Nov 292018
 

 

DWP softens ‘threatening’ tone of universal credit agreement after claimant’s death

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to soften the “threatening” tone of the agreement that claimants of universal credit are forced to sign to receive their benefits, following a secret review into the death of a claimant.

A panel of DWP civil servants called for the threatening wording of the claimant commitment to be toned down after carrying out an internal process review (IPR) of the circumstances around the death.

The review panel concluded: “The references to sanctions and amount of money that will be lost seems excessive (mentioned eight times).

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

This was among 12 sets of recommendations that resulted from 50 IPRs carried out between April 2016 and June 2018, 33 of which involved a benefit claimant who had died.

Four of those who died were universal credit claimants.

Following a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS), DWP has now released brief information to show what action it took in response to the 12 sets of recommendations.

The DWP response states that the universal credit claimant commitment now “makes no reference to sanctions”.

Although the claimant commitment does appear to have been substantially softened in its and references to sanctions, DNS has seen one from February this year that still includes a single sanction threat, warning: “Your Universal Credit payments will be reduced if you do not do the things in your commitment and do not have a good reason. This is called a payment ‘sanction’.”

It is not known when DWP made the changes to the claimant commitment, when the claimant died or how that death was connected to the threatening nature of the document he or she was obliged to sign.

But one universal credit claimant has spoken out this week about the continuing “punitive” nature of the claimant commitment.

She told DNS how she attempted suicide earlier this year after her benefits had been withdrawn and she then faced eviction following months without income.

Her benefits had been withdrawn after she had refused to sign a claimant commitment she knew she would be unable to keep to because of its strict job search conditions.

She has since been found not fit for work through a work capability assessment (WCA) and her current claimant commitment makes no mention of job-seeking, but she says she still finds the language in the guidance section “punitive”.

She said: “Whether or not the DWP have ‘toned down’ the punitive language of the claimant commitment, there is still a very strong message that a) work always pays and b) the DWP will be watching very closely to make sure you don’t try to fiddle the system in any way.

I and many others are so afraid of DWP sanctions and the hardship this could cause that they could promise us ponies and rainbows in that claimant commitment but we would still live in fear.

We’ve internalised that fear, which was exactly what the DWP intended.”

This week, DWP refused to answer a series of questions about the claimant commitment and why the changes to make it less threatening had been made.

It refused to say whether the changes were made as a result of the IPR recommendations; when the changes were made; whether DWP now accepted that the claimant commitment was previously too threatening; whether it accepted that the threatening nature of the claimant commitment may have played a part in the death of the claimant examined by the IPR; and why its freedom of information response was apparently misleading.

Instead, a DWP spokesman said: “The DWP has a responsibility to inform all claimants of the implications of not keeping to a commitment.

Claimants are rightly informed of this throughout the process of creating their Claimant Commitment.

But the final Claimant Commitment does not directly refer to sanctions, other than containing a link highlighting where more information is held.

Through our ‘test and learn’ approach, we have listened to feedback from stakeholders and claimants and regularly make improvements to Universal Credit.”

Earlier this month, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, warned that universal credit could “wreak havoc” and had created a “digital barrier” that prevented many disabled people and other disadvantaged groups from accessing the support they were entitled to.

He said the government’s “test and learn” approach to universal credit risked treating such groups “like guinea pigs” and that the preparations being made by local authorities and charities for the rollout of universal credit had “resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “rotten to the core” with “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 have 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.

29 November 2018

 

 

Minister appears unprepared for impact of ‘no deal’ Brexit on social care

The health and social care secretary appears to have accidentally confessed to having no plans for dealing with the worsening social care recruitment crisis that is almost certain to hit the UK if the country is forced into a no-deal Brexit.

Matt Hancock was asked by a committee of MPs on Tuesday about the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union (EU) next March without agreeing a deal with the other 27 members.

The prospect of a no-deal Brexit, although still unlikely, is looking increasingly possible as a result of the seemingly intractable parliamentary deadlock over the UK’s planned exit from the EU next March.

Disabled people, including those who use personal assistants (PAs), have warned repeatedly of the risk that any form of Brexit could mean their access to PAs from EU countries could dry up, with a no-deal Brexit making this even more likely.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell told peers last year that John Evans, one of the founders of the UK independent living movement, had employed PAs from 15 EU countries in the past 34 years.

He had told her that if the government failed to protect access to the EU’s huge pool of people keen to work as PAs in the UK, he would lose his ability to live independently and could be forced to return to residential care, 34 years after he was liberated from a Cheshire Home.

But Hancock’s evidence this week to the Commons health and social care committee, and subsequent statements by his press office, appear to show that he has no plans in place for dealing with a social care recruitment crisis if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal next spring.

Labour’s Diana Johnson had asked Hancock: “If we have a no deal scenario, what is your policy for recruitment to social care in the future?

How are you going to deal with that?”

Hancock, who also confirmed later that he still plans to publish the government’s long-awaited adult social care green paper by the end of the year, told the committee in response that there was a higher proportion of people working in social care in the UK who were from outside the EU than from EU countries.

But his only answer to how he would cope with the impact of a no-deal Brexit on social care recruitment appeared to be to “train people locally and give people from the UK opportunities to work in social care” and to make sure “it is yet more of a rewarding career”.

He said: “I think these things are all part of trying to make sure that social care can give the dignity that it ought to.

It’s something that we care a lot about getting right.”

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokeswoman said afterwards: “We are confident of reaching a deal with the EU which benefits our health and care workforce.

We want to promote adult social care as a career of choice and are launching a national recruitment campaign in the new year to raise the image and profile of the sector.

Our upcoming green paper will also look at how we can recruit and retain a valued workforce.”

DHSC was due to launch a pilot scheme today (Thursday) to provide the 104,000 EU nationals working in social care in the UK with an opportunity to apply early to the government’s EU settlement scheme.

But the DHSC spokeswoman also said that that recruitment campaign and the green paper were “going ahead regardless of whether or not we get a deal and both aim to help with recruitment and retention”.

She refused to confirm that there were no extra plans in place for social care recruitment in the event of a no-deal Brexit, although DHSC has now been given several opportunities to explain what they might be if they did exist.

Hancock had told the committee that it was easier now to recruit people into social care because of the introduction of the government’s “national living wage”, which had led to workers in the sector receiving “some of the fastest pay rises” across the economy as so many of them were previously only being paid the minimum wage.

Hancock had said that it was “important to plan for all eventualities” and so his department was planning for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit’s impact on the NHS although it did not think that was likely to happen.

He said: “A no-deal scenario for the NHS will be difficult but we are confident that if everybody does everything that they need to do then we will have an unhindered supply of medicines.

We can make sure that we get the talent that we need from around the world and we can have a medicine and medical devices regulation system that can provide for access to the best new medicines.”

He added: “As a contingency we prepare for all eventualities, including no-deal, and no-deal clearly is the one that makes life… for which we have to do the most preparation.”

The committee had earlier heard from Mark Dayan, a policy and public affairs analyst at Nuffield Trust, that a no-deal Brexit would likely cause “quite a big problem for social care” because of the sector’s current reliance on EU workers, and because it has to compete for workers with other low-paid sectors in the UK economy.

He said the government would have “total freedom” with its immigration policy in such a situation and so could keep allowing people who want to work in social care into the country but he said that “all the indications we have are that that will not be the case and that there will be strong impediments to workers with lower salaries and lower qualifications”.

He told Johnson: “The social care sector is in an extremely weak position to start raising wages to try and bring in a bigger share of a pool that is not growing as quickly, so I think you are absolutely right to flag that up as a concern.

For me it’s a bigger one actually than the [impact of a no-deal Brexit on the] NHS workforce.”

29 November 2018

 

 

DWP admits failing to keep track of disability discrimination claims by its own staff

The government department responsible for running the Disability Confident employment scheme has admitted failing to keep track of how many complaints of disability discrimination are made by its own staff.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) repeatedly brags about its much-criticised scheme, which aims to help employers recruit and retain disabled employees, and it claims itself to be a Disability Confident “Leader”, the highest of the scheme’s three levels.

But last month Disability News Service (DNS) reported how the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP by its own staff over a 20-month period.

Now a freedom of information response to DNS from the department has revealed that it has been failing to track how many complaints by staff through its internal grievance system are based on allegations of disability discrimination.

It says in the response: “DWP’s central [human resources] system records the number of grievances made by DWP employees each year; however it does not record disability discrimination as a discrete category of grievance.”

It says in the response that it “treats complaints of Disability Discrimination very seriously and would always rigorously investigate such a complaint”.

But Dr Minh Alexander, a former consultant psychiatrist and NHS whistleblower whose research led to the DWP tribunal figures, said the failure to track disability-related grievances showed “incompetence and disinterest”.

She said: “If DWP don’t track disability-related grievances, they can’t know if a greater proportion of disabled employees are filing grievances, and therefore potentially experiencing worse treatment. Not so Disability Confident!!”

And David Gillon, a prominent disabled critic of the Disability Confident scheme, said it was “extraordinary that DWP does not keep systematic track of internal disability discrimination”.

He said: “This would be unbelievably lackadaisical in a small or medium-sized company; it is difficult to comprehend in an organisation the size of DWP that is not just a Disability Confident Leader, but the organisation that defines Disability Confident.

The failure to track this information demonstrates a comprehensive failure to follow DWP’s obligations under Disability Confident for both employee retention and ongoing improvement.

If DWP is not gathering this information, and therefore is clearly not compliant with its Disability Confident Leader certification, then shouldn’t DWP’s certification be withdrawn?”

But he also pointed out that there was no mechanism within the flawed Disability Confident scheme to assess whether a Disability Confident organisation was meeting its membership obligations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suggested that DWP should have been monitoring how many disability-related grievances it was dealing with.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “Appropriate data collection is essential in uncovering and understanding discrepancies in any workplace.

Whilst collecting data on disability discrimination cases specifically is not a requirement of the [Equality Act’s] public sector equality duty, it would be a beneficial way of monitoring how an organisation is performing against its obligations.”

A DWP spokeswoman said the department takes “active steps to promote equality” and that the complaints system – provided by a third party – had now been “updated to capture categories of grievances”, a step apparently taken in the days after the freedom of information response was sent to DNS on 22 November.

According to information provided to DNS by the department, DWP has also altered its policies only this year to ensure that employees found to have bullied, harassed or discriminated against a colleague are dealt with under its disciplinary procedures.

It is due to make further changes next month to make it easier for employees to report such behaviour and to make anonymous reporting easier.

Meanwhile, Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, has launched a new voluntary framework that aims to encourage employers to report how many of their staff consider themselves to be disabled or to have a long-term physical or mental health condition.

It came as she hosted a roundtable at Downing Street with businesses such as Barclays, Channel 4 and KPMG, and disabled employees, to discuss “what more companies can do to build inclusive workforces”.

29 November 2018

 

 

Watchdog calls on government to act ‘before it’s too late’ on impact of cuts

The equality watchdog has called on the government to “do something before it’s too late”, after its own research showed UK government reforms will cut the living standards of disabled people with the highest support needs in England by more than 10 per cent.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report says that the “disproportionate” impact of spending cuts on disabled people – and other disadvantaged groups – shows the UK government has breached the principle of non-discrimination laid out in international human rights treaties.

The Cumulative Impact on Living Standards of Public Spending Changes looks at the impact of changes in England, Scotland and Wales from 2010-11 – when the coalition government came to power – until 2021-22.

It concludes that the impact of cuts to public spending per head of population in areas such health, social care, public transport and housing (through changes in the value of the public services they use) will have a much more significant impact on households in England than on those in Scotland and Wales.

Overall, public spending per head is forecast to fall by around 18 per cent in England, 5.5 per cent in Wales and just over one per cent in Scotland, with particularly heavy falls on spending per head on higher and further education in England and Wales and on social housing in England.

But the impact of public spending changes over those 11 years on disabled people in England is also much more significant – largely because of social care cuts – with households with people with six or more significant impairments in total experiencing losses of more than £2,900 per year, compared to such households in Wales losing less than £800, and those in Scotland actually gaining by almost £100 a year.

The new report, carried out for EHRC by Landman Economics and Aubergine Analysis, also combines the new figures with research it published earlier this year on the overall impact of tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms on disabled people and other groups.

It concludes that the overall impact of all of these austerity reforms will see those households with disabled people with the highest support needs losing 10.5 per cent of their “final income” (including the value of the public services they use), compared with similar households in Scotland losing 4.5 per cent of their final income and those in Wales losing just under five per cent.

The report concludes that the differences between the three countries are partly because of faster population growth in England, but also due to different spending priorities, and more generous funding in Scotland resulting from the Scottish government’s own income tax rises.

EHRC said the figures – and the different impacts in Wales and Scotland – showed that “neither the overall scale of spending cuts in England, nor their precise impact on protected groups, was inevitable”.

EHRC called on the UK government, as well as those in Scotland and Wales, to mitigate the effects of the cuts by increasing spending in areas such as universal credit, health, social care, education and social housing.

It also called for the next major spending announcements of the three governments to include equality impact assessments, including cumulative assessments that would show how the overall packages of measures would impact on groups such as disabled people.

And the commission said the three governments should explain how these spending measures would comply with their duties as public sector bodies under the Equality Act (through the public sector equality duty).

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC’s chief executive, said: “We know that some communities are being left behind and that the gap is widening.

We know we need to do something before it’s too late and we’ve shown that it’s possible to assess public spending decisions to see if we can make the impact fairer.

Our latest research has found that welfare reforms, coupled with changes in other spending such as on transport, housing and health, have a disproportionate effect on disabled people, children and young people, women and certain ethnic minorities.

This impact needs to be mitigated to ensure that everyone can have a fair chance in life and realise their right to an adequate standard of living.”

The Treasury failed to comment on the EHRC report by 10am this morning (Thursday).

29 November 2018

 

 

Ombudsman warns of sharp rise in complaints about care charges

An ombudsman has warned of the sharp rise in complaints he has received about how local authorities in England are charging disabled people for their care and support.

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said there had been a nine per cent increase in complaints about adult social care charging over the last 12 months.

There was also a sharp rise in complaints about direct payments (an increase of 13 per cent) and a smaller increase in complaints about assessment and care planning (a 1.4 per cent rise), comparing 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The ombudsman warned that the complaints he was dealing with on adult social care were no longer just “one-off mistakes” but were increasingly about the “systems and policies” of local authorities.

He said he had become “increasingly concerned” about the way some local authorities were “handling the need to balance the pressures they are under with the way they assess and charge for care”.

In his annual review of social care complaints, King said he had been upholding two-thirds (67 per cent) of complaints about charging, which was higher than the rate for adult social care (62 per cent), and for all complaints the ombudsman investigates (57 per cent).

He said: “Assessment and care planning, and how care is paid for, remain some of the biggest areas of complaint.

Even more concerning is that the issues we see demonstrate a shift from one-off mistakes to problems with whole systems and policies, or procedures being incorrectly applied.

Adult social care has seen sustained high levels of complaints upheld compared to our general work.

We know authorities are operating under an enormous amount of pressure and financial challenge to deliver care services.

The stark reality of this is now playing out in the complaints we see.”

The Local Government Association refused to comment on the ombudsman’s criticism of local authorities’ care charging policies and performance.

The ombudsman’s report comes just two weeks after a report from the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG) found that charging disabled people for their care and support was driving many of them into debt and forcing them to cut their spending on food or heating.

The ILSG study found that four in 10 (41 per cent) of those responding to a survey had experienced a substantial increase in charges over the last couple of years.

Jenny Morris, an ILSG member, said: “The increase in complaints to the ombudsman about charging for care and support comes as no surprise to the Independent Living Strategy Group.  

Our survey found that many people are facing substantial increases in charges, many are cutting back on essentials like food and heating, and some are forced into debt.  

The Care Act was all about ensuring people’s well-being but charges are effectively a tax on disability and old age and are having a negative impact on well-being.” 

29 November 2018

 

 

Crossrail step-free promise looks set to be broken

The promise to disabled people that every station on London’s much-delayed, £15 billion Crossrail project would be step-free from the moment it opens looks increasingly likely to be broken.

Four years ago, a two-year campaign by disabled and older people led to promises by Transport for London (TfL) that every one of its stations would be step-free, at least from street to platform-level.

Disabled campaigners had been furious when they found out that seven of the Crossrail stations would not be accessible to wheelchair-users, but their campaigning led to further funding from TfL and the government to ensure that every one of the 41 stations would be step-free.

But Disability News Service has established this week that at least one of these stations is unlikely to be step-free by the time the new line finally opens next year, with question-marks over several others and contracts for some of the projects to install lifts still to be awarded.

Transport for All, the user-led organisation that campaigns on accessible transport in London, first raised concerns last week, saying on Twitter that the news that some stations could open without being fully accessible to disabled and older people was “totally unacceptable”.

Stage four of Crossrail – now renamed the Elizabeth line – which will see trains running into central London from Shenfield in Essex, is due to open in May next year.

But work by Network Rail to make Ilford and Romford stations step-free still does not have a completion date, while it is seeking funding from the government’s Access to All scheme to install a lift at one of the platforms at nearby Brentwood, due to “technical challenges”.

There are also question-marks over whether work being led by TfL to make Maryland, Manor Park and Seven Kings on this eastern branch step-free will be completed in time for its planned opening next spring.

Stage five of the scheme, with trains running from the west into central London, is also beset with delays, with the current date for opening now not likely until December 2019.

Work to make Acton Main Line, Hayes and Harlington, Southall, West Ealing, Ealing Broadway and West Drayton step-free has been delayed, with Network Rail unable to provide any completion dates for the work, although it says it is “underway”.

TfL work to install lifts at Hanwell, Iver, Langley and Taplow, on the same western stretch of the line, is also not due to be completed until the end of next year.

The central section of the line, with its 10 new stations and tunnels, has been delayed from next month until next autumn at the earliest, although all these new stations will be step-free from street-level to train when they eventually open.

Network Rail said the delays with step-free work were largely because “design work has taken longer than envisaged to incorporate the upgrades suggested by local authorities and communities”, while “some elements of the tender review process for the main ticket hall works have taken longer than expected as we seek to ensure maximum value for money for the public purse”.

A Network Rail spokesman added: “We do not yet know if there is a change to the target dates for Stage 4 (Shenfield into the central section) and Stage 5 (Reading into central section) so at this stage it is not possible to say what will be complete by the time the Elizabeth line actually opens.

A TfL spokeswoman said: “There were some issues with the design of lifts at stations in the east.

This, combined with the limited access time on stations to complete the work, has led to some delays in the delivery.

The vast majority of the work at the stations takes place during planned weekend closures throughout the year to enable staff to work safely.”

She added: “The Elizabeth line will completely transform the accessibility of the transport network for passengers across London and the south east.

All 41 stations will be step-free to platform level, staffed from first to last train, with a ‘turn up and go’ service offered to anyone needing assistance.

All of the parties involved – TfL, Network Rail, Crossrail Ltd and the Department for Transport – remain 100 per cent committed to delivering these benefits.

We continue to work closely with Network Rail, who are working to deliver vital accessibility improvements at some of the stations on the above-ground parts of the route to the east and west of the central section.”

29 November 2018

 

 

Action needed to make major roads more accessible, says watchdog

A transport watchdog is calling for action to make the network of major roads across England more accessible to disabled drivers and passengers.

A new Transport Focus report, An Accessible Road Network?, centres mainly on the barriers disabled people face in using roadside services, as well as the problems caused for some disabled drivers who become stuck in long traffic jams or whose vehicles break down.

Among the concerns raised by disabled people interviewed by Transport Focus was the difficulty of escaping their vehicle quickly and scaling the barrier at the side of the road after breaking down.

There were also concerns that breakdown and recovery staff were not trained to deal with disabled drivers and passengers and adapted vehicles.

The report says it is unclear if minimum training requirements are in place for breakdown and recovery services, and it calls for all such organisations to “review and improve the disability awareness training given to all their staff”.

Those interviewed also raised long-standing concerns about the difficulty of securing assistance to refuel vehicles at filling stations, with the report calling on petrol retailers to ensure they meet their obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

Disabled interviewees also said that services on ‘A’ roads often do not have accessible toilets, while there were also reports of those accessible toilets that were available being used to store bins or staff bicycles.

The report says there are currently only 20 Changing Places toilets – facilities with extra space and equipment for disabled people who cannot use standard accessible toilets – in place or planned at roadside services in England, just two of which are at ‘A’ road services.

It calls on the Department for Transport (DfT) to fulfil the pledge in its inclusive transport strategy that it would spend £2 million to support the installation of more Changing Places facilities in motorway services.

Among the report’s other recommendations is a call for the government to ensure that providers of roadside services allow more than two hours’ free parking for disabled drivers and passengers because they often need extra time.

And Transport Focus calls on DfT to carry out research to identify the number and location of driving instructors trained to help those with learning difficulties or hearing impairments, which would “enable an assessment to be made as to whether there are sufficient numbers in all parts of the country”.

There are also recommendations for Highways England, including a call for it to update and publicise information about the help available to disabled people who are caught in traffic jams and need urgent assistance, and who they should call if their vehicles break down.

There is also a call for Highways England – which runs England’s network of motorways and ‘A’ roads – to compile and maintain accurate information about facilities provided for disabled road-users at services on its roads.

And the report says that the companies that run roadside services should strengthen efforts to ensure that accessible parking spaces are only used by motorists with blue badges.

The report, published today (Thursday), was based on interviews with 50 disabled drivers and passengers, focus groups and interviews with service-providers and experts, including the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), which advises the government on transport access issues.

Helen Dolphin, a DPTAC member [but not speaking on behalf of the committee] and an independent mobility consultant, said: “Thanks to the Motability scheme and sophisticated car adaptations, many disabled people are able to drive and this means that the road network may need to make some changes to ensure disabled people can use the roads as safely as every other driver.”

Dolphin, herself a disabled driver, added: “I am therefore pleased that this report has highlighted many issues that I have been raising for many years and I sincerely hope that the recommendations put forward will be carried out.” 

DfT today (Thursday) announced a partnership with the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK to allocate the £2 million funding for new Changing Places toilets at motorway services, which will be installed in “the early 2020s”.

But a DfT spokeswoman also said that motorway services operators were required to provide up to two hours free parking and that charging for longer parking periods was “a commercial matter for the operators”.

She added: “Disabled people who need specially qualified driving instructions can speak to the Association of Disability Driving Instructors for impartial advice.

In the longer term, we recognise the need for further research to understand the barriers to transport that people with cognitive, behavioural and mental health conditions may face.

As outlined in our response to the consultation on the Accessibility Action Plan, we intend to proceed with this research by 2022.”

Highways England welcomed the Transport Focus report and said it would be launching a new National Mobility and Disabled Road User Forum next month, which it said would help inform its response to the recommendations.

It said it had already developed messages to display on electronic signs to “better inform road users about what is happening when they are caught up in incidents on our roads, specifically addressing the concerns of those trapped in traffic”.

It also said it would “refresh” disability-related training for its traffic officers and would “work with disability and mobility forums to define what information is important to road users, and how they want that information shared”.

A Highways England spokeswoman said: “We will work with operators to collect information about their roadside facilities, and will look at ways to publish it that reach the road users that need it.”

And she said the agency would engage with operators of services “to discuss how we can work together to consider areas raised in the research, such as extending parking times where appropriate, and the layout of service areas”.

She said Highways England was “already in discussions with DfT about enabling the construction of more Changing Places facilities at motorway service areas”, while operators of services had been “actively engaging with Highways England about existing provision, usage and future funding” of accessible toilets.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “Disabled road users tell us how driving gives them independence and a sense of freedom when using public transport may not be possible.

More must be done to remove the barriers that disabled people face when they travel on the road network.

Until now, much of the transport debate around disability has been mostly about public transport.

This research widens the discussion to people who drive or are driven, a vital form of mobility for many people.”

28 November 2018

 

 

Bus company ‘turns back clock on wheelchair access’

A bus company has turned back the clock on access by introducing new buses that will make it harder for wheelchair-users to use public transport, says a leading disabled campaigner.

Lothian Buses took the decision to ban non-folding buggies from its vehicles in 2008 so the accessible spaces could be used by wheelchair-users, which it said at the time was a reasonable adjustment under the Disability Discrimination Act.

It scrapped the ban four years later – following years of protests from parents – after introducing more than 250 new buses with dedicated spaces for both buggies and wheelchairs, although passengers with buggies still had to vacate spaces for wheelchair-users if required.

