Sep 122019
 

Labour ‘on collision course with UN and EHRC over independent living’

The Labour party is on a “collision course” with the equality and human rights watchdog and the United Nations because of its failure to accept the need for a legal right to independent living, according to a national network of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) has called on Labour to join the TUC in backing its proposals for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) that would give disabled people crucial new rights to free support.

A meeting of ROFA members and supporters from across England agreed on Friday on their priorities for winning support for NILSS.

Among those priorities was to push Labour to include the plans in its next general election manifesto.

There was also “contempt” at the meeting for the Conservative-led government’s continuing failure to publish its own much-delayed plans for solving the adult social care funding crisis.

ROFA’s demands for a NILSS were first set out in January, in the Independent Living for the Future document, and backing for the plan appears to be growing.

On Friday, the Trades Union Congress passed a motion – proposed by Sean McGovern, co-chair of TUC’s disabled workers’ committee – that calls on the next Labour government to establish a NILSS.

The motion had been passed by TUC’s annual Disabled Workers’ Conference in May.
Such a service, running alongside the NHS, would provide a universal right to independent living, with support provided free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, managed by central government, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

Similar motions have been passed by local Labour branches, with the hope that the proposals will be debated on the floor of the party’s annual conference in Brighton from 21 September.

And the day after Friday’s meeting, ROFA member Andrew Day passed Jeremy Corbyn a letter, when the Labour leader visited him during a visit to Norwich, in which he asked him to meet ROFA to discuss the NILSS proposals.
Mark Harrison, a ROFA member who helped draw up the strategy and took part in Friday’s meeting, said the disabled people’s movement was united behind NILSS.

He said the idea could be “transformational” if it was adopted by Labour as part of its general election manifesto.
But he said he did not believe that the party’s shadow social care minister, Barbara Keeley, had engaged with representative DPOs on social care and the right to independent living, as the party should have been doing because of principles laid out in article four of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Labour disputed this and insisted that Keeley had not refused to meet with RoFA, and “regularly consults with a range of stakeholders, including people with lived experience, on social care policy development”.

Harrison said Labour’s current policies on social care were “pathetic” and “neither transformational nor socialist”.
He said Labour was currently on a “collision course” with the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which has called for the UK to introduce a legal right to independent living, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has also backed such a move.

Although Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto (PDF) promised to sign the UN convention into UK law, the party has since shied away from promising a legal right to independent living, which is offered by article 19 of the treaty.
Harrison said ROFA would hold the Labour party’s “feet to the fire” over independent living.

He said: “This could be a flagship commitment of a new Labour government coming to power.”

He also said there was “complete contempt” for the government at Friday’s meeting over its failure to publish its plans for social care, and for its own failure to engage with representative organisations of disabled people.

He said “momentum was building” behind the NILSS idea, and he added: “That was the good thing about Friday: the momentum is building up and people are really on it, determined that we are not going to let this one go.

“The Labour party should not be waiting. It should be engaging with us now.”

A Labour party spokesperson said: “The proposals fall across a range of government policy areas, from work and pensions and health and social care to justice.

“They will be considered carefully as part of Labour’s policy development process.”

She added: “Labour is committed to addressing the crisis in social care.

“Our plans for a National Care Service will provide dignity in older age, and independence and support for people with disabilities.

“Our plans will ensure that social care receives the funding it needs, at a time when Tory austerity has created the national crisis in social care.”

The Department of Health and Social Care had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).

12 September 2019

 

Watchdog to launch project to fund legal actions on transport discrimination

The equality watchdog is to launch a new project that will provide funding for disabled and older people to take legal action when they have faced discrimination on public transport.

The fund has not yet been officially launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), but it has approached disability organisations and other stakeholders about the project.

It would see EHRC providing funding to pay a solicitor or barrister to represent older or disabled people who would not otherwise be able to afford to pursue legal action against transport providers under the Equality Act.

One of EHRC’s priority aims for this year, as laid out in its annual business plan (PDF), is to ensure that public transport “supports the economic and social inclusion of disabled people and older people”.

The project is believed to be linked to this aim and its pledge to support at least 25 legal cases “which resolve issues for the individuals”, and to use information from these cases to influence its policy work.

The plans have already won support from key disabled campaigners, despite opposition from Stephen Brookes, the government’s disability champion for the rail sector and a Disability Rights UK (DR UK) ambassador.
Brookes criticised the plans in a post on the DR UK website, before later confirming his concerns to Disability News Service.

He said he had told EHRC that legal action should only be taken when all other avenues, such as complaints to the transport company, and then to the ombudsman, had failed.

He said: “Litigation should be the final recourse if you don’t get satisfaction from the normal procedures.
“I want a long-term solution and not a quick fix.”

But the post on the DR UK site was later removed, with EHRC saying it had been posted “in error”, while DR UK stressed that it supported the EHRC project.

Doug Paulley, who has taken multiple successful legal actions against public transport companies for disability discrimination, securing important gains for disabled transport-users, including one which secured a victory in the Supreme Court, also supported EHRC’s plans.

He said he “fundamentally and strongly” disagreed with Brookes.

He said: “Complaints don’t always make it to the relevant people who can actually ‘do something’ at the company.
“I can think of multiple occasions where the contracted-out customer relations system has shielded those with the power and control from the content of the complaint.

“Legal action can be effective at cutting through the customer relations barrier, to those with real management responsibilities who have often thanked me for doing so as otherwise they would be totally unaware of the passenger experience in question.”

Paulley said the rail ombudsman had only a limited role and was “very consumer oriented” and failed to achieve industry change.

He said the complaints process and the ombudsman were both “very focussed” on customer service and customer service failure.

He added: “Disability discrimination, including service failures in disability provision and other failures to make reasonable adjustments, are not failures in customer service provision.

“They are illegal and should be treated as such.”

Paulley also pointed out that going through the complaints and ombudsman processes cut into the short period of time allowed for taking a discrimination case under the Equality Act, which was usually just six months.
Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, also welcomed EHRC’s project.

He said: “Disabled people are persistently frustrated in their efforts to use public transport, in part because of the failure of transport providers to meet their responsibilities under equalities legislation.

“We’d encourage disabled people to use all the policies and procedures available to them, such as complaints systems, if they are denied the services they should be able to use.

“That includes pointing out where there have been breaches of legislation.”

He added: “We are of course happy to have a dialogue with any transport provider seeking to improve the experience of disabled customers.

“But we’re often fobbed off with shallow excuses and lightweight apologies. It’s down to transport providers to ensure they comply with the law.

“Any individual should be able to take legal action as and when need be.”

Transport for All (TfA), the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London, also supported they new EHRC project.

Kirsty Hoyle, TfA’s chief executive, said: “Transport for All are pleased that the EHRC are taking the rights of disabled and older people to access transport seriously and commend the decision to both commit to this in their recent policy and to set up a funded project intended to support their aims.

“We work closely with the transport sector: providing training, consultancy and as a critical friend, and we believe that many issues can and are remedied without the need for legal action.

“But we also believe that it is essential that D/deaf, disabled and older people get good legal advice and support to challenge discrimination when it happens.

“This project will do exactly this and we will continue utilising all the mechanisms available to us to tackle the repeated instances of discrimination that are reported to Transport for All every day.

“This benefits the transport sector too – who we know want to understand and comply with the law and we hope want to strive to be beacons of good practice – particularly as London and the UK are starting to fall behind in terms of access to transport.

“We share concerns with others that single agenda matters can detract from the systemic issues but projects like this can be an opportunity for all stakeholders to all work together to identify the systemic issues creating barriers and to work together to remove them.”

An EHRC spokesperson declined to provide further details about the project.
But she said: “We have spoken to a variety of stakeholders and taken their comments on board. We will be releasing more details about the project soon.”

12 September 2019

Special school numbers swell, 10 years after Tories’ ‘end the bias’ election pledge

The needs of many disabled pupils in England are not being met, while councils are under growing financial pressure because more children are attending special schools, parliament’s spending watchdog has warned.
The report from the National Audit Office (NAO) says the number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who attend special schools or alternative provision rose by more than a fifth between 2014 and 2018.

It comes after nine years of policies from Conservative-led governments that have been aimed at educating more of the 1.3 million pupils in England with SEND in segregated special schools.

Those policies have followed the party’s 2010 general election manifesto (PDF), which pledged to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”.

The report from NAO yesterday (Wednesday) warns that, although the Department for Education (DfE) has increased school funding, particularly for pupils with high needs, this has not kept pace with the rise in the number of pupils, while local authorities are “increasingly overspending their budgets for supporting pupils with high needs”.

It adds: “The main reason why local authorities have overspent their high-needs budgets is that more pupils are attending special schools.”

