Jul 182019
 

[Text by Debbie Abrahams MP, via Taxpayers Against Poverty, with thanks to both ]

APPG INQUIRY: 3 Years On: Assessing the Impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Act (2016) on Children and Disabled Adults.

In 2015, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Health in All Policies undertook an assessment of the prospective impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on child poverty and health. The approach taken was to establish perceptions of the relationship between poverty, inequality and health, and then to drill down into the potential impacts that the different measures of the Bill would have specifically on child poverty and subsequently child health, and health inequalities. You can read the Inquiry’s report here.

Three years on, the APPG for Health in All Policies is conducting a follow-up review of the actual impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Act (WR&WA) (2016), particularly on children and disabled adults.  The APPG has received written evidence and will be holding an oral inquiry session on Monday 22nd July, 3-6pm, Committee Room 19, House of Commons.

There will be two panels, the first of academics between 3-4.30pm and the second of key stakeholder groups between 4.30-6pm.  Those giving evidence will include, Prof David Taylor-Robinson, University of Liverpool; Prof Peter Dwyer, University of York; Dr Heather Brown, Newcastle University; Dr Aaron Reeves, University of Oxford; Dr Danny Taggart, University of Essex; Dr Max Davie, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; Martin Taulbut, Scottish Health Observatory; Tom Pollard, Mind; Maeve McGoldrick, Crisis; Helen Barnard, Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Ellen Clifford, Disabled People Against Cuts; Annie Howard, Disabled People Against Cuts; Michael Griffin, Parkinson’s UK representing Disability Benefits Consortium.

The inquiry session will be open to the public – any attendees need to use the Cromwell Green entrance to Parliament and allow up to 30 minutes to go through security and make it to the Upper Committee Corridor of the House of Commons.

 Posted by at 21:38
Jul 182019
 

DWP ‘lies again’ about impact of benefits freeze on disabled people

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of a “brazen repetition of a known lie” about the impact on disabled people of one of the government’s major spending cuts, following the publication of a damning new report.

The report by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) found that social security reforms over the last decade – mostly under successive Tory-led governments – had hit disabled adults four times harder than non-disabled adults.

It found that disabled people had lost out by an average of about £1,200 a year, compared to an average of about £300 for non-disabled people.

The report, Has Welfare Become Unfair?, shows that the higher a person’s support needs, the more they have lost out, with someone with six or more impairments losing over £2,100 a year on average, compared to someone with one impairment losing about £700 each year.

But when DWP was asked to comment on the report’s conclusions, it claimed that “disability benefits are exempt from the benefit freeze”.

This is not true, which has been repeatedly pointed out to ministers and DWP press officers over the last three years.

In March, the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, failed to apologise after telling the Commons work and pensions committee that “disability benefits were exempt from the benefits freeze”.

In June 2018, his predecessor, Sarah Newton, made the same claim in a Commons debate.

This apparently deliberate attempt to mislead the public about the working-age benefits freeze dates to its introduction in 2016 by the then chancellor, George Osborne.

Disability living allowance, personal independence payment and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are all exempt from the benefits freeze, which has frozen most working-age benefits at the level they were at in 2015.

But there is no exemption for the main component of ESA or the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG), which continue to be frozen.

This means that every disabled person receiving ESA, the main out-of-work disability benefit – and its equivalent under universal credit – has been and will continue to be hit financially by the freeze, including by its impact on non-disability-related benefits.

Although DWP could argue that the main ESA component is set at the same level as the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance, the WRAG top-up is only available to people with impairments that affect their ability to work.

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The DWP’s brazen repetition of a known lie shows they believe they are immune from being held to account.

I urge everyone reading this to sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition for an independent inquiry into the DWP, not just for the people who have died but for all who have suffered hardship and distress in dealing with the DWP. Let’s hold them to account.”

The petition* calls for an independent inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants, and was launched following the death in February 2017 of Jodey Whiting, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

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

The DBC report says the benefit freeze “has been a major factor in reducing the incomes of disabled people and pushing them into poverty”.

And comments this week by both contenders for the Tory party leadership, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, suggest the freeze might not end next year as previously planned.

Asked to comment on the department’s comment about the benefits freeze, a DWP spokesperson said: “On the DBC report, you have our statement and of course you are free to write up the story as you see fit.”

The government has previously suggested that the main ESA element and the WRAG top-up** are included in the benefits freeze because they are “a work-related benefit”, rather than a disability benefit, even though they are benefits paid to disabled people.

There was further misleading information in the DWP response to the DBC report, with the department claiming that “in many cases our reforms mean people will receive more money on average, with one million households gaining an average of £100 more on Universal Credit”.

The department’s own equality impact assessment and the Office for Budget Responsibility have both made it clear that there would be both winners and losers from universal credit.

But the DWP spokesperson claimed that – even though it had provided figures for those gaining from UC – the department did not publish figures showing how many million households would lose out through UC and by how much on average.

The report by DBC – whose members include Inclusion London, Disability Rights UK and Transport for All – warns that when disabled people move onto universal credit there will be “dramatic increases in the levels of poverty among people who are already at a crisis point”.

The report says this is a “disaster waiting to happen”.

The report, funded by The Three Guineas Trust, concludes that changes to the social security system since 2010 have had a “devastating impact” on disabled people’s wellbeing and right to independent living.

The report, which makes 22 recommendations for government action, concludes that people claiming disability benefits “are leading precarious lives characterised by financial insecurity, with immediate and enduring worries over money, bills and what the future may hold”.

*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

**New claimants placed in the WRAG after starting their claim from April 2017 onwards no longer receive the top-up

18 July 2019

 

 

Rail regulator’s access recommendations welcomed, ‘but do not go far enough’

Accessible transport campaigners have broadly welcomed a series of recommendations for improvements to the accessibility of the rail system.

Among the 17 recommendations made by the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), is a call for a drastic reduction in the notice that disabled passengers need to provide to book assistance for a rail journey.

If ORR’s recommendations are accepted, the current maximum of 24 hours’ notice will be cut by April next year to 10pm the day before travel, with further reductions introduced until only two hours’ notice will be needed by April 2022.

ORR also wants to see the government review funding for accessibility improvements, currently delivered through the Access for All fund, warning that current levels of investment “may fall short of the improvements to accessibility in rail aspired to in the government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy”.

And it wants to see, within the next six years, a review of the standards for accessibility of rail vehicles.

ORR is also calling for significant improvements to the reliability of assistance, and to staff training, as well as a requirement that compensation is paid to disabled passengers when their booked assistance fails because of a train or station operator’s actions.

Only last week, Disability News Service reported that two-thirds of disabled passengers experience at least one problem when travelling by rail, according to research commissioned by the government.

The ORR report says that only three-quarters (76 per cent) of users received all the assistance they booked in advance in 2018-19, while one in 10 (11 per cent) received none of it.

ORR also wants to see the same branding for assistance introduced across the network of rail companies, and improvements to the quality of access information provided to disabled passengers.

In the longer term, ORR wants to see a new system that will allow passengers to buy tickets and book assistance at the same time, and a “coherent national strategy” to promote assisted travel.

ORR made the recommendations as part of its submission to the Williams Rail Review, a “root and branch review” of Britain’s railway system.

The review’s findings and recommendations will be published in a government white paper in the autumn.

Alan Benson, chair of Transport for All, the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London, “broadly” welcomed the ORR’s recommendations.

He said: “Everyone, including government and the industry, agrees that the current situation on Britain’s railway is simply not good enough.

For decades, disabled people have been pushing for change. This response to the Williams review shows that the ORR has been listening and it should be broadly welcomed.

There are many common-sense steps, such as compensation for failed assistance and better training, which could really overhaul the service that we receive.

Being able to buy tickets and arrange assistance at the same time has the potential to really make a difference, providing the process is easy and convenient.”

But Benson said TfA believed the recommendations did not go far enough.

He said: “Putting consistent branding on an assistance service won’t prevent the let downs that are all too common and the ORR is still not advocating our right to turn up and travel just like everyone else.

Even the reduction in notice from 24 hours to two hours is not proposed until 2022. This is simply not good enough.

The direction of travel in this report is good, but the industry needs to show even more aspiration.

We hope that the Williams review will be bold in its recommendations and lead to disabled people having truly equal access when using the UK rail network.”

Accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley also broadly welcomed ORR’s recommendations.

He said he particularly welcomed ORR’s “new” and “important” challenge to the government’s “miserly and woefully inadequate funding” for improving access.

But he said he did not believe that the shortened timescales for pre-booking assistance would have much impact because making such bookings often failed to produce the assistance requested, while it “misses the point that we should be able to ‘turn up and go’ like anybody else”.

He said much of the ORR report was “rehashed” from what the industry or ORR had already made clear, adding: “We know access information is lamentably inaccurate and the database for administering it is utterly broken.

We know that assisted travel reliability is poor and must be improved.

We know that a national framework for promoting Passenger Assist should be in place, but only once they’ve got a reliable system that works, otherwise they’re setting new disabled travellers up for a fall.”

Paulley said ORR’s recommendations for the review were important, but its delayed new guidance for train operating companies, expected in the autumn following a consultation, “will have a much more direct impact on disabled passengers’ experience than their input into the Williams review, though of course it is positive that they have responded to the review as well”.

The ORR proposals were welcomed by Keith Williams, the review’s chair and a former chief executive of British Airways.

18 July 2019

 

 

DWP decision to block DNS jobcentre invite is ‘extension of hostile environment’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of an “appalling” attack on press freedom and disabled people’s rights after blocking a request by Disability News Service (DNS) to interview staff in one of its jobcentres.

A leaked memo in May revealed that DWP was inviting journalists from across the country into jobcentres to try to persuade them to paint a more positive picture of its new universal credit (UC) benefit system.

The memo revealed the department’s “frustration” at the negative media portrayal of its work, particularly around coverage of UC, as well as its plans to run a series of misleading adverts in the Metro free newspaper that would “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC”.

The memo spoke of “negativity and scaremongering” by journalists and said that work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd had written to “a wide range of journalists at regional and national publications, asking them to come and see for themselves the great work we do”.

Many of the articles that resulted, particularly those that have appeared in local newspapers owned by Reach, the largest national and regional news publisher in the UK, were criticised by disabled activists for allowing jobcentre staff to praise the local impact of universal credit and to either dismiss or ignore its well-publicised flaws.

Following the release of the memo, and the string of positive articles that followed, DNS asked DWP’s press office to arrange a visit to a local jobcentre.

This would have allowed DNS to interview frontline civil servants about UC, as well as the much-criticised work capability assessment, links between DWP failings and the deaths of benefit claimants*, and efforts by jobcentre staff to support disabled people into work.

But now, more than a month after the request was submitted, DWP has turned down the DNS request.

A spokesperson said: “Unfortunately we won’t be able to accommodate your request for a jobcentre visit at this stage.

Visits from journalists are time intensive for our jobcentre staff and we’ve therefore focused on hosting visits for newspapers only at this time.

We hope to open up jobcentre visits to online only outlets** in the future.”

Natasha Hirst, the disabled members’ representative on the national executive council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ)***, said DWP’s decision risked “compounding the lack of trust in their ‘mythbuster’ PR campaign if they obstruct access to journalists who have been critical of their policies in the past.

NUJ members abide by a code of conduct to report ethically and accurately and it is vital to a well-functioning democracy that journalists are able to scrutinise the workings of government institutions.”

She added: “If the DWP are confident enough that their policies and practices are improving people’s lives, then providing access to DNS would lend an opportunity to showcase good work and reach directly to their target audience.

Otherwise, this looks like an effort to impede press freedom.”

A spokesperson for Sheffield Disabled People Against Cuts, the grassroots group which obtained the leaked memo, said: “Once again the DWP are moving the goalposts in order to spin their lies and keep disabled people in the dark about what is happening with universal credit; this time it’s journalists on the receiving end.

