Staff forced autistic pupils into tiny cupboard after ‘meltdowns’, school admits

Staff at an academy school repeatedly forced autistic pupils as young as five into a tiny cupboard and then held the door shut after they had “meltdowns” in class, a school has admitted.

Parents of three of the pupils are now calling on the school’s head teacher to resign, after an independent panel upheld their complaints.

The room was just five feet square in size, and the word “Hell” was at one point written in red ink on the inside of the door by autistic pupils who referred to it as the “cupboard of Hell”, although staff called it “the quiet room”.

The parents say they told the head teacher, Jonathan Smith, how the cupboard was being used when they copied him into emails complaining about their children’s treatment, but he took no action.

There were shoe marks on the walls and door of the cupboard because pupils would scream and kick out in panic after they were forced inside.

The practice is believed to have continued for at least a year at Ardley Hill Academy in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, whose pupils are between five and 11 years old.

Many of the nine pupils who attended the autistic unit at the mainstream school were also forced onto reduced timetables, with one of them receiving just two hours of teaching a day for two years.

The parents say that the teaching and support staff in the unit had little or no specialist training or experience in autism, which led to them using the “quiet room” following classroom “meltdowns”.

And last December, police investigated an allegation that an autistic child had been thrown to the floor by a member of staff and suffered a head injury.

The academy opened in 2012 after it was converted from a previous council-run school and has since had two full Ofsted inspections, on both occasions being told that it “requires improvement”.

The three families have now passed evidence to Disability News Service (DNS) about the ordeal their autistic children faced at Ardley Hill.

This week they welcomed a decision by an appeal panel that vindicated their complaints about how their children were being treated, including claims that the school had failed to educate or safeguard them, and concluded that there had been “significant failings” in the autistic unit.

They have also complained to Ofsted, Central Bedfordshire council, the Department for Education and the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Although the council probe led to changes at the school, Smith is still in post.

The parents are now demanding his resignation. At least one other member of staff is believed to have resigned already as a result of the scandal.

All three of the children missed months of schooling after they were removed by their parents from Ardley Hill, and while two are now thriving at their new schools, the third has only just returned to his new school and is still on part-time hours and needs specialist counselling.

One of the three boys has won a prize for being one of the 10 best-behaved pupils in his new school, and another now enjoys most of his lessons in mainstream classes, while his academic progress has “rocketed” since he left Ardley Hill.

The parents have this week described to DNS some of the abusive treatment their children received at the school.

One of the trio, who was eight at the time he left the school, was regularly carried by staff by his wrists and ankles into the cupboard, despite a genetic health condition that affects his joints.

His mother told Smith in a letter: “The memory of Ardley Hill that is sadly etched on my memory for the rest of my life, is being called into the provision at pick up time, where I found [staff member X] holding the door shut on [our son] in the cupboard.

“I looked through the little window and he looked broken, scared and was streaming with tears.

“He was being punished for not coping in a lesson (because incompetent staff had piled several of his known triggers onto him), resulting in a meltdown.

“He needed a cuddle, some understanding and to talk through what had upset him. I cannot erase that devastating image of my son, ever.”

Another parent said in a letter to Smith that her son had been “caged like an animal” in the cupboard, and had also suffered a head injury after being grabbed and thrown to the floor by a member of staff.

She was only notified about the incident two days after it happened.

A police investigation failed to lead to any charges despite evidence from two other members of staff who witnessed the incident.

A spokesperson for Bedfordshire police said this week: “We investigated an allegation of assault, but no further action was taken due to insufficient evidence.”

The pupil who was allegedly assaulted was also kept on part-time teaching hours for 18 months.

His mother told Smith his leadership of the school was “a disgrace” and added: “In summary, my beautiful five-year-old boy was put into your care in January 2017, you failed in every aspect of his learning.

“I will never get back those years, the memories will haunt me all my life.

“[My son] told me he has been subjected to being carried into the cupboard many times and sadly witnessed and heard other children in there screaming, hitting and kicking the door.”

A third family told Smith in a letter: “Are you sorry that these children find it difficult to manage in social situations due to having been isolated in the unit with very little social interaction?”

A member of staff had taken eight months to make a referral for their son to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), although she blamed the delay on the referral getting “lost in the post”.

The member of staff only chased up the referral and confirmed it had not been received by CAMHS after being advised to do so by the boy’s paediatrician.

