Jan 242019
 

DWP refuses to reveal police forces that share information on disabled protesters

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to say which police forces have passed it video footage and other information about claimants of disability benefits who have taken part in anti-fracking and anti-austerity protests.

DWP’s attempt to hide its links with police forces has caused fresh anger among activists, who have this week called on disabled people to complain to their MPs, as well as police forces and DWP itself.

They have also called for disabled people to support those activists affected by such police actions.

There was widespread anger last month when Disability News Service (DNS) revealed that Lancashire police had admitted passing information to DWP about disabled people taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests near Blackpool, in an apparent bid to have their disability benefits removed.

That came after DNS reported evidence that police forces, including Lancashire, were repeatedly targeting and assaulting disabled people involved in anti-fracking protests.

Lancashire police confirmed last month that it had passed on information and footage of disabled protesters at the Preston New Road site to DWP, although DWP itself would only say that it had no “formal arrangement” with any police force to pass on such information.

After Lancashire police’s admission, DNS submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request asking DWP which other police forces had provided similar information, and how many disability benefit claimants had been reported to DWP because of their participation in protests.

But DWP has now refused to answer those questions, or even to say whether it holds any such information in its records, claiming an exemption under section 30 of the Freedom of Information Act.

It is replying on an exemption which gives public bodies certain rights to refuse to release information that might be used in future criminal or civil proceedings.

But the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has made it clear that in such cases public bodies must release the information if it is in the public interest, stating: “Where there would be no harm in releasing the information, or the public interest arguments in favour of disclosure outweigh those in favour of maintaining the exemption, it will need to be disclosed.”

DWP is also arguing that releasing the source of such information “may, in some cases, allow the identification of that source and could place individuals at risk”.

It appears to be arguing that telling DNS which police forces have passed it information about disabled protesters could risk the safety of individual police officers.

But Andy Greene, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “These are public bodies whose duty it is to look after our interests.

Instead, disabled people are being assaulted, denied their rights, having their incomes revoked and their independence taken away.

All because we dare to turn rhetoric – about parity of esteem, active citizenship and the right to choice and control over our own lives – into action.

Disabled people have every right to take action to defend our communities and the environment, we have every right to be heard, to demand equality and to stand beside our non disabled counterparts.”

He said they had the right to do this “without the threat of violence, without benefits being weaponised as a means of control and without vital support and equipment being taken away”, and “without our characters being called into question and insinuations being made about us”.

He urged disabled people to take action by supporting those disabled activists affected, by publicising what was happening, and by bringing the issue to the attention of their MPs and other elected representatives.

He also called on disabled people to complain to and about the DWP and the police, and “to organise themselves in their communities around these and other issues that are important to them”.

He added: “Things can be changed. But not by other people. It’s down to us.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say whether Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, accepted that such exchange of information by public bodies risked adding to a hostile environment for disabled people who receive benefits, and made it harder for them to feel able to engage in their local communities because they feared being spied on.

But the spokesperson said in a statement: “The press office is unable to comment on the handling of FOIs.

There is no formal arrangement in place between DWP and any police force for this or other similar scenarios.”

DNS has now asked DWP’s freedom of information team to reconsider its decision. If it confirms its original decision, DNS is likely to complain to the ICO.

Meanwhile, Lancashire police has breached its duties under the act by failing to respond to a similar DNS request within 20 working days.

Asked why it had failed to respond within the legal timescale, a Lancashire police spokesperson said: “We apologise for the delay with our response. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in Lancashire Constabulary and we will respond as soon as we are able.”

24 January 2019

 

 

Lobby aims to persuade MPs that DWP must First Do No Harm on assessments

Disabled activists are hoping to use a parliamentary meeting next month to persuade more MPs that action must be taken to prevent further deaths caused by the government’s much-criticised fitness for work test.

The First Do No Harm lobby on 13 February aims to expose the continued harm caused to disabled people by government social security reforms.

And it will focus on the repeated failure of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ensure that the “further medical evidence” needed to demonstrate a disabled person’s eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits is always collected, particularly for claimants with mental health conditions.

Although the lobby has been organised by Labour’s Treasury and work and pensions teams, through shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood, activists hope that MPs from all parties will attend.

McDonnell told Disability News Service: “Disabled people have had enough of the continuing austerity, attacks and discrimination.

The lobby will brief on the plight of disabled people and lobby for reform to protect against this harm.”

The lobby is the result of campaigning by the disabled people’s grassroots group Black Triangle and other disabled activists.

The aim is to push for the principle of “First Do No Harm” to be included in the benefits assessment process, through a framework that “treats disabled people with dignity and respect”.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said assessors working for government contractor Maximus are asking for further medical evidence “in far too few cases”.

He said: “Time and time again, decisions on fitness for work are made without adequate medical evidence. That needs to be addressed by DWP ministers.

We know that DWP get it wrong in a very substantial number of cases. That means a great many people who are entitled to support are being denied it.”

Black Triangle wants new “safety protocols” introduced to ensure that the health and lives of disabled people are not put at risk by unfair decisions on eligibility following a work capability assessment (WCA).

