A repost of one of my favourite photographs that I’ve taken, probably from a few years ago now.
Something that I wrote and posted elsewhere that needs further sharing:
There are some quietly dramatic changes ongoing in higher education in the UK currently but there is one issue that is particularly close to my heart that, as I scanned newspapers and current affairs magazines over the past few weeks, seems to have received scant media coverage or attention.
On the 7th of April David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, released a ministerial statement on future changes to the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) that will affect students from the 15/16 academic year on-wards. The Disabled Student Allowance are non-repayable grants, available to both part-time and full-time undergraduate or postgraduate students, that assist with additional costs that a disabled student incurs in relation to their study in higher education, such as when a disabled individual may need a note taker during lectures, a library helper to find and handle books, or when they require specialist equipment for studying and for producing written work. Those disabled students who are currently enrolled and agreed DSA will not be affected by the new changes, but students who start in 15/16 academic year will be affected.
The aim, Willetts declares in the statement, is to modernise Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) by reviewing the £125 million-a-year support given to thousands of disabled students in the UK. Essentially the Student Loans Company, the not-for-profit company that provides student loans and DSA in the UK, will be limiting the support types and equipment allocation that they currently fund for disabled students who attend higher education. Willetts states that he would expect the higher education institutions (HEI’s) to pick up the slack, and provide and pay for the more general support types needed by individual students with disabilities. Thus the limited public funds available for DSA will support and supply disabled students applying for higher education with a core allocation for certain complex types of support (such as specialised software), whilst hoping that the individual institutions will have the frameworks in place for providing more generalised support types for disabled students in conjunction with support suppliers.
The only mainstream magazine that I have seen mention or discuss the announcement is the ever reliable Private Eye magazine (current edition No. 1364, page 9), and online independent bloggers such as Assist Tech. Private Eye quote the fact that the National Association of Disability Practitioners (the providers of support that invoice the Student Loan Company for support given) have stated that the move as described by Willetts would create an enormous disincentive for universities to recruit disabled students because of the costs involved.
The value of having a centralised loan company that can collect information, review procedures and investigate providers of equipment and support will surely be lost if individual HEI’s have to rely on a binary system of dealing with both the Student Loans Company and the individual practitioners, during the providing of support for disabled individuals in higher education.
Following the ministerial statement by Willetts, Paul Higgs, as a part of the Higher Education Student Funding Policy in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, also released a more in-depth Student Support Information Note in April 2014 (SSIN, fully accessible here). In it the nuts and bolts of the modernisation program is highlighted, and it makes for depressing reading:
- The bulk of the non-specialist non-medical helpers (NMH) support that is currently funded by DSA will no longer be funded by the Student Loan Company. This includes library or laboratory assistants, note takers, personal helpers, mentors or specialist helpers.
- The majority of the equipment that is currently funded by DSA will no longer be funded from 15/16 on-wards, only specialist equipment that is specifically needed by the student will be funded.
- No assistive technology support or related non-medical helper support is expected to be funded either.
- Funding will no longer be provided for consumable items (paper, ink etc).
- No funding will be given for additional costs regarding accommodation changes where the accommodation is funded by the HEI, if this is to be a problem the HEI itself is expected to meet the cost.
There is, of course, core funding that will remain in place and accessible for disabled students from The Student Loans Company itself in complex situations (although complexicity in this instance is not defined further). The HEI should hopefully have core support ring-fenced from its own allocation of funding and have such frameworks in place for the support of disabled students from the 15/16 academic year on-wards. The aim of the statement and intended proposals from Willetts and Higgs is to ensure that the DSA is up to date, consummate with the use of public funds and its spending, and to make sure that HEI’s are abiding by the 2010 Equality Act, which ensures that disabled individuals have an equal playing field, in both academia and in employment compared to the average non-disabled individual. This is an honourable view certainly.
Yet I retain deep reservations about this latest move by the government. Yes it has only just been announced and yes it is not currently in practice, but I worry for disabled students access to higher education and to academia generally. This move will force a greater financial burden onto educational institutions throughout the country. The economic worth of study, and of the place of academia within a national economy generally, is not in dispute, but the availability of access to academia by every sector of society is. The move is also slowly breaking down the great vision that study is worth it for its own sake as limitations are further placed on the value of access to education. Furthermore it is another demoralising move towards eroding the individual freedom of disabled people by dismantling core government support, and fanning it out instead to a variety of organisations and companies.
Dr Sarah Lewthwaite, who is a post doctoral research associate in student experience at King’s College London, argues in a critical and perceptive article for The Guardian‘s Higher Education Network that the latest publicly available records state that the DSA annual spending statistics are actually down compared to previous years (12/13 academic year compared to previous academic years). Further to this, she also questions the areas that are being proposed to be cut by central funding from The Student Loans Company, highlighting that the
“Proposed changes to DSA funding may fundamentally redefine disability in higher education. Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADD/ADHD, have been singled out for the largest cuts, and there is a real danger that their needs become invisible.
