For those who’ve not already seen it, this powerful film presents an alternative to the government’s devastating cuts agenda. It features community groups and anti-cuts campaigners along with Bill Nighy, Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien and Zac Goldsmith MP. Worth watching ahead of this weekend’s demo in London against the cuts.
Art mirrors life for those of us with an interest in learning disability issues as a London play explores the threat to special needs schools. The play coincides with the government’s plans to overhaul special educational provision and comes at a time when learning disablility support is in jeopardy thanks to public spending cuts.
Death of a Nightingale runs at Hampstead’s New End Theatre until Sunday 3 April and focuses on the inclusion agenda which can shoehorn children with special needs into mainstream schools that offer inadequate support.
The play, written by Alan Share, a former chair of governors at a special school, also addresses the problems when a special school is threatened with closure. Since 1997, more than 100 special schools have closed, resulting in the loss of about 9,000 places for children.
Professional actors are joined on stage with learning disabled young people from the Oak Lodge School in East Finchley. The cast includes 18-year-old Max Lewis, an actor with Downs syndrome who appeared in Notes on a Scandal. Lewis plays a pupil who truants from schools that fail to meet his needs.
Written in 2009, the play is being resurrected to coincide with the government’s green paper on special educational needs. Share describes the green paper as “yet another missed opportunity for the government”. He adds: “It wants to find a quick fix for children with moderate learning difficulties and avoid the challenge of meeting more complex and varied needs.”
For more on the green paper and special educational needs provision, check out the very good Guerrillamum blog.
As someone who has experienced mental health problems since childhood I was elated to discover, on February 2, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg waxing lyrical about the importance of mental health on breakfast television. It was the new mental health strategy in England, No Health Without Mental Health, a cross-governmental approach to mental health and wellbeing, putting particular emphasis on talking therapies, early intervention and children/young people’s mental health.
£400 million is being invested in mental health services and I applaud the move to improve access to psychological therapies (often described as a ‘Cinderella service’) such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a type of therapy which works to gradually change a person’s negative thought patterns and behavioural responses over a set period of time.
These types of therapies have been proven to work extremely well for people with mild mental health problems, such as short-term reactive (caused by an external trauma, such as a bereavement or job loss) depression and anxiety. Allowing people access to this type of support at the first onset of symptoms can prevent mental health problems spiralling into more severe forms of mental illness and, if it works, will save the government money as mental health problems are estimated to cost £105bn a year, according to the Centre for Mental Health.
I am pleased children/young people’s mental health is at the forefront of the strategy. Mental health service provision for young people is woefully inadequate, despite research showing half of all people who develop a lifetime mental health problems start to show symptoms at the age of 14. I can attest to this and perhaps with early intervention my mental health would not have deteriorated. Not mentioned, and something which is close to my heart, is how schools can assist with early intervention by training staff in mental health and employing in-school counsellors. My mental health problems were exacerbated by the deficit in knowledge about mental health in my school and as such I feel schools need to be included in discussion on early intervention and preventative measures.
As my elation waned and cynicism set in I pondered some questions: what about those with severe or enduring mental health problems? A short course of CBT is rarely enough when your problems are embedded or not easily identifiable, and I can’t stress enough how difficult it is to get sustained support. Regrettably for the government mental health problems are complex and unwieldy; they can accost you unannounced, be rooted in indescribable traumas and take years to recover from or even manage on a day to day basis. They are highly subjective and as such what is required is a subjective approach, there is no therapeutic panacea.
Talking to other young people, who like me have had mental health problems since a young age, there is a worry psychological therapies will be skewed in favour of CBT over other forms of talking therapies such as psychotherapy, art therapy and group therapy, to name a few. There are myriad treatment options out there but it can be extremely hard to gain access to many of them; perhaps they are not available widely in your area, are expensive or you’re simply told you’re not ‘unwell enough’ yet. The latter can be especially disheartening to hear when you have been physically unable to function for months on end and are desperate for even a semblance of support. There is not one cause for someone developing a mental health problem and while CBT works for many people it is important to note it does not work for everybody and there needs to be access to an array of psychological therapies if these proposals are going to work.
