Capita assessor lied about woman’s thoughts of suicide, recording shows
A disabled woman who repeatedly spoke about her thoughts of suicide during an assessment had her disability benefits removed after the assessor lied to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about what she had heard, a recording shows.
The woman, Diane*, who has been under the care of a psychiatrist for more than two decades, secretly recorded last November’s face-to-face assessment, which was carried out by an occupational therapist working for the outsourcing giant Capita.
Despite Diane later telling DWP what had happened in detail, explaining her concerns about the assessment, and reminding the department that she had had years of treatment for significant mental distress, a civil servant dismissed her account and confirmed the decision to remove her entitlement to personal independence payment (PIP).
It is the latest evidence that DWP’s disability benefits system poses a significant risk to the safety of disabled people claiming benefits, particularly those experiencing mental distress, and that the department itself is not fit for purpose.
And it will add weight to calls – through the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition – for the department to take urgent measures to make the safety of claimants a priority, for MPs to acknowledge that DWP is not fit for purpose, and for them to call for an independent inquiry into links between its actions and the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.
Only last week, DWP faced fresh allegations of negligence after admitting that it keeps no records of how many of the complaints it receives involve the death of a claimant of disability benefits.
Diane has told Disability News Service (DNS) that her experience convinced her that the assessment process was “utterly broken and unfit for purpose”.
On the recording, Diane tells the occupational therapist who carried out the assessment several times that she is currently struggling with suicidal thoughts.
But the assessor, in a report subsequently sent to DWP, concluded: “They deny any current thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm.”
And despite Diane – and her husband, who had accompanied her – describing her paranoid delusions, hallucinations, psychosis, extreme levels of anxiety and suicidal depression, the assessor told DWP in her report: “She denies experiencing any thought disorders or perceptions.”
There were many other blatant inaccuracies in the report.
A month after the assessment, her mental health further damaged by the assessment process, Diane attempted to take her own life.
Three weeks later, on 6 January, as a result of the assessment report, DWP removed Diane’s eligibility for PIP, which she had previously received at the daily living enhanced rate.
She was admitted to hospital again later that month, after her husband began the process of seeking a mandatory reconsideration of the decision.
But when she told DWP about the dishonest assessment report, a civil servant confirmed the decision to remove her PIP and told her that assessors have “nothing to gain by fabricating evidence or suppressing information and will invariably report what they observe and what they are told at the assessment.”
The civil servant added: “The available evidence indicates there is no significant degree of impairment.”
Diane contacted DNS about her experience after reading about the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which asks MPs to: brand DWP not fit for purpose and disablist; call for the department to take urgent action to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority; and demand an inquiry into DWP’s links with numerous deaths.
The petition** has been backed by the families of seven disabled people who have died in cases linked to DWP, as well as four grassroots groups of disabled people – Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign – and DNS.
After being contacted about Diane’s case by DNS, a Capita spokesperson refused to say if the company accepted that the assessment report was negligent or dishonest, or if Diane’s experience showed it was putting the safety of claimants at risk and that DWP was not fit for purpose.
But she said in a statement: “We are committed to delivering a high quality and empathetic service for people applying for PIP.
“We operate a robust complaints process for anyone that is unhappy with the service provided, including escalating the complaint to the DWP should a customer feel it has not been satisfactorily resolved.
“We are looking into this case.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We want everyone to have a good experience at their PIP assessment and we have asked our assessment provider to look at [Diane’s] PIP claim to ensure she is getting the full support she’s entitled to.”
But she declined to say if DWP believed the assessment report was dishonest or negligent, or if the case showed again that the department was not fit for purpose and was putting the safety of claimants at risk.
Diane said: “This case is truly representative of how broken the PIP system is all across the UK, with so many cases getting overturned at appeal.
“It is totally unfair to discriminate in this way against disabled people, who also may not be as able to stand up for their rights.
“The DWP are making disabled people even more ill and in quite a few tragic cases killing disabled people.
“I very nearly became one of the statistics in December 2018.
“The stress of PIP has added to an already huge burden of pressures. I was admitted to hospital again in January suicidal.
“The wider cost to society of these PIP appeals is far more than any cost savings projected by the government.”
*Not her real name
**To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, visit parliament’s petitions website . If you sign it, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
28 March 2019
Jack Carroll: ‘I was treated with derision and suspicion in my PIP assessment’
Disabled stand-up comic and actor Jack Carroll has blamed the government for creating a “hostile environment” that led to him being treated with “derision and suspicion” during a routine disability benefit assessment.
