In answer to Driver’s enquiry about why there had been no public consultation on proposed changes to DFGs, a policy which effects an estimated 15,000 disabled people in Thanet, an officer replied that because there was no statutory requirement to do so no consultation was planned. On checking previous consultations carried out by the Council Driver identified several which had been undertaken but which were also not required to be conducted by statute. One of these ‘Keeping your area clean’ requested members of the public in Margate and Westgate to feed back to the Council about dog excrement.
Said Driver ‘I simply cannot believe that Thanet Council regards a consultation on cleaning up dog s**t as more important than consulting an estimated 15,000 disabled people living in Thanet and their organisations about their rights to have their homes adapted so that they can continue to live independent and dignified lives in the community. This says a lot about the values and morality of our politicians and some senior officers.’
He went to say ‘this appalling perversion of priorities suggested to me that Thanet Council is institutionally prejudiced against disabled residents. This prejudice and discrimination is reflected in data which has been provided to me which shows that the average time taken to assess and approve a DFG application is 40 weeks. This is 15 weeks longer that the statutory requirement of 25 weeks and is totally unacceptable. In most other areas of Council work performance targets are matched or exceeded, but when it comes to a disabilities issue significant under-performance seems to be tolerated over a prolonged period of years. This can only mean that the Council does take the needs of disabled residents seriously’.
Driver’s exposure of the Council’s failure to consult and his persuasive arguments in support of engaging with disabled people and their organisations was able to win over a majority of councillors at last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Panel who voted to recommend to the ruling Labour Cabinet that a 6 week consultation on the draft policy be carried. 3 Labour Councillors voted against the consultation, including Michelle Fenner who until her recent sacking from the Cabinet was responsible for Equalities Policies at the Council. Said Driver ‘its shameful that the council’s former equalities boss and 2 of her Labour colleagues voted against engaging with Thanet’s disabled community on an issue as important as this. I only hope that the Labour Cabinet and senior council officers will take a more inclusive and enlightened approach towards working with the disabled community and we might then begin to see an ending of what I believe to be institutional discrimination’.
Ian Driver’s film of the debate on the disabled facilities grants will shortly be available on his blogiste , his Facebook page and YouTube. This was first recording of a Thanet Council meeting made under the new legal rights for the public and councillors to film meetings.