Another question I had after reading about the strategy was about how it can possibly succeed with council cuts affecting mental health services the way they are. In my last blog post I expressed concern about how cuts are affecting voluntary sector mental health services and I come back to this point now. With day centres closing around the country, jobs being lost and the lack of psychiatric beds available mental health provision is not in a good place and I’m left wondering how the government think the NHS can compensate for all these crucial losses.
As a resident of Leeds I was dismayed to hear of the decision to close the Leeds Crisis Centre, Leeds’ only instant access counselling service for people needing immediate support. The rationale behind this is that the service itself isn’t unique and is duplicated within the NHS. With GPs and mental health professionals regularly referring people deemed too ‘high risk’ for NHS services they have come out in force to support the crisis centre and postpone the decision until a rigorous consultation has taken place. I have to wonder how serious the government is about helping people suffering mental distress. Will the rhetoric become reality? Or will, as has become the norm, those of us with mental health problems be left floundering about desperately searching for any kind of support?
I was really struck by these atmospheric, beautifully shot videos which use characters from the Wizard of Oz to expose the lives of the hidden homeless, taking the film’s iconic line ‘There’s no place like home’ as inspiration.
Produced to show during the charity Crisis’ recent Coldplay Hidden Gigs in Newcastle and Liverpool, they’ve just gone on public release. Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow face different aspects of homelessness that most people aren’t aware of.
Dorothy flees violence in a B&B, the Cowardly Lion outsays his welcome on a friend’s sofa and the Scarecrow is a lonely squatter.
If using a vintage Hollywood movie to highlight a contemporary social issue via some pleasing visuals sounds like a totally random stab for publicity, then that’s exactly what it is – and frankly, why not?
As Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy says: “We are always looking for new ways to bring to attention the hidden crisis of homelessness. We hope these videos make people think about the issue, and hopefully help us in our mission to end homelessness by donating or campaigning for change.”
Official statistics at the end of last year showed rising homelessness. Housing minister Grant Shapps insists that the cuts agenda won’t impact on the homeless, but how, with benefits decimated and support services withering away, can the housing situation of the vulnerable be guaranteed?
The Cowardly Lion
The videos were created by Liverpool/London creative agency Mercy, and directed by Nick Brown.
Self-help housing can help solve employment as well as housing problems – so here’s a belated nudge to a piece by Kate Murray, regular Social Issue blogger, which explores the below-the-radar world of community housing projects in Society Guardian.
Real freedom, as Mary Pearson, mother to a learning disabled young person, says in the short film below, requires freedom of movement.
The film, by David Herman of the learning disability charity Camphill communities , is part of the ongoing campaign to help disabled people in care who want to live more independently but who are being prevented from doing so by funding wrangles between local authorities.
The cuts agenda combined with local government red tape means forcing vulnerable people (and their families and carers) through hoops if they want to move from one council area to another – and there’s no guarantee of success if you attempt this. But learning disablity campaigners are calling for funding to follow individuals. A sort of portable personalised budget and assessment system is what’s needed.
The film is part of the charity’s submission to the government-appointed Commission on the Funding of Care and Support which is due to report back in July. The scenes here offer a snapshot of the sort of rich community life that my sister is thriving in at The Lantern Camphill community.
With bursts of retro orange shooting through its autumnal colour palette and wooden floors framed by bright white walls, the purpose-built accommodation pictured here wouldn’t look out of place in some interiors magazines.
Beneath the well-appointed rooms lies a bistro and a health spa where you can get your hair cut and styled or enjoy a pedicure.
The building, which opened in November, has achieved code level four for sustainable homes. It is heavily insulated, rainwater is harvested for reuse and heating is sourced from photovoltaic and solar thermal technology. A combined heat and power source also produces electricity, with any surplus sold to the national grid. The entire complex is wired for super-fast broadband.
Little wonder Ewart House has just won a ‘best place to live in London’ award in the Royal Town Planning Insitute’s annual London Planning Awards.
A boutique hotel or maybe the latest urban eco-housing?
