Feb 282019
 

Discrimination faced by disabled DWP staff leaps by half in four years

The proportion of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff who say they have been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months has risen by about 50 per cent in just four years, Civil Service figures have revealed.

The annual Civil Service People Survey shows the number of DWP staff saying they had personally experienced disability discrimination at work in the past 12 months rose by 150 (more than 10 per cent), from 1,462 in 2017 to 1,612 in 2018.

And the proportion of all DWP staff reporting disability discrimination rose by about 12 per cent, from about 2.55 per cent of all employees in 2017 to about 2.85 per cent in the 2018 survey.

This was an increase of about 50 per cent since the 2014 survey, when 1.91 per cent of those responding to the survey said they had experienced disability discrimination at work in the previous year.

But the figures are even more striking when compared with the number of disabled staff employed by DWP.

The latest Civil Service figures, from November 2018, show that only 7.7 per cent of DWP employees declared that they were disabled.

This suggests, according to calculations by Disability News Service (DNS) – which DWP has failed to comment on – that more than a third of disabled DWP staff experienced disability discrimination at work in 2018.

The proportion of DWP employees who have experienced any kind of discrimination has also continued to increase in the last four years, from 11 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2018.

It is just the latest evidence of worsening levels of discrimination within the government department responsible for the much-criticised Disability Confident scheme and will further strain the scheme’s credibility.

DWP itself has been awarded the status of Disability Confident Leader, the highest of three levels within the scheme, which aims to work with employers to “challenge attitudes towards disability” and “ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations”.

Last week, DNS reported how DWP repeatedly failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who were recruited to build bridges between jobcentres and the local community through its Community Partners scheme.

In November, the department admitted failing to keep track of how many complaints by staff through its internal grievance system were based on allegations of disability discrimination.

Earlier the same month, new research showed that the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP by its own staff over a 20-month period.

And last summer, figures provided to the work and pensions select committee by Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, showed that nearly 7,000 employers that had signed up to Disability Confident had promised to provide just 4,500 new jobs for disabled people between them, an average of less than one per employer.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, declined to comment on the DWP discrimination figures this week.

But David Gillon, a prominent disabled critic of the Disability Confident scheme, said: “If DWP can’t even tackle a rapidly increasing disability discrimination problem, never mind resolve it, then how can they justify retaining their Disability Confident Leader status, and their leadership of the entire Disability Confident programme?”

He said that a total of 1,612 incidents of disability discrimination was more than six per working day.

He said: “A core responsibility of a Disability Confident Leader is being an example to others, and teaching lessons learned across the Disability Confident community.

There is precisely zero evidence of DWP doing this, or even acknowledging that they have a problem, so the justification for their retaining Disability Confident Leader status appears absent.

In fact, their failure to acknowledge the issue argues strongly for the removal of their Leader status.”

He said it was “particularly disturbing” that the number of incidents of disability discrimination reported “far exceeds” those in areas such as ethnicity and sexual orientation, which was “the reverse of the pattern seen for harassment in the general population from police and Crown Prosecution Service figures”.

He added: “This strongly suggests that the issue may be a cultural one related to views of disability within DWP or the Civil Service as a whole.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if Newton was concerned about the figures, why DWP thought the figures had risen so sharply over the last few years, and why it thought there had been another year-on-year increase in 2018.

She also refused to say if Newton thought the figures suggested complacency by ministers about discrimination, whether they suggested DWP was institutionally disablist, and whether DWP should still be able to call itself a Disability Confident Leader.

But she said in a statement: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring all colleagues, including those with disabilities or health conditions, get the support they need to thrive.

The department has a duty of care to its colleagues and aims to lead by example as a Disability Confident employer, following best practice in recruiting, retaining and developing disabled staff.

We take very seriously any reports of disability discrimination from colleagues, while taking active steps to promote equality.”

28 February 2019

 

 

DWP failed for years to meet legal duties on accessible information, says judge

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed for years to comply with its legal duties under the Equality Act by refusing to provide an accessible way for many disabled people to communicate with its staff about their benefits, a judge has ruled.

Judge Jeremy Johnson said in a high court ruling that DWP’s “systemic” failings pre-dated the Equality Act, which became law in 2010, and meant that some disabled people had been deprived of “essential” benefits.

His written judgment also revealed that DWP admitted that its creaking IT systems that deal with employment and support allowance (ESA) claims were not fit for purpose but that it was not worth spending £750,000 updating them because of the continuing roll out of universal credit, which has a new IT system.

Several disability organisations had provided evidence to the high court of DWP’s continuing refusal to allow disabled people to communicate via email about their benefit claims, even though they needed to do so for access reasons.

It is just the latest case to raise serious concerns over whether DWP is fit for purpose as a government department.

Last month, DWP admitted it had been forced to launch its seventh costly trawl through the records of disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits, following years of serious errors by senior civil servants.

And last week, an independent investigation found DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to the suicide of a disabled woman with a long history of mental distress.

The latest court case was brought by Paul Atherton, a homeless disabled man from London who is going through the transition process from incapacity benefit to ESA.

He had argued that DWP had refused to provide an accessible way for him to communicate about his benefits by email.

He had represented himself in court, with the help of reasonable adjustments arranged by the judge.

Atherton argued that DWP had breached its public sector equality duty and its duty to make reasonable adjustments, both under the Equality Act.

The judge dismissed his judicial review claim, finding that DWP had satisfied its duties under the Equality Act, but only because it eventually introduced a new way for Atherton to communicate with the department after he had lodged his legal claim.

DWP had previously refused to communicate with Atherton by email – something he said was essential, as he had no home address – arguing that it was unsafe to do so for data protection reasons.

His fluctuating health condition means he does not know from week to week if he will be in hospital, staying with friends, or elsewhere, does not use a telephone, and is not always well enough to travel to collect mail from a jobcentre.

He first claimed disability living allowance (DLA) and incapacity benefit in 2001 but is currently not receiving either because of his health-related failure to attend face-to-face assessments, although he says DWP has backed down and agreed to reinstate his DLA.

Until 2014 he was allowed to communicate with DWP via email, but that system broke down in 2016 when DWP refused to send “confidential information” via email.

After he began legal proceedings, DWP agreed to allow Atherton’s correspondence to be dealt with through a “workaround” system similar to one which is currently offered to about 3,700 other disabled benefit claimants.

Under this system, DWP changes the home address of claimants needing reasonable adjustments to that of a central “alternative formats” team, and posts letters to that team, which then converts the correspondence into an accessible format and sends it on to the claimant.

The latest figures show that only 32 of the 3,700 disabled claimants have requested correspondence via email.

Because claimants’ addresses are stored in a cross-government database, letters sent by other government departments and local authorities are often swept up in the system and have to be returned to those organisations to be reposted.

Atherton rejected the plan because he believed there was “a significant margin for oversight or error” and it would not allow him to exchange emails with a named DWP contact.

He provided witness statements from six other disabled people who had had problems persuading DWP to communicate with them by email.

Evidence of problems was also provided by Inclusion London, RNIB and the National Deaf Children’s Society.

Inclusion London said its research showed that “those who ask for email communication are discouraged by the frontline staff”, while RNIB said DWP “only appears to be prepared to take on board these comments and take action when they are accompanied by the threat of litigation and even then the process is extremely slow”.

DWP told the court that its “current security policy has to be placed in the context of a world where cyber-crime and data theft are rising at an exponential rate and keeping one’s data safe and secure is becoming ever more difficult”.

But it accepted that the understanding of frontline staff about its obligation to allow communication via email as a reasonable adjustment “has not always been consistent throughout the UK”.

DWP told the court that the alternative formats workaround was necessary because some of its IT systems were more than 20 years old and “run on code written in obsolete computer languages”.

It has estimated that it would cost up to £750,000 to carry out the work necessary to allow ESA claimants to receive communications directly in alternative formats such as Braille, large print or email.

Judge Johnson said DWP had failed for years to comply with its duties under the Disability Discrimination Act and then the Equality Act.

And he said that those with difficulty communicating by post “were, in many instances, unable to secure a satisfactory means of communication with the DWP”, which meant that some went without essential benefits.

But he concluded that DWP had now provided a reasonable adjustment to Atherton and complied with its public sector equality duty, although it was “understandable” that he “should continue to be sceptical about the DWP’s commitment to ensuring compliance with its statutory duties” and that this scepticism “may prove to be well-founded”.

Although dismissing his claim for judicial review, he also suggested that DWP could still be breaching the public sector equality duty for other claimants, by failing to “appropriately signpost” them to its alternative formats team.

Atherton told Disability News Service: “Whilst the judicial review wasn’t upheld by the judge it’s clear he wanted to lean in my favour.

The DWP won on a technicality but there can be no doubt whatsoever that they lost on moral, justice and decency grounds.

I was elated that the judge acknowledged the department’s failures and horrendous attitude to disabled claimants.”

He said he hoped DWP would now “finally make amends”, although its track record was “not good”.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to continually improving the delivery of services for customers with specific communication needs while ensuring that we’re handling people’s data sensitively.

That’s why we have improved guidance and training for DWP teams who offer reasonable adjustments and alternative formats to people who need assistance to access our services and information.

The provision of email as a reasonable adjustment is available for all benefits on request and without exception.”

28 February 2019

 

 

Government is failing on disabled women’s rights, UN is told

Activists have told a UN committee how the UK government is failing to address the significant barriers and human rights violations faced by disabled women in accessing social security, justice, jobs and health services.

Eleanor Lisney and Rachel O’Brien, from the disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida, were among UK women’s rights campaigners in Geneva this week to brief a UN committee of women’s rights experts.

The committee was examining the UK on its progress in implementing the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

It is just the latest in a series of examinations of the UK’s record on disabled people’s rights by UN human rights bodies.

Last November, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, said the UK government had inflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, with ministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies.

The previous year, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

And in 2016, the same committee said the UK government was guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of three key sections of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, most of them caused by ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions.

In a briefing passed to the CEDAW committee – jointly prepared with Women Enabled International (WEI) – Sisters of Frida said research showed that about a quarter of disabled women had missed a meal in the last year because they could not afford it, while social security reforms had “disproportionately impacted” disabled women.

In 2017, more than a third of disabled women earned less than the national living wage, the briefing added.

Sisters of Frida also said that disabled women in the UK experience violence at higher rates than other women, because of both discrimination and economic disempowerment.

Nearly one in every two disabled women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, compared with about one in four of all women, while domestic violence shelters and services for victims of violence remain inaccessible for disabled women.

Disabled women also face significant barriers in accessing justice, with cases of sexual violence significantly less likely to be referred by police for prosecution if the victim is a disabled woman, while laws and policies addressing violence against women “routinely fail to include disabled women”.

Sisters of Frida – which received funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to attend the examination of the UK government in Geneva – also warned the committee that disabled women faced increased barriers to accessing healthcare, particularly maternal health services.

The committee was told that disabled women report “significant barriers” in accessing “continuity of care during the prenatal period, a lack of control during labour and delivery, and inadequate postnatal care”.

Following the briefings by campaigners, including Lisney and O’Brien, the committee questioned UK government representatives about its implementation of CEDAW.

Among the issues raised by the committee were the low employment rate for disabled women, the impact of universal credit on women, the failure to include disabled women in sex education and the barriers faced by disabled women who experience domestic violence.

O’Brien, disabled students’ officer for the National Union of Students but in Geneva representing Sisters of Frida, said afterwards: “Some of the issues we raised were about welfare reform and how that relates to domestic abuse, and the lack of access to justice for disabled women in the light of legal aid cuts, especially regarding benefit tribunals.”

She said the government’s response to the committee’s questions had been “poor, especially regarding the impact of universal credit on women and disabled people”.

She said she hoped this would be reflected in the committee’s report.

EHRC had also submitted a report to the CEDAW committee, with recommendations for the UK and Welsh governments.

Its report raised concerns about the impact of the UK government’s legal aid cuts and reforms on disabled women; called for action to close the disability pay gap; and called on the UK government to assess the impact of its benefits sanctions regime on groups including disabled people.

It raised concerns about mental health services in prisons; the possibility of the government’s community sentence pilot leading to compulsory treatment for women with mental health conditions; and access to healthcare for disabled asylum-seekers.

It also called for action to eradicate the use of physical and chemical restraint in mental health settings, pointing out that “girls are more likely to be physically restrained than boys, and women are more likely to be repeatedly restrained than men, including in a face-down position”.

It said 32 women have died after a restraint episode over the last five years after being detained under the Mental Health Act.

EHRC also called on the UK government to implement section 106 of the Equality Act, which would force political parties to publish data showing how many of their parliamentary candidates are disabled people.

It also wants there to be work with political parties and other organisations “to improve the reliability of support available to disabled women candidates, and legislation to exempt costs arising from disabled candidates’ impairments from statutory limits on campaign expenditure”.

In her opening statement to the CEDAW committee, the head of the UK delegation, Elysia McCaffrey, the deputy head of the Government Equalities Office, stressed the UK’s commitment to “advancing gender equality” and said the UK government planned to use the power of #MeToo and other campaigns to “strengthen” its compliance with the convention.

She said the government’s strategy on gender equality and economic empowerment, which will be published this spring, would “seek to do more for low paid and financially fragile women, and women facing multiple barriers or with complex needs”.

But she mentioned disabled women only once in her speech of more than 3,700 words, and that related to workplace equality funding introduced by the Scottish government.

28 February 2019

 

 

Concerns over growing number of ‘dangerous and discriminatory’ road layouts

Increasing numbers of local authorities are breaching the Equality Act by designing “dangerous and discriminatory” road layouts that put blind and partially-sighted people at risk of serious harm, say disabled campaigners.

The concerns have been raised by the user-led campaign group National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK), which has grown increasingly concerned by schemes being introduced across the country.

Among those councils it has highlighted are Manchester City Council, Leicester City Council, and Enfield council in north London.

In Enfield, the council has introduced bus stops that place blind and disabled pedestrians at risk of colliding with cyclists.

The “boarder” bus stops have cycle lanes between the bus stop and the boarding point for the bus.

Sarah Gayton, NFB UK’s shared space coordinator, said:I was shocked at what I saw in Enfield. I had been told it was bad but had no idea quite how bad it would be.

Anybody can see the design is flawed and is inherently dangerous.

The scheme is a disaster for blind people. It is difficult to see how this could have been approved as acceptable.”

In Manchester, the city council plans to introduce more than 30 bus stops in Chorlton as part of a new cycling scheme, including 14 boarder bus stops.

It also plans 17 bus stop “bypasses” or “islands”, which place the bus stop on an island, with pedestrians forced to cross a cycle lane to reach it.

NFB UK points to research carried out by Danish researchers which found that the number of collisions involving passengers entering or exiting a bus rose from five to 73 after bicycle lanes were introduced.

Other Danish research showed two-fifths of bus drivers across five cities in Denmark had witnessed bus passengers involved in collisions at both the types of bus stops.

NFB UK said that it had offered to work with Manchester City Council on the cycling scheme in August 2018 but its offer was not taken up.  

It now wants a halt to the introduction of all further bus stop boarders and bypasses across the country.

Many of these schemes include zebra crossings, and cyclists often fail to stop at these crossings, leaving blind and other disabled pedestrians unsure whether they can cross to exit or enter a bus.

Last month, NFB UK filmed a succession of cyclists riding through a zebra crossing introduced as part of a bus stop bypass scheme in Manchester, even though a blind man with a white cane was waiting with his cane on the crossing.

Gayton said: “Both the bus stop boarders and bypasses really need to halt until we can work together to work out a different solution.”

In Leicester, NFB UK points to the removal of controlled crossings at key junctions, as part of the Connecting Leicester scheme, which it says has made key routes from the train station inaccessible.

Andrew Hodgson, NFB UK’s president, said some of the schemes introduced in London had “created real distress for blind and disabled people”, and that the Enfield scheme was “dangerous and discriminatory”.

NFB UK and the user-led accessible transport campaign organisation Transport for All supported a petition delivered to the prime minister last month by Enfield residents which called for stronger equality laws on the design and re-design of roads.

The petition also calls on the government to force local councils to commission independent equality impact assessments of all road and community re-design proposals and then “to abide by the findings and recommendations of those assessments”.

An Enfield council spokesperson said it “emphatically” rejected the suggestion that it had breached the Equality Act and said that it was “fully committed to equality in everything we do”.

She said the council had engaged with disability organisations including Enfield Disability Action, Guide Dogs for the Blind and Enfield Vision, and had worked directly with the Centre for Accessible Environments.

She said: “We believe that the current design for bus boarders in Enfield does make it clear that pedestrians have right of way.

In addition, the installation of buffer strips, ramps, signage and distinctive paving all inform cyclists that they are entering an area used by pedestrians and must give priority to pedestrians.

In our response to NFB UK, we reiterated that as we continue to deliver this programme, we will continue to explore more ways to constructively engage with a range of community groups.

As part of this, we are interested to hear the views of organisations who represent people who are visually impaired/have particular accessibility requirements.

This is the case in both informing early design work, and also in listening to any specific issues that are raised post-construction.”

She said that Transport for London (TfL), which funded its Cycle Enfield programme, was conducting a London-wide review of bus stop boarders, and she added: “We will consider any outcomes of this carefully in conjunction with TfL and if appropriate make adjustments.”

A Manchester City Council spokesperson said it was studying more than 1,800 responses to a public consultation on its proposed Manchester to Chorlton walking route and cycleway and would “take them into account before the designs are finalised”.

He said the council, along with Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner Chris Boardman and Trafford Borough Council, was “committed to providing a walking route and cycleway which is safe and accessible for all road users”.  

He said: “We have met with representatives of blind and partially-sighted residents to ensure they had the opportunity to review the designs and provided extra time for them to respond to the consultation. 

We thank them for their valuable input into this process and will take their comments fully into consideration during the process of finalising the designs.”

But he said the council was “not aware of a specific offer from NFB UK to ‘cooperate’ with us on the design of this scheme”.

A Leicester City Council spokesperson said it had met national guidelines in removing the two controlled crossings, which had “significantly reduced the number of vehicles in these locations and their speed”, while alternative pedestrian routes remained available. 

She said: “We listen to all comments received on schemes we propose. Ultimately, we have to decide what will be the most sensible solution to achieve a layout where people, not vehicles, dominate.

She said Leicester’s city mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, had taken part in a blindfolded walk around the city with local sight loss charity VISTA, which included the two sites, and he was now “considering the concerns raised with him”.

Sir Peter said: “I welcomed the opportunity to walk through the city with representatives of VISTA and a member of [NFB UK].

