Why does The Children and Families Bill fall so short on disabled children's rights?

Two thirds of families with disabled children cannot get the most basic state and local authority support in their own area. Small changes to The Children and Families Bill could change all of that.

An article by Cherie Booth. Image with permission

 

Families with disabled children face immense challenges on a daily basis, and more often than not encounter a closed door when it comes to ensuring their children enjoy the same opportunities as other children.

Take Sarah*, a mother of a little girl with Down’s syndrome. In stark contrast to her son who is not disabled and can access a range of after school activities and sports, her local primary school doesn’t provide any accessible or inclusive social activities, and even excludes Sarah’s daughter from school trips questioning, ‘What would she get out of it?’

The impact this has on Sarah’s daughter’s life is profound. It leaves her isolated, severely inhibiting her ability to make friends and build relationships with others.

Families often face other problems. Four in 10 disabled children live in poverty; children with special educational needs (SEN) are 9 times more likely to be permanently excluded from school; and 3/4 of families with disabled children experience poor mental health as a result of the social, emotional, and financial isolation they face.

To put it simply, they are at crisis point.

And at the heart of this issue is the critical lack  of support for disabled children within their own community, support that other families simply take for granted - be it access to the right school or nursery place, or to leisure activities they can enjoy.

Recent research by the disability charity Scope has found that two thirds of families with disabled children cannot get this most basic state and local authority support in their own area. Instead they have to travel or stay away from home, often creating many more difficulties in terms of increased time and costs for families that are already struggling,

A supportive learning environment and access to extra-curricular activities provided locally should not be seen as a ‘luxury’ for families like Sarah’s. Disabled children have just as much right as every other child to be involved in their community and to deny these families such support is a violation of their rights.

This is important. The future of some of Britain’s most vulnerable families will be debated this week when the House of Lords begins consideration of The Children and Families Bill, which contains the Government proposed reforms to support for families with disabled children and those with special educational needs. One in fifteen of all families has a disabled child, and more than a fifth of children, around 1.7 million, have special educational needs, so this Bill will affect many thousands of people. 

But the Government’s reforms in the Bill fall woefully short of the kind of transformative change that is needed. This warning has also just been sounded by over 100 charities and parents’ organisations.

On top of that, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has expressed serious concerns that the Bill will fail to ensure disabled children can fulfil their right to participate in their local community, and UNICEF, in their recent ‘State of the World’s Children’ report, has warned that much more needs to be done by Governments to adopt more inclusive approaches to disabled children - ‘making the mainstream work for everyone rather than creating parallel systems.’

In fact the Government can achieve this with a small change to the Bill: ensuring that the services all families need for their child to reach their potential - schools, nurseries, youth groups, playgrounds - are inclusive and accessible for disabled children. By doing this we can also tackle the common misconception that they always need ‘different’ or ‘specialist’ services, which are inevitably somewhere away from where they live.

David Cameron recently said ‘When you've had the privilege of bringing up a profoundly disabled child, you suddenly realise there are two different sets of places: those that are disabled-friendly, that are accessible, that are helpful; and those that aren't… And what this all about really, is greater equality in our country, making sure that all places are more friendly, and accessible to disabled people.'

But this welcome and undoubtedly genuine sentiment is sadly nowhere to be seen in the reforms in the Children and Families Bill. The Government must rectify this if families with disabled children are to be included in David Cameron’s vision to be most ‘family friendly government ever’.

An article by Cherie Booth. Image with permission
Photo: Will Ireland
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Rock solid-arity: how fans and bands helped save Team Rock's music magazines

“It was purely helping out friends in a time of need.”

A little over 25 years ago, a journalist friend let me in on the secret of publishing success. He cut his teeth in the Sixties as an editor in the Yippie underground press, wrote for Rolling Stone, Associated Press and the Chicago Sun-Times, then went on to teach at one of America’s most prestigious journalism schools.

The big secret, he had concluded, was community. No more, no less. Get to know your community and serve it well.

A quarter of a century on, it’s sometimes hard to remember what community looks like in newspapers and magazines. Carefully crafted pages have been obscured by a haze of clickbait, engineered to sucker everyone and anyone into donating a drive-by page view for ads. Community has given way to commodity.

But occasionally, there are glimpses of hope. Six months ago, TeamRock.com, built around a group of specialist music magazines including Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Prog, went into administration.

