Autistic woman ‘left sick and broken’ by two-year universal credit delay
An autistic woman says she has been left without vital financial support – and life-saving medication – for nearly two years because she cannot cope with the face-to-face interview she must undergo to complete her universal credit claim.
Claire*, who lives in the Manchester area, does not have enough money to pay for the medicine she needs because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to complete her claim, 22 months after she applied for universal credit.
Because of her complex health conditions, including the severe anxiety she experiences following a serious physical assault, she cannot cope with a face-to-face assessment.
For that reason, Disability News Service (DNS) has been unable to speak to her about her case and confirm every detail, but it has seen paperwork from a DWP civil servant responding to a complaint about the failure to complete her claim.
It is just the latest case that appears to demonstrate the deep-rooted flaws built into universal credit, which was supposed to simplify the benefits system, but instead has driven tens of thousands into poverty.
Claire has multiple sclerosis and has had three heart attacks, and has been told she could have a fatal heart attack at any moment due to unstable angina, while she also has a number of other significant health conditions, including depression, asthma, diabetes, Charles Bonnet syndrome and severe misophonia (extreme sensitivity to certain sounds).
She told DNS, in a statement sent through her cousin, Rachel*: “I have worked all my life until I got MS; I have never felt so worthless as the DWP have made me feel.
“I often want to harm myself because I can’t cope with the stress and anxiety.
“The DWP have brought me to my knees and every time I try to get up they push me down again. I am very tired; sick and broken.”
DNS has seen two letters from DWP responding to a complaint about her case.
One of the letters includes an explanation from a DWP correspondence manager as to why she has to undergo an “identity check”.
The letter says: “I would like to reassure you that the evidence of identity check is something that only has to be completed at the start of the Universal Credit claim.
“Although the visiting officer will endeavour to ensure the interview is not unnecessarily stressful and is completely as quickly as possible, you can ask for someone to be with you for support.
“As soon as we can satisfy the evidence of identity requirements we will be able to process and pay your Universal Credit claim.
“Please accept my apologies for our delay in the meantime.”
But Rachel said: “She is frightened of everyone. She cannot cope with that kind of interaction, either at home or office-based. Any stress could be fatal.
“She has attempted to harm herself because of the traumatic situation the DWP have put her under.
“To leave her this long without welfare is a disgrace. It is unacceptable and cruel. It is amazing she isn’t dead.”
Rachel says her cousin is only surviving financially through receipt of disability living allowance of £450 a month, and avoids having to pay rent by house-sitting for a friend – although she pays some housing costs – but she cannot afford the life-saving heart medication she needs, as well as medicine for asthma and diabetes.
She also cannot afford to fix her broken wheelchair, and so is unable to leave the house.
DWP’s press office insisted originally that it would only comment on her case if DNS provided evidence that Claire was happy for the department to share details of her case, with a press officer saying: “We won’t be responding to this story unless we have received consent that is clearly from [Claire].”
After the press office rejected an email she forwarded via DNS as insufficient evidence, Claire wrote a letter giving her permission and sent it via her cousin to DWP’s offices in Westminster by recorded delivery.
But after receiving the letter, another DWP press officer said: “Thanks for getting in touch. Yes we’ve received the letter but won’t be commenting on this case.”
DNS has lodged a complaint with the DWP press office about its behaviour.
But a DWP adviser shown details about the case by DNS said: “This appears to be a very frustrating case and will have no doubt been discussed by colleagues who work in universal credit.
“It is somewhat unfathomable that this claimant is seriously ill and whilst she is fully entitled to claim universal credit, can’t physically get paid due to a very archaic rule meaning she has to attend an interview despite having a number of very serious illnesses.
“It should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds that universal credit will soon, if not already, be compelling various people to attend these interviews, be they fit to work, ill or coming to the end of their lives due to their medical conditions.
“This is no way to run a welfare system in 21st century Britain.”
Last month, DNS reported that there have been four secret reports since April 2016 into the deaths of universal credit claimants that have been linked to DWP activity.
And last week, Labour and SNP MPs lined up in parliament to describe the negative impact of universal credit on disabled people and other constituents.