The only giveaway that Ewart House might in fact be sheltered housing is the fact the ground floor ‘spa’ also offers assisted bathing and the pedicure is really, well, more chiropody. Look more closely and you see the handrails lining the walls and the discrete pacing area for vulnerable residents. The decor and furnishings are also colour coordinated to enable residents with limited vision and dementia to recognise which part of the building they are in; no institutional signage here but subtle ways for residents to get their bearings. In a separate wing with its own entrance are seven flats let to younger people with disabilities and the building is intended to act as a community hub.
Ewart House appears to have substance as well as style; this isn’t just fashionable living for the frail. The extra care sheltered home for frail older people, including people with mild dementia, contains self-contained flats for 47 residents. Almost all flats have a private balcony and some are designed for couples whose fragile health prevents them from sharing a bedroom.The weekly rent and service charges are £135.
The project is a partnership between housing association Harrow Churches (HCHA), which manages the building and provides day time support, and the charity Creative Support, which provides specialist support staff on call 24-hours a day.
With a recent report by the Alzheimers Society suggesting that 50,000 people in the UK are being forced into care homes prematurely, Ewart House has three flats designed for people with mild dementia and the staff are trained in dementia care.
The three-storey building, designed by architects JCMT and styled by interior decorators Stanbridge Interiors, was built using a £6.3m loan from the Homes and Communities Agency, a £3m loan secured by HCHA from Santander and money raised by leasing part of the land to development partner Octavia Housing. Harrow Council pays for employing two teams of staff providing personal care and support while housing support staff are employed by HCHA.
Despite the obvious benefits and official plaudits, HCHA warns the funding climate is a massive threat to creating similar schemes. Chief execuitve Chris Holley says: ‘We’re extremely worried that funding will not be available for more schemes like this despite the substantial social and financial advantages it offers over alternatives like residential and nursing care.
According to one elderly resident, William Fordham, Ewart House is a breath of fresh air: ‘The best thing is the freedom. It’s magic – I have my own flat but carers coming in and out. I didn’t know places like this existed.’ As William’s words suggest, why should losing your youth mean losing your desire for decent décor?
* Images by photographer Lucy Baker
My mum has multiple dementia. Sadly, there’s nothing unusual about that. The Alzheimer’s Society reports that there are now 750,000 people with some form of dementia in the UK.
For my mum, it’s a gradual decline into the night. She has her bad days – when she’s convinced she’s about to leave school and needs to find a job – and her better days, where she can just about remember her grandchildren’s names. But she certainly no longer has days where anyone who talks to her, even for a minute or two, might think she’s capable of making a serious decision about the money she spends.
That’s why I was so shocked, when going through her mail recently, to find a letter from one of the UK’s best-known charities, Save the Children, thanking her for talking to one of its fundraisers about leaving a legacy. ‘As requested,’ it read, ‘I have also enclosed a codicil form.’
When I spoke to the charity and told them how disappointed I was that they were targeting a vulnerable elderly person, I discovered that my mother was on a list it had bought a couple of years ago. She’d been contacted, the charity admitted, ‘several times’ over the last few months by fundraisers working on their behalf about making a donation or setting up a direct debit. Save the Children, to its credit, reacted swiftly. It apologised and immediately took my mother off its list, conceding that its telemarketers ‘should have identified she was not capable of making these decisions’.
This was not the first time my mum has been on the receiving end of charity cold calls and has, according to the fundraisers involved, expressed interest in making a regular donation. I have power of attorney over her affairs, so I, on her behalf, continue to donate to those charities she had herself identified before her condition deteriorated and she’s never ended up spending money she can’t afford on new donations.
When I started to have a dig, I soon soon found my mum’s experience was not unique. Take a look at the Alzheimers Society chat forum, for example, and you’ll see pages of discussion about dementia sufferers being cold-called, with, in one case, a fundraiser for a reputable charity apparently going round door to door in a sheltered housing scheme and even filling in the direct debit form when the potential donor was unable to do so.
