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Over the Easter break the government made changes to the way people qualify to receive Disabled Students’ Allowance support without consultation, meaning that many students who are in need of help, may be left unaided.
The University currently works with Clear Links, the UK’s largest specialist Support Worker service, who are currently the University’s sole provider. However, under the new proposed system, any support worker from any company could be used meaning that the disability service will not be able to track the quality of the support, or who is or isn’t on campus. Shortly after this system was proposed Lancaster claimed for an exemption, which it received, but it is unknown when this exemption will be removed. The exemption means that although in reality the support could come from any company, the support should still come from Clear Links for the time being. Due to further cuts to DSA support the university is also losing funding for important equipment such as laptops which are provided to those in need.
Speaking to Mia Scott (VP Welfare & Community), SCAN learned that the recent updates could have disastrous effects on those who receive non-medical help via the DSA support system. After further investigation into the proposals Scott found that it was “much worse” than she had originally realised. According to Scott these changes “will have a large impact on students, and there’s a risk that if University Management do not foot the bill for laptops then students who need the support and cannot afford their own laptops will be left to struggle”.
Scott believes that the proposed cuts are “prejudiced and discriminatory” and that cutting such a “vital fund from a student group that needs support to reach their full potential in Higher Education is disgusting”. She feels that “society disables people, not that the individual is disabled. Things can always be put in place to remove barriers and eradicate inequality” and that the opposite is being done here, these cuts put “these particular students at a disadvantage when there needn’t be one”. The University has recently supported a campaign which opposes the proposed cuts and updates to the DSA support.
According to Scott the University have been very supportive of the campaigns against the DSA updates and “they have shown a general understanding of issues faced by the disabled students”. She believes that the University Management still “want everyone to achieve their full potential at University and will do what they can to ensure that this still happens regardless of government cuts”.
LUSU and the Disability Service is now hoping that the University Management will agree to the funding of the first £200 needed for laptops, which has been cut by the government, but there has yet to be an agreement made with regards to this. Despite Scott believing that there is a high probability that the University will support the payments, she told SCAN that the money needed “would probably mean cutting from elsewhere, which could cause a problem”.
LUSU has been lobbying against the proposed cuts since they were announced during Easter. Scott said that LUSU have “written to our local MPs – Eric Ollerenshaw when he was in office and now Cat Smith, who seems much more supportive of our views on this than Eric did” and that the new full-time officer team will more than likely do the same. Scott has “no doubt that they will continue discussions with the university, continue to lobby the government about this decision with the support of the NUS and continue the campaign my current team have started in opposition to the proposals”.