Dear Mr Dowd
I am a parent of a disabled teenager living in Waterloo, in the borough of Sefton. As Leader of Sefton Council, you recently authorised a public consultation on removing post-16 school and college transport from young people with special needs. This was disguised as an offer of support “for young people and their parents and carers, to help them be independent and lead fulfilling lives”.
Your Council has set up a ‘Travel Training’ scheme, which is supposed to enable young people with special needs to travel independently to school or college. My problem is that my severely autistic daughter, who turns 16 in two years’ time, is too disabled to take part in the scheme, or to have any chance of travelling to school independently. I am deeply concerned that you have given me no assurance that the school bus in which my daughter enjoys travelling to and from her special school each day will continue to be available to her.
The nature of my daughter’s learning disabilities mean that she has no language and few social skills- she simply could not safely use public transport, and certainly not alone. When she is distressed by busy environments, loud noises and jostling (you know, like public transport during rush hour), she can run away, throw herself to the floor, or even physically lash out at people around her in her panic. No “travel training” can guarantee her safety or the safety of other passengers.
If I am forced to take on responsibility for escorting my daughter to and from school, this will cause my family severe hardship. You might be aware that four out of ten children with disabilities are living in poverty. In my own case I have been forced to give up work to care for my daughter and meet her high needs, which has stretched my physical and mental health to the limit. There would be days when I would simply not be capable of leaving the house to accompany her on public transport, and it would push my straitened finances past being able to afford the basic essentials of life. My family, sadly, is far from unusual in this regard. As far as my daughter is concerned, ironically, far from promoting independence, your proposed ‘support’ would in fact have the opposite effect, if she were forced to rely on me to get to school rather than travelling on the school bus with her peers.
As well as being the Leader of Sefton Council, you are also Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Bootle, reportedly the second safest Labour seat in the country, so you are virtually guaranteed to be my MP after 7 May. Three of your recently published election pledges are:
- Work with schools and colleges to give our young people the best start in life
- Fight to get a fairer deal for the most vulnerable
- Demand better environmental standards and protect our precious green space
Can you not see what a travesty it is for you to push through this particular set of cuts? It really calls into question your basic integrity.
How is it giving our young people the best start in life by making it practically impossible for them to attend education? How are they supposed to arrive at school or college relaxed and ready to learn after being put through the stress and potential dangers to them on public transport? Do you realise how many of them will simply drop out rather than battle with impossibly complicated/expensive travel arrangements to the specialised establishments which are generally many miles from their homes? Do you appreciate that the rates of school phobia and depression are already higher among teenagers with learning disabilities than the general population? So why make it harder rather than easier for them? All we are asking for our children is that they are given the same opportunities to learn as others, but you are putting obstacles in their way when daily life is often already a struggle.
Why is this, you ask? Well, it’s because they are vulnerable. They don’t have the same privileges and advantages that go with having the good fortune to be born non-disabled. So it is beholden on all of us to do our very best to ameliorate this- most decent people hold the mark of a civilised society to be the way it takes care of its most vulnerable members. Your election pledge claims you share these values, but by removing the support of safe travel to school or college, you clearly don’t. You aren’t even being neutral and walking on by like the proverbial Pharisee: you are actually attacking the vulnerable, which is even worse.
I also want to point out how ridiculous it is for you to make environmental concerns a cornerstone of your election pledges, when you can surely not be ignorant of the likely result of cutting the SEN transport: those parents who can financially and logistically manage to get their teenagers to school or college will be forced to transport them individually themselves. All those extra cars driving long distances twice daily at peak times…not exactly green, is it?
This hypocrisy means that in the forthcoming election I will have no choice but to break the habit of a lifetime. I will be forced to vote for a party other than Labour. This kind of breaks my heart a little bit, if I’m honest, but I simply cannot morally justify to myself the act of knowingly voting in a politician I believe to be duplicitous and cynical. The people in our ward have a long and proud history of taking care of each other through difficult times and real hardship, and I think they deserve better than lies and somebody only pretending to care. I have always believed that people go into public service for the best of reasons, but I have been bitterly disappointed over this course of action taken by Sefton Council, and am staggered that you yourself can act as its Leader in pushing through these cuts while claiming in your election material to stand for an entirely different set of values.
Won’t you restore my faith in the basic goodness of people and locate your moral compass? Will you give me and the other voters some faith that you are a person true to your word?
Mr Dowd, as Leader of Sefton Council, please practise what you preach as Parliamentary Candidate for Bootle. I am asking you to protect the service that young disabled people like my daughter rely on to get to school.
A Sefton Parent