Their son, who was 10 at the time, later tried to take his own life – because of the way he had been treated at the school, his parents believe – shortly after he finally began receiving support from CAMHS.

His mother said: “If he had received help months earlier, his mental health probably wouldn’t have deteriorated to this point.”

The parents added in their letter to the head teacher: “Are you sorry that [our son] is under the wellbeing team at his new school because he feels worthless and that life is not worth living due to the horrific scenes he witnessed and endured at your school?

“Are you sorry that you did not listen to [our son] when he was assaulted with a stick in the library by other students?

“Are you sorry you did not treat our children as equals, instead you treated them like wild animals?”

Their son is now writing to his former headteacher because of his failure to make a proper apology in letters to him and his parents.

Smith’s letters of apology to the three pupils were just two sentences long, and failed to include the word “sorry”, while those to their parents were just five sentences.

The treatment of the three children by the school also raises fresh concerns about the way that academy and free schools treat disabled pupils, with the school and the local authority apparently blaming each other for the unit’s flaws after the concerns emerged.

There have been repeated concerns over the last decade about the impact on inclusive education of the government’s push to open increasing numbers of free schools and convert maintained schools to academies.

One parent said: “The local authority commissioned and paid for the unit, but then washed their hands of it and only became involved when we went to them with our safeguarding concerns.”

The families spoke out after a complaints committee set up by the school concluded that there were “significant failings” in the practices of the autistic unit, and in the handling of their original complaints.

The school has told the parents that its recent transfer to being run by Chiltern Learning Trust (CLT) will result in improvements, and that it will produce a report “detailing the improved and robust practices and processes that have been implemented” which will ensure there is better safeguarding, training and communication.

The school’s governors will also receive special educational needs training to ensure they can hold the senior leadership team to account.

And the school agreed to write a “full and unreserved apology” to each parent and child for “any distress caused by events”.

But the parents of the three boys say they are unhappy with the “perfunctory” and “insincere” apologies they then received from Smith.

They say the school’s leadership is guilty of “catastrophic failures which have damaged many children and left parents and other schools picking up the pieces for many years to come”.

And they say they believe that no-one has been held accountable for what happened, and for the significant and lasting damage caused to their children.

A CLT spokesperson refused to answer questions about the parents’ concerns, including whether Jonathan Smith would retain his post, and what action it was taking.

But he said in a statement: “Ardley Hill Academy joined the Chiltern Learning Trust on 1 October 2019.

“We are aware of the historic allegations against the school and, working closely with the local authority, a number of investigations have taken place, and will continue to take place, in the short time Ardley Hill Academy has been part of the trust to ensure the school reaches the best possible outcomes.

“While we are unable to comment on ongoing investigations, due to a number of procedural and staffing changes, we are confident that all children at the school are getting a safe and appropriate education.”

Central Bedfordshire council said it carried out a “thorough investigation” after the allegations were raised last year.

It said it recommended in February that the school should: “refresh” staff training; review its behaviour policy and include parental input into behaviour plans; rearrange the autistic unit to be more welcoming; dismantle the “calm room”; and remove locks and revamp the nearby “chill out space” to be “more reflective of de-escalation techniques”.

He said in a statement: “The council investigated parents’ concerns last year.

“The school produced an action plan to implement the recommendations, which have been completed to the agreed timetable.

“In February, we wrote to all parents to update them on changes the school have made.

“We continue to work with the school and monitor the provision.”

14 November 2019


‘Propaganda’ concerns over DWP’s second jobcentre fly-on-the-wall series

Channel 4 and BBC have attempted to justify plans to broadcast two separate fly-on-the-wall documentary series based in jobcentres, both of which could enable ministers to continue their campaign to undermine critical reporting on their “toxic” universal credit benefit system.

Only last week, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that misleading Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) adverts promoting universal credit (UC) – mostly published in the Metro free newspaper – had breached its rules.

The adverts were part of a secret DWP campaign “to tackle misconceptions and improve the reputation of UC” – first revealed after a leaked DWP memo was passed to the Guardian by disabled activists earlier this year – despite overwhelming evidence that has exposed the system’s flaws.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that UC – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, and have repeatedly warned about its impact on disabled people.

BBC had already announced plans for a new three-part documentary, in which DWP said the broadcaster would “intelligently explore” UC by “spending time with our people who are instrumental in implementing it”.

But Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal that Channel 4 has also secured permission from DWP for significant behind-the-scenes filming for its own fly-on-the-wall documentary series, which will again be based in a jobcentre, this time in Leeds, and is also set to be aired next year.

Both series sound strikingly similar.

The six-part Channel 4 documentary series will be filmed at Southern House jobcentre in Leeds over the next five months, with DWP telling staff it will follow “the journeys of customers, the relationships between customers and Work Coaches, and showcasing the breadth of support we offer”.

The BBC series is being filmed in three Liverpool jobcentres, and is supposed to “take a fresh look” at the support provided under universal credit, “as well as exploring the human stories of some of the 78,000 people who work in the DWP” and “the personal stories of the claimants and their families contending with their claims”.

And just as with the BBC documentary, the PCS union has warned members working in the Leeds jobcentre that they are likely to face disciplinary action from managers if they criticise DWP, or universal credit, while being interviewed for the Channel 4 film.

A Channel 4 spokesperson insisted that its series was not focused on universal credit, but instead will “follow Jobcentre staff as they work with their customers with the aim of improving their future employment opportunities”.

The broadcaster said it “may also follow the lives of some of these customers at home as well as other related activities or schemes, such as work placements or outreach”.

The spokesperson insisted that the series was “very different” to the one the BBC is filming, even though both are set in jobcentres, and both will inevitably feature claimants on universal credit.

Asked about concerns that the series would be used by DWP as propaganda for its universal credit “myth-busting” campaign, the Channel 4 spokesperson said: “In accordance with all relevant legal and regulatory obligations the series will be a fair and accurate reflection of life in and around the job centre, of its staff and its customers.”

He said the idea had been proposed by Channel 4 and not DWP, and he added: “Lots of series have been made about benefits, mostly focussing on the extreme end of the spectrum and the long-term unemployed.

“This will be the first series placing equal emphasis on the human stories on both sides of the desk – challenging preconceptions about staff and customers.”

But an internal memo from the PCS union has warned of its “real concerns” about the Channel 4 documentary, “mainly around staff who do agree to be filmed and the potential penalties if they are critical of the DWP”.

The union memo recommends “that any member who is concerned about this should not volunteer as there is no guarantee that they won’t be disciplined”.

Asked about concerns that jobcentre staff would not be allowed to speak openly about UC, a Channel 4 spokesperson said: “We understand from the DWP assurances have been given to all staff that full support will be given during the filming process.

“We have no reason to believe that anyone will face disciplinary proceedings as a result of their involvement in the series.”

But Jennifer Jones, from Disabled People Against Cuts Sheffield, which first obtained the leaked DWP memo earlier this year, said the documentaries were “designed to manipulate public perception into believing that universal credit is a good and successful welfare system despite the overwhelming evidence to contradict that”.

She said it felt as though the public were being “bombarded from all angles” with DWP propaganda.

She said: “We seem to be entering an era where no matter which way you turn you are pelted with government propaganda.”

She added: “DWP workers have effectively signed a gagging clause which prevents them from highlighting any negative aspect or element of jobcentre operations that is unsuccessful or could be better.

“Due to this fact we want to ensure that the public understands that you will not ever see an accurate representation of the DWP on camera from somebody who works for them, because if they speak out against the department in any way, shape or form they will face a grievance, and possibly even be sacked.”

She said it was a “travesty” that any DWP workers were co-operating with the two documentaries.

She added: “We will campaign tirelessly to highlight the truth that these programmes are nothing short of government propaganda.

“There’s been a hostile environment towards disabled people for a long time under the coalition and Conservative governments.

“This hostile environment seems to be extending to all welfare claimants.”

Jones said DWP appeared to be “on a mission to drive up the reputation of universal credit in a sick attempt to suffocate the voices of those of us who have lived experience of how harmful this system truly is.

“Universal credit is a failing system and we continue to call for it to be stopped and scrapped.

“We will not rest until it is. Our lives depend on real change.”

A BBC spokesperson declined to say this week whether the broadcaster was concerned that its series would be seen as a continuation of DWP’s campaign of UC “myth-busting”, and that it was almost certain to hear only from DWP staff who were happy to repeat the DWP line on UC, because of the potential for disciplinary proceedings.

She said in a statement: “This documentary was proposed by the BBC, not the DWP.

