Cornwall Council's 'culture of fear' over the disabled
Negative attitudes towards disabled adults, children and their families are "part of a culture" at Cornwall Council which regards them as a "burden" on budgets, a charity claimed last night.
Disability Cornwall last week exposed Councillor Collin Brewer who had told one of its members of staff during an equalities event at County Hall that disabled children "should be put down" to save taxpayers' money.
Mr Brewer, who was ordered to write a letter of apology for his 2011 comment after an investigation by the council's standards board, resigned on Thursday after a storm of condemnation.
A day later, it then emerged that deputy leader and council cabinet member for children's services Neil Burden had written his own apology after admitting using "inappropriate" words during a meeting in 2010 with Sandra Ward, then chairman of the Parent Carer Council in Cornwall.
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In a statement last night Disability Cornwall said it had been "inundated" after the stories broke "concerning the cost of meeting the needs of disabled children".
It said: "The feedback we have received has unfortunately only confirmed our fears that pervasive and negative attitudes towards disabled adults, children and their families do not exist in isolation and are part of a culture that perceives disabled children and adults as a burden on council budgets."
The Parent Carer Council, which represents some 800 families, said it recognised "there are many good people" within Cornwall Council but questioned whether "negative attitudes could be endemic throughout the council and its services, extending to social care, education, and community services".
The group added: "Disability Cornwall supports the views of the Parent Carer Council and recognises it has become increasingly clear that a culture of fear is preventing individuals from speaking up, as they believe this could impact on them personally when it comes to accessing services."
The exact words used by Mr Burden are not known, but in a statement issued on Friday he said they concerned "medical errors that are sometimes the cause of disability in children".
He said: "I wrote to her immediately after the incident to apologise unreservedly for my inappropriate words and I am very grateful that she recently acknowledged the work and support I have put in on behalf of disabled children in the last three years."
He has been supported by children's services director Trevor Doughty who said Mr Burden was "highly committed" and took his responsibilities "very seriously".
Mr Doughty said: "I see him as a fearless advocate for children, young people and families in Cornwall and is always willing to go the extra mile to fight their corner.
"Over the past three years he has attended every event which has been held for disabled children and their families and tries very hard to encourage other members to follow his example."