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World Cancer Awareness Day 4 February 2021

Today is World Cancer Awareness Day. A day aimed to unite people across the world in raising awareness of cancer and its impact in the hope of preventing future deaths.

Never has this message been more important than in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cancer patients have been one of the groups of people most badly affected by the pandemic, and this may not just be current patients. In particular, concerns have been raised in relation to a lack of research funding. This could mean that not just current patients but future patients are affected. This could easily include any one of us.

This year, the World Cancer Day theme is “I Am and I Will”. I have signed up to one of the 21 day challenges on the initiative’s website. These include challenges to raise awareness, improve your own health and to support someone else with cancer. In the spirit of raising awareness, here are six things I have learnt about cancer over the past 10 years.

  • Side effects of treatment are not just hair loss and feeling sick. Don’t get me wrong, they are big ones, but side effects can include almost anything and can be incredibly debilitating.
  • Once you have had treatment, if it’s successful, that’s it. Perhaps it is for some, but for many it really is not. Even if successful, patients can suffer long-term side effects or complications as a result. And of course there is the follow up and potentially years of “scanxiety”. It really is a marathon and not a sprint, and support is needed for the long haul, not just immediately post diagnosis.
  • Never underestimate the kindness of strangers. People’s reactions can surprise you and support can come from the most unlikely of places. Any gesture, even small ones, can mean the world to someone going through treatment.
  • Neutrophils are your best friends. What is a neutrophil? A type of white blood cell that protects us from infection. Some cancer treatment effectively wipes these cells out and can lead to neutropenia (an abnormally low level of neutrophils) and potentially, neutropenic sepsis. Cancer patients can be extremely vulnerable to infection, something which the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly increased awareness of.
  • Cancer treatment can be expensive. I don’t mean the actual treatment here – I mean the knock-on effects. The potential loss of earnings, the bits and pieces you need to get to make treatment more bearable, and don’t forget the many, many hospital appointments and associated travel costs.
  • Cancer affects the whole family. Of course the main focus should be the patient, but don’t forget their support network, who sometimes need support too.

No doubt many of us know someone who has been or is affected by cancer. Through my work and personal life, I have had the privilege of knowing and working with many people who have had a cancer diagnosis. These people are some of the most inspirational characters you will ever meet. They need our support, now more than ever.

Electronic Communications Code Consultation

The Electronic Communications Code (“the Code”) came into force on 28 December 2017. Since then there have been several high profile disputes between the operators of telecom mast sites and landowners that have been resolved by court rulings. Not all of the rulings have gone in favour of the operators and some have denied operators rights under the Code.

The government is concerned that the Code is not operating in the way it was originally intended and recently opened a consultation on the shape, scale and scope of alterations to the Code. The consultation period ends on 24 March 2021.

The consultation is focusing on three areas of concern:

Obtaining and using Code Agreements, including failures to respond to requests for Code rights.

Low rents and concerns over the new Code rights may have resulted in landowners not wanting anything to do with Code Agreements and burying their heads in the sand when asked to grant Code rights. This may be causing delay in securing new mast sites and problems with the roll out of 4G and 5G networks.

The right to upgrade and share – when should these rights be available and what should happen when the conditions for automatic rights are not met? The government is also consulting on limited retrospective rights to share equipment installed before December 2017.

Operators occupying under old agreements cannot use the new automatic sharing rights under the Code. It looks like the government is considering retrospectively imposing these sharing rights in old pre-Code agreements in limited circumstances. This might be where sharing is required in the public interest, eg to expand networks without delay. If this suggestion is implemented there are likely to be disputes over the operators’ rights to exercise the new sharing rights.

Difficulties regarding the renewal of expired agreements. There were a number of court cases in 2019 and 2020 where operators failed to persuade the courts to impose Code right.

  • on a non-occupying landowner (a third party operator occupied the property);
  • where the occupying operator was holding over under an expired lease that was protected by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954; and
  • where an operator was occupying as a tenant at will after the expiry of a lease that was outside of the security of tenure provisions of the LTA 1954. The Court held the operator had no rights under either the old telecommunications code or the Code and could not apply for temporary rights.

The court’s decision in the second case was confirmed by the Court of Appeal in January 2021.

