Guards lock activists inside DWP HQ during universal credit ‘whitewash’ action
Disabled activists were locked inside the Department for Work and Pensions’ headquarters by security guards as they delivered thousands of copies of a newspaper that feature “deliberately misleading” DWP adverts which “whitewash” the truth about universal credit.
Protesters from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) were unable to leave Caxton House in Westminster for several minutes yesterday (Wednesday) when security guards locked the building’s front doors behind them after they entered the main lobby.
They had entered the building to deliver a letter to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, in which they asked her to explain why she had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on an advertising campaign in the free Metro newspaper that features “one-sided adverts whitewashing the disastrous Universal Credit policy”.
They also delivered about 10 boxes of copies of yesterday’s Metro, which features the latest Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advertising feature on universal credit (UC), and which activists had removed from distribution points at train stations and on buses across the capital.
Soon after their arrival, DWP security guards locked the front entrance and threatened to call the police, even though the action had been peaceful and focused only on delivering the newspapers and the letter to Rudd.
The doors were eventually unlocked several minutes later after one of the activists had a panic attack.
The letter to Rudd was finally accepted, and although DWP initially refused to accept the boxes of newspapers, they were later taken inside after being left outside the department’s front entrance.
In the letter, DPAC and allies from Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group asked Rudd “why, when Universal Credit is causing so much suffering and distress, your department chose to throw money at this shameless exercise”.
They added: “We hope that the enclosed materials will provide food for thought as you prepare your response to claimants staring into empty cupboards trying to work out how they can feed themselves and their children, and all those who are wondering why the taxes we pay for collective provision of services are being used in such an inappropriate attempt to rewrite the story of this disastrous policy.”
Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, who took part in the action, said: “They are discrediting people’s real testimonies of going through universal credit.
“I have been outside jobcentres and have spoken to claimants who have been driven to prostitution, destitution and homelessness by universal credit.”
She added: “We will continue to expose their lies and total fabrications and we have to get the truth out there with thorough research and with people’s personal testimonies.”
Yesterday’s action, including the hire of a van to deliver the newspapers, was paid for through a crowdfunding effort launched by Sheffield DPAC, which is set to pay for further such actions.
As DPAC was delivering its copies of the Metro to DWP in London, disabled activists and allies in other parts of the country, including Sheffield and Bristol, posted photographs of copies of the Metro being removed from their distribution points, as part of the ongoing #DumpMetroDWPLies campaign.
A spokesperson for Sheffield DPAC – which has played a significant role in the national campaign – said anger about the Metro adverts was growing, and she thanked those who had donated to the fund.
She said the Metro adverts were “propaganda” and “a deliberate attempt to manipulate public perception” of universal credit.
She said: “I implore people, whether they are claimants or not, to support the #DumpMetroDWPLies campaign against the DWP advertorials.
“People have to be aware that once the government have done targeting us that they will move on to someone else.
“We need to act, we need to stand up, we need to stop this, and we absolutely must do it together.”
Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has confirmed that it is investigating the way the DWP advertising features have been published by the Metro.
Disability News Service (DNS) confirmed last month that DWP breached Civil Service guidelines when it decided to launch the nine-week series of “unethical and misleading” Metro advertorials without including a government logo.
And this week DNS passed a screen shot to ASA showing the home page of the Metro’s website, which featured several UC adverts designed to look like a newspaper investigation and which disguise their DWP origin.
None of the adverts on the website mentioned they were designed and paid for by DWP, which appears to be a breach of ASA rules.
Leaked DWP documents have revealed that the adverts were always designed to be misleading and not to “look or feel like DWP or UC”.
An ASA spokesperson said: “We’re currently assessing a number of complaints relating to these ads, including complaints that challenge whether the ads are obviously identifiable as marketing communications.
“We will establish whether there are grounds for further action in due course.”
Meanwhile, the Disability Benefits Consortium of charities has written to ASA to complain about the “deliberately misleading” advertising features.
The letter dismantles several of the claims made in the adverts, including the claim that it is a “myth” that “Universal Credit doesn’t work”, telling ASA: “These statements omit the thousands of claimants universal credit does not ‘work for’ but instead has driven them into debt, rent arrears, foodbanks, and homelessness.”
