"Stress and autism are words you can't define in Urdu or Punjabi"

Asian communities are being disproportionately affected by new rules on disability benefits and support.

Life is a never-ending struggle for Roxanna, who looks after disabled son Ahmed. Ahmed, 26, has been at home since his college course ended last year and he is not eligible for a day care centre.

"I have been left to care for my son, no one cares about him," says Roxanna, from Birmingham. "People think Ahmed is mad and that I am cursed. I am not able to work because I can’t leave Ahmed on his own. I only get carers' allowance, Ahmed’s DLA has been cut and he is now on the low rate.

“I am struggling to make ends meet."

This is the situation faced by many families in Britain. Campaign groups say the Asian community is being affected more by the controversial welfare cuts due to the language barrier, mainstream support services not reaching out to them, services not being culturally tailored, and the stigma that remains about disability.

And it could get worse. From October, thousands of disabled people who need to be reassessed for the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) could have their benefits slashed.

Saghir Alam is a disabilities commissioner for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. He says that many Asian families who look after a disabled child are suffering due to a lack of awareness about the help available: “Ethnic minority communities are disproportionately more affected by these cuts because they weren’t accessing these services before and some of these services don’t exist anymore. Sometimes they are not faith wise or culturally sensitive and don’t have the resources to do outreach work. A lot of organisations have got no funding as the budget from the local authority has gone down for project funding.

“I know of a parents group for disabled children in Yorkshire which started two years ago - it took nearly two years to get people on board. After one year they lost their funding.

“We need to sit down with community organisations, carers, parents, and ask them rather than [assume] that services are good.”

Other Asian groups that have lost their funding include EKTA Project, a group for the elderly in London that was created 26 years ago.

Alam’s role involves providing advice to councils and support services on how to engage with different communities. He believes that despite the success of last year’s Paralympic Games in London, it has not had a lasting legacy of changing attitudes towards disabilities: “In the mainstream, disabled people still face barriers. If you have multiple identities like race or faith, you face multiple disadvantages.

“There are still attitudes which are Victorian in the Asian community, so a social model has never been promoted. People don’t want to admit they have children with a disability because in society there is still a negative association with disability.”

Alam adds that some families are losing their benefits after going through assessments due to a language or cultural barrier.

The Work Capability Assessments sparked uproar last year as around 40 per cent of people successfully appealed the decision to deem them fit to work. The coalition government agreed for the Atos firm to carry out the assessments to cut £600 million in overpayments to people who no longer qualify for Employment Support Allowance.

Alam explains: “People may not come to town hall or council offices so you need to use community organisations. Families are too busy caring [for disabled relatives] to do that. I know one or two people who have mental health issues, and they lost their benefits and went to appeal. Stress and autism are words you can't define in Urdu or Punjabi. A lot of terms used in assessments sometimes do not translate.”

Another campaigner critical of mainstream services is Mandy Sanghera, a human rights activist and government adviser. "Many families are continuing to care for their family members because most services do not meet their child's needs, they are not specialised," she says. "Many carers are unaware of what services are out there for their child once they leave school we need better transition into adult services. Due to the cuts, we are pushing desperate families into crisis point. “ 

One disabled person that Sanghera has supported is Jeeta, who has multiple sclerosis and is in a wheelchair. Jeeta, 30, who lives with her parents in an area with no suitable ground floor housing, says: “I want my independence and I don’t want my mum to care for me, she is over protective because of my disability. [But] I don't know where to go for help.”

The extent of the crisis is echoed by Sabina Iqbal, chair and founder of Deaf Parenting UK:There is a higher prevalence of disability within the Asian Community due to inter-relational marriage within the family. Most of those families are unaware of the impact of the welfare changes due to [the] language barrier and do not have direct access to information through the media. Reaching out to those Asian families is not easy and is often [done] by the local worker who shares information via word of mouth.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said Job Centre Plus and councils arrange to meet directly with people affected by going to their homes or arranging a meeting.

On PIP, he said messages are delivered via charities, councils and other stakeholders.

The 'Hardest Hit' march on May 11, 2011 in London, where thousands of disabled people marched against government cuts to benefits, disability living allowances and local services. Image: Getty
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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.