Phone +44 079398 60535 / +44 79398 60543
With thanks to Shirin for this information that might help others….
I sent a letter to Capita to request reasonable adjustments per the Equality Act 2010. Had no reply so rang them and was told that if you write to the address on the appointment letter, it will not be “picked up” as that is for “finance matters”. However, if you write to the DWP directly at the address they normally write to you with, they should reply, or you can ring the DWP.
[Thanks to John Pring]
Anger and dismay after Labour back-tracks on pledge to scrap universal credit
Labour has infuriated its own disabled members by backtracking on a public pledge by the shadow chancellor that the party would scrap universal credit if it won the next general election.
John McDonnell drew widespread praise when he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that universal credit was a “shambles” and “iniquitous” and added: “I think we are moving to a position now where it is just not sustainable. It will have to go.”
His comments were widely reported, with Sky itself saying “Labour to ditch universal credit”, the BBC reporting him as saying “universal credit has to go”, the Mirror saying “Labour would scrap ‘unsustainable’ Universal Credit”, and iNews saying that “Labour will scrap ‘shambolic’ Universal Credit system”.
But when Disability News Service (DNS) asked Labour’s press office to confirm that the party’s policy was now to scrap universal credit, a spokeswoman said instead that the benefit system was “clearly failing in its current form”.
Instead of committing to scrapping universal credit, she said that Labour wanted “a root-and-branch review of the social security system”.
This was the much-criticised policy announced by shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool last month, when she called on the government to “stop the rollout of universal credit and fix its many flaws” rather than for it to be scrapped.
When DNS asked for further clarity and confirmation that a Labour government would scrap universal credit, the party’s press office produced another statement, which said that universal credit was “failing in its current form”.
The party later made clear that it was not Labour policy to scrap universal credit, before the press office issued a third statement, which said that “Universal Credit in its current form simply isn’t working” and that “Universal Credit in its current form will not exist under Labour”.
Disability Labour, which represents disabled party members and has campaigned to persuade the party to change its position, had issued a statement earlier in the week, following McDonnell’s Sky interview, to say it was “delighted” by the party’s decision to scrap universal credit.
But after being told the party had back-tracked on McDonnell’s comments and was now saying the system would merely need to be improved, Disability Labour said it was “appalled and dismayed”.
In a statement, it said: “Despite assurances from the shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP earlier this week, Disability Labour has been informed that the party’s position remains to ‘pause and fix’ universal credit.
“Disability Labour are clear in our position – universal credit is deeply flawed, harmful to many of its claimants and cannot be fixed.
“We believe there is no option other than to stop and scrap universal credit as soon as possible.
“Disability Labour’s position as a socialist society is to always be a critical friend to the Labour party.
“We will continue to campaign for the Labour party to commit to stopping and scrapping universal credit and call on the party to adopt this policy as a matter of urgency.
“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with MPs and party officials to clarify this further.”
Disability Labour’s co-chair Wayne Blackburn had described universal credit earlier this week as “the cruellest of benefits” and said the “built-in long waits that claimants have for their money is disgraceful”.
He said: “That food bank use has increased so much in areas where UC has been introduced is a clear indicator of this government deliberately creating a hostile environment for UC claimants, many of whom are disabled people.”
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which is also campaigning for universal credit to be scrapped, has said that universal credit has “too many flaws to be simply paused and fixed” and is “rotten to the core”, with foodbank use and rates of claimants being sanctioned “soaring” in areas where it has been introduced.
Linda Burnip, DPAC’s co-founder, said the party’s back-tracking on universal credit did not surprise her because Labour’s attitude was that “we are the party of the workers and the rest are skivers and shirkers and we don’t really care about them”.
She added: “We will just have to redouble our efforts with the Labour party.”
11 October 2018
Police work on disability hate crime is ‘unacceptable’, say watchdogs
The work of police officers on more than half of their disability hate crime investigations has been found to be “unacceptable”, according to a new report by two watchdogs.
The joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) is the third attempt in five years to look at how the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) handle cases involving disability hate crime.
The report is generally complimentary about the work of CPS, which it concludes has made “significant improvements” in dealing with disability hate crime cases.
But it is highly critical of the work of police forces in England and Wales.
The report says officers are failing to “flag” cases as disability hate crimes on police computer systems and are also failing to refer many cases to the CPS for possible prosecution, while there are delays in the investigation process and a lack of effective supervision.
It also says that police officers are failing to carry out risk assessments on victims of disability hate crime in many of the cases the inspectors sampled, and that they often fail to draw up risk management plans.
HMICFRS looked at 90 sample cases across six police forces: Cheshire, Devon and Cornwall, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the Metropolitan police, Nottinghamshire, and South Wales.
It found that in 19 (21 per cent) of the cases there were avoidable delays in the investigation, with all reasonable lines of enquiry explored in only 69 of the 90 cases (77 per cent), while an investigation plan was missing from 39 of them (43 per cent).
In 51 of the 90 police cases (57 per cent) examined by HMICFRS, the inspectors considered the case files to be sub-standard, including 24 deemed “inadequate”.
The report concludes that the standard of police investigations into disability hate crime was “unacceptable in many cases”.
The inspectorate also found that in 20 of the 90 cases, the outcome of the investigation had been “inappropriate”, including 14 cases dealt with by community resolution without CPS approval.
Police guidelines state that officers should never offer a community resolution – an alternative way of dealing with less serious crimes that does not involve taking the case to court – to a victim of a hate crime without checking with CPS.
The report also found that in the initial information provided to CPS, in only 16 of 160 cases (10 per cent) did police officers describe the reasonable adjustments that a victim of crime might need to give their evidence effectively.
In contrast, the report says that CPS has made “substantial progress” in dealing with disability hate crime in most areas, and now has “clear” guidance, while decision-making on cases is “excellent”.
But HMCPSI inspectors still said that the quality of more than two-thirds (about 68 per cent) of charging decisions was only fair or poor.
The report says compliance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors in disability hate crime cases was “excellent”.
And it also says there was “much greater awareness” among prosecutors of section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, under which the courts must increase the sentence for any offence where a defendant has demonstrated hostility towards disabled people, or where the offence has been shown to be motivated by hostility.
In the year to December 2017, prosecutors secured a sentence increase in nearly seven in 10 cases (69 per cent) in which they had applied for one from the court, compared to about 34 per cent in 2015-16.
But the report says more still needs to be done by CPS, although there had been “a significant and welcome improvement in some aspects of casework”.
Five years ago, HMCPSI, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Inspectorate of Probation concluded in a joint report that disability hate crime was “the hate crime that has been left behind”.
A follow-up report three years ago accused the police, probation service and CPS of failing to implement their recommendations.
Disability News Service has been reporting on the criminal justice system’s failings in dealing with disability hate crime since 2009.
It has particularly reported repeatedly on how the criminal justice system has failed to treat cases in which disabled people have been the victims of brutal and degrading assaults – many of them violent killings – as disability hate crimes.
Last year, researchers at the University of Sussex called for a new hate crime act and other key legal reforms to address the “huge justice gap” that affects victims of disability hate crime, following a major two-year study.
11 October 2018
Government ‘blocked’ involvement of user-led groups in mental health summit
The government has been asked by campaigners from across the world why it blocked the “meaningful” involvement of user-led and survivor organisations in this week’s high-profile global mental health summit in London.
Two open letters have criticised the way the Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit was organised, and the hypocrisy of it being hosted by a UK government that was heavily criticised over its record on disability rights by a UN committee a little over 12 months ago.
One letter, spearheaded by the National Survivor User Network, was signed by more than 100 organisations and individuals, including mental health service-users and survivors, user-led networks, academics and mental health professionals from more than 20 countries, including Argentina, Peru, India, Chile, Columbia, Japan, Kenya, Estonia and Hungary.
The letter says there was little or no involvement of user-led organisations in planning the event, in a blatant breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
It criticises the attempt to position the UK government as a world leader on mental health when the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had raised such significant concerns about its breaches of disability rights, both last year and in a 2016 inquiry report which found it guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the convention.
It also points to the discrimination within mental health services faced by black and minority ethnic communities in the UK, including “high levels of misdiagnosis, compulsory treatment, over-medication, community treatment orders and culturally inappropriate treatment”.
And the letter warns that mental health survivor and service-user groups in the global south have objected to attempts – led by the UK – to import “failed western models of mental health care” into their countries.
The letter compares the UK government’s “hypocritical” attempt to take the lead in creating a “global declaration on political leadership in mental health” with the decision by the UK to host its Global Disability Summit in July, which also saw an “intolerant government posing as the upholder of the rights” of disabled people.
