Apr 252019
 

Front cover of "Independent Living for the Future" documentDownload report here: NILSS_final

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, a network of  disabled people and our organisations in England, is asking for support for a bold new vision for independent living* for the future. (* The phrase ‘independent living’ is not about disabled people doing things on our own, it means having choice and control over our own lives, being included in the community and having the same chances to take part as other people.)

The social care and mental health systems are currently in crisis and as a result disabled people’s rights to an adequate standard of living, to dignity and inclusion and to equal participation in society are being taken backwards.

In its present state, the system is not fit to respond to current needs, let alone predicted greater needs in the future. Disabled people’s experiences of support are subject to a post code lottery and differ considerably depending upon impairment.

Disabled people and our organisations are calling for a better system guaranteeing consistent levels of adequate support. This will not only benefit us and our families but will strengthen wider society, save costs in other areas and produce social and economic benefits.

Our vision of a national independent living support system is set out in the position paper “Independent Living for the Future” which you can download above or below for the easy read version.

Please sign up in support using the form at the end of this page and help us reclaim disabled people’s futures by making our vision a reality.

Picture of front cover of easy read version

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NILSS_easyread

 Posted by at 15:17
Apr 232019
 

NEWS!

DWP Deaths In Cambridge

Artist and DPAC activist, Vince Laws, has produced a series of ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds, many of which will be on display at Cambridge Junction on Friday 26 & Saturday 27 April 2019.

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds describe the circumstances of death of named people dealing with the DWP, and give more information about the current hostile environment for disabled people.

DWP Deatgs make me Sick Shrouuds by Vince Laws

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds were the backdrop to a live performance called ‘A Very Queer Nazi Faust’ put on by Laws and 13 Norfolk based disability rights activists at Norwich Arts Centre in September 2018. A Very Queer Nazi Faust was commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from Spirit of 2012.

In it, poet John Faust is suicidal. His benefits have been stopped without warning, the bailiffs are due to evict him, his dog is in the vets dying, his car needs a new clutch, and he can’t finish his poetic masterpiece while the voices inside his head torment him. In despair, he throws himself off Beeston Bump, Norfolk’s highest peak, clutching ‘The Tragic True Life & Deserved Death of a Benefit Scrounger by Himself’, but Lucifer won’t let John drown because she loves his work and wants a bigger part.

You can listen to the podcast free here: https://soundcloud.com/avqnf/the-tragic-true-life-deserved-death-of-a-benefit-scrounger-by-himself-john-faust-1

There is now a ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ Facebook page. Images of the 25 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.

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.

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.”

DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/DWPDeaths/

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

Vince Laws’ DWP Deaths Make Me Sick can be seen at Cambridge Junction on 26th & 27th April as part of I’m Here, Where Are You?, a new arts festival celebrating disabled artists across theatre, comedy, dance and visual art. For more information, please visit the website: https://www.junction.co.uk/im-here-where-are-you?spektrix_bounce=true

 Posted by at 14:40
Apr 182019
 

Following reports that Barnet council is to force disabled people into residential care to cut costs, there is a public meeting on Tuesday 21 May starts 6.30 8.30 Greek Cypriot centre, North Finchley, N12.

The aim is to do the following:

1. Raise the profile of this disgusting attack locally in Barnet
2. Raise awareness that it may be happening in other Councils
3. Agree a plan of what action should be taken at the next Adults and Safeguarding committee on Wednesday 5 June

 Posted by at 15:58
Apr 172019
 

Meet: 4pm 25 April 2019, outside Facebook HQ, 1 Rathbone Square, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1FB. See the Event page

Join Disabled People Against Cuts, loud and proud, outside Facebook’s London HQ on 25 April to protest discriminatory treatment of disability-related pages. Last week, Facebook (FB) told Access Ability, in a recorded phone call that their site set up to empower disabled people had been blocked from inviting ‘likes’ by FB algorithms which block anything “that could be disturbing”. When challenged on this the FB employee stated that “some people find it disturbing to see pictures of disabled people”. She also said she had never before come across “a page that promotes disability” and seemed surprised at the idea.

DPAC spokesperson Bob Ellard said: “Facebook may have 21st century tech but they have shown themselves to have 19th century attitudes. The company makes billions in profits yet clearly lacks even basic anti-discrimination training for staff. Technology can change disabled people’s lives, with social media having played an important role in the development of disabled people led campaigns over recent years, but equal access doesn’t just need progressive technology, it needs progressive attitudes too. An algorithm is only as good as the people programming it.”

The protest is being supported by Models of Diversity, an organisation set up to promote equality and diversity in the fashion, beauty and media industries.

Founder, Angel Sinclair, says: “Models of Diversity are saddened by the disgusting treatment of Ability Access by Facebook last week. It is distressing to us that images of those with disability are considered ‘disturbing’ yet videos of ISIS murders and page 3 style nudity is acceptable. As a global organisation it is Facebook’s responsibility to educate its staff and make a stand against this kind of discrimination.”

Since the incident FB has explained the page was blocked because of an image showing a disabled woman who is disrobed. Whatever the reasons in this particular case, what was said by the employee in the telephone call was simply unacceptable. Moreover, other disabled campaigners from around the world have spoken out on twitter about similar difficulties with Facebook.

@Dominickevans, a Polish-American film-maker and activist commented: “They’ve been preventing me from inviting people to disability themed events I plan. Most people rely on me inviting them to know about the events happening, and it’s made me less likely to post events on Facebook.”

Disabled people and our allies want reassurances from FB that adequate steps will now be taken to protect disabled FB users from discrimination, including re-programming of algorithms as required to enable disability-related FB pages to promote their content, and that staff at all levels of the company will receive user led disability equality training.

If you are unable to join us but would like to send a message to Facebook for us to hand in please email mail@dpac.uk.net.

Support the protest on social media using the hashtag #DisabilityNotDisturbing

Apr 172019
 

The Future of Independent Living for Disabled People
Committee room 10, Houses of Parliament
1 – 2pm, Thursday 25 April 2019.

Hosted by Marsha De Cordova, Shadow Minister for Disabled People, in partnership with the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee

This meeting will launch of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance position statement on the future of independent living for Disabled people and findings from DPAC’s research into the social care postcode lottery.

Independent Living is of central importance to Disabled people’s lives, encompassing the meeting of our most basic human needs as well as the chance to take part in society the same as everyone else. It is often misunderstood and thought to be about doing things without support, but as Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities sets out, it is about having choice and control over our lives and the chance to be fully included in the community.

For independent living to be a reality for Disabled people, we need a system that provides the right type, amount, quality and range of support options. The current social care system is not up to the task and Disabled people’s experiences of independent living are going backwards while being subject to a dramatic post code lottery. This is not inevitable. Investment in independent living could create savings in other areas while supporting Disabled people to be active citizens. DPAC research into differences in social care provision and charging cross local authorities in England highlights the reasons why Disabled people need a national independent living system free at the point of delivery capable of meeting need in a way that is credible for the 21st century.

Please join us to hear from Disabled people and our organisations what the problems are with the current system but also our solutions for the future.

For more information or to book a place please email: mail@dpac.uk.net.

Apr 152019
 
Tuesday 21st May 6.15pm Bromley Civic Centre, Stockwell Close, Bromley Kent, BR1 3UH
nearest station is Bromley south station, station is accessible from platform to street level,
buses opposite the train station, 61, 358, 208. 314, 161, 314, 126 all go to the civic centre.
Protest against Tory Bromley Councillors refusal to support Muslim Community in Bromley in wake of Christchurch New Zealand Attacks or issue a statement on behalf of Bromley Council to condemn the attacks in Christchurch New Lealand, Protest by Bromley and Croydon Unite Community and Bromley DPAC Supported by Bromley Labour Group of Councillors, Bromley TUC, .
facebook event link for the protest:
 Posted by at 15:38
Apr 152019
 
Thursday 9th May 6.30pm Croydon Town Hall, to protest against proposed DWP planned PIP assessment centre.
Sub planning meeting takes place at 7.30 pm at Croydon Town Hall.
Town Hall, St Katherine Street, Croydon, CRO 1NX
nearest train station East Croydon Station, accessible from platform to street level.
Buses 119, go from bromley
from merton: tramlink from wimbledon,
buses:93 and 154 go to croydon town hall.
from wandsworth:270,264, 407
from camberwell: 468
facebook event link for protest: https://www.facebook.com/events/666393323815289/
media link to the reason behind the protest:
 Posted by at 15:35
Apr 122019
 

In an additional, extra article from Disability News Service (DNS) this week, Avon and Somerset Police force are found wanting in failing to investigate abuse of disabled people in a care home, and bring those who perpetrated that abuse to justice.

Just a reminder on Avon and Somerset Police’s previous record – before the latest DNS article.

Avon and Somerset police is the same force that repeatedly failed to halt a regime of abuse at the Winterbourne View private hospital for adults with learning difficulties, before it was eventually exposed by a Panorama documentary in May 2011.

The force was also found to have repeatedly failed disabled refugee Bijan Ebrahimi, who was murdered in 2013 after years of racist harassment and abuse, and also failed disabled asylum-seeker Kamil Ahmad, who was brutally murdered by a racist neighbour three years ago.

(Text above, and latest story below provided by DNS)

Whistle-blower withdraws offer to help police reopen probe into autistic abuse scandal

A whistle-blower who has vital evidence of serious abuse at a care home for autistic adults has retracted her offer to talk to police about what she witnessed, which could have led to them reopening their failed investigation.

Disability News Service (DNS) found out this week that Avon and Somerset police had failed to interview her, even though her whistleblowing played a key part in helping to expose the abuse scandal at Mendip House, which was run by the National Autistic Society (NAS).

The whistle-blower, Hannah*, had talked in depth to DNS this week about what she witnessed at Mendip House in Brent Knoll, Somerset, and revealed that she had never been interviewed by Avon and Somerset police.

