Sep 272018
 

Labour conference: Right-wing journalist faces ban call after ‘safe space’ video

Disabled party members are calling on Labour to ban a prominent right-wing journalist from future events after she posted a video on social media mocking the provision of a “safe space” used by disabled people at this week’s party conference.

The party has told Disability News Service (DNS) that the behaviour of Julia Hartley-Brewer “caused considerable distress” to people at the conference, including disabled party members with autism and anxiety conditions.

Hartley-Brewer had been filmed sitting in the safe space – which is put aside for disabled people and others who need a quiet area for impairment-related and other reasons – and then saying “boo” as a colleague with a camera entered the room.

Alongside the video, Hartley-Brewer – who was presenting her breakfast show live from the main conference venue – wrote on Twitter: “Comrades, if you’re feeling triggered at the Labour Party conference, don’t worry, we’ve found the official #SafeSpace…”

She later tweeted in response to criticism: “Ooh, I’ve committed one of those hate non-crimes we’ve heard so much about.”

Hartley-Brewer, who has about 120,000 Twitter followers, continued to refer to the incident dismissively, including yesterday (Wednesday), when she tweeted: “Nah, I’m sitting through the [Jeremy Corbyn] speech in my #SafeSpace. On a train heading home.”

One autistic party member, Rebecca*, told DNS this afternoon (Thursday) how she had seen Hartley-Brewer’s video on Twitter.

She had already used the conference safe space as she had been experiencing panic attacks because she had been finding the noise and crowds at the conference “overwhelming”.

She said: “I used it to chill out. It really helped.”

But she then saw Hartley-Brewer’s Twitter message, which she said left her feeling “humiliated and violated”.

She was supported by Disability Labour, which represents disabled party members, after turning up in distress at its conference stand.

She said she came across the stand and “just burst into tears, shaking with anger and rage”.

She praised the support she was given by Disability Labour and said she was now set to report the incident to the police as a potential disability hate crime.

A second disabled member also told Disability Labour that he believed the room was no longer a “safe space” because of Hartley-Brewer’s actions.

Hartley-Brewer has refused to apologise, although she tweeted: “I’m told that this ‘safe space’ at Labour conference is meant for people with autism and other disabilities. The sign doesn’t say that.

For the avoidance of doubt, there was no intention to upset disabled people, but every intention to upset snowflakes. Hope that clarifies.”

A sign on the door, which either Hartley-Brewer or her colleague photographed, refers to “urgent medical treatment”, the party’s “safeguarding unit” and “safety or welfare” concerns, while information about the safe space was included in the accessibility information pages for disabled people of the main conference guide, sent out to all journalists attending the event.

A spokesman for talkRADIO has refused to comment or to say if the station plans any disciplinary action against Hartley-Brewer.

But Dave Townsend, a vice-chair of Disability Labour, said Hartley-Brewer had “violated” the safe space.

He said Rebecca had been “very distressed. It took a good hour to get her to calm down.”

And he said he was concerned that Hartley-Brewer’s actions could encourage similar behaviour from her supporters in other venues and at other conferences.

He said Disability Labour executives had told the party’s conference arrangements committee during a lengthy meeting yesterday morning that they wanted to see Hartley-Brewer expelled from the conference and banned from future Labour events.

Despite the row, Hartley-Brewer hosted her morning show on talkRADIO live from the conference on Wednesday morning.

A Labour spokeswoman told DNS in a statement: “During conference, the Labour party received a number of complaints about talkRADIO presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer’s behaviour during conference, which we looked into immediately.

It became apparent that she had caused considerable distress to vulnerable groups, including to delegates with conditions including Asperger’s, autism and anxiety disorders.

Representations were made to talkRADIO and to Julia Hartley-Brewer directly.

A clarification was made by the presenter, but material considered offensive remains on social media and neither the party nor those affected have received an apology.

The party is taking this incident up further with talkRADIO.”

She added: “The Labour party prides itself in high standards of inclusivity and we do not tolerate abuse or discrimination.

We have made improvements in our support for disabled delegates to ensure our conference and events are as inclusive and accessible as possible, which this year included accessibility stewards in the conference hall and the usual provision of a safe space, among other things.”

Townsend said that Hartley-Brewer had been “mocking the idea of vulnerable people needing a safe room”.

He said: “I was absolutely apoplectically angry that somebody could violate a place put there specifically for someone having a vulnerable moment or some quiet away from the crowds.

We think it was signed well enough for her to know it was a room for safeguarding vulnerable people.

It is nothing less than a hate crime against disabled people in vulnerable situations, especially those who are neuro-diverse or have mental health issues.

Everybody in the party is sickened that this happened. It is beyond belief that she thought this was a reasonable thing to do.”