A DWP spokesperson told DNS: “Our position is that all our advertising is factual and designed to increase understanding of Universal Credit.
“We consulted the Advertising Standards Authority prior to launching the partnership and have reflected their advice.
“We’ve not got anything further to add.”
On the DPAC action at Caxton House, she said: “You can understand that we’re in a government building, so a group of non-staff members quickly entering the building with large parcels is an obvious security concern.
“Security dealt with the incident quickly and the activists were able to leave the parcels outside the front door, without the need for further action.”
She had already declined to comment when asked what DWP planned to do with the thousands of Metros delivered to Rudd.
20 June 2019
Motability customers ‘will benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds in new funding’
Disabled people and families with disabled children will benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds in new funding released by the company that runs the Motability car scheme.
Motability Operations announced on Friday that it would release £370 million from its financial reserves to support disabled people and their families, and not all of them will be Motability customers.
The move follows repeated criticism from MPs on the Treasury and work and pensions select committees about high levels of financial reserves held by Motability Operations – which reached more than £2.6 billion in March 2018 – as well as issues such as high rates of executive pay at the company, a lack of transparency, and a critical report from the National Audit Office (NAO).
The company now plans to spend £100 million of the funds it is releasing from its reserves on supporting customers, while the other £270 million – as well as all this year’s profits – will be handed to Motability*, the charity which oversees its work.
This could amount to tens of millions of pounds more than £270 million, as Motability Operations made more than £100 million in profits last year in addition to a £400 million donation to the charity.
The charity has decided to use the extra funds to set up a new endowment fund that will act as a “long-term insurance policy” and allow it to expand its “charitable horizons”.
The two organisations have confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) some of the ways in which they plan to use the extra funds to support disabled people.
One of the most eye-catching initiatives for the Motability charity is a plan to expand the number of grants it makes to disabled people with high support needs to allow them to lease adapted vehicles.
Such a move would be a success for disabled campaigners who have long called for Motability to use more of its substantial resources to fund expensive, heavily-adapted vehicles for disabled people who would otherwise be unable to engage with their local community.
The charity is also considering providing more funds to pay for driving lessons for disabled people, while it is hoping to help more people with disabled children under three years old with high support needs, building on a pilot scheme it has been running with the Family Fund.
Some of the funds could also be used to help disabled people who are not Motability customers with their transport needs, for example with research projects exploring the use of new technology.
Only disabled people receiving the higher mobility rates of disability living allowance (DLA) or personal independence payment (PIP) – or similar payments for former members of the armed services – are eligible to join the Motability scheme.
In a written “rationale” for setting up the endowment fund, Lord Sterling, the charity’s chair, said that Motability was also in “very active discussions” with the Department for Work and Pensions in “areas of particular interest to them, where we can help disabled people with both expertise and money”.
This will include extending the period in which customers can keep their Motability vehicle while waiting for their appeal to be heard, if they lose entitlement in the move from DLA to PIP, as has happened to tens of thousands of customers since the introduction of PIP by the coalition government in 2013.
A Motability spokesperson said: “We recognised that there was an issue with customers returning their car before the completion of the appeal process, so in April 2017, we introduced the option for customers who were eligible for our transition support payment [for customers who joined the scheme before 2014] to receive a lower payment in return for retaining the vehicle for up to 26 weeks.
“At the time we believed that this would be sufficient for any customer to complete their appeal.
“As the volume of people pursuing an appeal has increased, the time taken to complete an appeal has also increased.
“If a customer has chosen to pursue an appeal and this has not been completed within the 26 weeks then, provided we are satisfied that the appeal is actively being pursued, we will provide a further discretionary extension to the retention period so the appeal can be completed.”
Motability Operations said the bulk of the £100 million it will be spending itself will go on direct payments to customers, with most of it to be spent on the good condition bonus that customers receive if they return their car in good shape at the end of their three or five-year lease.
The chairs of the two Commons committees that have held the organisations to account with their inquiries and public evidence sessions welcomed the new funding but said that Motability Operations still had more to do.
