Funding story: Deafblind Scotland

Localised funding processes north of the border are leading to a dearth of services for people with rare disabilities.

Grants from the statutory sector still underpin a lot of the third sector's work. Increasingly, the focus is on getting local people involved in decisions about how money is spent in their local areas. This can mean, however, that some vulnerable people lose out.

In Scotland, the Scottish Executive is making its funding for literacy and numeracy initiatives available through local councils. The hope is that money will be spent in the most appropriate way in each area. In practice, however, it means that councils aren't able to fund provision for people with rare disabilities because there are so few people in any given area.

It is estimated that there are fewer than 5,000 people in Scotland who are both deaf and blind. The official figure is half that, but the charity Deafblind Scotland estimates that a lot of older deaf-blind people are going undiagnosed. Nevertheless, the figure is relatively low, and it is understandable that scarce resources are being directed elsewhere. But that doesn't help the people in need.

Deafblind Scotland is the main provider of literacy and numeracy support to the deaf-blind client group north of the border. The switch to a focus on local projects means that the charity now has to apply to 32 separate councils on behalf of a very small number of local people. Unsurprisingly, funding levels have plummeted as a result. In fact, almost all the relevant services have been shut down.

"Local authorities are referring us back to the Scottish Executive, and the executive refers us back to local authorities," explains Drena O'Malley, spokeswoman for Deafblind Scotland. "These are initiatives the Government wants to implement, and it believes that the best way is to hand the money to local authorities - but it doesn't work for us."

Deafblind Scotland believes there should be a specialised, national service similar to the system of guide communicators the charity provides to Scottish local authorities, in which individuals are trained to be the eyes and ears of deaf-blind people. "Some funding could be held and allocated centrally for this purpose," says O'Malley. "Currently, deaf-blind people are being excluded by the barrier of locality planning, which mitigates against low-incidence disability. The worst of it is, it's nobody's fault."

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