Police force admits passing footage of disabled protesters to DWP
A police force has admitted passing video footage and other information about disabled anti-fracking protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Disability News Service (DNS) reported last week that forces including Lancashire police had been accused of repeatedly targeting and assaulting disabled people involved in peaceful anti-fracking protests.
Many of the allegations concern the policing of peaceful protests about the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla near Preston New Road, on the edge of Blackpool.
But DNS has also spoken to disabled protesters who say Lancashire police has passed information about their involvement in the protests to DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.
Lancashire police this week confirmed to DNS that it had passed on information and footage of disabled protesters at Preston New Road to DWP.
Despite this admission, DWP would only say that it had no “formal arrangement” with any police force to pass it information about disabled protesters, and it refused to say if the department had received material from Lancashire police.
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, and John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, have described the police force’s actions as “shocking” and “unacceptable”.
Nick Sheldrick, a wheelchair-user with a spinal cord injury, was astonished to be called in for a reassessment of his industrial injuries disablement benefit just two months after he began attending protests at Preston New Road early last year.
Sheldrick, who used to work in the merchant navy and was injured while working on a ship, had received a lifetime award and said his doctor could not understand why he had been sent in for a reassessment.
He said: “The doctor wrote on his notes that I shouldn’t need to be assessed again because spinal cord injuries do not repair themselves.”
He said he had heard of “quite a few” fellow protesters who had been called in for benefit assessments.
Another of the Preston New Road protesters, a disabled woman with a fluctuating condition, had her Motability vehicle removed after her claim was suspended by DWP.
She is being told to repay months of disability living allowance and now faces the possibility of court action.
She was told that police had sent footage of her at a protest to DWP, and she was even told by a police officer who stopped her while she was driving to a protest in her Motability vehicle that they were “duty bound to tell Motability that you’re using your car for illegal purposes”.
She later received a letter from DWP saying that her claim had been suspended, which led to her losing her car, and she was then interviewed under caution and ordered to pay back £6,000 to DWP, while a file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.
She was asked in the interview about footage that showed her walking a few steps forward and then a few steps back, and about being seen leaning on a bicycle as she walked up a hill.
She said: “What they were saying was absolute rubbish. Where are the photos of me falling over, me sleeping for 12 to 16 hours?
“To get people on benefits they take your benefits away. It’s to stop us from protesting, it’s to deny us our rights from protesting, that’s what it’s about.”
Another disabled eyewitness who has spent time at the Preston New Road site and knows this protester said this week: “I weigh up how I am going to spend the energy that is available to me that week and my capacity for [coping with] pain.
“It is a conversation that she and I have had about how we both – for any activity we do – will either spend time resting up in preparation to be able to do it or resting up to recover from it and to cope with the pain that has been caused.
“Police and DWP are trying to curtail people’s human rights by trying to stop them protesting.
“They are making me worry every time I go out to somewhere like that that it is going to cost me my ability to pay my rent, because they are going to say, ‘If you are able to stand at the gates, you should be able to do a full year’s work.’”
But she said that she and others make this decision to stand at the gates in pain “knowing it is going to cost [us] a lot of exhaustion later”.
She added: “Just because I can do something for a few hours a week does not mean I have the same ability as somebody else who is not disabled.”
Bartley, who has visited Preston New Road and spoke to Disability News Service before the police admitted passing the data to DWP, said if it was true that information had been given to DWP about protesters who claim disability benefits it was “absolutely shocking”.
He said: “The police and DWP need to come clean and make clear if this is happening.
“There needs to be full disclosure if this is the case. That would be an underhand tactic with dreadful consequences. It would clearly be unjust.
“It is absolutely shocking if this is happening. It should not be happening.”
He added: “Disabled people have as much right to be protesting in their own way as anybody else and in fact more right because we know when things go wrong [with fracking], the impact on local communities and the impact on air quality and of course the wider impact of climate change, it is always those who are most vulnerable who suffer the most and they have more right than anyone else to be there making their voices heard.”