Police have failed to bring any charges against those responsible for the abusive regime.

And they confirmed this week that Hannah was never interviewed.

A police spokesperson said: “We were never made aware of the person you have named as your source, which is why she was not interviewed as part of our investigation.”

Hannah had made it clear earlier this week that she wanted to give a statement to police, in the hope that the force would reopen its investigation, and secure justice through the courts for the autistic people abused at Mendip House.

But Hannah has now appalled campaigners by retracting her offer to give a police statement, because she says she fears that speaking out could put her own job in the care industry at risk.

DNS understands that the police cannot compel Hannah to provide a statement about what she saw at Mendip House.

She had left her contact details with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in the spring of 2016 when she helped expose the abusive regime at Mendip House, where she worked for about eight months in 2015 and 2016.

CQC passed her evidence to Somerset County Council in a safeguarding referral, but it is still not clear why no effort was made by the council or the police to interview her, and which of the two bodies was to blame for that failure.

Avon and Somerset police were this week ready to interview Hannah and take a statement about what she witnessed at Mendip House, after being approached by DNS.

But yesterday, after DNS asked her permission to pass her phone number to the police press office, she sent a text message saying that she had “decided due to the nature of my job now I would rather not give evidence or have my details in the paper but wish you all the best”.

She has not responded to further messages by phone or email.

Hannah spoke to a manager and to CQC in April 2016.

The home was closed by NAS several months later, partly as a result of her speaking to CQC.

But no-one was ever arrested or charged over the abuse, although five members of staff were sacked by the charity.

Avon and Somerset police has previously insisted that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the former care workers responsible for the alleged abuse at the NAS home.

It has admitted taking statements from just 12 members of staff, but this appears to have been partly linked to threats made to fellow staff members, leaving them unwilling to co-operate with the police, although this was not mentioned by Hannah as a reason for now refusing to be interviewed.

The home had 26 members of staff as well as other zero hours workers, while scores of people were employed at six other homes on the Somerset Court campus, all run by NAS.

Avon and Somerset police insisted to DNS last month that “all those relevant to the offences in question were spoken to and those who were willing to talk to the police who had worked with the suspects”.

It also said last month that to interview “all former and current staff would’ve been a disproportionate use of police resources”.

It initially claimed its investigation took nine months, but later admitted it had lasted only five months.

CQC has confirmed that Hannah phoned its contact centre on 4 April 2016 and provided evidence, asking to remain anonymous, although she left her contact details. CQC made a “safeguarding referral” to Somerset County Council based on her information.

An anonymous whistle-blower, who CQC believes was Hannah, called the watchdog again on 9 May 2016 and provided further information, which led to a second safeguarding alert to the council.

A CQC spokesperson told DNS yesterday (Thursday): “If the local authority wished to have the contact details of the whistle-blower, CQC would have shared that information.

Safeguarding authorities will involve the police when necessary and if the police asked us for that information, we would pass it on in the same way as to local authorities.”

But no attempt was made by the police or the council to secure Hannah’s contact details so they could interview her.

Despite CQC’s willingness to pass on her contact details, the council claims the information was provided “anonymously” and so it was not able to make “direct contact” with Hannah, while Avon and Somerset police said it was “never made aware of the person you have named as your source”.

The council and police failed to contact Hannah even though she appears to be one of the whistle-blowers referred to in the safeguarding adults review (SAR) report [PDF] published in January 2018 by the Somerset Safeguarding Adults Board, which followed an inquiry set up by the county council into the allegations.

The SAR report says: “The closure of Mendip House may be traced to May 2016 when incidents were revealed to Somerset’s Safeguarding personnel by NAS whistle blowers, one of which was reported via the Care Quality Commission.”

Some of Hannah’s evidence passed to DNS earlier this week appeared to be even more serious than the details of abuse included in the SAR report.

She appears to have evidence of serious and criminal ill-treatment and neglect under the Mental Health Act or Mental Capacity Act.

She told DNS how she saw:

  • A heavily-built male staff member riding a male resident like a horse in order to “humiliate” him
  • A male staff member shouting abuse at a male resident after he left a toilet door open
  • A male staff member forcing a male resident to eat raw onion [the SAR report says a resident was punished for refusing to eat an onion]
  • A female staff member refusing to give a male resident drinks in case he wet himself
  • The same resident often having to lie in a wet bed for more than half an hour because staff refused to change him
  • Male staff members locking a female resident in her car on several occasions, and walking back to Mendip House – where they could not see her – and only checking on her at intervals
  • A male and female staff member engaged in overt sexual activity [described by Hannah as “dry-humping”] while a male resident was sitting at a table in the same room
  • A female staff member in charge of a shift refusing to call an ambulance after a male resident repeatedly banged his head against the wall after being shouted at
  • Male members of staff throwing food at a male resident on several occasions
  • Staff using residents’ money to buy food for staff from a takeaway in nearby Weston-super-Mare, using an NAS vehicle. In contrast to what was said in the SAR report, residents did not accompany staff on these trips, according to Hannah

Hannah originally said she was “horrified” that no-one had been arrested over the abuse.

She said: “I am still angry about it. It was massively covered up from the top down.”

Emma Dalmayne, chief executive of the autistic-led organisation Autistic Inclusive Meets, who organised a protest about the scandal outside NAS headquarters in London last month, said: “It is extremely disappointing that a person who works in the care sector has decided to withdraw any support for a new investigation.

It is a massive setback. If you see abuse, any decent person would want justice.

Why wouldn’t this person want to bring these people to justice? Is her job more important?”

Dalmayne had previously said that the police failure to interview Hannah showed “another layer of the complete failure of all services involved to protect the safety and rights of highly vulnerable autistic people has been revealed.

This is appalling. Safeguarding all but disregarded and a basic common decency and respect for human life completely absent.

The message of all involved, the residents, their families… to us the autistic community is clear. They and we do not matter.”

A relative of one of the residents – before Hannah withdrew her co-operation – told DNS that the abuse seemed to have been “swept under the carpet”.

She said: “I just don’t know why the police didn’t investigate more fully. Why do they seem to have been so lacklustre?

From the sounds of it, they didn’t do enough. They could have interviewed more [people who worked at Mendip House].

I am just so bewildered, so confused. It just seems like the police gave up too soon. I have no idea why.”

Mendip House was one of seven homes run by NAS, as part of the Somerset Court campus.

The other six homes are still open, and Hannah had previously said she believed there needed to be a new inquiry into all the Somerset Court homes, and frequent and regular inspections.

She said: “I would be in there every week for weeks. I would be breathing down their necks ensuring the same thing didn’t happen.”

She also said she believed the abusive regime at Mendip House dated back much further than the two-year period between 2014 and 2016 covered in the SAR report.

She said: “The staff who had been there years told me that they reported and reported and reported and nothing had been done.”

A CQC spokesperson said: “Straight after the last Mendip House inspection we did do a fully comprehensive inspection of all Somerset Court homes. 

However, if anyone did have information of concern, we would encourage them to share this with us so we can investigate.”

A Somerset County Council spokesperson has been unable to explain why the information it received from CQC about Hannah’s evidence did not lead to her being interviewed by police.

But she said in a statement: “Somerset County Council held meetings with the police, NAS and CQC where information received from anonymous whistle-blowers was passed on to the police as part of their investigation.

As mentioned previously, all whistle-blower information we received was given to us anonymously and it’s not our policy to ask for contact details in these cases to protect the identity of whistle-blowers.

Therefore, we wouldn’t have been able to individually identify [Hannah].

We received information from a number of anonymous whistle-blowers, which were all consistent with the points raised by [Hannah] and subsequently part of the investigation.

If [Hannah] feels her anonymous evidence wasn’t taken into account in 2016, she is welcome to get in touch with Somerset County Council or the police to formally put her concerns on record.”

It is currently unclear why no effort was made to ask Hannah to give a statement to police in 2016 and 2017.

CQC decided last month not to prosecute NAS, and instead fined it just £4,000 for financial abuse by staff, despite the regime of “taunting, mistreatment and humiliation of residents”.

An NAS spokesperson said: “We cooperated fully with the lengthy police investigation. We asked to be kept updated with developments and were informed when they eventually closed the investigation.

However, from what we understand, the police would not be able to share any details about who they interviewed with us or any other agency or organisation that wasn’t directly involved in the investigation.

And they did not share the details of whether this person was interviewed or not.”

He added: “We have reported and investigated all allegations that have been raised with us.

In line with our responsibilities, we will of course fully investigate any other concerns that are raised with us. Or people can of course go straight to the CQC with any concerns.”

*Not her real name

12 April 2019

 Posted by at 22:35
Apr 112019
 

 

DWP ‘hypocrite’ ministers refuse to be held to same safety standards as social media

Ministers have been branded “hypocrites” for rejecting the idea that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be held responsible for benefit-related deaths, despite their government calling for social media managers to be held criminally responsible for safeguarding failures.

Home secretary Sajid Javid said this week that the government was acting to hold the social media industry accountable for its failures because “we know, in our hearts, we know that protecting the vulnerable is our shared responsibility”.

But evidence has also mounted over recent years of links between the failings of DWP ministers and senior civil servants and the deaths of disabled people, particularly in relation to the flawed work capability assessment (WCA) process.

The deaths of disabled people such as Paul Donnachie, Mark Wood, David Barr, Stephen Carré, Lawrence BondDavid Clapson, Susan Roberts, Alan McArdle and Jodey Whiting – and many others – have all been linked to DWP safeguarding failings.

This has led to the launch of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which says DWP ministers and civil servants should be held to account through a police investigation for their failure to ensure the safety of these and other benefit claimants.

In a speech to launch the new white paper on online harms, Javid said this week that some tech companies had “long got away with the claim that they cannot possibly be expected to take any more responsibility for the safety of their customers”.

