About Me

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I have been working to support disabled people to live as independently as possible and realising their individual potentials for over 20 years. I am qualified in Health and Social Care Management and Ethics and Social Welfare. All blog entries are my responses to issues I see affecting those I support and indeed myself as I joined the disabled community after surviving a stroke.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Introducing New Sister Blog Disabled Daddy

Greetings Dear Reader

As some of you maybe aware, I have set up a new blog to work in conjunction with Disability Expert, the new blog is called Disabled Daddy and can be found http://tinyurl.com/6jknswk

The reason I am doing this is mainly because Disability Expert never really turned out how I thought it would. I originally started this blog after I survived a stroke and was unable to carry out many of the more physical elements of my job but still had a lot of knowledge around disability issues and best practices for addressing such issues.

At the time of my stroke I was studying for an MA in The Ethics of Social Welfare which I believed, in conjunction with my 20+ years of experience in supporting disabled people to live as independently as possible, put me in a strong position to create debate and discussion by sharing my experiences and opinions which what I anticipated Disability Expert would be.

However, in recent months I have not been able to cover these issues on this blog because government policy towards disabled people has dominated many peoples thoughts which in turn has dominated the Disability Expert blog.

To redress this, Disabled Daddy has been created to cover issues of social policy and the affects of benefit changes to us all and Disability Expert will return to discussing best practices and exploring new ideas in supporting disabled people and their carers and supporters.

I do question my ability to keep two blogs updated, but hopefully you will be able to see my reasoning behind creating the new blog in the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Big Undeliverable Society

Following on from the comments made by Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the retiring head of Community Service Volunteering http://tinyurl.com/6y7ovnc the voluntary sector was delivered another kick in the teeth with the The Skills Funding Agency using a selection criteria that weighs heavily in favour of colleges despite many voluntary sector organisations having an extremely good record of delivering skills training to people who have disengaged from traditional training and education providers. This is at a time when cuts are severely affecting the funding opportunities available to the sector

In July 2010 The Skills Funding Agency changed its policy for selecting training providers from QPF (Qualified provider Framework) to something called ACTOR (Approved College and Training Organisation Register) and it is only from this register that they will be offering tenders to deliver skills training to specific areas of identified need, http://tinyurl.com/6fghnlm An example of this came to my attention last week they announced the chosen organisations who will deliver skills training to NEETs, or people not in employment, education or training. In the South West 4 of the 6 winning bids were made by colleges, which demonstrate a heavy bias towards colleges at the expense of voluntary sector providers.

The money for this training was provided by the European Social Fund who just over a year ago requested evidence on how voluntary sector training providers were engaging and being used in the subcontracting process of their funding. At roughly the same time, The Learning Curve, one of the major training and information bodies in the voluntary sector held their Voluntary Value Conference, where among other issues the discussion included the barriers faced by the voluntary sector which mainly focussed around the lack of financial incentive to work with people with more complex needs and voluntary sector organisations considering developing consortia to tender bids http://tinyurl.com/679povz

Why does this matter you may well ask, well these are sizable amounts of funding (between 2007-2010 over £1billion in UK alone) http://tinyurl.com/64b835j) supporting numerous projects aimed at those who are disengaged and disenfranchised from society who are more likely to have complex needs for whom, for whatever reasons school and college has not worked in the past so why would they go now?

I came across an example of this a few years ago with a European Social Fund project was run by a voluntary sector provider whose desk right next to mine. This project was aimed at teaching employment training and skills to people with mental health problems. I was amazed by the number of people who came to this project and benefitted hugely from it. Being a curious soul I engaged many of them in conversation asking them why they had joined this project and not more traditional educational providers. Without exception they all said they didn’t have the confidence to go to a big foreboding building where they would be surrounded by lots of people who were far cleverer than they were.

When the funding for the project ended all the participants were invited to the last day to share their experiences and let the trainer know what they were doing now. Many faces i was familiar with, one lady who had told me she couldn’t go to college because she was stupid was doing a degree in psychology at the Open University, another who had become self-conscious and depressed after losing her sight had taken the step of going to college and training in alternative therapy and is now self employed, another had become a drug and alcohol counsellor, this is just a few examples of the success a voluntary sector training provider can have and as I have liaised with other such organisations all of them have success stories of this nature.

In no way am I criticising schools and colleges who have provided me and thousands of others with an education that has served me well, but it has to be recognised that this educational route is not for everybody and that to those this funding is aimed at, offering what on paper will seem like just ‘another college course’ will not serve the purpose it was meant to, indeed a voluntary sector provider can often be the stepping stone to a college course and even higher education but under the current selection process there is a large risk of getting this wrong.

This means that in addition to the spending cuts from Local and Central government, the sector is now being restricted in placing tenders to provide services (not just skills training, which will in essence make David Cameron's vision of the Big Society undeliverable.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Big Society or Blag Society Part 2

Good day dear reader, it has been a while, but while my resolution to update my blog more regular has failed miserably, I will hold my hands up and say that I am failing in that respect and won't try to 'blag it', which brings me to the point I want to make today. In July 2010 I wrote the entry Big Society or Blag Society When Is A Volunteer Not A Volunteer? where I indicated that although in theory a worthy undertaking, I feared the Big Society was fundamentally flawed by a lack of understanding of the voluntary sector. Seven months later, ,not only have my fears not be allayed, but the eminent leader of Community Service Volunteers, Dame Elisabeth Hoodless (retiring after 36 years) told the Radio 4 Today programme that she too considered the government cuts were undermining the Big Society vision, and in my opinion she is 100% correct.

I make no secret that I am a director of a small charity and have a vested interest in volunteering and the Big Society concept, I also make no secret that I am a disabled person who can see what the cuts are doing to services first hand and how the concept and the actions being taken don't add up.

Lets take a group of disabled people who regularly attend my charity. Due to their disabilities they are heavily reliant on accessible public transport which in our area is a community Dial-A-Ride scheme. Due to heavy cutbacks to their budget the transport scheme can no longer guarantee our people can be picked up, this has the knock on effect of a loss of income for my charity due to services not provided even though we are here and ready and the people want to get here. This also leaves us with volunteers with little or nothing to do.

It is also a wrong assumption that volunteers are free; for specialist work with children pr vulnerable adults they need to have a modicum of relevant training which costs and they need to be reimbursed their out of pocket expenses, or at least offered them and as most volunteers are on benefits (hence they have the time to volunteer) many need to claim their expenses.

Essentially this means with less money available small charities are feeling the bite as they are expected to pick up the Big Society concept.

This is in line with Dame Elisabeth's observation of there being no strategic plan to make the Big Society concept a reality.

She also points out that those worthy projects that are being funded are at the expense of other worthy projects. She uses a the example of a £13million scheme for youngsters to meet people from different backgrounds is being created at the expense of withdrawing support to, amongst other schemes, volunteers assisting stroke survivors at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup to eat their meals, saving £600 per patient.

My charity doesn't receive statutory due to the administration and paperwork required to carry out the process, but even we are feeling the brunt of this as the funding we rely on from charitable trusts and grant giving foundations are now being inundated with applications from organisations that have had statutory funding withdrawn.

This means more organisations after less money and just as importantly, the process taking so much longer because there are more applications the funder has to review.

This whole idea shows a lack of understanding of the voluntary sector and the risk of a collapse of many smaller charities providing services supporting those people who are most vulnerable.

In conclusion, I still think the whole thing is a blag, trying to sell us all a concept with no strategy and when placed under scrutiny cannot possibly work.