We have finally got a question tabled for the House of Lords, thanks to Kate Smith MP and Baroness Lorely Burt. This question will kickstart a wider debate about why disability is equated with unfitness to parent and will hopefully be the start of the process to change the law.
The question to be tabled is "What assessment has HMG made of the use of medical records of parents in Child custody cases?"
The question will be heard in around one month - (13th January 2017).
To see the parliamentary debate, click here: https://www.disabledparentspoliticalunion.com/parliamentary-questions
People written to In the campaign so far:
Judy Mallabar MP - I wrote twice and telephoned her office. The response: IGNORED.
Nigel Mills MP - He signed permission for me to complain about CAFCASS in my own personal case but did not respond to my enquiries about amending the Equality Act.
Kevin Gillot MP - I wrote to him once. The response: IGNORED.
Stuart Bent MP - I wrote to him once. The response: IGNORED.
David Cameron Former Prime Minister - I have written three times. The first letter his secretary responded to told me that there are no specific rights for disabled parents but there were provisions for disabled people in general that he believed was sufficient and therefore the government was not interested in adding a disabled parenting section to the Equality Act. On the second letter I wrote I pointed out the discrimination disabled parent's face and illustrated this with my own case and I received a reply telling me that 10 Downing Street was the wrong place to write to and they had transferred my letter to the department for Education. I expected a better response from a man who himself had a disabled son.
Weeks later I received a letter from the department of education and it was obvious they hadn't read my letter as they wrote 'I'm sorry your children are in care' and told me where I could complain about it. My children were not and never have been put in care and they have never been on any at risk register. They also did not mention the Equality Act which is what the letter was about so I feel they skimmed a few phrases and left the rest or they were purposefully evasive to avoid discussing the issue.
My third letter I wrote back telling them to read my original letter and that my children were not in care and I had been through every avenue I could with regards to complaining about discrimination. The response: IGNORED.
The European Court of Human Rights - I wrote to them twice. The first letter they responded to said that they could not look into it and I needed to first get an MP to support my case. I wrote back and informed them that the two local MP's in recent years who had won a seat had both ignored me and MP's outside the area told me they couldn't help me as I wasn't a constituant for their town. Without any response from an MP, I didn't know how to challenge the Equality Act. They didn't respond to my second letter.
Kate Smith, MP - I wrote to her once and she replied straight away and was genuinely interested in the issues I had raised and in amending the Equality Act. We have now exchanged dozens of emails and we have met three times. She has been writing to people within parliament on my behalf. We have either had no response or been passed onto another agency, but it's early days yet and I'm just thrilled to have at last some support from an MP!
Disabled People's Organisations - I wrote to Scope four times as they were running an equality campaign but had glaringly 'forgotten' to include parenting. They wrote:
'Scope is not campaigning directly on this issue, but it is reflected in our wider work on improving the adult social care system, extending eligibility for support from social care and changing attitudes towards disabled people. An important part of this is making sure disabled people get the support they need to enjoy family life and carry out parenting roles.' - Email dated 6th May 2015.
'What I want to know is why not? If you don't tackle this issue head on then you won't do much to change attitudes towards disabled people. Many of the discriminatory attitudes towards disabled people are from the very authorities that you suggest we seek support from.
When Scope did their equal rights campaign they didn't include parenting, which is even more important than access to buildings etc (considering we are bringing up the next generation). Is the thought of equal parenting rights too much of a hot potato for Scope to touch? - 6th May 2015.
Reply email from Scope:
'First, I would like to reassure you that we do undertake work around the barriers which disabled parents face. We do a lot of work around raising awareness of and changing public attitudes towards disabled parents in the media and on our website. You can find some examples of this here: http://blog.scope.org.uk/2014/02/09/there-are-still-people-who-believe-disabled-people-shouldnt-be-parents/ and here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/real-life-stories/ive-half-body---not-3126378. This will be where our focus on this specific area remains for the moment....(etc).
Blogging alone will not stop disabled parent discrimination and they know it. The next year I attempted to get them interested again and they wrote back informing me that the Care Act 2014 now had provisions for disabled people to ensure their needs were met and this included parenting and the local authority had a duty to make sure these needs were met.
