Dec 132018
 

Kicked, punched, knocked unconscious, tipped out of wheelchairs’: Campaigners describe repeated police targeting of disabled anti-fracking protesters

Police forces are repeatedly targeting and assaulting disabled people involved in peaceful anti-fracking protests, campaigners have told Disability News Service (DNS).

DNS has seen video footage of a string of incidents in which disabled campaigners taking part in peaceful protests have been injured, manhandled or put at risk of injury by police officers.

It has also spoken to three disabled protesters, and two other eye-witnesses, who have all experienced or witnessed serious and repeated incidents of police brutality targeted at disabled people.

There are now fears that forces across the country that have policed anti-fracking protests are developing a tactics “template” that can be used to target disabled people taking part in other peaceful protests, such as those organised by the anti-cuts and climate change movements.

Some of the most recent and serious concerns relate to the actions of officers from Lancashire police in dealing with peaceful protests about the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla near Preston New Road (PNR), on the edge of Blackpool.

Maria Allen, who is deaf and has arthritis, has been involved in the Preston New Road protest since it began in January 2017, and in the wider anti-fracking movement for four years.

She lives about 20 miles from the fracking site, in an area that is also licensed for fracking, and has family in Blackpool, while a cousin lives less than a mile from the site.

She told DNS: “I have been targeted by the police on so many occasions I have lost count.

I have been shoved over, kicked, punched, pressure pointed [putting pressure on sensitive points in the body to cause pain].”

On one occasion she was picked up and thrown into a fence, she said. Another time she was knocked unconscious.

She said: “The favourite trick of some of the officers there is to sneak up behind me and grab or shove me without warning.

Or they will issue instructions when they are stood behind me and they know I don’t know what they are saying [because she lip-reads], and then grab or shove me, using the excuse that I did not comply with their request to move.

I have also been told by several officers that I am lying when I tell them that I am deaf.”

She described the police behaviour she had witnessed as “intimidating, aggressive, confrontational, violent, abusive, disproportionate, frightening”.

Allen said: “On numerous occasions I have also seen the police goading and harassing autistic protesters, following them, grabbing them and holding them, calling them names.

Most of us have also been subjected to targeted arrests where we have been arrested on spurious grounds and been held for several hours in police cells. We have then been released without charge.

The police do not only target disabled protesters at PNR; they target anyone they perceive as vulnerable.

They also target our young people and women, particularly elderly women. They have even assaulted and deliberately frightened teenage children.”

She believes this targeting of disabled people and other protesters the police see as vulnerable is a deliberate policy, intended to “intimidate people and make them scared to protest”.

Allen, a single mother of four disabled sons, said: “After they have assaulted me it takes me a few days to get the courage up to go back.

I believe they also do it to try to provoke a violent response from some of the non-disabled protesters.

At PNR we are primarily a bunch of ordinary, local people. Our whole ethos is non-violent. We never fight back.

Many of us are disabled or vulnerable and the police treat us as if we were football hooligans about to riot.

Until I went to PNR I had always respected the police. The policing at PNR has destroyed any trust I had in our police force, and sadly it has made my children feel the same way, because they have seen the horrific bruising the police have left me with.”

Another disabled protester, Nick Sheldrick, who lives three miles from the fracking site and has a spinal cord injury, is also convinced that he has been targeted by police officers.

Since he began attending protests at PNR last year he has been tipped out of his wheelchair six times. He believes only one of these incidents was accidental.

The other five times he has been deliberately pushed in his chest, he said.

Sheldrick said: “I have told them that if they do that then I am going to go over in my chair.

I have told the senior officers if they need me to go anywhere just ask me and I’ll move. They don’t need to pull me and touch me and drag me. But they do.

They don’t give you time to move at all. As they are saying ‘move’ they are [already] pushing you.”

On one recent occasion he was shoved in the chest by one officer – after being dragged across the road by his shoulders by another officer – and fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement.

Because of the treatment he has received, he will no longer attend the protest site alone.

On another occasion last year, one officer left him with a bruise covering his thigh after trying to pin him down by putting a knee across his leg.

He said this was “the first indication that the police weren’t there for my protection.

I’ve always had a really big respect for the police, I was a merchant navy officer, I’ve never been in trouble in my life.

I’ve always thought the police were there to help and protect us, but that’s not what I’ve witnessed down there.”

He has also had one officer tell him he should go for a run and then laugh in his face. He lodged a complaint but it was unsuccessful after the officer claimed he had been directing his comment to a nearby group of protesters and not to Sheldrick.

Other complaints he has made to the force have all been rejected.

In one piece of film shot by a protester, reported by the Mirror and other publications last year, Sheldrick is seen apparently being pulled to the floor in his wheelchair by police officers as he attempts to block a delivery lorry.

One of the officers told him to stop being stupid and stand up, he said. “I was trying to explain to them I’ve got a spinal cord injury and my legs don’t work. They just wouldn’t listen.”

The publicity around that incident has not stopped officers targeting him.

He described the police tactics as “quite brutal” and says that watching officers grab protesters and push them into the hedge is “quite nasty, and sad to watch as well”.

He said he has also seen many incidents in which officers have grabbed young women and pulled their tops up to expose their breasts, which he said “looked deliberate”.

He said: “I think there are a lot of tactics going on to stop people going to the protests, to scare people away.”

And Sheldrick said he had seen similar tactics being used by police forces on other protests, as he has watched them live online.

One of the disabled people mentioned most often by protesters when asked about police targeting is Liz Beck, from nearby Manchester.

She told DNS that she had been thrown or fallen to the ground at least 30 times at Preston New Road, although she also broke her collarbone after an incident at the Horse Hill fracking site in Surrey, footage of which DNS has watched.

On every one of these occasions, Beck was carrying her walking-stick.

