We would like to invite you to join with us in celebrating the life of our son, brother, comrade and friend, Stephen Aselford, who sadly passed away in September.Funeral starts 10.30am at Croydon Crematorium, Mitcham Road, Croydon, CR9 3AT.Commemoration event to be held from 12pm at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon, CR0 1BD.We are inviting people to wear red for the occasion to reflect both Stephen’s socialism and his love of London buses!All welcome to come and share your happy memories of Stephen’s life and activism.
This week’s update from Disability News Service 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
Police could face XR legal action over disabled people’s right to protest
The Metropolitan police faces claims that it breached disabled people’s right to protest during this month’s Extinction Rebellion (XR) demonstrations in London, after a wheelchair-user was arrested because she needed support from a personal assistant (PA).
During the same action outside New Scotland Yard, officers arrested another disabled activist who was standing outside their headquarters asking – peacefully – for the return of vital independent living equipment.
Members of the XR Disabled Rebels network are now considering possible legal action in response to this and other measures taken by the police force during this month’s XR climate change actions in the capital.
They say the measures taken have added to growing concerns about the actions of police across the country, including admissions from two other forces that they have passed information about disabled protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The Metropolitan police apparently refused to provide a written guarantee that it would not pass information from this month’s protests to DWP.
A small group had been outside New Scotland Yard in central London on Friday to protest against the confiscation of equipment that had been intended to make this month’s climate change protests more inclusive – and safer – for disabled people.
The equipment confiscated by officers included two mobile accessible toilets and showers, wheelchairs, ramps, noise-cancelling headphones for autistic protesters, and solar-powered charging equipment for wheelchairs and scooters.
The plan was to carry out a short, peaceful, non-disruptive protest.
The group of about 10 activists were twice given permission to continue their protest – which called on the force to “give us back our access kit” – by police officers patrolling the area.
Sandra* and Bob Williams-Findlay, two of the disabled activists taking part in the protest, then approached the entrance to New Scotland Yard to ask to speak to Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick.
Sandra said: “We wanted to tell her that this equipment had been taken and was very important because it made it accessible for disabled people to be able to peacefully protest.
“It had been hard going for all of us and disabled people had stayed away [as a result of the equipment being confiscated].
“Once people heard that there were not toilet facilities, it was more difficult, and they didn’t come.
“We wanted to make a stand as disabled people and speak up about the injustice of this.”
She said the force’s actions would affect future protests by disabled people, and she added: “Our voices are not going to be heard.”
Officers refused to accept a written complaint that Sandra and Williams-Findlay asked to be handed to the commissioner.
They rejoined their fellow protesters as about 20 police officers arrived, threatening the group with arrest if they failed to disperse.
One of the members of the XR Disabled Rebels network, Tracey Lazard, said that one of these officers was “visibly shaking with anger” as he told her that protests linked to Extinction Rebellion had been banned, under section 14 of the Public Order Act, unless they took place in Trafalgar Square.
That section 14 order was later extended to cover Extinction Rebellion protests across the entire city.
Lazard said: “He was right in my face, saying, ‘section 14, if you don’t move now you’re under arrest.’
“It’s my understanding that it’s good practice that there should be a series of warnings, but literally after a minute and a half tops I was arrested.
“There was no attempt to have a conversation and negotiate us leaving. It was completely unnecessary, aggressive policing, with no factoring in of the extra time it might take for me to pick up or drop stuff and for us to move.”
Lazard was taken to Lewisham police station and spent nine hours in a cell before being released pending further investigation.
Most of the rest of the group returned to Trafalgar Square, but one disabled protester, Nicki Myers, stayed outside New Scotland Yard for about an hour.
Myers, who has a life-limiting condition, could not be arrested for being part of an Extinction Rebellion “assembly” while she was on her own.
But eventually she needed support from a personal assistant (PA) to adjust her oxygen levels and hand her vital medication. And when the PA joined her, both of them were arrested.
Officers argued that she had become an “assembly” by being joined by the PA.
The two wheelchair-users were then surrounded by police officers while they waited for vehicles to take them to London police stations, and they were prevented from talking to legal observers or receiving food or water from fellow activists.
Although her friend, who uses a manual wheelchair, was taken into police custody, officers could not find a vehicle that would take Myers’ electric wheelchair.
Eventually, she was de-arrested, but was told she would need to return to be interviewed at a police station at a future date.
Myers said she believed the police actions breached her right to protest and the Equality Act.
She said: “If a single person has the right to be alone [under section 14] then a single person with a PA should have that right also.
“I want them to investigate. I want to challenge it in court. If they don’t follow up, then I will take a civil action instead for wrongful arrest.”
She said she believed the police actions showed that disabled people’s right to protest was “at huge risk”.
She said: “Any disabled people’s organisation that does any kind of protest should be extremely worried.
“The treatment of activists, particularly disabled activists, seems to be getting worse.
“I think we are seen as an easy target, which is horrific. The police have a duty of care and they are not exercising that duty of care.
“We want our equipment back. This is not over. People are still at risk while they are in London because we haven’t got the equipment.”
Myers said that in meetings held in the months leading up to Extinction Rebellion, senior police officers refused to provide written confirmation that information about disabled protesters would not be passed to DWP.
They also refused to provide written confirmation that they would ensure the wellbeing of disabled people and look after their equipment while they were in custody.
Lazard said she thought the police’s treatment of disabled protesters – including the confiscation of independent living equipment, the treatment of Myers and the general police approach to disabled protesters – was “legally challengeable” and “really ethically dubious”.
She said: “They have gone after kit that was clearly disability access stuff. That has taken away many disabled people’s legal right to lawfully protest.”
She said other disabled activists had made it clear on social media that they had cancelled plans to join the XR protests because of the confiscation of the access equipment.
Lazard said there was an increasing fear and anxiety among disabled people about being seen on a protest, and that the police actions were “undermining our legal right to protest”, which was “really worrying”.
She pointed to the “hostile environment” that had been created, including the “utterly outrageous” treatment of Nicki Myers, and other police forces that had previously admitted passing on information about disabled protesters to DWP.
She said of the actions of the Metropolitan police: “We are going to be speaking to some lawyers and seeing what the options are.”
This could include examining the equipment confiscation, the treatment of Myers, the general approach to policing and the failure to provide disabled protesters with extra time to respond to a police order, with the possibility that some of the force’s actions could even be seen as targeted disability hate crime.
Activists in the wider Extinction Rebellion movement were so appalled at how the disabled protesters had been treated that they organised a solidarity protest – again, entirely peaceful – outside New Scotland Yard two days later, with estimates suggesting that as many as 1,000 people may have attended.
All three of the disabled people who had been arrested on Friday were at the gathering.
Myers told those present: “Today I am overwhelmed by you guys being here supporting XR Disabled Rebels.
“I’d like to tell you that disabled people have a rich history of civil disobedience and every right we have was fought for.
“Our accessible buses we got because people chained themselves in the road. We are useful in XR.”
Another disabled protester, Mary Ellen, told the gathering that she also had been “overwhelmed” to see so many people there.
She said: “I just wanted to express my gratitude to all of you for standing up for our planet and for being here to support disabled people to have an equal right to stand with you in peaceful rebellion.”
She also asked them to continue to stand with disabled people, and told them how Disabled People Against Cuts had been fighting the government’s austerity cuts since 2010, “fighting their austerity, fighting their inequality, fighting their cuts, fighting their sanctions, fighting their brutality, and fighting for our lives, literally”.
A police spokesperson has so far failed to respond to concerns about the treatment of Nicki Myers and her PA and the failure to provide confirmation in advance about the treatment of disabled protesters, including whether information would be passed to DWP.
But she said that officers refused to accept the written complaint on Friday because they are unable to accept correspondence handed over in person at New Scotland Yard “for security reasons”.
And she said in a statement: “It is the police’s role to provide a lawful and proportionate response to any planned protest, balancing the potential impact on the community with the human right to protest.
“At the time of assemblies outside New Scotland Yard on Friday, 11 and Sunday, 13 October conditions under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 had been imposed on Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’.
“The conditions stated any assembly by those involved in Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’ could only lawfully take place in Trafalgar Square. Therefore, the assemblies outside New Scotland Yard were unlawful.
“The [Metropolitan police] does not single out or disproportionately target any group or community.
“If those involved in an assembly to protest break the law, they are liable to arrest. Those people can also expect to be charge, prosecuted, and receive a criminal record.
“Officers have powers to seize any equipment which they believe will facilitate unlawful protest.
“Equipment is not seized on the basis of who it belongs to, but on its ability to enable unlawful protest which could cause serious disruption to the community.
“When officers make arrests, they do so with dignity and respect.
“The health and wellbeing of people in our care and custody is a priority, and we do all that is possible to provide appropriate facilities and support for individuals on a case by case basis.”
*Sandra has requested that only her first name is used
17 October 2019
Ministers push ahead with single face-to-face assessments for disability benefits
Ministers are pushing ahead with controversial plans to merge two disability benefit assessments into one, despite concerns raised by disabled campaigners.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) wants to offer a single face-to-face assessment – with the agreement of the claimant – that would replace and merge the current work capability assessment (WCA) and the assessment for personal independence payment (PIP).
A parliamentary petition calling on DWP to abandon the plans was signed by more than 7,000 people earlier this year.
But the new work and pensions secretary, Therese Coffey, mentioned the proposals as she gave evidence for the first time yesterday (Wednesday) in front of the Commons work and pensions select committee.
In an evidence session marked by apparent frustration and even anger from some opposition MPs, Coffey also insisted that – despite repeated and serious concerns raised by disabled activists, campaigners, charities and MPs – the new universal credit (UC) benefit system was “broadly working well”.
And she claimed that the five-week wait for a first payment for new claimants – and the system of advance payments for those in need, which must then be repaid out of future monthly payments – “does work”.
Liberal Democrat MP Heidi Allen told her: “Imagine living on such a tiny amount of money that it is not enough to live on and then you have to pay some of it back.
“How can that work?”
But Coffey said: “For those people who are claiming universal credit for the first time, I do think the advance works.”
Coffey’s confidence came just days after a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference heard from the boss of a local homeless charity how UC was causing early deaths, addiction, mental distress and suicides, and that the “killer” for her clients was the five-week wait for a first payment.
Coffey also told the committee that there had been a “drop in satisfaction” with DWP among disabled people.
She said that a single assessment would be an “important part” of improving the experience of disabled claimants, “as long as we can make sure that customers actually want that to happen and that we have people adequately trained on that”.
She stressed that the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, was “very keen to make sure it is absolutely the decision of the person going through the process about whether to have one or two assessments”.
Tomlinson himself had appeared to dismiss the idea of a single assessment in April, when he told MPs that there had been “confusion” over the government’s plans, which he said would merely offer a “very few people” the chance to have both their PIP assessment and their WCA on the same day.
But Coffey told the committee that Tomlinson was “very much engaged in trying to make [a single assessment] happen”.
And John-Paul Marks, DWP’s director general for work and health services, told MPs that the plan was to offer disabled people a single, joint assessment.
He said: “We recognise that a PIP assessment is about independent living and the employment and support allowance assessment is about fitness for work and these are not the same thing, so we have got to be careful about understanding how this would improve customer experience.
“Would it improve trust, would it improve engagement, would it make it easier for people?
“If we can do the feasibility and show that’s true, then it is a helpful improvement.”
But he said that some people might want to continue to have separate assessments.
He said that “trying to merge those two things into a single face-to-face contact might work for some people but it might not work for everyone so that’s why we do want to be cautious and make sure get it right and base it on evidence”.
Coffey also heard a claim from Labour MP Neil Coyle that ministers had decided that those disabled people previously receiving enhanced disability premium (EDP) on top of benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) would be “deliberately made worse off under universal credit”.
He pointed to a court ruling in January that found DWP had acted unlawfully in how it treated recipients of disability-related premiums when they were moved onto UC.
But Coyle said that the “transitional protections” now agreed by DWP would only help those who had been receiving SDP and not those who had only received EDP.
He said there were about 100,000 disabled people receiving SDP, compared with 900,000 receiving EDP and he suggested DWP was “deliberately” targeting compensation at the smaller group and was in effect saying that the 900,000 would be “deliberately made worse off under universal credit”.
Marks told Coyle: “To be honest, that is a choice that has been made.”
He told Coyle that ministers had decided to pay more to those disabled people who were not expected to work, who were previously in the support group of ESA and were now in the new limited capability for work-related activity group of UC.
He said this group would on average be £100-a-month better off under UC.
He added: “So when decisions were made by previous ministers – with advice – it was about how do you get the right choices with what’s available, given the resources and the choices that have to be made.
“Every choice has to be around support for vulnerable people and incentives for work and fairness for the taxpayer and so that is the balance that has been struck on SDP.”
Asked if all those on EDP would be worse off when they move onto UC, a DWP spokesperson told Disability News Service this morning: “We are committed to ensuring that everybody receives the support they need.
“The severe disability premium and the enhanced disability premium are different premiums with different qualifying conditions.
“Many people transferring from enhanced disability premium are better off under universal credit.
“Transitional payments introduced for those claimants who were receiving the severe disability premium recognise their very specific circumstances.”
DWP has always admitted there would be winners and losers among disabled people as it gradually introduced its delayed and much-criticised new UC system, while it claims that any savings would be reinvested into supporting those it calls “the most severely disabled”.
But it has repeatedly refused to provide clear details of how UC is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.
17 October 2019
Queen’s speech social care pledge ‘is waffle and a smokescreen’
The government’s promise in this week’s Queen’s speech to introduce proposals to solve the adult social care crisis has been dismissed by leading disabled campaigners as “waffle”, a “smokescreen” and “the same old platitudes”.
A speech laying out Boris Johnson’s first programme of priorities for his government, delivered by the Queen, included a pledge to “bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age.”
In a briefing accompanying the speech, the government said it would “bring forward substantive proposals to fix the crisis in social care to give everyone the dignity and security they deserve”, which would include “setting out legislative requirements”.
But in his introduction to the briefing document, Johnson ignored social care completely.
The announcement came as the Care Quality Commission, in its annual assessment of the state of health and social care in England, warned that the “failure to find a consensus” on a future adult social care funding model “continues to drive instability in this sector” and said there was “an urgent need for Parliament and government to make this a priority”.
The government’s Queen’s speech pledge to reform social care was dismissed by leading disabled figures.
Mark Harrison, of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, who helped draw up plans for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS), an idea overwhelmingly approved by Labour members, although not yet by party leaders (see separate story), said: “The Tories have no intention of solving the social care crisis.