He added: “If we saw a child being abused or threatened, I’m sure all of us in this room would step in and do something.

And we’d do something because we know, in our hearts, we know that protecting the vulnerable is our shared responsibility.

It’s not controversial, it’s not authoritarian. It’s just what you do in a civilized society… So if companies fail to fulfil their safeguarding obligations they will face serious consequences.”

This week’s white paper on online social harms – which is now out for a three-month public consultation – shows the government wants to hold social media companies to account for their safeguarding failings.

One of the key elements of the white paper is that the government is exploring new laws that would hold individual senior managers “personally accountable” in the event of a major breach of a new statutory duty of care, which could extend to “criminal liability”.

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Social media companies must act against online disablist abuse but in pushing responsibility onto those companies, the government is conveniently avoiding its own role in deliberately enflaming hostile attitudes towards disabled people in order to justify welfare ‘reform’.

The United Nations recommended in 2016 that the government undertake a widespread publicity programme to improve attitudes towards benefit claimants but this recommendation was rejected.

If the government really cared about stopping disablism the first place to start would be the DWP.

It is also entirely hypocritical to introduce new criminal laws holding companies to account for safeguarding breaches when government ministers and civil servants are still able to evade justice for the deaths of benefit claimants and ignore the blood on their own hands.”

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, welcomed the white paper’s safeguarding proposal but said the refusal to introduce similar measures to cover DWP was “hypocrisy”.

She said: “Certainly we feel that safeguarding for people with mental health problems is extremely important, and for people who have disabilities too, and we fail to see why the government would consider safeguarding for one group of people important but not for another.

It’s not good enough just to safeguard a person up to a certain age and then throw them to the wolves.

MHRN feels very, very strongly that those government ministers and senior civil servants who have engineered a hostile environment for people with mental health problems, some of whom have taken their own lives, should face some kind of justice.”

She said that the outsourcing companies who carry out disability benefit assessments on behalf of DWP – Maximus, Atos and Capita – should also be held to account.

She said: “We will see all of them held to account, even if it takes the next 10 or 20 years. We will not walk away and forget this has happened.”

McKenna pointed out that many people with mental health problems have experienced abuse as children and are now being “subjected to the cruelty of the benefit system and sanctions”.

She added: “It seems to be that we are protecting children until they reach a certain age, at which point we change from seeking to protect them to almost despising them.”

Ian Jones, from the WOWcampaign, said: “It is now up to Justin Tomlinson and Amber Rudd to explain to disabled people how they are going to introduce a requirement for the DWP to demonstrate a duty of care to disabled people and all claimants of universal credit and other benefits.

DWP staff and ministers whose conduct may have caused harm to claimants of universal credit and other benefits should be held to the same standards as social media bosses when ignorance and failure to follow procedure leads to harm.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, welcomed the white paper announcement but said it would be “rank hypocrisy” if the government was not going to hold DWP to the same standards.

He said: “Ministers and civil servants should face the same exacting standards as Sajid Javid proposes.”

DWP has continually insisted that it is already “committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants”, has “robust safeguarding in place to protect and support vulnerable people” and that “where any failings on specific cases have been identified, we have addressed these to ensure they are not repeated”.

Asked this week if similar laws to those proposed for social media companies should be introduced to cover the actions of civil servants and ministers running DWP, a DWP spokesperson refused to comment.

And asked if there should be a criminal investigation into the safeguarding failings of DWP ministers and civil servants, she again refused to comment.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, 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

11 April 2019

 

 

Council accused of ‘settling scores’ after cutting funding from DPO that criticised it

A council has been accused of being “vindictive” and trying to “silence” a disabled people’s organisation (DPO) by withdrawing funding for its advice service, just months after the DPO published a critical report about social care provision in the borough.

Labour-run Merton council, in south-west London, has been accused of discriminating against disabled people by withdrawing funding from the only advice service in the borough that provides welfare rights experts who will visit disabled people in their own homes.

The council’s equality impact assessment of the decision to withdraw funding from Merton Centre for Independent Living (MCIL)* concluded that it provided “high quality casework support” and was “serving a small number of vulnerable disabled people very well”.

It also concluded that the loss of funding would mean “potentially a negative impact identified for deaf and disabled residents”.

But the council decided not to offer funding of £75,000 a year to replace an existing £80,000-a-year grant, arguing that MCIL’s high-intensity service was helping too few people.

MCIL will continue to provide advice and advocacy services in welfare rights and social care, and visit service-users at home, but it has had to close its housing advice service.

The loss of the funding may also impact other services, including the advice and support it provides to victims of disability hate crime.

Last October, MCIL published a 96-page report into the flaws and failings of Merton council’s adult social care provision.

That report concluded that a growing number of disabled people were resorting to legal action against the council to secure the support they needed, and warned that Merton council appeared to be carrying out reassessments and reviews of people’s care packages with the aim of cutting their support.

Roy Benjamin, MCIL’s chair, said he believed the council was now being “vindictive” in the wake of the social care report.

He said: “It is very much about settling scores. I feel angry… because we are a strong voice and it’s an attempt to silence us, and clearly any decision to cut our resources is going to impact on our ability to meet the needs [of disabled people in the borough].”

He added: “We already were not in a position to meet all the need that was identified. This is only going to exacerbate [that].”

Last year, MCIL supported 332 individual Deaf and disabled people with advice and casework, and provided information, signposting and guidance in another 170 cases, leading to a contribution of nearly £700,000 to the local economy in 2017-18.

Benjamin said it was an “irrational decision” and “discrimination” to cut the funding, because of its impact on disabled people who find it difficult to access mainstream services.

MCIL provides a high-intensity advice service, often following disability benefits cases right through to the appeal stage.

Benjamin said: “We are the only pan-disability organisation in the borough. We are the only organisation that offers any sort of domiciliary service for those people who can’t get to [Citizen’s Advice] or other advice providers.”

MCIL was originally one of six partners that put together a joint bid for funding.

When that bid was unsuccessful, the council asked the six individual organisations to put in individual bids for funding.

MCIL said it was the only one of the six that was unsuccessful in its bid for funding.

The council now provides no funding at all to MCIL.

A Merton council spokesperson refused to answer a series of questions about whether it was being “vindictive” and “settling scores”, if it was discriminating against disabled people, and why it ignored the conclusions of its equality impact assessment.

But Edith Macauley, the cabinet member for community safety, engagement and equalities, said in a statement: “Merton is one of only a few London boroughs not to have cut overall funding for the voluntary sector and we are spending around £4million between 2019 and 2022.   

All bids for funding of the information and advice element of the Strategic Partner Programme 2019-22 were scored against the funding criteria, but not every organisation’s bid was successful.

Merton Centre for Independent Living’s two bids, the first of which was as part of a consortium and the second bid in a round which was only open to unsuccessful bidders from the first round, scored less highly than the other bids which were received. 

Merton CIL challenged their score, which was upheld after their bid was reviewed by a council officer who was unconnected to it.     

The programme has commissioned a wide range of high quality and accessible support through this funding, including a central information and advice offer, complemented by a range of services, including specialist legal support and services with proven outreach to communities with some of the most challenging needs.

We have been actively working with Merton CIL and our new providers to ensure that anyone who needs advice and support has access to it.”

*To donate money to Merton CIL, visit this page

11 April 2019

 

 

Justice for Jodey Whiting: Mum brands DWP’s petition response ‘a joke’

The furious mother of a disabled woman who took her own life after repeated safeguarding failings by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has branded DWP’s response to a parliamentary petition set up in her daughter’s name “a joke”.

Joy Dove said this week that DWP’s safeguarding failures had killed her daughter.

She spoke out after DWP responded to the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which was set up in her daughter’s name.

DWP said in its response that it would not hold an independent inquiry into the deaths of disabled people linked to the failings of ministers and civil servants, as demanded by the petition.

More than 26,000 people have now signed the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which this week won further support, from the grassroots disabled women’s organisation WinVisible and film director Ken Loach.

The petition calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police.

It also calls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

Because the petition passed 10,000 signatures, the government was forced to respond.

But its response, published this week, ignored key parts of the petition’s demands.

DWP said it had “no plans” to hold an independent inquiry, and that the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) – who found DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Whiting’s suicide in February 2017 – “did not find any evidence of misconduct by Civil Servants or Ministers”.

DWP apologised for its failings in her case and said: “Unfortunately, in this instance the expected standard of customer service was not achieved.”

But the response ignored the petition’s reference to the many other deaths that have been closely linked to the actions of ministers and civil servants.

DWP claimed that the safeguarding of claimants was already a priority, that it was “committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants” and that its staff were “trained to identify signs of vulnerability which may include offering extra help with people’s benefits should they need it”.

But only last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP had admitted destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

DWP also failed in its response to comment on the petition’s call for MPs to accept that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose.

This week, DNS reports (see separate story) how an employment tribunal found DWP managers had “victimised” a disabled member of staff after she claimed that she had faced workplace discrimination.

And in February, Civil Service figures revealed that the proportion of DWP staff who said they had been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months had risen by about 50 per cent in just four years.

Joy Dove, Jodey Whiting’s mother, said the DWP response to the petition was “a joke”, and that her message to DWP was: “You have put everything in your response to the petition that you did not do to safeguard Jodey.

You killed my daughter by not safeguarding her.”

She added: “They should have practised what they are trying to preach now. They are responsible for Jodey’s death.”

She said she was appalled that the DWP response suggested that the £10,000 ICE ordered DWP to pay the family as a “consolatory payment” was “compensation” for her daughter’s death.

Dove said that £9,000 was given to Jodey’s nine children, while the other £1,000 was used to pay off some of the debts she had built up in paying for her daughter’s funeral.

She said: “It’s not about money. I will carry on. They can’t say it’s settled. I signed nothing. I want justice.”