McDonnell, who has also visited protesters at Preston New Road, says in a film about the targeting of anti-fracking protesters, produced for Netpol by Gathering Place Films, that the passing of such information to DWP by police was “unacceptable”.
He says in the film: “Does this mean disabled people can’t protest? That’s ridiculous.
“What we need to do is expose this. We can’t have the targeting of an individual just because they are a peaceful protester.
“This idea that just because you’re on disability benefits you can’t actually engage in the rest of society, that’s unacceptable.”
Despite McDonnell’s concerns, the police and crime commissioner for Lancashire, Labour’s Clive Grunshaw, defended the force’s tactics and said: “If police have any information to suggest that fraud or any other crime is being committed, they understandably have a duty to do something about it.”
Asked what arrangements DWP had with forces policing protests such as the one in Preston New Road to pass on information about the activities of disabled protesters, a DWP spokeswoman said: “There is no formal arrangement in place between DWP and any police force for this or other similar scenarios.”
When asked whether that meant that DWP had not received any information or footage from Lancashire police, she refused to comment further.
She also refused to say whether DWP accepted that disabled protesters claiming disability benefits had a right to protest.
But a Lancashire police spokesman said: “The DWP are a partner agency and where we have information to suggest that fraud may be being committed we have a duty to pass that on, including video footage if we have it.
“Do we accept that people with disabilities have a right to protest? Yes, of course we do.
“Are we concerned that by passing on information we are setting a dangerous precedent? No we are not.
“We will, of course, facilitate the right of anyone to protest lawfully.”
Another force spokesman later confirmed that Lancashire police had passed on information and video footage from Preston New Road to DWP, and he said the force had “a duty” to do so.
He denied that this was setting a dangerous precedent that was likely to deter other disabled people from exercising their right to protest, and said: “I don’t think there’s any concerns from our end.
“Ultimately, if there are people that are found to be claiming benefits down at the site there’s obviously an issue there.”
When asked if this meant the force believed people claiming disability benefits should not be allowed to take part in protests, he said: “It’s obviously a case by case basis really, what the benefits are being claimed for in terms of their position down at the site.
“That’s a decision for the DWP anyway. We have passed that information on, they will make a decision, an informed decision on the back of that.”
20 December 2018
Labour and Greens call for inquiry into claims of police abuse of disabled protesters
Two senior political figures have called for an inquiry into claims that police have targeted and assaulted disabled people taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests.
Both the co-leader of the Green party, Jonathan Bartley, and Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have called for an inquiry into the actions of Lancashire police.
Bartley said he was “incredibly concerned” about what he had been told, and that it was clear disabled people had been “abused” and were being subject to discriminatory treatment by Lancashire police.
He has called for an independent inquiry, after Disability News Service (DNS) reported concerns last week about police actions at protests across the country and particularly one focused on the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla at Preston New Road, on the edge of Blackpool.
As well as disabled people, protesters believe that older people, women and younger people have also been targeted by police.
McDonnell, although not available to speak to DNS this week, has spoken of the need for an inquiry into the “unacceptable” level of “physical force” that appears to have been used by Lancashire police.
The shadow chancellor, who has visited Preston New Road, says in a film about the targeting of anti-fracking protesters, produced for the Netpol police monitoring network by Gathering Place Films, that he was shocked by what he had heard from protesters and had seen in video footage and was “really worried about the physical nature” of the policing.
He says in the film: “I think there is a need for an inquiry of some sort into what’s happening with the policing operation overall.
“The evidence that I’ve seen is deeply worrying and I think if other people see it as well, they will feel the same way as me.”
Bartley has also visited Preston New Road and has spoken to disabled people and other protesters.
He told DNS this week that he could not prove that disabled people were being deliberately targeted by police officers, but that there was “an awful lot of circumstantial evidence that it is happening”.
He added: “What is clear is that disabled people are being abused by the police. I think that’s clear. It’s abuse.”
And he said there needed to be an independent inquiry into what had been happening.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said this week that it had no current investigations into the actions of Lancashire police at Preston New Road, but that it was continuing to “monitor the situation”.