Nicky Morgan, the Conservative chair of the Treasury committee, said: “As our committees have concluded recently, Motability Operations’ significant financial reserves are difficult to square with the honourable objectives of the scheme.
“Last week’s announcement by Motability Operations – that it will release £370 million from its reserves to support customers and disabled people with mobility needs – is good news for members of the scheme.
“Motability Operations must now ensure that its customers will benefit from this either in the form of lower prices or more generous vehicular adaptations.”
Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, said: “At long last and after months of chivvying by our committees and the NAO, Motability Operations has begun to accept that it can’t just sit there on piles of reserves built up thanks to the taxpayer’s unique support.
“That’s most welcome, but is only a first step. There is still a way to go before we are satisfied that Motability is even beginning to make the best use of its vast funds and privileged position, to provide the best possible service for disabled people.”
*The charity Motability is a DNS subscriber
20 June 2019
Police and CPS face hate crime questions over disabled teen’s two-year ordeal
Police and prosecutors are facing questions over why they failed to treat the ordeal of a disabled teenager – who was kept as a slave for more than two years and subjected to brutal daily beatings – as a disability hate crime.
It is just the latest in a lengthy line of cases in which police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have faced accusations of failing to secure recognition of disability hate crime through the courts.
This week, both South Wales police (SWP) – one of six forces criticised last year for their “unacceptable” performance on disability hate crime – and CPS repeatedly refused to say what steps they took to confirm whether the teenager’s horrific ordeal should be treated as a hate crime.
SWP has described the injuries experienced by the young disabled man during the forced, unpaid labour as “horrendous” and said he was left without a single uninjured part of his body when he was finally rescued.
The young man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is autistic and has ADHD, and was fed just one meal a day, often just a tin of soup or baked beans.
He was regularly beaten by Anthony Baker and his son Harvey with a metal pole and was forced to work in their scrapyard in Jersey Marine, near Swansea, and to live “in squalor” in a small caravan.
Reports of the trial say that when he was discovered by police in January – following a tip-off from a member of the public – he had a series of horrific injuries, including open wounds, was dirty and malnourished, and found it difficult to speak because of injuries to his jaw, which had been broken on multiple occasions.
Wales Online said the judge described the way the young disabled man was treated as “brutal and savagely inhuman” and said he had been subjected to a regime of “immense brutality” and “sadistic behaviour”.
The Bakers deliberately broke one of his fingers, bit his nose and “treated him as a human punchbag”.
Neither of the men has shown any remorse for what happened, said SWP.
The Bakers were jailed at Swansea Crown Court on Friday (14 June) for a total of 16 years after admitting assault, grievous bodily harm and unlawful wounding, while Anthony Baker also admitted a modern slavery offence*.
But because police and prosecutors apparently failed to consider or treat these offences as possible disability hate crimes at any stage of their investigations and preparation for the trial, the judge was not asked to increase the sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.
It is just the latest case to highlight how the criminal justice system is failing victims of disability hate crime.
Last October, West Midlands police and CPS faced similar questions over their failure to treat an “utterly barbaric” campaign of violence and abuse directed at a disabled mum and daughter as disability hate crime.
The following month, Suffolk police was criticised for failing to treat an attack on a disabled woman – who was spat at and left covered with flour by a group of teenagers as she sat on a park bench – as a disability hate crime.
That case had come just days after the CPS annual hate crime report showed the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces in England and Wales plunged in the previous year by nearly a quarter.
The number of disability hate crime convictions also slumped, from 800 in 2016-17 to 564 in 2017-18 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).
Earlier that month, a report by two watchdogs found that the work of police officers on more than half of the disability hate crime investigations examined across six sample forces – including South Wales police – had been found to be “unacceptable”.
Disability News Service has been reporting on the criminal justice system’s failings in dealing with disability hate crime since 2009.
This week, a South Wales police spokesperson repeatedly refused to say if his force took active steps to investigate whether disability-related hostility was a motive for the Bakers’ crimes.
Instead, he said in a statement: “At no stage of the investigation was there any evidence that the victim was abused due to a disability.