The report says there was a 2.6 per cent real terms reduction in funding for each pupil with high needs in the four years between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

At the same time, local authorities have “sharply” increased the amount they spend on independent special schools, with a real terms increase of nearly a third (32.4 per cent) between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

NAO says there are concerns that demand for special school places is growing because “the system incentivises mainstream primary and secondary schools to be less inclusive”, with mainstream schools expected to cover the first £6,000 of support for a child with SEND from their existing budgets.

Schools with high numbers of children with SEND may also appear to be performing less well academically in government performance tables.

About one-fifth of pupils with SEND have education, health and care (EHC) plans, which give them legally enforceable entitlements to support, with the other four-fifths identified as needing a lower level of SEN support at school.

The report says NAO is concerned that many pupils with SEND “are not being supported effectively, and that pupils with SEND who do not have EHC plans are particularly exposed”.

The report also points out that pupils with SEND – particularly those without EHC plans – are more likely to be permanently excluded from school than pupils without SEND.

In 2017-18, children with SEND made up 45 per cent of permanent exclusions, while survey evidence in 2019 suggested that pupils with SEND are more likely to experience off-rolling – in which mainstream schools force pupils off their books to boost their academic results – than other children.

Among its recommendations, the NAO report says the government should make changes to “encourage and support mainstream schools to be more inclusive in terms of admitting, retaining and meeting the needs of pupils with SEND”.

And it says DfE should share good practice on how mainstream schools can meet the needs of pupils with SEND who do not have EHC plans.

It also calls on DfE to assess how much it would cost to ensure proper funding of the system for supporting pupils with SEND created by the 2014 reforms that introduced EHCPs.

Last week, education secretary Gavin Williamson announced a review of support for children with SEND.

But NAO made it clear to Disability News Service yesterday that DfE had seen an early draft of its report in late July. This suggests Williamson’s decision to launch a review was heavily influenced by NAO’s concerns.

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said: “ALLFIE welcomes the NAO’s conclusion that the current SEND funding system is financially unsustainable as a result of increased spending on segregated education provision that often leaves disabled pupils with poor outcomes, and recommends that government invest in mainstream education and removes the funding bias away from segregated education.”

She said this supported the recommendations of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) that the UK government should invest in a fully inclusive education system, as required under its obligations in article 24 of the UN disability convention.

She said: “The DfE have announced another SEND review. We see all these reviews as a distraction from the government’s total disregard for the continuing systematic attack on disabled pupils’ and students’ human rights to inclusive education.

“We do not need any more reviews. We need action now.”

What was needed, she said, was for the government to implement CRPD’s recommendations around removing the current “parallel education system and have one sustainable inclusive education service that includes everyone regardless of ability”.

A DfE spokesperson said yesterday that the department was not able to respond within the deadline set by DNS to questions about the report, including whether successive Tory-led governments were to blame for the rise in the number of pupils in special schools because of the “end the bias” pledge by the Conservatives in 2010.

But she said in a statement: “Helping all children and young people reach their potential is one of the core aims of this government, including those with special educational needs.

“That is why the prime minister has committed to providing an extra £700 million next year to make sure these children get an education that helps them develop and thrive as adults.

“We have improved special educational needs support to put families at the heart of the system and give them better choice in their children’s education, whether in mainstream or special school.

“Last week we launched a review of these reforms, to make sure every child, everywhere, gets an education that prepares them for success.”

12 September 2019

Charity campaigning for autistic inclusion faces autistic ex-staffer in tribunal

A disability charity which campaigns for an end to the hostility faced by autistic people in the workplace has this week been defending its actions in an employment tribunal, following allegations made by an autistic former employee.

Dave Gregson worked as a support worker for United Response in Yorkshire for more than seven years before he was dismissed.

He claims he lost the job because the charity believed his autism meant he could not carry out his duties.

In May, just a day after an employment tribunal concluded the preliminary hearing in his case, United Response launched its new Am I Your Problem? campaign, which aimed to challenge the “indifference, hidden discrimination and sometimes outright hostility faced by people with a learning disability or autism”, including in the workplace.

The charity is calling on the public in its campaign to “seriously consider how their interaction and behaviour can harm people with learning disabilities or autism, dent their confidence and at worst completely ostracise them from society”.

Tim Cooper, United Response’s chief executive, said in launching the campaign that “hidden discrimination” was taking place in businesses, workplaces and schools, and he called on non-disabled people to “become the solution, not the problem” and help create “a society which is open to all and gives everyone a fair chance in all walks of life”.

Gregson is now himself claiming disability discrimination, victimisation, sex discrimination and unfair dismissal by United Response.

As well as launching its own anti-discrimination campaign, United Response has also signed up as a “Disability Confident employer” under the government’s much-criticised disability employment scheme.

Last year, United Response was heavily criticised for choosing the head of a company closely linked with the government’s hated “fitness for work” test as its new chair.

Gregson was absent from work for 17 months from July 2017, firstly under suspension and gardening leave, following a dispute with a colleague in which he was eventually cleared of any misconduct.

Gregson says that an occupational health doctor, his mental health team and a consultant psychiatrist all said it would be better if he returned to work.

But United Response concluded that he was not able to return to work and dismissed him.

Among the issues the tribunal has been deciding this week is whether United Response made “stereotypical” assumptions about the impact of Gregson’s autism on his work, and whether it treated him less favourably than it would have treated someone who was not autistic.

A United Response spokesperson declined to comment while the tribunal was ongoing.

12 September 2019

 

DWP advisers demand ‘urgent action’ on UC claimant commitment health demands

The government’s own social security advisers have called for “urgent” action to stop jobcentre staff forcing claimants of universal credit (UC) to take medication or attend medical appointments in return for receiving their benefits.

The social security advisory committee (SSAC) included the “particularly concerning finding” in a new report about the effectiveness of the government’s universal credit claimant commitment.

The claimant commitment is a set of “individually tailored requirements” that a benefit claimant agrees to meet in return for UC payments, and it can include a pledge to carry out a certain number of hours looking for and applying for jobs, networking, updating a CV, or attending training.

It is supposed to be DWP policy that only work-related activities are included in the claimant commitment, but SSAC said it was “clear that this is not happening in all cases”.

The report says some of the random sample of claimant commitments the committee saw included activities relating to the claimant’s management or treatment of a health condition, including commitments “outlining that medical appointments should be attended, or that medication should be taken”.

The report says claimants are left confused as to whether medical-related activities in their claimant commitment are mandatory or voluntary.

The committee says DWP should “urgently act to ensure requirements placed on claimant commitments are just work-related and do not inappropriately include requirements related to a claimant’s health or medicine”, which “can cause real harm to claimants”.

The SSAC report was published as the prime minister appointed Therese Coffey – who was previously a minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – to be the new work and pensions secretary, following Amber Rudd’s resignation over the government’s Brexit policy.

Coffey becomes the seventh work and pensions secretary in less than four years.

SSAC says in this week’s report that claimant commitments are often not tailored effectively to the individual, with claimants with physical and mental health impairments “less likely than other claimants to feel that their commitment reflected their circumstances”.

Some claimants with mental health problems find interacting with work coaches very stressful, says the committee, with one claimant saying that they just accept the commitment to enable them to “get away as quickly as possible”.
The committee also says that some people with learning difficulties may struggle to understand their claimant commitment and what they have agreed to do.

Work coaches are legally required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled claimants under the Equality Act, which could include varying the type of work they should look for and accept.

The committee says the claimant commitment is an “intrinsic” part of universal credit.

But it raises concerns in the report about how the commitment is being used and says there is a “real risk” that it could be having a “detrimental impact” on some claimants, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.

The committee says that its findings show that work coaches “are trying their best to develop effective commitments, in what can be very challenging circumstances”, while there are “excellent examples of work coaches defining tailored requirements for claimants, including claimants with complex circumstances”.

But the committee’s interim chair, Liz Sayce, former chief executive of Disability Rights UK, says in the report that it is impossible to identify the “true scale” of the problems with the claimant commitment because DWP does not collect the right data.

Sayce said: “The claimant commitment is a central part of the government’s approach to helping people back into work.

“But the committee’s work has shown that improvements need to be made.

“Inappropriate conditions and ineffective support risks failing some benefit claimants and their families, and in some cases may cause harm.

“Getting this policy right, all the way across the country, is essential.

“DWP needs to do more, more quickly, to ensure that happens.”

In its response to the report, DWP welcomed the committee’s work.

It said that conditionality had been “a feature of benefit entitlement in the UK since the formation of the welfare state” and that the claimant commitment was “a key part of conditionality”.

It said: “As part of the continuous development and improvement of the universal credit claimant commitment a number of improvements suggested by the committee have already been introduced.”