But Bartley accused the IOPC of being “mealy-mouthed” and said its statement was “a cop-out” and that action needed to be taken before someone was seriously injured.
He also said Lancashire police needed to make it clear the steps it would take to ensure the safety and rights of disabled protesters were protected. And he said there was “ample evidence” to show that the force was not currently doing that.
Despite the call for an inquiry by McDonnell, Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner, Labour’s Clive Grunshaw, has backed the force’s tactics and has told DNS that he is “reassured that the tactics available to officers and used on the ground are all in line with Home Office and College of Policing guidelines”.
He said he did not support the call for an independent inquiry into the policing tactics.
He said: “Officers react to situations they are faced with and respond in a legitimate and proportional manner.
“The prime consideration of the police presence, and the approaches they take, is to keep everyone safe at the site.”
DNS spoke last week to three disabled protesters, and two other eye-witnesses, who all experienced or witnessed serious and repeated incidents of police brutality targeted at disabled people taking part in the Preston New Road protest.
Disabled protesters have described being kicked, punched, knocked unconscious, and tipped out of their wheelchairs.
One of the disabled protesters Bartley has spoken to, at another fracking site in Lancashire, is veteran Green party member Anne Power.
Video footage shot by protesters, and reported by the Independent last year, showed Power, who is in her 80s, being dragged across a road by police officers while protesting peacefully outside the site near Little Plumpton.
Bartley said: “I know Anne, I know her character, I know her integrity, her honesty.
“To see the way that she has been treated and to see the video of the way she has been treated and to hear it first hand from her is frankly shocking.”
Bartley, who himself was pushed to the ground and then dragged along a road by police officers while trying to deliver a speech at an anti-fracking protest at Kirby Misperton in Yorkshire in November 2017, warned that the events in Lancashire and at other anti-fracking protests needed to be put in the context of other attacks on the rights of protesters.
He pointed to the anti-terror laws used against the Stansted 15, and the 15- and 16-month prison sentences imposed on the Frack Free Three (protesters at Preston New Road, whose sentences were later quashed on appealed).
Bartley said a pattern was developing of the views of local communities “being ridden roughshod over” and then their democratic right to protest being taken away.
He said: “There seems to be a concerted effort across the board to clamp down on protest.
“We are seeing every mechanism at the establishment’s disposal being used.”
And he said he would not be surprised – once parliament had settled the Brexit logjam – if the government brought forward “even stronger laws that take away people’s civil liberties further”.
There are 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.
Last week, Andy Greene, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, warned that there had been 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 police tactics were becoming “more physical… more confrontational, more provoking” and that he 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.
Grunshaw said in a statement: “The policing operation on Preston New Road is in place to ensure public safety on what is a very busy and vital route and I am reassured that the tactics available to officers and used on the ground are all in line with Home Office and College of Policing guidelines.
“Officers at the fracking site are caught between competing demands of facilitating peaceful protest and allowing companies to conduct their lawful business, as well as keeping an important emergency services route open.
“Where people do have concerns about the actions of the police, there is a robust complaints procedure in place, overseen by myself.
“Anyone who is unhappy with the outcome of the complaints process has the right to appeal to the independent body the IOPC.”
He said Lancashire police had upheld just five complaints about its Preston New Road policing operation, out of 217 complaints, between January 2017 and last month, while there had been 434 arrests and 429 charges.
Meanwhile, the IOPC has confirmed that it failed to uphold an appeal by wheelchair-user Nick Sheldrick after Lancashire police had rejected his complaint, following an incident in February, and found that his complaint “had been properly addressed and all appropriate lines of enquiry had been followed”.
Last week, Sheldrick told DNS that he had been tipped out of his wheelchair six times by police at Preston New Road and believes that only one of these incidents was accidental.
But the IOPC did uphold a single complaint earlier this year by another protester that the force should have recorded their complaint.
An IOPC spokeswoman said: “We take incidents where it is alleged someone has suffered a serious injury as a result of use of force, or has been discriminated against, very seriously.
“We do not have any independent investigations relating to the incidents reported.
“We are aware of the anti-fracking demonstrations, as reported in the media, and we have recently been in contact with Lancashire Constabulary.
