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Recent Southend SEND Hustings seem to have had little impact in the elections - it’s time to raise the profile

Endless praise for carers is not enough. They need money, resources and respite.

Last week a SEND hustings took place for Southend West and Leigh, but you wouldn’t know it given the little coverage it has received.

Eight of the ten candidates attended and the room was well occupied. The Chair was a former Southend Councillor who knew the issues and was passionate about bringing the issues to light with the organisers ‘Making Care Fair’, an National Lottery funded organisation that seeks to change certain aspects of the system.

Whilst I was taking part and shortly afterwards it actually felt like something good was going to come of it; a bit of an outpouring of support and sympathy with a real gusto to get things moving in the right direction - but unfortunately nothing has really taken off since.

The previous SEND hustings in Southend East and Rochford did receive some coverage as parties were vilified for not turning up (including us)!

The Hustings

After the opening statements from candidates and a few questions, it became the audience vs Anna Firth.

Anna fielded a lot of the anger and frustration, and as the representative of the Conservatives, it made sense for the rest of the candidates to step aside and allow the audience to express themselves to Anna.

What can be hard to accept is that Anna, even as the MP, has very little power. She likely had nothing to do with government policy and the best she could as do was to offer to speak to someone who did.

In the specific cases at the hustings, Anna did offer her help and there seemed some ray of hope in this - she was listening. With the many across the country who experience similar dire circumstances, they have very few places to turn.

For me, I knew when going into the LD and SEND hustings that I did not know enough. I have friends and relatives badly affected by the system, but I have not experienced it firsthand.

I am proud to say that in my day job I employ and look after hundreds of those with SEND and I understand the reasonable adjustments required to make them feel valued, comfortable and supported (Anna, was very gracious to mention the work that we do). Everyone is unique in their experiences and they need to be treated as an individuals. But I am far from an expert.

Where I could help is changing the attitudes of CEO/Directors of organisations that would never even think of employing people with SEND. Business may not think they have the time, money or resources, but if they knew just how much potential there is out there, they would quickly change their minds. The stigma surrounding the word SEND is quite a significant barrier and this can only change if those associated with the community get the opportunity to sit around the table with those that have the power to change so many lives.

A snapshot of the Issues

Accessing financial assistance is far too complicated. Some suggested it was purposeful and that is the cynicism that has been building. How did the government concoct such a complicated and, being as fair I can, mean system? Carers did not write this system that much I’m sure of. They would have known the flaws from the outset. From the voices we heard, it seems unlikely that any carers or people with SEND had any input at all.

Another issue is that the level of available finance is far too low if we are framing it within a dignified life. One resident was left with £15 per week when all was said and done.

A member of the audience said that some cannot work due to their disability, but they should still be entitled to enjoy their lives. At the moment there is nothing for them to do. Policies around this area would be very welcome.

The carers allowance should not be a taxable benefit. A carer is effectively paid less than the minimum wage as they work 140 hours a month for £260. Moreover, if the carer works minimum hours the government stops the carer allowance for that week and they end up owing them!

They added that if a person is born with a disability they should not have to reapply for the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) repeatedly because their condition is not going to change!

Finally, financial assessment for any care package should allow for household expenses like electricity and/or gas as a rule.

By the end of the hustings I knew more, but that was just scratching the surface. I could feel the pain of the audience. So much struggle and little relief.

Going forward

The question is who should write the policy?

My simple answer, like all polices, is that it needs to be written by the people most affected - in this case, those with SEND and their carers. This then needs to be weighed up against what is possible given barriers such as money, resources and expertise.

And that is where we come in. I happened to mention that with Confelicity they would be able to do this. We would hold several SEND specific manifesto meetings in which they could write the agenda and debate the policies.

The issues highlighted at the hustings would be a great start.

For the first time, power would be in the hands of a those who know the most. And this is what we mean by being a local party for the national stage. People writing policies who have been there and done it.

For any carers reading this please do get in touch with us and we will let you know when the meetings are taking place.

Let’s not allow this important issue to be forgotten.

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Excellent summary of events and focuses on the real problems. No one seems to listen to those actually suffering and the suggestions do answer some of the problems.

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