“They are not serious. If they were, they would have a bill and a legislative timetable.
“The smokescreen in the Queen’s speech is designed to confuse and give the appearance of action when the reality is the opposite.
“The relatively small sums of money being promised don’t go any way to meeting the need or addressing the funding cuts since 2010.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, who has written in support of ROFA’s “radical and transformational” NILSS plans, said: “As for the present minority government’s waffle about social care, perhaps the least said the best.
“We are used to modern UK governments making announcements of new money that really isn’t there.
“But to announce inadequate social care proposals they aren’t even in a position to implement, takes us to a new low.”
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a crossbench peer and chair of the Independent Living Strategy Group, said she was working on her own proposals, which would be laid out in a private members’ bill.
She said: “Although the announcement on social care was at least mentioned in the Queen’s speech yesterday, there is nothing to suggest that it is going to be anything more than the same old platitudes that we have been fobbed off with for years.
“I am so weary of fine words that never materialise into action; it will take strong, progressive action to make me believe that anything is going to change.
“That’s why I am attempting to develop my own private members’ bill, on the right to independent living.”
Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said it was unclear from the Queen’s speech whether long-delayed plans for a social care green paper had now been scrapped.
He criticised the failure to mention disabled people in the part of the speech relating to social care.
He said: “Did the government think that disabled people would simply disappear following the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund in 2015?
“The government legislative agenda in relation to social care makes no direct reference to disabled people, which is totally unacceptable.”
Like others, he was critical of Labour’s own announcement on social care this week, which pledged to provide free personal care for older people and only to “work towards” extending that to working-age adults.
He said: “GMCDP believes we need a clear timescale and commitment from both the government and the opposition parties to consult on their social care plans.
“That means actively engaging with and listening to disabled people and our organisations.
“To be clear, what we need, what we demand, is that all political parties accept the need for legislation that enshrines disabled people’s universal right to independent living.
“Furthermore, just as health care is free at the point of delivery, so should social care.”
Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, said: “This Queen’s speech is a bad news for disabled people who have been hardest hit by austerity.
“There is nothing in it to make our lives better.
“Proposals for social care and mental health are not the radical change that we need, but are just patching up an already broken system which breaches our human rights and does not comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“The government has been promising to reform social care for years and it looks like their main concern is cost, not the radical rethinking of the system and setting up a service that would promote our right to independent living.”
She said this reflected the lack of meaningful engagement with disabled people and their organisations.
Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “Once again, a commitment to reform social care but only so far as ‘bringing forward proposals’, which we have heard many times before. Will this time be any different?”
Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said the funding offered by the government for adult social care was “totally inadequate and fails to address people’s real needs”, describing it as like “an Elastoplast being applied to a fracture”.
Elsewhere in the Queen’s speech, the government promised to continue work to reform the Mental Health Act – following last December’s publication of an independent review of the act – with a white paper promised by the end of the year.
Bott said that people experiencing mental ill health “must be at the centre of any reform”.
And Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “The mental health section of the Queen’s speech briefing says there will be a white paper by the end of the year.
“Despite all the political rhetoric, this shows how slowly mental health is moving as an issue under this government. They have been in office since 2010.”
There will also be a controversial new bill that would tackle electoral fraud – which would require voters to show photographic identification, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has described as “clearly discriminatory” – but would also make it easier for disabled people to vote at polling stations.
This would allow a wider range of people to assist disabled voters and would require returning officers to provide equipment to support voters with sight loss and other impairments who face barriers in voting.
King said: “It is good that there is going to be more support for disabled voters. But the proposals say nothing about the accessibility of polling stations.
“We’ve seen how personal independence payment assessments are held in inaccessible buildings and polling stations continue to be held in premises without proper access.”
17 October 2019
‘Disappointment and sadness’ over Labour’s social care policy
Frustrated disabled campaigners have expressed “massive disappointment” at Labour’s latest policy announcement on social care, after it failed again to commit to introducing a legal right to independent living if it wins power.
Jeremy Corbyn promised on Tuesday that a Labour government would introduce free personal care for older people in England – ensuring support for getting in and out of bed, dressing, eating and bathing – and would only “work towards” doing the same for working-age disabled people.
Corbyn criticised Boris Johnson for failing to set out in this week’s Queen’s speech any legislation on adult social care, or to provide details of any proposals or set a time limit for any reforms (see separate story).
And he said Labour’s plans would extend state-funded social care to hundreds of thousands more people.
But those plans fall far short of proposals for a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) for England, and a legal right to independent living, which were overwhelmingly backed by Labour members at the party’s annual conference in Brighton last month.
It came as the Care Quality Commission, in its annual assessment of the state of health and social care in England, warned that the “failure to find a consensus” for a future adult social care funding model “continues to drive instability in this sector” and said there was “an urgent need for Parliament and government to make this a priority”.
Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said she was “massively disappointed” that Labour did not seem committed to the NILSS proposals that had been backed by its own members.
She said Labour’s plans for a National Care Service “will not meet the needs of thousands of disabled people of all ages who want to live independently and have control over who provides that care and how it is delivered”.
Mark Harrison, of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), who helped draw up the NILSS plans, said Labour had failed to co-produce its proposals with disabled people and their representative organisations, as required by [article four of] the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
He said: “If they had consulted disabled people and implemented the policy on independent living and social care passed at the recent conference and the TUC Congress in September, it would not look like this.
“Their policy is free personal care for older people (and working towards free personal care for working-age people) rather than the National Independent Living Support Service approved unanimously by party members at conference.”
He said the party’s plans were also not in line with those proposed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has called for a legal right to independent living.
Harrison said: “We need the Labour front bench to take the UNCRPD seriously and work closely with representative disabled people’s organisations to develop a plan for achieving disability equality and addressing the last nine-and-a-half years of austerity cuts which have disproportionately hit disabled people and our families.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, who has written in support of ROFA’s “radical and transformational” NILSS plans, said: “First and most important, we have to hope that Labour’s early announcement about social care will not come to be seen as a lost opportunity, rather than a first response to broader extraordinary political circumstances.
“What we have to hope is that Labour will ultimately commit itself to an approach to future social care policy that is closely in line with achieving independent living as set out in the UNCRPD.
“This must be the goal, although we know that it may take time, but the UN convention recognises this and has introduced the concept of ‘progressive realisation’ knowing that while states cannot be expected to have all the resources in place in the short term they must have concrete steps in place towards it.
“The current announcement does not yet put us in this crucial place.”
Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, said her organisation was “disappointed” with Labour’s focus on personal care, rather than independent living.
She said: “Our lives are so much more than just being clean and fed.”
She said the proposals “reflect the lack of meaningful engagement with disabled people and our organisations” and called on Labour to rethink its policy in co-production with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.
Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said Labour’s announcement and the lack of reference to NILSS was “disappointing”.
He said: “Whilst free personal care for older people is obviously welcomed, extending that right should and must be extended to all, including disabled people young and old.
“GMCDP believes we need a clear timescale and commitment from both the government and the opposition parties to consult on their social care plans.
“That means actively engaging with and listening to disabled people and our organisations.
“To be clear, what we need, what we demand, is that all political parties accept the need for legislation that enshrines disabled people’s universal right to independent living.
“Furthermore, just as health care is free at the point of delivery, so should social care.”
Michelle Maher, from WOWcampaign, said she viewed Labour’s announcement with “great sadness”.
She said: “The closure of the Independent Living Fund stripped disabled people of a lifeline and impacted disabled people grievously. Labour know what that impact is.
“They have been at the fringe events [at the party conference], they saw the protests.
“We are not invisible; they know the facts. The continued attacks on personal independence payment and social care are getting worse.
“Social care is a lifeline, it is our human right, our access to society. Labour need to get behind this as they have with other cuts to support.”
The Labour party had not been able to comment by noon today (Thursday).
17 October 2019
Disabled job-seeker banned from using toilet on DWP work programme
A disabled job-seeker who signed up to the government’s new Work and Health Programme was banned from using the toilet, washing his hands or accessing drinking water.
Ryan*, from north London, was attending a voluntary programme run by the charity Shaw Trust, which was supposed to help with his search for a job.
But when he turned up to the first session at the offices in Cricklewood, having cycled there in the rain, he asked to use the toilet to wash his hands, and was told the facilities were only for staff.
Ryan, who has experience of depression and anxiety and receives universal credit after previously being found fit for work – he was sacked from his last job after an anxiety episode – was told to use a nearby café instead.
When he insisted that he only wanted to wash his hands, he was escorted to the kitchen area, while a member of staff watched over him “like a prison officer”.
The following week, while attending his second weekly session, he asked to use the toilet, to be told again that the facilities were only for staff and that he should use the nearby café.
Ryan did not want to have to ask to use the facilities in a café, so he “cycled home really fast” after the session and used his own bathroom instead.
He is now refusing to return to the offices in Cricklewood Lane and has asked Shaw Trust to refer him to another service. He has also lodged a complaint about the way he was treated.
Ryan said: “This was a breach of my human rights.
“It is an unacceptable way to treat people, especially disabled people.
“I believe in fighting for my rights, so I made a complaint. I just feel that it is degrading.”
He added: “I’ve attended many jobcentre-sanctioned courses over the years and never have I experienced anything like this.
“In my opinion it’s not fit for purpose for holding any type of work programme-related support.”
Shaw Trust is one of the largest 25 charities in the country and says it provides “specialist services to help people gain an education, enter work, develop their career, improve their wellbeing or rebuild their lives”.
But last year, Disability News Service revealed that the charity had promised to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the work and pensions secretary and pledge never to do anything that harmed the public’s confidence in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in order to win the Work and Health Programme contract.
The £398 million, seven-year Work and Health Programme is replacing the Work Programme and the specialist Work Choice disability employment scheme across England and Wales, with contractors paid mostly by results.
Most of those referred to the scheme are expected to be disabled people.
Shaw Trust is one of the five main Work and Health Programme contractors.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “I think any organisation raking in so much money to supposedly provide services to disabled people can afford to provide premises which have a toilet and facilities for attendees to get both hot or cold drinks during the day.
“But, sadly, this Shaw Trust failure comes as no surprise given their previous track record in failing to meet disabled people’s needs on workfare-type programmes.”
A Shaw Trust spokesperson said: “Shaw Trust seeks to provide services in communities, and co-locates these services to ensure they are accessible to all clients.
“On this occasion the premises, which belong to our partner, in Cricklewood do not meet our required standards and this is already being addressed with them.
“The wellbeing of those participating on our programmes is a priority for Shaw Trust and we are already in contact with [Ryan] to support him at alternate locations to meet his individual needs.”
A DWP spokesperson refused to comment.
*He has asked for his full name not to be used
17 October 2019
Disabled peer misses Queen’s speech after Underground flouts court ruling
A disabled peer was forced to miss the state opening of parliament after London Underground failed yet again to alert wheelchair-users to broken lifts on the network, despite a critical court ruling in January.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell was forced to retrace her steps on the tube network to Waterloo station, and then wheel in the wind and rain to the Houses of Parliament, after she arrived at Westminster station to find the lifts were out of order.
By the time she arrived at the House of Lords, it was too late to take her place for the Queen’s speech.
She has already written to Transport for London’s chair and chief executive about her experience, and she plans to raise it with a transport minister.
The crossbench peer, who has spinal muscular atrophy and has repeatedly had to be admitted to hospital with life-threatening chest infections, told Transport for London (TfL) that “wheeling in the cold has its own dangers”.
The latest London Underground failure comes just months after a judge ruled that it twice discriminated against a disabled campaigner by failing to warn him that vital lifts that would allow him to complete his journey on the tube network were out-of-order.
Doug Paulley found himself stranded and confronted with inaccurate and incomplete information and unhelpful staff on trips to London in October 2016 and May 2017, a similar situation to that faced by Baroness Campbell on Monday.
A judge ruled that London Underground breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for its disabled customers by failing to let Paulley know about lift closures on its network.
The judge ruled that it was not reasonable for London Underground to expect wheelchair-users and other passengers who rely on lifts to check the organisation’s website for closures before every journey they make.
London Underground was told to do more to alert passengers when its lifts were out of order across the 12 stations with step-free access in the central zone – which include Waterloo and Westminster – which should include placing white boards at station entrances to ensure passengers know about problems before they start their journey.
This does not appear to have been done on Monday and led to Baroness Campbell missing the Queen’s speech.
Paulley said it appeared from Baroness Campbell’s experience that London Underground had failed to act on January’s court ruling.
He said: “It’s sad that disabled people are still suffering unduly disrupted journeys because London Underground don’t bother to take the smallest of effort to publicise broken lifts.”
Mark Evers, London Underground’s chief customer officer, said: “I would like to apologise to Baroness Campbell for her recent experience on the tube which fell far short of the customer service that we strive to provide.
“Making London’s transport network more accessible is one of our top priorities and we understand how challenging it can be for our customers when lifts are taken out of service, either for planned maintenance or due to a fault.
“We try hard to alert our customers in advance to any issues, for example through real-time lift information on our website, and to provide up-to-date information at stations and on trains.
“However, it’s clear that some of the recent improvements we’ve made to keep customers up-to-date weren’t carried out properly in this case.”
A TfL spokesperson said London Underground had introduced a real-time information app for station staff which allows them to report lift faults, via their iPads, directly to the control centre.
It has also installed poster frames next to lifts in stations, and prints posters with key alternative routes “that can be quickly deployed in the event of a lift fault”.
She added: “We have also introduced an initiative at all step-free stations which involves distributing prompt cards to station staff to remind them of the actions to take when a lift goes out of service.”
17 October 2019
Disappointment at mayor’s scaled-back plans for Liberty arts festival
Disabled artists have expressed disappointment at the mayor of London’s scaled-back plans for the capital’s annual disability arts festival, which has continued to shrink in size since its heyday in the mid-2000s.
Liberty was originally launched by Ken Livingstone in 2003 as a festival celebrating both disability arts and disability rights.
The first eight Liberty festivals were held in Trafalgar Square before the venue was moved to the South Bank in 2011.
Liberty was then merged with National Paralympic Day – a decision that itself was widely criticised by disabled artists – and the location moved to the Olympic Park in east London.
Last year, the festival was renamed Liberty Unbound and was held for the first time across three London boroughs – Enfield, Hounslow and Lewisham – in late August and early September.
This year’s Liberty will be held in late autumn – 23 and 24 November – in venues across the north-east London borough of Waltham Forest, which mayor Sadiq Khan has named as his first London borough of culture.
