Friday, 3 February 2012

Dear Mr Osborne,

 A copy of our recent letter to Mr George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, explaining why we belive the governments proposed welfare reforms will greatly reduce the quality of life held by many deaf children and young people...

Dear Mr Osborne,

We are writing to you on behalf of the National Deaf Children’s Society Youth Advisory Board to express our concern about the government’s proposed changes to Disability Living Allowance in the coming years. NDCS Youth Advisory Board is an advisory group to NDCS and their trustees; we are made up of fifteen members with varying levels of deafness and with an age range of 13 to 18. We have all had very different experiences of growing up as deaf young people and therefore feel we can be representative of the views of British deaf children and young people.
We understand that the government has voted to replace DLA with a new benefit, Personal Independence Payments (PIP), and that at the current time these plans extend only to over 16s and under 65s. However, we believe that it is clear from the public consultation on DLA reforms that the government is planning to apply these changes to disabled children under 16 at some time in the future. As well as this we understand that government plans include introducing PIP with only two rates of pay for its care component.
The first concern that we as a board hold is with the government’s plan to increase the qualification period before which a person is entitled to apply for PIP from three months to six months. We are aware that many young people and adults do not grow up deaf and lose their hearing due to accident or illness later on in life. Deafness for these people is immediate, as is their need. We maintain that it is unacceptable to ask a recently deafened young person to wait up to six months before being able to purchase equipment which will allow them to continue their life in the way they are used. Examples of this equipment may include television loop systems, radio aids, personal pagers or even a simple vibrating alarm clock. All these items allow us as deaf young people to maintain our independence in a similar way to our hearing peers. To lose your hearing and become suddenly deafened is on its own psychologically damaging, but not having access to equipment in order to retain independence could result in further psychological damage due to a feeling of exclusion from ones peer group. We would further like to add that it is not only equipment costs which can affect deaf young people and adults; there are also additional costs such a travelling to and from hospital appointments, and indeed the loss of earnings during these appointments, which would be most frequent immediately after the diagnosis of permanent deafness.
Therefore, we ask you to consider your government’s proposals to increase the qualification period before which a person is entitled to PIP in order to take in to account the immediate costs of deafness. As a board we argue that, if anything, the qualification period should be shortened not increased.
We have been led to understand that the government is proposing a face to face assessment process for over 16s applying for PIP, and the consultation on DLA reform also makes it clear that the government are “considering whether to apply these new eligibility and assessment criteria to children to ensure that they are also assessed in an objective and consistent manner”.We believe that a face to face assessment of needs may be inappropriate for a deaf young person or adult but would in particular be unsuitable for a deaf child. Deaf children and young people are often accompanied in unfamiliar situations by an adult, for example a parent or carer. This adult may provide informal communication support to the deaf child or young person during the assessment in the form of either sign language or rephrased questions in order to aid lip reading. We believe that this informal support, particularly in the case of a young person, may lead to the professional carrying out an unrealistic view of the deaf child or young person’s needs. It is important to appreciate that the parent or carer will not always be available to support the child or young person, in particular within a school, college or university situation.
As well as this we are very much aware that deaf young people are 40% more likely to experience mental health issues than their hearing peers. A face to face assessment highlighting the difficulties faced by communication with an unknown adult could stand to lower the self esteem of the deaf child or young person, as well as being an overly stressful experience. We therefore ask that deaf children, young people and possibly deaf adults, are exempt from face to face assessments, and instead propose the use of diary evidence from those who see the claimant every day as alternative form of assessment.
We hold serious concerns with the government’s proposals to alter the rates of pay for PIP. As you aware DLA care component is currently awarded at one of three rates and in our experience the majority of deaf children and young people receive the lowest rate of pay. Plans for PIP to have only two rates of pay for its care component would appear to be the governments’ way of abolishing current low rate pay for care and this could, potentially, lead to a high number of deaf young people missing out on PIP which would be crucial in supporting them and their families.
Suggested changes to the rate of pay shocked each individual board member as we feel it could be maintained that post 16; the age from which DLA reforms are currently proposed; is in fact the age in which disability living allowance becomes most important to a deaf young person. As a board we ourselves have come up with many important uses for DLA, including: attending deaf social events which often involve travel as deaf young people are spread out around the country; vibrating alarm clocks and pagers which enable us to become increasingly independent as we grow up; smoke alarms with strobe lighting or vibrating pillows which become more necessary when we move away from our families and in to homes of our own; transport to hospital appointments which can often be up to 35 miles away and also for paying for the additional costs of having a child at a residential deaf school.
We believe that plans to alter rates of pay must be fully explored and that adequate independent consultation with young people and adults needs to be carried out in order to assess the effects of this change on all deaf people’s independence and quality of living.
As a board we thank you in advance for your careful consideration of our concerns and look forward to receiving your reply addressing these forthwith.
Yours Faithfully,

p.p. National Deaf Children’s Society Youth Advisory Board
Nairi Gallant, 18, Droitwich
Jake Oakes, 16, Hull
Ellen Arthur, 15, Abingdon
Tom Gerrard, 15, Solihull
Eddie Cleere, 13, Minehead
Andrew Clarke, 17, Oxford
Grace Goodman, 15, Sutton Coldfield
Sophie Cochrane, 18, Jordanstown
Fraser Gunn, 17, Linlithgow

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