“The force has assured us that any complaints received have been dealt with appropriately, and did not meet the criteria to be referred to us.
“We will continue to monitor the situation, and will be in regular contact with the force about this going forward.”
Lancashire police said last week that its intention was 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.”
20 December 2018
Anger over latest delay to social care green paper
Disabled people’s organisations have reacted angrily after the government admitted that it will break its promise to publish its long-delayed adult social care green paper by the end of this year.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed this week that the green paper would now only be published “at the earliest opportunity” in 2019, as parliament continues to struggle to find a solution to the Brexit crisis.
It originally promised that the green paper would be published by the end of 2017, and then July this year, before delaying it to the autumn and then the end of 2018, and now to 2019.
DHSC declined to explain the reason for the delay but claimed that its green paper was “a departmental priority”.
Last year, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities warned that the UK was “going backwards” on independent living, and called on the government to draw up a “comprehensive plan” to address the problem, and to take “urgent action” to ensure disabled people were provided with “adequate support to live independent lives”.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the repeated delays were “simply not good enough”.
She said: “The crisis in social care, and the misery it is causing to hundreds of thousands of disabled people, is now undeniable.
“Creating a social care system and funding that genuinely promotes and delivers independent living, is one of the great domestic policy and funding challenges the country faces – yet the government acts as though this is a peripheral issue that can be constantly kicked into the long grass.
“Disabled people and wider society are up for the debate with a growing consensus that significantly more funding, from progressive taxation, is needed for social care now and in the future.”
She said the government needed to “urgently show leadership and vision” on the issue.
Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, said the further delay was “disgraceful” and “clearly demonstrates where disabled people are in terms of priorities for national government”.
She said: “It leaves disabled people and disabled people’s organisations facing uncertainty and lacking in confidence that the current government understand or care about the lives of disabled people.
“Of course, this isn’t altogether surprising given recent criticisms by UN.
“Many of the disabled people we work with feel the impact of the crisis in health and social care, and that situation isn’t improving or set to improve if the government are not able to propose any solution to tackle the crisis.”
Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said it was no surprise that the green paper – which itself represented a “failure to get to grips with the urgent and growing crisis in social care” – had been “pushed back and pushed back”.
She was due yesterday (Wednesday) to attend a roundtable meeting with health and social care secretary Matt Hancock to discuss the possible content of the green paper in relation to working-age disabled people.
Bott said she would be “taking the opportunity to let him know how the social care crisis is continuing to deepen”, and she said she hoped he would tell those present that “he understands the implications of the current crisis on disabled people and that solving the funding of social care is now an urgent priority”.
But she added: “I’m not holding my breath, we shall see.”
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a disabled crossbench peer who chairs the Independent Living Strategy Group, said she was “not surprised” by the latest green paper delay.
She said: “Sadly for disabled people’s desperate need for care and support to live with dignity and exercise their basic right to independent living, it’s what I have come to expect.”
20 December 2018
MPs hear of ‘despair’ of austerity’s victims in second WOW debate
The experiences of disabled people whose lives have been devastated by austerity-related cuts were discussed in parliament last night as MPs took part in a long-awaited debate on the impact of eight years of cuts to disability support.
The backbench debate was the result of months of lobbying of cross-party MPs by the disabled-led WOWcampaign, which has been pushing for six years for the government to carry out an assessment of the impact of all of its cuts to disabled people’s support.
Last night’s was the follow-up to a high-profile debate that took place in the Commons nearly five years ago, after nearly 105,000 people had signed a WOW petition calling on the government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA).
Some of the many accounts from disabled people of how austerity and cuts had impacted on their lives were shared with MPs during last night’s debate, which had been delayed for several hours by an emergency Brexit debate.
Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who secured the Commons debate on behalf of the WOWcampaign with fellow Labour backbencher Kate Green, told MPs how one constituent was refusing to have life-saving surgery on a brain tumour because he had been worried he would have his benefits sanctioned.
He had already had his employment and support allowance sanctioned for three months after failing to attend a benefit assessment so he could receive treatment for the tumour.
