Jun 272019
 

Theresa May’s disability announcements ‘are just cynical leftovers’

Disabled people’s organisations have reacted with suspicion and some hostility to the outgoing prime minister’s attempt to shore up her “legacy” with a series of disability-related announcements.

Although some of the measures announced by Theresa May were welcomed, many user-led organisations questioned why she had left it until the last days of her time in office to launch what she said was a “new drive to tackle barriers faced by disabled people”.

In last October’s speech of more than 7,000 words to her party’s annual conference, May failed to make a single mention of disability or disabled people.

But this week, as she prepared to be replaced as prime minister by Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt later this summer, she announced a “new approach to disability”.

She failed to point out that the government has issued no updates or progress reports on its discredited Fulfilling Potential disability strategy since November 2015, eight months before she became prime minister.

Her “new approach” includes a pledge to publish new figures on “outcomes” for disabled people, but she failed to mention that the government has not published any updates to previous outcome figures since a Fulfilling Potential progress report in 2015.

That report revealed that the proportion of disabled people who said they frequently had choice and control over their lives plunged from 77 per cent in 2010 to just 66 per cent in 2013.

There was tentative approval this week from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to the announcement that the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) would move in November from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to the Cabinet Office, as part of a new “equalities hub at the heart of government”.

But there were still concerns that this could see the government’s focus on disability equality further weakened.

May also announced that there would be another work and pensions green paper, focusing on disability benefits, as well as new rights for disabled employees to request workplace adjustments, and reform of statutory sick pay.

And there was a pledge from Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, that the government was now “committed to strengthening the evidence base on disability and to improve engagement with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations”.

In February, in a meeting with his predecessor, Sarah Newton, DPOs repeated their concerns at the government’s continuing failure to understand the principles around engagement with disabled people and DPOs, as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Tomlinson also said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would “improve consumer outcomes for disabled people” by developing a measure of how well different companies “deliver for disabled customers in essential markets”.

One widely welcomed announcement this week was that the government could finally tighten mandatory accessibility standards on new housing, although this will still be subject to a consultation.

This is likely to mean changes to building regulations so that the optional M4(2) accessibility standard – a series of design criteria intended to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use – becomes instead a mandatory minimum standard for all new housing.

Only last October, housing secretary James Brokenshire ignored the crisis in accessible housing in his speech to the Tory party’s annual conference in Birmingham.

May also ignored the issue in her own conference speech, making no mention of the need to build homes to inclusive design standards, despite devoting a significant chunk of her speech to housing.

Brokenshire’s department had been criticised two months earlier by disabled campaigners and the equality watchdog after his new social housing green paper failed to include a single mention of the accessible housing crisis.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned last year that more than 350,000 disabled people in England had unmet housing needs.

Number 10 had failed by noon today (Thursday) to say whether there will still be a separate disability unit as part of the hub.

It also failed to explain why the prime minister waited until shortly before leaving office to try to address the barriers facing disabled people.

The response from DPOs this week to May’s announcements was mixed, with some frustrated and even hostile over her attempts to secure a legacy with a series of last-minute pledges on disability that she herself will not be able to follow through on.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said many of the announcements were “the re-starting of work the government should be doing but made a political decision to stop doing years ago, like the collection of data on disabled people’s outcomes”.

She welcomed the decision to move ODI away from DWP, but she said May failed to mention the need to develop a new disability equality strategy.

She said: “At a time when the UN found this government to be systematically violating disabled people’s human rights, when hundreds of thousands of us lost our independence and became prisoners in our homes because of devastating cuts to social care, when our community are amongst the most affected by the punitive welfare reform and when we continue to face discrimination on a daily basis and are unable to challenge it, we need much more than this.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said May was trying to invent a legacy when she had been a “massive failure” as prime minister.

He said: “It’s good to see now that at her leaving, when she has no power, she has suddenly discovered a raft of policies that could benefit disabled people and reduce the exclusions and discrimination we face, which her government helped make worse.

Now we positively know you just did nothing, despite knowing better. 

