Statement on post-sanction support

I have shown by support for benefit sanctions because I believe people must take responsibility for their actions. I have been deeply concerned at the level of bigotry towards people with learning difficulties or mental health issues by those who oppose sanctions for their own ideological reasons. By suggesting someone is incapable to be sanctioned is suggesting they are unable to work, therefore educating them is pointless and so we might as well kill them at birth!

I am aware I had appeared heartless and this is because I have not explained my believe in the importance of post-sanction support. In the same way that a parents will sends a child to bed without supper is most likely to bring them a sandwich or something later on to ensure they do not go hungry, I believe people who have been sanctioned should have the appropriate level of support, including discretionary payments, to ensure they do not go hungry and remain safe and well.

Therefore the purpose of sanctions should merely be used to shock people into taking responsibility for their actions, and it is how they responded to the post-sanction support that will determine how much they may ‘support’. If someone is uncooperative with the support made available to them then there is little that can be done.

I hope this statement clarifies my position on the matter.

– If you like what I say, have a look at my website at http://www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

Do Family Carers Really Save the Government Money?

Over the last few years, the carer’s movement has focused their key message on the fact that carers save the government money with Carers UK ‘estimating’ that 6.5 million carers save the government £87bn a year! While it can be argue family members do provide support that could be provided by paid care workers, especially in a husband and wife relationship, I do not believe the ‘savings’ are what people are led to believe.

While a family member may feel they are looking after someone 24 hours a day, the reality is many activities of so-called care are a normal part of family life, like preparing meals, laundry and going shopping. It is therefore important to examine the additional support provided to a usual relationship, and ensure it is actually required. Carers can often provide too much support for someone who could do things for themselves, but the carer prefers or needs to take control.

I think when we look at the parents who see themselves as carers of disabled children, they often describe their ‘hardship’ of having a disabled child, without comparing it to people’s experiences of bringing up a non-disabled child, which can be similarly stressful. While parents may talk about providing relentless 24 hour care, by the time you factored in school, after-school activities, the respite care often provided and so on, the child may in reality have very little quality time with their parents.

And what is the purpose of saying carers save the government money? Is this an idle threat to give up looking after their ‘burdens’ on mass if they do not get their own way? Any parent could do that by not putting their child in care and I could say I save money by not finding ways to end up in hospital every week. When people talk about ‘their loved ones’ in the same sentence of putting a price of their head, there is a hypocrisy I find uncomfortable.

I feel the recent social reconstruction of families as carers and ‘loved ones’, there is no official term of their burdens in this relationship, has very damaging psychological and sociological consequences, since it is driving a wedge between the interdependency of family units. Not only is it causing a destructive power shift in favour of carers, and causing people with impairments and illnesses requiring support to become politically invisible, but it is also destroying marriages and other loving relationships.

I believe it is time to end the carer rhetoric and reclaim families as families. Social policy and social care should support the interdependent relationships within families, which may include providing additional or different support. It is about supporting every member of the family to stay well and take up their responsibilities within the family and the wider community. It may be about providing information and advice on how to effectively care for each other in a manner that is safe and positive, more than just automatically providing external support, although external support must always be available to those who need it.

I also feel passionately we should not accept the existence of young carers who have to think on behalf of a parent, above their responsibilities as a family member. A side effect of people with alcohol or drug addictions, as well as uncontrollable obesity, who refuse treatments and personal responsibility for their situation, is they often rely on their children to look after them, treating them as slaves. While the liberal media shouts blue murder to ‘protect’ the rights of people who do not look after themselves, who is standing up for the children who are suffering as a result? Simply referring to them as young carers, and providing them with a medal and a holiday once a year is not good enough!

The carers movement’s message that they save money has worked because carers have more rights and respect than ever before, but at what cost? In the name of carers, sick and disabled people have lost parents, partners, siblings and children to politics.

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Is the Opposition to Sanctions Used to Justify Bigotry?

The current opposition to the welfare reforms appears to be focused upon Benefit Sanctions. I think it is firstly important to note that I do not know enough about benefit sanctions to understand if they are working or not, and I would suggest if people were honest, most people are in the same boat. We hear the ‘final’ reason someone receives a sanction for, and assume its minor, without understanding the history and circumstances of the offence. As someone who employs personal assistants, I have appeared to have sacked people for being a few minutes late, but in reality this was the last straw in a long list of problems I had with the person.

