I have just read that four out of ten disabled young people in England are living in poverty, amounting to 320000 children. As a volunteer with groups who help train disabled people I find this statistic upsetting but not surprising.
Caring for a child with disabilities can be crushingly expensive and, over the last decade, the figure for those existing in poverty has risen by 49%.
Many disabled children also live in one-parent families, the stress of sometimes heart-breaking situations proving too great for the survival of partnerships. From the stories I am told by my disabled friends, hate-crime against children and young people with disabilities is also all too prevalent, often with children from ethnic minorities suffering a double dose of prejudice and contempt.
Far too often, education for disabled children stops abruptly at 19 yrs, and nationwide, for decades, the facilities to enable these members of our society to have a successful transition into adulthood, and to help them play a meaningful and fulfilling part in our community, simply do not exist.
I am a great fan of volunteering, but I have been told of cases where, particularly, learning disabled young people are expected to volunteer when others would rightly expect to receive payment.
This can often be the fault of our ridiculous benefits system, or a sentimentalised and patronising attitude towards disabled people. Is exploitation too harsh a term for me to use?
In 2000 the government published a White Paper called ‘Valuing People’ to raise awareness about the basic human rights of disabled people, which are the same basic human rights that we all have.
The problem is, many disabled people do not have a voice to articulate those rights for themselves, so society can conveniently ignore them. In 2009, the White Paper ‘Valuing People Now’ was issued, mainly because the previous one had not been heeded in anything like sufficient measure to make any difference. Publications with stark but honest titles like ‘Death by Indifference’ (amazing how many disabled people simply die due to lack of care) abound, but are hardly read.
I have added my voice to support the move to Spring Hall for Ravenscliffe School, and I lobby for a commitment to provide education within that facility to aged 25 (which gives youngsters with disabilities a fighting chance in the world of work, because they need these extra learning years).
I also support the Safe Place scheme, which, it is proposed, enables shops and other buildings to display a sticker so that children who are suffering from hate abuse can find temporary refuge.
And I will also support any initiative that provides opportunities for disabled people with the opportunity to work, not just voluntarily, but also for a meaningful, self-esteem- boosting and thoroughly deserved wage.
Cllr Keith Hutson