End The HIV ‘Crisis’ in Lewisham

End the HIV Crisis in Lewisham this World AIDS Day’s theme is end inequalities, end pandemics and end the corrosive stigma

This World AIDS Day theme is ‘End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics.’ Many who have supported their friends, lovers, family members and colleagues living with HIV have experienced and challenged the corrosive stigma that still exists against people living with HIV. This year marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported. Since that time, where investments have met ambition, there has been huge progress, particularly in expanding access to treatment. By June 2021, 28.2 million people had access to HIV treatment, up from 7.8 million in 2010, although progress has slowed considerably according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). 

World AIDS Day message from the United Nations on colliding pandemics

“The red light is flashing. Progress against AIDS, which was already off track, is now under even greater strain as the COVID-19 crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, schooling, violence-prevention programmes and more. And make no mistake: AIDS remains a pandemic. To stop it we urgently need a bolder view of pandemic response that is capable of tackling the inequalities prolonging the AIDS pandemic. Many of these missing pieces to fight HIV are also allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to continue and leaving us dangerously unprepared for pandemics of the future,” says Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director.

In the UK the National AIDS Trust has said that we are at a crucial point in the fight against HIV.

It is now scientifically possible to end new cases of HIV by 2030. In January 2019, the UK government promised that it would meet this goal. The HIV Commission’s report has now provided a route map. After months of delay, the government is starting to draft its HIV action plan. NAT says: “We cannot afford to delay this any more.”

“Any HIV Action Plan is worthy of its name must genuinely start the process of ending new cases of HIV and support people to live well with HIV and AIDS.”

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has a project which operates across Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. This focuses on increasing HIV testing, and re-engaging with people who have stopped HIV treatment. It has helped provide additional HIV testing in University Hospital Lewisham A&E department, primary care settings, and in community organisations, as well as recall of those who are no longer in treatment. Some 115 Lewisham residents living with HIV have received treatment and care since the project started in November 2018.

I has campaigned with the NAT and local HIV organisations like Metro for many years. Earlier this year, I wrote to Matt Hancock who was then, Secretary of State for Health, about the need for action.

Letter-to-Matt-Hancock-HIV-AIDS-2021-AH-headed

During the 1990s Lewisham did not have a specialist hospital based sexual health clinic. Following a successful campaign led by the voluntary sector, the local Community Health Council and LGBTQi+ groups a new clinic was opened at University Hospital Lewisham. The Alexis Clinic is much in demand as Lewisham’s centre for treating outpatients and inpatients with HIV in a confidential, comprehensive and patient-centred manner.


The Alexis Clinic provides a wide range of services for adults aged 16 and there are 850 registered patients. More than 50 per cent of them are heterosexual and most are of African origin. Many live on the poverty line and struggle with mental health problems. The Alexis Clinic say that the biggest challenge facing its clinical team is the issue of stigma.

Rates of HIV in Lewisham are amongst the highest in the country – figures from PHE accessed 290721

The rates of HIV infection in Lewisham need to be seen in the context that the UK maintains the largest HIV epidemic in western Europe. Lewisham as a London borough has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the country, with 1,693 diagnosed.

Recently published research in Ireland around stigma and HIV, in the well respected National AIDS Manual, concluded that despite improved access to HIV treatment and prevention, the Irish HIV epidemic remains a significant public health concern, with annual increases in the number of infections. In 2019 the number of new diagnoses of 11 per 100,000 was much higher than the European average of 6.2. The rise in HIV infections coincided with significant health funding cuts since 2008. People living with HIV continue to feel stigmatised and this impacts upon health in varied ways, such as not seeking out healthcare services.

Perhaps, there needs to be some research into how the public discourse around HIV and the media coverage of it is having an impact on HIV treatment, care and prevention in the UK?

HIV and AIDS non governmental organisations promote the positive advances in medicine – and these are real and beneficial. However, there is still a question of whether we are reaching those who need support. As the researchers in Ireland put it: “Whose ‘health’ counts in a politics ‘that produce conditions of systematic negligence’, which disproportionately affect individuals with less access to power?”

To redress the balance, then access to advocacy and support service for individuals with HIV – and other conditions – needs to be prioritised.