As it’s down to her successor to shape policy, we can imagine that her left-overs will carry little weight.”

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said May’s announcement “smacks of total hypocrisy”.

She said: “May talks about the injustices disabled people face. The Tory government have caused the hostile environment disabled people are subjected to on a daily basis.

This government are guilty of violating our human rights under UNCRPD and causing a human catastrophe in disabled people’s lives.  

This announcement is a huge insult to disabled people who are living in poverty due to this government and have become further marginalised in society.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said there was “much to be welcomed” in May’s statement, particularly the new “cross governmental approach to disability”.

But he said this “has to lead to real change in disabled people’s day to day experience.

Too often we see fanfare announcements with very limited effect; they seem to wither into inconsequentiality when they are scrutinised for impact.”

He welcomed the housing, work and engagement announcements, but added: “Warm words around supporting disabled people to be part of our society cannot, do not and will not replace benefits and social care packages which have been slashed because of a paucity of resources.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said: “Whilst GMCDP welcomes any measures that improve opportunities for disabled people, we are yet to be convinced that these announcements will amount to any real positive changes.

The more cynical amongst us might argue that this is a desperate attempt by a government in its final throes trying to paper over more than a decade of harsh and vindictive cuts rained down upon disabled people.”

He added: “GMCDP would be overjoyed if there was any real evidence of a commitment from central government to improving housing for disabled people, but sadly there is not.

The government says it will consult on new measures, but the evidence is already available as to what is needed and that is action, not kicking the problem into the long grass of consultation and industry prevarication and extended implementation periods. 

What we need are ambitious targets that redress the current imbalance and significant fines for developers that fail to deliver.”

Hilton said GMCDP would engage with the government’s new equalities hub but, he said, “if they want to draw upon our skills, knowledge and experience we will insist on being reimbursed for our time”.

Disability Labour said the announcement was “a cynical ploy pretending to improve disabled people’s lives without looking at the root causes for our exclusion and increased death rate”.

Fran Springfield, Disability Labour’s co-chair, said: “What is needed is a reform of the benefits systems and the scrapping of universal credit so disabled people are not sanctioned or denied the right to benefits whilst they challenge the target driven refusal of their claim.

The new ‘equalities hub’ sounds good on paper, but will it have enforcement powers?

Will DPOs and disabled people really be involved and have their expertise respected and included in all decision making?

There needs to be disability impact assessments, with implementation criteria in every government department for every government policy or initiative.”

She added: “Will any of these policies actually be followed through by her successor or will they be quietly forgotten?

Neither of the Tory candidates to be prime minister has a record of disability equality and inclusion.”

The Spinal Injuries Association welcomed the “new drive to tackle barriers faced by disabled people”, particularly through the plans for higher access standards for new housing, but a spokesperson said the proposals must be “backed up with appropriate resources”.

Among the areas not addressed by the prime minister, he said, were the problems caused by benefit cuts, “shortfalls in health and social care funding” and restrictions on Access to Work funding.

27 June 2019

 

 

SEN court case is due to ‘shocking’ and ‘shameful’ austerity impact, say campaigners

Disabled campaigners have spoken outside the high court of the “shocking” and “shameful” impact of the government’s austerity policies on the education of disabled children, as they supported a high-profile legal action.

Three families with disabled children are this week asking the high court to declare that the government has acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough funding for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to educate children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The families – supported by the SEND Action campaign network – want chancellor Philip Hammond and education secretary Damian Hinds to increase funding to local councils.

All three of the families have been unable to secure the support their disabled child needs with their education.

It is believed to be the first time the government has been taken to court over the level of SEND funding.

Before the first of the two days of hearings yesterday (Wednesday), parents, charities and disabled people and their user-led organisations – including The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) and Inclusion London – spoke of how disabled children were being failed by the government.

Among them was the disabled academic Professor Tom Shakespeare, who told campaigners: “We are the people your children will grow up to be.

Our parents have fought for us to have an education as disabled people.

We want your children to have those same chances.”