The government is likely to close the loopholes in the Code that were exposed by the recent court decisions, where Code rights were not imposed when older agreements had expired. Landowners should not be surprised if the consultation also results in additional rights being granted to operators and some of those rights may be retrospective and affect old agreements that were made before the Code came into effect in December 2017.

The consultation may be the result of lobbying by operators who want to revise the Code to address its perceived shortcomings in the Code and the “loopholes” exposed by the recent Court decisions. Landowners will need to make their voices and concerns heard through their industry representatives (e.g. the NFU and the CLA) if they want to avoid or limit additional or enhanced rights being granted to operators or at least ensure that provisions are included in the revised Code to protect the interests of landowners.

The government is likely to close the loopholes in the Code that were exposed by the recent Court decisions, where Code rights were not imposed when older agreements had expired. Landowners should not be surprised if the consultation also results in additional rights being granted to operators and some of those rights may be retrospective and affect old agreements that were made before the Code came into effect in December 2017.

Perineal Tears During Childbirth

It is common knowledge that a mother who delivers a child by caesarean will need six weeks to recover physically. If a caesarean is required then the implications are discussed at length during the antenatal period, and preparations can be made by the mother to ensure she can rest and recover once the baby arrives. What is less talked about by midwives, doctors and mothers themselves are tears, despite research finding that nine in 10 women will tear to some extent during a vaginal delivery.1

Grading a Tear

Tears are graded from first degree to fourth degree. Small, skin-deep tears are known as first degree tears and usually heal naturally. Tears that are deeper and affect the muscle of the perineum are known as second degree tears. These usually require stitches by a midwife. A third degree is a tear that extends into the muscle that controls the anus (the anal sphincter). If the tear extends further into the lining of the anus or rectum it is known as a fourth-degree tear. Third and fourth degree tears require surgical repair by a doctor as soon as possible after your baby is born, under spinal anaesthetic or an epidural in theatre. You are likely to need a catheter for a short period afterwards and the follow-up care includes pain relief, a course of antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection, laxatives for comfort and physiotherapy follow-up. Most women make a full recovery within four to six weeks, although rarely complications can arise and medical advice should be sought as soon as possible. Key complications to look out for include:

  • Signs of infection such as if your stitches become more painful or smell offensive;

  • You cannot control your bowels or when you pass wind; or

  • Continued pain and discomfort when having sexual intercourse.

It is also important to focus on your mental health. Experiencing complications when giving birth can be very distressing and disturbing, and for some women there is a risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. Following a perineal tear, if you are developing anxiety, have low mood or feel that you need additional support, you should talk to your healthcare professional.

The diagram below from The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists helpfully summarises the anatomy and how tears are graded.

Difference Between an Episiotomy and a Tear

A tear happens spontaneously with delivery, however, an episiotomy is a cut made by a healthcare professional through the vaginal wall and perineum. This may be done if your baby needs to be born more quickly or to make more space for your baby to be born. If you have an episiotomy you will need stitches. These are normally done under local anaesthetic.

On the most part, it is thought that an episiotomy will help prevent a severe tear as it can be controlled, however, it is possible for an episiotomy to extend and become a deeper tear.

When to Consider Making a Perineal Tear Claim

Whilst suffering a tear is incredibly common, there are situations where the acts and/or omissions of midwives and doctors can lead to a mother either suffering a worse tear or having a more complicated recovery. Women tend to be reluctant to discuss their symptoms and see this as part of having a baby. Whilst not all tears will give rise to a legal claim, it is important to talk about your delivery and recovery and be aware of potential failings. The most common types of claims we see include:

  • Poor birth planning and/or management of labour;

  • Failing to repair a tear in a timely manner after delivery;

  • Failing to appropriately identify the severity of a tear leading to a sub-standard repair; and

  • Failing to act on signs of infection post-repair.

If you would like to discuss your labour or perineal tear with one of our experts, please call us on 0800 652 3371.

Further Information:

If you would like further information, the following organisations specialise in supporting women who have suffered perineal tears:

RCOG Perineal Tears Hub: www.rcog.org.uk/tears

Mothers with Anal Sphincter Injuries in Childbirth (MASIC): https://masic.org.uk

Birth Trauma Association: www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk

Bladder and Bowel Community: www.bladderandbowel.org

1 https://www.ouh.nhs.uk/patient-guide/leaflets/files/12101Ptear.pdf

Common Intention Constructive Trusts

A recent case in the High Court highlighted the importance of using the correct legal structure or vehicle to hold business assets.