She is hoping to take legal action against DWP, and she told DNS she wanted to see an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions, and then criminal prosecutions.

Meanwhile, Loach, whose film I, Daniel Blake has become a cultural rallying point for many disabled activists appalled at the deaths and years of harm caused to benefit claimants by government social security reforms, spoke this week to Dove to express his support for her battle for justice.

That battle is shared by seven other families who have lost relatives because of the failings of DWP ministers and senior civil servants and have backed the petition.

Dove said Loach had spoken to her for nearly an hour and was “lovely”.

He later sent a letter to her, saying that he and his colleagues were “aware of the countless other stories like yours where DWP has shown brutality that has led directly to innocent people suffering, and even death, as with Jodey”.

WinVisible, which supports and campaigns for disabled women, this week added its backing for the petition.

Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, said her organisation was supporting the petition because the way Whiting had had her benefits “cut off” and had not been believed about her illness was “horrific”.

She said: “This callousness is now standard. Every day we work with women with visible and invisible disabilities, distressed and suicidal because they are forced to go through the brutal benefit test system. 

We help them to win benefits on paper evidence, using the info on WinVisible’s blog. 

We can’t bear it that disabled mothers who deserve benefits and support services, are penalised as fit for work by reason of caring for children. 

In benefit cuts, disabled single mother families are doubly hit by the hostility against single mothers and against disabled people, losing up to £11,000 a year.” 

WinVisible is adding its support for the petition to that of four other grassroots groups: Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, 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

11 April 2019

 

 

Tomlinson becomes latest ‘shoddy, shameless’ disability minister

Disabled activists have responded with resignation after the government appointed another “shoddy, shameless” minister for disabled people.

The new minister, Justin Tomlinson, previously held the post between May 2015 and July 2016, before he was sacked in a government reshuffle.

Now he has been appointed again, this time to replace Brexit casualty Sarah Newton, and becomes the eighth minister for disabled people – or the seventh if you only count him once – since 2010.

There had been a gap of more than three weeks – filled with increasing anger at the prime minister’s failure to appoint a replacement for Newton – before Tomlinson’s name was finally revealed.

Despite repeated requests from Disability News Service (DNS), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to produce a press release welcoming his appointment.

Disabled activists this week pointed to Tomlinson being repeatedly publicly shamed for his ministerial performance and activities as an MP.

In October 2016, he had to apologise to MPs and was suspended from the Commons for two days after leaking a confidential Commons report to payday lender Wonga.

Last November, having been restored to DWP as the family support, housing and child maintenance minister, he suggested to a Commons committee that families hit by his government’s benefit cap could cope by taking in a lodger or “renegotiating” their rent.

And only last week, Tomlinson blocked DNS on Twitter, following a report on how he had apparently lied to the Commons work and pensions committee about the impact of the benefits freeze on disabled people.

When asked this week why he had taken that action, he said DNS was “free to be critical and challenging, but using phrases like ‘lying’ goes too far”, although he did remove the block.

But he has yet to explain why he told the committee that “disability benefits were exempt from the benefits freeze”, when in fact there is no exemption for the main component of employment and support allowance (ESA) or the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group.

Last week he was also forced to apologise to MPs for making a series of “inadvertent errors” in a debate about the annual uprating of benefits.

Tomlinson’s record as minister for disabled people in 2015 and 2016 is filled with a string of episodes that cast doubt on his credibility.

The former nightclub manager and owner of a marketing company had been in charge of the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident scheme for more than a year when DNS revealed in June 2016 that only about 40 mainstream private sector employers had signed up to the flagship programme in the three years since its launch.

The same month, he was urged to resign after he threatened a traumatised child abuse survivor – who was waiting to give evidence about the abuse in court – that his benefits would be stopped if he failed to co-operate with an Atos benefit reassessment.

Also in June 2016, he admitted to complete ignorance about the model that lies at the heart of his government’s programme of disability benefit reforms, the biopsychosocial model of disability.

Later that year, in a Commons debate after his sacking, he admitted that he had forgotten that DWP had issued a press release in his name that set a target to halve the disability employment gap by 2020.

And in July 2015, soon after his appointment as minister for disabled people, he risked ridicule after announcing that Swansea had become the country’s first “Disability Confident City”, but was then unable to explain why it had been chosen.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said Tomlinson had previously been “thoroughly dismissive” of disabled people and was “an apologist for the worst of the Tory policies”.

She said: “We have no expectation that Justin Tomlinson has in any way changed. We expect more of the same from him.”

She added: “Disabled people no longer bother to meet with Tory disability ministers because they don’t have our interests at heart.

His integrity is highly questionable. We have no reason to believe that he will have changed his ways. We expect more of the same from him.”

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Eight ministers for disabled people in nine years. Frankly, by now disabled people care almost as little who their minister is, as the minister couldn’t care less about disabled people. 

None of these shoddy, shameless ministers has ever lifted a finger to improve the lives of disabled people. And under this government, none of them are likely to.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said Tomlinson was “clearly too incompetent” to serve as a minister.

And Ian Jones, from the WOWcampaign, said that one of Tomlinson’s excuses in 2016 for defending huge cuts to disabled people’s support had been that resources would instead be targeted at those who needed it most.

He said: “This time he must do better and I am praying that he has had an empathy implant.”

11 April 2019

 

 

DWP ‘victimised’ disabled staff member who claimed discrimination, tribunal finds

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) managers “victimised” a disabled member of staff after she claimed that she had faced workplace discrimination, an employment tribunal has ruled.

It is just the latest case to raise concerns that DWP is institutionally disablist, both in its treatment of disabled benefit claimants and of its own staff.

Last November, DWP admitted failing to keep track of how many complaints of disability discrimination were made by its own staff, while in February Civil Service figures revealed that the proportion of DWP staff who said they had been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months had risen by about 50 per cent in just four years.

The new tribunal decision adds further weight to the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which calls on MPs to recognise that DWP is “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose”. 

The victimisation happened after the woman, referred to as JL, had submitted a claim internally that DWP had breached the Equality Act by failing to make a reasonable adjustment by providing her with access to a psychologist at work, following job-related anxiety and stress.

She subsequently used freedom of information laws to obtain a statement that had been prepared by two of her managers – and was not intended to be shared with her – who had discussed her case.

In the statement, the managers said they believed her actions were “vexations [vexatious]”, because of an earlier successful claim she had made under the Civil Service “injury benefit” system two years earlier, which again had been linked to DWP’s failure to meet its duties to her under the Equality Act.

Her managers also claimed that they appeared to be victims of “a widening [trade union] strategy” that saw “absence recorded as work-related stress” and eventually leading to the member of staff “seeking gardening leave” until the process was resolved.

But one of the managers told the tribunal that he accepted JL “had done nothing wrong and there was no basis for labelling her behaviour as vexatious”.

Employment judge Alexander Green said the managers’ statement was “inaccurate and disparaging” and the claim of vexatious behaviour was “a very serious allegation without any evidential basis”.

Judge Green said JL was instead “exercising her right to submit an injury benefit claim and it should also not be forgotten that she had succeeded with a previous claim in 2015 where she proved loss based on a work-related stress claim” and so was not “simply acting to annoy” DWP.

The judge also pointed out that JL had been “justifiably upset” because DWP had lost some of the sensitive medical documents she had submitted as part of her claim.

And he said there was “absolutely no basis” for the suggestion that her claim was part of a wider trade union strategy to encourage “un-meritorious claims”.

Judge Green said the management statement “misrepresents” JL, who was “being targeted for asserting her rights”, and he concluded that DWP had victimised JL under the Equality Act.

JL, who has long-standing depression and anxiety, has been working at a DWP pensions centre for 16 years, and had been a representative of the PCS union for more than 13 years, until she stood down in 2017.

The tribunal heard JL had not taken any further sick leave since returning to work in January 2018 and was now branch secretary of the PCS union.

The tribunal rejected her claims of disability discrimination and a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act because she was not able to prove that she was a disabled person under the act by showing her mental health condition had had a substantial impact on her day-to-day activities.

But Judge Green said JL was clearly “very upset by the way she was treated”, and he added: “The management statement caused her great offence and she felt victimised and violated by [DWP’s] behaviour.

When she gave her evidence about how she felt, she frequently broke down in tears… Her upset was genuine, heartfelt and palpable.”

JL was awarded £3,000 in damages for injury to feelings, and a further £212.60 in interest.

A DWP spokesperson said this week: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring all colleagues, including those with disabilities or health conditions, get the support they need to thrive.

As a Disability Confident employer we demonstrate best practice in recruiting, retaining and developing disabled staff – including making workplace adjustments and providing a dedicated team to deliver this.

We have in place robust processes for colleagues to follow in relation to diversity and inclusion and, while the number of staff reporting discrimination is very small, we treat any case extremely seriously.”

To sign the Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, 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

11 April 2019

 

 

Disabled activists’ bid to find northern DPOs could ‘combat London bias’

A new disabled people’s organisation (DPO) is hoping to bring together DPOs from across the north of England to provide a strong, collective, regional voice on issues affecting disabled people.

Leeds Disabled People’s Organisation (LDPO) was formed in January last year and has no funding, but it wants to hear from other DPOs across the region*.

It is hoping to map the location of all the DPOs across the north of England so they can work together and provide a powerful new voice, potentially setting up a new regional coalition.

LDPO has already been in contact with the well-established Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and hopes eventually to bring northern DPOs together for a “summit” meeting.

Mostafa Attia, LDPO chair, said: “We would like to do a northern summit, with all the different DPOs coming together, sharing and exchanging sources and see how they can work together rather than each of them working in a separate, isolated environment.”

Steve Graby, a founder member of LDPO and also a member of GMCDP’s executive board, but not speaking on their behalf, said a key problem was the lack of a coordinated list or database of active DPOs.