Disabled people very often have difficulty getting access to print editions of newspapers so rely on online news sources such as DNS for reports about universal credit that we have a right to access.

We think that the DWP may once again be breaching the rights of disabled people by denying DNS and other similar platforms access to jobcentres.

This is quite simply an extension of the hostile environment towards disabled people.”

A spokesperson for Disabled People Against Cuts added: “To say that we were shocked that DNS were denied access would be a lie – it’s exactly what we would expect from an organisation that distorts the truth so routinely that they were never likely to allow a disabled journalist anywhere where they might ask inconvenient questions of jobcentre staff.”

One well-known disabled activist, who tweets as @imajsaclaimant, said it was an “appalling” decision from DWP, which clearly only wanted to allow journalists to visit its jobcentres if they were “from publications that will give them an article that paints DWP in a positive light”.

He said DWP was “attempting to very tightly control the narrative” and the refusal to allow DNS to question jobcentre staff “reinforces what we’ve always known about DWP, that they are a terrible organisation that treats everyone with contempt.

By denying journalists who are critical they are preventing accountability, which is what this government has avoided again and again.”

DWP is already facing an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority into what critics say are the misleading adverts about UC that are appearing in the Metro.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned about the impact on disabled people of UC – which combines six income-related benefits into one – and say it is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of foodbank use.

Earlier this month, DNS revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how UC would affect different groups of disabled people.

Meanwhile, the DWP spokesperson also appeared to admit this week that its press office had been making a deliberate decision not to send press releases to DNS.

When asked why DWP had stopped sending its releases to DNS, she said the press office usually sends them to journalists “on a case-by-case basis”.

She said DWP press releases can also be found on the government website, but she added: “I have noted your request to receive our press releases, and I will send on those that we think you will find of interest.”

**Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here if you would like to see a debate in the House of Commons on calls for an independent inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants. 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

**DNS is a news agency, not an “online only outlet”

***John Pring, editor of DNS, is an NUJ member

18 July 2019

 

 

More than half of disabled passengers still find air travel difficult, says regulator

More than half of passengers who describe themselves as having an impairment that limits their day-today activity find travelling by air difficult, according to a regulator’s annual report on access at the UK’s major airports.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) annual report on disability access contains mixed findings on provision for disabled travellers at the UK’s largest 31 airports.

Although no airports were rated as “poor” in the regulator’s fourth annual report – the first time this has happened – the number of those rated as “very good” on access fell from 16 last year to 14 in 2018-19.

Of the 31 airports assessed by CAA, 16 were categorized as “good”, an increase of six on 2017-18, and only one was said to need improvement.

During 2018-19, there were 3.7 million requests for assistance at UK airports, a rise of over 80 per cent since 2010. 

But CAA’s latest aviation consumer survey found nearly a quarter of respondents who requested assistance said they did so because the airport environment was becoming more difficult to get around.

And more than half of disabled people surveyed said they found travelling by air difficult, with concerns about poor customer service, long waiting times and a lack of awareness of disabled people’s needs.

It is the second report this month to highlight the continuing barriers faced by disabled travellers.

Last week, Disability News Service reported research commissioned by the government which found two-thirds of disabled passengers said they experienced at least one problem when travelling by rail.

Disabled passengers are entitled to free assistance when travelling by air under European Union regulations, and CAA is the regulatory body that monitors the quality of this assistance.

A key CAA concern is that airports are not increasing staffing levels enough at peak times, causing increased delays for those disabled passengers who need assistance.

The report also says that only two airports with more than nine million passengers a year – Glasgow and Edinburgh – have been rated as “very good” on access.

The others – London Stansted, London Luton, London Heathrow and London Gatwick – are all rated as “good”.

But the report warns that Heathrow could be at risk of losing its “good” rating, if it does not do more to increase staffing levels, particularly for assistance for passengers on flights arriving at the airport.

The report also stresses the importance of ongoing consultation with local disabled people’s groups, and it warns that new CAA guidance “will require airports to hold regular disability forums” and that airports “who do not have these in place may receive a poor rating in future reports”.

This new guidance will mean airports will now be assessed using stricter targets

The report also says CAA has continuing concerns over the services and facilities provided by Manchester Airport, which is nearly two-thirds owned by Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities.

Although the airport improved on its rating of “poor” last year, the CAA report says it still “needs improvement” and warns that events since the end of 2018-19 have “stalled” its progress.

In April, Manchester Airport began using a new provider of assistance services, and the report says: “Data from April, May and June 2019 has shown performance was poor, with high numbers of passengers waiting for unacceptable lengths of time to receive assistance when arriving on inbound flights.”

Meanwhile, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has launched a consultation on new plans that it hopes will help people with long-term conditions who struggle to find affordable travel insurance.

It wants to introduce a new “signposting” rule, which would force insurance firms in certain circumstances to provide consumers with a pre-existing medical condition (PEMC) details of travel insurance firms that “have the appetite and capability” to provide them with cover. 

FCA said that “nearly all consumers with a PEMC can get cover if they are able to find the right provider”.

An estimated 14 million travellers with a PEMC try to find travel insurance every year.

Of these, about 0.7 per cent are declined cover and 11 per cent buy a policy that excludes cover for their condition.

Christopher Woolard, FCA’s executive director of strategy and competition, said: “We want to reduce the numbers of consumers who are currently faced with a choice of not travelling or travelling without insurance, and running the risk of incurring significant costs, including medical bills abroad.

The changes proposed today will be an important step in helping people to navigate the market more easily and also in reducing the number of customers who are over-paying significantly for travel insurance.”

18 July 2019

 

Second charity backs Justice for Jodey following snub by 12 disability organisations

A second national disability charity has joined Mind in backing a petition that calls for an independent inquiry into links between Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) and Mind are the only two major charities to have supported the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, in contrast with others such as RNIB, Leonard Cheshire, Sense and Scope, which have refused to back its demands.

The petition calls for an inquiry and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants and ministers to be passed to police.

It also calls on MPs to brand DWP institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for the department to take urgent steps to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority.

Earlier this month, 12 disability charities – none of which are led and controlled by disabled people – rejected a request from Disability News Service (DNS) to back the petition.

Only Mind agreed to back the petition and its four demands.

But now DR UK, which is run and controlled by disabled people and works with many of the charities as a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium, has said it supports the petition and all its demands.

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.

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

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said DWP’s failure to follow its own procedures in the case of Jodey Whiting “highlights the need of a root and branch change to our system of social protection for disabled people in this country”.

He said this system should “meet the needs of disabled people and provide safety and support in the way it is administrated”.

Mallick said an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions “would create the opportunity to gather robust evidence on the way the benefits system is administrated and how it impacts on people who need to use it”.

He said: “It could also be used to make recommendations for structural changes to the way the system operates now.”

And he said that any evidence of misconduct that led to serious harm or death “should be examined by the police to see if a criminal prosecution is appropriate”.

He added: “There’s a growing evidence base that the DWP is struggling to provide the services required.

It’s been the subject of a series of very critical reports from select committees, for example, as well as other independent organisations such as Demos.

There have been well documented problems with employment and support allowance, the changeover from disability living allowance to personal independence payments and of course universal credit.

Transferring current responsibilities to different organisations, whether statutory or otherwise, could help solve the problem.

But we must make sure there is a fundamental change in approach – without that, disabled people’s experiences are unlikely to improve much.”  

*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

18 July 2019

 

 

New ‘radical history’ of disabled people’s movement ‘has lessons for today’

A new “radical history” of the disabled people’s movement is set to throw new light on the contribution made by one of its most influential figures.

The launch of No Limits: The Disabled People’s Movement, A Radical History, took place last Friday (12 July), and was attended by its author, Judy Hunt, on the 40th anniversary of the death of her husband, Paul.

It was Paul Hunt’s letter to the Guardian in 1972 which led to the formation of the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), which itself was to play a crucial role in the development of the movement and what was later known as the social model of disability.

Hunt had originally lived in the Leonard Cheshire residential home Le Court, in Hampshire, where he and other residents rebelled repeatedly against the regime, before he left to marry Judy in 1970.

In the Guardian letter, he wrote of how disabled people with high support needs were forced into “isolated unsuitable institutions where their views are ignored and they are subject to authoritarian and often cruel regimes”.

He proposed a new “consumer group” that would “put forward nationally the views of actual and potential residents of these successors to the Workhouse”.

No Limits tells how a series of “historic conflicts” between disabled people – including Paul Hunt – and service-providers in the 1960s laid “important groundwork for the emergence of a widespread social movement to end the segregation and second class citizenship of disabled people”.

It describes how the development of a social model of disability – including the key roles played by Hunt and fellow UPIAS founder Vic Finkelstein – led to a “heightened determination by disabled people to achieve emancipation from the oppressive social conditions in the UK”.

The book also describes how institutions began to be replaced with independent living settings, and it follows the evolution of the disabled people’s movement from the 1950s to the present day.

It also aims to “contribute to the ongoing struggle disabled people now face to maintain some control of their lives” after years of austerity have “battered many of the gains made through past campaigns”.

At the launch event in London last week, Judy Hunt said: “I hope the book will show how in the beginning when people were very oppressed, very cut off from society, that despite that, some people managed to find a way to struggle back, and they developed something powerful through the power of collective action which was terribly important.

I’m hoping that by drawing on the lessons of before it may still provide some hope for people, some ideas they can build on.”

She said that her husband had been “an amazing and a lovely person” who was “looked to by many for his very caring support and his guidance” and had “worked tirelessly and like there was no tomorrow, literally”.

She said: “He had been given a very short life expectancy when he was young. He lived that life of urgency all his life.”

She spoke of how her husband edited a book of essays by disabled people – Stigma: The Experience Of Disability – which was published in 1966, but is now out of print.

In his contribution to Stigma, he wrote about how disabled people were an oppressed minority, which she said was “the first time really that that word was used in the context of disability”.

She said: “It was like he lobbed a very weighty stone into the pond and it set off ripples which kept getting bigger and bigger.”

An archive of UPIAS material has been deposited by Judy Hunt in Manchester Central Library, alongside other historic documents that cast light on the birth, growth and impact of the movement, which have been collated by Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP).

Sian Vasey, a member of UPIAS in the 1970s, told the launch event that Judy Hunt’s book was “very important”, with its discussion of the “extraordinary revolution” of viewing disabled people as an oppressed minority.

She said that disabled people were still oppressed today, for example through the “really scary” dismantling of support systems, such as the cuts to care packages.

The disabled crossbench peer and independent living campaigner Baroness [Jane] Campbell told the launch that disabled people still faced oppression today, nearly 50 years after the formation of UPIAS.

Asked whether disabled people were still oppressed, she said: “Yes, I think we are, as women are, as black people are. I don’t see any difference.”

She spoke of how reading Paul Hunt’s letter to the Guardian, years later, as a young disabled woman, led her to contact the Spinal Injuries Association and then to attend the second annual meeting of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP).

It was at this conference in the early 1980s that she heard disabled activists Mike Oliver and Ken Davis talk about the social model of disability and the concept of independent living.

She remembers “feeling goose bumps all over my body” as “suddenly everything just fell into place”.

She told last week’s launch event: “If I hadn’t read that letter and I hadn’t phoned the Spinal Injuries Association, I would probably not have gone down the road that I did.

That is why today is so, so important to me.

Paul, even though I never knew him, was probably one of the most important men in my life, which is a very strange thing to say about someone you never knew.”

She told DNS afterwards that disabled people are still an oppressed group, but that she “would never say we are more oppressed than other groups that have had very similar struggles to stay alive and be treated equally”.

She said: “Becoming liberated through understanding the nature of their oppression is one of the most important things a disabled person can do.”

She said she had struggled more trying to be “normal” and fit in to a “normal world” than she ever did after she was liberated.

She added: “It is a huge relief to understand the true nature of my oppression and to understand the way to fight against it, and eventually abandon it.”