He spoke of the widespread – and illegal – practice of “off-rolling”, in which mainstream schools force pupils off their rolls to boost their academic results, which means that “thousands of disabled children are denied the education that is their human right”.

He said: “It can be done differently. Go to Finland. Modern countries do well by disabled children and respect their SEN teachers and include [disabled] children in the mainstream.

It’s not much. It’s human rights.”

He told Disability News Service (DNS) later that parents of disabled children were “doing the right thing” and “standing up for their children” and were “organising in all parts of the country”.

He said of the problems facing disabled children in securing their education: “I feel very emotional about it. It’s a shocking thing.”

He said that if disabled children do not receive the education they need “they are not going to be able to end up as adults who can stand up for their rights and be included in society”.

He added: “It’s shocking, hidden, insidious, and it’s destroying our children’s future.”

Michelle Daley, ALLFIE’s interim director, told DNS that she and her colleagues were outside the court to show their solidarity with the three families and highlight both the cuts to SEND funding and also how resources were being taken from mainstream schools and invested instead in segregated special schools.

She said the government’s actions were “putting a price tag on disabled children’s right to go to school” and were ignoring their right to be in local, mainstream schools alongside their neighbours, friends and family.

Daley said the legal case was, for ALLFIE, also about the need to recognise that the government was breaching its duties under article 24 (on inclusive education) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Two years ago, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities raised concerns about the increasing number of disabled children being educated in segregated settings and said the UK education system was “not equipped to respond to the requirements for high-quality inclusive education”.

Daley said: “I am hopeful that, regardless of the outcome, the fact that people are here and families and disabled children have managed to get it to the high court demonstrates that people are not happy and people want the right for their children to access mainstream education.”

She told campaigners later: “It is disgusting that disabled children are having to take the government to court just for the right to have access to education.

What’s disgusting for ALLFIE is that when I was going to school, our parents had to fight for the same rights as our disabled children are having to fight for today.

This is wrong, this is against disabled children’s human rights.”

She said it was an “embarrassment and shame” for the government that it was being taken to court by parents “to fight for things that are a right”.

More than 40,000 people have signed an ALLFIE petition calling on the government not to shut disabled people out of mainstream education, and to increase SEND funding.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, told DNS: “This government is failing our disabled children, creating a lost and invisible generation of disabled children who have been shut out of education or left in schools deprived of the support they need.

It is a scandal in the fifth richest country in the world.

This is one of the more shameful examples of the disproportionate impact of austerity on disabled people.

This government has to acknowledge the damage it is doing to our country and start working with us to get our equality and inclusion back on track.

They could start by committing to article 24 of UNCRPD.”

Only two days earlier, Labour’s shadow housing minister Sarah Jones had told MPs that a survey of headteachers in Croydon had shown that 85 per cent of them had been forced to cut their SEN provision.

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams added: “The £1.2 billion shortfall in SEND funding means that children with an education, health and care plan may be refused a local place because schools cannot afford to provide the support that these children need.”

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs: “There are clearly funding pressures on the system, which is why we have announced £250 million in additional funding to take the funding to £6.3 billion.

We are in the middle of a spending review and I will be putting my best foot forward to make sure that we get the funding in place.

A Department for Education spokesperson added yesterday, in response to the court case: “The government’s ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities is no different to any other child – we want them to enjoy school and achieve to their full potential. 

This is why we are investing significant funding into supporting those with more complex special educational needs – high needs funding totaling £6.3 billion this year.

It would be inappropriate to comment further until the judicial process has concluded.”

27 June 2019

 

 

DWP broke law by destroying safeguarding report, says information commissioner

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) broke the law by destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, the information commissioner has ruled.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued a decision notice in which it concludes – following a complaint from Disability News Service (DNS) – that DWP breached the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) by failing to release the report.

Instead, the report was destroyed, but the commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said she was unable to prove that this was done deliberately to prevent its release and so has not recommended a criminal prosecution.

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

They had written the document soon 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 should be taken to ensure jobcentre staff were properly trained in safeguarding.