There is a line-up of critically-acclaimed disabled artists, including Nwando Ebizie, Jess Thom’s Touretteshero and Byron Vincent, and a Deaf Rave club night, with performances, installations and screenings of the documentary The Unlimited House of Krip, but there are concerns that the festival has lost its original scale and commitment to disability rights.
Dr Ju Gosling, artistic director of Together! 2012*, who has contributed to many Liberty festivals over the years, said the new format “seems focussed on showcasing disabled artists to non-disabled people, with disabled people having to criss-cross Walthamstow for 36 hours if they want to access all of the activities, which clearly creates significant barriers”.
She said: “All of the acts are great, of course, and I would welcome any and all of them to Newham, where we continue to have one of the lowest cultural engagement rates in the UK.”
But she added: “I still believe there is a huge need for a summer-based outdoor festival – late November hardly being ideal for disabled people to access outdoor installations, etc – which brings disabled people together on one site to enjoy our own cultural activities, as promised by article 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“Most of us don’t live in fully accessible homes, so we only see our friends at events like Liberty – there are quite a number of people whom I haven’t seen since 2017 when the last single-site festival took place.
“Liberty began as ‘The Mayor of London’s Disability Rights Festival’, but all of the elements which supported our rights, from information stalls to gaining resilience through social networking, have seemingly been abandoned.”
David Hevey, chief executive of London-based Shape Arts, said: “I hope Liberty returns to the scale it used to have.
“Let’s hope this is the beginning of it going back to a large scale.
“It’s great that it’s keeping going. It’s got a great legacy. I just hope that it achieves a more national pre-eminence again.”
Kevin Walsh, executive director of Graeae Theatre Company, said: “Liberty Festival is one of the cornerstones of the modern disability arts landscape and it is great that it returns for another year.
“We have been supportive of the programme reaching parts of London outside the centre, as it is taking the festival to boroughs that would benefit from a bit more Touretteshero and Candoco [Dance Company] in their lives.
“That said, something has been lost by not having a celebration in the centre of London.
“It was with great pride that we belted out tunes and danced across Trafalgar Square to the random passers-by who just came to frolic in the fountains.
“There is something brazen and sexy about introducing tourists to 40 years of progress in disability arts.
“Front and centre, loud, proud and chaotic, Liberty Festival was always a little bit of naughtiness on a summer’s day.
“We’ll be there in Walthamstow, though, the line-up sounds awesome and we love what [access to live music charity] Attitude is Everything are doing to support Waltham Forest venues.”
A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “This year’s Liberty festival will take place across an entire weekend, showcasing deaf and disabled artists and performers.
“By partnering with Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture we are holding a range of events across a variety of locations so there are more opportunities for Londoners to enjoy the works.
“We are working closely with Waltham Forest to ensure that all sites are accessible to the widest possible audience.”
He said the London Borough of Culture programme was “designed to bring arts and culture to the doorsteps of Londoners” and that Liberty would be “family-focused to help break barriers and educate children”, including panel talks, workshops, emerging artist commissions, local artist performances, and performance pieces.
He added: “While some events take place outside, there will also be indoor events as part of the festival.”
*Together! 2012’s Disability History Month Festival begins on 22 November in Stratford, east London
17 October 2019
‘Definitive’ account of austerity decade ‘provides evidence of government’s shame’
The government is continuing to breach disabled people’s rights despite repeated exposure by the United Nations, according to a new book that provides a “definitive” account of the harm caused by a decade of cuts and reforms.
In Second Class Citizens, disabled researcher Stef Benstead looks at the conclusions of various UN investigations that have examined the UK’s provision for disabled people and how it has changed and have concluded that the government has been “gravely breaching disabled people’s rights”.
In contrast, says Benstead, the UK government “remains confident that it is a world leader in disability rights, and that in recent years it has improved its provision through better targeting of resources and more support to help disabled people get and stay in work”.
Her book, published by the Centre for Welfare Reform, includes a series of examples describing how government cuts and reforms have impacted on individual disabled people.
It has been described as “essential reading” by the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell.
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said it provided “the definitive verdict on government welfare reform, the UK’s shame”.
He said: “It’s a policy against the evidence, against human rights and most of all against disabled people. Here the truth gap is filled with the real voices of disabled people.”
Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, described the book as “a benchmark study of the treatment of disabled people under austerity”.
He said: “It is illuminated by numerous powerful personal stories illustrating the human impact of austerity, and a devastating critique of the shift from a positive vision of social security to today’s welfare system based on a culture of blame and the myth of dependency.”
Benstead has previously worked with the Spartacus online network, which produced a string of influential research reports on cuts to disabled people’s support between 2012 and 2017, and the thinktank Ekklesia.
She is currently working with the user-led Chronic Illness Inclusion Project and Church Action on Poverty.
Her book presents evidence on the impact of policy changes that have affected disabled people since 2010.
But she also looks at the history of how disabled people have been treated by society and the state, and examines the development of the welfare state and post-war campaigns for a more inclusive society, and the Thatcherite policies of the 1980s and the “gradual erosion of the welfare state”.
Benstead describes how politicians began to frame benefit recipients as “scroungers and frauds and the benefit system as a costly mistake”, before extending this argument to recipients of out-of-work sickness and disability benefits.
She then begins to examine the impact of the austerity policies introduced by successive Tory-led governments from 2010, including cuts to social care and employment and support allowance, growing claims by ministers that work should be seen as a health outcome, and substantial increases in the use of conditionality and benefit sanctions imposed on sick and disabled people.
Benstead also examines the introduction of universal credit, which she says is “a mess, deliberately designed to fail to cope with reality” and has left people “trapped in unsuitable homes without enough money to cover their rent, the support they need or their food and bills”.
Her book – which includes many personal stories that illustrate the dehumanising impact of austerity – concludes that sick and disabled people are being failed by the government, which is “failing both to provide the opportunity to work for those who can, and an adequate alternative income for those who can’t work”.
Since 2010, says Benstead, governments have “caused substantial harm to sick and disabled people’s health, living standards and social inclusion”.
She says they have done so “without any moral or economic justification”, failing to uphold one of governments’ “most fundamental reasons to exist: to ensure and improve the access to basic rights of its most vulnerable citizens”.
She adds: “Sick and disabled people in the UK today are treated as second-class citizens, and until this situation is rectified the UK Government will continue to be violating international law by its ongoing breach of disabled people’s rights.”
17 October 2019
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
This week’s update from Disability News Service 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
Anger as police confiscate Extinction Rebellion accessible toilets, ramps and wheelchairs
A police force has been accused of discrimination and “abusive” behaviour after confiscating ramps, wheelchairs and even accessible toilets that were intended to make this week’s Extinction Rebellion climate change protests in London more inclusive – and safer – for disabled activists.
Members of the Disabled Rebels group had spent months working with the organisers of Extinction Rebellion (XR) to ensure that the protests taking place this week and next would be accessible and inclusive, as reported last week by Disability News Service.
But the Metropolitan police have sabotaged those preparations by impounding two mobile accessible toilets that had been rented by XR, and arresting two members of staff working for the charity that was providing the equipment.
That police action on Monday near St James’s Park, Westminster, followed a police raid on a building in south London on Saturday, which led to eight arrests and the seizure of independent living aids and other equipment being stored by XR.
Organisers said later that the equipment seized included wheelchairs, ramps, noise-cancelling headphones for autistic protesters, camp beds for those unable to sleep on the floor, and solar-powered charging equipment for wheelchairs and scooters.
As a result of the seizure of this equipment and the accessible toilets two days later, plans for a disability hub in St James’s Park had to be abandoned.
The hub was to have provided a central place for disabled people to gather, rest, receive information, take part in training, provide peer support, and begin to build a movement of disabled people on climate change.
There was further anger over Monday’s police’s actions, after it emerged that – following six hours of negotiations with XR – a senior officer had apparently given permission for the two converted vans, each containing an accessible toilet, a changing bench, shower facilities and a ceiling hoist, to be driven into the occupied protest area.
Two members of staff working for the charity that hires out the vans at subsidised rates – Mobiloo, founded by retired Irish Paralympian James Brown – were then arrested, along with two XR protesters, even though they had been given permission to bring the vans into the protest area and had apparently been following instructions from a police officer on where to park them.
One of the two Mobiloo staff members later had to be taken from a police station to hospital after an angina attack, believed to have been caused by the stress of being arrested and held in custody.
All four are believed to have been arrested for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance and obstructing a public highway.
Sandra Daniels, one of the activists behind XR Disabled Rebels, said the police actions had caused health and safety problems for disabled protesters, and were likely to lead to an official complaint to the force, and possibly legal action.
She said: “The access for disabled people has been limited by the police. It has stopped disabled people being included.
“We have the right as disabled people to protest. In effect they have stopped that right.”
She said Disabled Rebels had challenged XR to make the fortnight of protests accessible and inclusive, and XR had been “supportive”, but because of the police action that inclusion had not been possible.
She said: “Once again I feel we have been excluded as disabled people, and we have a right to protest.”
Another Disabled Rebel, Nicki, said the police decision to impound the Mobiloos “could have huge implications” for disabled people’s health, wellbeing and dignity.
She said: “It has meant that some people have had to stay away; their right to peaceful protest has been taken away by this decision.
“This has been a huge blow to disabled people wanting to participate, coming just days after so much access equipment was seized from the XR warehouse on Saturday.
“This equipment was crucial for the safety and welfare of sick and disabled people.
“One of XR’s principles states that we welcome everybody and every part of everybody.
“We really hoped to achieve this and XR had been so positive about embracing radical inclusion of disabled activists.”
Alex Howell, Mobiloo’s operations director, has been told that his charity’s two drivers waited for six hours while XR’s liaison team negotiated permission to bring in the two vans.
They were then given permission to do so by a senior officer, and the vans were driven through the police cordon by two XR volunteers, with the Mobiloo staff – who were not part of the protest – in the cabs.
All four of them were then arrested, and taken to Acton police station, with the two vans impounded.
Howell said: “My concern is for my staff, first and foremost. Them being put in a situation where they were following police instructions and were arrested is quite concerning.
“It does make us reticent to be involved in protests in the future.”
He said Mobiloo had not heard from the police about how or when they could retrieve their vans, which had been booked by XR for the two weeks Extinction Rebellion is expected to last.
Howell said: “Taking part in a protest is something someone should be able to do. If someone is disabled, they need accessible toilet facilities to be able to do that.
“We were just providing a service as we would do to anyone.”
Extinction Rebellion said today (Thursday) that it was keeping a record of “abusive police behaviour”, following the forceful confiscation of “shelter, food, water and anything that might allow disabled people to conveniently participate”.
It has called for witness accounts of such behaviour to be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Met police spokesperson said all those arrested in south London had been released under investigation, while the property had been searched using powers under section 32 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
He said: “Officers seized a large amount of equipment at the address. The property will be retained while the investigation is ongoing.”
He added: “It is the police’s role to provide a lawful and proportionate policing response to any planned protest, balancing the community impact with the right to protest.
“Officers have powers to seize any equipment which they believe will facilitate unlawful protest.
“This forms part of our robust, proportionate policing plan which we continue to keep under review.
“If protestors break the law, officers will look to arrest those people. Furthermore, those people can expect to be charged, prosecuted, and receive a criminal record.”
The force had not commented on the St James’s Park negotiations and arrests by noon today (Thursday).
10 October 2019
Criticism over ‘shocking’ appointments to ODI’s new disability networks
The government is facing criticism over its decision to appoint representatives of just two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) – and a leading disabled Tory – to chair its new regional stakeholder networks.
The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, this week announced eight chairs to lead the networks across England.
But it appears that only two of the chairs who have been appointed lead representative organisations run and controlled by disabled people, an apparent flouting of the government’s obligations under the UN disability convention.
Three of the new appointments are bosses of disability charities, one leads a community interest company and one is described as a board member of the veterans advisory and pension committee.
And Barry Ginley, who will chair the south-east network, is vice-chair of the Conservative Disability Group, although he is described in this week’s government announcement as director of a consultancy company.
Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how Ginley had defended the government’s disability policies, and had dismissed three highly critical reports by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as concerns about the impact of Brexit on social care, disability rights and access to medication.
Another of the newly-appointed chairs, Ruth Owen, chief executive of the charity Whizz-Kidz, and a wheelchair-user herself, will chair the Greater London regional network.
A third of the new chairs, Liz Leach Murphy, founder of the social enterprise Imagineer, who has a long-term health condition, will chair the Yorkshire and the Humber network.
Another chair, Samantha Everard, chief executive of the charity Support and Mentoring Enabling Entrepreneurship, who also has a long-term health condition, will chair the south-west network.
Lynne Turnbull, chief executive of Cheshire Centre for Independent Living, the new north-west chair, and one of the two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) represented in the appointments, is another disabled appointee.
She said the networks were “a brilliant opportunity to influence government policy”.
She said: “This is about bringing the voice of disabled people and DPOs across the north-west and making sure that is heard within government.”
Turnbull said the appointment of chairs who were not from representative organisations of disabled people was a matter for the government, but she added: “If you’re chairing a network made up of disabled people and their organisations, that is the voice you’re taking forward.”
She said she would be “really keen” to look at the membership of her network and “make sure it’s appropriate and representing the voice of disabled people and DPOs”.
She said that, “in an ideal world”, it will be made up only of disabled people and representatives of DPOs, although she had not yet seen her membership list.
The other chairs are Naomi Tomkys, chief executive of Sky Badger (east); Michael Potts, a board member of the veterans advisory and pension committee (north-east); and Louise Mckiernan, chief executive of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre (West and East Midlands), the other DPO represented in the new appointments.
The networks will be tasked with “amplifying the voices of disabled people and disability organisations in regions across England” and then reporting back to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) on issues including transport, housing and employment.
The delay in announcing the names of the chairs and members of the networks had already attracted criticism, as had the government’s refusal to pay them, with the networks described by one leading disabled campaigner as “the worst kind of phoney engagement”.
At least five of the eight chairs announced this week identify as disabled people or have a long-term health condition.
Their first meeting took place on Tuesday (8 October).
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “We are shocked but not surprised by the appointments to the chairs of the regional stakeholder forums.”
She said most of the chairs did not appear to represent Deaf and disabled people’s organisations (DDPOs).
She said: “Rather than work with DDPOs, as they are obliged to do under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the government has instead, once again, chosen to carry out yet another cynical window-dressing exercise in engagement.
“In reality, these forums fail all the measures of meaningful engagement: they are not forums of disabled people, they are not representative of DDPOs, they are not strategic, they are not resourced and they will operate in a policy vacuum.
“This is simply not acceptable.