In Oberman v Collins (21 December 2020) an unmarried couple had built up a portfolio of investment properties over 20 years. Some of the properties were owned by one person, some by both and some by a company, in which both were shareholders.

When the couple separated one of them applied for a court order to ensure they had a 50% interest in all of the properties. The application was based on that person making financial contributions, working unpaid and giving their partner day-to-day control of the portfolio, whilst providing bank guarantees and assuming financial liabilities.

The court rejected the claim that there was a business partnership, but did accept there was a common intention constructive trust, even though the case concerned investment properties and not the family home. It did not matter that the case concerned a fluid portfolio of properties provided the trust was established. If the judge was wrong about that point there could be a common intention constructive trust for each property that was purchased because he found that the couple intended to acquire each property in equal shares. This finding was based on the couple’s agreement about the portfolio and the actions taken as regards the rents and sale proceeds that were received.

The court agreed the applicant’s failure to protect their interest in the property was inconsistent with their argument that there was a common intention the couple would have equal shares in the properties. However, the court found that because the failure to protect those interests prejudiced the applicant, it supported their claim.

It is important to consider, from the start, how business assets will be owned in order to protect the interests of all of the investors in the business and to keep this issue under review as a business develops.

When building up a property portfolio, eg buy-to-let houses, it is important that the properties are held within an appropriate legal structure and that the interests of all of the investors in the property business are properly protected. Legal advice should be obtained at an early stage to decide whether to use a formal partnership agreement or a company. If a company is formed, is a shareholders’ agreement required? Alternatively, is a declaration of trust appropriate to record the investors’ interests in the properties and to protect both of their positions?

Obtaining good legal advice at any early stage can avoid costly disputes and litigation later on. For more information please contact us.

Whistleblowers Raise Concern about Patient Safety at Essex Maternity Unit

A number of incidents at a maternity unit in Essex are causing concern over serious failings in care. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) visited Basildon Hospital following whistleblowers alerting the CQC of their fears about patient safety. The tip-offs followed a number of serious incidents where six babies were at risk of brain injury after being starved of oxygen at birth.

An article published by BBC noted that the CQC found unsafe staffing levels at the maternity unit at Basildon Hospital during August 2020. This finding follows the maternity unit being rated as inadequate in June 2019. The rating followed the shocking death of a woman in February 2019 where a mother lost six litres of blood after giving birth via emergency caesarean section at Basildon Hospital. The Independent newspaper noted that the coroner concluded that there had been a breakdown in communication, a lack of leadership as well as a lack of co-ordination and team work. The NHS Trust has since apologised for not enacting improvements quickly enough and stated their services were safe to use.

Following the leaked report of the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust maternity scandal detailing the number of deaths of both mothers and babies, it appears that lessons have not been learnt by maternity units in the wider NHS. The findings from the most recent CQC inspection of Basildon Hospital noted a number of concerns including the fact that only four shifts had safe staffing levels in August 2020, expectant mothers at high risk of complications had given birth in the low risk part of the unit and required safety meetings at shift handovers did not occur. The levels of skill and experience of the staff was also found to be concerning.

The NHS Trust responded to the findings by stating they had a robust improvement plan in place and that significant action had been taken since the CQC visit. Only time will tell whether lessons have indeed been learnt from another devastating death within an NHS maternity unit.

The NHS is understandably stretched due to Covid-19 but these findings pre-dated Covid and it is important that as a nation we do not accept falling standards in the care of pregnant mothers and delivery of babies.

The clinical negligence team at Lanyon Bowdler has extensive knowledge and experience in dealing with birth injury cases and handles an extensive caseload of maternity-related cases. If you, or someone you know, has been affected by a birth injury, our friendly team will be happy to discuss the matter with you in confidence. Please contact us.

Childcare, Shielding and Furlough

A very common question raised by both employees and employers alike following the announcement of the third national lockdown in England has been whether (i) parents who stay at home to look after their children following school closures and (ii) those who are shielding in accordance with public health advice can be furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“the CJRS”).

The short answer is that, in accordance with the government’s published guidance on the CJRS, employers can, but do not have to, furlough such employees.