Those signing the letter asked the UK government to commit to putting forward any declaration that comes out of this week’s summit for consultation and ratification by a wide range of international user-led organisations and disabled people’s organisations, a request it looks likely to ignore.
And they asked the government to promise to “lead by example” by changing its “discriminatory laws that threaten the lives of mental health service-users”, including social security policies.
The second letter was coordinated by the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives (SOL) and was signed by NSUN and user-led grassroots groups including the Mental Health Resistance Network, Disabled People Against Cuts and Recovery in the Bin, all of which also signed the first letter.
This letter raises concerns that the summit would “seriously misrepresent the issues and problems of mental health and mental health service users globally” because of the “systematic exclusions” of representatives of user-led and survivor organisations.
This exclusion, the letter says, was a clear breach of the UN convention.
It says that the summit’s organisers side-lined attempts by the European Network of (Ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (ENUSP) and the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (WNUSP), both of which signed the letter, to secure invitations for representatives of their organisations.
Disability News Service (DNS) has seen a letter from ENUSP to a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) civil servant, sent last month, after both ENUSP and WNUSP failed to receive invitations to take part in the summit.
ENUSP suggested a string of elected representatives from member organisations across Europe who could attend the summit and pointed out that it was “the only grassroots, independent representative organisation of mental health service users, ex-users and survivors of psychiatry at a European level since 1990”.
It stressed the importance of having “representative people with lived experience at the Summit”, but the civil servant turned down the offer and said there were only spaces left for representatives to take part in the area of finance and investment at the summit.
This is a specialist area where the ENUSP representatives would not have been able to make a meaningful contribution.
The SOL letter says: “This failure to enable involvement also reflects wide and growing concerns about the inadequacy of and crisis in UK mental health policy and provision and the failure to listen to service users, their families, communities and organisations in both mental health and welfare reform policy, both of which are having catastrophic consequences for many service users, their families and communities.”
Asked to comment on the two letters, a DHSC spokeswoman said: “All dialogue on mental health is key; we have invited a range of people from those with lived experience, to civil society, academics and policy makers who represent more than 65 countries from around the world.
“We have ensured that the involvement of people with lived experience has run throughout our work on the summit, with their experiences at the heart of our advisory panel and in every workstream.
“Those with personal experience attending were nominated by representative groups of people with lived experience – this group of consultees include the convener of this open letter and the signatories include people who are attending the summit.
“We recognise there is further work to do for all countries on mental health which is exactly why this summit is such a vital step.”
She declined to say whether any declaration from the summit would be put forward for consultation and ratification by user-led organisations and DPOs, or whether the UK government would promise to lead by example by changing its discriminatory laws.
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “Consulting people is one thing, but we know that taking any notice of what they say may be another.”
He said this would “explain the strong divergence between the claim to involve service-users and the amazingly broad-based criticism there has been from them and their organisations”.
Jasna Russo, a survivor-researcher from Germany and a member of ENUSP, who helped draft the SOL letter, was invited by the UK government to attend the summit as an individual with lived experience, but after she asked if she could attend as a representatives of ENUSP her request for funding was rejected.
She told DNS: “Regardless of how many countries they come from, there is a big difference between inviting persons with ‘lived experience’ and representatives of international grassroots organisations who are working on the summit’s topic for many years putting forward independent advocacy for users/survivors and people with psychosocial disability.
“This gathering was simply not interested in such perspectives. As in many other involvement initiatives – people subscribing to medical model of mental illness are far more attractive partners than those bringing in political and socio-economic issues.
“Even though this summit talks about poverty in relation to mental health it seems much more focused on how to make the Western biomedical psychiatry go global.”
11 October 2018
Watchdogs’ concern over government refusal to act on UN rights reports
Four equality and human rights watchdogs have heavily criticised the government for its failure to address the serious concerns raised in a “damning” UN report on the rights of disabled people across the UK.
A year on from the report by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, in which it told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights, the four bodies have concluded that it has taken only “limited steps” to address those concerns.
In a new report, they say they are concerned at the government’s failure to produce a comprehensive strategy to show how it will implement the committee’s recommendations.
And they have criticised the UK government’s “continuing reluctance” to accept the conclusions of a ground-breaking inquiry by the committee that found in late 2016 that it was guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.
This week’s report was put together by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, collectively known as the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM), which is tasked with monitoring progress on implementing the convention in the UK.
The UKIM report says the picture emerging from recent evidence is “deeply concerning”, as disabled people across the UK “continue to face serious regression of many of their rights”.
It concludes: “Social protections have been reduced and disabled people and their families continue to be some of the hardest hit.
“More and more disabled people are finding it difficult to live independently and be included, and participate, in their communities on an equal basis.”
The report by the four watchdogs looks at the seven areas in which the UN committee asked the government for a progress report.
On independent living, UKIM says there has been “limited progress”, with evidence that adult social care is at “crisis point”, while the closure of the Independent Living Fund has led to a “postcode lottery for support”.
On social protection, UKIM says the UK government has failed to act on research showing the “disproportionate and significantly adverse effect of welfare reform on disabled people’s rights to independent living and to an adequate standard of living and social security”.
And it says it remains “seriously concerned” at the government’s continuing failure to assess the cumulative impact on disabled people of multiple reforms that have affected living standards and social security.
On employment, the UKIM report praises the “very positive first step” made last year by the government in launching plans to increase the number of disabled people in work by one million in 10 years – despite strong criticism of those plans by disabled people’s organisations – but says that further reform of the work capability assessment process is “urgently needed”.
UKIM says some work has been done to tackle prejudice and negative attitudes towards disabled people, but it warns that nothing appears to have been done to address the committee’s main concerns in this area, with “no steps taken to tackle the negative attitudes towards those claiming social security benefits, and, more broadly, to promote the human rights model of disability”.
The UKIM report also warns of continuing barriers to accessing justice for disabled people in England and Wales, with a “substantial decrease in the number of disabled people being granted legal aid” as a result of reforms introduced through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
And it criticises the “continued lack of action” in setting up systems to “ensure that disabled people and their organisations are involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of legislation, policy or programmes that affect their lives”.
UKIM also criticises the failure of the UK and devolved governments to make any effort to spread awareness of the committee’s 2016 and 2017 reports, pointing out that neither of them have been published on the UK government’s website.
In response to the UKIM report, a government spokeswoman said in a statement: “We’re committed to building a society which is fully inclusive of disabled people across every area of their lives, from transport and housing to healthcare and employment.
“Our response to the UN sets out our progress over the last year, including the creation of a new inter-ministerial group on disability and society, which will drive progress against the implementation of the UN convention.
“While we’ve made significant progress, there is always more we can do. We’re determined to continue making progress in creating a society that works for everyone, where all can participate fully, and be included in society.”
She said the government would spend an estimated £54 billion in 2018-19 on benefits to support disabled people and those with long term health conditions, up from £44.7 billion in 2010-11, while nearly 600,000 more disabled people had moved into work in the four years to 2017.
Last month, Disability News Service reported that the UK government – in its own report to the UN committee – appeared to have decided that there was a need for improvements in just six of the 25 areas it was asked to respond on.
Its response to most of the UN committee’s recommendations was to ignore or dismiss the criticisms and defend its existing policies, with Inclusion London describing its report as “deeply unsatisfying”.
11 October 2018
Anger after minister and BBC undermine ‘silent applause’ reasonable adjustment
A disabled activist has lodged complaints with the government and the BBC after the broadcaster’s flagship current affairs programme Question Time mocked the idea of using “silent applause” to make political events more accessible for autistic people.
BBC Question Time (BBCQT) panellists were asked if they agreed with steps taken by the University of Manchester Students’ Union (MSU) to encourage members attending democratic events to use British Sign Language (BSL) – silent – applause instead of clapping.
David Dimbleby, the veteran journalist who chairs Question Time, twice appeared to make fun of the idea of using BSL applause instead of clapping, including at the end of the programme on 4 October.
Justice secretary David Gauke – a former work and pensions secretary, where he had responsibility for the Office for Disability Issues – said the idea was “silly”, while business executive Claude Littner described it as “absolutely absurd” and “ridiculous”.
But disabled activists are furious that an organisation attempting to make its political events more accessible to autistic people and those with anxiety-related impairments should be mocked and criticised by both the BBC and the justice secretary.
Sam Margrave, a lecturer in business management and entrepreneurship, who is autistic, has complained to both the Cabinet Office and the BBC about Gauke and Dimbleby and the Question Time team.
