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RNIB failings and Lord Blunkett

The RNIB responds to the highly critical report by the Charity Commission into the running of their residential homes. Lord Blunkett talks to us about post-lockdown challenges.

The Charity Commission's report into the failings at the RNIB's care homes says it is 'one of the worst charity failures we have come across'. We hear from RNIB's Chief Executive and Head of Policy, Matt Stringer. He tells us what will happen to people in the residential homes and how they will repair their reputation for the future.

Lord Blunkett talks to us about the challenges to visually impaired people as we come out of lockdown and whether any benefits can emerge from it.

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19 minutes

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Tue 30 Jun 2020 20:40

In Touch Transcript: 30.06.20

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THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

 

 

IN TOUCH – RNIB FAILINGS AND LORD BLUNKETT

 

TX: 30.06.2020  2040 -2100

 

PRESENTER:                      PETER WHITE

 

PRODUCER:                        LOUISE CLARKE-ROWBOTHAM

 

STUDIO MANAGER:         JOHN COLE

 

Peter White

Good Evening.  Tonight, one of the worst charity failures we've come across.  Well that was the charity commissions' verdict on the RNIB's running of one of its residential schools.  In a moment, we'll be talking to the RNIB's Chief Executive about why this happened and how they intend to repair the damage, reputational and financial.  And we hear from Lord Blunkett about the challenges to visually impaired people as we come out of lockdown and were there any benefits have emerged from it.

 

Emma Williams

In an unexpected way, it's been a bit of a relief.  I mean I'm quite an introverted person, so it can be tricky you know trying to get round a noisy pub and sort of managing the situations.  But in some ways, social distance socialising it has worked better for me because I've got more control of the situation so I'm on my own so far, I know where the toilet is!  And I've kind of found that the body language and things isn't...isn't as much of a a factor on a zoon call as it is in real life, so in some ways I found socialising more enjoyable this way.

 

Peter White

One of our guests on last weeks' programme, but we'll see if Lord Blunkett can come up with any other plusses.

 

But first, by any standards it was a damning report.  It concerned the way The Pear Centre a residential school for children with complex educational needs in addition to their visually impairments was being run.  Widely reported by this programme at the time, the Charity Commissions Report has found a number of cases where children were put at risk, where injuries went unreported of cases where children were physically restrained, which weren't properly documented and examples, where parents weren't informed about medical appointments.   There were also incidents' where errors were made in administering medication and staff, were found to have inadequate training and lack of appropriate experience.  In the end, the RNIB closed the school after the improvements which had been demanded were considered not to have been carried out satisfactorily.  Paul Latham is the Charity Commission's Director of Policy.  This report called 'No Punches' Paul, why was it thought that it had to be critical?

 

Paul Latham

Well I think the report reflects what we found and these were comprehensive failings at the charity.  Clearly, no child should ever be put at risk of harm, but it was all the more distressing that this happened in a charity's care, so you know the public rightly expects charities to keep people they care for safe from harm, and that's now what happened in these circumstances.

 

Peter White

What did you think was the most shocking thing about this report and what you found?

 

Paul Latham

No one would expect this this kind of thing to be happening anywhere, least of all on a charity's watch.  And I think knowing that some of those basic medication errors and children, some children actually coming to harm was clearly something we...we'd never want to see.  When charities such as our RNIB are setup to achieve the opposite to to to look after they're beneficiaries and get them into a better position. 

 

Peter White

Paul Latham, Director of Policy at the Charity's Commission. So how do you emerge from a report like that, just where do you start?  Well Matt Stringer is the RNIB's CEO.

 

Matt first of all, how do you react to that report?

 

Matt Stringer

Well clearly it was the lowest points in our 152yr history, you know I have personally and unequivocally and profusely apologised to all the families involved.  You know clearly we let them down between 2015 and 2018; we're not trying to hide away from that.  And I have built sort of relationships, starting to build a relationship with the families before publication.  And through publication, I have some meetings with them this week actually to make sure we provide the appropriate support.  So I think you know first of all apologising and absolutely acknowledging, you know that we we let people down.

 

Peter White

I want to move onto some very...some specifics about how you react to this!  Now one of the most radical changes to come out of all this is the decision to withdraw from providing residential care.  That meant 18 residential homes, schools and colleges you removed your involvement from.  Can I ask you first about the residential homes cos of course, these are the homes of real people potentially a major upheaval for visually impaired residents, most of whom are older people.  So what's happening to their homes?

