Government cuts target the disabled

Disability conf 1 Billy Hayes
General Secretary Billy Hayes attacked the way in which the government had targeted cuts at the disabled and those least able to cope in his address to the Disability Conference in Leeds over the weekend.

Billy told of care budgets being slashed while the costs of essentials like food, energy and transport rose and accused the government of putting 500,000 people into hardship by scrapping the disability living allowance.

"The Coalition Government is using the economic crisis as an excuse for breaking up the welfare state," said Billy.

Defending the Remploy factories, Billy argued that shutting the factories and throwing the workers on the scrap heap was the worst solution.

The general secretary praised Ed Miliband's speech on mental health, going on to call for "mental health issues to be given the same status as physical health."

On the question of getting more people involved in union activities, Billy highlighted the need to hold meetings in venues with access for disabled people.

Disability conf 5
L-R: Tony Sneddon, Linda Roy and Beryl Shepherd
National equalities officer Linda Roy predicted that 450,000 disabled people will lose out when the universal credit comes into place.

She criticised the role of the French company Atos that has been charged with assessing disabled people in terms of fitness for work. Many of the cases are going to appeal and the government's response is simply to try to restrict legal aid for appeals.

Linda also attacked the decision to shut Remploy factories. "These workers are being made redundant in a double dip recession. Unemployment remains significantly higher for the disabled. Transport costs are higher," said Linda who pointed out that the extra costs impact access to things like training and education as well. "The government should stop closing programmes until the workers find alternative employment, which according to the government should not take long!" said Linda.

Linda also mentioned a cut of £115 million to the mental health budgets and praised Labour leader Ed Miliband for raising the issue of mental illness in a recent speech, calling on the next Labour government to reverse the cuts being imposed by the present regime.

Disability conf 2
The national equalities officer paid tribute to the Olympians and Paralympians, emphasising that the Games underlined the point that everyone is human and deserves due respect.

The subject of mental health was picked up in debate, with a call for "a joint management workshop to provide information and advice on mental health issues."

Of particular concern was the impact of performance management on mental health issues.

Laura Hart of Tyne and Wear Clerical, told how in response to her mental health problems the manager produced tissues.

Jonathan Belshaw for the Disability Advisory Committee (DAC) pointed out that in the mail sector it was in Royal Mail's interests to address mental health issues because the present approach was often finishing up at employment tribunals.

The loss of Two Tick status by Royal Mail resulted in much debate. One motion noted that the loss underlines "a lack of commitment by the employer to both respect and promote disability rights in the workplace."

"It is costing a fortune, going to tribunal with disability claims," said Ted Stead for the DAC.

Jonathan Belshaw for the DAC also accused Royal Mail of not having a grip on reality. "It is not difficult to keep Two Ticks," he said.

Disability conf 3
The DAC and equalities department were instructed to liaise with the postal executive to raise the matter with the business calling for it to "get its house in order on respecting and promoting disability rights in the workplace."

Jackie Stuart for Central and West Lancs called for prioritisation of funding for Alzheimer research. She pointed out that dementia was a terminal disease yet there was a lack of priority when it came to funding research. "Alzheimer costs the country £23 billion a year, yet just £66 million is devoted to research compared to £500 million for cancer," said Jackie, who called for more investment to find a cure.

There was condemnation for Atos and the government's Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process. A motion highlighted the needless deaths of hundreds of disabled people, who were abandoned to their fates when crucial welfare support was taken away.

Further, appeals resulting from the failings of the Atos process were costing the taxpayer £50 million a year.

Elspeth Bettany for the DAC described Atos as "a shambles and disgrace.

"This Tory led government knows little of the needs of the disabled. Atos has ruined the lives of many disabled people," said Elspeth. "The WCA is flawed and dangerous. We call on the NEC to campaign for its immediate suspension."

Disability conf 8 Mick Gledgehill
Guest speaker, national deputy convener for Remploy Tony Gledhill (pictured left) argued for the retention of Remploy factories but for a change in the way that they are run.

The Remploy factories were set up after World War II by the Labour Government, but since then there has been a steady chipping away at them. Tony recalled that 9,800 people were employed when he started 27 years ago, there are now 800 left.

Tony criticised the way that the Remploy factories are organised at present, top heavy with managers who block off advance for many workers.

Illustrating the point, Tony recalled that there are 424 managers at Remploy with company cars. Some 75% of these managers will remain employed when the factories reduce from 54 to 18.

Despite his criticism Tony paid tribute to Remploy for giving him and other disabled people an opportunity and recalled helping a young lad through the learning process: "He gained confidence, got a driving license, a flat and a girlfriend," said Tony. "Some sort of support and employment are necessary."

Tony bluntly stated that the private sector do not want to employ disabled people, regardless of reasonable adjustments or support.

He predicted that those Remploy factories sold to the private sector will be asset stripped, with the workers that remain seeing cuts to pensions and other terms and conditions. The union will be de-recognised.

Tony believes that the disabled will also be squeezed out of the public sector, with the third sector - that includes charities - being the only place left to find employment.

Disability conf 9 Tom Kane
Chair of the Shropshire Deaf and Hard of Hearing Forum Tom Kane (pictured right) described the problems of isolation experienced by deaf people

Accompanied by his hearing dog, Nevis, Tom told how "deafness is isolating, with blindness you can still communicate.

"You are not aware if a person is deaf. If you are looking at a desk, a telephone or a till I can't hear you," said Tom, who has 20 per cent of his hearing left and depends on lip reading for much communication.

55-year-old Tom told how in 10 years' time he will have lost all hearing. "There is a lack of awareness in this country as to how much noise does to hearing," said Tom, who lost his hearing in 1999, while serving with the RAF.

Tom explained how the ear works, with 15,000 to 20,000 hairs in the cochlea which send electrical impulses to the brain. "The larger the sound, the bigger the waves in the cochlea. If there is too much of a wave, the hairs die," said Tom, who explained that once the hairs start to die it is only a matter of time before the remainder go.

Tom, who goes into schools and other organisations warning of the damage that can be done by too much noise, warns that over 100 decibels for nine minutes can damage hearing.

He told how he will go to a school to warn that high noise levels on I-pods and the like could result in kids needing hearing aids before they leave school.

One answer is cochlea implants which are effective in restoring hearing but cost £40,000 a piece, so are difficult to get on the NHS.

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