Free copies of the book in pdf format are available through the GMCDP website, with other formats available soon. To order a paperback version at £19.99, email: huntlimits40@gmail.com

18 July 2019

 

 

Hancock confronted over hospital parking charges for disabled patients

The health secretary has been confronted by a campaigner after government figures revealed the number of hospitals charging disabled people to use their carparks rose by 12 per cent in just a year.

Kush Kanodia, a disabled ambassador for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said NHS trusts that charged disabled patients to use their carparks were guilty of direct discrimination under the Equality Act.

He asked Hancock: “What are we to do when the people we trust to deliver our healthcare fail to show compassion or inclusion?”

But he said neither Hancock nor NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens responded to his request for support for his campaign to end the charges at hospitals in England, which he launched last week with support from DR UK.

Devolved governments in both Scotland and Wales have scrapped all hospital parking charges, not just those for disabled patients.

Kanodia raised his concerns at The King’s Fund’s annual leadership and management summit.

He launched the campaign last week after accusing executives of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – where he is a patient governor – of “disgraceful” behaviour by deciding to introduce parking charges for patients with blue badges at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) this week declined to condemn those trusts that have introduced charges, saying only that it believed NHS trusts should offer “concessions” to disabled people using their carparks.

NHS Digital figures show that the number of hospitals that charge disabled people to park rose from 132 in 2014-15 to 155 in 2017-18, an increase of 17 per cent in just three years.

The largest increase came in the last year, with an increase of 12 per cent from 139 hospitals in 2016-17 to 155 in 2017-18.

Hancock’s predecessor, Tory leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt, had pledged to tackle the problem in August 2014.

Hunt said then that concessions should be available for disabled people.

But in a post on his own website, Hunt says the government is “firmly committed to reducing central interference in matters that can only be understood locally, and setting car parking charges falls into this category”.

A DHSC spokesperson declined to say if the department was in favour of scrapping all parking charges for disabled people, or if Hancock was concerned about the rising number of trusts that impose such charges.

But he said in a statement: “Patients and their families should not have to deal with the extra stress of complex or unfair parking charges.

Our guidelines make clear that concessions should be offered, including for disabled parking, and we expect trusts to be following these. 

We will continue to work with the NHS to ensure these principles are applied consistently to end variation and put the interests of patients first.”

A spokesperson for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital said its charges would be capped at £3 per vehicle and no decision had yet been made on when they would be introduced.

She said: “This still represents a significant concession compared to all other users of the car park. Where there is evidence of poverty then there will be no charge.

This was a very difficult decision to make in a challenging financial climate.

We intend to use the income generated to reinvest in facilities and clinical resources for our disabled patients, including plans to increase the number of disabled parking spaces.

If we don’t make any charge for disabled parking we will have to find an additional £200,000 every year.”

She denied that the trust would be breaching the Equality Act by introducing the new charge.

18 July 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:14
Jul 172019
 

Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Health in All Policies

Evidence session open to the public to observe

In 2015, the APPG for Health in All Policies undertook an assessment of the prospective impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on child poverty and health. The approach taken was to establish perceptions of the relationship between poverty, inequality and health, and then to drill down into the potential impacts that the different measures of the Bill would have specifically on child poverty and subsequently child health, and health inequalities. You can read the Inquiry’s report here.

Three years on, the APPG for Health in All Policies is conducting a follow-up review of the actual impacts of the Welfare Reform and Work Act (WR&WA) (2016), particularly on children and disabled adults. The APPG has received written evidence and will be holding an oral inquiry session on Monday 22nd July, 3-6pm, Committee Room 19, House of Commons.

There will be two panels, the first of academics between 3-4.30pm and the second of key stakeholder groups between 4.30-6pm. Those giving evidence will include, Prof David Taylor-Robinson, University of Liverpool; Prof Peter Dwyer, University of York; Dr Heather Brown, Newcastle University; Dr Aaron Reeves, University of Oxford; Dr Danny Taggart, University of Essex; Dr Max Davie, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; Martin Taulbut, Scottish Health Observatory; Tom Pollard, Mind; Maeve McGoldrick, Crisis; Helen Barnard, Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Ellen Clifford, Disabled People Against Cuts; Annie Howard, Disabled People Against Cuts; Michael Griffin, Parkinson’s UK representing Disability Benefits Consortium.

The inquiry session will be open to the public – any attendees need to use the Cromwell Green entrance to Parliament and allow up to 30 minutes to go through security and make it to the Upper Committee Corridor of the House of Commons.

 Posted by at 15:09
Jul 112019
 

 

Secret PIP files show one in three assessments by Capita had significant flaws

More than a third of disability assessment reports completed by a government contractor have been found to be significantly flawed, according to secret government files.

The proportion of substandard personal independence payment (PIP) reports completed by outsourcing giant Capita has risen to 37 per cent in the two years since 2016, when nearly 33 per cent of reports were found to be defective.

The figures, secured from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner John Slater, are likely to add fuel to concerns about Capita’s performance in delivering the contract.

And they are also likely to strengthen calls for DWP to be declared “not fit for purpose” and institutionally disablist, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition*.

The figures show the results of government audits of nearly 6,000 assessment reports carried out by Capita during 2018.

They show that nearly four per cent of the reports (3.92 per cent) were of such poor quality that they were categorised as “unacceptable”.

With another 17 per cent of assessments, DWP concluded the report was so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, although the report was of an “acceptable” standard.

And in a further 16 per cent of cases, the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws, although again the report was still said to be of an “acceptable” standard.

In all, nearly 37 per cent of assessment reports audited during 2018 were found to be of an unacceptable standard, to need changes, or demonstrated that the assessor had failed to carry out their role properly.

The newly-released data provides details of the “management information” (MI) that Capita and fellow outsourcing giant Atos are contractually obliged to provide every month to DWP, so it can check on their performance and take action when they need to improve.

It was obtained as part of Slater’s continuing efforts to secure information from DWP that he believes will expose the widespread failings of Capita and Atos, and DWP’s failure to manage the contracts properly.

He is still appealing against DWP’s failure to release data showing the results of audits of Atos assessment reports.

The data that was released raises continuing and multiple concerns about the way the two private sector companies are carrying out their contractual duties.

It also shows that the many reports of dishonest and distressing assessment experiences by individual disabled people are not isolated occurrences.

One of the concerns highlighted by the data is the proportion of assessments cleared by Capita within 40 days, which nearly fell as low as 50 per cent at one stage during 2018.

Another concern is over the number of Atos and Capita healthcare professionals who have been the subject of multiple complaints within a three-month period.

Last year, DNS revealed that 161 assessors working for Atos and 19 Capita assessors had had at least four complaints made against them in a three-month period in 2016.

But the figures for 2018 show that, although the number of Atos assessors who faced multiple complaints fell from 161 to 129, the number of Capita assessors who were subjected to at least four complaints in just three months leapt from 19 to 84 between 2016 and 2018.

Capita carried out about 220,000 face-to-face assessments in 2018, compared with more than 730,000 by Atos.

Another key concern is that Capita is still requesting vital further evidence from GPs and social workers in less than 30 per cent of assessments.

This is an improvement on the figures from 2016, when at one stage, in June and July 2016, Capita was seeking further information from GPs, consultants or social workers in fewer than one in every 50 PIP claims (less than two per cent of cases).

But DWP documents drawn up in May 2012, before the award of the contracts to deliver PIP assessments, show the department expected its contractors would need to request further evidence (also known as further medical evidence) in about half of all cases (50 per cent).

A Capita spokesperson refused to say if the data obtained by Slater showed there were still serious concerns about its performance, and that this was deteriorating.

She also refused to comment on the audit results, or explain why they had worsened in the last two years.

And she refused to explain why so many assessors had been subjected to multiple complaints within a three-month period, and why that number had increased so sharply in the last two years.

But she said in a statement: “Capita is the first PIP provider to consistently meet the ambitious quality targets set by the DWP and we are committed to continually delivering against this target. On average, cases are completed within 38 days.

We are focused on delivering the best service to individuals coming through the assessment process.

This is evidenced in our independent monthly satisfaction rating from customers, which in 2018 was more than 95 per cent.”

An Atos** spokesperson refused to comment on the number of its assessors subject to multiple complaints.

But he said in a statement: “As part of our commitment to provide a high quality service we have invested in our continuous professional development training for all health professionals.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the figures showed there were still serious concerns about its management of the PIP contracts and the performance of the two companies.

She also refused to say if DWP was concerned by the Capita audit results and the number of Atos and Capita assessors subjected to multiple complaints within three-month periods.

She refused to say why DWP had not released the Atos audit results to John Slater.

And she refused to say if DWP had taken any action to address these concerns.

But she said in a statement: “We are committed to ensuring that the PIP assessment providers give our claimants the highest quality service.

That’s why we set the providers challenging targets and monitor their performance closely, and the latest figures show that complaints make up just one per cent of all the assessments carried out.”

Meanwhile, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd today (Thursday) announced an in-depth review of how terminally-ill people and those with “severe conditions” are treated by the benefits system.

The announcement came days after a report compiled by the charity Marie Curie and published by the all party parliamentary group for terminal illness saw people with terminal illness calling on ministers to end the “arbitrary and outdated” rules that force many of them through a “demeaning” and “insensitive” benefit assessment process.

*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

**Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK

11 July 2019

 

 

New EU figures demolish government claims of ‘world-leading generosity’ on disability

New figures obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) have demolished ministerial claims that the UK is one of the most generous countries in the world in its support for disabled people.

Rather than being one of the most generous, the UK’s spending on disability is actually below average for the 28 member states in the European Union (EU).

The figures also show that the proportion of the UK’s economic activity (GDP) spent by the UK government on disabled people fell from 2.6 per cent in 2015 to 2.5 per cent in 2016 and 2017.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its ministers have repeatedly defended themselves against criticisms of government cuts to disabled people’s support over the last decade by attempting to argue that the UK’s spending levels compare favourably with other countries.

When the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government in 2017 that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” – and recommended more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affected disability rights – it responded by stressing how much it spent supporting disabled people and how well that compared with other major economies.

But the new figures show the UK is only the 12th most generous country in the EU, when its disability spending is taken as a proportion of GDP.

Last month, DNS reported figures for 2015 which showed the UK’s spending was only 23rd highest of the 36 major world economies in the OECD* as a proportion of GDP.

But DNS has now obtained figures for 2016 and 2017 from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, which bases its statistics on data provided by the UK and other EU governments, and which is the organisation that OECD uses to produce its figures for EU countries.

The Eurostat figures show the UK was only the 12th most generous spender in the EU in 2015, 2016 and 2017, behind Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, Luxembourg and even Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary, if disability spending is taken as a proportion of a country’s GDP.

The figures show spending on sickness and disability, which for the UK includes benefits like personal independence payment and employment and support allowance, as well as spending on social care and other social protection for disabled people.

The claim that the UK is one of the world’s most generous countries when it comes to disability has been used repeatedly by work and pensions ministers such as Iain Duncan Smith, who claimed in 2014 that “[we] probably spend more than almost any other country in the developed world” and “nearly double what Germany spends”.

Esther McVey made similar claims when she was minister for disabled people, and again last month when she was running – unsuccessfully – to be the next prime minister.

Ministers have also repeatedly claimed that the UK spends more on disability than France, one of the seven major economies that make up the G7, and DWP repeated that claim yesterday (Wednesday).

The Eurostat figures also demolish those claims, as they show that Frances spends about 2.9 per cent of its GDP on sickness and disability, compared to 2.5 per cent in the UK.

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the minister for disabled people now accepted that the UK spends below the average for the 28 EU countries on disability and is not even one of the most generous countries in the EU, let alone the world.

Instead she said in a statement: “We’re spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions, more than ever before.

