ITV’s soft focus on learning disability crisis

A woman and man sitting on the floor with their baby son, who has Down's syndromeLast Thursday ITV broadcast a 24-minute programme titled Against the Odds, which supposedly revealed “the reality of life for people with learning disabilities in the UK, with many experiencing harassment and violence and just 6.4% in paid work”, as part of its Tonight strand. They interviewed several families, including the parents of a boy with Down’s syndrome who had faced the suggestion that they abort him, a young woman who had participated in equestrian and running events at the Special Olympics, a man who had been the victim of public harassment when trying to live independently a few years ago, another who was bullied at school because of his condition and had been out of work for four years, and a man in his 40s with Down’s syndrome who was preparing to move into a shared house. The format of the documentary did not give enough time to investigate all these issues, but very little attempt was made even within this limited format. The programme just consisted of a procession of happy endings. (It can be viewed in the UK here for the next four weeks or so.)

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The UK is not the USSR, nor an abusive relationship

Recently I’ve seen some quite preposterous commentary on the Scottish independence referendum, which is taking place as I type this. I have heard that the turnout for this has been higher than at any recent general election, which shows what happens when voters think voting will make a difference. Social media seems to favour Yes, but a fairly large proportion of the population do not have access to it, or just don’t use it. Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan, published an article on his blog, based on a conversation he had with a Polish friend who had changed his mind and decided to vote Yes. The article compared Scotland within the UK to Poland under the Warsaw Pact, and the British media now to Poland’s under communism. It’s a quite ridiculous comparison.

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There will be FUD

A demonstration in favour of a Yes vote in Glasgow, today (13th September 2014); people are filling a street and there are Scottish flags being held in the foregroundIn under a week as of this writing, the Scottish independence referendum will have been held and the votes will either have been counted, or will be in the process. Last Sunday in the Observer, Will Hutton proposed a constitutional settlement to save the union: a wholesale change to the British constitution, giving each of the constituent nations an assembly of its own, including England, the replacement of the House of Lords with a “House of Britain” representing the nations and regions, and greater autonomy for cities and towns. The major parties have already promised to transfer more powers to the Scottish parliament in the event of a No vote, in particular greater control over taxes.

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Ice buckets and cruelty

A picture of a black African boy meeting a white woman wearing glasses, and a caption saying "So, let me get this straight: you waste clean water as a challenge in order to avoid raising money for charity?"I’m sure everyone has heard of the “ice-bucket challenge”, in which someone is filmed having a bucket of freezing water poured over their head in response to donations to a charity, usually one dedicated to Motor Neurone Disease, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or, in the USA, Lou Gehrig’s Disease after a baseball player from the 1930s who died of it aged 37. Various complaints have been raised about it, including that it’s a waste of water (see image right), that many people aren’t donating at all or don’t really understand what it’s about, and that it’s already leading to bullying incidents or assaults. However, the silliest complaint, in my opinion, is that the major ALS charities fund research that uses experiments on animals.

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Claire Dyer and the LB Bill

Picture of Claire Dyer, a young white woman with shoulder-length hair, looking through a closed window at her dog, Jonjo, who is being held up to the window by a person in a black raincoat.On Friday 1st August, Claire Dyer’s family lost their legal bid to stop her being transferred from an assessment and treatment unit in Swansea, where her family live, to a medium-secure unit near Brighton, some 230 miles from her home. Claire was transported within an hour of the decision being made, without any of her family being given the chance to say goodbye. A number of charities have spoken out over this dreadful decision, including Mencap, after Claire’s supporters contacted them en masse through Twitter in the days before her transfer. Hamish Laing, medical director of the local health board, promised a number of people who alerted him on Twitter that he would “speak with MH team to get more info”, but it didn’t have the desired effect, if he said anything (although she is still under the board’s care, even though she is a long way out of area).

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Claire Dyer: Transfer postponed!