In one piece of footage shot by a protester at Preston New Road and also seen by DNS, Beck can be seen being pushed by a police officer and falling to the ground. The officer then picks her up and drags her across the floor.

On her return to Preston New Road after the Horse Hill incident, her arm was in a sling, but that was no protection.

They would target it,” she said. “They would deliberately grab it and pull me by that arm.”

She added: “I have been pushed to the ground, I have been rugby tackled, I have been thrown to the ground, I have been slung round, thrown to the ground and [had an officer’s] knee in my back.”

Sometimes she falls because she has been pushed or shoved by police officers; on other occasions she has lost her balance while in a crowd being manoeuvred by officers.

She has also been pushed into hedges at the side of the road, and on one occasion was pushed from the road and then pushed again so she rolled down to the bottom of a steep bank.

She said: “They will either grab you or pinch you or pull you round. I’m unstable, so I go over.

They seem to go for the weaker ones so other people will start getting angry, because everybody is peacefully protesting.

They want people to be violent because then they know what to do, so when it’s peaceful they will make it violent.

They want us to go away quietly, but we have done nothing wrong apart from protest.

A lot of people were scared to come up because of the police… because of the way police are, but it just makes you more angry. It’s denying people’s right to peacefully protest.”

Miranda Cox is a member of the town council for Kirkham, a couple of miles from the Preston New Road fracking site.

She needed an operation after tearing cartilage in her knee at the beginning of last year after police contained a group of protesters and then pushed against them.

This year, she received a substantial cut to her arm after she was “lifted up and thrown” onto the road by a police officer.

She said: “We have had people knocked unconscious, broken shoulders, broken wrists.

I have witnessed a number of incidents with people who are very obviously disabled people.”

These include repeated incidents involving Sheldrick, Allen and Beck.

She said: “I have seen Liz [Beck] knocked to the floor several times and I have seen another friend who uses a wheelchair [Sheldrick] tipped to the floor.

I have spoken to another lady wheelchair-user who narrowly avoided being tipped.”

She said: “I can’t say for certain that those people are targeted but it does seem a bit bizarre to me that someone could be tipped six times from their chair if they are not targeted.

Every occasion [Sheldrick] has been right next to me and I have seen what’s happened and there’s a clear manoeuvre that tips him forwards or backwards or sideways.

I have asked if [targeting disabled people] was a tactic and they deny it.”

She is another who believes the targeting of those seen as more vulnerable is a deliberate ploy to undermine the morale and determination of protesters.

She said: “It is completely unsafe. The police will say the only reasons they are present at PNR is for our safety, but at the same minute you’re being rugby tackled to the floor or tipped out of your wheelchair.

I think their tactics are to get the industry wagons through the gates at any cost and they justify it by saying it’s for our safety, but it’s not. It’s a very dangerous game they are playing.”

Cox and another local councillor, along with residents and protesters, formally withdrew from monthly meetings with the police last month when they realised the force was “not even paying lip service” to their complaints.

None of the complaints that she and others have lodged with the force – to her knowledge – have been upheld.

She believes – as do fellow protesters – that police forces across the country are now using the anti-fracking protests as a means of training officers, developing a template to use on other protests.

She said: “We have conversations like this all the time. When I look at patterns of police behaviour at different anti-fracking sites, they seem to follow a similar sort of pattern.

You can almost predict what is going to happen.”

Another piece of footage shot by protesters, and reported by the Independent last year, shows a disabled member of the Green party, 85-year-old Anne Power, being dragged across a road by police officers while protesting peacefully outside another fracking site, at Little Plumpton, also in Lancashire.

DNS has also spoken to Nina Tailor, from Gathering Place Films (GPF), which has been filming anti-fracking protests around the country for more than five years.

She said she has grown increasingly surprised by the police behaviour GPF has observed at anti-fracking protests across the country, including the way officers appear to be targeting disabled and older protesters, and women.

DNS has seen some of the footage she has shot and collected from protesters for a film GPF is making, Frack It and See, about fracking in the UK.

Kevin Blowe, coordinator for the Network for Police Monitoring (NETPOL), believes the police are targeting protesters perceived as vulnerable, including disabled people.

He believes this is happening partly to “scare people away” but also to try to provoke a reaction from other protesters, so the police then have an excuse to arrest them.

He said: “It’s surprising how many people who have disabilities and who have been prepared to step up seem to be the ones who end up being targeted.

There does seem to be a pattern of people with disabilities being amongst those who are targeted. People on the ground… are saying it’s deliberate.”

NETPOL, which monitors and resists excessive, intimidating or violent policing, is now hoping to encourage some of those protesters who have been injured – including disabled people – to launch legal actions against the police.

Blowe is convinced that police forces are rolling out the tactics from one anti-fracking protest to the next, usually starting with the intention of “facilitating” the protest but soon descending into a “zero tolerance” approach to any form of disruption, even though the protests are peaceful.

NETPOL will be publishing a series of short films about anti-fracking protests, with one on police targeting of protesters published online today.

He said: “Police have been able to get away with things that would horrify most people [because of the rural locations of the anti-fracking protests]… because largely these things are going unreported, partly because it’s not happening in front of all the cameras in central London.”

He is surprised there has not yet been a fatality in any of the anti-fracking protests, and he added: “I know there have been some near misses.”

The danger, he said, is that with disabled people being targeted “you have got to worry that at some point something really terrible is going to happen”.

The evidence of protesters from Preston New Road, and other anti-fracking protests, are backed up by two reports.

Last year, in Protecting the Planet is not a Crime, NETPOL described seeing evidence – particularly from Lancashire – “of police officers pushing people into hedges, knocking campaigners unconscious, violently dragging older people across the road and shoving others into speeding traffic”.