And as a share of GDP, the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany.”**

*OECD is an organisation of 36 countries, all of which are major world economies

**The Eurostat figures show the UK also spends less than France

11 July 2019

 

 

Ministerial group on disability met just three times in a year, DWP admits

A cross-government group of ministers set up to drive forward action to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people has met just three times in more than a year, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted.

The group of 11 ministers, chaired by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, was set up in May 2018.

It was set up following a period of nearly four years when there was no cross-departmental group of ministers working to improve the lives of disabled people.

But now a response from DWP to a freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS) has revealed that the new Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society met just three times between May 2018 and June 2019.

The group of ministers met first on 7 July 2018, and again on 31 October 2018, and then did not meet again until 25 March this year, nearly five months later.

Only last month, prime minister Theresa May – supported by non-user-led charities like Scope and Sense – announced what she said were “new measures to break down barriers faced by disabled people, whether in employment, housing or elsewhere”.

Rudd said at the time that disabled people “encounter too many challenges in life” and the government wanted to “change the landscape for disabled people and to make sure there is always a level playing field for them”.

But many user-led organisations questioned why May 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”.

The admission that the inter-ministerial group set up by May’s government last year, under Rudd’s leadership, has met just three times in more than a year will cast further doubt on what the prime minister claimed was her “determination to identify and tackle injustices”.

DWP has so far refused to say which ministers attended each meeting, even though similar information was eventually released following a complaint to the information commissioner about the actions of the previous inter-ministerial group, which met just three times in 2014 before it was scrapped.

A DWP spokesperson declined to say why the inter-ministerial group had only met three times in more than a year.

But she said in a statement: “Empowering disabled people in all aspects of their lives has always been and will continue to be a priority for this government.

That is why the Office for Disability Issues continues to drive forward work to increase disabled people’s participation in society, including through the Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society, which is just one of the many ways in which we’re driving progress on the issues that matter to disabled people.”

11 July 2019

 

 

DWP’s ‘universal credit Metro lies’ backfire by sparking new campaign network

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advertising campaign that is now being investigated by a watchdog has backfired by helping to create a national network of campaigners opposed to its new universal credit benefit system, say disabled activists.

The advertising watchdog this week launched an investigation into what critics say are “misleading” DWP adverts that have attempted to “whitewash” the truth about universal credit (UC).

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that UC – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of foodbank use, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

The Sheffield branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said it was “encouraged” to hear that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had confirmed it was investigating concerns about the DWP adverts, which appear every week in the Metro free newspaper.

But Sheffield DPAC said there were now hundreds of activists around the country who were “actively dumping the Metro newspaper”, and praised a Labour city councillor in Sheffield, Francyne Johnson, who supported the campaign yesterday (Wednesday).

Sheffield DPAC claimed that hundreds of thousands of copies of the free newspaper have been removed from distribution points around the country and sent for recycling.

It was Sheffield DPAC which first raised the alarm about DWP’s plans to launch a nine-week series of advertising features in the Metro.

Senior DWP civil servants had said in an internal memo, first leaked to the Guardian and then to Disability News Service (DNS), that the adverts would “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC” and “explain what UC is and how it works in reality”.

A Sheffield DPAC spokesperson said transport workers were now alerting activists to let them know when and where Metros were being delivered so they could be removed and recycled.

She said: “The campaign has grown from a small protest in Sheffield to a well coordinated and incredibly effective national campaign that has seen hundreds of thousands of copies of the Metro now removed from stands and sent for recycling in just a matter of weeks. 

Initially we were removing them by hand, which was exhausting. Now we’ve got hired vans and large numbers of people removing huge amounts relatively effortlessly. 

Although we’re obviously very angry and upset that these ads are still appearing (they were in Metro today) we’re confident that we can now achieve more and reach farther than ever before as we have such excellent communication between a huge number of unions and groups now, thanks to this campaign. 

The DWP, through releasing this propaganda, have unwittingly created a huge national anti universal credit campaign network. That backfired a bit, didn’t it!”

The latest advertorials appeared in the Metro yesterday, even though ASA announced this week that it has launched a formal investigation into the DWP adverts.

ASA said it has received more than 40 complaints about the adverts.

One of the concerns it will investigate is whether some of the adverts were “obviously identifiable as ads”, rather than being disguised as an investigation carried out by the Metro.

Last month, DNS sent ASA an image of the Metro website’s home page which showed a series of images and claims about universal credit which failed to state that they were actually DWP adverts.

The leaked DWP documents revealed that these adverts were always designed to be misleading and not to “look or feel like DWP or UC”.

ASA will also investigate whether three key claims made in the adverts were misleading and if they could be substantiated by DWP.

These claims relate to criticisms of UC that have been made by welfare rights experts, claimants and activists, based on years of evidence, but which DWP has branded as “myths” in its adverts.

A DWP spokesperson claimed that all the advertising contains the words “Advertising Feature from the Department for Work and Pensions”, even though DNS pointed out that the adverts on the Metro website home page had not done so.

She confirmed that ASA had been in touch with the department and that DWP was “working with them to respond to the points raised”.

She said: “It is important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise universal credit.”

She added: “We have consulted the Advertising Standards Authority throughout the partnership and our advertorials reflect their advice.”

11 July 2019

 

 

Protests force council climbdown over inaccessible Peterloo memorial

Disabled activists and their allies have forced a council into a significant climbdown over its “discriminatory” plans for a memorial to victims of the Peterloo massacre.

Manchester City Council (MCC) said this week that it had asked artist Jeremy Deller to examine how the memorial he designed can now be made “fully accessible”.

The council-funded memorial was set to be completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though Deller wanted it to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819 that led to the massacre*.

The council had previously told Disability News Service (DNS) that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the memorial, which is due to be unveiled to the public on 16 August, the 200th anniversary of the massacre.

But there has now been an apparent climbdown following weeks of protests led by disabled activists.

The council’s announcement follows a meeting between city councillors Luthfur Rahman (executive member for skills, culture and leisure) and Tracey Rawlins (lead member for disabled people), and representatives of disabled people’s groups.

Mark Todd, a disabled access expert who started a Facebook page to protest at the design of the memorial – and has called it “a monument to discrimination” – said he was “really pleased” at the council’s apparent change of approach.

He said that the “breadth and determination” of the campaign and the willingness to work with the council appeared to have paid off.

And he said the campaign had built an “amazing coalition” that included disabled people, artists, celebrities, and citizens of Manchester “who all want a Peterloo Memorial that is accessible to everyone”.

Among those who have supported the campaign are the musician and activist Billy Bragg, who said: “Surely something that symbolises the struggle for universal rights should be accessible to all.”

Disabled comedian and activist Francesca Martinez said it was “extraordinary” that the memorial design had not been inclusive, while there has also been criticism from disabled actor-campaigners Cherylee Houston and Ali Briggs.

Briggs said: “We all want a memorial, yes that’s true. We just don’t want one like this, that we can’t be proud of.”

Todd said this week that he was “cautiously optimistic” following the council’s statement, but until there was a “fitting and accessible Peterloo Memorial”, the campaign and a weekly vigil near the site would continue.

He said: “We are not ready to put away our placards just yet.”

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), which has played a key role in the protests, also welcomed the announcement.

But it warned that the council had not yet met its three demands – to stop work on the memorial while it was still low enough to include a ramp; to ensure the memorial was accessible; and to make sure there was no repeat of the council’s failure with future projects – and pointed out that building work on the inaccessible memorial was now nearly finished.

Campaigners will meet next week with the council, Deller and the architect working on the project, and will then decide whether to review their demands.

A GMCDP spokesperson said: “MCC’s decision to build the memorial to its full height and then explore access solutions afterwards, limits considerably what can be done to make it a platform everyone can use.

We do not know what MCC have in mind, if anything, and we acknowledge that a perfect solution may not be arrived at immediately. 

What is needed most at this stage is the commitment to find a genuine accessible long-term solution, properly considered, fully consulted on and backed up with some teeth and a budget.”

The council has faced weeks of anger from disabled people and allies that a memorial designed to remember those who marched for liberty and equality in the 19th century should apparently have been “designed and built with discrimination and inequality at its heart”.

Now the council has said that it regrets that the design of the memorial “did not give enough consideration to access issues”.

Cllr Rahman said: “Manchester City Council has a long and proud record around access issues, something which disabled access campaigners have acknowledged. 

However, we recognise that the interpretation of the brief for the Peterloo Memorial, with an imaginative design involving a more interactive element than originally envisaged for a public artwork, did not give enough consideration to access issues and we regret this.

We recently met with representatives of disabled people’s groups to further discuss this issue and we have asked the artist and architect to look at how the monument in its current form can be modified to make it fully accessible.

We will share more details about where we are up to and the proposed way forward as soon as we are in a position to do so.

We are listening and doing all we can to resolve this satisfactorily.”

Deller told DNS last night (Wednesday) that he was optimistic that a solution could be found to make the memorial accessible.

*On 16 August 1819, paramilitary and military forces attacked more than 60,000 peaceful, pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and an estimated 700 serious injuries, in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre

11 July 2019

 

 

UN rapporteur hears of disabled asylum-seekers evicted by social services

A UN human rights expert has been told that disabled asylum-seekers in Bristol have been evicted by social services, and have even been told that being made “street homeless” will make them more independent.

Professor Felipe González, the UN’s special rapporteur for the human rights of migrants, was told that disabled asylum-seekers are routinely denied access to services and support in the UK.

He was in Bristol last week for an unofficial visit organised by the University of Bristol’s Migration Mobilities Bristol research centre.

The centre wanted to tell him about the challenges faced by the UK and Bristol – such as the government’s “hostile environment” for immigrants and the impact of Brexit – and about the centre’s research, and to hear about his UN role.

Among those presenting González with evidence was Rebecca Yeo, a disabled academic, and herself the daughter of a refugee.

She was speaking on behalf of Janet Karanja, a disabled asylum-seeker, who had explained that she was too “pressed down” by the system to give evidence herself.

Yeo told González: “She had planned to talk about her struggle to survive, how at times she’s relied on friends for basic food, how her operation was cancelled just before entering the operating theatre when the hospital had a call from the Home Office.

How she can make no plans because she doesn’t know when or whether, as she puts it, ‘the Home Office will come for you’.

These struggles are common to asylum seekers and have a heavy toll on people’s physical and mental health.”

Karanja had told Yeo that the asylum system “makes you feel you are worthless… like garbage”, she said.

Yeo told the rapporteur that there was now greater recognition of the existence of disabled people in the asylum system, but the “systematic denial” of the rights and needs of all asylum-seekers has increased, which means “the asylum system itself is disabling”.

Yeo also told González that local and national government were breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in their treatment of disabled asylum-seekers, in Bristol and across the country.

She said: “I’m aware of disabled asylum seekers being evicted by social services, made street homeless, with no support, being told that this would make them more independent.”

She also told González that Bristol City Council had excluded disabled people from a task group set up to examine the barriers to accessing social care faced by asylum-seekers, with one councillor explaining: “People with lived experience know about their own lives, but don’t know about how the system works.”

The task group’s members are instead from the council and council-funded organisations.

The group was only set up by the council after a meeting organised by disabled people, including disabled asylum-seekers.

They had called for the meeting with the council and local charities and MPs following protests held last year in the wake of the deaths of two disabled refugees, and showed them a film in which disabled asylum-seekers spoke of the barriers they faced in accessing social care.

Yeo told González that excluding disabled people and their organisations from the task group breached the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and “cuts out a source of expertise”.

The rapporteur was visiting Bristol almost exactly a year after disabled asylum-seekers and activists came together to seek fundamental changes to systems and agencies after the brutal murders of the two disabled refugees.

Both Kamil Ahmad (in July 2016) and Bijan Ebrahimi (in July 2013) were murdered by racist neighbours after being failed by official agencies in the city.

The council was warned there would be a third death in the city unless there was urgent action to address the breaches of disabled asylum-seekers’ rights.