“If there was evidence of this nature then it would have been presented to the CPS.”
A CPS spokesperson refused to say what steps were taken by prosecutors in relation to considering disability hate crime as a possible motive for the Bakers’ crimes.
Instead, he said in a statement: “The crimes of Anthony and Harvey Baker were despicable and their prison sentences reflect the harm they did.
“The victim was subjected to verbal abuse but this was related to their perceived lifestyle and work. The motivation for the assaults was the work the victim did.
“The law gives prosecutors the power to request that judges increase the sentence when there is evidence the offender demonstrated hostility or was motivated by hostility based on a person’s disability.
“Where it exists, we won’t hesitate to put this evidence before the court.”
He added later: “For an offence to be prosecuted by the CPS as a disability hate crime and therefore get a sentence uplift there has to be evidence that the offenders demonstrated hostility or were motivated by hostility based on a disability.
“That evidence was not there in his case.”
David Wilkin, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “The inconsistencies inherent in the prosecution of hate crime are underpinned by much evidence from many victims.”
He suggested there was now a need for an “operational stipulation” that forces police officers to “process hate crime with the seriousness that it deserves”.
He pointed to the ongoing Law Commission consultation on current hate crime legislation, which could – if it produces new laws – enable prosecutors to treat hate crime “with the gravity it deserves”, and provide judges with “the clarity that will enable them to make proportional sentencing decisions”.
*Anthony Baker, aged 49, had previously pleaded guilty to requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, four counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, unlawful wounding, and inflicting grievous bodily harm, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and another five years on licence.
Harvey Baker, aged 19, had previously pleaded guilty to six counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, three of inflicting grievous bodily harm, and one of unlawful wounding, and was sentenced to six years in a young offender institution.
20 June 2019
Disabled woman describes her long-stay hospital abuse ordeal
A young disabled woman has described the abuse she experienced in a charity-run mental health hospital, and has called for more to be done to close such long-stay institutions.
Abigail Donohoe spent more than six years in mental health hospitals in her late teens and early 20s, including more than two years at a brain injury service run by the St Andrew’s Healthcare charity in Northampton.
Although the charity’s brain injury service was rated good (PDF) when last inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2016, the regulator this month placed the adolescents service on the same site into special measures (PDF).
The adolescents service for young disabled people attracted media attention last year when it was revealed that one autistic teenager called Bethany had been kept in seclusion for nearly two years and was often fed through a hatch.
The same service had already been exposed the previous year by Channel 4’s Dispatches, which featured a visit by former Liberal Democrat social care minister Norman Lamb, who described his horror at the use of segregation he found there.
Now a CQC inspection has placed the service in special measures, giving it six months to make urgent improvements, after raising serious concerns about safety, and warning that staff “did not always treat patients with kindness, dignity, compassion and respect”.
Donohoe is not autistic herself, but she says she can display “challenging behaviour with autistic traits”, which was why she was admitted to the neuropsychiatry unit.
She was originally admitted to St Andrew’s as a voluntary patient in 2013, but she was later sectioned.
She arrived during a period of crisis, having been led to believe that she would receive a thorough, six-week assessment followed by recommendations for a continuing programme of treatment.
But she did not leave for more than two years, and then spent another two years at Milton Park Therapeutic Campus, in Bedford, firstly on section for a year and then as a voluntary patient for another year because there were no community-based placements available.
Milton Park, now renamed Lakeside, was rated as “requires improvement” earlier this year by CQC, and remains in “special measures” after previously being rated “inadequate”.
This week, Donohoe described to Disability News Service how she was kept in seclusion for hours at a time at St Andrew’s.
While some staff were supportive and caring, others taunted or threatened her, and physical restraint was common and could last up to 30 minutes, including techniques such as bending her wrists, lying on top of her, or injecting her with powerful sedatives against her will.
She believes the kind of abuse she experienced is widespread in many institutions.
Donohoe, who is currently living with her family with outreach support while she tries to find a suitable supported living setting where she can live independently in the community, has now written to MPs and peers on the joint committee on human rights (JCHR) to push for wide-ranging reform.
