Friday 30 October 2015

Getting the Message Across

Today, we see NHS England announce a tangible commitment to close inappropriate hospital settings for those with learning disabilities. This is a long overdue milestone – initially, we were promised that this would have been realized by June 2014. Over the next 3 years, we should see these institutions which have been campaigning against closed down, and those within them being transferred to more appropriate community care.

This is a victory for all those – both individual campaigners and charities – who have been campaigning against the inappropriate treatment of these vulnerable individuals.

Physical restraint, over-medication and seclusion are shocking ways to treat our fellow citizens and I'm determined we must do better. That is why I welcome today’s closure programme. That's why I welcome the plan to scale up community provision. In my view it’s a step-change. High time some will say, but I'm confident it is now going to happen.

And a clear indication of the will to change comes with the announcement of the closure of the biggest of the NHS learning disability hospitals, Calderstones, and the plans to provide modern and professional care in the community.

This will take time because we must ensure proper discussion and consultation with people and families; making sure what is provided meets the best possible care for people who have been for so long so badly let down by the system.

I am not content to simply rely on proposals and what I have seen myself to find out what’s happening on the ground. Collecting the views of those on the front line is crucial to making sure we get these changes right. This is why I’m launching a major fact-finding mission. You can find out more about this here (To make sure all voices are heard, an easy-read version of this can be found here).

To prevent a repeat of the failures which we’ve seen, I'm also calling on the government to bring forward new legislation to enshrine rights to challenge for people with learning disabilities. This has been promised. But it needs to go hand in hand with closures and reprovision so that people with learning disabilities feel confident of their power to effect change.

But we are seeing progress. After years of inertia, it looks like something is finally being done. This is the time for change.

As if this week wasn’t busy enough, the NAO also released their report into Kids Company yesterday. They found that current Cabinet Office leadership did not observe proper oversight and leadership of the Kids Company. Neither they nor the Office for Civil Society seemed to have any appetite to engage with Kids Company's lack of reserves, governance and chronic cash flow difficulties.

Asheem Singh, my Director of Policy, was on BBC Breakfast yesterday, emphasizing that this is something that needs to change. Leadership and governance are crucial to making sure that charities are successful – something that the government would do well to recognize.

It is right that government works with charities to reach the most vulnerable in our society – this is one of the things that charities do best. But they need to remember to look after the bottom line. The good work of charities is done on the front line, but built on the back office. Kids Company forgot this, and we have seen the consequences.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

A Cohesive Society?

I was at the Conservative Party Conference and listened to Theresa May this morning. She was right to talk of the importance of a cohesive society. Which is why it is all the more inexplicable that Conservative Party Conference organisers banned the event ‘Faith and British Values: The Muslim Charity Question’.

And banned it at the eleventh hour and without notification to either the hosts ACEVO or the sponsors the Muslim Charity Forum.

The event was rearranged outside the Conservative Party zone of control. At that event, at the Friends Meeting House outside the Tory perimeter, I said that you can't prescribe a cohesive society by government legislation. A cohesive society is built by citizens and communities. So working with the leadership of Muslim charities, with faith groups in general and with charities is vital in tackling extremism and alienation.

Muslim charities, together with the rest of our charity sector must be on the inside, central to developing a strategy to tackle extremism. The message sent by the Party’s decision to ban ‘Faith and British Values’ was simply counterproductive.

And it is already clear that many in the Conservative party are upset and perplexed by this decision. At our rearranged event I was pleased that the Chair of the Conservative Forum was both present and spoke. Whoever in the conference organisation made this regrettable decision, it must not be allowed to cloud or impair efforts by our sector and community leaders to work for a more cohesive society.

It was great to see so many people coming to our event at short notice. It was gratifying to have the support of faith leaders, and especially the Quakers who made their meeting house available to an event designed to promote the contribution of the Muslim constituency within the charitable and wider community.

ACEVO has developed a strong working relationship with the Muslim Charity Forum and we will continue to give them strong support in promoting what they do and developing their leadership and governance.

The massive Twitter traffic controversy over the banning of this event has shown the sector unites in dismay at the way in which we were treated. Muslim charities are part of the solution to cohesion, not part of the problem. We will be looking at meeting with Theresa May to discuss how we can develop this. If you think that it is us in the sector alone who feel strongly about this please read what Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne has to say in his article for Middle East Eye.