The council has failed so far to provide disabled activists with any information about what the task group has achieved or any minutes from its meetings, despite promising to do so by January this year.

A brief update on the task group’s progress was finally provided to Yeo yesterday (Wednesday), 24 hours after DNS had asked the council to comment on her evidence to the special rapporteur.

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said this morning in a statement: “As a City of Sanctuary our priority is to make Bristol a safe place for all people seeking sanctuary and to create an environment in which they can feel welcomed.

Following the meeting with campaigners last year, a task group of key stakeholders that work with disabled asylum seekers was established to look at how their experience can be improved.

The group is looking at a number of areas including a full audit of asylum related cases, improving education about completing a Care Act Assessment and arranging training sessions for operational staff to hear from disabled asylum seekers about their lived experiences.”

11 July 2019

 

 

Two-thirds of disabled passengers face at least one problem when travelling by rail

Two-thirds of disabled passengers experience at least one problem when travelling by rail, according to research commissioned by the government.

The research was carried out in 2017 but was only published this week when the Department for Transport (DfT) marked a year since the launch of its Inclusive Transport Strategy.

The research, commissioned for DfT by the Transport Focus watchdog, also showed that more than one in five disabled passengers find rail travel difficult.

Many of the more than 1,500 disabled passengers interviewed for the research said they had to plan their journeys in “meticulous detail” to ensure a successful trip.

And not one of the 50 disabled people who took part in in-depth interviews for the research said they were aware that they could use passenger assistance services without booking in advance – if staff are available – through the so-called “turn up and go” service.

Those who used the “passenger assist” service reported frequent failures, including being left on a train at a terminal; not being met at a station when they needed to exit the train; not being met at their departure station; and experiencing “rude and discriminatory” behaviour from staff.

Nearly a third of those surveyed (31 per cent) said they had experienced anti-social or discriminatory behaviour from other passengers.

This week, DfT invited the rail industry to nominate stations across Britain to benefit from a £20 million fund that will pay for small-scale access improvements such as tactile paving, handrails and Harrington Humps, which increase platform heights so passengers with mobility impairments can board trains more easily.

The £20 million was first announced by DfT in April and is part of the £300 million government funding to be spent on access improvements under the Access for All programme between 2019-20 and the end of March 2024.

Nusrat Ghani, the accessibility minister, said: “While many take for granted the ability to travel easily from A to B, access for the fifth of people who identify as disabled can be far from straightforward.

We want disabled people to travel easily, confidently and without extra cost, which is why it is fantastic to be opening this fund today.

I look forward to seeing what ideas the industry has for accessibility improvements as we work towards a more inclusive rail network.”

John Welsman, a guide dog owner and policy lead for travel and mobility at the charity Guide Dogs, said: “Guide Dogs welcomes the additional funding as independent train travel is a real challenge for people living with sight loss.

Elements like tactile paving on platform edges and steps, better signage, improved lighting and colour contrast, will make stations easier to negotiate confidently and more safely.

However, train travel is still a very complex environment for people with sight loss and we will continue to work to find solutions so that no one with sight loss is left out of life.”

The announcement in July 2018 that the government would spend £300 million over five years followed years of funding cuts to Access for All, originally introduced by the last 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 had fallen 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 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.

11 July 2019

 

 

Disabled governor’s anger over hospital’s parking charges sparks new campaign

A disabled governor of a leading London hospital has accused its executives of arrogance and a “disgraceful” lack of compassion after they decided to start charging holders of blue badges to use their carpark.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust agreed at a meeting last week that holders of blue badges would no longer be allowed free parking at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

Kush Kanodia, a patient governor of the trust, has been trying to persuade the trust for the last year not to introduce parking charges for patients with blue badges.

He is so frustrated at the decision that he is now planning to lead a campaign, alongside Disability Rights UK, to scrap all such charges at hospitals across England.

Kanodia, a social entrepreneur who advises organisations such as the Global Disability Innovation Hub and the Museum of Happiness on disability issues, and who was this week appointed as a DR UK ambassador, said it was a “disgraceful decision”.

He persuaded the trust’s council of governors last year to “strongly oppose” charging disabled patients to use the hospital’s carpark – arguing that there was a close correlation between disability and poverty – and he managed to fend off the plans until last week.

He said: “It’s a disgraceful decision. I’m shocked. It shows a complete lack of compassion.

The truth is, they can’t be trusted to show compassion.”

He said it was accepted that 10 years of austerity had had a disproportionate impact on disabled people.

He added: “The rights of disabled people have been ebbing away for the last 10 years. If we don’t make a stand and say enough is enough it’s just going to go on and on.”

He said the trust’s take-over in 2015 of West Middlesex University Hospital Trust – which already charged disabled patients to use its carparks – may have had an impact on the decision to introduce charging at Chelsea and Westminster.

Kanodia said that denying disabled people access to basic healthcare would affect their access to employment and education and their ability to be full participants in society.

He said the trust’s decision had persuaded him to campaign for all hospitals in England to be banned from charging disabled patients to use their carparks.

He said: “We want to abolish all parking charges for disabled people for all NHS hospitals in England.”

He believes the trust should be making reasonable adjustments for disabled patients under the Equality Act.

And he pointed out that devolved governments in both Scotland and Wales have scrapped all hospital parking charges, not just those for disabled patients.

Kanodia also questioned whether the trust had carried out an assessment of the impact of the introduction of the charges on disabled people, which would have provided evidence on whether it was breaching its public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.

The trust had failed to comment by 11am today (Thursday).

11 July 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:37
Jul 092019
 

Have you (or someone you care for) had 3rd party deductions taken directly from your/their Benefit?  (eg For Gas, Water, Electric, Rent or Council Tax)

Has it caused financial hardship?

Was it taken without consent?

Did you try to fight against it?

Not only could the amount taken have been wrong – but the amount taken for arrears is often many times higher than a court would impose.  

The scheme that allows these deductions is currently not fit for purpose and a team of solicitors agree that the scheme could be unlawful in a number of ways.

I am looking for some co-claimants to join me in having the scheme ‘taken to court’ – This could not only result in many thousands of people across the country being better off financially – but it would also hold the Government and the DWP to account and give benefit claimants back some power, rights and dignity.

If you qualify for Benefits you should qualify for Legal Aid but if you don’t we would not ask you to continue.

If you would like to be part of fighting back and helping others – Please send a message to mail@dpac.uk.net  giving your name and phone number – I will then call you to take further details and answer any questions you have.

I look forward to hearing from you – Helen

 Posted by at 14:04
Jul 052019
 

Last week the DWP advertorials returned to the Metro.

Until we can be sure they have stopped we are calling on supporters to make every day a #DumpMetroDWPLies day and ramp up the pressure to stop this waste of public money on misleading propaganda.

Please do what you can and encourage others to get involved.

Thanks to all unions who he campaign or taking their own action against Universal Credit including BFAWU, the NUJ, PCS and Unite Community.

Jul 042019
 

 

Tomlinson misleads Abrahams over cover-up as MPs debate DWP deaths cover-up

The minister for disabled people is today (Thursday) facing questions over why he misled a senior Labour MP about his department’s cover-up of links between its “fitness for work” test and the deaths of disabled people.

The failure by Justin Tomlinson to provide the truth about information his department failed to provide to five independent reviews comes as he and other work and pensions ministers face mounting pressure over the cover-up, revealed by a lengthy Disability News Service (DNS) investigation.

This morning (watch from 10.57am), Labour’s Debbie Abrahams was granted an urgent question in the Commons to ask work and pensions minister Will Quince why the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed to pass crucial evidence about the deaths to the two independent experts commissioned by ministers to carry out five reviews of the work capability assessment (WCA) between 2010 and 2014.

DNS revealed in May that DWP had finally admitted that two letters written by coroners to warn that the WCA had been linked to suicides, and a series of secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants who had gone through the WCA process, were not passed to the second reviewer, Dr Paul Litchfield, in 2013 and 2014.

This morning, Abrahams told Quince: “A government’s first duty is to protect its people. All its people. But they are failing the sick and disabled. And this reveals the enormity of this failure.”

She asked Quince to confirm that the documents were not passed to Litchfield, and she called for an investigation.

She said the information commissioner had heard from members of DWP staff who were part of Litchfield’s team, and she asked whether the department had asked Litchfield and Professor Malcolm Harrington – who carried out the first three reviews of the WCA – whether they had received the documents, and “if not, why not”.

Abrahams said: “Given their remit was to examine the WCA and many of these reviews and coroner’s letters contained grave concerns about the assessment process, why did the department not provide them?”

She also asked Quince to promise to publish redacted versions of the 84 secret reviews carried out by DWP since 2015 – most of which will have involved the deaths of claimants – and the six still underway.

Quince told Abrahams that recorded information to show what documents were shared with Litchfield “no longer exists, in line with the department’s document retention policy”.

But he failed to tell MPs about the DWP’s admission to the information commissioner that members of Litchfield’s team who still work for DWP have said in statements – following a freedom of information complaint by DNS – that the coroner’s letters and peers reviews were never shared with Litchfield.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “Surely it should have been the department’s responsibility to ensure that the reviewer had all the relevant information.

There is a systemic problem at DWP when it comes to meeting the needs of disabled people and the facts speak for themselves.”

She called on the government to agree to an independent inquiry into links between DWP’s actions and the deaths of disabled claimants, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*.

Quince said that DWP would have shared relevant documents with Litchfield and Harrington, but “they were not requested”.

But Abrahams pointed out: “If they were unaware of the existence of these documents, how could they request them?”

Frank Field, the independent MP and chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, said it was the duty of government departments to produce information and it was “not for the chair of an inquiry to fish for information which would be crucial to the proper consideration of events that lead to someone’s death”.

Carol Monaghan, for the SNP, also backed the calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to the government’s social security reforms.

Christine Jardine, for the Liberal Democrats, said DWP had “given us a number of reasons for why these documents and information were not available.

But to the public and those affected, it will seem that there can be only two acceptable or reasonable reasons, which are either that it was deliberately withheld, covered up, or it was incompetence.

In order to get to the bottom of this, and to reassure the public, will the minister give those of us who are asking today for that inquiry, the assurance that it will do everything it possibly can to get to the bottom of this?”

There are also serious concerns over a letter that Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, wrote this week to Abrahams about her concerns.

Tomlinson told Abrahams that because of the length of time since the last of the reviews was published – more than four years – “factors such as document retention policies, organisational changes and staff turnover, means that information that might help answer these queries is no longer available”.

But that statement is not true.

The DNS complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office led earlier this year to a confirmation by DWP that neither the peer reviews nor the coroner’s letters were sent to Litchfield.

But this fact was withheld by Tomlinson in his letter to Abrahams.

Abrahams, herself a former shadow work and pensions secretary, also raised the letter and the failure to pass the information to Litchfield in a point of order in the House of Commons yesterday, which led to today’s urgent question.

Abrahams, one of the few MPs so far to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* publicly, repeated her call on Wednesday for an independent inquiry into deaths links to DWP actions, one of the petition’s key demands.

She said she wanted to raise her “grave concerns” about DWP’s investigations into claimant deaths linked to its actions.

She said: “We are talking about the circumstances of people’s deaths about five years ago.

To tell me that these documents can’t be found smacks at least of incompetence and at worst of a cover-up.”

*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

4 July 2019

 

 

Reckless or negligent?’ DWP’s decade-long failure to assess universal credit impact

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit will affect different groups of disabled people.

DWP has always admitted there would be winners and losers among disabled people as it gradually introduced its delayed and much-criticised new system, while it claims that any savings would be reinvested into supporting those it calls “the most severely disabled”.

But it has repeatedly refused to provide clear details of how universal credit (UC) is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been trying for nearly 18 months to obtain calculations showing exactly DWP believes different groups of disabled people will be financially affected by the introduction of UC.

