Sep 202018
 

DWP’s secret benefit deaths reviews: Investigations into deaths doubles in two years

The number of secret reviews carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) into deaths linked to benefit claims appears to have doubled in the last two years, according to figures the information watchdog has forced the government to release.

The figures relate to the number of internal process reviews (IPRs), investigations conducted by the department into deaths and other serious and complex cases that have been linked to DWP activity.

They show that, from April 2016 to June 2018, DWP panels carried out 50 IPRs, including 33 involving the death of a benefit claimant, or roughly 1.27 death-related IPRs a month.

DWP figures previously obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) show that, between October 2014 and January 2016, there were nine IPRs involving a death, or about 0.6 a month.

These figures are only approximate, because the information about IPRs (previously known as peer reviews) provided by DWP through freedom of information responses does not provide precise dates for when each of them took place.

But they do appear to show a clear and significant increase since early 2016 in the number of IPRs carried out following deaths linked by DWP to its own activity.

They also appear to show a return to the kind of frequency of reviews related to deaths of claimants that were seen between February 2012 and October 2014, when there were 49 such reviews at a rate of about 1.5 a month, at a time when research and repeated personal testimonies showed the coalition’s social security cuts and reforms were causing severe harm and distress to claimants.

The new figures also show that 19 of the deaths in the last two years involved a claimant viewed as “vulnerable”, while six of the IPRs (and four deaths) related to a claimant of the government’s new and much-criticised universal credit (see separate story).

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said ministers “always get up at the despatch box and say they are continually improving the system. This proves that to be false.

“Universal credit should be scrapped, sanctions should be scrapped and the government should call off the dogs, because it is leading to people’s deaths.”

McArdle said that if there was a tragedy involving the deaths of 33 people in a train crash there would be an independent inquiry into what went wrong.

But because these deaths were happening in the social security system, he said, no such public inquiry would take place.

He added: “It just shows a callous disregard for the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.”

A DWP spokeswoman declined to say whether the figures showed that DWP’s treatment of vulnerable and other benefit claimants had not improved significantly since 2012 and had worsened in the last two years.

She also declined to say if DWP was concerned that there had already been four IPRs following the death of a universal credit claimant, even though only a small number of people are currently claiming UC.

But she said in a statement: “The government is committed to supporting the vulnerable and DWP staff are trained to identify and support people in hardship.

“They can apply special easements to people’s claims and signpost to appropriate local support services.

“IPRs do not seek to identify or apportion blame. They are used as a performance improvement tool that help the department to continually improve how it deals with some of the most complex and challenging cases.”

DWP only released the figures to DNS this week after the Information Commissioner’s Office had reminded the department of its duties under the Freedom of Information Act.

The information was requested on 21 June and should have been provided within 20 working days.

But it was only emailed this week, after ICO wrote to DWP following a complaint lodged by DNS about the department’s failure to respond to the request.

20 September 2018

 

 

DWP’s secret benefit deaths reviews: Universal credit death linked to claimant commitment ‘threats’ 

A secret Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) review into the death of a claimant of universal credit (UC) has criticised the “overtly threatening” nature of the conditions they had to accept when signing up to the new benefit system.

The conclusion by a panel of civil servants relates to just one of 33 deaths, all linked to DWP activity, that have been subject to what are called “internal process reviews” (IPRs) since April 2016.

Brief details of these 33 deaths, and another 17 IPRs carried out into other serious or complex cases involving DWP activity, have been released to Disability News Service by DWP following a freedom of information request.

The panel of reviewers who carried out the IPR into the death linked to universal credit said that it seemed “excessive” for DWP to include eight references to sanctions and how much money a claimant would lose if they breached their “claimant commitment”.

The panel added: “…a better balance could be struck in reminding a client of the consequences of not meeting their obligations and not appearing to be overtly threatening, especially to individuals who are vulnerable.”

DWP has so far refused to say if it altered the claimant commitment – which sets out what conditions a universal credit claimant needs to meet to continue receiving the benefit – as a result of the IPR.

Further details of the circumstances of the death have not been released, as DWP is only obliged to release the recommendations made following each IPR (formerly known as peer reviews), rather than anything that could identify the subject of the review.

Of the 50 IPRs carried out since April 2016, six involved a universal credit claimant, and in four of these cases the claimant had died.

It is also not yet clear whether DWP acted on any of the other recommendations in the IPRs, but the case is likely to raise fresh concerns about the impact of the introduction of universal claimant on disabled people, and others in vulnerable situations.