While we have done a lot in recent years to make the city centre much more accessible to people with disabilities, it was very useful to find out what barriers and challenges still remain.”

28 February 2019

 

 

Katherine Araniello: Tributes to ‘force of nature’ and ‘creative genius’

Disabled artists and activists are mourning the death of Katherine Araniello, a “force of nature” who leaves behind a “hugely significant” disability arts legacy.

Araniello was a performance and video artist who used satire and subversive humour at the expense of “dehumanising and patronising” targets such as disability charities, the Paralympics and media representation of disabled people.

Tony Heaton, chair and former chief executive of Shape Arts, said Araniello was “an original and independent thinker” with a “wicked sense of humour and irony”, and her death was a “huge and devastating loss”. 

Disability Arts Online said on Twitter that she was “a force of nature with such a sardonic wit that permeated all of her artworks” and would be “sorely missed by the disability arts community”.

The disabled Labour politician Mary Griffiths Clarke praised her “unrivalled wit and creative genius” and said on Twitter that the news of Araniello’s death had caused shockwaves across the disability rights movement.

In an interview with David Hevey for the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA), Araniello said she first became politicised as a disabled person after leaving segregated education and discovering the concept of independent living through Greenwich Association of Disabled People, led at the time by Rachel Hurst.

She said: “From Rachel Hurst, I realised that for me there was only the social model of disability and being politicised… [which was] a far more natural way of thinking.”

Araniello was involved in the Campaign for Accessible Transport (CAT), which she said was “an adrenaline rush” because it was aimed at “blatant discrimination”, and the Block Telethon protests of the early 1990s, and also took part in direct action protests with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN).

She told Hevey: “It was absolutely nauseating to watch on television people raising thousands of pounds for people that identified very much so as someone like me.

It was a humiliating thing to watch on television.”

She said that involvement in a movement of other disabled people who felt the same as she did had been empowering because “collectively it became very powerful”.

Among her work were the films she made parodying Channel Four’s adverts for the Paralympics, where “there were so many things that were offensive but you would only realise it if you had a critical eye to such narratives”.

She had been appalled at the decision to merge the London disability arts festival Liberty with National Paralympic Day.

A close friend of the late David Morris – whose idea it was to set up Liberty – she told Disability News Service (DNS) in 2013: “It feels like Liberty has become a sideline and the Paralympic side has taken the forefront, and I am absolutely disgusted about it.

I am not aware of any arts organisation that would merge with sport, but because it is disability it seems perfectly acceptable.

The other part I despise is that Paralympians are suddenly becoming spokespeople on disability when actually they haven’t engaged on that level because it isn’t what they do.”

She was dismissive of any suggestion of a legacy from the London 2012 Paralympics, arguing that life for disabled people had worsened since London 2012, with benefit cuts and the increasing difficulty of securing the funding they needed to ensure their independence.

She said: “We are feeling the threat. It is a threat to our existence and our future, participating in the world and contributing.”

Araniello said the Paralympics had painted a representation of disabled people “being capable and able in a sporting environment… an environment they are used to working in”.

She said: “But if you take them out of that environment… disability and access and barriers become all too paramount.

It is quite insulting to be honest to be in the mindset that people who do sport are going to change the future of other disabled persons’ lives, because they are not.”

She added: “The only positive that I see is I like the idea of seeing more disabled people being represented in the mainstream. If it has to be sport, then so be it.”

Among the many disability rights campaigns she supported were those to save the Independent Living Fund and to fight off attempts to legalise assisted dying.

In 2014, she told DNS that defeating Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill was probably “the most fundamental issue” facing disabled people, because “if we are dead, nothing else matters”.

She said: “I see myself here today as protesting to save my life and everybody else’s life… We are all terminally-ill, we are all going to die at some point.”

She said it was deeply ironic that 20 years ago, she had been protesting to make buses accessible and “now, 20 years on, I am protesting to save my life and other disabled and elderly people’s lives”.

Araniello had a master’s degree in fine art from Goldsmiths, University of London, where she won the Warden’s Purchase prize for her pop video parody I Like That, having previously secured a first class degree in fine art from London Guildhall University, where she had been awarded the Owen Rowley Prize for her short film Slapping.

She often worked alone, but also collaborated with other disabled artists.

In 2006, she formed The Disabled Avant-Garde with Aaron Williamson.

Together, they produced films such as Amazing Art, Unbelievable, Damaged Dance and Stage Invasion, in which they invaded the stage at the 2011 Liberty festival to announce that “disability art is dead”.

Williamson said that it was a selection of their films that were shown as Melvyn Bragg was interviewing the disabled artist Yinka Shonibare in 2007 that prompted Shonibare to declare that disability arts was the last remaining avant-garde movement, a comment Bragg referred to in an article in The Guardian and which is often repeated.

Williamson, who told DNS of his grief at the loss of his friend and former collaborator this week, said: “Part of our armoury was aimed at the mainstream ‘able’ society.

But also, we were extremely critical of the hubris and the sanitised versions of ‘disability art’ that were dominant during our period of operations.

We had innumerable rejections of art proposals from so-called ‘disability art’ schemes, even as we were being critically acclaimed around the world.”

In an interview published by the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies in 2013, Araniello said her work was “always about giving fresh, alternative perspectives on disability” and creating work that would “shift people’s perspectives on contemporary issues of disability”.

Among the many art galleries and festivals that showed her work were Tate Modern, Tate Britain, DaDaFest, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Serpentine Gallery, the Canadian Arts and Disability Festival, and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Michigan.

She was also on the board of the Live Art Development Agency.

Heaton said: “I thought Katherine was an original and independent thinker who thought disabled people should be politicised and embrace the social model. 

She was an early proponent of disability arts and her work, often subversive, falls clearly within the canon of disability arts; her work made people question, quite rightly, the way society marginalises disabled people.

She had a wicked sense of humour and irony, very evident in her work, and she was always great company to be with. 

Her death is a huge and devastating loss and it’s vital we keep Katherine’s life and work in the public arena.

28 February 2019

 

 

Government announces plans for extension of personal health budgets

The government wants to increase the number of people who use personal health budgets (PHBs) to choose their own health and social care support from 40,000 to as many as 200,000 over the next five years.

It has approved extending legal rights to PHBs to disabled people eligible for funding from NHS wheelchair services, and those eligible for aftercare services under section 117 of the Mental Health Act.

But it also signalled that these rights would eventually be extended to other groups, including people with ongoing social care needs who also make regular and continuing use of particular NHS services; people leaving the armed services who are eligible for ongoing NHS services; and autistic people and those with learning difficulties who are eligible for ongoing NHS care.

PHBs give individuals a pot of money to spend on their health and wellbeing needs, in agreement with a healthcare professional.

Many disabled campaigners have supported the expansion of PHBs, arguing that they could help deliver independent living for disabled people, while others have raised concerns that they could be part of a creeping privatisation of the NHS, and that they are based on the same “failing” model used with social care personal budgets.

Currently, only adults receiving NHS Continuing Healthcare, and children and young people who receive continuing care, have the right to a PHB.

But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England have now published their response to a consultation, which ended last June, on extending that right to other groups and the possibility of extending that to include a right to have the PHB managed through direct payments.

The government response says people “value being involved in the planning of their care, being able to make choices and personalise their support so it best meets their needs”.

And it says the evidence suggests that those who can do that “are more satisfied with their care, have better outcomes, and are able to explore more innovative approaches to meet their needs”.

The consultation also asked for views on whether the government should bring together PHBs and social care personal budgets – and educational needs in the case of disabled children and young people – into an integrated personal budget.

The consultation results suggested widespread support for a further expansion of PHBs, with 87 per cent (330 of 379 people) of those who answered the question saying they believed that autistic people and those with learning difficulties who are eligible for ongoing NHS care should have a legal right to a PHB or an integrated personal budget.

And more than 90 per cent supported extending the right to a PHB or integrated personal budget to those using NHS wheelchair services, with 87 per cent saying this group should also have a right to receive that budget via direct payments, if appropriate.

DHSC and NHS England said their ambition was “to move towards joined up and integrated provision across health and social care” through a “comprehensive model of integrated, personalised care” and with PHBs and integrated personal budgets “a key component” of this plan.

These plans are set out in the new NHS Long Term Plan.

The government and NHS England said they believed that more than 200,000 people would have a PHB by 2023-24, including many from the five groups they consulted on last year.

Although the government is only taking forward legislation on those using wheelchair services and mental health aftercare, it says it will “continue to further explore both the other groups we consulted on, and additional groups who we believe could also benefit from having a right to have a personal health budget”.

Some additional groups that could benefit and were mentioned by those taking part in the consultation included people with dementia, people receiving end-of-life care, and those receiving community equipment.

NHS England said it would continue to work with clinical commissioning groups to “design and test” the use of PHBs for other groups of people and service areas.

Care minister Caroline Dinenage said: I’ve seen first-hand how personal health budgets can give people a new lease of life, granting them the ability to enjoy their lives to the full.

These budgets help to join up health and social care services, improving people’s experiences and outcomes whilst ensuring value for money for taxpayers.

We are therefore extending access so many more people can benefit, a key part of our NHS Long Term Plan which will see personalised care become the norm for millions more.”

28 February 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:48
Feb 222019
 

 

Jodey Whiting: DWP ignored five ‘safeguarding’ chances before WCA suicide

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to the suicide of a disabled woman with a long history of mental distress, an independent investigation has found.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case of mother-of-nine Jodey Whiting, who had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA), and took her own life just 15 days later.

The report is the latest evidence of the institutional failure of DWP to guarantee the safety of disabled people – and particularly those with a history of mental distress – within the “fitness for work” system.

DWP has accepted the report’s findings.

Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, has now called for DWP and those staff responsible to face a criminal investigation for the failures that led to the death of her much-loved daughter, who she described as a “lovely, caring, thoughtful” person who adored her children and grandchildren.

She said her daughter had died a “martyr” and that campaigners were right to say that the Tory government had created a “hostile environment for disabled people”.

The 42-year-old had been taking 23 tablets a day at the time she died, for conditions including scoliosis and bipolar disorder, and had been taking morphine twice daily.

She had been a long-time claimant of incapacity benefit, and then employment and support allowance (ESA), and DWP and its assessors had previously noted the severity of her mental health condition, and the risk that would be posed if she was found fit for work.

When she was approached again for another assessment in the autumn of 2016, she told DWP about her suicidal thoughts and requested a home assessment as she said she rarely left the house.

But even though a “flag” was placed on DWP’s ESA system to alert staff that she was a “vulnerable” claimant because of her mental health condition, DWP failed to refer her request for a home visit to Maximus, the company that carries out WCAs on its behalf.

Maximus also failed to act on her request, even though it had been included in the ESA50 form she had filled out.

But this was just the first of five serious failings by DWP in the weeks leading up to her death, the ICE report has concluded.

Whiting, from Stockton, Teesside, failed to open a letter asking her to attend a face-to-face assessment on 16 January 2017, and so missed the WCA.

She had been ill with pneumonia and receiving hospital treatment for a cyst on the brain and had been taking painkillers which affected her ability to cope with correspondence.

DWP’s safeguarding procedures say the department should contact vulnerable claimants by telephone if they miss their assessment, but the ICE investigation found no evidence that this had been done.

It should also consider a safeguarding visit to the claimant’s home, but again there was no evidence this was done, the ICE report says.

After receiving a letter asking her to explain her failure to attend the WCA, Whiting told DWP that she had not received the letter about the assessment and explained about her pneumonia and hospital treatment.

She said her GP wanted the department to write to the surgery so the doctor could provide detailed information about her health.

But DWP failed to write to the GP, its fourth failure to protect Jodey Whiting from serious harm.

On 6 February, a DWP decision-maker wrote to Whiting to say that she had provided no proof of the pneumonia and failing to receive the letter about the assessment and so her ESA would be stopped.

But the decision-maker appears to have failed to consider her mental health history in making that decision, says ICE.

This was DWP’s fifth separate failure to follow its own safeguarding guidance.

Whiting phoned DWP to protest the decision to stop her ESA and then an adviser from Citizen’s Advice wrote to DWP on her behalf on 15 February to explain the situation and request another assessment, and explained that she had been given a foodbank voucher.

DWP claims it never received this letter.

Six days later, on 21 February 2017 – two years ago today – Jodey Whiting took her own life. Her body was discovered by her mother.

The report by the Independent Case Examiner, Joanna Wallace, says: “In total there have been five opportunities for DWP processes to prompt particular consideration of Jodey’s mental health status and give careful consideration to her case because of it – none of those were taken.”

She concludes that there were “multiple failings in the handling of Jodey’s case prior to her suicide”.

Wallace’s report, addressed to Jodey Whiting’s mother, adds: “I find it extremely disappointing that in investigating the complaints you have raised, we have seen that DWP have either failed to investigate, or failed to acknowledge, the extent of events in Jodey’s case.

“As such the facts of the case have not been made clear to you and no appropriate apology has been made.”

DWP has agreed to the ICE recommendation that it should pay £10,000 to the family as a “consolatory” payment for its “repeated failures to follow their safeguarding procedures” and other failings that took place after her death (see separate story).

Joy Dove, who has campaigned for justice – including through her Justice for Jodey petition – said her daughter had “died a martyr”.

She said: “I hope she has not died in vain.”

She said the way DWP had treated her daughter showed that campaigners have been right to accuse the Tory government of creating a “hostile environment for disabled people”.

She said she cried when she read the ICE report because she believes it vindicates her belief that DWP was responsible for her daughter’s death.

Now she wants to see DWP itself and the staff responsible for her daughter’s death face a criminal investigation.

She said: “What they have done is criminal. They had all the information in front of them. Five times they failed.

“I would like to see them charged, all of them who had anything to do with Jodey’s case.

“I’m not frightened of them. They can do what they want.”

She said she was grateful to ICE for its report exposing DWP’s serious failings, and now wants to see changes by DWP to prevent another death like her daughter’s.

She said her own health had suffered because of what happened to her daughter – she herself is an ESA claimant – and the struggle to secure justice for her, and that she had fallen into debt because of her efforts to provide a fitting funeral for her daughter in 2017.

Despite those financial struggles, part of her sees the £10,000 as “blood money” and wants it to go to charity.

Jodey’s nine children are now aged between 18 and 27. She had six grandchildren at the time she died. Another four have been born since she died.

She said: “They have been denied their grandmother. She loved her grandchildren and she never met four of them.”

She thanked Citizen’s Advice in Stockton, whose staff have worked on the case for two years.

She also thanked all those who have supported the family over the last two years, including strangers who have contacted her through social media and shared their own experiences of other cases in which DWP’s policies and procedures have led to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the department accepted that its own safeguarding failings had helped cause Jodey Whiting’s death.

And she refused to say if the five separate failings in just one case showed it was time for DWP to accept that it had a serious institutional problem around the safeguarding of vulnerable benefit claimants.

But she said in a statement: “We apologise to Ms Whiting’s family for the failings in how we handled her case and the distress this caused them.

“Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time and we are providing compensation.

“We fully accept the Independent Case Examiner’s findings and are reviewing our procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

A Maximus spokesperson said: “We offer our sincere sympathies to the family of Ms Whiting at this difficult time.

“[Maximus] will examine the ICE report in detail to understand what lessons can be learnt.

“We always review the capability for work questionnaire and any accompanying medical evidence to establish if a face-to-face assessment is required.

“This includes consideration of whether an individual is able to attend an assessment centre by public transport or taxi.”

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

21 February 2019

 

 

Jodey Whiting: DWP continued to phone woman who took her own life, inquiry finds

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continued to phone and write to a disabled woman who had taken her own life after having her benefits stopped, an independent investigation has found.

The report by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE), Joanna Wallace, concluded that the DWP has no system that immediately alerts all the relevant staff that a claimant of employment and support allowance (ESA) has died.

Because of that failure, DWP continued to phone mum-of-nine Jodey Whiting, and leave voice messages for her, and also wrote to her, after she had taken her own life in February 2017.

DWP had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the months leading up to Whiting’s suicide, the investigation also found (see separate story).

The ICE report concludes that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case of Jodey Whiting, who took her own life after DWP stopped her ESA payments for missing a work capability assessment, despite her long, recorded history of serious mental distress and suicidal thoughts.

The ICE report highlights the failure of the cross-government Tell Us Once system, which is supposed to ensure that bereaved relatives only need to make one call to the government when a family member has died, with that information passed on to more than 20 services, including those run by DWP.

A Citizens Advice adviser had informed DWP of Whiting’s death on 23 February, two days after she died at her home in Stockton, Teesside.

But two days later, on 25 February, DWP sent Jodey Whiting a letter to tell her that a mandatory reconsideration of the decision to stop her ESA – the internal DWP appeal stage – had confirmed that decision.

The ESA computer system was not updated to show she had died until 1 March.

But even then, other parts of DWP were not notified of her death.

The ICE said in her report, addressed to Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove: “I can only imagine how distressing it must have been to receive that letter at such a sad time.

“I have considered the responses that were provided to both you and your representative after you raised this matter with DWP, and I found their explanation of the process to be insensitive, in that they showed no apparent appreciation of the impact this would have had on you.”

DWP also continued to call Jodey Whiting and leave voicemail messages for her for another two months, says the ICE report.

Wallace said it was “critical that next of kin who have been told that bereavement information to ‘Tell Us Once’ would be dealt with as a priority, should be confident that no further correspondence will be sent to the deceased claimant”.

But the ICE investigation was told by DWP that there is no process to deal with Tell Us Once notifications immediately and no target timescale for them to be processed.

And the investigation also found that DWP had no standard process in place to tell its decision-makers and dispute resolution team that a claimant has died.

Wallace told Dove that she did not believe that DWP “have recognised the apparent administrative failures that allowed [the letter to be sent on 25 February], nor have they fully recognised the impact this has had on you”.

She added: “It is regrettable that it has taken this very sad case to show that there is not a robust process in place to ensure that death notifications are dealt with as a priority, and that all potentially relevant teams are informed.”

Wallace said she would be “raising these matters with DWP”.

Dove, who has campaigned for justice – including through her Justice for Jodey petition – said she was grateful to ICE for its report exposing DWP’s serious failings, and also thanked Citizen’s Advice in Stockton, whose staff have worked on the case for two years.

She also thanked all those who have supported the family over the last two years, including strangers who have contacted her through social media and shared their own experiences of cases in which DWP’s policies and procedures have led to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

DWP has agreed to ICE’s recommendation that it should pay £10,000 to the family as a “consolatory” payment for its “repeated failures to follow their safeguarding procedures” and the other failings that took place after Jodey Whiting’s death.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We apologise to Ms Whiting’s family for the failings in how we handled her case and the distress this caused them.

“Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time and we are providing compensation.

“We fully accept the Independent Case Examiner’s findings and are reviewing our procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

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

21 February 2019

 

 

DWP ‘refused reasonable adjustments for community recruits’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) repeatedly failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who were recruited to build bridges between jobcentres and the local community, it has been claimed.

But the department also appears to be set to discard all the disabled people they recruited from outside the Civil Service when their fixed-term contracts end.

It is feared that none of the scores of Community Partners taken on by DWP to build relationships between jobcentres and local organisations will secure permanent roles when their contracts end at the end of next month.

It is just the latest example of apparent hypocrisy from the government department responsible for the derided Disability Confident scheme, and which itself has been given the accolade of being a “Disability Confident Leader” under its own programme.

Some Community Partners were originally recruited from within DWP and it is believed that it is only these staff members who will continue to work for the department after next month.

The Community Partner role was devised by ministers as a way to “help shape the support disabled people and those with health conditions receive, develop a national mentoring network and build relationships with specialist organisations in your area”.

The former minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, said two years ago that Community Partners would “develop a more comprehensive package of employment support and strengthen work coach understanding of disability”.

But instead, many Community Partners spent months “fighting tooth and nail” to secure the reasonable adjustments they needed to do their job, leading to a string of grievances and resignations.

Phil Samphire, who worked as a Community Partner in Manchester for a year, has told Disability News Service (DNS) that none of his colleagues who had been recruited externally had secured permanent jobs with DWP at the end of their contracts.

Samphire, who has cerebral palsy and dyslexia, said he had requested a note-taker and administrative support, but that had been refused.

Instead, he was promised speech-to-text and dyslexia software, but by the time he left the post after 12 months he was still waiting for them to be available to use.

And because he can only use one hand, he says he was forced to travel an hour across Manchester by bus to another office so a manager could fill in his time sheets and expenses.

Despite being forced to use public transport – because he does not drive – he was given no extra time to reach appointments.

Samphire said his mental health deteriorated because of the pressure of having to cope with the inaccessible workplace, including IT equipment that required keyboard skills he did not have as a result of his impairment.

He said: “It was causing me massive stress because the system was inaccessible to me.”

Every time he wanted to send an email, he had to dictate the message into his own iPad, then email that to his work email address, log in to a work computer, and then forward the email to the work colleague.

Samphire said the only Community Partners who managed to secure the reasonable adjustments they needed were those who were on secondment from other employers and so were able to take advantage of the government’s Access to Work scheme.

He said: “I would never work in the Civil Service again.”

Another disabled former Community Partner has told DNS how DWP failed to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed during the six months she worked there.

Rachel*, who is dyslexic, had requested speech-to-text software, a specialist mouse and keyboard and a laptop, so she could work across different offices, but they had not arrived by the time she left six months later.

She was eventually given an ergonomic chair after working in pain for more than three months.

She was also given a yellow plastic overlay sheet, which can be placed over a piece of writing to help with dyslexia, but that was no use to her because DWP uses only grey – instead of white – paper, and even this took three months to arrive.

She said: “You don’t feel confident. It’s OK writing an email to people who know you when you’re dyslexic, but you don’t really want to be writing emails to people who don’t know you, especially in that environment.”

She said the delays were particularly stressful because her contract was only for 12 months.

Rachel said: “I think an awful lot of people who have done the job have put up and shut up because it is so hard for disabled people to get work.

“They treat their staff the way they treat their clients. It gives their staff even more reason to treat people badly.

“They just see it as normality, and I think that’s quite scary.”

She eventually complained about the failure to provide the adjustments she needed but was fired shortly afterwards when DWP discovered she had retweeted a social media post criticising Iain Duncan Smith.

She was told she had brought the department into disrepute, even though she believes the tweet was sent before she started working for DWP, and that nobody who followed her on Twitter had known she was working for DWP.

DNS has been told by a third Community Partner, Louise*, of colleagues being denied flexible working, ergonomic equipment and screen-reading software.

She heard from colleagues of a Deaf Community Partner in another part of the country who resigned after being told she could only have a British Sign Language interpreter for two out of five days every week.

Community Partners were first mentioned publicly in the October 2016 green paper Improving Lives.

The posts were funded by some of the savings made by cutting nearly £30 a week to payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance placed in the work-related activity group, a measure introduced in April 2017.

But ministers appear to have now decided it is too expensive to extend the contracts of any of the externally-recruited Community Partners.

Louise’s understanding is that not one of these Community Partner have been offered a permanent job.

Instead, DWP will ask work coaches and disability employment advisers to take responsibility for the contacts developed with disabled people and local organisations over the last two years.

Louise said she and her colleagues felt as though they had been used and then abandoned by DWP.

Many of the Community Partners built close relationships with local disabled people’s and community organisations, she said.

She added: “Apparently a review has found that we have not made enough of an impact but some of us have only been in the role for little more than a year because of the difficulty of recruiting in some areas.

“Our roles will now be taken on by disability employment advisers, who will not have the lived experience of disability that we have.

“The changes we have made will now be abandoned, and our suggestions for improvements will not be implemented.

“The green paper was meant to help people back into work, but they are now getting rid of [up to] 200 disabled people and people with lived experience of disability.”

Rachel said it would not surprise her if none of the Community Partners recruited externally secured permanent jobs.

She said: “I don’t think they were ever proper jobs.”

She was asked to prepare a presentation on the social model of disability but when it returned after she had sent it off to a manager to be approved it had been rewritten.

She said: “They weren’t really prepared to let us teach anyone about the social model because their social model of disability and my social model of disability are actually quite different.”

Louise said she believed ministers expected Community Partners to come in and tell jobcentres what a fantastic job they were doing, but instead “we have shown them where their flaws are, and yet they don’t address those flaws”.

She added: “Because they are Disability Confident Leaders, they thought we would say everything was great.”

Louise said: “We have led community groups on. We have told them we are trying to make better contacts between them and DWP and trying to change the face of DWP and make it more friendly.

“Now we have done that [DWP] are saying, ‘We don’t need you anymore.’”

A DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We value the work of the Community Partners and the contribution that they have made.

“It is not true that the Community Partner roles are ending for financial reasons. We were transparent from the outset in relation to the length of the appointments.

“We are committed to continually improving the employment support we offer disabled people, and will ensure valuable learning from the Community Partners is built into the ongoing support we provide through our jobcentres.

“Reasonable adjustments for Community Partners were delivered according to the Equality Act.

“Many Community Partners are likely to remain in the Civil Service, and in some cases will have the opportunity to move into similar roles with Jobcentre Plus.

“We are committed to providing full support to Community Partners as they move into the next stage of their career.”

But she refused to say how many externally-recruited Community Partners would be given permanent roles by DWP when the fixed-term contracts end next month; how many Community Partners were recruited externally; and how many of those recruited were disabled people.

*Not their real names

21 February 2019

 

 

Call for urgent probe into police passing DWP information about protesters

There are growing concerns and calls for an urgent investigation into admissions by two police forces that they have shared information about protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Both Lancashire and Greater Manchester police forces have now admitted passing on information to DWP about people taking part in protests.

The admissions originally came following claims reported by Disability News Service (DNS) that police forces had been targeting disabled people taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

Lancashire police then admitted in December that it had shared both information and video footage of disabled anti-fracking protesters with DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) then told DNS that it had passed DWP information – but not video footage – relating to protesters taking part in the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford.

Those protests took place in 2013 and 2014, but the force also confirmed that it has shared information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking.

There is now growing confusion over how many forces are involved, what information they are handing DWP, in what circumstances they hand it over and on what legal grounds, and whether this exchange of information is based on any written agreements.

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, called last night (Wednesday) for an investigation into the extent of information sharing between police forces and DWP.

Last week, GMP admitted having a “sharing agreement” with DWP, even though the department explicitly stated two months ago – and repeated this week – that it had no such “formal arrangement” with GMP or any other force.

But GMP has now backtracked from this admission, claiming there is no “specific formal agreement or policy in place” after all, and stating that the sharing of information that takes place between the two organisations is carried out under the Data Protection Act.

It has denied trying to cover up its relationship with DWP.

Labour’s deputy mayor for policing for Greater Manchester, Baroness [Bev] Hughes, backed her force’s decision to share information with DWP.

She said the force had “a duty to act if they judge that individuals may be breaking, or have broken, the law”.

She said: “I have consulted with senior officers within GMP who have assured me that there is no formal ‘sharing agreement’ in place, and that the police act on a case by case basis, sharing information in accordance with the Data Protection Act.

“Protestors in Greater Manchester should never be deterred from exercising their right to protest.

“Should they do so in accordance with the law, GMP will continue to do as it always does and facilitate such protests.”

But de Cordova said the sharing of information with DWP by police forces was “a violation of trust”.

She said: “This is yet further proof of the hostile environment that this Conservative government has created for disabled people.

“This violation of trust is not only shocking but also could threaten disabled people’s access to vital social security.

“There must be an urgent further investigation into the extent of information sharing and action must be taken to end this harmful practice.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “As we have reiterated previously, there is no formal arrangement with the police for this scenario.

“The department does not request referrals from the police and there is no obligation on either the police or members of the public to provide referrals.

“In the event we receive information from the police, we consider it on its merits.

“As is the case with any responsible government department, we stand ready to assist the police in the event they request information from us for the purposes of crime prevention or detection.

“This service is provided under the Data Protection Act for the purposes of preventing and detecting crime.”

Meanwhile, GMP said this week that it had not shared any information with DWP about disabled activists who took part in the anti-austerity protests that took place outside the Conservative party conferences in Manchester in 2015 and 2017.

The Conservative party is returning to Manchester for its annual conference in October.

21 February 2019

 

 

Long-awaited Newton meeting confirms confusion over DPO engagement

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have raised ongoing concerns about the government’s failure to comply with basic principles of the UN disability convention at a long-awaited meeting with the minister for disabled people.

Representatives of six of the UK’s leading DPOs met with minister for disabled people Sarah Newton and senior civil servants last week to discuss the government’s track record on engaging with disabled people and their user-led organisations.

It was the first time that Newton had met with the group of DPOs – members of the UK CRPD Monitoring Coalition of Disabled People’s Organisations – since she took up her post in late 2017.

Representatives from coalition members Inclusion London (which was also there on behalf of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance), Disability Wales, Inclusion Scotland, Disability Action (Northern Ireland), the National Survivor User Network and Equalities National Council attended the meeting.

The coalition also used the meeting to share its ideas for monitoring the UK’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The meeting follows a series of failings by the government which appear to demonstrate its reluctance to accept key rights and principles laid out in the convention.

They include plans to allow non-disabled people and organisations not led and controlled by disabled people to be part of Newton’s new Regional Stakeholder Network – which aims to “provide a channel for disabled people and their organisations to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect them” – and Newton’s reluctance to pay those people taking on roles in the network for their time.

There was also frustration at the decision of the Cabinet Office to host a workshop on the barriers facing disabled people without inviting any DPOs to take part.

And in November, the Department of Health and Social Care wrongly insisted that it had been complying with the UN convention by only consulting on its mental capacity (amendment) bill with non-user-led charities like Mencap and Sense.

Last week’s meeting came after the coalition was forced to write to Newton last August after she refused to meet them to discuss the UK’s failure to implement the UN convention.

But the long-awaited meeting ended last week without easing concerns among DPOs at the apparent ongoing confusion among senior civil servants in the Office for Disability Issues (ODI), and Newton herself, about the convention’s principles around engagement.

A meeting earlier in the day between three members of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (RoFA) – which is part of the coalition – and two senior civil servants from the Office for Disability Issues was also marked by frustration at the government’s apparent ignorance of the UN convention.

Mark Harrison, from RoFA, said they had hoped to come out of their meeting with a strategy for how the government would engage with DPOs and resource them in that work, but left disappointed.

He said Newton’s regional network was set to be a “disability free-for-all”, with disability charities and other organisations “all in the tent on an equal footing” with disabled people and DPOs.

He said he had asked the civil servants why they did not understand the principles on engaging with disabled people and DPOs that had been clearly laid out by the UN.

He said the core of the issue was the failure by repeated governments – including the last Labour government – to provide infrastructure funding for DPOs to do this work, which he said was “absolutely shameful”.

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, who was also at this meeting, said the civil servants became “very, very uncomfortable” when she and her two colleagues made it clear they thought the new regional network was “a joke”.

She said there was “no understanding of the difference between DPOs and disability charities. Shame on the ODI for not understanding that.”

It is now hoped Newton will agree to three key requests: for both the regional network and any similar UK-wide engagement to be restricted to representatives of DPOs; for there to be funding for DPOs to take part in that engagement; and for those networks to work with the government on implementing the recommendations made 18 months ago by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, who was present at both meetings, said there appeared to be ongoing confusion within the government about the difference between DPOs and non-user-led charities.

She said: “We put forward what we think are key minimum asks in order to have meaningful engagement going forward.

“We will now see whether the government has listened to us and taken the opportunity to clarify, improve and extend engagement with us so it reflects and promotes the principles and practice of the UNCRPD and general comment number seven*.”

She added: “It is slightly dismaying having to reiterate principles of engagement with disabled people and DPOs that were recognised and acted upon 10 years ago, and having to re-argue them as if they were radical new ideas descended from another planet.”

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

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

21 February 2019

 

 

Watchdogs’ comments boost hopes for rail access improvements

Powerful warnings from two watchdogs about the barriers faced by disabled passengers have been welcomed as a “wonderful step in re-instating access to rail for all” by a leading accessible transport expert.

One of the two watchdogs, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), warned the government and train operating companies that two major elements of the rail system could be discriminating against disabled passengers.

In a letter to MPs on the Commons transport select committee, EHRC chair David Isaac says the commission is concerned about the impact of “ongoing transport policies”, particularly the move towards running more trains without a member of customer services staff on board – driver-only operated (DOO) trains – and an increase in unstaffed stations.

EHRC also says that the need for many disabled rail passengers to book assistance up to 24 hours before their journeys means they cannot “turn up and go” like non-disabled people.

Both of these could be a breach of the Equality Act, he says.

Isaac says in the letter that EHRC is so concerned by these and other barriers to public transport that face disabled people that it is likely to include access to transport as one of its priorities in its new strategic plan.

He adds: “If, as seems likely, that priority is taken forward, we will be looking at a range of activities to clarify, enhance and further the protections available for disabled people across all transport modes, including utilising our unique enforcement powers to drive change.”

His letter was a response to questions from Lilian Greenwood, the Labour chair of the committee, who had also raised similar concerns with the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

ORR’s chair, Declan Collier, said in his response to Greenwood that it was clear that train and station operators “could do more to improve accessibility of the rail network”.

He said they needed to do more to “consider the normal operating conditions across their network and to assess where passengers are most likely to not be able to receive the required assistance”.

He added: “They need to have clear measures in place to ensure that passengers who have not booked assistance in advance can still receive it.”

He said ORR had set up an advisory group, including industry, government and disability groups, to help improve rail passenger assistance.

The two letters have been welcomed by transport campaigners.

Ann Bates, a leading transport access consultant and former rail chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), said the comments by EHRC and ORR followed years of campaigning by her and others, including the Association of British Commuters, on the risks posed by DOO.

She said: “ABC and myself have continued to lobby with the ORR and EHRC and others over the years for a confirmation of our sincerely held belief that no DOO trains should call at unstaffed stations, thus denying safe travel to anyone who requires assistance in and out of the train.

“We have since discovered that DPTAC, the government’s statutory advisers on the transport needs of disabled people, have also been lobbying within the department and seemingly being ignored.

“Following the enquiry from the transport select committee and its chair about the subject, the two replies dated 5 February (EHRC) and 6 February (ORR) both contain many of the points that we have been lobbying with, such as reference to the Equality Act, the decrease in staffed stations, the failures and restrictions of the Passenger Assist scheme, etc.”

She said she was “particularly heartened” by the change in tone on the need for disabled passengers to have the right to “turn up and go” and enjoy “spontaneous travel”.

She added: “This is a wonderful step in re-instating access to rail for all, and thus building back confidence in travel for both business and pleasure in the larger population.”

21 February 2019

 

 

Disabled residents play ground-breaking co-production role in major development

Disabled people have played a “ground-breaking” role in co-producing a major new redevelopment scheme.

The role played by disabled people in the planning application to redevelop Hammersmith town hall and the surrounding area in London is the first major product of a pioneering agreement to embed a genuine culture of co-production within Hammersmith and Fulham council.

A report last year by the Hammersmith and Fulham Disabled People’s Commission was accepted in full by the council and hailed as a blueprint for disabled people’s organisations across the country to push for change from their own local authorities.

Now disabled campaigners are welcoming the submission – and approval – of the planning application for the redevelopment of grade two-listed Hammersmith town hall, a new town square, and four new buildings, including 204 new homes, offices and a cinema, as proof that the council has been true to its word.

The application was partly presented to the council’s planning committee last week by one of the disabled residents who have worked in co-production on the plans.

Tracey Proudlock, founder of the leading access consultancy Proudlock Associates, which has been working as inclusive design consultants with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, said she believed the level of co-production on the scheme was “ground-breaking” and had come about as a result of the disabled people’s commission.

She said there had been regular meetings with the team of disabled residents – who were paid for their work – and “everybody was giving feedback and opinions” and “nothing could be kicked into the long grass”.

At the beginning of the co-production work, Proudlock Associates ran a training day for the disabled residents in technical issues such as reading architectural plans, interpreting drawings and symbols, and how the planning process works, as well as on inclusive design.

Proudlock said the level of co-production on the scheme helped convince English Heritage to allow significant changes to improve access to the main council chamber.

She said: “Disabled people were part of the planning. Their opinions were written into the planning application.”

Among the development’s features are wheelchair-accessible homes spread across the residential blocks; a Changing Places toilet; a managed toilet area for assistance dogs near the town hall entrance; as well as many other inclusive design features.

Jane Wilmot, one of the team of disabled residents who worked on the scheme alongside the architects and Proudlock Associates, said: “Barriers faced by disabled people in using buildings and open spaces were raised early before plans were submitted rather than left to detailed design at a later stage.

“This way of working together allowed robust solutions to be found early as well as saving time and money for the developer.

“This is most unusual and should be adopted in all major development projects.”

She said this would not have happened without the council’s commitment and strategy of co-production.

Cllr Stephen Cowan, leader of the Labour-run council, said in a statement: “We are determined to make our borough the most inclusive in the UK.

“[This] is why we asked the borough’s independent Disabled Residents Team to work with our architects from the beginning to make our new civic campus one of the most accessible buildings in the country.

