Aug 152019


Citizens Advice signed gagging clause in return for share of £51m from DWP

Two charities that will receive £51 million in government funding to provide advice and support to claimants of universal credit (UC) signed gagging clauses that prevent them bringing the Department for Work and Pensions “unfairly” into “disrepute”.

Both Citizens Advice (CA) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) signed grant agreements with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – worth a total of £51 million – that include the same clause.

By signing the documents, it means they cannot take “any actions which unfairly bring or are likely to unfairly bring [DWP’s] name or reputation and/or [DWP] into disrepute”.

It comes a year after Disability News Service revealed how several disability charities had signed contracts under the government’s Work and Health Programme that included clauses promising not to bring DWP into disrepute.

Copies of the agreements signed last year by CA and CAS have been obtained from DWP by social welfare activist Frank Zola using the Freedom of Information Act.

He told Disability News Service (DNS) that the grant “does little more than help some people claim universal credit and not address its inherent flaws, it just helps impose UC misery on its service users, through this £51,000,000 bribe.

Citizens Advice provides help to large numbers of those punished by universal credit, such as disabled people and families who have ended up losing thousands of pounds by claiming UC, vast rises in debt, rent arrears, evictions, survival crime, five week delays in first payments and the horror of its inbuilt benefit sanctions and excessive conditionality.

Against this background, does Citizens Advice campaign and advocate for universal credit to be stopped and abolished?

No, it decides to act as a mere duplicitous adjunct of the DWP and even agrees to a grant gagging clause that prevents them from being critical of the DWP.”

He questioned why CA had kept its negotiations over the grant secret, rather than engaging with activists and claimant-led organisations, and the advice and guidance sector, on the best ways to support UC claimants and challenge the “iniquity” of UC. 

He added: “This Citizens Advice grant damages trust in advice and guidance and reinforces the belief that, like charity and third sector collusion and contracts with the DWP Health and Work Programme, it is now part of a shadow state with commercial interests.”

Dr Jay Watts, an activist who raised concerns about the grant when it was announced at last October’s Tory party conference, said: “First of all, I need to make it clear that I think it is important people feel they can still approach Citizens Advice Bureaux which operate independently of head office and provide a vital service in desperate times.

Having said that, many people will feel that CA has made a pact with the devil in accepting money from the government within the context of a contractual arrangement that limits their capacity to speak out against the policies which produce much of the despair they are tasked to help with.

It is simply bad psychology to argue that dissent on government policies which cause such human rights violations won’t be muted at best by the inherent and often unconscious desire not to bite the hand that feeds.”

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, another who raised concerns last October, said: “This gagging clause will cause utter dismay to people, and to those CA staff who see their executive leadership betraying their very ethos.

At a time when the DWP is engaged in massive and ongoing human rights abuse, for the supposed Citizens Advice organisation to be tied into a legal and financial relationship with the abusers is catastrophic for CA’s integrity and for people who need defending from the DWP, and for open democratic oversight of government policies.

It’s a bribe to stay silent.”

Disabled activists raised serious concerns last October about whether the DWP funding would put the independence of CA and CAS at risk, with Watts saying CA had “sold out to the DWP for £51 million after 79 years of independence”.

Just hours after the funding was announced, CA had added to those concerns when it refused to criticise DWP at a party conference fringe event over four deaths that had been linked to universal credit, with the charity’s comments about the UC roll-out appearing to contrast with much stronger criticisms from fellow panellists.

This week, CA confirmed that the agreement with DWP included the “disrepute” clause, but said that all of its “public advocacy work” was “based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’” and so the clause “does not affect Citizens Advice’s ability to publicly criticise DWP”. 

A CA spokesperson said the decision not to speak out at last year’s Tory party conference fringe event was not because of the “disrepute” clause.

She added: “We agreed to the clause in the agreement because it does not stop us from speaking out – all of our public advocacy work is based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’.”

Gillian Guy, CA’s chief executive, said in a statement: “There is nothing in the grant agreement that prevents us from raising our evidence publicly about the impact universal credit is having on the people who come to us for help. 

Since we signed the grant agreement and have been delivering the service, we’ve published significant pieces of policy work highlighting where improvements can be made to the universal credit system. We will continue to do so. 

Citizens Advice is, and always will be, totally independent from government.”

CAS has declined to confirm that its agreement contained a “disrepute” clause, and that it could potentially affect its public criticism of DWP, and it has also declined to explain why it accepted the clause in the agreement.

But Derek Mitchell, chief executive of CAS, said in a statement: “Citizens Advice Scotland has not, nor would we ever, sign an agreement which would prevent us speaking out on behalf of people we represent.

Nothing in this grant agreement stops us from raising concerns about the impact universal credit is having on the people who turn to us for help.  

Universal credit has been one of our major public advocacy issues and we have highlighted concerns around the five week waiting time, the deductions from universal credit which result from advance loans and the digital first aspect negatively impacting claimants.

We highlighted these concerns as a result of robust analysis of the evidence from our client base across Scotland, which is how we deliver advocacy. 

We will continue to use that evidence base to campaign for a better system for the people we help, and we will always do so independent of government.”

15 August 2019



EHRC proposals on new right to independent living: DPOs welcome draft plans

Leading disabled campaigners have welcomed draft proposals by the equality and human rights watchdog that would provide a new legal right to independent living for disabled people.

A legal right to independent living is one of the key demands of the disabled people’s movement, and if introduced through legislation should see the UK comply for the first time with article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.

It warned that disabled people were “not able to choose where to live, with whom to live and how to live… [they] are still facing the risk of institutionalisation and not being able to live within the community.”

Now the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says there is “growing evidence of regression in relation to the right of disabled people to live independently as part of their communities”.

It has produced a working paper with six “key elements” that together could “incorporate the right to independent living into domestic law”.

These six elements include a new duty on public bodies like local councils to aim to meet the requirements of article 19; a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable “community or home living”; and a ban on building new “institutional” accommodation.

The commission has been working on its plans since at least November 2017 and is still “refining” its proposals.

As part of its development of the working paper, it has been consulting members of the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG)*.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, ILSG’s chair, said: “The ILSG welcomes the paper, which we helped to develop over the past 18 months, in one of our many attempts to strengthen disabled people’s right to independent living.

The EHRC and the ILSG will continue to collaborate on a number of ways to bring about a statutory right to independent living and [want] to work with anyone to this end.” 

Dr Miro Griffiths, a researcher, adviser and campaigner on disability rights and a member of EHRC’s disability advisory committee (DAC), said: “As the EHRC has noted in recent years, there are widespread concerns that disabled people’s right to independent living is being eroded.”

He said the commission’s proposals would build on the UN committee’s recommendations and “go some way to protect independent living against the ever-changing political, economic, and social objectives of the state”.

But he said any changes would also have to ensure that guidance and interpretation of the new laws by policy-makers would be developed “in line with the ideas, values, and aspirations of the disabled people’s movement”.

He said he was supportive of the direction of the work so far, but that it was essential that the commission “continues to take guidance from the DAC, and others, as the proposals develop”.

Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives (SOL), who has been involved in the ILSG discussions, said it was “very disappointing that disabled people’s right to live in the community, a right that most people would not question, has to be protected by legal measures”.

She said SOL supported the EHRC proposals, but she warned that disabled people had found it “extremely difficult” to use other legislation, such as the Care Act, to defend their rights.

She said: “A key problem is that disabled people will often not have access to legal aid and not have sufficient money to hire the necessary legal support to challenge a local authority in court.”

She said any new laws would need to be accompanied by investment in disabled people’s organisations so they could advocate for disabled people relying on the new legislation, and support for disabled people so they have “the best possible chance of defending their right to choice and control on where and how they want to live”.

Meakin said: “Shaping Our Lives has been raising awareness of the crisis of user-led organisations and the many closures of local groups that provide a collective voice for disabled people and those from diverse communities.

Without a strong network of local user-led organisations, disabled people may still experience too many barriers to independent living and have no means to defending it.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of SOL, said there also needed to be more attention paid in the proposals to the diversity of disabled people, particularly mental health survivors.

He said: “Given that more and more survivors are being especially penalised by welfare reform and coming under the control and compulsory provisions of mental health legislation, it would be good if more attention could be paid to this highly problematic and contentious area.

This especially given that we know that this discriminates particularly against some black and minority ethnic groups.”

He suggested a wider consultation by EHRC with disabled people and their organisations, including SOL.

Sue Bott, head of policy and research for Disability Rights UK, said: “Ideally we would like to see the rights enshrined in the UNCRPD brought into domestic legislation but failing that, the measures put forward by the EHRC would go a long way towards realising our right to independent living.”

She said the proposals “would pretty much do it in term of a right to independent living, but the wording in UNCRPD article 19 is more explicit in the scope of what we need. 

As we have seen with the public sector equality duty, there is always a doubt and room for interpretation in a public sector duty.”

And she added: “It’s not just about resources – many community solutions are in fact cheaper.

It’s about a change in attitudes and a recognition that disabled people should have the same rights as everyone else.”

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

15 August 2019



EHRC proposals on new right to independent living: Six key elements

The equality and human rights watchdog has described six key elements that it believes would be needed to enable disabled people in the UK to have a legal right to independent living.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been examining whether there needs to be a legal right to independent living since at least November 2017.

Last year, a barrister commissioned by the watchdog concluded that there did need to be such a legal right.

EHRC has been developing a working paper describing how this could be achieved, although it is still “refining” its proposals.

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.

The committee has recommended that article 19 (on independent living) of the UN disability convention should be incorporated into UK domestic law.

In the working paper, EHRC says it agrees with this recommendation, but believes there is “no single way” to do this.

Instead, a “mixture of provisions with duties and rights of varying strength, levels and breadth is likely to be required”.

It believes there would be six “key elements” to how this could be done.

The first would be to create a new duty on certain public bodies, such as local authorities and NHS clinical commissioning groups, to act with the aim of meeting the requirements of article 19.

Secondly, there would be a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable community or home living, as long as this was in line with the disabled person’s wishes.

Disabled people should also be able to decline care (or elements of that support), “even if others may think those care elements are best for their well-being”, and they should have that wish respected.

There should also be a ban on the building of new “institutional” accommodation, although the working paper does not currently recommend that existing institutions should be shut down.

The fifth element is for local authorities, and central government, to carry out a regular assessment of unmet need for accommodation, support and care in the community, probably every two years.

The final “key element” would be to set up a new independent body to enforce the right to independent living and decide if local authorities have “discharged their obligations”.

The working paper also attempts to define institutional accommodation, suggesting that it is a setting where residents are isolated from the broader community; or live with people other than those they have chosen to live with; or where they do not have control over their day-to-day lives and the decisions which affect them; or where the interests of the organisation itself “tend to take precedence over the residents’ individualised needs or wishes”.

Although the working paper has not yet been published on the commission’s website, it was submitted quietly in April as evidence to the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, for its ongoing inquiry into the inappropriate detention of young autistic people and young people with learning difficulties.

Leading figures in the independent living movement have given the proposals a generally positive welcome (see separate story), while some of them have been working with the commission on its proposals.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The evidence shows that the rights of disabled and older people to live in their communities are at risk. 

Disabled people often feel like second-class citizens, and many are sadly faced with little choice but to move into institutions. They are often left feeling ostracised.  

We need a transformative solution that reaffirms our commitment to ensuring that everyone can live as part of their community where no one is forced out of the place they call home.