My real concern is not the sanctions themselves, but the methods those opposing them have employed to supposedly win the moral high ground. I believe they have specifically focused on sanctions involving people with learning difficulties and mental health issues to elicit sympathy and moral outrage. The first and obvious reason for this is they would not win the argument if they talked about the ‘Jeremy Kyle’ generation since public opinion is likely to favour sanctions for them, rightly or wrongly. This means they need to use or abuse ‘the vulnerable’ to sell their message.

Now, I believe by focusing on those the opponents regard as ‘especially vulnerable’, they are making highly emotive and degrading assumptions against people with learning difficulties and mental health issues, which I would regard as bigotry. Disabled people have the right to take risks, be socially responsible and make mistakes so they are able to learn. Whether people like them or not, sanctions are a learning experience, even it is a harsh one.

But we have seen the liberal and socialist media, along with Labour MPs, make negative assumptions about disabled people who have been sanctioned. It has specifically been suggested and implicated that disabled people who can not tell the time should not be sanctioned, and therefore regarded as incapable of working. What is worse is that a Conservative MP was lampooned by the media for suggesting people with learning difficulties with timekeeping difficulties had been failed by the education system, because ‘we all know’ people with learning difficulties can not be cured.

This implication that not only are people with learning difficulties unemployable, which is a horrific statement anyway, but now it is publicly acceptable and celebrated to suggest they are also uneducable. For such beliefs to exist and be proudly stated in 2015 shows utter bigotry towards disabled people. I have no doubt if we were talking about race or gender, rather than disability, the police would be involved and a number of Labour MPs and journalists would be forced to resign, if not jailed.

But those who supposedly represent the interests of disabled people, often without involving us, support this kind of bigotry, presumably because it is what they believe themselves. But their attitude appears to be so long as disabled people keep their benefits, and only work if they really want to, how they are portrayed is irrelevant.

I feel that it is now time we draw a line in the sand and state the internalised bigotry towards disabled people throughout society needs to be properly exposed for the hatred masked as kindness it is, which the opposition to benefit sanctions is exposing. Unfortunately, my voice in this matter is not ready to be heard and we may have to wait ten or twenty years for people to understand what I am saying now. But I know they will look back at this, and the debate on benefits sanctions, and be totally ashamed of their bigotry.

I wish everyone would start really examining what they are saying before using disabled people as pawns in their childish political games, but I fear too few people actually care about how disabled people are portrayed or desire us to be fully included into society as equal citizens.

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Public Warning: Poor Customer Service of Disabled Access Holiday

In January I went with my best friend, Patrick Bates, on a Caribbean cruise departing from Florida. The cruise was amazing, although we had a few hiccups, primarily with the hoist Patrick thought had been booked for the first night in a hotel.

We had booked the Cruise with ‘Disabled Access Holidays’ and while they managed to book most things, we had to arrange the special assistance for the flight and we were not informed of the level of paperwork that was involved like the ESTA waivers for America.

While the difficulties we had could be excused, what can not be excused is the poor customer service from the company, particularly from its managing director, Michael Davis. He basically implied that our booking was too much book, and that it could be considered a act of charity, which I assume we should be grateful for.

On this basis, Disabled Access Holidays receives an official Simon Stevens Thumbs down and so this public warning has been issued. Please share widely!

http://www.disabledaccessholidays.com

– If you like what I say, have a look at my website at http://www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

Society Must Empower Disabled People to Take Risks

I believe there is one important but unwritten human right that is often overlooked in relation to disabled people, and that is the right to take risks. For me, taking risks is simply about making choices and taking the consequences that go with these choices. It is only by making choices that be can make mistakes, and making mistakes is the only way we properly learn to deal with the real world. It does not matter how many times a child is told not to put their finger in a burning candle because it will hurt, a child will not resist doing it themselves as the only way to understand fire hurts.

I think it is important to understand there is a big difference between taking risks and taking part in risky behaviour that is reckless. Disabled people, particularly those with learning difficulties or mental health issues, may require additional support to make informed choices to understand the potential risks they are taking, something we can call risk enablement. I believe it is so important for full inclusion for people to take the risks they are able to with the support they require, such as with the use of advocates. But importantly, it is important that advocates do not force people to make the ‘right choice’ but their own choice, being aware of the consequences, even if society perceives that to be a mistake.

Unfortunately many people within society often still have difficulties accepting disabled people are able to make choices and take risks, due to their desire to over-protect us with risk aversive policies. By regarding disabled people as vulnerable, it is the same as regarding them as incapable of taking risks and therefore having the ability to take control of their lives. A perfect example of how this is happening is the language and examples used to oppose benefit sanctions.