But the company, which provides services to Edinburgh and the surrounding areas, has now announced that it will be introducing new double-decker buses, with extra capacity, audio-visual announcements, wi-fi and high-backed seating.

But the new buses will only have one accessible space, with no separate area for buggies.

Campaigners and politicians have warned that the new vehicles risk shutting both disabled people and parents with young children out of central Edinburgh.

Transport access campaigner Doug Paulley, who himself secured a Supreme Court victory over another bus company’s failure to ensure the rights of wheelchair-users to use its services, said he was “very concerned about the change in Lothian’s attitude and approach”.

He said: “They know there is a known severe problem of conflict for the wheelchair space, as evidenced by their previous policy and the parents’ campaign.

They’ve gone from a bastion of good accessibility practice which I and others held up to recalcitrant organisations, to a lazy position of reinstating conditions causing such conflict, without thinking the issues through.

Disabled people will suffer as a result: all the repeated and known problems of conflict with non-wheelchair users, and the lock-on confidence problems, conflict and unpleasantness this engenders. All of which is totally unnecessary. They are going backwards.

Their lack of knowledge, care and competence is demonstrated succinctly by their claim that the buses are ‘DDA compliant’ when the Disability Discrimination Act hasn’t existed for eight years and when they have previously acknowledged that a vehicle’s physical compliance with the accessibility regulations is not enough on its own to ensure wheelchair users have reliable and hassle-free access to buses.”

Lothian Buses had failed to comment by 10 am this morning (Thursday).

29 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 14:37
Nov 262018
 

Actions against Universal Credit:
a hostile environment for women & children

Single mums challenge UC
working allowance disaster

Tues 27 & Wed 28 November 2018

High Court, Strand, London WC2A 2LL

Single mums are in court to challenge the government over the Universal Credit payment system which is inflexible and doesn’t reflect reality.  The rigid ‘assessment period’ causes wildly fluctuating benefit and debt. Part-time dinner lady Danielle Johnson from Keighley, West Yorkshire, is paid on the last working day of the month. But her monthly UC assessment periods are rigid – running from the last day of each month, meaning that if she is paid before the last day of the month, because payment falls on a weekend or non-banking day, she is assessed as having been paid twice that month, and not at all the next month (so she could be subject to the benefit cap). Claimants are unable to change their assessment period. Ms Johnson also argues that the system is discriminatory because it disproportionately affects mainly single mothers. Child Poverty Action Group and Leigh Day solicitors have joined together. See Leigh Day’s press release.  The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights recently condemned UC as ‘misogynist’.

10.30am: Court case starts in Court 1.  Go into court to support the claimants.  Continues Wednesday, check court listing here

Read “Universal Credit: a hostile environment for women”, by Selma James, Solveig Francis

UC Unite call out 1 Dec 2018.JPG

UC parliament square wide photo.JPG

Saturday 1 December 2018

National day of action to STOP Universal Credit
Called by
Unite Community

London-wide 2pm: In the shadow of Grenfell Tower, meet at Ladbroke Grove tube, London W10 6HJ

UK-wide info, including England, North of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, see Unite website.

 Posted by at 17:43
Nov 222018
 

McVey flees DWP without answering key questions on WCA deaths ‘cover-up’

Esther McVey has quit as work and pensions secretary without answering questions she was asked by MPs four months ago about whether her department covered up links between its hated fitness for work test and the deaths of benefit claimants.

McVey resigned last week in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit deal, but her resignation came months after two opposition spokespeople wrote to her about claims of a possible cover-up by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Neither Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, nor Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrats’ work and pensions spokesman, had received a response from McVey to their questions by the time she quit the department.

They had written to her after Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP was refusing to say if it showed key documents linking the deaths of claimants with the work capability assessment (WCA) to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert the government hired to review the test in 2013 and 2014.

Litchfield carried out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has refused to say if he was shown two letters written by coroners and a number of secret DWP “peer reviews”.

Litchfield, who was recognised by the prime minister with a CBE in June’s birthday honours, published his two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of his reports mentioned the documents, which all link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

De Cordova wrote to McVey seeking answers about the documents on 25 July, nearly four months ago, and has yet to receive a reply.

Lloyd’s letter to McVey, written a week later, on 2 August, said it would be “astonishing” if Litchfield had not been shown the documents.

His letter added: “In light of Dr Litchfield being awarded a CBE, could you please confirm whether or not he was shown the documents linking the government’s WCA program with the deaths of benefit claimants?”

Weeks later, having failed to receive a reply, Lloyd wrote a follow-up letter.

His office confirmed this week that McVey had failed to reply to either letter.

Even though DWP possessed both the coroners’ letters and all the peer reviews, it has claimed in a freedom of information response that it holds no information in its records to show whether they were passed to Litchfield while he was reviewing the WCA.

A DWP spokeswoman refused to explain why McVey had not answered the letters from de Cordova and Lloyd.

Instead, she repeated a previous comment from the department, stating that Litchfield’s reviews were “independent” and that “DWP provided information alongside other stakeholders – on request”, while “any evidence used was referenced in the review”.

Since DNS revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have grown that DWP and some of its ministers deliberately covered-up evidence showing the fatal impact of the assessment on disabled people.

The coroner’s letters followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013, and were sent to DWP in the spring of 2010 and early 2014, each warning of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by DWP civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”, as well as other deaths and serious and complex cases that have been linked to DWP activity.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

One of the aims of a peer review is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

But neither of Litchfield’s reviews mentioned either the peer reviews or the coroners’ letters, although the second coroner’s letter was not written until he had begun work on his second review.

Professor Malcolm Harrington, who carried out the first three WCA reviews in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has told DNS he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter (the second letter had not been written by the time he completed his third review) nor any WCA-related peer reviews.

22 November 2018

 

 

Ministers’ ‘shocking’ failure to consult DPOs on bill shows UN convention ignorance

The government is facing calls to halt the progress of its mental capacity bill through parliament because of its “shocking” failure to consult any disabled people’s organisations about the controversial legislation, in a clear breach of the UN disability convention.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has admitted in a freedom of information response that it failed to consult any organisations led by disabled people while drawing up its mental capacity (amendment) bill.

Instead, it resorted to discussions with big charities like Mencap and Sense, which are run and controlled by non-disabled people, a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

It released the list of organisations it consulted in a freedom of information response to the disabled people’s organisation (DPO) Inclusion London.

But DHSC this week admitted that it believed – wrongly – that consulting non-user-led charities like Mencap and Sense on disability-related legislation meant that it was complying with the convention.

Inclusion London said it was “extremely disappointed but unfortunately not surprised” by the department’s “continued apparent inability to understand the difference” between disability charities and DPOs. 

And it said it was “outraged” by the failure to consult any DPOs about the bill “despite repeated requests from organisations of people with learning difficulties and self-advocacy groups”, while Inclusion London said the government had also failed to publish any accessible, easy read information about the bill.

Inclusion London called on the government to halt the passage of the “hugely important bill” until it had carried out a “meaningful consultation” with DPOs.

And it called on the government to take its duties under the convention seriously and start engaging directly with DPOs “as required by the UNCRPD”.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the government appeared to be “deliberately and persistently misunderstanding the very real difference” between DPOs and those charities “that are run and controlled by non-disabled people that do not represent us or reflect our lived experience”.

She said the evidence pointed to the government “deliberately choosing not to consult or engage” with DPOs, and she added: “This is quite simply unacceptable and goes against everything the UNCRPD stands for.”

She said: “In any other circumstances there would be an outcry if a bill that focuses on a specific community then excludes that community from having any information, knowledge or say over that bill.”

But she said this now appeared to be “standard government practice” where disabled people were concerned.

Last week, DNS reported how more than 100,000 people had signed a petition – drawn up by a network of DPOs, including Inclusion London – demanding the government make major changes to the bill because of fears that it would make it easier for many disabled people to be deprived of their freedom.

There are particular concerns about the powers that the bill – which will affect an estimated 300,000 people in England and Wales with impairments including dementia, learning difficulties and brain injuries – will grant care home managers, local authorities and NHS organisations.

Some amendments to the bill have been made in the last few days, but they have not satisfied the concerns of disabled campaigners. The bill began its report stage in the Lords yesterday (Wednesday).

The timing of DHSC’s admission is particularly embarrassing for the government, coming just days after a UN rapporteur delivered a stinging report on its efforts to address the extreme poverty experienced by disabled people and other disadvantaged groups.

It is also little more than a year after the chair of a UN committee said the government’s cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”.

In the freedom of information response, DHSC listed 28 organisations that it consulted with about the bill between March 2017 and July 2018, including the General Medical Council, the Law Society, the National Autistic Society, Mencap, Sense, Rethink, the Care Providers Alliance, Age UK, the British Association of Social Workers and BUPA.

It also said it consulted with representatives of local government, the social care sector and the NHS.

But not one of the 28 organisations is led and controlled by disabled people.

The UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”.

It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”, a definition which the committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in its “general comment number seven”, which was adopted in September.

When Disability News Service (DNS) asked DHSC why it failed to consult any DPOs about the new legislation, and whether it accepted that this was a breach of the UN convention, a spokeswoman said there was no such breach “as we have consulted (and continue to consult) with ‘representative organisations’, as required”.

She added: “The [UNCRPD] requires government to consult with ‘representative organisations’.

We have complied with this by consulting throughout the process with third sector organisations, such as Mencap and Sense, who represent disabled people and whose members have fed back their views.

We have also engaged directly with individuals with dementia and learning disabilities, and their carers, to ensure the bill delivers effective reform whilst strengthening safeguards.”

When DNS pointed to the convention and general comment number seven, another DHSC spokeswoman declined to change the comment, and said: “We consider that we have complied with the convention by consulting throughout the process with third sector organisations, such as Mencap and Sense, who represent disabled people and whose members have fed back their views.”

DHSC also says the bill is based on proposals from the Law Commission, which itself carried out four years of engagement with service-users, local government and service-providers.

22 November 2018

 

 

UN poverty report: Newton refuses to apologise for misleading MPs about report

The minister for disabled people is refusing to apologise to MPs for misleading them about a report by a UN human rights expert on the UK’s record on causing and addressing extreme poverty.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, finished a 12-day fact-finding visit to the UK last week, concluding that the government’s policies and “drastic cuts to social support” were “entrenching” high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery.

He was highly critical of the benefits system, and highlighted claimants’ concerns about the system of “mandatory reconsiderations” (MR), in which DWP civil servants review decisions on eligibility for benefits such as personal independence payment and employment and support allowance.

Claimants must go through an MR before they can appeal to an independent tribunal.

But Alston concluded, in the preliminary report he published on Friday: “When claimants contest assessments that they consider to be wrong, there is a clear sense that the Orwellian named anonymous ‘decision-maker’ rarely varies the approach.

Similarly the requirement that before appealing a disability assessment to a tribunal a phase of mandatory reconsideration must take place is considered by many observers to be little more than a delaying tactic.”

But when asked by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, whether she would commission an independent review of how benefit sanctions and conditionality affect disabled people – after Alston had described the sanctions regime as “debilitating”, “draconian”, “harsh” and “arbitrary” – Newton instead claimed that there had been “factual errors” in the UN rapporteur’s report.

She said: “For example, on mandatory reconsiderations, ​he absolutely denied the fact that decisions were overturned, yet 19 per cent of mandatory reconsiderations found in favour of disabled people.”

She also told MPs that the benefit system was “there to provide personalised and tailored support for its recipients”, and she added: “We have undertaken a huge number of independent reviews of our benefit system and we do not hesitate in making improvements when they are identified.”

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say if Newton would apologise for misrepresenting what Alston had said in his report.

She also refused to say if Newton would point to the other “factual errors” she referred to in the House of Commons.

But she said, in a general statement about the report: “We completely disagree with this analysis.

With this government’s changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.”

She added: “We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.”

It is the fourth time in less than a year that Newton has been accused of misleading MPs.

In July, she denied misleading the Commons work and pensions committee about the early years of the government’s much-criticised disability employment scheme Disability Confident.

In June, as she tried to defend her government’s repeated breaches of the UN disability convention, she misled MPs in the House of Commons by stating that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”, even though every part of employment and support allowance – apart from the support group top-up – is caught in the freeze on working-age benefits that is set to last until 2020.

And in January, Newton had refused to apologise for misleading MPs about a court of appeal judgment that was highly critical of her new boss, Esther McVey, just a day after her appointment as the new work and pensions secretary.

22 November 2018

 

 

UN poverty report: UK government has ‘inflicted great misery’ on disabled people

The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, with ministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies, a UN human rights expert has concluded.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said disabled people had faced “endless problems” as a result of the government’s social security reforms.

And he said it was clear that there needed to be a better assessment of the impact of the government’s social security cuts and reforms, including any links to the deaths of people found unfairly fit for work.

He said work capability assessments that had found disabled people unfairly “fit for work” had caused “a huge cause of frustration and disbelief” and that he had no doubt that disabled people had been “hit particularly hard by the changes in the benefit system”.

Alston said figures from the Social Metrics Commission showed that 14 million people, a fifth of the population, were living in poverty and nearly half of them were from families in which someone was disabled.

He said disabled people “were feeling a very big crunch” and he added: “Many of them were still getting benefits but those benefits had been reduced dramatically, many others were put in a position where the assessment had concluded that they were not really disabled and that they should simply get out and work.”

He said disabled people had told him “again and again about benefits assessments that were superficial and dismissive, and that led to findings that contradicted the advice of their doctor”.

Alston said the “lack of compassion” and the “lack of trying to really understand the challenges confronted in life” by many disabled people was “a real problem”.

He was speaking to journalists at the end of a 12-day visit to the UK as he published a preliminary statement on his findings.

He said the government had succeeded in putting out the message that “the state does not have your back any longer. You are on your own.”

And he warned: “By emphasizing work as a panacea for poverty against all evidence and dismantling the community support, benefits, and public services on which so many rely, the government has created a highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences.”

Alston said his discussions with ministers had convinced him that they were in “a state of denial” about poverty.

He said they appeared to be “happy with the way their policies are playing out” even though they had inflicted “great misery” on groups such as “the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping”.

He said he had heard “story after story from people who considered and even attempted suicide” and had spoken with many organisations that had needed to introduce suicide prevention training for frontline staff.

One adviser told him: “The cumulative impact of successive cuts has been devastating.

People are coming to me because they are suicidal, they have turned to sex work, they can’t live with themselves.”

Alston said there was a sense from the government that it should “make the system as unwelcoming as possible, that people who need benefits should be reminded constantly that they are lucky to get anything, that nothing will be made easy”.

And he said it was “very hard to disagree” with the conclusion that the government’s sanctions system was “cruel and inhuman”.

He said the government clearly wanted sanctions to be “harsh… immediate… painful”, even though the evidence he had seen suggested that they were “usually counter-productive, that they create fear and loathing among claimants, that they impose immense hardships on people who might have been five minutes late for an appointment [or] might have screwed up in some other way”.

Alston said this “punitive approach” was “utterly inconsistent” with the “social underpinnings” of both people’s human rights and the “British sense of community and the values of justice and fairness”.

Although his report focused on the social security system, particularly universal credit, he also pointed to the real-terms cuts of 49 per cent in government funding faced by local authorities from 2010-11 to 2017-18, alongside a rise in demand for social services.

He said: “As I toured the country, I was told time and again about important public services being pared down, the loss of institutions that would have previously protected vulnerable people, social care services that are at a breaking point, and local government and devolved administrations stretched far too thin.”

Asked in parliament on Monday about the report’s findings on disability, the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said the government was “putting in place record levels of funding to support people with disabilities”.

She said: “I published a very full response to the previous UN report [by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities], and I utterly repudiate the conclusion that this country does not support disabled people.

I am determined to make sure that every disabled person in our country has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

Asked by Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, about the sanctions regime and the “hostile environment” the government had created for disabled people, Newton claimed wrongly that Alston had stated that no benefit decisions at all were overturned at the internal review, or mandatory reconsideration, stage (see separate story).

Newton said: “The benefit system is there to provide personalised and tailored support for its recipients.

We have undertaken a huge number of independent reviews of our benefit system and we do not hesitate in making improvements when they are identified.”

Alston will present a full report to the UN Human Rights Council in June.

22 November 2018

UN poverty report: Universal credit could ‘wreak havoc’, says human rights expert

The government’s new universal credit benefit system could “wreak havoc” and has created a “digital barrier” that prevents many disabled people and other disadvantaged groups from accessing the support they are entitled to, according to a UN human rights expert.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the government’s “test and learn” approach to universal credit risked treating such groups “like guinea pigs” and could “wreak havoc in real people’s lives”.

And he said that the preparations being made by local authorities and charities for the rollout of universal credit had “resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic”.

He said: “They have expended significant expense and energy to protect people from what is supposed to be a support system.”

Alston was speaking to journalists at the end of a 12-day visit to the UK, as he published a preliminary statement on his findings. He will present a full report to the UN Human Rights Council in June.

Earlier this month, Disability News Service reported how written evidence submitted to Alston’s inquiry described how a man with learning difficulties had died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto universal credit that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

Alston said in his report that a key feature of universal credit was the imposition of “draconian sanctions”, even for minor infringements.

He said: “Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the special rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time.”

Alston also warned of the impact of the government’s decision to make universal credit the first major government service that is “digital by default”, with the expectation that claimants will rely on an online service rather than human interaction with DWP staff.

He said: “We are witnessing the gradual disappearance of the postwar British welfare state behind a webpage and an algorithm.

In its place, a digital welfare state is emerging. The impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.”

Asked about Alston’s concerns about universal credit, the new work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, told MPs on Monday that she had been “disappointed, to say the least, by the extraordinary political nature of his language” in the report.

She said: “We on the Conservative benches will always engage with professionals, experts and non-governmental organisations – we are not so proud that we do not think we can learn as we try to adjust universal credit for the benefit of everybody – but that sort of language was wholly inappropriate and actually discredited a lot of what he was saying.

We look forward to working with experts in the area to make sure that we get the right outcome for the people whom we want to look after.”

She later described her new department as “a force for good”, but she admitted that there were “problems with universal credit, despite its good intentions”.

She said: “I have seen them for myself. I will be listening and learning from the expert groups in this area who do such good work. I know it can be better.

I will make it my role to ensure that we deliver that through our discussions within the DWP and through discussions with the Treasury.

We will have a fair, compassionate and efficient benefits system.”

In response to Rudd’s comments, Alston said on Twitter that the government had “a set of talking points about poverty and employment” that fail to address poverty, use “carefully chosen and misleading statistics to paint a rosy picture” and “ignore the horrible situation in which a large number of Britons live.

He added: “That’s not the way to find solutions.”

He also told Disability News Service: “I am hoping the secretary of state’s criticism of my report is not a substitute for a more systematic policy response to the many issues I have raised. 

My report recounts in some depth the many problems experienced by adversely impacted groups, and especially by people with disabilities, and I would hope that DWP will seek to improve the system so that it does not cause such hardship and make already very difficult situations even worse.”

22 November 2018

Union leads call for action on ‘silent massacre’ of disabled staff and students

Disabled teachers, lecturers and students have come together to call for sweeping changes to disability equality laws, and to highlight the barriers they face across the education sector.

A parliamentary meeting heard last night (Wednesday) how disabled people working in the education sector have been confronted by employers that are failing to provide them with accessible lecture and teaching spaces, denying them the right to disability leave – for disability-related absence from work – and delaying the provision of the reasonable adjustments they need and are entitled to under the Equality Act.

The event, hosted by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, was part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) first national day of action for disability equality in education.

Joanna Vanderhoof, co-chair of UNISON’s eastern region disabled members’ committee, described how she had been forced to go through an internal grievance procedure to secure the reasonable adjustments she needed from her university employer.

She said she had been “fundamentally failed” by her employer and as a result set up a disabled staff network and implemented workplace training on disability equality.

She said: “My employer broke current legislation in multiple areas yet I’m the one who has suffered and they face no repercussions whatsoever.”

She said she felt “utterly trapped because I can’t move to another job easily the way others can because I am disabled”.

Vanderhoof said that current legislation was “simply not sufficient”.

Disabled physics teacher Saeeda Bugtti said she had gone from being a highly-praised “poster girl” for her school to being asked if she wanted to take early retirement, after she became disabled.

She said: “As soon as I became disabled, I was too much of a problem.”

She echoed other speakers who had described how long it took for reasonable adjustments to be agreed and implemented by employers.

Another disabled member of staff said it had taken his “affluent” university – which had a surplus of £200 million – one-and-a-half years to provide him with a telephone with an amplifier.

He said the current legislation was “toothless” and there was a need to campaign for “a more effective Equality Act”.

Elane Heffernan, chair of UCU’s disabled members’ standing committee, who chaired the meeting, said: “We have to win this change. We cannot have this silent massacre of workers in education and students who cannot even get in through the door in the first place in terms of education.”

The meeting also heard how further education colleges and universities, motivated by increasing pressure to cut costs and increase revenue, were refusing to support disabled students and even attempting to force then out because it was too expensive to provide them with the support they needed.

Rachel O’Brien, disabled students’ officer for the NUS, said there was an increasing “marketisation” of further and higher education, as well as cuts to disabled students’ allowance in higher education and the introduction of education, health and care plans in further education, which had also led to cuts in support.

She said the introduction of “fitness to study” policies – assessing whether someone can continue as a student by looking at aspects of their life on campus such as health, behavior and attendance – implicitly or even explicitly targeted disabled students, such as those with mental health conditions, and could see them kicked off their courses.

She said: “It is no coincidence that this has come in at the same time as marketisation.

Disabled students, to be frank, are expensive. Universities and colleges are being forced to be businesses.

They have incentives to get rid of us, and they are trying to do it as fast as they possibly can.”

Among UCU’s demands are for legal rights to disability leave, a review of building regulations to ensure facilities are fully accessible, and strict time limits for reasonable adjustments to be provided for disabled staff.

Campaigners who have supported the UCU campaign – including other unions such as the National Education Union and Unison – also want a legal right for disabled people to access mainstream education and a reversal of cuts to special educational needs and disability (SEND) spending.

Michelle Daley, an inclusive education campaigner, said that disabled people should not be asking for “reasonable adjustments” but should be seeking “adjustments as a right” if that was what they needed to be able to function.

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said: “Education funding has an impact on our right to access mainstream education.

We are increasingly seeing attacks on provision of support and local authority support and disabled students’ allowance support in mainstream education.”

She said there was “more and more money being ploughed into segregated provision”, which amounted to an “ideological attack” on disabled people’s right to inclusive education.

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “It is so important that disabled people have role models but disabled staff within education settings are… under attack from workplace discrimination and worsening conditions at work, with experiences of hostile environments and isolation at work all far too commonplace. This is unacceptable.”

The idea for the day of action originally came from the union-funded National Disabled People’s Summit, which was held at the headquarters of the National Education Union in central London last November and was co-organised by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance.

The House of Commons event also coincided with the start of Disability History Month (see separate story).

Richard Rieser, founder of Disability History Month, told the day of action event that there was a need to “learn from the history” when it came to the increasing segregation of disabled children and young people, and he added: “We have the right to be treated with equality and challenge all the historic assumptions that have been made about us for many hundreds of years.”

The day saw UCU branches across the country organise activities to raise awareness about the issues faced by disabled staff and students, with support tweeted through the hashtag #IncludeUs.

One of those actions took place at the University of Liverpool, and involved disabled lecturer Dr Kay Inckle, who told Disability News Service in August how she had been forced to scour the campus for accessible rooms in which she could deliver her lectures.

She was even told that it might be considered “reasonable” for her to go down stairs on her bottom in some circumstances rather than be timetabled into ground floor or fully accessible rooms.

22 November 2018

 

ALLFIE calls for halt to MPs’ ‘sham’ SEN inquiry

A disabled campaigner has called for a “sham” inquiry by MPs into the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system to be halted until it agrees to address the increased levels of segregation of disabled students and cuts to their support.

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), spoke out the day after she gave evidence to the Commons education committee’s inquiry.

She told an event held in parliament last night (Wednesday) to mark the University and College Union’s (UCU) first national day of action for disability equality in education that the committee was refusing to “discuss the increased levels of segregation, refusing to discuss what needs to happen for this country to be more inclusive, is refusing to discuss cuts to SEND support services”.