It will also alarm those who have spent years highlighting concerns about the ongoing impact on disabled people of eight years of benefit cuts and reforms under successive Conservative-led governments.

DWP rules state that the department must carry out an IPR when it is “made aware of the death of a client and it is suggested that it is linked to DWP activity”.

Of all the reviews, four appear to include recommendations for improvements only to local procedures, with another eight (including three IPRs relating to a universal credit claimant) making recommendations for changes to national policy or practice.

One review reminded DWP “customer compliance officers” of the existence of the “six point plan”, which tells staff how to respond if they learn that a benefit claimant suggests they intend to kill themselves or self-harm.

The recommendations that followed another IPR appear to suggest that a “vulnerable” claimant died after DWP failed to carry out a “safeguarding visit” to check on their welfare when they did not return a form explaining why they had missed a work capability assessment (WCA).

Another IPR appears to have investigated a similar death, involving a vulnerable claimant with a mental health condition who failed to turn up for a WCA. That claimant also died.

One case that appears to have led only to recommendations for improvements locally suggests further poor practice by DWP, with the IPR saying that “we should have considered whether [information redacted] was a vulnerable customer and if there were safeguarding issues”.

It adds that DWP’s customer service was “also poor” for apparently telling the vulnerable claimant something before he or she died, although because the end of the sentence has been redacted by DWP it is not clear what was said.

In another case – although this claimant did not die – DWP staff appear to have failed to pick up on references to “suicide” in the online journal that universal credit claimants must keep up-to-date.

One DWP manager told the Independent last October that many universal credit case managers were overwhelmed by their workload and often had dozens of “unseen journal messages they simply don’t have enough time to address”.

The manager also told the website that many colleagues “feel out of their depth with the quantity of claims they manage, resulting in a vast amount of crucial work never being completed until claimants contact us when their payments are inevitably paid incorrectly or not at all”.

In another IPR that followed a claimant’s death, the panel reminded the department that all staff involved in making decisions on benefit claims must be “reminded of the need to make timeous decisions” relating to benefit sanctions.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “The connections between the DWP’s actions and the deaths of social security claimants are extremely concerning.

“These figures reveal the devastating impact universal credit is having on disabled people.

“It is shocking that the government is continuing with its roll-out, in spite of this evidence.

“The government must now pause the roll-out and end the hostile environment they have created for disabled people.

“We urgently need an independent investigation into the connections outlined in the internal reviews, before more lives are ruined.”

A spokesperson for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the information released by DWP “highlights failures at many levels”.

DPAC also criticised the IPR panel for suggesting that the key problem with the case involving the universal credit claimant whose death was linked to the “overtly threatening” claimant commitment was with the wording of the document.

The DPAC spokesperson said: “The panel does not address the issue. It is not the wording which needs to be reconsidered, but the fact that claimants deemed vulnerable can be bullied, threatened and intimidated by DWP to a point that their death became the subject of an internal review.

“The concerns about universal credit and its potential for severe harm have now been confirmed.”

The DPAC spokesperson added: “The internal process reviews give a glimpse into the living hell of claimants, where the reckless actions of benefits staff brought grievous harm, extreme distress and fatalities onto benefit claimants.

“And we are already seeing deaths of claimants under universal credit.

“If all the other warnings about universal credit were not enough, this should surely give the government an undeniable indication that they must stop their new hostile environment benefits system.

“To do anything else would mean that the government are knowingly about to bring yet more future deaths of benefit claimants.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “You can see the guidelines regarding vulnerable people are not being followed consistently.

“With the introduction of universal credit, it shows people’s lives are being placed at risk.

“DWP are still playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.

“Universal credit must be stopped in its tracks and it must be scrapped.”

A DWP spokeswoman declined to say how many of the IPR recommendations have been acted on.

She also declined to say whether the universal credit “claimant commitment” recommendations had been acted on, and whether they had been a concern to ministers.

And she declined to say if DWP was concerned that there had been four IPRs following the death of universal credit claimants.

But she said in a statement: “The government is committed to supporting the vulnerable and DWP staff are trained to identify and support people in hardship.

“They can apply special easements to people’s claims and signpost to appropriate local support services.

“IPRs do not seek to identify or apportion blame. They are used as a performance improvement tool that help the department to continually improve how it deals with some of the most complex and challenging cases.”

The latest information about the IPRs was only released by DWP after the Information Commissioner’s Office reminded the department of its duties under the Freedom of Information Act.

The information was requested on 21 June and should have been provided within 20 working days.