However, some of the commentary that we have seen in the media and online has implied, if not expressly stated, that such employees can be furloughed regardless of the circumstances – including where additional labour costs would be incurred (e.g. as a result of temps being engaged or existing staff working extra hours) to perform work in their place.

It would clearly be an abuse of the CJRS to furlough any other employees and engage substitutes especially for the purpose of doing their work. (To be clear, we are not talking about employees who are not furloughed picking up within their normal working hours for no extra pay tasks of the type that could or would have been have been performed by a furloughed employee had they been working – which is certainly permissible.)

In our view an employer will be taking a risk in not applying the same considerations to employees who are staying at home to look after their children or who are shielding, unless and until a further Treasury direction (which sets out the formal rules of the CJRS) is issued, or at least the published guidance on the scheme is amended, to expressly state that this is allowed. (To be clear, the current Treasury direction does not do this, and although the government’s current CJRS guidance for employers and CJRS guidance for employees confirm that such employees can be furloughed, it does not purport that this is regardless of whether the purposes of the scheme are otherwise complied with.)

There are significant consequences for employers who make inappropriate claims under the CJRS. HMRC has made it clear that it will audit claims and that amounts found to have been claimed inappropriately will be required to be repaid – leaving the employer out of pocket at least in this regard (unless it obtained the agreement of relevant employees to recover such sums from them, and they are willing and able to enforce those agreements). Further, employers who are found to have acted deliberately in wrongfully claiming grants under the CJRS are liable to pay a penalty of an amount equal to the sums wrongfully claimed and also face prosecution.

Proposed Reforms in Relation to Changes to the Small Claims Court Limit

In 2017 the government announced proposed reforms in relation to changes to the small claims court limit in personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000 in relation to road traffic accident claims, and £2,000 in other personal injury claims. The idea behind the reforms means that claimants who suffer injuries deemed to be worth less than £5,000 in a road traffic accident and less than £2,000 for other personal injury claims will need to make their claim without legal representation as they will not be able to recover any legal costs.

The original date for implementation of April 2019 has now been postponed on three occasions with the latest expected date of implementation of 6 April 2021. However, with only three months left to go there is still little information available as to how exactly the system will work, as the Ministry of Justice have still not published the rules and procedures.

The world is dealing with COVID-19, which has impacted everyone in some form, the delay of publication of the rules cannot solely be down to the pandemic. The proposals for the reforms date back to 2017 and if the implementation date is to go ahead, early publication of the rules and procedures is critical. I have always had serious concerns in relation to the proposed changes, because of the impact being unrepresented by a lawyer may have on injury victims.

There are many aspects of the reforms that have not been thought through and an unintended consequence may be to drive claimants into the arms of claims managers. What is clear is that there appears to be a big issue in relation to what happens if the value of a claimant’s claim cannot be agreed. There is supposed to be a system to avoid the need for the claimant to have to go through the small claims court, but it does not appear that at this stage, a workable solution has been found. The system has only recently been reformed, and that is working well so surely there is no need for any further reform. The fact that so many issues still need resolving, over three years since the reforms were proposed is an indication that things should be left as they are.

It is not surprising that the insurance industry is now calling for the Ministry of Justice to publish the rules, because, of course, they want claimants to be unrepresented in bringing their claims. If the reforms are not to be scrapped, I would like to see the government take their time in considering the reforms, to ensure personal injury victims are not deprived of access to justice. The delays in publication of the rules are not benefiting anyone.

I am also concerned some claimants may be waiting for the reforms to come into force before commencing their personal injury claim, as they may believe it is better for them to deal with their claim directly with an insurer, without legal representation, as this will mean more damages for them on conclusion of the claim. However, this will not necessarily be the case. The insurance industry does not want claimants to be legally represented, because they know a claimant will usually be advised by their legal team to obtain medical evidence in support of their claim. This will ensure that the injuries suffered, and their outcome, are fully investigated which can often lead to an increase in the value of a claim. The legal team will also advise the claimant against consideration of any offers which are made before any medical evidence is obtained. This can be frustrating for the insurers as they want to settle the claims as soon as possible for the lowest amount possible. Most importantly most clients will have no idea as to the likely award that would be made by a court, and there is a serious risk of insurers taking advantage of unrepresented claimants.