The Christmas closure came brutally quickly. The Scottish Sun reported that stunned staff in the company’s Lanarkshire headquarters were told they had been made redundant “as a joiner changed the locks on their offices”. In total, 73 staff were laid off; nearly 30 in Scotland and more than 40 in London.

At the close of 2016, the future for the Team Rock brand and its stable of magazine titles was bleaker than a Black Sabbath album. But last month, in an extraordinary reversal of fortunes, TeamRock.com was named the most influential rock music website in the world.

Bargain-basement buy back

Just a fortnight after its shock closure, the brand was bought by former owners Future Plc. In a no-brainer deal, the Bath-based publisher re-acquired the three magazines it had sold to Team Rock’s founders in 2013. It bought back assets sold for £10m at the knockdown price of £800,000 with the bonus of TeamRock.com and Team Rock Radio. The deal rescued large parts of the Team Rock operation – but its soul was saved by the rock and metal community.

Oblivious to any discussions going on to rescue the magazines, readers, music fans and bands came together in a stunning display of loyalty. Hearing that Team Rock staff wouldn’t be getting paid their Christmas wage they took to social media to pledge their support and raised almost £90,000 for redundant staff.

Ben Ward, the organiser of the crowdfunding campaign and frontman for heavy metal band Orange Goblin said he started the appeal with no thought for the business. “It was purely helping out friends in a time of need,” he explained.

He had read all three Team Rock magazines for years, socialised with their staff and promoted his own and other bands in their pages. “To think of a world without any of those magazines – it was devastating,” he said.

The response to the campaign brought him some cheer, with members of bands such as Queen, Rush and Avenged Sevenfold all posting about it on their social media pages. He added: “The whole Christmas period, my phone just wouldn't stop beeping with notifications for another donation.”

Show of solidarity

Though the fundraiser blew up all Ward's expectations, beating his initial target by more than 400 per cent, he didn't seem completely surprised by the scale of the response.

“Heavy metal and hard rock, people that are into that sort of music, we've always been sort of looked down upon. We know it's not commercially the done thing, we know it's not the norm to walk around with long hair and tattoos and dirty leather jackets. But when you see a fellow metal head in the supermarket, you always give them an approving nod. There's a kind of solidarity.”

While favourable capitalist arithmetic has kept the presses rolling – and the online servers going – for Team Rock, it was the music community – empowered by social media – who delivered the real resurrection. With a combined Facebook following of more than 3.5million and a total social media audience of almost five million, it was no surprise TeamRock.com was soon number one in its field.

“What's brilliant about this is that it's based on what music fans share with each other,” explains editor-in-chief Scott Rowley.

TeamRock.com became the most influential rock site based on social media sharing, and came fifth in the top 100 sites across all music genres. The site above it is a hip-hop title, again featured for the strength of its community, according to Rowley. “Those people really know what they're talking about, they want very specific content, and they're not getting served it elsewhere,” he said. “When they get it, they love it and they share it and talk about it and that's their world.”

Responsiblity

Following the outpouring of support for the rock magazines, Rowley now feels a heightened sense of responsibility to do “the right thing” and steer clear of cynical decisions to get clicks or put certain bands on the cover just to sell copies. He believes future success will come down to trust. “Sometimes that feels precarious, but equally I think we're in good hands,” he explains. “We're a business, we've got to make money, but we know what smells fake and where the limits are.”

Zillah Byng-Thorne, CEO of owner Future, recognises the need to balance the realities of running a listed company with the authenticity needed to maintain trust. “What Future is interested in is the passion that underpins specialist media,” she says. “I don't really mind what your passion is, what's important is that it's a passion.”

“No one is sitting around thinking, 'I wonder what bands sound like Thin Lizzy?',” says Rowley. “We're much more a part of their lifestyle, interrupting their day to tell them someone’s just released an album or announced a tour.”

“But it doesn't have to always be about fishing for clicks,” he adds. “I remember [Classic Rock online editor] Fraser Lewry saying, 'Sometimes on social we should just be being social'.”

Being social. Listening. Contributing to the conversation. Sharing the passion. That old-fashioned notion of serving the community. It seems Ward would agree, as he offers the new owners of the magazines he helped to save some advice: “Don't make the same mistakes, investing in things that weren't really necessary from the magazine’s point of view. I'm in no position to tell anyone how to run their business, but on behalf of the rock and metal community…keep it interesting, keep it relevant.”