Carroll, whose new film Eaten by Lions is released tomorrow (Friday), said he was shocked by the “semi-dehumanising” tone used by the assessor last August.
He declined to say where the assessment took place because he believes his treatment was due to “learned behaviour” taught by the government, but he told Disability News Service (DNS) that his personal independence payment (PIP) assessment was a “strange and Orwellian experience”.
He said: “I felt like I was being treated with derision and suspicion.”
Carroll, who uses a walking-frame and had turned up five minutes late because he had trouble finding a parking space, was at first told that the assessment would not now go ahead.
“Imagine if someone was a lot more disabled than I am,” he said. “I could not believe that. That really just brought home the system as a whole.”
He told DNS that his experiences as a disabled person have been “generally positive”, and that he has found most people “decent and relatively compassionate”, adding later: “I try not to get too outraged about things.”
He is, he said, naturally “quite a gregarious, affable person”, but even he became “a bit angry” after the initial confrontation.
Carroll said he found it shocking to be confronted with “a semi-dehumanising tone which I don’t really come up against in my day-to-day life”.
He added: “At the time I got annoyed with the person but… then I took a step back and I thought that was just learned behaviour from a government policy that is trying to marginalise and destroy, for a lot of people, any hope.”
He eventually received the level of benefits he feels he was entitled to, but he said: “The former system [disability living allowance] was an awful lot easier and more human.”
He said the PIP system must change.
The behaviour he came across at his assessment, and the failure to “weigh up the emotional impact on the person” was, he said, “systemic rather than individuals being knowingly horrendous, so you’ve got to change the system.
“I’d brought a paper copy of my ID, which the assessor wasn’t for accepting, so that’s another hurdle, and then general questions about how far I could walk, how far I could lift my leg up, things that I don’t think about, and hate really to put the microscope on in that minute detail, at whatever level is some level of a humiliating experience.
“I don’t think there is any care to make people feel human in that environment.”
He said he blamed the government for the “inhumanity” of the system, because it “created the climate for it”, and he added: “I think the government creates a hostile environment for most people who aren’t Jacob Rees-Mogg.
“If you want to change that you have got to change the system. That’s what it will take.”
He also believes that the “constant hammering of Brexit” acts as a “mass hypnosis technique” to distract people from “the things that are really going on in the world”, such as the way disabled people are treated, the PIP assessment system and the Windrush scandal.
Fans of his stand-up – he has become a regular on the comedy circuit in the years following his breakthrough as a 14-year-old in 2013, when he was runner-up on Britain’s Got Talent – can expect a routine based on the PIP assessment process to appear in his act soon, he said.
Eaten By Lions is his first film, but it follows television appearances in shows such as the Sky sitcom Trollied, CBBC’s The Ministry Of Curious Stuff and BBC1’s Big School, as well as stand-up slots on ITV1’s Sunday Night At The Palladium and BBC2’s Live At The Apollo.
He said his role in the film – a “classic road movie” about two half-brothers, one white, Pete, and one Asian, Omar, who go to Blackpool in search of Omar’s dad – gave him greater freedom to improvise and “play around” than his work on Trollied, with its “tight scripts”.
He enjoyed the filming process, which took place two years ago, and said it felt like going “on a journey” with a “good group of people”.
One of the things he likes about the film, he said, is that although it deals with issues of diversity, it doesn’t do so in a self-conscious way. He looks forward to a future where disability is just an everyday fact of life on television.
“In five or 10 years it would be nice to see disabled characters on TV and presenters and things just be existing and people referencing it in a less overt manner,” he said.
Asked whether his generally positive view of how disabled people are usually treated came as a result of his own experiences – he was discovered at the age of just 12 by comedian Jason Manford and opened for him at three of his shows in 2010 – he said: “You can make that argument.”
But he also puts it down to his family, and the attitude they “instilled” in him about his impairment.
“Obviously a compassionate one, first and foremost, but also a belief that anything you put your mind to, with the help of others, you can achieve. That has played a part in my outlook as well.”
He also believes that growing up as a disabled child helped his development as a comedian.
He said: “I probably wouldn’t have developed the sense of humour or the ability with language that I’ve developed if I didn’t have a disability, because as a kid I couldn’t necessarily move around as quickly, I had to get good at talking and being able to communicate things to people.