I am also concerned that some potential claimants may be waiting to start their claims because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These claimants should not wait. The current proposed date is 6 April 2021 and that will soon come around and there is every chance COVID-19 will still be prevalent at that time.

We can offer clients over the telephone or on a virtual platform such as WhatsApp or Zoom. I have started several new cases using virtual platforms as a way to provide appropriate advice and this has worked well.

The role of the legal team is more than just obtaining the correct compensation for the victim of a personal injury claim. It is also about ensuring clients have the appropriate rehabilitation to provide them with the best possible outcome in relation to their injuries sustained. And to help those with serious life changing injuries have all the right information with respect to their entitlement to benefits, and organisations, in their area, which can provide them with help and support, and to support them when going through the legal process. Having this team approach means it allows a claimant to focus on the most important thing, which is recovering from their injuries.

I would encourage anyone with a potential claim not to delay and to seek advice as soon as possible. The tariffs under the reforms mean damages for whiplash cases will be much less than they are now, and it is still not clear whether or not this will only apply to an accident after the implementation date, so it is better to start a claim as soon as possible. COVID-19 does not appear to be going away any time soon and whilst it is not clear whether the current reform date of 6 April 2021 will be met, changes are likely at some point in the future.

For more information please contact our personal injury team.

Can Children Move Between the Homes of Separated Parents (UK) During Lockdown Three?

  • Guidance for England was published on the 4 January 2021 and states that individuals may not leave or be outside their home except when they have a reasonable excuse. A reasonable excuse includes continuing existing arrangements for contact between parents and their children where they live apart.
  • The president of the family division of the high court (England and Wales) noted that this does not mean that children must move between homes, the decision should be one for the parents to take after assessing their circumstances.
  • Parents are required to make a decision after a sensible assessment of the circumstances including the children’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other. It is an assessment that should be made taking into account child welfare issues and is something that many parents may require assistance with from a qualified family practitioner.
  • There will be many circumstances that may impact this decision, for example if the children have been instructed to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. Where that has occurred the parents or guardians of the child should arrange for that child to remain at the same address during their period of self-isolation and make alternative arrangements for ongoing contact, for example video or FaceTime calls.
  • There are arrangements where one parent travels a significant distance in order to exercise contact with their child. Such travelling may involve the parent moving between different counties and again may impact the decision in respect of continuing those contact arrangements during the lockdown period.
  • Of course parents are right to be concerned, as whenever a court makes or varies a child arrangements order a warning notice is attached to the order itself warning of the consequences of failing to comply with it. Failure to comply with a child arrangements order is important and needs to be taken seriously, as a breach of the same may incur a fine or imprisonment. The court will not impose such penalties if it is satisfied that the person had a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with the provision. Again, if there is any concern in relation to lockdown 3 resulting in a breach of a court order the parent should consider taking urgent legal advice.

For more information please contact a member of our family team.

Foreign Divorces

For many years England and Wales have been considered the "divorce capitals of the world" for wives. There are several reasons behind this, which include the relative ease and straightforwardness of the English divorce procedure and the duty upon the court to regard the contribution made by those who look after the home and care for others in the family as being equal to that of the main breadwinner. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for the popularity of using England and Wales for divorce however is the ability of the English court to share pensions between spouses and the 50:50 starting point for capital distribution upon divorce.

On 31 December 2020 the UK will leave the EU and with it, overnight, will disappear decades of reciprocal arrangements between the UK and the 27 countries of the EU along with a host of intertwined regulations. No one knows yet what, if anything, will replace them and how long it will take for a new regime to be set up.

What Happens Currently?

Under current EU treaties if one half of a couple issues divorce proceedings first in a member state that member state establishes jurisdiction over the divorce. For wives in particular, who can show a connection to England and Wales, being able to issue in England and Wales first to protect their financial claims here has been an important asset. After 31 December, this will no longer be the case

Lanyon Bowdler is seeing a huge increase in cases involving British couples who have either lived or are living in Europe, particularly those with houses in Spain, Greece and France. There has been a sudden surge of people instructing our family department at Lanyon Bowdler, particularly those who have lived in Europe with their spouses who recognise that it is important for them to issue divorce proceedings in the UK before 31 December to ensure that the courts here can give them part of their spouse's pension and a fair settlement. The new divorce online service in England and Wales is so quick and easy it has been a godsend to many. After 31 December it is likely that we will revert to the old system whereby whoever issues first in a European country, cannot be guaranteed that they will be able to establish jurisdiction and there will be many expensive cases dealing with the argument of where the divorce should take place.