The report added: “We had also heard about the targeting of disabled protesters (including repeatedly tipping a wheelchair user from his chair) and officers using painful pressure point restraint techniques.”

And in March 2016, academics at Liverpool John Moores University and the University of York looked at the policing of the Barton Moss anti-fracking protest camp in their report Keep Moving!

They told how protesters described “the provocative targeting of some of the camp’s more ‘vulnerable’ members, including young, elderly and disabled protesters, and women”, which they were told appeared to stem from “a more systemic tactical approach”.

DNS put a series of questions to Lancashire police shortly after 5.30pm on Monday – including whether it accepted that it had been targeting disabled protesters, and whether it had guidance for dealing with disabled people at protests – but the force had failed to answer the questions by noon today (Thursday).

But a force spokesman said in a statement: “Our intention is to ensure a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to lawfully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.

We aim to prevent, where possible, crime and disorder, but if it does occur we will provide an effective, lawful and proportionate response.”

13 December 2018

 

 

Police targeting of disabled protesters is ‘an outrage and a scandal… and it’s set to spread’

The targeting by police of disabled people involved in peaceful anti-fracking protests is an “absolute outrage” and “a scandal”, but such tactics will soon be rolled out to other protests and other parts of the country, a leading activist has warned.

Andy Greene, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), spoke out as Disability News Service (DNS) revealed “extremely disturbing” evidence that police forces in England have been repeatedly targeting and assaulting disabled people involved in the protests (see separate story).

Some of the most serious concerns reported this week relate to the actions of officers from Lancashire police in dealing with peaceful protests about the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla near Preston New Road, on the edge of Blackpool.

Greene, a veteran of numerous peaceful anti-austerity street protests with DPAC, said the evidence reported by DNS was “extremely disturbing” and the police behaviour “an absolute outrage”.

DNS has seen video footage of a string of incidents in which disabled campaigners taking part in peaceful protests have been injured, manhandled or put at risk of injury by police officers.

It has also spoken to three disabled protesters, and two other eye-witnesses, who have all experienced or witnessed serious and repeated incidents of police brutality targeted at disabled people.

There are now fears that forces across the country that have policed anti-fracking protests are developing a tactics “template” that can be used to target disabled people taking part in other peaceful protests, such as those organised by the anti-cuts and climate change movements.

Greene said: “It is an absolute outrage and a scandal that [police officers] are not just perpetrating this but getting away with it on a daily basis now.

It isn’t an isolated incident, it isn’t a one-off, this isn’t one force, this is an escalation over a period of time with a clear direction of travel and involves many, many forces and it’s clear that there is a bigger strategy out there.”

He said he had seen an “escalation” and a “clear direction of travel” in police tactics since the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe, in Sussex, in the summer of 2013.

He said he had been disturbed by what he had seen at Balcombe, but that there had since been a “scale up” of such tactics with the policing of the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, near Manchester, in late 2013 and early 2014, while what was being seen at Preston New Road was “an escalation again from Barton Moss”.

Greene said: “The on-the-ground tactics are becoming more physical, they’re becoming more confrontational, more provoking, and I think there is a real strategy behind that.”

He said he now expected these police tactics to be “rolled out across the protest movement” over the next year as the country sees a likely increase in political volatility around issues such as anti-fracking, anti-austerity and Brexit.

He said he believed it was “only a matter of time” before the tactics being applied to disabled people at Preston New Road were seen on the streets of London.

He said: “I think they are very careful about where they do it and more particularly where they don’t do it at the moment.”

He believes the police have been using the rural locations of anti-fracking protests as a training ground and “the gloves will come off” in London once they are more confident about their ability to translate what they have learned to “bigger scale” protests in London.

Greene said the barriers facing disabled people attempting to have their voices heard in anti-fracking protests reflect the discrimination they face in other areas of political activity.

Party political activity is often not accessible, while voting is not accessible and polling booths are “an absolute national scandal”, he said.

He said: “If it was any other community that was shut out of having their political voice heard like this there would be complete and utter uproar.”

But he said disabled people had become “more confident, more angry” in the last few years, and had become “more present” in anti-fracking, anti-austerity and other protest movements.

He said: “What we want to see now is an end to this, we want to see people being facilitated to protest, being supported to protest, to demonstrate, to have their political voice heard.

What shouldn’t be happening is state institutions using violence and other means to exclude disabled people from getting involved in political discourse.”

But he urged disabled people not to be put off by what they were hearing of police tactics.

He said: “I would absolutely say that they have to meet this challenge head on, in the same way that they have met previous challenges, whether it is the independent living movement, whether it is anti-austerity.

I think we have to confront this and not be cowed. I think we have to challenge what is going on and bring it into the light, and I think we have to fight back against it.

This should be something that makes us shout louder and be more persistent about what we want.”

Greene said there needed to be “a bigger conversation with the anti-fracking movement about how we deal with this” as well as “a show of support” for those disabled activists who have been targeted.

He said protest movements needed to work together with organisations like NETPOL, which monitors and resists excessive, intimidating or violent policing, to “develop some form of plan for supporting ourselves to deal with this and push back against it”.

13 December 2018

 

 

Mixed response to government’s plans to improve access to air travel

A trio of disabled peers who have all been fierce critics of the discrimination faced by disabled air passengers have delivered a mixed response to the government’s proposed new “passenger charter”.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Friday (7 December) that a planned consultation on a new aviation strategy, expected by the end of the year, would include plans for the new charter.

A draft version of the charter, seen by Disability News Service (DNS), includes a series of proposals aimed at improving the way disabled passengers and others with reduced mobility are treated by the air travel industry.

The government’s announcement came just days after the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell called on the government to start handing out “heavy fines” to the air travel industry when it failed to ensure its services were accessible to disabled passengers.