One MP described in last week’s debate how the mother of a young man receiving mental health crisis treatment was told that unless her son signed his universal credit “claimant commitment” he would have to apply for jobs from his hospital bed, or face being sanctioned.
Disabled activists have warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “rotten to the core” and of “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.
In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.
And in July, employment minister Alok Sharma was asked by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled universal credit claimants were apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have had to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the system.
In the same month, further concerns were raised by the committee about disabled people with high support needs who need to claim universal credit and face the possibility of strict conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.
*Not her real name
25 October 2018
Disability inequality is widening and risks becoming ‘entrenched’, says EHRC
Disabled people are becoming increasingly excluded in many areas of their lives and are in danger of becoming “trapped in disadvantage”, a major report by the equality and human rights watchdog has concluded.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says the inequality faced by disabled people is at risk of becoming “entrenched for generations to come” and has today (Thursday) called on the government to adopt “an acute focus on improving life in Britain for disabled people”.
More than a third of disabled people (36.8 per cent) experience “severe material deprivation*”, says the report, nearly three times that of non-disabled people.
It concludes: “The gaps between disabled people and non-disabled people are widening in many areas and disabled people are frequently falling behind other groups.”
Is Britain Fairer? has evaluated progress on equality and human rights across Britain over the last three years, covering education, health, living standards, justice and personal security, work, and participation in politics and public and community life.
The report concludes that disabled people are more likely to live in poverty than non-disabled people, are at greater risk of homelessness, and are among those worst effected by the social security reforms introduced by successive Conservative-led governments since 2010.
The report adds: “Those who can’t work rely on an increasingly restricted welfare regime that is projected to lower their living standards even further.
“They also face poorer health and lack of access to suitable housing.
“Safety is another major concern, as fewer disabled people have confidence that the criminal justice system is effective.
“Without the fundamental building blocks of good education, an adequate standard of living, and being safe and healthy, disabled people are often unable to participate fully in society.”
The report makes it clear that disabled people are “not enjoying the progress experienced by other groups”.
It adds: “Their right to an inclusive education is not being fulfilled – in fact, the proportion of disabled children at special rather than mainstream schools has increased in England and Wales – and they are more likely to be excluded from school.”
This disadvantage continues in later life, the report says.
It points out that an EHRC inquiry which reported in May into the accessible housing crisis found that disabled people across Britain were “demoralised and frustrated by the housing system, reporting a severe shortage of accessible houses across all tenures”.
Social care provision is “limited by funding shortfalls”, the report adds, with parliamentary inquiries concluding that many councils in England “have reduced the care available to the minimum required”.
The report also says that the life expectancy of people with learning difficulties is 14 years shorter (for men) and 18 years shorter (for women) than the general population, because of healthcare-related issues.
Among its many recommendations, the report calls on the government to: set out steps that will ensure disabled children have better access to mainstream education; impose new requirements to ensure new homes are built to stricter accessibility standards; and promote the accessibility of the justice system.
*“Severe material deprivation” is measured by the percentage of people surveyed who say they cannot afford four out of nine essential items
25 October 2018
Welsh government’s ‘ludicrous’ failure on independent living framework
The Welsh government has been criticised for a “ludicrous” and “insulting” failure to address the adult social care funding crisis in a new draft framework on independent living.
Action on Disability, its new draft framework and action plan, was put out to consultation this week, and aims to “develop and improve access to help, advice and services for disabled people in Wales”.
The plan will eventually replace the Welsh government’s 2013 framework for action on independent living and follows a series of meetings and engagement events with disabled people, disability organisations and other stakeholders.
The report says that this public engagement process saw concerns raised about “cuts to social care provision” which had led to “lower allocations” of direct payments, leaving disabled people “increasingly isolated, and the impacts to their wellbeing compromised”.
But despite these concerns, the action plan refers only to previous strategies on services for visually-impaired people, Deaf and autistic people and those with learning difficulties, and fails to include any measures to address the cuts to support and the social care funding crisis.
This contrasts with its 2013 framework, which included lengthy sections on access to social care, direct payments and personalised support.
Of 44 actions supposedly aimed at improving the right to independent living in the new action plan, not one of them explicitly addresses the need to improve the overall access to care and support, although it does promise a review of the aids and adaptations system that supports disabled and older people to live independently in their own homes.