But it was only emailed this week, after ICO wrote to DWP following a complaint lodged by DNS about the department’s failure to respond to the request.

20 September 2018

 

 

Ministers quietly drop plans for ‘parallel process’ on working-age social care

Ministers have quietly decided to include the support needs of working-age disabled people in their new social care green paper, scrapping the idea of having a separate “parallel programme of work” as they try to address the social care funding crisis.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) previously said it would focus only on older people’s social care in its much-delayed green paper.

The decision to include working-age people’s support needs is likely to be welcomed by most disabled people’s organisations, but DHSC is still facing questions over why it reversed its decision at such a late stage and why it has apparently failed to make any effort to co-produce its policy with disabled people and their user-led organisations.

There are also still concerns over whether the green paper will side-line the support needs of working-age disabled people when it is eventually published.

As recently as last month, a House of Commons Library briefing paper referred to the government’s “parallel process” of work on social care for working-age adults.

But a DHSC spokeswoman has now told DNS that the green paper will “cover care and support for adults of all ages (rather than there being a separate workstream)”.

When questioned further about this, she said: “We have always planned to consider issues relating to all adults receiving social care.

“This will now be taken forward through a single green paper.”

She declined to comment when asked why the government had made this decision, but said disabled people and their organisations – and other “interested parties” – would be able to feed in their views in a consultation on the green paper, when it is published.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who chairs the Independent Living Strategy Group, told Disability News Service (DNS): “It would have been nice to be informed of this decision to scrap the parallel process by my fellow parliamentarians in the House of Lords, especially as I had asked formally on two occasions for any progress on the ‘parallel process’.

“So much for close collaboration with disabled people on matters that concern them directly!”

But she welcomed the decision to integrate working-age people into the green paper, which she hoped would be on an equal basis with older people.

She said: “This way, disabled people will not be a tag on, or afterthought, but have full green paper status.

“This is how it should be and something I said most firmly at the first meeting of ‘stakeholders’ with the ministers for disabled people [Sarah Newton], social care [Caroline Dinenage] and local government [Rishi Sunak].”

Baroness Campbell said that this meeting, in February, was the “first and only time” she has been consulted on the government’s social care plans.

She was also highly critical of the plans to simply consult disabled people after the green paper has been published, partly because she has been “highly sceptical of any consultation this government has conducted on pretty much any issue recently”.

She added: “Whatever happened to the progress we made with governments over the last 20 years on co-production, mutuality and equal involvement from the prototype stage?

“Disabled people don’t want to be consulted about policies which will determine the way they live, we want partnerships. Remember: ‘nothing about us, without us!’”

The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, who speaks for her party on disability in the Lords and is also a member of the Independent Living Strategy Group, said there was continuing “despair” over when the green paper would eventually be published.

She said the news that working-age disabled people would now be included in the green paper “could be good news [but] it could be bad news” as it could either mean a “breath of fresh air” or signify that working-age disabled people will be “an after-thought”.

She added: “Everyone is in the dark.”

The news of the government U-turn emerged following a freedom of information request submitted by DNS, which had asked which committees and working groups had been set up as part of the parallel process, and which organisations were represented on them.

The department said in its response that “no such committees or formal working groups including stakeholders have been set up” as part of its work on working-age social care.

But she said the government had “engaged informally with a number of stake-holders and the insights from this work will inform the social care green paper”.

A DHSC spokeswoman declined to say which organisations it had engaged with, but she said: “We are grateful for the input of stakeholders to the work we have done to date and there will be an opportunity for all interested parties to feed in views through the green paper consultation process.”

DNS reported in March how the government had failed to set up a single committee involving experts from outside the two departments examining the future of working-age social care – DHSC and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – nearly four months after the parallel programme of work had been announced.

The previous month, ministers had faced criticism after organising a “round table” event on working-age social care without inviting any disabled people’s organisations to attend.

The green paper has always been described by ministers as a document that would lay out the government’s proposals for the future funding of older people’s social care, with a separate programme of work looking at the care needs of working-age disabled people.

But there have been repeated concerns that the government was failing to make any progress on this parallel process and failing to engage with disabled people and their user-led organisations.

The much-delayed green paper is set to be published this autumn.

20 September 2018

 

 

New job stats raise questions over ministers’ boasts on disability employment

New figures obtained by a disabled people’s organisation – after ministers refused to commission the work themselves – appear to show how the government relies on the growth in self-employment and part-time jobs to exaggerate its success in increasing disability employment.