*Not her real name

27 September 2018

 

 

Labour conference: De Cordova calls for a ‘Labour alternative’ to universal credit

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has called on her party to come up with its own alternative to the government’s flawed universal credit benefit system.

Marsha de Cordova moved further this week than any of her shadow frontbench colleagues at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool towards the idea of scrapping universal credit completely.

She told Disability News Service (DNS): “I believe Labour needs to come up with its own alternative.

The party are not quite as close [as I am] to saying stop and scrap but you know what, if something isn’t working maybe there is no value in tinkering at the edges.”

She said that Labour’s policy – to “pause” the rollout of universal credit and fix its flaws – was set last year, before the country had seen a “hollowing out” of the new system that had caused “so much pain and misery to the people I represent and disabled people”.

She was speaking after her boss, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood, was criticised by disabled activists for a “lacklustre” conference speech in which she called on the government to “stop the rollout of universal credit and fix its many flaws”.

Activists, led by the grassroots group Disabled People Against Cuts, have been calling for Labour to change its position and promise to scrap universal credit (see separate story).

De Cordova said the “massive cliff edge” caused by the imminent “managed migration” process – which will begin next year and will eventually see hundreds of thousands of disabled people forced to end their existing employment and support allowance (ESA) claims and apply instead for universal credit – had to be a campaigning priority for her party.

Greenwood also announced this week a lengthy review of the party’s social security policy, which de Cordova said was “quite a brave and bold move”.

She said: “It is saying the system is broken, let’s not tinker, let’s have a real free think about what it should look like.”

In a fringe meeting earlier in the week, she had told Labour supporters that the social security system “should be viewed in the same light as the NHS. That’s how important it is.”

She also said that she wanted Labour to mark in some way the 10th anniversary of the introduction of ESA and the hated work capability assessment (WCA), which will take place on 27 October.

She told DNS that ESA/WCA had not been perfect when the New Labour government had introduced it in 2008, but the Conservative-led coalition had sought from 2010 to turn it into “something that was a cruel and inhuman process that disabled people had to endure”, while the government had tried to “demonise” claimants, creating “a hostile environment for disabled people”.

She had earlier told a Disability Labour fringe meeting: “Like many of you here, we know that that assessment regime has caused pain, has caused suffering and more importantly has taken people’s lives and we cannot let that day go past without marking it in some way.

But also we cannot let it go past without calling out and shaming this cruel, evil Tory government for what they have done with that work capability assessment.”

De Cordova appeared to go further than last year’s general election disability manifesto on the question of benefit sanctions.

The party’s policy is to replace the government’s “punitive” sanctions regime but not to scrap all sanctions.

But de Cordova told DNS: “There’s no evidence out there that suggests sanctions work for disabled people.

With that evidence before you, therefore, you should respond and act accordingly.”

When DNS asked whether that meant she was suggesting there should be no sanctions for people claiming ESA or any equivalent benefit, she said: “That’s something I would like to see happen, personally, absolutely.”

De Cordova had also been outspoken in a meeting held as part of The World Transformed, the festival organised by the left-wing group Momentum on the edges of the Labour conference.

She had told the meeting that the government should feel ashamed for creating a “hostile environment” for disabled people and that it had been “hell bent on demonising disabled people for the last eight years”.

But she then said that she blamed “the last Labour leadership” for the government’s lack of shame over its actions.

De Cordova said: “I blame the last Labour leadership for that because they chose not to be the voice for the voiceless.

That’s why I sit here and say I will do my very best to be your voice.

Three years ago, the Labour leadership voted against preventing cuts to social security for disabled people.

It’s shocking that that happened but believe me, I was there, it did happen.”

She was referring to a crucial Commons vote on the government’s welfare reform and work bill, in which 48 Labour MPs – including Jeremy Corbyn (now the Labour leader), John McDonnell (now shadow chancellor) and Greenwood – all defied the party whip and voted against the bill, when interim leader Harriet Harman had ordered them to abstain.

Two months later, Corbyn was elected Labour leader.

A key element of last year’s disability manifesto was Labour’s pledge to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into UK law.

This would mean providing a legal right to independent living, and a commitment to move towards a fully inclusive education system and the closure of all special schools, as well as many other policy commitments, such as significant reform of discriminatory laws on detaining people with mental health conditions against their will.

But De Cordova told DNS that it was unrealistic to put a time limit on how long all of this would take to incorporate into UK law, and she accepted that it would be a “long-term project” and an “aspiration”.

She said: “If we are talking about creating a fully inclusive society for the many and not the few, then that has to be the aspiration.”

On the need for a right to independent living, DNS told her of the case of Laki Kaur, a young disabled woman who has spent more than 100 days in an east London hospital since being told she was well enough to be released after treatment for blood poisoning, because of the lack of suitable wheelchair-accessible housing.

De Cordova said: “Imagine that in our society, under a Tory government.