“After 10 years of systematic retrogression of our rights and inclusion, the government must meet its UNCRPD obligations and begin working with us in a real and strategic way to get our rights and inclusion back on track.”
UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”.
It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”, a definition which the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in its general comment number seven, which was adopted in September 2018.
Each of the new regional groups will be led by an independent chair and consist of between 10 and 40 members, who will all be “either disabled people, charities or organisations that represent disabled people”.
The groups will only be funded to meet once a year and will have to pay for any further meetings they arrange themselves, but ODI will still expect them to provide input throughout the year via email.
In response to concerns about the selection process, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said the chairs were “selected based on their skills, knowledge, experience, and proven track record working as advocates for disabled people within their regions”.
10 October 2019
‘Dismal’ job figures show failure of Disability Confident, says de Cordova
The government’s much-criticised Disability Confident jobs scheme appears to be growing increasingly less successful at persuading employers to offer jobs to disabled people, according to new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.
The figures, secured by Disability News Service (DNS) through a freedom of information (FoI) request, show that the 13,600 employers that have signed up to the scheme since it was launched in 2013 have pledged to provide just 8,763 paid jobs for disabled people between them.
This is an average of less than two-thirds of a job per employer.
Many of those that have signed up to Disability Confident are large employers such as local authorities, government departments, manufacturers, national charities, banks and retailers, including the big four supermarkets, more than 100 NHS trusts, and high street banks.
The figures provide fresh evidence that the scheme is “trivially easy to abuse” and allows employers to describe themselves as “disability confident” without being assessed on that claim, and without employing a single disabled person.
Three years ago, DWP declared itself a gold-standard employer of disabled people under the scheme – securing the status of “Disability Confident Leader” – just days before being found guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the UN disability convention.
The new figures show that about 13,600 employers that had signed up to the scheme by 13 September had promised to provide 8,763 new paid jobs and 1,903 traineeships for disabled people between them*.
This compares with figures from last year year which showed how at that stage 4,586 paid jobs and 1,223 traineeships had been promised by 6,841 employers.
This means there is so far an average of 0.64 jobs per employer and 0.78 jobs and traineeships per employer, compared with 0.67 jobs and 0.85 jobs and traineeships per employer 15 months ago.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “These dismal figures are yet more evidence of the failure of this government’s Disability Confident scheme.
“Under the government’s flagship employment scheme, you can become a Disability Confident employer without employing a single disabled person.
“The Disability Confident scheme lacks any accountability, transparency or credible performance measures to ensure that employers recruit disabled people.
“Labour is committed to halving the disability employment gap, closing the disability pay gap and ensuring that disabled people have equal access to the labour market.”
David Gillon, a disabled campaigner and one of the most prominent critics of the Disability Confident scheme, said: “The number of disabled jobs created by the scheme is sadly pathetic.
“Less than one job per employer, when disabled people make up one in five of the workforce.
“Under 9,000 new jobs across the three years of the revamped scheme, yet disability employment has supposedly increased by 246,000 in the past year.
“So Disability Confident is responsible for a little over one per cent of new jobs for disabled people, even though it includes some of the largest employers in the country.
“The figures are so bad you have to wonder if Disability Confident employers are actually less likely to employ disabled people [than those not signed up to the scheme].”
Gillon said Disability Confident had still signed up just “a 0.002 per cent sized drop in the ocean of 5.7 million private sector employers”.
He said: “It is obvious that Disability Confident just doesn’t grab employers by the scruff of the neck and say, ‘This is something you need to compete in today’s market.’
“When Disability Confident actually asks for less than the law requires in places, this is worrying.
“Disabled people remain three times more likely than non-disabled to be economically inactive.
“Fully 3.3 million disabled people are not looking for work and that number isn’t falling, it’s slowly increasing.
“Some of those people will be unable to work, but a significant proportion will have some capability to work with appropriate adjustments, but have learned through grim experience that the jobs market is unwilling to consider us.
“This is a lesson reinforced every time we see a disabled person forced out of work because an employer has no respect for our rights, and Disability Confident simply isn’t challenging our confidence in the truth of that lesson.”
DWP has so far been unable to say how many of the 8,763 jobs that were pledged by Disability Confident members resulted in paid jobs for disabled people.
Asked why the Disability Confident scheme appeared to be so unsuccessful – and getting worse – at persuading employers to provide new jobs for disabled people, and whether the figures showed the scheme was “trivially easy to abuse”, a DWP spokesperson said: “Disability Confident is a business-led scheme designed to support businesses of all sizes to recruit, support and retain disabled workers.
“We are constantly reviewing and strengthening the process, and we’ve made great progress, with two-thirds of large employers surveyed having employed a disabled person as a result of joining the scheme.
“There are now 1.15 million more disabled people in work compared to six years ago, but there is always more that can be done.
“We hope to continue to increase sign ups and ensure that all businesses can reap the rewards of employing disabled people.”
The DWP spokesperson has so far been unable to provide any detailed figures relating to the “two-thirds of large employers” who he said had employed a disabled person as a result of joining the scheme.
*The freedom of information response failed to provide figures for how many apprenticeships have been promised by employers
10 October 2019
Government’s silence over sex abuse inquiry evidence
A government department appears to be trying to cover up evidence that a former senior civil servant – later arrested over two unconnected rape allegations – may have helped block tougher laws on the sexual abuse of disabled people.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) promised five years ago that it would pass “all known documentation” about the possible actions of Brian McGinnis to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
Disability News Service (DNS) asked DHSC this summer if it had kept its promise and passed the documents about the actions of McGinnis in the 1980s to the inquiry, but was told by the department’s press office to submit a freedom of information (FoI) request.
Now the department, headed by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, has finally answered that FoI request, but its response claims that it would be too expensive to check whether it kept its word.
Its freedom of information department says in the response that it would be a “very time-consuming process” to confirm if it passed information to IICSA because it would have to search “a vast quantity of files”.
It claims it would take one person more than three-and-a-half days to search its archives.
It took more than a week for DHSC’s press office to respond to questions about the FoI response.
When a DHSC spokesperson eventually responded, he refused to comment; or explain why DHSC could not just ask the IICSA inquiry team if it had received information about McGinnis; or say whether the department had breached its safeguarding duties by failing to keep track of information passed to the inquiry.
An IICSA spokesperson said: “The inquiry cannot comment on whether it has or has not received evidence from a particular individual or organisation outside its public hearings.”
But he said he had passed on DNS’s concerns about DHSC and McGinnis to the inquiry team.
The DHSC promise to pass on documents to IICSA was made in 2014 after concerns were raised that McGinnis may – in the 1980s – have helped to stop MPs tightening laws protecting people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions from sexual abuse.
McGinnis was named in 2014 in a report into the activities of the disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile at Broadmoor hospital, as he was the senior civil servant in charge of mental health in the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) in 1986, shortly before Savile was appointed to a new board to run the hospital.
The report mentioned that McGinnis had “since been the subject of two allegations that have been made public”, which “arose in the course of his voluntary sector work with disturbed and abused children, and both cases were dropped without charge”.
Those allegations were made public in a news story written by DNS editor John Pring in Disability Now magazine in 2006.
McGinnis has always claimed to be innocent of the two separate rape allegations and insists that he is a lifelong “celibate”.
In 1985, the year before McGinnis left DHSS, MPs on the Commons social services committee had called for an “independent expert review of law and practice on sexuality and contraception in relation to mentally disabled people”.
But DHSS dismissed the idea in its response to the committee’s report, warning that “a major review might simply attract unwelcome, unhealthy and wholly disproportionate media interest without achieving any helpful consensus”.
It is believed that this response could have come from McGinnis.
The review never took place, and law reform that would make it easier to secure convictions for rape and indecent assault of people with learning difficulties and experience of mental distress was delayed until 2003, when a new act introduced fresh offences and tougher sentences.
DNS was led to believe five years ago by the Department of Health (as it was known at the time) that any material it held on McGinnis that related to the DHSS response to the social services committee would be passed to the child abuse inquiry that had recently been launched by the Home Office.
It also claimed that it was examining its archives to check whether McGinnis had influenced the DHSS response in 1985.
It later confirmed that it was investigating whether McGinnis may have helped to block tougher sexual abuse legislation.
A DH spokesperson said in August 2014: “We are taking this issue very seriously and investigating whether there is any relevant material held on file.”
But DHSC is now claiming it would be too time-consuming to check its records to confirm if it did pass any documents to IICSA.
McGinnis, who became a special advisor for the charity Mencap after leaving the civil service, but left that role more than 10 years ago, has never been convicted, or even charged, with any offence.
But he has been arrested twice over unconnected rape allegations, one of which involved a child with learning difficulties at the notorious Betts Way respite home in Bromley, Kent, in the mid-1990s.
The arrests came in March 2001 and August 2005 and both resulted in McGinnis, who is now in his early 80s and is believed to live in Shirley, Croydon, being released without charge.
He has always denied the allegations.
Until the allegations about his behaviour were publicised in 2006, he was an influential figure in the disability world, with links to a string of charities, learning difficulty organisations and his local church in Shirley.
Following his first arrest, Bromley council advised its staff to “disassociate” McGinnis “with anything related to children with learning difficulties and council services”.
Croydon council later told church authorities that McGinnis “should be suspended from duties that involved him working with children”, after being informed by Bromley council about the 2005 arrest. He had at the time been working with a children’s church group.
10 October 2019
Tomlinson dodges questions over serious case panel
The minister for disabled people has refused to provide MPs with any details of government plans to set up an independent panel to examine cases where his department’s failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.
The spending round document published by the Treasury on 4 September said the new “independent serious case panel” would aim to improve DWP “safeguarding”.
The Treasury said it would provide funding of £36 million for 2020-21 to fund both the panel and ensure that decision-making on benefit claims was “accurate” and that benefit application processes were “straightforward and accessible”.
But following that announcement, DWP refused to explain why it was setting up the new serious case panel.
Now, a month later, Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, has been asked about the plans in the House of Commons.
Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, told Tomlinson that a catalogue of DWP failings had “created a hostile environment for disabled people”.
And she said: “The announcement of the new independent serious case panel lacks any meaningful detail, terms of reference or purpose.”
De Cordova asked Tomlinson to confirm if the new panel would review previous deaths linked to benefits, and if he would describe the panel’s “statement of purpose”.
But Tomlinson refused to answer the question, telling de Cordova instead how DWP worked “all year round with claimants, stakeholders and charities – organisations with real-life experience – to help to improve not only the training but the understanding of all areas of disability and health conditions”, and backed that up with “genuine financial support”.
DWP also refused – again – to answer questions from Disability News Service (DNS) about the serious case panel this week, including whether the new work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey had now ditched the idea.
But de Cordova told DNS: “The government’s announcement of a new independent serious case panel lacks any detail, terms of reference or statement of purpose.
“At DWP [oral questions], the minister failed to give any concrete answer on the nature of the panel, or to confirm whether the panel will examine the DWP’s own failings surrounding social security-related deaths.
“It is of the upmost importance that these questions are answered and that the government are committed to investigating the hostile environment it has created in the DWP.”
If a serious case panel is being set up to examine deaths linked to benefit claims, and other serious cases connected 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 spent nearly six months highlighting the need for an independent inquiry into deaths caused by DWP’s failings, and secured nearly 55,000 signatures.
DNS has 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 Amber Rudd – who has since resigned as work and pensions secretary – 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.
10 October 2019
Third report in a month raises fresh concerns over SEND system
An ombudsman has added to increasing concerns about the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system in England after revealing that it has been upholding an “exceptional and unprecedented” number of complaints.
The new report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman into the education, health and care (EHC) plan process is now the third in a month to raise serious concerns about the support provided to disabled children and young people.
The ombudsman is now upholding nearly nine out of every 10 cases (87 per cent) it investigates, compared with 57 per cent of other cases, and says this suggests a “system in crisis”.
In 2018-19, it received 45 per cent more complaints and carried out 80 per cent more detailed investigations about EHC plans than in 2016-17.
Ombudsman Michael King said he was “particularly concerned” that some local authorities could now be putting extra barriers in place to “ration scarce resources”, rather than basing support on children’s needs.
And he said the report suggested a system “beset with serious problems”, with “severe delays” of up to 90 weeks, some council areas without any specialist provision, and EHC plans often issued without any advice from health or social services.
The ombudsman’s report came days after research by the National Deaf Children’s Society found that more than half of local councils and health authorities in England had failed inspections of their joint services for children with SEND by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.
According to the charity, 100 of England’s joint services have been inspected since local area SEND inspections began in 2016, and 51 of them failed that inspection.
And just last month, the National Audit Office found that the needs of many disabled pupils in England were not being met, while councils were under growing financial pressure because more children were attending special schools.
That report found there had been 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.
The week before the NAO report was published, education secretary Gavin Williamson had announced a review of support for children with SEND.
Meanwhile, on Monday, three families with disabled children heard that the high court has rejected their claim that the government acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough funding for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to educate children with SEND.
All three of the families – supported by the SEND Action campaign network – have been unable to secure the support their disabled child needs with their education.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) has repeatedly called on the government to recognise that it has been breaching its duties under article 24 (on inclusive education) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities raised concerns about the increasing number of disabled children being educated in segregated settings and said the UK education system was “not equipped to respond to the requirements for high-quality inclusive education”.
Michelle Daley, ALLFIE’s interim director, said: “This year alone we have seen a series of disturbing reports that are screaming out the problems and failings to disabled learners.”
She said the title of the ombudsman’s “shocking review” – Not Going to Plan? – “signifies the sad reality for disabled pupils and students”.
Daley said there was now plenty of evidence of the crisis and the need for urgent action rather than any more reviews.
She said: “What we need is a properly resourced education system that is inclusive for learners.
“We need the education of disabled learners considered as a human rights matter and for that to happen we need the UNCRPD article 24 implemented into our domestic law with no reservations.”
Daley said ALLFIE was “totally devastated” by the court’s decision, which she said showed the weakness of the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty “in producing no meaningful outcomes for disabled people”.
She said: “Even though there was plenty of evidence about the funding crisis, the court still decided to remain with the existing formula that doesn’t improve the situation for disabled learners and keeps them trapped in appalling situations.”
She praised the three families and their children and supporters for taking the case and “helping to raise the profile of the crisis and the inequality in education for disabled learners”.
She said: “This is not the end. The fight must continue. We must end the dual education system and inequality in education for all disabled learners.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As the ombudsman admits, this report is based on a very small sample size – covering less than 0.3 per cent [of all the new EHC plans that were issued in 2018].
“Over 48,000 children were issued with new education, health and care plans last year, and the majority of these were completed within 20 weeks.