Ministers such as work and pensions secretary Esther McVey have repeatedly boasted of how their policies have led to hundreds of thousands more disabled people in work over the last five years.

But those claims have been based on figures provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which includes in its measure of “employment” people who are in part-time work, are self-employed, or are on government training and jobs programmes.

Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to commission work from ONS – which it told Disability News Service would cost just £125 (plus VAT) – that would show the full, detailed figures.

Now London’s pan-disability disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London has commissioned the work itself from ONS, at the same price of £125 plus VAT.

The new ONS figures*  obtained by Inclusion London show that nearly half of the increase in disability employment in the last four years has been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs.

Between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the number of full-time disabled employees rose by about 383,000, while the number of disabled people in part-time jobs, self-employment, government training programmes and employed as unpaid family workers increased by about 366,000.

During this period, the number of disabled people in self-employment increased by more than 22 per cent, when the number of non-disabled people who were self-employed rose by just nine per cent.

The increase in the number of disabled people in part-time self-employment increased even faster, by about 25 per cent.

There was, though, also a sharp increase of about 22.5 per cent in full-time disabled employees over the four years, although the number of part-time disabled employees rose even faster, by about 27.5 per cent.

Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, pointed to the high number of disabled people who had become self-employed.

She said: “Research by the New Economics Foundation in 2017 found more than half of all self-employed people don’t make a decent living.

“This is even more of an issue for disabled people, whose outgoings tend to be much higher due to unavoidable impairment-related expenditure.

“Anecdotally we have heard about disabled people feeling pressured by their jobcentre to consider becoming self-employed.”

Clifford also highlighted the high proportion of disabled people who have taken part-time jobs.

She said: “This will include things like zero hours contracts which can again easily fail to provide the security, conditions and income levels that disabled people need.

“Studies have confirmed that unsuitable employment is worse for people’s health than no employment.”

She urged the government to “look at the types of jobs and work that disabled people are moving or potentially being pushed into and to address issues of quality instead of making the aim to get people off out-of-work benefits at any cost”.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said DWP had yet again “botched” its analysis of statistics.

She said: “Disabled people are particularly over-represented amongst the self-employed and as most people are aware, self-employment is often a route to employment taken by those excluded from mainstream labour markets.

“The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) have revealed that self-employed workers [can end up] £3,000 per annum worse off than those in employment with the roll-out of universal credit and are calling on the government, like DPAC, to stop this roll-out.

“They highlight too the instability of income that self-employment creates and the negative impact this has on the wellbeing of those working in this sector.”

A DWP spokeswoman declined to comment about the part-time work figures and whether the government agreed with calls to look at the types and quality of work disabled people are moving into.

But she said: “We welcome recent increases in the disability employment rate, with 600,000 more disabled people in work between 2013 and 2017.

“This analysis shows that employment and self-employment for disabled people both increased by around a fifth between 2013-14 and 2016-17.”

*It is not possible to compare today’s figures with 2009-10, before the Conservative-led coalition came to power, because of a change in in 2013 in how the survey data ONS uses to calculate its figures was collected

20 September 2018

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Universal credit migration is set for disaster, warns Lloyd

The impact of the “migration” of hundreds of thousands of disabled people onto universal credit from next year could prove disastrous because of the “hoops” the government will force claimants to leap through, according to a disabled MP.

Stephen Lloyd, work and pensions spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the migration process was set to be “a disaster” for those disabled people currently claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), including many people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is set to start testing the process of moving hundreds of thousands of existing ESA claimants – its estimates suggest it will eventually need to “migrate” 750,000 – onto universal credit from January, and intends to “increase volumes” by July and complete the process in 2023.

ESA claimants will be among those receiving a letter telling them that their existing benefits are about to stop and that they will need to make a new claim for universal credit.

They will have to fill out an online application, and then make at least one and possibly two, or even three, visits to their local job centre in the space of just one month, to validate their claim.

If they fail to do this, said Lloyd – who was speaking to Disability News Service at his party’s annual conference in Brighton – they will get “kicked out” and be left with no benefits, as their ESA claim will have ended.

A DWP memo, produced in June, said the department would give claimants at least one month to make their claim, although there will be “flexibility for this period to be extended” to up to three months.

But Lloyd said: “What on earth is going to happen? You have got to do all this in a month, otherwise you’re going to be kicked off. That’s going to be catastrophic.

“We have got to stop this, it’s ridiculous. It’s not going to work.”

He has written to work and pensions secretary Esther McVey to seek clarification on what claimants will be asked to do.