He said that Gauke had a duty under the Equality Act to advance equality of opportunity and eliminate discrimination but instead had called the idea of making reasonable adjustments for disabled people “silly” and had failed to criticise fellow panellists Isabel Oakeshott, a journalist, and Littner for mocking the idea.
Margrave, a member of the executive of Disability Labour, which represents disabled people who are members of the Labour party, said on Twitter: “I am so angry and upset by the comments. I am not a snowflake and nor are others.
“Stop confusing disabled, anxious, autistic, etc as snowflakes.”
He was backed by Disability Labour, which said it viewed Dimbleby’s behaviour with “complete dismay” and said he had been “mocking the use of British Sign Language, which is used by 28,000 people in the UK every day”.
Kathy Bole, co-vice-chair of Disability Labour, said: “We are appalled that David Gauke, a former DWP minister, described the use of the BSL sign as ‘silly’.”
She said his comment was another example of the “hostile environment” created for disabled people by the UK government, and that using BSL as a way of applauding silently was a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act.
Bole said: “BBCQT has condoned the disgraceful denigrating of disabled students. This is not acceptable from a public broadcaster.
“Disability Labour believes that the BBC should ensure that all staff involved with Question Time should have disability inclusion training. We would be pleased to advise the BBC in this regard.”
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry had shown some sympathy to the union’s actions, saying: “I think there are people, particularly on the autistic spectrum, who find it very difficult to go to places that are noisy and where there may be something about democracy going on.
“They may be excluded. I can see where this is coming from. The difficulty is that it is very deeply engrained in our culture that we clap, so I don’t know.”
But George Mpanga, better known as George the Poet, told Littner: “I’m mindful that people are different and it’s not fair to laugh down difference.
“There are people with experiences that make them very sensitive to sounds like clapping and unable to participate in spaces like that. I’m talking about neurodiversity, people that are triggered.”
A BBC spokesman told Disability News Service: “David was not mocking or intending any offence when he demonstrated ‘silent applause’ in relation to a question regarding Manchester Student Union replacing clapping with waving.
“Question Time is an inclusive programme and hosts panel and audience members from a range of different backgrounds, including people with disabilities.”
University of Manchester Students’ Union said last week that its new policy only applied to democratic events and was intended to make them more accessible and inclusive.
The union said in last week’s statement: “We have already received many positive responses from disabled students (some of whom are deaf or autistic), who are pleased to feel more included in our democratic process.
“Some of them plan to attend upcoming democratic events at the union for the first time, thanks to this policy.”
It added: “The way in which politics is managed and conducted is often hostile – we see that on a national stage every day of the week.
“We hope this decision goes some way towards promoting a better way of doing politics so that more people from all walks of life find it easier to participate in decision making that will affect the way their Students’ Union is run.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it was for the Conservative party to comment on whether Gauke would apologise, as it was a political rather than a departmental issue.
The Conservative party refused to comment.
11 October 2018
DWP ignores concerns from disabled people who shun activity over benefit fraud fears
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to offer a solution to disabled people who say they are fearful of taking more exercise in case they have their support cut or are branded benefit cheats.
A new report by the disability sports organisation Activity Alliance found that four-fifths (83 per cent) of disabled people they surveyed would like to be more active, but nearly half (47 per cent) feared losing their benefits if they took more exercise.
More than a third (34 per cent) had either had their own benefits sanctioned or removed because of being physically active or knew someone this had happened to.
The survey of more than 200 people who either currently or previously received disability benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) – and were involved with disability sports organisations – found almost two-thirds (65 per cent) relied on benefits to be active, so as to pay for travel, specialist equipment or paid-for exercise.
The Activity Trap: Disabled People’s Fear Of Being Active – which was commissioned by the Dwarf Sports Association – says that “ambiguity remains a problem in terms of what level of physical activity is acceptable and what might lead to removal of support”.
One of those surveyed said: “I have a lot of concerns when it comes to benefits and the constant fear of them being taken away or worry of being reassessed.
“It then impacts my life and any involvement in sport and physical activity which is none at the moment due to the concerns I have and not wanting my benefits to be taken off me, as DWP are not known for being understanding or nice and will try and find any reason to remove someone’s disability benefits.”
Another said: “The demonisation of disabled people in the media has led to a situation in which many are afraid to participate in sport because they are worried about getting reported for fraud, even if it really isn’t.”
And a third disabled person who took part in the survey described how a friend had lost half her benefits after trying to do more exercise to cope with her pain management.
She was told that to stand any chance of returning to the higher level of benefits “she’d have to give up all but one exercise class and maintain that level for six months”.
Disabled journalist, consultant and broadcaster Mik Scarlet said his fight to receive the level of PIP he needed took a year and caused “a huge emotional toll”.
He said he had begun a well-received video blog on sitting yoga but had been contacted by disabled people “saying they’d be concerned about trying it – in case they were considered fit enough to either work or receive a lower level of financial support.
“The Activity Trap report highlights the desperate situation for far too many disabled people in this country.”
Activity Alliance also heard from Alan Ringland, chair of the pan-disability Birmingham Ability Accounts League, who said his football league had seen the number of participants drop from 455 to 250 in just three years.
He said: “When you see them again you see that they’ve not been as active as they were, often they have put on weight and over time their health may deteriorate.
“Playing football on a Sunday was one day where they really enjoyed themselves and if they don’t take part anymore they can lose confidence, friendships, and the camaraderie that goes with that.
“In many cases, sport is the only regular social activity in their lives, and taking that away can have a massive impact.”
He told Disability News Service that he believed that 90 per cent of those who had dropped out had done so because they had lost eligibility for PIP and could no longer afford to attend training and regular matches.
Because his two disabled sons played football at international level, Ringland has known for the last 17 years many of the disabled people who currently take part, or previously took part, in the league.
He said former players had lost their travel passes after PIP assessments, while others could no longer afford mobile phones so could not keep in touch with their teams.
Andy Dalby-Welsh, deputy chief executive of Activity Alliance, said: “We want to work with and across government to make active lives for disabled people possible.
“We would urge policy makers within national and local government to take on board the calls for action within this report and the spirit with which it was written.”
But a DWP spokeswoman refused to say if the problem of disabled people resisting physical activity because of the fear of losing their benefits was something the department recognised, what action DWP could take to deal with the problem, or even what advice DWP would give to disabled people facing this problem.
Instead, she said in a statement: “We are committed to ensuring disabled people get the support they need and we’re providing £5.4 billion more on the main disability benefits this year than we did in 2010.
“PIP is a non-means-tested benefit to help with the costs of someone’s disability or health condition and under it 30 per cent of people get the highest rate of support, compared with 15 per cent under DLA.
“Assessments are based on a wide range of evidence to ensure people get the support they need.”
She said Public Health England would shortly publish guidance on fitness for disabled people.
11 October 2018
British Council tries to dodge Equality Act, after signing up to Disability Confident
The government-funded organisation responsible for promoting the UK’s culture and education abroad is asking an employment tribunal to allow it to dodge its duty – under the Equality Act – not to discriminate against disabled people.
The British Council is attempting to argue that English teacher Emily Frisby is not entitled to protection under the act because she was working for the charity as a teacher in Morocco at the time and was therefore being employed locally.
The charity is trying to use this as a defence even though it has signed up to the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident employment scheme, which aims to help employers recruit and retain disabled people.
Frisby says she experienced months of disability discrimination at the hands of British Council managers, after transferring to Morocco from Vietnam last year.
Now she wants the British Council to ensure that “no one else is subjected to the same disregard and humiliating treatment” she experienced.
She added: “I don’t see how British Council Morocco can continue to advertise itself as Disability Confident.”
After transferring to Morocco, she was denied the reduced hours she had in her previous British Council job, which worsened her health condition, and was forced to take a “protracted and dehumanising” grievance procedure because of the refusal to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed.
Managers also refused to provide her with a laptop – which they claimed would have cost just £1,000, before eventually finding a spare computer after she launched her grievance – while one manager made a joke about her hearing aid in a meeting (although he later denied this).
While she was still trying to secure the reasonable adjustments she needed to do her job as an English teacher, she had to attend an equality training session, and watch as two non-disabled teachers were asked to walk around pretending to be blind and deaf.
Frisby said: “I could not fully participate in the meeting about inclusion due to my own hearing loss and difficulty communicating in a noisy environment.
“I was really shocked and upset that I was being lectured to about disability whilst my own personal experience as a disabled person and requests for understanding were simultaneously being ignored.”
Her condition affects her hearing and balance, and symptoms include vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus, all of which can be triggered by stress.
But, she claims, when she tried to secure the reasonable adjustments she needed on arrival in Morocco, managers had questioned her impairment, bullied and harassed her, and refused to provide the reasonable adjustments she needed.