“We have a formal access agreement with the DWP allowing us to partake in observational filming at their jobcentres and other locations where we have filmed with a large number of staff and claimants.

“As with all of our output, the BBC has editorial control over this documentary, which will adhere to our strict editorial guidelines on impartiality.”

14 November 2019


Agencies ‘failed to work together’ to save disabled man murdered by friend

Social services, police and other agencies could probably have saved the life of a disabled man who was exploited by “friends”, if they had worked together and shared information about his ordeal, says a leading disabled campaigner.

In the months leading up to his death in February 2018, Mark Smith repeatedly asked the housing association that owned the block of flats where he lived in Chingford, north-east London, to change the locks on his front door.

People he referred to as “friends” had taken over his flat and changed the locks, a process known as “cuckooing”, which has been linked to many cases of exploitation of people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties.

A review into the circumstances leading up to the murder, commissioned by Waltham Forest’s safeguarding adults board, has concluded that agencies that had repeated contact with Smith – including his housing association, police, social services and NHS – failed to work together to protect him.

But Disability News Service can also reveal that Waltham Forest council’s social services department failed to alert a local disabled people’s organisation to Smith’s case, even though it specialises in supporting victims of cuckooing and hate crime.

Ruth Bashall, chief executive of Stay Safe East, which works to support disabled survivors of abuse and violence, said: “If there was multi-agency working they could probably have saved his life. He was asking for help.”

She said Stay Safe East has worked on seven or eight cases of disabled people who have been victims of cuckooing in the last year, but they were never contacted by the agencies involved in Smith’s case.

She said: “It’s frustrating because Stay Safe East has been working closely with social services, housing, and the police in Waltham Forest, including taking referrals on disabled people who have been cuckooed.”

She added: “We are extremely disappointed that he was not referred to us by social services.

“We are one of the very few independent organisations working with disabled victims of cuckooing.

“This death could probably have been avoided.”

Bashall, who has been writing about the failure of the safeguarding system for the last decade, was today (Thursday) due to deliver a seminar on cuckooing at the offices of Inclusion London, for the London Deaf and disabled people’s hate crime partnership.

Carol Campling was convicted of Smith’s murder this summer and sentenced to a minimum of 17 years in prison.

The safeguarding review – which was completed last year but was not published earlier because of Campling’s trial and sentencing – suggests that if the various agencies had worked together, they might have prevented Smith’s murder, although the report does not explicitly draw this conclusion.

It follows reviews into numerous other deaths of disabled people over the last decade, and longer, which have also blamed the failure of agencies to work together and share information to protect disabled people from violence and exploitation.

These include the death of David Askew in March 2010, the murder of Michael Gilbert in January 2009, and the murder of Lee Irving in June 2015.

The council report describes Smith as a “friendly person” who “tried to stay out of disagreements”, and it says that his “friendship group” – which was frequently involved in criminal and anti-social behaviour – was “challenging”.

It says that at “different times he wanted to be part of the group and thought of them as his friends and at other times felt frightened and anxious about the relationships with some individuals”.

One of those individuals was Campling.

Smith, who had physical and mental health impairments, problems with drugs and alcohol, and was himself involved in criminal and anti-social behaviour, spoke to police on several occasions after being assaulted by his so-called friends.

In the August before his murder, he told police he had been assaulted by a friend, but he refused to go to hospital.

A few days later he attended a local police station and said he was frightened that a friend was going to hurt him, and that he was anxious and depressed.

Later that month, officers attended his flat after he failed to attend a court hearing and found him injured.

Two months later, police were called to his flat by a friend who said Smith was badly injured. He told officers he had been beaten up by several people.

In all, police made five referrals to a multi-agency safeguarding system about Smith’s safety and wellbeing in the year before his murder.

But although the Labour-run council’s adult social care department “screened” each one of these referrals, social workers made no contact with him and just referred his case to a drug and alcohol abuse service which was no longer in contact with him.

The report criticises the council’s “significant lack of professional curiosity, poor risk assessment and lack of using historical context”.

It also says that the physical violence Smith was experiencing had been increasing, while his health was continuing to deteriorate because of his heavy drinking.

The review found that agencies including the Metropolitan police, the council’s adult social care department, NHS bodies, and the housing association that owned the flats where both Campling and Smith lived, failed to work together to share information about Smith.

It concludes: “Agencies were working within their own remit, not going outside of this and not communicating with other agencies which resulted in a limited understanding of the situation and the wider context.”