He said: “I hear about other DPOs mostly by word of mouth, and often even politicised disabled people living in an area, such as Manchester, where there is a DPO that is long-established and ‘well-known’ within the [disabled people’s movement] community, aren’t aware of it.”

Graby said part of the reason for this was that many DPOs had “failed to adapt to changing times and patterns of disablement, so that they don’t seem relevant to a lot of younger disabled people now, and are not necessarily addressing the most pressing problems that many disabled people are facing”.

One of the explanations for that, he said, was that many DPOs had become service-providers that depend on funding with “strings attached” or have restrictions such as only being open to certain age groups.

They have often “lost the roles of campaigning and consciousness-raising organisations” and “can often be de facto led by paid staff rather than their membership”, he said.

Even the national Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance of DPOs, which he supports, appears to be “very London/South of England centric”.

Graby said he believed there needed to be a mapping of where DPOs are active and where they are not, with more regional coordination to “move away from the London bias”.

He said: “I think this is especially needed because so much activist energy has been focused on the actions of central government and therefore targeting parliament, Whitehall, the DWP headquarters etc, and while of course this is important and necessary, disabled people (particularly those with personal assistance/independent living support needs) are now increasingly also being attacked by cuts made by local government, so there is a real need for local/regional as well as national organisation and activism.”

And he said there needed to be an effort to find “new ways of organising as disabled people without relying on the funding which so many DPOs have been reliant on and which increasingly is being lost.

It is unacceptable to me that loss of funding seems to instantly mean the complete annihilation of a DPO regardless of the will of its members – there need to be ways that DPOs can function on some level as organisations of active ‘doers’ rather than a passive membership and things only being done by paid staff.”

Leeds DPO was formed by a collection of people, most of them disabled, who were either studying at the University of Leeds – known for its Centre for Disability Studies – or were working locally in the disability field.

Its mission is to bring together disabled people in Leeds and combat social isolation and exclusion.

Among its activities, it organises social events, has started a writers’ group and is setting up a disabled women’s group.

*If you are a DPO working in the north of England, you can contact Leeds DPO by email at leedsdpo@gmail.com, through Twitter (@Leeds_DPO), through its website or on Facebook

11 April 2019

 

 

Autistic authors’ guide maps out route to quality care

A new guide – written solely by autistic people – aims to show care providers, commissioners and inspectors how to provide “quality care” for other autistic people.

An Independent Guide to Quality Care for Autistic People has been written by members of the National Autistic Taskforce (NAT) and has a “heavy emphasis” on developing choice and control for service-users.

The guide says: “The more autonomy a person has, the less support services need to rely on external authorities such as good practice guides, instead looking to the person themselves as the primary source of information, instruction and guidance.”

Among its recommendations is that care providers should make the protection of service-users’ autonomy “a core priority” and ensure they have choice and control over “major life decisions and not just everyday choices”.

The guide adds: “Respect the rights of all people to privacy, dignity and the maximum possible control over their own lives.”

It also says there should be respect for the right of autistic service-users to make “unwise decisions”, while their human rights should be prioritised over any “perceived risks to organisational or personal reputations”.

The guide, which has been endorsed by organisations including the autistic-led Autistic UK and the non-user-led charity the National Autistic Society, warns that even “well-meaning approaches to care may be negative experiences for some autistic people when these do not respect an autistic perspective”.

This could include being subjected to “treatments” that seek to “normalise” the service-user or that try to include them in social activities they do not want to participate in.

The guide says service-providers should carry out regular “sensory reviews” of the places where autistic service-users spend time, ensure “prompt and effective” access to advocacy, and embed “rights-based thinking” in day-to-day practice.

And it says that any “physical intervention, pharmaceutical control of behaviour or any other forms of restraint” should be viewed as service “failures”.

The guide says: “A good service for autistic people is one where staff try to put themselves in an autistic person’s shoes, get to know each person as an individual, and maintain a relationship with the person based on trust and respect.”

And it adds: “A good service for autistic people recognises autistic identity and does not assume that what is ‘normal’ or ‘good’ for non-autistic people is necessarily right for an autistic person.”

The taskforce hopes its new guide will be part of a growing move beyond the idea of co-production of services and “towards autistic leadership”.

Its main author was trainer and consultant Yo Dunn, a member of the NAT executive.

NAT was launched in December 2017 and has received two years’ funding of £100,000 from the Shirley Foundation, with its focus “to help empower autistic adults, including those with less autonomy and higher support needs, to have a stronger voice in the decisions and direction of their own lives”.

11 April 2019

 

 

Airline forced to apologise after charging woman for carer’s seat reservation

An airline has been forced to apologise to a disabled woman after it charged her extra to reserve a seat next to her for her carer, and then refused to refund the charge.

Helen Jenkins had informed Flybe when she was booking her return flights from Birmingham to the Isle of Man online last week that she would require assistance.

She and her husband are planning to celebrate her birthday in September with a four-day visit to the island – which they have been told has an excellent, accessible public transport system – before she has a major operation that is likely to rule out flying for another six months.

Because of a mobility impairment, she is unable to put her luggage in the overhead locker, fasten her seatbelt, or leave her seat to use the toilet without her husband’s assistance.

But despite ticking the box for assistance, and being told by the booking system that she could choose her own seat without charge, she was charged an extra £6 each way for her husband’s tickets.

And when she called the company to complain, she was told that Flybe was a “no-refunds airline”.

She said she had been “shocked” when she printed out the booking confirmation to find that she had been charged extra to ensure her husband could sit next to her.

She said: “I was pretty astonished considering the service I have received from every other airline, which has always been first class.”

She has booked two return flights a year to various destinations for the last 10 years and has never previously had to pay to reserve her husband’s seat next to her.

Jenkins said Flybe’s efforts had been “absolutely abysmal”.

She told Disability News Service (DNS): “I said, ‘You’re discriminating against me because I am disabled. I need help and you have said I need to pay extra.’”

According to European regulations, airlines must make “all reasonable efforts” to give a person accompanying a disabled person a seat next to that passenger.

In a document published last October, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority said it was “not acceptable for consumers that need to sit with a companion so they can be provided with essential support and assistance to either feel they need to pay extra to guarantee a seat next to a companion or to need to pay extra to ensure they are seated with a companion”.

The document said airlines should make it clear before booking – and again at all times when passengers are offered the option to pay for seats – that no such charges will be imposed.

After DNS contacted the airline to raise concerns about how she had been treated, Flybe apologised and said it would refund the extra charge.

It also said it would ensure that all new staff were “fully aware” of its policy that carers should be assigned a seat next to the passenger they are accompanying at no extra charge.

But Flybe had failed by noon today (Thursday) to explain why its online booking system originally added the charge, when Jenkins had made it clear during the process that she would need wheelchair assistance. 

11 April 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 15:01
Apr 042019
 

 

DWP admits destroying report on safety failings in jobcentres

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) destroyed a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

The report into safeguarding failures in south London jobcentres was written by three disabled people recruited under its Community Partners initiative, which was set up to build bridges between jobcentres and the local community.

The trio had written the short report just a couple of weeks after taking up their posts, after becoming increasingly alarmed by the failure of the 18 jobcentres they were working with to take basic actions to protect people claiming benefits such as universal credit, employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.

They recommended that urgent steps were taken to ensure jobcentre staff were properly trained in safeguarding.

The latest revelation will only add to mounting evidence that DWP as a department is not fit for purpose and that it needs to make urgent changes to ensure the safety of all benefit claimants is a priority, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition.

The report was written in September 2017, and Disability News Service (DNS) learned about its existence the following spring, about eight months later.

To avoid identifying its source, DNS submitted a freedom of information request asking DWP to release all reports written by Community Partners while working for DWP in London in 2017 and 2018.

But DWP continually delayed answering the request, breaching freedom of information laws in the process.

Last August, a civil servant in DWP’s freedom of information team told DNS that she had repeatedly attempted to secure a response from the jobcentre operations team and had warned them they had breached their legal duties under the act, adding: “I have tried. I don’t know why they are digging their heels. I am sorry.”

DWP eventually answered the request by claiming that it held no such reports, but after DNS complained to the information commissioner, DWP released several documents in January this year.

But these documents did not include the safeguarding report.

Now, in a letter to the information commissioner, DWP has admitted that the safeguarding report did exist but that it was destroyed after 12 months because its “Information Management policy only requires us to keep a corporate document of an internal briefing for a period of 12 months”.

That 12 months period ended at least four months after DNS first asked for this and other Community Partner reports to be released.

This suggests that DWP destroyed the safeguarding report to prevent it being released to DNS.

DWP refused to comment on its actions yesterday (Wednesday), and on the contents of the report.

But Rachel*, one of the report’s three authors, said she believed DWP had destroyed the document because it did not want to see it published.

She has previously described to DNS how DWP failed to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed during the six months she worked as a Community Partner.

She has now described some of the appalling safeguarding failings she witnessed, which led to her and her two colleagues deciding to write their report just two weeks after starting work.

On one occasion, Rachel heard a member of staff explain that a claimant with cancer of the spine, who needed his dressing changed every day, should be found fit for work “so he’s looking forward to the future”.

She also remembers sitting in on an interview with a universal credit claimant, who was 55 and not disabled and had just been made redundant.

He had been hit by the bedroom tax and said repeatedly that he was hungry because he was so short of money, but the DWP civil servant failed to tell him that he could request foodbank vouchers.

When Rachel asked the civil servant after the interview why she had not told him he could ask for vouchers, she was told: “Because he didn’t ask.”

Rachel said: “He said four times that he was hungry and couldn’t afford to go shopping and didn’t have enough money for food.

That is just dangerous. That person is going to end up with malnutrition and depression.

It was just a regular guy who was doing his best and did not know how the system worked, let alone that the magic word was ‘foodbank’.”

On another occasion, a man in extreme mental distress who had previously self-harmed in the Brixton jobcentre after being found fit for work, returned to the jobcentre and again began self-harming by banging his head against a window.