Another disabled peer, the Liberal Democrat president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told peers last week how she had been left in tears after being dumped in a corner facing a concrete wall while airport staff tried to find her wheelchair following a flight from Heathrow to Madrid.

The draft charter includes a plan to remove limits imposed on the compensation paid when a wheelchair is damaged during a flight; and stronger enforcement powers for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which will allow it to fine airlines and other parts of the industry that breach access regulations.

There are also proposals to improve the way wheelchairs are stored during flights; to raise awareness among disabled people of airport assistance services; and to tighten standards on how long passengers should wait for their wheelchairs at the end of a flight.

If the draft charter was adopted, it would also mean airlines having to make “all reasonable efforts to arrange seating to meet the needs of disabled passengers”, while some new and refurbished aeroplanes would have to include at least one accessible toilet.

In addition to the passenger charter, the government is to support a working group from the industry, which will include wheelchair manufacturers, disability representatives and the CAA, to achieve the “longer term goal” of creating a system that will allow disabled passengers to “travel safely in their own wheelchairs in the aircraft cabin”.

But the president of the Liberal Democrats, the disabled peer Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told DNS that the charter proposals did not go far enough.

She said: “A charter places very little obligation on either the carriers or the airports to deliver.

This means that the disabled traveller will have very little recourse when things go wrong. 

Baroness Sugg [the aviation minister] talked about fines for carriers and airports that fail to deliver but we haven’t yet seen how easy it will be for complaints to be made and judgements passed that actually result in fines.

The record on fines for train operating companies missing their targets has been woeful. 

A charter will not be enough to change the culture and practice that results in disabled passengers being let down time after time, being treated as a piece of luggage and trapped in disabled ghettos. 

We need more: we need clear standards which if missed give disabled passengers the equivalent of a delay repay* when trains are late, as well as large fines for carriers and airports if they miss wider accessibility targets.”

She added: “This government is very fond of codes and charters which sound great but actually don’t change anything for the consumer because they have no teeth.

We have the same problem with the Victims Code, which sounds lovely but there is no duty on the agencies (police, criminal justice system, councils) to actually deliver it. So they don’t.” 

The crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell was more optimistic.

Although she has not yet been able to examine the charter, because of the Brexit debate occupying both houses of parliament, she said it appeared to be “quite a big leap for the industry and realistically that’s all that can be achieved in the short term (the coming year)”.

But she said industry members had now recognised that they “must up their game significantly to address the increasing flow of criticism, otherwise the bad publicity will accelerate dissatisfaction from the public at large, which in turn will damage their business, economically and image wise”.

She told DNS: “I am hoping in the slightly longer term, the industry will address what we know from experience will be continuing discrimination with stronger regulations and fines.

Because if they don’t, the campaign will just increase and eventually hurt them.”

After speaking to Chris Wood, the father of two disabled sons and founder of the campaign Disabled Flying, she said she believed it was necessary to capitalise on the apparent willingness of some parts of the industry to introduce a way to allow wheelchair-users to travel on aeroplanes in their own wheelchairs.

And she said it was crucial that disabled people were “centrally involved” in “developing the design of the reasonable adjustments and advising on the service delivery as a whole, so that it is fit for everyone and discriminates against no-one”, and that it was time to demand “more co-production”.

She suggested that disabled people should join Wood’s campaign in the absence of a successful disabled-led alternative, as he had been a “fantastic” ally to disabled people.

Another crossbench disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, said removing limits on compensation for damaged wheelchairs would be “a step forward” and would “make some airlines think a bit”.

She also said that the working group would mean that some disabled people who are currently “completely excluded” from flying might have an opportunity to do so, which she said “feels like an open door”.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said there still needed to be better recognition that disabled people face “discrimination and poor treatment”, with too many passengers given the impression that their experiences are only one-offs.

She said: “I think the charter is a step forward. It should be easier to sort out the problems disabled people face.

They shouldn’t have such bad experiences and be made to feel that they are an inconvenience.”

A spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “It is encouraging to see the government putting a major focus on the flying experience of disabled people, especially following the widely reported and unacceptable failures that have occurred in this space.

These recommendations are a positive step towards tackling discrimination against disabled passengers.”

Nusrat Ghani, the DfT accessibility minister, said: “We need to address the fact that 57 per cent of disabled passengers say they find flying and using airports difficult.

That’s why our proposed passenger charter includes measures designed to make real changes that will improve the accessibility of flying, building on the ambitions set out in our Inclusive Transport Strategy earlier this year.

We are committed to continuing the progress the industry has already made in making the aviation network truly open to all.”

*The national rail compensation scheme for unexpected delays and cancellations

13 December 2018

 

 

Ideas to replace WCA with new assessment framework win some support

Disabled activists have delivered a generally positive response to fresh ideas on how to replace the hated fitness for work test with a new assessment framework that would restore “dignity and respect” to those unable to work full-time.

The ideas were presented by disabled researcher and campaigner Catherine Hale at a meeting attended by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood, and Marsha de Cordova, the party’s shadow minister for disabled people.

Last month’s was the second in an ongoing series of meetings – focused on the work capability assessment (WCA) – between senior figures in the party and some of the disabled activists who have played a key role in exposing the harm caused by the government’s social security cuts and reforms.

Hale, lead researcher and project manager of the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project (CIIP), and a member of the Spartacus Network, presented some of the ideas she has been working on with fellow Spartacus and CIIP researcher Stef Benstead*.

Hale fears that if disabled people do not come up with their own model to replace the hated WCA then something will be imposed on them.

She said after the meeting: “If we have to have assessments, I’d rather we designed them and achieved a consensus among ourselves.

Some will say to hell with assessments, or just get doctors to sign us off as not fit for work, but I think both those positions are naive.”