It said further improvements were planned for this year and next year and it would carry out “additional work” based on the committee’s findings as part of this programme.

It said it would respond to the report’s recommendations this autumn after giving them “full consideration”.

 

 

DPO says plan for co-operation with two charities is not ‘precursor to a merger’

One of the country’s oldest disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) has stressed that plans for closer co-operation with two other disability charities do not mean that they are moving towards a merger.

The Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) was founded in 1974 by the disabled crossbench peer Baroness Masham, and it played a key role in the growth of the disabled people’s movement, and in the formation of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People.

It also played a significant part in many influential campaigns during the 1980s and 1990s, for example pushing for the introduction of direct payments and for disability discrimination legislation.

SIA has now announced that it has signed a joint commitment with spinal cord injury charities Back Up and Aspire to work more closely together.

Although Back Up does not describe itself as a DPO, more than half of its trustees have a spinal cord injury, as do many of its services team, while it was also founded by someone with a spinal cord injury, Mike Nemesvary.

But Back Up describes itself as a peer-led organisation, rather than a DPO, while Aspire is also not a DPO.
The three charities say they are now committed to “coordinate their efforts” and “build a powerful and unified voice” for the more than 50,000 spinal cord injured (SCI) people across the UK.

And they say they will launch a “national conversation” this autumn, and will use the findings to “establish how they can combine their individual strengths and resources to deliver services and champion the rights of spinal cord injured people”.

Dave Bracher, SIA’s campaigns manager, said the announcement “isn’t a precursor to a merger” but was “all about the charities working better together to present a unified voice and delivering better outcomes for SCI people”.
He added: “Although the charities already work well together through some frontline services, it’s recognised this can be improved to maximise overall delivery and impact.”

Back Up also said there were no plans for a merger.

Its chief executive, Sarah Bryan, said the proposals were about working more closely together and ensuring the three organisations offered complementary services “rather than doing things that the others are doing”, as well as providing “more of a voice for people affected by spinal cord injury”.

She said Back Up had been working in partnership with Aspire for about three years and they were now bringing SIA into that partnership.

Bryan stressed that this was not a “first step” towards a merger and that Back Up had not discussed such an idea with the other two organisations, although she said she would not rule out a merger in 10 years’ time.

An Aspire spokesperson said: “There has definitely been no talk of a merger and there are no planned talks.”

The chairs of the three charities had earlier commented on their plans in a statement.
Dr Rupert Earl, SIA’s chair, said: “The opportunity for an independent life for every person paralysed by a spinal cord injury is under threat.

 

“As someone who has also lived with tetraplegia most of my adult working life, I am appalled that our rehabilitation and care services are increasingly failing to provide adequately for the very reasonable needs of SCI people.
“SIA’s commitment to work together with Back Up and Aspire, and campaign for all people affected by a spinal cord injury, is absolutely the right thing to do.”

Dr Saroj Patel, chair of Aspire, said: “I am delighted that Aspire is committing to working with SIA and Back Up to deliver joined up support for spinal cord injured people in their quest to live independent lives.

“Together we can maximise the individual strengths of each organisation to develop and grow vital services for our stakeholders.”

And Jo Wright, chair of Back Up, said: “Charities that work together operate more efficiently, deliver better services and save money.

“Our stakeholders are keen for us to collaborate to ensure that we respond more effectively to the needs of people affected by SCI, and today starts our shared journey towards that end.’’

12 September 2019

 

MPs call for overdue government action to ban pavement parking

A committee of MPs has called on the government to ban parking on pavements, after hearing how the practice was putting disabled people all over the country in stressful, inconvenient and even dangerous situations.

The Commons transport committee says in a new report that pavement parking affects disabled people who are visually-impaired, use mobility aids or are neurodiverse.

It can reduce the useable width of the pavement, and make it impossible for those using mobility aids to pass by the vehicle, while users of guide dogs can be forced into the road.

But pavement parking can also add to people’s anxiety because of the lack of predictability, particularly for those who are visually-impaired, the report says.

The committee says it is “profoundly regrettable” that the government has taken so long to take action, and criticises the lack of “concrete actions” to tackle pavement parking and “improve people’s daily lives”.

A string of disabled people told the committee during the inquiry that the impact of the growing issue of pavement parking ranged from being “inconvenient to downright dangerous”.

Vehicles parked on pavements can block wheelchair-users, forcing them into the road or to retrace their route.

One wheelchair- and mobility scooter-user told the committee: “To avoid a vehicle often means entering the highway. This may put me in danger from other road users and this solution is far from practical.

“I have to drop down a kerb and then try and remount the pavement after the vehicle. Sometimes this causes additional stress and complications for me.

“A single vehicle is very annoying but when there are several vehicles to negotiate, I find myself staying in the road for prolonged periods of time.

“Whilst my scooter has lights, my wheelchair is not designed for road use. I am very vulnerable when on the road.”
Another wheelchair-user told the committee: “I stay home a lot because the amount of times I’ve got stuck, or had my partner ‘bounce’ my wheelchair down kerbs because of cars parked on the path makes any journey difficult or longer.

“Turning a corner, seeing a car parked on the path, and no dropped kerb is worrying.

“Sometimes paths are wide enough to turn around. Doubling back to find a safe place to cross the road and a dropped kerb is both tiresome and annoying.”

A third wheelchair-user calling for action on pavement parking told the committee: “One morning with a traffic officer and a book of tickets would result in 50+ at least unsafe parked vehicles between my house and the local shops.”

The committee’s report calls on the government to introduce a nationwide ban on pavement parking – apart from in London, where it is already banned – with enforcement by local authorities, which would be able to introduce exemptions.

Among the report’s other recommendations, the committee calls for a national awareness campaign to show the negative consequences of pavement parking for pedestrians such as disabled people, older people and children.

Campaigners have been pushing for government action since at least 2015, when a private member’s bill by Conservative MP Simon Hoare was withdrawn after a government minister promised to hold a roundtable meeting to examine the issue.

In London, local authorities or Transport for London can introduce exemptions to a ban that has been in place since 1974.

The transport (Scotland) bill, which is currently going through the Scottish parliament, includes a clause that would ban pavement parking across Scotland, which again would allow exemptions.

The legal position with pavement parking in Wales is unclear, says the committee’s report.

Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “Disability Rights UK welcomes this report from the transport select committee.

“Parking on pavements creates obstacles for many disabled people trying to get on with our everyday lives.

“To add insult to injury, often pavement parking also blocks the down curb.

“It’s time this anti-social behaviour was tackled.”

Lilian Greenwood, chair of the committee, said: “We are deeply concerned that the government has failed to act on this issue, despite long-standing promises to do so.

“This is a thorny problem that may be difficult to resolve to the satisfaction of all, but the government’s inaction has left communities blighted by unsightly and obstructive pavement parking and individuals afraid or unable to leave their homes or safely navigate the streets.

“In the long-term we believe the government should ban pavement parking across England – as is already the case in London.

“Local authorities could create exemptions if they choose to do so, but drivers would know that unless it was expressly permitted it was illegal to park their car on the pavement.

“We recognise that implementing a nationwide ban will take time. In the short-term we have said that the government should make it easier for local authorities to put in place parking restrictions by removing some of the bureaucratic burdens they currently have to contend with.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) carried out a review of pavement parking last year and is now considering its findings.

The committee’s report will inform that process, as will the changes included in the Scottish parliament’s bill.
A DfT spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that our roads work for everyone, but we are also aware that pavement parking can cause real problems for a variety of road users.

“The department recently concluded a review to better understand the case for changing the law, and ministers will be considering our next steps over the coming months.”

12 September 2019

 

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:29
Sep 102019
 


In her foreword, to this book Dr Jenny Morris says:
“At a time when as Judy Hunt writes: ‘disabled people are finding many of the gains of the 1980s and 1990s being eroded’, this book is a timely reminder of where these gains came from. It is an important book, based on the experiences of someone who was there at the beginning of the struggle amongst disabled people in residential care to
have control over their lives, which gave birth to the movement for independent living.”

Based on her lifetime of campaigning along with disabled people, working in various community services, and years of dedicated research, Judy Hunt’s book will become a standard text for the disabled people’s movement for years to
come. This is more than a history book for it aims to contribute to the ongoing struggle disabled people now face to maintain some control of their lives and also caring professionals seeking to provide enlightened support in the
community. In the face of severe austerity measures this book will give greater understanding of what can be achieved by collective effort and a clear sense of direction.