Staff were standing around watching, said Rachel, who had to take control, find a manager and tell them to contact the council’s social services department.

Despite her intervention, no report on the incident was written, despite her repeatedly asking for an incident report form.

She believes her insistence that the incident needed to be written up was one of the reasons she was eventually sacked, although DWP claimed it was because she had retweeted a social media post criticising Iain Duncan Smith, even though she believes the tweet was sent before she started working for DWP.

She said: “They all know they are putting people at risk but all they are concerned about is ticking boxes.”

DWP this week refused to comment on the safeguarding report, its contents and how the freedom of information request was handled.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are not able to comment on the handling of individual FOIs.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office is continuing to investigate DWP’s failure to produce the report.

For years, DNS has been reporting on the alleged failure of DWP jobcentres to safeguard disabled people left in vulnerable situations because of flaws in the benefits system.

Many of these failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants and will have subsequently been reported on in secret DWP peer reviews (now renamed internal process reviews).

The deaths of disabled people such as Lawrence BondDavid Clapson and Alan McArdle – and many others – have been linked to alleged failings of policy or practice within jobcentres.

Most recently, DNS has reported on the Independent Case Examiner report into the death of Jodey Whiting in February 2017, which concluded that DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide.

That report led campaigners to set up the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which has now been backed by eight families of benefit claimants who lost their lives because of DWP failings, and is supported by Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance NetworkWOWcampaign, and DNS.

The petition has so far been signed by more than 25,000 people in less than three weeks. If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it should be debated in parliament.

Rachel said she backed the petition.

She said: “The safety of claimants is paramount. They really don’t have a clue as to how vulnerable people are.

They are messing with people’s lives. It’s terrible. It’s really shocking.”

*Not her real name

To sign the Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, 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

4 April 2019

 

 

Twin backs call for inquiry into DWP failings, four years after brother’s suicide

The twin brother of a man who killed himself after being told he was ineligible for two disability benefits has backed calls for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and deaths of benefit claimants.

DWP had been told the man, Michael*, from the West Midlands, was depressed and suicidal, in addition to his recent sight loss, but still found him fit for work.

He was also found ineligible for personal independence payment (PIP), with the letters rejecting his two benefit applications arriving within days of each other.

Michael’s brother, Adam*, had filled in the employment and support allowance (ESA) claim form on his behalf, and had made it clear his twin was severely depressed and suicidal, following sight loss that had led to him losing his job as a highly-skilled mechanic working on HGVs months earlier.

But Adam says DWP ignored that information and made no attempt to ensure his safety when it sent the two letters, one after the other, telling him he was losing his entitlement to ESA – which he had been granted while he was being assessed – and that he would not be entitled to PIP.

About 10 days after receiving the two letters, Michael took his own life.

Within about a week of his funeral, DWP wrote to Michael’s widow to admit that he had been entitled to both benefits after all – including the enhanced levels of both daily living and mobility on PIP – and telling her she would receive £7,000 in backpayments.

Adam sent letters raising concerns about his brother’s case to DWP – telling the department that the decisions it made had “played a significant part in my brother’s taking his own life” – and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, but received no reply to either of them.

Adam contacted Disability News Service (DNS) this week after reading about the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition on the Benefits and Work website.

It is the first time the family have spoken to the media since Michael’s death in February 2015.

The Jodey Whiting petition calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police.

It also calls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

By this morning, the petition had secured more than 25,000 signatures in less than three weeks. If it reaches 100,000 it should be debated by MPs in the House of Commons.

Adam said he supported the petition and believed DWP was not fit for purpose “without a shadow of a doubt”.

He said an inquiry was “not going to bring Michael back but it can make it better for other people”.

He said he came forward because he wanted to speak out about his brother, who he says was “another person let down by the broken benefit system”.

Adam, who is also disabled himself and previously set up a disability support organisation in their home town, said: “They took his benefits away. He got nothing, he was destitute. They didn’t tell him where he could go, where there were any support agencies.

I filled in his ESA form and I told them that he was depressed and suicidal. They knew that.”

He and Michael served in the army together.

Adam said: “It’s now four years gone by but it’s as if it was yesterday. I miss him every day. He was my soulmate.”

Michael’s family have now become the eighth to support the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which is also backed by the grassroots groups Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.

A DWP spokesperson refused to apologise for the department’s failings in the case, or to explain why DWP changed its mind about Michael’s eligibility for ESA and PIP so soon after his death.

She also refused to say why DWP and Duncan Smith failed to respond to Adam’s two letters after his brother died, and whether DWP accepted Adam’s view that its failings played a significant part in his brother’s death.

But she said in a statement: “The department has received a petition relating to benefit claimants who have sadly died, and will respond to this shortly so we can’t pre-empt that.

Obviously any suicide is a very complex and tragic issue, and we can’t attribute any specific one cause to [Michael’s] case.

Our sympathies are with [his] family.

We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and we keep our safeguarding guidance under constant review to ensure we provide the highest standard of protection.

Where any failings on specific cases have been identified, we have addressed these to ensure they are not repeated.”

*Names have been changed at his widow’s request

To sign the Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, 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

4 April 2019

 

 

Number of disabled people in poverty rose by 200,000 in one year… says DWP

The number of disabled people living in poverty has risen by 200,00 in just one year, government figures have revealed.

The new figures [summary results, tables 7a and 7b], published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), show levels of absolute poverty rose between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the figures meant another 200,000 disabled people living “terrible, degrading, miserable, half-lives”.

The figures are likely to be influenced by continuing government attempts to cut spending on disability benefits, including policies such as the benefits freeze and cuts to payments to new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG).

The WRAG cuts of nearly £30 a week were introduced in April 2017, with ministers trying to justify them by claiming they would “incentivise” sick and disabled people to find work.

The new poverty figures are part of the annual Households Below Average Income report, which was published last Thursday (28 April).

They also show that as many as 600,000 more disabled people are now in absolute poverty, compared with 2010, when the Tory-led coalition government came to power.

Media attention focused on a rise in child poverty, but the report also shows increased levels of absolute poverty – the government’s preferred measure – affecting disabled people.

Households are said to be in absolute poverty if their income is less than 60 per cent of average (median) income in 2010-11, adjusted for inflation.

Before housing costs are taken into account, the proportion of individuals living in households including a disabled person who were in absolute poverty rose from 16 per cent to 18 per cent, between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

And the number of disabled people living in absolute poverty – before housing costs – rose from 3.6 to 3.8 million.

Once housing costs have been accounted for, the proportion of individuals living in households including a disabled person who were in absolute poverty also rose, from 22 to 23 per cent.

And the number of disabled people living in absolute poverty – after housing costs – rose from 4.9 million to 5 million, an increase of 100,000.

Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Wealthy people running the government think poverty means not having much money.

They don’t understand poverty, it doesn’t just mean little money; it means bleakness, fear, misery, hopelessness, day in day out, no rest and no remission, stretching into a degrading future.  

It means hunger, it means cold in winter, it means worsening mental health, it means bad living condition and fear of being on the streets.

And for some people it means death by suicide, starvation or other easily preventable causes. 200,000 more disabled people in poverty isn’t just a number.

Five million disabled people in absolute poverty is five million individual human beings living terrible, degrading, miserable, half-lives. A living nightmare.”

Michelle Maher, from the WOWcampaign, said the figure of 200,000 more disabled people in absolute poverty was “no surprise to campaigners who recognise the multiple cuts disabled people face”, including the bedroom tax, and cuts to housing benefit and council tax support, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, cuts to employment and support allowance, and the impact of the benefits freeze and the benefit cap. 

She said WOWcampaign had been fighting for seven years “to get the government to assess the impact of all disability cuts” and to demonstrate a duty of care to disabled children and adults across the UK and to “make sure disabled people are not driven into poverty”.

She said: “They refuse, as they know the figure would emerge that disabled families could use to fight for support, and shock the public.

I absolutely cannot comprehend the inhumanity and cruelty shown to our fellow citizens.”

She predicted that the roll-out of universal credit would make the number of disabled people in absolute poverty “far, far worse”. 

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd accepted that the increase in disabled people in poverty was caused by continuing government attempts to cut spending on disability benefits, or explain what other factors may have caused the rise.

But she said in a statement: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government, and we take these numbers extremely seriously.

Absolute poverty rates for people in a family reporting a disability are lower than in 2010, and we are spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before.

We are looking at what more can be done to help the most vulnerable and improve their life chances.”

Although DWP is correct that the proportions of households in absolutely poverty are slightly lower (by one percentage point) than in 2009-10, the numbers of disabled people in absolute poverty have increased by 300,000 (before housing costs) and 600,000 (after housing costs) between 2009-10 and 2017-18.

4 April 2019

 

 

Campaigner pledges to devote his last months to saving independent living

One of the country’s best-known and most-respected disabled campaigners has pledged to devote the last months of his life to trying to save the independent living movement.

John Evans was speaking at an event held to celebrate his contribution to the movement over the last 40 years, following his diagnosis with terminal cancer.

It took place as disabled campaigners reacted furiously to revelations that disabled people are to be forced into residential homes against their will by Tory-run Barnet council’s new cost-cutting adult social care policy.

The 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.

Evans spoke at the event in central London of the attack on independent living over the last decade, under successive Tory-led governments, including its closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015, and told guests: “Ever since, through all the austerity years… it has made it far more difficult for people to live independently.

At this point in my life, looking back, we don’t want to lose all those gains we made.”

He added: “The most important thing is not to let it die, not to let it go.”

He said the work that he and others began in the late 1970s “has to continue”.

I will do all I can do in the next year or so, however long I will still be around, to try and ensure that that will be the case.

It is not going to be easy but we have to do it, to enable disabled people to continue to have choice and control.”