Lloyd said: “I have to get the minister to understand you have to give them more time, otherwise there is going to be a car crash.”

His hope is that pressure on McVey through parliamentary questions and an early day motion will force her to back down and ease the conditions imposed on claimants before regulations are laid before parliament in October.

Concerns about the migration have also been raised by the mental health charity Mind, which said: “Many people experiencing mental health problems have told us they are extremely worried about what these proposals will mean for them.

“As people begin to move over to universal credit, we are concerned people will fall through the cracks, and see their benefits stopped entirely.

“It’s appalling to place all the responsibility on unwell people to reapply for a new benefit and risk losing their income in the process.

“The government should change their plans so that no-one faces having their benefits stopped before they move to universal credit.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are working closely with stakeholders and other parties to design the best possible process for the migration of our customers to universal credit.

“Our focus will be on safeguarding claimants and ensuring a smooth transition with uninterrupted support.

“Based on early planning there is no evidence to indicate that claimants would need to come into the jobcentre so frequently and therefore we do not recognise this claim.

“We plan to have a comprehensive and well-supported preparation period for claimants which will include a variety of communication formats, including face-to-face, internet and postal notification, to ensure claimants are aware of the managed migration process.

“There is flexibility to extend that period if necessary; and a process to ensure that, before the existing benefits are stopped, our staff will check for evidence of complex needs or vulnerability or disability and act accordingly to support the claimant.

“Additionally, if a claimant misses their deadline to claim there are provisions in the draft regulations that will allow DWP to back-date their claim.”

Lloyd said he has already tried locally to ensure that the impact of universal credit and other welfare reforms would not be as serious as it has been in other constituencies.

He brought food banks, housing association representatives, Citizen’s Advice and his own staff together in advance of the rollout of universal credit in his Eastbourne constituency last October, which he said helped ensure there was much less of a spike in the use of food banks in the town than in other similar constituencies.

Lloyd also believes that he is the only MP in the country who allocates a member of staff to attend regular benefit appeal tribunals on behalf of constituents.

So far this year, the staff member has attended about 70 tribunals (with a success rate of about 70 per cent).

During Lloyd’s previous stint as an MP, between 2010 and 2015, the same member of staff attended about 150 tribunals in four years.

He said: “As far as I know, no other MP’s office in the country sends one of their staff [so] regularly to tribunals.

“I basically lose him for three-quarters of a day a week, but it is the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, tributes have been paid to the co-chair of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association (LDDA), Robert Adamson, who died just days before the conference began.

Born in Doncaster, and a retired civil servant, he was a former parliamentary candidate for the party and also stood in European and local elections, and was a former chair of the party’s Yorkshire and Humber region.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, the party’s president, told the conference: “Robert never let his very disabling condition get in the way of campaigning locally and nationally.”

And Gemma Roulston, previously LDDA co-chair and now the association’s chair, said: “He wanted to improve the lives of people with or without disabilities, and anyone who was impacted by disability.

“He was always there for you, and was a good person to go to for advice and support.

“Conference hasn’t felt the same without him. He made a difference to people.”

20 September 2018

 

 

TUC piles pressure on Labour with vote to scrap universal credit

Trade unions have voted at their annual congress to call on the Labour party to shift its stance on universal credit and promise to scrap the controversial benefit system.

The annual TUC Congress approved a motion last week that had already been passed by disabled trade unionists at May’s TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference.

The motion called on TUC’s general council to tell the next Labour government to “stop and scrap” universal credit and carry out “far-reaching social security reform that truly makes work pay” and protects those unable to work.

Labour’s policy is currently to simply “pause and fix” universal credit rather than scrapping it.

The motion said universal credit – which combines six benefits into one – was a “draconian” system that had left many people in “debt, eviction and hunger”.

It pointed out that workers could – for the first time – face “savage sanctions for not demonstrating that they are seeking to improve their paid income”, while “part-time workers could be forced to leave work that suits their disability or family life for a worse paid, full-time job”.

Dave Allan, chair of the national disabled members’ committee of Unite the Union, proposed the motion on behalf of the TUC disabled workers’ committee, and it was seconded by Mandy Hudson, of the National Education Union.

Allan told delegates that the disabled workers’ committee had worked tirelessly to warn of the impact of universal credit and its roll-out, which he said would “fall like a hammer blow upon seven million households – including one million low-paid workers”.

He said there had been an “utter lack of support” for disabled claimants, while the “cruel programme of sanctions” was “landing on claimants like a series of bureaucratic punishment beatings”.