The book is available as a paperback 260 pp
£19.99 – Non-fiction
ISBN 9781913148027
From: huntlimits40@gmail.com
It is also available in various formats as a PDF in 12pt and 18 pt and an audio
version, freely downloadable from https://www.gmcdp.com/no-limits.
TBR Imprint

 Posted by at 20:07
Sep 072019
 

[Text from Taxpayers Against Poverty with thanks]

General election manifestos must address homelessness and hunger & the powerlessness of homeless families.

1. GENERAL ELECTION MANIFESTOS MUST ADDRESS HOMELESSNESS AND HUNGER. 

The 2012 and 2016 Welfare Reform Acts were seen through Parliament by government ministers who sought to force the unemployed into work by imposing inadequate incomes and punitive laws designed to treat them as if they are at work.

Examples are:

  • a monthly rather than a weekly income;
  • housing benefit paid to the unemployed from which they pay the rent to the landlord as if it were from a monthly pay cheque; and
  • strict rules about keeping appointments at the job centre.

The purpose was to “change the culture” of unemployment, on the mistaken assumption that the unemployed lived an easy life on benefits so were unlikely to look for work, hence the cruel benefit sanction on those who “broke the rules”.

Lord Freud  on the Welfare Reform Bill 2016. Hansard Column 1427, 19 October 2016:

Every year I stand here because there is a forecast that says that child poverty is going up, has gone up or will go up, but when we actually see the figures, we find that child poverty has actually gone down. When you transform the economy, change the culture so that work is what has been driving things, and move up the employment rates and the earning rates in the way that we have, you find that the behavioural impacts are very different from the static analysis that many of the external experts tell us about.”

Lord Freud could not have been more wrong. Child poverty is going up and getting worse. 

Attempts by cross-bench peers to insert amendments requiring a health-impact assessment of the government’s policies were rejected. The actual and disastrous impact on the health of low-income families and individuals can be found on the Taxpayers Against Poverty website.

UK land grabbed by the rich for private gain

London councils have published analysis showing that there has been a significant reduction of about 200,000 in the number of homes that are affordable for tenants receiving the Local Housing Allowance. That is one among a number causes of the escalating homelessness and hunger in the capital.

The 1980s’ “big bang” set up the UK housing market to make large landowners very rich indeed, with unearned and untaxed increases in the value of their land. Lending was deregulated, rent controls abolished and funds allowed to flow in and out of the limited amount of British land. Small businesses and family homes, which pay rent, business rates and/or council tax, and own no land, are treated little better than during the 15th– and 16th-century enclosures.

Tenants are being pushed off the land with no solutions on the political table to reverse the trend.

In Haringey, 3,000 homeless families, with 5,208 children between them, have been forced into temporary accommodation, some for up to and over 10 years. Accirding to the House of Commons Library there are 83,700 homless families in temporary accommodation in England with 124,000 children, up 74% sine 2010. 56,880 of the families are in London. Too many of them are in one room in hostels or other acommodation when none ought to be

Graph from IPPR

Taxpayers Against Poverty strongly recommends that the Greater London Authority and Parliament adopt two policies used by the Danish government:

  • Long-term vacancy of properties is discouraged in Denmark. If an owner moves and does not wish to sell the property, it must be rented out or advertised for sale. If it is empty for more than six weeks, the owner must report to the local authority, which then seeks to provide tenants, whom the owner has to accept.
  • Non-residents of Denmark who have not lived in the country for a total period of five years previously may only acquire property after receiving permission from the Ministry of Justice.

Income support for a single adult has been losing value since 1979

There is a community of about 11,000 social-security claimants in Haringey. The shredding of their social security incomes since 2010 has been piled on top of decades of adult benefit negligence. The evidence came from Professor Jonathan Bradshaw in 2009  responding to one of mine. In April 2011, austerity measures were then piled onto an already inadequate cornerstone of the benefit system. To that cornerstone are added disabled people’s, children’s, housing and council-tax benefits.

“When unemployment benefit started in 1912, it was 7 shillings a week – about 22% of average male earnings in manufacturing. The percentage fluctuated over the succeeding decades, but by 1979, the benefit rate was still about 21% of average earnings (manual and non-manual, male and female). By 2008, however, as a result of the policy of tying benefits to the price index while real earnings increased, the renamed Jobseeker’s Allowance had fallen to an all-time low of 10.5% of average earnings.”

Benefit increases were frozen at 1% a year in April 2011. £73.10 a week Jobseekers’ Allowance equates to £317 a month Universal Credit. Using the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s minimum-income standards for single-adult benefits after rent and council tax as of April 2019, we can see that Jobseekers’ Allowance and Universal Credit are nearly £32 a week too low for healthy living.

And that is before 

  • the five-week delay in the first payment of Universal Credit;
  • the Department for Work and Pensions “budgeting advance” to cover that delay, which is a loan that has to be repaid out of 73.10 a week;
  • the cuts in council tax and housing benefits, which mean rent and council tax must also be paid out of that £73.10 a week;
  • income is stopped by benefit sanctions, during which rent, council tax and TV-licence arrears and other debts pile up; adding to the impossibility of living on benefits;
  • the realisation – often only belatedly at the job centre – by a parent who has a third child that the government’s two-child policy means they will be refused child benefit for their latest offspring.

The hopelessly inadequate single adult benefit cannot maintain a healthy adult life, let alone pay rent or council tax, or their enforcement costs. That is a cruel catch 22. If your children’s benefits pay the rent, they are hungry, naked or cold; if you feed, clothe growing children or keep them warm, then the family is evicted and homeless.

Councils force low income tenants into the private sector and their rent over the benefit cap. 

In the United Kingdom, local authority officers and benefit claimants are both the victims of toxic and disconnected central government policies. Policies that combine to escalate the number of homeless and hungry families. The benefits freeze is bad enough (Benefits freeze leaves a third of claimants ‘with £100 to live on a month’), but, in 2012, the government introduced another measure that is particularly hard on London families. It allows local-authority housing departments to offer homeless families in temporary council housing at £90 a week rent a move into permanent private-sector housing at £300 a week rent for a two-bed home, for example (see table).

Families must accept the council’s first offer or they are deemed intentionally homeless and struck off the list of those the council has a duty to house. The unintended consequence of the 2012 measure is that a family’s total benefit income, including housing benefit, can be forced over the London benefit cap of £442.31 by high private-sector rent. The government cuts the housing benefit to enforce the cap on the total benefit income. Thar leaves rent to be paid by the family’s remaining benefits They have been frozen and are already short of £100 a month to live on. Hunger and homelessness are inevitable.

UK is the only nation in the world requiring renters to pay the landlord’s property tax.

The UK being the only nation in the world requiring renters to pay the landlord’s property tax adds the straw that breaks the camels back. That is a great injustice. The council tax is a property tax based on 1991 evaluations after the poll tax was abolished and the council tax introduced.

There is a tenant of my acquaintance who lives in a private two-bed terraced house in Tottenham that was bought new for £95,000 in 1999. An identical property next door, also new in 1999, is on the market for £425,000. The landlord is £330,000 richer, unearned and untaxed, while the tenant has paid about £1,000 a year in property/council tax for 20 years, so is £20,000 poorer.

290 out of 326 English councils require benefit claimants to pay a proportion of their landlord’s council tax. It is enforced by the magistrate’s court, adding the council’s enforcement costs to the arrears and the bailiffs adding their fees. Taxing £73.10 a week income support/Jobseekers’ Allowance/Universal Credit is a pernicious injustice.

The good health and wellbeing of all UK citizens in or out of work must now become a national priority.

2. An inhuman treatment of powerless tenants. 

TAP is opposing in the implementation of the project at High Road West. We so firmly believe it is against the best interests of the low income residents of Tottenham. After the secure tenants were moved out, the current tenants of Love Lane Estate have been moved in by Haringey Counci. Because they are homeless families in temporary accommodation they have no relevant housing rights and can be moved out more easily before demolition. An inhuman treatment of powerless tenants.

Some of these 180 young families have been in temporary accommodation for up and over ten years. They have already been forced to moved several times so disrupting the education of their growing children. They are among 3000 homeless families in temporary accommodation in Haringey. Too many of them are in one room in hostels or other accommodation –  when none ought to be.

The way the High Road West project has been designed does not commit the council to using 100% of the site for meeting part of a target of providing the 3000 much needed secure homes for the homeless.  What is proposed is the convoluted process of allowing Lend Lease to build on land which is free to the council and then sell “affordable” homes back to the council for £68,000 each. That enables Lend Lease to make the largest profit possible by selling the remaining and the majority if the homes into the very expensive London housing market.

The best way to build truly affordable homes for rent is for the council keep their public land out of the market, borrow the money and hire Lend Lease to build them.