When managers eventually offered her a reduced hours contract, the proposal “effectively meant working more hours for lower pay”, according to a report by a British Council director.
As a result of her treatment, she was signed off work with stress and anxiety and an exacerbation of the symptoms of her condition.
In a statement submitted to the employment tribunal, she says: “It has been a long, stressful, humiliating, bewildering and as yet unresolved process which has had the opposite of the desired effect of getting support at work and I am now just as concerned about the general culture of bullying and intimidation at work as I am about the original issues around ‘reasonable adjustments’.”
An internal British Council investigation into her allegations upheld her complaint about the failure of managers to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed.
But the organisation’s lawyers are now trying to argue that she should not be offered the protection of the Equality Act as she was employed overseas on local terms and conditions and was subject to local laws.
They will put that case to an employment tribunal later this month.
They are arguing that the Equality Act does not apply to the British Council’s actions in Morocco, even though it is a UK charity, receives funding from the UK government, is sponsored by the Foreign Office, and has signed up to Disability Confident.
The British Council’s actions in north Africa come just weeks after international development secretary Penny Mordaunt spent much of a high-profile disability summit in London telling other countries to sign up to a new global charter that would commit them to eliminating discrimination and “challenging harmful attitudes and practices”.
In upholding an internal complaint Frisby made about her treatment, John Mitchell, the British Council’s director in Morocco, concluded that her “grievance regarding reasonable adjustments has been upheld”.
He added: “I acknowledge that for various reasons, best practice and procedure were not followed as they should have been.
“I very much regret this and apologise on behalf of the British Council for our failures in this respect.”
Although he dismissed her complaint of bullying and harassment, he “acknowledged that at times tensions and stress levels ran high, and that British Council values might not have been fully met by all parties at all times”.
This followed a report by another senior British Council executive, Justin Spence, the organisation’s deputy director in Tunisia, who concluded that the refusal “to invest £1k [in a laptop] was both a rejection of [reasonable adjustments] and sent a signal regarding the level of priority management assigned to her request”.
He also concluded that there had been “disturbing elements” to the treatment she received and said in his report that “management may have crossed a red line in terms of intimidation/bullying”, although he concluded that there was “a lack of sufficient hard evidence” to prove bullying or harassment.
A British Council spokeswoman said: “We are aware of this case. However, as the details are part of ongoing legal proceedings, we are unable to comment at this stage.”
11 October 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
Day of Action on the 17th October for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now! Schedule, updates, and victories
For months, after the horror of Grenfell, it seemed that residents of other tower blocks would be left indefinitely in buildings that could, any minute, go up in flames.
Since then, with steady pressure from Grenfell survivors, residents of the blocks, housing campaigners, Fuel Poverty Action, and social housing providers pressing central government, things have begun to change.
Thousands are still left in danger of fire and cold.
It is now essential to keep up the pressure and ensure that UK homes are safe, warm and that residents organisations are listened to — not ignored and increasingly de-resourced and disempowered.
Plans are well advanced for delivering our Open Letter to the MHCLG. There is still a little time for organisations, MPs, councillors etc, to sign it – here.
Support has been pouring in for this Day of Action and for the demands on the Open Letter. Trade Unions are taking up the call, in particular the FBU, PCS, BFAWU, NEU, Unite Community, and many branches and officers of Unite and Unison.
A great addition to the Day of Action is a solidarity event outside the UK embassy in Brussels, organised by Right to Energy Coalition. Their slogan: No more fire, no more cold: End Energy Poverty! Avenue d’Auderghem 10, 040 Bruxelles, Belgium
Please do what you can in this last week to rally others, contact your MP, use social media. Please see and promote the links below.
And please, if you are in London, join us on Sunday 14 October for the Silent Walk in memory of those who lost their lives at Grenfell Tower. Let us know if you can come. https://www.fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/
What’s been won so far:
Still to be won:
Hope to see you on October 17th!
Our mailing address is:
Fuel Poverty Action
Unit 5E Punderson Gardens
London, Greater LondonE2 9QG
Thanks to Nigel Peirce for setting up our Preston DPAC Group, which brings our growing number of local DPAC’s to 39, in towns and cities in all parts of the UK.
DPAC members in the Preston area can join by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to know if there is a DPAC group in your area, check out the list of DPAC groups with contact details.
If you can’t find a DPAC group to join, why not consider setting one up? If you are interested, email us on email@example.com to find out what’s involved
On Wednesday 3rd of October about 40 activists from many parts of the country including Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Berkshire, London, Manchester, Norfolk, Northampton, Preston Stafford, Suffolk, Warwickshire, Wolverhampton, Castle Bromwich and even Birmingham descended on Birmingham to protest at the Tory Party Conference and bring attention to the continuous attacks we have faced for the last 8 years.
Our thanks to all of them for giving up their time and energy to come and join us.
It was also DPAC’s 8th birthday as we were formed in October 2010 in response to the Tory’s austerity proposals so time too to celebrate doing what we do best.
Many thanks as well to Green Black Cross who provided us with a legal observer and also to West Midlands police for facilitating our protest even though they must have been pretty knackered given the number of protests they’ve had to facilitate this week.
We started off right next to the Conference Venue in an area together with women from WASPI, 2-3 UKIP supporters, and some pro-Remain supporters. Whether or not to protest here was discussed fully the day before with numerous activists since it would have been easy for the police to kettle us. However the unanimous decision was to go ahead with this protest location.
Then we split into groups to pursue different options with some people remaining outside the centre and others going off into central Brum to hold up the tram and hand out leaflets to passers by.
Here is a news report of the protest https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/tory-cuts-kill-yell-disabled-activists-as-theresa-may-prances-on-stage
Further images below:
Many people email us at DPAC wanting to tell their own story about what it’s like to be a disabled person in Britain today. So we’re putting up a place where people who wish to can record their own story.
There are three main categories, about Social Care, Access & Discrimination and about being a Welfare Claimant.
We would also like to collect your stories to use to campaign. For example we may use your story in our blog, in our research reports or we may share it with academic researchers.
You may leave your name or tell your story anonymously, its up to you. We also ask that you include an email address so we can get in contact but you don’t have to leave an email address if you don’t want to.
If you have different stories to tell about more than one subject please fill in the form as many times as you like, once for each subject area
Sometimes we get requests from Journalists who want to interview people on a particular subject such as Social Care. If you give your consent by ticking a box on the form, we may pass on your details to a journalist for a possible interview at a later date, but that is only if you give your consent by ticking the box in the form.
If you wish to record your story about your experiences of Social Care, follow this link
If you wish to record your story about your experiences of Access and Discrimination, follow this link
If you wish to record your story about your experiences of being a Welfare Benefit Claimant, follow this link
If you have more than one story you wish to tell or you have stories in more than one of the three subject areas, you can fill in the forms a number of times
[With thanks to John Pring, Editor DNS]
Tory conference: Charity’s silence on universal credit deaths, hours after minister announces £51m funding
A charity has refused to criticise the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over four deaths linked to universal credit, hours after a minister announced it would receive tens of millions of pounds to support claimants on the new benefit system.
Work and pensions secretary Esther McVey told the Conservative party conference on Monday that the advice charity Citizens Advice would receive the funding to deliver support to claimants.
It will be delivered through “universal support”, which provides universal credit claimants with advice and assistance, particularly with budgeting and the online aspects of their claims.
Since last year, local authorities have provided this service, funded by DWP, but Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland will take responsibility for delivering a “strengthened” version across England, Wales and Scotland from next April.
The two charities will receive £12 million in the run-up to April 2019 to “ensure a smooth transition to the new delivery model” and then another £39 million from April 2019 to provide the service.
A DWP spokeswoman confirmed today (Thursday) that the funding of £39 million was for just one year, “with a review at the end”.
But she also appeared to confirm that the contracts signed by the charities includes a clause preventing them from attracting “adverse publicity” to the department or to McVey herself, as in contracts signed by some of the disability charities who have signed up to deliver services as part of DWP’s new Work and Health Programme.
Such a clause is likely to say that Citizens Advice must “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of McVey and must promise not to do anything that harms the public’s confidence in her or DWP.
“The grant sets out the relationship with DWP and its grant recipients so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.
“The wording is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, nor from raising any concerns directly with the department.”
Disabled activists have already raised serious concerns about whether the DWP funding will put the independence of Citizens Advice at risk, and this admission is likely to fuel those concerns.
Disabled activist Rick Burgess said in a blog this week that people he had spoken to in the advice and welfare rights sector were “aghast” and “appalled” by the charity’s decision to take the funding.