“The end result speaks for itself and demonstrates how the principles of co-production can be applied to a wide range of areas – from designing buildings, to designing services, and to dismantling all the barriers that disable disabled people.

“We’re very proud of all the advice and hard work Hammersmith and Fulham’s independent Disabled Residents Team has given and know that by delivering changes – such as those typified with this beautiful, accessible new civic campus – that they’ll not only help us change our borough to be the best place for disabled people, but will set the mark that helps change our country.”

Tara Flood, who chaired the commission, said the co-production work was a significant achievement and should act as a blueprint for other local authorities to follow in engaging with disabled people.

She said it had not been “perfect co-production” because the disabled residents were not involved from the start of the design and development process.

But she said: “Once disabled residents were involved, they were treated with the utmost respect and treated very seriously.

“It would not have happened had the commission not existed.

“This process fundamentally shifted in the right direction once disabled people were involved.

“There is no doubt that Tracey and Liam Proudlock were instrumental in making that happen and provided some really excellent support to the disabled residents who got involved in that process.”

21 February 2019

 

 

Council told to improve disability equality training after councillor’s ‘ignorant’ attack

A disabled politician has described the equality training given to fellow councillors as “a joke” after a Liberal Democrat rival was forced to apologise for posting a message on social media that accused him of using his impairment for political purposes.

The comments by Lib Dem Joe Naitta were targeted last June at fellow Derby city councillor Amo Raju, who is a Labour party member and also chief executive of the user-led organisation Disability Direct.

Naitta said in a Facebook post to his supporters: “This one uses his disability, get rid of labour in Blagreaves ward.”

Raju is the only Labour councillor in the ward. The other two are Liberal Democrats.

Naitta later deleted the post.

The comment was reported to the council by Disability Direct trustees, after they told Raju they were “totally outraged” by the comment and its possible impact on disabled people who want to stand for election.

Now a council investigation has led to Naitta being forced to apologise in writing to Raju, and post an apology on Facebook for the comment which he said “suggested that another councillor used his disability for political purposes”.

Naitta added: “I fully accept that this comment was wrong and I should not have made it.

“It was made in haste and was withdrawn soon afterwards but I know people did view it.”

Raju said he believed that such targeted comments could deter other disabled people from entering politics, and he has called for the council to improve the disability equality training offered to councillors.

He said: “Equality training is just sitting in front of a computer and doing some e-learning, which I think is a joke. I have done it and it’s a joke.”

He added: “There is a principle here that we should be encouraging more disabled people to stand for election. These kinds of comments deter disabled people.”

He described Naitta’s comment as “an ignorant and opportunistic attack on my character”.

He said: “I have been a councillor for just under four years, CEO of Disability Direct over 20 years and have had cerebral palsy all my life.

“Yet not in any instance have I taken advantage of the latter.”

Raju said he stood for office because he believed there should be more disabled people in politics, according to the principle of “nothing about us without us”.

An Equality and Human Rights Commission spokesperson said: “It is essential to a healthy democracy that everyone has the right to participate fully in all aspects of political life.

“We know that disabled people often face prejudice and experience humiliating or intimidating treatment in elected office.

“We all have a responsibility to treat people with dignity and respect, and political parties and governments need to ensure that our elected representatives are protected from abuse so that our political system truly reflects the diversity of our society.”

A Derby City Council spokesperson said: “A complaint was received last year, and handled by the council’s monitoring officer at the time.

“Subsequently, the complaint was brought to the standards committee, who reviewed the case at their meeting in February.

“This item was exempt from the press and public, and remains so.

“The complaint was resolved internally, however if Cllr Raju wishes to take this further, he can do so with the relevant authority.

“Our training for colleagues and members, which is delivered online, is regularly reviewed and updated based on current legislation and best practice.

“We won’t tolerate any form of discrimination at Derby City Council, and encourage our colleagues and members to report any such instances.”

Naitta had failed to comment on his apology by noon today (Thursday).

21 February 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 19:33
Feb 182019
 

Disabled People Against Cuts and our allies in the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance are campaigning for a National Independent Living Support Service capable of upholding disabled people’s rights to independent living and building on what was so effective about the Independent Living Fund before it was closed in spite of enormous opposition in June 2015.

Please call on your union branches and CLPs to pass motions supporting the campaign. Thanks to Sean McGovern for the wording of a suggested motion as below. If you would like someone to speak at your branch meeting please send details to mail@dpac.uk.net.

For information about our vision of a National Independent Living Support Service, download this document: NILS-summary-doc-2

 

National Independent Living Support Service Motion

There is no doubt that social care is in crisis. A crisis brought about by years of Conservative governments’ ideological austerity policies. Today we have a failing system unable to meet current need; and certainly, unfit to respond to predicted future growth.

Bringing social care under a struggling NHS umbrella is not the answer. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of disabled people with social care packages do not receive healthcare interventions through support packages. No, healthcare and social care serve very different kinds of need.

Therefore, this Conference calls upon a newly elected Labour government to establish a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS). A Service:

  • that gives new universal right to independent living
  • enshrined in law and delivered through a new national independent living service co-created between government and Disabled people,
  • funded through general taxation and managed by central government,
  • led by Disabled people and delivered locally in co-production with Disabled people.

Marrying social care to the NHS further medicalises disability in addition to denying the very things that disabled people are crying for…Independence, Choice and Control – things only deliverable by the establishment of a National Independent Living Support Service.

Word Count 197

 Posted by at 15:40
Feb 152019
 

On 1 Feb a letter from Sarah Newton, Minister against Disabled People, was published in the Guardian. In it she cites figures to show spending on disability benefits is increasing and makes other claims to suggest the government are successfully “ensuring that whatever a disabled person’s circumstances, they are able to access personalised, tailored support”.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/01/spending-on-benefits-for-disabled-people-is-increasing

The Guardian chose not to publish either the DPAC or Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance responses but you can read them here.

 

From DPAC:

“Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton’s, letter published on 1 February attempts to deflect from criticisms of the Government’s disgraceful record on disability by repeating amounts spent on social security payments. Out of context these figures tell us virtually nothing. That inflation exists and spending rises is hardly news. They are certainly no indication of how far spending meets need, of which evidence proves it to be well short in education as well as disability.

The Government failed to achieve George Osborne’s target of slashing the Disability Living Allowance by 20% in replacing it with Personal Independence Payment – a target based on a serious miscalculation of how many disabled people there are and how society would react to robbing us of essential support. That is to be welcomed but the hundreds of thousands who have been denied access to the new benefit since its roll out in 2013 is nevertheless shameful.

There is now overwhelming evidence of the adverse impacts of policies that target cuts on the most disadvantaged members of society. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s cumulative impact assessment of welfare and tax changes since 2010 finds that the more disabled a household is, the harder it has been hit: for households with at least one disabled adult and a disabled child, average annual cash losses are just over £6,500 – over 13% of average net income.

Since taking office as Minister for Disabled People, Newton’s tactic has been to paint accusations of harm caused by welfare reform as unreasonable. The problem she has is that literally millions of the population have now experienced the degradation and senselessness of the benefits system since 2010, whether as claimants, family or friends to someone suffering under the punitive system or professionals within swamped support services. This means a huge base of lived experience that can’t be fooled by misuse of statistics, lies and spin. The further the disconnect between her statements and what people know to be true, the more people are waking up to the realities of a government that puts profit before people and the interests of an elite few above those of the many.”

 

From ROFA:

“In her letter of 1 Feb – Minister against Disabled People Sarah Newton opines that the spending on disabled people is “more than either on the police, defence or schools”. If she is so concerned for spending in these areas one wonders why she has voted consistently to slash spending on them since first being elected to Parliament in 2010.

Any ‘Minister for Disabled People’ worth having should be questioning the impact that her own government’s cuts to schools (down by 8% per pupil since 2010) has had on access to education for disabled people. Instead she cynically implies that disabled people should be grateful for what we’ve got because according to some amateur accounting it is higher than a selection of other areas which have been hit with Tory cuts. Disabled People’s need for support is not responsible for the impact of the choices of Conservative governments to cut spending while cutting taxes for the wealthiest.

We are aware the minister includes housing benefit in her figure for spending on disabled people. This seems a little discriminatory as non-disabled people also claim housing benefit when they are unable to meet the costs of housing. Would the minister, for example, imply that school cuts are a result of non-disabled people’s unwillingness to be homeless? It would be unfair and disrespectful of the barriers we face to expect us to cease our demands for an end to a system that leaves many without the support needed to live in dignity and fearful of the next letter from the DWP, based on a figure including the amount the government transfers to the pockets of private landlords in housing benefit (one of the largest components of the spending figure she quotes). Any rise in the amount spent on housing benefit for disabled people is not a result of our need for support but of the government’s disastrous housing policy which has seen rents skyrocket.”

 Posted by at 22:33
Feb 152019
 

Disability rights organisations and activists lobbied MPs in Parliament on Wednesday 13 February 2019, at a ’First Do No Harm’ lobby, aimed at the DWP.

MPs John McDonnell, Marsha de Cordova, Margaret Greenwood, and disability rights activist John McArdle.

MPs John McDonnell, Marsha de Cordova, Margaret Greenwood, and disability rights activist John McArdle.

Artist and DPAC activist, Vince Laws, attended with his support worker, Lucifer. Vince took the opportunity to display 3 of the ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds, and took photos showing MPs John McDonnell, Marsha de Cordova, Margaret Greenwood, and a host of disability rights activists including, John McArdle, John Pring, Claire Glasman, Denise McKenna, Mark Harrison, Mick Hardy, Mary Ellen.

“It’s my first time in Parliament,” said Vince, “to be honest, I’m a bit overwhelmed by the vomit coloured carpets and fit-inducing wallpaper. I wanted to come to this important lobby and photobomb it with my shrouds so they get seen by millions and shame the Tories into agreeing to ‘First Do No Harm’ to humans – big ask, I know.”

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds describe the circumstances of death of named people dealing with the DWP. The 3 in this photo remember these 3 people: Paul Reekie. Suffered severe depression. Found Fit For Work by Atos. DWP Stopped his benefits. He committed suicide. Mark Wood. Found Fit For Work by Atos, Against his Doctor's Advice, Complex Mental Health, Benefits stopped, starved to death. DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Just doing my job.' Linda Wooton. Heart & Lung Transplant patient. Died 9 Days After DWP Found her Fit For Work. DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Just doing my job.

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds describe the circumstances of death of named people dealing with the DWP. The 3 in this photo remember these 3 people:
Paul Reekie. Suffered severe depression. Found Fit For Work by Atos. DWP Stopped his benefits. He committed suicide.
Mark Wood. Found Fit For Work by Atos, Against his Doctor’s Advice, Complex Mental Health, Benefits stopped, starved to death.
DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Just doing my job.’
Linda Wooton. Heart & Lung Transplant patient. Died 9 Days After DWP Found her Fit For Work.
DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Just doing my job.

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds were the backdrop to a live performance art piece called ‘A Very Queer Nazi Faust’ put on by Laws and 13 Norfolk based disability rights activists at Norwich Arts Centre in September 2018.

“The show I enjoyed most in 2018 and you can quote me on that!” Pasco Q Devlin Norwich Arts Centre Manager

There is now a ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ Facebook page. Images of all 22 shrouds made so far are on the page, with the text printed under them. The shrouds will be on display around the UK in 2019.

“I want to get them seen,” said Laws. “I feel the need to carry on screaming about the human rights abuses of this current Tory government. The shrouds are actually quite painful to make. I take breaks. They are very sad. But also very powerful because they are the truth.”

Meanwhile, Lucifer went to the public gallery to watch MPs debate live, and held up a shroud against the security glass right opposite the Tory benches and got thrown out. That shroud read:

Brian McArdle

Suffered a fatal heart attack

the day after his disability benefits

were stopped.

Dead People Don’t Claim.

Justice Not Charity.

Anyone wishing to display some shrouds, get in touch with Vince Laws direct via vincelaws@gmail.com or via the Facebook page.

Dead People Don't Claim banner

Dead People Don’t Claim banner

 Posted by at 16:29
Feb 152019
 

A basic principle of social security in Germany is cutting benefits if claimants miss an appointment, or fail to finish a training course, or refuse to sign an “integration agreement” (the equivalent of the DWP Claimant Commitment) in which they pledge to do all they can to find a job.

Sound familiar?

One organisation in Germany is really fighting the sanction regime and is doing an amazing thing. The Sanktionsfrei (“sanction-free”) organisation says sanctions do not work, and to prove this point, the organisation launched a study to find out what effect sanction-free support has on people. [i]

Starting in February 2019 and for the next three years, 250 randomly chosen recipients of Hartz IV financial assistance — the system of German long-term unemployment benefits or welfare support — will get any sanctions immediately reimbursed by the organisation, no questions asked.

The scheme is called HartzPlus. This study is expanding on a study undertaken by this organisation with 25 Hartz IV recipients who benefited of full sanctions compensation.  Although only five of the 25 people were actually sanctioned in that time, at a total cost to the organization of €2,400, there was a psychological benefit to all the participants.

“All of them said they have a better feeling, that they sleep better, that they’re more motivated to find a job, and that they’re less scared when they go for appointments at the job centre. In other words, sanctions have an effect before they’re imposed” explained the organization’s leader Helena Steinhaus.

The issue of sanctions in Germany has split the SPD and led to the building of a consensus in the party that sanctions should be scrapped.  According to Sven Lehmann, the German Greens’ labour spokesman: Hartz IV It (the sanction regime) has been in force for 15 years, and we know that poverty has grown, the low-wage sector has grown, and the middle classes are scared of falling into that system and then won’t be able to decide what they want to do. Removing sanctions, and thus removing fear, can only help the economy.

Hopefully some organisations, universities, think tanks etc. will be able to undertake the same kind of study in the UK where the sanction regime has been the harshest in the world, with deadly consequences. If not, this organisation https://sanktionsfrei.de/ @sanktionsfrei and their study will give us the evidence we need to show that sanctions are not only making no difference in terms of ‘motivating’ unemployed people (and in the UK this includes disabled people) into work, but that their absence is a motivating and positive factor to look for work, and to do so without fear of consequences.

Please retweet this to any organisation, university etc. which could potentially fund this study. It is our chance to bury forever the myth that sanctions incentivise people to look for and to find a job. Worse, as shown by the W&P committee[ii], the government is not prepared to look at the impact of sanctions on the financial situation and wellbeing of claimants.  This study has the potential to show that sanctions are ineffective in terms of ‘helping’ claimants into work, but also that the absence of sanctions has a better chance to attain this objective.

[i] https://www.dw.com/en/germanys-welfare-experiment-sanction-free-basic-security/a-46629933

[ii]  https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2017/benefit-sanctions-government-response-report-publication-17-19/

 

 Posted by at 11:23
Feb 142019
 

 

Tory conference police force admits sharing information on protesters with DWP

Disabled activists have demanded an inquiry after a police force that has patrolled four Conservative party conferences since 2010 admitted sharing information about protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has now become the second police force to admit sharing information about people taking part in protests with DWP, following a similar admission by Lancashire police.

But GMP has also admitted having a “sharing agreement” with DWP, even though the department explicitly stated two months ago that it had no such arrangements with any police force.

The admissions have followed claims reported by Disability News Service (DNS) that police forces have been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

Lancashire police then admitted in December that it had shared both information and video footage of disabled anti-fracking protesters with DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Last month, DWP refused to say – in response to a DNS freedom of information request – which police forces had passed it information about claimants of disability benefits who have taken part in anti-fracking and anti-austerity protests.

But Greater Manchester Police has now told DNS that it passed DWP information – but not video footage – about protesters taking part in the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford.

Those protests took place in 2013 and 2014, but the force also confirmed that it has shared information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking.

This raises concerns that it has passed information to DWP about disabled people who protested in Manchester about the government’s austerity-related social security reforms, particularly high-profile actions in 2015 and 2017.

In 2017, disabled activists from the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) criticised “heavy-handed” police tactics at a direct action protest that blocked tram lines outside the conference.

The Tory party is due to return to Manchester in September for this year’s annual party conference.

Andy Greene, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Using the cover of suspected benefit fraud as a shroud for the targeting of disabled activists is outrageous.

These are public services and should be deploying every resource they have to support disabled people to be active and engaged citizens.

Yet, what we see is the use of those resources deployed against disabled people as if we are enemies of the state.

Violence, the weaponisation of hunger, the ‘grave and systemic violations of disabled people’s human rights’ – this is what we are experiencing at the hands of the police, the DWP and other public services every day.”

He added: “There needs to be an inquiry into what’s gone on; and where wrong has been done, people have to be held to account. 

Who made the decisions within these services to share this information, when, how were these decisions justified? 

Disabled people need to be shown – not words – that they are safe to take part in protests, demonstrations, campaigning and activism without the threat of police violence or having their benefits and services taken away. 

The policing of disabled people by the very services designed to empower and enable us is a dangerous road to go down.”

Dennis Queen, who lives in Manchester and was arrested at the 2017 protest for public disorder but was later found not guilty, also backed calls for an inquiry.

She said she did not understand how the police could lawfully know who was claiming disability benefits.

She said: “In the same vein I don’t understand what business it is of the DWP if a person decides to attend a protest.

As far as I am aware there are no questions in benefit claims about attending protests.

There is no rule that claimants may not attend protests for us to be breaking. If there is then we ought to have a right to know about it.

I can only assume this is being done to cause a chilling effect and make disabled people afraid to protest. As such, it’s an informal ban on protesting against disabled people.”

Three other police forces that have been involved in policing anti-fracking protests over the last six years – Sussex, Surrey and North Yorkshire – have told DNS that they have not passed on information about protesters to DWP.

A Greater Manchester Police spokesperson said in a statement: “As part of a sharing agreement, information about protestors has been passed to DWP but only in the event where concerns have been raised.

During the course of our duties, whether this is at protests or not, if any concerns are identified, we are duty-bound to pass these onto the relevant partner agencies in any policing operation. 

No-one is deterred from taking part in protests or exercising their right to free speech.

As with any operation, a strategy is put in place in order for us to facilitate peaceful protests with as little disruption to the local area as possible.

The sharing of information is a useful tool for both us and our partners, helping us to build greater intelligence pictures, identify areas of concerns and work better with the communities we serve.”

A force spokesperson later added: “Information was passed to DWP in relation to the Barton Moss protests.”

She said that the raising of concerns that lead to information being passed to DWP are those “identified from intelligence gathering before all protests, reports made by the public and information passed on by police officers on the ground”.