We are confident that our solution will protect the right of many more people to live in their communities and we would welcome a national conversation to take our proposal forward.”

15 August 2019



Mystery over sharp drop in disabled people’s unemployment rate

Striking – but unexplained – new official figures show there has been a large fall over the last year in the proportion of disabled people who are unemployed.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the percentage of disabled people counted as unemployed dropped to 7.3 per cent of those who were economically active (those seeking employment and available to start work) in April-June 2019.

This compares with an unemployment rate of 8.8 per cent during the same time period in 2018, and a rate that was as high as 13.5 per cent in 2013.

The proportion of those economically inactive (not available for work) fell slightly over the same period, from 44.4 per cent of working-age disabled people to 43.3 per cent.

It means there has been a fall of about 17 per cent in the unemployment rate among economically-active disabled people in just a year, while the unemployment rate for non-disabled people actually rose slightly from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent over the same period.

The figures (see table A08) are likely to raise questions about the impact of the government’s welfare reforms on disabled people, and whether the fall could be linked in some way to the introduction of the much-criticised universal credit benefit system.

There will also be questions over whether the fall was at least partly due to increasing numbers of disabled people being forced into self-employment and part-time jobs (of at least one hour a week), or government training and jobs programmes. ONS includes all three in its measure of “employment”.

Figures secured from ONS last year by Inclusion London showed that nearly half of the increase in disability employment in the previous four years – between 2013-14 and 2017-18 – had been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs of as little as one hour a week.

Mike Smith, a former commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and now chief executive of the east London disabled people’s organisation Real, said: “I don’t believe the employment environment has suddenly become more welcoming.

I suspect some employers are getting better, but it might also be because people on the periphery of struggling to work are struggling even more to survive on benefits, and so have been pushed into work.

What the stats don’t tell you is anything about the quality of the work, the wage levels, the hours of work, the job security, etcetera.”

There was also a call for research into the cause of the fall by Manchester-based Breakthrough UK, a disabled people’s organisation which provides employment support for disabled people.

Peter Jackson, Breakthrough UK’s deputy chief executive, said the figures needed “more scrutiny” and research to identify what had caused the fall in the unemployment rate, including whether the rollout of the government’s universal credit benefits system was playing a role.

He said: “Somebody needs to drill down into that data to get a better understanding of the impact of the very diverse range of factors involved.”

He added: “We have not seen any significant difference in terms of the employment market and the experiences of our clients on our employment programmes.

Our experience in working with disabled people who we are supporting to secure employment in the open jobs market has not changed. It is still very challenging.

People are generally experiencing the same types of barriers.”

He said there had been increasing contact from employers who have signed up to the government’s Disability Confident employment programme.

He said: “It’s certainly got traction from employers.”

But he added: “Whether that gets translated into real outcomes impacting on their workforce is an entirely different matter.”

Jackson also compared the ONS figures with his own day-to-day experiences in Manchester.

He said: “If you walk the streets of Manchester on any given day, the level of deprivation and marginalisation is slapping you in the face.

The number of homeless people sleeping in shop doorways – that is my barometer in terms of how well the economy is functioning.”

Asked to explain the striking fall in the unemployment rate, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The number of disabled people in employment is the highest on record, showing great progress towards making our workplaces more inclusive and ensuring those disabled people who want to work are given the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling career.

By encouraging employers to become Disability Confident and providing more funding than ever before for the Access to Work scheme we are removing barriers so that more businesses can reap the rewards of being inclusive and more disabled people can find and stay in work.

Though welcome, the reasons for the improving disability employment rate are complex so it is impossible to put this down to one cause.”

15 August 2019



Anger and collective action’ secure ‘success’ for Peterloo access campaign

A grassroots campaign that “harnessed the anger, determination and collective action” of disabled people in Manchester has secured a council promise to ensure a new memorial to the victims of the Peterloo massacre is made “fully accessible”.

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

But following months of campaigning, and weekly vigils by disabled activists, Manchester City Council has now agreed make the monument “fully accessible”, ensuring that “everyone can reach the top”.

It has also agreed that no-one will speak from the inaccessible memorial during events tomorrow (Friday) that will mark the 200th anniversary of the massacre.

Instead, the council says the monument will be used as “the backdrop to the event rather than the centrepiece or any sort of platform for performance”, although disabled activists say they will go further and creatively “obscure the memorial from view” for at least part of the day.

The memorial was unveiled quietly earlier this week without a civic ceremony.

Some of the disabled campaigners who have protested over its discriminatory design were at the site again yesterday to inspect the memorial with artist Jeremy Deller, following a meeting with the council.

They say the council is now looking at two options: incorporating a ramp into the design – the solution favoured by disabled campaigners – or installing a platform-style chair lift, which appears to be the council’s favoured option.

Both options will be examined by the architects that have worked on the memorial with Deller.

The council originally insisted that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the inaccessible memorial, but later backed down in the face of the campaign.

Disabled campaigners are now hoping that a new, fully accessible version of the memorial will be completed in time for the 201st anniversary of the massacre, in August 2020.

A public consultation on designs for the new version of the memorial will begin soon, with the hope that it will be “meaningful, accessible and transparent”.

Dennis Queen, from Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said the decision to reveal the memorial with no ceremony or gathering was “a welcome sign of good faith from a local authority that really is suitably concerned about the whole scandal and will try to fix this error by retrofit”.

She said it was a shame the council had not taken seriously the early concerns that were raised by disabled people about the memorial.

She said: “A lesson must be learned here. Listen to disabled people.

Disabled people have a strong, radical local movement which has fought hard for involvement in and consideration from our local authority.”

She said the campaign showed that disabled people would take action if they were excluded from local politics in Manchester.

Queen said: “Peterloo left a legacy of strong radical activism and that affected disabled people too. 

The Peterloo memorial will be a centre point for all local activism for, we hope, at least the next 200 years. We will join in. Invited or not.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said the campaign would only be viewed as a success if the council agreed to sign a joint statement confirming its commitment to consult fully on any access design solutions and providing a timetable for work to be completed in time for the 201st anniversary.

He said: “Obviously, GMCDP is proud to have been involved in such a powerful grassroots campaign that has harnessed the anger, determination, and collective action of disabled people.

It is a campaign that has raised the profile of our exclusion, through our initial protest, weekly vigils, coverage in the media and subsequent constructive meetings with the council, architects and artist Jeremy Deller.

Although disabled people had been telling the council that its plans for the memorial were flawed, since they were first unveiled last November, it is only really in the last three months that this campaign has really found its voice.

Although we are reluctant to talk of ‘success’ just yet, a turning point obviously in the campaign came when the council bowed to pressure and announced they were committed to making the memorial ‘fully accessible’.”

But he said the campaign was “far from over”.

Hilton said: “Our aim is that by working with the artist Jeremy Deller, an elegant design solution will be found that not only provides full access to the memorial but also enhances what has already been built.

The steps tell the story of those massacred on St Peter’s Fields 200 years ago.

Perhaps [a ramp would] tell a different story, but fundamentally our struggle is the same, a fight for liberty and equality that disabled people are all too familiar with.”

The memorial is positioned near what was known in 1819 as St Peter’s Fields, the site of the massacre, and is outside the current Manchester Central Convention Centre, which in a few weeks will host the Conservative party’s annual conference.

A spokesperson for the city council said: “The council has acknowledged that the innovative and imaginative interpretation of the design brief, with a greater emphasis on interaction than originally envisaged for a public artwork, meant that not enough consideration was initially given to accessible design issues. 

We have listened to, and engaged with, the concerns of disability access campaigners who have raised this issue, and we are committed to making the monument fully accessible – so that everyone can reach the top.

Details of a proposal for how this will be achieved are being finalised and will be announced in the next few days.

Both the council and Jeremy Deller are determined that the solution will be of the highest design quality and make a positive contribution to the overall appearance of the memorial as well as its accessibility, and dialogue will continue.

The memorial will be there in its current form in the short term – enabling it to form a backdrop to the 200th anniversary commemorations – with the modification taking place afterwards.”

Meanwhile, tomorrow’s events to mark the 200th anniversary will include three performances of From The Crowd, which will include eyewitness accounts of those present at Peterloo intertwined with the words of contemporary poets and protesters, including some of the disabled activists who campaigned to ensure an accessible memorial.

Disabled activists are set to “obscure the memorial from view creatively” during the three performances.

Between the three shows, the memorial will be visible for the public to explore.

Disabled campaigners have also issued an appeal for solidarity to other campaign groups not to use the inaccessible top of the memorial as a platform during future rallies over the next 12 months.

They have produced a large banner with a solidarity pledge that allies can sign during From The Crowd.

The pledge commits allies to rally at the bottom of the memorial with disabled people, until everyone can “rally at the top together”.

*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

15 August 2019



Picnics – not work – are a health outcome, say activists

A new campaign aims to force the government to scrap its insistence that finding a job or returning to work is an important health “outcome” for those with mental distress.

The claim that stable employment is “an important outcome for recovery for people with a mental health problem” angered members of the mental health survivor movement after it appeared in January’s NHS Long Term Plan (pdf).

Now the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) has launched a new campaign aimed at persuading the government to drop the claim from the document.

It marked the start of its campaign with a free picnic in Hyde Park yesterday (Wednesday), despite torrential rain, which it called Picnics Are A Health Outcome and which it hopes will also reinvigorate the mental health survivor community.

MHRN believes that the mental health system is now designed “to get people off benefits and to make sure people don’t take too long off work”, particularly through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

Disabled activists have been warning for several years of the government’s increasing emphasis on linking health and job outcomes.

When the government launched its work, health and disability strategy in December 2017, disabled campaigners criticised this “cruel” and “unacceptable” emphasis.

Among the strategy’s plans were to more than double the number of employment advisers sent in to work within IAPT services, which provide treatment for people with anxiety and depression.

The strategy also revealed that the government was running trials to test different ways of delivering “joined up health and work support” in settings such as GP surgeries.

Now MHRN has launched a campaign to fight back at the increasing emphasis on the idea of work as a mental health outcome.

Denise McKenna, an MHRN co-founder, said: “We have nothing against work; we are all for good employment.

But we believe that should not be the goal for mental health services. They should be helping people to relieve people of their mental distress.

When people go to see a therapist now, they know that the therapist has an ulterior motive.”

This focus on employment is combined with a strong target-driven culture, she said, leading to people with severe and enduring mental health problems being unable to secure specialist mental health treatment because they are unable to return to work.

MHRN believes that this “ulterior motive” of therapists destroys the relationship of trust between service-user and service-provider.

McKenna said: “The whole back-to-work thing has completely destroyed mental health services.”

The treatment options are either cognitive behavioural therapy, through IAPT, or heavy doses of drugs, she said.

She added: “Our objection is that work is something that is separate from treatment for mental health.

This is basically denying people proper treatment for mental health. All they are getting is behavioural changes to force them temporarily into work.”

McKenna said MHRN also believed that it was time to “start rebuilding our community”, after the closure of day centres and other cuts and reforms to mental health services that have left many members of the survivor community isolated.

She said: “The government have done everything in their power to smash the survivor community.

The idea is that we are a community, and this [event] is a good starting point.”

15 August 2019



Tribunal decision ‘could deter companies from building more institutions’

A tribunal’s decision that a care provider should not be allowed to build a new residential home because it would look “institutional” and too much like a hospital has been welcomed by autistic rights campaigners and a leading self-advocacy organisation.

