[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