“I’d like to think that played a part in the development of being able to do what I do for a living.”
His interview with DNS came a few weeks after the latest controversy over “cripping up” – the issue of non-disabled actors playing disabled characters – this time following Bryan Cranston’s role as a wheelchair-user in The Upside.
Carroll said he understood why the film’s producers chose Cranston instead of an unknown disabled actor.
“I know there are issues of representation and not everyone getting a foot in the door, but for any actor if you had a choice between Bryan Cranston and an actor without a profile they are always going to go for Bryan Cranston.”
He said the solution was to improve representation of disabled actors at the grassroots level and build from there.
“It’s about giving disabled actors a platform where they can compete with Bryan Cranston,” he said, “but that begins at a grassroots level.”
Now 20 and no longer a teenage prodigy, he is writing a sitcom, as well as continuing with his stand-up and enjoying acting jobs when they come along.
“I enjoy it all,” he said. “I would like to keep doing a little bit of everything.
“I have got goals and things I would like to accomplish but the best stuff in my career has come from leaving a gap to let the thing happen and let whatever it is do its work.”
28 March 2019
Tory council set to force disabled people into residential care to cut costs
Disabled people are to be forced into residential homes against their will by a Conservative council’s new cost-cutting adult social care policy, campaigners have warned.
Barnet council wants to save more than £400,000 in 2019-20 by creating more “cost effective support plans”, such as using residential care rather than funding support packages that allow disabled people to live in their own homes.
The north London council says it wants to consider “the full range of care options to meet eligible needs (eg residential care), rather than offering community-based placements (eg supported living) by default”.
This means a new “assumption that new clients are placed in cheaper accommodation settings where appropriate”.
Michael Nolan, a trustee of the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Barnet, told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday): “The Inclusion Barnet board are extremely concerned about these proposals, which we fear could leave some disabled people confined to residential care when they might otherwise have been able to live independently.
“We believe that this could impact people least able to self-advocate, and is also against the spirit of the Care Act.”
Inclusion Barnet wrote to the council in January to warn that the “misconceived” plans risked “disabled people with high support needs being confined to residential placements against their will” and breached article 19 (on independent living) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The council has failed to reply to the letter.
A council document [PDF] also shows that it has not consulted on the plan and will only discuss it with disabled people as part of the “assessment and support planning process”.
It admits that “some clients” and their families “may consider this change unfavourable if they have a preference for a community placement”, which it says “could have an impact on customer satisfaction”.
The council – long seen as a flagship Tory local authority – has carried out an equality impact assessment of the new policy, which concludes that “it is possible that not having the option of a council-funded community placement will be seen as negative”, but claims that the negative impact on “some equality strands” will be “minimal”.
Cllr Reema Patel, who leads on adult social care for the Labour opposition in Barnet, and is a former member of the executive committee of Disability Labour, said: “Due to austerity, there is more incentive for councils to offer people with high support needs residential placements because it is cheaper.
“However, this runs counter to established principles around disabled people’s rights, principles that support the right to independent living, choice, agency and control.”
Fleur Perry, a disabled campaigner who raised concerns about similar policies in NHS clinical commissioning groups two years ago, said: “This policy seems to be designed to push disabled people into residential care, putting financial pressures above people’s own choices about where and who they live with.
“They highlight that people may consider this ‘unfavourable’; I’d be livid!
“Placing somebody into residential care against their wishes without exploring how they could be supported to stay in their own home may be unlawful under the Human Rights Act 1998 (article eight: private and family life).
“I’d ask Barnet council not to put themselves in a position where they could be legally challenged, and instead follow a policy that respects the right to independent living and for people to have choice and control over their own lives.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission claimed it had “concerns about the erosion of services and support to enable disabled people to choose where they live and who they live with” but has so far declined to look at what is happening in Barnet.
Barnet council refused to say how it justified putting people in institutional care when they wanted to live independently in the community; and refused to say how many extra disabled people were likely to end up in residential care in 2019-20 as a result of its policy.
It even refused to confirm that the new measure was now council policy.
But Cllr Sachin Rajput, chair of the council’s adults and safeguarding committee, claimed in a statement that his local authority remained “firmly committed to delivering high standards of care and support for those in need across Barnet, particularly our most vulnerable residents”.