One of the report’s authors said this week that she believed DWP had destroyed the “damning” document because it did not want to see it published.

She said: “The fact that they destroyed it is worrying because it puts people further at risk.”

The report is believed to have been written in August or September 2017, and DNS learned of 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.

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, although they did not include the safeguarding report.

DWP later admitted the report did exist, and that the document “raised concerns about the DWP safe guarding procedures”.

It told ICO that it had only managed to speak to one of the Community Partners mentioned by DNS, and they confirmed that they had helped “pull together a document about safeguarding procedures in South London”, but could not find this document as old emails had now been deleted and could not be retrieved.

DWP said the report was destroyed 12 months after it was written because the department’s “Information Management policy only requires us to keep a corporate document of an internal briefing for a period of 12 months”.

But that 12 months period ended at least four months after DNS first asked for this and other Community Partner reports to be released, suggesting that DWP could have destroyed the safeguarding report to prevent it being released to DNS.

DWP told ICO that it made a mistake when it originally told DNS that Community Partners “were not required to write reports” and by the time it realised its mistake and carried out a reinvestigation in November/December 2018 “the document would have already been destroyed”.

The information commissioner therefore concluded that “on the balance of probabilities” the report was destroyed before DWP reconsidered the DNS request to see the report.

DWP also told ICO that it “retains only those documents and data which support business objectives”, even though the subject of the document was the safety of benefit claimants.

The ICO has now ruled, in response to DNS’s complaint: “The Commissioner’s decision is that the Department for Work and Pensions held requested information at the time of the request but one requested report was latterly routinely destroyed, in accordance with its Information Management Policy.

The Commissioner finds that the Council breached section 10(1) of the FOIA by failing to disclose the information which was held within the statutory time for compliance.”

But although the ICO has now ruled that DWP broke the law, Denham said she had carried out “extensive enquiries” and had failed to find any evidence that the report was “intentionally destroyed” by DWP “with the intention to prevent its disclosure”.

For that reason, she will not recommend a criminal prosecution of DWP under FoIA.

A DWP spokesperson declined to comment “beyond the position DWP has outlined in the decision notice”.

But the ruling that DWP acted unlawfully still adds 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*.

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.

Many other disturbing cases have focused on safeguarding failures in other parts of DWP.

This year, 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.

And only last week, the Liverpool Echo reported that work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd had admitted that an internal review into the death of Stephen Smith, from Liverpool, had found the department missed “crucial safeguarding opportunities” and had “identified areas where we need to change our policy” to protect claimants in vulnerable situations.

Smith died in April, months after he was found fit for work by DWP, despite being in hospital with such severe health problems that his weight had fallen to six stone.

The Liverpool Echo had revealed that DWP ignored two separate doctors’ letters about Smith’s serious health problems.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

27 June 2019

 

 

DWP figures show PIP complaints against Atos and Capita continue to rise

The performance of the two companies carrying out disability benefit assessments on behalf of the government is continuing to deteriorate, according to new figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The DWP figures, released to Disability News Service (DNS) under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the proportion of personal independence payment (PIP) assessments carried out by outsourcing giant Capita that lead to a complaint has risen significantly in the last three years.

And the proportion of PIP assessments carried out by fellow outsourcing company Atos that lead to a complaint has increased sharply in the last two years.

The figures suggest that the likelihood of claimants experiencing sub-standard PIP assessments at the hands of the two companies has dramatically increased, despite public expressions of regret to MPs by Capita and Atos in February 2016 and December 2017 about their performance.

The figures also show that Capita is continuing to attract a much higher rate of complaints than Atos, while Capita is also about twice as likely to uphold a complaint as Atos.

In 2015, there were more than 1,800 complaints about Capita, with 1.1 per cent of assessments leading to a complaint.

But that rose to 1.42 per cent in 2016, to 1.44 per cent in 2017 and 1.57 per cent last year, with 3,490 complaints about Capita assessments in 2018.