“During the assessment process children continue to attend their school and receive additional support, until their tailored support package is put into place.
“We’ve also announced an extra £700 million for pupils with complex needs in 2020-21 – an 11 per cent increase on this year.
“However, we know the system is not working well enough for every family, and have launched a review to introduce further improvements.”
10 October 2019
Accelerator scheme plans to open door to inclusion
Five organisations led by disabled people are to benefit from a new “accelerator” programme that aims to boost their work on social inclusion.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Inclusion London, Love Language, Grid Smarter Cities and SociAbility are all disabled-led and are among the first 10 organisations to be chosen for the OpenDoor “inclusion accelerator” pilot programme.
The programme will provide them with workshops, mentoring and one-to-one support that is designed to help them develop their own products, services and projects.
It is being run by Plexal, the innovation centre and “coworking space” based in the Olympic Park in east London.
DR UK will be receiving support for its plan to create an online marketplace for disabled innovators and entrepreneurs to showcase their products and services to other disabled people.
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of DR UK, said: “We want to address the problem of how disabled people find the right products and services that offer solutions for everyday barriers to living independently, especially when most products and services are developed and marketed by non-disabled people and companies.
“The marketplace would also showcase peer-tested and recommended items for sale.
“These can be tech solutions such as apps that help you find accessible routes or give you information on access levels at places like restaurants, to everyday independent living equipment.”
Mallick said the 12-week programme would support DR UK to “test and learn” and “support us in refining the idea to a point that we can pitch to potential investors”.
He said: “OpenDoor will give us access to industry mentors, who will bring their extensive knowledge on how the tech industry uses tried and tested techniques to evaluate ideas and bring them to the market.”
Love Learning, a collaboration between Love Language and Idea East, uses digital technology to tackle the disparity between the number of Deaf people and the number of available British Sign Language interpreters.
Plexal plans to help prototype the technology and present it to investors.
SociAbility provides detailed accessibility information for local social venues and shops, while Travel MI by Grid Smarter Cities aims to improve accessible wayfinding in busy areas, particularly airports.
Plexal will support SociAbility and Travel MI by helping them build partnerships with transport organisations.
And Inclusion London is supporting internships for young people with learning difficulties, with Plexal helping to set up the programme with employers in the Olympic Park.
Last month, Plexal and its partners announced the launch of the East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ), which it described as the UK’s most accessible technology hub.
ELIEZ will develop an accessible space for entrepreneurs and businesses leaders who are disabled or are focused on providing products or services to disabled people.
It will also aim to build on the London 2012 Paralympic Games legacy by developing links with Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024.
Among Plexal’s partners on ELIEZ are Inclusion London, DR UK, Loughborough University, UCL (University College London), Greater London Authority and the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDIH), which is based on UCL’s Olympic Park campus.
ELIEZ aims to meet some of the “enormous international need for disability innovation and assistive technology” and has set itself a target of launching 100 new start-ups.
It says it wants to “kick-start the UK’s first inclusive innovation sector”.
Its partners highlight the fact that only one in 10 disabled people currently has access to the assistive technology they need to go to school, work, or have a family.
10 October 2019
Stephen Aselford: Tributes paid to ‘energetic and passionate campaigner’
Friends and fellow activists have paid tribute to Stephen Aselford – a passionate disabled campaigner who was committed to improving the lives of others – after his sudden death.
They have described not only his commitment to social justice, equality and disability rights, but also his kind and cheerful nature.
Aselford worked originally in a sheltered workshop in Croydon, where he joined the GMB union, of which he remained a member all his life.
He later played a significant role in several London-based disability organisations, including People First (Self-Advocacy), Transport for All (TfA) and Disability Croydon.
He was also a long-time member of the Labour party and friends say that he loved public transport, his family, Croydon and “shaming Tory politicians”.
One of his finest moments, says his friend and fellow disabled activist Ellen Clifford, was when he confronted Tory mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith in 2015 about voting for the government’s cuts to support for disabled people placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance.
Another was in 2015, when Aselford wrote of how a planned BNP demonstration was “an attempt to stir up hatred and divide our community”, and described his pride at living in such a “diverse and vibrant” area as Croydon.
He wrote: “Migrants were not responsible for the financial crisis. In fact, our economy and vital services that disabled people rely on, including the NHS and social care services, are dependent on migrant labour.”
Among those sending condolences this week was John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor and a long-standing supporter of many grassroots disabled people’s organisations.
Aselford was a dedicated member of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and a co-founder of Bromley and Croydon DPAC.
Clifford said: “Stephen was an energetic and committed campaigner with an instinctive passion for social justice.
“He was also a thoroughly lovely person with a great sense of humour.
“He was knowledgeable and politically insightful and had great ideas. As a beloved friend he is badly missed and as an activist he leaves a big hole in the movement.
“The best way to honour his memory is to continue the fight that was so central to his life.”
Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said Aselford was “a great friend, advocate and activist.
“He was a passionate campaigner locally and nationally and was well known for his strong views on accessible transport and the right to vote for people with learning difficulties.
“Stephen worked really hard to make sure that people with learning difficulties had a voice and were heard – particularly our ‘political voice’.
“He helped others realise that we have views on all sorts of things, not just disability issues.
“Wherever he went, he lit up the room.”
Aselford worked for People First for three years, between 2008 and 2011, as an inclusion worker, helping to build the capacity of its member organisations.
Lee said: “It’s important for us to remember Stephen’s energy and commitment to making the lives of others better. He achieved so much and we sadly lost him far too early.”
Aselford was also a long-time member and trustee of TfA.
Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said: “He was deeply committed to the importance of transport for the public good and specifically for the well-being of disabled and older people.
“He could often be found supporting protests, picket lines or events promoting or
defending public transport.
“His strongly held beliefs were rooted in an incredibly detailed knowledge of trains and buses, both old and new.
“He was always willing to share this passion and could be relied upon to know exactly what was going on in the transport sector.
“But perhaps the thing Stephen should be best remembered for is his kind
and cheerful nature.
“He was always one of the first to arrive at Transport for All events, where his irrepressible positivity was infectious.
“He will be sorely missed by those that knew him and by the campaigns he supported.”
Paula Peters, co-founder of Bromley and Croydon DPAC, said her friend was always ready with a smile and a joke and loved DPAC’s direct actions, which he called its “naughtiness”.
She said he had provided “great political insight, with great experience and knowledge” in his role as equalities officer for Unite Community’s new Bromley and Croydon branch.
She said: “His passing is a great loss to our movement. We miss a treasured friend, comrade and activist, but we will honour Steve’s memory by continuing the fight for human rights as he would want us to do.”
Michelle Gordon, GMB’s equalities officer, said Aselford had been active in the union for many years and had been determined to make it more accessible to disabled people, while he often spoke of the importance of young people joining the union movement and the need to do more to promote its successes.
She said: “Stephen will be sadly missed but his legacy of making our movement more accessible will live on.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC said: “Stephen was involved with DPAC for many years and was a lovely man who will be missed by many people.”
Leanne Purvis, a fellow self-advocate and long-standing friend through People First, said: “Big Steve was a big help to anyone and nice to talk to. He was my friend and I will miss him a lot.”
Andy Ward, a friend and fellow member of Croydon constituency Labour party, said he was “a great campaigner for disability rights and in the field of public transport” whose knowledge and expertise on public transport and accessibility was “almost unsurpassed”.
He said: “He will be sadly missed both for his disability rights campaigning and for his campaigning for better accessible public transport.”
Tony Newman, leader of Croydon council, said: “Stephen was over many years a tireless campaigner for disabled people, and worked hard to ensure everyone received the maximum amount of support possible.
“Stephen was a gentle, kind man who along with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the transport system will be greatly missed by all.”
Croydon councillor Karen Jewitt said: “I was proud of Stephen. He was a friend as well as a comrade.
“I will miss him. His contribution to equality and the Labour movement is something we should all aspire to.”
DPAC plans to organise an event to commemorate Stephen Aselford’s life and work.
10 October 2019
Legal firm hands out cameras to help disabled passengers prove discrimination
Disabled people who experience repeated discrimination on public transport are being offered a camera to record video evidence for possible legal cases.
Legal firm Fry Law, which specialises in disability discrimination cases, is hoping some of the evidence produced can then be used to bring cases under the Equality Act against bus, train and taxi providers.
It plans to pass some of the evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which last month launched a new project to support disabled and older people who have faced discrimination on public and private transport.
The EHRC scheme will offer advice and help in resolving complaints, but it will also provide funding to take legal cases.
Now Fry Law is planning to collect evidence that it can pass to EHRC for possible legal cases by lending miniature cameras to disabled people in England and Wales who have been experiencing discrimination from transport providers.
The cameras have a remote control pad and can be fixed to wheelchairs, scooters and clothing to allow filmed evidence to be collected.
Chris Fry, founder of Fry Law, said he hoped this would help EHRC collate evidence and encourage disabled people to enforce their rights.
He said disability discrimination cases taken against public transport providers can be difficult to prove, while there is also the risk that claimants could have to pay some of the other side’s costs if they lose their case.
The EHRC project, he said, was a “once in a decade opportunity” that should mean that providers are “held to account in a way they currently are not”.
Fry Law has already given cameras to about half a dozen disabled people who frequently face discrimination when using public transport, and is now looking for other disabled people willing to test out one of the cameras*.
Fry said he hoped EHRC would also eventually show the filmed evidence of discrimination to MPs and ministers.
And he said he hoped the cameras would also provide evidence of “really good customer service” by train, taxi and bus providers that could again be passed to EHRC.
He said he hoped the project would help to address some of the everyday discrimination faced by disabled people who “are not getting to work on time, are missing hospital appointments, are missing benefit assessments, and are just having to put up with it because they don’t have the evidence”.
He said: “The commission’s transport project is a really positive step and we ought to be doing everything we can to provide as much evidence and get as many cases forward as we can to demonstrate that these failings are still systematic.
“Filmed evidence seems the best way of doing it.”
*To express interest in the scheme, contact Fry Law
10 October 2019
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
[From Disability Arts Online]
Piss on Pity is the title of an exhibition of work by disabled artists on the subject of charity currently in the Ridings Centre, Wakefield. Gill Crawshaw writes about pulling the exhibition together as a way of channeling anger at the flagrant dismissal of the disability arts communities concerns about representation of our issues by Damien Hirst.
I’m writing this from the exhibition. I’ve been sitting in the unit in a Wakefield shopping centre where it’s on show, talking to people who pop in. I’ve had many interesting and moving conversations – that have had nothing to do with Damien Hirst!
More specifically, our conversations have had nothing to do with Hirst’s monumental bronze sculpture, Charity. You might be aware of this sculpture, a huge version of a “Help Spastics” collecting box from the 60s, in the shape of a disabled girl. If you’re a regular reader of Disability Arts Online, you’ll have likely read Colin Hambrook’s scathing takedown: “… yet another example of ‘disability’ being used and exploited by the rich and powerful as a commodity for trafficking ideas and power.” Or you might have signed the open letter from disabled activists to Hirst on Change.org, stating how offensive this work is and asking for an explanation (which was never given. Hirst didn’t seem to want to take part in the “conversations about disability” that his mates Scope hoped would result.)
Despite the outcry from disabled people that Hirst’s sculpture is hugely offensive, and has nothing to say about the reality of disabled people’s lives, Charity continues to be shown in galleries and at festivals. It landed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park this summer as part of a new, high-profile festival, Yorkshire Sculpture International (YSI).
When I found out, I felt more weary than angry. Here we go again, another thoughtless, exclusionary sculpture to complain about. Another instance of highly-paid artists ignoring the views and needs of disabled people. In recent months disabled people have protested against the inaccessibility of other contemporary artists’ work: Olaf Eliasson’s installation at Tate Modern and Jeremy Deller’s monument to Peterloo in Manchester.
However, artist Jason Wilsher-Mills convinced me that we couldn’t let the appearance of Charity in Yorkshire go unchallenged. I contacted YSI, perhaps they would be interested in working with us to hold a public debate; an opportunity for disabled people to explain why the sculpture is problematic, and to show disabled artists’ responses. Jason and I thought this would be a worthwhile and interesting way to explore some of the issues Charity raises, particularly around representation and artists’ responsibilities. YSI seemed keen and we set up a meeting.
The outcome of this meeting, however, wasn’t what Jason or I expected. YSI and the Sculpture Park focused on their aspiration to involve more disabled artists throughout the organisation. While we fully support this, somehow we’d lost touch with our original aim.
In the meeting, Jason explained that he’d decided to make sculptures in direct opposition to Hirst’s Charity, because this representation of disabled people and Hirst’s lazy appropriation of it had infuriated him. Jason also writes about this for Piss on Pity’s zine-catalogue available on ISSU.
This sculpture by Hirst had such an impact on me, as I felt it did not have an ‘authentic voice’. It was made by an artist, who seemingly had no experience of life as a disabled person. Disabled people were not consulted about the piece. It was made, because he could make it.
Jason’s had turned his anger into something positive, his sculptures are joyous, colourful celebrations of disabled people’s lives. Now we were feeling angry not just at Hirst, but also frustrated at a missed opportunity. I wanted to turn this anger into something positive, thus the idea for Piss on Pity came about.
With two months to go before YSI ended, pulling an exhibition together to coincide with this festival, with no funding or venue, was going to be a challenge. But I knew that plenty of excellent artwork existed. Disabled artists have engaged with the subject of charity for decades, and continue to do so, with anger, wit and humour.
As well as Jason Wilsher-Mills, another artist in particular inspired this exhibition. Katherine Araniello, in a blue plastic dress and blonde papier mâché wig, is instantly recognisable in her imitation of the same Spastics Society collecting box that Hirst copied. Her film Pity, where she performs in this guise, was my first choice for Piss on Pity. I was also delighted to include The Crippled Gherkin, a film of a performance by Araniello and Simon Raven. The pair attempted to sell pickled gherkins in front of Charity when it appeared in the City of London: “Made by Damien Hirst on his farm with the little spastics!”
Katherine Araniello passed away earlier this year. The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of her anarchic, irreverent, hilarious performances.
The Art House in Wakefield and the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) were brilliant supporters. The exhibition wouldn’t have happened without them. NDACA generously lent several items, including David Hevey’s iconic portrait of Adam Reynolds, ‘Andicapped Adam says Thank You, another artwork on my wishlist.
I wanted to hold the exhibition in Wakefield, rather than Leeds where I live, because Yorkshire Sculpture Park lies on Wakefield’s outskirts. Thanks to The Art House, this was possible. They secured the venue and helped install the exhibition. We opened on the night of the September Art Walk in Wakefield, at the tail end of YSI.