Charities use cold calling, whether it’s on the phone or at the door, because it’s effective. According to the Fundraising Standards Board, the independent self-regulatory body for UK fundraising, its members made more than 4.7 million fundraising phone calls in 2009, and more than 22 million door to door calls (including collections) – both significantly up on the previous year. But the number of complaints is up too. And with charities facing a squeeze on donations in these tough economic times, it’s not unreasonable to fear that the pressure on fundraisers to get results will increase.
The Charity Commission, in its guidelines on fundraising, says ‘charities should not use any methods of fundraising that may damage public trust and confidence in charities’ including ‘targeting and pressuring vulnerable donors who may not be able to afford or understand the terms of the donation or ongoing donations they are committed to’. And in its code of practice on legacies the Fundraising Standards Board says charities ‘ought to pay particular attention when communicating with vulnerable people’.
Charities may do the right thing when they’re challenged. But is the message getting through to the fundraising frontline? Professional fundraising companies which work on charities’ behalf say all the right things about ‘high quality’, ‘sensitive’ and ‘no pressure’ telephone fundraising. And the Direct Marketing Association’s code of practice specifically highlights the need to ‘take particular care with vulnerable customers’. But marketers are highly focused on results – donors signed up and cash raised – and as I’ve seen that means the reality can fall way short of the theory. It seems to me that the confusing array of organisations and codes – yet another self-regulatory body, the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, oversees face-to-face fundraising – may be part of the problem. Shouldn’t the Charity Commission, which doesn’t directly regulate fundraising, have a more hands-on role?
Of course charities need to reach out to new donors and of course they need to use cost-effective means of doing so. But sensitivity, a strong ethical approach and good training are all essential. So too is a tough line on those marketing teams who don’t stick to the high standards charities subscribe to. Otherwise I’m not convinced a fundraiser, working for a telemarketing or door-to-door team, will really give the thought they should to the donor.
Charities are under pressure for cash. But they rely on goodwill and can’t afford to squander it with shoddy sales techniques.
Of the many thorny issues the voluntary sector is grappling with, bidding for public service contracts is among the biggest. The sector was therefore taken aback in December, when the government allowed less than a month for its modernising commissioning consultation. Read my article for The Guardian’s voluntary sector network here.
I’m supporting the two-day online campaign, One Month Before Heartbreak, that took place this weekend against planned reforms to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the disability benefit that allows tens of thousands of disabled people to get out and about from residential homes. The DLA consultation period ends on February 14th, Valentine’s Day.
In the words of blogger Brianb: “Many of us, concerned at the way the coalition government is bullying, victimising, stereotyping, abandoning and, stigmatising those of us who live with disability, have decided to publish blogs almost simultaneously to draw attention to these injustices being perpetrated”.
Given the warm glow the government wants to create with its big society approach, the cut seems even more unfair, and shortsighted, and as The Guardian’s David Brindle has highlighted, the cut is not only “the meanest and nastiest cut of all in the carnage that is sweeping through our public services” but is based on flawed reasoning.
Although individual campaigning organisations within the disability sector might have a history of being vocal, as a whole, individuals with disabilities and their carers aren’t much known for taking off their gloves and sticking their heads above the parapet. Until now. A huge, vibrant and persuasive online community of writers and campaigners is fighting injustice through blogging and on twitter.
As blogger Ned Ludd Carer points out, the cuts are “about locking up disabled people in their own homes and taking away the desperately needed care…This doesn’t have to happen. We need to stop these cuts before they do any more damage. We carers need to get our heads out of the sand and start shouting. We need to stop being the silent, heroic martyrs the press and TV love to wheel out for a nice heartwarming end to the programme. We need to be Carers With Attitude.” The gloves are off.
Anyone in two minds about supporting the campaign – and there are already 2,500 names on the online petition to recall the consultation – should read blogger Bendy Girl who argues that the cuts should be everybody’s business, not just an issue for the disabled and their carers.
As the One Month Before Heartbreak campaign stresses, 100 years ago “disabled people were institutionalised and kept out of the public eye so that the public would need not feel embarrassed to look upon a disabled person.” The removal of DLA will trap the disabled in their care homes. And that’s something best consigned to the history books.