In 2015, 0.52 per cent of Atos assessments led to a complaint, falling slightly to 0.49 per cent in 2016, before rising to 0.69 per cent in 2017 and 0.8 per cent in 2018.

Last year, Capita upheld 34 per cent of all PIP complaints, while Atos upheld only three per cent of “admin” complaints and 15 per cent of “clinical” PIP complaints.

DWP refused to say if it was concerned by the rise in complaints, by Capita attracting more complaints than Atos, and by Capita upholding more of those complaints.

It also refused to say if the figures showed that the performance of Atos and Capita was worsening year by year, and it refused to say what action it would take to address these concerns.

Instead, a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want the PIP assessment process to work well for everyone and have made significant improvements, including testing the video recording of assessments.

The number of complaints about PIP assessments represents less than one per cent of the total number of individuals assessed.”

Capita refused to say why it appeared to be attracting so many more complaints than Atos; why it was drawing more complaints every year; why it was upholding so many of those complaints; and whether it believed the figures showed its performance was worsening year by year.

A Capita spokesperson said: “We are committed to delivering a high quality and empathetic service for people applying for PIP.

All our people are focused on delivering the best service to individuals coming through the PIP assessment process – their passion is evidenced in our monthly independent customer satisfaction results, which in 2018 was over 95 per cent.”

Atos refused to say why it thought it was attracting more complaints every year, and whether the figures showed that its performance was worsening year by year.

It also refused to say why it was upholding so few complaints, and fewer than Capita.

But an Atos spokesperson said: “While complaints represent on average less than one per cent of all assessments, we strive to ensure every claimant experience is positive, which is why our focus has consistently been on providing a professional and compassionate assessment service.”

Last year, the then minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, announced that the government was extending the Atos and Capita PIP contracts by a further two years, to 2021.

Since the introduction of PIP in 2013, the two companies have earned hundreds of millions of pounds from their assessment contracts.

DNS spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.

It continues to receive such reports today, more than two-and-a-half years after the investigation began.

27 June 2019

 

 

DWP refuses to release secret benefit death report to mother of Jodey Whiting

A senior civil servant has refused to allow the mother of a woman who took her own life – after being repeatedly failed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – to see a secret report into her daughter’s death.

Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA).

But Emma Haddad, DWP’s director general for service excellence, has now told Joy Dove, Whiting’s mother, that she cannot see a secret internal review that was carried out into her daughter’s death.

She told her in a letter: “We do not share Internal Process Reviews due to the personal customer data they contain.”

But only last week, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd revealed key details from another internal process review (IPR) to MP Frank Field, the chair of the Commons work and pensions committee.

That review was carried out following the death of Stephen Smith, who died in April, months after he was found fit for work by DWP despite being in hospital with such severe health problems that his weight had fallen to six stone.

There appears to be no legal reason why an IPR cannot be released to the next-of-kin in full, if the work and pensions secretary gives her or his permission for it to be released.

This week, a DWP spokesperson said the letter to Field was simply “outlining the outcome of the Internal Process Review into Stephen Smith’s case rather than a full copy of the report”.

She added: “We do not share Internal Process Reviews due to the personal customer data they contain.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said today (Thursday): “It is morally reprehensible that the DWP is attempting to hide behind a cloak of secrecy.

Joy has an absolute right to know the contents and conclusions drawn from the DWP internal review into her daughter Jodey’s death.

This denial only strengthens our case for a full independent judicial inquiry into Jodey’s case.

We would like to add our voices to Joy’s in demanding full disclosure of the entire review immediately, no ifs, no buts.”

The letter from Haddad contained written answers to questions put to her by Dove – and prepared with the help of Disability News Service (DNS) – during a face-to-face meeting that took place earlier this month.

In the letter, Haddad also refused to tell her whether any DWP civil servant had been disciplined for the failings that led to her daughter’s death.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

But a DWP spokesperson said this week: “We discussed with Mrs Dove the actions taken as a result of Jodey’s case, including corrective actions, but we cannot discuss any specific actions taken in relation to individual members of staff.”