In the days since then I’ve been having conversations with passing shoppers. Many of the people who have come for a look round are disabled people. “I’m disabled myself” is a typical introduction. They have seen the notice on the window announcing that this is an exhibition by disabled artists. Or they have been drawn in by Vince Laws’ shrouds, from his series DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Disabled people are connecting with the bold slogans: “Rights Not Charity”, “Justice Not Charity” and “Respect Not Charity”. They identify with the rest of the messages on these shrouds, which pay tribute to people who have died, some through suicide, as a result of being declared fit for work and having their benefits stopped, under the Department for Work and Pensions’ brutal assessments.
Several visitors have told me how close they’ve come to suicide themselves, in the wake of unjust and harsh assessments.
People are also engaging with the viewpoints on charity that the art conveys. The exhibition challenges the widespread idea that charity is wholly a force for good. I wasn’t sure how contentious this might be, but people definitely relate. They have railed against “pity porn” and the way that charities portray disabled people as pathetic victims. They have complained about public funding cuts that have forced them to seek support from local charities – who are often overwhelmed and unable to help. And they agree that the support that disabled people need should be a matter of “Rights Not Charity”.
These conversations couldn’t be further away from the rarefied art world that supports an artist like Hirst to make millions while offending and disrespecting disabled people. Any mention of Damien Hirst to visitors to Piss on Pity is generally met with a shrug of indifference. Because Hirst’s work is out of touch and irrelevant.
Piss on Pity features work by
- Katherine Araniello and Simon Raven
- Sasha Callaghan
- Eddy Hardy and Geof Armstrong
- David Hevey
- Tony Heaton
- Vince Laws
- Jason Wilsher-Mills.
Watch and listen below to our sessions at The World Transformed last week. Transcript of Ellen’s contribution on disabled people’s oppression also below. Many thanks to @ImaJSAclaimant for filming and to everyone who helped.
Piss on Pity: disability oppression
Frances Ryan’s talk on disability and oppression:
Transcript of contribution from Ellen:
Disability is an issue that powerfully exposes the true nature of capitalism as a cruel system based on exploitation and greed. It therefore isn’t surprising that the dominant ideas in society around disability are full of misperceptions and act to conceal an understanding of the true relationship between disability and capitalism.
Disability is a historical concept that did not exist in the way we understand it today before the industrial revolution and the social and economic changes that that brought. There were always people with impairments but the way labour was organised meant that people with impairments were not thought of as belonging to a separate identifiable category.
The category of disability came about as a socially created way of identifying and separating out those who are less productive within the conditions of the workplace – and it is to be noted that as those conditions change depending upon industrial changes and intensification of labour, which people are more or less productive also changes. For example research indicates that disabled people were more likely to be in employment in the 1970s than today and found it easier to fit into jobs in manual industry than the service sector.
So, disability is a historical, socially created category and yet the way it is commonly understood is as an individual problem. You still often hear people talk about disability in terms of what is “wrong” with a person.
The development of the social model of disability was ground-breaking because, without denying the pain or distress that are part of the lived experience of certain impairments, it provides a tool for explaining that far from being an individual problem, disability is a form of oppression. If we want to end the oppression and ill treatment of disabled people, we don’t need to “cure” people with impairments, we need to fundamentally change the way society is organised.
In the early twentieth century the socialist Helen Keller wrote:
“Many young women full of devotion and good-will have been engaged in superficial charities. They have tried to feed the hungry without knowing the causes of poverty. They have tried to minister to the sick without understanding the cause of disease. They have tried to raise up fallen sisters without understanding the brutal arm of necessity that struck them down…We attempt social reforms where we need social transformation.”
Disability politics are inherently radical in challenging the system we live under. It can therefore be frustrating for disabled campaigners when the issue of disabled people’s oppression remains poorly understood within the wide left among people who are supposed to be committed to social transformation.
During my research over the past couple of months I have come across complaint after complaint from disabled campaigners and academics about the lack of interest in disability theory beyond people with personal experience of it. The historian Douglas Baynton writes for example: “Disability is everywhere in history, once you begin looking for it, but conspicuously absent in the histories we write.”
While I share this frustration I also think we need to understand that this flows from a cunning concealment of the nature of disabled people’s oppression where what is really interesting about it from a political economic perspective is hidden from view. Instead of understanding disability as the deliberate exclusion of people who can’t serve the interests of profit, the dominant idea of disability in society is that it is somehow inevitable that people with impairments will experience disadvantage, that our marginalisation is somehow common sense.
Helen Keller is herself a strong example of how popular ideas concerning disability present it as an individual problem. Most people who have heard of her know that she was born deafblind. They may well have been taught as I was at school that she bravely overcame her impairment with the help of a wonderful teacher to be able to communicate with the outside world. What is less well know is that she was a fervent socialist who campaigned against the first world war and railed against US immigration laws that barred entry to disabled people thereby preventing disabled Germans and Austrians from fleeing there to escape mass murder by the Nazis. The reception her political activism got from the right wing media of her day was very similar to what Greta Thurnberg is now experiencing where her views were attributed to the “limitations of her mind” arising from her impairment.
These aren’t aspects of Helen Keller’s life that many people know because the version of her life that has been popularised is not one where she rebelled against the system but one where she overcame the “adversity” of her deafblindness in order to better conform. Her passion for collective resistance is taken out of the story and we are left with a familiar account of triumph over tragedy.
Whether it is presented as triumph or tragedy, the popular story of disability is always an individual rather than a collective one, one that is personal not political.
The oppression of disabled people is a strong and malignant force affecting millions of people – disabled people are the world’s largest minority group – and it is worth taking the time to understand it so that we can more effectively resist it and fight to build a radically different society where everyone is valued for who they are. One in the words of Karl Marx where each can contribute according to their abilities and receive according to their need.
In my experience of campaigning with DPAC one of the most effective ways of changing people’s views about disability has been when we are engaged in active struggle alongside non-disabled people who come to see disabled campaigners not as defined by our impairments but as fighters who resist the passive role society tries to thrust on us and who are less easily fooled by the system as a consequence of the brutality of our experiences of oppression.
As many of you will have heard, Stephen Aselford, Disabled People Against Cuts stalwart and co-founder of Bromley and Croydon DPAC has very sadly and suddenly passed away. Stephen was a socialist and an activist to his core. His many friends and comrades across the disability world and the labour movement are deeply saddened but agree the best way to honour his memory is to continue the fight that was such an integral part of his life. There will be a longer tribute in next week’s DNS.
Details of an event to celebrate his life to follow.
Any condolence messages posted in the comments will be passed on to his family.
Examples of the fun DPAC had in Croydon with Stephen:
This week’s update from Disability News Service 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
Tory conference: Disabled activists shame Tories on cost of ‘heartless’ austerity
Disabled activists have protested outside the Conservative conference in Manchester in a bid to shame party members into accepting that a decade of austerity cuts from Tory-led governments have caused poverty, despair and countless deaths.
Protesters spoke of how the cuts and reforms had led to the deaths of tens of thousands of disabled people, backed up by research by mainstream institutions like Oxford, Liverpool and Cambridge Universities.
Others pointed to three high-profile and evidenced UN reports that have shown the devastating impact on disabled people of a decade of austerity.
The Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) protest took place on Monday afternoon, just a few yards from the main entrance to the conference, in central Manchester.
Two activists even dressed up as “Torie Plague” and “Doris Death” to highlight the “debt, despair and death” that “heartless, soulless” Conservative-led governments have caused since 2010.
Some protesters, from Manchester, were also there to tell Tory party members that they were not welcome in their city.
And some said it was vital that those disabled people who were able to protest in person ensured that Tory party members were aware of the damage caused by their government’s policies.
Piers Wilkinson, disabled students officer for the National Union of Students, said: “It is important that those of us who can protest and are in a position of being able to protest and have our voices heard do it, particularly on behalf of people who cannot.”
Jo Taylor said of the government’s cuts and reforms to disabled people’s support: “We have to keep on protesting until they listen and understand. It is a horrendous situation.”
Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said the Tories had to understand that they were not welcome in the city, after 10 years of denying disabled people’s rights, and policies that had led to the loss of countless lives.
He told Disability News Service (DNS) that he was at the protest because the Tories “keep coming back and they have not got the message that Manchester is not a city built on Conservative values. It is not somewhere they are popular.”
He said there had been 10 years of the denial of disabled people’s rights “with the consequent loss of many lives”.
He said the continued return to Manchester by the Conservative party amounted to “hostile trolling” of the city.
He added: “On a human level, they need to know that they are not welcome. They should be ashamed of what they do.”
He said: “This isn’t just our opinion.
“They are a disaster. There is something wrong with people who think this is OK.”
Another leading disabled campaigner, Doug Paulley, said that he had wanted to be at the protest because of the government’s “mass punishment of disabled people”.
He said: “We are an inconvenient expense at best, a complete side issue, and yet people are suffering and dying. It’s utterly disgusting. It cannot be allowed to go on.
“I am lucky that I am relatively protected from it but so many people are not.”
Eleanor Lisney, one of the founders of Greenwich DPAC, said she was at the protest because she had no idea what was going to happen to the country now, “let alone to disabled people”.
She highlighted the “intersectionality” of the impact of austerity, which had affected not just groups like disabled people and women individually, but had hit disabled women, disabled people from BAME communities and disabled immigrants even harder.
She said: “The protest here is so we keep the focus on the disastrous impact on disabled people through all those years of austerity.”
Dominic Hutchins, from Manchester DPAC, who is also a parish councillor, said he was at the protest because of the treatment of disabled people by the Tory government, including through the introduction of universal credit and its reforms and management of the disability benefit assessment processes.
He said the mainstream media failed to report how many people had died after being unfairly assessed.
Hutchins is a qualified youth worker but is currently unemployed because the youth service is “on its knees” following years of austerity.
He said: “I am on jobseeker’s allowance and disability benefits and I have got a good degree.
“The Tories don’t see the benefit of youth work but when young people are on the streets, they complain.”
Wilkinson said the protest was particularly important when Greater Manchester Police had admitted sharing information about disabled protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
He pointed to “hidden cuts” such as the introduction of personal independence payment (PIP), the cuts to disabled students’ allowance, the rollout of universal credit and the social care funding crisis.
And he highlighted the conclusions of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found there had been “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights by the Tory-led DWP, and research which showed austerity had been to blame for more than 130,000 deaths since 2012.
Taylor said she was at the protest because she had been forced to wash at the local swimming pool after her housing association refused to provide the disabled facilities grant she needed to adapt her bathroom, while she had also been forced to buy her own stairlift.
She said she was “disgusted” with the government’s benefit reforms and cuts to support for disabled people, and she added: “There are people dying from sanctioning and having no money.”
Another disabled campaigner and DPAC member at the protest, Nigel Peirce, a former mental health nurse, said he wanted to raise concerns about the transition from disability living allowance to PIP, and the introduction of universal credit, which had caused people to suffer “economically, physically and emotionally”, while some had died.
He said: “I haven’t got a message for the Tories because I don’t think they will listen.
“The point of being here is for other people to see us. We are in Manchester and they come by and see us. Not one Tory going in there is going to listen.”
One disabled activist told fellow protesters: “I have watched the social security system in my country turn into something I am thoroughly ashamed of.”
She said the work capability assessment “has got nothing to do with your ability to work” but was there “to frighten you and humiliate you and we are sick of it”, while she said DWP staff label her “a scrounger and a skiver”.
Another said: “We are here today to demand our basic human rights, the ability to live our lives as independently as possible, with dignity, humanity and a society that cares.
“How dare you come to the north of England. Go back to where you belong!
“You’re not wanted here, you’re not needed here, you’re not welcome here. Go home, go away, be gone.”
Gary Caine, a disabled activist from Manchester, told DNS: “There is that much tragedy going on with disabled people’s lives. People need to take a stand.
“My life has got a damn sight worse under the Conservatives, compared with Labour.
“I cannot believe my life has gone down the chute and got worse for no damn reason.”
Another disabled activist, Mero, said she had come to the protest from Birmingham, because of the “unfairness” of the government’s policies.
She said she had been told she would have to be reassessed for PIP when she had previously been told she would not need to be assessed again.
She said: “I just can’t stand these cuts any more.
“Why have we got to keep fighting for our rights?”
3 October 2019
Labour’s pledge to scrap universal credit ‘is victory for years of activism’
Disabled activists have welcomed Labour’s promise to scrap universal credit (UC) if it wins power at the next general election as a victory for years of campaigning.
But they have warned the party that they still want to know how UC will be replaced before they give the plans their whole-hearted approval.
Labour’s announcement comes after years of campaigning by disabled activists, particularly Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), and organisations such as Black Triangle, Sisters of Frida and Inclusion London.
Countless individual disabled activists have also called repeatedly for Labour to change its previous policy that demanded the government “pause and fix” the system and commit instead to “stop and scrap” UC.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said this week, in an announcement originally planned for last week’s party conference, that a Labour government would “scrap” the “inhumane and cruel” UC and replace it with a social security system that focused on “alleviating and ending poverty, not driving people into it”.
Labour would also replace the Department for Work and Pensions with a Department for Social Security on “day one” of a new government, said Corbyn.
And it would introduce an “emergency” package of reforms – including scrapping the benefit cap and ending the five-week wait for a first UC payment by introducing an interim payment after two weeks – while it developed a replacement system.
Labour said it hoped to reduce the assessment period for UC to one week so claimants receive their first payment about 10 days after making their claim, but they say this may take time to introduce because of the complexity of the UC system.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “Universal credit is a cruel and inhumane system that has left many disabled people destitute, unable to heat and light their homes and going without food.”
After the Labour announcement, the new work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey told the Conservative party conference in Manchester that UC “provides a safeguard for the most vulnerable in our society” and that it “supports strivers who are not content living a life on welfare”.
She said that one of her priorities was “to continue to improve universal credit to ensure that people get the money they need in a timely manner, are helped into work, and onto an escalator up to better work”.
But those comments came as a fringe meeting heard from the head of a homeless charity – which provides services just a short walk from the party conference – that UC was causing early deaths, addiction, mental distress and suicides, with claimants “at the end of their tether” (see separate story).
De Cordova said Coffey’s defence of UC was “obscene” and added: “Her party has caused untold suffering for disabled people and so many others, but they continue to bury their heads in the sand.”
Disabled activists who were protesting outside the Tory party conference this week welcomed Labour’s decision to scrap UC, with some reservations.
Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “It’s good that they are saying they are going to stop and scrap it, but they need to engage with us about the replacement.
“That is what we need now, to be confident that we are going in the right direction. We wait to hear from them.”
He warned that Labour had apparently still not committed to scrap all benefit sanctions, but only the Tories’ “punitive sanctions regime”.
He said: “They can’t just talk to the usual suspects about what they are going to replace it with. They need to talk to disabled people and the grassroots organisations.
“It was a system not designed by or for disabled people.”
He added: “I think a lot of people should be quite happy that their efforts have pushed the Labour party to that position.
“Sometimes it feels like we are fighting against a brick wall but clearly that moved the Labour party.”
Burgess said DPAC had – from the beginning – examined universal credit and realised that it needed to be scrapped, persuading unions that were originally against scrapping UC but just calling for it to be fixed.
He said: “Everyone has come to our way of thinking. We were right, and the experience people had with UC – poverty, homelessness, starvation – has been exactly as we predicted.”
He also said he was concerned that a Labour government would just “rebadge” DWP as the Department for Social Security.
He said: “They also need to change the culture. Key personnel certainly need firing, and probably need prosecuting.”
Dennis Queen, another of the DPAC activists protesting against the Tory government outside the conference on Monday afternoon, welcomed Corbyn’s announcement, which she said was “really good news”.
But she warned: “I don’t think anyone is going to hand our rights to us on a plate. I will be interested to see the details of what they propose to implement instead.
“We are going to have to fight for our rights whoever is in power.”
Piers Wilkinson, the disabled students officer for the National Union of Students, said Labour’s announcement was a “move in the right direction” and “feels long overdue”.
But he said he wished there had been more emphasis from Labour on the fact that UC had “effectively targeted” disabled people and women.
He also said he wanted to see what a replacement system would look like and added: “Any future social security system has to be designed by people who are using it: Nothing About Us Without Us.
“If Labour are really serious about changing the current system to make it not punitive and exploitative and life-destroying then we need to design it and not people who have never used it.”
Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said there had been “tireless work” by many activists that persuaded Labour to change its position, with disabled campaigners often “being a lone voice in the room when everyone else’s view differed from yours”.
But she warned that Labour would still have to be elected, and then activists would “have to hold them to their word and make their policy pledges become reality”.
She added: “We have so much more to do. But never say campaigning never makes a difference. It does.
“We can effect change. We can make a difference.”
3 October 2019
Months of PIP distress ‘hastened my brother’s death’
The brother of a disabled man who was denied disability benefits when he was dying has launched a petition calling on the government to scrap the outsourcing of all face-to-face assessments to private contractors.
James Oliver, from Hastings – the constituency of former work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd – spent the last few months of his life in despair over the refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to grant him personal independence payment (PIP).
Shortly before he died in hospital, in April this year, he told his brother, Dave Smith: “I can’t believe it. I am dying, I am going to be dead, and I’m still not sick enough to get PIP.”
Oliver, who had chronic liver disease caused by alcohol dependency, as well as other health conditions including scoliosis, hypertension and depression, had twice tried to claim PIP, but both times was found ineligible.
In 2016, he is believed to have applied for PIP for the first time when his health worsened and left him barely able to walk.
He had a face-to-face assessment with a paramedic employed by Atos*, one of the two outsourcing companies paid hundreds of millions of pounds by DWP to carry out the tests on its behalf.
The assessor awarded him zero points for every area of the assessment, which meant DWP rejected his claim, a decision which is believed to have been confirmed at an internal review, through the mandatory reconsideration process.
Although Smith is not certain of the details, he believes his brother had a second Atos PIP assessment last year, and was again awarded zero points, even though his health had worsened.
The subsequent decision by DWP to deny him PIP again was upheld, following another mandatory reconsideration.
Now Smith is working through his brother’s paperwork line by line, highlighting the inaccuracies and what he believes are lies in the assessment reports, including comments about the way he walked and read, and his clothes and memory.
In reference to the 2016 report, he said of his brother: “His liver is failing, his other organs are giving up, he has scoliosis, he has a backside red raw from the incontinence, he has open sores all over his body, his stomach is permanently swollen and he holds it when trying to walk because of the pain, he has pain in his arms and legs, he is regularly coughing up blood and bleeding internally, he has piles and he has pain in both hands, he is wheezing and exhausted after a few steps and constantly needing an inhaler and he needs a stick or support of house furniture to walk.”
Despite this, the assessor awarded him zero points, which led to him being denied PIP and which Smith said amounted to “blatant disability discrimination”.
The tribunal appeal against the refusal to award him PIP was due to take place late last month but has been postponed, following a request by DWP.
His brother is certain that the months of anxiety, depression and distress caused by the refusal to award him PIP last year hastened his death.
He told Disability News Service (DNS): “He felt nobody would help him. Whereas before he had been sticking to his doctor’s orders and restricting his drinking, when he was told he was having to go to tribunal he just gave up.
“All he kept on about was he wasn’t sick enough for PIP. He was a total physical mess.”
Smith said he has yet to hear from DWP, despite sending his details to the department six months ago.
The Hastings advice centre that dealt with Oliver’s claims is believed to have written to Rudd to complain about the way the case has been dealt with.
Like many other campaigners, Smith believes ministers and senior civil servants should be held accountable in the criminal courts for their failure to make the system safe for people in vulnerable situations.
Now he has launched a petition that he hopes will secure enough signatures – 100,000 – to ensure the issues are debated in parliament.
His petition calls for an end to the use of private contractors for DWP disability benefit assessments, both for PIP and for employment and support allowance (and its universal credit equivalent).
He says in the petition that the disability benefit assessment system is linked to many suicides and “accelerated deaths”, like his brother’s.
And he says he believes – in claims backed up by DNS’s own investigations – that there have been “multiple lies” in the written assessment reports completed by nurses, paramedics and occupational therapists working for Atos and Capita (the other PIP assessment contractor).
Smith has been in contact with Joy Dove, whose daughter Jodey Whiting took her own life in February 2017 after her out-of-work disability benefits were wrongly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.
He praised Dove’s “continued bravery” for continuing to speak out about her daughter’s death.
He said: “For me she is an inspiration to keep fighting and highlighting the bullying, ineptitude, discrimination and lies coming out of the DWP and its assessment agencies.”
And just as in Whiting’s case, the family’s grief was worsened by receiving a letter about his claim, addressed to Oliver at his home address, even though DWP had been repeatedly notified of his death.
In his case, the letter came from the tribunal service.
Smith said: “If this was a company with this many deaths on its hands, it would be forced to cease trading and have a criminal inquiry.
“All the promises of ‘it will never happen again’ by the DWP are a total waste of time because it is a department which doesn’t know how to behave in a humane way.
“We could sit back, do nothing, and let the government treat us like a worthless waste of space when we get ill.
“Or we can do something about it and let them know in no uncertain terms that under the Human Rights Act we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and that their bullying and victimization will not be tolerated.”
A DWP spokesperson declined to say if the department was happy with its decision-making in the case and whether it showed the system was not fit for purpose, and that DWP should stop outsourcing assessments.
But he said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with Mr Oliver’s family at this difficult time.
“We are very sorry for the distress caused and are looking into this to prevent it happening again.
“We want the assessment process to work well for everyone and have made significant improvements, including introducing ESA life-long awards and light-touch 10-year PIP reviews for those with the most serious, life-long conditions.
“The number of complaints about PIP assessments represents one per cent of the total number of individuals assessed.
“Decisions are based on all the information provided to us by applicants, as well as that from their GP or medical specialist.”
DNS revealed last month that disabled people were almost twice as likely to win their disability benefit appeal than they were 10 years ago, at the start of almost a decade of Conservative control of DWP.
The proportion of tribunal appeals that found in favour of disability living allowance (DLA) claimants was just 38 per cent in 2010-11, the first year of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
But the rate of tribunal success for claimants of PIP, which was introduced in 2013 to gradually replace DLA for working-age claimants, has risen from 26 per cent in 2013-14, to 50 per cent in 2014-15, to 61 per cent the following year, and then to 65 per cent in 2015-16 and 68 per cent in 2017-18.
The latest figures show that 73 per cent of PIP claimants in 2018-19 saw the decision originally made by DWP decision-makers revised in their favour at tribunal.
An Atos spokesperson said: “It is not possible for us to comment on individual cases however our thoughts are with Mr Oliver’s family at this time.
“Our focus is to provide a professional and compassionate assessment service for everyone.”
*Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK
3 October 2019
Tory conference: Universal credit damage ‘is throwback to Victorian era’
The boss of a homeless charity that provides services just a short walk from this week’s Tory party conference has told party members that universal credit is causing early deaths, addiction, mental distress and suicides, with claimants “at the end of their tether”.
Yvonne Hope, chief executive of the Manchester charity Barnabus, which works mostly with rough sleepers, said universal credit (UC) had caused poverty levels that were “a throwback to the Victorian era”.
UC was first introduced in Manchester in 2014 and Hope said the levels of sanctions and “destitution” seen in those early days were now over for most people.
But she added: “We continue to see a development in poverty which I think my whole team thinks is a throwback to the Victorian era where they have almost created ghettoes of people who are never going to be able to move on.”
And she told the fringe event – which was organised by The Trussell Trust and Lloyds Bank Foundation – that the “killer” for her clients was the five-week wait for a first payment after moving on to UC.
She said: “When you’re dealing with people who have nothing, who are already destitute… five weeks is the difference between being able to feed yourself, being able to remain housed, being able to pay the bus ticket.
“It throws you on the resources of churches, charities, and other organisations.”
She said many people in Manchester and around the country were ending up on the street because of UC, while the slide into homelessness was “almost inevitable” if someone was already in housing arrears when moving onto UC.
She described what happened to a client called Darren, who came to Barnabus after he had been sleeping rough for a couple of nights following a relationship breakdown.
He had been experiencing anxiety and depression and self-medicating with alcohol, she said.
After he was moved on to UC, Darren was left with less than £200 a month to live on because of debt repayments, including repaying the loan he had been forced to take out from the Department for Work and Pensions as a result of the five-week wait, and because his rent was higher than his housing benefit.
The experience left him suicidal, she said, although Barnabus managed to intervene and “get his life back on track”.
Hope said: “He is only one person and his story is so common. We hear it every day.”
She said there was a need for more affordable housing; to persuade landlords to take on UC claimants who did not have steady jobs; and for more flexibility in the UC system.
She said UC rules were currently built around a “linear life” when in fact “nobody leads a linear life: relationships break up, you lose your job… life is messy and people have problems, not everybody can work, not everybody can stay in work.
“We are going to see more addiction, more mental illness issues, more unemployment, earlier deaths because of bad health, and sadly I think we are seeing a rise in suicide rates because people have just had enough, they are at the end of their tether.”
One Conservative party member, Martin Boniface, a volunteer with Worcester foodbank, told Tory MP Nigel Mills, one of the fringe meeting’s panel and a member of the work and pensions select committee: “There are times when I am embarrassed to be a member of the Conservative party.
“When I am challenged by fellow volunteers at Worcester foodbank who say how can you possibly be a Conservative bearing in mind what you do here, that makes me worry.”
He asked what could be done to make the Conservatives be seen again as a “caring and compassionate party”.
But Mills said it was “fair” of the government to ask people to go through a process to ensure they are entitled to receive support, and he added: “What we are trying to do through these systems is help people progress, improve their lives and their families’ lives.
“We are not trying to punish them. This was a reform designed to make welfare pay, make it simpler for people… we need to smooth out the edges, clear out the things that just aren’t working.”
Emma Revie, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of about 1,200 foodbanks, said the charity’s concern at the moment with UC and the benefit system was that “instead of holding people up at a time of crisis, at a time of need, it’s actually helping to pull them further down into poverty and into destitution”.
She said that relationships were being “broken by the crushing pressure of not having enough money”.
She said: “Often it is a corrosive effect of poverty and destitution that we lose our relationships and we lose the family and friends that we used to be able to reply on.”
In the last five years, the trust has seen a 73 per cent increase in the number of people using its foodbanks.
She said that half of those who come to a foodbank are from a household containing a disabled person or someone with a long-term health condition, and so already have higher essential costs.
She said: “Our new benefit system is definitely, unquestionably, working for many people, but for a significant minority it is not working.
“The problems they are experiencing with the five week-wait, government debt repayment, which leave them with not enough to cover essentials and low levels of payment, and much more, are causing people to have to come to a food bank to receive donated goods.
“We need to start listening to the people who are telling us [universal credit] is not working.”
She added: “Our data shows us unquestionably that the longer an area has universal credit in rollout, experiencing that five-week wait, the higher the numbers of people who are having to come to foodbanks.”
Mills agreed that for some people the five-week wait “was just not working”.
And he said people moving onto UC from other benefits should be able to “seamlessly migrate so they don’t notice a change”.
He said: “There is no logical sense in putting people into debt at the start of a claim, when they have been in the system for a while before.”
Edward Davies, director of policy at The Centre for Social Justice, which designed UC in 2009 and is chaired by Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary who introduced UC in 2013, said problems with UC had to be tackled at the same time as issues like addiction, education failure and debt.
He said that one of the problems with UC was that the provision of universal support – which was supposed to be a key part of the system for those with complex needs – was “not doing two per cent of what it could do”.
Universal support is supposed to offer help with claiming and managing UC, and was originally offered through local authorities, but is now provided through Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.
But Davies said: “When we met with some very senior cabinet members of the former [Tory] administration, they didn’t even know what it was.”
He said universal support needed to be higher up the agenda.
Revie agreed, and said that more than two-thirds of people using foodbanks who were claiming UC did not know about universal support.
Davies said the impact of family breakdown was also important, and he added: “We need to start talking about family a lot more… politicians hate talking about it.
“Look at the current prime minister [Boris Johnson]. He’s not going to want to talk about this.”
3 October 2019
Tory conference: Solution to social care crisis ‘may finally be within reach’
A permanent solution to the social care funding crisis may finally be within reach, with growing calls for proposals that would include free social care, according to a former adviser to the Tory health and social care secretary.
Richard Sloggett, who was advising Matt Hancock on policy until as recently as August, was speaking at a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference in Manchester this week.
His comments, and the apparent mood of the packed meeting, suggest growing momentum behind a solution that offers free social care, funded by national taxation, even if it does not go as far as a legal right to independent living and the National Independent Living and Support Service proposed by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and Disabled People Against Cuts.
The optimism of those at the meeting came despite the failure of ministers to say anything substantial about social care during the conference.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said yesterday (Wednesday) that the Conservatives would “solve the problem of social care and end the injustice that means people have to sell their home to pay for their old age”, but he offered no suggestion for how this would be done, and failed to mention the support needs of working-age disabled people.