McArdle said: “Black Triangle sees this above all as a human rights and public health issue that transcends any form of party politics.

Members of parliament from all parties will by now be keenly aware of the issues from meetings with their constituents in every constituency of the UK.

They will no doubt be as anxious as we are to achieve consensus on a way forward to ensure that sick and disabled people’s lives are protected from any further avoidable harm.

We would like to warmly welcome them to our lobby and to receive their feedback and input.”

The lobby follows years of mounting concerns about the WCA and the failure of DWP ministers to make the necessary changes to make the test safe.

Evidence of such failure dates to 2010, when incoming ministers in the new Tory-led coalition government were presented with a coroner’s letter calling for action to be taken to prevent future deaths.

Following an inquest into the death of Stephen Carré in January 2010, coroner Tom Osborne had written to DWP to express concerns that the system did not automatically seek further medical evidence from a claimant’s GP or psychiatrist if they had a mental health condition.

Four years later, another letter was sent to DWP by a coroner, raising the same concerns and making almost identical recommendations, this time following the death of a north London man.

The deaths of other claimants have also been closely linked to the failure to ensure that further medical evidence was obtained, including those of Mark WoodPaul DonnachieDavid Barr, and a Scottish woman known only as Ms D E.

Public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford have also shown in a study that, across England as a whole, the process of reassessing people on incapacity benefit for the new employment and support allowance from 2010 to 2013 was “associated with” an extra 590 suicides, 279,000 additional cases of self-reported mental health problems, and the prescribing of a further 725,000 anti-depressants.

Next month’s lobby also aims to push the government to bow to years of pressure to carry out a cumulative assessment of the impact of its social security cuts and reforms on disabled people.

And it will call for an end to the government’s sanctions and conditionality regime.

Activists are now calling on disabled people and their allies to ask their MPs to attend the lobby, which is the first concrete result of meetings between disabled activists and allies and Labour shadow ministers, including McDonnell, Greenwood and shadow minister for disabled people Marsha de Cordova.

Both Greenwood and de Cordova are set to speak at a briefing as part of the lobby on 13 February.

Disabled people or allies who want their MP to attend the lobby should write to their MP – for example, by using the website WriteToThem – to inform them they wish to seek an appointment on the day of the lobby.

The lobby is due to take place on Wednesday 13 February between 1pm and 6pm, with the briefing from 2-3.30pm, in the Palace of Westminster’s committee room 15. The committee room can be used for one-to-one meetings with MPs or further discussions on the issue from 1pm-2pm and then from 3.30pm-6pm 

24 January 2019

 

 

Rudd accused of misleading MPs on universal credit by exaggerating jobcentre visits

The new work and pensions secretary has been accused of misleading MPs about her government’s under-fire universal credit benefit system, after she was caught exaggerating the number of jobcentres she had visited since her appointment.

Amber Rudd told the House of Commons earlier this month that she had visited “many” jobcentres since being appointed to replace Esther McVey as work and pensions secretary in November.

She used this reference to her frequent visits to justify her claim that jobcentre staff were “enthusiastic about universal credit”.

But following a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS), her department has now admitted that at the time of making that comment she had visited just four jobcentres in two months, and two of those were in London.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said Rudd had visited London Bridge jobcentre on 22 November and North Kensington jobcentre on 27 November.

She then waited more than five weeks before visiting another two Midlands jobcentres on the same day, 4 January: in Yardley, Birmingham, and Longton, in Stoke-on-Trent.

But Rudd also appears to have misled MPs earlier in the same Commons session, as she attempted to fend off an attack on universal credit by the Labour/Co-op MP Luke Pollard.

Pollard had told her of a disabled constituent who had received a universal credit payment of just 1p, leaving him 77p to live on over Christmas, and he told Rudd that the system was causing “misery and poverty for far too many people”.

But Rudd told Pollard of the efforts being made by work coaches and how she had “visited a number of jobcentres last Friday”.

DWP’s freedom of information (FOI) admission shows Rudd visited just two jobcentres on that day.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It seems we have yet another DWP minister who lives in a mythical fairytale world and who is also an outright liar.

It is very sad that the quality of government ministers remains so substandard.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say how Rudd justified using the word “many” and whether she would now apologise to MPs for misleading them.

Instead, he said in a statement: “This FOI response only shows jobcentres that [the] secretary of state has visited since becoming a minister and doesn’t take into account visits she has made to jobcentres during her eight years as an MP.”

Only last month, MPs on the work and pensions select committee warned that the move to universal credit could have “disastrous” consequences for disabled people if ministers failed to make a series of major changes.

They 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.

24 January 2019

 

 

Care watchdog criticised over abandoned bid to replace service-user contracts

The care watchdog is facing heavy criticism after being forced to abandon a year-long attempt to find organisations to run a programme that sends expert service-users to assist on inspections of care homes, hospitals and care agencies across England.

The Experts by Experience (ExE) programme is currently run by two contractors, Choice Support and Remploy, but disabled people and other service-users who take part in the scheme have been pushing the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for years to dump Remploy because of its poor performance.

