Campaigns for deaf people come together
In the last few weeks a variety of campaigns on behalf of deaf people I have long been involved with have come together in a number of ways. My private member’s bill to support communication services for deaf people has been published.
I secured a debate last week on the need to protect and support deaf families and will shortly be meeting the Disabilities Minister, Mike Penning, to discuss measures to improve support for deaf people.
MPs who took part in the debate supported the need to protect and support education support for deaf families. The Government has made clear that spending on Special Education Needs should be protected.
However there is no specific guarantee for education of deaf children and the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) has identified planned or threatened reduction in support for education of deaf children.
Ninety per cent of deaf children are born to hearing parents who clearly need support in relating to and helping their children.
Eighty per cent of deaf children go to mainstream schools and, as I said in the debate, although I am not against mainstreaming in principle some children are clearly isolated and lack the support that a dedicated school can provide.
Only 37 per cent of deaf children get the equivalent of 5 GCSEs compared with 81 per cent of hearing children. There is no doubt in my mind this is because they do not get the same level of communication support. Deafness is not in itself a learning disability.
My hope is that this debate, my bill and the commitment of the new Minister for Disability could make a breakthrough of bringing deaf people into proper conversation with hearing people and so ensure that more deaf people get jobs and jobs that reflect their skills and abilities and fewer suffer from mental illness and depression because of the social isolation that deafness brings.
Royal Mail froth doesn’t hide the right course
The sale of Royal Mail shares last week was taken up with enthusiasm and generated a lot of froth in the market, leading to criticism that the Government had undervalued the company, alongside ideological opposition to the case for bringing the private sector into the mail service.
Of course, had the Government overvalued the company leading it to be undersubscribed, criticism would have been vociferous. The real worth of the company will only be clear in the coming months.
Ten percent of the flotation was reserved for the Royal Mail work force which was, understandably, taken up by all but a handful of employees.
The shares have been snapped up in spite of the threat of strikes and uncertainty about the long term future of traditional mail services. The decision to offer shares to the private sector was not arrived at by ideology but by a close analysis of the challenges faced by a drop in letter post and the rise of alternatives.
I was active in working up the policy in recent years and it has been implemented under the leadership of Liberal Democrat Ministers for good, thought through and practical reasons.
Royal Mail faces strong competition from the private sector and from already privatised national mail services such as the Germans and the Dutch. It will be freed from the constraints of EU state aid rules and competition law and will be able to invest in new technology.
It is nevertheless committed by law to retaining the universal service which is vitally important to rural areas such as ours. The Royal Mail network of local “posties” is their unique strength with which they will now be free to compete.
Instead of losing out to other carriers they could attract profitable business. The pattern of postal deliveries in rural Scotland will never be matched by the private market alone – but the ability to compete for the last mile delivery business will be the Royal Mail’s strongest selling point in rural Scotland and the best guarantee of the future for local “posties”.
In addition, the fact that we are part of a UK wide universal service obligation will be a huge advantage to Scotland. Effectively the cost of delivery to our remoter areas will be borne by customers in the big conurbations in England – another reason why we are better together.