He said: “Make no mistake, this is a historic betrayal that is not business as usual and is not ‘okay’.
“The executives and board of [Citizens Advice] have catastrophically sabotaged their organisation’s independence and reputation in return for medium term financial security.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said on Twitter: “[Citizens Advice] selling out to DWP for £51million. No wonder we don’t trust charities.”
And Dr Jay Watts added: “Can’t believe [Citizens Advice] has sold out to the DWP for £51 million after 79 years of independence.
“It is near impossible to bite the hand that feeds – as we have seen with so many charities – so a clever way to mute criticism of #UniversalCredit.”
Just hours after McVey’s announcement, Citizens Advice’s head of policy on families, welfare and work, Kayley Hignell, spoke at a Conservative conference fringe event on universal credit and its impact on mental health.
Hignell and the other panellists were asked by Disability News Service about secret DWP reviews that have linked the deaths of four universal credit claimants with the department’s activity, and whether they thought DWP had taken those deaths seriously enough.
One of the deaths was linked to the “claimant commitment” that universal credit recipients must sign, with DWP’s panel of reviewers warning in their report that it appeared to be “overtly threatening, especially to individuals who are vulnerable”.
But Hignell, who had been told about the reviews before the fringe event, failed to raise concerns about this report or the four deaths, criticise the government, or call for urgent action.
Instead, she spoke about how much more there was to do to implement universal credit properly and how people with more “niche” support needs were currently “losing out”.
She said: “Those groups of people need much, much more attention within the system.”
She said DWP faced a challenge over the “speed” of the rollout and its “capacity” and that the department needed to do more work to “tailor” universal credit to the needs of individuals.
Earlier in the meeting, hosted by The Trussell Trust – which runs a national network of 400 foodbanks – Hignell’s comments about the universal credit roll-out had also appeared to contrast with much stronger criticisms of DWP from her fellow panellists.
Hignell had told the meeting that universal support was “not consistently available across the country”.
And she said that universal credit was “at a critical point at the moment” and that there was “more to do” for DWP in preparation for the “significant upheaval” of “managed migration” for disabled people.
From next year, and over the following four years, managed migration will see hundreds of thousands of disabled people forced to end their existing employment and support allowance (ESA) claims and apply instead for universal credit.
Hignell said: “We do believe government needs to do everything they can to identify those who may struggle with the system.”
She added: “We want to make sure that UC works for everybody and that it’s ready for its next stage of rollout.”
In contrast, Sophie Corlett, head of external relations for the mental health charity Mind, described managed migration as “a juggernaut that’s rolling towards us” and “something that we are really concerned about”.
She described the flaws in the system that will make managed migration difficult, if not impossible, for many people with mental health conditions.
She warned that the implications of failing with a claim for universal credit as part of managed migration were “really huge”, as the person would then be treated as a new claimant and would not be entitled to transitional payments previously announced by ministers.
She also pointed to the tight deadline for claimants to complete their online application for universal credit once they have been told their old ESA claim is about to end.
Corlett said: “There can’t be a deadline at which point your current benefit stops dead. That is a ridiculous situation.”
Sue Weightman, who manages three Trussell Trust foodbanks in the Taunton Deane area of Somerset, one of the first to cope with the universal credit rollout, in October 2016, said the impact of its introduction had been startling and immediate.
She said: “Almost overnight we went from a foodbank that would see maybe a dozen clients in an afternoon to opening the door at two o’clock and having a queue of 15 to 20 people around the corner.
“Almost overnight I needed more volunteers, more food donations, more funding. I also needed more training for the volunteers who were working at that time.”
She said there had been an improvement since changes to universal credit announced by the government last November, but that many people were still suffering from the after-effects of falling into severe debt when they were moved onto universal credit two years ago.
She said this particularly affected those with mental health conditions or learning difficulties, whose problems have “got a lot more severe in the last two years”, including struggles with the complexity and length of the system.
She said: “We have a much higher rate of sanctioning for clients with any form of mental health illness than with any of the others and some are getting sanctioned two or three times.”
And she said many people with mental health conditions were still “fearful” of taking out advance payments through universal credit because they were worried they would not be able to pay the money back and would fall further and further into debt.
She said: “Most clients with any form of mental health illness we have seen in the last two years have seen a spiralling down of their health.
“We have seen a high percentage of people having to move home and getting into rent arrears.”
Citizens Advice has so far refused to confirm that its contract with DWP includes an “adverse publicity” clause.
But a spokeswoman for the charity said in a statement: “Citizens Advice is independent of government and always will be.
“The people we help are our first priority, and this funding will mean Citizens Advice will be able to help even more people who are struggling to make a universal credit claim.
“The advice we give people will always be totally impartial, and we’ll continue to advocate on behalf of the people who come to us for help.”
4 October 2018
Tory conference: Disability charities face questions over Conservative links
Two disability charities are facing questions over their close links to the Conservative party, after they failed to challenge the minister for disabled people about government policies at a conference fringe event.
Both Bipolar UK and the Epilepsy Society have close links with the party, Disability News Service has established.
Bipolar UK’s chief executive has twice stood for the party in a general election, while the chair of the Conservative Disability Group (CDG) works as a public affairs consultant for the Epilepsy Society.
The chief executives of both charities failed to criticise and challenge the government in their speeches at the fringe event, despite years of anger directed at Conservative-led governments by user-led organisations, charities and disabled people – including many with bipolar and epilepsy – following eight years of austerity cuts and unpopular reforms to disability support.
Last autumn, a UN committee of disabled human rights experts delivered a damning verdict on the UK government’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The committee said then that it was “deeply concerned” that the government still believed it was a “champion of human rights”, while its chair said that cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” in the UK.
But neither of the charities took the opportunity to criticise the government, while sharing a platform with the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton.
The fringe event was hosted by the Conservative Disability Group and was supposed to discuss ways to make society more inclusive for people with invisible impairments.
Peter Hand, the group’s chair, is a former public affairs manager for Leonard Cheshire and is now a public affairs consultant for the Epilepsy Society. He chaired the fringe meeting.
Clare Pelham, chief executive of the Epilepsy Society and former chief executive of Leonard Cheshire, was one of those who spoke at the fringe.
Another speaker was Simon Kitchen, chief executive of Bipolar UK, a former senior executive with both Leonard Cheshire and the Alzheimer’s Society, who contested Newcastle Central for the Conservatives in 2015 and then Newcastle East at last year’s general election.
In his speech, Kitchen stressed the medical and treatment aspects of bipolar, and dismissed any suggestion that inclusion or the social model were relevant to people with the condition.
He said: “For people with bipolar, it is a very serious, serious illness that can do real serious damage to people.
“And I think that is important when we think about inclusion, because often in understanding why we say we talk about the social model of disability and the importance of inclusion, but for people with bipolar it’s actually the condition itself which excludes people from society.
“It’s what keeps them in hospital, it’s what ruins their careers, it’s what destroys their families.
“So for me, in terms of being able to promote inclusion for people with invisible disabilities, it has to be for people with bipolar tackling the medical side of it as well.”
He said that about half of Bipolar UK’s staff and trustees had disclosed a diagnosis of bipolar, as well as hundreds of its volunteers, and that his charity “just about function well as an organisation”.
Pelham told the fringe meeting that before talking about what more could be done on inclusion it was important to “celebrate how far we have come” and the “enormous progress” that has been made.
She said her charity had been founded 100 years ago to provide refuge for people who were previously confined to workhouses or asylums, “safe from the blatant hostility” and “physical threat” from the communities they would otherwise be in.
She also said she could remember a time when Scope was called “the Spastics Society”, and when a child who lived in her road “went off on a bus somewhere” to school and was called “the spastic in the road”, and how mothers would not let their children play with him.
She said: “Life isn’t like that any more. And there is lots of credit to people in this room and to governments that have shown leadership about the journey that we have come.”
Pelham claimed there was a moment during the London 2012 Paralympics when “we all just noticed that we are at ease with this, we were all comfortable with the Paralympics and I think we felt as a country proud of ourselves. I did.
“We had a leadership problem. We took a problem and together, drip drip, changing the language, changing the attitudes, we changed the world.
“There’s still lots, lots more to be done but for many, many people with physical disabilities, life is better than it would have been 40, 50 years ago.”
Asked afterwards why the Epilepsy Society failed to challenge the government on its policies, Hand refused to answer the question.
But he said in a statement: “The event was a great success, we have received excellent feedback from those who attended and we were delighted that the venue was full – it was a great opportunity for the CDG to engage with the wider disability sector.”
Hand said he had been chairing the event in his capacity as CDG chair.