This is one of the many reasons that Lewisham needs an independent disability advocacy service. Since the Lewisham Association of People with Disabilities closed its doors in Bellingham in December 2018 there is no organisation to advocate and represent those with disabilities in Lewisham and the small budget of around £50,000 remains unspent. Politics is about priorities and this must be one of them – without delay.

In advance of World AIDS Day on the 1st December 2021, I tabled a formal question at Lewisham Council. The latest statistics available and the text of the reply

Cllr Alan Hall’s formal Question tabled at Lewisham Council meeting 24th November 2021

Taking up the need to address the “Crisis in HIV and AIDS in the UK, London and Lewisham” and pointing out that Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham all have high rates of HIV and AIDS, in fact among the highest in Europe, I urged Lewisham Council to do more work and to address the issue of racism that I raised on the floor of the Council Chamber last year 2020.

Cllr Chris Best, cabinet member for Adult Services said: “I am not proud of the statistics at all” and she agreed there was more that needed to be done.

The full exchange between can be viewed here

Cllr Alan Hall moves a motion about HIV and AIDS services – Lewisham Council November 2017

A report on transforming sexual and reproductive health for BAME communities in Lambeth Southwark and Lewisham published on 3rd November 2020 says:

“Mainstream services must look at the way racial and HIV discrimination intersects when caring for BAME service users, so they can provide efficient care for individuals who may be coping with social isolation, stigma from the community as well as racial discrimination: something that is not necessarily relevant to the rest of the HIV positive community.”

I have joined campaigners calling for more government action to end new cases of HIV in the UK by 2030. I say:

“There is a failure to act to end HIV. To end the prejudice, to end the stigma. In the Budget – earlier this year – the failure to allocate resources means that action is needed more urgently, if we are to put the country on course to end transmissions by the end of the decade. History will look kindly on those who show real leadership and financial commitment now. We need to fund the fight and take the decision to end new cases of HIV by 2030. We need real action now to end the colliding pandemics.”

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS said: “Ending inequalities to end AIDS is a political choice that requires bold policy reforms and requires money. We have reached a fork in the road. The choice for leaders to make is between bold action and half-measures.”

UN urges action to end HIV

Cllr Alan Hall was a trustee of the London Lighthouse, the pioneering HIV and AIDS hospice and centre in London.

End Benefit Sanctions Now Say Disability Campaigners

Cllr Alan Hall has joined campaigners, disabled activists, charities and trade unionists calling for an end to benefit sanctions now.

Inclusion London who support over 70 Deaf and Disabled Organisations working across every London borough lead the campaign. They say:

“We are calling for sanctions to be abolished for Deaf and Disabled people as a matter of urgency.  We also recommend that sanctions end for all people.”

“We believe there is ample evidence to show that conditionality and sanctions are counterproductive in moving people towards employment and instead cause debt, hunger and distress and in some cases destitution. These outcomes are particularly acute for Deaf and Disabled people.”

Unite the Union say: “The continued use of benefit sanctions just as the country is entering a period of heavy and sustained job losses is ‘unnecessary and particularly cruel’ and must be stopped.” The trade union held a Universal Discredit campaign day recently.

The Public Law Project has produced advice on benefit sanctions and Covid-19, this is here.

The full text of the letter to Justin Tomlinson, MP – Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions is here:

Dear Justin,

I am writing to you to take action and help us to scrap benefit sanctions once and for all. In Lewisham we do not have a borough wide disability organisation or advocacy service so I am writing to you directly on behalf of people with disabilities in our borough.

Inclusion London wrote a briefing summarising some of the evidence here: https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/campaigns-and-policy/facts-and-information/welfare-reform/stop-benefit-sanctions-now/

Sanctions during the pandemic are dangerous, cruel and unnecessary. There is no evidence to show sanctions work and plenty of evidence about the negative impact they have on health and wellbeing. It is especially unfair and unjust when we are facing a historic rise in unemployment and a covid job crisis to force people into searching for jobs which currently don’t exist at a time when many will still be facing restrictions.

Many of the people being forced to look for work will come from Disabled and or BAME communities who have already experienced a shocking and disproportionately high number of deaths during the pandemic. The likelihood of dying from Covid-19 amongst these groups is significantly higher than the general population. Disabled people will face an increased risk of exposure to covid-19 if they have to attend jobcentre appointments, travel on public transport or go into a workplace where social distancing and other safety measures have not implemented in full. For Disabled people, including those who are shielding, many workplaces where it is not possible to work from home will pose an extremely high risk.