Any new assessment framework should have four key principles if it is to restore the human rights of disabled people, she says, in a blog subsequently posted on her website**, which was based on her presentation at the meeting.

She says such a system should overturn the ideology behind the “hostile environment” created by the government’s social security reforms and restore “dignity and respect” to disabled people; it should change the relationship between work and health; it must empower disabled people; and it should provide an “adequate and secure” baseline standard of living.

Hale says that Labour must now commit to removing the “adversarial stance running through all DWP’s assessment systems” which cast disabled people as “guilty until proven innocent”.

A Labour government would also need to work to “bring about culture change” within DWP, and “eliminate conditionality and sanctions as a punitive tool for getting disabled people into work”.

Compliance interviews, benefit fraud hotlines and “other instruments of intimidation and suspicion” must all be eliminated, she says, as must the outsourcing of assessments to private contractors.

She also calls for a new “parity of esteem” between paid work and unpaid work such as caring, volunteering, peer support, and self-care, while she says the NHS should never view whether someone is in work as an indicator of health or recovery.

The government should also bring in disabled people to develop new assessment criteria, which should test how disabled people are disadvantaged by both barriers in the labour market and their impairments, says Hale.

Reaction from disabled activists to Hale’s presentation, most of who were at the meeting, has been generally positive, although neither Greenwood or de Cordova were able to comment this week.

The WOWcampaign, which was represented at the meeting, said Hale’s presentation “was very much in line with the thinking of the WOWcampaign, especially in proposing the ending of the hostile environment (sanctions and conditionality) and stating that the purpose of any assessment must be to empower and enable disabled people”.

But a WOW spokesman added: “As stated at the roundtable, WOWcampaign’s concern is that the focus is on the ability of the disabled person seeking work and not on the structural discrimination, prejudice and exclusion that has not only continued but increased in the workplace over the terms of the last two governments.

There is absolutely no point in disabled people going away and preparing for work if there is and will never be any appropriate work out there for them.”

Disability Labour said it was “very impressed” by Hale’s presentation.

Wayne Blackburn, co-chair of Disability Labour, who was present at the meeting, said: “We completely agree that disabled people should not be treated as guilty until proven innocent; our knowledge of our own conditions and how they affect us must be believed and respected.

There has to be a fundamental culture change within DWP; the negative attitudes and unconscious bias must end.”

Fellow co-chair Fran Springfield, who also attended the meeting, said she supported Hale’s position that paid work was not the only route to social participation, was often not the most appropriate route for disabled people, and must never be damaging to health and wellbeing or used as an indicator of health or recovery.

Springfield said: “Bringing back DWP assessments in-house, as a Labour government will do, is so important.

Disabled people should never be abused to provide shareholder profit.

I believe what is absolutely vital is integrating assessments of care and support needs into the assessment of work capability.

Supporting us with independent living would make a huge difference to those of us who are able to work or volunteer.”

And she said that providing a secure baseline income was “an essential element of our human rights”, as was “understanding and accepting that some people will never be well enough or able to volunteer or work”.

She and Blackburn said Disability Labour was working on how such ideas could be implemented and “look forward to being able to integrate that into the work that John McDonnell’s team is already doing”.

Gail Ward, from Black Triangle, said Hale and Benstead had “put forward good arguments for replacement of the WCA”, although she said that Black Triangle had “grave reservations” about Benstead’s suggestion that occupational therapists should be closely involved in a new assessment process.

John McArdle, also from Black Triangle, said Hale had “brought forward many excellent ideas”.

He said that any incoming government would “have to go at least as far as the Scottish government and consult with disabled people themselves and not those who purport to represent them”.

He added: “Paramount in that exercise would be to engage and consult widely with individual disabled people themselves in a sincere effort to discover what would constitute a new social security system worthy of calling itself one which places dignity and respect at the very heart of the system, while complying with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and Recovery in the Bin, said it was “very early days” and the ideas should be seen as “exploring possibilities” rather than drafting plans for a new assessment process.

He also stressed that there should be legislation to address the barriers faced by disabled people in the labour market, rather than attempting to address the discrimination they faced solely through social security reforms.

He also said the ideological push to see work as a “cure” must not act as an excuse to reduce income or support provided by social security or the social care system. 

He said: “Catherine and Stef’s work is helpful to add to the all the ideas and ways of thinking we have to engage in.

Overall, what I think is important is that Labour/a new government draws up social security reform in co-production with disabled people and service users primarily and not allow corporations, charities or the medical establishment to lead it.”

Burgess said he believed disabled people should not look to replace only the WCA and benefits such as personal independence payment, but instead “replace the entire relationship between the state and disabled people which has been a hostile one for so long”. 

Bob Ellard, a member of the DPAC national steering group, was more critical.

He said he did not agree with the principles of Hale’s paper because the ideas centred on the link between social security and work inequality, “and that link needs to be broken”.

He said that a fair incapacity benefit system would have to remove that link and be based purely on need, with the government then tackling issues such as “workplace discrimination, access to transport, education and training and other issues that are barriers to disabled people gaining good quality work”.

But he added: “In terms of short-term measures that Labour could take pending a redesign of social security there are some good things in there, but I don’t view it as a model for a long-term replacement.”

*Benstead has previously produced a series of reports on replacing ESA for the thinktank Ekklesia

**Comments on the ideas can be posted on her website

13 December 2018

 

 

Fresh Motability criticism after watchdog’s report

The company that runs the Motability car scheme and the charity that oversees its work are facing fresh criticism from disabled campaigners, following a watchdog’s report that criticises the company’s huge financial reserves and excessive profits and executive pay.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report concludes that the Motability scheme has delivered “excellent service” and “remarkable satisfaction levels” (99 per cent in 2017-18) among its more than 600,000 customers.