Kitchen refused to say why he had failed to challenge the government, and why he had dismissed the social model for people with bipolar.
But he said in a statement: “Bipolar UK engages with, and makes representations to government, on a range of issues relevant to the concerns and aspirations of people with bipolar in this country, through a range of different forums, including events such as the Conservative Disability Group’s recent fringe event in Birmingham.
“Bipolar UK will continue to engage with government on this basis to help improve the lives of people with bipolar and create a more inclusive society for those who live with the condition.
“We also work hard to combat the stigma and discrimination associated with the condition.”
4 October 2018
Labour activist ‘violated’ by journalist’s safe space tweet welcomes ban
A disabled activist who was left “humiliated and violated” by the actions of a high-profile journalist who mocked a “safe space” used by disabled people at last week’s Labour conference has praised the decision to ban her from next year’s event.
TalkRADIO presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer has been told by the Labour party that she will not be welcome at next year’s party conference, following “multiple complaints” about her behaviour.
Hartley-Brewer posted a video on social media in which she could be seen sitting in the safe space – which was put aside for disabled people and others who needed a quiet area for impairment-related and other reasons – and then saying “boo” as a colleague with a camera enters the room.
A sign on the door makes it clear that there is a serious purpose to the safe space, referring to “urgent medical treatment”, the party’s “safeguarding unit” and “safety or welfare” concerns, while information about the room was included in the accessibility information pages of the main conference guide.
Hartley-Brewer argued that the sign did not make it clear that the room was “meant for people with autism and other disabilities” and has refused to apologise.
This week she was still describing the room as “absurd”, even after being told repeatedly that it had been used by disabled people for impairment-related reasons, including by autistic people and those with anxiety.
Rebecca*, the disabled Labour activist whose complaint led to Labour investigating Hartley-Brewer’s actions, told Disability News Service (DNS) that the decision to ban the journalist was “entirely appropriate”.
She said: “I think it was quite clear she was going there with intent to cause distress and to paint herself as some kind of martyr when she got the inevitable backlash.
“She still hasn’t apologised, so she’s not sorry, so she doesn’t deserve to be at the conference.”
She said she was “still angry” about Hartley-Brewer’s actions.
She added: “What it showed me is just how ignorant people are around these issues, especially when it comes to mental health, and just how much work needs to be done to get it anywhere with a parity of esteem with physical disability.”
Rebecca, who is autistic, said she believed this ignorance could be linked to the social security reforms of successive Conservative-led governments and the “narrative they have spun” about disabled people, and the impact of that on disability hate crime.
She said: “I think she’s one of those people who doesn’t believe in mental health or anxiety. We’re just snowflakes [to her].
“It’s the ‘might is right’ attitude. She’s just a bully. You can guarantee that she was a bully in school. She’s just a deeply unpleasant individual.”
She added: “Someone said on Twitter, ‘If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t go’. Do they want all autistic people to be shut up and locked away in an asylum somewhere?”
Rebecca said that discriminatory attitudes like this were “disgusting” and “sad”.
She said it was “really important” to explain why such spaces were necessary, and she said they probably should be staffed by accessibility stewards to avoid such actions at future events.
She said that having the quiet room at the conference had allowed her to continue to attend the event.
She said: “If I didn’t have that space I would have had a full-blown panic attack.”
Such an attack can lead her to “physically seize up”, experience pins and needles in her hands, and temporarily lose the ability to speak.
She said: “I’ve been picked up by ambulances [because of] the way I collapse.
“If I hadn’t had that space I would probably have collapsed and possibly been taken in an ambulance or I might have taken myself back to the hotel, but I might not have been safe.
“If I hadn’t had that space I think I would have been in real trouble that day.”
A Labour spokeswoman said: “We pride ourselves on high standards of inclusivity and we do not tolerate abuse or discrimination.
“We received multiple complaints about Julia Hartley-Brewer’s behaviour during conference, including from Disability Labour, and she caused considerable distress to vulnerable groups, including to delegates with conditions including Asperger’s, autism and anxiety disorders.
“We reserve the right to decide who we accredit for our events. Julia Hartley-Brewer had no right to use our conference facilities to mock disabled people, so she will not be welcome next year.”
Hartley-Brewer said on Twitter that the decision to ban a journalist for making what she said was a “joke” about Labour’s “absurd #SafeSpace” was “ridiculous and sinister”.
TalkRADIO refused to comment on the incident or on Labour’s ban but instead directed DNS to a tweet sent out by Hartley-Brewer last week.
In that tweet, she refused to apologise, although she said: “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.”
*Not her real name
4 October 2018
Tory conference: Newton ‘breaches ministerial code’ while dodging questions
The minister for disabled people appears to have breached the ministerial code of conduct, after refusing to answer questions at her party’s annual conference and suggesting that civil servants could answer them for her instead.
Sarah Newton’s office had failed to respond to emails requesting an interview sent in advance of the conference by Disability News Service (DNS).
And when approached by DNS before a fringe event run by the Conservative Disability Group on Sunday, Newton said she would not answer any questions at conference, either in person or by email.
After DNS failed in a bid to ask Newton a question during the fringe event, she also refused afterwards to answer even one question about her work as minister for disabled people.
Newton suggested instead that DNS should submit questions to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) press office, even though DWP would not be able to answer those questions because civil servants are not allowed to play any part in political events.
This would be a breach of the Civil Service Code, which says civil servants should not “act in a way that is determined by party political considerations, or use official resources for party political purposes”.
The ministerial code of conduct says that ministers “must uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service, and not ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code”.
Despite dodging questions from the disabled editor of DNS, John Pring, Newton told the fringe event: “In my role, it is really important to me that I spend my time listening to people with disabilities and health conditions and this is something that I do day in, day out.”
Asked whether Newton would face any action for apparently breaching the ministerial code of conduct, the Conservative party had refused to comment by noon today (Thursday).
4 October 2018
Harmonica charity confesses to 16 years of discrimination
A disabled musician is threatening legal action after he was told by a charity organising its annual international harmonica festival that he would have to be carried in his wheelchair up and down a flight of stairs if he wanted to attend.
The National Harmonica League (NHL) is set to hold its International Festival – its largest event of the year – at Bristol Folk House later this month.
It admits on its website that the “one drawback” of the venue is that it “has many levels and tight staircases which make it very difficult or impossible for anyone with physical disabilities”.
But Disability News Service has discovered that the charity has been warning potential visitors to the festival that poor access is the venue’s “one drawback” for more than 16 years.
NHL charges visitors up to £45 for a weekend ticket for the event, which will feature workshops, competitions, stalls run by companies such as Suzuki and Seydel, and performances by professionals.
But artist and musician Gaius FitzGibbon has been told he will only be able to attend if he is willing to being carried up and down a flight of stairs in his electric wheelchair.
The inaccessible venue means not only that he misses out on the festival but that he will not be able to apply for an educational bursary from NHL, which would have assisted with accommodation costs, food and tuition.
FitzGibbon said: “Unfortunately my health has progressed to a point where I am no longer able to play my saxophone.
“The only musical instrument I am able now to play is my blues harmonica.
“I am really, really disappointed and fed up that I can’t even attend the main harmonica event of the year and at least get to talk to other players and be involved in the scene.”
He is now considering legal action against NHL for discrimination under the Equality Act.
Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union (MU), said: “Disabled musicians are still being excluded from various festivals, venues and competitions because organisers fail to realise that some musicians have impairments.
“Excluding disabled musicians deprives audiences and musicians of some amazing talent. Some small changes and engagement with disabled musicians could change that.
“Accessibility should never be an afterthought; all venues should be accessible to all musicians.
“There’s some amazing work happening in this area driven by organisations like the MU and Attitude is Everything but there is still a long way to go.
“Every musician should have the opportunity to take part in the [festival] and the harmonica player of the year competition and it is time for the organisers to work with disabled musicians and the MU to create a festival that all musicians can participate in.
“The MU would welcome a conversation with the event organisers to discuss how they can make the festival and all future events accessible to all musicians.”
Before DNS discovered that NHL had been warning about the access at Bristol Folk House for 16 years, its chair, Ben Hewlett, admitted that it was not acceptable for FitzGibbon to be told he would have to be carried up and down stairs in his wheelchair, but claimed this was “a compromise”.
Hewlett said that a wheelchair-user won one of the festival competitions “several years ago” but had to be carried up and down stairs to access the venue.
He said this was when they began to look for an alternative venue. He later admitted that this incident happened in 2007, 11 years ago.
Hewlett said that the other five, smaller events NHL organised every year were held in accessible venues.