Instead, the action plan covers areas including disability employment, higher education – including a planned review of policy on disabled students’ allowance – public appointments, and access to public transport.
There is also no mention of social care in the section describing the Welsh government’s “commitments” on independent living, even though it promises to “work for continuous improvement” on how it fulfils its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The failure of the action plan to suggest any measures to address the funding crisis and cuts to support suggests the Welsh government is in breach of the convention’s article 19, which says that governments signed up to UNCRPD should take “effective and appropriate measures” to enable disabled people to live in the community with “full inclusion and participation”.
There is also no mention in the document of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), and the Welsh government’s decision to close its interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme, which it has been running as a stopgap with UK government transition funding since ILF closed in June 2015.
Because of the WILG closure, Welsh local authorities will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients by 31 March 2019.
Nathan Lee Davies, who is leading the campaign to persuade the Welsh government to overturn its decision to scrap WILG, said the failure to address social care in the action plan was “ludicrous” and “insulting”.
He said: “They seem like a load of ostriches burying their heads in the sand. It’s just really worrying.
“I am disillusioned but far from surprised. It just seems like they are copying what the Tories have done in Westminster, with the same devaluing of disabled people.”
He suggested that the Welsh Labour government had simply published a “flimsy” framework document in order to “placate the UN, and to be able to say, ‘look, we are doing something to support disabled people’”.
He said that ministers – by closing the WILG – were “washing their hands” of responsibility for social care and handing it to local councils, which could not afford to meet their responsibilities promised under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which Davies said should be renamed the Pie in the Sky Act.
Responding to criticisms of the document, a Welsh government official said: “Our ‘Action on Disability: the Right to Independent Living’ framework is a high-level plan covering a wide range of issues in line with our national strategy, Prosperity for All.
“A number of the actions in this draft action plan relate to social care; nevertheless we are open to suggestions on how the plan could be strengthened.
“We encourage everyone to contribute to the consultation – which we launched this week – to influence our future work to support disabled people as best we can.”
Davies has contrasted the actions of the Welsh Labour government with those of the UK Labour party, whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has publicly supported his campaign to save the WILG, as did members of Welsh Labour at their annual conference earlier this year.
Davies is determined to persuade the Welsh government to keep the current system, which allows former ILF-recipients some security by receiving funding from three different “pots”: WILG, local authorities and their own personal contributions.
He said that this “tripartite” system had provided the support he needed that led to him being recognised with an honorary degree by Wrexham Glyndwr University for his services to disability rights.
He has also been involved with Wrexham football club, Disabled People Against Cuts, and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, as well as writing a new book, and running his campaign and a blog.
He also worked with Disability Arts Cymru on a #SaveWILG exhibition of visual art and poetry earlier this year.
Davies is now waiting to hear what will happen to his support package when WILG closes.
25 October 2018
Suicide prevention minister could be ‘legally compromised’ over silence on ESA risk
Disabled activists say the new “minister for suicide prevention” could leave herself “legally compromised” by her continuing failure to promise to warn local agencies that claimants of out-of-work disability benefits face a higher risk of taking their own lives.
Jackie Doyle-Price refused again this week to pledge to take the simple step of highlighting that claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) are a high-risk group, in the government’s suicide prevention strategy for England.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last December how NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with less than seven per cent of adults who were not claiming ESA.
Doyle-Price, the minister for mental health, had “minister for suicide prevention” added to her job title earlier this month, with prime minister Theresa May claiming she wanted to “prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives”.
But the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) this week described the appointment of a suicide prevention minister as a “cynical PR stunt”.
Denise McKenna, an MHRN co-founder, said: “The NHS Digital statistic of 43 per cent of ESA claimants having attempted suicide at some point in their lives should surely prompt the minister for suicide prevention to take immediate and decisive action to protect ESA claimants.
“Should she fail to do everything in her power to reduce risk to people on ESA, any future suicides would undoubtedly leave her legally compromised.
“Over and above her legal responsibilities, a minister for suicide prevention has a moral responsibility to speak up in support of those most at risk of suicide and to challenge the causes of suicide.