He said: “We will carefully consider the range of accommodation options available to meet the particular needs of our residents, whilst also considering the limited resources that will be available to us as a council.
“Every person will be assessed individually, with their views and the impact on their wellbeing carefully considered.
“For the small number of people that will be offered a residential care placement, satisfaction levels and outcomes will be carefully monitored.
“Barnet council will continue to comply with all of its duties under the Care Act (2014).”
28 March 2019
Jodey Whiting petition: Lib Dems back petition, but doubts over Labour
A petition calling for an inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has secured the support of more than 20,000 people in less than two weeks.
By this morning (Thursday), more than 22,000 people had signed the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, more than a fifth of the way to the target of 100,000 which should ensure it is debated in the House of Commons.
The Liberal Democrats added their support this week, with their disabled president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, signing the petition and confirming that she backed each of its key demands, following similar support last week from the Green party.
But there is still a lingering question over the commitment of the Labour party to the petition.
Despite backing it on Twitter, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, has yet to make a statement on its demands, 10 days after Disability News Service first asked her to comment.
The petition wants to see any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or civil servants that is produced by the inquiry to be passed to police.
It also calls for MPs to recognise DWP as “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose”, and to push DWP to introduce urgent changes to make the safety of all claimants a priority.
Jodey Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress, had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill, and took her own life just 15 days later.
DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide in February 2017, an independent investigation found last month.
Baroness Brinton said: “What happened to Jodey Whiting was incredibly tragic and should never have happened.
“However, we are continually hearing of other worrying tales of how disabled people are being treated by the Department for Work and Pensions and we must see action taken by the Conservatives to guarantee wholescale reform of the system.
“They must act to ensure that a tragedy such as Jodey’s never happens again.”
Meanwhile, fresh evidence has emerged this week that DWP is not fit purpose.
A report from the Demos think tank has concluded that disabled people have lost all faith in DWP, with only 19 per cent trusting jobcentre staff to treat them fairly.
And a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded today (Thursday) that DWP still has “limited evidence of what works when it comes to supporting disabled people to work”.
Christine Jardine, DWP spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the NAO findings “simply add to the mounting stack of evidence showing that the DWP is not fit for purpose” while de Cordova said the government had “bitterly failed to support disabled people into employment”.
28 March 2019
Tomlinson silent after ‘lying’ to MPs about benefits freeze
A minister has failed to apologise after he was caught misleading an influential committee of MPs about the impact of his government’s cuts on disabled people.
Justin Tomlinson, a former minister for disabled people, was being questioned by the Commons work and pensions committee about the impact of his government’s benefits freeze, which is due to last until next year.
He told the committee (10.21am on the recording) that “disability benefits were exempt from the benefits freeze”.
But that is not true, a fact repeatedly pointed out to Tory ministers and his party.
Last summer, the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, who resigned earlier this month, made the same inaccurate claim in a House of Commons debate.
Disability living allowance, personal independence payment and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are exempt from the benefits freeze, which is set to last to 2020 and was first introduced in 2016.
But there is no exemption for the main component of ESA or the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, which continue to be frozen.
This means that every disabled person receiving ESA, the main out-of-work disability benefit, has been and will be hit financially by the freeze until at least next year.
A spokesperson in Tomlinson’s Commons office said it was a “matter for his ministerial portfolio” and so any comment should come from DWP.
DWP had not responded to requests for a comment by noon today (Thursday).
Earlier in the evidence session, the committee’s chair, the independent MP Frank Field, said that he and fellow committee member Heidi Allen, another independent, had been in Chester recently and were told by an advice worker: “We now do not meet anybody who is not hungry and cold.”
Field said the country now had a social security system which “is not providing a safety net” but is designed to “push people into destitution: hungry and cold”.
He asked Tomlinson how many people were receiving no universal credit at all because of deductions made in their monthly payments due to being sanctioned or having to pay back debts, for example to utility companies.
He told Tomlinson that he wanted to know the numbers because he would be “haunted” by them if he was a minister required to put the government’s policies into effect.
Neil Couling, director general of the universal credit programme, said no-one should have more than 40 per cent of their payments deducted.
But Field told him: “So those constituents coming to us saying they are getting nothing under universal credit are mistaken?”
Tomlinson appeared to accept that some people were receiving nothing through universal credit because of sanctions and debt repayments, but he said this was probably due to “a breakdown in their relationship with their individual [jobcentre] work coach”.