Allan said the “misery” and “destruction” caused by universal credit was no accident.

He said: “This is the cold, calculated and systematic impoverishment of disabled people. This is malice by design.”

He added: “A pause of the roll-out will not do. We are not just calling on the government to simply ‘think again’.

“We are calling for the immediate, unconditional and total ban on universal credit.”

Allan told Disability News Service this week that the TUC vote had been unanimous and that the next step was to persuade the Labour party to commit to scrapping universal credit and include that pledge in its manifesto for the next general election.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added: “All politicians need to look at the disastrous effects universal credit is having around the UK, at how hard disabled people have been hit and how it is pushing people into rent arrears and poverty, leaving them turning to food banks.

“The roll out of universal credit should be stopped, before it continues to inflict more damage.

“And a fundamental rethink is required of the social security system, and how it can deliver a fair and dignified system for everyone.”

A TUC spokesman stressed afterwards that O’Grady was calling for universal credit to be scrapped and not just to “stop and fix” the system.

He said: “The TUC policy is not stop and fix. Our congress endorsed a policy of stop and scrap.

“The immediate priority has to be to stop the rollout, as that is the immediate danger to disabled people.

“But the current universal credit is not fit for purpose and TUC staff will now pursue the direction set by congress by developing policy for a system to succeed it that better meets the needs of disabled people and others who rely on social security.”

20 September 2018

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Members vote for rights-based reform to mental health laws

Liberal Democrats have called for an end to “discriminatory” laws that allow people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties who have capacity to make their own decisions to be detained against their will.

Current mental health legislation means that a person assessed as needing urgent medical treatment and assessment because of a “mental disorder” can be detained in hospital against their will.

But party members argued that detaining people based on whether they have a “mental disorder” was discriminatory, a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and discouraged people from being open about their mental health.

Party members voted at their annual conference in Brighton this week to demand sweeping reform of the law in England and Wales, despite substantial opposition.

They agreed that people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties should not be forced to have medical treatment unless they do not have the capacity to make a decision about whether they wish to have that treatment.

And they said that people should be able to make advance decisions – as defined in the Mental Capacity Act – to refuse detention or treatment.

They also fended off efforts from some party members to amend the motion so that individuals could be forced to be treated and detained, even if they had capacity, if their refusal would pose a serious risk of harm to themselves or others.

One delegate compared the current legislation to historic witchcraft and slavery laws, and the Spanish Inquisition.

He and others argued that people who have capacity to make their own decisions, but have a mental health condition or learning difficulty, should not face the possibility of being detained against their wishes in hospital.

Henry Jones, who has a degenerative neurological condition, described how he had been held against his will in hospital for six months.

He had spoken at the time of wanting to end his own life because of his condition, and as a result “two large men showed up at my home” and took him into detention in a locked mental health ward.

He told delegates: “Even with my condition I had capacity. They treated me like an animal, they did everything they could to break me.

“It achieved nothing except to make me never ever want to engage with mental health services.”

But, he said, it did “make me want to reform the law before passing on”.

He said that if he had been treated “like a human” by mental health professionals he could have “talked openly about what was happening in my brain… it would have saved me and others around me four years of hell”.

He added: “All I am asking for is for us to have the same basic human dignity that other people have.”

Another party member, Andrew Muir, told the conference how his wife had been sectioned in 2006 after she complained about treatment she had received at a Scottish hospital.

She was forced to take medication while in detention for 51 days – when there was no evidence of mental ill-health – and was physically abused by staff, and then forced to take drugs for another year when she was released on a community order.

He also said that the review of the Mental Health Act 1983 – being led by psychiatrist Professor Sir Simon Wessely – should instead be led by a human rights expert.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton also spoke in favour of the motion.

He said: “In Scotland – and I am sure south of the border – we are stripping people of their basic right to be heard.

“People in the grip of mental illness, that’s when their human rights matter most.”

A string of mental health professionals spoke against the motion, including one who accused it of “muddle” and being “full of misconceptions”, and another who said it was “unworkable and not sensible” and would remove protections that were available in the Mental Health Act.

But one psychiatrist, Mohsin Khan, who supported the motion, pointed out that similar laws to those suggested had been introduced in some US states and Northern Ireland.

He said the motion “merely brings mental health in line with what happens with physical health”, and would allow adults “who have consistent, long-term capacity to rationally decide to make decisions for their own body for the future”.