The tribunal ruled (pdf) in favour of the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) decision to refuse an application for the new facility in Walsall on the site of a former NHS campus, submitted by Lifeways Community Care and backed by Walsall council.

CQC decided last year to block the development – of ensuite bedrooms and three self-contained flats for nine autistic people and people with learning difficulties, with some communal facilities – because it would produce a “campus”-type setting.

National guidance says campus-style or congregate services* are not in the best interests of people with learning difficulties and autistic people and do not promote their right to choice, independence and inclusion.

Lifeways already has six supported living flats on the site in Spring Lane, and CQC argued that the new service would be too big and would not promote integration with the local community.

CQC told the tribunal that the proposed service was “not small-scale, is not domestic in style and is clearly different to the houses in the local area” and had the “appearance of a care facility, not of typical housing”, with “some features of a campus.”

It added: “The outcomes of this service model have been demonstrated to be less good for people with learning disabilities than is a model based on people with learning disabilities living in the same sort of ordinary places as everyone else.”

But the development was supported by Walsall council, whose lead commissioner Ian Staples told the tribunal that he was “under pressure to get people out of hospital”.

He accepted that he was taking “a professional risk by supporting something that doesn’t toe the line”.

Staples told the tribunal: “I accept [it] is bigger than six beds and there is a risk.

Ideally we would look at six, but I had 12 to 15 people looking for places and I didn’t have other sites available, so I made an informed decision and looked at the risks.”

But the health, education and social care first-tier tribunal unanimously decided that it was “obvious the proposed care home had an institutional look to it and clearly had characteristics of a campus style setting which stood out and was apart from the surrounding neighbourhood”, and that it was “completely inappropriate”. 

The tribunal also said the development would create “unacceptable and serious risks to service users in the provision of care”.

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, welcomed the tribunal ruling.

She said: “Autistic advocates and allies have been campaigning for decades to stop the segregation of autistic and learning disabled people away from their larger communities.

It is disheartening to see that these sorts of institutions are still in operation in some places and that care companies still attempt to open them because they are more profitable. 

However, we at Autistic UK anticipate that the CQC’s firm stance on denying applications for these places will deter companies from attempting to build them in the first place.

Isolating people from their communities is inhumane treatment and violates our right to live full and happy lives, whatever level of support any individual requires.

Living in our larger communities is the first and critical step to being accepted and fully included.”

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns at People First (Self Advocacy), also welcomed the CQC stance and the tribunal’s “important decision”.

He said: “Institutions have no place in independent living in the 21st century. 

These kinds of institutions prevent access to living, choice, control and independence and this gives a strong message to care providers about what is not acceptable. 

It is these kinds of high-profile decisions that help to put the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into practice. 

It says that being locked up and excluded from society is not supported by the CQC. 

Now what we need, moving forward, is to see commissioners and local authority decision makers getting on board with this approach to meeting the care and support needs of people with learning difficulties.”

CQC said it was an “important judgement” because it “further clarifies what is an acceptable care setting”.

Lifeways confirmed that it would not appeal the tribunal’s decision.

A Lifeways spokesperson refused to say if it would stop building such settings for disabled people, and why it attempted to open such a service when it would breach both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and national guidance.

But he said in a statement: “Lifeways are disappointed by the tribunal decision, as we felt strongly that the homes we are providing are of a high standard, meet the needs of local people, and also meet the principles of Registering the Right Support [the CQC guidance], principles that we support.

The homes were developed in close collaboration with the local authority, who are clear that they meet the needs of the people in the borough.

We will continue to work with both commissioners and the CQC to ensure that future developments are of a high quality and meet the needs of the people we support.”

A Walsall council spokesperson said: “After being fully engaged by Lifeways in the development of their plans, Walsall council did not consider the application to be for an ‘institutional-type’ setting and therefore not contrary to national guidance.”

Cllr Rose Martin, the council’s portfolio holder for adult social care, added: “Walsall council is fully committed to developing alternatives to institutional settings and promoting independent living.

Walsall currently has over 84 per cent of adults with learning disabilities in receipt of a care package living with family or in their own homes, which is well above the national average.

The application by Lifeways was in response to local need, a nine bed registration presented as two three bed bungalows and three flats with some communal areas.

For some individuals, on their journey to their own accommodation, a period of living with others can be beneficial and taken in a local context is reasonable and in line with the Care Act requirement of providing choice and a range of provision.”

*CQC guidance (pdf) defines campuses as “group homes clustered together on the same site and usually sharing staff and some facilities”, and congregate settings as “separate from communities and without access to the options, choices, dignity and independence that most people take for granted in their lives”

15 August 2019


News provided by John Pring at


 Posted by at 22:14
Aug 092019

About Unum

Unum spent years pushing reforms that have been closely linked to the deaths of many claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) and to harming the physical and mental health of many others.

Disabled researchers and activists have previously shown how Unum spent years undermining the social security system in order to boost the market for its own income protection insurance policies. * Unum are scum.

Mo Stewart says “Historically, UnumProvident Insurance were banned in fifteen states in America and six countries worldwide until 2008. Professor John Langbein of the Yale School of Law produced an academic paper in January 2007 identifying the ‘UnumProvident Scandal ’ that exposed Unum’s practice of disability denial, and in 2008 the American Association of Justice identified Unum as the second worst insurance company in America. UnumProvident Insurance changed its name to Unum Insurance in 2007 following negative publicity and, in November 2007, BBC News reported that the British government were being advised by an American insurance company with a reputation for ‘racketeering ’.”

And *


Local Paralympian Sophia Warner, is once again leading in the organisation of this year’s ‘Superhero Series’ – the UK’s only mass-participation sports series dedicated to the minority of disabled people who want to dress up and look like pratts  – launched by Sophia two years ago.

Superhero Tri participants and their ‘Sidekicks’ are encouraged to come along dressed as their favourite Super Hero.

Sophie made it clear in her interview with Disability News Service that she doesn’t care at all about how scummy UNUM are.

Unum, the employee benefits provider head-quartered in Dorking, is supporting the ‘Superhero Series’  this year as a Silver partner and will be providing lots of staff volunteers.

Peter O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Unum UK, commented: “We’ve been working with Sophia since the 2012 Paralympics and are very proud to have shared this journey as the Superhero Series has developed.  It’s a real inspiration to work in partnership with Sophia on these inclusive events.”

Amended Press release sent to us by

Liberty Wallis Account Executive
Holborn Gate, 326-330 High Holborn, London WC1V 7PP • Office: 020 7861 3083•

 Posted by at 16:36
Aug 082019


Anger over Unum sponsorship of ‘Superhero’ triathlon event

A retired Paralympian organising a mass participation disability sports event has defended accepting sponsorship from a company that spent years lobbying the government to make the out-of-work disability benefits regime harsher and more stressful.

Unum has signed up as one of the sponsors of next week’s high-profile Superhero Tri event in Windsor – which will be televised by Channel 4 – and will be “providing lots of staff volunteers”.

But Unum spent years pushing reforms that have been closely linked to the deaths of many claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) and to harming the physical and mental health of many others.

Disabled researchers and activists have previously shown how Unum spent years undermining the social security system in order to boost the market for its own income protection insurance policies*.

Now it is sponsoring the Superhero Series events launched by marketing specialist Sophia Warner, who competed for ParalympicsGB on the track at London 2012.

Among those disabled celebrities set to take part in next week’s mass participation triathlon event are the BBC’s Frank Gardner, Paralympian Menna Fitzpatrick and TV presenter JJ Chalmers.

When asked by Disability News Service (DNS) if she knew that Unum had spent decades attempting to influence government policy on welfare reform, Warner said: “Yep.”

And when told that disabled activists had questioned Unum’s sponsorship of the Superhero Tri event because of its disturbing lobbying activities, she said: “I’m afraid I don’t really get involved with disabled activists. We’re all about positivity at Superhero Series.”

When DNS suggested that disabled activists were also “all about positivity” through their push for disability rights and equality, she said: “Um… what I’m going to do is I’m going to end this call, and thank you very much.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which has spent nearly a decade highlighting the harmful impact of the reforms promoted by Unum, said it was appalled at the sponsorship and Warner’s comments.

And Mo Stewart, the independent researcher who has done most to raise concerns about Unum’s influence on welfare reform**, said she was “deeply concerned” that Warner had been aware of Unum’s history of lobbying the government on welfare reform and yet still agreed the sponsorship.

She said Unum had been “instrumental in helping to create the preventable harm now endured by the UK’s chronically ill and disabled community who are unfit to work.

The company have been advising the British government since 1992 on how to limit access to out-of-work disability benefits for those in greatest need, in the expectation that a reduced UK welfare state will encourage the able-bodied community to purchase their discredited disability insurance policies.”

Stewart said the sponsorship was “a very good public relations exercise” for the company and “a distraction from past negative publicity”.

She said: “There have been many thousands of deaths linked to the work capability assessment (WCA), which was introduced in October 2008 and was made possible by the influence of Unum with the British government.

Those chronically ill and disabled people who died following the flawed WCA weren’t athletes, and it’s most regrettable to learn that some of those who enjoy the peak of physical fitness can disregard the fate of those in greatest need.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Sophia Warner’s understanding of rights and equality is dangerously deficient.

Had previous generations of disabled people been as blasé about the realities of oppression, we wouldn’t now have Paralympians able to compete on a public stage.

Her typecasting of activists as negative is ironic given that we are the ones engaged in building a positive future where everyone will be free to develop their personal potential and be valued in society.

Meanwhile, Warner is actively facilitating a deeply damaging agenda based on denial of opportunity to people with impairments.”

She added: “We anticipate a new promotional campaign pushing Unum’s income protection insurance coming soon…”

Bob Ellard, a fellow DPAC steering group member, said: “The thought of disabled people dressing up in superhero costumes for the ‘inspiration’ of the TV viewing public makes me want to vomit.

Add to that taking funding from Unum, a company notorious for disability denial and influencing government welfare cuts for disabled people, Channel 4 should be ashamed of themselves and Sophia Warner should be ashamed of herself for this act of deplorable Uncle Tom-ism.” 

*Unum’s links with the UK government date back to the 1990s, when Peter Lilley, social security secretary in John Major’s Conservative government, hired senior Unum executive John LoCascio to offer advice on how to cut the number of claimants of long-term sickness benefits. 

A submission to the Commons work and pensions committee in 2002 by a director of Unum – then known as UnumProvident – called on the Labour government to “ensure both that work always pays more than benefits, and more importantly that it is clearly seen to do so”.

And in 2005, Unum bragged in a document that it had “always been at the leading edge of disability assessment and management”, and that government policy was now “moving in the same direction” as “our views and understanding” and was “to a large extent being driven by our thinking and that of our close associates”.

Three years later, in 2008, the Labour government introduced the WCA.

In 2011, Unum launched a major UK marketing campaign to promote the need for income protection insurance policies, just as the coalition began its three-year programme to reassess about 1.5 million existing claimants of old-style incapacity benefit through the new WCA.

Unum has repeatedly dismissed claims that it pushed the government to introduce the WCA system, and three years ago even claimed that it “never has lobbied on the topic of welfare reform or related matters”.