A process to find new contractors began in August 2017, with an invitation to tender released in August 2018, but CQC decided to terminate the process last November.

The existing contracts with Remploy and Choice Support were supposed to expire this June but have now had to be extended by nine months until 2020 after CQC failed to find more than two possible contractors willing to enter detailed negotiations.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been reporting on concerns about Remploy’s performance since it began work on the contracts in early 2016, with initial reports of confusion, cutbacks and a stream of resignations, and some Remploy ExEs being told to print their own ID badges.

It then emerged that Remploy had lied about the involvement of user-led organisations in its new contracts.

There were also concerns about the decision to award the contracts to an organisation mostly owned by the US company Maximus, which already had a huge chunk of Department for Work and Pensions contracts and had a lengthy record of discrimination, incompetence and alleged fraud in the US.

A group of 30 current and former ExEs have now reacted to the collapse of the tendering process by sending the commission a letter, accusing it of wasting “huge amounts of time and public funding” on a “lengthy and now abandoned procurement exercise”.

They say the last three years have been “a shambles”, and add: “The aim of the 2016 contract was to increase the number of skilled and trained Experts and ensure the experiences of people who use health and social care services were a vital and increasing part of the inspection process and rating system. That did not happen.”

The letter says the service provided by Remploy, after nearly three years of running three of the four regional ExE contracts, “continues to be poor, ineffective, chaotic, unfair, reactive and damaging to Experts, but more importantly, a disservice to people who use health and social care services”.

They say this “continues to bring the Experts by Experience programme and the whole of CQC into disrepute”, and they accuse Remploy of failing to check the references of potential ExEs, providing poor induction and training, failing to offer feedback to ExEs, and asking them to travel more than 50 miles to inspections.

These flaws are causing skilled and trained ExEs to leave the programme, they say.

They accuse CQC of failing to learn the lessons of the previous procurement exercise in 2015, which has permitted “poor performance and practice from Remploy to continue with no redress” and has allowed Remploy to continue paying ExEs £9 an hour when Choice Support pays its own ExEs £15 an hour.

Their letter also points out that CQC was forced to re-negotiate the Remploy and Choice Support contracts in 2017 after it failed to request enough ExEs to take part in inspections.

One ExE told DNS: “A lot of us have been waiting since 2016 for CQC to get rid of Remploy.

We were expecting the new contract to start in June this year.

Now they say they have asked the current providers to continue until 2020. That was such a blow.

It felt like the rug being pulled from under your feet. It will be four years with a provider [Remploy] that is just dreadful.

This is a massive waste of public money. How much must this procurement have cost over such a lengthy time? They must have had huge legal costs.

We are stuck in limbo now. We just feel let down and abandoned.”

Chris Day, CQC’s director of engagement, said in a statement: “Unfortunately we did not reach the minimum number of required tenders to be able to proceed to the next phase of the CQC Experts by Experience procurement and had no other option but to terminate the process.

While we understand the frustration and uncertainty faced by some around this decision it is essential that we get this right and will restart this procurement as soon as possible.

The current contracts with Choice Support and Remploy Ltd will be extended until March 2020 to make sure there is no interruption to the programme.

We remain absolutely committed to the Experts by Experience programme and we are grateful for the continued hard work and support from Experts by Experience, Choice Support, Remploy Ltd and their partners in helping us to ensure we continue to embed the voice of people who use services throughout our work.”

In a letter responding to the 30 ExEs, CQC’s chief executive, Ian Trenholm, said that more than 90 per cent of Experts who sent feedback forms to CQC in November and December rated both Remploy and Choice Support as either good or excellent.

A Remploy spokesperson said in a statement: “Experts by Experience is an important programme that ensures the voice of health and care service users and their families are heard during inspections.

Remploy is proud to be delivering the programme to a high standard, consistently meeting or exceeding all contractual commitments over the past year.

As an organisation we are committed to supporting all of our Experts by Experience (ExEs) to carry out their important work. 

We regularly engage with ExEs to seek their feedback on the delivery of the programme.

Feedback from more than 1,500 inspections shows that 92 per cent rated the support they received from Remploy as good or outstanding. 

We look forward to working closely with ExEs and the CQC as we continue delivery of the current contract until March 2020.”

Choice Support declined to comment.

24 January 2019

 

 

MPs’ online abuse report: Disabled people ‘exposed to horrendous abuse’

An inquiry by a committee of MPs has revealed the “horrendous, degrading and dehumanising” abuse that disabled people are exposed to when they use the internet.

The inquiry heard from disabled people who face abuse not just on social media but also through online games, web forums, and comments on news stories on media websites.

The House of Commons petitions committee has now published its final report on this abuse, and has concluded that self-regulation of social media has failed disabled people.

The inquiry was launched in response to a petition set up by former model Katie Price, which was signed by more than 220,000 people and followed years of disablist and racist abuse targeted at her teenage son, Harvey.

The committee was repeatedly told during its inquiry of the widespread use of offensive slurs such as “retard”, “mong” and “spastic”.