It is a matter of public interest that we all know the terms of the  out of court settlement bewteen lendlease and the council, particularly whether it involved Northumberland Park, another council estate eyed by international property devopers for similar treatment.

Another shocking aspect of the High Road West project is the intention to grab the land from under 50 small thriving businesses of the Peacock Industrial Estate. Their businesses, which are employing local people, will be severely disrupted – to create a park!

The current national housing policy is ideologically designed to prevent the building of council homes on council land.

To do so is not socialism. It is simply an intelligent way of building truly affordable housing which has been used by all political parties in power since WWII. Also the capacity of the poorest tenants to pay even the lowest rents in London has been severely undermined by the shredding of houisng benefit and other social security payments. (See above)

Now is not the time to build social housing at council house rents. It would be better to leave it until after the next election which will have to change national housing and social security policies for the better and , it is ardently hoped. for the better use of public and private land for the common good.

For the time being the council ought to stop pushing powerless homeless families in temporary accommodation from pillar to post. The council can leave them where they are – even declare them all permanently housed.

National housing and social security policies have to change  to meet the needs of low income tenants.

Taxpayers Against Poverty

A VOICE FOR THE COMPASSIONATE MAJORITY

No citizen without an affordable home and an

adequate income in work or unemployment.

Supported by TAP RESOURCES INDEX on our website 

 Posted by at 15:46
Sep 052019
 

This week’s update from Disability News Services is given below with all the articles in a single post, however if you would prefer to view them as separate articles, you can do that on the DNS Website

Will new ‘serious case panel’ probe benefit-related deaths? DWP stays silent

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appears to have secured funding to set up an independent panel to examine cases where its own failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.

Although DWP refused to provide any details on the plans, the spending round document published by the Treasury yesterday (Wednesday) said the new “independent serious case panel” would aim to improve DWP “safeguarding”.

The Treasury says it will provide funding of £36 million for 2020-21 to fund both the panel and ensure that decision-making on benefit claims is “accurate” and that benefit application processes are “straightforward and accessible”.

The funding for improving benefit applications processes is likely to refer to plans by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd to introduce an “integrated” service for personal independence payment and work capability assessments from 2021, which will reduce the need to submit information multiple times for different benefit claims.

DWP yesterday (Wednesday) refused to explain why it was setting up the new serious case panel, or to provide any clarity on the other spending round announcements.

Instead, a DWP spokesperson said: “We will be announcing further detail on this in due course.”

But if the serious case panel is being set up to examine deaths linked to benefit claims, and other serious cases linked to DWP failings, it would be a significant victory for grassroots disabled activists who have spent years highlighting such tragedies.

It would also be a victory for the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, backed by grassroots disabled activists and Whiting’s mother Joy Dove, which has spent nearly six months highlighting the need for an independent inquiry into deaths caused by DWP’s failings, and has secured nearly 55,000 signatures.

Disability News Service (DNS) has also spent more than five years highlighting DWP’s safeguarding failings.

In June, DNS reported how DWP had acted unlawfully by destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres.

Also in June, the Liverpool Echo reported that Rudd had admitted that an internal review into the death of Stephen Smith, from Liverpool, had found that DWP missed “crucial safeguarding opportunities” and had “identified areas where we need to change our policy” to protect claimants in vulnerable situations.

And in February, DNS reported on the Independent Case Examiner report into the death of Jodey Whiting in February 2017, which concluded that DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide.

This led to the launch of the Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition, which was set up to press for a criminal investigation into misconduct by ministers and senior civil servants that may have contributed to the deaths of claimants.

The spending round document also announced another £23 million for DWP, to fund a range of measures including “support for vulnerable claimants and people with complex needs migrating to Universal Credit”, although again DWP refused to provide any further details.

Meanwhile, chancellor Sajid Javid’s speech announcing his new spending round failed to mention disabled people, just as his predecessor Philip Hammond failed to do in his spring statement in March.

The spending round, which Javid said signified an end to austerity, provided an extra £1 billion for adult and children’s social care in 2020-21, as well as the possibility of another £500 million for adult social care to be raised by councils through council tax, although this extra £0.5 billion funding will be subject to a consultation.

But in his speech, Javid became the latest government minister to ignore the social care needs of working-age disabled people, telling MPs instead that he was “committed to a clear plan to fix social care, and give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”.

About half of local authority spending on social care is on working-age adults.

The government again failed to say when it would publish its long-delayed plans for reform of adult social care funding, other than that it would “bring forward proposals in due course”.

Respond to the extra funding for social care, Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “Accepting that the government is facing a few difficulties just now, even so is this the best they can do?

Thousands of disabled people’s lives and aspirations are being blighted by inadequate support and to make matters worse, disabled people are having to pay more for social care that is failing to meet their needs.”

The spending round also included an extra £700 million for next year – an increase of 11 per cent on 2018-19 – for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Only two months ago, disabled campaigners spoke outside the high court of the “shocking” and “shameful” impact of the government’s austerity policies on the education of disabled children.

They were supporting three families with disabled children who were asking the high court to declare that the government acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough funding for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to educate children with SEND.

5 September 2019

 

 

Concerns grow over police force that shares info on protesters with DWP

Grave concerns have been raised about what appear to be “discriminatory” and “pernicious” actions by a police force that has admitted passing information about disabled protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Campaigners, including the human rights organisation Liberty, are concerned that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) does not appear to have any guidance in place to explain to its officers when they can lawfully hand such information to DWP.

As a result, they fear that GMP – and probably other police forces – may have indiscriminately passed information to DWP about disabled activists, after assuming they must be committing benefit fraud if they can take part in protests.

Liberty fears this could have a “chilling effect on disabled people’s protest rights”.

GMP has now told Disability News Service (DNS) – through a response to a freedom of information (Foi) request – that a review of its records “indicates” that the force passed information about the activities of disabled anti-fracking protesters to DWP.

The force has also said that the amount of information it passed to DWP “is unknown at this stage” because of the number of anti-fracking protests that took place within Greater Manchester.

This is likely to refer to protests that took place in Barton Moss, Salford, in 2013 and 2014.

GMP said in the FoI response that this information was passed to DWP so the department could “assess and then investigate and determine if criminal offences had occurred in relation to benefit claims”.

The force said this morning that information had been shared under successive Data Protection Acts, but it has so far refused to say if it has any guidance that explains to officers under what circumstances such information can lawfully be passed to DWP.

If it has no such guidance, its actions are likely to have been unlawful, say human rights experts from Liberty.

Members of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC) are among those who have taken part in anti-austerity protests in Manchester over the last six years.

Rick Burgess, from MDPAC, said: “We need clarity on the law and procedures so we know where we stand.”

Otherwise, he warned, protesters would have to rely on interpretation of the law by frontline officers which was – when combined with police and wider societal attitudes towards disability and so-called “scroungers and fakers” – “a not good mix”.

He said: “This is a toxic atmosphere, a hostile environment, so there needs to be transparency.”

He said it was also crucial to know what level of disability equality training had been given to officers making these decisions.

Burgess pointed out that there was less protection from the law when a disabled person was dealing with DWP than with the police, and that “the police cannot sentence you to no income and losing your home, but the DWP can, with very little due process”.

He said: “The authorities have to realise that unless they are explicit and transparent, it is not unreasonable to think that very ‘surveilling’ practices are going on.

Experience has told us that that tends to be their default position.”

Sam Grant, Liberty’s policy and campaigns manager, added: “Anything that limits an individual’s right to protest is a dangerous step that has implications for all our rights.

If the police and Department for Work and Pensions are freely sharing information between themselves about disabled people who are doing nothing more than lawfully exercising their right to protest, this would be discriminatory, pernicious and breach their fundamental rights.

Clarity and reassurance is desperately needed to avoid a chilling effect on disabled people’s protest rights.

Everyone should feel free to uphold their rights without fear of retribution*.”

The FoI information from GMP is just the latest in a series of conflicting statements to come from the force since it first admitted in February that it had passed information about anti-fracking protesters to DWP.

GMP has now finally released a multi-agency “information sharing agreement”, signed by the force and DWP, as well as other organisations in Salford, including the probation service, NHS bodies and Salford council.

DNS had asked for a copy of the agreement the force relied on to share information about protesters with DWP.

But the agreement released to DNS focuses instead on safeguarding children and vulnerable people, and the force said that any information passed to DWP was not “likely” to have been shared under this document but in accordance with the Data Protection Act (DPA).

If there was no associated guidance or policy on such sharing of information under DPA, this is likely to have been unlawful, Liberty has warned.

The FoI release contrasts with a previous statement from the GMP press office, which said that information about protesters was passed to DWP “as part of a sharing agreement”, although it later denied the existence of such an agreement.