**Stewart’s book, Cash Not Care, details Unum’s influence over successive UK governments, and how it led to the introduction of the WCA

8 August 2019



Proportion of flawed Atos PIP assessment reports has soared in last two years

The proportion of disability assessment reports completed by government contractor Atos that were found to be significantly flawed has soared by more than 40 per cent in the last two years.

The percentage of substandard Atos* personal independence payment (PIP) reports rose from about 25 per cent in 2016-17 to more than 36 per cent in 2018-19, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

They show the results of government audits carried out on thousands of Atos reports over the two years from 2016-17.

They were provided to the SNP MP Marion Fellows in May in response to a written parliamentary question, but have only just emerged.

And they show how the performance of Atos – which has been the target of angry protests by disabled activists for most of the last decade over the way it carries out benefit assessments – has worsened over the last two years, despite a public pledge to improve.

The figures emerged after data secured through the Freedom of Information Act by campaign John Slater showed that the proportion of substandard PIP reports completed by the other assessment contractor, Capita, reached 37 per cent in the 2018 calendar year.

In December 2017, a senior Atos executives told a committee of MPs that quality was the company’s “absolute prime target and prime focus” and that he would be “not happy at all until 100 per cent of the cases are deemed to be acceptable and pass those criteria”.

Although the proportion of audited reports that were of such poor quality that they were rated “unacceptable” fell slightly the year after those comments, the figures show Atos is still failing to meet its DWP target of ensuring that a maximum of three per cent of reports are unacceptable, six years after it first began carrying out PIP assessments.

In 2016-17, 4.7 per cent were unacceptable, the following year that rose to 5.3 per cent, and in 2018-19 it fell to 4.3 per cent, still well above three per cent.

But the figures also show how many reports were graded as not being bad enough to be unacceptable but still so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, and those where the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws.

The proportion of reports that were unacceptable, “learning required” or needed amendments rose from 25 per cent in 2016-17, to 32 per cent in 2017-18 and again to 36 per cent in 2018-19.

The Capita figures secured by Slater showed 3.9 per cent of its audited reports in the 2018 calendar year were graded unacceptable, with 17 per cent learning required and 16 per cent needing to be amended, giving a total of 37 per cent substandard (against 36 per cent in 2018-19 for Atos).

Capita has previously refused to say if its audit data showed there were still serious concerns about its performance, and if this was deteriorating, and it has refused to comment on the audit results.

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

If the audit results were representative of all the assessments carried out by Atos and Capita, then an estimated 375,000 disabled people would have had their claims decided in 2018 based on assessment reports that were significantly flawed.

And about 40,000 of those would have been decided on reports that would have been declared “unacceptable” if they had been audited.

Slater said: “Considering that Capita and Atos promised to improve the quality of their reports, these figures don’t reflect organisations that have delivered on their promises.

It’s likely that both have tried to improve the quality of reports but have failed to do so.”

He said he believed this was due to poor retention of assessors, trouble with recruiting staff with the correct attitude and experience, and the need to make its PIP assessment contracts profitable.

Slater said there were also “time pressures” to “keep up with the volume of referrals [from DWP], which means that assessors are put under extreme pressure to turn around reports quickly and so quality suffers.

This would also explain why retention is an issue as people don’t last long in these environments.”

He added: “Obviously we don’t know what pressure the DWP is applying to Capita and Atos but improving the quality of reports doesn’t seem to be top of the list.”

Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “What is revealed by these audit figures is that a large number of unacceptable reports, of reports so bad that learning is required from the assessors who compiled them, or which need to be amended to rectify serious flaws, have been used to inform decisions about disability benefit entitlement.

That should go a long way to explain why so many PIP initial decisions are overturned by tribunals. 

The DWP should make sure that all reports are of an adequate standard, as the consequences of using sub-standard reports can be devastating for claimants.”  

DWP refused to say if it accepted that the quality of PIP assessment reports had deteriorated between 2016 and 2018; why it believed this had happened; and what action was being taken to correct it.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want the PIP assessment process to work well for everyone and are continuously improving the service delivered.

We set providers challenging targets and regularly monitor their performance in order to ensure that they are delivering to the highest possible standard.

The majority of people assessed for PIP are satisfied with their experience and the number of complaints received by providers equates to less than one per cent of the total number of people assessed.”

An Atos spokesperson refused to say if the company would apologise for the deterioration in quality since it promised to improve; or explain why this had happened; or what action it would take to improve.

But he said in a statement: “The majority of these cases are deemed as acceptable by DWP and the proportion of cases found ‘unacceptable’ is decreasing, therefore conflating categories that are classed as acceptable with those that are not is unhelpful and misleading.”

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

8 August 2019



Air travel regulator ‘has been doing half a job by ignoring airlines’

By Fleur Perry

The aviation regulator is only doing “half the job” by reporting on access at airports but failing to carry out similar investigations into whether airlines are meeting their legal duties to disabled customers, it has been claimed.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for monitoring UK compliance with European Union (EU) laws on the accessibility of air travel, but it has so far failed to report on whether airlines are meeting these duties. 

EU regulations (EC1107/2006) have provided disabled people with a right to assistance at airports for more than a decade.

But the regulations also apply to airlines, which have legal duties to provide assistance on board flights, such as support to and from the toilet, and providing information about the flight in advance in an accessible format. 

CAA was appointed by the government to enforce the EU regulations in the UK in 2015, and is tasked with taking the necessary measures “to ensure that the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility (PRM) are respected”.

But although CAA has reported on the accessibility of airports since 2016, it has yet to publish information on how individual airlines are complying with the regulations. 

And although it has published guidance (PDF) for airports in complying with the regulations, CAA has failed so far to publish similar advice for airlines.

The regulator’s fourth annual report on airport accessibility, published last month, found 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. 

David Gillon, the disability rights activist who raised the concerns about CAA’s failure to monitor the performance of airlines, said: “Monitoring the performance of UK airports in delivering passenger assistance is a welcome step forward by CAA, one that has revealed that some major airports are probably failing their legal obligations, but that’s only half the job, and the other half of the job is where the worst passenger assistance failures happen.

Wheelchairs aren’t the only thing at risk when disabled people travel by air. 

There are frequent cases of disabled passengers being left abandoned on empty airliners, or where cabin crew have failed to understand their needs.

In the worst cases, disabled people have been seriously injured by inadequately trained assistance staff. 

Yet these failures are either the responsibility of the airline, or fall into the grey area where how airports and airlines divide their passenger assistance responsibilities doesn’t match the division within the legislation.

Again, there is a clear risk of the CAA failing to adequately capture problems even for the monitoring of airports they are doing, and no chance of them recording problems happening in flight, when they simply don’t monitor the performance of airlines.” 

There have been repeated examples of disabled people reporting distressing treatment by airlines.

Last month, a local newspaper reported how Thomas Cook apologised for the treatment of a wheelchair-user on a flight to Newcastle from Turkey, after she was left in agony when a member of airline staff tried to pick her up by her legs.

On arrival in Newcastle, she saw her wheelchair thrown onto a trolley, with luggage piled on top of it – leaving it severely damaged – and was left on the plane without any support, before a member of staff shouted at her as she tried to leave the plane by shuffling on her bottom to the exit.

Earlier this year, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how airline Flybe was forced to apologise to a disabled woman after it charged her extra to reserve a seat next to her for her carer, and then refused to refund the charge.

And in June, Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan, a wheelchair-user, described how she was left unassisted for 45 minutes during a 12-hour flight from Argentina to Heathrow with no way of contacting a flight attendant.

She eventually resorted to sliding headsets down the aisle to attract the attention of a member of the British Airways cabin staff.

A CAA spokesperson told DNS: “When we were given responsibility for overseeing the aviation industry’s compliance with accessibility regulations, our focus was on airports rather than airlines.  

Airports play a larger role in ensuring a PRM’s journey runs smoothly. It was important for us to ensure airports were in compliance before we turned our attention to airlines.” 

He said that “that work with airlines has now begun and we will be publishing further information going forward.

We are currently working on an airline accessibility framework allowing us to provide further guidance to industry on meeting obligations under EC1107/2006. 

This framework will also assess current compliance and promote best practice. We expect to consult on the framework early next year and publish the guidance after that.”

8 August 2019



Would-be MP ‘motivated to oust Duncan Smith by late mother’s benefits ordeal’

The politician aiming to oust Iain Duncan Smith at the next general election has described being motivated by the need to expose the “heartless” reforms he introduced as work and pensions secretary, and their impact on her late mother.

Labour’s Dr Faiza Shaheen said she wanted to win the Chingford and Woodford Green seat at the next general election in part because of the impact on disabled people of the government’s austerity cuts and reforms over the last decade.

Many of these were introduced by Duncan Smith when leading the Department for Work and Pensions between 2010 and 2016.

She was speaking at an event in central London held to launch a new book* by disabled journalist Frances Ryan, which investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people.

Shaheen said she was also partly motivated in her campaign to win the seat by witnessing her mother – who died in 2017 – spend years fighting for the disability benefits and social care she needed.

She said: “Cleaning up her house, one of the most depressing things was finding all of the letters, just all of the admin in her last few years of her life that she had to do to fight for her benefits, to fight for social care. It was just heart-breaking.”

Shaheen has previously told the Huffington Post how her mother had faced a “fit for work” assessment to decide her eligibility for universal credit, the much-criticised new benefit system introduced by Duncan Smith when he was work and pensions secretary.

She told the Huffington Post last year that Duncan Smith had “wreaked so much havoc on people’s lives” and symbolised “so much cruelty and heartlessness”. 

She told Saturday’s event that she was struck by how few people in his constituency knew about “what the Tories have done and specifically what their MP has done”.

She said there was “a lot more we need to do for people to understand and realise just how cruel the state has been”.

Shaheen said on Twitter after Saturday’s event: “Court rulings, damning UN reports, suicides – the welfare ‘reforms’ brought in since 2010, instigated by my rival Iain Duncan Smith, have not only been heartless, but a costly shambles.

Tories need to be held accountable for this and so much more.”

She added: “Being in this room, listening to the harrowing stories of the impacts of benefit cuts, changes to pip and capability assessments strengthened my resolve to beat Iain Duncan Smith whenever that election comes.”

Shaheen, who describes herself as an “inequality geek”, and is director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS), told the event that she had been canvassing in Chingford and Woodford Green earlier in the day and had come across a disabled woman who had fallen in the street.

Shaheen’s husband had waited with the woman when an ambulance failed to arrive.

She told the event: “We were talking to her, someone comes just twice a week, she clearly needs more support, she hasn’t got family.”

She said the lack of social investment in care and support for the woman would now cost the state so much more, while the woman herself had gone through the trauma of falling in the street.

She was like, ‘Don’t worry, just leave me here in the street.’ It’s so upsetting.”

Shaheen also warned the event that the state was now being viewed as a “punitive army” by working-class people because of the values of the politicians who have introduced those policies.

She said: “Partly it’s about lack of money but unfortunately it’s also about the culture, the culture that has developed.

I’m not blaming the civil servants, those frontline workers, because they are incentivised in certain ways really to forget about the compassion, to forget about humanising.

So it is something we need to think very seriously about, how we change the culture, not just more money but also a different set of principles and values.”

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019



Record number of disabled people receive support from Access to Work

A record number of disabled people received employment-related support through the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme last year, new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures have revealed.

It is also the first time that spending on AtW has exceeded the amount spent on the programme in 2010, the year the Conservative-led coalition government assumed power and embarked on a decade of cuts and reforms in the name of austerity.