Haddad also refused to say if she believed that it was ministers or civil servants who were responsible for Jodey Whiting’s death, stating only that ICE “provided a thorough and in-depth review of how we dealt with Jodey’s case and what failings had taken place”.

A DWP spokesperson added: “The Independent Case Examiner did not find any evidence of misconduct by Civil Servants or Ministers.”

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

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

27 June 2019

 

 

Government agrees to examine ‘troubling’ case of cost-cutting care home council

The government has agreed to examine the “troubling” example of a Tory-run council that plans to undermine the rights of disabled people to live independently by forcing them into residential homes as a cost-cutting measure.

Barnet council’s policy was challenged in the House of Lords this week by the crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell.

She had asked what “crisis prevention measures” the government had put in place to “address the difficulties of those working-age disabled adults who have lost the support needed to live independently in the community”.

When the government whip Baroness Barran said that councils had a duty to “provide or arrange services, resources and facilities that maximise independence for those who have or are developing care needs”, Baroness Campbell said research showed that her words “simply do not match the experience of disabled people on the ground”.

She pointed to Barnet council’s new policy, that it will “no longer prioritise offering community-based care and will instead adopt an assumption that disabled people are placed in cheaper accommodation settings”.

She questioned whether this breached the government’s Care Act.

Baroness Barran promised to take the “troubling example” of Barnet council to care minister Caroline Dinenage.

Barnet’s plans caused outrage among disabled people when they were revealed by Disability News Service earlier this year, and have been described by the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Barnet as a “misconceived” policy that breaches the UN disability convention.

Earlier this month, disabled people and allies staged a protest at a Barnet council meeting at which the plans were being discussed by holding up signs saying: “Disabled People Have A #Right2LiveIndependently”.

Jenny Morris, a member of the Independent Living Strategy Group*, which Baroness Campbell chairs, said this week: “This is only one example of the ever widening gap between what the Care Act was intended to achieve and what disabled people are actually experiencing.”

The north London 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 the community.

It plans to consider “the full range of care options to meet eligible needs (eg residential care), rather than offering community-based placements (eg supported living) by default”, with a new “assumption” that “new clients are placed in cheaper accommodation settings where appropriate”.

The council’s own equality impact assessment of the new policy concluded that it was “possible that not having the option of a council-funded community placement will be seen as negative”, but it claimed that this negative impact on “some equality strands” would be “minimal”.

Paul Baldwin, chair of Inclusion Barnet, said yesterday (Wednesday): “We have been concerned about this policy since it was first proposed.

We are not so far satisfied by the assurances provided by Barnet, as it is clear that financial considerations can still trump individual preferences. 

Therefore, Baroness Campbell’s intervention in the House of Lords this week was a vital challenge to a policy that means that disabled people’s right to live independently is being undermined. 

Inclusion Barnet will also continue to advocate for the council to change direction in our ongoing dialogue with the borough.”

Councillor Sachin Rajput, chair of the council’s adults and safeguarding committee, said: “We remain firmly committed to delivering high standards of care and support for those in need across Barnet, particularly our most vulnerable residents.

We will carefully consider the range of accommodation options available to meet the particular needs of our residents, whilst also considering the limited resources that will be available to us as a council.

Every person will be assessed individually, with their views and the impact on their wellbeing carefully considered.

For the small number of people that will be offered a residential care placement, satisfaction levels and outcomes will be carefully monitored.

Barnet Council will continue to comply with all of its duties under the Care Act (2014).”

Meanwhile, the annual budget survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) has found that only one third (35 per cent) of directors are “fully confident” that their budgets will be enough to meet all their statutory duties in 2019-20.

Since 2010, councils across England have had to make a “staggering” £7 billion in savings, and now need to find another £700 million in 2019-20, “just as demand and needs are rising”, said ADASS.

The Care Quality Commission said the survey “once again highlights the mounting pressure on adult social care budgets and provides a stark reminder of the fragility of our social care services”.

And it said the ADASS report “helps to show the human consequences of such under-resourcing and highlights the urgent need for a long term sustainable funding solution for adult social care”.