Greater Manchester Police has previously admitted sharing information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking, although it is still not clear how much information has been shared and which protests and how many disabled protesters were involved.

It has also previously insisted that it had not shared any information with DWP about disabled activists who took part in the anti-austerity protests that took place outside the Conservative party conferences in Manchester in 2015 and 2017.

The Conservative party is returning to Manchester for its annual conference later this month.

GMP had refused by 1pm today (Thursday) to say if it had any written guidance to explain to its officers when information about disabled protesters can and should be shared with DWP, and refused to explain how it justified this lack of guidance if there was no such document.

But the force said in a statement: “The police service shares data with other agencies in accordance with relevant statutory frameworks where there is public interest.

This was previously done under section 29 of the Data Protection Act 1998, which provided a legal platform for disclosure of data on the basis of law enforcement.

This act was rescinded on 25 May 2018 and replaced by the [European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation] and the Law Enforcement Directive, both incorporated into the Data Protection Act 2018, from which the police now derive a lawful basis for disclosure which is considered on a case by case basis.

The sharing of data is not done with the intention of preventing an individual’s right to peaceful protest.

In fact the police service would give due regard to an individual’s human rights as well as the Equality Act 2010 when considering action it takes.”

*Anyone concerned or affected by these issues can contact Liberty’s advice and information service

5 September 2019

 

 

Trio of disabled peers pledge to fight off no-deal Brexit ‘time bomb’

Three disabled peers have pledged to do all they can to avert the significant impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit, with one warning of a “time bomb” that is now likely to “detonate”.

They spoke out this week as MPs and peers returned from their summer recess, facing the threat of the UK being forced to leave the European Union (EU) without an agreement at the end of next month.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson told Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday) from the House of Lords that a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous” for disabled people.

She said: “I will do everything I can to avoid it.”

She said she was “completely against a no-deal Brexit” but was unclear about what action she would take.

She said: “The action I’m likely to take is more likely to be in the chamber rather than outside and I’m just trying to get through each vote and plan around that. 

It’s unprecedented times in so many ways. We are going through procedures and debates that I’ve not really seen in the chamber before.

I spent a lot of the summer trying to plan through all the possible scenarios and I’m not sure all the time I spent moved me any further on.  

At the moment it seems that things are changing by the minute at times.” 

Baroness Grey-Thompson said it felt as though the impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit had “been forgotten and will be ignored”.

But she also expressed concern at the feverish political atmosphere, both within and outside parliament.

She said: “I worry about how angry everyone is on the outside. I don’t know how we heal some of those divisions.

The atmosphere around Westminster is also quite challenging. This week it’s been more aggressive than before. People are feeling angry (from all sides).”

Another disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, also pledged to do all she could to avert a no-deal Brexit, even though she feared that it was now too late to do so.

She said: “In my view, it’s gone way beyond a surreal episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, to becoming an extremely worrying time-bomb about to detonate.

I’m very dubious whether we can prevent the explosion now. The next few days will be critical and that’s why you will find me [in the House of Lords] until I drop on Saturday.”

She warned that a no-deal Brexit would be “very bad news” for disabled people.

She said: “Disabled people will suffer from all that Brexit will mean for them, especially if we crash out without a deal.

Decreased protection from EU rights, shortage of vital medicines, a slowdown on vital medical research due to greater difficulty of UK/European data sharing, NHS and social care workforce shortages, affecting personal assistant recruitment and retention of EU workers, etc.”

She added: “For over two years now as I read and began participating in the detail of the EU withdrawal bill in the Lords, I have tried my hardest to amend and support amendments to secure disabled people’s equality and human rights, with very little success.

Withdrawing from the EU is bad enough with a deal, but without one it’s very bad news for us indeed.”

The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said a no-deal Brexit could cause “incalculable” damage, and she was another to pledge to do everything she could to stop such an outcome.

She said: “I have on many occasions in the House spoken of the despair I, and many disabled people, feel at the way invaluable European workers in the care sector, the health service and the hospitality industry are being treated, with the environment becoming quite hostile to them.

I was in hospital for two months 18 months ago and saw clearly how much we rely on European health workers in every sector.

And now there is the worry, in a no-deal Brexit scenario, if we need certain medicines – and many of us do – they may not be available quite soon.

Even if they are held up for a few days crossing a border, this could do incalculable damage to those who desperately need them.

So I will do everything I can to stop no-deal Brexit. This doesn’t mean speaking in the House at the moment, because speeches take time, and time is something we do not have.”

The disabled MP Stephen Lloyd, formerly a Liberal Democrat and now sitting as an independent, was another to “wholly oppose” a no-deal Brexit.

As with other disabled parliamentarians, he was unable to say what action he might be able to take over the next week because of the unpredictable nature of the events in Westminster, but he added: “I’ve always been clear I’ll never back a no-deal.”

Lloyd quit the Liberal Democrat group in the Commons last December so he could keep his promise to his constituents to respect the result of the EU referendum, and he voted three times for the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May that was rejected on each occasion by MPs.

He declined to say if he still believed that the UK should leave the EU, but he said: “I have kept my promise to my constituency by voting for the withdrawal agreement (three times) but I will never back a no-deal and have said so for the last two years.”

He added: “Crashing out of the EU with no deal serves no-one, least of all our country.

I also believe it would leave the UK so desperate to do a deal with President Donald Trump that our NHS will be up for grabs in any treaty with the US.

Trump is all about America First and our beloved health service with its £120 billion budget is something they will demand the ability to sell into.

And whatever this shambles of a government says, they won’t be in a position to push back.

This will have an impact on the cost of drugs which many disabled people need to lead independent lives.”

The disabled Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who resigned from her position as shadow minister for children and families in March after voting against a second referendum – when the party leadership told its MPs to abstain on the vote – was not available to comment this week.

The disabled Tory peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin failed to respond to a request to comment.

5 September 2019

 

 

Rail regulator backs down on access to replacement buses

The rail regulator has been forced by a disabled campaigner to reconsider its refusal to tell train companies to ensure their rail replacement buses are fully accessible.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) issued guidance to train and station operators in July on what they should include in their new accessible travel policies.

But accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley pointed out that the regulator had failed to make it mandatory for train companies to provide accessible replacement buses when rail services are disrupted.

Paulley warned last year that he was considering taking legal action against a train company over the failure to ensure that its rail replacement buses were accessible.

He believes that such buses should comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR).

But when he read ORR’s new guidance he realised that it fell short of a requirement that the buses should comply with PSVAR, stating only that companies should make “reasonable endeavours to secure accessible rail replacement services and taxis”.

Paulley contacted solicitors at Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG), who sent a legal letter to the regulator.

The letter argued that the ORR guidance was unlawful, and it asked the regulator instead to require all train companies to ensure that all their rail replacement buses during planned and reasonably foreseeable disruption were fully accessible.

Last week, in response to the letter, ORR told DPG and Paulley that it would rethink this section of the guidance.

ORR now plans to ask train companies to provide data on the accessibility of the buses and coaches they have used in the last year, said DPG.

It is also seeking its own legal advice on whether PSVAR applies to rail replacement buses.

And it plans to publish another consultation exercise on this issue by the end of next month.

Contacted by Disability News Service (DNS), ORR confirmed the new consultation, but refused to confirm that it was seeking legal advice and data on the accessibility of rail replacement buses.

It also refused to say why it had ordered a new consultation.

The ORR guidance came despite recommendations from both the Department for Transport (DfT) and its accessible transport advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee – in their responses to a consultation on ORR’s draft guidance – that it should be mandatory for rail replacement buses to be accessible when disruption “is planned or reasonably foreseeable”.

DfT refused to say if it shared Paulley’s concerns about the legality of the ORR guidance.

Paulley told DNS that it was “reprehensible” and “closed-minded” that ORR had still not mandated accessible rail replacement buses when he had been “banging on on this issue for years”.

But he said: “I am delighted that ORR has agreed to take this step.

Inaccessible rail replacement buses form a significant barrier for disabled people, causing further disruption and distress.

Alternative accessible transport in the form of accessible taxis appears an attractive alternative but isn’t.

They aren’t spontaneous, reliable, comfortable or sometimes even safe, and their segregated provision is problematic.

I very much hope the ORR’s re-examination will lead to better access for disabled people during disruption.”

DPG’s Louise Whitfield, representing Paulley, said: “We are very pleased that the ORR has taken our client’s concerns seriously in the light of our representations.

This is a very important issue about equality and access to train services, that cannot be underestimated.

Given the clear legal position on the relevant regulations, we cannot see how the ORR can reasonably conclude that rail replacement buses need not be accessible.”