He said that he and fellow disabled campaigners first thought of “choice and control” as one of the basic principles of independent living in 1979.

He said: “What we were talking about was personal and social liberation of disabled people in this country and their quality of lives.

After I got my diagnosis, the main thing I thought about was to maintain my quality of life regardless and to continue the spirit of independent living on this new day-to-day journey that I have.

That’s why I remember to try to stay positive and try to stay upbeat and move in the right direction and everything I have worked for in terms of independent living in the past I have continued to do, almost with my own life now.

It is something that does have that depth of meaning and strength and can keep people going.

The solidarity we have achieved together is really, really strong.”

He said that one of the “saviours” of independent living in the age of austerity was the rise of co-production, which he said was “a way that we can enable it to survive, by working together with local authorities and CCGs [NHS clinical commissioning groups], and CCGs in particular need to do a lot more work to keep it going”.

The event was taking place 40 years after he and fellow residents of a Leonard Cheshire care home in Hampshire launched Project 81, which was aimed at securing their escape into their own homes by 1981, the UN international year of disabled people.

He spoke about their struggle to secure that escape into their own homes with council-funded personal assistance, which in the end they achieved in 1982 and 1983, and which helped pave the way for the introduction of direct payments.

He also spoke about his own life before he became disabled at the age of 25, when he had travelled widely and helped set up an ultimately unsuccessful “peace café” in the Middle East.

And he spoke of his work promoting the independent living movement across Europe through the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), of which he was president for 10 years, “making speeches and running workshops and trying to inspire independent living projects in those countries”.

Evans told the event of the importance of the Disability Discrimination Act and the Direct Payments Act, both brought in under earlier Conservative governments, and Labour’s subsequent Life Chances report, “probably one of the most significant documents that has come out of government”.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a friend since the early 1980s, when they met at an early British Council of Disabled People event – she remembered how he had invited her to attend a workshop on independent living he was giving – told the event: “John for me and independent living for me is about our ultimate freedom to obtain our rights.

If you don’t have independent living, you can have all the accessible buses and shops… and airports in the world, but if you can’t get out of bed and can’t choose the person who is going to look at you naked in the bath in the morning then you have no rights.”

She said Evans had helped her become an “independent living freedom fighter”.

She said: “That’s how I see myself, just carrying out the work that John told me about when I was 22; and next month I am going to be 60.”

Another leading disabled activist to pay tribute to Evans was Miro Griffiths, who sent a recorded video message.

He said Evans had shown “such clarity and understanding of the complex issues surrounding disabled people’s marginalisation and provided a real image and vision of what it is we are trying to achieve through our activism, through our negotiating with key figures, through our campaigns and through the academic work that surrounds… disabled people’s oppression in society”.

He said: “You’re one of the people I think about a lot when I am considering different ideas associated with disability rights or different ideas associated with independent living or the ideas around personal assistance… I think, ‘What would John think about this issue?’”

He said it was “fantastic” that such an event was taking place to celebrate his contribution, and the independent living movement, “and what it has been able to achieve because of your work”.

Evans said afterwards that the role of younger disabled people like Griffiths would be vital in taking on the fight for independent living.

He said: “The future is really in their hands long-term.”

He said he had been inspired by a video message from an ENIL meeting, which showed how many young disabled people were now campaigning for independent living, following ENIL’s efforts over many years to establish a Europe-wide youth network.

The event took place as the latest group of senior health and social care managers completed the Leadership for Empowered and Healthy Communities programme.

The programme aims to support these managers to have the skills and confidence to support and work in co-production with communities to improve the health and wellbeing of their local population.

Evans helped set up the programme and has been a facilitator since it started.

4 April 2019

 

 

Labour backs all Jodey Whiting petition demands

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has dispelled any doubts about Labour’s support for the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, making it clear that she backs every one of its demands.

Marsha de Cordova said this week that she backs everything the petition calls for, including an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants to be passed to the police.

The petition has now been signed by more than 25,000 people in less than three weeks. If the petition secures 100,000 signatures it should be debated in the House of Commons.

The need for evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police is a key demand of the petition, following years of evidence that the actions of senior DWP figures, including ministers, have been clearly linked to the deaths of disabled people.

The call for a police investigation has been strongly backed by the eight families who have supported the petition.

De Cordova, who has been prominent this week in highlighting the government’s continuing failure to appoint a new minister for disabled people following the resignation of Sarah Newton, said: “I support each of the demands of this petition.

There is an urgent need for an independent inquiry into these deaths and I will write to the minister asking for one. It is not enough for the department to be its own judge and jury.

The DWP is not fit for purpose and has failed disabled people with tragic consequences. Their families and friends deserve answers. 

It is shameful that the DWP continues to ignore the impact that its policies are having.

The government must immediately scrap the cruel and callous assessment framework for ESA and PIP and punitive sanctions regime, which has created a hostile environment for disabled people.”

The petition was launched following the death of Jodey Whiting and is set up in her name, with the backing of Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.

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 in February.

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. She took her own life just 15 days later.

There has also been strong support for the petition this week from Disability Labour, which represents disabled members of the party.

Fran Springfield, its co-chair, said Disability Labour supported all four of the petition’s demands.

She said: “The way the DWP treats disabled claimants is to disbelieve us, lie and use bad language about us on forms and fail to take notice when we report feeling suicidal.  

Yes, the DWP is institutionally disablist and it has not been fit for purpose since Iain Duncan Smith’s time as DWP secretary. 

We totally support the need for urgent action on safety. There should be an inquiry and if that shows misconduct or misfeasance in public office, the law must take its course.”

Wayne Blackburn, her fellow co-chair, pointed to DWP’s “appalling record” on how it treats its own staff.

He highlighted a DNS report last year which revealed 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, which he said was “utterly disgraceful”.

Springfield added: “Disability Labour believes that the most important result of [an inquiry] should be that legislation and systems are put in place to ensure that deaths such as Jodey’s never happen again. 

The DWP in its current state is clearly no longer fit for purpose. It must be radically reformed.”

To sign the petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, 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

4 April 2019

 

 

Government reveals the 73 rail stations to benefit from £300 million access funding

The government has revealed the 73 rail stations that will benefit from major improvements under its Access for All accessibility programme over the next five years.

The Department for Transport (DfT) also confirmed the announcement made in last July’s Inclusive Transport Strategy that it would spend £300 million on improvements such as lifts and footbridges between 2019-20 and the end of March 2024.

Each of the 73 stations – subject to a “feasible design being possible” – will see “an accessible route into the station, as well as to and between every platform”.

The stations were selected following nominations from the rail industry, and based on criteria including the number of disabled people in the area, value for money, and proximity to a hospital.

They were also chosen to represent a “fair geographical spread” across England, Scotland and Wales, with the preferences of train operating companies taken into account.

Access for All work is already ongoing at another 24 stations.

In addition to the major work at the 73 stations, £20 million of the funding will be used to re-launch the Mid-Tier Access for All programme, which will focus on stations where access improvements can be delivered for between £250,000 and £1 million.

DfT will seek nominations for which stations should receive this funding.

The announcement of which stations will benefit from Access for All funding in the next five years was welcomed by Transport for All, the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London.

Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said: “We know that access to public transport is vital for improving eveybody’s life chances.

This is particularly true for disabled and older people.

This significant investment is warmly welcomed and will undoubtedly make a positive contribution to improving access to our railways.

Government figures show that for every pound invested in rail improvements there is a return of £6, so it’s not just the right thing to do but it makes economic sense too.

However, it remains that four in five of our stations on the largely Victorian infrastructure still do not have step free access, including some major landmarks such as Luton.

This has to change and as rapidly as possible.

We also know that previous awards under the Access for All programme have been deferred or delayed when the purse strings have been tightened.

We will be watching very closely to see that this pattern of behaviour is not repeated.”

The funding was also welcomed by transport access campaigner Doug Paulley.

He said: “I welcome improvements of accessibility of railway infrastructure: the accessibility problems caused by the legacy non-standard station design as a result of having the oldest railway in the world limit disabled people’s independent transport to a massive and unacceptable extent.

I hope that this set of Access for All funding doesn’t suffer the same uncertainty, cuts and delays as the last lot; also, that where possible there will be step free access from the station entrance to the train, not just to the platform.”

But he also said that any improvements to physical access would only benefit disabled people if the “human services surrounding them are sufficient”.

He said the Office of Rail and Road had pointed to significant inaccuracies in public information about the accessibility of stations, for example with access improvement at Hexham and Hebden Bridge stations, which had not initially been noted by National Rail Enquiries.

Paulley added: “It is also sad that current industry drives to remove the guaranteed presence of guards on trains may well make otherwise accessible stations inaccessible to a lot of disabled people, which undermines physical improvements such as these.”

Official documents revealed last summer that the government had repeatedly ignored concerns raised by its own accessible transport advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), about the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running trains without a member of customer service staff on board.

Last July’s announcement that the government would spend £300 million over five years followed years of funding cuts to Access for All, originally introduced by a Labour government in 2006.

Disability News Service secured figures last July through a freedom of information request that showed that spending on Access for All fell from as much as £81.1 million in 2013-14 to just £14.6 million in 2017-18.

Spending in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government, was £53.9 million, with £41.2 million in 2010-11, £50.7 million in 2011-12, £39.7 million in 2012-13, and £81.1 million in 2013-14.

But spending then plunged over the next four years – in the first five-year planning period to begin under the coalition – with just £22.9 million in 2014-15, £24.6 million in 2015-16, £32.1 million in 2016-17 and only £14.6 million in 2017-18.

Although it is not yet clear how much was spent in 2018-19, the government is now planning to spend £300 million over the next five years on Access for All, including £50 million that had been deferred from the last five years.

Keith Richards, chair of DPTAC, welcomed the funding announcement.

He said: “The Access for All programme has already delivered significant improvements in access to rail travel for disabled people over the last 13 years. It’s crucial to continually build on that.  