When DWP failed to provide these figures, following a freedom of information request, DNS lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Now DWP has been forced to admit to the information commissioner that throughout the nine years since it announced its plans to replace six income-related benefits with the new UC, it has not once carried out and recorded any calculations to show how different groups of disabled people would be affected financially.

DWP told ICO: “We do not hold this information because the variables involved are too numerous to enable us to conduct an analysis with case comparisons.

In addition, as the calculations and methodologies are different, no meaningful direct comparisons can be made between Universal Credit awards and awards of benefit from a legacy system.”

A spokesperson for the Benefits and Work website, which provides advice and information on benefits, said: “It seems extraordinary that such basic calculations weren’t carried out and shared with representative organisations before such a fundamental change in benefits for disabled people was imposed.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said DWP’s failure to make the calculations was either “callous and reckless or negligent”.

And Disability Rights UK said it was “disingenuous for the DWP to say that it could not provide case comparisons”.

Instead of providing DNS with the examples it requested, DWP sent ICO links to equality impact assessments it carried out in 2011, which include some figures showing the overall, generalised, predicted impact of UC.

An equality impact assessment in November 2011 (PDF, page 13) suggested that 27 per cent of “disabled households” would gain by an average of about £33 a week under UC, while 27 per cent would lose by about £37 a week, although it claimed that DWP intended to “reinvest all savings from the disability reforms back into support for the most severely disabled”.

Seven years later, in a report from January 2018, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) noted that “there will be winners and losers from changes in the way UC supports disabled people”.

OBR also noted (main report, page 135) that the net cost to disabled people on incapacity benefits such as employment and support allowance in the transition to UC would reach £0.8 billion by 2020-21.

In its decision notice on the complaint, ICO pointed out that DNS had argued that it would be “logical… that before embarking on such a major change [as the introduction of universal credit], the DWP would wish to have some understanding of how individuals and families might be affected”.

DNS had also said it was “implausible that the DWP had not carried out any indicative case studies to see how a ‘typical’ claimant might be affected”, said ICO.

DNS first asked DWP for information nearly 18 months ago, after its press office said the government had “simplified and rationalised the various, complex disability premiums that exist in the legacy system”, but was unable to say how this “rationalisation” would work and how disabled people would be impacted financially by the change to UC.

DNS asked DWP to describe the exact financial impact universal credit would have on disabled people who would previously have received these premiums.

DWP was asked to provide comparisons both for those making a new UC claim and for disabled people transferring across from legacy benefits such as employment and support allowance.

But after DNS complained that DWP was refusing to release this information, ICO has now ruled that, “on the balance of probabilities”, DWP “holds no further information within the scope of the request”, although it said it had breached the Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond to the DNS request within 20 working days.

The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, added: “It is not the role of the Commissioner to determine what type of information a public authority should (or should not) hold within the scope of an information request – only what information is as a matter of fact, held.

The Commissioner recognises that the DWP has put out, into the public domain, a great deal of information about its methodology for modelling the impacts of UC and that this has been highlighted to the complainant.

Having pressed the DWP on this point, the Commissioner is satisfied that the data being used in the Model is not of the level of granularity that the complainant is seeking.”

Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Either the DWP did do these calculations and they are hiding it, or they didn’t do them at all.

In the first instance, the results must be bad, or they would have published them.

In which case the DWP have been negligent pressing ahead with a system they know will cause harm to disabled people

In the second instance, pressing ahead without knowing what the effects would be is sheer callous recklessness.

Callous and reckless or negligent. Take your pick. 

What is certain is that we need an independent public inquiry into what has been going on at the DWP all the way through welfare reform.

We need people to sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* which asks for that independent inquiry.”

The Benefits and Work spokesperson said: “Welfare benefit advisers up and down the country use widely available benefit check software every day to provide ‘better-off’ calculations to clients.

You can input a set of circumstances to model a person’s entitlement to legacy benefits and then hit a single button to do a better-off calculation to look at the effect of universal credit.

The DWP could very easily have done this before universal credit was introduced.

It’s true that UC covers a myriad of individual circumstances too numerous to model in their entirety, but it would have been entirely possible and reasonable for an organisation with the data and resources of the DWP to broadly model some common scenarios using legacy benefits such as income-related ESA as a baseline, and then look at the same situation under UC.”

DNS has been reporting concerns about the impact of UC on disabled people for nearly nine years.

Inclusion London warned in October 2010 of “considerable concern” that UC would be a “means of reducing the amount people receive in benefits”, and said the following month that it could be used as a cover for cutting disability benefits.

DPAC believes UC has now reached a point where it is “unable to adapt to claimants’ complex circumstances, and is forcing people with the least resources into further poverty, homelessness, and hunger”. 

It has called for UC to be scrapped because it has become a social security system “which not only does not offer security, but actively undermined people’s ability to cope with the hazards of life”.

A DPAC report released last month contained “harrowing stories of people forced into debt, rent arrears, homelessness, crime, prostitution, hunger, people unable to afford fares to get to food banks, parents unable to get essentials for their babies, child poverty, worsening mental health, ex-service people considering suicide and even cases of actual suicide”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that UC is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

A DWP spokesperson declined to answer a series of questions about its past statements on universal credit because, he said, they “appear to be about clarifying aspects of [the DNS] Freedom of Information request to the Department”.

*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

4 July 2019

 

 

Silence from Hunt’s former department over sexual abuse inquiry evidence

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has refused to say if it kept its promise to pass evidence about a former senior civil servant – twice arrested over unconnected rape allegations – to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

The promise was made in 2014 after concerns were raised that the civil servant, Brian McGinnis, who has also been linked publicly to the Jimmy Savile scandal, may have helped stop MPs tightening laws protecting disabled people from sexual abuse in the 1980s.

DHSC’s failure to say whether it kept its promise to investigate the concerns and pass them to the inquiry will raise concerns of a cover-up, at a time when Jeremy Hunt, who was health secretary in 2014, is fighting to become the next Tory leader and prime minister.

McGinnis has always claimed to be innocent of the rape allegations and insists that he is a lifelong “celibate”.

Five years ago, Disability News Service approached what was then the Department of Health (DH) to ask it to look into concerns that McGinnis may have played a key role in dismissing calls in the mid-1980s for a review of the law on sexuality and people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions.

McGinnis had been named weeks earlier in 2014 in a report into the activities of the disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile at Broadmoor hospital, as he was the senior civil servant in charge of mental health in the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) in 1986, shortly before Savile was appointed to a new board to run the hospital.

The report mentioned that McGinnis had “since been the subject of two allegations that have been made public”, which “arose in the course of his voluntary sector work with disturbed and abused children, and both cases were dropped without charge”.

Those allegations, always denied by McGinnis, were made public in a news story written by DNS editor John Pring in Disability Now magazine in 2006.

In 1985, the year before McGinnis left DHSS, MPs on the Commons social services committee had called for an “independent expert review of law and practice on sexuality and contraception in relation to mentally disabled people”.

But DHSS dismissed the idea in its response to the committee’s report, warning that “a major review might simply attract unwelcome, unhealthy and wholly disproportionate media interest without achieving any helpful consensus”.

It is believed that this statement could have come from McGinnis.

The review never took place, and law reform that would make it easier to secure convictions for rape and indecent assault of people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions was delayed until 2003, when a new act introduced fresh offences and tougher sentences.

DNS was led to believe five years ago by DH that any material it held on McGinnis that related to the DHSS response to the social services committee would be passed to the child abuse inquiry that had recently been launched by the Home Office, and that DH was examining its archives to check whether McGinnis influenced the DHSS response.

It later confirmed that it was investigating whether McGinnis may have helped to block tougher sexual abuse legislation.

A DH spokesperson said in August 2014: “We are taking this issue very seriously and investigating whether there is any relevant material held on file.”

Last month, on 6 June, DNS attempted to confirm whether DHSC did indeed pass any material to the independent inquiry, which is being led by Professor Alexis Jay.

A DHSC press officer originally said that it was “taking a bit more time than anticipated” to produce a response, before apologising again for the delay six days later, and then finally advising DNS to submit a freedom of information request instead.

DHSC has declined to comment further on the delay.

A spokesperson for the inquiry said yesterday (Wednesday): “The inquiry cannot comment on whether it has or has not received evidence from a particular individual or organisation outside its public hearings.”

Jeremy Hunt’s campaign team has also failed to respond to a request to comment.

McGinnis, who became a special advisor for Mencap after leaving the civil service, has never been convicted, or even charged, with any offence.

But he has been arrested twice over unconnected rape allegations, one of which involved a child with learning difficulties at the notorious Betts Way respite home in Bromley, Kent, in the mid-1990s.

The arrests came in March 2001 and August 2005 and both resulted in McGinnis, who is now in his early 80s and is believed to live in Shirley, Croydon, being released without charge.

He has always denied the allegations.

Until the allegations about his behaviour were publicised in 2006, he was an influential figure in the disability world, with links to a string of charities, learning difficulty organisations and his local church in Shirley.

Following his first arrest, Bromley council advised its staff to “disassociate” McGinnis “with anything related to children with learning difficulties and council services”.

Croydon council later told church authorities that McGinnis “should be suspended from duties that involved him working with children”, after being informed by Bromley council about the 2005 arrest. He had at the time been working with a children’s church group.

4 July 2019

 

 

Disability charities reject request to back Jodey Whiting deaths petition

Many of the country’s biggest disability charities have refused to back a petition that calls for an inquiry into the links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

The charities – none of which are led and controlled by disabled people – are refusing to support the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, with many of them rejecting its calls for any evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants and ministers to be passed to police.

And many of them are also rejecting the petition’s demand for DWP to be branded institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for it to take urgent steps to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority.

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.

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

But her death was only the latest avoidable tragedy linked to DWP’s actions, stretching back nearly a decade.

The lukewarm response to the petition is likely to highlight concerns among grassroots groups that many of the disability charities that are run by non-disabled people are too close to the government, and particularly to DWP.

Only last week, Scope and Sense were included in a government press release, praising the prime minister for a much-criticised series of announcements on disability.

Only one of the 13 charities approached this week by Disability News Service (DNS) – Mind – has agreed to back the petition and its four demands.

None of the others have been willing to support the petition or issue a public statement supporting its aims.

At least two of these charities – RNIB and Leonard Cheshire – have signed Work and Health Programme contracts that include clauses preventing them bringing DWP and work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd into disrepute.

RNIB refused to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition this week, or to answer questions about its demands**.

Leonard Cheshire has also refused to back the petition, or answer questions about it, saying instead that it had “very real concerns about some of the ways the welfare system impacts disabled people”, and adding: “Clearly there needs to be further investigation into deaths connected to changes in benefits.”

Scope refused to back the petition and answer questions, calling instead for “urgent reform” to the benefits system and action to prevent further deaths like Jodey Whiting’s.

Sense, the other charity that supported the government last week, had refused by noon today (Thursday) to back the petition or answer questions about it.

Parkinson’s UK refused to back the petition or answer questions about its demands, saying instead that it continued to work with DWP to improve the system.

The National Autistic Society refused to support the petition or answer any questions about its demands.

Instead, it praised DWP for apologising for its failings in the Jodey Whiting case.

It said that “for any public body, any evidence of misconduct, criminal or otherwise, should be addressed by the appropriate authority”, and that “if there’s evidence of any criminal misconduct, then this of course must be investigated by the police”.

NAS said there was “a clear and urgent need to improve benefits assessments for autistic people”.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, one of the grassroots, disabled-led organisations supporting the petition, said: “By their failure to oppose and condemn these systems and policies and join us in calling for an independent judicial inquiry they have blatantly betrayed all those for whom they were set up to support and defend.

They are not on the side of disabled people.”

Mind is the only one of the 13 non-user-led disability charities approached by DNS this week to support the petition.

Vicki Nash, Mind’s head of policy and campaigns, said: “We support the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition.

Jodey’s story is tragic and it’s also too common. We hear every week from people with mental health problems who have struggled to cope with the impact of sanctions and other changes to their benefits.