He said: “It is clear that in some cases, for whatever reason, that claimant doesn’t feel in the position to have that conversation, and that’s where more work needs to be done.”
But Field told him he was living in a “fantasy world”, and added: “If I was a claimant I wouldn’t know the hell what your rules are.”
Tomlinson suggested that the situation should improve through guidance for work coaches, the “universal support” scheme that will be provided by Citizens Advice to universal credit claimants on behalf of DWP from next month, and stronger partnerships with local organisations such as food banks.
Couling eventually admitted that if a single claimant had 40 per cent of their payment deducted, they would be left with about £42 a week to live on.
But Labour MP Steve McCabe said some claimants could face a shortfall in their rent if it was not being covered by the housing costs element of universal credit, “so leaving them with almost nothing” if they had to use much of their £42 to cover that gap.
Field said the committee was considering asking every MP how many people were turning up to their constituency surgeries saying they were receiving nothing through universal credit.
Tomlinson said: “We have got to make sure everybody, particularly vulnerable people, are getting the money that they are entitled to as quick as possible and that is where we have got to focus a huge amount of work.”
28 March 2019
Disabled peer criticises Lib Dem leader over support for ‘discriminatory threat’
A disabled peer has criticised Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable for backing the “discriminatory” campaign to legalise assisted suicide.
Cable had spoken out after the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) decided to move to a position of “neutrality” on the issue, even though half of its fellows and members still oppose legalisation.
RCP’s policy-making council had decided ahead of the survey results being published that it would move to a neutral position unless those calling for it to support or oppose a change in the law secured 60 per cent of the vote.
Neither side achieved that figure, although those calling on RCP to oppose a change in the law easily outnumber those who think it should support legalisation.
The results of the RCP survey show that 43 per cent of nearly 6,900 RCP fellows and members said RCP should be opposed to a change in the law, just one percentage point lower than when the survey was last conducted five years ago.
The proportion of those saying it should support a law change increased, from 25 per cent to 32 per cent, while just one in four said RCP should take a neutral stance.
But after the survey results were published, Cable said the vote was “reassuring” and that legislation was now “overdue”.
He backed legalisation last month, in an article in the Daily Mail, in which he said that he had changed his position, despite previously being persuaded that legalisation was unsafe by the deaths of his first wife from breast cancer, and his mother, who had had dementia.
Despite his backing, legalisation is not party policy as it has not been approved by members, while Cable has announced that he will soon step down as party leader.
Cable welcomed the RCP survey results, and said in a Liberal Democrat press release: “As someone who has recently been persuaded of the merits of allowing properly regulated assisted dying with safeguards, it is reassuring that many medical professionals are also making the same journey.
“Opinion is changing and it is now overdue that legislation should come forward to address this important social issue.”
But the crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, co-founder of Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), criticised his comments.
She said: “For Vincent Cable to referred to the Royal College of Physicians as the reason why this should now be looked at again is very weak as we all know that the way the poll was conducted was highly flawed.”
She pointed out that there were fewer people supporting a position of neutrality than there were the other two options, which makes RCP’s position “dishonest”.
She said: “It’s so depressing that disabled people, who have so many other battles to fight for support to live with dignity and respect, have now got to fight this discriminatory threat again.
“It feels like a relentless battle to stay safe and alive.”
Asked to respond to Baroness Campbell’s concerns, Cable’s spokesperson declined to do so, but said in a statement: “Vince Cable has recently expressed support for a change in legislation based on the principles and safeguards established in recent years after previous attempts to change the law.
“These include offering assisted dying only to those who are medically certified as having a terminal illness, certified as being mentally capable, and where a judge and two doctors are satisfied that the request is voluntary.”
Those personally supporting a change in the law in the RCP poll increased from 32 to 41 per cent, while those opposing it fell from 58 to 49 per cent, compared with 2014.
But there was only a small change in the proportion of those who would be prepared to participate in assisted suicide if the law changed, with those saying they would rising from 21 to 25 per cent, and those saying they would not falling from 58 to 55 per cent.
Professor Andrew Goddard, RCP’s president, said that adopting a neutral position would allow the body to “reflect the differing opinions among our membership”.
He said RCP would not be focusing on the issue in its work but would instead “continue championing high-quality palliative care services”.
Last year, the latest legal bid to change the law – this time taken by Noel Conway, who is terminally-ill with motor neurone disease – was rejected by the court of appeal.