The scheme funds workplace adjustments for disabled people such as support workers, travel costs and aids and equipment.

Until 2018-19 (£129 million), spending on AtW had been lower every year in real terms than in 2010-11 (£122 million), and it fell as low as £103 million in 2015-16*.

More than 36,000 disabled people received an AtW grant last year, an increase of more than 2,000 on the previous year.

Under the Conservative-led coalition, the number receiving AtW payments fell from a peak of 32,810 in 2010-11 to just 26,460 the following year.

The DWP press release announcing the statistics quoted two disabled employees of Lloyds Banking Group, who both receive support through AtW.

One of them, Ross, a wheelchair-user who has a support worker paid for by AtW, said: “Access to Work has made a massive difference to my life.

Without it, I wouldn’t have a job. I probably wouldn’t be earning a living, I wouldn’t own my own home, I wouldn’t be able to go on holidays and I wouldn’t be able to follow the hobbies that interest me because I wouldn’t be able to be employed.

It makes a massive, massive difference to me.”

Another Lloyds employee, Louis, who is visually-impaired, receives AtW support for taxi fares for him and his guide dog to travel to and from work.

He said: “Access to Work is that key enabler which allows businesses to be as inclusive as they want to be.”

Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said: “Having a disability or health condition must not be a barrier to enjoying a fulfilling career – and the support available means there’s no excuse for employers who refuse to be inclusive.

Access to Work removes the obstacles facing disabled people in the workplace, helping to level the playing field and ensure businesses don’t see employing disabled people as a burden.

With more disabled people than ever before supported through Access to Work, thousands more employers across the country are benefitting from the skills disabled people bring to the workplace.”

Disabled campaigners have repeatedly highlighted the benefits of AtW and have even branded it “a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK”.

But they have also highlighted concerns about delays and errors in dealing with claims, and the cap on annual payments (originally set at £42,500 but later increased to £57,200), which they say has had a disproportionate impact on the job and career prospects of Deaf users of British Sign Language and other disabled people with high support needs.

*These are real terms figures at 2018-19 prices, so as to remove the effect of inflation over time

8 August 2019



Research DRILLs down into bullying and social exclusion of disabled pupils

Young disabled pupils have described how they are targeted by school bullies because of their impairments, and are treated as social outcasts, but still do not view themselves as disabled people, according to new research.

Researchers interviewed more than 40 disabled and non-disabled pupils, mostly aged 12 to 14, in both mainstream and special schools across England.

But most of the pupils who took part in the focus groups defined disability according to whether a person used aids, particularly wheelchairs.

They found that few of the young people who had been labelled as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) identified as disabled people according to the social model of disability.

Instead, they viewed disability as “a person-centric problem, rather than a social one”.

In some cases, pupils with SEND rejected any similarities with disabled people they knew, while they were reluctant to discuss their own impairments, or to link them to the support and adjustments they received in class.

The National Lottery-funded research, led by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), found that most of the young people with SEND described being bullied and socially excluded at school, and said their group of school friends was small or non-existent.

One said: “Like I’ll walk into a class and I’m met with horrible comments because I walk differently because I have mobility… I walk with my feet turned out and I’m met with ‘penguin’ or ‘retard’, stuff like that.”

There were also hints of a “culture of bullying denialism” among school leaders, with some pupils with SEND seeing anti-bullying initiatives as insufficient and unhelpful.

Those that did have friends in mainstream schools tended to associate with “fellow social outcasts”, says the report, Special or Unique: Young People’s Attitudes to Disability.

Non-disabled pupils who took part in the research expressed neutral or positive attitudes towards disabled pupils, but were not friends with them.

The report suggests that the failure of any non-disabled pupils to express hostility towards disabled classmates could be because they were aware that expressing positive views about disabled people “is the socially acceptable thing to do”.

And, the report adds, the pupils who took part in the focus groups were selected by their teachers, who may have chosen pupils they thought would provide answers that would reflect well on their school.

Among the report’s recommendations is a call for school leaders to encourage teachers to take more action to address bullying and social exclusion in the classroom, and to promote “greater openness” about disability in their schools.

It calls on the Department for Education to develop SEND-specific anti-bullying guidance, and to include information on the social model of disability, human rights and discrimination in the Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) curriculum.

The report also says that local disabled people’s organisations should work with schools and local authorities to co-develop and co-deliver PSHE curriculum material on disability and provide disabled adult mentors for young disabled people.

Sue Bott, DR UK’s head of policy and research, says in the report: “The research shows that SEND pupils do not consider themselves to be disabled not from the belief that disability is somehow no longer relevant but because of their negative feelings towards disability generally.

This research should be a wake-up call or else we will find yet another generation of disabled young people experiencing the same negative attitudes and behaviours.

It’s only when you can accept yourself as who you are, a valued disabled person, that progress can be made.

Then you can stop apologising for yourself and rejecting the support that helps with everyday life.

We need disability to be understood and a valued part of the school environment.

We need more interaction between all young people, and we need young disabled people to have the opportunity to draw support from disabled adults.

If we fail to have an education system that is truly inclusive of disabled young people, that values disabled young people for who they are, and enables disabled people to reach their full potential then our efforts to realise the human, social and economic rights of disabled people will always be limited.”

Evan Odell, from DR UK, the lead researcher on the report, said: “These findings show that, in some areas, little has changed for disabled children in the last 40 years or so.

Schools, special educational needs coordinators and teachers have understandably emphasised the need for reasonable adjustments and classroom support for pupils with SEND.

Now they need to deal with bullying and ensure disabled children have the same chance to develop social skills and share in the experiences that mark out the teenage years.”

The report is the latest piece of research to come out of the five-year, £5 million Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) research programme, which is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, and delivered by DR UKDisability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

It is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people, and should eventually fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects.

8 August 2019



Rise of Boris Johnson government is ‘really dark moment’ for disabled people, says author

The rise to power of a new Conservative government under the leadership of Boris Johnson has created a “really dark moment” for disabled people, anti-austerity activists have been told at the launch of a new book.

Frances Ryan, a disabled journalist whose book* investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people, told the event that watching Johnson and his new cabinet take power had affected “everybody who looks different and feels different”.

She said: “These moments can feel particularly scary when you’re reliant on the government to help you with all the basic parts of life, being able to get yourself dressed in the morning or leave the house.”

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, warned the event and those watching via a live online feed that Johnson’s silence on disability and social security policy since taking office was ominous for disabled people and those claiming benefits.

He said: “In all the discussions so far he’s mentioned nothing about social security, and nothing about [working-age] disabled people in any of the announcements that he’s had, and I think that reflects their priorities and the direction in which they are travelling.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, who writes on economics for the Guardian, said that Johnson and his new government “have got a very serious plan and it involves effectively concentrating the resources of this country, our resources, into the pockets of the few”.

He said it was the “most pernicious achievement” of successive Conservative-led governments during the austerity era that “they have made us all feel that actually it’s us against them, it’s ‘me on my own’, it’s ‘dog-eat-dog’”.

Paul Atherton, one of the disabled people whose experiences of austerity are described in Ryan’s new book, and who has been homeless for the last 10 years and lives “pretty much at Heathrow Terminal Five”, described how he was currently “destitute” because of his ongoing struggle to secure the benefits he is entitled to.

He said he had “absolutely no funds coming in whatsoever” after DWP decided to stop all his benefits, while the likelihood of receiving any financial support for the next four months was “pretty slim”.

He told the launch event: “What the state or the government or society expects you to do to survive these periods, I have no idea.

As a human being, why would you inflict that pain and suffering and degradation on another human being? It’s incomprehensible to me.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, praised Ryan’s book for telling the story of the “human impact” of austerity on disabled people.

And she praised Disabled People Against Cuts – which organised the event, with support from Unite the Union and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity – for ensuring “that the voices of disabled people are being heard and continue to be heard”.

McDonnell praised Ryan, who writes for the Guardian, for “getting the message out about the impact of the last nine years of austerity”.

He said she had been “one of those bright lights we have relied on to get the information out there”, and he said that her book had exposed the “brutality that has been inflicted upon us over the last nine years”.

Ryan said disabled people would need to be “at the front and centre” of any fightback against the loss of their rights.

And she said they would need the political left “to be our allies in this”, and to find ways to “unite and to challenge the dodgy, damaging narratives we have heard in recent years and build a positive, progressive vision for a better society for all of us”.

She said she hoped her book could play “a small part in a much bigger picture of this rallying cry”.

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019



Disabled duo who lost out through universal credit set for third DWP court action

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing another court action over the financial impact of universal credit on disabled people, which legal experts say is costing many claimants thousands of pounds a year.

Two disabled people with high support needs – known as TP and AR – are bringing their third case against DWP over the loss of income they experienced after being “migrated” onto universal credit (UC) when their circumstances changed.

They previously argued successfully in the high court that draft regulations would have left them and others forced onto UC before 16 January 2019 – when an earlier set of regulations came into force – worse off by £100 a month compared with those who did not move onto UC and continued receiving severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP).

This was because they were set to receive only £80 per month in compensation, compared with a top-up of about £180 per month to their benefits they had previously received through SDP and EDP. 

In an earlier high court case, TP and AR had successfully argued that DWP unlawfully discriminated against them when their benefits were cut sharply when they moved local authority and were forced to claim UC.

TP had been forced to move to an area where UC had been rolled out so he could access specialist healthcare, following a diagnosis of end stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer.

AR had also had to move to a universal credit “full service” area, in his case because the imposition of the bedroom tax meant his previous home was unaffordable.

Before moving, both men had received SDP and EDP on top of employment and support allowance.

SDP and EDP were designed to meet some of the additional care needs of disabled people with high support needs who live alone with no carer, but these premiums are being scrapped under universal credit.

When they moved home, both men were advised by DWP staff that their benefits would not change, but each of them saw their income drop by about £178 a month when they were moved onto UC. 

Now TP and AR have had to write to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd for a third time, after she announced last month that the level of compensation for disabled people who had been receiving EDP and SDP and had moved onto UC before 16 January would be set at £120 for single claimants.

Because of their previous court actions, TP and AR currently receive about £180 a month top-up to their benefits, but the new regulations coming into force may reduce this to £120.

They argue that these “migration arrangements” are still unlawful because disabled people who previously received SDP and EDP and moved onto UC before 16 January 2019 will receive over £50 a month less than those in similar circumstances who were not forced onto UC.

They have given DWP a deadline of 15 August to reply to their letter.

If they receive no satisfactory reply, TP and AR will consider bringing their third judicial review case.

AR said: “Losing £50 will make it even harder to make ends meet. It may not sound like a lot, but it will make a difference.

Not only that, it is unfair that we will be treated differently to other claimants due to the illogical policy the government has put in place.

Now I fear it is back to food banks for me, even though I have brought two successful legal cases.”

TP added: “To say that I am extremely frustrated to be fighting essentially the same fight again, now for a third time, is an understatement.

It is time for the government to take responsibility for their flawed policy and ensure everyone is treated equally.”

A DWP spokesperson declined to comment on the new legal action.

But he said: “We recently increased these payments to reflect the value of SDP that people received before moving to universal credit, taking into account the increased amount available in UC through the limited capability work related activity addition.”

Rudd has estimated that about 45,000 claimants will benefit from the package of support by 2024-25.

Claimants currently receiving SDP will now not be moved onto UC if they have a change of circumstances. This situation will not change until 2021.

Tessa Gregory, from solicitors Leigh Day, representing TP and AR, said: “It beggars belief that our clients are having to go back to court for a third time.

Amber Rudd has promised to take a more compassionate approach yet, despite losing two legal challenges, she is still seeking to short-change severely disabled people, like our clients, who have lost out on universal credit through no fault of their own.

We hope that the government will not waste further money fighting this case and will now pay our clients and others like them what they are due.”

Leigh Day is also bringing a separate group legal action against DWP on behalf of disabled people migrated on to UC when their circumstances changed before 16 January 2019 and who also lost their disability premiums. 

Leigh Day says a single person in this situation will have lost just over £4,000 in the last year, with a couple losing just under £8,000.

Last month, Disability News Service revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit would 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 UC is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.

8 August 2019


News provided by John Pring at


 Posted by at 13:58
Aug 042019

Disabled people protest benefits cuts deaths in Cambridge

Thursday, 1st August 2019, Disabled People Against the Cuts (Cambridgeshire and Essex), a local group of disabled people (affiliated with the national organisation DPAC), and The Cambridge People’s Assembly Against Austerity joined with Unite Community in their national day of action against Universal Credit. We held a stall outside the Grafton Centre to talk to the public about the cruelty of Universal Credit and the punitive ‘welfare’ regime of the Department for Work and Pensions.

After the stall, we moved to the Job Centre on Chesterton Road, Cambridge, for a demonstration in solidarity with claimants and to protest the dangerous and cruel changes to the benefits system. We talked to disabled people and other claimants outside the centre. Many of them told us how the toll of long waits and uncertainty had affected them, and we extended our solidarity and shared with them our own experiences of the system.

Protest outside the Job Centre - photo credit James Youd

Protest outside the Job Centre – photo credit James Youd

On the pavement we unfurled a scroll with the names from ‘Calum’s list’,  a list of 65 people (many of them disabled people) who have died as a result of horrendously negative engagements with the Department for Work and Pensions, in their attempt to try to secure the government support that they were entitled to. In many of these cases coroners’ reports have ruled that the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions were instrumental in leading to the deaths of the people involved. In thousands more deaths, welfare cuts have been a major factor.

Towards the end of the protest we went inside the Job Centre to register our objection to the cruel policies that are followed here in Cambridge, and the humiliation that they cause for claimants. As we tried to unfurl our scroll with the names from Calum’s List again, one of the security guards took hold of it, screwing it up and throwing it out through the doors. This disregard for the people who have suffered and died at the hands of the DWP truly shocked us. A member of DPAC who was part of the protest said:

Calum's list of the victims of Welfare "Reform" - Photo Credit Julia Modern

Calum’s list of the victims of Welfare “Reform” – Photo Credit Julia Modern

‘One of the staff members told us “we don’t make the policies”. But by continuing to work to the commands of our vicious government the staff enable the system to continue: a system that is literally killing people, and causing extreme distress to huge numbers of people. As disabled people, we refuse to stay silent while austerity kills us.’

Universal Credit has not yet been rolled out to all disabled people in Cambridge, but the change is scheduled to happen by 2020. Among those who have been switched over countrywide, thousands have lost ‘their ‘severe disability premium’, and the government has been horrendously slow in rectifying this problem.  Universal Credit is also a ‘digital by default’ system meaning that it has to be applied for online; this makes it inaccessible to many.  The coming change to Universal Credit is a clear threat to us.

As we try to bring hope and solidarity to disabled people and other claimants who are stuck in the DWP’s interminable bureaucracy, we also remember those of us who could no longer fight this horrendous system. Our society needs to change – there must be no more deaths from the loss of benefits. Please join us to fight for our rights. You can find us at


Information for editors

Disabled People Against Cuts Cambridgeshire and Essex is a local group affiliated with the national organisation Disabled People Against Cuts. The local group was formed in 2015, and aims to reverse the cuts to benefit entitlements for disabled people so that we can live in dignity, free of the fear of destitution that we experience currently.

If you would like any further information please email us at The website for the DPAC national organisation is at


 Posted by at 13:38
Aug 022019

Event details

Date:        Tue 10 Sep 2019 – 13:00 to 15:00
Location:  TUC Congress House,  23-28 Great Russell StreetWC1B 3LS London
Cost:         FREE ADMISSION (registration essential)

LESE Disabled Members Network in association with Pensioners’ Network and Transport Industries Network

open meeting with: Heidi Alexander, Deputy Mayor Transport

Tuesday 10 September 2019, 1 – 3pm

Please register: or 020 7467 1218
Before joining the Mayor’s team Heidi was the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East. Elected in 2010, she served in the Whips’ Office before being appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Health. Between 2006 and 2010 Heidi worked as Deputy Mayor of the London Borough of Lewisham and Cabinet Member for Regeneration.
As Deputy Mayor for Transport and Deputy Chair of Transport for London, Heidi will be focused on delivering the Mayor’s transport strategy: ensuring that London has a reliable, comfortable and affordable public transport system accessible to all; creating safe, healthy streets where people want to walk and cycle; and ensuring that new homes and new jobs are part of a sustainable, integrated transport system which delivers good economic growth across London.
 Posted by at 12:10
Aug 012019


DWP waited 18 months to take safety action on ‘vulnerable’ claimant

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) waited 18 months before it took action to ensure the safety of a benefit claimant it had assessed as “vulnerable” because of significant mental health problems.

Mike Owen told DWP that he was a survivor of child sexual exploitation and was experiencing significant mental distress because of that trauma.

He was coping with both the personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA) systems throughout those 18 months.

But despite being told in May 2017 by DWP’s ministerial correspondence team that he would now be treated as “vulnerable” by both the ESA and PIP departments, that failed to happen.

Owen did not benefit from support from one of DWP’s vulnerable claimant champions (VCCs) for the next 18 months.

During that time, he struggled badly with both the ESA and PIP systems because of DWP’s failure to provide the reasonable adjustments he needed, which caused both his mental and physical health to deteriorate.

Disability News Service (DNS) has seen separate letters to Owen from DWP which show that he should have been treated as “vulnerable” from May 2017, and that “the first recorded instance of your case being referred to [the VCC] was 4 December 2018”.

He was only provided with VCC support in late 2018 after he happened to speak to a couple of senior DWP officers who were both VCCs themselves and told him his PIP claim had been severely mishandled.

Each of them told him he should have been receiving VCC support as early as February 2017, when he first submitted his PIP claim.

Owen is now considering seeking a judicial review of DWP’s safeguarding policies, and he is also hoping that at least four local authorities – in Hull, Leeds, Cardiff and Bootle, each representing areas where a benefit centre dealing with his claims was based – will conduct inquiries into the department’s safeguarding failures.

The Independent Case Examiner is also investigating his complaints about the way DWP has dealt with his PIP and ESA claims.

Owen said he could easily have taken his own life in the 18 months it took DWP to start treating him as a “vulnerable” claimant.

He said: “I now self-harm by punching walls to calm myself down because of everything they have done to me.

They have institutionally penalised me for their own mistakes. It’s not fair on me, nor is it fair on everybody who has gone through PIP.”

He said the delays he endured showed DWP had failed to learn from the deaths of Jodey Whiting and Stephen Smith, both of whom died following serious safeguarding failures by the department.

Owen said: “They haven’t learned from these deaths. They are putting us all at risk.”

He said this showed the importance of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls on DWP to take urgent action to ensure the safety of all benefit claimants, and which says the department should be seen as “not fit for purpose”.

He said he was also speaking out because of his own professional background as a former safeguarding professional.

He said: “I can’t sit on it with my professional background. I can’t not do anything about it.

For me to find out I was deemed as vulnerable in May 2017 and for there to be an 18-month delay before they actioned anything, it put my life at risk.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to confirm that Owen was left without specialist support for 18 months, and he refused to explain why that happened.

But he said that Owen “received specialist support during the PIP process and reasonable adjustments have been made to his ongoing ESA claim”, and that he was still receiving ESA, with staff “in regular contact with him”.

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

Owen said in response: “The evidence is very clear about what happened. They really need to start being honest.

They know this is serious and they need to work out exactly how this happened and why it happened.”

Owen pointed to repeated tragedies and research which have highlighted DWP’s safeguarding failures.

Earlier this year, his research showed DWP and its private sector contractors had been failing for years to alert local authorities to concerns about benefit claimants whose safety was at risk.

He found that only 25 of 80 council social services departments across England, Scotland and Wales said they had received a single safeguarding alert from DWP over the last three years.

In January, DNS revealed how ministers had failed to include DWP in a new cross-government plan aimed at reducing suicides, despite years of evidence linking such deaths with the disability benefits system and social security reforms.

The following month, Owen told DNS how he had been informed by a senior Maximus executive that the company did not have a safeguarding policy, nearly four years after taking on the WCA contract.

The same month, the Independent Case Examiner found that DWP had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to the suicide of Jodey Whiting, a disabled woman with a long history of mental distress who had had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a WCA, and who took her own life just 15 days later.

In April came the death of Stephen Smith, months after he was found fit for work by DWP despite being in hospital with such severe health problems that his weight had fallen to six stone. DWP had ignored two separate doctors’ letters about Smith’s serious health problems.

And in June, the information commissioner ruled that DWP had broken the law by destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres.

*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

1 August 2019



Anger over appointment of ‘disability hate tweet’ MP as mental health minister

A Tory MP appointed as the new minister for mental health in Boris Johnson’s government is unfit to hold that position because of a disablist message she posted on social media less than two years ago, say disabled campaigners.

Nadine Dorries has been appointed as a junior health minister, replacing Jackie Doyle-Price, with health and social care secretary Matt Hancock welcoming her on Twitter at the weekend as the new “mental health minister”.

But just two years ago, Dorries sent out the following tweet: “Window lickin’ Twitter trolls out in force today.”

That tweet was sent when she was a backbench MP, but her appointment this week as a minister in a disability-related post – she will also have responsibility for suicide prevention – has angered disability hate crime campaigners.

Anne Novis, chair of Inclusion London and an advisor on disability hate crime to the Metropolitan police, said the tweet made Dorries unfit to be minister for mental health.

She said: “As chair of Inclusion London, I would say that we would have great concern over someone who would use the language of hate towards disabled people.

She should not be minister, definitely not. There would be no confidence in her because of what she has brought across through her offensive language.

When people use that language, it betrays an attitude that is derogatory and dismissive of disabled people, a negative attitude towards disabled people.”

She said the term “window lickers” was frequently discussed by trainers in disability equality training sessions, who explain how it originated as a term of abuse for people with Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy because they often cannot control their tongues.

Now, she said, it tends to be used as a term to attack disabled people in general.

Novis said: “It indicates not only that Nadine Dorries would use such offensive language but also that her understanding would be very poor about issues faced by disabled people, including mental health issues.

You wouldn’t accept it around racist, or religious or cultural difference; you just wouldn’t accept that sort of language and expect someone then to go into a post that is meant to be assisting those people.

There would be no confidence in her. We would have no confidence in this person being a minister because of what she has brought across through her language.”

Stephen Brookes, a former coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, who himself has a mental health condition, said he was concerned about the Dorries tweet and found her appointment “very worrying”.

He also said he did not think she was a fit person to be given the post.