Abrahams told MPs that another disabled woman had told her how the contribution she had to make towards her social care had risen from £82.50 a month to £81 a week, despite no change in her financial circumstances, leaving her no money to pay for medication or independent living aids, and causing her increased pain, isolation and anxiety
Another disabled person, this time someone with significant mental distress, had described how he had been forced through seven benefit assessments in six years.
Abrahams said more and more disabled people were becoming isolated in their own homes and were facing the “relentless stress and anxiety resulting from a social security system that is hostile, unsupportive and even dehumanising”.
Encouraging MPs to read the WOWvoices collection of accounts written by disabled people of their experiences of austerity and cuts to support, Abrahams told them: “This is happening up and down the country. The despair in these messages is palpable.”
The disabled MP Stephen Lloyd, formerly a Liberal Democrat but now sitting as an independent, backed calls for a CIA, as did the Scottish Tory MP Luke Graham, who supported the idea of having “an objective assessment of what these changes are doing for our constituents and for the most vulnerable people”.
There was also support for a CIA from Jim Shannon, a DUP MP, whose party has been keeping the Conservatives in power since 2017.
Shannon said government cuts to disabled people’s and child support were causing “massive issues” in his constituency and “in everybody else’s as well”.
He pointed to a CIA published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in March which found that disabled lone parents with at least one disabled child would lose almost £3 out of every £10 of their net income, almost £10,000 per year, by the time the government’s reforms and cuts were fully implemented in 2021-22.
The SNP’s Angela Crawley added: “If the government can spend limitless amounts of money and resource on Brexit and planning for a no deal then why can they not introduce an independent CIA of their welfare reforms?”
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, thanked WOW for its work over the last six years and for “making the voices of disabled people heard in this house”.
She called on the government to “own up to creating a social security system for disabled people that the UN report on extreme poverty described as callous, punitive and mean-spirited”.
She said: “We are demanding that the government own up to the effects of more than £40 billion of cuts to disabled people’s social security since 2010.”
And she said disabled people had been “consistently and disproportionately impacted by cuts to social care, legal aid, housing, education and social security”.
De Cordova said the government’s “pointlessly cruel sanctions regime” had hit more than one million disabled people in the last eight years, while disabled people now faced the introduction of universal credit, which “acts as little more than a vehicle for cuts”.
The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said the government was spending more than £50 billion this year on the main health and disability related benefits [this figure includes housing benefit paid to disabled people].
She also claimed that the lack of information on disabled people in the survey data used by the Treasury did not allow a CIA of all government policies at present, although the Office for National Statistics was carrying out work which might mean the necessary data was available in the future.
She also said that DWP figures showed that “poverty for people in families with a disabled person has improved since 2010 on three of the four measures, and there was no change in the fourth”.
The government has repeatedly refused to carry out a CIA, even though the organisations that have called for one include the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, the government’s own social security advice body, and peers on the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee.
And the EHRC report in March calculated its own CIA of all the tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms introduced between May 2010 and January 2018.
Abrahams’ motion for the government to carry out a CIA of changes to social security on disabled people was carried, but there is no obligation on the government to act on the motion.
20 December 2018
Hancock comes up empty on ‘no deal Brexit’ social care recruitment plans
The health and social care secretary has failed to produce any evidence that he has put extra plans in place to deal with an adult social care recruitment crisis in the event of a “no deal Brexit”.
Despite the ever-increasing likelihood of Britain crashing out of the European Union in March without a deal, Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has again been unable to point to any plans it has drawn up to deal with the likely recruitment crisis in social care if there is a no deal Brexit in March.
Disabled people 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.
Inclusion London said this week that the impact of Brexit on social care recruitment was “potentially disastrous”.
Although Hancock has insisted that he is planning for the possibility of a no deal Brexit’s impact on the NHS, he and his department have been unable to point to any contingency plans on social care recruitment, other than measures that will be “going ahead regardless” of the Brexit outcome.