“MHRN will be demanding justice should Jackie Doyle-Smith fail in her duty of care.”
She added: “We have known for a long time that changes to the social security system are deeply implicated in people attempting and thinking of suicide and there is overwhelming evidence that there have been completed suicides due to the often-insurmountable obstacles placed in the way of disabled people accessing benefits.
“We also know that the Tories will do everything in their power to prevent the role they have played in past suicides from being open to public scrutiny, mainly by the suppression of information and by outright denial.”
Dr Jay Watts, the activist and consultant clinical psychologist who first highlighted the NHS Digital figures, said it was “crucial” that ESA claimants were seen as a high-risk group in the national suicide prevention strategy, which “influences local policy and the likelihood of targeted help to reduce suicide risk”.
She said the omission of these figures was “nothing less than a political decision putting lives at risk”.
She said: “Specific attempts to reduce risk for specific populations, such as the excellent work to reduce male suicide that has begun to reverse the epidemic of deaths, have demonstrable results at a population level.”
Watts said that if Doyle-Price ignored the evidence on ESA claimants, she would “not only neglect the responsibility of her office, but maintain the structural violence against claimants manifest in the brutality of the benefits regime so unkind that it is the final straw for so many”.
But she said that Doyle-Price could instead “insist on a kinder, fairer benefits system to make life more bearable for claimants” and “start that process today by explicitly acknowledging the elevated level of risk for ESA claimants which would have a huge roll-down effect on suicide awareness”.
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle Campaign, said that Doyle-Price’s “silence speaks volumes”.
He called on her to “accept that people in that cohort are at extremely high risk and propose measures to address that situation.
“To fail to do so is to be complicit in the avoidable deaths of disabled people.”
He added: “She is complicit in the ongoing epidemic of suicide affecting disabled people as a direct result of the government’s disability assessment regimes, as a result of government policy.”
A spokeswoman for Doyle-Price refused for the second week to say whether the minister would include the ESA figures in an updated suicide prevention strategy and alert local agencies that ESA claimants are a high-risk group.
Instead she referred to the existing strategy, which briefly mentions Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) guidance for dealing with claimants of ESA and other benefits who may be at risk of suicide or self-harm, its work on training staff, and the department’s processes for learning from DWP-linked suicides.
She said: “The Cross-Government Suicide Prevention Strategy recognises that people who are in receipt of benefits, including ESA, may be experiencing difficult circumstances such as financial, employment and housing insecurity, physical disability or other long-term condition which may place additional strains on their mental health and wellbeing.
“That is why the strategy and the Suicide Prevention Planning guidance issued to local authorities highlight that frontline staff in job centres should be trained in suicide prevention awareness and job centre staff and benefits advisers should be involved in multi-agency groups implementing local suicide prevention plans.”
25 October 2018
Ministers ‘failing to uphold a UN disability convention they do not understand’
Government ministers are failing to uphold the rights of disabled people, ignoring the need to engage with disabled people’s organisations, and do not understand the UN’s disability convention, according to a new report.
The highly-critical report has been compiled by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across the UK and submitted to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.
It analyses how the UK and devolved governments have responded to key parts of last year’s highly-critical report by the committee on the UK’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The new report includes some criticism of the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales – and raises concerns about the impact of the continuing political impasse over the Northern Ireland Executive – but most of its concerns are directed at the UK government in Westminster.
The UK government, the report says, is responsible for “continuing retrogression and re-institutionalisation” of disabled people and continues to disagree with the UN committee’s findings and recommendations.
It adds: “We have concerns that the UNCRPD is not embedded within government and is poorly understood at all levels, including ministerial.”
It provides the example of international development secretary Penny Mordaunt, who appeared to try to redefine the meaning of inclusive education at the government’s Global Disability Summit in July, telling the international audience that inclusive education meant “that everyone has an education and it is done in a way to reach their full potential”.
The report says that many of the concerns raised by DPOs last year in their evidence to the UN committee remained a “significant problem”, with disabled people still subject to “tightening eligibility” for support, the removal and sanctioning of benefits and the bedroom tax.