'the Care Act 2014 has introduced some changes to the way social service departments are required to 'handle' issues around disabled parenting. The Care Act sets out a list of 'outcomes' that measure a person's wellbeing.....The Care Act says that if an adult has care and support needs as a result of a physical or mental condition, and they are unable to achieve two or more of the outcomes, and as a consequence this significantly affects their wellbeing – then the local authority has a duty to support the adult to find ways of meeting the unmet outcomes....' - 2nd June 2016.
'The Care Act isn't going to be any use to the vast majority of disabled parents who don't require 'care' - the statistics show that most disabled parents don't have significant 'care' needs, but even for the few that do, it should be termed as 'personal assistance', not care which is incredibly patronising and paternalistic.
It won't stop social workers from assuming all disabled parents need 'care', it won't stop the malicious referrals, the spot checks, and the prejudism from the police service, teachers and the NHS. Nearly every 'abled bodied' person in authority will be prejudiced towards a disabled parent because they believe they pose a risk to their child....'
I was trying to point out to her that the majority of disabled parents don't want social services intervention and that if such outcome questions were required to be asked, it would only mean more spot checking and more interference for disabled parents - many of whom are already sick of the authorities repeatedly questioning them about their disability in relation to their child as if they are a criminal.
The reply I got was 'Thank you for your comments' - email dated 3rd June 2016 which is a polite way of telling me to go away.
Dancing Giraffe (Group for disabled people in Colchester) - No reply.
Disability Resource Centre UK - No reply.
Disability Rights UK - No reply.
Unison (Disability Issues) - No reply.
Disability Network UK - No reply
Equality Human Rights - Replied 22nd June 2016 to say they were passing my email onto another department.
C-Change - Scottish organisation to help people with what they need, e.g. money advice - No reply.
Disabled Living Foundation - No reply.
Road Peace - Organisation for people disabled by RTA's - No reply.
Disabled Parents Network (when it was still open) - Told to go to social services. I explained that social services are the problem and was told to complain. No response about equality act.
John Hemming, Former MP - This former MP has spoken out about social services taking babies by force to boost adoption statistics. He has not responded yet. Update 30th December 2016, IGNORED.
Lucy Allen MP - She has personal experience of discrimination after social services reported her to the police and threatened to remove her son because she had mild depression. I am still awaitihg a reply from her. Update 30th December 2016, IGNORED.
Katharine Quarmby, Journalist and Author - I wrote once and am still awaiting reply. Update 30th December, IGNORED.
The British Constitution Group - I wrote once. They replied giving me details of where I can find details of the British Constitution which may be useful for the campaign.
Baroness Ruth Deech - This house of Lords member had previously spoken out about the Equality Act 2010 not being acted upon, https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/equality-act-2010-and-disability/news-parliament-2015/equality-act-report-published/ so I thought she might help. I was wrong, here was her response:
"I used to teach family law, so I understand the dilemma you describe. From my knowledge, a change in the law would not help. The Human Rights Act gives everyone the right to a family and private life, including of course disabled persons under Art.14. So that is the law. But it is balanced against English children law, which says that the welfare of the child is paramount. So each decision is on a case by case basis, looking at the child in question. There is nothing to be gained from changing the law, as it is already against discrimination. You should continue publicising your difficulties so that there is more understanding.""
Citizen's Advice Bureau - I attended their office for an in person visit to obtain information on how to get a pro-bono lawyer because you can get free legal help if you are doing it for the 'greater good' and it will benefit the public. They informed me how to get a lawyer.
The organisations CAB referred us to couldn't help - 19/12/17.
Because of the stonewalling we have received, I have decided to stand as a local councillor in my area next year. If they won't listen then I will try to become part of the government to make them listen. Even though I may not succeed, the 60,000 leaflets that will be posted through the door of every resident will increase awareness of this important issue and put pressure on the government. I joined the Lib Dems because it would increase my chances of success, rather than standing as an independent. It was also because they were the only party that didn't ignore me. However, these are cross-party issues and we hope for support to change the law no matter whether you are conservative, Lib Dem, Labour, Green or the pink spotted elephant party.
Please print off our campaign leaflet and share wherever you are in the UK, or contact us to ask for paper copies. Please also wear our disabled parent campaign ribbon to show your support.
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