It adds: “This lack of multi-agency approach led to missed opportunities to share information and effectively plan intervention and support for Mark.”

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest council had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday) on why its social services department failed to ask Stay Safe East to support Mark Smith.

He also failed to say if the council believed that Smith’s life could have been saved if there had been proper multi-agency working.

But he said in a statement: “We have taken on board the recommendations made by the Safeguarding Adults Review following this tragic case.

“Staff training has been strengthened so that colleagues from all agencies, including GP surgeries, pharmacists, and community centre staff as well as police and social workers, are better aware of the signs of someone who is being exploited and how they can raise concerns.

“This ensures that a safeguarding approach is taken alongside any potential enforcement, with the individual and their needs at the centre of the decision making.”

14 November 2019


International human rights experts to meet disabled protesters as part of UK probe

International human rights experts are to meet grassroots campaigners and activists next month to discuss how disabled people have been treated by police during peaceful protests.

A team from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will discuss the treatment of disabled protesters by the Metropolitan police at last month’s Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in London.

But the team will also hear of concerns about forces, including Lancashire and Greater Manchester police, that have admitted sharing information about disabled protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

They will also monitor how police treat disabled protesters during demonstrations planned to take place during next month’s NATO summit in London.

ODIHR asked to meet members of the Metropolitan police’s disability independent advisory group (DIAG) after hearing about what it described as allegations of “degrading and humiliating treatment” of disabled XR protesters last month.

But DIAG also plans to raise concerns – revealed by Disability News Service (DNS) over the last year – about how some forces are sharing details of disabled protesters with DWP.

ODIHR has told DNS that it will examine these concerns, which have seen police forces taking video and photographs of disabled protesters and passing that and other information to DWP.

After a request from ODIHR, DIAG has contacted disabled protesters arrested during the XR protest and members of the XR Disabled Rebels Network, to ask if they would also like to meet the ODIHR team.

The meetings will be part of ODIHR’s work on the right to peaceful protest, which will see an examination of the UK’s record, including plans to monitor protests during the NATO summit on 3 and 4 December.

ODIHR is based in Warsaw and is one of the institutions of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which provides a forum for political dialogue in areas such as arms control, terrorism and media freedom, and has 57 member states in Europe, Asia and North America.

One of OCSE’s recommendations for all its member states is to ensure that protesters can confirm what data has been stored about their participation in a protest and have an effective way to complain about the collection, retention and use of this data to the relevant authorities.

This has become a key issue for many disabled protesters in the last 12 months.

Anne Novis, DIAG’s chair, said: “We are pleased to have an opportunity to explain our concerns about police actions against disabled people in recent protests.

“We know Deaf and disabled people, including us, are still very worried about attending protests, not just in London, and hope this work goes some way to improving police decisions in future, including the issues of some forces sharing disabled protesters’ details with the DWP.

“We have been assured the MPS* does not do this, but we keep alert to this issue.”

The ODIHR visit and its decision to meet with disabled campaigners was also welcomed by the XR Disabled Rebels Network, which took part in last month’s climate change protests in London.

Bob Williams-Findlay, a member of the network, said: “I believe it’s a positive sign that the ODIHR have not only taken the issues seriously, but that they are also keen to meet and hear disabled people’s first-hand accounts.”

Only last month, DNS revealed that police forces across the country had admitted having no policies or guidance that would tell officers when they should pass information about disabled protesters to DWP.

The admissions fuelled fears of a growing hostile environment facing disabled people, which were further heightened by the treatment of disabled activists by the Metropolitan police during the XR protests.

Police forces appear to have been relying on the Data Protection Act for legal authority to pass information to DWP, without any advice or guidance to their officers on when this can or should take place.

The invitation to meet the ODIHR team came after DNS revealed that DIAG had lodged a formal complaint about the Metropolitan police’s “discriminatory” treatment of disabled protesters during the XR protests.

DIAG warned that the force had breached the Equality Act by discriminating against disabled protesters, and that its actions risked causing “irreparable damage” to relations between disabled people and the force.

Among the concerns about the force’s actions were its decision to confiscate equipment that was intended to make it safe and accessible for disabled people to take part in the XR protests, and the decision to arrest a wheelchair-user because she needed support from a personal assistant – who was also arrested – during a solo, peaceful protest outside New Scotland Yard.