Nick Ville, director of membership and policy at the NHS Confederation, said the report showed that “while the government fails to act, the problems facing councils have got worse and the crisis for people needing care is escalating”.

*The Independent Living Strategy Group works to protect and promote disabled people’s rights to independent living in England. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

27 June 2019

 

 

Disabled students act over university’s ‘immoral and amoral’ discrimination

Disabled students are taking legal action against their university over claims of disability discrimination, claiming the way they have been treated is “immoral and amoral”.

They have also launched a petition, which has been signed by more than 200 supporters.

The claims centre on the failure of London South Bank University to provide the support needed by students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

They say that about 20 disabled London South Bank (LSBU) students are supporting the petition, which says the university is treating them “very poorly” by failing to comply with the Equality Act and its own Disability and Dyslexia Support service guidelines.

The disabled student behind the petition, Venesha Rose, is studying for a degree in housing policy and practice.

In a letter to the university, Rose said in February: “The entire experience has been a complete nightmare especially that I am a disabled student with dyslexia, dyspraxia, cognitive delays and complex mobility and I am blind in my right eye so it is a struggle for me to learn in a chaotic environment.”

She write in the letter that she considered the university had breached its contract to her by failing to provide an “excellent quality service” in return for her tuition fees of £9,250 a year.

In a second letter, written earlier this month, she said she considered that she and other black disabled female students had been treated in an “inferior” way to white students and had been “treated badly, ignored and victimised”.

She added: “More importantly, the issues that are being raised are not being taken as seriously because we are black females, who you all appear to look down on as powerless which is reflective in poor service given.”

She said that she and other disabled students had contacted their MPs about the discrimination claims.

Rose told Disability News Service (DNS): “We have all been disadvantaged. It has affected our studies. I went from someone who was getting a first to someone who was being failed.

Why should we leave this establishment with over £70,000 worth of debt, stressed out, after not being given a good service? This is financial injustice.”

She said she and others had tried to take their concerns through the university’s complaints system, without success.

She added: “I feel I have been treated appallingly. As soon as they knew we weren’t just willing to make the complaint and go away they just closed ranks.”

Rose said that five disabled students from her course have written to the universities and science minister, Chris Skidmore, but they have been told by civil servants that “the government cannot become involved in individual disputes between English universities and their students”.

Another black disabled student on the course, Donna Heinz, who is also taking legal action against the university, told DNS: “We have written various letters to the [university] which have been ignored, and they have started to penalise us [through our grades]. It is educational discrimination.”

Like Rose, she says the university is failing to provide the support disabled students are legally entitled to, particularly around support for those with specific learning difficulties.

Heinz, who is 53 and had practically no formal schooling after the age of 11, having spent much of her childhood in care, said: “They are holding us back. I think it’s immoral and amoral.

We are not asking them for anything we are not entitled to, we are just asking them to stick to the guidelines.

They just treat everybody the same [rather than making reasonable adjustments for disabled students]. There is a culture of saying they are diverse, but they are not.

All I am thinking about is future students coming here experiencing the discrimination I am experiencing.”

A third black female disabled student, who has asked not to be named, has also told DNS about the university’s failure to support her after she asked for reasonable adjustments.

When she asked what support the university could offer her as a disabled student, she said she was told to quit her course or take a gap year.

She said: “I regret studying at the establishment and what is happening needs to be stopped.

I do feel that LSBU have not supported me through some of the most difficult times in my life and this type of discrimination could well be due to the colour of my skin.”

All three of the disabled students say they have asked the university to help with their impairment-related support needs, but their requests have been rejected.

A London South Bank University spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that students with a disability or learning difficulty are fully supported and we strive to provide accessible learning opportunities for all.

We take any complaints by students very seriously; we have clear ways in which they can be raised, and thorough processes for investigating them.

However, we cannot comment on individual cases.”

She added: “We are aware of the petition. We listen to all students and their feedback is valued and carefully considered.

We encourage students to voice any concerns they may have and work with us on solutions.”

27 June 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

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