“I HOPE the Paralympics helps reinforce the ability of disabled people as opposed to the disability, and that disabled people with the right assistance and equipment can do many, and amazing, things,” says John Wood, general secretary, Northamptonshire Association for the Blind (NAB).
The Paralympics celebration of sporting prowess has, in many ways, shown the huge advances made for disabled people in Britain today.
But as we celebrate the achievements of sporting stars it is perhaps also time to look at the concerns of disabled people about the future. And in Northamptonshire where funding cuts at a local level, and the Government’s welfare cuts, continue to bite these concerns are growing.
“The provision for blind and partially sighted people is not good. We are one of the lowest funded counties in the country,” says John Wood. “When it comes to specialist rehabilitation officers for the blind, there is only one in the whole of the county. Nationally the ratio for rehabilitation officers per population is one for 153,000 in Northamptonshire we have one for 683,000.
“These officers are the specialists who work with people who have recently lost their sight on a whole manner of different issues that they encounter.
“They are critical and provide a very high level of care needed to help make sure that person is not isolated and can lead an independent life... things like re-learning how to wash, to shop, to find routes to the places they need to go.”
But this is not the only area of cuts that NAB is concerned about. “We are also receiving a lot less funding,” said John. “The county council put services for the blind out to tender for £82,000, which we were successful in winning, but the services we are providing cost us £250,000.
“There is an element of concern that making cuts to services for those with disabilities is an easy option. I think it is perceived that because we are such a well-established organisation that we will just pick up the costs and continue to provide the services.”
“Things have progressively got worse for deaf people in the county for the last eight years,” said Joanna Steer chief executive officer of Deafconnect in Northants & Rutland.
“A lot of organisations and local authorities have been cutting their services for deaf people, but several councils still have social worker teams for deaf people, but in Northamptonshire there haven’t been these social workers for a few years.
“Deafness is largely over-looked in many different ways. It is both physical and a communication problem.
“A major issue is deaf people struggling to access key services because they can’t communicate. If all statutory services would have a text option things would be a lot easier, but some still expect them to use a minicom, which is out-dated equipment which many people no longer have.
“From local authorities to doctor’s services or even claiming benefits, there needs to be an option to use mobile phones.
“Our remit is to help support people to maintain their independence, so we do a lot of explaining and do a lot of advocacy work to fight discrimination.
“Our funding has been cut and cut. We now have a quarter of the funding that we did eight years ago and we have had to find ways of making our own income. It is very concerning.”
CONCERN FOR INDEPENDENCE
IN the past week protests have been held around the country, including in Northampton, outside Atos offices.
Atos medically screens people who claim disability living allowance on behalf of the Government, in order to identify ‘fraudsters’ and is a sponsor of the 2012 Paralympic Games. But protestors allege Atos is also denying benefits to many genuinely disabled people. Ellen Clifford, of Northampton’s Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), has taken to the streets in both Northampton and London in protest.
She said: “The Government with these moves is stopping many genuinely disabled people from claiming benefits.
“Then there is the cuts to the Independent Living Allowance, all of which is going to lead to more disabled people going back into institutions and being unable to live independent and productive lives.
“Existing claimants can access it up until 2015, but we are concerned for people in Northampton who 1/ were just about to get it and 2/ what happens after 2015?
“They are basically taking away people’s chance to live in the community.”
John Smith, disability rights and discrimination officer for the Centre for Independent Living in Northampton, which supports disabled people and carers across Northamptonshire said: “I have been contacted by people that are concerned about the current changes to disability allowance and how they will be effected, and also about changes to disability services. Then there is the fact that crime against people with disabilities is increasing and that disabled people are more and more being portrayed as benefit cheats.
“The access to work scheme has been reduced, a scheme designed to help disabled people towards independent living. Then there are the pressures on social services which used to support them.
“There is concern it is no longer about enabling people to live a life but just for them to be living.
“If schemes that give disabled people access to work and enable them to live independently are being reduced, society will not get the benefit it could from a lot of people.”
Over the past few years there have been major changes to the way that way funding and support is provided for those with disabilities. Anjona Roy, chief executive at Northamptonshire Rights & Equality Council, has encouraged people to take more of a stand when they don’t agree.
“A lot of services have been reduced to cut costs but there hasn’t been the kind of outcry or strong outcry that they deserved, despite our best efforts. If people don’t want to complain it’s not going to happen.
“We would encourage people to always have their say.”
A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “Having to save £100 million over the next four years means the county council has to find more efficient ways to run services.”