She added: “I would urge everybody in this room to write to their MPs to demand an end to that inquiry until they have decent terms of reference that recognise the attack on inclusive education in this country.”

Flood told Disability News Service this morning that she had been feeling “more and more angry” about the way her evidence had been handled by the committee’s chair, disabled Tory MP Robert Halfon.

She said: “I felt I was the only one who was ignored when I attempted to speak.

I was stopped from talking when I started talking about the need for a rights-based education system.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been that polite.”

She is to write to the committee to express her concerns and will also contact the committee’s Labour MPs to ask why they had not made a stronger case for the committee’s “incredibly weak” terms of reference to be expanded.

Halfon was not available to comment this morning.

Flood told the committee on Tuesday that there had been a “spike” in the number of parents contacting ALLFIE for help since the government’s Children and Families Act became law in 2014.

She was one of a number of SEND experts giving evidence to the committee as part of its inquiry into the impact of the major reforms to the SEND system introduced through the act.

She said: “I would say the majority [of parents who contact ALLFIE] are at the end of their tether.

They come to us and then recount the most appalling experience of struggle, of fight, of battle, feeling embattled, and a lot of this revolves around the myth of parental choice.”

She told the committee that there was no choice in the current system, and that parents had to accept the decisions of their local council, school or other education provider.

She said: “The minute that a parent says, ‘we want something different,’ particularly if it is, ‘we want our young person in mainstream with all the right support,’ parents are then often finding themselves isolated, labelled as a difficult parent, an unreasonable parent often, and are then left to fight.”

Flood said that this often leads to “a hugely expensive and very adversarial battle” with the local authority.

She added: “There is a perfect storm in terms of schools struggling with league tables, struggling with funding, parents struggling to get the right support for themselves and for their young person and yet still expected to talk about having choice and having a new aspiration for their children.”

Flood said the “real issue” was that the SEND system was “needs-led” rather than “rights-led”.

She said: “Parents will often have to get into this awful competitive round of who has the most significant need.”

The committee also heard from Steve Haines, executive director for policy and campaigns for the National Deaf Children’s Society, who pointed to a survey by the charity of about 1,000 parents of D/deaf children and young people.

He said that only about four per cent felt they had seen an improvement in support since the act was introduced while 82 per cent were concerned about funding.

One of the areas the committee’s inquiry is examining is the act’s replacement of statements of special educational needs with new education, health and care plans (EHCPs), which last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support a family in England should receive.

Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, which is a “strategic reform partner” with the Department for Education on its SEND reforms, said a “fundamental criticism” of the act was that it had “concentrated almost wholly in its first three years on the 2.8 per cent of children who have EHCPs.

Our worry is that the other 12 per cent of children who actually need SEN support are not yet getting that support in the way that they should.

It’s not clearly defined enough in schools, it’s not nearly understood enough in schools. We are clear that that remains an area of significant challenges.”

She also said there was an “inbuilt unfairness in the system” because it was usually people who were “white and middle class and educated” who were able to fight the system and take their battle for support for their child to a tribunal.

Guardian journalist John Harris, whose son is autistic, told the committee that the new system was “failing” despite its good intentions, partly because it was “enacted at a time of austerity, which continues”.

He said parents often find an “almost impossible wall of paperwork” when they seek support for their disabled child, followed by an “almost straight kneejerk refusal” by the local authority.

He said that, “irrespective of the good intentions” in the act, its execution had left “a huge amount to be desired, and I would say we are faced with a system in crisis”.

22 November 2018

Campaigner’s six-year battle to secure the truth about universal credit

A freedom of information campaigner has vowed to continue his six-year battle to uncover the grim truth about universal credit and its impact on disabled people and other groups fighting poverty.

John Slater has been using freedom of information laws since 2012 in an attempt to force the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reveal the serious flaws at the heart of its new benefits system.

Slater, who has an extensive background in software development and programme management in industry, has submitted scores of requests under the Freedom of Information Act in the last six-and-a-half years.

But his attempts to secure information that he believes should be publicly available have been repeatedly obstructed by DWP’s frequent breaches of freedom of information laws.

He first became intrigued in universal credit in early 2012 after claims from work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith that DWP was going to complete the move to universal credit within just five years, a claim he knew was a “ludicrously short timescale for such a complex programme”.

But he was also alarmed to hear about DWP’s plans to adopt an “agile” approach to developing the programme, something that had never been attempted on such a large and complex programme.

Agile is a technique used mostly for small IT projects and which relies on flexibility, responding rapidly to change and making frequent and continual improvements.

None of these, Slater knew, were descriptions usually associated with DWP, or the ministers in charge of the programme, including Iain Duncan Smith.

He therefore began asking DWP questions about Agile, the risks the department associated with the programme and the “milestones” it had set to measure the progress of universal credit, through freedom of information (FoI) requests.

But right from the start, the department placed every obstacle it could in his way.

In May 2012, Slater told DWP that it had breached its legal duty to respond to freedom of information requests within 20 working days.

Although the department responded to his complaint later the same day, it then relied on an exemption under the act, claiming that releasing the information would “prejudice the free and frank provision of advice” or the “effective conduct of public affairs”.

Slater did not finally secure all the information he was seeking until April 2016, nearly four years later, following a series of tribunal hearings and appeals. The information he received, he says, “did not show a well-run programme”.

He says he has continued to ask questions about the programme for more than six years because he is “stubborn”.

As long as the DWP tries to hide what is really going on within UC, I will keep asking reasonable questions and asking for information that should shine a light on what’s actually happening.”

He adds: “I suspect that if the DWP hadn’t fought so hard to prevent me getting the risks, issues and milestones and been so dishonest I may well have stopped after that initial FoI request.”

Since that first FoI, most of his requests have initially been refused by DWP, resulting in repeated complaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

He has so far been successful in every single appeal he has made to the information rights first-tier tribunal, and in responding when DWP has appealed to the tribunal, including cases when DWP has withdrawn its appeal before the hearing.

He also complained to the ICO about DWP’s plans to share the sensitive data of claimants of universal credit with other organisations, which he believed breached the Data Protection Act, and which led to ICO raising “significant concerns” and his own subsequent FoI request which he used to ask DWP what measures it had taken to protect claimants’ sensitive personal data.

One of his FoI requests asked if DWP had a schedule or plan to show how the rollout of universal credit would be completed by 2021, as it claimed at the time.

He said: “Unsurprisingly, no such plan existed. This meant, in my opinion, that the date was a guess.”

One of his latest bids for transparency was launched in April 2017, seeking the information that was provided for regular meetings of the programme board that reviews progress on implementing the universal credit system and whose members are mostly senior DWP civil servants.

Like many other requests, its progress has been hindered by refusals, delays, appeals, complaints to the information commissioner, further delays, criticism of the department by the commissioner, and yet more of what he told DWP were “outrageous delaying tactics” and “contempt for the law”.

He said: “Given how hard it is to get accurate information about universal credit out of the DWP I asked for the packs of information that the UC programme board get given for their monthly meetings.

I assumed that this was likely to show an accurate view of what was really going on with UC.”

Last week, Disability News Service revealed how he had forced DWP to deposit significant numbers of previously confidential documents about universal credit in the House of Commons library as a result of this request.

Among those documents, Slater found evidence that appears to show that DWP is planning to transfer more benefits – including the contributory version of employment and support allowance – onto the creaking universal credit IT system.

He believes this would place greater stress on the system and expose even more disabled people to the stress and anxiety of having to cope with an online system that is already inaccessible to many of them.

He is currently waiting for the ICO to rule on whether DWP should release unredacted versions of the documents deposited in the Commons library, which he believes would reveal even more embarrassing information about the impact of universal credit on the people forced to rely on it.

Slater – who has worked closely on his campaigning with Disabled People Against Cuts – believes that universal credit was a “total mess” in its early years, before DWP brought in outside experts to assess what was going wrong.

This led to a major “reset” of the programme in 2013, following severe criticism by the government’s own Major Projects Authority.

Although Slater suspects it has now improved to some extent, he believes the disaster of the early years of its development means it is never likely to regain that lost ground.

He says: “Once something on this scale has gone so horribly wrong, I don’t think you can ever fully recover it and get it to the place it would have been if it had been run properly from the start. I’ve seen this with other programmes and projects.”

And he believes the senior civil servants leading on universal credit “are only just waking up to what it means to deliver change on this scale”.

But he also believes that DWP has failed to think about the impact of such major reform on the claimants themselves, including sick and disabled people, and “fails to reflect or take account of people’s real lives”.

I don’t think they give a damn about the claimants. I think they are almost seen as a nuisance,” he says.

The warnings and concerns of disabled activists, politicians and other professionals suggest he is right.

Campaigners have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, while, 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.

Secret DWP reviews have already been carried out into the deaths of at least four universal credit claimants that have been “linked to DWP activity”.

Disability News Service also reported earlier this month how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt. It is not clear whether this was one of the four deaths reviewed by DWP.

And only last week, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, said universal credit had “built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements”.

Slater agrees with this and warns of the “unexpected and unintended consequences” of the rush to rely on an online system, particularly as the numbers moving on to universal credit continue to increase and DWP continues to introduce major alterations to the software that powers the system.

He also agrees with Alston’s conclusion that the government’s “test and learn” approach “could treat vulnerable people like guinea pigs and wreak havoc in real people’s lives”.

Slater says: “The drive to reduce costs and automate parts of the UC process, especially sanctions, will cause major problems unless the DWP spends the time to think about and talk to people who are using the system.

I think as the UC system becomes more complex and things are automated, we will see more and more unexpected and unintended consequences.

For example, in the recent Panorama program a man was sanctioned because his work coach was away and a meeting couldn’t take place.

If the DWP is going to automate more of the process, this is only going to get worse for people.”

He fears that universal credit will never work properly because DWP refuses to listen to claimants, particularly those with the highest support needs and the most complex barriers to using the system.

In the meantime, he intends to continue probing the flaws of universal credit with his freedom of information requests.

He says: “As long as the DWP keeps trying to present universal credit in an unrealistically positive light, I will keep trying to get information that shows what is actually going on.

This is why we have the Freedom of Information Act.

I don’t like organisations that are dishonest and use their size and power to bully people and impose their will or get away with mistakes that should be made public.”

22 November 2018

 

 

Activist tells mental health conference delegates: ‘You’re helping no-one but yourselves’

Grassroots activists have challenged the government and mental health professionals over their failure to address widespread attacks on their rights.

Members of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) were outside a conference in central London on Tuesday to protest at the “deeply harmful” impact of mental health services on the wellbeing of people living with mental distress.

MHRN said that “profiteers” and “cost cutters” at the event – which was examining “next steps for mental health services” – would be discussing services “designed to benefit employers and neoliberal ideology over the wellbeing of people who live with mental distress”.

They want instead to see a “change in culture” in mental health services and an immediate end to the “conscious cruelty” of the work capability assessment.

Several MHRN activists also attended part of the event, organised by Westminster Health Forum, which is believed to have been attended mostly by mental health professionals and civil servants.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, told delegates the conference was “a disgrace” and that they had “no right to make money out of people in mental distress”.

She reminded them that people were taking their own lives because they were having their benefits removed.

She said: “This is about people making money. You’re helping no-one but yourselves.”

She told Disability News Service later that the focus of the part of the event she had attended had been on the government’s agenda of pushing people with mental health conditions into work.

She said: “This abusive ideology is now being embedded into the type of treatment we are receiving.

You go in to a mental health professional and they actually start bullying you to get a job.

There was this most toxic piece of Tory ideology being spouted out [at the conference]. I am really not happy with psychiatrists talking about a work cure. That’s quackery.”

Members of MHRN handed over copies of their new document, We Demand… , to delegates, and have sent a copy to Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director.

We Demand… makes 50 demands for reform, both of mental health services, and the social security system that service-users rely on.

The document includes calls for a public inquiry into the harm caused by psychiatric drugs and ECT; for the research and manufacture of drugs to be nationalised; for user-led mental health services; and for an inquiry into violence and abuse of patients in psychiatric wards and the community.

Among its demands on social security, it calls for universal credit to be “stopped and scrapped”; for an end to “degrading and stressful” benefit assessments; for the removal of all DWP work coaches from NHS settings; and for an end to “the lie that work can cure mental distress”.

They also want to see a public inquiry into deaths linked to the benefits system, with legal action taken against any MP or peer implicated in these deaths.

And they want to see legal action taken against any health professionals and disability benefits assessors who “cause harm by colluding with the removal of social security”.

An MHRN spokesperson said: “Action to hold the government to account is now long overdue as its reckless and contemptuous treatment of mental health service users and disabled people, removing vital support services and holding the threat of cutting our benefits constantly over our heads, is causing great harm and driving some to suicide.”

MHRN has demanded a full response to its demands from NHS England within two months, and wants an invitation to speak at all such future events.

In an open letter to Murdoch, MHRN demanded “a change in the culture of mental health provision, with the focus on long-term user led support and a stop to the ‘work-outcome or be sanctioned’ approach which is set to drive benefits provision for mental health service users” and amounts to a “dangerous level of pressure and coercion”.

The letter added: “We will also be demanding an end to the lie that mental distress can be cured by the simple act of trying hard enough.

This is another way of saying, ‘pull yourself together’. It is ill informed, lazy, accusatory, cruel and counter-productive.”

A spokesman for Westminster Health Forum declined to comment on the content of the conference.

22 November 2018

Fresh concerns from user-led network over mental health review

A user-led network has raised new concerns about the approach being taken by those leading a review of a key piece of mental health legislation on behalf of the government, just weeks before they are due to publish their recommendations.

The National Survivor User Network (NSUN) has released a letter it has sent to the chair and vice-chairs of the review of the Mental Health Act 1983, which raises serious concerns about their failure to consider an adequate human rights approach to reform of the act.

The NSUN letter highlights the continuing disquiet of the network and a wide range of other user-led organisations, service-users and allies about the review’s approach, following an earlier letter and a meeting with leaders of the review in July.

Their concerns include the “lack of concrete evidence” that service-users and carers are having an adequate influence on the review, including the failure to hear from enough people who have experienced detention, and an under-representation of service-users and carers in key working groups.

They are also concerned at the “unwillingness” of the chair and vice-chairs to consider recommending the full implementation of the rights contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

A full implementation of the convention would include bringing an end to “detentions, substitute decision-making [appointing someone to make decisions on behalf of a service-user, rather than providing them with support to make the decision themselves] and compulsory treatment”.

The letter from Dr Sarah Carr, NSUN’s acting chair, and Sarah Yiannoullou, its managing director, says they continue to have “serious misgivings” about the review and the recommendations it will make to the government, which are expected next month.

More than 120 organisations and individuals – led by NSUN – first wrote to the review in May to raise alarm about its reluctance to recommend full rights that comply with the UNCRPD.

A further 17 organisations and individuals have since added their names to the concerns being raised.

The first letter included a call on the review to address the concerns raised by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, after it investigated the UK’s implementation of the UN disability convention last year.

The UN committee said in the “concluding observations” to its examination of the UK that the government should “repeal legislation and practices that authorise non-consensual involuntary, compulsory treatment” and the detention of disabled people “on the basis of actual or perceived impairment”.

But Carr and Yiannoullou believe that the review team, led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, has failed to change its approach since July’s meeting.

They are alarmed that the review’s recommendations are due to be published next month, and could form the basis for the last major reform of mental health legislation for many years.

Carr and Yiannoullou ask the review in their letter to consider a number of recommendations, including services that would be needed if there was to be compliance with the UN convention, such as an “extensive expansion of community-based and community-led resources” and a sharp increase in services that are user-led and appropriate for marginalised communities.

They also want to see widely-available peer advocacy and a “significant rise” in the number of resources that service-users have found particularly therapeutic, such as crisis houses or refuges available to service-users as an alternative to hospital.

In response to the NSUN letter, Wessely said: “Engaging with service users and carers has been a consistent priority for the review as we work towards our final report due out in December.

One of my vice-chairs, Steve Gilbert, is a mental health service user and has a critical role in influencing and shaping of all our work.

We have service users and carers within our advisory panel and each of the 18 specialist topic groups we ran over the summer.

We have a standing service user and carer group, which consists of people with a range of lived experience – both past and present; who we have met with regularly and who have robustly challenged our emerging thinking.

He said the review team had also held more than 50 focus groups across England and Wales since the start of the year, to hear from people with direct experience of the act, including those currently detained in a variety of settings.

There have been more than 2,000 responses to a survey of people with lived experience, and eight workshops, each involving about 100 attendees.

Wessely also pointed to blogs by Sarah Markham, a member of the service user and carer group, posted in July and August, in which she praised the efforts of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the review team to ensure that service-users contribute to the review.

DHSC said the review of the Mental Health Act “will consider the reasons for rising rates of detention under the act, how to reduce the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic groups detained and how to improve processes that are out of step with a modern mental health care system”.

22 November 2018

Parliamentary event recognises disabled musicians who trumped oppression

A parliamentary event has recognised some of the many artists over the centuries whose talent as musicians has “trumped” the oppression they experienced as disabled people.

The event was held to launch the ninth annual Disability History Month, which this year focuses on disability and music and runs from 19 November to 22 December.

Richard Rieser, founder and coordinator of UK Disability History Month (UKDHM), listed many of the countless disabled musicians – many of whose impairments are not widely known – whose “creative impulse, the urge for self-expression, the need to connect to our fellow human beings” have trumped “the oppression we as disabled people face”.

Those he mentioned included Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Connie Boswell, Itzhak Perlman, Frederick Delius, Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Derek Paravicini, Robert Wyatt, and many blind, black musicians such as blues performers Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, and the Reverend Gary Davis, as well as Art Tatum, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder.

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, who sponsored the event, said Disability History Month allowed people to hear about the “hidden history” of disabled people that is never heard in the mainstream media.

He said: “It’s vitally important that we celebrate it, but at the same time it’s important to recognize the reality of the world as it now is.”

He pointed to the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which concluded two years ago that the government was guilty of grave and systematic violations of the rights of disabled people in the UK.

He said: “I believe the systematic abuse of human rights is also denying people the opportunity of being able to celebrate their cultures.”

And he said the nature of the curriculum and the pressure on school funding were depriving children of the ability to learn instruments or to take part in dance or drama.

He said it was difficult enough for some of the disabled musicians highlighted during the event to demonstrate their talent but it was now becoming even harder for disabled young people to follow in their footsteps.

He said: “I think we are actually going backwards at the moment. If you see what is happening on the ground, in community after community, in school after school, group after group that have lost their funding… it is an absolute scandal.

So as well as celebrating the achievement I think we have to be straight with people as well and expose what’s actually happening.

This is not a party political point, it’s a point about civilized behavior. I think we are going backwards rather than forwards.”

He said there was a need to “get bloody angry”.

McDonnell added: “We should not, in the fifth largest economy in the world, allow disabled people to be treated in this way.

That anger should motivate us into further action.”

The event included highly-praised live performances from two disabled artists.

Tinuke Jonah performed her first single, Girls Like Me*, which is due to be released tomorrow (Friday), and which she said described how she had realised at the age of 18 that she no longer needed to apologise for her albinism.

John Kelly, playing the Kellycaster, an adapted guitar he created with the music, disability and technology charity Drake Music, sung two rights anthems.

The Kellycaster uses an electric guitar as an interface for computer software, allowing him to play both chords and notes.

Kelly said his guitar helped fight oppression, and he added: “We are fighting louder than ever and our voices need to be heard louder than ever.”

He quoted the disabled poet Allan Sutherland, who told him that when he was young, he “didn’t have any footprints to follow” as a disabled person.

He said that disability art is about our culture, it’s about who we are.

It gives us that confidence to fight the injustices and oppression we experience.”

The event also watched a video of one of the songs recorded by Lizzie Emeh, who was the first UK artist with a learning difficulty to release an album of original songs, Loud and Proud, in 2009.

She said that her next EP, Meds, which will be released in February, will be about the medication she takes and how it affects her.

She said: “I hate the word ‘normal’. Do you know why I hate it?

To me, normal is like a cycle on a washing-machine. Do I look like a washing-machine to you?”

The launch event also heard part of an interview between Rieser and Deaf solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, a longer version of which will be posted on the UKDHM website.

She described how taking off her hearing aids had allowed her to hear the drum she was playing through her body rather than her ears which “really allowed me to concentrate on the whole journey of that sound, the impact of the sound, the resonance of the sound.

Taking care of how that sound ended was really important because before I was just bang, bang, bang…”

George McKay, professor of media studies at the University of East Anglia, and author of books on protest movements, jazz, and popular music and disability, pointed to the links between punk music and disability, through disabled musicians like Ian Dury and Ian Curtis.

He said the performance of Dury’s rights anthem Spasticus Autisticus at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics managed to “articulate an expression of difference and a celebration of difference”.

It was, he said, an “extraordinary punk moment”.

*The single will be available from tomorrow by searching for “Tinuke Jonah Girls Like Me” on all major music platforms, including Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and Google Play

22 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:23
Nov 192018
 

#WeDemand Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) has a Protest tomorrow, Tuesday 20th November 2018, from 8am.
Why?
Westminster Health Forum are holding a seminar tomorrow at OverSeas House, Park Place, St Janes Street London SW1A Called ‘Next Steps For Mental Health Services In England, funding, care and effencies. Which means cuts!

In fact, Lord Coles has made a series of recommendations in how to save a further £1bn from NHS Trusts budgets by 2020 the bad and the downright terrible ie NHS England, MIND and DWP will all be in attendance tomorrow

Either join MHRN in solidarity in person from 8 am in person address is above, or follow and tweet on line

Follow @MHResist and use the hashtag for the protest from 8am #WeDemand
Also follow @WHFEvents who are hosting the bad and the terrible and counter act them and hijack their hashtag for the event #Mentalhealth conf

Please join in however you can

Please show solidarity to MHRN

Please share with all networks and support.

 Posted by at 22:17
Nov 172018
 

Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Version with footnotes (PDF)

London, 16 November 2018

Introduction

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.  It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.  And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.  While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.

The results? 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%.   For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone.  Its manifestations are clear for all to see.  The country’s most respected charitable groups, its leading think tanks, its parliamentary committees, independent authorities like the National Audit Office, and many others, have all drawn attention to the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well off in this country.  But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is.  The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial.  Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.  Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.  The good news is that many of the problems could readily be solved if the Government were to acknowledge the problems and consider some of the recommendations below.

In my travels across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland I met with people living in poverty, whether old, young, disabled, in work or not.  I talked with civil society, front line workers, work coaches, and officials from local, devolved, and UK governments; and visited community organizations, social housing, a Jobcentre, a food bank, an advice center, a library, and a primary school.  I also met a range of Ministers in the central government and in Wales, as well as with the First Minister in Scotland.  I spoke at length with politicians from all of the major political parties.

In the past two weeks I have talked with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future, young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose support, against their doctor’s orders.

I have also seen tremendous resilience, strength, and generosity, with neighbors supporting one another, councils seeking creative solutions, and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services. I also heard stories of deeply compassionate work coaches and of a regional Jobcenter director who had transformed the ethos in the relevant offices.

Although the provision of social security to those in need is a public service and a vital anchor to prevent people being pulled into poverty, the policies put in place since 2010 are usually discussed under the rubric of austerity.  But this framing leads the inquiry in the wrong direction.  In the area of poverty-related policy, the evidence points to the conclusion that the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering.  Successive governments have brought revolutionary change in both the system for delivering minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people, and especially in the values underpinning it.  Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned.  In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.

Most of the political debate around social well-being in the UK has focused only on the goals sought to be achieved.  These goals are in many respects admirable, even though some have been controversial.  They include a commitment to place employment at the heart of anti-poverty policy, a quest for greater efficiency and cost savings, a determination to simplify an excessively complicated and unwieldy benefits system, a desire to increase the uptake of benefits by those entitled, removing the ‘welfare cliff’ that deterred beneficiaries from seeking work, and a desire to provide more skills training.

But Universal Credit and the other far-reaching changes to the role of government in supporting people in distress are almost always ‘sold’ as being part of an unavoidable program of fiscal ‘austerity’, needed to save the country from bankruptcy.  In fact, however, the reforms have almost certainly cost the country far more than their proponents will admit.  The many billions advertised as having been extracted from the benefits system since 2010 have been offset by the additional resources required to fund emergency services by families and the community, by local government, by doctors and hospital accident and emergency centres, and even by the ever-shrinking and under-funded police force.