The announcement is very welcome and must go hand-in-hand with clear and practical information to ensure that disabled people are aware of what improvements have been made, and that more travel options are now possible as a result.

We are working with the government to deliver a commitment to accelerate improvements, to target the funding effectively, and to monitor and assess outcomes.”

Nusrat Ghani, the transport accessibility minister, said: “We want the 13.9 million disabled people in Britain to be empowered to travel independently, which is why I am delighted to announce this roll out of upgrades across the rail network. 

Over the next five years these newly accessible stations will open up routes across the country, helping us move closer to a transport sector that is truly accessible.”

4 April 2019

 

 

Charity ‘must listen to autistic people’ in wake of abuse scandal

Protesters have warned the National Autistic Society (NAS) that it needs to listen to the voices of autistic people or face being “sidelined”, in the wake of the Mendip House abuse scandal.

Representatives of three autistic rights organisations were protesting outside the charity’s London headquarters about its failure to act on the regime of abuse that took place at the Somerset care home.

They said the scandal was a “wake up call” for NAS.

Protesters warned the charity that the autistic rights movement was growing ever stronger and that NAS must do more to listen to their voices.

Two families of autistic people who were abused at Mendip House in Brent Knoll, Somerset, were also at Friday’s protest, and provided Disability News Service (DNS) with further evidence of how the charity had failed their relatives.

The families were highly critical of NAS, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the police for their failure to stop the abusive regime earlier, and to provide justice for their autistic relatives.

Among those protesting was Joseph Radford, a member of the organising group of Neurodivergent Labour, which launched in February.

He said his message to NAS was that “autistic people are not going to take this anymore”.

He added: “We are organised. There are more of us. We are not going to be fobbed off.

We are a growing movement. We are speaking with a clearer voice.

You can’t keep sweeping stuff under the carpet anymore because if you do there will be push back.

Either listen to our voices or end up sidelined yourselves.”

He said the failure to punish the perpetrators of the abuse “just shows how autistic people are not listened to in society” and are judged only on their ability to communicate.

He said: “If we can’t communicate, we are ignored, not listened to, and abuse is overlooked.”

Emma Dalmayne, chief executive of Autistic Inclusive Meets, who organised the protest, said: “The NAS by and large is recognised by the autistic community as being for parents and children.

In order to move forward from this, I believe autistic people need to become more involved.

They also need to start supporting the hordes of adults out of work who need an advocate.”

Dalmayne called for a “proper inquiry” into what happened at Mendip House.

And she said NAS should offer compensation to the former residents of Mendip House who were abused, and that it was “appalling” that none had been offered so far.

She said: “Money cannot erase the memories or degradation. It can however go towards future care and necessities for the residents and their families.”

Julian Morgan, an AIM director and a committee member of Autistic UK, said: “NAS are saying they want to move forward from this but part of moving forward is changing your culture.

We have seen no sign that there is any intention to change their culture.

They don’t work with autistic advocates, they don’t work with autistic groups, they don’t support them.”

He said the charity had not admitted that anything happened at Mendip House until it was forced to do so.

Morgan said their concerns were not about many of the people who worked for NAS, who were “hard-working and conscientious and care about what they do”, but senior executives in “what has become a rather bloated organisation”.

He said NAS had been concerned only with its image after it found out about the abuse at Mendip House, which he said was “objectionable and abhorrent”.

And he called for senior executives responsible for failing to stop the abuse to be “stripped out” of the charity.

Rebecca*, the mother of one of the former residents of Mendip House, said NAS had downplayed the seriousness of the abuse at the homes when she and her husband were first told about it in the summer of 2016.

She told DNS: “We were told it wasn’t serious, it wasn’t sexual, it wasn’t physical and it had been dealt with and people had been suspended.”

It wasn’t until they saw the safeguarding adults review in January 2018 that they realised the seriousness of what had happened, she said.

The report detailed how staff had thrown cake at service-users and taunted them with food, while one resident was sent to his room because he refused to eat an onion, another was made to crawl on the floor on all fours, medication went missing, and one resident was said to be “known to flinch in the presence of particular employees”.

Newspaper reports also suggest that one resident was “slapped, forced to eat chillies and repeatedly thrown into a swimming pool”.

CQC decided earlier this month not to prosecute the charity, and instead fined it just £4,000 for financial abuse by staff, despite the regime of “taunting, mistreatment and humiliation of residents”.

Rebecca said she was angry that the perpetrators of the abuse had avoided prosecution and had been able to “move on with their lives”.

And she said the way the charity had dealt with the abuse had been “shocking”.

She said: “I am still so angry. They absolutely failed our kids. We have had, ‘We are really sorry,’ but sorry comes cheap.”

Her daughter was a resident at Mendip House for 22 years, until she left after the abuse was uncovered.

Rebecca said there were concerns about safety standards in the home “right from the beginning” because her daughter has been injured several times by a “challenging” fellow resident, on one occasion having to be admitted to hospital.

She said: “We weren’t told about it until he had hurt her three times.”

One of the things she and her husband want to see for disabled people in care who do not have capacity to make their own decisions is the installation of CCTV cameras in communal areas of such homes.

Rebecca’s husband said he believed NAS had taken in residents with challenging behaviour alongside others like his daughter who were vulnerable in such situations because it allowed them to charge more money.

He said: “A person like [my daughter] should be entitled to be not afraid of the people they are living with.”

Rebecca said: “It was a whole system failure. Everybody has failed us: the CQC, the police, the commissioners who paid for it, and mostly the NAS.”

Sarah*, whose brother was a resident of Mendip House for more than 40 years, said she too had been told by the charity in the summer of 2016 that the concerns were just over “laddish” behaviour and “horseplay and high jinks” by young male members of staff.

But she later found out that her brother had “gone through this terrible ordeal”.

She was told the abuse only took place over a year-and-a-half, but she believes he was being abused for far longer than that.

She said: “I am looking back through those years when he said, ‘I don’t want to go back to Somerset Court [Mendip House was one of seven NAS facilities on the Somerset Court site].’

He would get so depressed that he had to go back to Somerset Court. It got worse and worse, particularly in the last six years.”

She said her brother was much happier now in his new home.

Sarah has spoken to one whistle-blower who says she was sacked and threatened after she raised concerns about the abusive regime at Mendip House.

She said: “What is not right is it just being swept under the carpet. For me, the whistle-blowers and the abusers are being treated the same – they all lost their jobs.”

She also wants to see CCTV cameras installed in such homes in the future, as well as “transparency” from service-providers like NAS.

NAS repeated its apologies for the abuse at Mendip House, and said it was “shocked to hear that families believe there was abuse before 2014, as this is not something that has come up in previous investigations.

We hope that they will raise it with us in our subsequent correspondence so we can investigate.

They should, of course, also still report this to the CQC so that it can be investigated.”

A spokesperson said NAS was “profoundly sorry for the abuse and poor practice” at Mendip House.

He said: “We listen to the voices of autistic people and always make sure that our work is informed by the experiences of autistic people and their families.

And we’re always open to ideas about how we can do this more or better.”

He said autistic people work at the charity, shape its campaigns and training material and co-present at its training and conferences, while the autistic people it supports are “absolutely central in planning their own care and support”.

He said NAS would work with any further inquiries that were launched, and would respond to any concerns from families, including on possible compensation.

The spokesperson said that NAS had taken “immediate action” once it became aware at a national level of what had happened at Mendip House in 2016, disciplining and dismissing staff and then introducing “a range of other changes to try and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again”.

He said: “We believe we had and have the right people in place to implement these changes and that any resignations would not have helped the situation.

If it ever becomes apparent that we don’t have the right staff in place – at any level – then we will of course replace them with people who can continue to improve our services.”

He said that the decision of Mark Lever, NAS’s chief executive, to leave the charity “does not have anything to do with the abuse at Mendip House”.

And he said NAS was “very sorry to hear that two of the families feel that we misled them” about the scale of the abuse in June 2016, and added: “At the time of this meeting we did not know all the details and were also limited in what we could say because there was an ongoing police investigation.”

He also said it was “not true” that NAS had taken in residents with challenging behaviour alongside those who would be vulnerable living alongside them so it could charge more money “as each and every placement in our services has to be based on someone’s needs and also compatibility with the other people in the service”.

On the issue of CCTV cameras in communal areas, he said: “It’s obviously a complicated issue, given that we’re talking about people’s homes.

However, we recognise that this is something that all care providers need to think about and we are exploring how this could work while protecting people’s right to privacy.”

He said any such decision “must be made in consultation with the people who use… services, their families, carers and staff”.

He also denied that any member of staff at Mendip House was sacked for being a whistleblower, which he said was “not something that we would do”.

*Not their real names

4 April 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 15:48
Apr 022019
 

Your experience of the UC claimant commitment  

The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) would like to hear from anyone who has experience and evidence of the claimant commitment under Universal Credit (UC) .

Inclusion London will be submitting evidence to the SSAC and would like to hear about your experience of the Universal Credit claimant commitment to inform our evidence. Please see some questions below to indicate areas we are interested in:

  • Was the impact of your impairment or health condition fully considered by the staff member setting your claimant commitment?  Please give details.
  • Was your claimant commitment adjusted or changed by JobCentre Plus staff because of the impact of your impairment or health condition? Please give details.
  • Have you received a sanction?  If the answer is yes, did you received a sanction because you were unable fulfill the claimant commitment due to the impact of your health condition or impairment? Please give details.
  • When was your sanction and how long did it last?
  • What was the impact of the sanction on you and your daily life?

Please send your experience to Henrietta.Doyle@inclusionlondon.org.uk by 15 April 2019

 If you are interested in providing evidence directly to the SSAC please see the information at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/claimant-commitment/call-for-evidence-on-the-claimant-commitment

 

 Posted by at 15:34