That is what is happening to disabled people every day across the country. It’s a shame, it’s a disgrace, it’s a scandal.”

She had earlier told the Momentum fringe meeting: “There is a light at the end of that tunnel because Labour in government will ensure that we incorporate the UNCRPD into domestic legislation so that we can travel and use public transport, so that we can access the social security system, so that we can go into work and stay in work, and we will aim to remove those barriers to discrimination when in work.”

She told DNS that she wanted to see a change in employer attitudes to disabled people.

One of her hopes is that a Labour government will ensure that all employers with more than 250 employees will have to report on how many disabled people they employ.

Labour has already said that it wants to see an expansion of the Access to Work (AtW) scheme, extending it to cover those in self-employment and volunteers, she said.

And she reminded a fringe meeting this week that a Labour government would have to look at removing the “arbitrary” AtW cap, which led to the government being challenged in the high court under the Equality Act.

Asked if there had been too much carrot and not enough stick from the government when it came to pushing employers to improve their policies on employing disabled people, she told DNS: “All the focus from governments, the Tories especially, is always on the individual. Not much effort has gone on employers.”

She pointed to the government’s “shoddy” Disability Confident jobs scheme, which allows employers to sign up to the programme without employing a single disabled person.

DNS reported in July how nearly 7,000 employers that signed up to the scheme had promised to provide just 4,500 new jobs for disabled people between them.

The scheme has three levels – Disability Confident Committed (the entry level), Disability Confident Employer and Disability Confident Leader (level three) – but it is only at level three that employers’ pledges and claims on employing disabled people are assessed independently.

De Cordova suggested that Labour would replace Disability Confident, or at least overhaul it.

She said: “Any initiative that Labour would have would have to have good independent evaluation as part of it, there has got to be some good quality assurance, it’s got to be of good quality, and actually it’s got to be something that disabled people and employers feel confident about, and actually have some teeth.”

27 September 2018

 

 

Labour conference: Anger at party’s failure to pledge to scrap universal credit

Labour is facing mounting anger from disabled anti-cuts activists over its refusal to call for the government’s universal credit benefit system to be scrapped.

Much of the anger has been directed at shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood, who instead of pledging to scrap universal credit – at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool this week – announced a lengthy review of social security policy.

It comes little more than a year after a disability equality roadshow – led by her predecessor Debbie Abrahams – covered many of the same issues and asked disabled people across the country what they would like to see from a new social security system.

But anger has also been directed at the unions.

Earlier this month, trade unions voted at the annual TUC Congress to call on the Labour party to shift its policy stance and promise to scrap universal credit.

But this week, two unions appeared to retreat from that pledge by putting their names to a motion to the Labour conference that called instead for a “fundamental overhaul” of universal credit.

The motion was moved by USDAW and seconded by GMB.

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said DPAC would “hold Labour to account” and “if need be we will take the fight to them”.

She said: “The anger is building and it is palpable.

The mantra ‘for the many, not the few’ is ringing a bit hollow at the moment. I don’t think it applies to people who are unemployed or disabled people.”

She said the actions of the unions in moving and seconding a motion that called for university to be paused and fixed – just weeks after voting for it to be scrapped – was “a massive slap in the face”.

As a result of Greenwood’s “lacklustre” speech, which Peters said was “another fudge”, DPAC is calling on campaigners to write to the MP – and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow minister for disabled people Marsha de Cordova – “about how they feel about Labour not stopping and scrapping universal credit and what they felt about her speech”.

Greenwood explicitly called in her speech (watch from 2 mins 15 secs) for the government to “stop the rollout of universal credit and fix its many flaws” rather than for it to be scrapped.

Senior figures in the party, including McDonnell, de Cordova, and Greenwood, all suggested to varying degrees during the week that the party was moving closer to calling for universal credit to be scrapped, but none of them said that explicitly.

Greenwood told the Mirror that scrapping universal credit was “something we’re sort of in the process of looking into” and that the party was not ruling it out.

But De Cordova, who was the most outspoken of the three, told DNS (see separate story): “I believe Labour needs to come up with its own alternative.

The party are not quite as close [as I am] to saying stop and scrap but you know what, if something isn’t working maybe there is no value in tinkering at the edges.”

McDonnell told a fringe event hosted by the PCS union: “There are discussions about what we do about universal credit, do we scrap it or reform it or whatever.

Some of this is semantics. It needs transformation in a way that enables people to operate an effective and efficient system, both from the staff point of view and the claimants’ point of view, but also we’ve got to find the resources that lift people out of poverty.

Part of that will be the introduction of the real living wage, £10 an hour, part of it will be the restoration of trade union rights, so people will be properly represented, part of it will be the restoration of collective bargaining… but there will also be the need for a social security net to protect people.