Leaving the economics of change to one side, it is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems.  The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded, and some have claimed simple-minded, focus on getting people into employment at all costs.  Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society.  British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.  I provide various examples later in this statement.

Brexit
My report comes at a critical moment in the debate over Brexit.  I take no position on its merits or on the optimal terms for undertaking it, but anyone concerned with poverty in the UK has reason to be very deeply concerned.  Whatever happens in the period ahead, we know that deep uncertainty will persist for a long time, that economic growth rates are likely to take a strong hit, and that tax revenues will fall significantly.  If current policies towards low income working people and others living in poverty are maintained in the face of these developments, the poor will be substantially less well off than they already are.   This could well lead to significant public discontent, further division and even instability, thus underscoring the importance that steps be taken now to avoid such outcomes.

There are many concerns linked to Brexit.  Given the vast number of policies, programs and spending priorities that will need to be addressed over the next few years, and the major changes that will inevitably accompany them, it is the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society who will be least able to cope and will take the biggest hit. The IMF has suggested that a no-deal Brexit could cost the UK economy somewhere between 5% and 8% of GDP, representing a loss of thousands of pounds per household.

In my meetings with the government, it was clear to me that the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought, to be dealt with through manipulations of fiscal policy after the event, if at all. But Brexit will have serious consequences in this domain and the challenges need to be dealt with head on. A lack of clarity is preventing families at risk of poverty from planning for its impact. People feel their homes, jobs, and communities are at risk.  Ironically, it was these very fears and insecurity that contributed significantly to the Brexit vote.

The fall in the value of the pound has already increased the cost of living for people in poverty by £400 pounds per year, and researchers have estimated that the UK economy is already 2-2.5% smaller than it would otherwise have been. Almost all studies have shown that the UK economy will be worse off because of Brexit, with consequences for inflation, real wages, and consumer prices. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, if the government does not adequately uprate benefits to account for inflation after Brexit, up to 900,000 more people could fall into poverty. This would strain a social support system that has been gutted in recent years.

The vote for Brexit reflects a great value being placed on the notion of sovereignty. But while people in a democracy are entitled to prioritize sovereignty through such a vote, it is imperative for steps to be taken to protect the most vulnerable and to ensure that the further fiscal consolidation measures called for by the Government and the International Monetary Fund should not be achieved at the risk of making that group of people even worse off.

The UK stands to lose billions of pounds in EU funds that will disproportionately affect the poorer areas that have most benefited from them, including almost £9 billion in poverty reduction funding between 2014 and 2020. Although the government has announced a “shared prosperity fund” to replace this funding, local and devolved governments told me they had no information about the fund or how it would operate—just five months before Brexit. Time is running out. Brexit could also have particularly harsh consequences for people living in Northern Ireland, with people living on the border and dependent on trade or cross-border employment.

If the European Charter of Fundamental Rights becomes no longer applicable in the UK, the level of human rights protections enjoyed by the population will be significantly diminished.  The UK should not roll back EU-derived human rights protections on workplace regulation and inequality.

Universal Credit
No single program embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than Universal Credit.  Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.

Social support should be a route out of poverty, and Universal Credit should be a key part of that process. Consolidating six different benefits into one makes good sense, in principle.  But many aspects of the design and rollout of the programme have suggested that the Department for Work and Pensions is more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting. While some surveys suggest certain claimants do have positive experiences with Universal Credit, an increasing body of research makes clear that there are far too many instances in which Universal Credit is being implemented in ways that negatively impact many claimants’ mental health, finances, and work prospects.

In addition to all of the negative publicity about Universal Credit in the UK media and among politicians of all parties, I have heard countless stories from people who told me of the severe hardships they have suffered under Universal Credit. When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits.

The Universal Credit system is designed with a five week delay between when people successfully file a claim and when they receive benefits. Research suggests that this “waiting period,” which actually often takes up to 12 weeks, pushes many who may already be in crisis into debt, rent arrears, and serious hardship, requiring them to sacrifice food or heat. Given the delay, which will only be partially mitigated by a recent concession, it is no surprise that the majority of claimants seek “advance payments,” which in turn must be repaid to DWP in relatively short order. Additionally, debts to DWP and to third-parties can be deducted from already meager Universal Credit payments at a rate much higher than is the case with the older benefit system. While supposedly deductions are capped at a maximum rate of 40% of the standard allowance portion of the payment (which will change to 30% in a year’s time), the Government told me that in fact additional clawbacks can occur. These so-called “Last Resort Deductions” are for matters such as rent, gas, and electricity arrears, if it is judged to be in the best interest of a claimant or their household.

The rationales offered for the delay are entirely illusory, and the motivation strikes me as a combination of cost-saving, enhanced cashflows, and wanting to make clear that being on benefits should involve hardship. Instead, recipients are immediately plunged into further debt and inevitably struggle mightily to survive.

There are undoubtedly many people who have benefited from the Universal Credit system, and many of the Jobcentre staff play important roles in supporting and encouraging their clients.  But many claimants also feel that they are forced to jump through hoops for the sake of it, fill out pointless job applications for positions that do not match their qualifications, and take inappropriate low-paid, temporary work just to avoid debilitating sanctions. One Conservative Party MP with whom I spoke criticized DWP for adopting a military-style command and control approach rather than seeking to empower their clients and instill confidence.

The digital-by-default feature of Universal Credit is highly controversial and a detailed assessment of this aspect is found on page 7 below.

When claimants contest assessments that they consider to be wrong, there is a clear sense that the Orwellian named anonymous ‘decision-maker’ rarely varies the approach.  Similarly the requirement that before appealing a disability assessment to a tribunal a phase of mandatory reconsideration must take place is considered by many observers to be little more than a delaying tactic.

One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor.  Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time.  As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years. 

Recent statistics indicate dramatic fluctuations in sanctioning, perhaps reflecting different instructions from on high. For unemployed people, between 6% and 8% are subjected to sanctions, and 31% of sanctions were for a period exceeding three months, and one in eight were over six months. A recent book characterized the sanctions as being cruel, inhuman and degrading, and the Inquiry undertaken by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found “evidence of grave and systematic violation of the rights of persons with disabilities,” partly on the basis of the sanctions regime.

Many detailed studies have been undertaken which give substance to the harsh consequences that ensue for vulnerable claimants who are sanctioned.   Departmental and Ministerial insistence notwithstanding, there is no clear evidence that recent high employment rates in the UK are due to sanctions, or that blunt and harsh sanctions are superior to far less harmful methods to encourage compliance with conditionality. Indeed, a real deficiency in the data DWP provides about sanctions makes it difficult to assess the regime. DWP does not make public sanctions data disaggregated by race or ethnicity, much less certain other claimant statuses such as single parents or carers. It is also impossible to determine from the data the number of sanctions that an individual has received, so it is not clear if the duration of sanctions is due to consecutive sanctions or rather an individual sanction of longer duration.What is clear from those with whom the Special Rapporteur has spoken, is that sanctions succeed in instilling a fear and loathing of the system in many claimants.

The government says it is taking an experimental “test and learn” approach to Universal Credit, but there seems to be an unacknowledged risk that this approach could treat vulnerable people like guinea pigs and wreak havoc in real peoples’ lives. “Test and learn” cannot be a decade-long excuse for failing to properly design a system that is meant to guarantee the social security of so many, and it does not remedy the damage done to those who were thrown into debt or out of their houses, or made to rely on food banks before the improvements kicked in.

As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future rollout of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilization resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic. They have expended significant expense and energy to protect people from what is supposed to be a support system. Scotland has repeatedly urged the Government to halt the rollout and paid DWP for the introduction of certain flexibilities for claimants, such as the ability to receive payments more frequently. This is a constant complaint, and while some beneficiaries are happy with monthly payments, a great many suffer as a result of the arrangement, and may end up visitng the food bank or forgoing heating just to stretch a very small amount out over an entire month.  While cost has been cited by DWP as one justification for being inflexible and unresponsive, vast amounts have already been expended on automating the system and I am unaware of any precise costing estimate to justify the resistance to implementing this reform.

A Digital Welfare State
Relatively unnoticed amidst the turmoil of Brexit, the UK government announced the ‘total transformation’ of government in 2017. The 2017 Government Transformation Strategy was presented as “the most ambitious programme of change of any government anywhere in the world.” Not only will government services become ‘digital by default,’ as was first announced in 2012, but the inner workings of government itself will be transformed in a push for automation aided by data science and artificial intelligence.

There are few places in government where these developments are more tangible than in the benefit system. We are witnessing the gradual disappearance of the postwar British welfare state behind a webpage and an algorithm. In its place, a digital welfare state is emerging. The impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.

Universal Credit as a Digital by Default Service
The UK government made Universal Credit the first major government service that is ‘digital by default.’ This means that an entitlement claim is made online and that the beneficiary then interacts with authorities mainly through an online portal. One wonders why some of the most vulnerable and those with poor digital literacy had to go first in what amounts to a nationwide digital experiment.

From the outset, the belief within DWP has been that the overwhelming majority of Universal Credit claimants are online and digitally skilled, and confident enough to claim and maintain benefits digitally. Despite contrary indications from some officials, the relevant documents show DWP’s assumption that most people are at ease and competent online.

Overall rollout of broadband internet in the UK may be high, but those figures hide the fact that many poorer and more vulnerable household are effectively offline and without digital skills. According to 2017 Ofcom figures, only 47% of those on low income use broadband internet at home. Only 42% of those who are unemployed and 43% of those on low income do their banking online. According to the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2018, 21% of the UK population do not have five basic digital skills and 16% of the population is not able to fill out an online application form.

Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements. Women, older people, people who do not speak English and the disabled are more likely to be unable to overcome this hurdle. According to a 2017 Citizens Advice survey, 52% of its clients in ‘full service’ Universal Credit areas found the online application process difficult. According to DWP’s own survey from June 2018, only 54% of all claimants were able to apply online independently, without assistance. As of March of this year, only about one third of all Universal Credit claimants could verify their identity online via GOV.UK Verify, a crucial step in the application process.

Again, despite official protestations to the contrary, ‘digital by default’ is really much closer to digital only. Since Universal Credit was announced in 2010, DWP has always underlined that alternative routes to this benefit needed to be “kept to a minimum.” According to its own figures, 95% of Universal Credit claims they receive are made online. DWP points to the Universal Credit Helpline as an alternative route, but long waiting times and call center staff who, according to civil society organizations, are often poorly trained, make this a very frustrating alternative. Jobcentres, many of which have been closed, offer online access, but very little digital assistance is available and official policy is to keep ‘face-to-face’ help at a minimum. Only in really exceptional cases will work coaches make a home visit to offer digital support.

The reality is that digital assistance has been outsourced to public libraries and civil society organizations. Public libraries are on the frontline of helping the digitally excluded and digitally illiterate who wish to claim their right to Universal Credit. While library budgets have been severely cut across the country, they still have to deal with an influx of Universal Credit claimants who arrive at the library, often in a panic, to get help claiming benefits online. In Newcastle alone, the first city where ‘full service’ Universal Credit was rolled out in May 2016, the City Library has digitally assisted nearly 2,000 customers between August 2017 and September 2018.

Many claimants also rely on digital help from benefits rights organizations and charities that are already under pressure from a range of cuts and other demands. They currently receive minimal funding from DWP to deliver Assisted Digital Support, which only covers 2 hours of help with the original application and is not nearly enough to cover the demand for support. As of next year, Citizens Advice will be funded by DWP as the sole provider of Assisted Digital Support, with a total budget of £39 million spread out over several years, which must also cover personal budgeting support. Not only is this a small amount in light of the need, but it diverts funding away from public libraries and other organizations which have set up improvised digital support programs.

Around one third of new Universal Credit claims fail in the application process and never reach the payment stage. Many of those cases may be related to the design of the DWP system. I am unaware of any effort by DWP to estimate the number of people who do not even attempt to apply due to digital exclusion.

Automated Benefits
While Universal Credit is a very visible example of digital transformation, an even more significant digital change is happening within the walls of central and local authorities. The merging of six legacy benefits into one new Universal Credit system aimed at reaching millions of UK citizens is in fact a major automation project. The collection of data via the online application process and interactions with the online journal provide a clear stepping stone for further automation within DWP.

One example is the Real Time Information (RTI) system, which takes HMRC data on earnings submitted by employers and shares it with DWP, which in turn uses this data to automatically calculate monthly benefits. As DWP explained to the Special Rapporteur, Universal Credit is only possible because of the automated calculation of benefits via RTI.

But with automation comes error at scale. Various experts and civil society organizations pointed to problems with the data feed, including through wrong or late information transmitted by employers to HMRC. According to DWP, a team of 50 civil servants work full-time on dealing with the 2% of the millions of monthly transactions that are incorrect. Because the default position of DWP is to give the automated system the benefit of the doubt, claimants often have to wait for weeks to get paid the proper amount, even when they have written proof that the system was wrong. An old-fashioned pay slip is deemed irrelevant when the information on the computer is different.

Another area of major transformation is that of automated fraud and error detection and prevention. Serious investments have been made by DWP to undertake data matching to identify fraud and error in the context of the Generalised Matching Service. Over the years, millions of inconsistency matches have led to further investigations for fraud and error. At the local level, DWP has subsidized ‘risk-based verification systems’, mostly built by private IT vendors, which flag claimants for low, medium or high risk of fraud and error, thus allowing local authorities to investigate high risk cases more closely. At present, DWP is developing a “fully automated risk analysis and intelligence system for fraud and error,” which will go beyond automatically finding inconsistencies between different databases and aims to prevent fraud and error by using new tools including Artificial Intelligence.

An Artificial Future?
Artificial Intelligence is very much in fashion and there are many related initiatives in the UK. The Prime Minister aims to “propel Britain to global leadership of the industries of the future” including through the use of big data and artificial intelligence, and one of the ‘Grand Challenges’ of the November 2017 Industrial Strategy is to put the UK “at the forefront of the AI and data revolution.” The House of Lords will debate a recent report on Artificial Intelligence on Monday, and new institutions such as the AI Council, the government Office for AI and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation are being set up.

Government is increasingly automating itself with the use of data and new technology tools, including AI. Evidence shows that the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable are especially at risk in such contexts.

A major issue with the development of new technologies by the UK government is a lack of transparency. Even the existence of the automated systems developed by DWP’s ‘Analysis & Intelligence Hub’ and ‘Risk Intelligent Service’ is almost unknown. The existence, purpose and basic functioning of these automated government systems remains a mystery in many cases, fueling misconceptions and anxiety about them. Advocacy organizations and media must rely on Freedom of Information requests to clarify the scope of automated systems used by government, but such requests often fail. Central and local government departments typically claim that revealing more information on automation projects would prejudice its commercial interests or those of the IT consultancies it contracts to, would breach intellectual property protections, or would allow individuals to ‘game the system.’

But it is clear that more public knowledge about the development and operation of automated systems is necessary. The segmentation of claimants into low, medium and high risk in the benefit system is already happening in contexts such as ‘Risk-based verification.’ Those flagged as ‘higher risk’ are the subject of more intense scrutiny and investigation, often without even being aware of this fact. The presumption of innocence is turned on its head when everyone applying for a benefit is screened for potential wrongdoing in a system of total surveillance. And in the absence of transparency about the existence and workings of automated systems, the rights to contest an adverse decision, and to seek a meaningful remedy, are illusory.

There is nothing inherent in Artificial Intelligence and other technologies that enable automation that threatens human rights and the rule of law. The reality is that governments simply seek to operationalize their political preferences through technology; the outcomes may be good or bad. But without more transparency about the development and use of automated systems, it is impossible to make such an assessment. And by excluding citizens from decision-making in this area we may set the stage for a future based on an artificial democracy.

Transparency about the existence, purpose, and use of new technologies in government and participation of the public in these debates will go a long way toward demystifying technology and clarifying distributive impacts. New technologies certainly have great potential to do good. But more knowledge may also lead to more realism about the limits of technology. A machine learning system may be able to beat a human at chess, but it may be less adept at solving complicated social ills such as poverty.

The new institutions currently being set up by the UK government in the area of big data and AI focus heavily on ethics. While their establishment is certainly a positive development, we should not lose sight of the limits of an ethics frame. Ethical concepts such as fairness are without agreed upon definitions, unlike human rights which are law. Government use of automation, with its potential to severely restrict the rights of individuals, needs to be bound by the rule of law and not just an ethical code.

While the overall innovation agenda may point in the direction of light-touch regulation and ethics, the Special Rapporteur would argue for a strengthening of the existing legal framework and its enforcement by regulators such as the Information Commissioner’s Office. While the EU General Data Protection Regulation includes promising provisions related to automated decision-making and Data Protection Impact Assessments, it is worrying that the Data Protection Act 2018 creates a quite significant loophole to the GDPR for government data use and sharing in the context of the Framework for Data Processing by Government.

The Dismantling of the Broader Social Safety Net
Before describing the ways in which the overall social safety net is being systematically dismantled, it is important to acknowledge some of the positive developments of which I was informed by the Government. The latest budget introduced several positive changes to Universal Credit, including a welcome increase in work allowances, as a consequence of which an estimated 2.4 million households will be better off next year to the tune of £630. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that 200,000 people will move out of poverty as a result of this change. By the same token, such improvements will be partly offset by the continuing freeze on benefits combined with the effect of inflation. The government has also taken steps to prioritize important social care issues through the launch of the government’s first loneliness strategy and the appointment of a Minister for suicide prevention.

There are many ways in which the overall safety net has been reduced since 2010, but this section focuses specifically on the effects of the benefit freeze and cap, the reduction of legal aid, the reduced funding of local authorities, and resulting cuts in other specific services.

  1. Benefit reductions and limits

Significant reductions in the amount of and eligibility for important forms of support have undermined the capacity of benefits to loosen the grip of poverty.  Capping benefit amounts  to working-age households, limiting support to two children per family, reducing the Housing Benefit for under-occupied social housing, and reducing the value of a wide range of benefits, have all made it much harder for people to make ends meet.

While the Government has commendably sought to protect the pension entitlements of older people, especially by introducing in 2010 a ‘triple lock’ to ensure that annual pension levels rise in accordance with whichever is highest among the rate of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5%. This helped to reduce poverty among pensioners, although the recent picture is less positive.

But the triple lock contrasts dramatically with the freeze on benefit rates for working age people since 2016. Poor households typically spend a higher proportion of their income on consumer goods than wealthy households and already often struggle to put food on the table after bills are paid. Despite this, the Government froze benefit rates in 2016, thus enabling continuing inflation to systematically reduce the value of the benefits.  Poor families have thus had to do more with less as the prices of goods has gone up and the value of their income has declined. Households are expected to have to cope with a reduction of £4.4 billion in 2019/20 alone. This year, when the Chancellor could have used the windfall he received from the Office for Budget Responsibility to end the benefit freeze a year earlier than planned, he instead chose to change income tax thresholds in a way that will help those better off and will do nothing to move the needle on poverty.

            (ii) Legal aid
There have been dramatic reductions in the availability of legal aid in England and Wales since 2012 and these have overwhelmingly affected the poor and people with disabilities, many of whom cannot otherwise afford to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy. The LASPO Act (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) gutted the scope of cases that are handled, ratcheted up the level of means-tested eligibility criteria, and substituted telephonic for many previously face-to-face advice services.

(iii) Local authorities’ cuts
In 2010, the Government pledged to radically reform public services by cutting funding to local authorities in England. This has had tremendous implications for local authorities, which are obligated to balance their books and whose revenue raising powers are limited. According to the National Audit Office, local governments in England have seen a 49% real-terms reduction in Government funding from 2010-11 to 2017-18 alongside a rise in demand for key social services.

As a result, they have transferred a greater share of service costs to users who are often the least able to pay. They have cut spending on services by 19% and focused their spending on statutorily mandatory adult social care and child protection services. The leader of one city council told me local governments have cut preventative, proactive services and then had to cope with a rise in crisis intervention– which can in fact be much more costly than preventative services.

More than 500 children’s centers closed between 2010 and 2018, and between 2010 and 2016 more than 340 libraries closed and 8,000 library jobs were lost. Anyone can rely on publicservices like the library, but they are of particular significance to those living in poverty who may need to access a computer or a safe community space. I spoke with a group of young people from London who made it clear how valuable a community center is as a safe space in a crowded city where people are squeezed by an immensely challenging housing market, and where being stuck out on the street could lead to crime and gang life.

Local welfare funds, a vital resource for people on the brink of crisis, have been another casualty of austerity. Many local governments in England have closed or cut their Local Welfare Assistance Schemes, leaving vulnerable people and those facing emergencies without anywhere to turn. At least 28 authorities have shuttered their local welfare funds and councils reported reducing their related expenditures by 72.5% between 2013 and 2018. From 2015 to 2018, the proportion of destitute people who reported receiving in-kind help from local welfare funds dropped sharply by 28%. The collapse of this resource for people who face sudden hardship has apparently been of no concern to the government, which decentralized responsibility for the funds and does not collect any information on what has become of them.

Local governments are even struggling with the basic services they are statutorily obligated to provide. Northamptonshire County Council has twice this year issued a formal notice indicating that it was at risk of unlawfully spending more than the resources it has available. As a result there are concerns that hundreds of vulnerable children are at greater risk of harm due to rapidly deteriorating frontline child protection services. In March 2018 the National Audit Office criticized the lack of ongoing, coordinated monitoring of the impact of funding cuts on local authority services and raised the alarm that statutory services are at risk.

The government plans to update its funding methodology for local governments from 2020-21, and in December 2017 it launched a formal consultation on the matter — the Fair Funding Review. Many people with whom I spoke from local and central government expressed concern that this review could lead to even more negative policies affecting people living in poverty.

(iv) Cuts in other services
As I toured the country, I was told time and again about important public services being pared down, the loss of institutions that would have previously protected vulnerable people, social care services that are at a breaking point, and local government and devolved administrations stretched far too thin.

Cuts are being made without either measuring or accounting for their broader impact, such as increasing the need for crisis support and mental health services. People are being pushed toward much more expensive services that can’t turn them away, like accident and emergency rooms. Other parts of the government are now starting to feel the excessive resulting burden. And cuts that pare back the government’s ability to tackle poverty don’t even make economic sense. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that poverty is costing the UK £78 billion per year in measures to reduce or alleviate poverty—not counting the cost of benefits. £1 in every £5 spent on public services is making up for the way that poverty has damaged people’s lives.

The voluntary sector has done an admirable job of picking up the slack for those government functions that have been cut or de facto outsourced. One pastor told me that because the government has cut services to the bone, his church is providing meals paid for by church members. But that work is not an adequate substitute for the government’s obligations. Food banks cannot step in to do the government’s job, and teachers—who very well may be relying on food banks themselves—shouldn’t be responsible for ensuring their students have clean clothes and food to eat.

By emphasizing work as a panacea for poverty against all evidence and dismantling the community support, benefits, and public services on which so many rely, the government has created a highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences. As one city council leader told us, “If there is another recession, our capacity to react to it has been completely cut.” Government officials dismissed such concerns and claimed that Universal Credit would work equally well when a future recession brings high levels of unemployment.

Measuring and Monitoring Poverty
It became clear from my many meetings and encounters in the UK that people want to work, and are taking hard, low paying, and insecure jobs in order to put food on the table. They want to contribute to their society and communities, support their families, live in safe, affordable housing, and take control over their lives. A just and compassionate UK can ensure these people are able to escape the restrictions of poverty. But a social safety net is not just for people already in poverty. It is equally important for a very large number of people whose margin of error is small and for whom a single crisis can lead to disaster. Many of the people I heard from ended up struggling to overcome financial hardship because of a surprise health condition, a divorce, or a child’s disability. More and more working people are trapped in poverty by a rising tide of low pay, debt, and high living costs, and a majority of the UK population will use some form of benefits over an 18-year period. In other words, a majority of the British people have a personal stake in the welfare system functioning effectively.

To address poverty systematically and effectively it is essential to know its extent and character.  Yet the United Kingdom does not have an official measure of poverty. It produces four different measures of people who live on “below average income.” This allows it to pick and choose which numbers to use and to claim that “absolute poverty” is falling. Seen in context, however, other measures show that progress in reducing poverty has flat lined, child poverty is rising, and poverty is projected to rise in the coming years. The bipartisan Social Metrics Commission’s New Poverty Measure represents an attempt to create a single comprehensive measure of poverty, and these are the numbers I reference here unless otherwise noted. I would urge the Government to respond to the Commission and adopt its approach, which has received an impressive degree of cross-party support.