It heard of the frequent use of photographs of disabled people with visible impairments, particularly disabled children, to create internet memes (images or videos created to be shared widely online, particularly via social media).

Disabled people who use the internet said they were told that they should not have been born, were asked if they thought they should have been aborted, and were told they would be better off dead.

The disabled writer and performer Penny Pepper told the committee: “I’ve been called an ‘it’ many times – ‘What is IT doing?’… I’ve had remarks about how I look in my wheelchair, and a few times the statements, ‘You should have been aborted’, and, ‘You don’t deserve to live’.”

Many disabled people have been accused of benefit fraud and threatened with being reported to the Department for Work and Pensions after posting images online of themselves outside their homes or while involved in political activism, the committee heard.

Some had even been targeted by strangers attempting to obtain their confidential medical information in order to try to prove that they are guilty of benefit fraud.

If they have refused to provide this evidence, it is taken as proof of fraud and they are seen as “deserving of abuse and harassment”.

Inclusion London, which gave evidence in person to the inquiry through its chair Anne Novis, also provided the committee with multiple links to Facebook pages that had been set up to try to expose disabled people as benefit frauds.

Some disabled people were asked for explicit photographs, the committee heard, “with the implication that disabled women, in particular, should be grateful for the attention” and could therefore be abused if they refused to provide such images.

The committee also heard from people with learning difficulties who had been targeted for the purposes of sexual or financial exploitation on social media and online dating sites.

The committee produced a series of draft recommendations last year, and then carried out a lengthy public consultation, the first select committee to do this, with events in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Many of those who took part in the consultation spoke of a culture of “demonising” disabled people, while the “hostile language” linked to benefits and the use of blue parking badges was mentioned at all these events.

Inclusion London told the committee in written evidence: “Disabled people have reported increasing levels of both online and offline abuse since 2010 targeted around an idea of disabled people as ‘benefit scroungers’ and ‘fraudsters’.

This is a direct result of public attitudes being affected by statements made by politicians about fraud in the disability benefits system relentlessly amplified in the media.”

The report says the committee heard from many disabled people who had repeatedly abandoned their online profiles because of the abuse they had experienced.

One disabled participant at the committee’s Newcastle consultation event said she was currently on her 17th Facebook account.

The report says: “For many, repeatedly having to change contact details leads to damaged career prospects, depleted social support and greater social isolation.

We heard from others, in person and online, who felt that it was too risky to reveal that they were disabled due to worries about their employment prospects and the abuse they might attract.”

The report also warns that online abuse can be “a life or death issue” for some disabled people.

It says: “Its effects are felt not only in damaged physical and mental health, but in lost career opportunities and a restricted social life.”

The report includes a list of recommendations for government and social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Google (see separate story).

Helen Jones, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: “Our inquiry into online abuse and the experience of disabled people has shown that social media is rife with horrendous, degrading and dehumanising comments about people with disabilities.

The law on online abuse is not fit for purpose and it is truly shameful that disabled people have been forced off social media while their abusers face no consequences.

There is no excuse for the continued failure to make online platforms as safe for disabled people.

Self-regulation has failed disabled people and the law must change to ensure more lives are not destroyed.”

A government spokesperson said: “As part of the Online Harms White Paper we are bringing in new laws and reviewing existing ones to make the internet safer for everyone, including disabled people.”

The white paper is due to be published early this year.

The government also announced last October that the Law Commission has been asked to review current hate crime legislation – as the commission recommended four years ago in a heavily-criticised report – following concerns that it does not offer disabled and LGBT people equal protection to that given to other protected groups.

The review is likely to include examining the possible extension of aggravated offences – which have higher sentences but currently can only apply to crimes linked to race and religion – to disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

24 January 2019

 

 

MPs’ online abuse report: ‘Government ignored disabled people in safety probe’

A government examination of online safety almost entirely ignored the needs of disabled people, despite them facing “horrendous, degrading and dehumanising” abuse when they try to use the internet, a committee of MPs said this week.

The Commons petitions committee said this week that it was difficult to see how the government could tackle this abuse – which it said was even a “life and death issue” for some users – if it failed to consider or consult disabled people.

It called on the government to admit that the current model of self-regulation of social media had failed disabled people and to take steps to ensure that social media companies “accept their responsibility for allowing illegal and abusive content on their sites and the toxic environment this creates for users”.

The committee’s inquiry into the online abuse of disabled people has heard from those who have been exposed to abuse not just on social media but also through online games, web forums, and comments on news stories on media websites.

The inquiry was launched in response to a petition set up by former model Katie Price, which was signed by more than 220,000 people and followed years of disablist and racist abuse targeted at her teenage son, Harvey.

The committee said in the inquiry’s final report this week that it had heard from digital and creative industries minister Margot James about the government’s failure to include disabled people in its consultation on the internet safety strategy green paper, which closed at the end of 2017.

She told the committee that the government had provided “a link to request an accessible format” of the green paper and that it had held roundtables with “teachers representing mainstream and specialist provision schools”.