Selection of pictures of Claire and family at the Race for Life in Swansea last Sunday; participants are all in pink, as is usual

Update 30th July, 14:13: See this BBC news report - this may be on TV later, especially in Wales.

Update 14:55: There is to be a court hearing this Friday; Claire will not be moved before then.

Yesterday Catherine Dyer, mother of Claire who I have been writing about for some time, told us that her daughter was to be transferred to a medium-secure hospital unit near Brighton tomorrow (Wednesday). Claire is autistic and displays challenging behaviour (ie., self-injury, hitting others and property), particularly in stressful situations, as is fairly common with autism. However, the family say they have only experienced a few such incidents over the last few years, mainly because they keep her occupied, which the assessment and treatment unit she is currently in does not. Claire has been out or home with her family on most days since being sectioned last September, which is otherwise unheard-of for someone held under Section 3. This will not continue when she is transferred, and visits will be much less frequent as it’s a five-hour journey.

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'Retirement flats' to free up family homes

Picture of Vanessa Feltz, a white woman with long blonde hair wearing a thick white coat of some sortDemos: build retirement properties to free up 3 million family homes

I was going to be writing a piece this morning about how unworkable it would be to ‘encourage’ the over-55s to move out of their family homes in London into retirement flats on the coast, as was being discussed on the Vanessa Feltz show on BBC London yesterday morning. I listened to the first hour and a bit of the show as I drove out of London on my run up to Rotherham; I go out of range around Luton and switch to Radio 4 then anyway. The prompt for that was a Demos report which she said claimed that the think-tank were proposing encouraging older people living in family homes in the suburbs to move out so that young families could move in. However, I took a look at the press release this morning, and it really says no such thing.

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Online friends, suicide and threats thereof

Recently, two people I know (or knew) on Twitter posted threats to kill themselves. One of them is a woman who has bipolar disorder and has been in hospital on several occasions recently; the other has a chronic, disabling condition and has had her hopes raised and then dashed repeatedly since her condition deteriorated in 2012. The latter left Twitter this past week, after friends took her threats seriously and told both her husband and the police; this led to a hospital appointment having to be cancelled. I wasn’t one of the people who called the police, or her husband, because I do not know more about her than her first name. But if I had done, I would have called whoever I knew could help.

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Claire threatened with secure unit transfer again

Claire (a young white woman wearing a stripey white and blue top and grey tracksuit bottoms, wearing red and black ear defenders) sitting on a beach with a small brown dog.Last January I wrote about Claire Dyer, a young autistic woman in Swansea who was at the time being threatened with transfer to a secure hospital in Northampton. Then as now, she was living mostly in an assessment and treatment unit, which is a mental health unit for people with learning disabilities, in Swansea and spending much time at home or out and about with her family, despite being detained under section 3 of the Mental Health Act. Her family were appealing against the section, which ultimately expired (but was renewed), and for a while it appeared that the Northampton option was “highly unlikely”, and bespoke placements (where she would occupy a bungalow and have support staff) were being looked at. This week, however, things have taken a serious downturn, and staff have ‘agreed’ (with other clinicians that have never met Claire) that she should be transferred to a secure unit, which could be anywhere in the UK, as soon as a bed is available. The family have invoked the “nearest relative” method to get her released (this means that if the unit do not discharge her within three days, a tribunal must be held within a month). She has since been denied a routine day out because of medication given in the evening, something that has not been done before and which neither she nor her family were warned of.

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Work

The past month or so, I’ve been working full-time, and most of that has been in one job that requires quite long hours — it usually starts at 9am (which is late for a driving job; they usually start around 7 or 8am) and finishes around 8pm. It involves driving an 18-tonne truck from Park Royal in north-west London, via Hemel Hempstead, to a depot outside Rotherham, and back (straight to Park Royal). What I’m doing is delivering sandwiches; the company is a major supplier of them and you can find their sandwiches in a number of high-street shops and at airports and railway stations. The upshot is that I’m earning money, but have very little time for myself at the moment and that includes for writing, particularly as I only got Saturday off this and last weekend (however, for legal reasons, I have to have three days off next weekend).

