Eleven reasons why the UK deaf population should join the war on welfare

These are scary times we are living in. Over the weekend, the spectre of ’80s political tension has rematerialised with rioting Millwall fans and Thatcher death-parties in Trafalgar Square.

The economy, and in particular the deregulated banking sector, is making headlines too, with fears that Britain could become either another Greece (total financial chaos – remember Northern Rock?) or another China (totalitarian state), depending on your point of view. Whichever way you look at it, George Osbourne is the most unpopular MP in nearly 10 years.

The welfare reforms are more than just benefit cuts. We are part of the estimated 3.7 million deaf and disabled people set to lose a total of £28 billion over the next five years; a whopping £757 per person, and that’s just the start. The cuts are an attack on everything to do with our well being: our health, employment, family, relationships, housing, education, money and leisure. Broken down, this is how our welfare, equality and human rights are being eroded, bit by bit.

1. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being replaced with Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The roll-out started last Monday in parts of the North of England, aiming to go nationwide in June. Just because we’re permanently deaf doesn’t mean that the PIP assessment procedure is going to be the same as the one for DLA. Instead of bringing in NHS doctors at no cost to the taxpayer, the government are paying ATOS £1 billion – along with two other companies – to assess us for PIP, aiming to cut benefit claims by 20%, meaning that half a million genuine claimants could lose out. If Work and Benefits’ PIP self-test is anything to go by, that includes deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

2. Deaf education is under threat.
Most deaf and hard-of-hearing people and clued-up partners or parents know that the NDCS are campaigning to preserve funding for deaf children’s services. The fact that they’re having to work so hard to collect petition signatures is a worrying indication of the government’s priorities, especially in light of evidence that a bilingual (BSL/English) education is the best fit for many deaf children.

3. British healthcare is now an open market.
I’ve already blogged about this. Mark my words; it won’t be too long before ‘NHS’ stops being synonymous with ‘healthcare for all’. Already, people have to be re-referred to an audiologist who’s known them for years, while hearing aid batteries are no longer available in local surgeries. Imagine getting left behind in the queue for a CI operation in favour of someone who has more money than you – and blow the consequences for your quality of life. And then what will you do? Go private?

4. Eligibility for Legal Aid has changed.
Before April 1st, 2013, everyone on Income Support or Employment and Support Allowance was automatically eligible for Legal Aid funding to cover cases involving (among various aspects of family law) debt, discrimination, housing, education, welfare, and clinical negligence. Now, new claimants need a household income of £32,000 to qualify, and those getting between £14,000 and £32,000 have to take a means test. Even in discrimination cases, you will be expected to access help via a telephone line manned in three offices across the country, rather than face-to-face solicitor meetings.

5. The quality standards of court interpreting services have been compromised.
Interpreters Anonymous have blogged about this for over a year. In January 2012, the coalition contracted Applied Language Solutions (ALS), now part of Capita Translation and Interpreting Services, to handle all spoken and signed language interpreter bookings for court at reduced hourly rates.
Quality of interpretation has declined sharply since, with many cases thrown out of court due to unqualified and unregistered interpreters, interpreters not turning up, and people being pulled off the street because they happened to have the right language skills. Capita is solely responsible for supplying BSL interpreters in court, yet their website makes no mention of standards, registration with NRCPD, minimum levels of qualifications, codes of conduct or professional indemnity insurance. Even if we could afford to sue for discrimination in court, we’d still be in trouble.

6. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s funding has been slashed. These people – a merger of the Disability Rights Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Racial Equality Commission – were instrumental in the drive for anti-discrimination legalisation. Without them, we might not have had the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act or the 2010 Equality Act.
Now, with funds cut from £70 million to £17 million and the loss of an office, they have far less power to push for equality, discrimination and human rights issues on the political agenda than they used to. Who decides on equality issues now? Read on.