The force later apologised to DIAG for failing to consult them before and during the protests about how to treat disabled protesters.

An ODIHR spokesperson told DNS: “We will be in the UK at the beginning of December to monitor the work of the police during the planned NATO summit protests.

“ODIHR will certainly take note of police activities regarding protesters with disabilities during the demonstrations.

“We are aware that the Metropolitan Police has an independent advisory board (the Disability Independent Advisory Group), and consider this to be a positive practice.

“However, we understand there has been criticism of police handling of protesters with disabilities in recent months, and we are therefore glad that we will be meeting representatives of the advisory board to hear their views.

“All the information we gather from this and visits to other OSCE countries in which we are due to carry out freedom of peaceful assembly monitoring next year will feed into our final analysis, which will be published in 2020.”

ODIHR’s last examination, published in September, looked at practices in Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and Norway.

Among the concerns raised during that examination was the practice, during many protests, of police forces videoing and photographing the entire protest, without informing those taking part about the purpose of those recordings and how the data captured would be retained and processed.

The report said this practice had “implications for other human rights, such as the right to privacy, and can have a significant chilling effect on assembly participants”.

The Home Office refused to comment this week on the ODIHR visit to the UK.

Meanwhile, Representatives from DIAG, the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and the XR Disabled Rebels Network have begun initial discussions about holding a public event early next year to highlight disabled people’s fears that their right to public protest is under threat.

A spokesperson for the XR Disabled Rebels Network said: “The Met’s behaviour last month in relation to the XR Disabled Rebels and the uncertainty over information exchanges between the police and DWP, undermine disabled people’s rights.

“The right to protest, it is hoped, can also be interlinked with other issues such as lack of inclusive planning, ignorance within the legal system about disability rights and the impact of the reduction of police awareness and action on disability hate crime.

“Through a roundtable discussion, it is hoped that these issues can come to the fore.”

*Metropolitan Police Service

14 November 2019


Election 2019: New calls for legal right to independent living, but silence from parties

Disabled people’s organisations have repeated their calls for political parties to promise to introduce a legal right to independent living if they win power at next month’s general election.

The calls came after Labour yesterday (Wednesday) announced a real-terms increase of £26 billion-a-year on day-to-day NHS spending by 2023-24, £6 billion more than the sum previously announced by the Conservatives.

But there has been no mention yet by any of the three largest UK-wide political parties on their plans for solving the social care crisis.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats both promised yesterday that there would be policy announcements on social care later in the general election campaign.

But despite at least three requests from Disability News Service (DNS) for a comment, the Conservatives had failed by noon today (Thursday) to say if they would make an announcement on adult social care, and whether social care would be mentioned in their manifesto.

Last month, DNS reported that housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick had admitted there was “no consensus” on how to solve the adult social care funding crisis, even though the prime minister announced he had a “clear plan” for doing so when he took office in July.

Boris Johnson’s pledge in the Queen’s speech to bring forward long-awaited proposals to solve the adult social care crisis had already been dismissed as “waffle” and “a smokescreen” by leading disabled campaigners, with one saying it was “designed to confuse and give the appearance of action when the reality is the opposite”.

The failure of any of the parties to comment so far on social care in the election campaign came as the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) published its Disabled People’s Manifesto 2019, following consultation with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations across the UK.

The manifesto includes a call for a legal right to independent living – in line with article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – and the introduction of a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) for England, to work alongside the NHS, which would be free to service-users, and funded by progressive, direct taxation.

The manifesto also calls for urgent action to tackle the social care crisis, including bringing funding back to 2010 levels and ending charges for social care.

There are likely to be some concerns among disabled activists as they wait for Labour to announce its manifesto position on social care.

Proposals for an NILSS for England, and a legal right to independent living, were overwhelmingly backed by Labour members at the party’s annual conference in Brighton in late September.

But a planned meeting between disabled activists, including representatives of ROFA, and shadow chancellor John McDonnell about the proposal has still not taken place, with the party’s general election manifesto likely to be agreed this weekend and published within the next 10 days.

And Labour’s only announcement since the conference has been to pledge free personal care for older people in England – ensuring support for getting in and out of bed, dressing, eating and bathing , but not for independent living – and to “work towards” doing the same for working-age disabled people.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives,  who has written in support of ROFA’s “radical and transformational” NILSS plans, said that disabled people’s and user-led organisations were still “hopeful of an urgent meeting with John McDonnell to progress a new co-produced approach to independent living”.