The government told me that there are 3.3 million more people in work than in 2010, that so called “absolute poverty” is falling, and that the social support system is working. An elected official added that there is no extreme poverty in the UK and nothing like the levels of destitution seen in other countries. But there is a striking and almost complete disconnect between what I heard from the government and what I consistently heard from many people directly, across the country.

People I spoke with told me they have to choose between eating and heating their homes, or eating and feeding their children. One person said, “I would rather feed my kids than pay my rent, but that could get us all kicked out.” Children are showing up at school with empty stomachs, and schools are collecting food on an ad hoc basis and sending it home because teachers know that their students will otherwise go hungry. Many families are living paycheck to paycheck. And 2.5 million people in the UK survive with incomes no more than 10% above the poverty line. They are thus just one crisis away from of falling into poverty through no fault of their own.

In Jaywick, Erin described how she and her husband used to work full time and had a savings account, but one crisis changed her life. “I needed full time care, and my husband had to leave his job,” she said. “Suddenly we were living on disability. Then our landlord gave us eight weeks to vacate the apartment. We discovered that no one will let you view a house when you’re on disability benefits…. I do not know where I’ll be putting my child to bed soon. Should he be made homeless?”

Cuts to social support, preventative services, and local councils mean that when people need help, there are fewer resources to support them, causing them to rely on charities and crisis services. One front line worker told me that they are referring people to food banks because “people have exhausted the possibility of borrowing from their families and friends, defaulted on their loans, and have nowhere else to go.”

I also heard story after story from people who considered and even attempted suicide, and spoke with multiple organizations that have instituted suicide prevention training for frontline staff in recent years. One person said, “The cumulative impact of successive cuts has been devastating. People are coming to me because they are suicidal, they have turned to sex work, they can’t live with themselves.”

These aren’t just anecdotes. They are reflected in the numbers. In England, homelessness is up 60% since 2010, rough sleeping is up 134%. There are 1.2 million people on the social housing waiting list, but less than 6,000 homes were built last year. Food bank use is up almost four-fold since 2012, and there are now about 2,000 food banks in the UK, up from just 29 at the height of the financial crisis. Not only does the government not measure food poverty, but a Minister dismissed the significance of foodbank use as being only occasional and noted that foodbanks exist in many other western countries. The clear implication was that their rapid growth in the UK should not be seen as cause for concern, let alone for government action.

Employment as the Cure-All for Poverty
The government says work is the solution to poverty and points to record employment rates as evidence that the country is going in the right direction. But being in employment does not magically overcome poverty. In-work poverty is increasingly common and almost 60% of those in poverty in the UK are in families where someone works. There are 2.8 million people living in poverty in families where all adults work full time. Families with two parents working full time at the national minimum wage are still 11% short of the income needed to raise a child. One person told me “I know people who are working five jobs to make the national minimum wage, which isn’t a living wage.”

Low wages, insecure jobs, and zero hour contracts mean that even at record unemployment there are still 14 million people in poverty. Government Ministers emphasized that only 3% of the workforce on zero hours contracts, with no benefits or security. But that amounts to almost one million workers, and a great many of them will be among the most vulnerable members of society. And the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that 10% of workers over 16 are in insecure employment. Jobs aren’t even a guarantee against people needing food banks. The Trussell Trust told me that one in six people referred to their food banks is in work. One pastor said “The majority of people using our food bank are in work…. Nurses and teachers are accessing food banks.”

The Hardest Hit
The costs of austerity have fallen disproportionately upon the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents, and people with disabilities. The changes to taxes and benefits since 2010 have been highly regressive, and the policies have taken the highest toll on those least able to bear it. The government says everyone’s hard work has paid off, but according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, while the bottom 20% of earners will have lost on average 10% of their income by 2021/22 as a result of these changes, top earners have actually come out ahead. According to 2017 research by the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group, as a result of changes to taxes, benefits, and public spending from 2010 through 2020, Black and Asian households in the lowest fifth of incomes will experience largest average drop in living standards, about 20%.

(i) Women
Women are particularly affected by poverty. Reductions in social care services translate to an increased burden on primary caregivers who are disproportionately women. Under Universal Credit, single payments to an entire household may entrench problematic and often gendered dynamics within a couple, including by giving control of the payments to a financially or physically abusive partner. Changes to the support for single parents also disproportionately affect women, who make up about 90% of single parents, and as of August of this year, two-thirds of Universal Credit recipients who had their benefits capped were single parents. Single pensioners are also driving the uptick in pensioner poverty, and are significantly more likely to be women.

(ii) Children
Many of the recent changes to social support in the UK have a disparate impact on children, including the deeply problematic two child policy, the outrageous rape exception, and the benefits cap. The Equality and Human Rights Commission forecasts that another 1.5 million more children will fall into poverty between 2010 and 2021/22 as a result of the changes to benefits and taxes, a 10% increase from 31% to 41%. Sanctions against parents can have unintended consequences on their children. According to the Social Metrics Commission, almost a third of children in the UK live in poverty. After years of progress, child poverty is rising again, and expected to continue increasing sharply in the coming years. According to Child Poverty Action Group, the child benefit will have lost 23% of its real value between 2010 and 2020, due to sub-inflationary uprating and the current freeze. And low paid jobs and stagnant wages have a direct effect on children, with families where two adults earn the minimum wage still falling short of the adequate income needed to raise a child. Because of changes to benefits and taxes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission projects the poverty rate for children in single parent households to jump to a shocking 62% by 2021/22.

(iii) People with disabilities
Nearly half of those in poverty, 6.9 million people, are from families in which someone has a disability. People with disabilities are more likely to be in poverty, and are more likely to be unemployed, in insecure employment, or economically inactive. They have also been some of the hardest hit from austerity measures. As a result of changes to benefits and taxes since 2010, some families with disabilities are projected to lose £11,000 on average by 2021/22, more than 30% of their annual net income. People with disabilities told me again and again about benefits assessments that were superficial and dismissive, and that led to findings that contradicted the advice of their doctor.

(iv) Pensioners
Despite the protections offered by the triple lock, pensioner poverty has begun to rise after decades of decline. Between 2012/13 and 2016/17, the number of pensioners living in poverty rose by 300,000. As was made clear to me in a number of submissions and through powerful personal testimony, a group of women born in the 1950s have been particularly impacted by an abrupt and poorly phased in change in the state pension age from 60 to 66. The impact of the changes to pensionable age is such as to severely penalize those who happen to be on the cusp of retirement and who had well-founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives, rather than being plunged back into a workforce for which many of them were ill-prepared and to which they could not reasonably have been expected to adjust with no notice.

(v) Asylum seekers and migrants
Destitution is built into the asylum system. Asylum seekers are banned from working and limited to a derisory level of support that guarantees they will live in poverty. The government promotes work as the solution to poverty, yet refuses to allow this particular group to work. While asylum seekers receive some basic supports such as housing, they are left to make do with an inadequate, poverty-level income of around £5 a day. For those who have no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status, the situation can be particularly difficult; such individuals face an increased risk of exploitation and enjoy restricted access to educational opportunities.

(vi) Rural poverty
Despite the idyllic traditional image of the English countryside, poverty in rural areas is particularly harsh. Rural dwellers are particularly impacted by cuts to transportation and public services, are at a higher risk of loneliness and isolation, and often face higher fuel costs.

An organization working on rural poverty that I met with in Bristol told me, “If you’re poor in the countryside it’s twice as bad, because you don’t have access to services. People can’t afford the bus and the bus doesn’t go where you need it to anyways.” Without adequate access to transportation, people can’t get to work even when they are able to get a job. One person told me that it was easier for her to go to find a job by going to another city and staying with friends there than it would have been to find a job at home without public transportation.

And with the government’s new dependence on digital-by-default benefits applications, lack of broadband internet or access to libraries are particularly painful. Government officials assured me that anyone can walk off the street and get support to make an online claim for benefits, but that’s simply not the case for people living outside major cities.

Devolved Administrations
Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, despite experiencing significant reductions in block grant funding and constitutional limits on their ability to raise revenue. Scotland and Northern Ireland each report spending about £125 million per year to protect people from the worst impacts of austerity. And unlike England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have continued to provide access to welfare funds for emergency hardships. 

But mitigation comes at a price and is not sustainable. The Scottish government has urged the UK to put an end to the benefit freeze and the two child limit on certain benefits, and told me that they have reached the limit of what they can afford to mitigate, because every pound spent on off-setting cuts means taking away from other vital services. Northern Ireland’s mitigation package runs out in 2020, leaving vulnerable people facing a “cliff edge scenario.” But more broadly, it is outrageous that devolved administrations need to spend resources to shield people from government policies.

Scotland
Scotland, despite having the lowest poverty rates in the United Kingdom, has the lowest life expectancy and the highest suicide rate in Great Britain. I met with children in Glasgow’s North East, where, according to one local councillor, 48% of people are out of work, life expectancy is six years lower than the national average, about half of families are single-parent households, and about a third of households lack an internet connection.
 
However, Scotland has recently put in place schemes for addressing poverty, including its Fairer Scotland Action Plan and Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan. It has also used newly devolved powers to establish a promising social security system guided by the principles of dignity and social security as a human right, and co-designed on the basis of evidence. The system eschews sanctions entirely and, in contrast to Universal Credit, is decidedly not digital by default. Rather, the stated goal it to make benefits equally accessible however people want to access them.

It is too soon to say if these ambitious steps—and Scotland’s new powers of taxation—will make a difference for poverty, health outcomes, and life expectancy in Scotland. However, it is clear to me that there is still a real accountability gap which should be addressed. The absence of a legal remedy or a more robust reference to international standards in the Social Security (Scotland) Act is significant and should be addressed. I will be following closely the forthcoming recommendations from the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights.

Civil society groups also raised concerns about a general lack of awareness of local welfare funds for people in crisis and the considerable variation in how local authorities process applications for these emergency grants; in Glasgow only 3% of local welfare fund applications were decided in a day, whereas other councils managed to decide these claims within a day 99% of the time.

Wales
Wales faces the highest relative poverty rate in the United Kingdom, with almost one in four people living in relative income poverty. Like the rest of the United Kingdom, employment has not proven to be an automatic route out of poverty in Wales. In-work poverty has grown over the last decade, despite considerable improvement in the employment rate. Twenty-five percent of  jobs pay below the minimum wage, and low-paid, part-time or insecure jobs are often disproportionately taken up by women, due to difficulties in balancing work and caring responsibilities.

Faced with these challenges, the Welsh Government has determinedly shifted its focus to increasing economic prosperity and employment as the gateway to poverty reduction. A poverty-specific action plan and the post of the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty were scrapped in 2017, in favour of adopting a “whole Government” approach to poverty reduction. The new Prosperity for All Strategy, however, has removed the strategic focus on and the Ministerial responsibility for poverty reduction, and lacks clear performance targets and indicators to measure progress and impact.

In the absence of devolved power over social security benefits, the Welsh Government’s capacity to directly mitigate the reduction in benefits is limited, thereby shifting the burden to low-income households. There is a wide consensus among stakeholders that the benefit changes are one of the structural causes behind the increase in poverty, rough sleeping, and homelessness in Wales. Parliamentarians and civil society voiced serious concerns that Universal Credit may exacerbate the problem, particularly in light of the Welsh Government’s inability to introduce flexibilities in its administration, unlike its Scottish counterpart.

Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, the lack of a government forecloses the possibility of any major efforts to tackle poverty and results in an accountability vacuum. Like Scotland, Northern Ireland has taken steps to mitigate some of the worst effects of austerity measures, and is taking a different and seemingly more humane approach to certain aspects of Universal Credit. But a £500 million mitigation package is set to run out in 2020, and its expiration could have dire consequences for people living in poverty. According to the government, rates of long term unemployment are more than twice those of the UK as a whole.

In Belfast, I was struck by the extent to which communities in the city are still segregated by physical barriers and I was concerned to learn about persistent inequalities along religious lines. A startling 69% of those long-term unemployed are Catholic, compared with 31% Protestant as of 2016. People in Belfast told me that the government was not building sufficient social housing in predominantly Catholic areas, and Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission found that Catholics experience longest wait times for social housing among all religious groups.

Conclusion
The experience of the United Kingdom, especially since 2010, underscores the conclusion that poverty is a political choice. Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so. Resources were available to the Treasury at the last budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead.

It was a British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who memorably claimed that without a social contract, life outside society would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The risk is that if current policies do not change, this is the direction in which low-income earners and the poor are headed. Loneliness rates have soared in recent years and life expectancy rates have stalled in the United Kingdom, with the latest statistics showing a sharp drop in the annual improvement that has been experienced every year since the records began, and an actual drop for certain groups.

The compassion and mutual concern that has long been part of the British tradition has been outsourced. At the same time many of the public places and institutions that previously brought communities together, such as libraries, community and recreation centers, and public parks, have been steadily dismantled or undermined. In its fiscal analyses, the Treasury and the Government constantly repeat the refrain that fiscal policy must “avoid burdening the next generation.” The message is that the debt burden must be paid off now. The problem is that the next generation’s prospects are already being grievously undermined by the systematic dismantling of social protection policies since 2010.

The negotiations surrounding Brexit present an opportunity to take stock of the current situation and reimagine what this country should represent and how it protects its people. The legislative recognition of social rights should be a central part of that reimagining. And social inclusion, rather than increasing marginalization of the working poor and those unable to work, should be the guiding principle of social policy.

The UK should introduce a single measure of poverty and measure food security.

The government should initiate an expert assessment of the cumulative impact of tax and spending decisions since 2010 and prioritize the reversal of particularly regressive measures, including the benefit freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the reduction of the housing benefit for under-occupied social rented housing.

It should ensure local governments have the funds needed to tackle poverty at the community level, and take varying needs and tax bases into account in the ongoing Fair Funding Review.

The Department of Work and Pensions should conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, and should immediately instruct its staff to explore more constructive and less punitive approaches to encouraging compliance.

The five week delay in receiving benefits under Universal Credit should be eliminated, separate payments should be made to different household members, and weekly or fortnightly payments should be facilitated.

Transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity, and the government should regulate the sector to the extent necessary to ensure that people living in rural areas are adequately served. Abandoning people to the private market in relation to a service that affects every dimension of their basic well-being is incompatible with human rights requirements.

As the country moves toward Brexit, the Government should adopt policies designed to ensure that the brunt of the resulting economic burden is not borne by its most vulnerable citizens.

 

 Posted by at 15:33
Nov 152018
 

The CWU’s fight to save our nation’s cherished Post Office network, which has been recently launched by the union in response to the bombshell announcement that 74 Crown offices are to be franchised (privatised) to high-street retailer WH Smith – a move which will impact some 800 jobs and drastically cut services to communities.

CWU is fighting back, with a range of high-profile local and national campaign activities being planned over the next couple of months – particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

We’ve created dedicated campaign website – www.saveourpostoffice.co.uk – which has all the essential facts, aims and demands and also features a quick and easy ‘write to your MP’ guide.

From the main page of the site, simply click to find your own MP and then click again for a model letter to her or him – or write to the Government Minister responsible for the Post Office, Greg Clarke, urging him to stop the wrecking of our Post Office.

CWU general secretary Dave Ward says: “At a time when the government is claiming to be on the side of workers, it is an outrage that it is allowing well rewarded jobs to go from a public service, handing them straight to a second-rate employer like WHSmith – recently rated as the worst retailer on the high street who will undoubtedly provide a significantly inferior service.”

And he’s asking all CWU members to “please visit the campaign site, write to your MP and watch out for upcoming Save Our Post Office activities in your local area.”

Can you help? Here’s what you can do…

  1. Go towww.saveourpostoffice.co.uk
  2. Enter your address
  3. Your MP’s name will appear
  4. Write your message
  5. Share with colleagues, friends, family etc
  6. Thank you

Dave Ward says:

“Together, united, we can stop this attack and save this cherished Great British institution.”

December 1st protests are planned for Aberdeen, Crawley, Nottingham, Chester, Basingstoke, York, and Bristol – with further events in other localities being discussed and organised as well.

We need YOU – December 1st Day of Action

“Come and get involved in the big nationwide Campaign Day to Save Our Post Office,” is today’s message from our general secretary Dave Ward.

Since the launch event last Thursday, enthusiasm is growing around the country, with protests, petitioning and lobbying gathering pace – and Dave is urging reps to “please remember to take these petitions around your unit.

“We’ve got around 190,000 members of this union, so between now and the Big Day, let’s get as many of our own people signed up as we possibly can,” he urges.

“And while you’re asking people to sign, please flag up the nearest December 1st event to them and boost the attendance on the day.”

Saturday December 1st will see protests in cities and towns in every region of the UK, in our defiant response to Post Office bosses’ announcement of the ‘franchising’ of 74 Crown offices to retailer WH Smith, impacting on some 7-800 jobs – marking a change in their strategy from managed decline to terminal decline.

“And that’s what we’re facing unless we can force a change of direction,” says our general secretary, who is also pushing forward the union’s vision for a positive future for our post office network – as the real hubs of our communities.

 Posted by at 18:38
Nov 152018
 

Our first day of action for Disabled Equality in Education will see meetings and events in colleges and universities, as well as schools where SEND cuts are destroying integrated education and will culminate in a meeting in parliament where we will bring forward demands for change.

 

Parliamentary meeting Wednesday November 21st House of Commons, Committee Room 10  from 5.30pm – 7pm. Some tickets are available for this event and we want as many disabled people as possible to attend:

please email DPAC or elaneheffernan@btinternet.com for tickets

 

Briefing Document from ALLFIE can be read here https://www.allfie.org.uk/

Cambridge

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) now has a Cambridgeshire and Essex branch! Come and join us for this protest about disability equality in work. We will be highlighting the government’s persecution of disabled people, reading the names of people who have died because of the horrific cuts and sanctions regime of the DWP, and agitating for real equality of access to work.

We are in solidarity with the UCU Day of Action for disability equality in education, for which events are taking place all day at the Cambridge University Students Union. If you’re going to one of the UCU events, come and join us at 2:30 in Market Square to take the message to the public.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018 from 14:30-16:30,

Market Square Cambridge

Cambridge.

https://www.facebook.com/events/304326216958523/?notif_t=plan_user_invited&notif_id=1542299943763655

Liverpool 

Support Wed 21st national UCU Day of action for disability equality in education at Liverpool University

Come and join us

12.00 Rally University Square (Brownlow Hill)

We will be leafleting:

10.45  502 Teaching Block  (Mount Pleasant next to Student Guild)

11.45 502 Teaching Block  (Mount Pleasant next to Student Guild)

The UCU is taking action  to challenge disability discrimination on campus and barriers faced by disabled people in education.

Our union branch recently passed a motion expressing concern about the disability discrimination on campus which is heavily impacting staff and students and demanding that the University complies with the Equality Act 2010 in relation to disability. The issues on campus were also reported in the media.
https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/union-backs-claims-of-widespread-discrimination-by-hostile-university/

Please come and show your support.

Please contact UCU equalities officer if you can help.  Kirsteen.paton@liv.ac.uk

https://www.ucu.org.uk/disabilityequality?utm_source=lyr-ucu-members&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=members&utm_term=all&utm_content=Day+of+action+for+disability+equality+in+education:+21+November+2018

 

There will be a disabled member of staff speaking, Kirsten (our UCU equalities officer at Liverpool) and a message of solidarity from DPAC would be great.

 

We are leafleting the 502 teaching block because access is none existent or very difficult.

 

 

 Posted by at 18:30
Nov 152018
 

 

Utterly disgraceful’ Public Health England refuses to warn councils of ESA suicide risk

The government’s public health agency has refused to warn local NHS and council bodies that claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are at a hugely-increased risk of attempting to take their own lives.

Last week, Public Health England (PHE) published the latest update of its Suicide Prevention Profile (SPP), which includes detailed data that helps public bodies draw up their own local suicide prevention plans.

The aim of the profile is to develop “an intelligence driven approach to suicide prevention” by providing figures that show the prevalence of suicide among different age groups and in different areas, and how different risk factors vary across those areas.

PHE says its SPP aims to support local areas in developing and monitoring their suicide prevention action plans, helping them to “understand suicide and the risk and service-related factors that may have a causal relationship”.

The profile includes 25 risk factors for suicide, including the prevalence of depression, alcohol-related hospital admissions and how many people live alone, and shows how these indicators vary in every county and unitary authority area in England.

This allows the experts who draw up local suicide prevention plans to see which risk factors are particularly high in their area, so they can pay attention to them and try to produce strategies to prevent people dying through suicide.

But PHE has ignored the proportion of the population in local areas that claims employment and support allowance (ESA) as one of those risk factors, even though it is aware of NHS figures that show nearly half of ESA claimants have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed in September 2016 that more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle Campaign, said PHE’s failure was “utterly disgraceful” and “beyond belief”.

He said this “negligence” made PHE “complicit” in the continuing suicides among sick and disabled people that were being caused by the government’s welfare reforms, and the further “catastrophic harm” caused to those who do not take their own lives.

Dr Jay Watts, the activist and consultant clinical psychologist who first highlighted the figures, said there was “clear and undeniable evidence of the exceptionally high rate of attempted suicide by ESA claimants from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, the most comprehensive and widely respected measure of the nation’s mental health.

This data has been triangulated by other evidences including that from senior health professionals, the police, activist groups and those volunteering on national suicide helplines, all of which concur that the benefits system triggers risk of death by suicide.

Despite this, Public Health England has chosen to omit this from their new guidance, drawing the focus of local suicide prevention strategies away from an extremely high-risk group where help and care could make a real difference in mitigating risk.”

She added: “It is interesting that the ‘there are always multiple factors’ arguments is used to bat off mentioning evidence where the current government is implicated, yet somehow this rhetoric doesn’t get applied to other more politically neutral factors such as gender and loneliness.

Given this peculiarity, it is difficult to read Public Health England’s decision to omit the mentioning of ESA claimants as anything but an indefensible politically motivated decision.”

PHE admitted that it had been aware of the NHS Digital ESA statistics.

But a PHE spokeswoman said that, because the 43 per cent figure was a measure of how many ESA claimants had attempted suicide during their lifetime, the timing of suicide attempts and claiming ESA “may not necessarily have occurred at the same time, which has to be considered when looking at the data”.

She also appeared to claim that the reason the national ESA figures could not be included in the profile was because they were based on too small a sample, so producing local figures for the SPP could potentially identify individuals.

This appeared to be a clear and basic misunderstanding of the statistics that would be used in the profile, as Department for Work and Pensions figures show there are many hundreds, and usually thousands, of ESA claimants in each local authority area in England.

And if PHE included ESA as a risk factor in its SPP, it would only produce figures showing the proportion of the local working-age population who claimed ESA, posing absolutely no risk of identifying any individual.

The PHE spokeswoman refused to reconsider her response, despite being asked to explain the apparent flaws and inconsistencies in her statement*.

She also claimed that PHE made clear in its local suicide prevention planning guidance that local areas should “also look at other sources to inform their prevention plans”.

But this planning guidance makes no mention of the ESA figures or any other benefits in the relevant section (section 3) or throughout the document.

Lily Makurah, national public mental health lead at PHE, said: “There are many reasons that can sadly drive someone to take their life by suicide.

Our data helps to provide the basis for local authorities and partners to develop suicide prevention plans that best meet the needs of their communities.”

But McArdle said: “Judging from their reaction, it would appear that PHE have not properly examined the empirical evidence before us because had they done so it would be impossible for a reasonable person to reach the conclusion that they have.”

The Department of Health has repeatedly refused to explain why it fails to mention the figures or to highlight ESA claimants as a high-risk group in its own suicide prevention strategy for England.

Jackie Doyle-Price, the new “suicide prevention” minister, has refused to pledge to take the simple steps of highlighting that ESA claimants are a high-risk group in that strategy, and of alerting local agencies to the figures.

And this week her department failed to comment on PHE’s failure to mention the figures in its SPP.

The PHE spokeswoman did make it clear, though, that Doyle-Price had not been asked to approve the latest list of risk factors.