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McDougalls' children removed yet again

Mark and Kerry McDougall, the Scottish couple who fled to Ireland in 2009 to avoid the social services in Fife, Scotland, taking her then unborn son into care at birth (on the grounds that she was unfit to be a parent because of her learning difficulties) have had both their sons removed by the same department last Saturday. The couple had returned to Dunfermline last year as they wanted to be near friends and family, but social workers interfered from the start, insisting that Mark not work as Kerry should not look after the children unsupervised. The latest development seems to have occurred after Mark was arrested for calling social services and ‘threatening’ one of the staff (he claims that his offending consisted of nothing more than a raised voice) after they interviewed one of the children at nursery without their presence or consent. Mark was bailed on the condition that he not contact the department.

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So, what are these 'British values', then?

Picture of Michael Wilshaw, a white man wearing a dark suit, accompanied by a middle-aged female teacher in a yellow coat and skirt, watching a lesson through a glass screen.I’m a bit late in writing about this, as I’ve been working long hours the past two weeks during which the Ofsted report into a number of Birmingham schools supposedly targeted by a conspiracy to turn them into Muslim schools by the back door was released and several of them were put into special measures, having previously been classified as outstanding. This past week, one of the governing bodies resigned en masse, and on Thursday it was reported that new government rules will require new academies and ‘free schools’ to abide by so-called fundamental British values, which include “respect for the law, democracy, equality and tolerance of different faiths and religious and other beliefs”, and enable the education secretary to close a school or dismiss governors if he deems them “unsuitable” if his conduct undermines these values. Meanwhile, former prime minister Tony Blair claimed that both the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria and the supposed Birmingham plot stemmed from the same “warped and abusive view of the religion”.

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Bloody foreigners

Front cover of Truck & Driver (not the issue referred to in this entry)There’s a letter in the current (July 2014) edition of Truck & Driver magazine from one D Pardner (address withheld) moaning about everything about foreign truck drivers, particularly eastern Europeans. He claims that they cause accidents through incompetence, leave truck stops and lay-bys in a filthy state, break the law (such as by transporting large amounts of diesel to avoid higher British fuel prices), rarely spend money in the UK, and in some cases even import prostitutes from their home countries. I’ve been driving trucks since 2000 (7.5-tonners most of that time, but I passed my class 2 HGV test last November) and I can say that British bad truck driving rivals anything eastern Europe has to offer.

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Ayn van Dyk is coming home at last

Picture of Ayn van Dyk, a young white girl with a turqouise T-shirt on, sitting on a pink child-sized seat and playing with a pink kitchen-themed toy.On Tuesday Amie van Dyk, mother of Ayn van Dyk who was seized from her home in Canada by social services after briefly wandering from her father’s home in June 2011 (see previous posts), announced that said social services (the British Columbia Ministry of Child and Family Development, or MCFD) had decided to allow her to go and live with her mother, without any supervision order. She will remain at her foster placement until the end of the school term this month, at Amie’s request, spending the weekends at home, and then go to her mother’s house permanently after that. (I haven’t posted about it so far because I had been busy with work, and because I was waiting for more information.)

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Free speech

The last couple of weeks a few things have made me seriously consider the state of free speech in the UK. One was that a man (Michael Abberton, right) who had posted some innocuous anti-UKIP material (that didn’t call for people to riot, or assassinate UKIP politicians, or in any other way commit acts of violence) received a visit at home from the police, who “politely” suggested that he remove the material even though, as they said, it was perfectly legal. Someone else got a prison sentence for posting an offensive message about a teacher who was murdered in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago. Newspapers printed stories alleging that meat on sale in commercial restaurants is halal, as if that was a bad thing. And I have been reading yet another few sorry tales of people trapped in learning disability units whose families are trying desperately to get them out, or prevent them being transferred hundreds of miles away, and their only way of doing this is to use the press and social media to raise public awareness, something many professionals would like to see banned (and which is already banned in the case of children and people under the Court of Protection).