So our job now in the coming months, and all of you will be engaged with this, is how do we redesign the system so the net is effectively lifting people out of poverty and is effective in ensuring no-one falls through that net. That’s the challenge that we have got.”

McDonnell said later in the fringe, in answer to a question about universal credit: “All the messages we are getting at the moment is that this is a system that just doesn’t work, won’t work, and therefore not only needs reform but needs replacing.

That is the debate that we will have as we go forward.”

But Peters told Disability News Service that disabled people and others were going to get “walloped” by the migration of existing claimants – including those on employment and support allowance – onto universal credit from next year.

She said: “They have missed a really good opportunity to announce they are scrapping universal credit.”

In response to the announcement of a review of social security policy, she said: “We have sat down at so many round-table events and talked and talked and talked and talked to Labour for quite a few years.

We don’t need words from Labour, we need action. We are fed up with meetings and talking and little from it. Words are meaningless, we want action, not words.”

27 September 2018

 

 

WCA tragedy woman’s mum vows to fight on for justice despite No 10 letter snub

A disabled woman whose daughter took her own life after being wrongly found “fit for work” has vowed to continue her fight for justice, despite the prime minister’s office brushing off her request for a meeting.

Joy Dove wrote in July to ask for a meeting with Theresa May to discuss the tragic death of her daughter Jodey Whiting in February 2017, and the thousands of other disabled victims of the government’s “wrong decisions”.

But the prime minister’s correspondence team dismissed her letter and replied just days later to say that a meeting would not be possible because of “the tremendous pressures of her diary”.

The letter failed to even mention Jodey Whiting or her death or express any condolences.

Her mother said the response from Number 10 had been “inadequate”.

She said: “She didn’t even acknowledge anything I said. Obviously, she’s not bothered. They are just ignoring it all, to a point where there should be an uprising.

I want them to admit that they were wrong and that she would still be alive [if they had not made their mistakes].”

She is continuing with her campaign for justice, which includes an online petition calling for changes to the law.

Her daughter took her own life on 21 February 2017, after being told by a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision-maker that she had been found fit for work.

She had missed a work capability assessment (WCA) appointment the previous month because she was in hospital being treated for a brain cyst.

A letter telling her about the WCA appointment had been waiting for her at home, unopened.

When DWP asked why she had not attended the WCA, she wrote back with evidence, explaining that she had been in hospital being treated for pneumonia and a cyst on her brain.

Instead of arranging another WCA, she was found fit for work, and when she asked for the decision to be reconsidered, it was rubber-stamped instead by another DWP decision-maker.

Dove said that her daughter, who had nine grown-up children and six grand-children and was a “lovely, caring, thoughtful” person, had been taking 23 tablets a day, for conditions including scoliosis and bipolar disorder, and had been taking morphine twice daily.

She said she was clearly not well enough to work.

Whiting was told she would receive her last fortnight’s employment and support allowance (ESA) payment on 17 February.

She visited Citizens Advice, and an advisor wrote to DWP on 15 February 2017 to ask for another WCA appointment, but she took her own life six days later, just four days after her final ESA payment.

Her body was found by her mother and two of her children.

Dove said: “She was on 23 tablets a day, but two decision-makers decided without even seeing her face that she was fit for work.

That’s all wrong. She had all the evidence. It’s all wrong. It’s horrible.”

The decision to find her fit for work was overturned by DWP within a couple of weeks of her death.

Asked by Disability News Service why there had been no mention of Jodey Whiting and the circumstances of her death in the letter, and why no condolences were expressed, and whether this suggested the prime minister did not care about her death, a Number 10 spokesman refused to comment.

27 September 2018

 

 

Labour conference: Members call on party to ‘stop and scrap’ universal credit

Disabled Labour members have used the annual conference to demand that their party calls on the government to scrap its “toxic” universal credit benefit system.

Labour’s position has been to call on the government to stop the rollout of universal credit – which merges six working-age benefits into one – and to “fix” it.

But disabled activists have pressured the party to promise instead that it will scrap universal credit completely if it comes to power.

In her main speech to the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, promised a “complete change of direction” on social security and an end to the “hostile environment” created by the government.

She announced a lengthy review of social security policy that would lead to proposals for a new system based on “compassion and respect rather than distrust and stigma” and on the principles of “supporting people rather than policing them, and alleviating poverty rather than exacerbating it”.

But disabled party members and other delegates made it clear that the party’s position was not strong enough and that Labour needed to campaign to scrap universal credit completely.

Disabled town councillor Tyler Bennetts, from Liskeard, in Cornwall, said his town council had been worried about the imminent arrival of universal credit and so put money aside to help prepare for its arrival and train people to deal with its impact.

But he described how the local Tory MP – Sheryll Murray – had attempted to persuade the town council not to act and instead accused councillors of “meddling in things that were nothing to do with us”.

He told the conference: “I know people who have made the choice between eating and heating.