Establishing that the courts here should deal with the divorce is not the only difficulty that will arise after 31 December. Reciprocal enforcement of financial orders in between the UK and the member states is also going to be affected by the UK leaving the EU. There the situation is less certain as the system for reciprocal enforcement is notoriously slow. Although we do not yet know what will happen to the current system of reciprocal enforcement, waiting to enforce a UK order in Europe after 31 December 2020 is a risk. Anyone with a UK order that needs to be enforced abroad should begin the process of enforcement now in the hope that once started, the member state will continue the enforcement process after 31 December.

The Rugby Brain Injury Claims

It was recently reported that a large group of ex-rugby players, some of whom are only relatively recently retired, are bringing claims against rugby governing bodies following the shocking news that they have been diagnosed with a form of early onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Those bringing the action claim that their diagnoses have arisen from negligent mismanagement related to repeated head injuries and concussions sustained throughout their careers. A number of current and former players have since publically shared their own concerning experiences, including World Cup winner Kat Merchant, who recently told the BBC that at the age of 35 she suffers ongoing symptoms of concussion and has a lower cognitive capacity than previously.

What Should Be Considered?

These cases will doubtlessly be complex and multi-factorial, but, in order to be successful, the claimants will essentially have to prove that they were owed a duty of care by the defendants before proving that the defendants breached the relevant standard of care that applied throughout their playing careers. They will then have to show that their diagnoses were more than likely caused by such a breach or breaches by the defendants. Another key factor to be considered will be the degree of risk to which a player will have consented to by taking part in a high impact sport such as rugby, whilst any court decision would likely seek to avoid adversely impacting and hindering a desirable activity. Rugby is a sport enjoyed by millions across the world and brings many benefits such as physical fitness, discipline and social interaction and any court judgment will likely, as a matter of public policy, be cautious not to detract from these benefits.

It is unusual to see such high-profile and widespread litigation arising in a sporting context, although the above claims are not without some sort of precedent. In 2011, a class action lawsuit was brought against the NFL by a group of former American football players, leading to the creation of a fund specifically for players with such claims which, to date, has paid out over eight million dollars. The litigation also prompted a raft of changes to improve safety surrounding concussions. It is unclear how the claims brought in the rugby context will progress, but the claimants have already set out a list of “15 commandments” to improve safety surrounding head injuries in the game. Such requests include a limit to contact training and improved education on the issue of concussion.

Which Other Sports Have Been Impacted?

Whilst the progress of the litigation is something that lies in the hands of the relevant parties and potentially the court, it is worth noting the impact that these claims have already had by way of the significant publicity the story has generated and the number of players that have subsequently shared their story. It has also shone a light on other sports. Despite its significantly higher profile, football often appears to be playing catch up in its implementation and application of safety surrounding head injuries, something highlighted by Alan Shearer in his 2017 documentary ‘Dementia, Football and Me’. This was starkly evident when Arsenal defender David Luiz recently played on for 40 minutes after suffering a head injury before eventually being substituted. The impact was so severe it caused a fractured skull to his opponent, Wolves striker Raul Jimenez, requiring emergency surgery.

Whilst the circumstances of the claimants that have ignited the litigation in rugby are tragic, the increased publicity has prompted further debate and put significant pressure on sporting governing bodies to ensure that the sports they govern are as safe as they reasonably can be. This increased awareness of the risks of concussion can also benefit wider society, with the NFL litigation leading to considerable progress in the medical sector’s understanding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Such benefits can apply beyond the high-profile sporting sphere and, whilst the priority of most personal injury claimants is to obtain a settlement that seeks to improve their quality of life following their injury, we often see claimants who want to ensure that lessons are learned and that other people don’t suffer in the way they did. Such benefits are often just as important to our clients as the settlement itself and are benefits that can be salvaged from desperately sad situations, such as those the rugby claimants have found themselves in.

Making Christmas Easier

For many disabled people, Christmas can be a difficult and lonely time. According to the Office of National Statistics, the proportion of disabled people reporting feeling lonely ‘often or always’ is almost four times that of non-disabled people.

