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Monday, 2 March 2015

Making life difficult for disabled people

By Dude Swheatie of Kwug

Kate Belgrave wrote:
"Eddie’s ... mother used to work with employers to find him jobs. As a result, he had work for many years as a general kitchen and hotel assistant. But his mother died about ten years ago and he was made redundant a few years after that. He’s never found another job. He had a support worker a couple of years ago, but that person simply stopped turning up. Eddie was never sure why and he didn’t really know who to check with, or how to chase the person up."

That echoes with my own experience both as a disabled person myself and as a former paid care worker to adults with 'mild learning difficulties' [sic].

Notes from a former paid care worker's notebook

In 2005-2006 I was a paid care worker to a guy with learning difficulty in his forties who had recently been completely orphaned. (As online self-help network for family-based carers CarerWatch has long reported, UK society's support networks for people with disabilities and debilitating health problems do not support families to support themselves. Thus most family-based carers are in meltdown from a structures that do not enable. I would not be surprised if the average age of adults with learning difficulties etc at parents' deaths is not much greater than those in the general population.)

Grief at the loss of a parent can be stressful for anyone and result in dysfunctional behaviours. But what of the parent with a learning difficulty that makes communication difficult for them except with people who have the special skills and patience to help work out what the person is saying? One day a casual contact said to the guy I worked with, who I'll call 'Owen', "Hello! How are you?" but did not wait to properly decode the response before saying, "Ah, that's great! You must be really proud of yourself!"

But what had 'Owen' actually said? "My mum's just died."

So, little wonder that he started on spending sprees, "trying to recoup what could never be regained," as a psychotherapist might say. We care workers in his team did what we could to support 'Owen' in 3 hour shifts. How would care workers and 'service users' or clients cope with sessions lasting just 30 minutes or even less? And that was against the backdrop of his not having to sign on for stigmatising sessions at a jobcentre!

Notes from a disabled jobseeker's notebook

 Before that job, as a disabled jobseeker I had been known as an 'overstayer' at the jobcentre and on New Deal; and it had taken me much longer to learn on jobcentre-funded courses, before and after I had 'under-performed' as a mature undergraduate in the mid-1970s. It had been through determination and post-funded support that I got my NVQ Level 1 in Information Technology with Camden ITeC in early 1978, nine months after I had started on the course with a total eighteen month 'funded period' and sympathetic course leader. (That was when jobcentres were not so insensitive to their 'clients' and I had established contact with a Disability Employment Adviser.) When I tried to go beyond Level 2 at the same provider, the then 'Training & Enterprise Council' refused me the go-ahead, saying that for me to stay with the same provider, that could be regarded as my going for too cushy an option!

Yet in a bid to further my grounding in Information & Communication Technology I got a place funded by the same Training & Enterprise Council at a much worse provider called Direct Computer Training that channelled four classloads through the same 'machine room' for 2-hour sessions each day, with 2 hours per day 'talk and chalk' elsewhere, and the remaining half-day shift assigned as 'open learning' that was mainly in pursuit of "minimum 16 job leads per week." That did not really progress my learning positively nearly as much as continued contact with Michélé Galluccio of Camden ITeC whose letter-of-recommendation-of-best-way-forward support helped me to a home computer paid for by my mother.

So in 2004 I evolved into an adult with learning difficulty, basic computing skills, an NVQ Level 2 in Teaching Adults, and the ability to pass on those skills with patience to other slower learners with the help of a jobsearch coach from a charity paid for by the Disability Employment Adviser's account at the jobcentre. That was time-limited to a few months but he managed to negotiate that I had an extension of that support. That support got me through to the stage of being interviewed by an employer linked to the charity with which I had volunteered, but really did time out before I was actually taken on months after Criminal Records Bureau check hiatus had been resolved.

In conclusion, all this illustrates for me how adults with learning difficulties are really disabled by inadequate support in a world where there are organisations such as Direct Computer Training and Maximus really creaming off the taxpayer and adults with learning difficulties are disabled and disheartened by the message of 'time out'.

Post Script

 I wrote the above in between my return home from the Maximus demo and going out to an evening demo against Brent Council's further slaughter of public services, omitting a crucial detail in the tale of 'Owen'.

The story of the person who 'got the wrong message' from what Owen had said had not come to me from direct conversation with Owen but from another member of Owen's support team who I'll call 'Graham'. My 'ear' for what Owen said was not nearly as finely tuned as Graham's and I confided to Graham: "I'm amazed at the warmth in the way Owen greets me, bearing in mind how little of what he says I decipher correctly at the end of a 3 hour session."

"The thing about you, 'Swheatie'," Graham said, "is that you care. The trouble with so many agency carers [contracted at a moment's notice when a regular worker reported in sick] is that they marshall Owen about, giving him orders and not listening to what he has to say."

Sounds like those 'agency' workers would feel very much at home in current Jcp culture that seems dedicated to making benefit claimants feel out of place, does not it?

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