Getting help when help is needed has become an uphill battle in 2017, according to a disability charity based in Buckingham.
Janet Nicks, director of Clearly Speaking, who fight to ensure disabled people in Buckingham and beyond have access to the help they need, has spoken out about how hard it’s been to help vulnerable people under new government rules introduced this year.
She explained: “The criteria for accessing funds, such as the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), have hugely changed but its not been made well known that that's happened.”
“In the past, parents whose children have behavioural difficulties and autism have been able to apply for blue parking badges, which ensures parents can keep everyone safe when out and about, with safe parking near to where they need to go.
This all changed in March of this year: extra government regulation meant that ‘overwhelming psychological distress’ no longer factored in the provision of PIP mobility payments.
The move sparked condemnation from politicians and pressure groups, and meant that parents with autistic children, and commuters with mental health conditions, faced an extra challenge.
Janet continued: “Most families have to take an extra parent or adult with them when going out, to make sure the child is safe. That's not as possible; it's really really difficulty because the mobility aspect of the payment has gone back to only relating to physical disability.”
“We got to the stage where the government seemed to be standing in support, but this year we’ve started going backwards.They’re saying: if your child hasn't got a physical disability then really you shouldn't be getting the mobility aspect of the benefit.
“For children with autism, you can't just pick them up and put them in a wheelchair or in the car. They'll literally sit down in the street and you've got to work out to how to keep them protected and work out how to get them to safety.
“It takes far longer than you’d think, you need to be calm and to feel like you're in control of the situation. That seems to be less understood.
“They're not big amounts either but for a family they’re a big deal.”
Charities like Buckingham-based Clearly Speaking, who provide support to families and individuals dealing with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and associated mental health conditions, are helping vulnerable people fight for the benefits they need.
But there may be changes ahead. This week, government ministers promised to accept the recommendations of an independent review and reform benefit tests.
Legal challenges have also been mounted to fight ‘damaging’ changes to PIP, now in it’s fifth year. On December 11, The National Autistic Society announced their support for the legal battle against the new regulations.
They said: “We opposed the changes because we know that many autistic people can find it difficult to make new and unfamiliar journeys because it makes them very anxious. They might worry about the route, or unexpected changes.
“We are worried that the changes mean this isn’t properly being taken into account in the assessment.
“An individual with mental health problems is challenging the government’s change, arguing that the new rules are discriminatory and unfair and should be reversed. We agree, and so have provided evidence to the courts on the impact of the changes on autistic adults.
Speaking in March, the former minister of state for disabled people, health and work, Penny Mordaunt, said: “Personal Independence Payment takes a much wider look at the way a disability or health condition affects people and 27% of claimants are now receiving the highest rate of support, compared to 15% under the old system.”
For Janet and Clearly Speaking, the consequences of legislative changes are very real. Fortunately, the group have been successful in all cases they’ve taken on this year, except for one.
“In the one case we haven't been totally successful with, we didn't go backwards,” Janet explained, “We just didn't go forwards in the sense that that person is still appealing. They felt they were entitled to the mobility award but the government felt otherwise.
“What the government don't see is that it took doing the route several times, with his parents, to feel comfortable in the first place and then if there's a diversion or even a lane closure he’s thrown completely."
This week, we’re running a campaign to help raise awareness of the good work that Clearly Speaking do, in the hope that members of Buckingham’s community can guarantee the charity see this year off with a much-deserved celebration.
So how can you help?
Clearly Speaking are holding an end of year ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party’ on December 23, at 1:30pm.
The group will transform Buckingham Youth Centre into the court of the queen of the hearts, complete with plain roses decorating the walls, which the young people will need to paint.
Janet said: “There are still pockets of the community we’re finding it hard to engage with it, so we've chose a wonderland theme that everyone can engage with.
“everything will be magical and fun, we’re fortunate to have had a snow machine donated for the day, and there’ll be scenery, games, and hopefully some elaborate cakes.
“Given the Alice in Wonderland theme, we’ll be organising some crazy golf, and we’re working to convert hockey sticks into flamingos.”
The afternoon is shaping up to be a fitting celebration for the charity but there are ways that the community can help make it even more special.
Are you a member of a local choir group that could donate half an hour of your time on the afternoon of December 23? Are you in a local performance group that could offer a reading from Alice in Wonderland?
Are you a budding baker willing to donate any sweet or savoury treats to make the tea party extra delicious? Do you have any old board games (with all the pieces) that you don’t mind donating?
Could you help Clearly Speaking in any of these ways? Please let us know, call reporter Ryan on 07393754671 anytime, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you can offer anything to help the charity.
Alternatively, if you’d like to donate this Christmas, please head to www.clearlyspeaking.org.uk/donate