It also raises concerns about the continuing rollout of universal credit (UC) and says DPOs are “gravely concerned” at the failure to assess the access needs of disabled people due to be moved onto UC and the lack of the necessary data to monitor its impact.
It warns that the social care funding crisis has led to the removal of further essential independent living support for disabled people and the closure of community services for people with mental distress, while increasing social care charges are leaving thousands of disabled people in debt or choosing to pull out of receiving support completely.
The DPOs also point to the chronic shortage of accessible housing in England, with new housing for disabled people often limited to segregated supported housing complexes.
And the report says that the number of disabled children being forced into special schools is rising, while budget cuts are reducing the quality of inclusive education, and the number of disabled pupils left without any educational placement at all has risen, as has the number of disabled pupils excluded from school.
Among the DPOs that contributed to the report are the Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disability Action (Northern Ireland), Disabled People Against Cuts, Disability Wales, Inclusion London, Inclusion Scotland, the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and Sisters of Frida.
They make 22 recommendations of their own that are aimed at the UK government, including calling for: a new legal right to independent living; the abolition of charging for social care; an end to the practice of placing disabled children and young people in long-stay hospitals; and a new social security system that is based on “an accurate analysis of need” and is “consistent with a human rights approach to disability”.
There are also four recommendations for the Welsh government – including a call to incorporate the UNCRPD into Welsh law – and six for the Scottish government, including the need for a national strategy on the provision of accessible housing.
The DPOs conclude that examples of “progressive” policy-making have been restricted to the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, although the two executives are “not without room for improvement” themselves.
There is also repeated criticism in the report of the UK government’s “inadequate engagement” with DPOs and its failure to recognize the importance of consulting disabled people.
The report says that “engagement with non-user-led charities is continuously prioritised over engagement with DPOs”, while requests by DPOs to meet ministers “are frequently turned down”.
It also says that engagement with the UK government is “undermined by an increasing lack of trust”, and warns that “without trust, consultation and engagement cannot take place in ‘good faith’”.
The report does welcome one measure taken by the UK government, the increased funding for disabled facilities grants, although it warns that “delays in processing applications can still be a problem for under-resourced local authorities”.
This week’s report follows the publication of the government’s own progress report last month.
The DPO report is highly critical of the government’s progress report, accusing it of effectively ignoring many of the UN committee’s recommendations.
One of the recommendations ignored, it says, was to carry out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of its cuts and reforms on disabled people, with the UK government continuing to insist that this is not possible.
It points out that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a CIA earlier this year, while the Greater London Assembly is conducting its own CIA for London “using the same methodology as the EHRC”, and both the Scottish and Welsh governments are “exploring carrying out their own”.
There is also frustration at the government’s failure to follow up the UN committee’s recommendation that it should devise a “comprehensive” plan aimed at the “deinstitutionalisation” of disabled people, in “close collaboration” with DPOs.
25 October 2018
Anger over government’s plastic straw ban plan
Disabled people have reacted angrily to government plans to introduce a ban on the sale or distribution of plastic straws, which could come into effect as early as next year.
The ban, which would also outlaw drink stirrers and cotton buds, is being introduced to address the “devastation” caused to rivers and seas by single-use plastic items, and is due to come into force at some point between October 2019 and October 2020.
But most paper and plant-based alternatives to plastic straws are not flexible or suitable for hot drinks, and therefore increase the risk of choking when they become soggy or start to disintegrate.
And metal straws – another frequently-suggested alternative – can be dangerous for people with certain conditions, while reusable plastic straws cause hygiene problems.
The government’s plans are subject to a consultation, which was launched this week and ends on 3 December.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it would consult on how to ensure that “those who need straws for medical and accessibility reasons can still use them” and are not “disadvantaged or stigmatised” by a ban.
It said that pharmacies would still be able to sell plastic straws, while restaurants, pubs and bars “will be able to stock some straws for use on request”.
But it appears to have failed to carry out an equality impact assessment of its plans, which would make it harder to prove that it has not breached its duties as a public sector body under the Equality Act.
Launching the consultation, environment secretary Michael Gove said: “I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers. But we recognise we need to do more.”
There was widespread anger at his plans among disabled people, including those who rely on the use of plastic straws as an independent living aid.