Matt Stringer

Well we are on a process, which actually was announced or decided on in in the back end of 2017.  And we, we announced it last year publically that we were going to transfer the services that you mentioned, our regulated services in the ...in England to a number of providers and that's a critical point I think.  We have been very very careful to make sure that we've only selected people who can take on those homes and and schools and there's one college as well to make sure that the, you know the the experience of the residents and the pupils and the students is absolutely of paramount importance and a critical element of our decision-making in in transferring those services.  So far, we have transferred one primary school and one care home to different providers.  And those processes have gone very seamlessly with lots of positivity actually from the the relatives of the pupils and and the residents involved about the process that we've undertaken.  I am confident that we will complete that job later in the summer.  We have providers identified; we are actually quite a long way down the process on all of them actually.  And at this point, even with some of the challenges of of coronavirus, I am actually very confident that we will complete the job no later than the autumn and be able to transfer those facilities to very strong providers who will maintain you know not improve the service and the experience of those...the residents, the pupils and the students.

 

Peter White

And will they have experience of assisting visually impaired people, because there are real specifics in in that level of care?

 

Matt Stringer

Yeah, well part of this strategy and I think what the RNIB Pear Centre Report lays bare is that you know, we were trying to do a job of of running a very few establishments for for a small number of visually impaired people.  And clearly as the report at RNIB Pears lays bare, did not necessarily do a very good job of that.  What we're very keen to do is to spread our expertise across you know all the care homes in the UK.  There's 11,000 to make sure that we can bring that the insight and the skills to bear for many many many people, not just those who we at the moment look after in our care homes.  With those providers who we are transferring too in our care homes, we absolutely will, will, will agree with them.  We have an agreement that we will continue to be able to have access to those care homes and and provide you know the services, which those residents enjoy at the moment.

 

Peter White

How can you repair your reputation?

 

Matt Stringer

Well we're coming from a low point.  We've been very clear you know we're 152yrs old; this was our lowest point, so we have a lot of rebuilding to do!  I, I completely accept the thrust of your question.  I think what the Charity Commission Report does give us some credit for is how open we've been and how...how much we've done over 2yrs and certainly in my year here to you know build an organisation that's fit for the future, you know the capability, the leadership, the governance, our you know our our skills around safeguarding. All the things that were clearly lacking and exposed in this report, you know have been...have been rebuilt.  And I think now are are much stronger and much more fit for an organisation of our size that you'd expect.

 


 

 

Peter White

Matt Stringer, thank you very much indeed.  And we do of course, welcome your views about that and I'm sure you'll give them to us!

 

And as one of the largest organisations dealing with visually impairment tries to sort out its role in the coming months and years, what about the rest of us?  Well on last weeks' programme, we debated what affects lockdown and the fallout from it would have on our life's employment, education and just how we live from day to day with the affects of social distancing.  Well listening to that programme was David and now Lord Blunkett, who for the best part of a decade was a Government Minister and indeed for the first 4yrs, his responsibility was employment and education. 

 

David, can I ask you first, what your reaction to to that programme was?  I know you you listen to it, what did you think of the kind of points people were making?

 

Lord Blunkett

Well I learnt something!  It's always good when you listen and you think 'I hadn't thought of that'.  And the thing I hadn't thought of was, people being told it was okay to sneeze into their elbow!  I've never done it, but of course grabbing hold of someone's elbow after they've sneezed into it, doesn't strike me as terribly healthy or terribly wise. 

 

Peter White

That, so that was all about the kind of advice we got right at the beginning of lockdown.  It's possibly got a little more sophisticated since then.

 

Lord Blunkett

It has.

 

Peter White

Yes.

 

Lord Blunkett

And and for blind people, I think there is a very real challenge and it's mainly about the perception of other people.  When, when I was a teenager, I had a horrendous experience of a mother taking a child across the road and saying "We're gonna cross the road, because I don't want you to catch what he's got, cos I had a white stick in my hand'.  And I don't people feel and think like that, but they do think "Oh my goodness, you know is is this blind person gonna bump into me? Is this blind person, will they know where I am?  Are they likely to touch me?  If they are, are they gonna be infectious?"  And there's something sub...subliminal going on there I think, which we will need to overcome rather rapidly if people are going to be able to go to work, to socialise to actually just live their life's where touch really does matter. 

 

Peter White

Mm!  I'm gonna comeback to touch with you specifically, but if I can take you to employment first!  Cos listeners have come up with two competing reactions about employment for visually impaired people, one that in a time of likely high unemployment, we all find ourselves right at the back of the queue for jobs!  More optimistically, some people say "Well with employers having to show much greater flexibility about how and where work could be done, we might actually benefit from that" because like we we would say, "Well you've done it in lockdown, you can...we...you can be more varying in the way that you what you demand from us".  What's your feeling, who's right?

 

Lord Blunkett

I, I'm more pessimistic than optimistic about that!  I, I have felt all along that things were more likely to click back into the old ways of doing things than people are saying at the moment.  I think it would be really good if the Department for Work & Pensions, Job Centre Plus, perhaps together with organisations working with representing and of blind people were able to actually use some exemplar examples of people who are really good and I'm not, using technology at home I've found it a nightmare!  But a lot of blind people, particularly younger blind people know how to do this.  And if we could if you...if you like make little videos, get them online and get them across to employers.  The idea that you could have a mix of being at work and working from home would be really good for those who can do it.

