Cornwall Council creates ‘culture of fear’ for disabled people
4:12pm Monday 4th March 2013 in News
Following the resignation of a councillor over "put down" disabled children comments, the charity at the heart of the story has said Cornwall Council has created a "culture of fear" for disabled people and their families.
Disability Cornwall says it has been inundated in the past week following press coverage of Colin Brewer and his eventual resignation and the comments made by Neil Burden, deputy leader of Cornwall Council.
A spokesman said the feedback they have received has "unfortunately" only confirmed their fears that "pervasive and negative attitudes towards disabled adults, children and their families do not exist in isolation and are part of a culture that perceives disabled children and adults as a burden on council budgets".
The charity said: "The Parent Carer Council have asked Disability Cornwall to speak on their behalf and to state that in their view, as a representative organisation of 800 families, while they recognise there are many good people within the council, they question whether these negative attitudes could be endemic throughout the council and its services, extending to social care, education, and community services.
While the Parent Carer Council did receive an apology from Neil Burden, which was further supported by another from Alec Robertson, then leader of the Council, these served only to "justify the negative culture surrounding disabled children".
Alec Robertson’s letter read: ‘I understand that when using the phrases that have given you such concern, he (Councillor Burden) was trying to express a serious point; he believes that the health service should do more to prevent or reduce levels of disabilities by improved diagnoses and remedial action both before birth and in early years.’
Disability Cornwall said it supports the views of the Parent Carer Council, adding it recognises it has become "increasingly clear that a culture of fear is preventing individuals from speaking up as they believe this could impact on them personally when it comes to accessing services".
"Representative organisations are also fearful of speaking up as so many are currently re-negotiating contracts for council funding and there are council officers and members who are fearful for their own positions if they raise their heads above the parapet.
It added that this calls into question the council’s assertion that it really is a representative for one and all, "when 30 per cent of residents are either disabled people or have caring responsibilities for a family member".
Speaking last week Cornwall Council said it takes its responsibilities around equality and diversity "extremely seriously and is committed to ensuring that all staff and members receive appropriate training and are fully aware of the importance of this issue".
A spokesman added: "All Members were offered equality and diversity training when the new council was formed in 2009. Further training has been arranged in subsequent years, the most recent of which took place in December 2012. Equality and Diversity training is mandatory for all paid staff and will play a major part in the induction process for the new council, with specific workshops taking place during the first week of the programme.
"Equality and Diversity is one of the key responsibilities of the council’s portfolio holder for health and wellbeing and people. Since being appointed to the role last year Carolyn Rule has introduced a number of measures to promote the issue among both staff and Members.
"These include encouraging all current members to attend the specific training sessions which have been arranged, and ensuring that all council reports have an equality impact assessment carried out prior to them being presented to members for discussion."