Jamie Szymkowiak, founder of the Scottish-based, user-led campaign One in Five, said the government was “doomed to fail the needs of disabled people” unless it took a different approach.
He said: “Outright bans, of any product, often adversely affect marginalised groups and in the case of plastic straws it is the right for disabled people to live independently that is under threat.
“This debate too often puts disabled people against environmentalists without acknowledging the best solution.
“Instead of pursuing an outright ban, the government should work with disabled people’s organisations and environmentalists to push manufacturers to produce an environmentally-friendly straw that meets the needs of everyone.”
He encouraged disabled people to take part in the consultation, and added: “Disabled people shouldn’t have to ask or provide a medical certificate before accessing a straw and passing yet another cost on to disabled people is unacceptable if you believe that society bears a responsibility to make the world more accessible for everyone.
“Gove should listen to disabled people: push manufactures and suppliers to produce an environmentally-friendly straw instead of pushing us further into isolation.”
There was anger and frustration at the government’s plans on social media, with disabled TV presenter and producer, and YouTube star, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, even live-tweeting her completion of the DEFRA consultation document.
Asked whether she agreed with the proposed October 2019 date for a ban, she wrote: “There should be no ban. Some disabled people will be forced to illegally import plastic straws just to keep drinking. Do you really want that????”
She also retweeted a video, first released in August, which explains exactly why disabled people need plastic straws.
In her video, she says she needs to drink up to 10 litres of liquids a day because of her health condition, all of it through straws, because her wrists are weak and her hands shake.
She says in the video: “We genuinely want to help the planet, but we can’t sacrifice ourselves in the process.
“The majority of us have taken up reusable straws and it is only in a pinch that we need the disposable ones… but it is a need.
“Yes, it would be better if someone invented something that functions as well as a bendable plastic straw and has little environmental impact, but until that happens we can’t just outright ban something people need.”
Another disabled campaigner, David Gillon, said on Twitter that the “totally predictable” results of the government’s proposals would be that restaurants and pubs would stop stocking all plastic straws, while disabled people would “face harassment for using them in public” and “have to pay through the nose for buying them in a pharmacy”.
He was also angry that the department’s impact assessment stated that disabled people “will not be affected by the ban”, even though its “risks” section warns that “inadequate provision of exemptions” would “impose welfare costs on those who rely on using plastic straws in their everyday lives”.
Research carried out for DEFRA by Resource Futures Ltd has warned that an outright ban could have “disutility impacts” for disabled people “because they would not be able to consume drinks outdoors without having to bring their own costlier (at point of purchase) reusable straws”.
It also warned of “media/legal” challenges if “certain enabling products” were not exempted from the ban.
A DEFRA spokeswoman had failed to confirm by noon today (Thursday) that the department had not carried out an equality impact assessment of its plans.
But she said in a statement: “We recognise there are instances where using plastic straws is necessary for medical reasons which is why our consultation seeks views on how to ensure those who need straws can still access them.
“For example, pharmacies will still be able to supply plastic straws and restaurants, pubs and bars will be able to stock some straws for use on request.
“The government will work closely with stakeholders to ensure these exemptions are crafted exactly right.”
25 October 2018
Police and CPS face questions on failure to treat ‘utterly barbaric’ offences as hate crime
The police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are facing questions over why an “utterly barbaric” campaign of violence and abuse directed at a disabled mum and daughter was not treated as disability hate crime.
A family of four were jailed last week for a total of more than 46 years for imprisoning the two disabled women and treating them as slaves as they forced them to work in two flats in Coventry.
The mother and daughter were repeatedly beaten, and had to eat dried pasta, while the younger woman was so hungry she resorted to eating scraps of food from a bin.
The court heard that the family knew the two women had learning difficulties but treated them in an “utterly barbaric manner”, preventing them accessing their own home, and restricting their access to food, heating and their ability to clean themselves.
But despite the apparent evidence of disability-related hostility, the offences were not treated in court as hate crimes, so no attempt was made to seek stricter sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.
The court had heard details of a campaign of bullying, intimidation and repeated violent assaults, led by ring-leader Jean Kelly.