7. The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) is being ‘reviewed’. With the implementation of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and then the 2010 Equality Act, measures were in place for organisations to consult on discrimination and equality issues before developing new policies. While not perfect, at least they empowered deaf and disabled people to have a say in how services could be adapted. I should know – I was one of them, giving presentations to roomfuls of mainstream CEOs as part of the Arts Council’s own Disability Equality Duty.
Last November, David Cameron axed equality impact assessments, choosing instead to leave equality and discrimination issues to ‘smart people in Whitehall’. In other words, he’s made it policy-makers’ prerogative to work out for themselves how best to cater for the UK deaf and hard-of-hearing population – without our consultation.

8. It’s implied that the welfare cuts are politically-driven, not economic. Bear with me a little. This report, from the New Economics Foundation, stresses that Britain can afford to borrow and invest its way out of the recession. Over 300 years, we have never defaulted on our debt – unlike Greece, who has built up a history of bad credit in half its independent life. As a result Britain’s borrowing rates are enviably low, but the government chooses to invest less, thus damaging economic growth and protracting the austerity regime for longer than necessary.
Meanwhile, George Osbourne is ordering money-printing at an unprecedented rate (implementing the cuts actually costs money), intending to artificially boost the Bank of England’s account balance and therefore the economy, but of course it doesn’t work, because no-one can afford to borrow from the Bank of England due to the cuts.
Osbourne’s tactics have clearly appalled leading economists, because 63 of them have pledged their support for the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in opposition. (More about this later.)
John Walker, who blogs at Deaf Capital, points out that the Conservatives could be aiming for a totalitarian state. ‘We are seeing the privatisation of public services, an attack on the “precariats” or underclass – including deaf and disabled people – and the creation of a favourable situation where the rich get richer.
‘Some say that due to the sluggish economy we lost our manufacturing industry (ie. textiles) to China, so the devaluation of the pound will make products more attractive, bringing more foreign money into the UK. In order to do that wages have to go down, the poorest have to work for less income, and employment rights have to be restricted. We can then compete with China and bring manufacturing back into the UK.’ The next two reasons suggest that he could be right.

9. The Conservatives want to scrap the 1998 Human Rights Act.
They tried to do this in December last year, but were overturned by a majority of 123 votes, thanks to Labour. Think about it. Once stripped of the basic right to a life free of torture, we wouldn’t be able to exercise political rights or individual freedoms as deaf and hard-of-hearing people against interference by the government.

10. Tomorrow (Tuesday 16th April 2013), the government plans to repeal a vital clause of the 2006 Equality Act. Did you see the blog about this? It seems they can’t wait for 2015 after all.

11. Language rights? What language rights? Right now there is a ‘Spit the dummy out’ Facebook campaign for a BSL Act, which has to be commended for pulling in 11,000 members and hundreds of videos documenting various experiences of being deaf in a mainstream world and the difference a BSL Act could make. Obviously there is a lot of anger over how an entire decade could have passed without the government building on their initial ‘recognition’ of BSL. But it’s also telling how many of the videos revolve around – yes, you guessed it – welfare.

So while I agree on the principle of a BSL Act, all those efforts to get MPs to sign Early Day Motion (EDM) 1167 before the end of this month will go to waste if we don’t focus on the bigger picture now. What is the point of fighting for BSL legalisation without decent welfare, equality or human rights?

Now, you have three options:

a. You can keep telling yourself, ‘Nah, it won’t happen. We’re not China,’ until it’s too late.
b. If you’re an investor, you can take MoneyWeek’s scaremongering advice and invest in gold bullion. (Then again, what would be the point? In the event of financial collapse, wouldn’t that be confiscated anyway?)
c. Or you can join the People’s Assembly Against Austerity – link here: www.peoplesassembly.org.uk

Communication support is being organised, and I shall be co-ordinating a group. Your involvement is required to make this happen. The People’s Assembly will not be able to support us if we don’t come forward with our own concerns.

UPDATE: In the three years since this blog was published, things have got worse, with cuts continuing to fall and the election in 2015 of a Conservative government. Two Deaf schools have closed swiftly. The People’s Assembly has organised another anti-austerity march on Saturday 16th April 2016, and there is a Deaf Bloc – more details here:


The NHS: why the coalition’s reforms are an atrocity

I have a kidney infection. This is my fifth day.