Universal credit needs to be stopped dead in the water and scrapped. It needs to be thrown into the dustbin of history.”

Another disabled delegate, Kirsten Hearn, a councillor in Hornsey and Wood Green, in north London, said: “Fraudsters, liars, lazy parasites, scroungers, undeserving benefit cheats, workshy burdens on the taxpayer: negative attitudes to people who have to use benefits to make ends meet abound.”

She thanked the personal assistants who have supported her and other disabled people across the country “to live independent lives” and apologised to them that government policy meant they could not be paid as much as they deserved.

She added: “The desperation of constituents coming to my surgery who are in work but are low-paid workers and whose circumstances have changed is shocking.

It’s terrible that I have to issue foodbank stamps to them and I think in this day and age and in the rather leafy constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green this is shocking, but it is shocking everywhere and we have not yet got universal credit, though it’s coming very soon.

Let’s have a policy of making work pay and giving access to all, a fair benefit system which does not reduce the rights to benefits and [does not] put conditions on that are hard to meet.

Stop and scrap universal credit.”

Martha Foulds, from Sheffield, said she was “disappointed” that the “in-work poverty” motion being voted on – which called for a “fundamental overhaul” of universal credit and for an “immediate halt” to its roll-out – did not go far enough, and she called for universal credit to be “stopped and scrapped”.

She said: “Universal credit is unequivocally a disability rights issue and one that should not exist.

A benefit that can only be claimed online is a disability rights issue.”

She said that half of people living in poverty were disabled themselves or living with a disabled person.

She said: “If you’re in poverty you’re less likely to have access to a computer, a smartphone, to the internet.”

And she said it was “deplorable” that universal credit would see an end to the premiums paid to disabled people with support needs.

She added: “I support [the motion] but let’s not pretend that it goes far enough. Let’s not pretend that universal credit can be paused and fixed.”

Amy Allen, from Hertfordshire, who is autistic, said she wanted to “represent women on the spectrum” because “there are far more of us than you think”.

She told the conference that she wanted to express her “disgust” at years of government austerity.

She added: “There are many people out there who will understand what it is like to have to use a foodbank as you walk home with bags of heavy shopping that you have had to collect because you can’t afford to do a shop and you are hoping that your autistic child is going to actually eat the food that you’re bringing home, because that’s all there is.”

She said universal credit would be rolling out to her town later this year, and there would be many people who would not be ready and did not yet realise how seriously it would affect them.

James Colwell, from north-west Durham, called for an ethical social security system that could support people both in and out of work.

He said: “Unfortunately, universal credit is far from that. It has created a hostile environment and it has forced individuals to walk a tightrope between poverty and destitution among a hostile environment of sanctions, suspicion and constant re-assessment.”

He welcomed the motion, which was later passed by delegates, but he said: “Universal credit doesn’t just need to be reformed, conference, but in my opinion it needs to be scrapped.

We need to replace it with a radical, ethical alternative that is built from listening to claimants and advice agencies.”

Calls for universal credit to be scrapped continued at a fringe event the following day, hosted by the PCS union, which represents many Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff, and was attended by Greenwood and McDonnell.

Jane Aitchison, who told the event that she had worked for DWP for 26 years and had now been selected by Labour to fight the Yorkshire seat of Pudsey at the next general election, said that most of her colleagues now hated their jobs because of the cuts to disability benefits and the “hostile environment and the way we have to treat the customer”.

Aitchison, who was the first Labour politician to be backed by Disabled People Against Cuts when seeking to be selected to fight a parliamentary seat, said: “We don’t want to continue rolling out universal credit. It’s a toxic brand and causes untold pain and misery to people.

They don’t want it to be fixed. They want it to be scrapped. It’s urgent.”

One member of Disability Labour, which represents disabled party members and is affiliated to Labour, had a blunt message for McDonnell.

She told him: “John, you said, ‘What do we do about universal credit?’ Scrap it.”

27 September 2018

 

 

DWP ‘dispute with contractor’ led to ‘months of delays’ with alternative format letters

Disabled people who need to receive letters from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in alternative formats have been facing lengthy delays with their benefit claims, apparently because of a dispute between DWP and private sector contractors.

It has been claimed that a dispute between DWP and the US print services giant Xerox, and potentially other contractors as well, has led to disabled people experiencing delays receiving vital letters about their benefit claims in formats such as large print and – for people with dyslexia – on yellow paper.

Claimants across the country are believed to have been experiencing delays for at least 18 months.

Xerox may now have become the latest in a string of outsourcing giants – such as Atos, Capita and Maximus – to face allegations of incompetence over DWP benefit-related contracts.

Xerox originally claimed this week that it was not involved in the alternative formats contract.