But it also says that the scheme has generated “substantial cash surpluses”, while Motability Operations – the company that runs the scheme – has failed to disclose more than £1.5 million in bonuses that were due to be paid to its chief executive, Mike Betts.

It also reports that five Motability Operations executive directors received more than £15 million in bonuses between them in just seven years. In 2016-17, Betts himself received a total financial package of £1.7 million, including his salary and bonuses.

NAO found that Motability Operations had £2.62 billion in its reserves in March 2018 and that it had made £2.19 billion in profits between 2007-08 and 2016-17, more than £1 billion higher than it had forecasted.

And it says that underestimating the value of used cars meant that disabled customers have been charged £390 million more than was required in their lease agreements to cover the costs of depreciation.

But NAO also warns that it is not clear if the Motability charity*, which oversees the work of Motability Operations, could absorb the scale of the extra donations it has received from the company – including an extra £400 million donation in September – as a result of its unplanned profits “in a way that can maximise its effectiveness”.

Motability Operations had previously donated £345 million to the charity between 2010 and 2017.

NAO’s recommendations include a series of reviews to be carried out by Motability, Motability Operations and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The report also raises concerns about the diversity of Motability’s board of governors, and how long some of them have been in post, with four current governors who have each served for more than 16 years.

There is also not a single black and minority ethnic governor, and just one woman among the charity’s 11 governors.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said DPAC had started raising concerns about the bonuses paid to Betts several years ago, as well as about the level of reserves held in the charity’s Motability Tenth Anniversary Trust.

In 2014, the charity introduced new rules which restricted the grants made from its Specialised Vehicle Fund (SVF) to disabled people with high support needs, which mean that only disabled people who spend more than 12 hours-a-week in education, work, volunteering or caring can qualify for grants that enable them to lease a drive-from-wheelchair vehicle.

Burnip said: “There can be no reason, given the billions in [Motability Operations] reserves, for any disabled person to be refused a grant for a drive-from wheelchair or internal transfer vehicle.

It is blatant discrimination to restrict access to such vehicles which disabled people with the highest support needs require to enhance their independence.”

Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOWcampaign but speaking personally as a Motability customer, said: “Motability Operations has collected and hoarded £2.62 billion (March 2018) of disabled people’s money, which was paid on the understanding it was to cover costs.

Motability Operations has paid its directors millions of pounds of money collected from disabled people in bonuses, for hitting performance targets described by the National Audit Office as ‘easily exceeded since 2008’.”

He said that Motability Operations, which states that all its profits are reinvested into the scheme, had instead effectively paid “dividends” of £745 million to the charity over the last eight years, payments which “grossly exceed the charity’s annual running costs”.

He said: “I am very worried that the above items may tend to bring the Motability charity into disrepute and call on the Charity Commission to immediately launch an investigation to reassure disabled people and the public at large that disabled people’s money is being spent responsibly and not misappropriated by ‘fat cats’ working for and controlling Motability Operations.”

Graham Footer, chief executive of Disabled Motoring UK, said: “Many of our charity’s members are on the Motability scheme and have been for a number of years.

While the scheme provides an essential lifeline to these individuals, we believe that Motability could make better use of its surpluses to not only improve the scheme for its customers but alleviate many of the problems they face on a daily basis as disabled motorists.

We look forward to working with Motability in the future to fully implement the recommendations of the National Audit Office.” 

Lord Sterling, who co-founded the Motability scheme in 1977 and now chairs the charity, said it had accepted all NAO’s recommendations, including the need for a review of the level of reserves held by Motability Operations.

But he said the suggestion that customers were charged more than was required to cover the leasing costs was “open to further debate” because its customers pay “45 per cent less than the market rate for their vehicles, in addition to the support, insurance and vehicle enhancements that we offer”.

He said that “every penny, surplus to sustainability and to this excellent price and service, goes to help enhance the lives of our disabled customers and their families”.

He added: “The scheme has cumulatively delivered five million vehicles, many heavily adapted, putting millions of disabled people and their families on ‘the road to freedom’.

I am very glad that Sir Amyas Morse, the comptroller and auditor general at the National Audit Office, has personally commended the excellence of our service and quality of our management.

That praise, of course, is due to the wonderful dedication of all those employed at both Motability and Motability Operations.”

Motability declined to comment on or answer any further concerns or questions this week, including what impact the NAO report might have on how much disabled customers pay for their Motability vehicles and the service they receive, although it said there were exceptions to the SVF rules.

A spokeswoman said the charity would not be issuing further comments ahead of a new inquiry to be held by MPs in the new year.

Motability Operations welcomed the NAO report and said it was “proud that it has acknowledged the impressive performance of the company, and the excellent service it offers to 625,000 disabled people and their families”.

In response to the report, it said it would improve its reporting of executive pay and bonuses and review its approach to forecasting.

It will also develop, with the charity, a 10-year plan for how profits are re-invested or donated and will work with the charity to support an independent review of reserves.

Motability Operations also announced that Betts would step down as chief executive by May 2020.

The Commons work and pensions and Treasury committees will be holding a fresh inquiry into the Motability scheme in the new year.

Frank Field, the Labour MP who chairs the work and pensions committee, said – in a letter to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd – that the NAO report made for “grim reading”.

He said the “value of the scheme cannot be allowed to blind us to serious concerns about its governance – not least the unjustifiably high levels of executive pay and the colossal financial reserves built up by Motability Operations”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We asked the NAO to investigate and are grateful for the valuable insight provided, which strengthens our concerns regarding Motability Operation’s financial model.

We agree with the NAO’s finding that the Motability scheme provides an excellent service.

To ensure that the scheme is focused on delivering better value for money we are committed to working with the charity and key stakeholders so that current and future arrangements result in improved outcomes for disabled people.”