And he said that his organisation had been looking for a “suitable replacement” for Bristol Folk House and was “fully committed” to finding a new venue with “full disabled access”.
But he said his fellow committee members had also told him they would not even allow him to promise a move to a more accessible venue in time for next year’s festival, and that they were “also concerned about the price of a new venue being a lot more than the current venue” as NHL was “not well funded”.
Hewlett added: “I think we need to work harder and get it done and that’s what we’re doing.”
But after DNS told Hewlett that it had discovered NHL had been warning about the access since 2002, he then produced a new statement and said the charity had “researched many venues” in those 16 years but had “not found a suitable alternative yet”.
Asked if NHL would apologise to disabled people for its failings over the last 16 years, he said: “No apologies to ‘people with disabilities’ as the vast majority can and do access the Folk House all the time.
“However the NHL does apologise to people who are permanent wheelchair users, realising it has been slow to resolve better accessibility. It is working hard to remedy the situation as stated many times.”
He added: “There are no plans to come back to the Folk House.
“If the NHL hasn’t found a suitable alternative in 2019 one option is to use the nearby and accessible St George’s Hall for the bulk of the festival – all day Saturday.
“The Folk House could be used just for the children’s competition and some repeated workshops on the Sunday morning.”
4 October 2018
MPs help WOW win fight for second Commons debate
Campaigners have won their fight to persuade MPs to hold a second debate in the House of Commons on the need for the government to assess the overall damage caused to disabled people by years of austerity cuts.
The announcement that a debate will take place is a victory for members of the WOW Campaign, who have been seeking cross-party backing for a follow-up to a high-profile debate that took place in the Commons four years ago.
The second debate, which will call on the government to commission an independent cumulative assessment of the impact of social security changes on sick and disabled people, their families and carers, will be headed by Labour MPs Debbie Abrahams and Kate Green.
Abrahams is a former shadow minister for disabled people and shadow work and pensions secretary, and Green is a former shadow minister for disabled people.
But they have secured strong cross-party backing from about 20 opposition MPs, including the SNP’s Dr Philippa Whitford, Green MP Caroline Lucas, and Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Stephen Lloyd, but also four Tory MPs, Michael Tomlinson, Sir Mike Penning (a former minister for disabled people), Nigel Mills and Dr Dan Poulter.
The need for a debate has been agreed by the backbench business committee, which is given a limited number of slots in the Commons timetable – outside government control – to schedule subjects suggested by backbench MPs.
Abrahams and Green hope the debate will take place in the main Commons chamber and will last three hours. A date has not yet been set by the committee.
In her successful request for a debate, Abrahams told the committee that organisations that have called for a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) include the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, the government’s own social security advice body, and peers on the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee.
And she pointed to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, published in March, which calculated its own cumulative impact assessment of all the tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms introduced between May 2010 and January 2018.
That report found that some disabled lone parents would eventually lose more than 30 per cent of their income – more than £11,000 a year – due to eight years of cuts.
Abrahams had told the committee: “Given the fact that we have not had a debate in four years and that we have had the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, the roll-out of universal credit, changes around the criteria for personal independence payment and so on, we hope that the backbench business committee is able to support this debate.”
The WOW Campaign said the need for an assessment of the “human impact” of the government’s cuts to disability support had become “even more urgent” because of the roll-out of the government’s new universal credit, and it called on the government to “show a duty of care” to disabled people.
A WOW Campaign spokeswoman said: “They have all seen disabled people and carers at their surgeries impacted by cuts, they have seen the desperation, they have no excuse for not protecting us and assessing how hard we have been hit to fulfil an ideology.”
Four years ago, nearly 105,000 people signed a petition launched by the WOW Campaign that called on the government to carry out a CIA.
That petition – and the earlier Pat’s Petition – led to a debate in February 2014, the first time that disabled people had secured a debate in the main Commons chamber on an agenda they had chosen themselves.
Michelle Maher, from the WOW Campaign, called on disabled people and their allies to push their own MPs to attend the debate, which she hoped would reveal the truth, “that disability support has been cut by billions” including cuts in areas such as social care, respite care, NHS funding and housing benefit.
She said: “The most severely disabled children and adults have been hit the hardest.
“In whose world is it OK for severely disabled children and their carers to pay for the mistakes of bankers?”
4 October 2018
Tory conference: Government side-lines working-age social care… again
The health and social care secretary has side-lined the support needs of working-age disabled people while announcing new funds for the social care system at this week’s Conservative party conference.
Matt Hancock announced an extra £240 million for local authorities to help ease pressure on the NHS this winter, with the party saying the money would “fund packages of care to prevent older people from going into hospital unnecessarily and getting people home quickly when medically fit to leave”.
Labour described this as “a drop in the ocean” and “tinkering at the edges”, while the Local Government Association welcomed the new money but warned that “short-term bailouts are not the answer” and that adult social care faced a £3.5 billion funding gap by 2025, just to maintain existing levels of support.
Hancock told the conference in Birmingham that the money was “to pay for social care packages this winter to support our NHS” and “free up those vital hospital beds”.
And he said he wanted to address the pressures on social care not because he wanted to improve support for disabled and older people but because he wanted “to make the NHS the best health service in the world”.
When he spoke about the need for long-term social care reform, he said this was necessary “so people don’t have to fear the risk of losing everything if for a reason outside their control they end up needing care when they’re old”, again avoiding any mention of working-age disabled people and the importance of independent living.
He added: “Reform of social care is long overdue and we’ll publish a paper later this year setting out the progress we can make to give all people confidence and dignity in old age.”
The prime minister, Theresa May, failed to mention disabled people in her main conference speech, and avoided any mention of social care and its funding crisis.
Last month, Disability News Service revealed that Hancock’s department had quietly dropped the idea of having a separate “parallel programme of work” on working-age social care, which will now be included in the government’s green paper, to be published later this year.
The care minister, Caroline Dinenage, was unable to attend the conference because of illness, and so had to cancel planned appearances at several fringe meetings on social care funding.
But Damian Green, a close political ally of Theresa May and former work and pensions secretary, told one fringe meeting – which again focused on the care needs of older people – that all political parties had played “destructive games” with their attempts to solve the social care funding crisis.
He said: “Our own party talked in 2010 about the ‘death tax’ as a way of stigmatising the Labour government’s attempt to fund social care, and in 2017… the Tory party’s attempt at what was a thoughtful if difficult policy was instantly dubbed the ‘dementia tax’ and proved politically unsaleable.”
He told the event – hosted by the Tory think-tank Bright Blue and Hanover Housing Association – that this had driven governments away from long-term solutions and towards “short-term fixes”.
He said that a solution would only be found on a cross-party basis.
Green suggested a new system, with “different generations paying in different ways”, with those of working-age over 40 paying a national insurance care supplement.
Those over 66 or 67 with significant savings would have the option of making a one-off voluntary payment – probably secured by releasing equity from their home – that would protect them from any future claims on their savings if they needed state-funded care when they were older.
He said this should be funded through “national, rather than local taxation, because otherwise councils are going to be doing nothing except adult social care in 10 years’ time”.
Disability News Service asked about the decision to drop the idea of addressing the support needs of working-age disabled people through a “parallel programme of work”, and why those needs had not been addressed in the fringe event, when about half of adult social care spending was on working-age people.
Green said: “You’re right, it’s actually slightly more than 50 per cent of social care spending is on working-age people.
“You can produce good arguments for trying to do it as a whole or saying actually they are slightly different issues.
“The latest thinking is that this is going to be covered in the green paper as well.
“To the best of my knowledge they have been doing the preparatory work for it.
“I don’t think there is anything sinister in that, I just think they decided to get it all out in one go, to get the full debate about the whole range of social care out at the same time.”
4 October 2018
Tory conference: Senior minister ignores accessible housing crisis
A senior government minister is facing criticism after ignoring the crisis in accessible housing in his speech to this week’s party conference.
James Brokenshire, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, told the conference that the prime minister saw housing as the government’s “biggest domestic priority”.
Although he said that “everyone deserves a decent, affordable and secure place to call home”, he made no mention of disabled people and the crisis in accessible housing.
In August, his department was criticised by disabled campaigners and the equality watchdog after Brokenshire’s new social housing green paper failed to include a single mention of the accessible housing crisis.
Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned that more than 350,000 disabled people in England had unmet housing needs, with one-third of those in private rented accommodation and one-fifth of those in social housing living in unsuitable properties.
EHRC called in its report for the government to draw up a national strategy to ensure an adequate supply of new homes built to inclusive design standards.
Brokenshire’s speech came as Laki Kaur, a young disabled woman, was spending yet another day in an east London hospital.