He said: “While the talk across main political parties is of much bigger spend on social care, that’s unlikely to bring about the kind of change that’s needed on its own.

“What is key is a policy built on the same principles as the NHS, free at the point of delivery and based on a progressive system of taxation, consistent with the UNCRPD’s commitment to an independent living-based approach.

“The only party we can really hope to see adopting such a policy is Labour, but as yet no clear announcement along these lines has been made in advance of the general election.

“We hope that Labour will show the same commitment to such sustainable social care policy as it has already shown with its support for a sustainable green economic strategy.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Given that one of the main reasons for costly NHS bed-blocking is the lack of available social care, especially for older people, ignoring the importance of social care provision seems to be verging on total incompetence.

“However, it is vital that all parties serious about equality for disabled people urgently address the funding needed to provide us with the support needed to uphold independent living in its widest sense.

“DPAC will continue to call for support for an NILSS free at the point of delivery.”

Other “key asks” in the ROFA manifesto include an end to austerity; a programme of deinstitutionalisation and radical reform to mental health and mental capacity laws; universal credit to be scrapped and replaced with a new benefits system co-produced by disabled people; a fully inclusive education system; and measures to address the barriers faced by disabled people in employment, access to justice and housing.

14 November 2019


Disabled children in London more likely to receive an inclusive education, says report

Disabled children in London are more likely to receive an inclusive education than those being educated anywhere else in England, according to a new report.

The report, by the education consultancy MIME, found that the London borough of Westminster was delivering an education for disabled children that was three-and-a-half times more inclusive than that of Somerset County Council.

But the report also points out that the education system as a whole is becoming less inclusive.

In September, a report by the National Audit Office found the number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who attend segregated special schools or alternative provision rose by more than a fifth between 2014 and 2018.

One of the conclusions reached by MIME in this week’s report was that more deprived areas have relatively smaller numbers of children receiving education, health and care plans (EHCPs*) and lower attainment levels by disabled pupils.

MIME said this could be explained by a lower awareness or ability of parents in deprived areas to lobby for their children through private assessments, tribunals and appeals.

Each local authority area was measured across 12 indicators, including the proportion of SEND pupils that are excluded from school, the percentage of pupils with an EHCP who are being educated in mainstream schools, and the academic progress shown by pupils with an EHCP.

The three local authorities with the highest inclusion scores were Westminster (78 per cent), Barnet (74 per cent) and Kingston upon Thames (72 per cent).

The three areas with the lowest scores were Somerset County Council (22 per cent), Torbay (28 per cent) and Staffordshire (30 per cent).

MIME found that the average inclusion score for outer London councils was 61 per cent, and 59 per cent for inner London.

The next highest was Yorkshire and the Humber, with 52 per cent, followed by east of England, with 51 per cent, the south-east at 46 per cent, and the north-west at 45 per cent.

The four poorest performing regions were the south-west (43 per cent), north-east (43 per cent), East Midlands (43 per cent), and West Midlands (42 per cent).

The report was published as The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) released its general election manifesto.

The manifesto sets out six demands to the next government that, if implemented, would see the country move to a “fully inclusive” education system that supports human rights.

The first demand is for a fully inclusive education system that complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, through reforms to the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Equality Act 2010.

It also calls for a joined-up education, health and social care system, with assessments of disabled learners’ needs handled by a body independent of the education provider.

The manifesto also demands a learning environment, curriculum and system of assessment that are inclusive of all disabled learners, and an education workforce that is committed to inclusive education practice.

Michelle Daley, ALLFIE’s interim director, said: “Our manifesto is about challenging the deep-rooted systematic discrimination which unfairly locks disabled pupils and students out of mainstream education.”

Meanwhile, a report (PDF) by the human rights and law reform organisation Justice has found that the number of exclusions in England has risen every year since 2012, with their use “disproportionally affecting children with special educational needs and disability as well as those from minority groups”.

The report, by a Justice working party, calls for “wholesale reform” of the system to secure a fairer system with fewer unlawful permanent exclusions.

*Under government reforms which came into effect in September 2014, local authorities in England had until April 2018 to move all disabled children and young people eligible for support from SEN statements to new EHCPs. The plans last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support a young person should receive across education, health and social care.

14 November 2019

News provided by John Pring at