Many passionate comment pieces and blogs have been written by disabled people across the internet over the last two-and-a-half years about the government’s brutal cuts and reforms to disability benefits and services.
But Disability News Service is here to do something slightly different. Its role is to report – not comment – on the issues around poverty, independent living, access, benefits, equality, discrimination and culture that are most important to disabled people and their organisations.
The aim of the news stories published by DNS is to report the facts and the answers to its questions, summarise research, cover protests and conferences, but above all to provide a vehicle for disabled people to express their opinions – rather than those of the big non-user-led charities that usually appear in the media – on the issues that affect their lives.
There is no other UK news provider that comes close to providing this focus on disability.
But DNS needs funding to survive. After nearly four years, it is still not financially sustainable, despite the wonderful support of its subscribers.
My hope is that this new website will draw in the funding necessary to keep DNS running in the long term.
Huge thanks are due to Simon Montgomery, director at Computer Box College, who has developed the platform on such a cost-effective basis. I hope his fantastic work will be recognised and lead to many other commissions.
As well as publishing the latest DNS news stories every Friday, the platform will keep an eye on some of the most interesting disability-related features and blogs from across the web, and build up a diary/listings page of the most important protests, conferences, debates and other disability-related events.
It also already has an archive of hundreds of authoritative news stories dating back to the launch of DNS in April 2009 that I hope will prove a vital resource for campaigners and researchers.
So what kind of stories should you expect from DNS during 2013?
In many ways the outlook is miserable, with the coalition appearing to have placed a spread bet on the number of times it can breach the Human Rights Act before the next election.
This week, the Campaign for a Fair Society is talking of “devastating” cuts of more than 50 per cent to social care budgets by 2018, and how a disabled person with high support needs will lose on average 19 times more than the average person – nearly £9,000 per year – due to the combination of cuts to their benefits and services.
In recent months there have been fears that the spread of academies is undermining inclusive education; disabled peers have tried to fend off the government’s latest attack on the equality agenda; the eligibility criteria for the new personal independence payment seems to tighten by the week; we have heard the death-knell of the Independent Living Fund; the list goes on and on, with Atos and its tick-box assessors always lurking somewhere in the murky background.
It looks and sounds bad. But DNS also promises to dig out stories from the brighter side of the disability news agenda.
The launch of the UK Collaborative Disabled People’s Network, a new alliance between the traditional disability movement and the grassroots organisations of anti-cuts activists, offers hope that disabled people will be able to work together to fight the threats to independent living, inclusion, and human rights.
For the same reason, there is hope in the grassroots research carried out by disabled people, for disabled people, under the WeAreSpartacus umbrella.
There have even been signs that the Department for Work and Pensions is finally introducing some useful reforms to Access to Work, after months of fiddling while numbers claiming support plummeted.
And Lord Leveson’s inquiry into press standards might eventually give disabled people’s organisations the chance to force newspapers to correct hostile, misleading and discriminatory reporting.
Then there is Baroness [Jane] Campbell becoming the first member of the House of Lords to deliver a speech during a debate with the help of a personal assistant.
And let’s not forget the Paralympics. A generous funding settlement for most Paralympic sports to see ParalympicsGB through to Rio in 2016. London to host the 2017 IPC World Athletics Championships. And three Paralympians shortlisted for BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
The DNS platform will be here to report on the good and the bad, the cuts and the grants, the protests and the awards, the reforms and the red tape bonfires.
I look forward to hearing from disabled people and their organisations about how DNS can further improve its new platform.
John Pring, editor, Disability News Service