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She told DNS how she attempted suicide earlier this year after her benefits had been withdrawn and she then faced eviction following months without income.
Her benefits had been withdrawn after she had refused to sign a claimant commitment she knew she would be unable to keep to because of its strict job search conditions.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