NDY UK had intervened in the case, raising concerns such as the danger that disabled people might be at risk of coercion if it was legalised.
In a witness statement, Baroness Campbell had told the court that a ruling in favour of Conway would “damage beyond repair the way in which society views the elderly, sick and disabled to the point where the Equality Act itself and the protection which it provides becomes fundamentally defective”.
Three senior court of appeal justices had highlighted this concern and also pointed in their judgment to a report by the Royal College of General Practitioners which expressed fears that a “right to die” could very easily become a “duty to die”, particularly “when financial considerations were a factor and the individual felt like a burden to their family”.
They concluded that there could be “no doubt that Parliament is a far better body for determining the difficult policy issue in relation to assisted suicide” than the courts because of the “conflicting, and highly contested, views within our society on the ethical and moral issues and the risks and potential consequences of a change in the law”.
Parliament has repeatedly rejected attempts to change the law on assisted suicide, including the latest effort by Labour MP Rob Marris, in 2015.
28 March 2019
‘Angel’ investor seeks entrepreneurs to transform life for disabled people
Disabled entrepreneurs with technology-based business ideas that could transform life for other disabled people have a chance to secure up to £100,000 of funding through an “angel” investment programme.
Entrepreneur and investor Rohan Silva, a former senior policy adviser to Conservative prime minister David Cameron, is one of 12 successful entrepreneurs who have each been handed £100,000 by technology investment fund Atomico to invest in early-stage technology companies.
After discussions with disabled journalist Steve O’Hear, Silva decided to invest all the money he has been given in one or two technology start-ups with the potential to improve the lives of disabled people.
Silva, co-founder of Second Home, a social business that supports job creation and entrepreneurship, is particularly keen to see ideas from tech start-ups founded or co-founded by disabled people*.
O’Hear, a technology and business journalist who reports on tech start-ups for the website TechCrunch, will act as a volunteer “sounding board” for Silva.
He said that Silva’s idea to focus on disability “had come partly from conversations he and I have had in the past around the lack of diversity in the tech industry, including disability, and the stink I’d made with regards to [chancellor] Philip Hammond’s idiotic comments attempting to link the UK’s low productivity with high rates of employment of disabled people”.
He said: “I immediately thought that angel investing in disabled entrepreneurs was a good idea but told him that if he wanted to have more impact he should also consider businesses that explicitly target the disabled consumer, since disabled people are being ripped off on a whole range of products or services.”
The start-ups could, for example, offer a mobile app, other types of software, a tech-enabled service or new types of hardware.
O’Hear said: “My investment thesis was that unlike other sectors, tech hasn’t yet delivered the same level of service, convenience and innovation to the disabled consumer that we see more generally, and that there are many disability markets ripe for disruption.”
He added: “From insurance, financing, travel and accommodation, to specialist products such as wheelchair accessories, disabled clothing and fashion, or mobility devices, there are countless disability markets which feel dominated by legacy players that don’t utilise tech very well or are outright monopolies or predatory in nature.
“Depending on how big the market is for any one product or service, broadly speaking this is exactly the type of opportunity smart investors look for.”
He said that many disabled people have the “instincts, aptitude and life experience to make great entrepreneurs” because they are often “driven by having something to prove”.
And he said he was particularly interested in businesses that would help disabled people “level up” in their personal or work lives, by saving money, using their time more efficiently, or achieving greater independence and autonomy.
He said: “So much of my time and money is wasted on being disabled, which, when you think about it, is a collective waste of society’s resources.
“Disabled people have so much to contribute as a whole, both in spending power and through what we are capable of achieving via individual endeavours, but this is being siphoned off by companies delivering poor consumer experiences whilst ripping off the disabled consumer wholesale.”
O’Hear said there are usually huge mark-ups on products that target disabled consumers, who can expect to pay up to 10 times the price, “with no direct correlation to the cost of providing those products or services”.
He said he wanted to see applications for funding from start-ups that want to fix some of these “broken markets”, in areas such as disability insurance or personalised wheelchair accessories.
He said: “I recently bought a new adapted vehicle and had to find new car insurance and the experience took me back to 2003, which was the last time I bought a car.
“Literally nothing had changed and it felt incredibly uncompetitive and lacking in choice.”
