracy at RGU to highlight my support for NUS’s campaign against the Government’s cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

DSA is paid to cover additional expenditure that a student incurs due to a disability. The Government’s cuts would mean that there would be no national scheme and individual higher education institutions would be responsible for delivering a scheme resulting not only in a postcode lottery when it comes to the support provided but also creating a disincentive to universities taken on disabled students.

I have now signed Early Day Motion (EDM) 48,  tabled by David Blunkett, which recognises the importance of ensuring that there is equality of access to education for disabled students wherever they chose to study.

Aberdeen South MP Blasts Government’s Welfare Reforms

In a day of debates highlighting the effects the Government’s changes to the welfare system are having, Aberdeen South MP and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg delivered a statement on the Committee’s recently published Fourth Report from the Work and Pensions Committee on support for housing costs, highlighted the need for a second independent review into the use of sanctions by Jobcentre Plus and she spoke about the specialist employment support which is being wrongly targeted at individuals closer to the employment market.

During the statement on the Select Committee’s recent report, Dame Anne called reforms such as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the Household Benefit Cap a “blunt instrument”. Dame Anne mentioned that although the reforms were originally intended to make better use of housing stock and reduce welfare expenditure, they are instead causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response.

Amongst a number of issues raised by Dame Anne, she called on the Government to exempt disabled people living in adapted homes or who have a legitimate reason for requiring a spare room and to disregard disability benefits when considering eligibility for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).

Following on from the statement Dame Anne took part in a Backbench Business Committee Debate on the sanctions regime being used by Jobcentre Plus, Dame Anne called on the Government to launch a second independent review on the workings of sanctions to assess whether the increased use of sanctions is leading to more people finding work or whether they are purely punitive.

Dame Anne said

“The number of JSA Sanctions are at a 12 month high, and probably the highest ever on record. Yet, we don’t even know if these Sanctions are working. There have been many examples of people being sanctioned and not knowing why. If the aim of a sanction is to change peoples’ behaviour then people need to know why their benefits have been stopped otherwise it is just a punitive punishment which is trying and save money.”

Dame Anne also spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Dame Anne highlighted a constituent who hadn’t worked for ten years but was able to find a job with specialised employment support. Dame Anne raised concerns that this is specialised help is lacking in the new areas the Government has introduced and called for a well funded, specialised support system to enable people who have the highest barriers to work to find employment.

After the debates Dame Anne said

“These debates are vital to holding the government to account for their welfare changes. The government has launched wholescale changes to a vast number of benefits in a very short timescale. My recent Select Committee report, approved by Conservative and LibDem members on my committee, attacks the government’s ‘bedroom tax’ as hurting the most vulnerable most. Backbench Government MPs often say ‘Disabled people are exempt’ but it simply isn’t true.”

“There are a lot of myths surrounding the Government’s welfare changes and speaking in these debates is an important way to set the record straight, and raise the many problems which are being caused by the Government’s welfare reforms. I hope the government heeds my calls and helps alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society.”

Vulnerable people suffering as result of housing welfare reforms

Reforms to the support provided for housing costs – including the Bedroom Tax and the household Benefit Cap – are causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response, say the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published today.

The Bedroom Tax is having a particular impact on people with disabilities who have adapted homes or need a room to hold medical equipment or to accommodate a carer. The Committee recommends that anybody living in a home that has been significantly adapted for them should be exempt from the Bedroom Tax.  The Report further urges the Government to exempt all households that contain a person in receipt of higher level disability benefits (DLA or PIP) from the Bedroom Tax.

Commenting Committee Chair, Dame Anne Begg MP, said:

“The Government has reformed the housing cost support system with the aim of reducing benefit expenditure and incentivising people to enter work.  But vulnerable groups, who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are not able to respond by moving house or finding a job, are suffering as a result.

“The Government’s reforms are causing severe financial hardship and distress to vulnerable groups, including disabled people. Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), which local authorities can award to people facing hardship in paying their rent, are not a solution for many claimants. They are temporary, not permanent, and whether or not a claimant is awarded DHP is heavily dependent on where they live because different local authorities apply different eligibility rules.

“Using housing stock more efficiently and reducing overcrowding are understandable goals.  But 60-70% of households in England affected by the Bedroom Tax contain somebody with a disability and many of these people will not be able to move home easily due to their disability. So they have to remain in their homes with no option but to have their Housing Benefit reduced.”

The report can be read in full here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/support-for-housing-costs/ 

MP calls for retention of vital fund which benefits the most severely disabled in Aberdeen

Aberdeen South MP, Dame Anne Begg, has called on the Government to save the Independent Living Fund (ILF) and allow the most disabled people to continue to live independently in their homes. She has also called on the Scottish Government to clarify what they will do to protect the independence of those living with a severe disability in Scotland.

To show her support for the retention of ILF, which is relied upon by over 18,000 severely disabled, Dame Anne is the primary sponsor an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to reverse their decision to close the fund in June 2015. You can view the EDM here: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/1234

The Independent Living Fund (ILF) provides discretionary cash payments directly to disabled people so they can purchase care from an agency or pay the wages of a privately employed Personal Assistant (PA). This support enables disabled people to choose to live in their communities rather than in residential care.

The Government has stated that money will be devolved to already cash strapped local authorities in England, which means that it would cease to be ring-fenced and would be subject to normal constraints and cuts within a local authority budget. And the local authorities have already said that they will not be able to offer the current level of financial support provided on ILF, potentially forcing many disabled people to move out of their homes and into residential care homes.

 Further, the Scottish Government has given no indication whether this will also be the case in Scotland and Dame Anne has written to them seeking clarification.

 Dame Anne said:

“I have spoken to a number of constituents and their families who have told me how important ILF is in allowing them to live independent and fulfilling lives in our community and I know that losing this support will have a devastating impact on them.

 

“Not only are my constituents concerned about losing the fund, but they are also living with the uncertainty with regards to what support will be provided after the ILF closes.”

The Government initially decided to close the fund by March 2015 but this was delayed until June 2015 after five disabled people challenged the Government’s decision in the High Court.

The Court of Appeal unanimously quashed the decision to close the fund and devolve the money, on the basis that the minister had not specifically considered duties under the Equality Act, such as the need to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people and, in particular, the need to encourage their participation in public life. The court emphasised that these considerations were not optional in times of austerity.

In March 2014, the Government announced that it would go ahead with the closure of the fund on 30th June 2015 saying that a new equalities analysis had been carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions.