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

 

[suffusion-the-author]

[suffusion-the-author display='description']
 Posted by at 15:35

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.