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

*The PHE spokeswoman also admitted that figures showing the proportion of ESA claimants with mental health conditions in the local working-age populations in areas across England were included in PHE’s mental health and wellbeing joint strategic needs assessment, which is designed to “help planners understand needs within the local population and assess local services”. But she failed to explain why similar figures for all ESA claimants in an area could not therefore be used in the Suicide Prevention Profile

15 November 2018

 

 

DWP ‘plans to move more benefits onto troubled universal credit IT platform’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been planning for years to move more benefits onto the hugely-troubled IT platform that hosts universal credit, documents released through freedom of information requests appear to show.

DWP deposited a substantial number of internal documents relating to universal credit in the House of Commons library this month, following the latest in a series of freedom of information requests by campaigner John Slater.

The documents include a series of “programme decision logs”, providing details of decisions taken between 2015 and 2017 by the universal credit programme board, which reviews progress on implementing the system and whose members are mostly senior DWP civil servants.

Universal credit was designed to incorporate six income-related benefits into one, including income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), housing benefit and income support.

But the IT system that supports universal credit claims – as well as the application of sanctions when they breach strict conditions and the online journal that claimants must keep updated – has been repeatedly criticised for being flawed and error-ridden, while critics have warned that the online system is not accessible for many disabled people.

The department is already preparing to transfer millions of people on existing income-related benefits onto universal credit by 2023, with the public accounts committee warning last month that delivery of universal credit was “causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help” and of “a culture of indifference” within the department to those problems.

Now it appears that DWP is planning to load hundreds of thousands more claimants onto the IT system that supports universal credit, although it is not clear when it intends to begin this process.

The decision logs unearthed by Slater include repeated references to contributory benefits – out-of-work benefits paid to those who have built up sufficient national insurance contributions, such as the contributory form of ESA.

In January 2017, for example, the universal credit programme board “discussed the short, medium and long term approach to Contributory Benefits in UC, progress to date and next steps”.

It also “noted progress made on the development of the contributory benefit strategic business case”.

And it warned that “some senior input might be necessary to drive the business case forward”.

In May 2016, the programme board had “noted progress on Contributory Benefits design proposal for UC Full Service”, while the previous year the board had stated the need to “engage Ministers on the long term plans for contributory benefits and seek a decision by Spring 2016 in order that we can plan any legislative and policy changes”.

But despite these and many other references to contributory benefits by the universal credit programme board, a DWP spokeswoman said: “DWP has no plans to merge contributory benefits into Universal Credit. They will continue to be claimed separately.”

When asked why there were so many mentions of contributory benefits by the programme board and to confirm that the department planned to migrate them onto the universal credit IT platform, she refused to comment further.

Slater, himself a programme manager, said that migrating contributory benefits onto the universal credit IT platform “would appear to place all the DWP eggs into a single basket”.

He said: “Given the problems the UC IT currently experiences (outages, running slow etc), I can’t see it going well if contributory benefits are added to the workload.” 

Slater is also concerned that DWP may intend eventually to move disability benefits such as personal independence payment and disability living allowance onto the IT platform developed for universal credit.

He said the potential problems this could cause were “huge”, and he added: “We’re getting a taste of this already under universal credit, with people claiming income-related ESA or just not having the basic IT skills to cope with the UC IT system being sanctioned on a regular basis, which is leaving them destitute.”

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core” with “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 last week, Disability News Service reported how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

15 November 2018

 

 

UN expert tells of disabled people’s ‘horrendous’ evidence on poverty

The UN expert investigating the government’s record on eradicating poverty has described how he has heard “pretty horrendous” evidence from disabled people while conducting a 12-day factfinding visit to the UK.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, also told Disability News Service (DNS) that the government had not made the progress he would have expected in securing “real equality” for disabled people.

And he made it clear, after speaking at an event in London on Tuesday evening, that the impact of universal credit on the poverty experienced by disabled people and other groups would play an important part in his report.

He said: “I don’t think I could avoid it as a big issue.”

He said that disabled people had made up a “significant proportion” of the community and other groups he had met, and those he had met had told him “stories which are pretty troubling to hear.

They paint a picture of a system which doesn’t respond to their particular challenges and problems in the way that it should.”

He said that that did not surprise him on one level because disabled people faced discrimination all over the world.

But he added: “On the other hand there is a formal commitment [in the UK, through the Equality Act] to treat them with full respect and care.

One would have hoped there would have been more progress in terms of real equality for people with disabilities.”

Alston had made it clear earlier that, because of the strict rules of the UN process he was undertaking, he could not yet speak “in a very direct way” about his findings.

In response to a question from DNS during the event, he told the audience that he had met many disabled people during his visit who had described their experiences of poverty, particularly in relation to universal credit and the disability benefit assessment process.

He said: “I have to say that I have heard some pretty horrendous stories.”

He added: “One of the issues that I’m conscious of, and it’s an easy reply if government wants to make it, is that of course my audience is self-selecting.

In other words, people who feel that the system is working really well, who have had a good deal, who really love their work coach, are not going to come along to a meeting with me nor send me a letter saying the system is great, mate.

So I naturally tend to get people who are deeply discontented but it has to be said that I have had probably more than my expected share of people with disabilities who have had pretty awful experiences.”

He also told the meeting that the UK government had delivered a “relatively dismissive” response to last year’s report by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, in which the committee had told the government to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights. 

But Alston also told the event – organised by the UK human rights consortium Just Fair and the Human Rights Lawyers Association – that he had been told earlier that day by the government that there had been no austerity.

Although he later declined to identify to DNS which minister or civil servant had made the comment, he had just described having meetings that day with work and pensions secretary Esther McVey (who resigned from the cabinet this morning), as well as an unnamed work and pensions minister and a junior Treasury minister.

He said: “I was told today that there isn’t austerity. That government expenditure in almost all areas has gone up steadily in the last 10 years.

So I asked what Philip Hammond and Theresa May were talking about [when they talk about an end to austerity]. I didn’t get a particularly good answer to that.”

Alston also said that he had received “very surprising” answers from the government when he had asked about the use of foodbanks, although he declined to expand on what ministers told him.

He said: “The impact of these policies on communities is going to be an important element in my final report.”

He was asked by an audience member whether he had been examining whether government austerity measures, including benefit sanctions, might amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Alston said there were problems with the sanctions statistics that the Department for Work and Pensions places on its website, with “a lot of data that is not made available”.

He added: “The challenge to me is to be able to describe accurately what is really going on, but I think I will be able to do that.

Whether I would categorise it as cruel and inhuman, I will see how I feel on Thursday night when I’m finishing writing my statement.

There is a whole book that has that title, which I’ve read and I am well aware that many of the people who have experienced these sort of sanctions would categorise them in that way.”

Alston told the meeting that although he had “no power” and could not order the UK government to take any action, he hoped his report would be strong enough to “resonate with people” so that it would “have legs” and would “continue to be discussed”.

He said he knew the UK government would not welcome his report and would not agree to implement it, but he hoped to be able to “shine a light on some issues that could do with added attention”.

He also pointed to the role that tabloid newspapers and others – including those owned by his fellow Australian Rupert Murdoch (now a US citizen) – had played in stigmatising and distorting human rights “so we all know that human rights are only for drug dealers and terrorists”.

He said this had “highlighted for many of us in the human rights community the need to start rehabilitating the notion of human rights”, and to emphasise that human rights “are for the average person and not just for the particularly vulnerable groups”.

He said: “If people aren’t getting enough food to eat I think there should be reasonable outrage and I think it would be useful to see that from a rights perspective, but I think that’s going to take time.

I think that’s what many of us in the field need to start working on.”

Alston also said that the international system of human rights provided a way to hold governments accountable for their actions.

He said: “What has to be recognised is that being in poverty is a grave threat to your civil and political rights.

Most of the people [in the world] who are tortured, most of the people who are killed, most of the people who are abused in prisons or elsewhere are poor. They are abused in part because they are poor.

They are easy victims, they don’t have recourse, they don’t have people to defend them, they can’t afford lawyers.

Attacking the poor is easy, and they as a result suffer highly disproportionately in terms of their civil and political rights.”

Alston and his team carried out months of detailed research in advance of their 12-day visit, which saw them visit Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, Jaywick, London, and Newcastle.

He is set to issue a preliminary 10-page statement tomorrow (Friday) before publishing his final report in June.

15 October 2018

 

 

Regulator sets out ideas for better assisted rail travel

The rail regulator has revealed a series of draft measures designed to force the industry to improve the assistance it provides to disabled passengers.

Many of the proposals suggested by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) yesterday (Wednesday) aim to address key concerns that have been highlighted publicly by disabled campaigners.

They include measures to make it less likely that users of mobility scooters will be prevented from boarding trains, improvements to information on whether on-board accessible toilets are out-of-order, better training for staff – with disabled people involved in its delivery – and measures aimed at ensuring that more rail replacement services are wheelchair-accessible.

There is also the possibility of a significant reduction in the standard notice required from disabled passengers seeking to book assistance before they travel, which could be reduced to two hours from the 24 hours notice often required, although other options are also included.

ORR says it wants all rail operators to introduce schemes offering compensation to passengers if they fail to receive the assistance they booked in advance.

And it says it wants the industry to introduce text relay services that would allow passengers with hearing or speech impairments to book assistance using text-to speech translation services.

The ORR consultation will eventually lead to the first changes to the rules governing how Network Rail and train operating companies ensure their services are accessible to disabled people – through their Disabled People’s Protection Policies (DPPPs) – since 2009.

The DPPPs are important because every train and station operator must have one and they have a legal obligation to comply with them.

Other suggested ORR changes include improving and standardising information on assistance and making improvements to the process of booking that assistance.

There are also plans to introduce a formal procedure for communication between staff at different stations to ensure that passengers who have asked for help “consistently receive assistance to alight the train”.

ORR also wants to ensure that wheelchair-users are told when buying a first-class ticket if there are no spaces for wheelchair-users in the first-class carriage.

The suggested changes have come following months of consultations with disabled people’s organisations, passenger bodies and the rail industry.

Few disabled campaigners have yet had a chance to read the 116-page report, but initial reactions suggest many of the measures will be welcomed, although further improvements to the document will be needed.

Doug Paulley, who has raised publicly at least two of the key issues raised by the report, said his initial impression was that the report included some positive recommendations, but that there would need to be improvements through the consultation process.

He particularly highlighted the section on rail replacement services, an issue he has raised, and said the ORR needed to strengthen the new guidance in that area.

He said DPPPs were “important”, and he added: “It’s the key document that sets out in detail what each train operating company is legally required to do to make its services accessible for disabled people.”

The crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who has repeatedly highlighted cases of discrimination against herself and other disabled passengers on public transport – and last month suggested she would write to the Department for Transport every time she heard of a disabled person having an access problem on a train – said she would welcome anything that made rail transport easier for disabled people.

She said: “The number of complaints I am receiving is unacceptable.”

She said she would send ORR a full response to its consultation.

Stephen Brookes, the government’s rail sector champion and an ambassador for Disability Rights UK, welcomed the ORR report.

He said: “I am particularly pleased to see that the consultation will examine new arrangements to strengthen communication between stations and measures to introduce greater accountability for assistance provision.

This all too frequent failure has been a regular criticism shared with me by disabled people in my work.”

He said he also welcomed the plan to produce “a more concise passenger leaflet focused on what to expect before travelling, at the station, on the train and if things go wrong.

The publicity currently available is not consistent and nor is the on-the-ground implementation, so any simplification has to be a real and significant win.”

John Larkinson, ORR’s chief executive, says in the report: “We know from our previous research and consultation that more needs to be done: to raise awareness of what assistance is available and how to get it; to improve the reliability of this service; and to provide staff with the information, skills and confidence to give the best customer service possible – including to those with hidden disabilities.

We are encouraged by the good practice we have found, but we have been clear with train operators and Network Rail that they must consider what more they can do in these areas.”

ORR will consider the responses to its consultation – which ends on 18 January – and then publish its final revised guidance in spring 2019.

15 November 2018

 

 

Petition raising fears over ‘freedom deprivation bill’ tops 100,000 signatures

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition demanding the government makes major changes to a bill that campaigners say would make it easier for many disabled people to be deprived of their freedom.

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) only launched the petition at the end of last month, but within about two weeks 100,000 people had added their names.

That petition and other campaigning and lobbying efforts appear to have had some impact, with ministers due to announce some amendments to the mental capacity (amendment) bill today (Thursday), although it is unlikely that they will meet all ROFA’s demands.

ROFA’s petition raises grave concerns about the bill – which is set for its report stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday (21 November) – and the powers it will grant care home managers, local authorities and NHS organisations.

The bill will affect an estimated 300,000 people in England and Wales with impairments including dementia, learning difficulties and brain injuries.

It will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), to replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), for service-users who are said to need to be deprived of their liberty as part of their care but are considered to lack the mental capacity to consent to those arrangements.

The bill is based on recommendations by the Law Commission but critics say it is “significantly different” from the commission’s own draft bill and omits most of its most progressive elements.

The petition warns that the bill as it stands “will make it easier to deprive someone of their liberty if they are judged unable to make decisions for themselves” and could mean disabled people being “forced to live in care homes because it’s cheaper and easier for the local council even though it’s not what they want or need”.

ROFA – backed by members including People First (Self Advocacy), Inclusion London, and the consultancy Changing Perspectives – believes the bill will significantly weaken protections.

Decisions on deprivation of liberty are currently taken with the help of an independent assessment that “considers the opinions and wishes of the person and makes sure the care that is provided is what the person needs”, says ROFA.

But the petition says the bill would scrap most of these independent assessments and would often give decision-making power instead to care home managers, “who have an interest in keeping people in their care homes”.

An independent assessor will only be asked to carry out a review if the service-user is believed to be objecting to the deprivation of their liberty, and it will be up to the care home manager to decide if that person is objecting.

Similar powers would be given to managers in local authorities, hospitals or NHS clinical commissioning groups when considering LPS for disabled people in other care settings.

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns for People First, said he hoped the number of people responding to the petition would raise awareness with the general public and “put pressure on the government and MPs to change and improve the bill”.

Among his key concerns with the bill are the lack of an automatic right to independent advocacy; the conflict of interest created by a care home manager having responsibility for arranging assessments, as it would “give them permission to put their financial gain over someone’s wishes to live independently”; and the lack of a duty to promote liberty.

He also said there was “a lack of a right to accessible information” about the LPS process, which “is vital if a person is going to be a part of what is happening”.

Lee said the bill had been “rushed through and rather than look at any of the main issues with the Mental Capacity Act and get it right, rights and safeguards have been stripped away. 

Real research needs to be done around the definition of deprivation of liberty, when it is applied and what it covers. 

For now, this bill has just made it easier for people to be deprived of their liberty by taking away their rights.”

He said the bill “gives people who already have power, more power over the decisions in a person’s life”, and he warned that if it was passed in its current state it would “send the rights of disabled people back around 40 years”.

He said he feared a worst case scenario with nothing to stop a care home manager “locking up a person for the rest of their lives, just through the simple fact that they are the ones making the decisions about whether a person has any say about where they live, whether a person has an assessment and whether they get an advocate”.

He added: “For me, this law will lead to further institutionalisation of people with learning difficulties and it is unacceptable that in this day in age, after fighting so hard to be treated as equal under the law, that this bill can come along and treat us like objects.”

Simone Aspis, director of Changing Perspectives, said the response to the petition was “fabulous” in such a short period of time.

She said the legislation “starts from the wrong place” and needed to begin instead with “the promotion of people’s liberty” rather than its current starting-point of creating a legal framework to allow care homes and local authorities to deprive someone of their freedom.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said the bill would “reform a broken system and reduce the number of vulnerable people waiting for access to essential protections by simplifying the process and making it less burdensome.

We agree safeguards must be protected. That is why the proposed model has all authorisations decided by a responsible body, and independent oversight from approved mental capacity professionals.

We are also considering changes to strengthen safeguards, such as the explicit exclusion of care home staff from conducting assessments.”

15 November 2018

 

 

Care charges are driving disabled people into debt, says report

Charging disabled people for their care and support is driving many of them into debt and forcing them to cut their spending on food or heating, according to new research by a network of disabled people’s organisations and their allies.

The study by the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG) found that four in 10 (41 per cent) of those responding to a survey had experienced a substantial increase in charges over the last couple of years.

Nearly half (43 per cent) had had to cut back on their spending on food to pay for care.

And two-fifths of respondents (40 per cent) said they had had to cut back on heating costs to pay for care and support.

The study concludes that charging for the support disabled people need to go about their daily lives is “unfair, counterproductive and undermines the primary purpose of the care and support system”.

The effect of charging, it says, is often to “drive disabled people into care poverty, and to create confusion, stress and complexity in an already overly burdened bureaucratic system” through what is effectively “an unhelpful and unnecessary tax on disability and old age”.

The study analysed the results of an online survey of more than 600 disabled people who had received a community care assessment, and freedom of information responses from all 152 English local authorities with social care responsibilities.

All but one of the local authorities – Hammersmith and Fulham – impose charges on some of their service-users.

The study heard from one disabled person who benefited from Hammersmith and Fulham’s no-charging policy, who said: “Social care is a human right. It’s an essential service like education or the NHS.

It’s not ethical to charge for it, in effect it’s an extra tax.”

Charging for care, says the study, only raises “modest” sums of money – about 12 per cent of spending on care and support – but has a “profound impact on the individual”, with an average charge per year of more than £2,000 (£2,243).

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who chairs ILSG, said: “Support provided under the Care Act is meant to improve the wellbeing and independence of disabled people.

By charging many for that support, the system is making a mockery of the spirit of the legislation and causing worry, stress and poverty.

Charging raises a relatively small sum of money which is pushing up costs elsewhere.

The financial impact of personal care neglect such as pressure sores, kidney infections or falls, as well as stress related illnesses, means finding extra resources for the NHS.”

The group called on the government to scrap all charges.

But if it refused to do that, ILSG said, it should introduce other measures to “mitigate” against the “worst effects” of charging.

These should include monitoring the number of people who decline or decide to stop receiving council-funded support after a charge is imposed or increased.

Only 17 of the 152 councils said they knew how many people had declined or abandoned social care packages they had been assessed as needing once they were told how much they would have to pay.

All councils should also carry out an equality impact assessment of their charging policies, said the group.

And it said that all councils should introduce an “early warning” system to identify people getting into charges-related debt, introduce a “breathing space” before any debt collection action is taken, and provide access to support to manage such debts.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, one of ILSG’s members, said: “If councils are to persist in this iniquitous tax on disability, they must at least reintroduce some consistency and clarity to their approach.

The many councils that have failed to conduct an equality impact assessment – and to monitor the numbers of disabled people driven out of the care system by charging – must also get their act together.”

The government is expected to publish its long-awaited green paper on adult social care funding within weeks.

The Independent Living Strategy Group has been working on protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights to independent living in England since 2013.

Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

15 November 2018

 

 

High court go-ahead for challenge to government’s ‘failure to ensure secret vote’

A disabled woman is challenging the government’s failure to ensure that she can vote secretly and independently in elections.

The high court has granted permission for the case being brought against the Cabinet Office by Rachael Andrews to proceed to a full hearing, after the court decided that her case was “arguable”.

Andrews, from Norwich, who is blind, said she had repeatedly been left distressed and upset by a system that either left her unsure whether she had voted for the right candidate, or relying on an election official to tell her whether she had marked the correct box on the ballot paper.

She said: “It is the fact that it is not secret that distresses me so much. As a disabled person I am fairly used to asking for people’s help.

But the fact that I have to ask somebody to do something that is so simple, and it still isn’t private, it just distresses and upsets me more than I can explain.

I feel like I am 12 years old, like I am not a confident, whole person.”

Andrews has already secured one legal victory, over her local authority, Broadland council, following its failure to enable her to vote independently and secretly at the 2015 election.

Since then she has cast her vote in the 2016 European Union referendum and at the 2017 general election, but on both occasions – despite the council’s best efforts – she has still been unable to vote independently and in secret.

She blames the government, because she says the tactile voting device (TVD) – a plastic template placed over the ballot paper that is supposed to allow blind people to vote in secret – is not fit for purpose.

She is challenging the government’s decision to designate the TVD as a suitable device to allow blind people to vote without any need for assistance under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

But she is also arguing for her right to a secret ballot under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Andrews successfully settled her claim against Broadland council for failing to have a TVD available for the 2015 general election.

But although she said its council officers have since done “everything they can within the law” to help her at subsequent elections, the system is still failing her.

In 2016, when voting in the referendum, she was not sure if she had placed her cross in the correct box and had to ask the presiding officer to tell her.

And last year, at the general election, she tried to use a postal vote, and was assisted by a member of council staff, but still had to use a TVD.

She said: “To this day I do not know if I put the cross in the place that I intended to vote.

He read everything out to me and I am assuming he also saw my vote as well because he was literally sat right next to me.”

Andrews, who is represented by human rights lawyers Leigh Day, said that other countries had introduced systems that allow blind voters to vote more easily, including introducing “audio voting booths” and telephone voting.

Graham Kirwan, who was forced to take legal action against his own local council over its failure to make the process of registering to vote and voting accessible to him as a visually-impaired person, said: “I fully appreciate the frustrating difficulties Rachael repeatedly faces having, like many other visually-impaired voters, faced them myself.”

He pointed to devices such as audio and magnification aids which could assist independent and secret voting, and said the government was “simply kicking accessible voting into the long grass”.

He added: “I 100 per cent support Rachael’s legal challenge and wish her all the best with her action.”

The government has argued in correspondence with Andrews’ lawyers that the legal challenge is unnecessary because it is already addressing the issue.

This refers to pledges in its much-criticised response to a consultation on how to make voting more accessible.

The government talked in its response in September about promoting guidance, improving training, and the possibility of allowing disabled voters to try out practice ballots in advance of elections.

And it said it would consider what improvements could be made for voters with sight loss “and look to make the necessary legislative changes when a suitable opportunity arises”.

But Andrews’ lawyers point out that the government’s response did not say what these improvements would be, or when it would change the law.

The Cabinet Office said it could not comment on ongoing legal cases.

But a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “We consult with disabled individuals, and organisations that represent them such as RNIB regularly, to hear about their experiences of voting and recommendations on how government can make elections more accessible.

Every voice matters and this government is committed to building a democracy that works for all.”

The government’s accessibility of elections working group is set to meet in January, and will discuss again the improvements that could be made to the support provided to visually-impaired voters in polling stations.

But Andrews said: “I have always voted in general elections. I see it as a very important civic duty and feel very strongly that I should simply be afforded the same right to vote independently and in secret as everyone else. 

Sadly, I believe that many blind voters are currently put off voting because of the difficulties they face.

I am disappointed that it has been necessary to commence legal proceedings but am keen that the government stops dragging its feet and takes action to allow me to vote independently and secretly in time for the next general election.” 

Sean Humber, head of Leigh Day’s human rights department, said: “The provisions made for blind voters by the government are quite simply not fit for purpose.

The right to vote freely, independently and in secret is fundamental to any democracy.

We hope that the courts will hear our client’s challenge and order the government to reconsider the assistance they provide for blind voters.”

15 November 2018

 

 

Disabled activist calls for evidence of blue badge delays

An activist whose local authority warns disabled people that it could take up to 12 weeks to renew their blue parking badges is calling for disabled people in other parts of the country to pass on their experiences of problems and delays in the system.

It took Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, more than six weeks to receive his new badge from Wolverhampton council, although he had been warned that it could take even longer.

He believes such delays are “unacceptable” and are not restricted to his local authority, and that other applicants face even longer delays.

Now he wants to hear from disabled people in other areas who have had similar problems*.

Wolverhampton council admitted this week that it warns disabled people to expect it to take up to 12 weeks for their applications to be dealt with.

Williams-Findlay pointed to a Disability News Service news story written nearly four years ago which described delays of up to 12 weeks in dealing with applications, and he said this showed little had changed around the country since then.

The system was introduced by the coalition government in 2011 and saw councils told to carry out more independent mobility assessments, while the government introduced a national database of blue badges.

The new electronic badges are sent out by a private contractor, Northgate Public Services, part of the Japanese IT multinational NEC Corporation.

But councils kept responsibility for dealing with badge applications and had to source occupational therapists or other health professionals to carry out the assessments.

Williams-Findlay said the current system was “oppressive, stressful and discriminatory” and the weeks he had been left without a badge had made his life “more disabling” because he had been deprived of “being able to park and participate within society”.

He said the delays curtailed the rights of disabled people under article 19 (on independent living) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Williams-Findlay said the Department for Transport (DfT) was guilty of institutional discrimination and that the centralised part of the system was “not fit for practice”, while the delays were “unacceptable”.

