National Disability Smorgasbord

 

The concept was utterly brilliant.   A perfect political move: a strategy targeting over 14 million people, a fifth of the population, of whom the vast majority are voters.

And it goes on giving: With hospital waiting lists already topping 5 million and forecast to reach 14 million, there’s potential to double that disabled constituency.   Just ask someone like Peter who’s been waiting two years for a hip replacement: constant pain, can hardly walk, had to give up work, income crashed.   With 40% of the population to play for, it’s no wonder that politicians and public servants are aiming to up their game (Command paper 512 Published 28 July 2021).

How does this new National Disability Strategy measure up?   Surely everyone can applaud the broad ambitions buried away in Part 2 of this long document:

  1. Ensure fairness and equality – we will empower disabled people by promoting fairness and equality in opportunities, outcomes and experiences, including work.
  2. Consider disability from the start – we will embed inclusive and accessible approaches and services to avoid creating disabling experiences from the outset.
  3. Support independent living – we will actively encourage initiatives that support all disabled people to have choice and control in life.
  4. Increase participation – we will enable greater inclusion of a diverse disabled population in the development and delivery of services, products and policies.
  5. Deliver joined up responses – we will work across organisational boundaries and improve data and evidence to better understand and respond to complex issues that affect disabled people.”

 

So good so far and, sometime, someone will hopefully provide the baseline and target data so we can actually measure performance against all those stirringly impressive goals.   But there’s another wrinkle: surely the Equality Act has already had 10 years to achieve pretty much the same?   It may be too optimistic to expect a mere ”strategy” to do better when it doesn’t have the muscle of legislation or the alleged enforcement role of the EHRC.

Step forward Part 3 to provide that essential accountability muscle: hapless Ministers making personal commitments for their respective Departmental actions.   Presumably, each time there’s a reshuffle, new faces and names will simply replace them.   Perhaps it would be a good idea to include the top mandarins too as they might have more longevity?

It seems curmudgeonly to look this gift horse in the mouth by asking if the commitments of Government Departments tackle the most important challenges facing disabled people.   The original strategy concept seemed so brilliant, but the end-product gives the overwhelming impression of civil servants desperately cobbling together actions that were already underway or would cost little or nothing in the future.   For example, extending jury service to Deaf people is certainly overdue but where’s the data and commitment to reducing the wholly disproportionate number of prisoners with mental health conditions.   Both are important but probably don’t have the same impact on society and fairness.   Likewise, there are huge gaps in the “strategy”: The Treasury doesn’t feature so presumably there’s no link between financial or tax policy and fairness; likewise, that massive NHS waiting list and its potential to double the disabled population doesn’t merit a mention.

The strategy is like that weary buffet after someone has taken all the choice cuts: an unappetising mismatched miscellany of scraps.   If this brilliant concept is to realise its political potential, Government needs to go back to the drawing board: ask Departments to share the data about where their current policies, practices and procedures have the most negative impact on fairness and equality for disabled people and then tell us what they are going to do about it.   We want dates, data and targets that will prove that there has been real progress plus the carrots and sticks to motivate them.   Meanwhile, this disabled person isn’t holding her breath for any significant change and just wishes that Government acknowledged that equality law applies to them too: leading the way would encourage the rest of society to do better too.

 

(P.S.   It’s taken me longer than hoped to read the strategy: the “Special” Policy Adviser in the Cabinet Office didn’t really understand what accessibility means in relation to blind people – say no more)

 

 

International Day of Disabled People

A year to mark: Covid has culled our numbers while creating more disabled people too.

This wretched virus has blasted through the care homes where the residents, by their very nature, were disabled people and more with previous conditions and vulnerabilities have also been hit hard.  This has reduced the number of people with disabilities in the national population.

But the disease has gone a step further: the most obvious direct consequence is all those people with “long” Covid with damage to organs and more that will limit their lives for time to come.

More insidious and probably much higher numbers are all those people who are being disabled by the delays in NHS treatment.  I think of friend Peter who has already been waiting for almost a year for a hip replacement.  Not only is he nearly immobile and living in constant pain, his prospects of the operation and eventual rehabilitation are many months away.

Calling such surgery “elective” seems to suggest that it is a matter of choice when, in reality, it is an absolute necessity if people are to maintain some level of independent life.  Understandably, these operations have been put on the back-burner but the long-term social, financial and medical consequences will be huge.

More of these people may never recover and will be permanently disabled  – so needing care and support.  More will not be able to get back to work – so turning to benefit support.    More will become socially isolated, poorer and more likely to acquire additional mental and physical conditions – so placing even further demand on the NHS.

It is time that the Government raised its head above the parapet of the current Covid battle to look further ahead and prepare for the long-term support of more disabled people.  They were already promising a national strategy – now it needs to be a fully costed, pan-Government action plan with adequate funding and realistic measures of success.  The alternative is to store up long-term costs that will be as damaging to the economy as loss of our High Streets.

 

 

Uganda, Turkey and England

                                                    United in friendship

 

Cheer up weary fruit

 

If it’s getting towards the end of the week and the fruit bowl is looking a bit sorry for itself, here’s a super hot dessert.  When shopping can take too long and some food is hard to get, it makes sense to make the most of everything you have.

This hot fruit salad takes minutes to prepare from easy ingredients: 2 each apples and pears (cored and chopped to bite-size – don’t bother to peel), 2 bananas peeled and chopped, 2 oranges zested and juiced, a handful of raisins, a handful of crystallised ginger chopped.

Put all the ingredients into an ovenproof dish and add a little light brown sugar or honey if desired before stirring everything and covering with cooking foil.  Cook at Gas 6 or 200C for 40-60 minutes and serve.

Leftovers re-heat well at a medium microwave setting.  A peeled, de-seeded and chopped melon will make the hot fruit salad go further and, if you don’t have any ginger, try a cinnamon stick, star anise or some green cardamom pods for other exotic flavours.

If your other bananas have gone beyond the leopard stage, peel and cut in to chunks before freezing.  Whizz to a puree in a food processor with a teaspoonful of honey and, if necessary, re-freeze to firm up before serving.

 

 

BOGOF

If your self-isolating hoard of UHT milk tastes awful in tea, here’s the answer: homemade yoghurt plus the vital ingredient for a simple bread.  Two for the price of one.

The yoghurt is blissfully simple: just heat half a litre of UHT milk to 43.5 degrees Celsius and pour in to a container with a lid.  Stir a tablespoon or so of plain natural yoghurt (ideally without any additives) in to the milk.  Put on the lid and keep at the same temperature for 8-10 hours.

I’m lucky enough to have a sous-vide water bath that will maintain the pre-set temperature but you could experiment: perhaps a vacuum  flask wrapped up in a freezer bag or insulated cooler.

Pour the yoghurt through a sieve  lined with muslin and leave to drain to reach the consistency you want: the longer it drains, the less you make but the thicker it becomes.

Don’t waste the milky liquid that drains off.  Mix 250g of plain flour with 2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda and a good pinch of salt.  Pour in just under 200ml of the drained liquid and form the mix into a soft dough.  Quickly knead into a rough ball and place on to a floured baking sheet.  Slash a cross into the top and cook in a pre-heated oven  at Gas 6, 200C for about 30 minutes.  Knock the bottom to check if it sounds hollow – if not, return it to the oven upside down for a couple of minutes.  Eat the same day with homemade soup or it will toast well for breakfast.

You can experiment  with the yoghurt: try adding orange zest at the start , add milk powder for thicker results.

When life feels tough, it can be very satisfying to try something new, that’s created with the simplest ingredients and that you can perfect to impress family and friends when you see them next.