*To submit a pitch deck – a power-point presentation describing the business idea and plan – to Rohan Silva, email him at email@example.com
28 March 2019
User-led advice centre set to close its doors after NHS funding blow
A disabled people’s organisation is set to have to close the doors of its advice centre, which has provided vital support with benefit claims to thousands of disabled people, after nearly all its funding was suddenly withdrawn by a local NHS body.
Possability People has been running the advice centre for 30 years, but it was told by Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) that it was going to stop all its annual funding from next month.
The CCG told Possability People* that it needed to focus its “limited resources on essential priority areas, and services which are not already provided by either statutory or voluntary sector organisations”.
But local MPs have described the decision as “hugely counterproductive” and “unconscionable”.
As a result of the cut – which will see the centre lose 85 per cent of its funding – the service will have to stop offering face-to-face advice and will only be able to offer a restricted telephone helpline run by volunteers.
In 2018, the centre supported more than 2,200 people, with a total of nearly 4,500 enquiries, at a cost to the CCG of just £29,000.
It is the only accessible pan-disability advice service in the city, and as well as benefits, offers help with issues including equipment grants, blue badges, bus passes, housing, social care support and food bank referrals.
It is run by three part-time staff and volunteers, most of whom are disabled people.
Today (Thursday), Possability People and some of its clients are due to attend a meeting of Brighton and Hove council to share their concerns and ask the local authority if it can fill the gap left by the withdrawal of the CCG’s funding.
Brighton and Hove CCG has so far declined to release the “robust” equality impact assessment it says it carried out into the decision to cut the centre’s funding.
It has also refused to say whether it checked if other organisations in Brighton had the spare capacity to cope if the centre had to withdraw its services.
Geraldine Des Moulins, Possability People’s chief executive, said disabled people were again “bearing the brunt of funding decisions made without any real understanding of the impact they will have.
“We are keenly aware of the financial pressures health and social care services are under, but we can’t see how this will be a real saving as the first thing most people do in a crisis with nowhere else to turn is go to their GP.”
She added: “We know that advice services are already over-subscribed because advice services in the city work closely together in partnership.
“The CCG has not been in touch with them prior to making a decision to ask if they have any extra capacity because the messages we are getting from them is of shock and concern.”
She said the CCG had argued that its funding duplicated services, but the Possability People advice centre “is specialist and pan impairment and is not replicated anywhere in the city”.
She added: “The advice centre is often the last port of call for people who find themselves in desperate situations – to have this lifeline taken away seems particularly cruel.
“We will be doing all we can to fund the centre in the longer term, and our volunteers will help as much as they can by answering phone calls, but in the short term, the outlook for desperate disabled people is very grim.”
The council funds several other Possability People services, and contributes about £6,000 towards the advice centre.
A council spokesperson said: “We are keen to speak to Possability People as soon as possible about how the funding we have given them towards the advice service could be utilised in the future.”
But he confirmed that the council “will not be providing replacement funding for the money the CCG has withdrawn”.
Calls on the CCG to reverse its decision have been backed by two local MPs, the Green party’s Caroline Lucas, and Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle.
Lucas said: “Possability People’s advice centre is a vital service that has supported many of my constituents to successfully challenge incorrect disability benefit decisions, and helped them to get the support they need.
“For NHS commissioners to pretend that there isn’t a link between health and wellbeing, and accessing timely disability benefits advice when people are in crisis and struggling to cope, is hugely short-sighted and counterproductive, as I have made clear to the CCG.
“I struggle to believe that other advice agencies in the city have the capacity to fill the gap left by the closure of Possability People’s advice service.”
Russell-Moyle said: “I am shocked by the CCG’s handling of this matter, giving only a few weeks notice on a decision which will affect hundreds of my constituents.
“There are no other services in the city able to meet the needs of our disabled and vulnerable residents and I fully support the calls for the CCG to reverse this unconscionable decision.”
A spokesperson for Brighton and Hove CCG said: “Over 80 per cent of contacts for this service are related to benefits help and Brighton and Hove has a wide range of other community and voluntary sector services that support people with these needs.
“There are also a number of both local and national services that offer benefits advice and help in accessible ways.
“With this in mind, we took the difficult decision to reinvest the money that would have been spent for this service into other services that will bring direct benefits to more people’s health needs.
“This was not a decision we took lightly but we feel it is necessary to ensure we are able to continue to use public money in the most effective way and do not spend more money than we have available.”
*Possability People is a DNS subscriber
28 March 2019
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com