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Thalidomide: David Mason is no hero

A girl without arms uses her feet to play a board gameLast Thursday there was a BBC documentary about thalidomide, the drug used to suppress sickness in pregnant women which was responsible for serious birth defects in the children of the women who took it. The programme focussed on David Mason, a shareholder in the company which manufactured thalidomide in the UK and whose daughter Louise was affected (born with no arms or legs). Mason vetoed a confidential £3m settlement and proceeded to use the media to pressure Distillers to accept a much bigger settlement, ultimately successfully. However, a brief search for his name reveals less heroic details about Mason that the BBC chose to gloss over: that this wealthy man consigned Louise to an institution as a child, where she remained until age 17. (The Telegraph’s review notes that the programme favoured the voices of journalists and of Mason over those of survivors, and only briefly mentions the current legal action against Grunenthal, the German developer of thalidomide.) Continue reading

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Make no mistake: "halal hysteria" is malicious

Front page of the Sun, with the headline "Halal secret of Pizza Express"Last week a number of newspapers ran with prominent stories that supermarkets and restaurant chains were using halal meat, or had been doing so without their customers’ knowledge for some time. This is actually not news as a number of supermarkets have been doing this for years, chiefly because New Zealand abbatoirs employ Muslim slaughtermen so that the lamb they produce can be supplied to the Middle East. The media have been mixing the issue of the meat being halal with it being from animals that were not stunned before slaughter (which in fact is the case with only a minority of halal meat in the UK). It is the first time the story has made the front page of a national tabloid, however.

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On the Kim Walmsley gender case

Newspapers are reporting that a woman from Liverpool, Kim Walmsley (right), has had her marriage annulled, and been refused a passport, because the official copy of her birth certificate wrongly records her gender as male. The result is that she had to leave Australia with her husband in 2005, where she had been living on a temporary work visa and had set up a business. The fact that she is actually female is demonstrated by having had five children of her own, but the law apparently provides no means of rectifying this error, unlike when people actually have their gender reassigned. (Update: Kim has started an e-Petition to get this law changed; you have to be a British resident or citizen to sign.)

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Dudes

A graphic for Blogging Against Disablism Day, showing a 4x5 grid of stickmen in different colours on different backgrounds, some of which have crutches, and including one wheelchair.This post is part of Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014.

Recently a fashion has emerged of referring to people with learning disabilities, particularly autism, as dudes. This fashion has emerged out of the Justice for LB campaign but has cropped up in some of their media interviews, and I believe it ought to be challenged before it becomes established anywhere else. LB, for anyone who isn’t a regular reader, was Connor “Laughing Boy” Sparrowhawk, an 18-year-old autisic man who died in an NHS assessment and treatment unit (a mental health unit for people with learning disabilities) in Oxford, England, as a result of staff negligence which was part of a culture which was exposed by both an independent investigation into his death and an inspection by the Care Quality Commission last year. His mother, Sara Ryan, blogs at My Daft Life and there is currently a campaign of 107 Days of Action, after the time Connor spent in the unit before he died, “to bring about #JusticeforLB and all young dudes”.

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Why is T-Mobile censoring disability blogs?

imageI regularly read a blog, Blogging Astrid, by an autistic woman in the Netherlands who has been blogging about her life since her teens, but since 2007 it has been about her life in two psychiatric institutions following a breakdown that year. (Besides her autism, she is also blind and believes she could not live independently, even with her husband.) In the last couple of months I have, on about four occasions, tried to access that blog on my phone, which is on the EE (formerly T-Mobile, but which also includes the old Orange UK network) and been presented with their “content lock” page. Initially, to get that removed, I had to supply them with a credit card number to prove I was an adult (as if all adults have credit cards), but you can also do it through the T-Mobile account website (as they assume that the person with access to the account is the adult, and that if the child is the user, he or she does not have access).

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