While the causes of suicide are many and complex, the Department for Work and Pensions has a particular responsibility to make sure that its processes and policies do not cause avoidable harm.

We believe an independent inquiry could hold the DWP accountable, shine a light on these issues and bring about changes to the system.

An inquiry would need to establish what changes to the structure and culture of the DWP are needed to make it capable of providing safe and compassionate support to all disabled people navigating the benefits system.

However, we also know that these inquiries are often slow-moving. An independent inquiry cannot be a substitute for immediate action to make the benefits system safer for people going through it.”

She added: “We are not aware of any evidence of criminal misconduct in these cases and so we have not been calling for such an investigation.

But of course if any inquiry were to find evidence of criminal misconduct, it should be investigated appropriately.”

Other large disability charities have been far less supportive of the petition.

The MS Society has refused to back the petition or respond to questions about it, as have Action on Hearing Loss and Turning Point.

The mental health charity Rethink refused to support the petition or to answer questions about its demands.

It said instead that “changes in welfare policy have had a devasting impact on disabled people” and that the “most vulnerable are being left with the least support and the process of claiming is known to worsen health, including the mental health of claimants – including our supporters and members”.

Two of the charities did offer some support to some of the petition’s demands.

Mencap, while refusing to support the petition, said that the deaths of claimants such as Jodey Whiting should form the basis of an “independent examination” into DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”.

A spokesperson said: “As part of this, the department must commit to act on recommendations to prevent future deaths.

Should any evidence of criminal misconduct emerge though an independent review, this must, as part of a standard procedure, be passed to the police for investigation.

We would also expect an independent investigator to consider allegations of institutional disabilism and draw conclusions on this from the evidence they have gathered.”

Epilepsy Action also gave some support to the petition’s demands, without backing the petition itself, saying: “We would support an inquiry into any links between DWP failings and the deaths of benefit claimants.

We are not aware of any evidence of criminal misconduct by senior civil servants or ministers in relation to this issue, but would of course be in favour of any such evidence being passed to police.

Any conclusion as to whether the DWP is institutionally disablist – or not – should be a function of any inquiry.

While we are aware of many problems experienced by disabled people in their dealings with the DWP, we believe that whether this extends to institutional disablism needs to be evidenced by a thorough inquiry.

As such, while we support the aims of an inquiry, including the conclusive statement makes it difficult for us to actively support the petition.”

*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

**RNIB claims that relevant clauses in its Work and Health Programme contracts have now been changed or deleted “so there was no ambiguity whatsoever that RNIB still maintains the right to campaign on issues that matter to blind and partially sighted people”, but it had refused to show these new clauses to DNS by 1pm today (Thursday)

4 July 2019

 

 

Breakthrough’ Lords report gives boost to campaign for free care

A new parliamentary report that calls on the government to introduce free personal care has been branded a “major breakthrough” for campaigns led by disabled people and their grassroots organisations for a national independent living service.

The report, by the House of Lords economic affairs committee, has called for the government to inject an immediate £8 billion into social care in England.

But the committee’s report, Social Care Funding: Time to End a National Scandal, also says the government should move over the next five years towards the introduction of free personal care, funded mostly by general taxation.

It is only calling for those with substantial and critical needs to receive free care, and it says this should only be offered for support with washing, dressing and cooking (personal care), but not for areas such as housework and shopping and other areas of independent living.

But it is still a clear move in the direction of calls from the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (RoFA), which wants to see a new national independent living service, built on “what was most successful” about the former Independent Living Fund.

RoFA says this should be funded through general taxation, and should be free, non-means-tested and “provided on the basis of need, not profit”.

The Independent Living Strategy Group, led by Baroness [Jane] Campbell, has made similar demands, calling for a legal right to independent living and an end to charging for social care.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, who has himself written widely on the need for a national independent living service, free of charge, and paid for from direct taxation, said the new report was “a major breakthrough”.

He said: “The Lords report is the first real formal sign that the powers that be are beginning to recognize that service users and our organisations have got it right about social care, and only radical reform which puts it on the same terms as the NHS – funded by general taxation and personal care essentially free at the point of delivery – will work. 

Only this will end the social care crisis, make prevention possible for rapidly growing numbers of people in need and make it possible to unify health and care.”

He added: “Neither of the Tory leadership candidates will of course really sign up to this because it goes against their market principles and short-term cost cutting approach.

If they don’t, social care failure will still be making headlines long after they have been forgotten.”

The new Lords report says publicly-funded social care support is £700 million per year lower in real terms than 2010-11, when the Tory-led coalition came to power, despite continuing increases in the number of people needing support.

Inclusion London, a RoFA member, had told the committee’s inquiry: “Disabled people are receiving an extremely basic ‘clean and feed’ model of care.

The most basic choices such as when to get up, go to bed or use the toilet, when and what to eat, and the choice to leave the house are no longer in the hands of disabled people but subject to local authority budget allocations which are becoming ever more restricted.”

Lord Forsyth, the committee’s chair and a former Tory cabinet minister, said the system was “riddled with unfairness”.

He said: “Someone with dementia can pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for their care, while someone with cancer receives it for free.

Local authorities are increasingly expected to fund social care themselves, despite differences in local care demands and budgets.

The reduction in social care funding has been greatest in the most deprived areas.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have given local authorities access to up to £3.9 billion more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410 million is available for adults and children’s services.

We will set out our plans to reform the social care system at the earliest opportunity to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”

These plans, to be published in a green paper, have been repeatedly delayed since the government first announced that they would be presented by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, a report by the Local Government Association says almost one third of councils in England and Wales fear they will run out of funding to meet their legal duties by 2022-23, in areas such as adult social care.

Lord Porter, the LGA’s Tory chair, said: “As this survey shows, if the government fails to adequately fund local government there is a real risk to the future financial viability of some services and councils.”

4 July 2019

 

 

Failures on reasonable adjustments by trio of councils ‘are tiny tip of iceberg’

Rulings by an ombudsman that show how three London councils discriminated against disabled people with invisible impairments by failing to make their services accessible are just “a tiny tip of an iceberg”, according to a disabled people’s organisation.

Inclusion London spoke out after the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman published reports on investigations into three local authorities in the capital.

All three of the councils – the London boroughs of Hillingdon, Lambeth and Wandsworth –failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who were trying to use its services.

Svetlana Kotova, Disability Justice Project co-ordinator for Inclusion London, welcomed the ombudsman’s rulings, but she said that the three cases were “just a tiny tip of an iceberg”.

She said: “Despite it being a legal requirement, we often come across failures to provide information in accessible formats, refusals to change standard procedures and practices or provide support for people to engage in the processes.

We’ve seen people losing their homes or money or not getting information or support they are entitled to as a result.

Unfortunately, many of us got used to this discrimination, but we believe it is time we started to challenge it.”

She said Inclusion London had developed interactive guides that can help disabled people to challenge these practices*.

In the first of the cases dealt with by the ombudsman, Hillingdon council failed to suspend an autistic and dyslexic woman’s housing benefit payments after she told the local authority she had returned to work.

When Ms X received an overpayment of more than £1,000, the council then failed to help her find her way around its complicated system after demanding she repay the money.

It refused to provide her with a named officer she could email and often insisted she telephone the council with her queries, even though she explained she struggled with phone calls.

The ombudsman concluded that the council “failed to consider any reasonable adjustments for Ms X, although she told it many times what her problems are and how she struggled”.

He also concluded that the council had no policies on providing reasonable adjustments.

Hillingdon council has agreed to take a series of measures, including apologising to Ms X, paying her £1,000 compensation, and providing an equality refresher course for frontline staff.

In the second case, Mr X, who is dyslexic, complained that Lambeth council failed to make reasonable adjustments when he tried to challenge a parking penalty charge notice (PCN), forcing him to do so in writing rather than verbally.

And when the council sent enforcement agents to his home to recover the money he owed, those agents also refused to make reasonable adjustments for him.

Lambeth council has agreed to pay Mr X compensation of £750 and apologise to him.

It has also been asked to take other measures, such as arranging Equality Act training for customer service staff and other steps to ensure it meets its obligations under the act.

In the third ombudsman case, Wandsworth council failed to make similar reasonable adjustments for the same man when he tried to apply for a residents’ parking permit and challenge the PCNs he later received because he did not have a permit.

The council has agreed to pay Mr X £300 compensation, apologise and allow him to appeal the PCNs on the telephone, while the ombudsman has also asked the council to take other measures, such as arranging Equality Act training for customer service staff, and reviewing its systems and procedures relating to reasonable adjustments.

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The Equality Act 2010 requires councils to anticipate the needs of people who may need to access their services.

This means when councils are alerted to the fact someone might need to be treated in a different way, they should ask that person what adjustments are needed, and consider whether these are reasonable.

It can be difficult for people to navigate complex council procedures, yet in all three cases, the councils were made aware that these people needed additional help, but none was given.

We recognise the significant challenges faced by public service providers in adapting their processes to the needs of people who may require adjustments, particularly where the services have been automated.

But this is a duty councils must meet and needs they must anticipate.

I welcome Wandsworth and Hillingdon councils’ commitment to improve their wider processes for people who need help accessing services.

I urge Lambeth council to reflect on the lessons it can learn from my investigation and make the changes I have recommended.”

*https://www.disabilityjustice.org.uk/learn-more-and-take-action/

4 July 2019

 

 

WOW questionnaire responses ‘show assessors are still lying’

Detailed evidence from disabled people has shown that disability benefit assessment reports are still riddled with distortions, twisted facts and ignorance, say grassroots campaigners.

WOWCampaign launched its Assessing the Assessors campaign earlier this year to highlight the continued flaws within the assessment regimes for personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).

But WOW also wanted to give disabled people a chance to express their “pent up anger and frustration” with the ordeals they were being forced to undergo at the hands of government contractors Atos, Capita and Maximus.

It designed a questionnaire that disabled people could fill in to describe their assessment experiences.

WOW has already received about 50 questionnaires and is hoping for even more responses.

They will eventually be turned into a report, which will be sent to MPs.

The questionnaire includes questions such as whether the assessor had taken account of information provided by the claimant’s healthcare professionals; whether the assessment report was accurate; and how the process had affected their physical and mental health.

WOW said the responses they have received have proved the assessment processes were still deeply flawed.

Many of the responses have mentioned similar flaws: assessors dismissing the reports of experienced doctors; a failure to follow government guidelines; a lack of understanding of impairments and health conditions; and a tendency to jump to conclusions and “disregard and twist the facts”.

Many of those filling in the questionnaires also spoke of the impact of the assessment system on their physical and mental health.

One respondent, TB, said the assessment was “more like an interrogation”, saying: “The assessor bombarded my husband with questions he struggled to answer, he has a brain injury and processes things slowly, gets anxious, the assessors was a physiotherapist with no qualification to assess brain injury.”

TB said the impact of the assessment left her husband in bed for two days.

Another respondent, Lynda, said that when the assessor carried out a physical examination, she failed to mention that she was performing the actions with the aid of a walking-stick.

She added: “She stated I could carry, grasp, handle, lift, manage, pick up and reach clothing and papers – I wore my coat the whole time, did not have a bag and my companion carried my papers.”

The assessor had described Lynda as having “no difficulty expressing or understanding verbal communication” and said her speech was “normal in content, rate and volume”.

In reality, Lynda had had to ask the assessor or her companion to clarify or repeat some questions and her companion had had to prompt her with some of her answers because of her cognitive difficulties, while her speech had been “slow and hesitant and quiet”.

She said the assessment had been “very distressing”.

A third respondent told WOW: “I took a mountain of paperwork every time and every assessor refused to read any of it. I felt violated at each assessment.”

Knowing that an assessor can distort answers and facts increases the anxiety and feeling of powerlessness among those assessed, said WOWCampaign’s Laura Stringhetti.