*The Motability charity is a Disability News Service subscriber

13 December 2018

 

 

PIP announcement should mean more claimants are spared reassessments

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has announced measures that should mean fewer disabled people are forced to undergo unnecessary benefit reassessments.

Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, announced in June that new claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) with the “most severe, lifelong conditions” who were awarded the highest level of support and whose needs were not expected to decrease would only receive a “light touch” review of their award every 10 years.

Rudd said this week that this measure would be extended to existing PIP claimants.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said this was to “ensure that for disabled people who need extra support, the system is designed to be as seamless as possible while minimising any unnecessary stress or bureaucracy”.

Guidance for PIP case managers on which new PIP claimants will qualify for the “light touch” review and an “ongoing” award was published quietly by DWP in August.

The guidance does not mention any particular conditions.

Instead, it says such an award should be made if “the claimant’s restrictions on Daily Living and/or Mobility are stable and unlikely to change significantly or they have very high levels of needs which will only deteriorate” or if “the claimant is awarded enhanced/enhanced and their needs are not going to improve or would only deteriorate”.

Newton’s announcement in June was seen by some as another move back towards disability living allowance (DLA), the benefit PIP is replacing for working-age claimants.

One of the key reasons that ministers gave for introducing PIP was that DLA supposedly allowed claimants to secure unchecked “welfare for life” because of the lack of repeat assessments.

Esther McVey, who quit as work and pensions secretary last month, made the claim herself five years ago in a bid to justify the introduction of PIP and proposed cuts of 20 per cent.

But Jenny Morris, who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper, said in June that people were placed on lifetime DLA awards “for very good reasons” and all the government had done by introducing PIP and its frequent reassessments in 2013 was to “create extra costs for themselves”.

She said that the “light touch” announcement showed the government had spent years and wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on its PIP reforms, while exposing people to assessments that were “very oppressive and upsetting”.

This week, one disabled people’s organisation, Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), suggested that Rudd’s announcement should be treated “very cautiously”.

BuDS said that 18 per cent of PIP claimants already receive lifetime awards, and it added: “The chances are that this announcement will make very little difference for most people.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The guidance change has not been in place long enough for us to provide estimates of how many people may gain.”

13 December 2018

 

 

Disabled facilities grants need fresh approach and fairer formula, says review

The government should implement major changes to the scheme that provides funding for disabled people in England to make access improvements to their homes, according to an independent review.

Among the suggested improvements, the review says the government should increase the upper limit on disabled facilities grants (DFGs) from £30,000, although only in line with inflation.

It also suggests renaming the grant as part of a national awareness-raising campaign, with a new name that is “up to date and easily recognisable”; producing a fairer and more transparent funding formula; and introducing a national accreditation scheme for builders and tradespeople carrying out adaptations.

In October’s budget, the chancellor announced another £55 million in funding for DFGs for 2018-19, following a previous decision to increase funding for DFGs from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.

But the review points out that, although the government has already more than doubled DFG funding in recent years, the contribution of local authorities has fallen, which has meant the number of homes adapted – at least until 2016-17 – “has not significantly increased”.

The review, Disabled Facilities Grant and Other Adaptations, says the DFG is “often seen as simply providing level access showers, stair lifts and ramps”.

Instead, the review suggests, there should be “a fresh approach that is all-encompassing and creates a home environment that enables disabled people to live a full life”.

It adds: “Districts and counties, housing and social care, occupational therapists and grants officers will need to work together to establish person-centred services that meet a disabled person’s needs in a more preventative, holistic and timely way.”

The review says the way the DFG system is delivered varies widely across different areas, and it makes recommendations for improvements, including the need to bring together occupational therapists and housing staff into single integrated teams, which is already happening in some areas and will “simplify and speed up customer journeys”.

Among other recommendations, the review says that housing and health partnership boards should be set up in every part of England to have responsibility for meeting the housing needs of disabled and older people in their area and maximise the impact of DFGs.

The review was commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health and Social Care and was carried out by the University of the West of England; Foundations, the national body for home improvement agencies; the Building Research Establishment; and Ferret Information Systems.

The government said it was “carefully considering the findings”.

13 December 2018

 

 

Stars add support to bid to transform access for disabled musicians

A user-led music charity has launched a major survey of disabled musicians in a bid to push for improvements to the accessibility of performing, rehearsing and recording spaces.

Attitude is Everything’s (AiE) NEXT STAGE project has already secured the support of leading disabled musicians such as Blaine Harrison of Mystery Jets, singer-songwriter and violinist Gaelynn Lea, Kris Halpin from Winter of ’82, and Rob Maddison from Revenge of Calculon.

AiE is now looking for disabled and Deaf musicians to take part in the nationwide survey and provide information about their own experiences of rehearsing, recording, playing live, attending industry events and applying for arts funding.

The charity has previously focused on improving accessibility for disabled people who attend festivals and live music gigs, but its new project aims to support the music industry to develop inclusive spaces for performing live, recording, networking and pursuing a career in music.

AiE hopes to use the survey results to develop a comprehensive network of disabled artists, musicians, songwriters and DJs.

Suzanne Bull, AiE’s chief executive, said: “We have spent almost 20 years working for disabled audiences and now, with support from Arts Council England, we want to improve accessibility for disabled artists. 

This process will not be easy. The challenges facing Deaf and disabled people are often hidden, and rarely discussed publicly. There are a range of stigmas and sensibilities.

So our first goal is to collect information through a comprehensive and wide-reaching survey. 

By paying attention to artists’ voices, I believe we can build a thriving network of talent that will enhance British music and benefit all in the wider music community.” 

Harrison, an AiE patron, said that “hearing the experiences and voices of disabled artists will hugely diversify and enrich the music industry of tomorrow”.

He said: “Since we started out playing shows there has been a huge shift in the music industry’s attitude towards deaf and disabled audiences.