Hancock, in his main speech to conference, said only that the government had delivered the “biggest increase in social care funding in a decade” this year, while saying nothing about his much-delayed green paper on adult social care.
And chancellor Sajid Javid said only that the latest round of spending decisions by the Treasury last month had included a “large down-payment on social care”.
Social care minister Caroline Dinenage was unable to attend the conference because of ministerial engagements in Westminster.
She told Disability News Service by email that she had intended to attend on Monday and Tuesday but had deliberately not confirmed any speaking engagements because “of the current uncertainly in Parliament”.
She had needed to be in Westminster to respond to debates, including one on social care funding on Tuesday.
She said: “I wouldn’t read anything into the absence of social care from conference speeches.
“The prime minister, in his inaugural speech from the steps of Downing Street, said, ‘The government will set our plans to fix the crisis in social care once and for all.’
“Our commitment to this is undiminished.”
In her speech on Tuesday, which mainly focused on older people, she offered no suggestion that the green paper was imminent, instead repeating the chancellor’s line that the funding announced in the latest spending round was “a down payment on much more fundamental reforms to social care that we need to introduce”.
Sloggett was speaking at a fringe meeting hosted by the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange, which has publicly called for social care to be free at the point of use, just like the NHS, and was attended by about 150 people who appeared strongly in favour of such a solution.
He told the meeting he was “really optimistic” about the issue and said he believed that politicians were moving towards a “state-backed solution of some ilk”.
He pointed to two recent reports he believed were “very pertinent” – a report by the House of Lords economic affairs committee and the Policy Exchange report – which have both advocated (mostly) free social care.
He said the Lords report was “a massive, massive step forward” and that he was “more optimistic than I perhaps was”.
And he told the meeting later: “We have an unbelievable sense of momentum on this agenda to actually do something.”
Warwick Lightfoot, a former adviser to three Tory chancellors in the late 1980s and early 1990s, who led Policy Exchange’s research on social care funding, said providing free social care, paid for from national taxation, was a cost that was “possible to manage” and was the “logical way of resolving” the current “misalignment” between free NHS care and means-tested charging for social care.
3 October 2019
Disabled Rebels call for ‘new blood’ as they prepare for Extinction Rebellion
A group of “Disabled Rebels” who will take part in next week’s Extinction Rebellion protests in London are calling for other disabled people to join the action and take part in the worldwide attempts to highlight the impact of climate change.
Together with a group called Deaf Rebels, they hope to play a key part in the UK actions, which will include a “central focus” on Westminster and will last two weeks from Monday (7 October).
Bob Williams-Findlay, a leading figure in the Disabled Rebels group and a veteran of many non-violent direct action protests, has called for “new blood” to join the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Disabled Rebels and Deaf Rebels.
He hopes that as many as 100 or even 150 Deaf and disabled people will take part in non-violent direct action in London.
If that happens, the numbers taking part will be greater than those who took part in direct action in the campaign for accessible transport and in the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network in the 1980s and 1990s.
Williams-Findlay said the Deaf and disabled people involved were of a “very different” composition than those who take part in disability rights protests.
He said the driving force was “primarily around saving the planet”, although the climate change actions in April and the worldwide publicity around Greta Thunberg had “triggered an increasing interest from traditional disability activists”.
He and other Disabled Rebels have been working to ensure there will be accessible toilets across the London protest sites, to provide disability equality training for stewards, and to organise a Disability Hub where disabled activists can secure information, advice and support.
Williams-Findlay said: “The plan is for the Disability Hub to have a multi-purpose area where disabled people can gather, build a sense of community, and help take disability culture right into the heart of Extinction Rebellion.”
They and Deaf Rebels have also been working to ensure Deaf people and Extinction Rebellion’s legal team can use British Sign Language signs to communicate with each other if there is a threat of arrest.
Williams-Findlay said that Extinction Rebellion and Disabled Rebels were both “on a steep learning curve” but he said he saw a “willingness to learn, be reflective and make changes” which was “not common among most social movements or campaign groups”.
He added: “There is a genuine commitment to be as inclusive as possible.
“However, as with any social movement, Extinction Rebellion is a product of a society that has kept disabled people excluded or marginalised, and as a result, there remains deeply ingrained forms of ignorance about disabled lives and how the inequality of power impacts.”
He said it had been a “hard slog” to ensure the essential access issues will be in place, and there were still “gaps”.
And he issued a call for allies who might not be willing to engage in non-violent direct action, but who could carry out “backroom activities” such as staffing the Disability Hub or playing other supporting roles.
He said: “We would welcome new blood within the Extinction Rebellion itself, but we recognise that isn’t possible for everyone, therefore we would welcome ‘eyes and ears’ willing to use various social media platforms to pass on information and counteract disinformation and possible news blackouts.”*
Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, said: “There is no point demanding rights if we don’t have a planet to exercise them on.
“By raising the profile of disabled people within XR, we can send out a clarion call to other disabled people – this is our fight too.”
He said his past experiences of non-violent direct action had shown that it requires “serious commitment” and “accepting you are part of a team”.
He said: “You need to decide how far you are willing to challenge the law.
“There’s always a risk of arrest, but we need to assess the implications of getting arrested and have plans to defuse the situation and move away.
“Another lesson has to be that non-violent direct action can be effective in getting the message across. So, direct action isn’t a game, but it can be fun and feel uplifting.”
He added: “Our future, not just that of disabled people, but humanity as a whole, is at a crossroads with time running out.
“Disabled people want a future. We understand that only a just and transformative society can be inclusive, and addressing sustainable environments has to be a vital part of the process.
“‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’ has to include taking steps to save our planet, helping to prevent disaster and protecting people from human suffering.”
He called on the government to “tell the truth” about climate change, “put its full weight behind ensuring everyone understands what’s at stake” and engage in dialogue.
Williams-Findlay warned that disabled people would be among the groups to pay “the highest price” if the Extinction Rebellion and other climate change campaigns failed.
He said: “In the global south we are already seeing ecological disasters where people are being displaced, crops failing and huge migrations taking place.
“Under these conditions, children and older and disabled people are going to struggle to survive.
“Without adequate infrastructures and facing hostile disabling environments, these conditions are going to be too much to deal with.
“Disabled people are less adaptable than non-disabled people, and if you add to that existing discriminatory attitudes, what will be the consequences?
“Disabled people will be seen as having less worth, so if resources are rationed, it is fairly obvious who will lose out.”
3 October 2019
Tory conference: Leading disabled Tory ‘wouldn’t give UN the time of day’
A leading disabled Tory has defended his government’s disability policies, dismissing three highly critical reports by the UN and concerns about the impact of Brexit on social care, rights and access to medication.
Barry Ginley, deputy chair of the Conservative Disability Group (CDG), said the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) and its special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights were “not seeing the true Britain” when they criticised the UK government for its policies on disability in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
And he insisted that he was not embarrassed when CRPD was so critical of the UK government two years ago, telling it to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.
Ginley, who is disability and access officer at London’s V&A museum, said: “I am not putting my head in the sand over that.
“I know a hell of a lot of countries around the world I have visited that do little or nothing.
“For us to be criticised by the UN for stuff that we have done, being proactive and so on, I just wouldn’t give them the time of day.”
He was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) after a fringe meeting hosted CDG, an independent organisation of Conservative party members “who want to see a more inclusive society for disabled people”.
Ginley, who voted “leave” in the 2016 European Union referendum, said that he believed Brexit was being used as an “excuse” by its opponents.
He said: “It was raining, I got wet this morning coming to conference, some people say it’s down to Brexit, everything is down to Brexit, everything bad is down to Brexit and everything good is because we are in Europe.”
He compared “scare tactics” about the impact of Brexit on disabled people’s rights, access to personal assistants and medication to fears about the Y2K Millennium Bug in the lead-up to 1 January 2000 “when planes were going to fall out of the sky because computers weren’t going to work”.
He said: “I get told that if we come out of Europe, disabled people are going to suffer and they won’t be able to get out and about, da-de-da-de-da.
“I think personally that’s rubbish.”
Asked about concerns raised by disabled campaigners such as the crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell about a possible shortage of personal assistants after Brexit, he said: “She obviously has her experiences… but we do have plenty of British people that are still unemployed so we shouldn’t say that everyone from eastern Europe should be a PA because they are not.
“The government has said they have the right to stay in the UK after Brexit. That’s been mentioned at conference today.
“I think there has been a lot put on Brexit, these scare tactics.”
He said he had not read the government’s progress report on disability, which was hidden away on the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) website last month, and not publicised by the minister for disabled people or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
He said: “I didn’t know the report had been published so I will go and seek it out. I would have hoped that they would have communicated it better.”
He said one of his previous roles had been as an ambassador for ODI on its Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations project, which ended in 2015.
But told that organisations like Shaping Our Lives and the National Survivor User Network had raised repeated concerns at the number of user-led organisations that had been forced to close, he suggested that some of them “may have merged and become stronger that way”.
Although he was critical of the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process, which he said was “a failure”, he insisted that this was due to the private sector organisations carrying out the assessments, rather than the ministers who were responsible for the system, or DWP decision-makers.
He said: “It’s not the ministers saying you have to go out to work if you are terminally-ill with cancer.
“It is the individual who has made that assessment, not the minister. It’s the human factor.”
But he said he would not defend the government over links between the fitness for work test and disabled people who had taken their own lives.
He said: “I don’t defend it. I’m not going to defend it. One lost life is one too many.
“Work should be done to ensure those kinds of benefits aren’t just whipped away from people that are vulnerable.”
Ginley said ministers should have acted to improve the work capability assessment, adding: “I am happy to say it is a failing and it is something that still definitely needs to improve.
“And that’s a Conservative member saying that of a Conservative government.”
He was also concerned and critical of the five-week wait for universal credit and the “ridiculous” proportion of subsequent payments that must be paid back by those who take a DWP loan to tide them over while waiting for that first payment.
He said CDG tries to challenge the government “when we feel it is necessary and because disability comes before party”.
He said: “We challenge when we feel we need to. Some ministers are better than others. I am not going to name names, good or bad.”
The fringe meeting had discussed how to make the UK the world’s most accessible tourist destination.
Ginley said that the V&A and other UK museums were seen as leaders on access for disabled people.
He said: “We still have a lot to do in this country, but we are far better off than most countries.
“That’s not just me saying that: it’s feedback I get from disabled people from anywhere from Taiwan to Argentina, where I was last month. British museums are seen as leaders.
“We can be tough on ourselves and say what we are doing is rubbish: actually, it’s not.
“I would challenge people to go to other parts of the world and see if you find that as accessible as what London might be.
“Yes, we still have challenges, but we are much further down the road than many other countries around the world.”
Diane Lightfoot, chief executive of the Business Disability Forum, and a member of VisitEngland’s England’s Inclusive Tourism Action Group, said the ambition of the government and tourism industry’s Tourism Sector Deal was to make the UK “the most accessible tourist destination in Europe by 2025”.
A key measure of this was to increase the number of in-bound visits by disabled people by 33 per cent.
She said VisitEngland research valued the accessible tourism market – the amount spent by disabled people and their traveling companions on day trips and domestic and in-bound overnight trips – at about £12 billion a year, and more than £14 billion in Britain.
Peter Hand, CDG’s chair, defended the decision to choose accessible tourism as the subject of the fringe when there were so many crucial issues affecting disabled people.
He told DNS after the meeting: “There are lots of issues concerning disabled people. We as CDG focus on those throughout the year.
“We are not saying it’s the only issue, far from it, but in the context of Brexit, we thought it was a valuable opportunity to help promote UK PLC, but there are many other important issues and we still think they should be discussed as well.”
3 October 2019
Train companies set to be forced to act on rail replacement access after legal advice
Train companies must ensure that nearly all their rail replacement vehicles are accessible to disabled people, or risk criminal prosecution, according to legal advice obtained by the rail regulator.
Train companies have reacted to the provisional legal advice by promising to comply with any new rules produced by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) as a result of the advice.
ORR was forced to seek the legal advice after a legal threat issued by accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley.
Paulley warned last year that he was considering taking legal action against a train company over the failure to ensure that its rail replacement vehicles were accessible, which he said “makes travel substantially more difficult for many disabled people”.
He believes that most of those vehicles should comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR).
But when he read new accessible transport guidance issued to the industry by ORR in July, he realised that it fell far short of such a requirement, 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, which promised to seek its own legal advice.
Now ORR has published that legal advice from a barrister (PDF).
It states that, with a few minor exceptions, all rail replacement vehicles must be accessible, and the train companies, and the bus or coach providers, are at risk of criminal prosecution if they are not.
Paulley, who has been campaigning on the issue for years, says this advice goes well beyond what he and his solicitor from DPG, Louise Whitfield, were asking for.
They originally asked for train operating companies (TOCs) to ensure that all their rail replacement vehicles were fully accessible if used as a result of disruptions that were planned and reasonably foreseeable.
But ORR’s provisional legal advice says that even vehicles used as a result of unplanned disruption to rail services must be accessible, with a few exceptions.
Paulley said he was “delighted” with the advice but doubted whether there would be enough accessible buses or coaches for rail companies to hire, which would still put them at risk of prosecution for running inaccessible vehicles.
He also pointed out that TOCs had been breaking the law for more than 20 years, apparently without ORR and TOCs realising they were doing so.
He said: “A difficult situation they find themselves in, but I have little sympathy.
“If TOCs had made any significant effort to improve the accessibility of vehicles over the last 20 years, they wouldn’t be in this situation.
“Similarly, if they had complied with the law, which has been around for 20 years and had a staggered introduction to ease the transition.”
ORR has written this week to seek the views of the rail industry and other stakeholders on the provisional legal advice, before launching a new consultation on the issue later this month.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the companies that run Britain’s railway, promised that every replacement vehicle would comply with ORR regulations, although these vehicles could be buses, minibuses or taxis.
It said the legal advice “fits within our plan to make the railway more accessible to more people and ensure compliant replacement vehicles are in place during improvement work”.
Dominic Lund-Conlon, RDG’s head of accessibility and inclusion, said: “We always want people to have smooth journeys and train companies work closely with other transport operators during planned improvement work to meet the needs of passengers.
“We will ensure that people with accessibility needs can continue their journey in a vehicle that complies with the latest regulations, which could be a coach, minibus or taxi, depending on availability and the number of other people travelling.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We will consider responding to the consultation once it is published as we don’t want to pre-empt our response.”
3 October 2019
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com