Mountains of research exist to show that sanctions do not work, and do not benefit public spending. From academic researchers to Parliamentary Committees and All-Party Parliamentary Groups to the National Audit Office, there is ample evidence to show that sanctions do very little to get people into sustainable, long term work. Instead, claimants are often stuck in short term, precarious work and experience profoundly adverse personal, financial, and health outcomes.

Please act now to help address this great injustice.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Alan Hall

Lewisham Council

Disability Rights and Help the NHS #SaveSocialCare

Disability Groups are concerned that the Coronavirus Bill due to be rushed through parliament in the next few days will cost the country more by putting pressure on the NHS by curtailing community care services for people with disabilities.

Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy, Disability Rights UK said: “Our key concern is that the Bill enables local authorities to suspend rights to assessment and support under the Care Act. Given that it is only people with the highest needs that receive local authority care and support, it can’t be right to leave this group of people without this vital life line.

“We also oppose the reduction of protections for people being detained under the Mental Health Act. Removing liberty is a drastic action and safeguards need to be in place. 

“Disability Rights UK understands these are unprecedented times, but removing rights and protections from disabled people who are most at risk cannot be justified.”

Leading Barristers at Doughty Street Chambers have said: “We should all be very worried about the serious impact of the Coronavirus Bill on adults with care and support needs and their carers, whose needs can (and most likely will) be overlooked during this crisis and beyond.”

Inclusion London who promote Deaf and Disabled people’s equality and inclusion, have asked campaigners to write to their MP now.

The full text of their letter is here:

“I am writing to ask you to take action to protect many thousands of Disabled people who rely on support from social care services. Please raise the issue and table and support the amendments to prevent this from happening.

I know this is a tough, difficult and challenging time for everybody, and we all need to support each other and do what we can. On the other hand, I strongly believe in these unprecedented times, those who need support should be protected.

I believe that the CoronaVirus Bill presents a real danger to Disabled people. It is understandable and right that the Government is attempting to relieve pressure on the NHS. But the Government’s plans for Disabled children and adults during the coronavirus crisis are effectively rolling back thirty years of progress for Disabled people. The proposals also come at a time when many Disabled people have experienced years of cuts to their support.

The Government plans to:

• Remove Disabled people’s entitlement to social care. In practice, this will mean local authorities will no longer be legally required to provide support to people who they already recognised as needing it.

• According to the Government, this is to ensure local authorities can prioritise and meet the needs in new cases.

The Government made more funding available, so it is hard to see why it is necessary to remove the entitlement to social care for those who already get very little. It is worth remembering that community groups and volunteers cannot deliver the support many Disabled and older people need.

Experience and research have illustrated that the lack of social care support puts more strain on the NHS. Surely this is a wrong thing to do at a time when the Government tries to free up resources for the NHS. This way of dealing with the immediate crisis can have considerable and devastating consequences in the longer run.

Change the duties to educate to meet children’s educational requirements to a ‘reasonable endeavours’ duty

Make it easier to detail and treat people involuntarily under the Mental health Act. The existing safeguards are already too weak, and the number of people who are detained has grown significantly in the last few years. Detention will be a severe interference with a person’s fundamental human rights to liberty and freedom. Moreover, detaining people will cost the NHS a lot of money. Instead of making it easier to detain people, more support should be put to help people in the community.

I am sure there must be a solution to this crisis that would protect Disabled people’s rights. “

Cllr Alan Hall is signing this letter because it is important to protect disability rights. In these unusual and demanding times we can amend the Coronavirus Bill as modest adjustments to the Bill could free much needed space in hospitals and save money for our overstretched NHS as well. You can add your voice but writing a letter see here

The Shadow Cabinet Member for Mental Health & Social Care, Barbara Keeley, MP expressed “deep concern” and has written to the Secretary of State for Health in the letter below:

Read the news article about this in the Newsshopper here and South London Press here

Damian in High Court over ‘SEND Crisis’

SEND Crisis in the High Court as Government challenged

Parents of children special needs took the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds to the High Court on Wednesday 27th June 2019, in a bid to get the tory Government allocate more resources for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

The case has been dubbed a “landmark legal challenge” as it argues that the Government has a duty to fund the extra demands on local authorities. Representing local councils, the Local Government Association, has said that the unprecedented demand for additional SEND support has caused a ‘perfect storm’ of factors:

More pupils: school census data shows that between 2014 and 2018 the number of pupils in all schools in England grew by just over 400,000 – an increase of 5 per cent, with some local areas having experienced much higher population growth than others.