He said: “As somebody who is coming from a mental health background, I do find it disturbing that somebody who issues a tweet like that is given a job relating to mental health.

I have deep concerns about whether they are going to have respect and concern and are going to be a real supporter of the community they are supposed to represent.

If somebody tweets something [like that], in the back of their mind they actually mean it.”

He said he found it “very disturbing that some people are given posts when they have no awareness of the implications of varying and fluctuating mental health conditions.

What we need is someone who understands that and is not just given the job because they happen to be passing Number 10 at the time.”

The Department of Health and Social Care failed to comment by noon today (Thursday), despite promising that it would produce a response to concerns about the tweet and her appointment.

Dorries’ office failed to return messages from DNS by noon today.

Elsewhere, Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, has been reappointed to his post, as has Caroline Dinenage, the care minister.

Amber Rudd stays in her post as work and pensions secretary.

Nusrat Ghani, the minister responsible for transport accessibility, has been reappointed as maritime minister, while disabled MP Paul Maynard has returned to the Department for Transport (DfT), where he was previously rail minister and had responsibility for accessibility issues.

A DfT spokesperson said it had not yet been confirmed which minister would now be responsible for transport accessibility issues.

1 August 2019



Failure to extend ILF transition funding would be ‘another nail in coffin’

The government has failed to ease fears that it plans to scrap a vital grant that has been supporting former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) for more than three years.

The four-year Former ILF Recipient Grant was agreed in February 2016, with the government agreeing to provide £675 million over four years to local authorities in England.

The announcement of the grant was a significant victory for disabled activists, whose direct action protests had ensured that the plight of former ILF recipients remained a high-profile issue after the fund’s closure on 30 June 2015.

The recipient grant was not ring-fenced, so councils were not forced to spend it supporting former ILF-users, but it has allowed thousands of disabled people with high support needs to continue to live independently since ILF’s closure.

But disabled activists have now pointed out that the four years of funding is due to end next April, and there has been no mention by ministers of any extension to the grant.

And when Disability News Service contacted the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government this week, it refused to say if an extension of the funding was being considered.

Instead, a spokesperson said: “The upcoming [cross-government] spending review will be our opportunity to look at funding for local authorities in the round and work is well underway to secure the resources and flexibilities councils need to deliver services for communities across the country.”

John Kelly, a former ILF-recipient and prominent campaigner, who lives in south-west London, said that any decision to end the grant would be “another nail in the coffin”.

He said: “I don’t want to be alarmist, but things are so awful at the moment that we could be saying goodbye to our rights to independent living, where the limited options on offer could be going back to living in care homes.

Our predictions when ILF closed have all come true. We said it would be a postcode lottery. It is.

We predicted the closure would be a drip, drip erosion of our ability and rights to an independent full life. 

We said that people’s packages may be cut. Some disabled people’s packages have been cut.

We said local authorities wouldn’t be able to cope with applying the principles of independent living to our lives, because all they would be worried about was very basic care needs, because their budgets have been cut. That’s happening. 

We’re in a crisis. That’s not our words, that’s the directors of social services saying it.

We knew local authorities wouldn’t be able to cope with the freedoms that ILF did give. Those freedoms are being threatened more and more. 

And we knew that ILF was working and those freedoms should have been given to more disabled people, not less.”

He added: “In the spending review, they must ensure that that money continues, but critically our rights to independent living must also be reconsidered, protected and actually furthered. 

My life is more than a one-hour call to make sure I am fed and watered.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the government had been “shamed” into providing the transition grant through the efforts of disabled activists.

One example was DPAC launching a direct action protest in the lobby of the House of Commons, days before ILF was due to close, with activists nearly succeeding in breaking into the main Commons chamber during prime minister’s questions.

But she said the transition funding provided by the government, including the four-year extension agreed in 2016, was never ring-fenced.

Clifford said: “Even before the ILF closed some local authorities started making dramatic cuts.

It has been a complete postcode lottery from area to area.

If the grant is ending, it will be a terrible blow to former ILF recipients whose local authorities have been protecting their support packages.

We would be likely to see an even greater level of re-institutionalisation, neglect, denial of opportunity and dehumanisation of people with high support needs living in the community and a greater pressure to go into segregated institutions against their wishes.”

She called on disabled people and allies to support the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance’s Independent Living for the Future campaign, which calls for a new national independent living service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support, and finally make the right to independent living a reality.

ILF was originally funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and when it closed on 30 June 2015 it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.

But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred to councils in England and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, to cover the period until April 2016.

It then agreed to extend that funding to English councils for another four years.

There were separate arrangements in Scotland and Wales.

Scotland set up its own Scottish Independent Living Fund on 1 July 2015, after the closure of the UK-wide ILF.

In Wales, a temporary replacement for ILF, the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme, ran from July 2015 but was due to close this spring and be replaced by a system of council-funded support.

But the closure was paused, after campaigning by disabled activists and allies, to allow all WILG recipients to request an independent reassessment of their new council support packages, with the Welsh government promising to fund the reassessments and any extra support they might need as a result.

1 August 2019



Charities ignore Justice for Jodey evidence

A dozen disability charities have refused to back demands for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of benefit claimants, despite being reminded of the years of evidence behind those calls.

The 12 charities refused earlier this month to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry**, and makes other demands aimed at securing justice for those who have died and securing improvements to DWP’s policies and procedures.

Last Friday (26 July), Disability News Service (DNS) and grassroots groups supporting the petition used social media to present evidence to the charities from the last decade that showed the links between DWP and the deaths of claimants, and proved the department’s institutional disablism, safety failings and other serious flaws.

The aim was to persuade just one of the charities to change its position and back the petition.

But the charities – Action on Hearing Loss, Epilepsy Action, Parkinson’s UK, Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, the MS Society, the National Autistic Society, Rethink, RNIB, Scope, Sense, Turning Point – failed to respond to the contact via social media or make any attempt to defend their position.

One manager from Mencap asked on Twitter who DNS had contacted at the charity about the petition, but then failed to follow up her query when DNS asked her to email for further information.

The only other contact from one of the charities this week came from Sense, which emailed a press release to DNS asking for coverage of a series of new fundraising shops.

The non-user-led charities’ refusal to support efforts by disabled people and allies to secure justice for those who have died, ensure DWP improves its record on safety, and enable a recognition that the department is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose angered many campaigners.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, which backs the petition, said: “The lack of response from charities speaks volumes about their priorities and continuing lack of commitment to the lives and safety of disabled people.

However, we’re sure their CEOs will sleep comfortably in their beds knowing that their own vastly inflated salaries are safe.” 

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “A so-called ‘charity’ that does not stand up and speak out forcefully for our citizens with the impairments they represent can only be described in one way: parasites.

They are taking pay cheques off the back of the suffering of those whom they were set up to defend.

We call upon all our people with relevant impairments whom these ‘charities’ pretend to fight for to mount letter writing, petitions and telephone campaigns demanding the resignations of these corporate parasites without delay.

They are the betrayers of disabled people. Enough is enough.”

Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled city councillor in Liverpool and a former activist with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), said on Twitter: “There is a long history of charities not supporting disabled people’s activism.

Although they may be happy to take the credit and pretend it was all their doing when disabled people’s campaigns are successful.”

Another long-time disabled activist, artist Tony Heaton, said on Twitter: “The usual suspects… remember the fight for anti-discrimination legislation back in the 1980s…?”

He added: “Too scared to bite the hand that feeds them the crumbs…”

Some claimed the charities’ silence was due to a fear of losing government funding, or because of being “in the pockets of Government”, “feathering their own pockets”, or being “self serving businesses”.

Others suggested it was linked to lobbying laws introduced by the government.

One Twitter-user asked Scope: “I wrote and asked why aren’t you supporting this? You didn’t respond. I emailed, no response.

Could you respond here on Twitter please? It makes people like myself hesitant to approach you as a charity professing to support disability. Thanks.”

Four days later, Scope had failed to respond to his tweet.

One disabled campaigner said: “By not supporting the inquiry they are just saying their #DutyofCare to their #ServiceUsers is diminished due to gov influence. Hang your heads in shame!!”

Other Twitter users said the charities’ silence meant they were “complicit” in the hostile environment for disabled people created by the government.

Many Twitter users said they would no longer donate to the charities because of their failure to support the petition.

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 to be linked to DWP’s actions, with previous deaths stretching back nearly a decade.

*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

**Although not supporting the petition, Mencap has said it backs an “independent examination” of DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”. Epilepsy Action supports an inquiry, but also does not back the petition


**Although not supporting the petition, Mencap has said it backs an “independent examination” of DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”. Epilepsy Action supports an inquiry, but also does not back the petition

***The MS Society has asked DNS to make clear that it was not aware of the tweets sent out to the 12 charities on 26 July, due to an error by DNS.

It does not support the petition, and has made clear that the evidence shared by DNS on 26 July would not have persuaded it to change its mind if it had been aware of the tweets.

But the charity says that it does back much of the petition. It believes that DWP should urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority, and it supports the call for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of DWP, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police. However, it says that any recognition that DWP is not fit for purpose and is institutionally disablist should be determined by the inquiry.

Through its MS: Enough campaign, it is calling on the government to make immediate changes to the social security system so disabled people ‘can rely on support when they need it, without unnecessary burden or constant fear of having it taken away’.

DNS has apologised to the MS Society for the error and is happy to put the record straight.

1 August 2019



Anger grows as police force edges towards releasing DWP ‘sharing agreement’

Disabled activists will meet this week to discuss how to respond to a police force that has admitted it has an agreement to share information with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about benefit claimants who take part in protests.

Concerns about links between DWP and police forces such as Greater Manchester Police (GMP) – and the impact on disabled people’s right to protest – first emerged last December after Disability News Service (DNS) reported that forces had been targeting disabled people taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

But the concerns have now spread beyond anti-fracking protests to other pieces of direct action and protests in which disabled people have taken part.

DNS has been trying for months to confirm that there is a written agreement in place that allows GMP to share information with DWP about protesters who may be claiming disability-related benefits.

Once the existence of that agreement is confirmed, campaigners are likely to ask whether DWP has similar “sharing agreements” with other police forces, and what information they allow officers to share with the department.

Manchester’s deputy mayor has this week asked Greater Manchester Police for information about the document, months after she was promised by senior police officers that no such agreement existed.

The force’s press office has also finally admitted that the document exists, blaming a “misunderstanding” for its previous denial that it had such an agreement with DWP.

Today (Thursday), the force’s information management department appeared to be in the final stages of preparing the document for its release to DNS.

Last week’s DNS story that the information management team had confirmed that the “sharing agreement” existed has sparked anger among disabled people and their allies.

Some described the force’s actions as “shameful”, “disgusting”, a “disgrace”, and “deeply disturbing” and “anti democratic”, while others suggested on Twitter that GMP was breaching disabled people’s human rights.

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC), told DNS that he and his colleagues were “shocked and dismayed” at the “attempt to intimidate us into not protesting”.

He said: “I know there are people who will not come to protests because of this, because of fear of being reported to DWP and then becoming penniless and homeless just for exercising our democratic right to protest. It’s despicable.”

MDPAC is meeting this week to discuss what action it will take.

GMP’s press office finally commented on the agreement last night – after refusing to do so last week – and appeared to accept that there was a sharing agreement.

A GMP spokesperson told DNS: “Can I clarify that we’ve solved the misunderstanding around the choice of words we’ve used about a ‘sharing agreement’?

I hope you understand that by this we mean the agreement to share information between agencies, which is what we did under [section 29] of the Data Protection Act, which allows agencies to share information for a policing purpose.”

But it has failed to explain why GMP previously denied the existence of any such sharing agreement.

The force press office itself said in February that there was no formal sharing agreement in place with DWP.

But an information compliance and records management officer with the force has told DNS that he has now obtained a copy of the information sharing agreement and is preparing it for release.

A previous GMP freedom of information response stated that any information shared with DWP was “done under data protection legislation, not as part of a formal agreement policy (ISA Information Sharing Agreement)”.

And senior police officers told Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor for policing, Baroness [Bev] Hughes, in February that there was “no formal ‘sharing agreement’ in place and that the police act on a case by case basis, sharing information in accordance with the Data Protection Act”.

The GMP press office had failed by noon today (Thursday) to explain how this could be described as “a misunderstanding around the choice of words” rather than a deliberate intention to mislead, but insisted that “we have not intentionally misled you”.

DNS contacted Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) this week to ask whether Baroness Hughes was concerned about the force’s admission when she was assured by senior officers in February that there was no sharing agreement with DWP.

A GMCA spokesperson said: “We are awaiting information on this from Greater Manchester Police.”

1 August 2019



Equality watchdog’s ‘head in sand’ failure to listen, after MPs call for ‘bolder’ action

The equality watchdog has been accused of a “head in the sand” failure to respond to significant criticisms by MPs about its failure to enforce anti-discrimination legislation.

In a new report, the Commons women and equalities committee calls on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to “overcome its timidity”, “refocus its work”, “be bolder” in using its powers, and increase its enforcement of the Equality Act.

But the commission has refused to respond to the criticisms in the report, and instead has issued a statement praising its own performance.

The report says repeated inquiries have found EHRC “failing to act in areas of significant inequality and unable to provide an adequate explanation of why it appears not to be able to fulfil the role of a robust enforcer of equality law”.

The committee asked a series of witnesses if they thought organisations and businesses worried about EHRC taking legal action against them. Not one of them thought they did.

The report says that the commission has never used some of its unique legal powers.

It says the commission has applied for injunctions to prevent unlawful discrimination on just seven occasions, none of which the committee could find information about on the EHRC website.

And there has been just one formal investigation since 2009-10 and no assessments of how organisations are complying with the public sector equality duty, which was brought in by the Equality Act 2010.

The report concludes: “The result of this is that the burden of enforcement has been borne by individuals, even where the EHRC has become involved.”

It warns that disabled people and other individuals are facing discrimination “because employers and service providers are not afraid to discriminate, knowing that they are unlikely to be held to account”.

And it calls on EHRC to “significantly increase the volume, transparency and publicity of its enforcement work by making much greater use of its unique enforcement powers, publicising that work and reducing its reliance on individual complainants”.

Although the committee acknowledged that the commission had had its budget cut by nearly £42 million since 2007, it said it was still repeatedly underspending on its budget, with a forecast underspend of £689,000 for 2018-19.

The committee also said it was “deeply concerned” by the way the commission had handled discrimination claims made by its own staff during its latest restructuring programme.

Despite the criticism and multiple recommendations relating to its work, EHRC refused to say if it welcomed the report, if it agreed with the committee’s conclusions, or if it would consider the recommendations for improvement.

Instead, it issued a statement describing itself as a “confident and robust defender of people’s rights”, although it failed in the statement to give any examples of how it had tackled disability discrimination.

A spokesperson said EHRC had doubled the number of legal cases it had taken in the last few years, and that it had “helped more individuals and started a number of high profile investigations”.

The only recommendations it welcomed were those where the committee had agreed with its own previous calls for action on access to justice and strengthening the public sector equality duty.

The spokesperson said the commission was “always looking to improve” and was already planning to “focus on larger, longer-term interventions to achieve greater impact and make more use of our unique powers to ensure justice for those whose rights are breached”.

The committee received written evidence from more than 200 individuals and organisations for its Enforcing the Equality Act report, including several disabled people’s organisations.

It also heard oral evidence from disabled campaigners Doug Paulley, Esther Leighton and Jeanine Blamires – who discussed the challenges they experienced when they took organisations to court for disability discrimination – and Mike Smith, a former EHRC disability commissioner.

The report concludes: “While individuals must still have the right to challenge discrimination in the courts, the system of enforcement should ensure that this is only rarely needed.

This requires a fundamental shift in the way that enforcement of the Equality Act is thought about and applied.”

Paulley welcomed the report and said he agreed with its conclusions on disability rights and the law, EHRC and enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.

But he said EHRC’s response to the report had avoided the significant criticisms of its work by the committee.

He said: “The EHRC’s ‘head in the sand’ avoidance of the significant reasoned and evidenced criticisms in the report is redolent of the very behaviour that is subject to the criticism: failure to engage with issues and concerns in a proactive way, and failure to embrace opportunities to better serve the disadvantaged people they purport to support.”

As well as criticism of EHRC’s work, the report also calls for regulators, ombudsmen and inspectorates to take more action to enforce the Equality Act.

And it calls on the government to make a “fundamental shift” in how it enforces the act, and act on its own legal obligation to “embed compliance and enforcement” into “its most significant strategies and action plans”.

The committee said it had seen “repeated examples” of government strategies that have failed to recognise discrimination “let alone contain actions to secure compliance with the Equality Act”.

The report says the government’s failure to do this in connection with its recent focus on improving the workplace “beggars belief”.

It adds: “This failure leaves the Government at serious risk of breaching the public sector equality duty in its most important strategies and means that individuals facing discrimination continue to bear the full burden of enforcement, even in policy areas that the Government has identified as of central importance to the country.”

Maria Miller, the Conservative chair of the committee, said: “Employers and service providers are not afraid to discriminate, knowing that they are unlikely to be held to account.

We need a critical mass of cases to build a culture where compliance with the Equality Act is the norm.

The EHRC must overcome its timidity. It has unique powers, limited resources and must use them for maximum impact.

It should make regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen not only key partners in creating a critical mass of enforcement action but also key targets for enforcement action when those same regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen fail to meet their own equality duties.”

1 August 2019



Ministers’ plans on ‘toxic’ impact of driver-only trains fall way short, says DPTAC

The Department for Transport (DfT) is falling “a very long way short” with its plans to ease the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running driver-only trains through unstaffed stations, according to the government’s own accessible transport advisers.

A letter from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), obtained by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) through a freedom of information request, has revealed DPTAC’s deep concerns about how the government’s rail policies will affect disabled passengers.

DPTAC – most of whose members are disabled people – wrote to two transport ministers after reading a report by consultants Steer, and associated guidance produced by DfT, on how different methods of operating trains affect disabled people.

In the letter (PDF), sent on 9 April, DPTAC chair Keith Richards expresses repeated concerns about the Steer research, and warns that its conclusions should be used only “with extreme caution”.

It warns that the “mitigation” suggested by DfT – based on the research – for situations where there are no rail staff available to assist disabled passengers is “wholly inadequate”.

And the letter reminds the two ministers – Nusrat Ghani and Andrew Jones – of DPTAC’s “frequently-stated concern over staffing levels and, in particular, the potentially toxic combination of driver-only operated [DOO] trains and unstaffed stations”.

The DPTAC letter says the mitigations suggested in DfT’s guidance fall “a very long way short” of the objective of allowing “disabled people to use the rail network on a non-discriminatory basis”.

But the letter does say that the Steer report shows there are “only very limited opportunities” to provide such mitigation if staff are not available either on board the train or at stations to assist disabled passengers.

DPTAC says that the “availability of staff to provide assistance is crucial to the ability of many disabled passengers (and indeed older passengers more generally) to make rail journeys”.

It also warns DfT that it should take legal advice on whether forcing disabled passengers to travel on DOO trains to unstaffed stations would breach the Equality Act and other laws and regulations.

And it calls for a “fundamental review” by DfT to ensure that disabled passengers “are able to use the rail network on a non discriminatory basis”.

Almost 12 months ago, ABC published letters, minutes of meetings and responses to public consultations – again obtained through the Freedom of Information Act – which showed the government had repeatedly ignored warnings from DPTAC about the “toxic combination” of running trains through unstaffed stations without a member of customer service staff on board.

Ann Bates, a leading transport access consultant and former rail chair of DPTAC, told Disability News Service: “I was delighted that DPTAC seem so alert to the dangers reducing staff would have to the frequently and rightly stated aim that disabled passengers should have an equal right to travel as other passengers.

DPTAC’s letter to the ministers dated 9 April 2019 is entirely correct in stating that, especially in the toxic situation of DOO trains travelling to staffless stations, there would appear to be no easily implemented mitigation available.

This confirms work that ABC and others have been researching for years in that running trains with well trained staff would be the most pragmatic and reliable way of ensuring access for the full range of passengers with both visible and invisible disabilities.”

ABC’s Emily Yates said: “After three years of rail strikes we’ve had enough of the government’s charade.

Train operating companies must guarantee the second safety critical member of staff on trains and the Department for Transport must provide the full details of their secret policy [to allow more DOO trains].

If they fail to do this, both will be complicit in breaching the Equality Act and excluding disabled people from the right to spontaneous travel.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said: “RMT has fought the government and the train operating companies tooth and nail to defend a second safety critical member of staff on our trains and we’ve stepped up the campaign to put more staff back in our stations.

The new rail minister must publish this report, put an end to this disgraceful exercise and put staff back at the heart of a fully accessible railway.”

A DfT spokesperson had refused by noon today (Thursday) to say if the department accepted and understood the concerns about the combination of DOO and unstaffed stations raised by DPTAC, and if it accepted DPTAC’s recommendations to take legal advice on potential breaches of the Equality Act and to carry out a review.

But he said in a statement: “Disabled passengers should have the same opportunities to travel as everyone else, which is why we expect all train operators to have clear plans in place for how they will help passengers who need it.

We continue to work with DPTAC on this issue and will look to publish the [Steer] report in due course.”

Meanwhile, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published new guidance for the rail industry aimed at improving access to Britain’s railway for older and disabled people.

The new guidance, which follows two public consultations, tells train and station operators what they “must” include in their own Accessible Travel Policies – which are replacing Disabled Persons’ Protection Policies – as well as setting out recommended good practice that those policies “may” also feature.

ORR says operators must set out in their Accessible Travel Policies how they will ensure they spend enough on assisting disabled passengers through the Passenger Assist service.

And it describes how the notice that disabled passengers must give to book assistance in advance must gradually be cut until the minimum is just two hours from 1 April 2022.

ORR says train operators must set out a policy on carrying mobility scooters and “make the reasoning behind their policy clear”, while any policy that excludes some or all scooters or mobility aids “must only be as a result of an evidenced safety or physical restriction”.

And it says train and station operators “must operate a regular forum of disabled passengers, to include users of assisted travel, with whom they consult on accessibility issues”.

They must also ensure that the information on step-free access, assisted travel and the availability of staff help that is included on the station pages of the National Rail Enquiries website is “up to date and accurate”.

The new guidance should make it easier for disabled passengers to receive compensation if the assistance they book in advance fails to be provided, and it should also lead to improved staff training.

Some of the guidance featured in recommendations made by ORR to the Williams Rail Review earlier this month.

1 August 2019


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 Posted by at 15:21