 

Peter White

I mean you were at the Department of Work & Pensions for a short time as well, that was another of your jobs.  What, why do you think the unemployment rate amongst blind people had stayed you know virtually unchanged for decades you know only still, we're still saying only about 1 in 3 blind people of working age actually in a job?

 

Lord Blunkett

I think there are three main reasons!  One is obviously the attitude of employers and their concern as to, can this person possibly do the job?  And you and I have spent our life's trying to prove that we can.  The second is the problem of getting people skilled in the right professions, the right jobs and I think we're we're still a long way off that.  And unfortunately, the government announcements about money for education haven't so far included further education.  And many blind people would benefit enormously from not just tailored courses like The Royal National College or Loughborough RNIB, but actually in mainstream if those courses could be tailored to their needs and the money was available to do that.  And the third thing is confidence.  I think that part of getting it right is obviously other people's attitude is training and skills, but it's also about the tenacity to actually be prepared to say "I'm not taking no for an answer". 

 

Peter White

You, you made the connection between their education and and money and that was another thing that our panel was worried about, especially the effect social distancing might have on the way visually impaired people are treated and taught.  And particularly worries about touching, which you've mentioned, which is of course, an obvious way to show blind people practical skills.  Is there a danger that especially perhaps in mainstream schools, but maybe in special schools as well, visually impaired people might find themselves overprotected and there are also inhibition's about now about the way their taught?

 

Lord Blunkett

Yes I think we need some much clearer advice from the Department of Health and Public Health England, about what you can do rather than what you can't do!  Cos I think the fear will be for some time to come, probably until we've got a vaccine that somehow being very close to somebody and touching will automatically put you at risk.  But actually, just being with somebody showing them the ropes if their wear...wearing a simple face covering then you can do it.  But I think that there's a fear in the population generally we've seen that haven't we in terms of desperately trying to get young...youngsters back into school at all never mind touching!  And I think we've just got to start getting the message across for people not to be relaxed about being careful, just a little bit of commonsense. 

 

Peter White

On this issue of confidence, I mean I noticed that you wrote really early on even before lockdown started, about the possible effects on the confidence of older people being restricted in going around.  You didn't particularly at that point I don't think relate it to blindness, but you could have done.  I mean I've been not going into the...to the office and we started to go back in you know more recently.  I would say I'm quite a confident person, but if you spent 12 weeks not using those skills, it's amazing how much nerve you lose.

 

Lord Blunkett

Yes I wrote on the 16th of March as it was that people shouldn't be categorised.  It was the over 70s that really got me that as though everybody was in the same lumpened group and everybody's health and wellbeing was exactly the same, but it applies to disability as well.  People do lump us together, they always have haven't they, I mean people will have said to you, they say to me "Oh your part of the blind community".  Well there are people who are friends.  There are people who socialise together, but there isn't such a thing as blind people across the country all being the same and being part of a community and so I think that that's another message that we desperately need to get across.  Everybody is an individual, don't, please don't lump people together and that the worst possible thing is for people to be written off.  And I fear that the pandemic across the world has started to show up some of those fault lines where people do write people off in in categories of age or disability or whatever.

 

Peter White

Just finally, you are a Vice President of the RNIB and we were talking earlier in the programme about that report and how the organisation, what it needs to do to recover.  I just wonder what you think its role in these post lockdown times should be.

 

Lord Blunkett

Well its come through a terrible period and led brilliantly as the Chair by Ellie Southwood through some really difficult times.  I think obviously, people want a service, they want to receive the the backup, the support that they need at particular times in their life's, but they also want the RNIB to be a communicator, a a campaigner if you like in the widest possible sense for the things that we've talked about this evening.  The kind of things that change people's life's for the better and that is about communicating, not that blind people need charity, but blind people need backing and support.  And if they can get that message across, lifting people's horizons as well as providing those services like education, like employment and and advice, like the equipment and materials, library services for instance.  Then the the combination of that will spell out those messages of hope.

 

Peter White

Lord Blunkett, I still feel I have to call you David.  I've done it for 50yrs thank you much very much indeed.

 

Lord Blunkett

Thank you Peter!

 

 

Peter White

And if you want to add your comments, you can email us at 'intouch@bbc.co.uk' or you can go to our website at 'bbc.co.uk/intouch' and as always, you can download tonight's programme and previous editions of In Touch.  That's it from me Peter White, Producer Louise Clarke-Rowbotham and Studio Manager John Cole. Goodbye.

 

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  • Tue 30 Jun 2020 20:40

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