‘Give deaf young people a fair chance!’

Mass protest in Norwich against benefit cuts and sanctions – deaf young people are being discriminated against
Mass protest in Norwich against benefit cuts and sanctions – deaf young people are being discriminated against

THE National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) is urging the government to halt the rollout of Personal Independence Payment (PIP – which replaces Disability Living Allowance) until deaf young people have a fair chance to successfully claim the benefit.

In an attempt to highlight how the current claim process for PIP discriminates against deaf young people, the charity has launched its ‘PIP’d Off’ campaign, demanding that the government immediately improve all aspects of the process, from the initial application to the individual assessment and final decisions being made.

NDCS is concerned that the claim process strips young deaf people of their independence and makes them feel disempowered by requiring them to request an application by phone, leaving many resorting to asking someone to call on their behalf.

Alternative options, such as emailing to request a form or an online system are simply not available.

Despite trialling a process where deaf claimants can email the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ask for a paper claim form and developing a digital claim process, the government has failed to ensure that this process was effective before PIP was rolled out.

In addition, deaf young people have reported a lack of deaf awareness from staff during their assessments. In one case, communication support was not provided at an assessment despite a request being granted, but the meeting was expected to go ahead regardless.

Others have experienced being refused PIP, only to receive a full apology and their application accepted, once they decided to take legal action. Twenty-four-year-old James Davies, an engineer from Surrey, has permanent bilateral hearing loss and has really struggled with the process of applying and qualifying for PIP.

James says: ‘The first problem I came across was pretty obvious, having to use the telephone.

‘So I thought I’d look for an email address, since this is the internet age and surely they would have one. After extensive searching it was clear there was no email listed to request an application form. I then decided to ask someone to call on my behalf but even that was stressful, due to them asking repeatedly to talk to me, despite being told I was deaf and could not hear on the phone.’

Also commenting on the need for the PIP application process to be overhauled, National Deaf Children’s Society CEO, Susan Daniels said: ‘It is appalling that every aspect of the claim process for PIP is not accessible to deaf young people, despite it being a benefit designed to help people with a disability.

‘The government needs to urgently review and improve all aspects of the claim process and stop making deaf young people try to hurdle their way over barriers that should not be there in the first place. Our “PIP’d Off” campaign aims to shine a light on the seriousness of this issue and ease the burden on deaf young people, who rely on the financial support that PIP provides.’

• Teachers’ unions expressed concern following the release of data on Thursday by the Department for Education on permanent and fixed-period exclusions of pupils during 2013-14.

The data revealed a rise in the number of children suspended from primary schools in England in the last academic year.

Fixed-term exclusions rose to 45,010 in 2013-14 from 37,870 the previous year. Government statisticians described this rise as ‘considerable’. Pupils aged five to 11 were suspended 11,420 times for physical assault against an adult in state-funded primary schools in 2013-14 – up from 9,080 the previous year. The total number of permanent exclusions across primary, secondary and special schools also increased slightly compared with 2012-13, despite a general decline since 2004-05.

Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘While, clearly behaviour issues have to be addressed for the sake of the whole school community, there is no quick fix. Schools’ ability to manage particularly difficult cases has been adversely affected by cuts to local authority budgets, in particular Behaviour Support Services, and the fragmentation of the school system into academy and free schools.

‘Narrowing the school curriculum, the reduction in creative subjects and the removal of some play times for primary pupils may all be factors affecting behaviour in schools. These issues need to be addressed to ensure that all pupils are given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.’

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘The increase in the number of pupils suspended due to assaulting adults in schools is extremely worrying. These figures underline the findings of a recent NASUWT survey in which 16% of teachers said they had been physically assaulted in the last 12 months by a pupil, an increase of 7% on the same survey in 2014. The increase in suspensions shows that, quite rightly, schools are not accepting violence against staff.

‘However, there needs to be deeper analysis of why levels of violence are increasing.

‘It is simply not good enough for ministers to pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves on the new freedoms given to schools around exclusion. There is no good news story here. Teachers and other staff are facing the trauma of serious disruption and violence. Children and young people are losing their place in mainstream schools and are being placed in a system where specialist staff and provision to meet their needs has been removed or reduced as a result of government cuts.’

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘The latest fixed-term and permanent pupil exclusion figures make for worrying reading. Permanent exclusions are a tragedy for those children and their families and we must find a way to prevent so many from facing exclusion from school.

‘Disruptive behaviour, physical violence and verbal abuse should not be tolerated in schools, it has a negative impact on the learning of children and puts huge pressure on teachers. It is essential we identify the causes of “persistent disruptive behaviour”, which is why almost a third are excluded, get underneath this label and find ways to support those children and young people.

‘Children are most likely to be excluded in year 5 in primary school or years 9 and 10 in secondary school – what is it about our education system that doesn’t work for the children excluded at these times? The government must ensure that schools have the funding and resources required so that children and young people can make the most of their education.

‘We know that supporting children at risk of exclusion requires a huge amount of flexibility, expertise and patience, but many of these services have been reduced or cut in recent years. Ultimately these data raise a lot of difficult questions for the government, school leaders, teachers, local authorities and parents, and we must work together to find a way to make our education system work for all our children and young people.’