5 September 2019

 

 

DWP admits it has no idea how many of its disability champions are disabled people

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that it has no idea how many of its 19 “disability champions” are disabled people.

The disability sector champions – covering areas such as banking, gaming, arts and culture, media, music and retail – are supposed to drive progress in breaking down barriers and promoting inclusion.

At least three of the 19 are known to be disabled people – rail champion Stephen Brookes, music champion Suzanne Bull and hotels champion Robin Sheppard – but it appears that many others are not.

Now, in response to a freedom of information request from disabled researcher and activist Ellen Clifford, DWP has admitted that it does not know how many of the 19 sector champions identify as disabled people.

Clifford submitted the request as part of research for her book about the government’s war on disabled people, due to be published by Zed Books in June 2020.

She said the failure to hold the information was “bizarre”.

Clifford said: “In line with article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the government should be promoting participation of disabled people in political and public life.”

She pointed out that, with the likely departure of Jared O’Mara (although it emerged this week that he has postponed his plans to resign as an MP), there would be only six MPs who self-describe as disabled people – Marsha de Cordova, Robert Halfon, Paul Maynard, Stephen Lloyd, Marie Rimmer and Emma Lewell-Buck.

Clifford said: “If government departments aren’t even monitoring representation of disabled people in their recruitment to public positions, particularly in roles relating to disability, we can assume this is not an issue they have interest in tackling.”

She said it was another example of how “meaningless” the disability champions initiative was.

She said: “Whether the government’s disability champions are themselves disabled or not is not necessarily an indication of how well they are able to fulfil their roles.”

But she said there had been no evidence of “tangible outcomes” from their appointments.

She added: “The failure to hold any equalities monitoring data on the champions further confirms the idea that these are purely tokenistic appointments created to give the impression of progress while the government continues its deliberate retrogression of disabled people’s rights.”

Clifford also pointed out that the sector champions were appointed to “remove the obstacles faced by disabled consumers”, with former minister for disabled people Sarah Newton saying in March that this would help businesses take advantage of the “staggering” £249 billion a year spending power of disabled consumers and their families.

But Clifford said this figure represented their disposable income, before housing costs and essentials, so disabled people’s actual spending power was far lower.

She said: “The so-called ‘purple pound’ is not, as suggested by proponents of the idea, equivalent to the pink or grey pounds which represent the spending power of the gay community and older people.

These are valuable to businesses because of the relatively high proportion of discretionary income – the amount left after tax, housing and basic living costs – that they contain.”

Clifford added: “The fact that the very basis for the initiative – the spending power of disabled people – fails to stand up to scrutiny underlines the government’s complete disinterest in what it would actually take to improve the lives of disabled people.”

Separately, Disability News Service has secured a copy of the agreement that DWP’s disability champions are asked to sign before taking on the voluntary, unpaid role.

The agreement says they are expected to be “a self-motivated successful business person with strong networks” and “passionate about driving social change for disabled people”.

They are also expected to be “a public advocate for improving accessibility and quality of services/facilities in your sector” and to “ensure businesses understand the benefits of employing disabled people”.

Although they do not have to pledge not to bring DWP into disrepute – as several charities have had to promise when taking contracts under DWP’s Work and Health Programme – they are not allowed to “represent any political preferences or views while undertaking the role”.

The agreement adds: “If you are asked to comment on government policy or legislation in your corporate role you will be expected to make it clear that you are speaking for your company and not as a Sector Champion.”

Asked why the department did not know how many of its sector champions were disabled people, a DWP spokesperson said: “Our sector champions have a proven track record of helping to tackle the issues faced by disabled consumers.

While some of the champions do have a disability, it is not a requirement for the role, and as they are not public sector employees we do not ask them to disclose this information.”

5 September 2019

 

 

Trio of DPOs warn government of ‘grave concerns’ over no-deal Brexit

Three national disabled people’s organisations have told the government of their “grave concerns” about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.

Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales and Disability Action (in Northern Ireland) are among 85 organisations that have signed a joint letter to prime minister Boris Johnson about the risks of Britain leaving the European Union (EU) without an agreement.

The letter, coordinated by the Brexit Civil Society Alliance, points to the “growing body of evidence” that shows that a no-deal Brexit would be “detrimental to civil society and the communities that we work with” and would have “drastic and wide-ranging implications”.

And it warns that voluntary organisations have not had “adequate support, resources and engagement” from the government in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

Inclusion Scotland said this week that the proposed suspension of parliament and the growing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit “poses direct threats to Scots disabled people”.

Among its concerns are that disabled people would be disproportionately affected by any food shortages or price hikes because they are more likely to be living in poverty.

Any Brexit-related staffing shortage within health and social care would also disproportionately impact disabled Scots, said Inclusion Scotland.

And post no-deal changes to immigration laws are likely to impact on the availability of personal assistants (PAs), which could see disabled people “slide back” into depending on institutions and being unable to live independently at home.

Although current EU nationals employed as PAs “may well achieve settled status” after Brexit, disabled people may not be able to recruit replacements if restrictions are placed on immigration from the EU.

A no-deal Brexit could also have “serious implications” for disabled people’s access to medicines and medical technologies.

Susie Fitton, policy officer for Inclusion Scotland’s Independent Living in Scotland project, summarised the key fears of disabled people in Scotland as “uncertainty, predicted economic shock and issues with shortage of essentials”.

She said that among the “chaos and clamour” of the Brexit process, “very few people are considering the potentially life-threatening consequences to disabled people of leaving the EU without a deal”.

Fitton said: “Which of our UK politicians are reassuring disabled people that their lives will not be threatened by food or medicine shortages, or that they will work to ensure staffing shortages within health and social care, already at crisis levels across the UK, are not exacerbated by a no-deal Brexit?”

She added: “The failure by the UK government to reassure disabled people that their lives will not be blighted by Brexit is truly shocking, but not that surprising given that this is a government that will be remembered for the damage and destitution caused by the roll-out of universal credit and the bedroom tax.

Disabled people’s fears about a no-deal Brexit have been nowhere near the top of the UK government’s agenda on Brexit.

Our fear is that the proroguing of parliament [the government’s decision to end this session of parliament next week until 14 October] will only cement that.

Disabled people need firm commitments from the UK government that their rights and services will be safeguarded as we leave the EU, deal or no-deal, and without parliamentary scrutiny such assurances are looking less and less likely.”

5 September 2019

 

 

Research to examine pros and cons of using AI to boost independent living

A new piece of co-produced research will examine the advantages – and risks – of using artificial intelligence (AI) to support disabled people to live independently.

The research, which has secured funding from the British Academy, will see academics work in co-production with disabled people and carers, who will help to design and steer the pilot project.

The project will explore how disabled people are using AI voice-based technologies, such as the Amazon Echo, to deal with the access issues they face in their daily lives and enhance their independence.

But as well as exploring these opportunities, the project will also examine the risks of greater use of AI, such as making it easier for public bodies to make further cuts to health and social care budgets.

Academics at Loughborough University will work on the project with Mark Harrison, formerly chief executive of the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives and more recently founder of the social enterprise Social Action Solutions.

Because the research is being co-produced, disabled people and carers will act as “co-investigators” and will have a say at every stage of the research project.

Its findings will be shared with disabled people’s organisations and parliamentary groups on AI, disability and social care.

Harrison said: “The crisis in social care is one of the big political and social policy issues of our time. Unfortunately, the debate often focusses on cost rather than quality of life. 

Our research approach puts disabled and older people at the heart of the enquiry process.

Because it is rooted in the real lives of people who use care services, we are confident there will be positive outcomes for participants. 

By co-producing the research with experts, one aim is to enable people to empower themselves through the process.

Another key aspect will be peer-to-peer learning, connecting people who can share experiences and creating a community of AI users.”

Dr Saul Albert, of the university’s School of Social Sciences and Humanities, who is leading the project, said: “Disabled people are very adept at adapting consumer devices to deal with access issues.

In the next few years, the big tech companies will put voice technologies in every home, so we want to use this opportunity to make sure access needs are considered.”

He said that many of the “wacky” ideas about robot carers “sensationalise” the use of AI and “ignore the more fundamental obstacles that disabled people face in society”.

He added: “Similarly, health and care services often focus on how technology will ‘fix’ individual people’s impairments, rather than looking for relatively cheap and straightforward systemic adaptations to the environment that could provide greater accessibility for everyone.”

Albert said that most of the disabled people he and his colleagues had talked to for previous research believe that these technologies “will be used to drive efficiency, to reduce provision of personal assistants, and to justify further cuts to social care budgets”.

His team has been awarded funding by the British Academy to run the pilot project for one year.

Its findings will be used to develop a four-year project that they hope will run from 2020-2024.