It’s been so inspiring to see live-signing catching on at gigs and festivals, not to mention how popular viewing platforms have become.

And when you’re up there it’s not hard to see why. The atmosphere is one of shared joy; reminding us that the live music experience is one we can all participate in. 

But backstage, it’s often another story. Dressing rooms can be tucked away up steep flights of stairs in the eaves of the building; if there are lifts they are often made for hauling heavy equipment and not safe to ride in unattended.

For artists requiring some alone time to mentally prepare for the pressures of a performance, the back of the van in the car park can sometimes be the closest thing to a safe space.”

Halpin said: “We often see commitment from venues to improve access for disabled audience members, but often backstage it’s as if no-one ever considered the existence of disabled people.”

Maddison added: Whilst on tour, disabled artists often encounter huge problems in terms of accessible transport and accommodation, the last thing we need is to arrive at the venue we’re booked to perform at only to find out that it is totally inaccessible as well.

All of these barriers inevitably result in a situation where disabled artists feel excluded from playing live, and the knock-on effect is that you rarely see any high-profile disabled artists in the music industry as a whole.

Tomorrow (14 December), at Cafe OTO, AiE is co-promoting the accessible London date of Gaelynn Lea’s UK tour in support of her new album, Learning How To Stay. There will be a question and answer discussion before the performance on accessibility and live music with Gaelynn Lea and Suzanne Bull, moderated by BBC’s Nicola Stanbridge

13 December 2018

 

 

Energy efficiency policy sidelines disabled people, says report

Much more needs to be done to ensure that disabled people and other groups in fuel poverty can benefit from energy efficiency schemes, according to a new report.

The report says that disabled people often have higher energy demands, because of factors such as health-related needs to keep warm and the electricity needed to use equipment such as nebulisers, stair lifts and hoists, and to charge wheelchairs.

The report, published by the UK Energy Research Centre, University of York, and ACE Research, says this can lead to both higher energy costs and a greater risk of harm if energy supplies are disconnected.

The report says current policy is focused too much on targets and providing work to improve the energy efficiency of homes – such as installing cavity wall insulation and replacing inefficient boilers – at the lowest possible cost.

Because disabled people often live in the poorest quality homes and need extra support through the installation process, they are often side-lined by those providing schemes such as the government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO) energy efficiency programme.

They also face other barriers, such as problems caused by the disruption of the energy supply while installation is taking place, the inaccessibility of the application process and the difficulty of carrying out preparatory work, such as clearing a loft space.

There are also “high levels of mistrust” of the energy sector.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for the government to reinstate a taxpayer-funded scheme in England, where there has been no such programme since the demise of Warm Front in 2013, even though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all operate such schemes.

It calls for investment in energy efficiency support in England to be “brought up to par with the devolved nations with the reintroduction of a tax-payer funded energy efficiency scheme”.

It also concludes that “the trustworthiness of energy efficiency programmes needs to be improved, most notably in England”.

As well as the report, Policy Pathways to Justice in Energy Efficiency, the two-year research project has also published a guide for those working in the sector on supporting disabled people, Supporting Fuel Poor Disabled People Through Energy Efficiency Measures.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which helped deliver the project, said the research showed how current policy was “overly focused on targets and low-cost provision to the exclusion of the people living in fuel poor homes”.

It said the research also shows how households in need are “difficult to find, that they do not receive adequate information that is accessible and from a trusted source, and how their needs are not always taken into consideration during the installation process”.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said that delivery of energy efficiency policy was “variable and patchy”, and there was “a lack of knowledge and awareness of the specific needs of disabled people”.

She said that 30 per cent of families living in poverty contain a disabled person and are at particular risk of experiencing fuel poverty.

She said: “Too often fuel poverty is thought of as an issue that only impacts older disabled people, but the reality is that fuel poverty blights the lives of disabled people of any age: from children, to adults of working age, to older people.

The effects of fuel poverty can penetrate deep into everyday life and exacerbate existing impairments and health conditions.”

Dr Joanne Wade, chief executive of ACE, said: “In short, the needs of older people – important though they undoubtedly are – have been prioritised above those of people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, and those of families with young children.

All these groups are vulnerable to the ill-effects of cold homes, and many people within them also have greater than average needs for energy services.

We have to stop ignoring people who don’t always have the loudest voices; we have to stop avoiding people who are harder to engage, or more expensive and more difficult to help than others.”

13 December 2018

 

 

New DWP employment scheme could support 10,000 disabled people

The new work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, has announced details of a new voluntary programme for disabled people who are long-term unemployed.

The programme aims to provide “highly personalised packages of employment support for people who are at least a year away from moving into work”, with the target of supporting 10,000 disabled people over four years.

Those on the scheme will receive coaching to “build their independence, confidence and motivation, as well as work experience to help boost their career prospects”.

The scheme will be rolled out across England and Wales in 2019, providing support for up to 21 months, including six months of in-work support for those who secure a job.

Rudd said: “Everyone, no matter what their background is, should have the opportunity to thrive in the workplace, and having the right support in place for disabled people is one of my greatest priorities.

To truly help people transform their lives, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach.

That’s why this new programme is designed to offer people, who may think they will never move into work, tailored support to help them overcome any personal barriers they may have in the first instance, and then to focus on boosting their skills.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the £40 million funding for the scheme – to be spread over four years – had not come from the cuts of nearly £30-a-week in payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), a measure that was introduced last year.

The government has predicted that it will save an estimated £450 million a year from the WRAG cuts by 2020-21 and has said it will invest a total of £330 million of those savings over four years from April 2017 in employment support for those affected.

But a DWP spokeswoman said: “The funding in the business case is from the DWP baseline and not part of the £330 million relating to employment support and WRAG removal.”

13 December 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

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