This article is not interested in the rights or wrongs of benefit sanctions, but it is concerned by the implications of how disabled people are being portrayed by those who oppose sanctions, particularly in relation to people with learning difficulties and mental health issues. A sanction in any context, right or wrong, is a consequence of the choices and risks we take. Even if we feel we had no choice, we had made a choice by discounting those choices that would cause us immediate harm or discomfort. Sometimes a choice is about having to choose between the best of two evils, to reduce the negative consequences, as having choice and control does not always feel wonderful or powerful.

I feel benefit sanctions is a perfect example to show how many people within society have issues with regarding disabled people as capable beings who can take risks and indeed have the right to take risks. But it is still too common for the media and others to portray disabled people as incapable, who often need carers to take risks on their behalf. While this may indeed be true for some people, in some situations, it is not an assumption that can or should be made.

I am proud of the risks I have taken in my life as someone with high support needs, many of which have been huge and indeed ‘risky’. As an entrepreneur, I am always taking risks in the hope of the big rewards they may bring me, in the same way to any other entrepreneur. And when the risks were not successful, I have had my share of sanctions, notably when I was made bankrupt in 2008. And I am proud of my bankruptcy because I did not let my impairments stop me from making the same choices and taking the same risks as non-disabled people in my position.

Enabling disabled people to make choices and take risks, so they can make their own mistakes to learn from, does not mean abandoning them or being heartless, but promoting risk enablement over risk aversion. Taking risks is a human right as well as a responsibility that is too often forgotten or avoided, especially when disabled people are portrayed as the victims of welfare.

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I Do Not Want a Special Service Just Because I Am ‘Disabled’

I think the first thing I should explain is what I mean by a special service. I am absolutely not talking about the specific and unique services people may need to manage their impairment or other needs, like physiotherapy or counselling, since these services are designed for a specific need rather than for a specific type of person.

What I am referring to is label based segregation, where people are provided with the same service but are separated because of a specific social identification, apartheid if you wish. Special schools sadly remain a perfect example of this where disabled children have been historically separated for no other reason than to keep them away from non-disabled people, while supposedly offering the same educational experience.

I believe in inclusion as opposed to integration. Integration is when excluded people are required to sacrifice their needs and identity to move themselves into the mainstream, with no compromise from the mainstream. Inclusion however is when the mainstream widens its circle to accommodate the needs of excluded people without asking them to compromise their identity. While there is so far no word for it, there is a third concept where both the mainstream and excluded people move together to reached a compromised position, and this is probably what is the ideal situation in the real world.

It is important to understand inclusion in terms of services to understand it should be the goal of service providers to make their services as inclusive as possible, and this involves examining their policies and procedures with a fine comb. It is therefore distressing when many disability charities are using the general criticisms of the government’s Work Programme, aimed at disabled people, to call for impairment specific specialist employment support.

Sounds great but when you realise employment support is just writing CVs, answering adverts and going to job interviews they have arranged, is there really a special and uniquely different way to teach people with differing impairments to do this? The charities, who are all ready to provide these services if paid, will say yes and this is like supermarkets saying people need to eat more! If the work programme is failing people, we should support it to be more inclusive, not give up on it in preference to segregated services!

And often the problem with employment support services is they are dealing with people, who have been sick or are newly impaired, who are not emotionally ready for employment. There appears to be a missing service between primary care discharge, including physical rehab, and employment support services, that enables and empowers people to reach a stable identity and understand their assets, strengths, liabilities and weaknesses as human beings, before having to think about work. This is where impairment specific support, particularly in terms of identity, may be relevant. But the sad reality is support that empowers people is not a profitable business model and it is better to run an employment support service that keeps people looking for work forever as they are taught to be passive and disempowered.

Another ‘specific’ service related issue that frustrates me is impairment-specific customer service training for mainstream services. I have seen calls for bus drivers to be given ‘autism training’ by autism charities. I am sure any such training will cover common sense suggestions that would be relevant to all disabled people if not every passenger! I would prefer the money was spent in designing and delivering good general customer service training that talked about specific needs some customers have, as well as teaching bus drivers to treat everyone with respect and not to make inappropriate assumptions or become hostile if someone is confused or appears to be in a vulnerable situation.

If all drivers had to have autism training, next will be dementia training, and then it will be appropriate to have training on all the impairments, hundreds if not thousands, which means they will never have time to drive the bus! As a disability trainer working in a pan-impairment framework, I have to design training that tries to convey the combined needs of as many impairments as possible, which is not an easy task!

I do not want specialist services just because I am disabled, as we should be including disabled people in mainstream services as much as possible while ensuring our specific needs are met. It is therefore important to be critical of organisations that are calling for special services, and understand their agenda may not be in the best interests of those their claim to represent.

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