Willetts has chosen to restrict focus to more “complex” SpLDs and those requiring “most specialist” support. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between a medical diagnosis and the support requirements that students may have. Indeed, it is ironic that the one group singled out for cuts to academic support are those whose disability explicitly affects learning.”
It is worth reading Lewthwaite’s full article as it exposes some of the concerns from the academic sector itself, as well as highlighting issues that will affect disabled students and their access to education.
Patoss, the professional association of teachers of students with special learning difficulties, has also raised its concerned with the changes proposed by Willetts. In a statement, mentioned on their post on the proposals, Paddy Turner has stated that “the size and the scale of these cuts is unprecedented and represents a retrogressive step in equality for disabled people“.
Needless to say I will be interested to see the development and implementation of the modernisation of DSA in the upcoming years ahead. I will also keep an eye out for further information as and when it becomes available.
A thank you goes to Chris Morley, who highlighted in the comments section below several invaluable articles that helped improve this post.
- The ministerial statement by Rt Hon. David Willetts, MP for Universities and Science, can be read here.
- Paul Higgs SSIN statement on the changes in DSA for 15/16 can be found here.
- Read Sarah Lewthwaite’s perceptive article in the Guardian’s Higher Education Network section here.
- Have a read of Assist Tech’s personal view and much more detailed response to Willett’s and Higgs’s statement here. Worth noting is where the ministerial statement found the statistics it uses on the access to a laptop question. It is misleading at best.
- The National Union of Students has blasted the decision by Willets in this article here.
- Read the legislation for the Equality Act 2010 here.
There is a detailed, well researched article on the actual facts of the current state of immigrates into the UK, and to what benefits they are legally entitled to. Please read, as there has been far too many ill conceived rhetorical talks by prominent politicians of the current UK Coalition Government that scaremonger the general British population. The mainstream media have, largely, colluded and printed numerous scare stories.
From Scriptonite Daily…
“The Coalition went into overdrive on immigration this week, announcing plans to put a stop to so called benefit tourism and ‘respond to the concerns of citizens’. But what if the concerns of the citizens are misplaced? And to what degree have these concerns been placed in the minds of the citizens? Today, we expose some of those inaccuracies and reveal the facts about immigration.
Net migration to the UK fell by a quarter last year from 242,000 to 183,000. This was largely caused in a fall in the number of overseas students choosing to study in the UK (the first in 16 years), and a rise in the number of Britons emigrating (108,000 to 127,000).
However, Immigration is once again and issue for the British people, according to politicians and the mainstream media.
It is no surprise that ‘the British people’ believe immigration to be an issue when so many myths, mistruths and outright lies are promulgated by politicians in pursuit of their votes, or media outlets in pursuit of their custom.”
It is well worth reading the other post on Austerity Kills. Far to often stories such as these are swept under the carpet.
The benefit system in the UK is to undergo a major change in April 2013, with a Universal credit system replacing the variety of options at the minute. However a bigger change is also underway, the way in which disabled people are tested for work. Atos, a French company, have been given the contract to review every disabled person the UK, whether they are on ESA (Employment Support Allowance), or DLA (Disabled Living Allowance).
“The French multinational Atos was brought in by Labour in 2008 to assess 2.5 million people on incapacity benefit to see if they were fit for work, for which it was to be paid £110m a year. To do this, it used a so-called “logic integrated medical assessment”, which critics claim makes it very difficult for health professionals to exercise their professional judgment. It’s computer-based and has little or no regard to the complexity of the needs of severely disabled or sick persons.
This is why the British Medical Association has condemned the WCA as unfit for purpose. Those who have been assessed often feel the opinion of their own health professionals have been overridden or ignored. As Iain McKenzie, Labour MP for Inverclyde, put it: “It is ridiculous to have people making an assessment based on a tick-list that looks like it should be used for an MOT on a car.”
You could dismiss this as conjecture: but these are the facts. There are 1.6 million claimants on incapacity benefit, assessed at a rate of 11,000 every week. On average 40 per cent of challenged decisions are overturned at tribunal – one in ten of the total assessed. It has cost £60m thus far to assess the appeals. Some 1,300 people have died after being placed in the “work-related activity group” for those expected to start preparing for an eventual return – 2,200 died before the assessment process was completed.” (Bold emphasis by me).
Read more from this New Statesman article by Alan White here.
Shockingly Atos were also the sponsors of the London 2012 Paralympic games. You can’t make this shit up.