He left it too late to renew his badge and only applied to renew it a day or two before it expired, but he filled in the application form online on 28 September, taking written evidence to the council in person the same day.

On 25 October, he received a letter – dated 18 October – which said his application had been successful, and that once he paid the £10 fee the council would order a new badge, which would take up to 21 days to arrive. His badge eventually arrived on 8 November.

A DfT spokeswoman said the delays were “primarily a matter for local authorities, who are responsible for processing applications, and timescales do vary”.

She added: “The department has not been made aware of any significant problems.”

But she said the department was currently developing “an improved online application process”.

She said: “There have been no problems with the private contractor, whose performance is monitored regularly.”

A Wolverhampton council spokeswoman said: “Our advertised timescales are 12 weeks (from the time of receiving all relevant supporting documentation) for processing.”

And she said the council website advises applicants to apply 10 weeks before their badge is due to expire.

She said she understood that the badges were “very important” because “having a blue badge can significantly change a person’s independence, which motivates us to continue to improve our service by reviewing our processes and listening to feedback received from our customers”.

She said the council had “recently updated its webpage to be clearer on the process and pre-requisites”, and that the government was updating the blue badge application form after consulting with users.

Asked whether she believed delays were a national problem, she said: “Each council has a statutory duty to administer Blue Badges on behalf of the central government.

We are unable to comment on other councils.”

Another disabled activist, Barbara Lisicki, a trainer and writer, has told Williams-Findlay that the renewal process in her London council area was “shoddy, unclear and utterly useless”.

She said the centralised online system was “not fit for purpose, especially as it is misleading and gives incomplete, poorly phrased instructions”.

If a local councillor had not intervened on her behalf to speed up the process, she would have been left unable to park in the accessible bay outside her house, she said.

A third disabled activist has told Williams-Findlay that she was told by her local authority in the south of England to expect a 12-week wait for her blue badge.

*Any disabled people with reports of problems or delays with renewing or applying for a blue badge can email Bob Williams-Findlay at baggiebob1@icloud.com

15 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:09
Nov 112018
 

[This post is a copy of a post (with permission) from the Mental Health Resistance Network, that we have publish in support of their campaign.]

Front page graphic, reading 'Now that

Mental Health Resistance Network

Our Agenda, not your agenda

We Demand …

 

We reject the medical model of mental distress

Psychiatry decontextualises our distress. There is little evidence that the cause is biological and overwhelming evidence that it is caused by trauma and social injustices. Medication may act as a painkiller but cannot “cure” our distress.

We demand:

  1. A public inquiry into the harm caused by psychiatric drugs and ECT.

  2. Research and manufacture of drugs to be nationalised to remove the profit motive.

  3. Provision of treatment where medication is refused, and an end to forced treatment.

  4. An inquiry into violence and abuse of patients in psychiatric wards and in the community.

  5. An end to control and restraint in psychiatric wards and community settings.

  6. A public inquiry into institutional racism, sexism, classism and LGBT discrimination in psychiatry and all services.

  7. Culturally appropriate services to be provided to members of the BAME communities which recognise that racism is a causative factor in mental distress.

  8. A fully funded, national 24 hour suicide prevention and support service.

  9. The provision of alternative treatments such as Open Dialogue, Hearing Voices Networks and holistic therapies.

  10. CAMHS waiting lists to be investigated and all Cygnet Hospitals in the UK to be shut down forthwith.

  11. Long term specialist mental health care if needed – no discharge from services to save money.

  12. Fully funded mental health and social care. An end to payment by results – results are subjective.

  13. Crisis houses be made available to anyone who needs them and to be staffed with fully qualified therapists and mental health nurses instead of poorly qualified support workers with little or no training.

  14. Talking therapies that are trauma informed to be freely available.

  15. Services to be user led including a review of the Mental Health Act.

  16. User involvement in statutory services to be free from service provider control.

  17. An end to the increasing medicalisation of children and adolescents.

  18. Our physical healthcare must not be dismissed as being ‘all in our minds.’

  19. An independent body to oversee the CMHTs to ensure good practice and adherence to NICE guidelines.

We reject the neoliberal model that decontextualises our distress

Like the medical model, the neoliberal model of mental distress locates the cause of distress/madness within the individual and not in society; our thinking and attitudes are blamed without reference to social context. This model uses CBT, Mindfulness, positive psychology and the recovery approach as putative treatments. We reject the recovery approach outright with its insinuation that our continued distress is due to our lack of effort. Any measuring of the quality of our mental health will be done by us and will be measured against our values, not based on how useful we are to rich employers. We consider short term CBT and Mindfulness to have limited value. Positive psychology is not a substitute for proper housing, a secure income, free healthcare and a more equal society.

This model, like the medical model, absolves society from any responsibility for both the causes and treatment of mental distress.

We deplore the use of treatment as a Trojan horse to smuggle into our psyches the beliefs and values that benefit the rich. All mental health care should be for the sole purpose of alleviating our distress and enabling us to fulfil our goals in life. Any other motive is brainwashing and abuse.

The medical and neoliberal models are not social models.

We demand a social model of mental distress

The social model locates the cause and remedy of mental distress within the social, economic, political and cultural context in which it occurs; it takes account of personal trauma along with our material circumstances, societal inequality and discrimination.

When large numbers of people become unwell, we need to look beyond biology and consider what is happening at the societal level.” Danny Dorling, Professor in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

We demand that you acknowledge that our material conditions affect our mental health and prioritise making these adequate. All people who live with mental distress, including those with addictions, must have secure housing and income. Failure to meet this demand is uncivilized and consciously cruel.

We demand:

  1. An end to the abusive practices of the DWP: the degrading and stressful assessments for benefits (the Work Capability Assessment and PIP assessments), unrealistic conditionality and all sanctions.

  2. Universal Credit to be stopped and scrapped immediately.

  3. A public inquiry into benefit deaths with legal action taken against any parliamentarian implicated in these deaths.

  4. Legal action to be taken against health professionals and benefits assessors who cause harm by colluding with the removal of social security.

  5. GPs to be mandated to provide supporting letters for benefit claims for free.

  6. Free and independent social security advice for everyone claiming benefits.

  7. That the DWP take full responsibility for obtaining further medical evidence from claimants’ own healthcare professionals.

  8. Our financial and housing security be treated as a priority by all health workers.

  9. Private companies to be removed from carrying out benefits assessments.

  10. People held in prisons to be given proper access to mental health care while detained and thereafter.

  11. An immediate end to the lie that work can cure mental distress.

  12. That adjustments to be made to the workplace are based on a social model. CBT, resilience training and the Recovery approach are not adjustments to the workplace, they are adjustments to the worker.

  13. Access to a free, specialist, independent mental health advocacy service for people both in and out of work.

  14. The opportunity to pursue education and employment of our choice and at our own pace.

  15. The admission that unemployment is structural and is not the fault of the individual.

  16. Practical help to be made available to everyone in mental distress who needs it (for example material help for parents to care for a child, provision of personal assistants, greater support for carers and so on).

  17. The abolition of the Work and Health Programme and the merging of health services with the DWP including the removal of all work coaches from NHS settings.

  18. An end to the unethical use of psychology to force conformity to a political ideology.

  19. Removal of the Behavioural Insights Team from the lives of people in mental distress.

  20. Immediate steps to be taken to end the material inequality that is driving our mental health crisis.

  21. An end to the privatisation of the NHS and reversal of privatisation already in place.

  22. The resignation of Sir Simon Stevens who is overseeing the dismantling of the NHS.

  23. The resignation of Sir Simon Wessely who is unfit to Chair the review of the Mental Health Act because of his involvement with the discredited PACE Trials and his participation in the “Malingering and Illness Deception Conference” and book of the same name.

  24. Urgent action to be taken to undo the damage caused by the ‘scrounger’narrative used to prime the public to accept the abuse of disabled people.

  25. The reinstatement of day centres.

  26. Access to all areas of social and personal life to be ensured by making reasonable adjustments to our social and physical environment, with Survivors leading the process to identify what adjustments we need.

  27. Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and Lord David Freud be brought to justice for their wilful cruelty towards people in mental distress.

  28. The recommendations made by the UNCRPD following its investigation into violations of the rights of disabled people in the UK must be implemented in full and as a matter of urgency.

  29. The plan to “make efficiency savings” i.e. cuts, of £1 billion to mental health services by 2020 announced by Lord Carter of Coles* must be dropped. * Independent Report for the Department of Health 2016 called “Operational Productivity and Performance in English NHS Acute Hospitals: Warranted Variations.”

  30. That public events and online information, especially from governmental bodies, MUST be available on BSL (British Sign Language) and easy read all the time.

  31. That helplines be accessible for people with speech and hearing issues, i.e. live chat and video chat with the option of the help of BSL (British Sign Language) interpreting.

We reject large charities that claim to advocate for us, for example National Mind. Those with DWP and NHS contracts have a conflict of interest. They are no different from the huge corporations that are only concerned with profit margins. We speak for ourselves, Mental Health charities do not represent us.

We reject the Westminster Health Forum Keynote Seminar on “The Next Steps for Mental Health Services.” It is not concerned with our best interests and is therefore illegitimate.

We declare that the speakers at this forum are seeking to profit financially from our mental distress; are causing our mental distress; do not care about people in mental distress; and are implicated in the deaths of benefit claimants for failing to demand an end to DWP abuse.

If you are not with us in resisting austerity, inequality, victim blaming and the culture of profiteering from our mental distress, then you are the cause of our distress.

*We understand the term “Survivor” to mean a self-identification for all Survivors of the mental health system and people with addictions, autism, psychosocial disabilities and neurodiversity.

Dedicated to the memory of Robert Dellar mental health campaigner and writer

1964 – 2016

 Posted by at 22:23
Nov 072018
 

Dear DPAC member

We would love to see you at our forthcoming Together! 2018 Disability History Month Festival events in East London, celebrating Disability Art, Culture and Human Rights. Everything is free and inclusive and everyone is welcome. This is the only national Disability Arts event led by a Disabled People’s Organisation. Further programme details are on our website at http://www.together2012.org.uk/activities-programme/together-2018-disability-history-month-festival/

Regards and all best wishes
 
Ju
 
Dr Ju Gosling FRSA
Artistic Director

Together! 2012 C.I.C.
Disability Arts, Culture and Human Rights
ju@together2012.org.uk / 07973 252751
www.together2012.org.uk
Facebook: together2012cic
Twitter: @ukdpctogether
Registered office: 90A Tudor Road, London E6 1DR.
Community Interest Company No 8443767.
Vat No 257 6833 66.


TOGETHER! 2018 FESTIVAL CALENDAR
Full venue details are at the end of the calendar

Friday 23 November 2018 7-9pm: World Premiere of ‘When You See Me’ & Festival Opening This new drama (pictured), commissioned by us from our associate company Act Up! Newham, and written and directed by Trevor Lloyd, is inspired by the Circus 250 anniversary. Stratford Circus 1.

Sunday 25 November 2018 1-2pm: Paracarnival Parade Fresh from winning the Judges Choice award at Hackney Carnival, Paracarnival comes to Newham with a procession of locally based Disabled artists and friends. Gallion’s Reach Shopping Park Beckton.

Saturday 1 December 2018 2-5pm: ‘VIBE: The Art of Transatlantic Inclusion’ A simultaneous symposium and exhibition about our two-year tactile sound project with Concordia University, Vibrafusion Lab Ontario and Disabled artists in Montréal. Vicarage Lane Community Centre Stratford.

Monday 3 December 2018 11am-1pm: Reading for Human Rights On International Day of Disabled People, join us to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights by reading from this and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People at Beckton Globe Library. Easy Read, BSL and different languages texts available. The event will be live-streamed.

Friday 7 (6-8pm), Saturday 8 (12-8pm) & Sunday 9 December 2018 (12-8pm): Together! 2018 Disability Film Festival Our international film festival brings together films of all budgets and genres, by Disabled filmmakers or featuring a central Disabled character. Old Town Hall Stratford. We also offer a two-day workshop for emerging Disabled filmmakers on 6 & 7 December – email info@together2012.org.uk for further details.

Tuesday 11 December 2018 11am-2pm: Newham Disabled Reps Forum host a musical celebration of Disability History Month, including lunch and a raffle. Speakers include Disability History Month director Richard Rieser. Vicarage Lane Community Centre Stratford.

Friday 14 December 7-9pm: Together! Music Club and end-of-festival party Celebrate this year’s Disability History Month theme of music with an Open Mike night featuring Together! 2012 artists and friends, compered by Ju Gosling aka ju90. Vicarage Lane Community Centre Stratford.

Plus the Together! 2018 Open Exhibition, bringing together amateur, community, emerging and mid-career Disabled artists with a local connection. Vicarage Lane Community Centre Stratford. Dates tbc.

We aim to be as inclusive as possible of audience members as well as artists. All venues have step-free access and limited Blue Badge parking. Live audio-description is available on demand; productions are amplified with induction loops. BSL interpretation is provided for performances where speech is the main communication form. No need to book unless you wish to reserve seats (advised for groups of 5+). To reserve seats and find out more, email info@together2012.org.uk

FESTIVAL VENUES

For specific details, see Disabled Go.com 

Beckton Globe Library 1 Kingsford Way, London E6 5JQ. Nearest station (accessible): Beckton (DLR). 020 3373 0853. Bus routes include: 101, 173, 262, 300, 366, 376, 474.

Gallions Reach Shopping Park, 3 Armada Way, Beckton, London E6 7ER. Nearest station: Gallions Reach DLR (fully accessible). Bus routes include: 366, 262 & 101. Large free carpark. Click here for further details.

Old Town Hall, 29 The Broadway, Stratford, London E15 4BQ. 020 3373 7033 /07791 291 685. Nearest tube, overground and DLR stations: Stratford (fully accessible). Bus routes include 25, 69, 86, D8, 104, 108, 158, 238, 241, 257, 262, 276, 308, 425, 473, N8, N86, 010, A9, 741 & UL1. Blue Badge holders can prebook parking; others are advised to use the (old) Stratford shopping centre carpark.

Stratford Circus, Theatre Square, Stratford, London E15 1BX. 020 8279 1001. Nearest tube, overground and DLR stations: Stratford (fully accessible). Bus routes 257, 69  and 308 stop outside Stratford Circus in Great Eastern Road; 25, 86, 104, 108, 158, 238, 241, 262, 276, 425, 473, D8 alight at station. Very limited Blue Badge parking nearby; otherwise use the (old) Stratford shopping centre carpark.

Vicarage Lane Community Centre, Govier Close, E15 4HW. Nearest tube, overground and DLR stations: Stratford (fully accessible). Bus routes include: 101, 104, 300, 474. Street parking.

 Posted by at 16:20
Nov 042018
 

We’re looking into the possibility of setting up a DPAC choir to sing at various events. If you would be interested in joining this please email us at mail@dpac.uk.net

There would be no regular commitment needed although if possible people might want to attend one or more rehearsals. Please also let us know if you have a (polite) name for a DPAC choir.

 

 

DPAC Protesters blocking Birmingham's tram routes

DPAC Protesters blocking Birmingham’s tram routes

 

 Posted by at 21:01
Nov 042018
 

Monthly demonstration against Universal Credit outside DWP headquarters, Caxton House. Tothill Street. London. SW1H 9DA (near the Houses of Parliament)

Meet 12 PM – 1pm on the 1st Friday of each month including December and January.

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group used to demonstrate regularly outside their local jobcentres. But they’ve closed both of the local jobcentres. It is now easier for many  to get to the DWPs National Headquarters in Westminster than to get to their nearest remaining jobcentres.

KUWG cordially invite other Londoners, and allies to come and join them.

To contact KUWG please message them via their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/kilburn.unemployed

 Posted by at 20:54
Nov 022018
 

DPAC Submission to Permanent Peoples Tribunal on migration, London, 2018.

It is of course extremely important to challenge the exploitation of migrants and refugees in all contexts. However, using evidence from work with disabled asylum seekers, we suggest that campaigns for the ‘right to work’ need to be treated with caution for a number of reasons:

  1. Campaigns for the ‘right’ to work should not ignore the barriers to finding and being offered work which is achievable, non-exploitative and worthwhile. We need only look at the experiences of Disabled citizens and people on benefits, to predict that the ‘right’ would soon become an obligation irrespective of the barriers that are faced.
  2. To build effective resistance to the injustice faced by asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers, we must recognise that this does not exist in isolation from the injustice faced by the wider population. In the context of citizens’ efforts to resist systematic pressure to find paid work, whatever the cost to themselves and those they care for, we suggest focussing on the ‘right’ to work may hinder chances to build a broader movement.
  3. Calling for the ‘right’ to work risks buying into capitalist definitions of ‘work’ as paid employment, obscuring the unpaid material and emotional work associated with survival which is inherent in the search for asylum. If what we are really calling for is a stable income sufficient to pay for living costs, respect, ability to make worthwhile contributions … then that is what we should be calling for. Those attributes are not automatically associated with paid employment.

Before continuing, it is important to stress that reservations about campaigning for the right to work must be tempered by awareness that for refused asylum seekers, denied all support, the ‘right’ to work, even for a few hours, could enable a person to eat without risking a criminal record which could hasten deportation. In that context, people’s immediate survival needs must be prioritised over objectives for longer term justice. Similarly, it is unnecessarily frustrating for people who have skills, capacity and energy, to be prevented from finding paid employment. We are not therefore arguing against campaigns for the right to paid employment as a short-term measure. We are suggesting such campaigns are no long-term solution, and the risks to the wider movement need to be recognised.


An asylum seeker support worker writes:

I have recently been working with an asylum seeker who experiences serious mental distress, has no support and is living on the street. I am referring to this individual because I know him, but the situation is of course not uncommon. Removing rights from those whose asylum claims are refused is one of the deliberate consequences of the hostile environment, but this problem goes much wider. There are increasing numbers of citizens living on the streets in similar circumstances.

The individual I am referring to is articulate, intelligent and resourceful, however he cannot focus on any one conversation because he is also listening to ongoing conversations with voices audible only to himself. He is clearly distressed in ways that are painfully visible to observers. This person spends his days searching for food, somewhere to sleep, wash, and ways to find some form of support and security. None of this could be classed as leisure. It is the unpaid work of survival.

This person talks about how the only paid work available to him is illegal, exploitative and low paid. He is aware that if he were to take such work, he risks getting a criminal record and so further reducing his chance of ever getting leave to remain. He says his priority is to get the right to work. However, on further discussion, he elaborates that what he actually wants is somewhere safe to live, a steady source of income, security, support, community and something constructive to do. I suggest it is unlikely that these needs would be met with the forms of work that would be open to him, with or without the legal right. It should not be assumed that the work currently open to him would suddenly be available with a living wage, if he were to get the legal right to work. Furthermore, we can see from the wider population how easily the ‘right’ to work becomes an unrealisable obligation. The last thing this person, or anyone else, needs is to be further vilified for not having paid employment.

The barriers to asylum seekers, and particularly disabled asylum seekers, finding non-exploitative employment go well beyond the legal right. I am aware of people with refugee status, including those selected for the Vulnerable Person’s Relocation Scheme who have the right to work, but who complain of the additional stress and pressure caused by having to look for work, when there are so many barriers to finding, and being offered, anything suitable.

It would be interesting to find out from asylum and refugee support organisations, what proportion of employees with the legal right to work, have lived experience of forced migration, destitution and disability, including serious mental distress. If personal observations are correct that the proportion is not high, even where lived experience is highly relevant, then it would suggest that the barriers to paid work go far beyond legal entitlement. If such organisations could lead the way by respecting the knowledge gained by lived experience, and providing paid employment with a living wage, they could then also support others in reducing the barriers.

Most importantly, the asylum sector should not be seen in isolation. It is not as if there is a ready supply of rewarding, worthwhile work available to citizens in similar positions of destitution and mental distress. While the asylum sector is campaigning for the right to work, there are wider campaigns for the right not to work. A search of #dwp crimes reveals evidence of the suffering and many lives that are being lost when support is removed from citizens who are unable to exercise the supposed ‘right’ to work.

In this context, perhaps a more constructive focus of campaigns would be on building a broader movement, and working together for the rights to a regular income, support, housing, respect, contribution, community, security…. Together, we should challenge the idea that there is anything intrinsically positive about the right to work in a capitalist economy.

Rebecca Yeo


The hearing is a public event, click this link if you wish to attend

Date and Time

Sat, 3 Nov 2018, 09:30 –

Sun, 4 Nov 2018, 16:00 GMT

Location

Friends House

173-177 Euston Road

London

NW1 2BJ

 Posted by at 16:10
Nov 012018
 

DWP refuses to say if it followed death review advice on ‘threatening’ universal credit

Ministers are refusing to say if they acted on the recommendations of a secret review that linked the death of a benefit claimant with the “threatening” conditions they were forced to accept when signing up to universal credit.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has breached freedom of information laws by failing to say whether it followed the recommendation by one of its own internal process reviews to make universal credit’s so-called “claimant commitment” less threatening following the death.

DWP’s failure came as the chancellor, Philip Hammond, attempted in this week’s budget to calm concerns about the rollout of the troubled new system by announcing extra funding of £1 billion over five-and-a-half years that he said would help the migration of claimants of other benefits onto universal credit from next year.

He also announced £1.7 billion a year to increase universal credit work allowances.

But critics have said the extra money will do little to address growing concerns that flaws at the heart of the universal credit system are exposing disabled people and other claimants to strict conditions and sanctions, resulting in severe mental distress and extreme poverty.

Only last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how an autistic woman said she had been left without vital financial support for nearly two years because she could not cope with the face-to-face interview she had to undergo to complete her universal credit claim.

Now DWP is facing questions over why it is refusing to say if it followed the recommendations of its own internal review to make the claimant commitment less threatening, following the death of a universal credit claimant.

Only the barest details of the death are available, describing only the recommendations made by the review.

But those details show that a panel of reviewers who examined the circumstances around the death concluded that it seemed “excessive” for DWP to include eight references to benefit sanctions and how much money a claimant would lose if they breached their claimant commitment.

The claimant commitment sets out the “responsibilities” that a claimant has to accept in return for receiving universal credit, and “the consequences of not meeting them”.

An examination of guidance on the claimant commitment on DWP’s website suggests – although it does not prove – that the department has ignored the panel’s recommendation, as it has not been updated since April 2016. 

The claimant commitment review was carried out at some point between April 2016 and June 2018.

Following a freedom of information request submitted by DNS, DWP had 20 working days to say whether it had followed the panel’s recommendation to “reconsider the wording of the Claimant Commitment”, along with recommendations made in 11 other internal process reviews, all of which were carried out between April 2016 and June 2018, and all but three of which examined circumstances that led to the death of a benefit claimant.

But DWP’s freedom of information department failed to respond to the request submitted by DNS on 28 September, breaching its Freedom of Information Act duties.

DWP’s press office refused to comment on the failure to respond to the request, other than to say that its freedom of information team would “be in touch”.

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say why the team had failed to respond to the request.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “rotten to the core” with “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 have 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.

1 November 2018

 

 

Concerns over industry’s repeated objections to councils’ accessible homes plans

Representatives of the home-building industry are engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes are built in their areas, research by Disability News Service (DNS) has shown.

Home Builders Federation (HBF) has lodged “worrying” objections to plans for accessible housing drafted by at least 15 local authorities in England since March.

The objections to councils’ draft local plans concern their proposed targets for the proportion of new homes that should be built to accessible housing standards.

HBF has repeatedly objected to targets describing the proportion of new homes that should be built to the basic M4(2)* accessible housing standard and also to those for new homes built to the stricter M4(3) standard for wheelchair-accessible properties.

Both the government standards are currently optional, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called last week for them to become mandatory, in its major report on equality and human rights across Britain.

DNS has found HBF objections raised since March to draft local plans drawn up by more than 15 local authorities, including Liverpool City Council, Sevenoaks District Council, Reading Borough Council, East Cambridgeshire District Council, Kettering Borough Council, Darlington Borough Council, Sunderland City Council and Middlesbrough Council.

Each of the objections is critical of the council’s attempts to impose targets for local housing developments that would see a certain proportion of new homes built to M4(2) and M4(3) standards.

HBF describes itself as “the principal representative body of the house-building industry in England and Wales”.