Since leaving “high-pressure institutional settings”, she has been “so much calmer”, she said.
She said the failure to release patients from long-stay institutions is partly connected to the profits such services can make for the organisations running them because of the huge fees they are able to charge.
And they often justify the failure to release patients like her by recording every single offensive or aggressive word as a separate incident – which happened at St Andrew’s – allowing them to exaggerate how often a patient has been offensive or aggressive and demonstrate why they cannot be released.
She said: “That makes me look like an abusive monster. I can be very challenging, but not 200 separate incidents, and often it will have been caused by goading from the staff.”
The goading at St Andrew’s involved threatening her with powerful medication or telling her she will be “here forever” if she does not “shut up”.
“They do that to make it look as if you need to be in hospital,” she said.
She has spoken of her hope to speak out on behalf of fellow patients to help in the push for reform.
She contrasts the treatment of people with conditions such as diabetes and schizophrenia, who receive crisis inpatient healthcare and then receive ongoing community-based care, with the care often handed out to autistic people, and those with learning difficulties and impairments like hers, who are often “warehoused” for years on end in long-stay hospital units.
She said: “The system is completely ineffective, and it is about locking people away. It needs a complete overhaul.”
She believes that the six-week timeframe she was told to expect is the only one acceptable for someone in her position to be detained in such a setting.
After that period expires, she says, and the recommendations have been made, support should be provided in an inclusive community setting.
She points to the case of Jade Hutchings, an autistic woman and a pen pal of hers, whose own case was written about in the mainstream media last year when it emerged that she had been locked in an assessment and treatment unit for more than 13 years.
Donohoe said there needed to be more effort to hear from service-users like her, although she accepts that many patients cannot speak for themselves because of their impairments and the fear of services taking revenge on them if they do speak out.
She said: “I am extremely frustrated that it is not changing despite all the scandals.”
Only last week, she watched two senior CQC figures giving evidence to the JCHR about the regulator’s failure to halt the abuse at Whorlton Hall, later exposed by an undercover reporter working for BBC’s Panorama.
Donohoe said the whole care system was failing and CQC itself needed to do more to “take ownership” of the problems.
She said she did not trust the CQC’s ratings, and added: “There’s not a lot of point in having them if you can’t trust the ratings.”
A spokesperson for St Andrew’s said: “We support vulnerable people and have a duty of care which we take very seriously.
“An important part of this is respecting patients’ confidentiality. For this reason we never comment on whether someone is or has been a patient at St Andrew’s Healthcare.”
But she added: “Seclusion is used for the shortest possible time and only ever when other less restrictive methods have failed.
“A person is only restrained – and then only for the shortest possible time – when they have become a risk or danger to themselves, other patients or staff, and only when all other de-escalation methods have failed.
“The CQC have recently recognised the reduction in the use of restrictive practices within our services, such as prone restraint and rapid tranquilisation.
“For those patients who are referred to our hospital environments at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, our role is to provide care as best we can and proactively advocate on their behalf when we believe it is right for them to move on.”
But Donohoe said St Andrew’s had not advocated for its patients from her experience.
She said: “They are encouraging people to be kept there longer by exaggerating incidents in the way they are reported.”
She said she could not say what St Andrew’s was like now, but when she was there she was often kept in seclusion for hours, with staff making no effort to de-escalate the situation by engaging with her.
She weighs about eight-and-a-half stone and would often be physically restrained by “six big guys”.
She said the thought of what she went through while being restrained still makes her angry.
She added: “Occasionally I did get seriously hurt during the course of restraint.
“It was quite damaging to every sort of recovery. That was why I had to go to Milton Park, to recover from St Andrew’s.”
20 June 2019
Praise for cake shop chain that admitted access faults, and put them right
A chain of cake shops has thanked a disabled campaigner for drawing its attention to access failures that prevented wheelchair-users entering three of its stores.
Konditor said it was “ashamed” of its previous access failings and has apologised to “anyone who has visited [our] shops in the past and been unable to gain access”.
It has now pledged to make a financial donation to a London disabled people’s organisation (DPO) after admitting it was previously unaware of its duties under the Equality Act.