The spokesperson also confirmed that information had been passed to DWP about both anti-fracking and non-fracking-related protests.

It is not yet clear which other protests have led to information being passed to DWP by Greater Manchester Police.

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

She had not said by noon today (Thursday) whether this meant her department was accusing Greater Manchester Police of lying about its “sharing agreement” with DWP.

She also refused to say if the minister for disabled people accepted that this exchange of information with GMP risked creating a more hostile environment for disabled people who receive benefits.

She also refused to say if Newton accepted that there would be grave concerns over the possible sharing of information with DWP by GMP from anti-austerity protests that were critical of DWP and its policies at Tory party conferences in Manchester.

14 February 2019

 

 

Ministers block release of ‘no deal Brexit’ social care recruitment plans

Ministers are refusing to release information that would show what extra plans – if any – the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has put in place to deal with an adult social care recruitment crisis in the event of a “no deal Brexit”.

With just 43 days until Britain faces the possibility of leaving the European Union without a deal in place, DHSC claimed that “premature” release of the information could put at risk “effective policy formulation and development regarding our exit from the EU”.

Instead of releasing its records, it has pointed to “high level” plans published just before Christmas, but they suggest that ministers have no plans in place to deal with an adult social care recruitment crisis.

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 in December that the impact of Brexit on social care recruitment was “potentially disastrous”.

The refusal by DHSC to release the information came in response to a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS).

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has already laid out some plans, including a national recruitment campaign to “raise the image and profile” of the adult social care sector, which was launched this week, but these will go ahead regardless of the Brexit outcome.

The adult social care green paper – which has been postponed yet again because of the government’s Brexit struggles – is also set to look at how to “recruit and retain a valued workforce”, says DHSC.

But DNS has been trying since November to discover from DHSC whether Hancock has put any specific plans in place to deal with a possible recruitment crisis in adult social care if Britain tumbles into a no deal Brexit.

Evidence Hancock gave to the Commons health and social care committee in November suggested he had no such plans, but his department subsequently refused to confirm that this was the case.

Following Hancock’s evidence, DNS asked through a freedom of information request what recorded information the department possessed on preparations it had made for dealing with recruitment into the social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit.

DHSC says in its response that it does hold information “relevant to your request” but is relying on an exemption under section 35(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, which allows it to refuse to release information “relating to the formulation and development of government policy”.

Guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office makes it clear that a government department can only rely on this exemption “if the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure”.

DHSC says in its response that “premature” disclosure of the information – just a few weeks before Brexit – “could prejudice effective policy formulation and development regarding our exit from the EU”.

It adds: “We feel that the public interest would be better served by protecting effective policy making as we continue to negotiate our exit from the EU/prepare for all EU exit scenarios.”

But the disabled peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, disability spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the DHSC refusal “suggests that there is no plan if there is a ‘no deal Brexit’”.

She said: “This just confirms our worst fears that, in the event of no deal Brexit, there will simply not be enough personal assistants to help disabled people live their lives properly if those from Europe stop coming, or those that are here go home.

This is a shocking state of affairs, which the government must face up to. It is not good enough just to hope for the best. They must take urgent action.”

The DHSC response does direct DNS to its “high-level plans”, which were published four days before Christmas and include letters to adult social care providers and commissioners about the government’s plans in the event of a no deal Brexit.

They also include the department’s “Brexit operational readiness guidance for the health and care system in England”, which again deals with action that should be taken in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

But the letters and guidance suggest that while DHSC has put into place a series of contingency plans for the NHS, some of which would also support the adult social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit, it has done nothing to prepare for a possible social care recruitment crisis.

In a letter to adult social care providers, Sir Chris Wormald, DHSC’s permanent secretary, says: “To ensure you are as prepared as possible, we encourage all social care providers to have fully up to date and robust contingency plans for the possible implications for a ‘no deal’ EU Exit.”

But on workforce issues, his letter merely points providers to the government’s EU settlement scheme, which protects the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK, and which will apply whether there is a deal or not.

He also encourages providers to provide data on their workforce to a national scheme more regularly than they would usually do, as this “provides an important source for our national workforce risk assessments and we will be drawing data from it on a regular basis throughout the first six months of [2019]”.

In his letter to local authority chief executives and directors of adult social care, Sir Chris encourages them “to work closely with your adult social care providers… to assure yourself that any impact on providers can be managed locally”.

And he reminds them of “the importance of having robust contingency plans in place so that the duty to ensure continuity of services can be met”.

He adds: “I know that Local Authorities’ contingency plans will take into account the potential effects from a ‘no deal’ EU Exit scenario and you will be considering the impact on vulnerable people who use adult social care services.”

He says DHSC will “work closely” with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to support councils in this work and “ensure that activity is co-ordinated nationally across the health and care system”.

But he provides no suggestions for what steps DHSC has taken or will take to deal with the impact of a no deal Brexit on adult social care recruitment.

DHSC’s Brexit operational readiness guidance, also published on 21 December, focuses heavily on health and the NHS.

In the workforce section, it merely says: “The current expectation is that there will not be a significant degree of health and care staff leaving around exit day.

Organisations can escalate concerns through existing reporting mechanisms to ensure there is regional and national oversight.”

Despite this optimism, in an annex laying out suggested actions for NHS providers, the guidance warns them to “consider the implications of further staff shortages caused by EU Exit across the health and care system, such as in adult social care, and the impact that would have on your organisation”.

A DHSC spokesperson refused again to say what extra plans – if any – DHSC has put in place to deal with a possible adult social care recruitment crisis in the event of a no deal Brexit.

He suggested that DNS could ask for an internal review of the department’s freedom of information response. DNS has already asked for such a review.

14 February 2019

 

 

MPs hear of ways to save benefit claimants from harm… or even death

Disabled activists and shadow ministers at a parliamentary meeting have been told of ways they could help to reduce the appalling damage caused by the government’s hated “fitness for work” assessment and other social security cuts and reforms.

Academics, researchers, politicians and campaigners spoke at yesterday’s (Thursday’s) meeting, which was hosted and organised by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell as part of a lobby of parliament.

The First Do No Harm lobby focused on the continuing refusal of ministers to ensure that sufficient medical evidence is gathered before decisions are made on claims for out-of-work disability benefits, particularly for people with mental distress.

Years of research has shown that deaths of claimants have been closely linked to the failure to ensure this further medical evidence is obtained.

A series of speakers described the continuing harm – including deaths – caused to disabled people by the work capability assessment (WCA) process and the sanctioning of claimants.

Labour shadow ministers said they would shortly be launching a consultation on designing a new social security system that has “respect at its core and treats people with dignity”.

This will include scrapping the WCA and the personal independence payment assessment and replacing them with a personalised assessment process and putting an end to the privatisation of the assessment process through companies like Atos, Maximus and Capita.

But two speakers also suggested that there was crucial short-term action that could be taken to save the lives of disabled people before any change of government.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, delivered a presentation on behalf of Edinburgh GP Dr Stephen Carty, the campaign’s medical adviser.

Dr Carty said he often includes a written warning at the bottom of the Med 3 form that GPs must fill out when someone is not well enough to work – known as the fit note – that the patient would be “at substantial risk of a deterioration in their physical and/or mental health” if found fit for work or work-related activity after a WCA.

He said he adds: “If a decision is made not to award this claimant benefits and there is a significant adverse outcome I will report the medical decision maker to the General Medical Council.”

He has to take this step because there is no other system in place to do so, he said.

He added: “I have lost count of the numbers of evictions [and] drug and alcohol relapses whilst in recovery and medical catastrophes related to adverse benefit decisions.”

Dr Carty said that both the Med 3 form and the claim form for out-of-work disability benefits should be amended to ask the claimant’s GP directly – in every case involving a sick or disabled claimant – if there would be a substantial risk of harm if the claimant was found fit for work or to be able to carry out some work-related activity.

McArdle told the meeting that this was a human rights issue that “ought in a civilised society to transcend all forms of party politics” and that MPs needed to work on a cross-party basis to introduce such a change.

He hopes this change could now come through pressure from an early day motion and a private member’s bill.

He told the meeting: “I don’t think anybody reasonably can deny the direct link between the WCA and people dying in destitution and from suicide.

We need to work together to get more than half of these MPs to say enough is enough. This must happen.”

Rick Burgess, of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and Recovery in the Bin, detailed four ways in which campaigners could immediately save lives and reduce some of the harm being caused to disabled benefit claimants by taking action at local level.

The first, he said, was to talk to local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and jobcentre area managers, and MPs, councillors and council officers, about sanctions that have been imposed and “see what wiggle room there might be” to reduce or remove them.

He said: “The product of most of those conversations has been not a big reduction but a reduction.” Every one of these conversations could result in a life saved, he said.

Secondly, campaigners can put pressure on local councils not to cut their welfare assistance schemes – if they still exist – and can raise awareness of such schemes.

A third measure, he said, was to provide and raise awareness about advice and advocacy, help people to record their benefit assessments, and accompany them to their assessments and appeals.

He said that recording benefit assessments, where possible, was the “single best thing to improve the quality of the assessment” because the assessors then “feel less free to defraud you”.

He said: “The tip of the spear of the DWP assault on us is the assessments.

If you get people helped at the assessment stage you may be saving them from a lot more trouble down the line.”

And, he said, as a result of council tax benefit cuts there now needed to be more joined-up work on “how to deal with the council tax you can’t pay”.

Burgess also said there was no assessment phase under the new universal credit benefit system, so people who were not able to work were now being sanctioned while waiting for their WCA, or their claims were being closed.

He said: “In Manchester, we have had examples of people in a psychotic crisis expected to attend work interviews.”

They fail to attend, are sanctioned, lose their flat and end up living on the street, he said.

He added: “It gets cold, they are dead on the street. 50 dead bodies this winter*. 50! That’s happening.”

Again, he said, jobcentres can be approached to use their discretion to waive universal credit sanctions as a harm reduction measure.

Gill Thompson told the meeting how her brother David Clapson had died in July 2013 from an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.

Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food. He had just £3.44 left in his bank account when he died.

She told those at the meeting, some of whom were close to tears: “David should not have been sanctioned. They say that sanctions are a last resort, but he missed two meetings and he died.

What upsets me more is that people are still dying.”

Thompson said: “He was struggling and he turned to the state for help and he didn’t get any.

I just don’t understand how this can happen. Sanctions should not be allowed.

I do feel that if he hadn’t been sanctioned, he might still be here. I don’t know, but he might still be here.”

Denise McKenna, from the Mental Health Resistance Network and Disabled People Against Cuts, said there were a “whole host of reasons” why self-reporting your own medical evidence as part of the WCA process was difficult for people with mental health problems.

But she also pointed out that mental health care itself was “a shambles”, with the idea of work as a cure now “deeply embedded in the psychiatric system” and the trust between mental health service-users and the psychiatric profession “almost completely collapsed”.

She said society was now seeing a similar abuse of psychiatry to the gay conversion therapies practised in the 1960s and 70s.

McKenna said: “All of the treatments that are available are based on the idea that you are responsible for your mental distress and if you behave well enough and you try hard enough you can get better.

It’s just as damaging as what happened to those gay men in the 60s and 70s. It’s despicable.

We cannot have people who are both terrorised by the DWP and the psychiatric system.”

Catherine Hale, lead researcher and project manager of the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project (CIIP), and a member of the Spartacus Network, told the meeting that the hostile environment that had led to disabled people being viewed as “objects of hostility and distrust” was not accidental.

She highlighted how its origins lay in the writings of Gordon Waddell and Mansel Aylward, who advised insurance companies and governments on ways to cut pay-outs to sick and disabled people, as she said had been demonstrated by another disabled researcher, Mo Stewart.

Hale said: “According to them, the only way to get us out of our self-imposed ill-health is through compulsion and punishment, also known as sanctions.

The first thing we need to do to overturn the hostile environment is to call out and reject these theories.

We no longer allow scientists to say that homosexuality is a psychiatric condition or that some races are less intelligent than others, so let’s root out this so-called science that says that disabled people are liars and cheats.

Stop designing assessments that treat us as guilty until proven innocent.”

She added: “We should not be assessing work capability. We should be assessing structural disadvantage in the labour market.”

And she told the meeting: “Let’s move away from the mantra that says that paid work is the only valid route to being a good citizen in our society.”

Mark Harrison, from the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, said that disabled people needed to be “in the lead” in co-producing Labour’s new policies ahead of a Labour government.

But he said each policy needed to be assessed on whether it complied with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), in a process that should be led by disabled people.

He said: “If we don’t have that we are going to end up in problems because if we can’t scrutinise the plans of spending departments, as disabled people we are the only ones who know whether it is CRPD compliant, we are the only ones who know whether it’s based on the social model.”

Dr David Webster, an expert on benefit sanctions from the University of Glasgow, delivered a briefing on his work, which argues against sanctions and conditionality for sick and disabled benefit claimants.

He said that Waddell and Aylward’s work had been “quite clearly intended to soften up opinion so as to prepare the ground for the introduction of ESA**-type provision”.

He added: “The campaign since 2008 to drive sick and disabled people into work through conditionality [such as sanctions] has failed but it has caused a lot of collateral damage.

It never had any proper evidence base.”

McDonnell called for a rolling programme of lobbying MPs in their own constituencies about the harm being caused to disabled people to ensure that “we are not allowing MPs not to become aware of what is happening within their area”.

He said some MPs only began to appreciate the impact of the government’s reforms once they were confronted with the reality of what was happening in their own constituency and perhaps being introduced to someone who had been sanctioned.

He said the impact of universal credit on all MPs’ constituencies was “brutal”, while the ESA process was “pushing people to the edge”.

He said: “The sanctions regime is still there and people being hardest hit are disabled people and particularly those with mental health issues.”

But McDonnell said he thought people were finally waking up to “the scale of the suffering that’s gone on”, and he said that the work of disabled researchers and campaigners like Hale, Stewart and McArdle was “academically and intellectually unchallengeable now”.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, told the event: “Nine years of austerity has led to the hostile environment that has been created for [disabled people].”

She said the current assessment regime was “cruel” and “not fit for purpose”, and she added: “People should view the social security system in the same vein as they view the NHS because the welfare state was introduced as a safety net.”

Margaret Greenwood, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said there needed to be a “sea change in the way in which disabled people are treated and we want a social security system that has respect at its core and treats people with dignity.”

*Office for National Statistics figures show at least 50 homeless people died in Greater Manchester in 2017

**The out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance

14 February 2019

 

 

User-led sector ‘faces threat of extinction’

User-led organisations across the country are continuing to close, with the sector even facing a “real threat of extinction”, leading networks have warned this week.

Those user-led organisations that have found a way to survive are increasingly being side-lined from government consultations and government-funded projects, they said.

The National Survivor User Network (NSUN) estimates that about 50 more user-led organisations that were previously NSUN members have been forced to close in the last year.

This follows a net loss of more than 150 member groups in the previous year.

NSUN, which represents groups and people in England with experience of mental distress, has now warned its members: “This is having a deep impact on collectives of oppressed and marginalised people who have been campaigning to have a voice, lobbying for legislative changes and self-organising to make things better.”

It is so concerned about the continuing attack on the value of user-led groups that it is to focus its campaigning this year on this issue.

Shaping Our Lives, a national network of disabled people and service-users, was even more stark in its warning about the sector’s future.

Its latest estimates are that it has lost about a sixth of its user-led member organisations in the last couple of years, and it believes that this rate of closure is accelerating.

Professor Peter Beresford, SOL’s co-chair, said successive governments had argued for a wider range of providers of public services, but in practice this had led to a “big shift to privatisation and the dominance of big metropolitan-based charities, which are run like big businesses”. 

He said: “The great, much-valued innovation of the age has been small, local, accountable user-led organisations (ULOs) and disabled people’s user-led organisations (DPULOs), run by the groups – disabled people, mental health service-users, people with learning difficulties – they are meant to serve.”

But he said the “rising tension in service provision in the context of austerity cuts” had led to the marginalisation of these ULOs, which were now “facing serious crisis” and “a real threat of extinction”.

He called for a “radical review of both government and funding policy” in order to avert this “tragedy”.

Sarah Yiannoullou, NSUN’s managing director, said that user-led groups and networks needed to work more closely together, share their common concerns and experiences and look at collective solutions to ensure their survival.

She said the network’s members and other user-led organisations and networks had faced similar problems over the last five years.

She said: “We are finding there are very similar and common issues, with groups closing, whether it is due to lack of resources or burn-out of the leaders of our groups, there is less and less opportunity for that independent, collective and direct voice.

So what we were campaigning about 20 years ago and feeling like we were making some progress on, now it feels as though – particularly over the last couple of years – that we are regressing.”

NSUN is now seeking funding for joint research to examine how many user-led organisations are being lost, and how well understood user-led groups are and why they are so valuable.

This week, NSUN launched a survey* that it hopes will provide evidence from user-led organisations of the challenges they are facing, the work they do, the impact they have, and the policy changes they believe are needed to support user-led groups.

NSUN also hopes the research will look at the growing use of language that “blurs the lines” between user-led and non-user-led organisations.

Yiannoullou said: “The space that user-led groups have worked hard to carve out for themselves around advocacy, peer support, involvement, participation and recovery, has become an area of income generation for other [non-user-led] organisations.”

As well as large charities, private sector and statutory bodies like NHS trusts are now involved in this work, further crowding out user-led groups and often changing the kind of work taking place in areas like peer support “beyond recognition”, she said.

Government departments, for example, will use phrases like “user groups” to describe the voluntary sector groups and organisations they have been consulting with, and don’t necessarily differentiate between user-led and non-user-led organisations, said Yiannoullou.

Such groups may have access to service-users who can take part in consultations on disability-related issues, but they are usually not run and controlled by service-users, which means the government is repeatedly breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and “general comment number seven”, which was agreed last autumn by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

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

It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”.

Yiannoullou said: “We want to reassert and raise awareness of what the distinction is between user-led groups and user groups.

We also want to get a sense of whether it’s just us (user-led groups) that think this is important.”

NSUN fears that the importance of user-led groups is being lost in the clamour for contracts and increasing competitive tendering.

Yiannoullou said: “It’s a real concern that user-led groups are reporting that their contributions are not being recognised and are having less and less impact.

The smaller groups, which tend to be the user-led groups, find it really hard to compete. There’s no level playing-field.

We need to have some high-level conversations about the value of user-led groups, what makes them different and what needs to happen to help them survive the current climate.”

Becki Meakin, SOL’s general manager, said: “The growing pressure on voluntary and community sector organisations to secure funding is evolving into a fight for survival.