She said the responses showed the assessment system was “extremely damaging, very expensive and not fit for purpose”.

WOW’s Michelle Maher said the questionnaires repeatedly described both the “horrific impact” of the process and the “unbelievable lies” included by assessors in their reports.

She said: “Many couldn’t believe these lies, the omissions and the total ignorance of disabilities and sickness and how they ignored the advice of experts.”

She said the responses showed yet again how successive Conservative-led governments had created a “hostile environment for disabled people”.

And she said the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice showed that 74 per cent of PIP and ESA appeals taken to tribunal are overturned.

Maher said: “The results speak for themselves, with 74 per cent now winning their appeal.

The government know how flawed their approach is but they keep awarding contracts to the same companies to humiliate and hound disabled people.” 

WOW wants to see all face-to-face assessments recorded, either on audio or video, and the system eventually replaced with a far more person-centred approach.

WOW said the responses showed that the Department for Work and Pensions was not fit for purpose, and needs to make urgent changes to ensure that the safety of all claimants is a priority, two of the demands of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which WOW supports.

Disability News Service 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.

*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

4 July 2019

 

 

Terminally-ill claimants tell DWP: Change your demeaning rules

People with terminal illness have explained why ministers must end the “arbitrary and outdated” rules that force many of them through a “demeaning” and “insensitive” benefit assessment process.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) rules define a terminal illness as being when a person’s death can be “reasonably expected” within six months.

This means that many people who are terminally ill but cannot prove they probably only have six months or less to live cannot claim benefits under DWP’s special rules for terminal illness, says a new report.

If they did qualify, this would entitle them to fast-track access to the benefit and automatic receipt of the highest rates of payment.

Instead, those that do not qualify are forced through a “burdensome and time-consuming” process, and sometimes are even forced to attend inappropriate work-focused interviews under the new universal credit benefit system, while many see their claims rejected or awarded at the lower rate.

Now the new report, Six Months to Live?, compiled by the charity Marie Curie and published by the all party parliamentary group for terminal illness, says the DWP rules are “unfit for purpose… outdated, arbitrary and not based on clinical reality”.

One claimant, Mark Hughes, who has terminal bone cancer, describes in the report the repeated DWP harassment he has received, with repeated letters asking the same questions “over and over again”, DWP incompetence, false allegations that he was claiming fraudulently, a refusal to contact his GP, and even being asked if he was using his benefits in a “responsible way”.

He said: “Since 2014, only one person at the DWP has ever tried to help me. Every time I get a letter from them, I’m worried.”

The report also describes how a single mother from London received a terminal diagnosis when her cancer returned after four cycles of chemotherapy, and how she was then forced to claim universal credit through the normal process.

She has fallen into nearly £3,000 of rent arrears and has had to rely on friends and family to survive financially.

Another terminally-ill woman, Lorraine Cox, from Enniskillen, who was diagnosed last year with motor neurone disease, had her personal independence payment (PIP) claim rejected.

She says in the report: “I’m a very determined person and I’m not going to give up. It has become a matter of principle, even above the money.

I shouldn’t have to spend my time fighting for support. It’s exhausting.

I felt I had to speak out about my situation as I don’t want others to have to face the same struggles at such a difficult time.

The process needs to change and that’s why I think Marie Curie’s campaign to change the six-month rule is so important.

I’m hoping that, in the future, things are made much easier for people and they can spend time with the people they love most, instead of fighting against an unfair system.”

The government’s six-month definition was originally introduced for attendance allowance (AA) in 1990 but now also applies to universal credit, employment and support allowance (ESA) and PIP.

Members of the all-party group want DWP to alter the rules – in a similar way to changes brought in for AA and PIP by the Scottish government – so a claimant can be said to have a terminal illness if a medical expert says they have a progressive condition that can reasonably be expected to cause their death.

And they want such claimants to have their benefits reviewed only after 10 years, not the current three, with DWP simply contacting the claimant’s GP to confirm that their situation remains the same.

They also want DWP to stop its own assessors overturning the evidence of health experts who have stated that a claimant has a terminal illness.

Drew Hendry, chair of the all party group, said: “Forcing somebody living with terminal illness to go through an intrusive face-to-face assessment process is unfair and undignified – unbelievably, this can even include asking people with months to live to attend work capability assessments.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Terminal illness is devastating and our priority is dealing with people’s claims quickly and compassionately.

That’s why terminally ill people can get their claims fast-tracked and access benefits without a face-to-face assessment.

We’re looking at how we can improve our processes and in the meantime we continue to work with charities to help terminally ill people access the support they need.”

4 July 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:35
Jul 032019
 

[This piece was originally published in Labour Briefing and copied with permission of the author, Mark Harrison]

WHEN I WROTE ON UNIVERSAL CREDIT (UC) in the November 2017 issue of Labour Briefing with Julie Kemmy, the early effects of this radical change to benefits were only just beginning to be felt by claimants and disabled people. Twenty months on the picture is becoming clearer.

What has been revealed is that UC is at least as big a threat to those in work as it is to claimants. We can see the much larger and scarier implications of the restructuring of the economy as well as the benefits system under the Tories. Trade unions need to wise up quickly as it is their members who will be hardest hit as UC goes mainstream.

UC is an attack on the organised trade union movement as it is designed to control and sanction millions of workers and claimants. It is designed to facilitate low pay and insecure work and to leave people indebted and fearful. They will then be forced to work on zero-hours contracts for a minimum or below minimum wage for employers who are often the same companies avoiding paying their taxes.

Blair and Brown set up the system of working tax credits to support those in work but in low pay sectors. This was to ensure a sufficient level of income to support them and their families.

Effectively this was a subsidy on low wages and drove incomes and wage levels down. The minimum wage (now misnamed the National Living Wage) is exactly that, although unscrupulous employers always try to find ways to avoid paying even this amount. This is especially true in the gig economy and in sectors such as social care where travel time between appointments in the community is not paid.

Essentially UC is restructuring the labour market and forcing workers to be monitored and controlled by DWP work coaches. Job Centres are now acting as ‘pimps’ for the private sector by forcing people as part of their claimant commitment to work in companies which offer three hour a week contracts and don’t pay the minimum wage. They are also coercing people to become self-employed when they are working exclusively for one company who are determining when they work, for how long and where.

A claimant in Norwich outlines this process.

“After being made redundant I was put onto UC as a job seeker. I applied for over 170 jobs unsuccessfully. Eventually I was offered a job, and although it was a role different to anything I’d done before it was a job ‘I could do’ so I was obliged to take it under pain of sanction. The job was ‘self-employed’ and as such paid below the national minimum wage. My work coach said that this was ‘illegal’ yet still made undertaking it part of my claimant commitment, which I would have to comply with in order to continue to receive UC. “Because the work is so poorly paid, continuing to receive UC is essential in order for me to survive, yet to receive UC I have keep doing the job, bearing in mind it costs me over £100 a month in fares simply to get to it. If the ‘employer’ is acting illegally, as my work coach considered, then is not the DWP abetting a crime by compelling me to do the work? Now I am sure that the ‘employer’ – a large, well known UK firm – has probably checked all the loopholes to make sure that they are not acting illegally by ‘employing’ me as an agent on a self-employed basis even though I have to work at the company premises using the company’s equipment”.

So claimants are forced into self-employment, under threat of sanction, by DWP/UC staff. Self-employed UC claimants are now responsible for their own national insurance and tax and are not able to receive sick or holiday pay while being paid minimum or below minimum wage rates of pay. Workers on low pay and zero-hours, or near zero hours, contracts are being sucked into the UC vortex. Pay is so low in the DWP itself, the department responsible for designing and delivering UC, that the PCS union estimates that around 40% of DWP employees will have to claim UC and therefore potentially be subject to the sanctioning regime. You would then have the bizarre situation of DWP staff sanctioning colleagues in their own organisation.

The rollout of UC has been hit by the crisis in the government and the Tory Party. In October 2018, the then DWP secretary Esther McVey had to get a vote through Parliament to extend the rollout of UC across the country.

This was not going to be won as the surgeries of Tory MPs were full of UC claimants left destitute by the six week (sometimes ten weeks or longer) delay in receiving payments, the dysfunctional loans process and the extra-judicial, pernicious sanctioning processes. So the government pulled the vote but UC is still being rolled out by stealth.

The problem is that claimants are being transferred onto UC through ‘change of circumstances’. This means that people are losing their legacy benefits when their old claims and enhancements are cancelled and the UC claim is treated as a new claim. This leaves claimants thousands of pounds a year worse off.

McVey was forced to admit this could reach £2,400 a year for some people. However, this suits the Treasury as they are saving billions a year while claimants and their children are forced to use food banks. In this crisis they were forced to reduce the wait for money down to five weeks but food bank use continues to rise as the numbers pushed onto UC continues to suck in more new and existing claimants.

Latest DWP secretary Amber Rudd has been robust in defence of UC and is determined to proceed with the managed migration/rollout despite the overwhelming evidence from her own department and government statistics of the harm being caused. In a desperate attempt to detoxify the brand she has shamelessly bought a series of advertorials in the free Metro newspaper at a cost of over £250,000 to the taxpayer, spinning propaganda and lies about the positive effects of UC as journalism.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have launched a campaign to dump the Metro DWP lies, with activists up and down the country binning thousands of copies every Wednesday when the advertorials appear.

Evidence has emerged of women being forced into prostitution as a result of the five week delay and low levels of payments for single parents. So-called survival sex was revealed by the Guardian and the Work and Pensions select committee is taking evidence on this.

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty singled out UC as a major contributing factor in his report on the UK. He said that draconian sanctions and long payment delays are driving claimants into hardship, depression and despair; that the benefit was “fast falling into universal discredit”; and compared the Tories’ welfare policies to the creation of the 19th century workhouses. He said that unless austerity is ended the poorest in the UK faced lives that are “solitary, poor nasty, brutish and short”. He accused ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies, including the rollout of UC, since 2010.

His report highlights the shocking rise in the use of food banks, and rough sleeping, falling life expectancy for some, the decimation of legal aid, the denial of benefits to severely disabled people and the impoverishment of single mothers and people in mental distress.

A landmark study published in November 2017 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open estimated that 120,000 deaths were directly attributable to austerity cuts. The calculation was made that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of austerity 2010-2014. The research calculated that this could rise to 200,000 by the end of 2020 if austerity is not reversed. The researchers from UCL and Cambridge University labelled this as “economic murder”.

UC is also violating women’s rights. According to evidence collected by the Trussell Trust the five week wait can increase the severe financial barriers women face when leaving abusive relationships. Over 50% of survivors said they couldn’t afford to leave as they had restricted access to funds. The single household payment puts women at further risk and vulnerability. Many survivors in women’s refuges face double the wait if they have escaped an abusive relationship without ID and documents needed to make the claim.

Latest figures show half of people receiving UC have had their payments cut by 20% by the government to repay a debt, including advances.

So what now? The Tories are immune to criticism and evidence as seen in their dismissal of the UN report. In my original article I questioned whether UC was May’s Poll Tax. I concluded that it would only be so if Labour and the trade unions mobilised a mass movement to defeat it. This has not happened.

While Corbyn and McDonnell have said a future Labour government would scrap UC, the shadow DWP minister Margaret Greenwood continues to sit on the fence. The TUC has passed a motion to stop and scrap UC, as has the PCS union. However, they have failed to mobilise any extra-parliamentary action, leaving protest at the level of exposing the horrors while failing to hold government to account.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Unite Community are organising actions to stop and scrap UC and we are building a national social movement in the Scrap UC Alliance (www.suca.org.uk), encouraging activists to set up local groups.

The next stage of the battle needs to move beyond moral outrage to effective direct action to stop the deaths and poverty crisis caused by austerity and UC.

  • Mark Harrison is chair of Norfolk Against Universal Credit and a member of DPAC. He is director of Social Action Solutions.

 

 Posted by at 20:50