But the committee’s report says: “Neither of these represent consultation with disabled people – most disabled people in the UK are not school children who need teachers to speak for them.”

The committee said that both the minister and social media companies had responded to questions about disabled adults with answers about children.

It concludes in the report: “We heard that failing to consider or consult disabled people was sadly the norm rather than the exception.

If the Government does not adequately consider or consult disabled people in developing its Internet Safety Strategy, it is difficult to see how it can tackle the online abuse of disabled people.”

Among the committee’s recommendations is a call for the government to “acknowledge the importance of the internet to disabled people and how disabled people are affected by abuse” and to commit to ensuring that “the internet is no more dangerous for disabled people than non-disabled people”.

It makes it clear that there is a need for new laws that criminalise online abuse, and it says the government must consult disabled people “directly” on this.

The report also calls on the government to increase the representation of disabled people in its own events, publications and advertising

And it says ministers should force social media companies to ensure that all their policies, mechanisms and settings are accessible to all disabled people, which should include the provision of “easy read” versions of all relevant policies.

The committee says that social media companies should be more proactive in searching for abusive and extreme content, reporting potentially criminal behaviour, and ensuring their users “understand the limits of acceptable behaviour”.

The committee also says that hate crime legislation must provide disabled people with the same protection as it gives those who experience hate crimes due to their race or religion.

The report says: “The lack of parity between disability hate crime and offences towards people on grounds of race and religion was brought up time and again by the disabled people we spoke to.

They felt very strongly that the criminal justice system did not take crimes against disabled people seriously.”

Among its other recommendations, the committee’s report calls on the government to abolish the need to prove that a hate crime against a disabled person is motivated by hostility, adding: “It should be enough to prove that an offence was committed ‘by reason of’ their disability.”

It also recommends that the government finds a way to ensure that employers of support workers or other people working with or for disabled people can check whether a potential employee has been convicted of a disability hate crime.

And it says ministers should launch an immediate review to address the issue – particularly affecting people with learning difficulties – of criminals “befriending” disabled people with the aim of exploiting them financially or sexually, both online and offline.

But the committee says that any change in the law that results from such a review must be co-produced with disabled people to ensure that “their capacity to make their own decisions is respected and that they are not further marginalised”.

The committee says in the report that too many disabled people had told the inquiry that their experiences with the criminal justice system had been “largely or wholly negative” and that there was a lack of national co-ordination and long-term funding in tackling disability hate crime.

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said: “The Digital Charter set out our ambition for everyone to safely access the opportunities of the internet.

In our [online harms] white paper we will set out plans to tackle the full range of harmful online content, and have engaged with disability groups to shape our thinking on proposals for new laws to make the UK the safest place to be online.”

The white paper is due to be published early this year.

A DCMS spokesperson said the department would consult further with disability groups as part of the white paper consultation, and that the government knew there was more to be done to make sure it was engaging and involving disabled people in policy-making.

He also said DCMS had been working on the white paper with organisations including Disability Rights UK, Changing Faces and AbilityNet, and was looking at how it could improve its engagement and consultation with people with learning difficulties.

The government announced last October that the Law Commission had been asked to review current hate crime legislation – as the commission recommended four years ago in a heavily-criticised report – following concerns that it does not offer disabled and LGBT people equal protection to that given to other protected groups.

The review is likely to include examining the possible extension of aggravated offences – which have higher sentences and currently can only apply to crimes linked to race and religion – to disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

24 January 2019

 

 

MPs’ online abuse report: Concern over links between abuse and football fans

MPs have raised serious concerns about links between football fans and the targeted online abuse of disabled people.

The House of Commons petitions committee said in a report this week that it had become “increasingly concerned” about such links during its inquiry into the “extreme level of abuse” faced by disabled people who use the internet.

The committee found widespread use of “ableist slurs” and terms connected to disability being used as insults by football supporters.

It even found some fans using the name of Harvey Price, the disabled son of former model Katie Price, as a way of insulting a footballer’s ability.

The inquiry was launched in response to a petition set up by Price, which was signed by more than 220,000 people and followed years of disablist and racist abuse targeted at Harvey, himself a football fan and the son of former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke.

The committee contacted five organisations about its concerns: the Premier League, the English Football League, the Football Association, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), and Kick It Out, which campaigns for equality in football.

Only one of the five, the PFA, responded to the committee’s concerns, but the other four have now apologised for an administrative error that led to them failing to send the committee their joint response.

That formal response has now been sent to the committee, along with an apology.

A Kick It Out spokesperson said: “Kick It Out drafted a response in the days following the letter from the petitions committee.

However, following discussions with our funders it was decided a joint response from Kick It Out and all the governing bodies would be issued.

Unfortunately, this did not materialise before the committee’s deadline and we apologise unreservedly for the oversight on our part which led to this.

This period coincided with a serious illness to our chief executive, which caused major disruption in our work.

Since 2012, Kick It Out has been raising awareness about online discrimination, including abuse towards disabled people, and continues to support victims of such abuse.

This has been achieved through our work as a reporting bureau, as well as expert working groups, online research and campaigns such as ‘Klick It Out’.