These include a national recruitment campaign in the new year to “raise the image and profile” of the adult social care sector, following pilot schemes launched last month in Gloucestershire and Tyne and Wear, while an adult social care green paper – postponed yet again this week (see separate story) – will “look at how we can recruit and retain a valued workforce”.
DHSC has also pointed to the government’s EU settlement scheme, which will provide the 104,000 EU nationals currently working in social care with the opportunity to continue living in the UK after June 2021.
A DHSC spokesman said: “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.”
But asked what extra plans DHSC had in place in the event of a no deal Brexit, he refused to comment further.
Bott said it was important that the “messaging” of the recruitment campaign was right.
She said: “Yes we need more people working in social care but we need people with the right values who respect the right of disabled people to determine our own lives.”
And she said she was still concerned that the EU settlement scheme “will not be known about by disabled people or employers of personal assistants, particularly as DHSC has decided to target social care providers with the information.”
She said she had raised this with the Home Office and was due to attend a meeting with that government department yesterday (Wednesday).
20 December 2018
Move to universal credit could be ‘disastrous’ for disabled people, say MPs
The government’s new universal credit benefit system could have “disastrous” consequences for disabled people if ministers fail to make a series of major changes, according to a committee of MPs.
A report by the Commons work and pensions committee highlighted major flaws in the government’s plans to move disabled people onto universal credit.
Frank Field, chair of the committee, warned that the introduction of the new system risked forcing disabled people “further into poverty, deprivation, miserable hardship”.
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, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.
The work and pensions committee says in the new report that those disabled claimants not designated “severely disabled” will be “substantially worse off” under universal credit because of the scrapping of the severe disability premium and enhanced disability premium.
But the report also suggests that this will mean that even claimants with higher support needs – a group the government claims it is targeting with higher payments under universal credit – who previously received these premiums will receive less under the new system.
The report says: “The Department argues it is, instead, making support for the most ‘severely disabled’ UC claimants more generous than under the legacy system.
“This is true, but it still does not match what those claimants could have received under the legacy system, with the premia in place.”
The committee was unable to clarify yesterday (Wednesday) whether this meant that it believed disabled people who received the premiums would be worse off under universal credit.
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman also refused to say whether the committee’s statement was correct.
Although DWP is providing “transitional protection” for those moving from existing disability benefits and premiums onto universal credit, this will not apply to new universal credit claimants, while the protection will lose value over time.
The report says that removing the “vital additional support” provided by the premiums “risks disabled people living more isolated lives, relying more on unpaid care (including from their own young children), or simply being unable to gain support to complete basic daily tasks”.
The committee points out that DWP has carried out no analysis of the financial impact of removing the two premiums on disabled people and calls for it to do so “urgently”.
The MPs say DWP should include in this analysis “clear worked examples” of the financial support that disabled people claiming different benefits under the old system will receive under universal credit.
Disability News Service is currently attempting, through a complaint to the information commissioner, to force DWP to provide similar information.
The committee’s report also says – repeating its recommendation from an earlier report on benefit sanctions – that universal credit claimants who are waiting for their work capability assessments (WCAs) should not be forced to accept strict conditions while they are waiting if they can provide a valid “fit note” from their doctor stating that they cannot work.
Such a step would restore a “vital safeguard” that “protects claimants from having to meet conditions that may be unmanageable and inappropriate”, the report says.
The report says the move to universal credit will leave 100,000 families with disabled children worse off than they would have been under the previous system.
And it says that only a third of disabled people making new universal credit claims receive their first payment in full and on time, because of delays in arranging WCAs.
The MPs also warn that the simplified process for universal credit claimants who are terminally-ill is failing many people who are forced to prove they have less than six months to live to qualify for the fast-track procedure.
The committee calls on DWP to introduce “a more humane approach”.
And it says that it is “entirely unacceptable” that DWP has failed to ensure that its online universal credit service is compatible with some of the most basic assistive technologies that disabled claimants might use.
It calls on DWP to delay moving disabled people from existing benefits onto universal credit – which is supposed to be “digital by default”, with the vast majority of interactions with DWP taking place online – until this work has been done.
The report also points out that the availability of assistive technology on jobcentre computers is “too often patchy and poor”.