Its membership includes “multi-national PLCs, regional developers and small, local builders” and its members account for more than four-fifths of all new housing built for sale in England and Wales at market prices and “a large proportion of newly built affordable housing”.

In response to Liverpool’s draft plans, HBF says: “The HBF does not consider that this policy is required, it is considered that local needs can be met without the introduction of the optional housing standards.”

It calls for the policy to be “deleted in its entirety” or, if the council retained the targets, “ensure they have the appropriate evidence to support this policy”.

In the objection to the Sevenoaks plan, it says: “It cannot be sufficient to state that there is an ageing population who are more likely to require such homes.

Our aging population is a national concern and one faced by all areas. If this were sufficient justification then the Government would have made the standard mandatory.

Therefore we do not consider the Council to have provided the evidence required by national policy to justify all new homes being built to the optional standard M4(2).”

HBF even objected to Sunderland’s proposal to require just 10 per cent of larger new developments to be built to the M4(2) standard, which it says was “not considered to be sound as it is not justified or consistent with national policy”.

DNS was first alerted to HBF’s frequent objections to local accessible housing plans by Cllr Pam Thomas, a wheelchair-user and a prominent Labour member of Liverpool City Council.

She was not available to comment this week, but she told a fringe meeting at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool in September: “The law doesn’t help us at the moment.

We want to [ensure more accessible housing] through our local plan but some developers and the Home Builders Federation in particular objected, as they do everywhere.”

She told the meeting that HBF objected to such plans at every opportunity.

An EHRC spokeswoman said this week: “Inappropriate or inaccessible housing is increasingly leaving disabled people trapped and isolated within their own homes.

This is unacceptable in a modern society. The objections from Home Builders Federation are worrying and demonstrate the concerning attitudes that we raised in our recent housing inquiry.

Local authorities told us about their frustration at the system which pitches them against developers who challenge the viability of proposals for accessible housing.

The situation would be greatly improved if building regulations were amended to ensure that all new houses were built to a good minimum standard of accessibility and adaptability.”

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats and a wheelchair-user, who spoke about the accessible housing crisis in a House of Lords debate last week, told DNS that it was “concerning that local councils are trying to do the right thing but are being pushed back by developers”.

She said that M4(2) homes were “designed to be inclusive and flexible for a whole range of households”, and that the government should amend building regulations to ensure that they become the “mandatory minimum” for all new homes, “especially given the very small extra building cost per housing unit and the reduction in costs of adaptations at a later stage”. 

She added: “This saving is much more stark when health and social care costs such as domiciliary care, residential care [and] hospital stays are added into the picture.”

Baroness Brinton called on the government to act immediately on advice from parliamentary committees, including the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which she was a member of, and organisations such as the accessible housing charity Habinteg, and “amend the building regulations to ensure category M4(2) becomes the mandatory minimum”.

An HBF spokesman said in a statement: “Planning policy provides the opportunity for local authorities to set figures in local plans for houses to be built to M4 standards.

If they choose to do so, the planning system requires local authorities to provide evidence of the need in their area.

If they abide by this requirement their request will be supported by the local plan inspector and house builders will abide by the adopted policy.

HBF looks to ensure that local authorities are abiding by their responsibilities under the planning system and are planning for the right amount and types of homes in their areas.”

He added: “Housebuilders will adapt new dwellings to meet the purchasers’ specific requirements.

We believe that such an approach is a better way to provide the type and number of accessible homes required in a particular area as opposed to a blanket requirement for such modifications that may not reflect local need.”

HBF says it would only be able to take legal action against a council over its accessible housing policies – through a high court judicial review – if it believed a planning inspector had made an error in deciding on those plans. It has yet to take such action.

*Homes built to the M4(2) standard have 16 accessible or adaptable features, similar to the Lifetime Homes standard developed in the early 1990s to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use, while M4(3) homes are those that are supposed to be fully wheelchair-accessible

1 November 2018

 

 

Budget 2018: Chancellor’s billions ‘will not halt universal credit humanitarian crisis’

The chancellor’s decision to pump billions of pounds into universal credit will not halt the “humanitarian crisis” that will be caused by its systemic flaws, disabled activists have warned.

Philip Hammond announced in this week’s budget that he had found £1 billion – spread over five-and-a-half years – to ease the delayed “managed migration” process that will see about three million claimants of “legacy” benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) moved across to the new universal credit.

He also promised another £1.7 billion a year to pay for more generous work allowances for universal credit, which combines six income-related benefits into one.

Hammond began his speech on Monday by making it clear that his budget was “unashamedly” intended to help “hard-working families… people who get up early every morning… the strivers, the grafters and the carers”.

Managed migration will begin next year but will affect only about 10,000 people in 2019, before accelerating in 2020.

One of the flaws of universal credit repeatedly raised by critics is the length of time – at least five weeks, usually – that a claimant has to wait before they receive their first payment.

Among the new managed migration measures detailed in the budget documents are that claimants of income-related ESA, jobseeker’s allowance and income support will receive an extra two weeks of those payments during the transition to universal credit, but only from July 2020.

There will also be a cut, from October 2019, in the maximum rate at which universal credit advance payments can be paid back, from 40 per cent of the standard living costs allowance to 30 per cent; and, from October 2021, there will be an increase from 12 to 16 months in the length of time DWP will take to claw back these advance payments.

Budget documents also reveal that the much-delayed rollout might now not be completed until June 2024, rather than the end of 2023, once a “six month contingency” for further possible delays is taken into account.

Hammond also announced that the amount that disabled people and households with children can earn before their universal credit begins to be withdrawn – known as the work allowance – will rise by £1,000 a year from April 2019.

This will mean that those affected will keep up to £630 a year, with the measure eventually costing the government an extra £1.7 billion a year.

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, which is campaigning to scrap universal credit altogether, dismissed any suggestion that the budget signified an end to austerity.

He said: “While tax cuts for the rich took priority, Hammond did at least find some money to appease Tory MPs’ complaints over universal credit.

It will make little real difference to claimants, however, as universal credit will still be the cause of a humanitarian crisis in this country, whatever last-minute tinkering the Tories do.

And the elephant that wasn’t allowed into the room was the extreme poverty that many disabled people are living in, even before being forced to transfer to universal credit.”

Disability Rights UK said that “while these changes may be positive all are subject to delay and overall do not remove universal credit’s delivery and design problems”. 

Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, said her organisation witnessed the “devastating impact of the roll out of universal credit on a daily basis”. 

She said: “Whilst in principle the idea to have a universal benefit could be seen as a step forward, we have seen it be used as a vehicle for cutting basic income for disabled people.  

Not only that, the way that it has been administrated is not fit for purpose, for example the unacceptable waits, pushing people further into poverty, the use of food banks. Disability North have so many examples of this.  

Therefore, we broadly welcome the £1 billion to manage the migration process, but much of this should not be thrown at the DWP, or even Citizens Advice, but should be going to local, user-led organisations like ours so that people can be supported to understand and access the system (including digital access) and appeal incorrect decisions.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “Pumping big money into a model failing because it is overly-simplistic and over-reliant on technology won’t solve its problems.

Disabled people are among those worst affected by this government’s failing policies and politics.

It’s just hoping that continuing attacks on Labour’s leadership and talking up the end of austerity will keep the punters sweet, long enough.

We just have to hope that UK democracy is not yet so damaged that the Tories will get away with it again at the next election.”

In a blog published the day after the budget, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the new chair of DWP’s social security advice body, the social security advisory committee, welcomed the “positive steps” on universal credit announced in the budget, but said the managed migration process was still “enormously ambitious”.

He said his committee was concerned that the government’s plans “load an unreasonable level of risk onto the claimant” and added: “We fear that, in too many cases, they may be adversely impacted by the proposals or fall out of the social security system entirely.”

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core” with “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.

*For further details on the universal credit changes in the budget, see this blog by the Child Poverty Action Group’s Josephine Tucker

1 November 2018

 

 

Budget 2018: Chancellor’s ‘end of austerity’ claim ‘rings hollow’ on social care

The chancellor’s claim that the “era of austerity is finally coming to an end” and his announcement of further short-term funding for adult social care will “ring hollow” for many disabled people following years of cuts, say user-led organisations.

In this week’s budget speech, Philip Hammond provided an extra £240 million for adult social care next year, and another £410 million that will be shared with children’s social care.

There was also another £55 million for disabled facilities grants (DFGs) for this year (2018-19), although – in an error described by a Treasury press officer as “a slip of the tongue” – Hammond wrongly announced this as £45 million in his budget speech.

The government had previously agreed to increase funding for DFGs – which pay for access improvements to disabled people’s homes – from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.

The extra funding for social care, described as “a short-term sticking plaster to stave off catastrophic collapse in social care” by Labour’s shadow minister for social care Barbara Keeley, comes ahead of a long-delayed green paper on adult social care, due by the end of the year.

Government figures released last month show the impact of long-term funding cuts.

The figures from NHS Digital show that, in real terms – allowing for inflation – spending on adult social care by English councils has fallen by six per cent since its peak in 2009-2010, from £19.16 billion to £17.93 billion in 2017-18. This figure does not allow for the continuing growth in demand for adult social care over that period.

Dr Rupert Earl, chair of the Spinal Injuries Association, was among those disabled campaigners sceptical of the difference the new social care funding would make.

He said: “The conclusion that ‘the era of austerity is coming to an end’ will ring hollow for many thousands of spinal cord-injured and other disabled people.

Our own evidence shows that the reality is very different; care packages are all too often being cut to unsafe levels, waiting times for hospital admissions and outpatient appointments are getting ever longer and disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty.”

He added: “The crisis in care funding is a reality for many and we wait to see how the modest funding promised will remedy many years of cuts.

Our advice line callers tell us of widespread variation in access and eligibility to care, delays in assessment and arbitrary caps on what is funded.”

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell said the new money for adult social care would be “largely swallowed up by the huge local authority deficit experienced up and down the country.

What little money that might be left over will be targeted at providing the same limited care for older people leaving hospital, to clear the NHS beds crisis.

Younger working age disabled adults will not get a look in, as usual.

For those desperate to progress independent living in this country, this budget is a sure sign that their human right to inclusion is not on the government agenda.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said it was a budget “from a government concerned with its survival rather than people’s wellbeing or encouraging a sustainable economy”.

He said: “For social care, it’s yet again a case of sticking plaster – too little, too late – on an inherently defective system.”

Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, said: “Any increase is welcomed, but £240 million for adult social care this year [announced last month at the Tory party conference] and £650 million for adult and children’s social care next year still falls short of what is necessary, and if this is just to plug holes in existing systems and services then that’s not going to work.

Our social care system is not fit for purpose; there are huge flaws, many of which are violating the human rights of disabled people on a daily basis, leading to further health problems and, in some cases, death.

And so an investment needs to be made in order to rethink the system, not just throw money at a system unfit for purpose.”

But she said that Disability North had seen some good health and care initiatives in the north-east, including the introduction of personal health budgets and “good use and support of direct payments in Newcastle”.

She said there needed to be “a focus on what the person at the centre of the social care wants, and the outcome or service provision shouldn’t depend upon where you live”.

Meanwhile, Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, which is based in Southampton, has produced a discussion paper aimed at shaping its own vision for social care, ahead of the publication of the government’s green paper later this year.

Spectrum said it was seeking “bold, creative and radical solutions” and wanted to “encourage everyone with an interest in the future of social care to contribute their own ideas so that we can present a new vision for social care that meets everyone’s needs in a sustainable way”.

1 November 2018

 

 

Atos threatens to call police after claimant questions PIP assessor’s mental health training

Staff working for a discredited benefit assessments contractor threatened to call the police after a claimant asked about the mental health qualifications of the nurse who was assessing his eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP).

Atos has now launched an investigation into what happened at the assessment centre in Leeds, which saw the nurse abandon Kris Weston’s assessment after just a couple of minutes.

She did not realise that Weston, a composer and trained sound engineer, had been recording the assessment.

Weston began the assessment last month by telling the nurse that he had stayed up all night because of the extreme anxiety he experiences when he has to deal with institutions.

He had spent three days putting together a 10-page description of his complex mental health problems – and what he says is the “continual failure to even listen to his problems by multiple institutions” – in the hope that the assessor would help him secure the financial and health support he needed.

He explained that he had been unfairly described in the past as “violent” by the NHS after a telephone argument, although she told him that Atos had no record of this.

She appears to have wrongly blamed the decision to refuse him a home assessment on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), when such decisions are taken by the assessment companies, Atos and Capita.

The assessor can then be heard leaving the room after Weston began asking about her experience and qualifications in mental health.

She told Weston that she was “not happy to sit in this room with you” because she said he had questioned her qualifications and was “being difficult for no reason”.

Weston, who did not raise his voice or threaten the assessor at any point in the conversation, told her: “You seem to have had a bit of an attitude from the start, a bit of a blasé attitude.

You didn’t look at me, you didn’t say hello to me, you didn’t treat me like a human.”

Despite the lack of any aggression or threats from Weston, a colleague of the assessor then told him he needed to leave the building “or we’ll call the police”, before repeating: “We’ll call the police if you don’t leave.”

Weston tried to explain to Atos staff that he had “wanted to make sure that somebody understands my illness” and added: “When ill people come in you need to have compassion, not treat them with an attitude.”

A third member of staff then denied that they had threatened to call the police, before a colleague said: “He’s just wanting an argument… just shut the door.”

Weston told Disability News Service (DNS) this week: “It seems like an outrageous scandal that someone in the pits of despair, when they are asking for help, gets treated like this.

I am quite a complex person. I just wanted to make sure the person in front of me was able to deal with it properly and had the correct qualifications.

I was actually trying to get help. I really do want help. Mental illness help should not just be for the polite who stay quiet.”

He said he had felt severely distressed and “isolated” after the assessment, but after posting the recording online he has been flooded with supportive comments on social media.

He said: “The recording represents not just me, but the hundreds of stories I have heard in only a few days since I put this on the internet, all the people that have told me their awful stories that they didn’t record.

I thought my recording would stand out as abuse but it’s actually just a blip in a sea of negligence that no private company will ever fix because corporations cannot have inherent morals and no amount of legislation is going to stop them from cutting corners for profit.

The staggering scale of the problem is more than I anticipated, to say the least. This is in fact a nationwide scandal affecting our people now.

I’m not that far off being an economic and cultural asset to my country if I could just get a clear run and be understood without being beaten down over and over again and driven to despair.

This applies to a lot of people. We are holding ourselves back by keeping people in complete stress about their food, living space and other basic human needs.

Given the resources they need, people who are suffering from the system itself could actually become an asset.

After all, injecting our resources into a failing private banking system seemed to get them back on their feet.

To think the people charged with running our country could miss this economic no-brainer is breathtaking.”

Asked for an explanation for what happened and whether Atos would apologise, a spokesman for the company said: “We are aware of the recording and an investigation is underway.”

Weston’s experience has added to years of evidence collected by DNS and other journalists, campaigners and politicians of dishonesty, unprofessional behaviour and harsh treatment delivered to benefit claimants by Atos assessors.

In one case, reported in January by DNS, an Atos nurse carrying out a PIP assessment fired questions at a disabled man’s wife while her husband was in the middle of a severe and prolonged series of epileptic seizures just a few feet away.

In February, DNS reported how more than 160 Atos assessors had had at least four complaints about their behaviour, competence and honesty made against them in three-month periods in 2016.

And in June, DNS reported how a doctor working for Atos told a gay disabled man she was assessing that his sexuality meant he was “defective” and that God needed to fix him like a “broken” car.

1 November 2018

 

 

Welsh government’s independent living decision ‘threatens support of hundreds’

The Welsh government’s decision to close its independent living grant scheme and pass the funding to local authorities could see cuts to the support packages of hundreds of disabled people, new research suggests.

Disabled campaigners say that information released by local authorities in Wales has created “extreme cause for concern” about the transition process, which is seeing funding from the interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) passed to the 22 councils.

WILG was set up by the Welsh government – with UK government funding – as a short-term measure to support former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) when ILF was closed in June 2015.

But the Welsh government is now closing WILG and by April next year the 22 councils will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients in Wales.

The Welsh government’s own estimates, released to Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday), suggest that about 200 former WILG-recipients will see their support packages cut by next April.

Members of the Save WILG campaign, led by former ILF-recipient Nathan Lee Davies, submitted freedom of information requests to all 22 Welsh councils earlier this year, and they say the responses proved they were right to be concerned that the transition process would lead to many former ILF-users seeing their support packages cut.

Few of the councils were willing to provide detailed information about how the process of re-assessing the needs of the former ILF-recipients in their areas would affect their support packages.

But some of the local authorities admitted that a significant proportion of those currently receiving support through the WILG have already had their support packages cut.

In Wrexham, Davies’ home local authority, the council said it had re-assessed less than a third of former ILF-users but had already cut the support of 18 of them, increasing support for just seven, and leaving one package unchanged.

Monmouthshire council had cut four of 19 packages, Conwy had reduced two of 12 – although the vast majority had still to be assessed – while Caerphilly had reduced four of 29, Merthyr Tydfil had reduced 15 per cent, and both Carmarthenshire and Rhondda councils had cut 10 per cent of support packages.

About a third of the councils – including Pembrokeshire, Gwynedd, Anglesey, Cardiff and Blaenau Gwent – failed to say how many support packages had been cut.

But some local authorities did produce more encouraging answers, with Powys council saying the reassessment process had seen it increase the support packages of 59 of 62 former ILF-users.

Although Port Talbot council had reviewed less than a third of service-users, half had had their packages increased, and the other half had seen them stay at the same level, while Bridgend decided that all but one former ILF-recipient would continue to receive the same support package.

There were also repeated warnings from the local authorities that they could not promise that support packages would not be cut in the future, with Cardiff council warning that “no guarantees as to the future are possible with any funding arrangement”.

Asked if it could guarantee that WILF recipients would have their care packages ring-fenced from all future austerity cuts forced onto local authorities, both Merthyr Tydfil and Port Talbot replied with just one word: “No.”

Huw Irranca-Davies, the Welsh government’s minister for social care, has previously pledged that no former ILF-users would lose out in the transition process.

But a Welsh government spokesman said that its most recent monitoring of the transition had found about 100 of 580 WILG-recipients were having their support “provided in a different manner than previously”*, while 130 were receiving more support.

As about 1,300 people are due to go through the transition, this suggests that about 200 former WILG-users will eventually see their packages cut.

He insisted that the government was committed to ensuring that all disabled people are “fully supported to live independently in their communities”.

And he said that Irranca-Davies had visited both Powys and Wrexham councils this week to “see at first hand the work they have been undertaking” and “will be speaking to other authorities about this over the next few weeks”.

The government spokesman said: “He will also be asking authorities to undertake a deep dive of a sample of cases where there have been significant changes in the type of support people are receiving, to establish the reasons for this and ensure they are receiving the appropriate support they require to live independently.

This is in addition to the ongoing monitoring of the programme, and an additional independent evaluation which has been commissioned by the minister.”

The spokesman claimed that the “feedback from disabled people” on the transition programme had been “positive”.

He said: “Together with our partners in local government and the third sector, we will continue to closely monitor the process and the individual outcomes of the transition from the ILF to the person-centred and co-produced approach to independent living in Wales.”

But Miranda Evans, policy and programmes manager for Disability Wales, said her organisation was “extremely concerned that disabled people with high support requirements are having their hours of care reduced when transferring over to direct payments”. 

She said: “In a number of cases people are losing their ‘socialising’ hours, which is of great concern. 

This vital support enables people to play a part in their community, volunteer with a local group and get involved in political life. 

Without this necessary support disabled people will become isolated, disengaged and unable to leave their home.”

Disability Wales has called for an “urgent review” of the Welsh government’s policy and investigations into the differences between how local authorities are applying it, which she said showed “the further development of a postcode lottery”.

She added: “We remain concerned that funding will be absorbed by social services budgets and not be directed to those who need it: disabled people with high support requirements.”

Davies said the Welsh government’s comments showed that “they simply refuse to see the evidence that is staring them in the face”.

He said: “Yet again the Welsh government seems to think of former ILF recipients as a privileged bunch.

This is not the case at all, as we are disabled people with high care and support needs who were guaranteed a lifetime of adequate support under the old ILF system.

They do not deserve to be made to feel like a hindrance by the Welsh government.”

He said the conclusions that can be drawn from the freedom of information responses were “very worrying indeed” and show “a shocking lack of consistency between local authorities, the development of a ‘postcode lottery’, the lack of an adequate complaints procedure for former ILF recipients and an alarming lack of security, or guarantees, for the future”. 

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: “The responses reflect why we started the campaign three years ago and give weight to our belief that the tripartite system of care needs to be maintained.

Disabled people with high care and support needs simply cannot rely on cash-strapped local authorities to provide the levels of care that they need. 

One of my biggest concerns is that even the local authorities who have increased a majority of care packages cannot guarantee that these packages will remain at the same levels in future years.

It is a concern that these generous increases may only be put in place for a year, while the local authorities sharpen their axes for further cuts once the campaign is over.” 

He added: “The Welsh government now need to listen to the voices that have supported our campaign – assembly members, MPs, Disability Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, celebrities such as Ken Loach and most importantly their own members who passed a motion calling on them to #SaveWILG at the Welsh Labour conference in April 2018.” 

*The Welsh government press office was unable to confirm by 1pm today that this means that their support hours have been reduced

1 November 2018

 

 

DaDaFest promises ‘edgy and disruptive’ festival highlighting years of attacks on rights

The artistic director of DaDaFest has promised that the theme for this month’s international disability arts festival will help shine a light on years of attacks on disabled people’s human rights.

Ruth Gould also spoke out this week against the failure of the national media to recognise the biennial festival, which two years ago attracted more than 360,000 visitors, and an arts sector that has grown increasingly safe and “corporate”.

She promised that DaDaFest, believed to be the world’s largest disability and Deaf arts festival, was offering a programme that was “ground-breaking, new and risky… edgy and disruptive”, with a theme – “Passing: What’s your legacy?” – that focuses on “life’s journey”.

Gould said she was “fed up” with the lack of attention given to DaDaFest in the mainstream media and suggested that this reflected wider attitudes to disabled people.

She said: “These attitudes need confronting and the aim for this year’s festival is to help shine a light on issues that affect how disabled people are viewed by others, usually in a negative way, that leads to a misunderstanding of the truth of the lived experience of disability.

We must challenge and highlight the inequalities, especially in the form of draconian assessments such as personal independence payment and the huge amount of funding cuts, and help support disabled people’s independence and value their contributions in society.”

Her anger is fuelled by increasing despair at the impact of years of assaults on disability rights, she said, and listed a string of examples.

Friends of hers are afraid to be admitted to hospital because they fear a “do not resuscitate” order will be placed above their bed.

She remembers a disabled artist and activist who performed at the first DaDaFest in 2001 and who died five years ago as a result of social care cuts and associated lack of care.

Some disabled people have to be assessed to decide if they will be allowed to keep their babies, she said, while many young disabled people never receive the sex education they need because they are “deemed incapable of relationships and desiring of sexual intimacy”.

She said: “I know Deaf people who are too afraid to go out as they are afraid of the abuse and lack of support to help them understand what is being said.

I have witnessed cuts to our adult services, our children’s services and our NHS while many of our user-led disability charities have lost funds and now cease to exist.”

Gould said she despairs that this country – as the NHS in England rolls out a new non-invasive pre-natal test to detect Down’s syndrome – could soon become like Iceland, where there has reportedly not been a baby with Down’s syndrome born for more than six years.

Gould said she was “sceptical, angry and very afraid for our future, indeed our very existence”.

She added: “I am sad that arts funding is pushing our sector into safe, corporate business practices that are all about ticket sales and playing it to ‘one size fits all’ – mediocrity is threatening to rule.”

But she promised that this month’s DaDaFest would show that “arts and social justice together make great art”.

The festival begins today (1 November) and lasts until 8 December across the Liverpool city region.

Artists will explore the concepts of ageing, death and the changing nature of our bodies.

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

Among those featuring in this year’s line-up will be comedians Francesca Martinez and Laurence Clark, theatre-maker and comedian Jess Thom – with her performance of Samuel Beckett’s Not I – Stop Gap Dance Company, artists Simon McKeown, Faith Bebbington, Jonathan Griffith and Martin O’Brien, and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Fisher.

The programme includes more than 50 exhibitions, performances, talks, and workshops, featuring established and new talent.

1 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:25