The leading learning disability charity, Mencap, has also crucially identified that people with learning disabilities are seven times more likely to feel lonely in comparison to non-disabled peers. This feeling can come from something as simple as considering whether able to attend work Christmas drinks, whether the venue is accessible and who to ask at work to ensure that it is. If it isn’t, that person can feel like a burden or a nuisance to their colleagues.

The bad weather can also mean that many have to stay indoors. Have you ever tried to push a wheelchair through snow and ice, or steer an electric wheelchair through wet leaves that haven’t been swept away? It can only be compared to hitting black ice with your car – terrifying and dangerous. The overcrowding of bars, restaurants and Christmas markets can make one feel excluded too. People often comment that they ‘didn’t see you down there,’ there’s no chance of ever reaching the bar, and, more often than not, the disabled bathrooms and lifts are being used and abused by non-disabled people because it’s so busy.

People with autism may find the loud sounds of Christmas festivities distressing; going out for a Christmas roast often means being confronted with a lack of easy-to-read menus; Christmas high street shopping is also a no-go due to aisles overloaded with wrapping paper or Christmas knickknacks making it difficult to navigate for anyone in a chair or with a visual impairment; care facilities often face staff shortages during the Christmas break, leaving some without the care they need and resulting in a lack of independence. Often communicated with significant behaviour changes, the underlying message might be:

  • “I’m overwhelmed.”

  • “You changed my schedule.”

  • “Why did you put a tree in our living room?”

  • “There are too many people stuffed into this room.”

  • “I am on complete sensory overload.”

While all of these ideas won’t work for everyone, here are some ideas for you to try to create a positive time of celebration for each family member.

Who Needs to Know?

Many times extended families get together, and yet cousins or friends may not really understand the individual with the disability. It might be helpful for parents or the person with the disability to send out a quick update to family members prior to an event.

“It Is Better to Give than to Receive”

Often we think our family member with a disability should only be the recipient of gifts, and not the giver. How can that person use an area of interest or gifting to provide something for others? Would it be the gift of a dance or song? Could that individual provide the cakes for dessert? Might that person enjoy a trip to a local shop to choose something for each guest or family member? Find a way for that individual to also receive the joy of giving.

Prepare in Advance

What is the best way for your family member participate in the holiday traditions? Be creative. Think of ways you have made the holiday meaningful and consider ways your family member with a disability may be involved.

Put Together a Schedule of Events for Your Party

Whether in words and/or pictures, let the person know the planned order. Some individuals enjoy crossing off or removing the individual schedule items as they are completed.

Visit the Room Ahead of Time

Many times we redecorate or rearrange rooms to fit in more people. Consider setting it up a day ahead and visiting that room without people in it. Let the individual explore the changes without the added stress of people. Perhaps leave something on a chair or in a certain place so that you can “reserve a spot” for the event when you arrive. The individual will know to find that space or item to make a more comfortable entry.

Give That Individual a “Job” to Do

Perhaps they could be the photographer, back massager, coffee or beverage server, greeter (be the first to arrive and assimilate guests more slowly – often a better choice for some), or card distributor. A helping role will not only use the gifts of an individual, but also gives the person a clear sense of what to do in that environment.

Designate a “Safe Zone”

It might be helpful to show that family member a quiet and designated space in the home or building where there would be a calming and preferred activity. It might be a rocking chair, a favourite book, or quiet classical music in a more isolated space where one might be able to find a refuge if the senses get overloaded.

Everyone should be mindful of those individuals that may feel isolated this festive period. We are becoming more environmentally conscious and have stopped sending Christmas cards, but you can show that you care in other ways. Volunteering in your community is a great way to meet new people and maybe learn from one another. Feeling awkwardness towards disabled people is no longer a valid excuse to isolate and exclude that colleague, neighbour or person in your class, who is part of the disabled community. Making things accessible doesn’t cost the world and can make a big difference in combating isolation. It is important to note that as we approach a new year, disability does not discriminate, and each and every one of us could become disabled at any time. If that were you, how would you want others to treat you?

Furlough Scheme Extended to 30 April 2021

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is being extended for an extra month, until the end of April 2021.

He has also announced the government will continue to pay up to 80% of wages until the end of the scheme. When the scheme was extended to 31 March, the government committed to that level of contribution only until the end of January, with the level of contribution after that date to be subject to a later review.

For the full announcement from the Treasury, click here.

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