Tactics previously only used by the most aggressive profit-making companies are now becoming common place in the voluntary sector.

Funders and commissioners need to realise that different types of voluntary and community sector organisations have different skills and strengths.

One funding model and approach does not work for everyone.”

She added: “Recent government policy is now looking to the community to meet the gaps in provision.

With the declining number of local user-led groups, where is the knowledge and capacity going to come from?

It is not just the user-led movement that is stretched to its limits, but it is also the people with lived experience who have committed their time and energy, often for little reward, to providing peer support and advocacy.

Austerity policies and service cuts have also devastatingly impacted the capacity of individuals to fight for others.”

*User-led organisations that would like to provide their own experiences and concerns can contact NSUN by email at info@nsun.org.uk or fill in the online survey

14 February 2019

 

 

Launch of Neurodivergent Labour ‘could be milestone in fight for rights and equality’

The launch of a new user-led political organisation is set to be a “landmark event” for neurodivergent people in the Labour party.

After three years of lobbying, discussions and consultation, disabled party members launched Neurodivergent Labour in central London on Saturday.

Janine Booth, co-chair of the TUC disabled workers’ committee, who played a key role in its formation, told the launch event it would be “a milestone in the fight for acceptance, rights and equality for autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic and otherwise neurodivergent people through the Labour party”.

More than 50 neurodivergent party members backed the new organisation’s aim to campaign against discrimination, exclusion, oppression and injustice and for equality for neurodivergent people”.

The new organisation, which will hold its founding annual general meeting later this year, will also work to make the Labour party itself more accessible to its neurodivergent members.

Booth said: “We all know that there are some parts of how the party operates that are not easy for us to navigate, whether it is big long word documents, whether it is unpleasant atmospheres at meetings, whether it is things not being explained properly, whether it is a top-down bureaucratic approach that is hard for us to get involved in.

So we want to fight to make our party more accessible.”

Those present at the launch also endorsed a draft Labour party autism/neurodiversity manifesto, which Booth and others have been developing for nearly three years.

The manifesto is based on the social model of disability, and an understanding that neurodiversity should be accepted and not suppressed or cured, and comes from an anti-austerity perspective that also sets out to challenge “the deep social routes of discrimination against neurodivergent people”.

It addresses issues around the lack of diagnostic services, the impact of Tory social security cuts and reforms, including neurodivergent people driven to suicide by benefit sanctions, and the crises in social care and housing.

It also highlights a level of hate crime that has “increased with the demonisation of people who are disabled and/or different in pursuit of the Tories’ austerity agenda”.

It calls for legislation to outlaw “quack” cures, such as the “false and dangerous” sale of products that “exploit the fears of neurodivergent people and their families”.

Campaigner Emma Dalmayne told the launch event that she welcomed the inclusion of this measure in the draft manifesto.

She said: “I’ve been campaigning against autistic mistreatment with abusive quack cures for the last five years here in the UK.

I have literally felt alone for so long. I’ve had so many threats, I’ve had rape threats, death threats, and threats against my family, so I just wanted to say thank you.”

The manifesto also calls for action to make the built environment “less distressing and more accessible”, and for a campaign to raise public awareness of neurodiversity.

And it says there should be a review of the accessibility of the justice system, and action taken to ensure that “non-harmful unusual behaviours are not criminalised, and that people receive support rather than punishment if an intolerable environment causes disruptive behaviour”.

Other policies include neurodiversity training for all teachers and teaching assistants as part of their “core training”; support for neurodivergent students; smaller class sizes; and neurodiversity to be included in the school curriculum.

It also calls for the work capability assessment to be scrapped; for neurodiversity training for all public service staff*; and for a new legal requirement on employers to make workplaces and working conditions “more equal and accessible and less hostile”.

Booth said there had been input into the draft manifesto from thousands of people from within the party, trade unions and the neurodiversity movement, under the guidance of a steering group composed entirely of neurodivergent party members.

She said the draft manifesto had “a set of radical, progressive policies that would significantly improve the lives of neurodivergent people”, and when it was formally adopted by the Labour party “we need to go and tell neurodivergent people that, and say, this is what you will get if you elect a Labour government”.

She said: “We want this organisation to be not just a talking shop, not just to have conferences each year, but to actually go out on the streets and campaign.”

The idea of a Labour neurodiversity and autism manifesto was first suggested by Booth to John McDonnell nearly three years ago, and the shadow chancellor was at the launch event.

McDonnell said it had previously been “pretty bleak” for neurodivergent people within the party who needed support, advice or wanted to push for legislative change.

He said it had been crucial that the new organisation was led by neurodivergent people.

And he promised again that disabled people would be involved in implementing policy when Labour won power.

He said: “As I keep repeating, this is not about electing a group of MPs who will go off and do it for us. That will never work, it never has and never will.

This is about when we go into government, we all go into government, so we draft our manifesto, we secure commitments from the bulk of the Labour party through the normal policy-making process and then when we go into government, we all work on the detail of the implementation itself.”

McDonnell said his shadow Treasury team would be starting a new exercise next month in which they will recost key policies, in preparation for a possible general election.

He said he wanted the party to insert the issues raised in the draft autism/neurodiversity manifesto into that discussion.

He said: “If we could do that it would be absolutely ground-breaking. We would be the first party to look at this in this overall comprehensive way, and we would be the first government to do it as well, so this is revolutionary, to be honest.

I think if we can get the debate going early… we can go into government with the implementation plans there, the draft legislation in place, and the funding resources available too.

You can see how we could transform people’s lives.”

Helen Whitehead, who stood unsuccessfully to be Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) in South Thanet last year, said she believed the idea of setting up Neurodivergent Labour was already working.

She said: “I stood for PPC in South Thanet last year and I did so as an autistic woman, because I was aware that nationally we were becoming more aware of what our abilities are, that we are welcomed by the party, that we are more than capable.

I did this because I was aware of everything that was happening, so I would just like to thank everybody and point out that you are already doing what we are setting out to put forward today and I think it is absolutely incredible.”

*The Department of Health and Social Care announced a consultation this week on plans for health and social care staff who regularly have contact with patients or service-users to be legally required to undergo training on learning difficulties and autism

14 February 2019

 

 

MP speaks of pride at being dyspraxic at launch of Neurodivergent Labour

A disabled MP has spoken of her pride at being able to speak openly about being dyspraxic, after having to hide her diagnosis from employers for years before she entered parliament.

Emma Lewell-Buck was previously a social worker but was “acutely aware that if there were any job cuts that would come around, it would be used against me and I would be the first one in the dole queue”.

She said she used to take work home with her at weekends, work late into the evening and start early in the morning because, like many other disabled people, she felt she had to “go the extra mile” and “work that little bit harder to prove yourself or keep up”.

She was speaking at the launch event of Neurodivergent Labour (see separate story), a political campaign group that will fight for the rights of people with neurological differences such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia, both within the party and in wider society.

Lewell-Buck, the shadow minister for children and families – who later confirmed to Disability News Service that she is happy to be described as a disabled MP – said that being dyspraxic affected her every day in her work.

She said: “Every single thing I do I need to prep for meticulously, down to the tiniest detail.

But I’m one of the lucky ones because I am in a job where I can openly speak about my disability and I can use my profile to raise awareness.”

The MP for South Shields said she was only diagnosed at the age of 27, after being assessed by an educational psychologist on the advice of a lecturer while she was studying for a masters degree.

She said: “My whole life clicked into place. I suddenly realised why, when I was growing up, I always felt different to other kids and always used to isolate myself.

I realised why I put my shoes on the wrong feet, why I couldn’t tie my laces properly, button my coat up, why I was always spilling my drinks and why the whole family always referred to me as ‘our clumsy Emma’.

I was always so frustrated that things that used to come so easily to other kids were so, so hard for me.”

This caused “tremendous low self-esteem and self-confidence” as a child, she said.

But she said she now saw her dyspraxia as an advantage.

She said: “I just see it as I’m a little bit different to some of those around me. I’ve embraced it.

It doesn’t define me, it’s just part of me. I’ve been forced to adapt and face those challenges, and come up with solutions, and I certainly don’t feel disadvantaged.”

She thanked those neurodivergent party members who had developed the idea of the new organisation, as well as shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who has supported the idea over the last three years and spoke at Saturday’s launch event.

She said: “It is thanks to you that people like me have the confidence to talk about and embrace who we are and thanks to all of you that the fabulously neurodivergent people have been given this platform to help us on the way to that much-needed societal and cultural shift.”

Lewell-Buck said that she, McDonnell and other Labour colleagues were “determined to change the culture of our society and how neurodivergent people and people with disabilities are treated.

Our approach is a clear move away from the dehumanising and debilitating hostile environment we have seen under the Tories to one where people will be treated with dignity and respect.”

She said it was “the neurodivergent people in this world who have always been the big thinkers, and creators and innovators.

We are the ones who always have the ability to think outside the box and come up with solutions to some of the world’s greatest problems.”

Among the decisions agreed by the launch event was to endorse a draft Labour autism and neurodiversity manifesto that neurodivergent party members have spent three years developing.

Included in the manifesto are calls for neurodiversity training for all teachers and teaching assistants as part of their “core training”, support for neurodivergent students, smaller class sizes, and neurodiversity to be included in the school curriculum.

Lewell-Buck, who is leading on Labour’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms, said the proposals in the draft manifesto were “an exact fit to those that I have been arguing for behind the scenes in my team meetings”, because she was committed to making SEND “an embedded and intrinsic part of our overall education system”.

She said that a good education “can make the difference between where you begin in life and where you end up.

I am living proof of that: a dyspraxic, dyslexic, shy working-class girl, growing up on the estate where I did, and never destined to be a member of parliament.

So good education can absolutely make the impossible happen. I am proud to be a Labour MP and I am very proud to be dyspraxic.”

She added: “You have all stopped me feeling different and I have found my home and for that alone you are always going to have my help and support, and I look forward to working with you all.”

14 February 2019

 

 

Disability Confident’ Arts Council England’s job stats shame

The Arts Council has admitted that only two per cent of its directors – and just three per cent of its managers – are disabled people, despite having achieved “Disability Confident Employer” status under the government’s discredited disability employment scheme.

Arts Council England (ACE) has now become the latest employer to achieve the top two levels of the Disability Confident scheme – including government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions – despite their own troubling records on disability employment.

The figures came in ACE’s fourth annual diversity report, which showed figures for 2017-18.

ACE, the government’s national development agency for art and culture, produced a stream of figures in its report which revealed almost no progress in increasing the representation of disabled people among staff, managers and directors in larger organisations funded by ACE.

But its own results were just as bad, and often worse, with disabled people making up just six per cent of its overall workforce in 2017-18, the same as the previous year.

And just two per cent of its directors (down from three per cent in 2016-17) and three per cent of its managers (the same as 2016-17) were disabled people.

Abid Hussain, ACE’s director of diversity, admitted that ACE had “as much if not more work to do than the sector”.

He said: “It’s really, really key for the Arts Council to be seen as an employer that disabled people want to work for.

We need to be removing any barriers that people are facing.

If we can have disabled people informing our policy-making, informing the way our funding is distributed, but also having a very honest conversation about the things we can do better, then I think we’ll see a shift in our culture and our ability to see the progress we want to see.”

There were also troubling results from its survey of major ACE-funded museums, with the proportion of disabled directors falling from four per cent to just two per cent.

And two major arts organisations – Bristol Old Vic and The University of Warwick – both admitted that they still do not employ a single disabled person, three years on from ACE figures that showed that disabled people made up zero per cent of their workforces.

Other arts organisations – all of which have more than 50 permanent staff – who admitted that disabled people made up zero per cent of their employees included The Customs House, in South Shields, Hull City Council, and Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham.

Across the whole of ACE’s national portfolio of funded organisations, the percentage of disabled workers rose from four to five per cent and remained at four per cent for its major funded museums.

Sir Nicholas Serota, ACE’s chair, said: “Progress has been too slow, there’s no question about it.”

ACE said its report showed that fewer people were now responding to questions about their own status with “prefer not to say”, but many organisations were still returning a high level of “unknown” responses.

This could mean that there were more disabled people working in organisations than the report suggested.

It plans to put more pressure on organisations which consistently report high levels of “unknown” data, “reminding them of their obligations under their funding agreements”.

14 February 2019

 

 

Delight’ over breakthrough on Welsh independent living scheme closure

Disabled campaigners have welcomed measures that aim to address concerns over the imminent closure of the Welsh government’s independent living grant scheme.

Julie Morgan, the deputy minister for health and social services, has written to council leaders to ask for an immediate “pause” in the closure programme and its replacement with a system of council-funded support.

There will now be new independent assessments for any former recipients of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme who are unhappy with the new support packages allocated by their local authority.

The new measures came just two weeks after Nathan Lee Davies, who has led the campaign to save the WILG scheme, sent an 80-page dossier of evidence about the closure to Welsh Labour’s new leader and first minister, Mark Drakeford.

Davies told Drakeford in an open letter accompanying the dossier that closing WILG would leave disabled people with high support needs, like him, “at the mercy of cash-strapped Local Authorities who seem intent on cutting vital support packages across the board with no guarantee that further cuts will not follow”.

He sent his letter with just two months to go until the interim WILG scheme was due to close.

Now Morgan has announced a pause in the transition to the new system.

WILG was set up – with UK government funding – as an interim scheme following the UK government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund in June 2015.

The Welsh government is now closing WILG for good and transferring the funding to local councils, and by April the 22 local authorities were due to be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients in Wales.

But in a written statement to assembly members, Morgan said she had considered the evidence and decided there needed to be a “change in direction” because her government’s own review had shown a significant variation in how support packages were being cut by different councils.

Morgan said that all WILG recipients who were unhappy with their new care and support package and would like a second opinion would now be offered an independent assessment.

These assessments will be funded by the Welsh government, which will also pay for any resulting additional hours of support.

The government said that the new assessments would “acknowledge the historical entitlement of former ILF recipients”, while Morgan told assembly members in a written statement that there would be “no financial barrier [so] no-one need have less favourable care and support than they had under ILF”.

Morgan, who praised Davies and his fellow campaigners, said: “It is paramount that people’s ability to live independently is not compromised by changes to the care and support provided for people previously in receipt of the Welsh Independent Living Grant.

These changes will ensure that is the case and deliver a consistent level of care and support across Wales.

While the majority of former ILF recipients are receiving the same or more care as they were previously, a significant number have experienced a reduction in hours of support.

There is also considerable variation in the reductions in support.

I have therefore written to local government leaders to request a pause of the transition with immediate effect in order to bring in the revised arrangements.

This is a significant change of approach that ensures that the needs of former WILG recipients will be fully met, and that resources are no barrier to a full package of care and support.”

Davies, who was celebrating his birthday on the day of the announcement, said it was “the perfect 42nd birthday gift”.

He said later in a statement: “I would like to place on record my delight at the breakthrough we have made.”

He added: “It is a pleasure to be working with our new first minister Mark Drakeford and his revamped cabinet that differs substantially from the previous regime.

Welsh Labour have now successfully re-branded themselves and are moving forward with a clear vision of creating a society based on 21st century socialist ideas.

There is still some work to be done with Welsh Labour on the new arrangements to support disabled people to live independently.

I am confident that this work will be carried out constructively and add to the ‘clear red water’ that Welsh Labour are once again setting between themselves and Westminster.

The fact that the party that I am proud to be a member of, has listened and acted appropriately is really encouraging and gives me hope for the future.”

Disability Wales praised Davies’s campaigning work and the Welsh government for “listening and responding to the evidence” and added: “This is really welcome news for Welsh disabled people who had lost vital support after the ILF closed.”

14 February 2019

 

 

Parents who home educate disabled children ‘scapegoated’ by commissioner

Families forced into home educating their disabled children because of the lack of support from mainstream schools are among parents who are being “scapegoated” by the children’s commissioner, according to a disabled mum and campaigner.

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, published a report last week that calls for action to address the lack of knowledge about the standard of education and safety of the tens of thousands of children currently being home educated.

Research by Channel 4’s Dispatches, for a documentary presented by Longfield last week, found that 22 per cent of children withdrawn from school to be home educated in 2017-18 had special educational needs (SEN).

The number of children known by local authorities to be home educated has doubled since 2013-14.

Longfield said there were concerns about whether some of these children were safe and if they were receiving a good quality education.

She wants to see a compulsory register of home educated children, and greater oversight of those arrangements.

But disabled activist Dennis Queen, who home educates her 14-year-old twins Stan and Rosa, who are both disabled, says home educators are being blamed rather than the schools that caused the problems in the first place.

And she is angry that the commissioner is suggesting giving greater powers to the local authorities that are already responsible for failing children who have been forced into home education.

She says the people they need to worry about are parents who have removed their children from school but are not home educating them.

Longfield said: “We need to know who these children are, where they are, whether they are safe and if they are getting the education they need to succeed in life.

There is a clear case for the government to introduce a compulsory register for all home educated children, without delay.”

But Queen said such a register and greater oversight would be “a fundamental change to the law around children and education”, which currently says that it is the legal duty of parents – and not the state – to provide an education for their home educated children.  

She and other campaigners believe such measures would breach the human rights of home educating families, who have rights to privacy and a family life under the Human Rights Act.

Local councils have an obligation to identify children they believe are not receiving a suitable education, but they have no legal duty to monitor those being home educated and do not have the powers to insist on visiting a home unless they have a welfare concern.

Councils are responsible for safeguarding in their area and have the same safeguarding powers in relation to children educated at home as to those educated at school.

But Queen says that most families who home educate – some of whom choose to do so without even trying the school system – are already checked by local authorities, and she and others want those checks to remain voluntary.

She said: “We will comply with whatever they ask us to do, but it is not going to help Anne Longfield find the children who are not getting an education.

I think there is enough oversight already. In general, families comply when they are asked and if they don’t comply and there are concerns, they can be made to comply.

I think any further measures waste energy and money which could be used instead to find children who are not getting any education.”

She added: “Every minute we waste preparing for assessment is another minute not educating our children.

Many kinds of home ed exist and some are vastly different to schooling. Each child has a fully individualised education. They just can’t be measured by systems set up to measure schools.”

Introducing a new assessment system would “ruin it completely”, she added.

She said: “Home ed works partly because of the immense freedom we have to educate in ways which work for our children.”

She says her twins are now studying a wider range of subjects, and they have more friends, than they did when they were at school.

Queen says research shows that home-educated children have better outcomes on average than those who attend school – probably because those children benefit from more individual attention – with those improvements even greater for children from more deprived backgrounds.

Her experiences show how schools are forcing many parents of disabled children into removing them from school and home educating them instead, she said.