The access failings were spotted by Esther Leighton, co-founder of the disabled-led campaigning organisation Reasonable Access, after she was unable to enter three of its six London stores.
After she raised her concerns, with support from Reasonable Access members, Konditor agreed to improve access at the three stores, providing each of them with low-cost portable ramps that allow wheelchair-users to cope with single steps at their entrances.
Now Konditor is backing Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project, which supports London DPOs to use the law to make disabled people’s rights to independent living and access to goods and services a reality.
Konditor will donate 20p to the project every time it sells one of its most popular cakes over the next six months.
Leighton said she had asked Konditor repeatedly to buy ramps for its inaccessible stores.
In similar situations, she has taken the service-provider to court, but once the problem reached the company’s head office, she said, “Konditor turned the situation around”.
She said: “They fixed the problem, made amends including by selling cakes for the Disability Justice Project, which is a cause close to my heart, and so I look forward to being a loyal customer for many years to come.”
Leighton said: “I have an ongoing frustration with high street shops without step-free access, particularly when this can often be fixed with a simple ramp available online for as little as £50.
“I am unable to get up even small steps, so this is a barrier which unnecessarily limits me.
“Despite the Equality Act 2010 duty being very clear that shops should have ramps, many do not do so.”
She added: “I find being denied access to businesses, particularly luxury ones like this, utterly demoralising; it makes me feel like a second-class citizen and it makes me frustrated that 24 years after the law said that ‘reasonable adjustments’ (like a ramp) should be made, that they are not.
“I find trying to enforce my rights very difficult, too.
“Sometimes I need to go all the way to court (as it’s usually impossible to get lawyers for such cases) and this is costly in time and money, as well as upsetting.
“However, it’s often the only way to get this change made, so there isn’t an alternative to ensure I and other disabled people are treated better.
“In Konditor’s case, I am really delighted that they made the situation right and this wasn’t necessary.
“They’re also keen to share with other businesses the many positives of making changes that ensure a welcome for all people, which makes me happy as it’s improving the world for everyone.”
She encouraged other disabled people who are angry at not being able to access a service, even after asking for improvements, to use the law to help bring about change.
She said: “You don’t need to be a lawyer to do this, though you do need to have time and be able to deal with sometimes complex paperwork.”
Leighton encouraged disabled people to contact Reasonable Access – which supports disabled people who are using the law, particularly the Equality Act 2010, to advance disability rights – if they want to speak to others who are taking such action, and also to contact their local MP.
But she said they should also campaign for a more effective enforcement mechanism, and she added: “Changes this basic could be enforced by the local council, for instance, rather than requiring individuals to do it.
“That would be better for businesses and disabled people.”
Svetlana Kotova, Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project co-ordinator, said: “Konditor admitted their mistake and took this opportunity to make their shops more accessible.
“If other providers of goods and services had similar attitude, everyday experience of many disabled people would be very different.
“However, it is important to remember that Konditor took those steps because Esther Leighton explained to them what is required by the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
“This shows how much work still needs to be done to ensure providers of goods and services, including small businesses, understand their duties under the Equality Act and comply with it.
“We know access is good for everyone and we hope this example will encourage many more businesses to adopt a similar approach.”
Paul Cons, Konditor’s chief executive, said: “Until Esther bought this issue to our attention, I’m ashamed to say we had simply not fully considered the needs of our disabled customers or realised what was required of us by law.
“This has been a welcome wake-up call for us and we’re glad to have addressed this issue in the business.
“Thanks to a passionate campaigner like Esther, we’ve made the changes, but feel she shouldn’t have had to bring it to our attention in the first place.”
20 June 2019
Welcome for new blue badge rules, but concerns remain
Disabled campaigners have welcomed new rules that will make it easier for autistic people and others with invisible impairments to secure blue parking badges, but they have also raised concerns about how they will work in practice.
The new government rules for councils are likely to lead to a significant increase in the number of disabled people eligible for blue badges across England.
Disabled people with blue badges in many parts of the country already find it almost impossible at peak times to find a parking space.