Kick It Out is not a sanctioning body. Therefore, we are not able to unilaterally ‘act’ to end a problem ourselves.

However, the organisation continues to work closely with various regional police forces, the British Transport Police, the UK Football Policing Unit, the football authorities and social media platforms to report any discrimination and achieve justice for victims of such abuse.

Politicians must also step up their own efforts to tackle the problem which is prevalent across society, not just football.”

The Premier League said that the organisation and its member clubs “do a huge amount of work to encourage inclusion and equality throughout football, and to challenge discrimination in the game”.

It has worked with Kick It Out to fund and develop an app that “enables discreet reporting of any discrimination in the sport, whether in a stadium, on social media, at grassroots level or elsewhere”.

A Premier League spokesperson said: “Our own social media accounts are monitored for offensive and discriminatory language, which is removed whenever possible.

We recently co-hosted a round table event with Stonewall to consider football’s approach to online hate speech, and we have held collective discussions within football about the Football Offences Act and whether its terms could be extended to include all protected characteristics.”

24 January 2019

 

 

Universal credit protest as high court hears ‘discrimination’ case

Disabled activists have protested outside the Royal Courts of Justice to draw attention to the continuing harm caused by universal credit, as the high court hears a legal challenge that aims to brand the government’s policy “irrational” and “discriminatory”.

Members of grassroots groups WinVisible, the Mental Health Resistance Network and Disabled People Against Cuts spoke of the harm caused to disabled people by universal credit.

Inside, barristers representing the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in the judicial review were describing the severe financial impact of universal credit on a disabled woman and on a woman and her disabled daughter.

Only last week, Disability News Service reported how a disabled benefit claimant with high support needs who had lost more than £40 a week after having to transfer onto universal credit – forcing him into even greater poverty – had challenged the government to defend its reforms.

Outside the high court this week, one of the disabled campaigners, Paula Peters, said she was there to highlight the “horrendous discrimination around universal credit” which was seeing disabled people losing the support they need to live and to meet their care and access needs.

She said: “Our message to the government and to Labour as well is that we need to stop this from happening and we need to scrap this system and come together to design a social security system that supports people from cradle to grave and supports people to be fully included in society.

It’s marginalising disabled people, excluding them, ramping up distress, and [as a result] disabled people are harming themselves.”

Another disabled protester, Claire Glasman, from WinVisible – which supports disabled women – said the government had known the “cruelty” of the impact universal credit would have before it began rolling it out across the country.

The move to universal credit was causing a “massive financial loss” to disabled children, carer mums and single disabled women, she said, all groups who “suffer the most from the tax and benefit cuts”.

She said she could not understand the mentality of government ministers who had introduced and were defending the changes.

She said: “They are treating those of us at the bottom as useless eaters. They have no interest in preserving our life. But we do.”

Glasman said there was now “massive opposition to UC” and the new work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd had already been forced to make some concessions.

She said: “I think the pressure is getting through.”

The first judicial review case being heard by the high court his week concerns a disabled woman who was forced to claim universal credit after DWP decided she was no longer eligible for personal independence payment and then stopped her employment and support allowance when she failed to attend a work capability assessment, despite her health deteriorating.

The move cost her more than £180 a month because the severe disability premium (SDP) that was part of the ESA system is not part of universal credit.

Although she later challenged the termination of both her PIP and her ESA, the law prevented her returning to ESA.

The second case concerns TD, a single mother with a disabled child, who gave up her job to become a full-time carer but had her income support terminated when her child’s disability living allowance (DLA) – and therefore also her carer’s allowance – was about to end and before it could be renewed.

She was also told by the jobcentre to claim universal credit, which she did.

The family is no longer financially worse off, because TD succeeded in having her daughter’s DLA award increased, which meant they received a more generous level of universal credit.

But despite DWP eventually admitting that there had been a mistake, for 18 months TD was receiving almost £140 a month less under universal credit than when she was receiving income support.

CPAG’s legal team is arguing that these policies are irrational, discriminatory and breach the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty.

Ministers have now introduced legislation preventing any further disabled people who receive SDP from moving on to universal credit ahead of the “managed migration” process, which – apart from a small pilot this summer – will not begin until next year.

No-one previously claiming SDP will receive a lower monthly payment when they move onto universal credit through managed migration, ministers have promised.

There will also eventually be compensation for those who have already moved onto universal credit and lost out because of SDP, but this will not fully compensate those with high support needs who are recognised as having limited capability for work-related activity.

This group are still set to be as much as £100 a month worse off under universal credit when the compensation is finally paid.

And there will be no compensation for the many thousands of new universal credit claimants who would have received higher payments under the previous system.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are unable to comment on an ongoing legal case.

Universal credit is a force for good and over 1.6 million are receiving the benefit successfully.”

Meanwhile, the Commons work and pensions committee has launched a new inquiry into “natural migration”, the process by which claimants move onto universal credit from existing benefits if their circumstances change, as happened to the people involved in the judicial review cases.