I am able to say that with certainty, because I visited a NHS general practitioner and that’s what she diagnosed me with. When I first felt the stabbing pain in my lower left backside, I texted 999 for NHS paramedics, who came and assessed me in a matter of minutes.

The GP gave me a NHS prescription for a seven-day course of antibiotics and advised me to try and get plenty of rest, and she achieved that on the basis of strategic questioning, a thorough physical examination and an urine test.

All of which was done in the name of public duty – paid for entirely by the state.

Now, imagine if the NHS had already been privatised a few years hence. At what point would I start paying? If the government continue with their plans for an American-style healthcare system, that might be covered by health insurance. (Note that the NHS do charge for a few services, but measures are in place to ensure free treatment for those on low incomes.)

What if I couldn’t afford the insurance? I am a single mother already setting aside a large chunk of my time for two children under the age of four. As my older child Isobel and I are disabled and deaf respectively and claim DLA, we look set to join around 3.7 million people with disabilities potentially affected by £28 billion of welfare cuts over five years. What if the diagnosis was wrong? What cost my health then?

Yesterday – with little media forewarning, and certainly no public consultation – the coalition launched a new medical commissioning board. Nothing unusual about that you might think, except that this board is being encouraged to buy services from a healthcare ‘open market’ – both public and private – with NHS funds. What makes this scary is that the public services do not have the acumen of the private businesses and so stand a good chance of being edged out of the market altogether.

Meanwhile the private sector will certainly find a way to undercut their rivals every time, because as far as they are concerned, the NHS represents a highly lucrative slice of the healthcare pie.

Imagine a medical system increasingly driven not by public duty, but commercial gain. Imagine being treated according not to the severity and/or complexity of your medical condition, but how much money you have.

Isobel has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, epilepsy, global developmental delay and microcephaly. Where does that leave the extensive range of NHS equipment, therapies, medication reviews and assessments that she will need to accommodate both these evolving disabilities and her Conductive Education? Where does that leave me and my kidney infection, in the event that my urine test reveals something else?

No private medical company can compete with the NHS for size or bureaucracy. In light of both this and their greater interest in making a profit, how can the private suppliers maintain the same quality standards or even range of services offered by their more experienced public rivals?

Hearing aid and CI costs run to the tens of thousands. I have had NHS audiology all my life, utterly free. I cannot deny the quality of life my hearing aids, and later my CI, have given me. The one time I had a hearing test with a private hearing aid dispenser (before I had my CI operation), their equipment failed me, because it had only half the decibel range of the NHS. Quite simply, their services didn’t extend to profound deafness. Now privatisation is well under way, how can we guarantee we won’t see that happening on the NHS as well?

Sooner or later someone will decide to charge an ‘administration fee’ – and from then on, there will be no stopping them, because they have no obligations to public duty. Will there be a postcode lottery?

The tide of doubt keeps coming in, because the lack of public consultation ensures that there is no knowing the lengths the private sector will go to for the sake of a profit. Just look at how close the coalition’s links to them already are.

Bureaucracy notwithstanding, the NHS is the envy of the world for fast and effective healthcare for all. A Commonwealth Fund report proves that its standards are better than those of private healthcare provision in 11 countries including Australia, New Zealand, France, Holland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the US.

Even the American President is trying to drive legislation for a system similar to the British model in his country; that’s how good the NHS is. Why do you think the familiar blue-and-white of the NHS logo was such a feature in Danny Boyle’s bombastic Opening Ceremony in the London Olympics?

I know I have had my gripes about certain aspects of the NHS. No medical system, private or public, can claim to be perfect.

I do not wish to undermine existing clinical negligence claims against individual NHS hospitals or trusts. But these are as a result of over-stretched resources and cumulative budget cuts made by the coalition – and preceding governments going all way back to Thatcher – rather than capitalist greed. That the NHS tops a Commonwealth poll today is testimony to the admirable efforts they are making in the face of such cuts. As far as incentives for a British healthcare ‘open market’ go, you cannot get more machiavellian than the one sought by the present government.

The very existence of the NHS underscores the principle that access to good healthcare is a right, not a privilege. This is why it is a cornerstone of British democracy today – and why the coalition’s NHS ‘reforms’ look like an atrocity.