A change in expectations: the Children’s and Families Act 2014 rightly raised the expectations of parents and the aspirations of pupils through a new code of SEND practice expecting all children to receive the best possible education and support.

New legislation: many more young people aged 16 to 25 are now on EHC plans.

More children with complex needs: advances in life expectancy, more awareness and better diagnoses means there are now more children and young people with needs that are difficult to meet within mainstream schools.

Current secondary school attainment measures: do not currently reward schools with a high degree of inclusion.

kevin courtney send high court 270619The National Education Union has said that funding is at a ‘crisis point‘.

Kevin Courtney, joint General Secretary has said:

“The funding shortfall for SEND provision comes against the backdrop of the swingeing cuts to local authority budgets imposed by the Westminster Government over the last 9 years which have left many councils on the brink. Between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services. This is an appalling way to be addressing the education of some of our most vulnerable children and young people and is causing untold misery and worry for thousands of families”

Figures released by the NEU show that Special Needs provision in Lewisham lost out on £15,816,314 because of austerity policies since 2015.

In response to the judicial review, Sir James Eadie QC is reported to have told the court that the government does understand the nature of extent of alleged SEND “crisis” but that it was not clear that a lack of funding is “full or predominant cause”.

He cited other possible factors such as the cultures of schools and balance of funding between local authority maintained and independent schools.

“The position ultimately is that [local authorities] are responsible for making the necessary provisions under the Children and Families Act 2014 and they cannot cite scarcity of resources as a reason for not doing it,” he added. “In other words, saying that ‘we have not got the money’ is no excuse.”

Responding, Mr Justice Lewis asked: “What if a council says we have not got a cheque book? We have sold that too.”

“If they have got to rob Peter to pay Paul then that means you have to because you have a statutory duty to help Paul,” Sir Eadie replied. “If that means you got to cut traffic lights or cut social care, then so be it.”

Due to the widespread concerns Damian Hinds has launched a call for evidence on SEND funding. You can send him your views here

 

More media coverage

ITV News      Sky News

DWP ‘spin’ in the Metro challenged

The Disability Benefits Consortium, DBS consisting of over 80 charities alongside Trade Unions and disability campaigners are calling on the Department for Work and Pensions to end their public relations campaign about Universal Credit which appears in the freesheet Metro newspaper.

In a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority, the DBS have said:

“The advert itself is visually misleading and inaccessible. Given the target audience is those who are out of work, many of whom will be sick or disabled, the lack of clarity that it is a DWP advertisement is disingenuous. An internal memo, reported by the Mirror, claims the lack of clarity (no logo or DWP branding) regarding this being a DWP advertisement was deliberate

These are some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is a disgrace that they are being treated with such disregard. At best these adverts are accidentally misleading at worst they are knowingly dangerous to the health and financial security of disabled people.

We believe there is clear evidence that these adverts are misleading and urge the ASA to take this complaint seriously and act as quickly as possible.”

 

According to the Public and Commercial Services Union, PCS, the government department’s positive PR strategy began last month with a series of articles which purportedly “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC” at a cost to the taxpayer reported to be in excess of £250,000.

Unite the Union had been a constant critic of Universal Credit saying: “Instead of providing a safety net for people on low incomes, Universal Credit is driving more people into debt” and urging people to sign The Mirror’s petition . Unite’s position is to stop and scrap universal credit.

Stop Universal Credit image 082018

The Children’s Commissioner has been examining the impact of Universal Credit and an article about the rollout of UC quoting a foodbank worker on their website says:

“The most urgent thing is to stop the 5 week wait. The advance payment the DWP advertise is in fact a loan that you have to pay off across subsequent payments. So people are starting off in debt.”

“And stopping the benefit cap will take children out of poverty, there is no doubt about it.”