24 January 2019

 

 

Two years on from Supreme Court bus ruling, protesters call for overdue action

Campaigners have protested outside the Department for Transport (DfT) to call for new laws that would protect the rights of wheelchair-users to use buses, on the second anniversary of a ground-breaking Supreme Court victory.

Two years ago (on 18 January), the Supreme Court ruled that First Bus had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act through its “first come, first served” policy on the use of wheelchair spaces.

It was the first case of disability discrimination in service provision to be heard by the country’s highest court, and the victory followed a five-year legal battle by accessible transport activist Doug Paulley.

He had had been planning to travel to Leeds to visit his parents in February 2012, but he was prevented from entering a bus because the driver refused to insist that a mother with a sleeping child in a pushchair should move from the only wheelchair space.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in January 2017 that disabled passengers have a right to priority access over the wheelchair space on a bus, and that a driver must do more than simply ask a non-disabled passenger to move.

But two years on, many users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters say that too little has changed since the ruling, and that parents with buggies often refuse to move from the space.

Although some drivers pay attention to the Supreme Court ruling, many others ignore it.

Following the ruling, the government set up a group of advisers to produce recommendations for action, which were finally published last March and recommended new powers for drivers and fresh guidance.

DfT welcomed the recommendations “in principle” but announced a further consultation with “a view to bringing forward a package of measures” later in 2018.

It has so far failed to produce those measures.

Transport for All, which campaigns for accessible transport for older and disabled people in London, held a protest outside DfT on Friday, on the second anniversary of Paulley’s victory.

Nina Grant, a wheelchair-user from north London who took part in the protest, told Disability News Service (DNS) that the situation had improved “a little bit” since the Doug Paulley victory.

But she said there had not been “any real progress”.

She said: “Overall, things have not really changed. I take the bus maybe four to six times a week in a good week and I will have issues in maybe two of those.

Sometimes I manage to persuade the driver to help me. Sometimes I am allowed to plead my own case to the people with the buggy and sometimes I am told to get the next bus. But what happens when the next bus also has a buggy?”

She now takes out her phone when a bus approaches, so the driver is aware that she may be recording his actions.

She said: “I make it look like I am. If I see there is a buggy, I will take a photo of the bus number plate in case I have to make a complaint. They are more likely to comply [if I do that].

I have seen one or two drivers tell the person with the buggy that they need to move, but they seem to be the rare exception.

I shouldn’t have to have my phone out recording for them to do what is put down in the guide book for them.”

She added: “Every time I complain I am told, ‘That’s really bad, we will feed it back.’

I don’t know what is fed back but it doesn’t seem to have much of an effect.”

Jeff Harvey, another wheelchair-user who took part in the protest, told DNS that he was forced to rely on buses in London because there were so few accessible underground stations.

But he frequently experiences conflict over the wheelchair space, just as Paulley did.

He said: “Doug’s case should have had a big effect on that but unfortunately because of the lack of action by the DfT and parliament it has only had a small positive influence.

Every time I take a bus I get ready for a fight. My stress level goes up just waiting.”

Sometimes he will go a few weeks without an incident but then he will experience several in one day, he said.

He added: “It can be very frustrating. It can be very time-consuming, especially when I have to wait for another bus.”

Another wheelchair-user, John, said he experiences such problems less frequently than before the Paulley ruling “but it still happens”.

He said: “It is always stressful just waiting for a bus.”

A DfT spokesperson refused to say why it had not yet published its “package of measures” or if the department agreed that too little had changed since the Supreme Court ruling.

But she said in a statement: “We are clear that disabled people must have the same opportunities to travel as other members of society.

Wheelchair spaces on buses should already be available to those who need them, and this government will be announcing further plans to improve access in due course.”

24 January 2019

 

 

Disabled pupil fights at high court for full school inclusion

Inclusive education activists were at the high court in London this week to support a disabled pupil in her legal fight to secure full participation in all aspects of life at her mainstream school.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) is one of the organisations supporting Anna’s* mother in her claim that their local authority is failing to ensure that her daughter has the support she needs at school.

She approached ALLFIE last summer for support with their court case.

Anna’s school had been facing problems recruiting qualified teaching assistants with the necessary experience in using Braille.

As a result, Anna, who has a significant visual impairment, had not been able to take part in the curriculum on a par with her non-disabled classmates. 

Their local authority had given individual schools responsibility for recruiting and employing teaching assistants for their disabled pupils, but this meant there was no central pool of assistants available for disabled pupils.

Anna’s lawyers were set to argue this week that this meant that the local authority, which cannot be named, has been breaching the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

As the law stands, there is a general presumption that disabled pupils will be educated in a mainstream school, but there is no guidance on how local authorities should arrange special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision for disabled pupils who have education, health and care plans.

The case was mentioned in the House of Lords on Tuesday by the disabled Labour peer and former education secretary Lord [David] Blunkett, who said that disabled young people like Anna were “desperately struggling” because of a lack of support.

The junior education minister Lord Agnew told him that spending plans beyond 2019-20 would be set at the next spending review, and that the government was “committed to securing the right deal for education, including for those children and young people with special educational needs”.