But the government has also announced a new taskforce aimed at clamping down on fraud and misuse of blue badges, which it hopes will ease the pressure on spaces.
The government was forced into making the changes to blue badge guidance because of its previous decision in 2014 to tighten the rules, which led to a judicial review legal case taken on behalf of an autistic man with learning difficulties.
That led to the Department for Transport (DfT) agreeing to review the guidance, and eventually introduce the new rules for local authorities in England, which will come into force on 30 August.
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said: “It’s unacceptable that people with hidden disabilities still face discrimination when using disabled facilities like parking spaces.
“Extending the Blue Badge scheme is a watershed moment in ensuring those with hidden disabilities are able to travel with greater ease and live more independent lives.”
Under the new rules, a disabled person should be automatically eligible for a blue badge if they receive eight points or more under the “moving around” activity of the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP), or they receive the PIP mobility component and also score at least 10 points under the “planning and following journeys” activity because making a journey causes them “overwhelming psychological distress”.
Others who do not qualify automatically could still be eligible for a badge if they pass an assessment to decide if they cannot walk or undertake a journey without creating a risk of serious harm, causing “very considerable psychological distress”, or experiencing very considerable difficulty when walking.
Helen Dolphin, co-founder of the People’s Parking scheme and a blue badge expert, welcomed the extension of the scheme as long as there were also efforts made to “sort out the fraud and misuse” in the current system.
She said the new guidance and the anti-fraud taskforce “have to go hand in hand”.
Dolphin, herself a badge-holder, said: “Blue badges are being misused by friends and family quite a lot of the time, and they are also being used fraudulently.”
She has heard from an industry expert that fake blue badges have been sold door-to-door in London for £100 each.
Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, said the new rules would certainly “be a great relief to many” but Autistic UK was “sceptical” that the change would be effective because there were not even enough accessible parking bays to meet the demands of current badge holders.
She said: “Increasing the number of badge holders without also ensuring that local councils have the funds to increase available parking bays will simply mean that all badge holders will receive a poorer service and experience a reduction in their ability to access services.”
She also warned of problems with the crackdown on fraud and misuse, including the risk of a “backlash” against people with invisible impairments, who “face a different kind of discrimination, that of people not believing that they are disabled”.
But she said: “Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement and a crackdown, properly executed, would be very welcome.”
Autistic UK also wants to see a crackdown on misuse of accessible bays by non-disabled people, along with a requirement on landowners to enforce proper use of the bays on private land.
She said: “A combination of these measures would go a very long way towards ensuring that disabled bays were only used by badge holders, which would mean a great many more bays were available to serve the influx of new people in the scheme.”
The National Autistic Society (NAS) said the changes would be “life-changing” for many autistic people.
Jane Harris, NAS director of external affairs, said: “The old rules were too focused on people’s physical ability to walk, and changes to government guidance in 2014 meant that many autistic people couldn’t get a badge.”
Authorities in Scotland and Wales have already made changes aimed at addressing the problems with the 2014 guidance.
DfT has previous predicted that its new rules will see a six per cent increase in blue badge applications (53,000) in the first year, and an “initial surge” of 44,000 new badges (a five per cent increase).
It will provide councils with £1.7 million in the first year of the new guidance to help with the expected increase in applications.
Last year, the Local Government Association estimated that the theft of blue badges had risen by 45 per cent in 12 months and was six times higher than in 2013.
The taskforce will look at ensuring badges are used correctly and improving public understanding of the scheme.
20 June 2019
Author backs Justice for Jodey and calls for urgent DWP deaths inquiry
The disabled author of an acclaimed new investigation into the impact of austerity on disabled people has backed calls for an independent inquiry into links between the government’s policies and the deaths of benefit claimants.
Frances Ryan said there was an “urgent” need for an inquiry to investigate the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its links to the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.
She has become the latest high-profile figure to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry into such deaths, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or senior civil servants to be passed to police.
The petition also calls for a recognition that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to change its policies and practices urgently to make the safety of all benefit claimants a priority.
Ryan’s new book, Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People**, argues that those in power have turned on disabled people, who have become objects of “suspicion, demonization and contempt” since 2010.