She has now spent more than 100 days in 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.
But this summer’s social housing green paper, described by Brokenshire as a “new deal” for social housing residents – those who pay rent at below market levels – failed to mention accessible housing once, although it did refer to the “key role” played by supported housing and an ongoing review of the disabled facilities grant (DFG), which will see spending increase from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.
But there were no new proposals in the green paper for increasing the supply of new accessible homes, or even requests for ideas on how the accessible housing crisis could be addressed.
And in his speech this week, Brokenshire focused on “increasing home ownership”, rather than social housing or accessible housing, while he also delivered four sentences on private rented housing, three on social housing, and four on his strategy to “end rough sleeping for good”.
The prime minister, Theresa May, devoted a significant chunk of her conference speech yesterday (Wednesday) to housing.
She talked about home ownership, rough sleeping, and scrapping the cap on local authority borrowing to build new homes but made no mention of the need to build homes to inclusive design standards.
She also made no mention of disabled people throughout her speech of more than 7,000 words.
Asked why Brokenshire had again ignored the accessible housing crisis, the Conservative party had refused to comment by noon today.
4 October 2018
Tory conference: Newton admits DWP needs to improve
The minister for disabled people has admitted that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needs to “make improvements” in order to increase disabled people’s “confidence” in the social security system.
Sarah Newton told a fringe event at her party’s annual conference in Birmingham that “for lots of reasons” too many people were worried about applying for disability benefits such as personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).
Her admission comes after years of anger directed at her department over Tory-led government cuts and reforms to disability support, including the introduction of PIP and the new universal credit, and research linking DWP policies – including those affecting the work capability assessment – with the deaths of disabled claimants.
Only two weeks ago, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how a secret DWP review into the death of a claimant of universal credit had criticised the “overtly threatening” nature of the conditions that claimants must accept when signing up to the new benefit system.
The conclusion by a panel of civil servants related to just one of 33 deaths, all linked to DWP activity, that have been subject to what are called “internal process reviews” since April 2016.
The number of these secret reviews carried out by DWP appears to have doubled in the last two years.
Meanwhile, DNS continues to receive reports every week of disabled people who have been the subject of dishonest or otherwise poor quality benefit assessments, particularly for PIP.
Opposition politicians including Labour’s Marsha de Cordova and Liberal Democrat Stephen Lloyd have warned that the impact of the “migration” of hundreds of thousands of disabled people onto universal credit from next year, and over the following four years, could prove disastrous.
And last year, the chair of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” which was “totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in”.
Newton told this week’s fringe meeting, hosted by the disability charity Leonard Cheshire and the technology giant Microsoft: “It’s really important that people have confidence in the DWP, that they want to go and visit the jobcentre, and when they go and interact with us that they will meet people who they have confidence will treat them respectfully, with dignity and are basically on their side and want to enable them to live a full and independent life…”
Newton claimed that the benefits system worked well for the “majority of people”, but she said that “one person’s bad experience is one too many”.
She added: “I know that we need to make improvements.”
Newton said she believed that DWP was “making progress” in improving the system for disabled people.
She added: “Everything is not perfect as yet, we have set out a lot of reform, we have had very constructive dialogue, and I am confident we will make those changes.
“Then, once people are in that position, I think it is much easier to have a dialogue about everything else to do with health conditions and disabilities and all the really positive work that we are doing, and investing, especially in enabling people to get into work and stay in work and make progress in work.”
Newton said: “I hope that when we do our customer satisfaction surveys… we will see that they have shifted significantly and I will see that my postbag is much reduced in terms of people bringing me cases of when things don’t work well… and people having a much more confident relationship with DWP.”
4 October 2018
Tory party conference: Potential of assistive technology is ‘truly transformatory’
Developments in assistive technology over the next few years have the potential to be “truly, truly transformatory” for disabled people, a fringe event at the Conservative party conference heard this week.
Neil Heslop, chief executive of the disability charity Leonard Cheshire, who uses assistive technology himself, said that technology was “a massive force for good, if appropriately leveraged”.
But he added: “As the economy becomes increasingly digitised, there are risks and dangers for people with disability missing out on those opportunities.”
He said that everybody working in technology recognised that it was not perfect and “still has a very, very long way to go” in terms of accessibility.
But he said that “the core thesis is that we are as a society at an inflection point and what we do and don’t do now and in a small number of years actually has the potential to be truly, truly transformatory”.
The fringe event was hosted by Leonard Cheshire and the technology giant Microsoft.
Hector Minto, “accessibility evangelist” for Microsoft, said that technology was “reaching further into society than it ever has before”, including the billion disabled people on the planet.
He said: “We cannot design society digitally without purposefully including people with disability.
“Otherwise we miss the one in seven [people who are disabled], and the price will be high.”
Minto said that “every other industrial revolution the world has encountered” had paid a price for having to “add disability later”.
He said there was now an opportunity to “wire in accessibility” into what was being done and he pointed to a free plug-in for the widely-available Microsoft PowerPoint software that he then revealed had been producing live subtitles for the meeting.
Minto said Microsoft was increasing the number of disabled people it employed because it needed to include them “in our workplace, in our product groups, in our design teams”.
And he said the company was also asking its corporate customers around the world to “unlock” the assistive technology that was already built into Microsoft software.
But he said: “What about before you’re in work? That’s the time when you need to engage with technology.
“Virtually every job that we do today has an element of technology, and that is increasing as time goes on.
“So for me, a key part of what we need to do is invent a new mechanism that allows funding prior to work to engage people in technology and engage them in the learning and training and the use of it.”
Hannah Rose told the meeting how assistive technology – including the use of speech recognition software, which allows her to dictate into her computer – had helped her pass her GCSEs, A-levels and a degree, after becoming disabled as a teenager.
She later secured a job as a vetting officer with Cheshire police, following a work trial, where she has now worked for 10 years.
She said: “It gives me that independence to carry out a fulfilling job, like I am serving a purpose, like everybody else in that office.
“None of this would have been possible without having that assistive technology.
“Without work I would be lost. It’s great to be able to contribute to society like any other person, and without the access to assistive technology this wouldn’t be possible.”
The meeting also discussed the wider issue of disability employment.
Dave Bracher, campaigns manager for Spinal Injuries Association, said: “There has to be a way of getting the message out there that employers who are not employing disabled people are really missing a trick, because of the skills and qualities that those people bring to the party.
“I am not saying that I am any more special than anybody else in the room as an employee but what I am saying is that my experience of spinal cord injury, the year I spent in rehab, the three weeks I spent with locked-in syndrome, communicating by blinking… that gives me skills and qualities that any employer should be looking for.”
Sarah Newton, minister for disabled people, told the meeting: “It isn’t acceptable that half of people with disabilities who want to work and could work are not in work. That is a lost talent pool for the whole nation.
“There’s a lot of talk at this conference and the last conference about post-Brexit Britain and the future of our country after Brexit and one thing for sure is that we need to make sure that we are using all the talents in our nation going forward, and that must mean enabling more of those people to get into work and to thrive in work.”
Heslop said: “If any large-scale organisation does not have a representative number of people with disabilities in its workforce [which he said was about 19 per cent] and frighteningly few organisations achieve that today, anyone who doesn’t should be dissatisfied and should be committing themselves to creating an inclusive workplace.”
He added: “Anyone in a leadership position has to accept [that], and this is true of large charities like ours.
“I’m completely dissatisfied with the proportion of disabled people we employ, and we are taking steps to get much better.”
Tyler said there was “scary but increasing evidence” that employers were looking at people’s social media profiles at the earliest stages of recruitment and if they saw that those people were disabled they “are rejected before they even get in the door”.
He said: “We need to find ways through technology of highlighting/flagging/preventing that kind of stuff from happening.”
4 October 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
|I’m a Correspondent with ITV Granada and looking to highlight the impact of local authority cuts on people’s care packages. I’ve done a series of reports on the impact of changes in the benefits system http://www.itv.com/news/granada/2017-02-08/people-are-dying-as-a-result-of-failings-in-benefit-system/|
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In parallel with DPAC’s direct action outside the Tory Conference during Theresa May’s keynote speech, we are also calling for a twitterstorm protest online for those who can’t make it to Brum
The details are:
Date and Time: October 3rd from midday onwards
Hashtags: #CPC18, #ToryCutsKill and #HostileEnvironment
We’ve prepared a gallery of memes made by Brian Hilton and Prim McLordy, and are shown below
If you click on a meme, you will see it full size, go on to the next meme by clicking the left or right arrows on either side of the page. To use each meme on twitter or facebook, right click on the image and save the file, then at it to your tweet or post.