20 September 2018

 

 

Pair of projects set to improve countryside access

User-led organisations have played a key role in two major new projects that aim to improve access for disabled tourists and ramblers.

In Oxfordshire, Natural England has opened the National Land Access Centre (NLAC), which will provide training for landowners, farmers and rights of way officers on how to ensure that gates and other countryside obstructions are accessible to disabled people.

And in Lancashire, Blackpool-based disabled people’s organisation (DPO) Disability First is celebrating a government grant of nearly £1 million for a project that will improve access to the Fylde, Wyre and Blackpool coastline.

NLAC, based at Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve, will offer training courses that show how to use, maintain and install fences, barriers and stiles that meet a new British Standard, which was published in February.

Natural England, the government’s advisers on the natural environment, has worked closely on the plans with the user-led charity Disabled Ramblers, and project partners The British Horse Society, the specialist gate supplier Centrewire and the Pittecroft Trust.

John Cutherbertson, chair of Disabled Ramblers, told Disability News Service (DNS): “There is a huge swathe of the population who cannot clamber over stiles.

“What we found is the main thing that stops people accessing the countryside is the lack of understanding by those people who are putting these gates in.

“Some of them still think that the less able would prefer to stay at home and watch the telly.

“They don’t realise that people want to get out there and need to get out there for their mental health as well as their physical well-being.”

He said Disabled Ramblers was trying to educate these groups, such as farmers, landowners and rights of way officers, about the “least restrictive” way to enclose land, and ideally install gates that disabled people can open and close on their own, without needing someone with them.

He said he hoped that the selection of gates and barriers on show at the centre would grow and would be joined eventually by accessible versions of other equipment, such as bridges and boardwalks.

Disabled Ramblers has provided an off-road mobility scooter to the centre so people who take the courses can use the vehicle to see how difficult it can be to manoeuvre through such obstacles.

Cuthbertson said that Centrewire, which was founded by Tom Bindoff, a non-disabled member of Disabled Ramblers, had been keen to modify its products to make them more accessible.

Bindoff has even designed a “kissing gate” that can be opened by a scooter-user using a RADAR key, he said.

The disabled Tory peer Lord Blencathra, deputy chair of Natural England, said: “Improved access will help to connect more people with their natural environment, giving them a chance to enjoy our countryside, its open space and fascinating wildlife – all key aspects of the government’s 25 year environment plan.”

Meanwhile, funding of £985,000 has been awarded to a consortium led by Disability First through the government’s Coastal Communities Fund.

Alan Reid, chief executive of Disability First, said his organisation was “thrilled and very proud” to be awarded the funding in its 25th year as a charity.

He said he wanted the Fylde, Blackpool and Wyre coast to “strive to become a more truly inclusive resort”.

The Access Fylde Coast project is supported by Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre councils, Blackpool Transport, Marketing Lancashire, Lancaster University, the access information provider DisabledGo, Blackpool’s Coastal Community Team and the area’s local Volunteering Centre.

Reid said the project, which will last nearly two years, was “exciting and unique”.

He told DNS the scheme would improve access for both visitors and residents by offering free access audits and disability awareness training to local shops and businesses.

The project will also develop a culture and heritage mobile phone app, linked to existing apps offered by Blackpool Transport and DisabledGo, and which will include a British Sign Language interpretation service.

He said: “This will support people with a variety of disabilities with tram and bus access once they step off the train station in Blackpool and venues will have details of their particular disabled facilities and heritage information on the app.”

The project also plans to showcase professional disabled performers at Blackpool Opera House theatre and disabled artists in a local art gallery, and improve access at existing events including the Blackpool Illuminations switch-on and Lytham Festival.

He said there was also the possibility that a disabled performer could perform at, or even switch on, the illuminations next year.

On a visit to Lytham Saint Annes, coastal communities minister Jake Berry said: “It’s really exciting to see money from the Coastal Communities Fund help kick-start these shovel-ready projects, which have the potential to unlock the barriers to development and growth in our coastal communities.”

The Coastal Communities Fund was established to support coastal projects in the UK to deliver sustainable growth and jobs.

20 September 2018

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Party anger over DPAC’s ‘don’t vote Lib Dem’ call

Two leading disabled Liberal Democrats have criticised anti-cuts activists over their public call for disabled people not to vote for their party.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) published a high-profile message on social media this week during the party’s annual conference in Brighton, warning that disabled people “won’t forget” and “won’t forgive” its junior role in the coalition government between 2010 and 2015.

But David Buxton, the co-founder of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, who has worked on campaigns with DPAC, said he would no longer support its work because of the message.