She had to remove her autistic son Stan from his mainstream school when the local authority halved his support package, and the school was about to insist that he move to a special school.

If she had not done so, she says, he would have had to attend a special school far from home, travelling an hour each way every day.

Rosa was de-registered about 18 months later, after the school kept punishing her for not sitting still in her chair, even though she was in pain because of her impairment.

Longfield said that many home-educated children have been “off-rolled” by schools, a process where parents are pressured to remove their child because of poor academic results, or because they have support needs the school is unwilling or unable to meet.

She wants to see stronger measures to tackle off-rolling.

Research by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office shows that the number of children moving into home education from academy schools in one London borough increased by 238 per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18, compared with a rise of 21 per cent in council-run schools in the borough.

Inclusive education campaigners have been warning for years that the spread of academy schools was undermining the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream schools.

Queen agrees that measures should be taken to address off-rolling, and that the spread of academies has worsened the problem.

The school previously attended by Rosa and Stan later became an academy, and has off-rolled other disabled children, says Queen, who has now joined other parents in sharing her experiences with the home education website Suitable Education.

She said: “We can’t let them turn home education into a dumping ground for children with SEN. It has to be a choice.”

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said her organisation had been concerned for years about the impact of academies on inclusive education, and about the practice of off-rolling, in what was a “fundamentally broken” school system.

She said: “We completely understand why parents make what can sometimes be a very difficult decision to pull their young person out of school.”

But she said that as more and more children are withdrawn from the mainstream school system, that lets the school system “off the hook”.

She said: “If you have got a pupil population that is less and less diverse in terms of their learning and access requirements, the pressure becomes less and less to offer creative solutions to your existing pupil population.”

That applied to the government and local authorities as well as education providers, she said, and led to an education system that was “less and less willing to be inclusive”.

Flood said the home educating community was responding to “an increasingly hostile school system” but it was up to the government, the education watchdog Ofsted and education providers “to end that hostility”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “There are thousands of parents across the country who are doing an excellent job of educating their children at home.

We know, however, that in a very small minority of cases children are not receiving the standard of education they should be or, very rarely, are being put at risk.

That’s why we recently ran a call for evidence on home education asking for views on issues such as registration, monitoring provision and support for home educators.

We have also consulted on revised guidance that will help local authorities and parents better understand safeguarding laws applicable to home education.

We are considering the responses and will respond to both the call for evidence and consultation in due course.”

14 February 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:10
Feb 142019
 

Has the Welfare Reform and Work Act (2016) impacted you or your family? 

For instance have you experienced the impact of issues such as:

o   Removing the work-related activity support component in Employment and Support Allowance

o   The reduction of the benefit cap (to £23,000 in London, £20,000 the rest of the UK)

o   The ‘freeze’ in the value of certain benefits for 4 years

o   Limiting support (from child tax credit or the child element of Universal Credit) to 2 children

Also:

o   Changes in conditionality for responsible carers under Universal Credit

o   Replacing current mortgage interest support to loans for mortgage interest payments

o   Reducing social rents by 1% pa over 4 years following the Act

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Health in All Policies has opened a follow up inquiry on the impact of  Welfare Reform and Work Act (2016) on Children and Disabled Adults and is calling for evidence.

 

Inclusion London will be submitting evidence.  Please send your experiences toHenrietta.Doyle@inclusionlondon.org.uk to inform Inclusion London’s submission.  However, you may wish to submit evidence yourself, if so please see the information below:

 

The deadline for submissions is Friday 8 March 2019.

Send submissions to appg@publicmatters.org.uk

 

Submissions should be no longer than 6 sides of A4.

 

The Committee has asked if you ‘Please indicate if you would be willing to take part in an oral hearing for this inquiry’.

 

More information about the inquiry is available in the ‘invitation for submissions’ document which is available to download.

 Posted by at 15:01
Feb 082019
 

ADKC

Action Disability Kensington & Chelsea

ADKC, an organisation of disabled people who live and work in

Kensington & Chelsea require

A DISABILITY SPECIALIST LEGAL ADVICE WORKER

Salary: £25,786

4 days per week

To provide a quality Specialist Disability Legal Advice service to disabled people throughout the Borough. Specialising in Welfare Benefits and general Advice with Casework in discrimination, accessible transport reviews and community care. Also providing social policy/research, to support ADKC’s campaigning role of challenging the barriers which prevent disabled people from fully participating in society

ADKC actively encourages disabled people to apply

For an application pack Email: adkc@adkc.org.uk / tel: 020 8960 8888

Closing date: 21/02/2019

 Posted by at 14:58
Feb 072019
 
With thanks to the author, Emily. You can visit her blog here: https://starfishmainlyobeys.wordpress.com/2019/02/01/doublespeak/
Disability Confident, double standards and doublespeak
The problems with Disability Confident are well known, at least amongst disabled people. It promotes the employer without necessarily providing any help to the employees it’s supposed to benefit. Experiencing this first hand has given me a tiny taste of the hoops you have to jump through when you have to ask those in charge for help but it also highlights the many contradictory attitudes and rules at play when it comes to disability equality and inclusion in the workplace.
Here is a run down of some of the barriers I’ve come up against since opening up about my health at work and trying to hold my employer to account to it’s own policies:

Being an expert

I am suddenly an expert on my own health when they want to prevaricate about the long list of reasonable adjustments that occupational health have recommended after they finally insisted on my referral to occupational health about 3 years after becoming ill at work, 6 months after starting a new role (in which they had repeatedly refused to carry my adjustments forward) and 1 month after lodging a grievance.

I am NOT an expert on my own health at ALL other times:

After having three months off work, almost having brain surgery, being repatriated to the UK by their insurance company, and providing much medical evidence of numerous tests, treatment and diagnoses, plus letters from doctors advising how it might affect me at work and to have a conversation with my employer about any adjustments they might provide, I have to request my own return to work interview so this can be discussed. No one wants to do it.

Despite the above, fitting my employer’s definition of disability and that of the Equality Act, another manager suggests that my diagnosis is incorrect and asks if I can prove it is legally a disability (not really unless you want me to go to court because that is for a judge to decide). I only want to know IF they can provide any support, for example by changing or reducing my timetable, for which I am willing to take a pay cut:

Managers consistently tell me they have googled Meniere’s disease or their relative has it and therefore they know all about (are they trained to do this like Trump is taught to feign empathy with generic post-its because its an eerily common occurrence for a rare disease?):

When I request certain changes to communications about ME to facilitate reasonable adjustments being carried forward to my new job within the same organisation (because one manager tries to blame my faultless line manager for their failings whilst making themselves sound wonderful and me like a huge inconvenience, none of which is very relevant), I am literally told that they know best and they send the email to my new managers anyway:

I tell my new managers and HR that I am happy to speak to occupational health but that I am concerned about the timing of the referral because of further delays and complications medical intervention is likely to cause, which seems unnecessary since my disability and adjustments have long been established and I have already had to go through a much protracted process to get there but my concerns are dismissed and they insist that it is necessary every three months. Well that’s the first I heard and I’ve never had another assessment before or since. They don’t seem to trust me. Perhaps they’re hoping that it won’t come back in my favour or that I give up and resign before it does. I don’t. It does. Even occupational health advise that the situation would be better resolved by management rather than their intervention.

Occupational health have never met me (the assessment is done over the phone), nor are they specialists so I’m baffled that work are willing to take their word as proof of my condition but not my own, or the specialist doctors I have seen over the years. When OH advise my employers that my return to work will be dependent on resolution of work issues and adjustments, work tell me I need to go back to my doctors to get a sick note to cover me in the interim. There is still no resolution to work issues or adjustments.

Confidentiality

I am told that I can not see my own grievance records or reports due to confidentiality (I am also given other excuses such as they don’t exist) but I have no such privilege. I have to repeatedly share intimate details of my health, personal life and experiences at work with various members of staff in an attempt to get support. I’m feeling less supported by the day.

There is no confidentiality when my partner is suspended due to a minor/irrelevant/spent conviction on his criminal record and rumours fly about the reasons why. This is only “necessary” because they didn’t complete our criminal record checks before we started working with children. It is confirmed by HR that this should never be the case but yet he is punished for their mistakes.

Duty of Care

Duty of care is used as a way to justify unnecessary calls, emails and demands to come in to work on the weekend. It has never been utilised for our benefit. Instead they knowingly make my job impossible and health worse by variably delaying and refusing to make the reasonable adjustments I had previously, spreading lies about me, and then later refusing to let me see or discuss my own grievance reports so I cannot challenge any of this.

We are told health checks will be completed on arrival as part of the induction process. In my previous job with the same organisation this was very thorough and included eye tests, blood tests and x-rays. Here it consists of being taken to a GP who in exchange for a fee takes one look at us and writes a note confirming we are fit and well. The second time I need to apply for residence, a colleague gets the note without me even seeing the doctor.

I have to request information about accessing healthcare in a new country (which I need) for about 6 months before HR send me a list of English speaking doctors which I have already obtained by now via the Embassy website. I am told not to bother with the doctors in this country because its not worth the hassle. It is a hassle but I need one.

I also have to request confirmation of the disability absence policy about a dozen times before I receive confirmation. It is still contradicted for the next few months and I am blamed for this confusion (I am disabled you see). I am told I don’t need to provide medical evidence if my absence is related to an ongoing condition, then I’m told I do, then I don’t, then I do… I am wasting NHS time (and mine) in the process. My sick notes advising them of exacerbation of Meniere’s and stress and anxiety go unacknowledged anyway and my line manager is told not to contact me while I am on long term sick contrary to policy.

They eventually tell me they will make adjustments but when I ask for information about them and my return to work they won’t discuss it. At one point I even get an email from HR saying “See you on Monday” when I don’t work on Mondays and I still have no information about my return to work, adjustments, timetable, anything.

Work health insurance premium creeps up to $200 but cover is reduced. Due to moving jobs within the financial year and needing regular appointments I have to pay the premium twice (after much ado this is later refunded). Occupational health recommend returning to the UK for consolidated care and a new hearing aid which I cannot get in this country but the insurance no longer covers me outside of the region I’m working in.

When my employer tries to terminate my employment via their lawyers after I make a tribunal claim (not before raising concerns informally, going through a grievance, appeal and the internal whistle-blowing process) they are happy to leave me without access to health insurance in this country AND access to the NHS in the UK as they are both dependent on my employment with the British Council.

Inclusion

I attend a training session about disability inclusion that I cannot fully participate in due to my own hearing problems, which are being ignored and lack of adjustments, which are being refused. They ask non-disabled teachers to pretend to be blind and deaf so we know what this feels like. I don’t even know where to start with this…

We are bombarded with emails about the importance of EDI while they continue to deny my disability and any help.

Child Protection

We have a meeting about the importance of Child Protection and proper criminal record checks when they haven’t carried out our criminal record checks.

Bullying 

I am told by a senior manager not to accuse them of bullying when I haven’t.

I am teaching lessons about bullying and bystanders as part of anti-bullying week whilst managers repeatedly refuse adjustments, contact us at the weekend, try to intimidate me with thinly veiled threats and sack my partner when he travels back to the UK with me to see doctors. No one in management or HR helps us. Two colleagues kindly stick their neck out. I am told they cannot accompany me to a meeting. When I insist they relent but tell me they are not allowed to speak.

To add insult to injury, senior managers accuse me of bullying and “attacking” them while/because I have reluctantly raised a grievance about being bullied by them. Something I don’t want to and shouldn’t have to do. Asking them to follow their own policies is not an attack.

Victim blaming and gas-lighting

I am told that I am “difficult” for asking questions about policy and procedure that has not been followed to our detriment. In the next meeting I am told that the failure to make reasonable adjustments is my fault because I should have been more “pushy”. I am pulling off quite a feat being both too demanding and too meek. I can’t help wondering if a man would have to put up with this…

I am offered MORE teaching hours for LESS pay. And they also kindly offer a small and noisy telesales room for me to work in which would be the opposite of helpful.

In the emails between senior management I shouldn’t have seen they say I am abusing my disability but also suggest I am confused because of my disability. So disability is used as a stick to beat me with. Twice.

In my withheld grievance report a woman from HR who I’ve spoken to twice in my life describes me as being “highly strung” and stressed about being in a new country. I have lived in a few countries quite easily and I was positively laid back until these processes made my life a living hell. I am stressed about being lied to and lied about and having conditions (hearing loss, tinnitus, migraines and vertigo which are all worse when stressed and sleep deprived – and an aneurysm I would like not to burst) which I am doing my best to control with no help from you. And so I’m not even allowed to ask questions or be angry about this situation for fear of being dismissed as a hysterical woman.

A manager tells other managers that I never told him about my disability even though it was disclosed on application, immediately after interview and in consecutive emails from me and a previous manager.

I am told that I did not have a reduced teaching timetable in my previous job when I did.

I am told they are under no obligation to make reasonable adjustments when they are.

I am told I got my own date of birth wrong on my DBS when I very much doubt it.

I am told I was unsuccessful in my application for teacher training when I didn’t/couldn’t apply due to the uncertainty about reduced hours and unworkable deadlines. I wanted to spend my year doing that training not being signed off sick with no income (hence trying to ascertain what support they can provide ever since I got the job).

I am told that they cannot afford to lend me a laptop (even though other staff have them and I’m working at the British Council which is not exactly deprived of resources) or make adjustments to my hours because as a ‘Network Teacher’ I am too expensive and they need to maximise our use. I am not going to be very useful when I’m sick. (Later they are happy to spend thousands of pounds on solicitors and QCs defending this behaviour when I make an employment tribunal claim).

Speaking up

In light of the Oxfam sex scandal we are encouraged to speak out about any wrong doing. We have, even specifically about Child Protection, but our concerns our brushed under the carpet and we are brushed out of a job.

Disability Confident

My employer is signed up to the much maligned Government Disability Confident scheme which is supposed to demonstrate their commitment to recruiting and supporting disabled staff in work. ‘Proactively offering and making reasonable adjustments as required’ and ‘Ensuring there are no barriers to the development and progression of disabled staff’ are core actions for the Disability Confident Employer (level 2) badge, which my employer advertises. But all that is required to sign up is agreeing to five commitments and identifying ONE action that will make a difference to disabled people. They don’t have to prove anything and there is no auditing… so… I disclose my disability on application (for the first time in my life) trusting they are what they say they are and they spend the next year trying not to make reasonable adjustments for me which would help me stay healthy and develop my career.

The Equality Act 2010

This is incorporated in to many British Council policies and informs a lot of what we do as teachers. We have online training, workshops, EDI weeks, steering groups etc. I am referred to Occupational Health to prove I am disabled and covered by the Equality Act before they will make adjustments that had already been agreed by the British Council. OH advise that the probability of disability is likely according to the EqA but when it comes to the crunch the British Council argue that it doesn’t apply in my case because I work abroad. The British Council conducts most of its work abroad. So we are held to account to the policies my employer promotes but offered none of the protection.

When I lodge a tribunal claim, my employer’s lawyers argue that the UK has no jurisdiction to hear it because my employment has no connection to the UK whilst also advising that they cannot settle the claim because it would have to be approved by the UK treasury.

We teachers have no Union or staff association (when we eventually got a teacher’s rep we were told that her job is not to represent teachers… …). Higher managers are of course on much better contracts with actual employment rights.

 

 Posted by at 15:38
Feb 072019
 

Inquiry call after ‘fitness for work’ firm ‘admits it has no safeguarding policy’

The government’s “fitness for work” contractor appears to have no written policy on how to protect the safety of people claiming out-of-work disability benefits, despite years of evidence linking the assessment with deaths and serious harm.

Only last week, it emerged that ministers have omitted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) from a new cross-government plan aimed at reducing suicides, despite ever-mounting evidence linking such deaths with the work capability assessment (WCA) and social security reforms.

Now a senior executive from Maximus appears to have admitted to a disabled campaigner that the company does not have a safeguarding policy, nearly four years after taking on the WCA contract, although it claims it is in the process of creating one.

The admission came after the latest in a long series of serious safeguarding failures linked to the WCA process.

Shocking pictures emerged of a Liverpool man who was found fit for work by DWP following a WCA carried out by Maximus, even though his serious health problems had seen his weight plummet to just six stone. DWP later apologised for his ordeal.

But there have been years of similar cases, many of which have led to the deaths of claimants.

Among them was Mark Wood, who starved to death in 2013 – before Maximus took on the WCA contract – after being found ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) following a WCA, even though he had never been able to cope with the demands of a job and his GP had said he was completely incapable of working.

Among concerns raised about the way Maximus carries out the assessments are that it has frequently asked claimants with mental health conditions who have spoken of having suicidal thoughts why they failed to take their own lives.

This week, both Maximus and DWP did not deny that the company had no safeguarding policy, although DWP insisted that its contractors all had “robust safeguarding processes in place to ensure claimants are not put at risk”.

Maximus, which has a long history of incompetence, discrimination and alleged fraud in the US, would only insist that “any safeguarding issues which arise during an assessment are referred to the customer’s GP or the appropriate authorities”.

The company’s apparent failure was discovered by Mike Owen, from south Yorkshire, when he spoke last week to the company’s national customer service manager and asked to see its safeguarding policy, having grown increasingly concerned about the way Maximus carries out the DWP contract.

Owen, who has himself been through the WCA process with Maximus and currently receives ESA, was told the company did not have a safeguarding policy, although it was “in the process of creating one”.

Owen said he was appalled by Maximus’s failure to have a written safeguarding policy.

And he said he believed there was now an urgent need for an inquiry by the Commons work and pensions committee because it was clear that “Maximus doesn’t have a robust safeguarding policy or process in place”.

He said DWP should have asked Maximus for such a policy during the process of tendering the WCA contract five years ago.

Owen said: “Maximus and the other assessment providers [Atos and Capita, which assess eligibility for personal independence payment] cannot be allowed to continue to supply these services to the DWP without proper regulation any longer.

The regulator should be independent from government and investigate the companies and also – in conjunction with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the General Medical Council and the Health and Care Professions Council – investigate concerns about safe practice and fitness to practice of those working within these organisations.”

John McArdle, co-founder of the grassroots Black Triangle Campaign, said the failure showed that both DWP and Maximus were “playing fast and loose with disabled people’s lives”.

He also said he could not understand why DWP had not insisted on a safeguarding policy during the WCA tendering process.

Maximus took over the contract nearly four years ago, from another discredited outsourcing giant, Atos, and the assessments are now carried out by the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (CHDA), which is a subsidiary of Maximus.

McArdle said that, even though Atos had run the contract “catastrophically”, he had seen no improvement in performance since Maximus took over, and he said the company should now be “stripped of the contract”.