Ryan told Disability News Service: “In Crippled, I look at multiple cases of people who have died after having their benefits removed.
“Some were found ‘fit for work’ but due to the inaccuracy of the assessment system, were so ill they died shortly after.
“Some were starved, frozen, or had lethal health conditions triggered because they had no money for food, electric, or heating.
“Others like Jodey were left in desperate states and sadly took their own lives.”
She added: “Coroners have repeatedly pointed to ‘fit-for-work’ tests as a contributory factor in a number of disabled people’s deaths.
“Suicide is deeply complex and it’s vital to report on these cases responsibly, but it isn’t hard to see how people are becoming vulnerable.
“Remove social security from a disabled person too disabled or ill to work and it’s like pushing someone off a cliff and feigning surprise when they hit the beach.”
Her book brings together much of the research that has exposed the impact of austerity on disabled people in the last decade, but it also hears the stories of individuals whose lives have been blighted by cuts to their support.
It is, she says, “a rallying cry against the shrinking of the welfare state and the hardship the austerity agenda is causing disabled people”.
Her book has been praised by high-profile figures such as film director Ken Loach, and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who has said: “This devastating book should shake our political system to its foundations.”
Ryan concludes in the book that disabled people “have been routinely driven into destitution, pushed from the workplace and stripped of the right to live in their own homes”, while the benefit system is in chaos, with disabled people “forced through a system defined by hostility and humiliation”.
And she says society has now reached the point at which “a cocktail of austerity and long-standing prejudice towards disabled people is leading to the sort of large-scale negligence that at its extremes is tantamount to abuse”.
*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
**Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People, by Frances Ryan, is published by Verso Books
20 June 2019
MPs hear of barriers facing LGBT disabled people who need social care
A disabled activist has told MPs of the discrimination and other barriers faced by LGBT disabled people who need to access social care.
Dr Ju Gosling, co-chair of the LGBTQI+* disabled people’s organisation Regard, told a Commons committee that members of her community were much less likely to be able to rely on family and friends for support with their care needs.
And when they accessed support from the care industry, they often faced discrimination from personal assistants (PAs), care workers and their local authority.
She was giving evidence to the women and equalities committee as part of its inquiry into health and social care and LGBT communities.
Gosling pointed to research co-produced by Regard, the University of Bristol, the Social Care Institute for Excellence and the LGBT charity Stonewall, which was published two years ago.
More than half of those surveyed for the research said they never or only sometimes disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity to their PAs.
And more than a third said they had experienced discrimination or received poor treatment from their PAs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, with one man having been sexually assaulted after he told his PA he was gay.
Gosling told the MPs she believed the necessary protections were included in the Equality Act and the Care Act, so the key problem was with implementation of the legislation.
She said the research had also found that more than 90 per cent of those surveyed said their needs as an LGBTQI+ disabled person were either not considered or were only given some consideration when they were assessed or reviewed by their local authority.
Almost a third felt they had been discriminated against by their local authority on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gosling said there were often problems recruiting PAs to provide paid support at home, with PAs often not wanting to be identified as a frequent visitor to a gay person’s home in case they were exposed to harassment.
She said that LGBT people were much more likely to need social care because they were “much more likely to move away from where we grew up, so we don’t have lifetime friends, our contact with our biological family is at best polite, is seldom close and is often non-existent [and] we’re much less likely to have children”.
For the same reasons, LGBT people are less likely to have access to advocacy from friends and family, she said.
She told the committee: “We would very strongly argue for the return of the policy that there should be a centre for independent living (CIL), led by disabled people, in every local authority area because peer support is not only the cheapest but also the most effective way to provide monitoring [of the support being provided].
“Generally speaking, if you’re isolated at home you’ve got nobody to tell, [but] if you’ve got peer support meetings once a month for direct payment users you’ve got someone to tell, you’ve got staff, you’ve got workers.”
But she said many disabled-led CILs were being closed or the services they had provided had been taken on by “generic support agencies that aren’t run by disabled people” and that “don’t really know what the issues are and of course they don’t know how to tackle them”.
*People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex or who hold identities such as non-binary
20 June 2019
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com