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

 

 

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