A Maximus spokesperson refused to tell Disability News Service whether CHDA had a safeguarding policy, and if not, why it had failed to introduce one.

But he said in a statement: “We aim to provide a sensitive, fair and dignified service to everyone we assess.

All our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists go through extensive pre-employment background checks and are trained to identify safeguarding concerns.

Any safeguarding issues which arise during an assessment are referred to the customer’s GP or the appropriate authorities.”

A DWP spokesperson refused four times to say whether Maximus had a safeguarding policy, and if it did not, whether ministers were concerned by this failure.

But she said: “The safety and well-being of claimants is paramount.

We require all our contractors to have robust safeguarding processes in place to ensure claimants are not put at risk – this includes Maximus/CHDA who have processes in place if any safeguarding concerns arise.

CHDA have in place a process agreed with the department to inform a customer’s GP if any safeguarding concerns arise.”

She added later: “To be absolutely clear – safeguarding is in place to ensure claimants are not put at risk.”

And she said: “Extensive checks, including Disclosure and Barring Service checks, are carried out on all clinical staff prior to employment and a significant event and serious complaint procedure is in place.   

All healthcare professionals must meet standards set by their regulatory bodies.”

But Owen said he was “astounded” by the complacency shown by DWP in its response and was also concerned that it suggested that all safeguarding concerns about claimants were passed by Maximus to over-stretched GPs and not to social services.

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

7 February 2019

 

 

Shocking’ PIP death figures ‘show assessment process is unfit for purpose’

About 1,600 working-age disabled people are dying every year after having their claim for disability benefits rejected, the government has been forced to admit.

The Department for Work and Pensions figures (DWP) reveal that 7,990 disabled people who lodged a claim for person independence payment (PIP) in the five years after the new benefit was launched in April 2013 had died within six months of registering their claim, while also having that claim rejected.

These figures mean that more than 130 working-age disabled people a month have been found ineligible for PIP following an initial assessment by government contractors Atos and Capita but were still so unwell that they died soon afterwards*.

Another set of figures released by DWP shows that 3,680 disabled people – or more than 60 a month – died within three months of their initial PIP applications being rejected by DWP.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “These shocking figures show that the cruel and callous PIP assessment is unfit for purpose.

That thousands of people die three months after being denied vital social security payments is disgraceful.

Ill and disabled people are being failed [with] the most tragic consequences.

Labour will end the hostile environment in the DWP and replace the PIP assessment framework with a system that treats disabled people with dignity and respect.”

The figures were released to Labour MP Madeleine Moon by Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people.

It was Moon who secured other figures last month which showed that more than 17,000 PIP claimants – out of a total of more than 3.6 million – had died during the five years while waiting for DWP to make a decision on their claim.

Newton also told her last week that 11,790 of these undecided claims were dealt with under “normal rules” and so had not been fast-tracked because they were terminally-ill.

The Bridgend MP said this week: “These shameful figures reveal how gravely ill people, eligible for benefits, have tragically fallen through the cracks of a failing system as they approach the end of life.

Questions to the DWP have uncovered many cases where terminally ill people have had their PIP applications rejected when applying under normal rules** and have died within six months.

It is disgusting that people who are dying have not been treated with compassion and support and their claim fast tracked.

When you only have a short time left to live you must not be let down by a callous system which is not fit for purpose.”

Moon has introduced a private members’ bill, which would remove the current “arbitrary” time limit which means claimants can only be treated as terminally-ill if they have less than six months left to live.

She said: “My bill will bring the changes needed to ensure we bring dignity and some financial security to the terminally ill and their families.

All terminally ill people should be able to access the special rules for terminal illness (SRTI) process.

The clinical judgement of a healthcare professional should be enough to determine when someone has a terminal condition, without reference to a six months prognosis.

Removing the arbitrary time limit provides medical professionals with greater clarity, and more importantly, ensures the terminally ill receive support with the speed and compassion they deserve.

There are similarities between the new figures secured by Moon and statistics released by DWP in 2015, which showed that about 100 disabled people every month who had applied for employment and support allowance (ESA) were dying soon after being found fit for work.

As with the ESA figures, it is not currently possible to draw clear conclusions about how deeply flawed the PIP assessment process is because of DWP’s failure to release comparable statistics for the general population.

Disabled People Against Cuts researcher Anita Bellows, who has previously carried out widely-praised work examining the PIP contracts awarded to Atos and Capita, said: “Once again, the spotlight is on disability assessment contractors, Atos and Capita, and on the DWP, after the release of figures showing the number of claimants dying after their PIP were disallowed.”

She said the figures should be viewed in the light of around 70 per cent of claimants appealing a PIP decision having the initial decision overturned by a tribunal.

She said: “So it can be said with certitude that some of these people who died were denied the support they were entitled to, or they might have died because of this lack of support. 

DWP, Atos and Capita have shown time and time again that they are not fit for purpose, and neither are the tests supposed to assess disability and fitness for work, which have lost all credibility.

It is time to overhaul the whole system to prevent it doing further harm.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say whether Newton agreed that the figures showed that the PIP process was failing a substantial number of very ill people.

But she said in a statement: “DWP decision makers take into consideration all the evidence provided, including from their medical professionals, when determining eligibility for PIP.

Meanwhile, we fast-track the claim process for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

We are determined that people get the support they need and under PIP 31 per cent of people get the highest possible support, compared with 15 per cent under DLA.

We are also stopping unnecessary reassessment for PIP for people with the most severe and life-long conditions.”

She also said that new SRTI claims currently take an average of six working days to process.

She said: “We are absolutely committed to improving the overall PIP claimant experience as this is what claimants rightly expect and deserve.

Our thoughts are with the friends and family of anyone who has passed away but there is no evidence in this data to suggest someone’s reason for claiming PIP was the cause of their death and it would be misleading to suggest otherwise.

People claim PIP for various reasons, the majority of which are non-life threatening.”

Meanwhile, DWP has published the results of its annual benefits satisfaction survey, which show that the percentage of PIP claimants who had been in contact with DWP in the previous three months and were satisfied with the service they received plunged from 87 per cent in 2016-17 to 82 per cent in 2017-18.

The proportion who said they were dissatisfied rose from 12 to 17 per cent, and the proportion who said they were very dissatisfied almost doubled, increasing from five to nine per cent.

Newton also released figures this week to de Cordova which showed that the number of complaints received by Atos and Capita about the PIP assessment process increased from 8,900 in 2017 to 9,400 in 2018.

Newton said: “Both of these figures equate to less than one per cent of the total number of assessments carried out that year.”

*The cause of death may be unrelated to the condition or impairment for which the claimant was seeking PIP

**Those expected not to live longer than six months, as opposed to those applying under Normal Rules, should receive PIP more quickly

7 February 2019

 

 

Newton forced to apologise after misleading MPs in WOW debate

The minister for disabled people has been forced to apologise to MPs after Disability News Service (DNS) caught her misleading MPs about support for disabled people for the fourth time in less than a year.

The misleading comments by Sarah Newton about disability poverty came in December when she was responding to a House of Commons debate on the impact of eight years of cuts to disability support.

But it was only on Tuesday this week, four days after DNS had drawn the attention of her press officers to her misleading comments, that she sent a letter apologising to MPs.

December’s 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 its cuts to disabled people’s support.

The government has repeatedly refused to carry out a cumulative impact assessment (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.

But in her response to a motion calling on the government to carry out a CIA, Newton told MPs in December that Department for Work and Pensions (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”.

DNS subsequently submitted a freedom of information request to DWP, asking for the data she relied on in making these claims.

The DWP response, which includes a link to the relevant statistics, has revealed that Newton’s claim was wrong.

Although three measures do show disability poverty has improved between 2009-10 and 2016-17, the fourth measure – showing relative low income after housing costs – shows the proportion of individuals in households with a disabled member who were in poverty rose from 25 per cent to 26 per cent (an increase of four per cent, or 1 percentage point).

A DWP spokesperson said: “Immediately after being made aware she had been provided with incorrect briefing for the debate, the minister sent a letter of apology to MPs that will be published in the House of Commons library.”

In the letter, to Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who secured the debate, Newton blamed an “inaccurate briefing” for her error.

She said: “I sincerely apologise for the mistake. I will be placing a copy of this letter in the House Library, and making a Ministerial correction to Hansard.

I will also be providing a copy of this letter to Mr Speaker.”

Ian Jones, from WOW, said: “This government have lied when denying that austerity was targeted at disabled people.

This government have lied when they say the WCA and austerity have not killed thousands of disabled people. 

WOWcampaign believe this pattern of lying can be extended to show that this government is also lying when they argue their policies are doing no harm to disabled people.”

Michelle Maher, also from WOW, said the campaign had “fought for the truth” about the impact of multiple cuts on disabled children and adults over the last eight years, to demonstrate how they had hit “one section of society harder than any other group”.

She said: “That mistakes have continuously been made around disability cuts statistics to the House of Commons demonstrates that a formal cumulative impact assessment is needed so all parties and the public know the true impact of austerity… and with the aim that our rights as citizens of the UK be protected.”

Abrahams told DNS: “It is extremely disappointing that the minister for disabled people made such an error on the number of disabled people living in relative poverty (after housing costs). 

These are not just abstract numbers; living in poverty for disabled people means living in isolation, unable to properly heat their homes or feed themselves. 

My debate, at which the minister made this error, was on understanding all the factors contributing to disabled people living in poverty and she should heed our calls for an independent cumulative impact assessment of government cuts to disabled people, their families and carers.”

It is the first time that Newton has apologised for the various misleading statements highlighted by DNS over the last year.

In January 2018, she misled MPs about a court of appeal judgment that was highly critical of her new boss, Esther McVey, just a day after McVey’s appointment as the new work and pensions secretary.

Last June, Newton told MPs that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”, even though the main component of employment and support allowance (ESA) and the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, continue to be frozen.

The following month, Newton misled MPs yet again, this time about the origins of the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident employment scheme.

7 February 2019

 

 

Ill thought out’ bill needs stronger safeguards, minister told after meeting

The government must introduce “stronger and more effective safeguards” to protect the rights of service-users who face having their freedom restricted by health and care providers, disabled campaigners have told a minister.

Inclusion London wrote to care minister Caroline Dinenage yesterday (Wednesday) about the government’s mental capacity (amendment) bill, which is currently awaiting its Commons report stage.

The letter followed a meeting between Dinenage and representatives of Inclusion London and People First (Self Advocacy) this week, and an open letter to Inclusion London published by the minister last week.

The two disabled people’s organisations have headed campaigning efforts aimed at persuading the government to rethink the “potentially dangerous” bill that is set to affect the lives and welfare of hundreds of thousands of disabled people.

The bill will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), which will replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) and will apply to service-users who are said to need to have restrictions placed on their liberty as part of their care but are considered to be unable to consent to those arrangements.

In her letter, Dinenage says she believes ministers have addressed Inclusion London’s concerns, by building in protections against conflicts of interest for those making decisions about a person’s deprivation of liberty; ensuring entitlement to independent advocacy; and making sure the necessary information is provided to those subject to the LPS process.

She says the government will also develop a wide-ranging code of practice to “bring the new system to life”, and she invites disabled people’s organisations and self-advocacy groups to work on the code of practice “to ensure that the Bill does promote and protect Disabled people’s liberty”.

But despite her letter and some government concessions in the last few weeks, Inclusion London said yesterday in its own letter to Dinenage that many of its key concerns remained.

Tracey Lazard, Inclusion London’s chief executive, says in the letter: “We recognise there is a need to reform the current DoLS system but this cannot be used to justify pushing through what we still believe is an ill thought out bill that weakens people’s rights and was developed with very little consultation – next to none with Disabled people.

The bill is continuing its rapid passage through Parliament without pause, despite a very broad and strong consensus among professionals, advocates, Disabled people, lawyers and academics that there are serious flaws in the Bill and the proposed system that must be addressed.”

Lazard says in the letter that it is “utterly unacceptable” that “repeated requests for accessible information about the bill were ignored over the last six months”, leading to the conclusion that “people with learning difficulties have simply been disregarded as a valid stakeholder in this process”.

She says that the publication of an easy read summary of the bill on 31 January “can only be viewed as a tokenistic gesture given the very little time remaining to influence the bill and the lack of any detail in the document to enable people to have a meaningful say”.

Lazard’s letter includes some of the “stronger and more effective safeguards” that are needed to ensure the protection of people facing a deprivation of liberty.

They include the need to address conflicts of interest faced by independent hospitals and care home managers; to ensure access to advocacy and the right to accessible information; and to make sure that less restrictive living arrangements that could potentially be put in place are considered as part of the LPS process.

Nearly 200,000 people have now signed a petition drawn up by Inclusion London that calls for major changes to the bill.

7 February 2019

 

 

DPO welcomes ‘ground-breaking partnership’ with elected mayor

A ground-breaking new partnership between disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and Greater Manchester’s elected mayor could become a “template” for future work with local authorities across the region, according to one leading DPO.

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) said this week that it believed that Greater Manchester was the first combined authority in the country to establish a formal partnership between DPOs and the elected mayor.

The authority, led by Labour’s Andy Burnham, is now set to approve funding this month which will ensure that the lead of a new disabled people’s panel will be a paid position.

That will contrast with last month’s announcement by Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, who said that the chairs of nine new regional groups that will make up her new Regional Stakeholder Network would not be paid.

GMCDP is now asking disabled people to apply for the new part-time post, which will have a pro rata salary of £31,100 a year.

The successful candidate* will lead on work to set up the disabled people’s panel, which aims to “strengthen the voice of disabled people and their organisations in shaping, challenging and influencing strategic policy issues that are important to disabled people across Greater Manchester”.

Brian Hilton, GMCDP’s digital campaigns officer, said: “We are really pleased to be working with the mayor’s office on this important piece of work.

We hope this can become a template for future work, not only with the mayor’s office but across all Greater Manchester authorities.”

He said the debate around how much disabled people should be paid for their labour, skills and expertise was “not a new phenomenon”.

He said: “The government is not alone in trying to devalue disabled people by paying us peanuts or, in the case of the regional disability network, nothing at all.

The current political climate allows such things to happen.”

He pointed out that MPs from both sides of the House of Commons, including Philip Davies and Frank Field, have in recent years suggested that paying some disabled people less than the minimum wage would be a positive move forward.

He said: “The reality of course would be that it further divides our society into Us and Them.

Often the rationale for paying us less is that we are less productive and that firms are doing us a favour in the first place by employing us and by doing so keeping us occupied.”

But he said that paying disabled people less – or nothing – was “not the answer”.

He said: “The only long-term solution is to remove the barriers that prevent us from gaining employment, retaining our jobs and advancing in our chosen careers.

Not only is it important that disabled people and DPOs are recompensed for their time and expertise, but it’s also important for and benefits the mayor’s office.

Paying for our expertise allows the mayor’s office to make demands on the work we do and the input we provide.

Similarly, we are more focused, invested in the work being undertaken and committed to making the ongoing engagement a success.”

The partnership is likely to be seen as a campaigning success for GMCDP, which said before Burnham’s election as Greater Manchester’s first elected mayor in 2017 that it hoped to persuade the successful candidate to make the region a trailblazer for disability rights in England and “develop ground-breaking initiatives to tackle disability”.

In contrast with the Manchester post, Newton made it clear last month that all those taking part in her new regional stakeholder network – including the nine chairs – would have to work for free, apart from travel expenses and funding for disability-related costs.

Newton also made it clear that non-disabled people and charities and other organisations not run and controlled by disabled people would be invited to join the network, potentially even as some of the regional chairs.

*For details of the post and how to apply, visit the GMCDP website. The closing date is noon on Monday 18 February

7 February 2019

 

 

New charter aims to put dignity and respect at heart of local services

Disabled campaigners have launched a new charter that aims to persuade organisations – and individuals – in their local area to treat people with dignity and respect.

Ken and Tracy McClymont have spent four years working on the Dudley Dignity Charter, which lists 10 key principles for how people should be treated, focusing on areas such as communication, privacy, choice, control, advocacy and fairness.

The McClymonts, both key figures in Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living (Dudley CIL), have worked on the charter with another local disabled people’s organisation, Disability In Action, with support from Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Healthwatch Dudley.

The couple have spent years seeking the views of disabled people in Dudley on what should be in the charter, by visiting council-run community forums, day centres, youth clubs for disabled young people, libraries and the local hospital.

They were told how disabled people were being rushed by care workers who had to hurry to their next appointment; how service-providers were failing to listen to what service-users were telling them and not giving them time to explain their needs; and how schools were failing to provide support to their disabled pupils, among many other examples of disabled people not being treated with dignity and respect.

Patterns soon began to emerge from what they were being told, which they worked into the charter’s 10 key principles.

The McClymonts now plan to take the charter “out on the road”, explaining its 10 principles by running stands at local events and locations such as supermarkets and libraries.

They also hope – by setting up a new Dudley Dignity Council – to be able to monitor the implementation of the charter, hold service-users to account, and even award dignity charter marks to organisations that show a commitment to the 10 principles.

Ken McClymont, who chairs Dudley CIL, said: “Dignity is something we all want, along with respect, but it is a very hard thing for people to explain and define.”

He said he was “buoyed up” by the launch event, which was attended by three of the four local MPs, the council’s deputy leader and chief executive, and representatives of the local transport authority, mental health trust and the three emergency services.

He added: “This charter is unique in that it has been created by the local people themselves.

We do hope that many local people, businesses, voluntary groups and others with connections to the borough will sign up to the charter to encourage everyone to make dignity a thing of importance.

We all want to be treated with dignity and respect, and hope that this charter will start a conversation.”

Cllr Judy Foster, deputy leader of Dudley council, said: “It is an honour and a privilege to have joined those at the Dudley Dignity Charter launch event today.

By working together, we can rightly put dignity at the heart of care here in Dudley borough.

The charter has been over four years in the making and it is a testament to the dedication and hard work of everyone at Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living and Disability in Action.”

7 February 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:54
Feb 042019
 

Applications are now invited for 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) in a new Marie Curie Network focused on Disability Advocacy Research. Each researcher will work on a different topic based in one of eight universities and non-governmental organisations across Europe, and be supervised for preparation of a PhD. The ESRs will receive training in law, disability studies, public and social policy and related disciplines, as well as opportunities to put their skills into practice through secondment opportunities at a partner organisations.

Please check the detailed eligibility criteria before making enquiries.

Further information is available here: http://www.nuigalway.ie/centre-disability-law-policy/research/projects/current/dare/recruitment/

 Posted by at 16:04