The party’s work and pensions spokesman, Stephen Lloyd, was also critical of DPAC.

But DPAC, which is not aligned with any political party, has defended its position.

It said it held the Liberal Democrats “jointly responsible” for coalition cuts and reforms such as the closure of the Independent Living Fund, damaging policies on the work capability assessment (WCA), the bedroom tax and the introduction of personal independence payment and universal credit.

It also pointed to the coalition’s “hostile environment benefits regime” and the “avoidable deaths and suicides of benefit claimants during the coalition years”.

DPAC added: “Our message to the Liberal Democrats is – you don’t get to walk away from your actions in those years – disabled people will remember.”

But Buxton said he was “very disappointed” by the DPAC message because he had been “very supportive of their work which has been excellent and has been important in stopping further cuts.

“Their job is to stop the cuts and we have been very supportive of that.”

He told Disability News Service at the party’s annual conference in Brighton that the coalition years had been “a very difficult time” and the Liberal Democrats had “tried to stop further cuts and were successful in stopping those cuts, but there were areas where the books had to be balanced”.

He asked why DPAC was not criticising Labour in a similar way.

He said Labour’s last government had rejected pleas from Deaf people for a British Sign Language act and had also been responsible for cutting disability services during its 13 years of office, while many Labour-run councils were now cutting services even though some, like Hammersmith and Fulham, had managed to protect disabled people from cuts.

He said: “Should Deaf people say they never forgive the Labour party? Thankfully, Labour have now changed their mind [on the need for a BSL act].”

He added: “Political parties can change. We have changed as a party. We are no longer in coalition government.

“There has been a change in leadership and we do recognise that we have to find ways of creating new policy that would be fairer and we will demand better for disabled people.”

Lloyd said DPAC’s message was “very disappointing” and ignored the fact that Labour brought in the WCA and awarded the contract to carry out the assessments to the much-criticised contractor Atos.

He said he was “proud” of what his party had achieved in coalition when facing “very challenging issues” with the economy, although there had been “some decisions in DWP that were wrong” and “others that were right”.

But Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “We are not party political and we will criticise any party as we see fit.

“We will be publicly criticising Labour over their ‘pause and fix’ policy for universal credit during their conference and we’ve been very vocal in criticising Labour in the past.

“We’ve also criticised the Green party over their policy on assisted suicide.

“And we have been very critical of the actions of Labour councils.

“The Lib Dems have Vince Cable as leader, who was a cabinet minister in the coalition, and many of their MPs were MPs in the coalition and voted for Tory welfare reform.

“Just as the tweet says, ‘They don’t get to walk away from that.’”

20 September 2018

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Lloyd backtracks on support for Duncan Smith

A Liberal Democrat MP who has supported Tory former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has admitted he gave him “more benefit of the doubt” than he should have done during the five years of the coalition government.

Stephen Lloyd, who served on the Commons work and pensions committee while Liberal Democrat ministers were serving in the coalition government between 2010 and 2015, has previously defended Duncan Smith.

And during this week’s annual party conference in Brighton, he told a fringe meeting that Duncan Smith had had some good ideas about the importance of employment in addressing disadvantage but had been undermined by right-wing papers like the Daily Mail publishing stories about benefit “scroungers”.

When asked later about this statement by Disability News Service (DNS), Lloyd said he had challenged Duncan Smith in parliament on his inappropriate language.

But he insisted that DNS was only “half right” in suggesting that Duncan Smith was responsible for whipping up hostility in tabloid papers like the Mail.

DNS then repeated comments Duncan Smith had told The Sun in late 2010 in which he said he had been “appalled” at how easy it has been in the past for people to claim incapacity benefit and cheat the system and said that Sun readers were right to be “upset and angry” when they saw neighbours who do not work.

Duncan Smith also told the Sun that Britain had “managed to create a block of people” who “do not add anything to the greatness of this country” and had “become conditioned to be users of services, not providers of money.

“This is a huge part of the reason we have this massive deficit.

“We don’t want to talk about scroungers in the future, we want to talk about British people being renowned the world over for working hard.”

Lloyd said again that he had challenged Duncan Smith over the language he had used.

But he said he now acknowledged that in his own zeal to see more people in work, he could have overlooked the harm caused by Duncan Smith and his supporters.

He said: “I think I did and I acknowledge that. In recognising that Iain Duncan Smith got the importance of jobs I can see that in coalition there were times when I would have given him more benefit of the doubt than I should have done.”

20 September 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

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