While the DWP is seeking to change public perceptions with its UC myth-busting adverts, over the last six months we have heard contradictory stories from the lived experiences of vulnerable families.

But children are going hungry. It’s not a myth – it’s a fact.”

Disability activists in Disabled People Against Cuts, DPAC are taking direct action,  they say:

We are calling on people to join our campaign to dump Metro DWP lies on any day of the week.

Yes, it’s important that we get the DWP lies off the shelves… but decreasing the circulation of the Metro newspaper 5 days a week rather than just one will make a bigger impact on as to whether the Metro does anything like this again!         

If the Metro was a paid-for paper we would call for a boycott but it’s a free paper so let’s just dent them wherever we can. Investigations have revealed that other newspapers were allegedly approached to run this advertorial and declined; which says a lot about the Metro!”

The National Audit Office, NAO recently produced a report  on Universal Credit and launching the report, Sir Amyas Morse said:  “We think the larger claims for Universal Credit, such as boosted employment, are unlikely to be demonstrable at any point in future. Nor for that matter will value for money.”    

SEND National Crisis: Damian told to ‘Get On With It’

SEND Crisis campaign hits Downing Street as cuts bite. Lewisham Council loses over £15 million

53179855-EA03-4D71-AD27-D03DD68670F2On Thursday, 30th May 2019 children, parents, teachers and unions presented a petition of over 14,000 signatures to Number 10 Downing Street highlighting the lack of choice and cuts to Special Educational Needs and Disability – SEND  services. Local authority funding has been slashed through the tory Government’s continuing austerity programme.

Shadow Minister for Labour, Laura Pidcock MP delivered a message for the outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, in her last days in Downing Street:

The largest education union in Europe, the National Education Union, NEU has recently revealed that special needs provision in England has lost out on £1.2bn since 2015, because of shortfalls in funding increases from central Government. Funding granted to local authorities has failed to keep pace with rapidly increasing demand for SEND provision – the number of children and young people with an Education Health and Care Plan has increased by 33% since 2015. This contrasts with a 6% increase in the high needs block funding over the same period.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said:

“This is clearly a crisis, with pupils and parents bearing the brunt of real-terms funding cuts and the wholly inadequate planning by Government.  Last year, when the NEU won an additional £350m for children and young people with additional needs, the Government admitted that ‘more needs to be done’. We hold them to those words today. Get on with it.” This follows the call for the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds MP to act now!

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In Lewisham, the NEU has estimated that cut to be £15, 816,314 since 2015. This affects the provision within schools and support services like educational psychologists delivered by the Children & Adolescent Mental Health Services CAMHS.

Back in 2018, the Save the Lewisham Hospital Campaign were successful in getting cuts to CAMHS reversed in Lewisham and Jon Ashworth, MP the Shadow Secretary of State  said this:

This simply isn’t good enough for a Prime Minister who describes mental health provision as a “burning injustice”.  Despite Theresa May’s promises, mental health injustices are not ending under this Tory Government but getting worse.

We know that early intervention is absolutely critical in tackling mental health issues, with 50% of mental health problems being established by age 14. Therefore, Labour will increase the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people, and end the scandal of children being treated on adult mental health wards. And crucially we will ring-fence mental health budgets to ensure funding reaches the frontline. Overall we would be putting an extra £5 billion into the NHS this year which would mean more money for CAMHS in Lewisham.

For too long mental health provision has been neglected, cut back and poor inadequate private sector provision has been allowed to go unchecked.

There is little that is more important than the mental health of our children. I want to see public services for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services strengthened.  So we will deliver a public universal NHS with more investment in mental health services, and I pledge that the next Labour Government will deliver parity of esteem [for mental health] after years of Tory failure to do so.

Jon Ashworth, MP Shadow Secretary of State for Health & Social Care

 

Following this Lewisham Council’s Scrutiny Business Panel asked for a full review and the then Mayor Sir Steve Bullock was forced to halt the proposed cuts.

CAMHS Cuts ah 2018
Cllr Alan Hall, Chair, Lewisham Council’s Scrutiny Business Panel called a halt to CAMHS Cuts

As the Government prepares for the next spending round and Councils have to fix their budgets for 2019/20 the campaign is more important than ever. The next steps are here:

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