In response to the report, a DWP spokeswoman said in a statement: “More than a million disabled people will be better off by £100 a month under universal credit and £3 billion of funding will help protect families as they move over from the old system.
“Universal credit does work for the vast majority, and the managed migration regulations* are set to be debated in parliament in due course.”
But the DWP spokeswoman confirmed that the £3 billion was “for all families” and not just those with disabled members, even though the committee’s report is about support for disabled people.
*The managed migration regulations describe how DWP will treat those claimants who move from existing benefits to universal credit without a change in their circumstances. This process will begin on a pilot basis from the middle of next year, with the full rollout due now to begin in 2020 and end in 2023
20 December 2018
Rights of disabled children in Scotland ‘not protected’ over seclusion and restraint
Local authorities and the Scottish government are failing to protect the rights of disabled children and young people – and others with support needs – who are being restrained and placed in seclusion at school, according to a children’s rights watchdog.
A report by Scotland’s children and young people’s commissioner suggests that some schools and councils may be breaching both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Some schools could be acting unlawfully over their use of seclusion, it adds.
Bruce Adamson, the commissioner, said his office had received allegations about the treatment of children in schools across Scotland, and in particular “the use of restraint and seclusion techniques as a method of behaviour management”.
Information passed to his office by families suggests restraint and seclusion are used “disproportionately” with disabled children and those with other support needs, his report says.
Adamson said: “Our investigation into the use of restraint and seclusion revealed a complete lack of consistency across authorities.
“Some authorities record incidents, but have no guidelines; some have guidelines but cannot tell us how often they use the procedure.
“More worrying, we have heard from young people, their parents and carers how these practices are used as discipline or punishment, without an understanding of needs or care for individuals.”
Adamson said his office has received photographs of disabled children with injuries alleged to have been sustained at school.
He said: “We heard that children can be restrained and/or secluded in response to challenging behaviour, without any consideration of what may lie behind that behaviour or the individual child’s rights and needs.”
He said it was not clear if the Scottish government had fulfilled its responsibilities under UNCRC and UNCRPD to embed the rights relating to restraint and seclusion into schools’ policies and practices.
The report says that four Scottish local authorities do not have any policies on restraint and seclusion.
It concludes: “Based on the evidence provided, we are deeply concerned that significant physical interventions may be taking place in some authorities without any kind of policy or procedure at local authority level to ensure the lawful and rights-compliant treatment of children.”
It calls on the Scottish government to publish a rights-based national policy and guidance on restraint and seclusion in schools.
And it says that local authorities should ensure that no restraint or seclusion takes place unless they have “clear consistent” policies and procedures to govern their use.
Only 18 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities told the commissioner they recorded all incidents of physical intervention, with the report warning that those authorities that fail to record incidents “have a concerning information gap in relation to the safe and lawful treatment of children in their schools”.
The report says it is impossible to say how many incidents of restraint and seclusion take place in Scotland each year and which children are most affected, which it says is “troubling”.
It also points to the lack of clarity and consistency in defining restraint and seclusion among different local authorities, and warns of “the potential for dangerously blurred lines between measures like ‘time out’ and ‘seclusion’”.
It warns that some schools may be using seclusion as an informal – and therefore unlawful – form of exclusion.
And it calls on the Scottish government to develop “clear rights-based definitions of both restraint and seclusion” as part of national policy and guidance.
One parent, Sharon Gardner, said: “My own son was regularly locked in a room at school, which he found incredibly upsetting.
“Several times he wet himself and was blamed for misbehaving, even though the school knew about his sensory issues and his anxiety.
“Instead of reducing his stress, restraining him and locking him alone in a room increased it and led to serious mental health issues by the time he was eight years old.”
Responding to the report, a Scottish government spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all children and young people, with each council responsible for the care, safety and welfare of pupils in school.
“National guidance is clear that physical intervention, physical restraint and supported isolation should only ever be used as a last resort, when in the best interests of the child and never for disciplinary purposes.
“Every intervention should be carefully monitored and reviewed. We will fully consider the report recommendations.”
20 December 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com