But after being shown a link to a press release from 2007 announcing how it led a consortium that won a contract to provide DWP with “print and associated services”, a Xerox spokeswoman changed her position to say that Xerox “no longer is involved in that contract”.

She repeatedly refused to say when Xerox stopped providing these services to DWP.

A DWP spokeswoman said she believed that Xerox did still have a contract with Xerox. She had not been able to clarify the position by 1pm today (Thursday).

One disabled claimant, Michael Owen, from South Yorkshire, has had repeated problems obtaining DWP letters on yellow paper relating to his claims for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment, and the repayment of loans under the old Social Fund.

He has experienced delays of up to 13 weeks in receiving DWP letters from the alternative format team (AFT).

As a result of the delays, the former youth and community worker has missed appointments for face-to-face work capability assessments, which have led to his ESA being suspended.

He told a senior DWP manager in an email in July: “The constant stress and strain I am having to endure, not only has further impacted on my mental health, it has also rendered me feeling physically sick even when dialling the PIP and ESA numbers and no one should feel like that.”

In an email he received from a senior DWP manager in July, in response to his complaint, Owen was told: “These delays clearly fall below an acceptable level of customer service and I am sincerely sorry that you have been experiencing difficulties in receiving mail within an acceptable timescale.

The AFT have provided an assurance that they will endeavour to process your future correspondence within 48 hours.”

Although DWP is now aware of the delays with his paperwork, he is concerned that his ESA will again be suspended – he is currently in the work-related activity group – if he fails to receive the ESA 50 form he needs on yellow paper by the deadline next month.

Owen told Disability News Service: “I can’t keep to any of their timescales because I don’t see any of their paperwork in the correct timeframe.”

He has previously been told that the problems were the fault of Royal Mail for losing the relevant letters, but he says he has now been told by a DWP manager that the delays were caused by a dispute with Xerox over its performance on the contract.

His complaint is being investigated by the independent case examiner (ICE).

A DWP spokeswoman said: “DWP has its own staff who provide letters in alternative formats, to ensure these are handled as swiftly as possible.

Once we are aware that someone needs this service, all their letters are managed by DWP directly.  

We have apologised to [Mr Owen] for the delays he experienced, and our staff now manage his post in alternative format.”

Asked when DWP began to provide this work itself, rather than contracting it out, and why it apparently decided to bring the work in-house, and when and why Xerox seems to have ended its involvement in providing these services, she failed to respond by 1pm today, and also failed to explain what had been causing the delays.

27 September 2018

 

 

Labour conference: Anger as party awards unions half of votes for disability elections

Disabled members of the Labour party are angry that new plans to elect a disabled representative to a key party body will see half of the votes in the election given to unions.

Members of the executive of Disability Labour, which is affiliated to the party, want to see elections for the new seat for a disabled member on Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) conducted on the basis of “one member one vote”, with only disabled party members allowed to vote.

But the party agreed at its annual conference in Liverpool this week that 50 per cent of the votes would be given to trade unions.

The same rules will apply to elections for a new seat for a disabled member on the party’s influential conference arrangements committee, which manages the annual conference every year.

Fran Springfield, Disability Labour’s new co-chair, told Disability News Service: “We want one member one vote.”

Wayne Blackburn, her fellow co-chair, added: “When it comes to something as critical for disabled members, it should be one member one vote for disabled members of the party.”

He said Disability Labour would be lobbying the party over the next year to change the rules.

Kathy Bole, a co-vice-chair of Disability Labour, said she was concerned that the rules could see a union-backed activist elected to the NEC rather than one backed by disabled party members.

The Labour party had not responded by noon today (Thursday) to a request for a comment on the decision to give unions half of the voting rights.

The Labour party also voted this week to set up for the first time an association of disabled members within the official party structure.

The new association – which will join groups already set up for women, LGBT and black and minority ethnic members – is set to be launched in 2020.

It could replace Disability Labour, although some disabled activists believe that Disability Labour should continue in a parallel role as an affiliated group, outside the main party structures, rather than being merged with the new association.

New members of the Disability Labour executive, who were elected earlier this month to provide a fresh start for the much-criticised organisation, had different views this week on whether they would like to see Disability Labour continue after the new association launches in 2020.

Springfield said: “Disability Labour will vote on whether members want to become part of the new association or whether they want to stay as a socialist society.

I want them to become part of the main movement because then they will get the chance to contribute [to the party].”

Bole said it was an important decision to create an association for disabled members within the main party structure.

She said: “The biggest way we are going to be able to make changes is within the party.

I think we will be taken slightly more seriously if we are within the Labour party rather than an organisation that functions outside.”

But Blackburn said: “Disability Labour has a really important position to have as a critical friend for Labour.

Whether a disability association will be able to do the same I have some concerns.

I think the association is really important because it can have important influence, but from my point of view I think there is still a place for Disability Labour, even if it is a small part.”

