We focussed on disabled mothers and disabled children when we responded to the government’s Disability Action Plan in October. A member of our Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign was involved in the legal challenge to the National Disability Strategy, which the Disability Action Plan follows on from. We decided not to comment on the rest of the Plan, as generally the government is hostile to sick and disabled people, especially disabled mothers.
Here are their questions, and the answers we wrote for the online consultation.
The Disability Unit is proposing establishing a task force to improve the wellbeing and opportunities of disabled children. This task force would bring multiple government departments together to work on a broad issue that they are all responsible for in different ways. It would aim to improve the way government services for disabled children work together. The proposed areas of focus would be: transitions to adulthood, accessibility of public spaces and transport, bullying, personal safety and the impact on wellbeing and early identification of need and support for families.
9a. To what extent do you agree with each of the following proposed areas of focus?
- Transitions to adulthood
- Accessibility of public spaces and transport
- Bullying, personal safety and impact on wellbeing
- Earlier identification of need and support for families
9b. If there are other issues that you think this taskforce should consider, or you would like to explain your answer, please do so here. (Suggested maximum 500 words)
[Please note: the Disability Action Plan covers a short period of time from 2023 to 2024. While all responses to this question will be considered, any large reforms are unlikely to be within its scope. You are invited to focus particularly on the changes that can be delivered by DU in 2023 to 2024.]
Disabled children — our reply
Through freezing and cutting benefits of mothers and families, the two-child limit and other features of Universal Credit, total benefit cap, sanctions and other policies, the government has deliberately impoverished children, and disabled children are now more likely to be in poverty, which is state neglect.
When disabled children getting DLA reach 16, they are made to apply for PIP. Systemic problems with the PIP test and DWP delays threaten the whole family’s financial security and continuity as Carer’s Allowance claimed by mothers of disabled children is tied to their children’s DLA or PIP. Mothers and other family carers should get an independent Care Income in recognition of their caring work.
The Disability Action Plan claims to have a focus on disabled children, yet children’s needs are deprioritised for support needed in the community, including for equipment at home, as well as in schools. The government has cut the central government grant to local councils, thereby cutting support to disabled children, and is cutting funding for Special Educational Needs (SEN).
Mothers and families with disabled children are not getting support under s17 of the Children Act or under the Care Act s12 regarding assessing and meeting the needs of the family.
Councils spend a fortune on legal fees fighting parents at SEN tribunal instead of giving children the support they need, despite parents winning in 97% of cases.
Mothers with disabled children who ask for help and support from social services find themselves placed on Child Protection with a threat of child removal. In this way, councils deny mothers and children the support in the community which they are legally entitled to.
Disabled children are then placed, at a vast cost, away from their mothers and in care homes or other institutions where they are abused.
Instead of mothers getting financial support to keep families together, disabled children are placed in privatised institutions charging councils millions a year or more, where children are tortured and sexually and racially abused (e.g. Hesley Group scandal, Doncaster).
Mothers whose children inherit their or their father’s genetic disability, are wrongly accused of Fabricated Induced Illness and of harming their own children, instead of the child’s disability being recognised and the child being supported and getting medical treatment, equipment, and appropriate education. These children are removed from their mothers and are harmed physically and mentally in care.
Support for disabled parents
There is very little evidence on the experiences of disabled parents. DU wants to use this listening stage to learn more about these experiences, and then take steps to address them. DU is proposing to explore the challenges faced by disabled parents, and to establish a task force to consider and implement the findings.
DU’s initial research has highlighted 3 areas where more work is needed:
- accessibility issues in parenting support from health and care services provided to disabled parents
- difficulties experienced within the family courts and child protection (including the removal of children) – for example, autistic fathers feeling unable to adequately present their case[footnote 27] and high rates of children being removed from disabled parents who may not have received adequate support[footnote 28]
- domestic abuse, since disabled people are more than twice as likely to have experienced this than non-disabled people[footnote 29]
DU’s work will build on this initial evidence gathering and stakeholder engagement throughout the consultation process to establish the focus of the task force. The task force will consider the findings, and will be expected to act on them within 2023 to 2024.
Support for disabled parents spans the work of multiple departments, and the task force would reflect this in its membership. The work of the task force would run in parallel to other work already taking place across government which relates in part to support for disabled parents. For example, the recent green paper on SEND and Alternative Provision[footnote 30] and the current work on children’s social care[footnote 31] outlined in Chapter 3.