Any disabled users of technology interested in helping to shape the project can email Albert at s.b.albert@lboro.ac.uk

5 September 2019

 

 

Disability arts organisations secure £750k to boost number of disabled leaders

Disabled-led organisations have secured funding of more than £750,000 to develop three separate programmes that will aim to produce more disabled leaders in the arts.

All three of the programmes receiving funding from Arts Council England (ACE) are headed by disabled-led arts organisations.

The funding comes months after ACE revealed in its fourth annual diversity report that there had been only small increases over the last two years (2015-16 to 2017-18) in the small proportion of chief executives, chairs and artistic directors of ACE-funded arts organisations who reported that they were disabled.

The largest of the new grants has been given to Graeae Theatre Company, which will receive £300,000 for a national leadership programme, with one of its focuses being to connect early and mid-career disabled artists with mentors.

ACE is also providing funding of £284,000 to Access All Areas (AAA), Disability Arts Online (DAO) and Manchester Metropolitan University for the LeaD career development programme, which will support seven potential leaders with learning difficulties to become theatre directors, represent AAA on social media and become co-chairs of boards of trustees.

And Shape Arts will receive £185,000 for a two-year leadership programme, which it hopes will provide up to 50 future disabled leaders with the skills they need.

AAA, DAO, Shape and Graeae are all disabled-led arts organisations.

David Hevey, Shape’s chief executive and artistic director, said his organisation would be “developing new approaches to disabled-led creative leadership and pioneering new models of leadership success for those who have historically faced too many barriers and had too few opportunities”.

Trish Wheatley, DAO’s chief executive, said: “Everyone at Disability Arts Online is so excited about this project.

It will help us to fulfil our long-term ambition of supporting learning disabled people in the arts and cultural sector to have a voice, tell their story and be part of the conversation about arts and culture and the role it has in shaping society.

We’re really looking forward to working with our partners Access All Areas, Lucy Burke (University of Manchester) and experienced leadership coach Sarah Pickthall.”

Nick Llewellyn, AAA’s artistic director, said LeaD would “give a voice to a community that has not had a seat at the table before”.

And Jodi-Alissa Bickerton, Graeae’s creative learning director, said the funding was “a game-changer to support more Deaf and disabled artists at all stages of their career”.

Joyce Wilson, ACE’s London area director, said the three programmes would “ensure effective representation of disabled leaders in organisations and venues across the country” and would “work to open up the cultural landscape for D/deaf and disabled artists and drive much needed change across the sector”.

The funding is part of ACE’s Transforming Leadership fund, which saw grants of more than £7 million – funded by the National Lottery – handed to 18 projects, with the aim of ensuring arts and cultural leaders “are appropriately skilled and from diverse backgrounds”.

An ACE spokesperson told Disability News Service that supporting programmes that address the lack of diversity in arts and cultural leadership was a priority of the fund.

She said: “Our annual diversity reports were part of the evidence base for the development of this fund, which highlighted the underrepresentation of disabled people in senior roles across the sector, as well as slow improvement in the number of black and ethnic minority leaders and, in some cases, of female leaders.”

5 September 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:04
Sep 052019
 

[Text from the Facebook event page hosted by Another Europe is possible]

WE DEMAND BORIS JOHNSON’S RESIGNATION.

An unelected government is attacking our democracy so that it can drive through its Brexit agenda. We don’t just have the right to resist it – we have a duty.

This week will change Britain forever. Don’t be silent, don’t be absent – stand up and be counted.

We are calling on everyone to mobilise at 2.30pm on Saturday 7th September. Cancel your weekend plans, come to Downing Street, take part in a mass movement to stop the coup.

London Protest: 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AT, United Kingdom. More detail on the Facebook Event Page

Protests around the country – you can find out where protests are happening and when, on this map

 Posted by at 14:53
Sep 032019
 

Boris Johnson’s hubris and scheming in his attempt to bounce the country into leaving the EU with no-deal has brought about the prospect of an early General election. 

While many are wary of Johnson manoeuvring over the date of the election we believe that any opportunity to get the Tories out should be seized upon. 

If this chance to take on the Tories at their most divided is squandered it would see disabled people and others suffering after almost a decade of Tory attacks facing that brutality for longer. 

As with any battle in our long war there is no guarantee that we will win but if we do not fight we have already lost. In the last election in 2017 the press and polls would have had us believe the Tories were on course for a historic win – it wasn’t true then and we shouldn’t believe they are right now. We must certainly be wary of advice from figures such as Tony Blair who never had our interests at the front of their thoughts or actions when laying the basis for the WCA.

The former Tory Chancellor George Osborne’s paper the Evening Standard is certainly not of the opinion that Johnson and the Tories are confident of electoral success:

“The fact is that Mr Johnson’s closest electoral advisers think privately there is a high chance that he might lose an election.”

We need to stop and scrap the horror of Universal Credit, sanctions and the Work Capability Assessment now – not at some fictionalized perfect moment in the future which may never come. 

We need a general election now. 

[By Mark Dunk and Paula Peters]

Make sure you are registered to vote: Register to voteEasyread instructions

 Posted by at 22:08
Sep 012019
 

We’ve had the following request from Rob Booth, Social Affairs Correspondent for The Guardian:

We are trying to find out what happens when people make UC applications and they are processed by the DWP’s computer technology or how their applications are handled by local authorities when they make council tax benefit and housing benefit claims.

None of the authorities are particularly open how they use computer software to carry out what is known as “risk based verification” – their way of deciding how likely a claim is to be fraudulent or erroneous. We do know that some use commercially bought software which matches an individual’s application with other information about the bought commercially – eg from credit score agencies. Given the impact of this process on people’s welfare we need to know more.

I am looking to see if there are half a dozen (or more) people who claim (or have recently claimed) UC or Council Tax or Housing Benefit who want to find out.

The way we could do this is for each individual to make a subject access request asking for how their data has been handled. I can help with this there is a set way of asking for the information. The template is pasted below and feel free to distribute this to anyone who might be interested. I think the right address for requests for the DWP is data.protectionofficer@dwp.gov.uk It will vary for local authorities, but is often the data protection officer.

Organisations have a month to respond to subject access requests so I am keen to see if we could lodge them by the end of next week, the first week of September. Any information that comes back is of course the requester’s but I would like to be able to see the responses and report on them. I can of course do this anonymously, and would understand anyone requesting that.

If you are interested in taking part, please contact:

Robert Booth
Social affairs correspondent, The Guardian

rob.booth@theguardian.com

+44 (20) 33532319
+44 07946 518256
Twitter @Robert_Booth

 


Template

SUBJECT ACCESS REQUEST

[YOUR FULL ADDRESS]
[PHONE NUMBER]
[DATE]

[NAME OF AUTHORITY]
[ADDRESS OF AUTHORITY]

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to make a Subject Access Request for a copy of the data you hold about me, to which I am entitled under the Data Protection Act 2018.

[YOUR FULL NAME, ADDRESS, PLUS ANY OTHER INFORMATION TO HELP IDENTIFY YOU]

I am writing with reference to processing of my personal data for the purposes of my application for Universal Credit (OR OTHER BENEFIT) on (DATE OF APPLICATION).

Please supply the data relating to:

What risk category was assigned to me through the Risk Based Verification process?
What categories of personal information about me were processed for this Risk Based Verification analysis?
How was personal information about me sourced, other than the data obtained from me directly?
How did the Risk Based Verification result affect the processing of the claim and the additional personal information I was asked to provide?
What organisation provided the Risk Based Verification software used to process my data and can you supply any manuals or presentations about how it operates?
Who are the recipients or categories of recipient you have or will disclose my risk category and or other personal data to?
For how long will you retain my personal data or, what are your criteria for determining how long you will store it?

If you require any further information regarding the request, please notify me as soon as possible. I look forward to receiving your response to my request within one calendar month, as per my right under the Data Protection Act 2018.

If you are not familiar with dealing with these requests, please forward this letter to your Data Protection Officer, or a relevant staff member.

Yours faithfully,

[SIGNATURE]

 

 Posted by at 21:30
Sep 012019
 

Boris Johnson is trying to shut down our democracy so that he can deliver on his Brexit agenda.

From Monday 2nd September, we will be protesting EVERY DAY at 5.30pm in every town and city in the country.

For more info, and to set up an event, visit https://www.stopthecoup.org.uk/ , see the Facebook event page or email info@anothereurope.org

We can’t just rely on the courts or parliamentary process to save the day. We all have a duty to stand up and be counted. Join the nationwide wave of protests to defend democracy and fight against Boris Johnson’s Brexit agenda. Every day at 5.30pm

Organised by Another Europe Is Possible

#StopTheCoup

 Posted by at 12:49