Meanwhile, efforts to make it easier for disabled party members to be heard during debates on the main conference platform appear to have been successful.

Concerns had been raised about party figures chairing debates in previous years being influenced in deciding who to call to speak by delegates jumping out of their seats and waving their arms in the air – or sometimes holding up inflatables or umbrellas – to catch the eye of the chair.

But efforts to change the way delegates were chosen to speak appeared to have been successful this week, particularly in Monday’s debate on education and social security.

Dave Allan, chair of the national disabled members’ committee of Unite the Union, had reminded Labour MP Shabana Mahmood – who was chairing the debate – of a ruling by a chair the previous day who had said that delegates who stood up and waved things in the air would not be called to speak.

Mahmood then called a series of disabled delegates to speak during the debate, including several for whom a conference assistant had raised an arm on their behalf.

27 September 2018

 

 

Labour conference: Party forced to reconsider approach to inclusive education

Labour will be forced to think again about its approach to inclusive education, after concerns raised by a prominent disabled activist received resounding backing from party members.

Richard Rieser told the party’s annual conference in Liverpool that part of a key policy document should not be approved because it did not commit Labour to a fully inclusive education policy if it won power.

He said that, despite his involvement in discussions with the party’s National Policy Forum, at the invitation of Jeremy Corbyn, there was no such clear commitment in its annual report.

Rieser, a prominent campaigner and consultant on inclusive education, proposed a call for the part of the document referring to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to be “referenced back” to the policy forum.

He told the conference that the party’s 2017 general election manifesto had committed a Labour government to “a national inclusive education system”.

He said: “Surely the point of a policy review is to take policy backwards, not forwards.

I know Jeremy supports this and Angela [Rayner, the shadow education secretary] supports this and many of the unions support it.”

Rieser said the manifesto had also committed a Labour government to full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which commits governments that have signed up to the convention – including the UK – to work towards “an inclusive education system at all levels”.

He told the conference later that despite the number of secondary school pupils rising by nearly 55,000 from 2014 to 2018, the number of teaching assistants – many of whom support disabled pupils in the classroom – had been cut by more than 6,000.

Rieser’s proposal for the SEND section of the report to be referenced back to the forum received overwhelming approval from delegates.

In her speech to conference later that day, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner appeared to suggest that a Labour government would demand a fully inclusive education system.

Rayner said that children with SEND were often those who suffered most from staff shortages, so the National Education Service “charter” produced under a Labour government would guarantee that the service would be “truly inclusive”.

She added: “That is why our shadow children’s minister Emma Lewell-Buck will lead plans to stop those with SEND from falling out of the school system.

And we would back it up with a record investment in modernising school buildings to make sure they are accessible to all who would learn in them.”

The party had not responded to attempts to clarify by noon today (Thursday) what Rayner meant by a “truly inclusive” education system.

Rayner also promised to bring all publicly-funded schools – including academies and free schools – back “into the mainstream public sector” and under the control of local authorities.

27 September 2018

 

 

Labour conference: Fringes hear call for ideas on how to resist years of oppression

Disabled Labour supporters have described some of the ways in which left-wing activists could push back against years of government austerity, oppression and attacks on inclusion.

They were speaking at two events taking place on the fringes of this week’s Labour conference in Liverpool, both organised by disabled researchers and campaigners Dr Paul Darke and Miro Griffiths.

Griffiths told one of the fringe events that he believed there was a need to “build stronger alliances and bring more disabled people into our activities, our activism”.

He warned that disabled people had “normalised” and “absorbed” the oppression and marginalisation they were experiencing in society and now saw it “as an everyday occurrence”.

He said: “What the government has done very clearly, in its policy and its rhetoric, is to say that if you experience marginalisation then it’s your fault. You take individual responsibility for it.”

Griffiths said activists and campaigners needed to think about how they could “politicise people’s everyday experiences”.

He said that the problem faced by those on the left was the lack of an alternative vision to the one presented by right-wingers, who had “manipulated and taken over the vision and it is one of desperation, it’s one of fighting each other, of equality groups fighting each other for essential resources”.

He said there was a need for more disabled people’s assemblies, more user-led organisations, and political parties to fund and provide resources so activists and campaigners “can have that space to decide what is our vision”.

Pam Thomas, a “radical disabled socialist and activist” who is now a city councillor in Liverpool and the council’s cabinet member for an inclusive and accessible city, said it was “really important for disabled people to become involved in politics”.

As a member of the regional transport committee, she has been able to use her influence to ensure that a new order of trains for the underground service will be a model that she can board and exit “on equal terms with everybody else”.

As a result, the new trains will be the same height as the station platforms, with a sliding ramp coming out from the trains to meet the platform and allow level access for wheelchair-users.

Work is being carried out across the underground network to ensure that platforms will be the right height when the trains are available from 2020.