One of the two women was made to clean and carry out other chores at Kelly’s flat, while the other had to work at Kelly’s daughter’s flat in another part of Coventry. They were each paid one cigarette a day for their work.
Jean Kelly was found guilty of two charges under the Modern Slavery Act (MSA), as well as offences of grievous bodily harm (GBH), actual bodily harm and conspiracy to falsely imprison, after a trial at Warwick Crown Court in September.
Three other members of her family also received prison sentences, with her husband Michael jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH, their daughter Anastasia Hitt jailed for four-and-a-half years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and an MSA conspiracy charge, and her partner Ian Healy jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH.
Media reports state that Jean Kelly, herself a wheelchair-user, assaulted one of the two women with a baseball bat she called “Bob”.
She had previously been jailed for 18 months for pouring boiling water on her step-brother, who also had learning difficulties.
The judge reportedly told Jean Kelly that her behaviour “demonstrates a sustained interest by you in taking advantage of those with learning difficulties and maltreating them”, while he said the other three members of the family had sought to exploit the pair for their own gain.
But despite his comments, a CPS spokesman confirmed this week that prosecutors had not treated the offences as disability hate crimes.
He said: “The CPS takes prosecution of all kinds of hate crime, including against disabled people, extremely seriously.
“In order to prosecute a case as a hate crime there must be evidence the criminal actions are motivated by hostility towards the protected characteristic.
“In this instance prosecutors felt the facts did not allow the case to be prosecuted as a hate crime but very serious charges were brought against the defendants who ultimately received prison sentences totalling almost 50 years.
“Our thoughts are with the victims in this case and we hope the outcome offers them some comfort as they rebuild their lives.”
West Midlands police refused this week to confirm its officers’ apparent failure to treat the offences as disability hate crimes, and why they failed to do so.
The latest failure of the criminal justice system to recognise disability hate crime came just days after the CPS annual hate crime report showed that the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces in England and Wales plunged last year by nearly a quarter.
The number of disability hate crime convictions also slumped, from 800 in 2016-17 to 564 in 2017-18 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).
Earlier this month, a report by two watchdogs found that the work of police officers on more than half of the disability hate crime investigations examined across six sample police forces – not including West Midlands – had been found to be “unacceptable”.
25 October 2018
Duncan Smith refuses to apologise over ‘exploitative’ comments
The architect of many of the government’s most unpopular and flawed welfare reforms, Iain Duncan Smith, has refused to apologise for “exploitative” comments he made about disabled people and employment.
The former work and pensions secretary is reported to have told a fringe meeting at this month’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham that employers should take on disabled staff because “they often work longer hours”.
He also said that disabled employees “forgo quite a lot of holiday because they love the whole idea of being in work”, and “once they’re in work they actually produce more than most able-bodied people around them”.
The comments, reported in last week’s Private Eye, caused anger among disabled campaigners, who described them as exploitative, patronising and “appalling”.
Duncan Smith, the architect of the new universal credit working-age benefit system, and of many of the coalition government’s most unpopular disability benefit reforms, was addressing a fringe meeting organised by the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank he founded after his enforced resignation as Conservative leader in 2003.
He was joined on the panel by the current work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, a close ally, to examine the question of whether the Conservative party was “making work pay”.
Contacted by Disability News Service this week, a spokeswoman for Duncan Smith said that he was not going to comment on his remarks.
Asked to confirm that that meant he would not comment and would not apologise, she said: “That’s right.”
Carole Ford, a member of the steering group of the WOW campaign, said: “As IDS is refusing to apologise he clearly sees nothing wrong with his views.
“This effectively means that disabled workers are ripe for exploitation.”
She had earlier said on Twitter: “Did no one question the quality of the employers who allow their disabled staff not to take their full holiday allowance?”
Among the many others who criticised the comments on social media was the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, which said: “There is frankly nothing about IDS’s comment that isn’t patronising, othering, and accepting of the idea that it’s okay to exploit disabled people’s ‘gratitude’ for having a job. It’s really appalling. We could go on.”
“They also say we are more ‘loyal’ and stay in same jobs longer – basically celebrating the outcomes of workplace discrimination and internalised oppression.”
25 October 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com