Disabled parents — our reply
We disagree with the gender neutral “parents” as it hides the centrality of mothers and the disproportionate discrimination faced by disabled mothers, including disabled single mothers whose partners have walked out. Disabled mothers, and all mothers, deserve a Care Income, rather than low benefits and being forced to take low-paid waged work on top of unwaged caring work.
Women with disabilities are not unfit mothers. Our Disabled Mothers’ Rights Charter, which is welcomed by many disabled women and organisations, is pressing to end discrimination by social services and the family courts, and for our legal rights – and our children’s – to be implemented. See the demands and background explanations on page 2 of the Charter.
Disabled mothers, especially mothers or expectant mothers of colour, face inequality in healthcare. Appointments cancelled under COVID or since, caused a worsening of our health which is then used against us mothers as we are criticised for being unable to cope. Healthcare is not accessible, especially in childbirth where adaptations and translators/BSL interpreters are not made available, and paperwork is often not in accessible format.
When disabled mothers request their rights under the Care Act and the Children Act for support, they find themselves threatened with the removal of their children, leading them to not access the right services. When social services come to a disabled mother, under the single assessment they treat her as a safeguarding issue – viewing disability as harmful. No adaptations are made for her needs including accessible paperwork and this can quickly lead to family court proceedings. In family court they have to request a Partitions hearing to be assessed for court needs, often not assessed by someone who knows their disability and where lawyers warn them that them requesting court adaptations can lead to the court thinking they cannot look after their children.
Courts are using made-up terminology such as “substituted parenting”, saying that mothers getting help from other people amounts to ‘substitute parenting’ [they allege that because another person is helping to look after the child, therefore the mother has no importance anymore!] and are using this to remove children from disabled mothers rather than pay for support in the community, which mothers and children are legally entitled to. Children from disabled mothers are being forcibly adopted so that councils can save money on support, while fostering and adoption agencies profit.
Vast amounts of money are being spent on foster care and residential institutions, where disabled children are being abused and a privatised industry is being fed — whilst giving money to mothers for their caring work would keep children at home and stop obscene profiteering by private agencies.
With family courts held in secret and cases heard on the balance of probability rather than factual evidence, children who have never been harmed by their mothers are being removed.
Domestic abuse. Disabled mothers are more likely to suffer domestic violence but cannot flee violence because refuges do not cater for their needs and so have no choice but to stay in the violent home or return to it. If they had money in their hands they could flee their situation and make their own choices for accommodation that caters for their disability needs.
Task force. With regards to the task force and their wish to just work on short-term gains we feel it is important to look at the long-term aims. We also believe strongly that the voice of those with lived experience MUST be represented at the task force and that money to mothers must be considered in their 3 priorities.
Your views on the Disability Action Plan as a whole — our reply
A member of our Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign was involved in the legal challenge to the National Disability Strategy, which the Disability Action Plan follows on from. We decided not to comment on the other topics, as generally the government is hostile to sick and disabled people, especially disabled mothers.
Following on from the White Paper, and Budget announcements in March which would impoverish a million disabled people, we are being attacked with more benefit cuts and sanctions announced on 5 September and at Conservative Party conference by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt against “workless households” and rights to the disability benefits we need.
The brutality of the benefits system has resulted in the deaths of thousands of claimants, including under “limited capability for work” compulsory conditions for benefit. Since the total benefit cap was introduced, women and mothers who can take on 16 hours’ waged work have done so, to escape the benefit cap. Those of us who are unable to take on waged work and are labelled as “economically inactive” are often mothers with disabilities, mothers of children with disabilities, other unwaged family carers; and people living in poor areas in poor health, where there aren’t many jobs.
Disabled mothers – and any mother – must never be cut off benefit! We remember disabled mothers who died after being cut off benefit or other support, including Elaine Morrell, asylum seeker Lilian Oluk and her baby Lynne Matumba, and Philippa Day, and we are supporting Joy Dove who won a second inquest to investigate the role of the DWP in her daughter Jodey Whiting’s suicide after being cut off.
We are preparing a submission to the Work Capability Assessment consultation – we oppose any tightening of the discredited Work Capability Assessment, and we will fight for the Substantial risk to health regulations protections for claimants to be maintained.