The system, she said, would be more accessible than London’s and will be “probably the most accessible system in the country”.

She said: “That would not have happened if I had not been on that committee, so it’s really important for disabled people to get involved in politics.”

Thomas said she welcomed the “move to the left” across the country but was “not convinced that things are going to be any easier for us in terms of being included and being taken account of”.

She added: “There are still very many non-disabled people who do not have a clue… they really do not know the kind of barriers we encounter.”

About 100 people attended a second event hosted by Darke and Griffiths, this time as part of The World Transformed, a festival organised on the conference fringes by the left-wing movement Momentum.

Darke told the event that he believed there was a need for a “radical transformation” of an organisation like the BBC, which he said was guilty of “woeful” levels of expenditure, coverage and inclusion of disabled people, and needed a huge increase in the proportion of its staff who identify as disabled people so it becomes “truly representative of the country”.

And although he was opposed to the existence of the House of Lords, he said there needed to be more disabled peers so that “their voice is heard” and disabled people do not have non-disabled politicians speaking for them.

Darke said at the earlier fringe event that he believed that “society hates disabled people”.

He said that “normal people… hate themselves, so the idea that they are going to be progressive towards us is not really going to happen”.

He said their identity was “so fragile” that they “reject and fear difference to such a degree that they flail out with ignorance and hatred, marginalisation and discrimination”.

Darke pointed to the example of Denmark, which is seen as a progressive, liberal society and an ally of Britain but has boasted that it wants to eliminate Down’s syndrome within a generation, a wish, he said, that “Hitler could only have dreamed of”.

He said afterwards that the only hope for opposing the current “neoliberalism and utilitarianism” of the right – which “sees no value in disabled people” – was through the politics of the left.

But he said that even those on the left either do not understand or do not care about disabled people and “don’t allow us our voice”.

Griffiths told the Momentum event that there were frameworks in place through the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that showed “how to realise inclusion of disabled people”, but the “reality on the ground is nowhere near reflecting that”.

He said the government had a “complete disregard for the lives of disabled people”, which it demonstrated in its “dismissal” of the UN’s repeated concerns about the UK’s implementation of the convention.

Much of the current activism, said Griffiths, was “in the here and now”, with disabled activists “trying to prevent the violence, the destruction of life, the further institutionalisation and marginalisation”, and was therefore stuck in “crisis-driven agendas”.

He said: “We don’t have enough of a vision of what we mean by a safer, inclusive, accessible environment and society.

Where is the vision we can offer to everyone to say ‘this is what society should be built like’?

The right continue to fragment us, to take away resources, so we end up fighting each other.

Disabled people’s experiences illustrate how it is so easy to roll back on the advancements that have been gained by activists and groups, because our social justice and human rights are conditional, they are based on whether they meet the economic and political objectives of the state.

So we cannot just rely on rights, we also have to have a vision, a vision that we can offer to other people.”

Disabled campaigner and consultant Richard Rieser said he agreed with Griffiths and said that the “strength of the movement determines what rights we get”.

He said he wanted to see the development of an organisation that could provide “one voice for disabled people” in this country, while there was also a need to build a representative “mass movement” internationally.

He said there was no point the UN saying that access was a fundamental human right – which it does through the disability convention – if disabled people do not have the political strength to implement that right.

He said: “We have to build the strength both here and abroad.

It seems to me that the time has come to have that discussion about how we rebuild our movement.”

Ruth Gould, artistic director of DaDaFest, which is holding its international festival showcasing disability and D/deaf arts from 1 November across Merseyside, told the first fringe event that she was often asked whether holding a “separate” festival risked perpetuating a disability “ghetto” when disabled campaigners were calling for society to be more inclusive.

But she said: “We are a cultural sector that is strong and vibrant. But to me it is not about ‘them and us’, it’s about ‘us’.

We as disabled people have something really strong to say about our lived experience of disability.”

She questioned why disabled people – the “second largest minority group in the country, after men” – did not do more to acknowledge and express our own culture, as other minorities do.

Such artistic expressions “affirm our life experiences”, give disabled people a voice, bring them power and influence, challenge the messages in the media and “allow us to say and express the things others would prefer us to keep hidden.”

*This week, DaDaFest announced its line-up for this year’s international festival, with more than 50 exhibitions, performances, talks and workshops between 1 November and 8 December across the Liverpool city region.

Performers will include comedians Francesca Martinez and Laurence Clark, theatre-maker and comedian Jess Thom, Stop Gap Dance Company, artists Faith Bebbington, Jonathan Griffith, Simon McKeown and Martin O’Brien, and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Fisher.

They will all explore the concepts of ageing, death and disability, and “the changing nature of all our journeys and the legacies we leave”.

The festival will also commemorate the end of the First World War as “a key moment for modern recognition of disability as a social construct”.

27 September 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

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