ALLFIE says there is no requirement for local authorities to arrange their SEND provision in a way that maximises the participation of disabled pupils in all aspects of school life, or to maximise parental choice in finding a mainstream school for their disabled child.

It wants the high court to provide guidance on how local authorities can comply with their duties free from disability-related discrimination, under the Equality Act, the UNCRPD and the ECHR.

The UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities was highly critical of the UK government’s record on inclusive education when it published its “concluding observations” on the progress the UK had made in implementing the UNCRPD in August 2017.

The committee was highly critical of the UK government’s approach, and the “persistence of a dual education system” that segregates increasing numbers of disabled children in special schools.

It called instead for a “coherent strategy” on “increasing and improving inclusive education”, which would include raising awareness of – and support for – inclusive education among parents of disabled children.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, told Disability News Service outside the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday (Wednesday): “There are some local authorities and schools that do a very good job, and some will not.

What we are looking for here is guidance that makes it quite clear that whatever model is used by the local authority, it has to [maximise] disabled children’s rights to access the whole curriculum, and extra-curricular activities as well.”

She said earlier: “The problem about the presumption of mainstream education is that even though disabled pupils have the right to be included in mainstream school, there is nothing in law that guides local authorities and schools on arranging SEND provision that enables them to participate in mainstream education on a par with their non-disabled peers.

The legal challenge comes after the UNCRPD committee found that the UK has systematically violated disabled pupils’ human right to mainstream education, as set out in UNCRPD article 24.

The committee recognises the fundamental role of SEND provision in promoting disabled pupils’ human right to mainstream education without discrimination.”

She added: “This is a very important case because for too many disabled pupils, failure in mainstream schools arises when local authorities do not arrange SEND provision in a timely manner and in a way that guarantees high quality support to enable disabled pupils to follow the entire school curriculum at all times, ie without any gaps.

This leaves disabled pupils being treated in a discriminatory way, as they are denied full participation in the school curriculum and all aspects of school life because they are disabled and require assistance.

We therefore want the court to issue guidance and rule that leaving disabled pupils without appropriate assistance to engage in mainstream education is disability discrimination and a breach of disabled pupils’ human rights.”

*Not her real name

24 January 2019

 

 

BFI’s free film collection shows 100 years of disabled people on film

Leading disabled actors and directors and key figures in the disability movement are featured in a new collection of free online content that shows how disabled people have been represented on film in Britain over the last century.

The British Film Institute has released more than 170 documentaries, short films, charity appeals, home movies and news reports dating from 1911 to 2017.

The Disabled Britain on Film collection includes work featuring film-makers and actors such as Liz Crow, Mat Fraser, Jamie Beddard, William Mager and Charlie Swinbourne.

Among the films is Crow’s Resistance, a short drama from 2008, featuring Fraser and Beddard, about the Nazi’s Aktion T4 euthanasia programme.

The collection also features Heredity in Man, a chilling 1937 film which features Julian Huxley, brother of Brave New World author Aldous Huxley, extolling the principles of eugenics, and arguing that people with learning difficulties – or “defectives” as they were then often termed – were happier living in huge institutions.

He concludes that “it would have been better by far for them and the rest of the community if they had never been born”.

The Huxley film was produced as Hitler was using the same ideas to unleash Aktion T4, which would lead to the murder of hundreds of thousands of disabled people at the hands of Nazi doctors.

Also included in BFI’s free online collection is a 1983 documentary on Ian Dury, in which he talks about how becoming disabled affected his life and music and explains the thinking behind his disability rights punk anthem Spasticus Autisticus.

The collection also features a number of films released by disability charities in an attempt to raise funds from the public, featuring actors such as Sean Connery and Charles Laughton, but also documentaries which feature the voices of disabled people speaking for themselves.

These include Y Gwr O Gwr Aran (1978), a Welsh language portrait of a disabled husband, father and teacher; A Day in the Life of Kevin Donnellon (1972), which documents the life of an 11-year-old thalidomide survivor; and The Smallest Woman in the World (1972), a news report on Joyce Carpenter, from Bromsgrove, who at the time was thought to be the world’s shortest woman.

There is also a smaller collection of films to rent, including the 14-minute Disabled, made in 1967, which features a three-minute interview with a young Paul Hunt, outlining his vision for a society where disabled people have independence, choice and control.

The interview was carried out five years before Hunt – who would play a key role in the campaign against institutional discrimination – was to co-found the ground-breaking Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS).

At the time, Hunt was living in the Leonard Cheshire home Le Court, where he and other residents rebelled against the restrictive regime.

He speaks in the film of how he was only living in an institution because he had “no effective choice”, and compared the situation in the UK with that in Denmark, where a development of flats in Copenhagen allowed disabled people to live independently.

He says in the film: “Some sort of realistic financial help is a priority, and also the provision of more nursing help to people in their own homes.”

He adds: “In general, the attitude of the general public could do with a little changing.

One does meet a lot of misunderstanding, and prejudice, really, from people.”

24 January 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

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